Operation Ichi

'Ichi' was the Japanese strategic offensive in the central and southern parts of eastern China to secure an overland connection between northern China, Manchukuo and Korea and the occupied nations of southern Asia (Indo-China, Malaya and Burma), and also to take the bases used by the USAAF in China for the strategic bombing of targets in Japan with the Boeing B-29 Superfortress heavy bombers of Major General Curtis E. LeMay’s (from 20 January 1945 Brigadier General Roger M. Ramey’s) XX Bomber Command and for the conduct of local air operations by Major General Claire L. Chennault’s 14th AAF (27 May 1944/8 May 1945).

'Ichi' was the single largest operation undertaken by the Japanese in China during World War II, and at times involved up to 400,000 troops with 800 tanks, 1,500 pieces of artillery, 12,000 vehicles and 70,000 horses against Chinese forces numbering between 390,000 and 800,000 men according to different sources. The Japanese admitted about 30,000 casualties, though the total may in fact have been as great at 100,000 men, while the Chinese suffered about 300,000 military casualties and more than 200,000 civilian losses.

The immediate objectives of 'Ichi' were, firstly, to capture the airfields in southern China from which US air forces were preparing to carry out a strategic bombing campaign against the southern parts of Japan; secondly, to pre-empt any Allied counter-offensive from Yunnan; thirdly, to establish a comprehensive and uninterrupted overland line of communications from Korea to Rangoon in Burma and thus be able to bypass the increasingly tight US submarine blockade; and fourthly, to destabilise the Kuomintang (nationalist) government and possibly force China out of the war.

The Japanese made very extensive preparations for 'Ichi', including the diversion of the Huang (Yellow) river and repair of its railroad bridges, the movement of railway rolling stock to the main line linking Peking and Hankow, the enlargement of airfields, and the revitalisation of their forces with 100,000 horses, 800 tanks, 1,500 pieces of artillery, 240 aircraft and 15,000 motor vehicles. So great was the Japanese commitment to 'Ichi' that they were prepared to scrape the very bottom of the barrel for this offensive: more than 80% of the strength of Field Marshal Shunroku Hata’s China Expeditionary Army was committed, and replacements were brought in from Manchukuo and Korea. These latter were so poorly equipped that some were ordered to share rifles until they could capture Chinese weapons. At the same time, the Japanese engaged in a disinformation campaign meant to create the impression that they were only opening the rail line to compensate for difficult navigation along the Yangtze river.

As a result, Chinese intelligence failed to recognise the true nature and intent of the Japanese preparations for 'Ichi' despite receiving a tip-off from the French in Indo-China on 27 April 1944 that this was to be a major Japanese effort. By then the Japanese offensive in the north, 'Ko', had been under way for 10 days, but the Chinese evaluated this as a localised effort and dismissed the French intelligence as a piece of Japanese disinformation meant to draw Chinese troops out of Burma. There had been no major fighting in China since 1940, and Chiang did not believe the Japanese would conduct serious operations anywhere but in central China. The lack of Japanese river vessels seemed to preclude a serious advance up the Yangtze river to Chungking. This failure of Chinese intelligence would prove disastrous.

