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Taiwan Geography

Shaped roughly like a tobacco leaf, Taiwan is 394 kilometers (245 miles) long and 144 kilometers (89.5 miles) wide at its broadest point. The Central Mountain Range bisects Taiwan from north to south and about two-thirds of the island is covered with forested peaks. The rest of the island is made up of foothills, terraced flatlands, and coastal plains and basins.

The surface structure of the island is formed by a tilted fault block running roughly northeast to southwest along the entire length. The steep slope of this tilted block faces east and the rock mass slopes more gently to the west. Because of the terrain, scarcely more than one-third of the land area is arable. The mountains are mostly forested, with some minerals - chiefly coal - at the northern end.

On the east coast, the mountains fall away steeply to the Pacific. To the west, the level sediments lie just below the surface of the sea. As a result, river deposits have filled the shallow waters and extended the land 15 to 30 km westward from the foothills.

The shoreline of Taiwan is simple and fairly straight. The total length is 1,566 km (including the Pescadore Islands). Off the southern end of the island lie a number of coral reefs built up along the island's shores during the Pleistocene Period. However, the area covered by these reefs is small.

The fundamental topographic feature of Taiwan is the central range of high mountains running from the northeast corner to the southern tip of the island. Steep mountain terrain above 1,000 meters elevation constitutes about 32 percent of the island's land area; hills and terraces between 100 and 1,000 meters above sea level make up 31 percent.

To the west, the physical character of Taiwan changes through the foothill zone to the alluvial plain. Topographically, the coastal plains and basins are monotonously flat, except near the foothills.

According to the December 1997 census Taiwan's population was 21.683 million. At 609 persons per square kilometer, the population density of the Taiwan area was the second highest in the world after Bangladesh. Taipei City has the highest population concentration (9,763 persons per sq. km), and is followed by Kaohsiung City (9,220 persons per sq. km) in the south. In some parts of the island, such as the Central District of Taichung City, population density is as high as 36,092 persons per sq. km. Highly populated urban areas have emerged around metropolitan Taipei, where seven cities and 22 urban and rural townships of Taipei County with a total population of 3.26 million form an interdependent economic and industrial network. In fact, about 59 percent of Taiwan's population is concentrated in four metropolises (Taipei, Kaohsiung, Taichung, and Tainan). The average population growth was higher in the four cities but the push-and-pull effect of urbanization has slowed down in the last decade.

In summer, the southwest monsoon prevails for about five months, beginning in early May and ending in late September. During this period, southern Taiwan usually has wet weather,while northern Taiwan is relatively dry. The moisture, carried by the southwest monsoon and local terrestrial winds, falls largely in convectional form.Thundershowers and typhoons often bring Taiwan heavy rainfall in summer months.

Taiwan lies in the track of severe tropical cyclones known in East Asia as typhoons. With their violent winds and tremendous rainfall, these storms often cause heavy damage, especially to crops. However, they are the greatest source of water in the Taiwan area. An average of three to four typhoons hit Taiwan every year, usually coming in July, August, or September.

Operational Implications

From the perspective of an amphibious operations planner, Taiwan is not a particularly attractive objective. While it is certainly true that the most noteworthy amphibious assaults, such as Normandy and Inchon, achieved surprise against less-than-obvious objectives, there are limits to the possibilities overcoming physical obstacles to a successful assault. The eastern side of Taiwan is mountainous, and offers little opportunity for operational maneuver. Access to much of the western side oF Taiwan is blocked by tidal mud flats that extend many kilometers from the coast. An assault against the northern end of the island in the Taipei area would quickly turn into operations in urban terrain of a sort not likely to quickly produce decisive results. Similar difficulties would attend assaults in the southern area between Tainan and Kao-hsiung.

By process of elimination, the most attractive [though not most likely] target for an amphibious assault against Taiwan would be the coastal region between Tung-Hsiao and San-Wan. Midway between the northern Taipei urban agglomeration and the central populated region around Taichung, this coastal area is free of annoying mud-flats, and offers open terrain suitable for the build-up of a beach-head and subsequent decisive maneuver. A lodgement in this area would effective cut the island in half, and lay the foundation for subsequent operations to the north and south. Coincidentally, this area is roughly similar in size to the beach-head established by Allied forces during the Normandy amphibious assault of June 1944.



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