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KMT Republic of China - Army
National Revolutionary Army

National Revolutionary ArmyThe National Revolutionary Army (NRA - sometimes shortened to National Army) was the Military Arm of the Kuomintang (KMT) from 1925 until 1947, as well as the national army of the Republic of China during the KMT's period of party rule beginning in 1928. When the Republic of China was founded, the country was still fragmented amonge warlords. Dr. Sun Yat-Sun realized that the revolution would not be accomplished without developing the revolutionary armed forces.

Where not an ex-brigand, the Chinese soldier was often a good fellow in most respects, but he was apt to be too sensible to be willing to run the risk of getting killed without adequate reason. Hence battles between rebels and Government troops in China usually consisted in the discharge of large quantities of ammunition at a safe distance from one another. It is the civilian inhabitant of the raided towns and villages who was killed if he did not manage to escape to the mountains. The nucleus of the Chinese army was a very good one. The raw material was very capable and the Chinese army needed a corps of officers acquainted with the science of modern warfare and all that which is connected with it.

In 1924, the Soviet Union helped Sun Yat-sen rebuild the Nationalist (Kuomintang, KMT) military force, most notably through the training school at Huangpu, a small town near Guangzhou. Many military leaders of the following decades were Huangpu graduates, including Lin Biao, who later rose to fame with Mao. The Whampoa Military Academy was founded in Whampoa, Guangdong Province, on 16 June 1924. The Academy was nominally headed by the Prime Minister Sun Yat-sen, and Chiang Kai-shek as the Principal. The main purpose of the founding of the Whampoa Military Academy was to end warlord occupations and to unify the whole of China. The school reformed to National Revolutionary Army.

In 1925 the provincial forces under the National Government were reorganized as "the National Revolutionary Army." Except for a short period of time when he left the position during the "Nanking-Hankow Split," Chiang Kai-shek held the post of Commander in Chief of the National Revolutionary Army. In July 1926, the Forces launched the Northern Expedition under the slogans "Down With Imperialism, Eliminate the Warlords, Save the Compatriots". It only took two and half years to complete the reunion of China. During the Northern Expedition, the number of soldiers in each legion was vastly increased, resulting in too large an army. Chiang Kai-shek, Commander-in-Chief of the Northern Expedition, decided to reduce the size of the army in 1928.

The Xi'an Incident started by Generals Chang Hsue-liang and Yang Hucheng and its peaceful resolution played an important role in ushering in a second Kuomintang (KMT)-CPC cooperation and unity of the two parties in fighting against Japanese aggression. Resistance forces under the leadership of the KMT and the CPC were engaged in operations against Japanese aggressors on frontal battlefields and in the enemy's rear respectively, forming a strategic common front against the enemy. As the main force on frontal battlefields, the KMT army organized a series of major campaigns, particularly the Shanghai, Xinkou, Xuzhou and Wuhan campaigns during the initial phase of the War, which dealt heavy blows to the Japanese army.

China had available in 1937 over 2,000,000 troops under control of the Central Government or loyal local war lords. In efficiency and training they ranged from miserably armed, nondescript bands of provincials to the few well-equipped, German-trained divisions of Chiang Kai-shek. Less than 100,000 men were even reasonably well equipped for modern warfare. Some provincial divisions were fairly efficient; but almost all units were sorely lacking in trained leaders and modern equipment, especially artillery. General Chu Teh's communist army in the northwest consisted of 100,000 to 150,000 trained troops, especially suited to guerrilla warfare. Chinese artillery averaged less than one gun per thousand soldiers, there being probably fewer than 1,000 usable guns in all China. The antitank and antiaircraft guns were mostly antiquated, and there were only a few tanks. There was a fair supply of machine guns and rifles, but these were of all makes and ages.

China had only two or three hundred first-line planes, mostly of American, Italian, and Russian manufacture. She had available but a limited number of trained Chinese pilots, built around a nucleus of foreign aviators.

