Selected Histories of Urban Combat from World War II to Vietnam
Edited by Colonel John Antal and Maj. Bradley Gericke?Urban terrain will likely be the predominant battlefield of future wars.?
As September 11 and Somalia proved, hostile forces are now engaging America differently, avoiding open combat with our enormous military, striking at our civic centers or dragging us into theirs. But urban warfare isn?t new; it is as old as the battle of Jericho. Now an incomparable collection written by esteemed military veterans?some currently serving, others civilian analysts?re-creates the last century?s most astonishing examples
of this kind of fighting . . . and offers important lessons for our future.
Here are fourteen riveting histories that are both invaluable teaching tools for security leaders and engrossing accounts for any reader. They include
? William M. Waddell?s ?Tai-Erh-Chuang, 1938: The Japanese Juggernaut Smashed??How China defeated the Japanese in battle for the first time in three hundred and forty years, by using a city only as a pivot area and attacking the exposed flank and rear ranks of its unprepared enemy.
? Eric M. Walters?s ?Stalingrad, 1942: With Will, a Weapon, and a Watch??The largest and longest-running urban fight of the twentieth century, in which the Red Army became the tortoise to the Germans? hare, out-lasting its stronger foe.
? Norm Cooling?s ?Hue City, 1968: Winning a Battle While Losing a War??The six-day fight for the cultural center of Vietnam revealed how the American military?s distrust of the media made it fail to expose the enemy?s mass executions and lose the all-important information war.
From the 1944 Warsaw uprising that almost caused the complete destruction of Poland?s capital to the crucial, near-forgotten fight for Manila in 1945 . . . from snipers and shoulder-launched missiles to tunnels and tanks . . . all aspects of the most important urban conflicts are revealed in stunning detail. Compelling and cautionary, City Fights
powerfully reminds us that, in our ever more urbanized and vulnerable world, ?if a state loses its cities, it loses the war.?
Tai-erh-chuang, 1938: The Japanese Juggernaut Smashed, by 2d Lt. William M. Waddell
The tactic of attacking fortified cities is adopted only when unavoidable. . . . If the general cannot overcome his impatience but instead launches an assault wherein his men swarm over the walls like ants, he will kill one-third of his officers and troops, and the city will not be taken. This is the disaster that results from attacking fortified cities. —Sun Tzu
In early April 1938 a lone Chinese soldier stood on a wall in the town of Tai-erh-chuang to survey his surroundings. Tanks, armored cars, and trucks were strewn about the countryside, abandoned once they had run out of fuel. Dead horses, broken machine guns, and deserted field guns lay across the landscape. The soldier could detect the faint smell of burning flesh. Interspersed among the quiet chaos lay 16,000 dead Japanese soldiers. For the first time in 340 years, China had defeated Japan in battle.
The Imperial Japanese Army faltered in Tai-erh-chuang because it was lured into a vicious city fight for which it was dangerously unprepared. The semimodern Japanese army had not achieved the necessary combined-arms integration to prosecute such a battle. Japanese infantry hid behind the strength of their firepower, tanks advanced without adequate protection, and neither of them effectively used maneuver to gain a tactical advantage over the opponents. Furthermore, the Japanese commanders themselves committed operational blunders as their minds become dangerously fixated on the consuming fight within the city’s bounds.
Chinese acumen stood in contrast to Japanese deficiencies. Perhaps owing to their material inferiority, the Chinese in and around Tai-erh-chuang displayed remarkable imagination. Their situation forced them into creative tactical and operational solutions, which served to frustrate the disjointed and uncoordinated efforts of the Japanese invaders. The disasters that beset the Japanese and the forethought that benefited the Chinese provide insightful lessons for the modern military.
The story of the Sino-Japanese War is one of immense struggle punctuated by catastrophe. Taken as a single event, the victory at Tai-erh-chuang illustrates that the Chinese could be capable planners and organizers. It also highlights the sophistication of their military thought. The Chinese not only understood their adversaries’ mind-set but manipulated it to advantage. In effect, the Chinese laid a trap at Tai-erh-chuang. The Japanese were lured into and systematically destroyed in a brutal street fight, punctuated by sweeping maneuver.Early Days of the Sino-Japanese War
The opening of the Sino-Japanese War had not gone well for the Chinese. The defense of Shanghai had been a valiant but an ultimately futile effort. Chiang Kai-shek’s German-trained Central Army held on to Shanghai through a series of gruesome offensives and equally foolish dare-to-die defensive stands. The height of China’s military modernization perished in Shanghai. Casualties for the battle may have been as high as 300,000. By December 13, 1937, the Japanese had pushed their way to Nanking. Chiang shifted his headquarters to the relative safety of Wuhan in December. Things were equally worrisome in the north. Paoting and Tsangchow fell to the Japanese First and Second Armies, respectively, on September 24. Chinese resistance was crumbling before the Japanese advance, while Chiang carefully hoarded his remaining units in order to preserve his delicate hold on Chinese leadership.
