|Campaign to Suppress Bandits in Northwestern China|
|Part of Chinese Civil War|
National Revolutionary Army
People's Liberation Army
|Commanders and leaders|
|Casualties and losses|
Campaign to Suppress Bandits in Northwestern China (西北剿匪) was a counter-guerrilla / counterinsurgency campaign the communists fought against the nationalist guerrilla force that mostly consisted of bandits and nationalist regular troops left behind after the nationalist government withdrew from mainland China. The campaign was fought during the Chinese Civil War in the post-World War II era in the northwestern China, and resulted in communist victory.
The nationalists had faced a precarious dilemma in waging the campaign against its communist enemy because of complex situation they had faced, and consequently, made several grave miscalculations which contributed to their eventual failure.
Like other nationalist futile attempts to fight guerrilla and insurgency warfare against the communists after being driven off from mainland China, the very first grave strategic miscalculation made by the retreating nationalist government contributed at least equally if not greater than the enemy's political and military pressure to the nationalist defeat in this campaign. The very first strategic miscalculation made by the retreating nationalist government was identical to the earlier one the nationalist government had made immediately after World War II, when it had neither the sufficient troops nor enough transportation assets to be deployed into the Japanese-occupied regions of China, and unwilling to let these regions falling into communist hands, the nationalist government ordered the Japanese and their turncoat Chinese puppet government not to surrender to the communists and allowed them to keep their fighting capabilities to "maintain order" in the Japanese occupied regions by fighting off the communists. This earlier miscalculation resulted in further alienation and resentment to the nationalist government by the local population, which had already blamed the nationalists for losing the regions to the Japanese invaders during the war. Half a decade later when the nationalists were driven from mainland China, they had made the similar miscalculation once again in their desperation, this time by enlisting the help of local bandits to fight the communists, and ordering the nationalist troops left behind to join these bandits in the struggle against the communism. However, the bandits were deeply feared and hated by the local populace they plagued for so long, and nationalist troops left behind joining the bandits certainly did not help them win the support of the general population. In fact, it served the exact opposite, strengthening the popular support of their communist enemy.
The second grave strategic miscalculation made by the retreating nationalist government was also similar to the one the nationalist government had made immediately after World War II, when it attempted to simultaneously solve the warlord problem that had plagued China for so long with the problem of the exterminating communists together: those warlords allied with Chiang Kai-shek's nationalist government were only interested in keeping their own power and defected to the Japanese side when Japanese invaders offered to let them keep their power in exchange for their collaborations. After World War II, these forces of former Japanese puppet governments once again returned to the nationalist camp for the same reason they defected to the Japanese invaders. Obviously, it was difficult for Chiang to immediately get rid of these warlords for good as soon as they surrendered to Chiang and rejoined nationalists, because such move would alienate other factions within the nationalist ranks, and those former Japanese puppet government's warlords could still help the nationalists to by holding on to what was under their control and fighting off communists, and they and the communists would both be weakened. Similarly, the bandits the nationalist governments had failed to exterminate were obviously not good candidates for evacuation to Taiwan half a decade later, and using them to fight communists appeared to be the only logical alternative. If the communists were great weakened by the bandits, then it would the nationalists would have easier time in their counterattacks to retake China. If the bandits were defeated, then the nationalists would have easier job to eradicate them later after retaking China. However, just like those warlords, these bandits were only interested in keeping their own power also, and thus did not put any real efforts to fight the communists like some of the nationalists who were dedicated to their political cause. The eradication of bandits by the communist government only strengthened its popular support since previous governments (including the nationalist government itself) dating back from Qing Dynasty had failed to do so.
The third grave strategic miscalculation made by the retreating nationalist government was similar to the second one, but this one was about its own troops left behind. The nationalist government had faced a dilemma: the highly disciplined troops were in desperate need to defend Taiwan, the last nationalist island sanctuary. The less disciplined second rate and undisciplined third rate troops, both of which mostly consisted of warlords’ troop were definitely not suited to be withdrawn to defend the last stand nationalists had made, and they were not given the top priority for evacuation. Instead, they were left behind to fight the communists behind the enemy line, but such move had alienated many of the troops left behind, and it was impossible to expect them to fight their communist enemy with the same kind of dedication like those nationalist agents who believed in their political cause. Compounding the problem, due to the need of bandits’ knowledge of local area, they were often rewarded with higher ranks than the nationalist troops left behind. As a result, the former-nationalist regular troops turned guerrilla fighters lacked any willingness to work together with the bandits they once attempted to exterminate, especially when many of the bandits had killed their comrades-in-arms earlier in the battles of eradications / pacifications. Many loyal nationalists were enraged by the fact that they had to serve under the former-enemy they once fought. Similarly, the bandits lacked the similar willingness and attempted to expend those nationalist troops whenever they could in order to save their own skin.
