Friday, December 11, 2020

Fullbore Friday

One of the most dangerous yet commonly held beliefs about a future conflict with China is that we could somehow hold China back by convincing them we could defeat them in 72-hrs. 

Another is that, for some reason, the US Army should have a role - somehow - in significant numbers. That would imply action on mainland Asia.

Even though WWII has mostly faded out of living memory, the Korean War is still inside that fading line. One would think - especially with all the belated focus of the last few years - we would have a greater understanding of the Chinese military history and tradition that, at least to them, goes back thousands of years.

Many will make comments about the Russian ability to sustain and even thrive on hardship and sacrifice, but they hold nothing against the Chines ability to do the same.

At the very highest levels of our natsec nomenklatura, I fear there are very few that understand the scope of China's ability to take and sustain loss.

Case in point, let's look to just one datapoint from WWII. Americans were involved in relative small numbers in this campaign, heck there was even a movie made, 1960's The Mountain Road with James Stewart and Harry Morgan, but this remains almost unknown to the modern mind.

The best single stop summary of the campaign is over at wikipedia. You should go there to read the whole thing, but let me just pull some numbers for what the Japanese called, Operation Ichi-Go;

Operation Ichi-Go (一号作戦 Ichi-gō Sakusen, lit. "Operation Number One") was a campaign of a series of major battles between the Imperial Japanese Army forces and the National Revolutionary Army of the Republic of China, fought from April to December 1944. It consisted of three separate battles in the Chinese provinces of Henan, Hunan and Guangxi.

These battles were the Japanese Operation Kogo or Battle of Central Henan, Operation Togo 1 or the Battle of Changheng, and Operation Togo 2 and Togo 3, or the Battle of Guilin-Liuzhou, respectively. The two primary goals of Ichi-go were to open a land route to French Indochina, and capture air bases in southeast China from which American bombers were attacking the Japanese homeland and shipping.


In the first phase, the Japanese secured the Pinghan Railway between Beijing and Wuhan; in the second, they displaced the US air forces stationed in Hunan province and reached the city of Liuzhou, near the border with Japanese-held Indochina. 17 divisions, including 500,000 men, 15,000 vehicles, 6,000 artillery pieces, 800 tanks and 100,000 horses participated in this operation.

The Japanese included Kwantung Army units and equipment from Manchukuo, mechanized units, units from the North China theater and units from mainland Japan to participate in this campaign. It was the largest land campaign organized by the Japanese during the entire Second Sino-Japanese War. Many of the newest American-trained Chinese units and supplies were forcibly locked in the Burmese theater under Joseph Stilwell set by terms of the Lend-Lease Agreement.

In Operation Kogo, 390,000 Chinese soldiers, led by General Tang Enbo (湯恩伯), were deployed to defend the strategic position of Luoyang. The 3rd Tank Division of the IJA crossed the Yellow River around Zhengzhou in late April and defeated Chinese forces near Xuchang, then swung around clockwise and besieged Luoyang. Luoyang was defended by three Chinese divisions. The 3rd Tank Division began to attack Luoyang on May 13 and took it on May 25.

Japanese occupation (red) of eastern China near the end of the war, and Communist guerrilla bases (striped)

The second phase of Ichigo began in May, following the success of the first phase. Japanese forces advanced southward and occupied Changsha, Hengyang, Guilin and Liuzhou. At the Defense of Hengyang, the Japanese only won a Pyrrhic victory since 17,000 Chinese soldiers held out against over 110,000 Japanese soldiers from June 22–August 8, 1944, inflicting 19,000-60,000 dead on the Japanese. In December 1944, Japanese forces reached French Indochina and achieved the purpose of the operation. Nevertheless, there were few practical gains from this offensive. US air forces moved inland from the threatened bases near the coast. The operation also forced British Commandos working with the Chinese as part of Mission 204 to leave China and return to Burma. The U.S. Fourteenth Air Force often disrupted the Hunan–Guangxi Railway between Hengyang and Liuzhou that had been established in Operation Ichigo. Japan continued to attack airfields where US air forces were stationed up to the spring of 1945.


All in all, Japan was not any closer in defeating China after this operation, and the constant defeats the Japanese suffered in the Pacific meant that Japan never got the time and resources needed to achieve final victory over China. The Japanese suffered 11,742 KIAs by mid-November, and the number of soldiers that died of illness was more than twice this.[24][25] The total death toll was about 100,000 by the end of 1944.[5]

The Chinese losses for this series of battles alone? 500,000 to 600,000.

For the entire war, in the Pacific theater USA's killed were 111,606. For the entire war.

I have been warning for the better part of two decades that a war with Communist China is coming - or at least a skirmish. It is only a matter of time and place - both will be of their choosing, unless someone is exceptionally stupid on either side. This will be their coming out party as a military force. Outside chance India might be that nation of choice, but I think less likely than the USA.

We need to be ready. I hope we have smart OPLANS and CONOPS on the shelf and have run some solid war games with modest and limited End States. I worry that, as I have seen before, we don't have the right people with a realistic world view running them, shaping them, reviewing them.

We will see, one day.

Pray for peace. Hope for wise leaders with even wiser counsel.

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