At this time the Japanese held north-eastern and central eastern China with General Yasutsuga Okamura’s North China Area Army. This comprised Lieutenant General Teiichi Yoshimoto’s 1st Army in the north and Lieutenant General Eitaro Uchiyama’s 12th Army in the south along the line of the Huang river from a point to the west of Loyang to a point to the east of Kaifeng; Lieutenant General Sajushige Nagatsu’s 13th Army to the left of the 12th Army in the lower parts of the Huang and Yangtze river valleys as well as Shanghai; and Lieutenant General Isamu Yokoyama’s (from 22 November 1944 Lieutenant General Yoshio Kotsuki’s) 11th Army in the the middle part of the Yangtze river valley both upstream and downstream of Hankow and Wuchang virtually opposite each other on the Yangtze river in a long but comparatively narrow salient pointing westward toward Chungking. This contiguous zone was supplemented, farther to the south, by the areas surrounding the larger of China’s coastal ports and Hainan island, and Canton and the area round it were held by Lieutenant General Hisaichi Tanaka’s 23rd Army. The primary north/south railway line of communications in eastern China was represented by the route between Peking and Canton, but the Japanese held only the northern part as far to the south as the Loyang and Kaifeng area held by the 12th Army, and a central part in the area of Hankow and Wuchang held by the 11th Army. Thus there was a Chinese salient between the area to the south of Loyang and Kaifeng and to the north of Hankow, and the Chinese held the area to the south of the salient westward up the Yangtze river and to the north of Canton.

Under the overall supervision of Hata’s (from 23 November 1944 General Yasuji Okamura’s) China Expeditionary Army, the offensive was launched by General Yasuji Okamura’s (from 22 November 1944 General Naosaburo Okabe’s) 6th Area Army in the triangle bounded in the north by Lake Tung-ting, in the south-east by Canton and in the south-west by the Chinese/Indo-Chinese frontier to the north-east of Hanoi to take the Chinese-held areas through which the strategic rail line passed, and to secure southern China adjacent to Indo-China. The main thrusts were those of Yokoyama’s 11th Army of 250,000 men southward from Lake Tung-ting and of Tanaka’s 23rd Army of 50,000 men northward and north-westward from Canton.

This was the first genuinely large-scale strategic offensive undertaken by the Japanese in China since 1938, and had been accurately predicted by Lieutenant General Joseph W. Stilwell, chief-of-staff to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek and commander of the US and Chinese forces in the China-Burma-India Theater. The complete undertaking comprised three separate battles in the Chinese provinces of Henan, Hunan and Guangxi, and these were the Japanese 'Ko' (or the Battle of Central Henan) in April and May to take the area of the rail line between Loyang/Kaifeng and Hankow, 'To 1' (or the Battle of Changheng) of June and July to take the area of the rail line between Wuchang and Hengyang, and 'To 2' and 'To 3' (or the Battle of Guilin-Liuzhou) of July to September to take the area of the rail line between Hengyang and Nanning and of October to take the area of the rail line between Hengyang and Canton.

As noted above, therefore, the two primary goals of the whole operation were the opening of a land route to Japanese-occupied French Indo-China, and the capture of the air bases in the south-eastern part of China from which US bombers were attacking the Japanese homeland and shipping. At first the Chinese resistance was quite effective, aided as it was by useful tactical air support from the squadrons of the 14th AAF.

In 'Ko' the Japanese committed some 390,000 men of Lieutenant General Yuichiro Nagano’s 37th Division of the 1st Army and Lieutenant General Jinkuro Ochiai’s 27th Division, Lieutenant General Takeo Fujioka’s 62nd Division, Lieutenant General Yoshitaro Hayashi’s 110th Division, Lieutenant General Hideo Yamaji’s 3rd Armoured Division, the 7th Independent Mixed Brigade, the 9th Independent Mixed Brigade and the 4th Cavalry Brigade of the 12th Army as well as some 230 aircraft of Lieutenant General Takuma Shimoyama’s 5th Air Army.

The Chinese-held area threatened by 'Ko' was the responsibility of General Chiang Ting-wen’s 1st War Area, though Lieutenant General Tang En-po, Chiang’s deputy, exercised operational command of most of the Chinese ground forces involved in 'Ko', which totalled about 100,000 men.