The fourth grave strategic miscalculation made by the retreating nationalist government was financial / economical: due to the lack of money, those bandits turned guerrillas were mostly provided with arms, but not sufficient supplies and money. The bandits turned guerrilla had no problem of looting the local population to get what they need, as they had done for decades, which inevitably drove the general popular support further into the communist side. The little financial support provided by the nationalist government was simply not enough to support such guerrilla and insurgency warfare on such a large scale. Another unexpected but disastrous result of the insufficient financial support was that it had greatly eroded the support of the nationalist government within its own ranks. The wealthy landowners and businessmen were the strong supporters of nationalist government and as their properties were confiscated by the communists and redistributed to the poor, their hatred toward the communist government was enough to cause many of them to stay behind voluntarily to fight behind the enemy line. However, the landowners and businessmen were also longtime victims of bandits due to their wealth, and many of them had suffered even more than the general populace who had far less wealth. As these former landowners and businessmen turned guerrilla fighters were ordered to join their former bandits who once threatened, looted, kidnapped and even killed them and their relatives, it was obvious that such cooperation was mostly in name only and could not produce any actual benefits, and the alienation and discontent toward the nationalist government harbored by these once ardent nationalists would only grow greater.
Another problem for the nationalists was the strong disagreement among themselves over how to fight the war against their communist enemy. Military professionals preferred to fight a total war, incapacitate the enemy's ability to fight, but this inevitably conflicted with the interest of another faction of strong supporters of the nationalist government: the landowners and businessmen, who joined bandits to oppose such tactic. The reason was that landowners and businessmen supporting and joining the nationalist guerrilla firmly believed that the nationalists would be able to retake mainland China within several years and they would be able to regain their lost lands, businesses, and other properties that were confiscated and redistributed to the poor by the communists. As the nationalist military professionals in the guerrilla suggested and destroyed the production facilities and businesses as part of the total war, the landowners and businessmen would not be able to regain any valuable properties after the return of the nationalist government because those properties had been destroyed. The bandits agreed with the businessmen and landowners to oppose the idea of total war for a different reason: when the properties were destroyed and productivity dropped, they would not be able to loot enough supply to survive. As a result, despite the animosities between the bandits and landowners and businessmen, they were united together in the opposition to the military professional faction of the nationalists.
In contrast to the nationalists, communists had much simpler but effective strategy because the communists did not have the dilemma the nationalists had, and all they had to do was to eradicate bandits. The job of fighting a counterinsurgency and counter guerrilla war was made much easier for the communists by the grave strategic miscalculations nationalists they had made themselves, and the communists exploited these to the maximum for their advantage. As with all other bandit eradication campaigns fought at the time, the most important communist strategy was to mobilize the entire population to fight the bandits, and furthermore, additional strategies were devised specifically to fit the local situation to fight the bandits.
Order of battle
Nationalists: over 90,000, including nearly 20,000 regular troops of Ma clique.
- Ma Bufang's troops left behind
- Ma Hongkui's troops left behind
- Other bandits in over 100 different bands
Communists: a quarter million troop in 38 divisions, including:
- 1st Army
- 2nd Army
- 3rd Army
- 4th Army
- 5th Army
- 6th Army
- 19th Army
- 5 other armies
- Independent regiments
After the nationalist government was driven off from mainland China, it ordered the troops left behind in northwestern China to join forces with local bandits to attack communists to harass the communist enemy. However, the bandits did not cooperate with each other and fought independently, thus providing the communists to successfully counterattack. After dozens of battles occurred from October to December 1949, bandits were driven to the remote regions and resorted to guerrilla warfare to harass the enemy. There were a total of 67 bands of bandits active in Gansu, over 40 bands of bandits active in Shaanxi, and several bands in Xinjiang, and in Qinghai, more nationalist regular troops existed and they were soldiers of Ma clique left behind. In response to these counterattacks, in November 1949, the communists decided to launch a campaign to eradicate bandits completely.
