Changsha, China (1939–1944 AD)
The Battles of Changsha were a series of four major battles between China and Japan during World War II. Three times, in 1939, 1941 and 1942, the Chinese held off immense Japanese assaults on the highly strategic city of Changsha. This made Changsha one of the bloodiest and important battlefields of World War II, on a par perhaps with Stalingrad. It is interesting that the Japanese did finally manage to take the city in the fourth battle in 1944, but the casualties were high, and the end of the war was already in sight, so that the victory was both ineffective and short-lived. Collectively the Battles of Changsha were among the most important engagements of the war in the Pacific.
The Sino-Japanese War had already been raging for years when World War II officially broke out in 1939. Shortly after the German conquest of Poland in September, the Japanese renewed their campaign in China with a major offensive in the country’s heartland. The strategic objective of the new offensive was the city of Changsha. An army of over a hundred thousand Japanese soldiers nearly took the city, but the Chinese defenders, under the brilliant leadership of Xue Yue, managed to cut the Japanese supply lines and force a general retreat. This was the first major defeat of the Japanese during the war.
The second attempt to take the city was in September 1941. Another large Japanese army attacked again, and this time succeeded in taking most of Changsha. But by October the Chinese had raised a massive relief force of perhaps over a million men and counter-attacked. Again the Japanese were beaten back.
A few months later, just after the destruction of the United States fleet at Pearl Harbor and capture of Hong Kong, the Japanese put for there greatest effort yet to take Changsha. This time the Japanese met a smaller but much better trained and equipped force, and barely penetrated into the city. This time they were surrounded, and suffered enormous casualties as they attempted to escape the trap.
After the third battle, the Japanese left Changsha alone for a long stretch of the war. However, the United States began using Changsha as a staging area for bombing runs against the Japanese home islands, and another assault became inevitable. The Japanese raised the largest force yet, over three hundred and sixty thousand men, which depleted almost all of their available manpower. This time the campaign was successful, and the city was taken, but the twenty percent casualties were staggering and crippled future Japanese efforts in Central China. Despite the pyrrhic victory, this was the last main Japanese offensive during the war.
Between the four different battles, fighting raged throughout all of Changsha and nearby Hengyang during the course of the war. Although it is difficult to make out a battlefield per se, sites associated with the battle are marked throughout the city.
The Battlefield sites are scattered around Changsha, approximately 300 miles north of Hong Kong. As of this writing no visitor information was available. Web: www.cnto.org (official tourism website for China).