halialkers: (Default)
 The first phases of major land operations in World War II were conducted by both Hitler and Stalin, during a point in time when the two regimes that would fight the largest and most gruesome battles were actually in point of fact *allies on the same side.* This phase tends to be either deliberately ignored in favor of the easier narrative of 1941-5 (especially in Russia and to a great degree in Germany save in the "Russia did it too" sense), Not least of the reasons why it's ignored are subversions of key narratives (the whole democracies were committed to war to the last ditch against Hitler thing is blatantly untrue, as is the whole Fascists and Communists are invariably enemies thing, and even the "Russians are supermen in snow" bit, too). 

The first phase was the German invasion of Poland, in which three million Germans in three army groups struck at Poland in a three-pronged invasion. The general who conceived the operation and implemented it is one Gerd von Rundstedt, a name that will be popping up repeatedly, and especially in the context of the overall fighting in the East. The northern prong of the German offensive sealed the 'Polish corridor' readily, though the Poles held out for a week in Westerplatte. The commander of this prong of the offensive, Fedor von Bock, is another name to watch. Against them, Marshal Rydz-Smigly and his generals Kutrzeba and Rommel (I kid you not) http://ww2gravestone.com/people/rommel-juliusz/ sought to conduct the doomed defense of a state with no good options. 

The surprise is that against a vastly superior invasion force, they held out for a full month with a single derisory French drive into the Saar as the only contribution of the Allies. The Poles, to a great degree rightly, saw this as perfidy, but it also reflected the simple reality that the UK and France were taking their sweet time with the simple confidence that if push came to shove they'd won in 1918 and were guaranteed to win again. They were extremely, indeed hilariously wrong in this assumption but that was what they viewed as inevitable. 

The Poles' sole major counterattack was the Battle of the Bzura, where they managed to wreck a German division but in two weeks of consecutive pounding the Wehrmacht made better capital out of its small smattering of modern weaponry than the Polish army did with its. Kutrzeba's defeat at Rundstedt's hands doomed the Poles to a set of ultimately futile sieges where their attempts to resist both ended in failure and in the Soviet invasion of eastern Poland, which led to both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union agreeing to partition Poland between them. In the course of horse-trading over which regime got what, the Nazis secured a border at the Bug (and coincidentally akin to the old British Curzon Line) while the Soviets secured Lithuania, neither regime caring overmuch about what this meant for the locals. 

In both cases, Nazis and Soviets began mass deportations and executions of Poles in general intending to forestall the revival of an independent Polish state. The main difference is that the Nazis also ended up rounding up Polish Jews and cramming them into over-crowded ghettoes, setting in motion the first stages of the Holocaust. In Hitler's occupation zone, his regime set about implementing without any hesitation its policies of mass demographic slaughter, in Stalin's his regime was equally pitiless toward his opponents, and with implementing deportation with a decidedly ethnic tinge in the name of an anti-nationalist ideology. 

However for a variety of reasons to be detailed in the next entry, until Hitler stormed north and attacked Scandinavia and finally did unleash his strike in the West, fighting in the West ossified into a set of buildups and plans and counter-plans and complete 180 switches on strategic goals by both sides. Not so in the East, where Stalin decided to annex Finland with the expectation given the relative size of both countries the annexation would be a matter of fact thing. 

The end of the war shows that with competent leadership this would have been so, the reality was that the Purge gutted the best leadership of the Soviet army and made it a textbook case of vast quantity that did not in actual fact have a quality to match. The result was that in the initial phases the new Soviet man performed very like the old Tsarist army of Muzhik and Dvorianstvo, complete with utter inability to co-ordinate air power, armor, infantry, and artillery with any degree of competence. It was this more than Finnish skill that enabled Marshal Mannerheim to run rings around Kliment Voroshilov for a time. A whole Soviet division was destroyed by a much more pitifully armed and equipped Finnish force at Suomussalmi and the Raate road for no reason other than the inability of its officers to demonstrate the least amount of ability to wield a force that size. 

Stalin ruthlessly sacked his initial leadership and replaced it with Semyon Timoshenko, who brought rudimentary tactical ability to the same force with the same disparity of resources. With the ability to fire artillery and have it hit something properly co-ordinated with infantry, artillery, and armor and air power, the Soviet army rolled up the Finns and managed to secure territorial gains. Losses were still disproportionate, but a key element that differed with losses in the 1939 and 1941 wars is that in 1939, the Soviet Union took major casualties from winter weather, due to not providing winter equipment from the belief that it would literally be a walkover. In 1941, as will be detailed, losses from both combat and deliberate mass starvation of POWs were on a far more staggering scale. 

The Soviet Union showed two key differences from Hitler's regime: 1) a recognition of its problems that actually did tend to reflect the actual problems and not the ones the ideology of the regime preferred to admit, and 2) a tendency to greater realism when strongarmed by complete and laughable failure into grudgingly accepting this. Where Hitler read his victory over the Poles to vindicate Nazi Nordicist ideals and Slavic inferiority, as opposed to demonstrating simple reality that a sufficiently big stick swung with sufficient ruthlessness will crush damn near anything, Stalin read his failures to indicate that his army demonstrated crippling inability to capitalize upon its resources and began the so-called Timoshenko Reforms which June 1941 would interrupt halfway through. 

At the same token, Soviet troops entered all three Baltic states following so-called 'voluntary agreements' in a pattern very like that of Putin in the Crimea now, and reflecting the same basic brutal Russian logic to its neighbors. If the Saint Bernard tells the Chihuahua to move, the little dog will move or get squished. This foreshadowed the annexation in 1940 that cast a long shadow over the Soviet state and ultimately was the spearhead in initiating its collapse in 1991. 
halialkers: (Default)
 The year 1939 would witness two key points in deciding the course of events in the next six years. The first of these was a Soviet-Japanese clash, the end of Soviet expansionism in Asia for a time, and one of the big thumpings given to the Imperial Japanese Army in WWII. This was the Battle of Khalkin Ghol/Nomonhan, fought near the Khalkin Gol river. In this battle, Georgi Zhukov and Marshal of the Soviet Union Stehrn together successfully executed a Deep Operations-style combined-arms battle against the Empire of Japan in the largest clash of the Soviet-Japanese War until 1945. Their method and mechanism was crude and simple, letting the Japanese hammer against the Soviet army in the center and then hurling combined arms forces into their rear to encircle them and destroy them. The method was so successful that the Japanese force assigned to the battle, some 60,000 strong, was completely annihilated. A key point that had ultimately ominous repercussions for the future was that this led Japan's Navy to increasing prominence and set in motion the process that concluded in December of 1941 with the grand Japanese offensive across the Pacific and Southeast Asia. What the Japanese Army did not learn from this was that even a Western-style army that had a leadership shooting itself in the foot with a mortar was capable of smashing them to bits, which is exactly what happened when they would face merely competent US and UK leadership in the future. 

However, this war was a part of a grand scene of things where both Hitler and Stalin, desiring the start of a war against the Versailles Order, came together in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Officially a non-aggression pact, unofficially this divided Eastern Europe into Soviet and German spheres. Initially Lithuania would be in the Nazi sphere, with a Soviet border on the Vistula, while Bessarabia and Finland were in the Soviet sphere. In exchange for Soviet neutrality and a free means to undermine the Anglo-French blockade, Hitler would be able to virtually guarantee a one-front war reliant on a deep strike against Poland with nine-tenths of his army. 