From January 1950 to July 1950, attacks on the bandits were carried out by the communist northwestern military region on multiple fronts. From the beginning of January to the end of February, the 55th Division of the communist 19th Army, the Ankang Independent Regiment of Shaanxi Military Region, and troops of Hanzhong Military Sub-region successfully annihilated bandits headed by Wang Lingyun (王凌云) in southern Shaanxi. From mid January to mid March, communist 1st Division of its 1st Army, the 11th and 12th Division of its 2nd Army, troops of Shaanxi Yulin Military Sub-region, and the 5th Cavalry Division completely annihilated several bands of bandits, including those headed by Gao huaixiong (高怀雄) and Zhang Tingzhi (张廷芝) in northern Shaanxi, bandits headed by Ma Yinggui (马英贵) and Ma Zhengzhong (马镇中) in Gansu, bandits headed by Ma Xiancheng (马成贤) and Mao Laowu (马老五) in Qinghai, and bandits headed by Ma Shaowu (马绍武) in Ningxia. From mid April to the end of July, the communist 2nd, 5th and 6th Army succeeding in driving deep into the heartland of Xinjiang, destroying bandit bases in the region of the Greater and Lesser Salt Cedar Valleys (大小红柳峡) and Black Mountain (黑山头). From May to July, communists succeeded in annihilate bandits headed by Ma Yuanshan (马元山) and Ma Baoyuan (马保元) in Ningxia, Qinghai, and Gansu. In May 1950, the communists changed tactics by assigning selected regions for particular military formation for bandit eradication and by the end of July 1950, over seventy thousands bandits were annihilated.
From August 1950 to the end of 1952, further operations were launched against smaller bands of bandits which totaled over 10,000 in 212 bands. Most of these bandits operated in the border regions of provinces, and during the Korean War, they became more active under the commands of airdropped nationalist agents. From August 1950, the communist 6th Cavalry Division, 7th Infantry Division, and troops from communist Pingliang and Qingyang Military Sub-Districts totaling more than 15,000 begun their operation against the more than a dozen bands of bandits headed by chieftains including Guo Shuanzi (郭栓子), Ma Yanbiao (马彦彪), Ma Guoyuan (马国援) and others in Xiji (西吉), Longde (隆德), Helan Shan and Hexi Corridor regions. After one year and eight months, the 2,000 bandits in the regions were annihilated.
From late January 1951 to March 1951, cavalry regiments and camel cavalry regiments of the communist 1st Army, 2nd Army, 3rd Army and 4th Army led by the commander of the communist 3rd Army Huang Xinting (黄新廷) augmented by the communist 27th Infantry Regiment had successfully annihilated bandits headed by Uzman and Hussein in Chaidamu Basin (柴达木盆地). In May 1952, the communist 1st Army augmented by 8 regiments of the communist Qinghai Military District successfully annihilated bandits headed by Xiang Qian (项谦) in Guideangla (贵德昂拉) region of Qinghai after a 17-day long operation. During this stage, nearly 10,000 bandits had surrendered and over 5,800 bandits were killed.
In December 1952, there was a conference on further deployment of communist troops in Northwestern Military Region to completely eradicate the nationalist guerrilla / insurgents in the region and a total of 126 companies totaling more than 19,000 soldiers were deployed. 5 regiments and a battalion of communist Southwestern Military Region was also mobilized to support the effort, which was completed successfully with annihilating over 1,600 bandits headed by Ma Liang (马良) and Ma Yuaxiang (马元祥) in the border region of Qinghai, Sichuan, and Gansu. Meanwhile, over 3,700 bandits in Xinjiang were also annihilated.
By July 1953, the campaign ended in communist victory with over 90,900 nationalist guerrilla /insurgents killed, captured or surrendered. In addition, the communists also captured over 80 artillery pieces and over 35,000 firearms.
Although sharing the common anticommunist goal, the nationalist guerrilla and insurgency warfare was largely handicapped by the enlistment of bandits, many of whom had fought and killed nationalist troops earlier in the eradication / pacification campaign, and also looted, kidnapped and even killed landlords and business owners, an important faction that supported the nationalist government, but now must united against the common enemy, which is half-hearted at the best. Compounding the problem further with additional differences within the ranks of the nationalist guerillas themselves, the futile nationalist guerrilla and insurgency warfare against its communist enemy was destined to fail.
Another important contributor to the nationalist failure was the lack of a unified command. Although the nationalists were under the command of the nationalist government in Taiwan, the troops only took orders from their old masters, the Ma clique. With the command thousands miles away, there was not any effective control and orders were often ignored. The distant headquarters also meant that it lack the intelligence and situation awareness in time and thus could not devise combat plans effectively in a timely manner, even if orders had been carried out to the fullest.
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- National Revolutionary Army
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- Chinese Civil War
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