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Soviet Intervention in China - 1937-1941

The Soviet proxy war against Japan in the 1937-1941 period is one of the less understood dimensions of 20th Century warfare. The story begins with early Soviet support for nationalist revolutionaries in China. It is most commonly told from the Chinese Communist perspective, a story of the frustration of Chinse Communists with the failure of Stalin to demonstrate international proletarian solidarity.

Stalin supported the conservative dictator of China, Chiang Kai-Shek, as a bulwark against Japan and ignored Chiang's mass killings of communists. He put his alliance with Chiang against Japan ahead of his nominal ideological allies in China. Even after the Great Patriotic War, Stalin concluded a non-aggression pact between the USSR and Chiang's Kuomintang (KMT) regime and instructed Mao and the Chinese communists to cooperate with Chiang and the KMT. Mao did not follow Stalin's instructions though and started a communist revolution.

A review of Soviet influences on the Chinese Communists from early 1920 to 1949 reveals a continuum on which Soviet influence steadily declined. Although influential through the Autumn Harvest Uprising and the "Fourth Bandit Suppression Campaign," their prestige and control steadily declines after the fifth campaign until Mao gained complete control after the New Fourth Army Incident. The Soviets were successful in influencing the outcome of the Sian Incident in order to secure Soviet borders from Japanese attack; however, Mao continued to disagree with the united front policy of the Soviets and the CCP internationalist group under Wang Ming.

In the early stages of the war, the Chinese Communists were often amenable to Soviet requests, but were just as capable of denying Soviet desires if they were not in the Chinese Communists interests - as Mao demonstrated in 1941 when he refused to initiate an offensive against the Japanese. There appears to be no evidence of Soviet influence over or effective intrigues against the Kuomintang. Soviet influence and intrigue in the United States Government, especially the State Department, is difficult to tie to specific causes and effects.

The Soviet Union’s China policy was a major problem for Soviet diplomacy, Soviet support for the Koumingtang (KMT) revolutionaries in China was in keeping with fundamental Soviet foreign policy tactics. Support for any nationalist movements, even bourgeois, liberal movements, strained the imperialist, colonial empires of Great Britain, France, and Germany. Anti-imperialist independence movements added to the inherent contradictions of the capitalist world.

The organizer of the Kuomintang Party (1912), President of the Republic of China Sun Yat-sen, as a result of the defeat of the revolutionary democratic forces in 1923, announced the creation of the Cantonese government and decided to cooperate with the communists. First of all, he seeks support from the Soviet Union. After the termination of relations with the warlord U Payfu (1874-1939, military the ruler of central China, the head of the so-called Chilii clique of the northern militarists), the Soviet Union also spoke in favor of continuing to search for strong international supporters in China.

The Soviet Union and the Comintern paid more attention to the German revolutionary processes, and not to the Chinese. This affected the methods and scope of Soviet support for the KMT. In China itself, due to the lack of relevant armed forces of Sun Yatsen, a temporary tactic was adopted “to rely on one military leader against other military leaders”. At that time, Sun Yat-sen entered into a temporary alliance with warlords Zhang Zuolin and Duan Qi-zhu, supported by the Japanese. The Soviet side was concerned that if the Soviet Union had fully endorsed Sun Yatsen’s North-West Military Plan, future victories would probably have been stolen by Zhang Jolin in North China and as a result, the Japanese behind him would , would lead to large-scale intervention by Japanese forces in the situation in the Far East. The Soviet Union didn’t want to allow this at all.

On January 26, 1923, after a conversation held in Shanghai, a joint declaration was issued by Sun Yat-sen and the plenipotentiary of the Soviet Government in China A. A. Ioffe, which said: "... for China, the main and most urgent task is to reunify the country and achieve full state independence." he plenipotentiary assured Dr. Sun Yatsen that “in the struggle to accomplish this task, China has the warmest sympathy of the Russian people and can count on Russia's support”, that the Soviet government didn’t have “a desire to pursue an imperialist policy in Outer Mongolia or cause it to fall away from China”. And Sun Yatsen “therefore does not find the immediate evacuation of Russian troops from Outer Mongolia either urgently needed or in accordance with the real interests of China.” [1, p. 65].

Sun Yatsen’s activities aimed at developing cooperation with the USSR achieved significant progress in the second half of 1923. On July 31, M.M.Borodin was appointed by the Politburo of the Central Committee of the CPSU (b) as advisor to Sun Yat-sen, and on August 2 he arrived in China along with the new Soviet plenipotentiary in China L.M. Karakhanom. Two weeks later, Sun Yat-sen asked Chiang Kai-shek to organize a “delegation of Dr. Sun Yat-sen” to visit the Soviet Union with a view to discussing in detail the cooperation between the revolutionary forces of China and the USSR.

