Contributor: C. Peter Chen
On 19 Apr 1944 the Japanese forces launched Operation Ichigo with 400,000 men organized in 17 divisions, supported by 12,000 vehicles and 70,000 horses. The operation had three major objectives:
- Control the entire length of the railroad between Beiping and Hong Kong
- Link up the forces in China and those in French Indochina
- Control Allied air fields in southern China
Battle of Henan
13 Apr-25 May 1944
The initial phase of Ichigo saw the Japanese 12th Corps troops moving south from Kaifeng and the 11th Corps northward from Hankou of Wuhan. After several engagements near Xuchang, Luoyang was attacked on 13 May. The three divisions defending Luoyang under the command of Tang Enbo was defeated on 25 May. All of Henan Province was taken by the end of the month.
Fourth Battle of Changsha
In the first week of Jun, Japanese forces marched southward along the railroad toward Changsha and engaged at the Hunan Province city for the fourth time in the Second Sino-Japanese War. With 360,000 in ground troops alone, this attack was the largest during the entire war with China. With overwhelming force, the previously stalwart defenders of Changsha faltered, and the city was taken by the Japanese. Nearby, the city of Hengyang and the nearby airfield held against the initial assault. In Aug, the second attack against Hengyang commenced with the Japanese 11th Division taking heavy casualties from well-laid Chinese defensive emplacements. The 58th Division, however, was able to breach the Chinese defense and enter the city. The Chinese attempted to send in reinforcements, but the attacking Japanese forces prevented the reinforcements from reaching their comrades now trapped in the city. Hengyang was taken after a total of 47 days of fighting with heavy tolls on the Japanese, who had suffered over 900 officer casualties, including 390 deaths.
In addition to the loss of the airfield at Hengyang, another at Lingling, also in Hunan Province, was captured by the Japanese during this campaign.
This engagement was also known as Battle of Hengyang-Changsha.
Battle of Battle of Guilin-Liuzhou
1 Nov-11 Nov 1944
Starting on 16 Aug 1944, the Japanese 11th and 23rd Armies began to move into the northeastern region of the Guangxi Province. The total of 120,000 Chinese troops fought an effective delay action campaign that did not allow the 150,000 Japanese troops to reach Guilin (Kweilin) and Liuzhou until 1 Nov. Guilin and Liuzhou were defended largely by troops who had recently retreated from the Fourth Battle of Changsha, therefore not only under-strength but also morale-broken. The 20,000 Chinese troops there managed to hold on to the two cities for ten days before retreating. Two-thirds of Guangxi fell under Japanese control by the end of the month, along with all the Allied airfields in the region. Nanning, the capital of Guangxi, fell in Dec. The Chinese suffered 100,000 casualties in Guangxi between Aug and Dec 1944, while the Japanese suffered 60,000.
The Japanese units involved in this battle were accused of conducting a reprisal operation against Chinese civilians that left over 200,000 dead.
This was the second fall of Guangxi, with the first being in Nov-Dec 1939. With Japanese troops occupying Guangxi, Japanese movement between northeast China (Manchukuo) and Indochina was opened. However, at this stage of the war, the actual practical gains from it were minimal. In fact, the troops required to occupy Guangxi probably cost the Japanese war effort more than what was gained, for that the troops could had been used elsewhere in the Pacific. The Japanese Navy, however, was relieved somewhat as the opening of land supply routes meant they were no longer required to perform logistical duties.
Conclusion of the Campaign
Although the Japanese achieved nominal victory all across the board with Operation Ichigo, strategically the effect was marginal. The Allied air forces, consisted mainly of the US 14th Air Force, simply moved to airfields further inland and continued their operations from there. The threat of American B-29 bombers in China on the Japanese home islands was indeed eliminated by taking the airfields, but it was only temporary; by early 1945, the bombers were transferred to the new airfields in the Marianas and attacked Japan from there. Nevertheless, General Joseph Stilwell was relieved in Oct 1944 by President Franklin Roosevelt after Chinese Generalissimo Chiang Kaishek's complaints that the burden of the losses during Ichigo fell on Stilwell's shoulders. Stilwell's role of Chief of Staff and Commander of the US Forces, China Theater (USFCT) was replaced by Major General Albert Wedemeyer; his other command responsibilities in the China-Burma-India Theater were divided up and allocated to other officers. If the Americans were to blame for the defeat, the reason was probably not Stilwell alone. The "Europe First" strategy employed by Allied leaders rendered the China-Burma-India Theater an after-thought, and whatever supplies trickled into the region were bitterly fought over between Stilwell and Claire Chennault. Therefore, the recall of Stilwell was largely a political move to please Chiang.
Sources: U.S. Army Center of Military History, Wikipedia.
Operation Ichigo Timeline
|8 Apr 1944||Japanese aircraft conducted raids across Henan Province, China.|
|19 Apr 1944||In order to forestall the bombing of the homeland by American B-29 bombers from bases at Guilin and Liuzhou in China and to seize the Beiping-Hong Kong railroad, Field Marshal Shunroku Hata, Commander-in-Chief of the Japanese Army China Expeditionary Force launched the Ichi-Go (Number one) offensive with a force of some 620,000 men, which was the largest force ever assembled by Japan for a single campaign. The main thrust was a powerful drive southwards from Hankou by the 11th Army, designed to link up with a push westward by 23rd Army from Guangdong.|
|22 Apr 1944||Japanese troops captured Zhengzhou, Henan Province, China.|
|13 May 1944||Japanese troops attacked Luoyang, China.|
|25 May 1944||Japanese troops captured Luoyang, China.|
|18 Jun 1944||In China, the strategic city of Changsha, 200 miles south of Hankou, fell to the Japanese, having successfully defied them three times before.|
|26 Jun 1944||Japanese troops reached Hengyang, Hunan Province, China, site of an important US air base, but were checked by the 15,000-strong Chinese 10th Army supported by US 14th Air Force's B-25 Mitchell and P-47 Thunderbolt aircraft which made constant attacks on the Japanese supply lines.|
|16 Aug 1944||Japanese troops entered northeastern Guangxi Province, China.|
|14 Sep 1944||Joseph Stilwell visited Guilin, China and ordered the nearby airfields to be abandoned and gas stores destroyed to prevent Japanese capture.|
|1 Nov 1944||Japanese troops reached Guilin, China.|
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James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, 23 Feb 1945