These forces were Lieutenant General Sun Wei-ju’s 4th Army Group (Lieutenant General Chang Yao-ming’s 38th Army with part of the 17th Division and the New 35th Division, and Lieutenant General Li Hsing-chung’s 96th Army with part of the 17th Division and the New 14th Division), Lieutenant General Liu Mao-en’s 14th Army Group (Lieutenant General Wu Ting-lin’s 15th Army with the 64th and 65th Divisions), Lieutenant General Liu Kan’s 36th Army Group (Lieutenant General Hsieh’s 4th Provisional Army with the 47th Division and 4th Provisional Division, and Lieutenant General Han Hsi-hou’s 9th Army with the 54th Division and New 24 Division), Lieutenant General Ho Chu-kuo’s 15th Army Group (Lieutenant General Liao Tze-kun’s 2nd Cavalry Army with the 3rd Cavalry Division and 14th Provisional Division, the 8th Cavalry Division, and the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Provisional Brigades), Lieutenant General Chen Ta-ch’ing’s 's 19th Army Group (Lieutenant General Huo’s 9th Provisional Army with the 111th and 112th Divisions and the 30th Provisional Division), Lieutenant General Li Hsien-chou’s 28th Army Group (Major General Wu Shao-chou’s 85th Army with the 11th Reserve Division, 23rd Division and 110th Division, Lieutenant General Ku Hsi-chou’s 89th Army with the 20th Division and New 1st Division, and Lieutenant General Liu Chang-yi’s 15th Provisional Army with the 27th and 29th Provisional Divisions), General Wang Chung-lien’s 31st Army Group (Major General Huo Shou-yi’s 12th Army with the 22nd and 29th Divisions and the 55th Provisional Division, Lieutenant General Shih Chueh’s 31st Army with the 4th, 81st, 89th and 117th Divisions and the 16th Provisional Division, Lieutenant General Ma Li-wu’s 29th Army with the 91st and 193rd Divisions and 16th Provisional Division, and the New 42nd, 43rd and 44th Divisions), and Lieutenant General Li Chia-yu’s 36th Army Group (Lieutenant General Li Tsung-fan’s 47th Army), Lieutenant General Kao Shu-hsun’s 39th Army Group (Major General Hu Po-han’s New 8th Army with the New 6th Division and 29th Provisional Division, the 14th Army with the 83rd, 85th and 94th Divisions, and Major General Lai Ju-hsiang’s 78th Army with the New 42nd, 43rd and 44th Divisions).

Elements of the 8th War Area which arrived as reinforcements under the command of the deputy commander of the 8th War Area, General Hu Tsung-nan, were Lieutenant General Ma Fa-wu’s 40th Army with the 39th and 106th Divisions and the New 4th Division, Lieutenant General Chang Cho’s 1st Army with the 167th Division, Major General Li Cheng-hsien’s 16th Army with the 3rd Reserve Division and 109th Divisions, Lieutenant General Chou Shih-mien’s 27th Army with the 128th Division, and Lieutenant General Liu An-chi’s 57th Army with the 8th and 97th Divisions and the New 34th Division).

'Ko' began on 17 April as an advance across the Huang river into Henan with the object of clearing the railway between Chengchow and Hankow. The attacking force was spearheaded by three infantry divisions and the 3rd Armoured Division of Uchiyama’s 12th Army, and was supported by a large number of independent mixed brigades. The Japanese spearheads crossed the Huang river around Zhengzhou late in April and defeated the Chinese forces near Xuchang, then wheeled to the west to besiege Luoyang, which was defended by three Chinese divisions. The 3rd Armoured Division began to attack Luoyang on May 13 and took it on May 25, and the railway had been secured by June. The 30 Chinese defending divisions enjoyed no support from the people of Henan, who were embittered by continuing taxation during a period of famine, and were allegedly alienated still further from the nationalist cause by communist collaborators.

The second phase of 'Ichi', which the Japanese knew also as the 'Operation to Break though the Continent' to establish an uninterrupted railway link between Peking (and also Manchukuo and Korea) and Vietnam in occupied Vichy French Indo-China (and also Malaya, Thailand and Burma), was the three-part 'To'. This began in May 1944 as an advance from the salient to the west of Hankow and Wuchang. Otherwise known as the Battle of Changsha, Battle of Hengyang or Campaign of Changsha-Hengyang, 'To 1' was the Japanese invasion of the Chinese province of Hunan, and involved three separate sub-operations, namely the attack on Changsha and two attacks on Hengyang.