Against this, though the Poles were unaware of the secret protocol in 1939, they had only tenuous and disingenuous guarantees from a UK and France unwilling to fight Hitler to any great degree, and were stuck with an impossible dilemma. Either they overextended an army partially mobilized on the basis of recommendations from their supposed allies, or they went to a defensive posture and sacrificed their most populous and industrialized areas without a fight. The Poles chose to overextend their armies and hope for the best. But, however, the formal Anglo-French guarantee and ironic 'neutrality' from Mussolini and Stalin led the Germans to adopt an initial delay that came to an end with the Gleiwitz Incident. 

Foreshadowing the general approach to war used by the totalitarian regime, concentration camp POWs were dressed up by the SS as Polish soldiers and used in a faux attack on a German radio base, then shot to the last man. With a spurious defensive pretext, Hitler ordered his armies into motion. War was already raging on a grand scale in Asia at this point, and now at last it began to spread to Europe. By a curious irony, the first two years of WWII would witness sporadic phases of highly intense fighting and then long pauses of no active ground operations. But when the German invasion of the Soviet Union finally went into motion, all the land fighting and more that was possible to happen began and so would horrors that outpaced anything of the early phases of the war, ones that only got worse as Stalin began to win his war and Hitler started horrendously failing at his. 

In another characteristic pattern, Hitler's armies opened fire without warning or declaration of war with bombing raids and a naval bombardment of the then-free city of Danzig. 
halialkers: (Default)
Munich, which is both more well-known and more infamous than the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, has an equal role to play with the Hitler-Stalin alliance in bringing about the Second World War. The chief differences between Soviet and democratic methods is that where the former were willing to collaborate with Hitler in wars to revise the map, the latter sought to prevent any war between any of the belligerents. cut for length )

Up next, the Soviet-Japanese War and that's the end of the series updates for today.

halialkers: (Default)
In 1938, the Germans managed to work out the kinks of their relative military inefficiency in two separate circumstances, each of which enabled them to deploy in warlike situations, but in each case without involving major shooting matches. The first of these, and one of the most heavily ironic and in the long term dangerous for the relative ability of West and East to move past the atrocities of the 1940s, was the Anschluss. In 1934, as related prior, Mussolini had deployed tanks to the Brenner Pass to delay Hitler's first attempt to reannex the areas that he'd grown up in, but by 1938, Germany was rearming, and the Reich had bypassed Italy already as the greatest fascist regime in contemporary Europe. By 1938, too, a pair of brutal native fascist regimes had spent years suppressing Austria's own home-grown Nazi movements, but Hitler and the type of German nationalism he represented, was not inclined to accept an independent Austria.

So how then did he solve it? He marched troops to the border, browbeat the local dictator into letting him move in, and then marched his armies in to no opposition from Mussolini. This, more than anything else, marked the link of Hitler and Mussolini that was ultimately indispensable to the ability of democracy to wage a sustained land war, albeit after two disasters in 1940 on a very tiny scale, against fascism. His armies marched into cheers and welcoming crowds, men and women alike, and then the brutalized anti-Jewish hatred stirred up in Germany over three years came to Austria wholesale, leading to both mass exoduses and to unfortunate and rather nasty manifestations of hatred on the part of crowds that were eager to embrace the Nuremberg Laws, destruction of synagogues, and the public humiliation of Jews in Europe.

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Now that I'm done with Grad School, this ol' series is coming back with a vengeance. Up next, the Munich Crisis of 1938 and the War that Almost Was, and the Soviet-Japanese War of 1938-9, then the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. And *then* the invasion of Poland and the start of WWII in Europe.
halialkers: (Default)
The Second World War in 1938 was chiefly fought in Asia between Japan and China. The fighting in this year was actually quite massive. The Japanese used infantry, air, artillery, and armor to focus on the successor to Nanjing as capital of China, with the first major battle of this year, the Battle of Xuzhou, involving 600,000 Chinese soldiers against 240,000 Japanese. This was an encirclement battle fought from March to May of that year, and it was ultimately a barren Japanese victory, as the Chinese managed to escape the encirclement. This battle was to be succeeded by the Battle of Taierzhuang.

In this fight 70,000 Japanese troops faced 100,000 troops of the National Revolutionary Army. Remember, this is supposed to be a United Front. What's actually going on is the Nationalists are doing the overwhelming bulk of bleeding and dying, while the Communists are sitting on their asses twiddling their thumbs and letting Jiang and company do the heavy lifting. In the Battle of Taierzhuang from March 24-April 7, the Japanese were smacked around and forced to retreat. It was a major defeat for them, but the Chinese, suffering the ill effects of the loss of their major armored forces in the bloodbath in Shanghai could not pursue them and make the battle worth it.

The great bulk of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1938, however, was involved in the prolonged Battle of Wuhan. 300,000 Japanese soldiers faced over 1,000,000 Chinese troops in a fight that raged from June to October. The fighting was, like other months-long battles (including those of Smolensk on the Eastern Front and on the Siegfried Line in the Western Front), to ripple along multiple sectors of the Front, with different sectors favoring different sides at different times. The Japanese edges of firepower and air power would ultimately prove decisive, but only after they sustained 200,000 casualties (out of 300,000), and with the ultimate consequence that like Pyrrhus of Epirus victory had ruined them. From this point the Central China theater is a sequence of Battles of Changsha, a pattern that will hold until 1944. More interestingly in the light of the atomic bombings and the forgotten even more lethal effects of the waves of conventional bomber fleets, from 1938-43 conducted one of the longest-running strategic bombing campaigns of WWII, aimed at the wartime capital of the Republic of China for most of the war: Chongqing. More typically like all strategic bombing campaigns of WWII, this was an utter waste of time, money, and resources that could have been spent elsewhere.

So in summary, in 1938 Japan lost one major battle, won another at a staggeringly high cost, and was thereafter entrapped in the horns of the dilemma it made for itself at Nanjing. It could win battles, but winning the war was never going to happen. Winning the war required a political solution, the very thing Japan scotched for itself by six weeks of brutality involving rape, looting, and pillage. Next up the Anschluss, the Munich Crisis, the annexation and partition of Czechoslovakia, and the lead-in to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. After that, WWII comes to Europe.
halialkers: General Grant, left-profile view. black and white. Man with beard, mustache, thin hair (Kanari-2)
In one of the great illustrations of Soviet continuity with the Tsardom that preceded it, the first Soviet battle of WWII would be fought by a man named Blucher against the Imperial Japanese Army. Why does this matter? Because the Imperial Russian officer corps that ensured Russia went down in flames in one of the most gratuitous failures in modern warfare was made up of Germans like Rennenkampf, Plehve, Evert, and suchlike. This guy, OTOH, was one of the proponents of the Deep Operations concept that was already at this point in peril, and the battle thus illustrates a potential for the pre-Purge Army (as this guy was one of the Marshals of the Soviet Union actually shot in the Purge).

This war was part of a broader pattern of Soviet expansionism in this phase of World War II.  This battle was simultaneous to the very poorly-timed Purge, which actually had some degree of influence from the SS. The Battle began due to growing tensions between the Soviet Union and the Empire of Greater Japan over the Manchuria/Mongolia region, as the USSR had inherited Russia's imperial interest here. Significantly for the future of Soviet imperialism nobody realized this point, to the great detriment of the Allies in the later Second World War.

