Third battle of Changsha, China

Destruction in Changsha, Hunan Province, China, early 1942

(Jan, 7, 2022) This week, 80 years ago, the Imperial Japanese Army, under the command of Gen. Korechika Anami, made its third attempt to capture the 2,000-year-old Chinese City of Changsha, which is the capital of Hunan Province.

Today Changsha is home to more than seven million Chinese. It is located on the Xiang River, in the Xiang River Valley, formed by the Luoxiao Mountains in the east, Wuling Mountains in the west, the Hengshan Mountains in the south, and the Dongling Lake in the north.

Former Chairman Mao Zedong began his political career there, first as a student at Hunan No. 1 Teachers Training School and later as teacher and principal of the same school.

It is the birthplace of the chairman’s first wife, Yang Kaihui. The largest Chinese Restaurant in the world, with seating for 5,000 is located there. Most of the action, in the movie “The Sand Pebbles”, starring Steve McQueen (for which he received his only “Oscar” nomination), Candice Bergen and Richard Crenna, takes place there. All of the story occurs on the Xiang River in 1926.

By this time in WWII, there was not much left of the city. It had already survived two attempts by the Japanese to conquer it, and what was not bombed by the Japanese, had been burned by the Chinese. However, it was the gateway to China’s southernmost provinces, the capital of resource-rich Hunan Province and the last door to the Western World.

On Dec. 13, 1941. Gen. Anami ordered his 120,000-man Eleventh Army to prepare for battle. Once again, the 300,000 Chinese defenders were led by Gen. Xue Yue, and once again, the Japanese attempted to capture Changsha in the first offensive since Japan’s attack on the U.S.

The attack was originally meant to support the Twenty-Third Army, commanded by Gen. Takashi Sakai, in its assault on Hong Kong, by insuring that the Chinese were occupied and unable to come to the aid of Hong Kong’s defenders.

Meanwhile, other than the soldiers defending the city, all but 160 civilians were evacuated.

Gen. Anami sent his 3rd, 6th, and 40th divisions against Changsha on Christmas Eve. The Chinese Twentieth Army was defeated the day after Christmas. The following day, as the Japanese were crossing the Luoyang River, they were ambushed by the Chinese Ninety-Ninth Army, which, after disrupting the crossing, faded into the mountains east of the city.

The Japanese finally reached Changsha on Dec. 31. The 3rd Division attacked the city the next day. That same day, the Chinese counterattacked with LXXIII Corps and 200th Armored Division. The Chinese Tenth Army fiercely defended the city, and on Jan. 2, 1942, the Japanese committed the 6th Division to the attack.

The Chinese were aided in the defense of the city by mortars supplied by the British, two batteries of 75mm field guns supplied by the French, and eight M2A1 tanks supplied by the U.S.

But the Chinese Ninety-Ninth Army swept down from the mountains and attacked the Japanese supply lines. By dusk on Jan. 4 the Japanese controlled most of the important locations in the city.

But fearing becoming trapped in the city, they began withdrawing that night. The 6th Division recrossed the Luoyang River, without incident, but the 3rd Division did not. However, by midnight of the 5th, it had managed to get across the river.

As the Japanese fell back across the Luoyang River, they were, again, ambushed. By Jan. 15, it was all over. The Imperial Japanese army had suffered another defeat at the hands of the Chinese and been forced to retreat 65 miles.

The respective losses for the combatants are in dispute. The Japanese claim that the Chinese suffered 28,612 killed and 1,065 captured, but they only suffered 1,591 killed and 4,412 wounded. The Chinese, on the other hand, claim that the Japanese suffered 33,941 killed and 23,003 wounded.

Other than the Red Army’s victory over the Wehrmacht, before Moscow, this was the first Allied victory since the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Next week: The Wannsee Conference

Mr. Wimbrow writes from Ocean City, where he practices law representing people accused of criminal and traffic offenses, and people who have suffered personal injuries. Contact him at: wimbrowlaw@gmail.com.

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