1/4 Shanghai 1937: Stalingrad on the Yangtze, by Peter Harmsen

Dec 02, 01:15 AM
Image:  Alexander Ernst Alfred Hermann Freiherr von Falkenhausen,  In 1930, Falkenhausen retired from the service and in 1934 went to China to serve as Chiang Kai-shek's military advisor, as part of the Sino-German cooperation to reform the Chinese army. During the reformation, von Falkenhausen was responsible for most of the military training.*  Here: Reich Minister Dr. Arthur Seyss-Inquart, Lieutenant General Alexander von Falkenhausen and General Friedrich Christiansen leaving the Hall of Knights (Dutch: Ridderzaal) at the Binnenhof. Von Falkenhausen has just transferred civil authority over the Netherlands to Seyss-Inquart and transferred his military powers to Christiansen.

This deeply researched book describes one of the great, forgotten battles of the 20th century. At its height it involved nearly a million Chinese and Japanese soldiers, while sucking in three million civilians as unwilling spectators and, often, victims. It turned what had been a Japanese adventure in China into a general war between the two oldest and proudest civilizations of the Far East. Ultimately, it led to Pearl Harbor and to seven decades of tumultuous history in Asia. The Battle of Shanghai was a pivotal event that helped define and shape the modern world.

In its sheer scale, the struggle for China's largest city was a sinister forewarning of what was in store for the rest of Mankind only a few years hence, in theaters around the world. It demonstrated how technology had given rise to new forms of warfare, or had made old forms even more lethal. Amphibious landings, tank assaults, aerial dogfights and most importantly, urban combat, all happened in Shanghai in 1937. It was a dress rehearsal for World War II - or perhaps more correctly it was the inaugural act in the war - the first major battle in the global conflict.

Actors from a variety of nations were present in Shanghai during the three fateful autumn months when the battle raged. The rich cast included China's ascetic Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek and his Japanese adversary, General Matsui Iwane, who wanted Asia to rise from disunity, but ultimately pushed the continent toward its deadliest conflict ever. Claire Chennault, later of "Flying Tiger" fame, was among the figures emerging in the course of the campaign, as was First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. In an ironic twist, Alexander von Falkenhausen, a stern German veteran of the Great War, abandoned his role as a mere advisor to the Chinese army and led it into battle against the Japanese invaders.
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* Some 80,000 Chinese troops, in eight divisions, were trained and formed the elite of Chiang's army. However, China was not ready to face Japan on equal terms, and Chiang's decision to pit all of his new divisions in the Battle of Shanghai, despite objections from his both staff officers and von Falkenhausen, would cost him one-third of his best troops. Chiang switched his strategy to preserve strength for the eventual civil war. 

Von Falkenhausen recommended that Chiang fight a war of attrition as Falkenhausen calculated that Japan could not win a long-term war. He suggested that Chiang should hold the Yellow River line, and not attack until later in the war. Also, Chiang should give up a number of provinces in northern China including Shandong. He also recommended constructing a number of fortifications at strategically important locations to slow a Japanese advance.  Von Falkenhausen also advised the Chinese to establish a number of guerrilla operations behind Japanese lines. 

In 1937, Nazi Germany allied with the Empire of Japan, which with the Republic of China was fighting the Second Sino-Japanese War. As a goodwill gesture to Japan, Germany recognized the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo [pron: man-tchoo-gwoh], withdrew German support from China and forced von Falkenhausen to resign by threatening to have his family in Germany punished for disloyalty. After a goodbye dinner party with Chiang Kai-shek's family, von Falkenhausen promised that he would never reveal any of battle plans he had devised to the Japanese.

According to some sources (especially from Communist Chinese ones in the late 1930s), von Falkenhausen kept in contact with Chiang Kai-shek and occasionally sent European luxury items and food to him, the Chiang household and his officers. On his 72d birthday in 1950, von Falkenhausen received a 12,000 U.S. Dollar cheque from Chiang Kai-shek as his birthday gift and a personal note declaring him a "Friend of China." On his eightieth birthday, in 1958, the Chinese ambassador to Belgium, Wang Xiaoxi, awarded von Falkenhausen the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Sacred Tripod for his contributions in defending China