Archive for December 9th, 2008

In 1937, the people living in the Chinese capital of Nanking had been been nervously training their eyes eastward for a month.  The fall of the port city of Shanghai in November was a very bad omen, and the Chinese troops that had entered (and passed through) the city with news of the Japanese approach didn’t help matters.  Situated on a bend in the Yangtze River, Nanking was afforded a natural (and very imposing) barrier that prevented enemy encirclement.  But it was also a hindrance to escape, as the river was too cold (and too wide) to swim and there weren’t enough watercraft for everyone.

From a military standpoint, the situation was also less than favorable.  After Shanghai, the Japanese military had begun a three-pronged attack towards the capital, 175 miles to the northwest.  The Chinese troops, exhausted after Shanghai, offered little resistance, satisfied to merely stay ahead of the onslaught.

Tang Shengzhi, the General in charge of Nanking’s defense, had vowed to defend the city to the death, but the soldiers from Shanghai weren’t having it.  Desirous of escaping the enemy, they grabbed boats, sailed the Yangtze, and continued into the Chinese interior.  Chiang Kai-shek (the head of the National Military Council) realized that there weren’t enough quality troops to mount a realistic defense, so the elite forces were withdrawn to fight another day, and Shengzhi was left with about 100,000 mostly untrained soldiers.  The government left the city on December 1st, with the president following on the 7th.

The Japanese occupied all the area around Nanking and then ordered the city to surrender.  Those forces had been commanded by General Iwane Matsui, but an illness forced him to return home, a departure that would have dire consequences (which we’ll discuss later).  In his place, Asaka Yasuhiko (related by marriage to Emperor Hirohito) assumed command.  Also in the chain of command was the fanatical Lt. Colonel Isamu Cho (you might remember him from our discussions of Okinawa).

On December 9, 1937, after the Chinese refused to surrender, the Battle of Nanking began as the Japanese attacked the city.  But with only a scattering of forces, no tanks, very little artillery, and no air force, the Chinese military was pretty much doomed.  The duration of this battle would be measured only in days.

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