Beginning on 29 July the Soviets and Japanese were to fight until the 9th of August in a bloody and indecisive clash of arms where the Japanese destroyed one Soviet rifle division (which given the nature of Soviet military doctrine at the time is rather underwhelming) but Soviet reinforcements bandied Japan out of the gains they'd made from this battle. Neither side distinguished itself in this instance. Japan relied on sending huge waves of infantry against superior firepower, and Banzai Charges were no more successful against Stalin's army than they would be against FDR's Marines. The Soviets' middling performance may have contributed to the Purge of poor Marshal Blucher, but it would also lead to a sequel a year later of no little significance either in terms of the global grand strategic context or the 'narrower' context of Red Army internal politics, by virtue of featuring a then little-known cavalryman named Georgi Konstantinovich Zhukov, the future victor of Yelnya, Leningrad, Moscow, Stalingrad, Kursk, the Dnepr, Brody, Bagration, the drive to the Oder, and Berlin. But this was just the first engagement of many.

At the same time in 1934, before the Purge, the Soviets had invaded the region known as Xinjiang in contemporary China, where an ongoing insurgency against the PRC is being waged by the local Uighurs, an insurgency nobody gives a damn about because the insurgents are Muslims. If they were Tibetans, it'd be front-page news with a strongly anti-Chinese bent no matter any reality, or for that matter if it was Taiwan. It's Muslims in the area known only from a Sacha Baron Cohen movie so nobody gives a damn. Well, when the Soviets invaded they *also* faced a Muslim opponent, namely the Ma Clique.

In the ensuing battles the Ma Clique, equipped and run on the secular GMD style, got thrashed by the USSR twice, in 1934 (in one of the instances where White Russians worked together with the Red Army) and then in 1937, during the Second Sino-Japanese War. Very significantly Moscow did not emphasize this side of its foreign policy in terms of the lead-in to World War II in Europe, or its impact on World War II in Asia. That this indicated the USSR was expansionist from the get-go was a reason why. However this, it's also worth reflecting, showed that the Eastern totalitarians were playing a double-game from the standard of any kind of unified picture of Soviet intentions from the first, and if we factor in Stalin's animosity to Mao perhaps a triple game. Poland as such was not the beginning or even the end of the beginning of Soviet Machiavellian trickery.
halialkers: (Neshani Vahani)
During the period preceding the outbreak of war between China and Japan, Nanjing had been the center of Chairman Jiang Jieshi's government. In the wake of the Japanese victory at Shanghai, where the most modern Chinese forces had all been destroyed, so was it that the Chinese government now confronted a Japanese advance straight to Nanjing. Chinese attempts to fight off the Japanese advance were to prove futile as the combination of Japan's armor (never good by European or US standards but after Shanghai the only armor of any significant proportion in Asia), firepower superiority, and especially air superiority proved an irresistible force. So Jiang high-tailed it to Chongqing, from where his government would conduct most of the remaining war. Instead of their expected conquest of all of China in three months, the Japanese Army had faced the first great attrition battle of WWII for three months, and as such there was the emergence of the first instance of the military strategy of Kill Them All and Let God Sort Them Out.

This strategy originated as a concept to break Chinese resistance. Its result is what is now termed The Rape of Nanking (which was the older transliteration of Nanjing), six weeks of sustained slaughter and horror that saw hundreds of thousands of people killed, and the first appearances as well of the ghastly sexual assaults that were to become a standard feature of WWII. The slaughter had an entirely unpredicted effect to Japan but quite predictable in terms of human nature: in six weeks of this Japan forever ended any chance of a political end to the war, ensuring it was forced to fight a war without end that it never could have won, though a Chinese 'victory' without WWII would be an appalling thought. When Jiang abrogated any idea of a political solution, Mao and company were still sitting in Shanxi Province and not doing much of anything, the usual pattern of Chairman Mao for the duration of the war. Mao in fact only moved against Japan once in the course of this war and it would not be until 1942.

As such Japan now confronted a dilemma that in this, the largest and most gruesome war in human history was to be all too common, and played a significant role in how it came to be the largest and bloodiest war in human history: they had to improvise what to do next, ensuring that huge masses of humanity would be thrown at each other in large-scale battles without any real plans, and in military terms no strategy is much, much worse than bad strategy.

The next entries shall cover the Spanish Civil War in 1937, the Battle of Lake Khazan in the first phase of the Soviet-Japanese War, and most significantly the Soviet Purge and its unpleasant results where the military effectiveness of the Red Army was concerned. They shall also cover the Munich Crisis and Anschluss in 1938, followed by returning here for the Sino-Japanese War battles of 1938. A fair warning: the Second World War, whatever Hollywood mutated it into, is going to be shown to be a grim, dark, dreary litany of massive slaughters engaged in for the cruelest of reasons. 50 million human beings died in this war across all continents, that all by itself is not a recipe for 'happy' situations.

halialkers: Self-portrait, right side of my face. Best drawing of me yet! (Vishori)
Shanghai was the first major urban battle, and the first long, large scale conflict of attrition in the Second World War. In conventional military terms, if this had been a war between opponents with clear end goals and a look to how the war would have ended, Shanghai, like the Battle of Kiev or its Nazi equivalent Operation Bagration would have been the end points. However this was not a rational war so much as the product of deep flaws in the Japanese command system. Instead of a predicted easier engagement after the Imperial Navy had run into unexpectedly stiff resistance, the Japanese Army and Navy found themselves facing the most powerful forces Jiang Jieshi could throw at them. This battle would last not for the the three days the Japanese predicted but for three months. This was so for several interlocking reasons. First, Shanghai is a very, very large city. This is of course for an army that sticks its dick in a meat grinder worse than even an attack into a relatively small urban area. Second, the Imperial Army and Imperial Navy faced the strongest Chinese forces of the time, the only mechanized troops that China would field for most of the war. Third there was the reality that this was much bigger in terms of a task than the fighting in Manchuria, waged by the Kwangtung Army against one Warlord's forces. Instead of facing a number of local skirmishes and clashes dictated by small-scale requirements, Japan was plunged into a massive bloodbath fought in the urban jungle of a major metropolitan area, at a time when the later successors to this action were historically far away in time.

There were, however, several major differences between Shanghai and its more famous European counterparts. In the case of Stalingrad the fighting emerged as the result of operational and strategic choices that unfolded by more or less direct historical accident. In the cases of Aachen and Budapest, the forces involved on both sides had much more sophisticated machines of war and a much greater reliance on air power as a weapon of war than either the Chinese or the Japanese did. The total amount of troops involved on both sides were about 900,000. The Chinese outnumbered the Japanese three to one.