In the report of Chiang Kai-shek and members of the delegation, Sun Yat-sen's “North-Western Military Plan” was specified. It was proposed in the northwestern region of China, close to the Soviet Union, to create a temporary military base for the revolutionary army in order to fight reactionary Chinese military leaders and foreign interventionists. Chiang Kai-shek hoped that the Soviet Union would agree to her education in Ulan Bator. The term of military training will be two years. Military schools would be created there, officers would be trained, soldiers would be recruited, armed forces organized, propagandists trained and service rear deployed, etc.

On 19 November 1923, Chiang Kai-shek wrote a letter to Trotsky in which he expressed his desire to receive military assistance from the Soviet Union. November 27, Trotsky met with a delegation in the hospital. During the conversation, he stressed that the main problem of the Chinese revolution is that there is no political, mass and propaganda work: "A good newspaper is stronger than a bad division." Chiang Kai-shek once again, allegorically, expressed the hope that the Soviet Union would support the “North Western Military Plan” of the Kuomintang. But Trotsky reiterated that military actions should be carried out only after the political preparation is completed,

The Soviets sent advisors and aid to Sun Yat Sen’s forces, virtually creating, for Sun, the KMT army. In 1924 the KMT and infant CPC formed a United Front. From January 20 to January 30, 1924, the First National Congress of the Kuomintang in Guangzhou was held under the leadership of Sun Yat-sen, who defined three policies: “Cooperate with the USSR, recognize the CPC, help the workers and peasants”.

When the unprecedented upswing in the national liberation movement in China resulted in the anti-imperialist revolution of 1925–1927, the Soviet state provided great support to the revolutionary forces. Soviet political and military advisers led by prominent party leaders and famous commanders of the Red Army M. M. Borodin, P. A. Pavlov, V. K. Blucher and others helped unite the united anti-imperialist front of the Kuomintang and the CPC, form the National Revolutionary Army of China (NRA), successfully carry out the Northern Expedition, which became the most important event of the revolution of 1925–1927.

Both KMT and CPC initially participated in the Northern Expedition (1925-1928) to unify the country, starting from Guangzhou in the Guangdong Province. Strangely, the Soviets attempted to maintain relations with the Imperial Chinese government in Peking also, This inconsistency was highlighted when Sun Yat Sen died. His successor, Chiang Kai-shek initiated a bloody purge of the nationalist organization, nearly obliterating the fledgling Chinese Communist Party organized only a few years before. When Chiang halted in Shanghai in April of 1927, he sought to purge the KMT of Communists and communist influence. His attacks slaughtered several thousand CPC and only a small number, including Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, and others escaped to the countryside. The first United Front is rarely emphasized in history.

The events in China were a disaster for Soviet diplomacy. The Soviets had supported an anti—imperialist movement successfully, but had then lost control and been rejected by that movement. And the Soviets had nearly sacrificed the local Communist Party doing so. Soviet policy of actively fomenting revolution had failed in China. Although initially allied with the KMT under Chiang, the CCP was brutally suppressed in the major cities by the KKT in the late 1920's.

Following the break in Sino-Soviet relations in 1927, a pro-Nationalist warlord in Manchuria made an attempt to seize control of the Chinese Eastern Railroad from the Soviet Union. A Soviet display of force, however, was enough to secure continued control of the railroad for the Soviet Union . Seeing the Chinese weakness demonstrated so obviously, the Japanese decided to invade Manchuria. By 1932 the Japanese controlled Manchuria.

The Japanese then pressured the Soviet Union to relinquish control of the Chinese Eastern Railroad. The Japanese were vastly more powerful than the Chinese warlord who had made the same to the Soviets demand in 1929. While the Soviet Union was relatively weaker since Stalin was collectivising the Soviet Union and a series of purges had weakened the Red Army. Thus in March 1935, the Soviet Union sold the railroad to Japan, eliminating all of the gains made by Russian policy in Manchuria since the conI struction of the Trans—Siberian Railway in 1894. Although the sale reduced the risk of immediate conflict in the Far East, the Japanese menace on the Soviet Union’s eastern frontier remained a dominant foreign policy reality in Soviet deliberations.

