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s i x Impasse in Kwangsi and Japan’s Failed Interdiction Strategy against Hong Kong: November 1939 to May 1940 One of the most significant outcomes of the battle of Nomonhan in August 1939 was the redirection of Japanese strategic attention south. This policy was expressed by the announcement of the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere in December, but after a year of defeat on the battlefield, Japanese ambitions remained unfulfilled. Army morale had deteriorated since the start of the war, and a successful campaign was needed to restore confidence among both the military and the people at home. With limited resources , a major ground offensive into the key regions of Szechwan or Yunnan was not feasible, but during the winter of 1939–1940, the Japanese thought it would be possible to sever the remaining lines of communication that kept the Chinese army supplied and thus win the war quickly. These lines included the Burma Road, the French Indochina railway to Yunnan and Kwangsi, and the Hong Kong–Changsha route via Mirs Bay, Waichow, and Kukong. The Japanese also hoped to achieve a reduction in Soviet military aid to Chungking by improving relations with the USSR.1 Thus, in November 1939 General Ando Rikichi’s 21st Army was given the task of seizing Kwangsi to deepen China’s isolation and pressure the central government to end the war. But as elsewhere in China, Japanese ambitions once again exceeded available resources. The Chinese were able to contain this move into Kwangsi while continuing to use Hong Kong and the Burma Road as conduits of supply. These routes were sufficient to sus176 tain Chinese resistance even in the face of increased pressure both in the air and at sea. By the spring of 1940, the occupation of Nanning proved to be a chimera. As a result, many Japanese reached the end of their endurance in seeking to solve their problems solely within China. Although Sino-Japanese efforts to arrive at a peaceful settlement increased throughout the year, after the fall of France, the Japanese resolved to challenge the Western powers directly by preparing for an advance into the southwestern Pacific. In the interim, the strategic value of Hong Kong only grew once Kwangsi’s supply capacity was reduced, and because Hong Kong and Burma remained open, Chinese determination to continue the war did not break. In turn, the occupation of Hong Kong soon became a Japanese strategic objective .2 The Invasion of Southern Kwangsi: November 1939 to April 1940 Japanese desperation over their inability to eliminate China’s military logistical capacity remained a primary factor in the conflict’s escalation. Therefore , Kwangsi was targeted for several reasons to break the deadlock. For one, Kwangsi’s defenses were weak, but more significantly, sporadic aerial interdiction had proved inadequate to reduce Chinese supply, due to the limited number of air bases available and the very long distances to many targets, especially those in Yunnan. Kwangsi’s own road and rail carrying capacity from the French Indochina border was another consideration, as these lines were being rapidly upgraded. Politically, the Japanese were quite desperate to achieve a military victory after the Changsha debacle in order to regain prestige and boost popular support for the Wang Ching Wei administration in occupied China. It was also hoped that an invasion would aggravate existing political divisions within the Chinese central government and impair its relations with regional southern leaders such as Generals Pai Chung Hsi and Li Tsung Ren of Kwangsi, as well as General Lung Yun of Yunnan. When taken together, these factors encouraged the Japanese to make the occupation of Kwangsi their immediate objective in November 1939, but by winter’s end, victory remained as distant as ever.3 The Chinese did not expect a Japanese ground offensive deep into Kwangsi, and the limited degree of road destruction, along with the paucity of military forces, reflected China’s general military weakness 177 Impasse in Kwangsi across the south. Largely because of political considerations, there were no more than six divisions in all of southwestern Kwangtung and Kwangsi to meet the Japanese invasion. Kwangsi divisions were widely dispersed, with the 1st Division at Kweilin and the 2nd Division at Nanning and Shangsze. The latter was supported by the 12th Artillery Battalion, which included four 75mm guns and one 100mm gun. The 3rd Division was located at Liuchow , while the 4th and 5th Divisions were posted to Wuchow on the Kwangtung border and to Lungchow, near Indochina...


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