Nonetheless Japan won the battle and destroyed the Chinese mechanized forces in a methodical process where the Chinese expended their strength in attacks that were immensely costly to both sides at a tactical level without dealing a genuine strategic catastrophe to the Japanese. Urban warfare is immensely costly to both sides involved in the fighting, and for China, sacrificing its few mechanized troops in such a meta grinder was going to deal it disproportionate strategic damage no matter how the fighting evolved. The Japanese would also use their superiority on the high seas to good effect, launching a series of landings that enabled them to ultimately concentrate force over the Chinese decisively, as well as making better use of tactical air power than the Chinese did. In terms of the air war the Chinese had multiple disadvantages of equipment and logistics, at least partially reflecting the ongoing state of civil war and the incomplete nature of Jiang's conquests at the time, as well as the Japanese having at the time the strongest mechanized forces in Asia and the most modern army in Asian terms (though this was a far cry from the USSR and most European armies of the time, it didn't really matter in this sense to the Chinese or to the other Asian areas Japan attacked).

The GMD's decision to fight in Shanghai was also influenced by the decision to fight in an area where foreign observers would witness the Chinese willingness and skill to fight in defense of China itself. That Japanese troops made occasional attacks on neutral civilians worked to Japan's detriment, however this was no compensation for poor Chinese planning or able to redress the balance in a relative sense between the GMD and the IJA at this point of the war. Ultimately, as such, Japan was victorious, though the Chinese were able to put up a strong, skillful defense of the city itself. In the course of three months of savage, gruesome fighting the Japanese would realize that they were up for a far more gruesome and bloody war than they expected. With the start of the Nanjing Campaign, as the next entries will detail, this led to another Chinese defeat that was both costly in a domestic sense for Jiang on the one hand and the road to one of the biggest foreign policy debacles of WWII paved in six weeks of unprecedented horror that would not see matches until the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. When this brutality ended, Japan would find itself lost in the brutality of a war of endless timespan, against a hostile enemy that even in the midst of a civil war that was only partially ended for part of the war was able to exhaust its manpower despite a sequence of victories.

As such, while Shanghai was a tactical and an operational Japanese victory, and at the purely military level a total strategic triumph (to the degree that Japanese troops were able to smash anything that rose up against them in terms of fighting in China for the duration of the war), in the long-term sense it marked a quick transition into the reality of this war for both China and Japan: horror and savagery and immense death tolls at the front, disillusionment politically in both countries, and the reality that for all the brutality and bloodshed nobody on either side had an answer to the war or when it would end. The first horseman of the Apocalypse had nonetheless unfolded his power over the region of East Asia in a grand style, a style that would remain until the last days of World War II when it had become a global war of enemy coalitions for mastery of the entire planet.
halialkers: (Default)
World War II, contrary to many histories written from the perspective of soldiers and men of the European war, did not begin when the Nazis inaugurated war in Europe with a bombardment of Poland's ports and invasion of her borders after securing the infamous alliance with the Stalinists. No, World War II began in a much murkier and more complex process than that. It began in Asia, where on the Marco Polo Bridge, in the wake of the Second United Front tension had grown between the uneasy three way alliance of the GMD, CCP, and Warlords and the Imperial Japanese Army occupying Manchuria. The tension had grown because a Chinese unified bloc was for the Japanese a great source of nightmare and fear. The spark that lit WWII in Asia and the course of general war came from this incident, when an exchange of gunfire of controversial origin, some attributing it to Communist provocateurs during the Cold War, but in all probability most likely the Imperial Army repeating the process of the Mukden Incident began to spread into a wider course of fighting. A significant aspect of this incident that differentiated it from others was that the Japanese were seeking much grander and more ambitious goals here, goals that Jiang could not yield on to trade space for time. It's worth noting, too, that here as elsewhere the Japanese were propelled into an over-ambitious war from a failure of decision making processes on the part of the Army and Navy both.

With the Marco Polo Bridge incident spreading into growing war, it would be in Shanghai that the fighting began to transition into an all-out conflict. As with the First Battle of Shanghai the Japanese Navy inaugurated an over-sized set of battles it could not win, and so had to call in the Imperial Army. This time, however, the Imperial Army had a powerful clique including members of the Kwangtung Army that had to this point proven victorious in all campaigns thus far fought against Xhang Zueliang wanting a full-scale war in China. And so war spread and magnified. Jiang, for his part, needed for domestic reasons to show his sincerity in fighting for the side of the Chinese against this foreign enemy, and so he made the inevitable, but strategically disastrous decision to commit his strongest, best troops to what would become the first, great, grand, horrific, savage battle of World War II. In this battle would be seen the shadow of the future, the riding Horseman of the Apocalypse with the bow, riding forth conquering and to conquer. And in this battle would be seen the earliest glimpses of the horrors of Stalingrad, Budapest, Manila, and Aachen.

At this time with the war in its first phase, it's worth restating one thing and explaining the factions involved. The war did not begin from a logical decision taken by an elite with a clear end in mind. It began as the spiraling result of a clash of still-controversial origin (at least in some historical circles), and it began with the intention in mind being clear for none of the sides involved. Its escalation was the process of action taken by local Japanese leaders who gave zero thought to the questions of strategy or even those of operations and tactics Japan would face. In fact, Japan would unintentionally provide the first example of the Barbarossa mentality in predicting Shanghai would be theirs within three days and China altogether within three months.

The factions at this point are the Warlords, whom while conquered by Jiang in Nanjing had no real loyalty to him, and this is a crucial factor in Japan's long-term war in China, the GMD, whose rule over much of China it controls is fragile, but which has China's only modern forces, and the Communists. The Warlords were in large part folded into the GMD, but their forces had limits in terms of actual fighting, being as much political-security troops as combat troops. The GMD was an ideological coalition of groups that were Chinese nationalists, led by the unscrupulous, even unprincipled Asian Mitt Romney Jiang Jieshi, who at this point was affiliated now with Adolf Hitler, having fallen out with Josef Stalin. Jiang had a large contingent of German advisors, at least one of which rose to some success in Herr Hitler's general war. This is also why that one Nazi was able to do what he did during the Rape of Nanjing.

However the Japanese were also heavily influenced by the Germans. In their case their influence was more the Kaiserreich, as at this time Germany and Japan were on opposite sides. Japan had made this decision, if you remember from all the way back at the start of this series in response to the Franco-Prussian War. So in a sense here's a war that pits an evolution of the Imperial German forces methodology and organizational system against troops mentored by the Nazi-era soldiers. In trope lingo, this means both sides Put on the Reich, having Stalhelms and fighting the war with German influenced small arms. Neither side had armor that was very impressive by the standard of the 1941 and later phase of the European war. What the next entry covers in terms of the Battle of Shanghai will explain how that came to be despite this war lasting two years longer than the war in Europe, which in fact from the POV of this war was a subchapter that began and ended during it, and is relevant only in the sequel to the Battles of Lake Khazan and Khalkin Ghol that followed in its train.
halialkers: Smilodon (saber-toothed cat) right side profile view. Mouth open, ears back (Meremi)
The Chinese Civil War, as per the last entry, had been left off at the Northern Expedition. This inaugurated what in modern histories is called the Nanjing decade. Here the GMD had a chance to run China for a period that proved to be about ten years before the start of a major war, but only a short span of time had lapsed before the start of the Japanese war in the North. What this meant for China's civil war is simple: Jiang viewed his first task as defeating Mao, not fighting Japan. Likewise, ultimately, Mao came to see defeating Japan as a means to save himself from defeat more than a sincere opposition to the Axis, which explains why his army only fought one campaign and never did so before or after. The fighting in the period 1931-5, however, was one of successive victories of Jiang over Mao, for a simple reason: Mao sought to fight a classical Leninist war of resistance in the cities (war of resistance, of course, really was a euphemism for "I have army, you obey"). This hadn't exactly worked all that well for Lenin, and it worked no better for Mao. Bolshevik victory in the Russian Civil War, if you'll remember, was more or less predetermined from the start for geographic factors that in Mao's cases never were relevant.

