CDG 65 – Chinese Defense at Shanghai, 1937
The November 2014 issue of Armchair General® presented the Combat Decision Game “Chinese Defense at Shanghai, 1937.” This CDG transported readers back to October 26, 1937, in battle-ravaged Shanghai, where they played the role of Lieutenant Colonel Xie Jinyuan, commander of 524th Infantry Regiment, 88th Division. With the Battle of Shanghai more than two months old and Japanese forces close to completing their conquest of the city, Xie’s mission was to lead Chinese troops in a final defense of a sector of Shanghai’s Zhabei district.
That previous July, Imperial Japan’s aggressive expansionist policies had provoked a major war with China. The fighting had broken out in north China, where Japanese forces enjoyed significant military advantages; thus, Chinese army commander Chiang Kai-shek decided in August to shift the focus of the war to central China. He lured the Japanese into a costly battle at Shanghai – the country’s most important port and principal center of international commerce – and then intended to withdraw his main Chinese army into the country’s vast interior. His objective was to prevent a rapid Japanese conquest of China by prolonging the war and thereby gaining the vital time he needed to build up his army and garner support from the world powers.
By the end of October, Japan’s superior firepower, combat effectiveness and overwhelming air superiority had left the Japanese on the verge of victory. On October 26, Chiang ordered 88th Division to mount a final, defiant defensive stand within Shanghai’s Zhabei district – situated on the border of the international concessions and therefore in full view of Western power observers – while his main army withdrew westward into China’s interior. When 88th Division assigned the defensive mission to 524th Regiment’s 1st Battalion, Xie volunteered to stay behind and lead the effort.
Chiang charged the 423-man battalion with holding out for as long as possible against powerful Japanese attacks. By doing so, Xie’s men would achieve important tactical and political goals. Tactically, they would cover the main Chinese army’s retreat from Shanghai as the force withdrew westward to re-establish defensive lines in China’s interior. Politically, they would demonstrate to the leaders of potential Western power allies China’s strong resolve to resist the Japanese invasion.
Lieutenant Colonel Xie decided that consolidating his battalion’s defenses inside the Sihang Warehouse, the sector’s tallest and strongest building, would give his heavily outnumbered unit the best chance of holding out for the maximum amount of time (COURSE OF ACTION ONE: CLOSE DEFENSE). He also correctly judged that since the warehouse was on the border of the international concessions, Japanese commanders would be reluctant to employ their heaviest artillery, naval guns and aerial bombing for fear of accidentally hitting territory controlled by the still-neutral Western powers.
Xie sent forward a platoon from each of 1st Battalion’s infantry companies to provide early warning of an enemy attack, ordered his combat engineers to emplace remotely detonated demolition charges in the more open area directly in front of the warehouse, and then dispersed his troops and machine guns in fighting positions throughout the warehouse and on its rooftop.
The Japanese began their assaults against the warehouse about 1 p.m. on October 27. Over the next five days, the resolute Chinese defenders held off repeated enemy attacks launched by infantry, armored cars and direct-fire artillery. As Xie had hoped, the warehouse’s thick concrete walls provided effective cover for his soldiers. His battalion lost only 10 killed and 37 wounded while killing over 200 Japanese attackers and wounding many more.
After this heroic show of Chinese resolve, Chiang permitted Xie’s surviving defenders to withdraw, and they escaped across the Suzhou River boundary line into the international concessions after nightfall on November 1. Due to the international concessions’ requirement to abide by strict neutrality, Xie and his soldiers were disarmed and “interned” inside the Italian sector.
Chiang’s clever strategy worked. His army survived, and the war was prolonged for another eight years, until Japan’s eventual defeat at the end of World War II. The world powers, however, were slow to come to China’s aid. The United States, Britain and other Western countries eventually allied with China, but only after Japan attacked them when it launched the Pacific War in December 1941.
During the fighting, as a tactical ruse Xie had claimed publicly that his force numbered 800 soldiers – nearly twice its actual size. Thus, his valiant defenders became known throughout China as “the Eight Hundred Heroes.” Unfortunately, on April 24, 1941, Xie was assassinated by four of his soldiers who had been bribed to murder him by Chinese turncoats collaborating with the Japanese.
ACG judges based their selections for winning Reader Solutions and those receiving honorable mention on submissions that chose COURSE OF ACTION ONE: CLOSE DEFENSE or those whose explanations demonstrated a solid understanding of the key principles for an urban defense. (See “After Action Report.”) This plan maximized force protection by positioning 1st Battalion to defend from the strongest building, provided the best fields of fire for its machine guns due to the warehouse’s height and numerous windows, and forced the Japanese to engage the entire battalion by consolidating it at one location. Significantly, this course of action also inhibited the Japanese from using their heaviest weapons given the building’s proximity to the international concessions.
COURSE OF ACTION TWO: DEFENSE IN DEPTH unnecessarily fragmented the battalion’s defensive effort by spreading its outnumbered troops and limited quantity of supporting weapons over too wide an area. This gave the better-armed enemy force an opportunity to mass its overwhelming numbers and firepower against each Chinese strongpoint one by one and thereby defeat Xie’s unit piecemeal.
COURSE OF ACTION THREE: SPOILING ATTACK was likely the worst plan in this tactical situation, as it provided the Japanese with the chance to destroy fully one-third of 1st Battalion’s infantry combat strength at the outset of the battle. Sending a company outside the protection of the defensive positions and into the open to attack a much larger enemy force boasting greatly superior weapons would have been suicidal and put the battalion at risk of a quick defeat.
AFTER ACTION REPORT
Key Points for an Urban Defense
- ANALYZE THE MISSION to determine exactly what the defense is to accomplish.
- ENSURE ADEQUATE RESOURCES by stockpiling ammunition, food, water and medical supplies.
- CONSOLIDATE FORCES AND RESOURCES to avoid fragmenting the defensive effort to provide mutual support.
- MAXIMIZE FORCE PROTECTION by defending from the strongest buildings and structures.
- MAINTAIN COMMAND AND CONTROL to respond to enemy actions quickly and effectively.
- CREATE CLEAR FIELDS OF FIRE for all weapons along likely avenues of enemy approach.
- PREPARE OBSTACLES to impede, disrupt and canalize enemy movement.
- PROMPTLY TERMINATE THE DEFENSE once the mission has been accomplished.