The November 2014 issue of Armchair General ® presented the Combat Decision Game “Chinese Defense at Shanghai, 1937.” This CDG placed readers in the role of Chinese Lieutenant Colonel Xie Jinyuan, commander of 524th Infantry Regiment, 88thDivision. With the Battle of Shanghai more than two months old and Japanese forces close to completing their conquest of the city, Xie’s mission on October 26, 1937, was to lead his 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 the Japanese enjoyed significant military advantages.Thus, in August, Chinese army commander Chiang Kai-shek decided 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 – which was situated onthe 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 88thDivision assigned the defensive mission to524th Regiment’s 1st Battalion, Xie volunteered to stay behind and lead the effort.
Chiang charged Xie’s 423-man battalion with holding out for as long as possible against powerful Japanese attacks. By doing so, the men would achieve important tactical and political goals. Tactically, they would be able to 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 men 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 Sihang warehouse and on its rooftop.
The Japanese began their assaults against the warehouse around 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. 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 at the Zhabei district, 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 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. This plan maximized force protection by positioning 1st Battalion to defend from the strongest building, provided the best fields of fire for the 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.
And now for excerpts from the winning Reader Solutions to “Chinese Defense at Shanghai, 1937.”
Major (Ret.) Trent D. Laviano, Tennessee: “The Sihang warehouse is the best available defensive position. Due to its height and solid construction, it offers excellent cover and concealment and also provides good fields of fire to cover likely avenues of approach.”
Paul Moore, Georgia: “The fortress-like structure of the warehouse has clear fields of fire, a protected flank from the river and lots of ammunition. By having the entire battalion in the warehouse, the command and control of raw recruits is greatly improved.”
Deetlefs du Toit, South Africa: “Strongly constructed multistory building is the best protection against enemy artillery, infantry and tanks. Clearly indicate sectors of defense and fields of fire. Use sand and grain bags inside the building to shield against ricochet and shrapnel. Booby-trap enemy approaches.”
Thank you to everyone who participated in this CDG. Now turn to page 56 and test your tactical decision-making skills with Combat Decision Game #67, “Falklands War Battle, 1982.” This action during the war between Britain and Argentina places you in the role of British army Lieutenant Colonel Hew Pike, commander of 3d Battalion, the Parachute Regiment (3 Para). Pike’s mission is to attack and defeat Argentine forces occupying Mount Longdon, dominant terrain whose possession by the enemy blocks any further British advance eastward to recapture the Falklands’ administrative capital, Stanley, and thereby quickly win the war. Use the CDG map and form on pages 59 and 60 to explain your solution and mail, email or fax it to Armchair General by February 27, 2015. Winners will be announced in the July 2015 issue, but those eager to read the historical outcome and analysis can log on to armchairgeneral.com/ cdg after March 2, 2015.
*Editor’s Note: For each Combat Decision Game, ACG typically receives numerous Reader Solutions that have selected the course of action that ACG judges have deemed the best COA for that CDG. However, our judges are required to choose winners and those earning an honorable mention from submissions whose explanations, in the judges’ opinion, best reflect an understanding of the principles and key points of the CDG’s tactical situation.
Originally published in the March 2015 issue of Armchair General.