Holding out in rural areas in south central China under Mao, the CCP resisted repeated campaigns of annihilation ("bandit extermination*) by Chiang in the early 1930's. Finally, under intense KMT military pressure, the remnants of the CCP fled to Yenan in remote northvest China in the epic 'Long March." As a result of the experiences of the late 1920s and 1930s, the KMT and CCP viewed each other as mortal enemies. CCP forces in northwest China steadily gained strength and stature throughout the war, despite near total isolation from outside sources of supply. From a Soviet perspective, Yu. V. Chudodeev later wrote: "Japanese aggression in the Far East was facilitated by the anti-Soviet foreign policy of the governments of the USA, Britain and France. Intending to strangle the national liberation movement in China with the hands of the Japanese military, the ruling circles of these countries sought to use Japan as a strike force against the Soviet Union. They believed that the more concessions made to the Japanese aggressor at the expense of China, the sooner the Japanese-Soviet war would begin. Under the guise of traditional isolationism, the policy of "non-intervention" and "neutrality", the ruling circles of the United States, in particular, have greatly strengthened the supply of Japan with scrap metal, fuel and other strategic materials. Defending Japan in the League of Nations, England directly provoked her aggressive actions against China. The British government at that time believed that a strong Japan could serve not only as a weapon in the struggle against the USSR, but also as a counterbalance to the United States in the Far East."

The Popular Front

The Popular Front period [1935-1939] was the period of "collective security." During this period, the Soviet Union felt itself menaced by Fascist Germany. It needed the help of the Western powers and, because it needed that help, it urged a system of collective security against aggression.

Fhang Gueliang the leader of Manchuria was criticized by the KMT for his non resistance to the Japanese invasion, even though the KMT as indirectly responsible for this policy.Chiang Kai Shek had not given him adequate support in the forms of either soldiers or weapons. On 12 December 1936, Zhang conspired with the CCP and kidnapped Chiang Kai Shek in Xi'an. This forced a brief pause in the conflict between the CCP and the KMT. On 24 December 1936 the KMT and the CCP formed a United Front against Japan, which lasted until 1938.

Full-scale war with Japan began in July 1937. 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. In contrast, the United States circumspectly supported China. President Roosevelt approved $25 million in military aid to China on 19 December 1940.

There had been a series of intense border clashes between Japan and the Soviet Union each year in the period 1935-1937, and there was a short, limited war around Lake Khasan in the USSR, also known as the Changkufeng Incident, in 1938. The Soviets responded by sending arms and advisers to the Nationalist (KMT) Chinese government of Chiang KaiShek, as well as conducting limited border clashes with the Japanese to signal support for the Chinese and to demonstrate that Japan could not concentrate all of their forces against the Chinese, but instead had to keep looking over its geostrategic shoulder. While there were ideological differences with the KMT, the common threat of Japan cemented the alliance, at the same time, in a classic Realpolitik move, the Soviet Union supported the Communists (CCP) in China, but kept the CCP under close control so that its war against the KMT was kept on a simmer.

1937 - Second United Front

The Second United Front was formed in early 1937 after increased pressure from Chiang’s top commanders to work with the Communists. In 1937, the full-scale war of resistance broke out. Because of the poor national power, it was suppressed by outside of Japan; China was trapped in isolation and was in danger of fighting alone.

On August 21, 1937, China and the Soviet Union had signed the "Sino-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact". At this time, the Soviet Union avoided its interests in the Far East and avoided war against Japan. The Soviet ambassador to China, Bogmolov, took the initiative to discuss with the Nanjing government, Wang Chonghui and Sun Ke. After the heavy losses in 1937 at the Battle of Shanghai and the Battle of Nanjing, the KMT appealed to the USSR for arms sales. As a result of the Sino-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, signed in August, 1937, the USSR began supplying the KMT’s newly formed 200th Division with Soviet equipment. 83 T-26s were sold, along with small, but unknown numbers of BT-5s (at least 4), BA-27s (at least 4), BA-3/6s (unclear which model, at least two), BA-20s (unclear which model), and possibly some BA-10Ms (which are possibly misidentified BA-3/6s).

The Soviet Union’s foreign aid was mainly based on economic and military assistance, and it also sent troops to aid the Chinese aviation team and military advisory group. Helping China through the most difficult times of the war of resistance, 1937-1941. The Soviet aid to China, in addition to the Chinese government to provide basic subsidies; other costs are entirely borne by the Soviet government. It can be said that the Soviet Union’s help to China is greater than that of the United States.

From 1937 to 1941, the Soviet Union provided Soviet equipment for a total of 20 divisions and to the National Government. Under the recommendation of the Soviet Military Advisory Group, equipped with the 2nd Army, the 5th Army, the 13th Army, the 71st Army and the 74th Army (the other said the 1st Army, the 5th Army, the 71st Army and the 74th Army) ). The 74th, 5th Army, 71st Army, after obtaining Soviet equipment, the combat power increased significantly; in the following April and winter offensive, three Changsha battles, Kunlunguan battle, high-level battle, the first battle into Myanmar In the west, the anti-attack war in the west has repeatedly frustrated.