In May 1944, the Japanese deployed 360,000 men, excluding air and naval elements, to attack Changsha for the fourth time since 1939. The undertaking involved more Japanese troops than any other campaign of the 2nd Sino-Japanese War.

Controlled in overall terms by Hata’s China Expeditionary Army with its headquarters at Nanking, via Okabe’s 6th Area Army, which was activated only on 26 August, 'To 1' was fought by Yokoyama’s 11th Army headquartered at Hankow and controlling 10 divisions in the form of Lieutenant General Mitsuo Yamamoto’s 3rd Division, Lieutenant General Tsutomo Akashika’s 13th Division, Lieutenant General Jinkuro Ochiai’s 27th Division, Lieutenant General Takeo Ban’s 34th Division, Lieutenant General Yuichiro Nagano’s 37th Division, Lieutenant General Seiichi Aoki’s 40th Division, Lieutenant General Suehiro Mori’s 58th Division, Lieutenant General Masayuki Funabiki’s 64th Division, Lieutenant General Mikio Tsutsumi’s 68th Division and Lieutenant General Ou Inagawa’s 116th Division, as well as Major General Katsuji Satake’s 6th Tank Brigade, the 5th, 7th and 12th Independent Brigades, the 17th Independent Mixed Brigade, and the 109th Regiment.

The Chinese-held area threatened by the three 'To' offensives was the responsibility of General Chang Fa-kuei’s 4th War Area, though Tang En-Po exercised operational command of most of the 4th War Area’s forces involved in 'To', and General Hsueh Yueh’s 9th War Army. The Chinese forces totalled about 300,000 men.

The forces of the 4th War Area were Lieutenant General Sun Yuan-liang’s 29th Army (91st and 193rd Divisions and the 11th Reserve Division), Lieutenant General Lo Kuang-wen’s 87th Army (43rd and 118th Divisions and the New 23rd Division), Lieutenant General Mu Ting-fang’s 94th Army (5th and 121st Divisions and the 35th Provisional Division), Major General Liu Hsi-cheng’s 98th Army (42nd and 169th Divisions). The forces of the 9th War Area were Lieutenant General Hsia Wei’s 16th Army Group with Lieutenant General Chang Shih’s 64th Army (155th, 156th and 159th Divisions), Lieutenant General Huo Wei-chen’s 31st Army (131st, 135th and 188th Divisions), Lieutenant General Chen Mu-nung’s (later Lieutenant General Kan Li-chu’s) 93rd Army (8th and 10th Divisions), Lieutenant General Wang Yao-wu’s 24th Army Group with Lieutenant General Peng Wei-jen’s 73rd Army (15th and 77th Divisions), Lieutenant General Shih Chung-cheng’s 74th Army (51st, 57th and 58th Divisions), Lieutenant General Wang Chia-pen’s 79th Army (98th and 194th Divisions and the 6th Provisional Division), Major General Li Tien-hsia’s 100th Army (19th and 63rd Division), Lieutenant General Li Yu-tang’s Army incorporating Major General Fang Hsien-chueh’s 10th Army (3rd and 190th Divisions, 10th Reserve Division and 54th Provisional Division), Lieutenant General Li Hsing-shu’s 46th Army (New 19th Division and the 170th and 175th Divisions), Lieutenant General Huang Tao’s 62nd Army (151st, 157th, 158th and 159th Divisions) and the 2nd Assault Group, General Yang Sen’s 27th Army Group with Lieutenant General Yang Han-yu’s 20th Army (133rd and 134th Division and the New 20th Division), Major General Wang Tse-chun’s 44th Army (150th, 161st and 162nd Divisions), Lieutenant General Ou Chen’s Army with Lieutenant General Ting Chih-pan’s 26th Army (32nd, 41st and 44th Divisions), Lieutenant General Lo Chi’s 37th Army (9th, 60th, 95th and 140th Divisions) and Lieutenant General Shen Fa-tsao’s 2nd Provisional Army (7th and 8th Provisional Divisions), General Wang Ling-chi’s 30th Army Group with Major General Lu Tao-yuan’s 58th Army (New 10th and 11th Divisions and the 183rd Division), Lieutenant General Fu Yi’s 72nd Army (34th Division and the New 13th, 15th and 16th Divisions), the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Advance Columns, Major General Chang Teh-nang’s 4th Army (59th, 90th and 102nd Divisions, Lieutenant General Liang Han-ming’s 99th Army (92nd, 99th and 179th Divisions and the New 23rd Division), and the 160th Division.

