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Japanese expansion

Japanese troops onward to Wuhan

Map showing the Battle of Wuhan

Chinese machine gun nest

Chinese troops in Xinyang

The Battle of Wuhan ( ), popularly known to Chinese as the Defense of Wuhan ( ), and to the Japanese as the Capture of Wuhan ( ), was a large-scale battle of the Second Sino-Japanese War. More than one million National Revolutionary Army troops were gathered, with Chiang Kai-shek himself in command, to defend Wuhanmarker from the Imperial Japanese Army led by Yasuji Okamura. Engagements were in both northern and southern shores of Yangtze Rivermarker, spreading across vast areas of Anhuimarker, Henanmarker, Jiangximarker and Hubeimarker provinces. It lasted four and half months, and was the longest, largest and one of the most significant battles of the entire Second Sino-Japanese War.


On 7 July 1937, the Imperial Japanese Army launched the full-scale invasion against China. With the onset of the war, Beijing and Tianjinmarker fell to the Japanese in less than one month, which exposed the entire North China Plain to the Japanese Army. On 12 November, the Japanese Army managed to capture Shanghai. Nanjingmarker was in risk of being besieged, and the Chinese government was forced to transfer its capital to Chongqingmarker. However, the Chinese government did not transfer its elite troops and the war facilities to Chongqing immediately; instead, they were gathered together and set up in Wuhanmarker. Assistance from the USSR provided additional military and technical resources, including a small band of Soviet Air Force volunteers.

Importance of Wuhan

Wuhan, located halfway up the Yangtze Rivermarker, was the second largest city at the time with a population of two million. The city was divided by the Yangtze River and Hanshuimarker, which divided Wuhan into three regions: Wuchangmarker, Hankou and Hanyang. Wuchang was the political center, Hankou was mainly for commerce while Hanyang was the industrial estate. After the construction of Yuehan Railway, Wuhan became much more important as the traffic center in the inland China.

When Japan captured Nanjing on 13 December, the Chinese shifted their headquarters to Wuhan. Thus, Wuhan virtually became the political, economical and military center at the time, and the wartime capital of China. Now the Chinese war effort was focused on protecting Wuhan from being captured. The Japanese government and the headquarters of the China Expeditionary Force expected that the fall of Wuhan would lead to the end of the Chinese resistance.


The Battle of Wuhan was preceded by a Japanese air strike on 28 February 1938. It was known as the 2.28 Air battle and the Chinese were able to repel the attack.

On 24 March, the Diet of Japan passed the National Mobilization Law that authorized unlimited funding of war. As part of the law, the National Service Draft Ordinance also allowed the conscription of civilians.

On 29 April, the Japanese air force launched major air strikes on Wuhan to celebrate their Emperor's birthday. The Chinese, knowing this beforehand, were well prepared. This battle was known as the 4.29 Air battle, one the most intense air battles of the Second Sino-Japanese War. The Chinese air force shot down 21 Japanese planes and at a loss of 12.

After the fall of Xuzhou in May 1938, the Japanese planned an extensive invasion of Hankou and the takeover of Wuhanmarker, intending to destroy the main force of the National Revolutionary Army. The Chinese, on the other hand, were preparing for the defense of Wuhan. They managed to gather up more than one million troops, around 200 planes and 30 naval ships.

In an attempt to win more time for the preparation of the defense of Wuhan, the Chinese opened up the dikes of Yellow Rivermarker in Huayuankoumarker, Zhengzhoumarker on 9 June. The flood, known now as the 1938 Yellow River flood, forced the Japanese to delay their attack on Wuhan. However, it also caused somewhere around 500,000 civilian deaths. Note that this source cites the flooding of North China during 1939.