In 1937, when the Nanjing Defence War began, the Soviet Union sent troops to China to participate in the war. By 1941, a total of more than 2,000 Soviet pilots had been dispatched, of which 80% had participated in the elite of the Spanish Civil War; 227 Soviet pilots had died. In addition, 1,235 aircraft and materials were sold to China. From October 1937 to 1938, 471 Soviet aircraft arrived in Lanzhou. In 1940, the Soviet Union assisted with 150 I-16 type destroyers and 20 DB bombers. The bombers flew 30 sorties.

In 1937, the Soviet Union aided the Chinese aviation team to bomb the Shanghai airport, bombing dozens of Japanese planes; and sinking cruisers and injuring six other warships. In 1938, the Sino-Soviet Air Force mixed formation airstrikes the Taiwanese Army Songshan Airport; it destroyed more than forty Japanese planes and sunk and wounded many ships; causing Songshan Airport to be unavailable for one month. In the April 29th Wuhan air battle, the Chinese and Soviet air forces jointly shot down 21 Japanese planes; they achieved the most brilliant victory of the Chinese Air Force in the war. In the air battle of Poyang Lake, Soviet pilot Valinson Dodonov smashed the Japanese Air Force ace pilot Nanxiang Maozhang Daxie.

During the four-year war against Japan, the Soviet Union’s aided Chinese aviation team shot down 539 aircraft of various types of Japanese troops; and sunk and wounded more than 100 Japanese ships. Heroes such as Captain Marchenkov and pilot Grigory Curryenko emerged. It is only seven months ahead of the US Flying Tigers in China, killing 298 Japanese planes and sacrificing 24 players. In order to support these American pilots, the National Government and the southwestern provincial governments have a huge economic burden.

The battle of Nomonhan, as it is known to the Japanese, or Khalkin Gol, as it is to the Soviet Union, was one of the most significant and unknown conflicts of World War II. The Japanese name for the battle was the “Nomonhan Incident,” after a village in the vicinity of the main fighting. The Soviets called in Khalkin-Gol, after a nearby river the Japanese claimed as the boundary between Manchukuo and Mongolia. This event is important because it, like no other battle, influenced the course of the conflict in Europe and Asia — it protected the Soviet’s eastern flank and sent Japan to war against the United States and British.

However, since the beginning of 1939, the Soviet Union’s aviation volunteer team in China had been inactive. It was withdrawn in batches in 1940. By the beginning of 1941, the Soviet Union had withdrawn all its volunteer teams. At the same time, a large number of pilots were trained for the Chinese Air Force. By 1941, there were 1045 Chinese pilots, 81 pilots, 198 radio transmitters, and 8354 aeronautical mechanics to the Soviet Union for training. In addition, with the help of the Soviet Union, the Xinjiang Dihua Aircraft Manufacturing Plant was completed in 1942; but the factory was not put into production until the victory of the Anti-Japanese War.

The Chinese Air Force (CAF) sought modern aircraft from a variety of countries. An influx of Soviet aircraft and "volunteer" pilots in late 1937 and early 1938 promised to revitalize the CAF. In February 1938 a group of SB-2 bombers with Soviet crews staged through bases in the coastal provinces of China, flew across over a hundred miles of open water of the Formosa Strait, and attacked Songshan (Matsuyama) airfield near Taipei, the same base from which some of Japan's "transoceanic" bombers had flown. A group of SB-2s flown by mixed Soviet-Chinese crews failed to find the same target, however.

China's estimated 400 million people seemed to offer the Allies a great military asset in terms of inexhaustible manpower. Emerging from a century of defeat and humiliation at the hands of European powers and Japan, plus years of civil wars, China in the early 1900s appeared to be moving slowly toward restoring its national sovereignty. One key recipient of this support was the Chinese Nationalist Army. 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.

During the Sian Incident the Chinese Communists persued the policy directed by the Comintern -- to create a united front, keep China in the war and Japan occupied - but which was also in their own interest. As a result of Soviet interference, Mao continued to have trouble consolidating his power until Chiang, through the New Fourth Army Incident, assisted Mao in attaining undisputed leadership of the Chinese Communist Party. It was also during his period that US diplomats in Russia were reporting the Soviet hopes of a United States war with Japan.

Thanks to a united front, which multiplied the forces of resistance of the Chinese people, Japanese imperialism could not carry out the plan of a “blitzkrieg” in China. The united front enabled the patriotic forces to increase pressure on the ruling circles of the Kuomintang. The united front played a particularly important role in strengthening the revolutionary forces of China, primarily the CPC and the armies it controls. All these factors, despite numerous attempts by the Kuomintang leadership to thwart a united front, contributed to the fact that throughout the war the unity of the people was preserved and the civil war did not resume.

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Page last modified: 14-06-2019 18:04:40 ZULU