Chinese Soldier vs. Japanese Soldier: China, 1937-38

Published: November 26th, 2018     
Product Image
Author: Benjamin Lai
Reviewed by: Marc K. Blackburn - IPMS# 42892
ISBN #: 9781472828200
Other Publication Information: Illustrator Johnny Shumate
Price: $20.00
Product / Stock #: (Combat #37)
Product provided by: Osprey Publishing

For most Americans, when you ask them when World War Two began, I imagine most people would answer December 7, 1941, the day the Japanese attacked the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. In my mind, as this book reminds us, I think it is necessary to push the timeline back to the late 1930s and the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War. Osprey's combat series is one the more recent additions to their catalog of publications. As the title suggests, each volume looks at the relative strengths and weaknesses of a set of combatants across the historical time line. Each volume follows a specific formula - an introduction, a look at the weapons, tactics, recruitment and training of each side, descriptions of several battles the opponents fought, then an analysis and aftermath. As is typical for most Osprey books, this volume is well illustrated with historic photographs, maps of each battlefield, and several custom illustrations that bring alive particular instances of the battles told in each volume.

The Japanese had consolidated their hold of Manchuria in 1933, creating a puppet state, Manchukuo. Unsatisfied over the continued viability of the Chinese army and nation-state, the Japanese Kwantung Army had an independence streak that ignored the high command in Tokyo. Governed by their hubris, the Japanese were under the impression that they could easily defeat the best troops that the Chinese could offer. While the Japanese were successful in widening the war against the Chinese (the infamous Marco Polo Bridge incident), they were unable to score a major victory. In the aftermath of the Marco Polo incident, the Japanese continued to attempt to stop the Chinese with further offensives as they continued to move to the south. While the Japanese had modern weapons, in terms of air support, tanks, and artillery, the sheer numbers of soldiers that the Chinese could mobilize, often negated the Japanese superiority in weapons and tactics.

Since there was not a quick victory, in spite of the Imperial Headquarters attempts to consolidate their gains and, perhaps, even negotiate with the Chinese, the officers of the Kwantung Army continued to push forward. While they nibbled at the periphery of Chinese territory, and continued to make inroads, there was not a grand strategy to defeat the Chinese. As the Japanese continued to plan and execute offensives, they required more resources than was originally planned for. The Chinese were able to blunt several advances, but at a huge cost to their most modern and well-trained troops. The illustrations that are in the book show how desperate the Chinese were. They would close in with the Japanese and use cutlasses to melee with the Japanese.

I have had the opportunity to review several of these titles. In my real life, I am a public historian with a background in military history. This volume does an excellent job of summarizing the strengths and weaknesses of Nationalist Chinese and Japanese that would govern their actions throughout the war. What struck me is that this work breaks down the aura of success that governed the Japanese Army and lays bare its weaknesses, in particular in China. Governed by self-interest, the Chinese were able to trade space for time and engage in the type of war that the Japanese could ill-afford - a war of attrition. While the Chinese armies were rife with all sorts of weaknesses, this work brings to light the magnitude of bravery that the Chinese displayed, a portrait that is not captured in the typical works you read regarding the Pacific War. My thanks to IPMS and Osprey Publications for giving me the opportunity to review this book.

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