The only bright ray in this appalling lack of the necessities of modern war lay in China's enormous reserve of untrained man power available in her population of over 450,000,000. China was endowed bountifully with raw materials but lacked large industries that could be converted to the production of munitions. Her absurdly small manufacturing capacity was insufficient to produce even enough small-arms ammunition for extensive operations, to say nothing of heavier supplies or equipment. Lacking a large reserve of munitions, China's effective participation in a major war was largely dependent upon her ability to obtain supplies from outside sources.

Under Chiang Kai-shek's leadership during the prewar years great improvements were wrought in China's communication system. New roads and railroads were built and existing ones improved. Most of her internal transportation was, however, still very primitive. She still relied mainly upon human and animal transport, while using sampans and other small boats on her rivers and canals.

During the eight year Anti-Japanese War, the Kuomintang resisted the enemies of China directly in the battlefront as well as in the enemy's rear area. Behind enemy lines, the KMT fought with Japan in a hard and bitter guerrilla war. So they tied up a large number of Japanese troopsand coupled with a positive battlefield combat, in order to eventually make a contribution to the eradication of the invaders. Chiang's army received $250 million worth of tanks, trucks, and aircraft from the Soviet Union in 1938, plus some British and French military supplies. Nevertheless, by the summer of 1939 Japan controlled most of northeastern China and all major coastal seaports, except for the British Crown Colony at Hong Kong. In short, China was isolated except for supplies moving from the west along the so-called Burma Road or through French Indochina.

Despite Chiang's apparent unification of China by military force, his army incorporated many units more loyal to their former regional warlords than to his new central government. Nationalist Army units were not only uneven in loyalty but also in quality. On paper China had 3.8 million men under arms in 1941. They were organized into 246 "front-line" divisions, with another 70 divisions assigned to rear areas. Perhaps as many as forty Chinese divisions had been equipped with European-manufactured weapons and trained by foreign, particularly German and Soviet, advisers. The rest of the units were under strength and generally untrained. Overall, the Nationalist Army impressed most Western military observers as more reminiscent of a nineteenth- than a twentieth-century army.

When the Zhongtiaoshan campaign began in 1941, the Chinese defense line was semi-circular, 160 km wide from west to east, and laid out in 16 divisions. The Zhongtiaoshan Campaign was the largest campaign in Huabei battlefield during the deadlock period of Anti-Japanese War, The KMT army was defeated in the campaign. The direct cause of the failure goes to the impercipient and incomplete preparation for the campaign; and the important causes lies on the existence of in-groups of KMT army and the intention of saving strength; while the deep-rooted cause was the negative and unilateralism anti-war policy.

The U.S. government established a military theater of operations in China soon after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor brought America into the war. President Roosevelt appointed Army Lt. Gen. Joseph W. Stilwell head of the U.S. China-Burma-India theater, and at the combined level, Generalissimo Chiang appointed him chief of staff of the combined forces in the theater. Arriving in China in early March 1942, Stilwell found himself in a military and political quagmire. From the beginning of his tenure, Stilwell was dismayed by the overall Chinese war effort. Many officers had noted that only a small minority of Nationalist divisions were personally loyal to Chiang. Most of the others reserved their allegiance for their own commanders, whose subordination to Nationalist authority was problematic. Moreover, most commanders viewed their units as political as well as military resources and fought accordingly. Their intention was to conserve manpower and equipment rather than defeat the Japanese. Not surprisingly, U.S. observers considered the Nationalist Army excessively defensive-minded, and were further dismayed by Chiang's insistence that several of his best units deploy to northwestern China to blockade the Chinese Communist forces in Yenan. Although both Nationalists and Communists had pledged a united front against Japan, this precarious truce broke down in mid-1941. Civil war, it often seemed, was more likely than joint military action.

