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f o u r The Trap Is Sprung: October 1938 to March 1939 In October 1938 the Sino-Japanese War escalated with the Japanese invasion of Kwangtung. This move was designed to cut British support for China, but it had the opposite effect of provoking a semiunified AngloAmerican economic response. The invasion of south China brought the war to Hong Kong’s door, and the potential for conflict between British and Japanese military forces rose dramatically as a result. After the simultaneous fall of Hankow, the occupation of the rest of south China emerged as the next Japanese strategic objective. With Chinese armies defending Hunan from their base at Changsha, Hong Kong remained a vital source of supply for continued Chinese resistance. The Canton-Changsha railway was the primary link to the south, and because of Hong Kong’s importance , it was the most significant military transportation system left in free China. This logistical situation continued even after the fall of Canton—an event Chiang Kai Shek anticipated as part of his effort to fight the war in areas of foreign interest. Hong Kong was the most suitable place for this strategy to be implemented because the transit of military supplies through the Pearl River Delta was a provocation the Japanese army could not ignore. Its response created several crises in Anglo-Japanese relations, including the Lo Wu bombing incident in February 1939. Although the occupation of Canton appeared to be a grave military setback, it was an 89 essential element of Chiang’s strategic plan to involve Great Britain directly as an overt cobelligerent against the Japanese.1 Third-power involvement in the Sino-Japanese War increased during this period, and a chance to achieve peace in late 1938 was discarded. In addition to the shipment of German and American weapons through Hong Kong, loans were again extended to China as part of a coordinated AngloAmerican Far Eastern effort to challenge the Japanese more aggressively. Cooperation between the British and Americans began to coalesce following the fall of Canton and Hainan, partly because of the growing threat to their Asian interests, but early collaboration also coincided with the resumption of Anglo-Soviet discussions about the establishment of a collective security alliance in Europe against Hitler. Stalin’s support for Chiang was maintained to ensure Soviet Far Eastern security, and one of the more important functions of British assistance to China remained the provision of indirect support to the USSR. Because of these factors, the Anglo-Soviet proxy war against Japan was intensified, with Hong Kong serving as its primary base of supply. The Invasion of Kwangtung and Occupation of Canton: October to December 1938 As summer turned to fall in 1938, Japanese military operations reached a crescendo along the Yangtse River, and the southern plan to isolate Hong Kong was implemented. By invading Kwangtung, however, the Japanese became ensnared in a dangerous trap. The Japanese decision to invade southern China was made after the Munich Agreement was signed and hostilities with the Red Army were terminated in the border clash at Changkufeng near Vladivostok. With Manchuria apparently secure, Soviet intervention during Japanese southern operations appeared less likely. Preliminary military action against Kwangtung began with aerial bombardment of Chinese lines of communication. An unopposed landing at Bias Bay commenced on 12 October 1938, followed by a rapid march across the Weiyeung District north of Hong Kong. The virtual isolation of Hong Kong was complete once Canton was occupied less than two weeks after operations began. General Yu Han Mou, commander of the 12th Group Army, was held responsible for the military defeat by both Chinese and foreigners alike, but to better understand Chiang’s strategy, it is necessary to examine Yu’s role closely.2 Ignominies surrounded General Yu following 90 chapter four his rapid withdrawal from Canton, yet there is evidence that charges of cowardice and treason were made without a full appreciation of the facts. Early in October 1938 air operations in Kwangsi and Kwangtung, which constituted most of the 4th War Zone under the overall command of General Chang Fa Kwei, were stepped up against Chinese lines of communication . The most frequent targets were rail and road bridges along the Hankow-Canton ailway and the Kowloon-Canton railway (KCR). The most valuable of these was the new large bridge located at Sheklung (Shilong ), about halfway between Canton and Hong Kong.3 Although these raids were frequent and severe, the initial bombing results were ineffective largely because Chinese...


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