Handan Campaign (邯郸战役), also known as Pinghan Campaign (平汉战役), short for Beiping-Hankou Campaign (北平汉口战役), is one of the largest clashes between the communist force and the nationalist force immediately after the end of World War II, which resulted in communist victory.
The nationalist side deployed around 145,000 troops in two echelons, and the first echelon is mainly consisted of three armies from the 11th War Zone to strike northward from Xinxiang in two fronts: the nationalist left front was consisted of the Newly Organized 8th Army and the 30th Army, while the nationalist right front was consisted of the 40th Army and the 9th Combat Engineering Regiment.
The second echelon was also consisted of two fronts: In the south, the nationalist 32nd Army of the 11th War Zone would follow the 40th Army to Anyang, and then would continue and linkup with the 3rd Army and the 16th Army of the nationalist 1st War Zone at Shijiazhuang. One the three armies had jointed their forces, they would continue push northward and linkup with the 92nd Army and 94th Army, which would strike southward from Beijing, where these two nationalist armies were previously airlifted to the ancient city.
When the link up is completed, the previously communist occupied territory would be firmly back into the nationalist hands. The nationalist success of the offensive would also secure the passage to northeast China and guarantee the control of northern China. The commander of the nationalist 40th Army, Ma Fawu (马法五), was also the commander-in-chief of the 11th War Zone, while the commander of the nationalist Newly Organized 8th Army, Gao Shuxun (高树勋), was also the deputy commander-in-chief of the 11th War Zone, and they were in charge of the entire operation.
At the beginning, communist units of the Taihang (太行) Military Region, units of Hebei-Shandong-Henan (Ji-Lu-Yu, 冀鲁豫) Military Region and local militia would destroy railways from the north of Yellow River to Anyang, and harass the enemy to provide time for other communists to group. After the enemy has crossed the Zhang River (漳河), a detachment of the communist force would immediately control the river crossing point, and thus cutoff the link between the enemy units at Anyang and that had crossed the Zhang River (漳河). The enemy units that had crossed the Zhang River (漳河) would then be lured into the regions south of Handan and north of Zhang River (漳河) to be ambushed in the pre-selected spot. The enemy would be annihilated in a pincer movement that is consisted of two fronts: the eastern front would be consisted of the communist 1st Column and units of Hebei-Shandong-Henan (Ji-Lu-Yu, 冀鲁豫) Military Region, while the western front would be consisted of the communist 2nd Column, 3rd Column, units from Taihang (太行) Military Region and Southern Hebei (Ji-Nan, 冀南) Military Region.
However, these troops of former Guominjun felt that their loyalty was not rewarded accordingly and they were discriminated against by Chiang Kai-shek and troops of his own clique. Such sentiment was certainly true because Chiang Kai-shek had planned to solve the warlord problem that had plagued China for so long together with the eradication of the communism, which proved to be a fatal mistake. These former warlords’s troops believed that Chiang Kai-shek and his regime felt that they were expandable and used them just as tools of the civil war because instead of sending his crack troops such as the Newly Organized 1st Army, Chiang Kai-shek only send the second-rate troops to fight alongside with them, and moreover, it were them who bore the brunt of the fights instead Chiang’s own troops. Such resentment against Chiang Kai-shek and his regime was exploited to the maximum by their communist enemy in the latter stage of the Handan Campaign, resulting in their defection to the communist side, which proved to be a significant factor that contributed to the nationalist failure. To complete their plan, many communist agents had already infiltrated the Newly Organized 8th Army prior to the campaign.Nationalist order of battle 1st Echelon: 7 Divisions with 45,000 troops
2nd Echelon: 100,000 troops
Another 100,000 militia
When the nationalist force had reached the Magnetic County (Cixian, 磁县) and the Horse Head Town (Matouzhen, 马头镇), the communist encirclement was complete, while at the same time, the river crossing of Zhang River (漳河) had also fallen into the communist hands. Realizing that they were surrounded, the besieged nationalist force retreated toward North and South Zuoliang (左良) and Cuiqu (崔曲), and directly appealed to Chiang Kai-shek for help via radio. Chiang Kai-shek, in turned, ordered the entire second echelon to be mobilized to help the besieged first echelon by sending everyone available. However, the nationalist commanders of the second echelon were reluctant and more importantly, impossible to devote their force 100%, and instead, only send small detachments. On October 26, 1945, a portion of the nationalist 16th Army were sent from Shijiazhuang, but they were stopped by the communist units of the Taihang (太行) Military Region and other local militia units at Gaoyi (高邑). Meanwhile, the nationalist 32nd Army at Anyang sent out a detachment to reinforce their besieged comrade-in-arms, but this reinforcement from the south was also stopped by the communist force at Zhang River (漳河).