Instead, Jiang conducted a sequence of blockhouse and encircling campaigns that produced the first of two near-total collapses of Maoism. At the same time, Jiang tried to rule all of China and to contain the warlords. Japan's expanding south into all of Manchuria and its sphere of influence into Outer Mongolia was at this time to Jiang something to deal with later, if at all. It's worth reflecting in all this that Jiang was prevented from destroying Mao only by an unreliable Warlord ally who gave Mao his chance to escape one of the encirclements and as will be shown the actual conduct of the CCP in WWII makes it clear that Jiang didn't exactly see things wrongly, here. The CCP and GMD were about as fatal to Chinese effectiveness as the Provisional Government and Petrograd Soviet had been for Russia. At the same time in four years of fighting the first Chinese Communist regime, the Chinese Soviet Republic, was destroyed on the battlefield, and the result was the Long March, a retreat that left Mao's military power in tatters.

Thus while the Germans were dismantling Versailles, and as the next entry will cover starting their process with the Holocaust, the war in Asia ground on to some degree independent of events in Europe and the USSR, but to other degrees very dependent on them. But in 1936, two incidents happened that were to play a great role in the outbreak of WWII in 1937 with the start of a full-scale war of peoples between the Republic of China and the Empire of Japan......
halialkers: An image of Joe Stalin in sunglasses with the phrase "Broseph Stalin" on it (Kaartshaahin Heshatani)
Two invasions and one great offensive were launched. In 1812, the bicentennial of which is this day, Napoleon Bonaparte, the hitherto undefeated conqueror of the great bulk of Europe launched his invasion of the Russia of Alexander I. He had spent the previous months studying all the failures of Charles XII in the Great Northern War, and making his most in-depth and complete logistical and otherwise preparations for a campaiign. Indeed, Napoleon never repeated the mistakes of Charles XII. He made completely different ones that culminated in the complete annihilation of his Grande Armee, culminating in the great debacle of the Berezina. Technically Napoleon was never defeated on the battlefield, but as the North Vietnamese said to the American, that was true but it was irrelevant. Curiously Napoleon's invasion began to degenerate after a stiff fight at Smolensk, the first truly big and gruesome battle of the invasion.

In 1941, 3 million Nazis, prepared after a decision made in October of 1940, were to launch what was intended to be the crowning triumph of Nazi arms, the invasion of the Soviet Union of Josef Stalin. Against them were arrayed 2 million Soviet forces with horrendously obsolete equipment, operating on a bad plan, executing the bad plan worse than even it had to be. In the course of this preparation, the Nazis had studied deeply the lessons of 1812, and indeed they did not repeat the mistakes of Napoleon. They made entirely different ones that were just as fatal. This in fact cast a deep dark cloud over the course of Operation Typhoon and the Soviet counteroffensive there. And furthermore, ironically, and bitterly the Soviets caused the Nazi offensive to begin to derail in a prolonged and bloody battle at Smolensk, the first place the Red Army put up a furious, planned defense that lasted for eight weeks (and utterly failed, but in lasting eight weeks this meant it took the Nazis longer to capture Smolensk than it had taken them to knock down the French).

And then in 1944, the Red Army launched Operation Bagration against the hollowed-out form of Army Group Center, still retaining the so-called Belarusian Balcony, where the Red Army had massed a huge, modern mechanized force against a Wehrmacht degrading into a WWI Army and SS fanatics who were a political militia but had all the remaining goodies. The huge offensive began deep in Belarus, around Minsk, at the time that the democracies were breaking out at Falaise. In a short timespan Army Group Center no longer existed, the Red Army was on the Vistula, the Polish Home Army destroyed any pretense of an independent postwar Poland with the Nazis and Soviets both in different ways making this end possible, and the Nazis lost WWII to a point where only the fanatics could disagree with it.

June 22nd is as such generally not the day nor the era to invade Russia. Russia, in fact, has a record of killing empires on this day.
halialkers: A Cyclops, the Greek mythological gadgeeters (Azhundazi H'ven Kanari)
As the war in Asia continued to grind on (and it's worth noting here that Japan, as the next series dealing with WWII proper will show, was never out of war with China until 1946 from 1931 onward), Europe saw one of its most convoluted aspects in terms of its political development. Specifically in the wake of Mussolini deterring Hitler at the Brenner Pass, you saw the *first* attempt at an anti-Hitler alliance between Fascist Italy, the Third Republic, and the United Kingdom. This attempt was known as the Stresa Front. It's worth repeating here that Mussolini was originally trying to ally against Hitler, not with him. This is very important to keep in mind once we get to 1940. The second attempts with the USSR, France, and the UK all fell apart for a different reason to this one, and this was Mussolini's decision to invade Ethiopia.

Preceding this, however, was Hitler's success in 1935 in two things: First, he began rearmament in this year when he made claims that Germany's neighbors had never disarmed, but Germany itself had been forced to, while admitting the existence of the Luftwaffe, which was legally Verboten. The Reichswehr, which had been rearming for the whole of the Weimar period with the aid and approval of the Soviet Union was to begin its transformation in this year with a starting point of 300,000 (meaning the Versailles number was tripled) into the infamous and criminal Wehrmacht, Adolf Hitler's army of rapists, thieves, and murderers.

The decisive tilt in this context with the Stresa Front was the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. It is significant that in the context of "nobody gassed anybody in WWII" that the Italians *did* use gas on Ethiopia, and that this was a brutal attempt to refight one of the only wars Africans had won during the Scramble for Africa phase. As with Japan and Germany withdrawing from the League of Nations in 1931 and 1933, respectively, the nations of the world hung their heads in sadness, but did nothing, and the Italians used mustard gas on a vastly inferior military and gained by brute, murderous force their largest colony of the Kingdom of Italy phase.

It was, however, during the invasion of Ethiopia that the Stresa Front broke down, and this was to begin a pattern that lasted up to September of 1939 of revolving door alliances against Hitler and appeasement of German aggression and expansion. Ethiopia would be the first Axis-occupied country in the course of WWII, however, to be liberated, and its liberation was the first great British triumph *of* WWII proper. From the vantage point of 1935, with the Nuremberg Laws (and they are the subject of the post after the next post, as part of the subseries on the Nazi murder machine) in effect, Germany's rearmament beginning, and Uncle Joe's regime the only European state prepared for a modern war, however, to see that the British, of all people, would be the ones to liberate Ethiopia was by no means simple to foresee.