Major engagements

South of Yangtze River

On 13 June, the Japanese made a naval landing that captured Anqing, which signalled the onset of the Battle of Wuhan. On the southern shore of Yangtze River, the Chinese 9th Military Region stationed one regiment west of Lake Poyangmarker, another regiment was stationed between the line from Jiangximarker to Jiujiangmarker. The Japanese 11th Army main force attacked along the southern shore of the River. The Japanese Namita detachment landed in the east of Jiujiang on 23 July. The Chinese defenders tried to resist, but they could not stop the 106th Japanese Division from landing as well and Jiujiang was captured on the 26th. The Namita detachment moved eastward along the river, and landed northeast of Ruichangmarker on 10 August and began laying siege to the city. The defending 3rd Chinese Army (Group?) were reinforced by the 32nd Army Group and resisted. However, when the Japanese 9th Division entered the action, the Chinese defenders were exhausted and Ruichang was eventually captured on the 24th. The 9th Division and the Namita detachment continued to move eastward along the river, while the 27th Division invaded Ruoxi simultaneously. The Chinese 30th Army and the 18th Army resisted along the Ruichang-Wuning Road and the surrounding area, and the situation was in stalemate for months. On 5 October, after the Japanese 27th Division captured Ruoxi, they turned to strike northeast and captured Xintanpu in Hubeimarker on the 18th and began moving toward Dazhi.
Japanese forces at the Battle of Wuhan
In the meantime, the Japanese Army and their supporting river fleet that advanced eastward along the River encountered resistance from the defending Chinese 31st Army Company and 32nd Army Group in the west of Ruichang. When Matou Town and Fuchikou (in Yangxin County) were captured, the Chinese 2nd Army Group organized 6th, 56th, 75th and 98th along with the 30th Army Group to strengthen the defense of Yangxin region. The battle continued until 22 October when Chinese lost all of Yangxin, Dazhi and Hubei City. The Japanese 9th Division and Namita detachment was now approaching Wuchangmarker.


While the Japanese Army was attacking Ruichangmarker, the 106th Division separately moved southward along the Nanxun Railway (Nanchangmarker - Jiujiangmarker). The defending Chinese 1st and 29th Army Group and the 4th, 8th Army relied on the advantageous terrain of Lu Shanmarker and north of Nanxun Railway to provide resistance. As a result, the Japanese offensive suffered a setback. On 20 August, the Japanese 101st Division crossed the Poyang Lakemarker from Hukou to reinforce the 106th Division. They breached the Chinese 25th Army's defensive line and captured Xinzhi, coordinating with the 106th Division to attempt to occupy De'an and Nanchangmarker, to protect the south side of the Japanese Army advancing westward. Xue Yue, the commander-in-chief of the Chinese 1st Army Group, used the 66th, 74th, 4th and 29th Army to coordinate with the 25th Army to fight the Japanese in Mahui Summit and north of De'an. The battle was in a stalemate.

Near the end of September, the Japanese 123rd, 145th, 147th, 101st and 149th Regiment of the 106th Division advanced into the Wanjialing region, west of De'an. Chinese general Xue Yue commanded the 4th, 66th and the 77th Army to outflank the Japanese. The 27th Division of the Japanese Army attempted to reinforce the position, but were repulsed by the Chinese 32nd Army in Baisui Street, west of Wanjialing. On 7 October, the Chinese Army launched their final attack on the encircled Japanese troops. The fierce battle continued for three days, and all Japanese counter-attacks were repelled by the Chinese. Because of their isolation, and the lack of supplies, the four Japanese regiments were annihilated by the 10th. It was known to the Chinese as the Victory of Wanjialing ( ).

North of Yangtze River

North of the Yangtze Rivermarker, the Japanese 6th Division of the 11th Army Group struck Taihumarker from Anhuimarker on 24 July. They breached the defensive lines of Chinese 31st and 68th Army and captured Taihu, Susong, Huangmei (belonging to Hubei) regions on 3 August. As the Japanese continued to move westward, the Chinese 4th Army Group of the 5th Military Region set their main force in Guangji, Hubei and Tianjia Town to intercept the Japanese. The 11th Army Company and the 68th Army were ordered to defend tenaciously on the defensive line in Huangmei region, while the 21st, 26th and the 29th Army Company were shifted south to sideswipe the Japanese.

The Chinese recaptured Taihu, Susong on 28 August. With the momentum, the 11th Army Company and the 68th Army launched counter-offensives, but were unsuccessful. They retreated to the Guangji region to coordinate with the Chinese 26th, 86th and 55th Army to continue to resist the Japanese Army. The 4th Army Group ordered the 21st, 29th Army Company to sideswipe the Japanese from northeast of Huangmei, but they were unable to stop the Japanese. Guangji and Wuxuemarker were captured sequentially. The Japanese Army then lay siege to Tianjia Town Fort. The 4th Army Group used the defending 2nd Army to strengthen the 87th Army's base, and the 26th, 48th and 86th Army to coordinate and sideswipe the Japanese. However, they were suppressed by the superior Japanese firepower and experienced high casualties. The Tianjia Town Fort was captured on the 29th, and the Japanese continued to attack. They captured Huangpo on 24 October and were now approaching Hankou.

