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n i n e Empires Derailed: The War in South China, September 1941 to January 1942 Lack of clear Japanese strategic planning greatly contributed to the outbreak of the Pacific war. Until 1941, the Japanese enlarged their empire by reacting to opportunities created by Anglo-French military weakness. Moves such as the occupation of northern French Indochina were also conducted primarily to sever China’s external lines of communication. Conversely , the invasion of southern Indochina was a more ambitious and aggressive empire-building endeavor meant to extend Japanese hegemony throughout Asia, and it heralded the onset of the long-expected advance south against other Western colonial powers. In preparing for such a move, the Japanese were hesitant to join their German partners in invading the Soviet Union. Leaders in Tokyo had decided to wait for a reduction of the Red Army’s Far Eastern forces while building up their own strength in Manchoukuo ; once the Soviets were sufficiently weakened, the opportunity to invade Siberia might then be seized. In the meantime, a southward offensive against Anglo-U.S. forces was approved, and preparations were carried out while the Hull-Nomura negotiations continued in Washington.1 Concurrently, the Japanese continued to look for military solutions to deal with their problems in China, but those efforts proved counterproductive . Chinese morale was under great strain, partly due to the ongoing discussions in Washington, and the Japanese thought that by seizing the rice bowl of Hunan while simultaneously cutting lines of communication to 286 287 British-controlled areas, victory would be assured.2 Thus, during the fall and winter of 1941, two important battles were fought for the control of Hunan, with the goal of knocking China out of the war. The Japanese hoped that the fall of Changsha would finally discredit the Chinese sufficiently on the international stage to prevent further third-power intervention , but after four years of war, elements of the Chinese army had become more combat-effective than anticipated. Consequently, Chinese military victories in the second and third battles of Changsha were significant geopolitical events, as they encouraged additional foreign aid that sustained the country as an active belligerent. With the Japanese army contained , the resulting military stalemate ensured that indirect Allied support for the Soviet Far East was not disrupted. In preventing a two-front war from developing in the USSR, the south China front became a globally significant theater of operations during the latter half of 1941 and early 1942. Japanese failure in the second battle of Changsha, fought during September and October 1941, also accelerated the onset of war against Britain and America. Faced with gridlock in China and a crippling American oil embargo, the Japanese attacked the Western powers on 7 December 1941 with the expectation of fighting a war for limited objectives. They hoped that through the rapid seizure and fortification of forward positions in the Pacific, the Allies would balk at the cost of a prolonged campaign of reconquest and quickly sue for peace.3 By acting on this assumption, the Japanese committed one of the greatest strategic mistakes of the war. The Sino-Japanese War finally reached its crescendo with the combined offensives at Hong Kong and the third battle of Changsha, and this culmination of the conflict opened the door to a vastly worse struggle. With the start of the Pacific war, both cities were attacked as twin objectives of the same plan, the goal of which remained the termination of the war.4 Both were in the same theater of operations, and the railway linking Kukong and Changsha made Kwangtung and Hunan mutually supportive regions. This internal line of communication was a tremendous Chinese advantage. Most of the supplies that had been entering China from Hong Kong were transported overland to the railhead and then sent north to the 9th War Zone forces defending Hunan. Armies based in the province could also be easily moved south to defend northern Kwangtung, as needed. Getting troops to Hong Kong, however, was a different matter. Infrastructure problems north of the colony made the movement of military forces difficult , and this contributed to a premature surrender on 25 December 1941. Empires Derailed Yet Japanese success at Hong Kong was insufficient to offset the disaster inflicted on the 11th Army under Lieutenant General Anami Korechika in Hunan. The third battle of Changsha was the only major battle of the period that resulted in an Allied Far Eastern victory, and because of this, Chinese morale was sustained...


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