China's darkest year was 1942. The Japanese conquest of Burma had closed her last important route of supply from the outside world, the Burma Road. Now isolated and faced with an almost complete lack of war materiel, she still refused to submit. The Chinese Army, poorly trained and equipped by modern standards, was definitely not an offensive force. For this reason the front in China was comparatively static, with the initiative entirely in the hands of the Japanese. Emphasizing the underequipped condition of most Chinese divisions, the Generalissimo argued successfully that army resupply and training must precede any major operations against Japanese forces in China. He bristled at the concept of using Chinese divisions to restore Burma to British Imperial control and may have also feared that his American-advised and -equipped troops in India would become yet another independent army. Moreover, although Stilwell had requested that at least one American division be committed to the Allied campaign in Burma, no U.S. forces were made available, greatly reducing American leverage.

Rebuffed again in his plan to reopen the Burma Road through a combined offensive from China and Burma, Stilwell's headquarters concentrated during the summer of 1943 on plans to rebuild the Chinese Army. Despite Chiang's insistence on giving Chennault a higher priority, Stilwell stubbornly expected to train and equip the thirty Chinese divisions in the Y-Force as envisioned in the lend-lease plan, as well as the two, later three, divisions in India. With the U.S. Army liaison team which had been scheduled for the Burma Road operations serving as training advisers to the Y-Force in the interim, Stilwell worked quietly through Marshall to pressure Chiang about using the Y-Force to reopen the Burma Road. As the year 1943 closed, there was an apparent stalemate in China.

American patience with the slow pace of progress in China was not indefinite. As Tokyo began deploying troops from China to other theaters, American criticism over the failure of the Chinese Army to initiate offensive operations began to grow. Beginning in December 1943, for example, five Japanese infantry divisions departed China for the Pacific islands. Although this force represented only a small portion of the China Expeditionary Army's 620,000 men organized into some thirty-two division equivalents, it clearly signaled Japan's lack of concern with Chinese military capabilities.

Growing U.S. disquiet over Nationalist inaction even prompted some American interest in the Chinese Communists. Stilwell had complained to Marshall and Roosevelt that as many as 500,000 Nationalist soldiers were preoccupied with blockading the Communists rather than fighting the Japanese. Meanwhile, bottled up in Yenan by both the Japanese and Chiang's forces, Mao Tse-tung had initiated an ambitious guerrilla campaign against the Japanese in occupied northern China. On 9 February 1944, Roosevelt formally asked Chiang to permit a U.S. "observer mission" in Yenan to gather military intelligence about the Japanese and coordinate the rescue of downed U.S. airmen Despite U.S. arguments that this mission was military, not political Chiang rejected the request.

Stung by increasingly audacious air attacks by the Fourteenth Air Force, and aware of preparations for B-29 operations against the Japanese home islands, Tokyo ordered the ICHIGO offensive. Launched on 19 April 1944, Operation ICHIGO eliminated Chinese resistance in Honan Province in central China by late April. To the south, the Japanese offensive also enjoyed a steady string of victories from May through August. Facing the first major Japanese offensive since December 1941, Chiang blamed Chinese setbacks on delays of Allied supplies to both Y- and Z-Forces. Stilwell blamed the reverses on Chiang's unwillingness to reform command and training practices of Chinese Army units. He also believed Chiang had to make common cause with the Chinese Communists to defeat the Japanese. Thereafter, American relations with Nationalist China, while outwardly warm, slowly became more formal.

The political nature of the Nationalist Chinese Army threatened all American objectives in the China theater. Since that army served primarily as a political tool of Chiang Kai-shek and as a foundation of the Nationalist regime, any action that modified its structure or risked its destruction was assiduously avoided by the Nationalist government. The army had to be maintained, not reformed. Military commanders were selected for their political loyalty to Chiang rather than for their military ability, and risking excessive casualties through offensive operations was unacceptable. Chiang also had to keep his Communist rivals at bay, habitually using his best troops for that purpose. Combined operations by rival Chinese armies against the Japanese were impossible. Thus, differing Sino-American aims, magnified by internal political conflict, cultural differences, and the personality conflicts between General Stilwell and Generalissimo Chiang, all inhibited chances for success in the war effort.

