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Ichi-Go Operation

Ichi-Go OperationThe initial battlefield successes of the Germans and Japanese amazed the world and stunned their adversaries with their speed and audacity. Within a few years Axis advances were halted and reversed, but both Germany and Japan launched final counter-attacks before succumbing to defeat. As in well known, in the European Theater, Germany unleashed the Ardennes Offensive - the Battle of the Bulge - on 16 December 1944, which ended in failure by 25 January 1945. Almost entirely forgotten in the West, the Japanese Ichi-Go Operation, which began on 17 April 1944, ended on 31 December 1944 with Japanese victory over Chinese and American forces.

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 ICHI-GO offensive, the largest military operation in Japanese history. The Japanese intended to capture Allied airfields in east China and to open an overland supply route stretching from Pusan, Korea, to Saigon, French Indochina. Such a line of communication would reduce demand on the empire's maritime lifeline, which was badly frayed by unrelenting Allied submarine attacks. Key goals were securing the entire north-south Peiping-Huangshi rail line, as well as the Wuchang-Liuchow rail line in central China. To provide the needed force, the Japanese shifted units *of the Kwantung Army and Mongolia Garrison Army south, bringing their forces in China proper to 820,000 men. Fifteen divisions would participate in Operation ICHI-GO. It mobilized half a million soldiers (80% of Japan’s China Expeditionary Army) and penetrated 1500 km within a period of 8 months.

The Imperial Japanese army's Continental Cross-Through Operation in China in 1944 was code-named "Operation Ichi-Go". The Japanese name Operation Ichi-Go means No.1 Operation. In Chinese, it is known as the Battles of Henan- Hunan- Guangxi. Ichi and go are the numbers one and five in Japanese. "Ichigo" one word, means Strawberry, while "Ichi-Go" means roughly "one time", "a lifetime", "only one time of life" or "one moment". Ichi-go is half of the expression "itchi-go itchi-e", used in the tea- ceremony and the Japanese martial arts, means each meeting or encounter happens only once - everyone’s life is full of tiny moments, every moments is never the same. The Japanese idiom Ichi-go Ichi-e "one time, one meeting" is a concept linked with the tea master Sen no Rikyu and ksana (an extremely brief moment) in Zen Buddhism. It means that every tea ceremony meeting is unique, therefore people should devote the entirety of their attention, care and efforts to it.

Operation Ichi-Go consisted of three separate battles in the Chinese provinces of Henan, Hunan and Guangxi. These battles were the Japanese Operation Kogo or Battle of Central Henan, Operation Togo 1 or the Battle of Changheng, and Operation Togo 2 and Togo 3, or the Battle of Guilin-Liuzhou, respectively. By the fall of 1943 the ever-present threat of the enemy air forces striking Japan from the interior of China, its constant harassing·of water transportation and the destruction of lines of communication betwean Japan and the Southern Area made an operation against the interior of China vitally necessary. Imperial General Headquarters ordered plans to be drawn up for the capture of strategic points along the Hunan-Kwangsi, Canton-Hankou and southern Peiping-Hankou railways. The operation was to be known as the "Ichi-Go" Operation and its initial objectives were the capture of Kweilin and Liuchowhsien airfields; countermeasures against enemy activities in southern China; the securing of land communications to the Southern Army via French Indo-China and the overthrow of the Chungking Government. Toward the end of January 1944, Imperial General Headquarters approved this plan and ordered the Commander-in-Chief of the China Expeditionary Army to execute the "Ichi-Go" Oparation.

Since early 1943, the United States had steadily increased its air force in China. By the beginning of 1944 there were more than 500 US planes in this area, whereas, in spite of the organization of the 5th Air Army, the Japanese Air Force had less than half this number of planes in China. Furthermore, with the war situation rapidly growing worse in the Pacific, the Japanese Air Force in China could not hope for any replenishment. Enemy planes not only interfered with Japanese ground operations, but also harassed the lines ·of communication and attacked the occupied areas.