Dabie Mountains

In the north of Dabie Mountainsmarker, the 3rd Army Group of the 5th Military Region stationed the 51st Army, 19th Army Group and the 77th Army in the Liuan, Huoshan regions in Anhuimarker. The 71st Army was stationed in Fujin Mountain, Gushi County (belongs to Henanmarker) regions. The 2nd Army Company was stationed in Shangcheng County, Henanmarker and Macheng, Hubeimarker. The 27th Army Group and the 59th Army was stationed in Huang Rivermarker region, and the 17th Army was in Xinyangmarker region to organize the defensive works.

The Japanese attacked in late August with the 2nd Group Army marching from Heifei on two different routes. The south route of 13th Division breached the Chinese 77th Army's defensive line and captured Huoshan, turning towards Yejiaji. The nearby 71st Army and the 2nd Army Company used the existing base and forcefully resisted. The Japanese 13th Division was baffled and required the 16th Division to reinforce. On 16 September, the Japanese captured Shang City. The defenders retreated to south of Shang City, relying on the strategic pass of Dabie Mountains and continued to resist. On 24 October, the Japanese were approaching Ma City.

The Japanese Army in north route was the 10th Division. They breached the Chinese 51st Army's defensive line and captured Liuan on 28 August. On 6 September, they captured Gushi and proceeded to move westward. The Chinese 27th Army Group and the 59th Army gathered up in the area of Huang River to organize resistance. After ten days of struggle, the Japanese captured Huang River on the 19th. On the 21st, the Japanese 10th Division pierced through the base of Chinese 17th Army Group and 45th Army, and captured Luoshan. Then they continue to move westward, but experienced Chinese counter in the east of Xinyang and was forced to withdraw back to Luoshan. The Japanese 2nd Army Group used the 3rd Division to reinforce, and work in coordination with the 10th Division to attack Xinyang. On 6 October, a unit of Japanese Army detoured south of Xintang and captured Liulin station of Pinhan Railway. On the 12th, the Japanese 2nd Army Group captured Xinyang, and moved southward along the Pinhan Railway to coordinate with the 11th Army Group on invading Wuhan.

By now the Japanese Army had completed the encirclement of Wuhan. The Chinese Army, hoping to save their existing strength, abandoned the city. The Japanese Army captured Wuchangmarker and Hankou on the 26th, and captured Hanyang on the 27th.

Use of chemical weapons

According to Yoshiaki Yoshimi and Seiya Matsuno Emperor Shōwa authorized by specific orders (rinsanmei) the use of chemical weapons against the Chinese. During the battle of Wuhanmarker, Prince Kan'in transmitted the emperor's orders to use toxic gas on 375 separate occasions, from August to October 1938, despite Article 23 of the Hague Conventions , article 171 of the Versailles Peace Treaty, article V of the Treaty in Relation to the Use of Submarines and Noxious Gases in Warfare [186628]and a resolution adopted by the League of Nations on 14 May condemning the use of toxic gas by the Imperial Japanese Army.


Japanese troops celebrating the capture of Wuhan
After four months of violent battles, the Chinese air and naval force were essentially wiped out, and the Japanese occupied Wuhan. However, most of the Chinese army had managed to survive, while the Japanese army was considerably weakened. The Japanese's pre-war hopes for a final showdown in Wuhan, to annihilate the main force of Chinese Army and forcing them to yield were unsuccessful. With numerous battles around Changshamarker, the China theatre now entered the stage of stalemate with no major Japanese offensives until Operation Ichi-Go in 1944.

See also


  1. CHINA: 1931-1945 ISBN 7-5633-5509-X Page 192
  2. Japanese Imperial Conference, 15 June 1938
  3. "Wuhan Diary" February 28, 1938
  4. Tenchosetsu — Japanese national holiday (the birthday of the reigning emperor)
  5. "Wuhan Daily" April 30, 1938.
  6. Hsu Long-hsuen and Chang Ming-kai, History of The Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945)
  7. Huang-He floods, Encyclopedia Britannica
  8. Dokugasusen Kankei Shiryō II, Kaisetsu, Jūgonen sensō gokuhi shiryōshū, Funi Shuppankan, 1997, pp.25–29.
  9. Yoshimi and Matsuno, ibid. p.28.
  10. Herbert Bix, Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan, Perennial, 2001, p.739

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