Command problems plagued the Nationalist forces. All operational plans and decisions originated from Chiang Kai-shek's headquarters in Chungking. But the Generalissimo had little contact with his troops and was often completely out of touch with battle situations. Nevertheless, he generally refused to allow his field commanders to adjust their forces in response to local combat conditions without his personal approval. Unable to coordinate large-scale operations, the Chinese generals normally committed their units in a piecemeal fashion, accomplishing little against the Japanese.

By 1945 Chiang's army was centered at the emergency capital of Chungking, 900 miles to the west of coastal Shanghai, and Mao's forces were based 500 miles north of Chungking in equally remote Yenan. The Allies provided material assistance to the Nationalist army, but dissension among the Nationalist factions made it impossible for Chiang Kai-shek to consolidate his military forces in an effort to combat both the Communists and the Japanese. In fact, both the Communists and the Nationalists held the major part of their armies in reserve, ready to resume their civil war once Japan's fate had been decided elsewhere.

Theoretically, Chiang's army was the largest in the world. In reality, it consisted mostly of ill-equipped, inadequately trained, poorly organized, and ineptly led units. Many soldiers suffered from malnutrition and clothing shortages. Although an administrative system that was primitive at best prevented western observers from making any useful estimates of the precise size and capabilities of the somewhat amorphous mass of troops, clearly it had been unable to halt an enemy advance or fight a modern war since the very beginning of the struggle.

By late 1948 the Nationalist position was bleak. The demoralized and undisciplined Nationalist troops proved no match for the People's Liberation Army (PLA). The Communists were well established in the north and northeast. Although the Nationalists had an advantage in numbers of men and weapons, controlled a much larger territory and population than their adversaries, and enjoyed considerable international support, they were exhausted by the long war with Japan and the attendant internal responsibilities.

Chiang's political failings were exceeded only, in the words of US Ambassador J. Leighton Stuart, by "the proclivity of the Generalissimo, a man of proved military incompetence, to interfere on a strategic and tactical level with field operations." Chiang tended to deploy his troops defensively around towns and lines of communications, thereby ceding the initiative to the Communists in the countryside. Chosen for loyalty rather than talent, Chiang's generals were unable to compensate for his misguided policies. The Nationalists' poorly trained, ill-treated, and unmotivated soldiers paid the price for their leaders' inadequacies, exhibiting in turn a callous disregard for the civilian population that further undermined public support for the government.

With an army of "several millions" trained and equipped by the United States, the KMT was beaten and overthrown on the mainland by the Communists, who had begun as nothing more than a band of drifting bandits. Was this not a strange thing? After Chiang Kai-shek's defeat in the battle of Hs-chou in 1927, many were convinced that Chiang was neither an acceptable field commander nor a qualified strategist. He did not know how to command troops or plan a war. Major General David Goodwin Barr, head of the American Advisory Group to China, would agree.

Because of systemic inadequacies and the low quality of commanders and soldiers, the KMT army's own weaknesses in implementation stemmed from the Nationalist government's class nature. Although the United States officially recognized Chiang's government, it realized that his regime was severely flawed. The Nationalist government was oppressive, inefficient, and corrupt, and many U.S. officials sympathized, at least in principle, with the Communists' call for social, political, and economic reform.

Outside mainland China, Taiwan is the place most directly affected by Communist China's founding on 1 October 1949. The Nationalist or Kuomintang (KMT) army led by Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek retreated to the island after its defeat by Communist troops. About two million refugees from China, including hundreds of thousands of soldiers, fled to the island - changing its political, economic and social structure, and leaving a legacy still strong today.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:40:16 ZULU