Chinese ground strength had also developed considerably. It was estimated that in conducting the Peiping-Hankou Operation the Fourth China Area Army would be faced by both the 1st and 5th War Sector Armies. These armies were deployed in strategic positions along the Peiping-Hankou railway as well as in the areas west of the railway. In addition, they had a mobile unit of considerable strength. During the Hunan-Kwangsi Operation in central and southern China, the Japanese llth and 23d Armies would be faced by the 4th, 6th and 9th War Sector Armies, supported by the 3d and 5th War Sector Armies. In fact, it was estimated that during the "Ichi-Go" Operation; the Japanese _forces would be faced by the majority of troops under the cormnand of Chiang-Kai-Shek, supported by the United States Air Force.

After tbe outbreak of war in the Pacific, most of the well-trained and experienced Japnanese divisions in China were transfered to the Southern Area. This left only newly organized forces, inferior in quality, to cope with the the situation in China. In view of the deteriorating situation in the Pacific area, Imperial General Headquarters transferred some of !ts more highly trained divisions from China and Manchuria to the Pacific area. Imperial General Headquarters, aware that the United States Air Force was capable of bombing Japan with its B-29's from bases in Kweilin and Liuchowhsien, on 24 January issued an order to the Commander in Chief of the China Expeditionary Army to take these fields. Imperial General Headquarters strongly stressed the importance of secrecy in the preparations for the "Ichi-Go" Operation.

Between 18 and 20 Chinese armies totalling 350,000 - 400,000 men (half of which would be under the direct command of the Central Government Army) would participate in the major operation. Japanese strength for the operation was three divisions, four independent brigades, one armored division and one cavalry brigade (approximately 148,000 men). However, in spite of the fact that the Japanese strength was less than half that of the enemy, it was felt that in view of their operational experience in the past, the aims of the operation would be achieved.

ICHI-GO was a large operation that extended over large spaces and considerable time. It would be tedious to recount the whole thing in detail, and even a summary account at the Army and Division level would consume hundreds of pages. The following account is no more than an extract of illustrative actions to provide some sense of the texture of the operation.

On the night of 17 April, the main force of the 37th Division crossed the HuangHe and advanced toward Chungmou. By dawn of the 18th it had penetrated the enerty positions and advanced to a small river approximately three kilometers south of Chunggmou. On 30 April, the main force of the 12th Army opened its attack against Hsuchang and, on 1 May, occupied the area.

Having defeated the Chinse in the sector southwest of Tengfeng, the 12th Army continued to keep the enemy in the Loyang area under strict observation while, at the same time, it ordered the lloth Division to pursue the enemy toward Iyang, the 62d Division to pursue them toward Pingteng, the main force of the 3d Armored Division toward Iyang and Hsinan and the 4th Cavalry Brigade to the western sector.

The Japanse estimated that the Chinese in Hunan Province would oppose the Japanese advance to Changsha, especially in the area south of Chengsha by concentrating its strength there and taking advantage of the fortifications already constructed in that sector. In the Kuanwangchiao area and on the south bank of the Ku Shui, the Chinese 20th Army put up organized resistance for several days but, with this exception, the Chinese did not resist the 11th Army's advance.

The 11th Army used the 27th Division to repair the Chungyang- Tungcheng- Pingchiang- Liuyang road and all engineer regiments under the direct command of the Field Engineer commander to repair the Hsinchiang- Hsinshih- Pillaanpu- Changsha road. Continuous rains greatly delayed road repair work and turned the roads into a sea of mud. Lines of communication became extremely difficult to mai~tain and, until the middle of June, the Japanese first-line troops received very few supplies from the rear. In spite of strenuous efforts on the part of the Army to improye the two roads, they eventually had to be abandoned. The situation became critical as all field artillery and motor units became congested on the muddy Yoyang-Changsha road.