Changsha was the capital of Hunan province and an important junction of two railways in southern China: the tri-province railroad linking Hunan, Kweichow and Guangxi and that linking Canton and Wuhan. Hengyang was also on the tri-province railway and very close to the railway linking Canton and Wuhan. Moreover, Lake Dongting and the cities of Changsha, Hengyang and Lingling were connected by the Xiang river. This it was vital to each sides to control the urban areas of Changsha and Hengyang.

The tactical objective of the China Expeditionary Army was to secure the railway linking Hunan, Guizhou and Guangxi and the southern area of China. The US 14th AAF had also stationed fighters and bombers at several air bases along the three-province railroad at Hengyang, Lingling, Guilin, Liuzhou and Nanning. From there US had inflicted heavy damage on Japanese troops in China and Formosa.

After several ineffective attacks by aircraft of the Imperial Japanese army air force, the Japanese decided to use ground forces to deny the US air forces the use of these bases. By a direct order from Hata, commanding the China Expeditionary Army, the 11th Army stationed in the Wuhan area was entrusted with the mission of taking Changsha and advancing to the south-west via the tri-province railroad. It was later to join forces with the 23rd Army of General Yasuji Okamura’s 6th Area Army advancing from Canton.

Yokoyama, commander of the 11th Army had under his command the five divisions of his own army reinforced by four more divisions and three independent brigades. Hata decided to keep his headquarters in Wuhan from 25 May until the end of the second phase of 'Ichi'.

'To' involved 360,000 Japanese troops in 25 infantry divisions, one tank division, 11 independent mixed brigades, one cavalry brigade, and one air division. Transport was lavish by Japanese standards, and comprised 12,000 motor vehicles and 70,000 horses. The offensive began on 27 May and was spearheaded by the 11th Army, which launched a general offensive toward Changsha using a tactic somewhat different from that they had employed in their previous three attempts: the high-quality 3rd Division and 13th Division were sent to attack Wanyang mountain in the direction of Liuyang, effectively outflanking the Chinese troops defending Changsha and cutting their lines of retreat. The Japanese also placed additional divisions in the frontal attack on Changsha.

The Chinese attempted to use their previously successful tactic of avoiding direct contact by moving in parallel columns in an effort to outflank the Japanese, but were unable to encircle them as in the previous battles and had to retreat. This allowed the Japanese to advance rapidly to Changsha, defeating the infantry defending the city, as well as neutralising the Chinese artillery on the Yuelu mountain. Changsha was quickly lost to the Japanese, falling on 18 June.

Chang Teh-nang, commander of the 4th Army tasked with holding Changsha, ordered a general retreat in direct contravention of an order telegraphed from his theatre commander, Hsueh Yueh, commander of the 9th War Area. Chang did not create a viable defence plan, however, and fled the city while leaving most of his troops withdrawing in confusion and being taken prisoner by the Japanese. Hsueh had Chang arrested and court-martialled, resulting in a five-year prison sentence, but Chiang later ordered Chang’s execution on the charge of 'incompetence of command and desertion in a combat engagement'.