On October 31, 1945, the nationalist force escaped thru the opening in the south exactly as their communist enemy had expected, and was besieged at regions along the Flagpole Zhang (Qigan Zhang, 旗杆漳)、Xin Village (Xin Zhuang, 辛庄)、and Horse Camp (Ma Ying, 马营) line when the communist units of the Taihang (太行) Military Region and units of Hebei-Shandong-Henan (Ji-Lu-Yu, 冀鲁豫) Military Region stopped them at the northern shore of Zhang River (漳河). On November 1, 1945, a detachment of the communist 1st Column had taken the headquarter of the nationalist 40th Army at Flagpole Zhang (Qigan Zhang, 旗杆漳), capturing the nationalist commander-in-chief Ma Fawu (马法五) alive and the nationalist resistance ceased completely by the next day, while the nationalist reinforcement on the road immediately withdraw back to their fortified positions behind the city walls upon hearing the new. The campaign ended on the November 2, 1945.
The most obvious nationalist debacle was Chiang Kai-shek’s attempt to solve the warlord problem that had plagued China for so long together with the eradication of the communism by reducing the warlords’ power via reducing their military strength, which proved to be a fatal mistake, resulting in nationalist units defecting to the communist side. However, even Chiang’s communist adversary had admitted that Chiang could not and should not be excessively blamed for this because nobody else could do any better, including the communists themselves, had their positions being switched with that of Chiang and his nationalist regime, because Chiang Kai-shek was faced with a huge dilemma: for these troops, the only way to survive was to serve in the armed forces, and if these warlords’ troops were not expanded in battles but discharged in peacetime demilitarization, they would be forced to join the communist camp for survival anyway when they were out of jobs, as later proved in places such as northeast China. When these experienced combat veterans with experience with modern weaponry joined the communist force that was mostly illiterate peasantry army, the combat capability of the communist force would be and had been significantly boosted, and obviously anyone would rather want them perished in fights against the enemy instead of helping the enemy when these troops were to be demilitarized, and Chiang Kai-shek was no exception.
Even if Chiang Kai-shek had not made the fatal mistake of attempting to solve the warlord problem that had plagued China for so long together with the eradication of the communism, the nationalist offensive was destined to fail from the very beginning because Chiang and his nationalist regime had made an even greater fatal mistake: launching an offensive too early with insufficient strength. As Chiang had soon painfully realized, the nationalist regime simply did not have enough resource to deploy its troops in very short time span in the vast regions of China. When the surrounding countryside was dominated by the opposing communist force, launching an offensive of the scale of Handan Campaign with what was currently available for the nationalist side was simply unrealistically overambitious. Even Chiang Kai-shek’s communist adversary did not blame on the nationalist second echelon for not succeeding in rescue their besieged comrade-in-arms, because they were too far away, and in fact, the reinforcement sent by the nationalist 92nd Army and the 94th Army from Beijing did not even met any enemy before the they were turned back due to the end of the campaign, achieving nothing except wasting valuable supply. These nationalist commanders were loyal officers of troops of Chiang Kai-shek’s own clique and thus even their communist enemy did not accuse them of being warlords’ troops who were reluctant to carry out Chiang’s order. In fact, these commanders of the nationalist second echelon made a correct decision in only sending out detachments for reinforcement instead of everyone as they were ordered because they were already dangerously overstretched in regions surrounded by the enemy from countryside, and if everyone was sent out as ordered, then not only the urban centers would risk being taken over by the enemy due to the undermanned defense, those on the road would also risk being annihilated, not mentioning the fact that the great distance would mean the reinforcement would never be able to reach its destination in time. Therefore, the correct decision made by the commanders of the nationalist second echelon had succeeded in preserve the nationalist force of the second echelon, which was almost unscratched. The successful preservation of the force, in turn, would help the nationalist regime later to buy time for troop deployment and strengthening the nationalist positions.