To take adva.~tage of the capture of Changsha and the collapse of the enemy, the 11th Army decided to advance an element to Hangyang while the main force was preparing for future operations. The offensive, however did not progress satisfactorily. On 2 July, the 11th Army decided to suspend its attack on Hengyang for the time being and accelerate the advance of its artillery unit. The attack was not to be renewed until such time as a powerful air attack could be launched at the same time as the ground attack.

The following are considered the principal reasons for the unsuccessful assaults on Hengyang: the difficult terrain, combined with the skilfully organized, strong enemy positions and the enemy's determination to resist; shortage of ammunition and insufficient concentration of heavy weapons for attacks on fortifications as well as superior Allied air strength.

As the transportation·of cannon and ammunition from the rear to the front and the preparations of the air units were completed by 10 July, the llth Army reopened the attack on Hengyang on the 11th. Although some territory was captured, the combat situation became confused and the operation did not progress as planned.

On the morning of 7 August, the 11th Army reopened its offensive along the entire front but made no progress. It therefore, estimated that it would require several more days to capture Hengyang. In the evening, however, a small Chinese unit capitulated in front of the 68th Division. The Army at once ordered the entire front to intensify its attack and during the night Japanese troops penetrated the enemy front lines and invaded part of the Walled City. From midnight Chinses troops gradually surrendered and, befofe daybreak on the 8th, Fang Hsien-Chuen (lOth Army commander) and four division commanders had surrendered. By 0800, having destroyed an enemy element which resisted to the last, the 11th Army occupied Hengyang.

After the capture of Hengyang the 11th Army, in an attempt to annihilate the Chinese gathered in the district west of Hengyang, deployed its troops from Youngfeng to the Chun Shui, west of Leiyang. By 09 September, Japanese· forces had advanced to the booundary between Hunan and Kwangsi provinces, nortn of Chuanhsien and without waiting to regroup captured Chuanhsien on the 14th.

After having destroyed the enemy air bases and annihilated the main force of the enemy in the Kweilin- Liuchowhsien sector, the Sixth Area Army attached the 22d Division and the 23d Independent Mixed Brigade to the 11th Army in order to secure the strategic points in this district.

During the Hunan-Kwangsi and Suichuan-Kanhsien operations Chinese-American air bases in southweste~ China had been wiped out. However, strong American air forces based in Chihkiang in central China and Lrohokou in northern China continued to harass the Japanese force.

While in November 1944 the American air force had comprised approximately 800 planes, by March or April 1945 the number had increased to between 1,500 to 2,000 against the Japanese meager 150. Due to heavy plane losses in the Fhillippines and Okinawan campaigns it was not possible to replenish the planes of the Japanese forces in the China Theater.

Foreseeing the impossibility of replenishing anticipated plane losses during 1945, in an effort to check the enemy air force; in January 1945 Imperial General Headquarters ordered the China Expeditionary Army to destroy the enemy airfields in the Laohokou and Chihkiang sectors. On 22 March, the 12th Army units opened a general offensive and broke through the enemy lines confronting them. On 27 March, the 14th Cavalry Brigade captured Laohokou airfield but failed in its attempt to capture the city. By 2 April 1945, with the exception of Laohokou, both divisions had fulfilled their missions.

By the end of 1944, the ICHI-GO offensive captured both Kweilin and Liuchow, a Fourteenth Air Force base, on 10 November, and two weeks later Japanese forces captured Nan-ning in the extreme south, linking up with Japanese Southern Army units advancing north from French Indochina shortly thereafter. By the end of the year Japan's China Expeditionary Army had achieved Operation ICHI-GO'S two primary goals: opening a land route to French Indochina and capturing southeast China air bases. Although B-29 air raids on Japan did continue from bases farther west, they were too minor to have much impact on the overall air campaign.

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Page last modified: 16-06-2019 18:59:36 ZULU