And inch by inch the Deep Waters closed over a world that was focusing on that which was right in front of it, unaware that it was beginning to drown in the growth of a second war larger and more wicked by far than the first......

halialkers: Green-skinned alien with four lights behind him caption "There is no war in Ba Sing Se" (War is peace)
The Soviet Terror of the 1930s and 1940s was arguably the most decisive element, strategically speaking, in the outbreak of WWII, having ramifications far outside the territorial boundaries of the Soviet Union. Its giving the USSR a military and diplomatic corps very badly weakened was a decisive element in Soviet, Fascist, and Democratic calculations before WWII, and in the USSR"s policies in the first two years of WWII. The evolution of Red Terror likewise saddled the USSR with a system that could only ossify and stagnate in the long term, while doing some things to provide a tilt to a Soviet state system that would enable the USSR to avoid collapse in 1941. In its sheer expanse, breadth, and lethality the Soviet Terror has no equals in any other dictatorship in human history. Almost all dictatorships left their armies alone and/or co-opted them. The USSR, by contrast, not only shot its generals and a good number of its own created leadership, but had the shooters themselves shot and replaced no less than twice in the sequence of the Terror.

For all this, this is not equal to the Nazi vision of Terror for Terror's sake, serving rather as a very evil means of state control that represented in some ways an exaggeration and distortion of Tsarist tradition (where it might serve to remember that some of the paranoia of Stalin about assassination was hardly unreasonable, for much of the 18th Century the Tsars of Russia were chosen by strangling on the part of their Guards). How did such a process begin? It began with the murder of the popular, charismatic, and devoted Stalinist Sergei Kirov, a man who represented in a sense some long-standing grievances of Russian history, but whose death overshadows drastically the reality of who Kirov actually was.

In life, Kirov was a devoted Stalinist to the degree of Molotov, Kosygin, Khrushchev, Yezhov, and other creatures of Stalin's dictatorship. I use creature because to succeed in classical Stalinism you needed either amorality or a thick skin. Preferably both. Thick skin, incidentally, to a point where if it were possible to make armor out of that the Soviet army would have been invincible to everything short of saturation nuking, as Stalinist Soviet society was a nasty, vile, and brutish place.

The simple description of the Kirov murder is that a deranged student shot him, the more complex reality is that in Stalin's USSR it is very difficult for such a thing to happen and Stalin not know it. The crucial aspect that makes it difficult to say Stalin was directly responsible for this is that it's about the only time during Stalinism where such a thing was ever done in public, as opposed to behind closed doors and under a strict veil of secrecy. My view is that the Kirov murder was an intrigue of the NKVD (then still known as the OGPU) to work to Stalin's favor, but one which Stalin capitalized on as a means to start explaining failures of the collectivization program that were already accelerating at that time. Like the Reichstag Fire Stalin did not directly cause this, as it was atypical of his regime's MO with murders (as, for instance, when people were shot during the Purges it was not publicly noted that this was what happened to them). But like the Reichstag Fire and the Night of the Long Knives, this incident began a long, sordid, and dark chapter of human history, when a good-sized chunk of the world was to wind up divided between the steadily radicalizing murder and terror regime of the Nazis, who sought a world of the dead, and the radicalizing and violent Soviet regime, which meant that from the Rhine to Vladivostok a world began to rise of tyrants, great and terrible, unchallenged. A world of camps and evil.
halialkers: It's clobbering time, Summer Glau with fire behind her, bloodied weapons (River-4)
When Hitler secured the chancellorship, he did so on the basis of a belief on the part of the regular German Right-Wing that it had power sufficient to contain the Nazis, whom they dismissed wrongfully as nothing but mere brutes and barbarians. Hitler's policy in this intrigue was simple: refuse to compromise, all power to the Gauleiters. The intrigue at higher levels was concurrent with Hitler's outreach to von Hindenburg and the Reichsheer, albeit an outreach that slowly created an unfolding crisis with the SA. When Paul von Hindenburg had died, the Nazis had outmatched both conservative and reactionary (i.e. Hohenzollern restorationist) elements to amass a steadily growing handle on the reins of power. Yet the SA had grown also, to a degree far larger than the Reichsheer, which in turn naturally feared that the Nazis would turn to the SA and its more democratic basis as opposed to von Seeckt's aristocrat's paradise.

Hitler for his part wanted the Reichsheer over the SA, and so inaugurated the violent Night of the Long Knives. Chronologically the first great European purge, it broke any surviving anti-Hitler factions in the Nazi Party and caused quite a bit of violent death. Significantly and dangerously nobody else in Europe said tickety-boo about it, instead lauding Hitler's decisive action in crushing the vulgar goons of the SA, even when around this same time the Reichstag Fire, which was not actually caused by the Nazis (who were never so subtle as all this) propelled Hitler into the power of a totalitarian dictator via the enabling act. It is likewise significant that the first acts of Hitler as Fuhrer and Chancellor were violent acts committed by violence. This matters becausee the Nazis never concealed what they were, only the self-delusions of others led to the view that this would be so.

However in 1934, equally significantly, there was the only instance where any Great Power before WWII made Hitler back down. In December of 1934 the Austrian Nazis had killed the dictator in Austria and attempted to take it over, and just as the German Nazis began to move, Benito Mussolini moved a large, powerful force (relative to the 1934 Wehrmacht at any rate) to the Brenner Pass. Confronted by a decisive show of force, Hitler backed down. In the wake of the democratic appeasement that culminated in Munich and the Soviet-Nazi Pact of 1939, this lesson is the most dangerous of them all, as it illustrates that the rise of the Nazis to where they were by 1941 was entirely self-inflicted. A show of force could and did prove decisive against them.

Even more ominously after the Night of the Long Knives, however, came a fateful assassination that was to wreak incalculable damage to the USSR's military by the late 1930s, which would inaugurate the classical form of Stalinism, and which would provide one of the decisive elements in the start of the attempts that repeatedly fell through to form anti-Hitler alliances: the assassination of the Leningrad Apparatchik Sergei Kirov......

halialkers: Green-skinned alien with four lights behind him caption "There is no war in Ba Sing Se" (ignorance is strenth)
The rise of the Nazis is a very complicated process, which is why this is split into two entries. One chronicles how from the outbreak of the Great Depression the Nazis got into a coalition government, the other chronicles how Gleichsaltung began.cut for length )

However under Hindenburg the intrigues of von Sleicher with a slimy git named von Papen produced a strange problem: in the course of these elections, the Nazis had won a plurality in the Reichstag. They would never get 51% of the vote, but they got the widest slate of votes and sitting members of the Reichstag. Hitler was offered a Vice-Chancellorship. And it is at this point that this entry closes.

halialkers: Green-skinned alien with four lights behind him caption "There is no war in Ba Sing Se" (ignorance is strenth)
There is one of the first great curiosities in the interwar era in terms of the evolution of WWI that the war east of the Rhine, involving Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, the Ottomans, Austria-Hungary, Russia, and Germany was progressively written out of the histories. The curiosity here is that it is the Eastern Front of WWI that is more important than any other chapter of that war, perhaps *the* single most important phase of it. The fighting beginning with Tannenberg, Gnila Lipa, and Rava Russka replaced the grim, autocratic, anti-Semitic regime of Tsar Nicholas II, bungler of Mukden, with the totalitarian regimes of Lenin and Stalin. This fighting, however grim and bloody it was, ended relatively indecisively, and the Imperial Russian regime fell not from the defeats against Germany or the expensive victories against the Ottomans and Austria-Hungary so much as the stresses of two revolutionary governments and one using its old ties with the Germans to smash the other, followed by a civil war in which this one established the contours now not of Russian authoritarian absolutism, but instead the brutality of the Soviet era, the faceless, merciless state of Stalin and Lenin.