The Japanese intended to force a Chinese capitulation by endangering the ad hoc capital at Wuhan. Rail and river provided the primary means for the Japanese advance. The Tientsin-P’ukow railroad line provided one such high-speed avenue of approach. Japanese efforts in this area should have been stalled by the presence of Han Fu-Chu’s 80,000–strong 3d Army Group. Such was not to be as Han fled Tsinan, thereby leaving this front wide open for Japanese exploitation. Chiang Kai-shek paid Han the traitor’s wage by executing him in Hankow on January 25.
The opportunity was not lost on the Japanese. If the Japanese could strike south quickly, they could seize the junction of the Lunghai and Tientsin-P’ukow railway lines at Hsuchow. From there, the way to Wuhan lay before them. The object of the Japanese southern drive was the hodgepodge 5th War Area under the command of Li Tsung-jen, who had been given the task of defending Hsuchow.Troops and Terrain
Li’s command structure was certainly convoluted. Owing more to political expedience than military necessity, many of Li’s subordinates commanded units noticeably larger on paper than what the unit could actually put into the field. Many army group commanders were concurrently corps commanders, and in two cases officers were serving simultaneously as army group, corps, and division commanders. For instance, P’ang Ping-hsun nominally commanded the Third Army, but it consisted of only one corps, in which there was only one division.5 The layering of command, primarily for political reasons, served to confound the modern perspective and undoubtedly complicated command and control of Chinese armies.
Chinese troop dispositions reflected the confusing nature of the Chinese command structure. A standard division, on paper, consisted of at least two infantry brigades, one artillery battalion, and a variety of support units. In sum, the Chinese division was nominally 10,000 men strong. Two divisions or more made up a corps, and at least two corps formed an army. Unfortunately, few Chinese armies were actually organized in such a manner. The rapid integration of the various warlord armies into the Kuomintang (KMT) force structure invalidated any organizational uniformity. Even a cursory glance at the command structure of the 5th War Area reveals how few units adhered to this rigid prescription. It is probably safe to assume that only the Central Army units under Li’s command even approached this strength.
Despite the awkward arrangement of his command, Li chose his battlefield well. He was able to do this because Japanese attention shifted to his area only as their drive to seize the Nationalist major political organs had been frustrated by their timely withdrawal to Wuhan. Furthermore, Li had been in the area as early as November 1937 and hence understood the terrain. The defensive line of the 5th War Area extended below the relatively impassable mountains in southern Shantung. The position of the mountains channeled an attacking force around the heights through two widely separated routes. One avenue passed on the western side of the range through the cities of Tsouhsien and T’enghsien in succession. This course also coincided with the vital Tienstin-P’ukow main rail artery. The second approach brought an adversary around the mountains to the east through the strategically significant city of Linyi. Once a force had cleared this obstacle, it still would find itself separated from its supporting column by roughly eighty kilometers. The quality of this defensive sack is further heightened by Wei-shan Lake and the Grand Canal, which effectively shore up a defending force’s left flank. Below the Wei-shan the Grand Canal turns abruptly east, creating a significant barrier to attacks as well as a convenient rallying point for defenders. Below the mountains and to the east of Tai-erh-chuang, the terrain becomes broken by a series of rivers, canals, and marsh. Any attacker moving into this region would find his area of operations increasingly limited. Furthermore, the nature of this region necessarily caused defensive pockets to form around the various cities, which, in turn, were hedged by the already mentioned natural fortifications.
In essence, any invading host’s push into this region on a broad front had to be widely dispersed and incapable of mutual support. Once the mountains were cleared, the area where a juncture of forces could be made was significantly limited. Forces entering the cul-de-sac would find themselves advancing obliquely into the bowl with their lines of communication trailing behind them at widely divergent angles. This arrangement forced the attacker to seize the cities in order to effectively control the rail lines.The Preparation for Battle
It is quite likely that some Chinese officers were mentally prepared for this battle. Henri Johan Diederick de Fremery, a retired Dutch artillery colonel and military advisor to China, reported that the Chinese had indeed foreseen such a circumstance. Recognizing this area as a potential threat to Nanking, staff officers conducted several staff exercises and the matter was discussed in earnest at the Central Military Academy. This information was partially corroborated by the work conducted at the Chinese Staff College at Lu-ta. The students at Lu-ta engaged in several wargames focused on “mobile defense.” The scenarios postulated a deep penetration by enemy columns into Chinese territory. Once the enemy formations reached the height of their advance, they were to be subjected to violent attacks from the rear and on the flanks.
The general concept of the Japanese effort, as it developed, was that Japanese troops would speed south to effect a juncture at Tai-erh-chuang. From there they would consolidate for the siege of Hsuchow. The task to press the attack to Hsuchow fell to Lt. Gen. Juzo Nishio’s Second Army. Nishio’s 10th and 5th Divisions would take the Japanese to the vital Lunghai railway. The Lunghai offered a high-speed route for the Japa- nese to reach Wuhan and the interior of China. David Barrett, the assistant American military attaché to China, aptly described the Lunghai as “China’s jugular vein.” Han Fu-Chu’s ignominious withdrawal had placed Taian, Yenchow, and Tsining into Japanese hands in quick succession and further placed the Lunghai at JapanR...