18 April 2014

Shanghai 1937 Is China’s Forgotten Stalingrad Remember this epic urban battle between China and Japan

Japanese marines at the Battle of Shanghai in 1937. 
Shanghai 1937 Is China’s Forgotten Stalingrad 
Remember this epic urban battle between China and Japan 
Michael Peck in War is Boring

In the summer of 1937, the “Pearl of the Orient” became a slaughterhouse. A million Chinese and Japanese soldiers engaged in savage urban combat in China’s coastal city of Shanghai.

Before the battle, Shanghai had been a thriving metropolis bustling with Western traders and missionaries, Chinese gangsters, workers and peasants and Japanese soldiers and businessmen.

As many as 300,000 people died in the epic three-month struggle that pitted China’s best divisions against Japanese marines, tank, naval gunfire and aircraft.

Yet even in China, few people remember the Battle of Shanghai, says Peter Harmsen, author of Shanghai 1937: Stalingrad on the Yangtze. The clash receded beneath another horrific memory: the Rape of Nanking.

Shanghai “was one of 22 major battles of the Sino-Japanese War that are listed in official Chinese historiography,” Harmsen told War is Boring in an email. “Many Chinese have heard about the individual battles, but it’s mainly just specialists and military history buffs who actually remember when exactly they took place—and how and why.”

It was an unfortunate confluence of forces that brought war to Shanghai in August 1937. China and Japan had been in limited conflict since 1931, when Japan invaded Manchuria in search of empire and raw materials. In 1937, Japan seized Beijing after the Marco Polo Bridge incident.

Enough was enough. Nationalist Chinese leader Chiang Kai-Shek had spent the 1930s trying to destroy the Communists. Now was the time to stand up to Japan.

Just why he chose Shanghai is unclear, Harmsen explained. “For example, it has been argued that Chiang wanted to demonstrate China’s willingness to resist Japanese aggression in front of a big international audience and therefore picked Shanghai because of its large expat population.”

“Others have pointed out that the river-rich countryside in the Shanghai area offered fewer tactical advantages to Japanese tanks than the flat north Chinese plains,” Harmsen added.

Ironically, it was bellicose Japan that wasn’t looking for a fight in Shanghai. The Japanese army was focused on securing north China, where it could grab territory and resources as well as keep an eye on its arch-rival the Soviet Union.

It was the Japanese navy, often perceived as being a little less militaristic than the army, that was determined to hold Shanghai.

As often happens with wars, it was a tiny spark that detonated the powder keg. The mysterious murder of a Japanese officer on August 9, 1937—an event that might have been a police matter in more peaceful times—escalated into open warfare.

Deploying his German-trained divisions—the pride of the Nationalist Chinese army—Chiang tried to push the small Japanese garrison into the Huangpu River.

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