Stalin’s First Victory

The 1929 Sino-Soviet War

By Ty Bomba

By early 1928, the Japanese understood Chiang Kai-shek was on the verge of uniting China. They further understood Manchuria’s inclusion in a reunified China would, at the least, mean an end to further Japanese expansion onto the East Asian mainland and might later lead to their expulsion from the continent.

The command staff of Kwantung Army (in charge of occupying Korea and the Japanese leasehold area in southeast Manchuria) therefore not only prepared defensive plans to defeat anticipated Chinese attacks, they drew up an offensive plan to preemptively seize the whole province. On 26 May, however, the War Ministry in Tokyo—fearing such a move would drag Japan into a major war before it was ready to fight one—directed Kwantung Army headquarters to “suspend completely” offensive planning while the foreign ministry carried on negotiations with Nanking toward a larger and more general settlement.

Enraged by the halt order, the Kwantung officers instead plotted to assassinate the Chinese provincial commander in Manchuria, Marshal Chang Tso-lin. They believed the chaos almost certain to follow his death—there were several potential claimants as his successor, all of them until recently former independent warlords—would create a pretext for the Japanese to take control of all Manchuria. That invasion would be launched in order to preserve the peace and order needed to keep secure Japanese lives and investments across the huge province.

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Taierzhuang, China’s Stalingrad, 1938

World at War, Issue #91 Magazine available!

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  • The Battle of Taierzhuang: China’s Stalingrad, 1938 Early in 1938, despite the Tokyo government’s order for a Japanese defensive strategy in China that year, their generals decided on an offensive aimed at the rail hub city of Xuzhou and then on to Wuhan. The advance to Xuzhou would be supplied by the rail line that ran past the town of Taierzhuang.
  • Stalin’s First Victory: The 1929 Sino-Soviet War On 27 April 1929, Chang Kai-shek sent troops to take over the Chinese Eastern Railway office in Mukden. That railroad was still run as a joint venture with the Soviets (who had inherited it from the czarist regime they overthrew in 1917). Before the end of the year, the Chinese and Soviets had fought their first war. It was a short but intensely contested affair in which Stalin barely squeezed out a victory.
  • Hitler’s Final Panzer Offensive On 4 April 1945, US 12th Army Group surrounded Germany’s Army Group B in the Ruhr. That cut off 370,000 soldiers, and it also split them into two pockets. One army was trapped in the Harz Mountains and three others were inside the Ruhr. Determined to restore a continuous front in the west, Hitler ordered a counterattack to free the army in the mountains and then advance farther to reopen the Ruhr encirclement.
  • Combat in the Baltic, 1942–43 The northern sector of the east front did not move much during 1942–43, as it was anchored at besieged Leningrad. Even so, it remained active on the waters of the Baltic. The Soviet Navy had only two remaining bases during that period: Kronshtadt and Leningrad. Their surface vessels had to run a gauntlet of minefields and enemy aircraft to get into the Baltic. That meant weight of their offensive operations had to be assigned to their submarines.

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