Nor did the war carry into the bloody battles in Salonika, or the Isonzo. Nor for that matter did the actual dashing maneuver campaigns of the victorious Allies in Palestine and in Iraq wind up getting coverage. The war as it appeared in the films and stories and memories of the time took two fashions: the one, shaped by the Fascist movement, with its Blood for Blood, All Teeth for One Tooth approach was that the war was a glorious, heroic thing. War was a civilizing force, it took boys and girls and made men and women out of them. War created, war restored, war made all things new. War was a comforting, rejuvenating, invigorating force. Thus the fascists began to organize a new society, orchestrated and run by the power of a single party controlling a theoretically all-powerful state, the army as the school of the nation, society geared for perpetual, endless war as a unifying force. Essentially this is Genghis Khan-ism, the society unified by spilling the blood of its enemies and making a boast about what big men it produces.

The view most famous today is that of Hollywood, of Remarque, and of filtered and distorted poems by authors like Owen and Sassoon who became disillusioned with war in general, but not necessarily the industrial bloodbath that WWI had been in particular. This is the view that focuses on a distorted image of the Western Front, conflating it with the reality of the Isonzo War, meaningless attacks and counterattacks, launched by mad generals throwing uncomprehending soldiers at a hostile and faceless enemy whose purpose has been forgotten. Here the war became senseless, blundering violence, and it is this view that ultimately prevailed from the Western memory of the Second World War overshadowing the actual triumph and victory of the First.

There, however, was a third view that is forgotten today, because the society that spawned it no longer exists: the view that war's destabilizing forces and self-immolating power is actually a good thing, to be encouraged and fostered as a means of subverting other societies to pave the way for a new armed conquest. This is the view that animated Frunze and Tuchachevsky to create the Deep Operations concept, Stalin to build the massive armed forces and air, tank, artillery, and infantry power of the Soviet Union. The USSR was never prone to pacifism, Lenin from the first had seen war between capitalist states as a best-case scenario for Communism. Lenin, however, never gained a means to achieve this or to use it. The difference between the 1920s and 1940s is that Stalin did achieve this, at the terrible price of Hitler's gruesome invasion of the USSR. The other difference is that where Lenin's armies failed in wars outside the USSR's boundaries, Stalin's armies ultimately developed a record of success, be it Pyrrhic or be it grand, sweeping conquest. Lenin built the USSR, but Stalin transformed it into a superpower.

So there are three polarities of views of WWI that predominated: one viewed it as a purely uplifting, positive force, neglecting all the evils and destabilization it produced and the senseless violence that could and did appear with regularity, primarily in Western Europe in the fascist and suchlike movements. One, in the USSR and to some extent in the colonies, viewed the war as equally senselessly destructive but this represented a positive good for them, the USSR for the sake of power expansion, the colonies as a means to force recalcitrant Metropoles to cough up the freedom for everybody. The third view, that seen in the Western democracies was that war was senseless butchery and that senseless butchery was bad, so war needed to change, and preferably end altogether.

In the event the downfall of Hitler's Empire and the rise of the Soviet Empire wound up validating somewhat (actually IMHO much more than somewhat) Stalin's concept of what war should be.......

halialkers: Green-skinned alien with four lights behind him caption "There is no war in Ba Sing Se" (freedom is slavery)
Contrary to how Eurocentric histories put it, the Second World War did not begin with Adolf Hitler's surprise attack on 1 September against the military dictatorship of Poland. Nor did it begin with any autocracy acting in a purely autocratic fashion against a weak enemy. Instead, this first armed clash of WWII reflected the peculiar inability of Japan to reign in the cliques of officers that had arisen, while on the Chinese side it reflected the problems of the Warlord era in terms intrigue. Manchuria was a very valuable region in terms of Chinese territory, as it included the great bulk of indigenous industrial regions. The emergence of the Mukden Incident reflected the emergence of a tendency to autonomy on the part of the Japanese Army, a pattern that would regularly recur with regularly disastrous results. The Imperial Japanese Army garrison known as the Kwantung Army, clustered around Japanese-ruled Korea, sought to annex Mukden initially to broaden the security zone for Korea.

Their view was that in the wake of the growing turmoil afflicting civilian leadership at home, as the Great Depression left Japan sorely stressed to find jobs and to even feed its own people, that the civilian authorities would not be able to stop them, while the military tradition of junior officers defying their seniors would prevent those seniors from stopping them. Not for the first and not for the last time Japanese officers struck in the expectation of accomplishing a Fait Accompli against one of the members of the Ma Clique and Zhang Zhueliang, and the result was that 60,000 Japanese soldiers completely outfought the 180,000 Fengtian Clique forces against them. This owed itself to the superior quality of Japanese troops and firepower relative to the armies of China, as while ludicrously weak against European forces, Japan's armies were an unstoppable force in Asia.

This victory and the brutal fighting required to achieve it is why Zhang Zhueliang was killed and replaced by Zhang Zhoulin. However the fighting in what should properly be termed the first, Manchurian, campaign of WWII would drag on into 1933. All the same, this incident where the Japanese engineered a false-flag incident involving the dynamiting of a train, moved into China, and used their firepower-and-mobility superior forces to defeat a superficially superior in numbers force inaugurates a pattern of the Second Sino-Japanese War: despite the overwhelmingly superior numbers China could produce on paper, Japan regularly won all its major ground victories here.

The reason is stated in the last sentence of the second-to-last paragraph, but with this, we now in this series move into WWII. However it's again worth reflecting on that WWII did not spread to Europe until 1939.......but the Soviets were involved in this Asian theater from 1938 onward.
halialkers: Heisei Godzilla, right frontal view, firing blue and white beam (Set-5)
In the early 1920s, Japan had been ruled by what was termed the Taisho Democracy, the most liberal and pacific phase of the Imperial Japanese Era. Its foreign policy, however, was to suffer from the long-term failings of the Meiji-era Constitution in that it gave immense power to the military, but no actual means to control it. This problem would begin to show up in the 1920s in the form of the emergence of separate cliques of younger Japanese officers that challenged more established cliques. The most crucial and infamous of these was in Manchuria, but it was not the only one and it was simply the most successful. This group was termed the Kwantung Army, and among its leaders was one Tojo Hideki, the man that would take Japan into the madness and folly of a losing war.

Japan's influence in China had grown since the 21 Demands of 1915, and it would be Japan that attempted to tie itself to the Fengtian Clique as its first group of local Chinese proxies. The first result of this in practice was the Battle of Jinan, arguably in a sense a prototype of the WWII Asian battles: both sides engaged in complicated political intrigue, but the result of the clash of GMD forces with armed troops of the IJA was that Japan kicked Chinese ass and threw them out of the Jinan region. After which point they promptly shot the first leader of the Fengtian Clique and promoted in his stead his son, Zhang Zhuolin, a figure whose role in the outbreak of WWII would be quite important. The most crucial result of this 1928 armed clash was to create in the Kwantung Army a tradition of presenting the authorities in Tokyo with fait accomplis, while establishing a pattern of Japanese aggression in the north in the midst of the Nanjing era of the Chinese Civil War to the south.