With Changsha in their hands, the Japanese pressed forward to the south in the direction of Hengyang. Two formations moved to establish a siege of Hengyang, but the understrength 19th Army under the command of Fang Hsien-chueh twice repelled their advance. The unexpected check outside Hengyang helped hasten the crumbling of General Hideki Tojo’s cabinet in Tokyo and, in conjunction with the loss of Saipan on 9 July, Tojo and his cabinet resigned on 18 July.

In August the Japanese troops again attacked Hengyang with air support, but the Chinese resisted strongly with the aid of their better local knowledge and the construction of effective defences up to 13 ft (4 m) high. The Chinese defences were intelligently sited with cross-fire zones to maximise the effects of their firepower. This seriously degraded the morale of the 68th Division and 116th Division, whose commanders even went as far as consideration of a retreat. Morale rose once again, however, when the 58th Division broke into the north-western part of the city’s defensive perimeter, held by the 3rd Division, and the re-heartened Japanese pressed the attack vigorously once more. Reinforcements from the 37th, 62nd, 74th, 79th and 100th Armies made several attempts to reach Hengyang and break the Japanese siege, but were blocked by the 27th Division, 34th Divisioon, 40th Division and 64th Division.

The Japanese eventually captured Fang, who surrendered Hengyang on 8 August after a 47-day siege in which his 10th Army had been reduced from 17,000 men to a mere 3,000 men, almost all of whom were wounded.

This concluded the Campaign of Changsha-Hengyang, or 'To 1' as it was known to the Japanese. The Chinese reactivated the headquarters of the 10th Army at Yi-San in Guangxi province after the defeat at Hengyang, under the command of Major General Li Yu-tang. Some of the original 10th Army’s men managed to slip through the Japanese lines and reach the re-created formation. Of the 3,000 wounded men taken prisoner in Hengyang, 1,000 died of starvation, wounds, injury, sickness or mistreatment by the Japanese.

Most of the Chinese military leaders captured at Hengyang managed to break through the Japanese lines separately, and on 19 September Fang was rescued by a clandestine team from the Changsha Station of the Bureau of Investigation and Statistics, the nationalist intelligence organisation, and was personally received by Chiang on 14 December.

The 47 days of bitter fighting for Hengyang had cost the Japanese dearly in terms of time and losses, the latter including 390 officers killed and another 520 wounded. The 68th and 116th Divisions were so hard hit in terms of combat capability that they were reassigned to garrison duties. Thus, the Chinese troops to the north were able to expand their influence despite the loss of the city of Hengyang.

However, 'To 1' had cost Hsueh’s 9th War Area two useful formations, the 4th and 10th Armies, of the nationalist forces. The 9th War Area thus played no further part in the 2nd Sino-Japanese War.

At this point the 'To' offensive to the south divided into two branches, first with 'To 2' progressing to the south-west and the frontier with occupied Vichy French Indo-China, and second with 'To 2' advancing to the south to link with the 23rd Army's advance to the north from the Canton area.

After its capture of Hengyang, the 11th Army regrouped for a few days and then, on 16 August, started to advance to the south-west in 'To 2' while at much the same time the 23rd Army headed to the north from Canton, after a considerable delay occasioned by a series of Chinese pre-emptive attacks, in the direction of Liuzhou in the first part of 'To 3', taking Lingling, their first objective, on 4 September. In combination, these two drives marked the beginning of the campaign known to the Chinese as the Battle of Guilin-Liuzhou.

In this part of the campaign the Chinese deployed 200,000 men and 217 aircraft, while the Japanese had 160,000 men, 150 aircraft and numerous tanks and armoured cars, and support from lighter vessels of Vice Admiral Daisuke Soejima’s 2nd China Expeditionary Fleet.