However by 1929, the world and the entire geopolitical pattern would be altered by one of the most crucial and dangerous eras for the survival of Democracy: the Great Depression, which created a cultural ethos that almost destroyed democracy as an institution when added to the WWI timeframe's seeming validation of Fin de Siecle anxieties......

halialkers: Green-skinned alien with four lights behind him caption "There is no war in Ba Sing Se" (ignorance is strenth)
In 1911 the Qing Empire, the last phase of the 2,000 year history of the system of Chinese society founded out of the traditional states of Han, Yan, Zhao, Dai, Wei, Chu, Qi, and Qin, came to an end. This end was confirmed by the rapid disappearance of the ancient Chinese system in the wake of a broader coalition, and its nature had already begun to be influenced by Japan long before the outbreak of the gigantic bloodbath of 1931-45. This disintegration reflected the legacy of Dowager Empress Cixi's influence, which left the Qing bureaucracy ossified and incapable of acting even to save itself. The Japanese intervention in WWI had contributed to the collapse of the first attempt to unite China under a new Chinese regime led by Yuan Shikhai, which would have been an attempt to establish a neo-dynastic system. The result was the Warlordist era. The Warlords built armies that were institutions and bulwarks of political power, more feudal than modern in a sense.

The first powerful group of Warlords was the Anhui Clique, which had arisen out of the botched attempt of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen to establish a civil government in China. Anhui was a northern province of China, where the emerging GMD was concentrated in the south. This movement, and its rivals and ultimate supplanters, the Zhili Clique, as such were successors of the institutions of the North China Plain. So also was the successor Fengtian movement. As such these set of wars occurred near the more industrialized and more urbanized part of China, and thus amassed ever-growing armies. The Zhili-Anhui War pitted armies in the tens of thousands, very small by the standards of WWII, but brought the collapse of the Anhui Clique and the new Zhili Clique to power.

Zhili, further north than Anhui, was to rule for a time in a short-lived hegemony in the north challenged by the Fengtian Clique which would play an instrumental role in the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War. In the First Zhili-Fengtian War, where the armies of both sides were in the 100K range, Zhili smashed Fengtian. It was in this context where the legacy of the GMD-USSR ties would begin to bear fruit. Jiang Jieshi was to build in this timeframe the core of a powerful army that was at its relative peak of power, using the advantage of time in the process, as well as adopting some elements of the Frunze doctrine. In the Second Zhili-Fengtian War, where the armies now totalled 200,000 on each side, having quadrupled in size from the Zhili-Anhui War, the Fengtian clique comprehensively defeated the Zhili Clique and soon experienced the problem of all successful Warlordist movements when it split amongst itself in the Anti-Fengtian War.

Chinese Communism, which had seen its first appearance in the Anti-Japanese May Fourth Movement, remained at this time part of the broader GMD coalition, and when Jiang Jieshi launched his Northern Expedition, he did so at the behest of both of the all-China movements. Jiang, a very slippery but also very incompetent, man was to launch himself in this Northern Expedition directly into the process of a two-year conflict that saw him defeat and/or absorb his main Warlord rivals, excluding the Fengtian Clique, but in the midst of this he executed brutally and effectively the Shanghai Massacre.

The result of all this was that in a sequence of wars of evolving complexity the Chinese armies were growing in size and power, though it was the USSR-influenced and Soviet proxy GMD that managed to launch the most effective campaign, beginning the nine years of the Nanjing Era, where the GMD exercised "rule" over China, and where the Chinese Civil War had transformed into its more familiar form: a war of the GMD, now a more Right-Wing/Center movement, against a Chinese Communist Party that from early on never was on friendly terms with the growing totalitarian power of Stalin.

It is in this context that the USSR launched its first intervention in the East, when the still-autonomous Fengtian Clique was trounced solidly by Marshal Blyker in a process that influenced the ultimate decision on the part of the Kwangtung Clique of the Imperial Japanese Army to begin extending its own influence in Manchuria. After all the Soviets had clearly invaded and clearly done so with no reprisals.........

It also bears commenting that none of the warlord armies had a great deal of mechanized equipment or modern communications equipment. This as much as anything else limited their total size and staying power, while the warlord era's blend of military power with a feudal mixture of charisma and personal patron-client systems helped shape the overall limits of warlord armies' total size in a different fashion, as too big an army inevitably broke up into further civil wars. The advantage the GMD/CCP blend had was that it was ideological, not rooted on personal ties, and focused on all-China, not particular provinces. Jiang, however, was too strong to permit opposition but too weak to rule effectively, and the emergence of the new phase of the Civil War, its second phase, graphically illustrated this.
halialkers: (Default)
The World War II series' title is "Tears Unnumbered Shall Ye Shed." Those that know their Tolkien know the reference. For those that don't, it refers to Tolkien's Quenta Silmarillion, where a group of unsympathetic monsters lead a war to reclaim the three Silmarils from a physically incarnate Cosmic Horror. The quest is doomed before it begins, and the Nirnaeth Arnodiead is the the greatest, most valorous battle of all the battles against Morgoth.....and it's a complete and utter failure and brings Morgoth to an ephemeral victory. This title references the seemingly endless endurance of the fighting that would come to compose this war, the unimaginable horrors of the war, and the sheer incomprehensible death toll.

As well as the senseless valor that characterized much of the fighting. It's not an actual metaphor for the war itself, however. The lead-in to the Second World War is not in the Beer Hall Putsch or its fellows on the German Right or the German Left, but rather it's in the start of the Chinese Civil War. This war in turn owes itself to the 1911 (as in 101 years ago) Xinhai Revolution where a group of Chinese nationalist liberals and the Beifang Army overthrew the Qing Dynasty. This dynasty was the last version of the Chinese system founded by Zheng of Qin, Qin Shihuangdi, and with its passing came a power vacuum. The initial attempt to fill it came from the Beifang Army, the most Westernized single section of Chinese culture under Yuan Shikai, but his attempts to reconstruct an Imperial dynasty floundered on the emergence of Japanese influence in the region, with the Battle of Qingdao and the 21 Demands marking a start to this process.

The Chinese Civil War began as a sequence of wars between what are now called Warlords, as well as seeing the successful and temporary secession of Tibet (restoring the medieval autocracy of the Dalai Lamas that like the GMD itself is only mild relative to what succeeded it), as well as the temporary Soviet establishment of the Xinjiang region as its own puppet state. The warlords were men who built private armies in the fashion of Zheng Guofan in the Taiping Rebellion. Their armies were not thus simply military factors, they were both military and political, and this impaired to some extent the military role of those armies as the generals that built them understandably did not want to lose the power they built.

The only all-China faction at this time was concentrated in the South China coastal cities. It, with its advisor representing its sole good friend, the USSR under the NEP government and in the midst of the emergence of the Stalin regime, was the Guomindang, or the Chinese Nationalist Party. The Guomindang was a conglomeration of forces led by Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, and his initial and sole foreign contacts were with the USSR and its attache, Mikhail Borodin. It was during this time, around 1922, that Sun Yat-Sen sent a particular Chinese man to Moscow to learn from the USSR of the Frunze era the newer concepts of modern war.

His name was none other than Chiang Kai-Shek/Jiang Jieshi. This man, the Red General, deserves a good reputation of any sort only in being a Wannabe, Mao's sole difference from him was in knowing how to actually do what Jiang wanted to do. Jiang thus has as his sole saving grace that he was a blithering complete idiot. But at the time in 1922, nobody could foresee this particular future.....

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