The Chinese forces defending against 'To 2' were for the most part remnants from the Battle of Hengyang, and as a result there were only 20,000 troops in Kweilin when the Japanese started their attack on the city on 1 November.

The Chinese knew that they lacked the strength to hold Kweilin indefinitely, but deliberately protracted the battle over a period as long as they could for domestic political reasons, and managed to send food and supplies to the besieged city. Most civilians fled in the weeks before the Japanese reached Kweilin, much of which was destroyed by fire to render it useless to the Japanese. Kweilin’s defences had been reinforced with pillboxes, barbed wire, and local troops under the command of General Pai Chung-hsi. Lieutenant General Joseph W. Stilwell, who was on good terms with Pai, went to ensure the continued flow of US munitions to Pai’s forces.

After 10 days of intense fighting, the 11th Army took Kweilin, and on the same day the 23rd Army entered Liuzhou. The fighting continued sporadically as the Chinese forces extricated themselves as best they could and made a rapid retreat, and on 24 November the Japanese were in control of 75 counties in Guangxi, roughly two-thirds of the province’s area, and were said to have killed 215,000 civilians in reprisal, and wounded more than 431,000.

On 14 November the Japanese forces of 'To 2' reach Nanning, and within a few days had established an overland connection along the railway to Hanoi in the north of occupied Vichy French Indo-China as forces from that area advanced up the railway line to Nanning. Progress in 'To 3' was slower, and the 23rd Army did not meet the leading elements of the 11th Army until January and February 1945.

After the loss of Kweilin and Liuzhou, most Chinese troops became wholly discouraged and retreated without ever seeking to engage the Japanese. The result was a major loss of men and matériel. Despite a substantial measure of air superiority provided by US and Chinese aircraft, moreover, the Chinese failed to exploit their advantages effectively and lost battles in mere days, making this one of the most devastating losses during the entire 2nd Sino-Japanese war.

According to the Japanese, 'To 2' and 'To 3' cost the Chinese 5,665 men killed and another 13,151 men taken prisoner, while their own losses had been 13,400 casualties in total.

The USAAF had by this time lost seven of their 12 Chinese bases, forcing the 14th AAF to fall back toward India and the XX Bomber Command to be shifted to the Mariana islands group by a time early in 1945, when they had also recaptured Clark Field in the Philippine islands group, and had effectively closed the Straits of Formosa with their air and submarine power.

Moreover, after destroying their air bases in this region as they were about to be overrun by the Japanese, the USAAF could still strike at the Japanese home islands from their other bases. Although the Japanese partially accomplished the goals they had set themselves in 'Ichi', the area they had taken increased the burden of garrisoning occupied China, which had the effect of reducing the strength they had available for combat operations. This facilitated the task of the Chinese in launching counter-offensives and counterattacks.

'Ichi' had apparently achieved the tasks demanded of its, but the combination of its losses and the new territory they had to hold meant that they lacked the manpower required to maintain more than a tenuous control over this new territory.

Even so, China had lost the best 10% of its troops (more than 500,000 men) and 25% of its remaining industrial base, as well as the manpower and agricultural resources of Henan, Hunan and Kwangsi, putting it effectively out of the war for some months. Again, at this point this was not a matter of great concern to the other Allied powers as US forces were closing steadily on Japan from the south and east.

Despite of its stunning success in territorial terms, 'Ichi' had also exhausted the strength of the Japanese army in China. The Japanese army’s chief-of-staff, Lieutenant General Yoshijiro Umezu reported to the emperor in June 1945 that the combat strength of all Japanese troops in China was equivalent to that of about eight US divisions and that munitions reserves were sufficient for only a single battle.

Moreover, the USAAF had by now transferred all their heavy bomber groups from their Chinese air bases to newly captured Saipan in July 1944 during the battle of Hengyang. From Saipan, US aerial fleets began their bombing campaign against the Japanese home islands of Japan. Thus one of the Japanese forces' primary operational objectives of 'Ichi' had been easily neutralised by a simple though hard-fought US success in the Pacific theatre.

After the battle of Hengyang, the Japanese could not continue to fight effectively. During this period Japan discovered that government privileges from Wang Jingwei’s puppet regime were useless, and therefore rejected plans to take more Chinese territory. At the same time their negotiating position with China became significantly less powerful.

The Chinese government continued to pressure the Japanese to completely withdraw from the north-east. The Japanese, in a desperate measure, collected as many troops as possible in April 1945 to invade a an area of heavy settlement in the west of Hunan, hoping to open a path to Sichuan. The troops were intercepted in an ambush by the Chinese and almost completely wiped out, and China regained some of its territory. At this point, the course of the war had turned decisively from Japan to China.

The apparent crisis in central and southern China had also persuaded President Franklin D. Roosevelt to urge Chiang that Stilwell should be made commander of all Chinese land forces, but this merely brought to the surface the long-term hostility between Stilwell and Chiang, the latter demanding that Stilwell be replaced.

Critics of Stilwell pointed out that, because of his influence, the best Chinese troops had already been committed to Burma when 'Ichi' started, and that Stilwell refused to leave the front in Burma to organise the defence in central China. The most severe critics went as far as to suggest that Stilwell deliberately refused to help in order to prove his point about the need for reform in the Chinese army and even perhaps to incite a coup d'état against Chiang. This was the last straw for Chiang, who demanded Stilwell’s recall in the middle of the Japanese offensive, and on 18 October Stilwell handed over to Major General (from 1 January 1945 Lieutenant General) Albert C. Wedemeyer, who became chief-of-staff to Chiang and the commander of the new China Theater which replaced the disbanded China-Burma-India Theater.

Late in November and early in December the Japanese turned to the west toward Kweiyang and Kunming, but Wedemeyer was able to persuade Chiang that two veteran divisions should be flown in from the Burma front, and these formed the basis of a strengthened Chinese defence that with the aid of the 14th AAF halted the Japanese in front of Kweiyang.

It was this reverse which had finally persuaded the Japanese to call a temporary halt to 'Ichi', and the respite was used profitably by Wedemeyer to revitalise the Chinese forces, with the aid of the extra supplies that were now reaching southern China over the reopened land route from Burma, in preparation for the resumption of 'Ichi' . The operation got under way once more in the course of January 1945 after the Japanese had improved their lines of communication, and considerable gains were made on the coastal regions between Hankow and the Indo-Chinese frontier. At the same time three more USAAF bases fell to the Japanese, the most important being that at Suichuan, which was taken in February 1945 at about the time that the 11th Army and 23rd Army linked on the rail line between Canton and Hengyang.

Then came a complete surprise for the Allies as the Japanese extended 'Ichi' to an area in central China, where Uchiyama’s (from 7 April Lieutenant General Takashi Takamori’s) 12th Army and Lieutenant General Senichi Kushibuchi’s 34th Army went over to the offensive to the west of Kaifeng between the Huang and Yangtse rivers with the object of taking the air bases at Laohokow and Ankang. The former fell, and the Japanese made substantial advances (netting the spring rice harvest in the process) before they were checked by Chinese reinforcements in April.

Again the Japanese shifted their focus, this time toward the air base at Chihkiang, but their defeat at Changteh on 8 May persuaded the Japanese that 'Ichi' should be terminated, the more so as the Japanese high command insisted that China should become a defensive theatre in order that troops could be moved to the north to bolster the defence of Manchukuo, which was faced by an increasingly threatening situation with the USSR.

The Chinese went over to the offensive in the south-west during July 1945, and soon cut a corridor through to Indo-China, trapping some 100,000 Japanese troops in various beach-heads along the coast between Hong Kong and Pakhoi, and similar in essence to those already in existence at Swatow, Amoy, Foochow and Wenchow.