Friday, February 19, 2010

Germans in Mao's Long March

In March 1929, in one of the greatest tactical retreats in human history, about 87,000 Red Army soldiers led by Mao, trekked from southern Chinese province of Jiangxi to Yanan (Hunan), and then again to Shaanxi province located along the Great Wall in north China. They trekked over 9000 km in 368 days, across some of the toughest terrains in Asia!

The purpose of this desperate journey was to escape being slaughtered by Generalissimo Chiang Kai Shek`s Goumintang Army.

I was surprised to know today that there were two Germans who played a decisive role in this epic journey - at a time when both the Chiang and Mao had common cause on the expulsion of all the imperial powers who have carved the whole of China into their own "spheres of influence". One was an army General Hans von Seeckt, adviser to Chiang Kai-shek and the other, Otto Braun,  a seasoned communist partner-in-arms to Mao Tse-tung!

General Seeckt advised Chiang Kai-shek not to launch a full frontal attack on Jiangxi, where 500,000 had surrounded the area in an attempt to strangulate the Communists. Seeckt wanted a war of attrition but with minimal contact with the Communists as Seeckt wanted to starve them out rather engage in combat with them.

Otto Braun (aka Le De) at first went against Mao`s advise and launched full frontal attacks against the Goumindang. When this ended in failure Mao then wanted a breakout by the Red Army followed by an attack on the Goumindang rear but Otto again overruled him and ordered a full-scale retreat from Jiangxi to Hunan in October 1934. At one point of time Otto Braun had Mao expelled from the communist party committee!

The Red Army started to Long March carrying whatever it could. 87,000 soldiers started the retreat carrying such items as typewriters, furniture, printing presses etc. They also took with them 33,000 guns and nearly 2 million ammunition cartridges. It took the Red Army 40 days to get through the blockhouses surrounding Jiangxi but no sooner had they done this than they were attacked at Xiang by the Guomindang. In the Battle of Xiang, the Red Army lost 45,000 men - over 50% of their fighting force.

After the Battle of Xiang, Braun was blamed for these failings but the damage had been done. In January 1935, control of the Red Army was handed over to Mao and Braun was suspended. back in control of the Red Army, Mao adopted new tactics. He divided the army into small bands and moved in completely unpredictable patterns that made it very difficult for Chiang`s army to track them...


Walsh, Billie K. (1974), The German Military Mission in China, 1928-38, The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 46, No.3 (Sep. 1974) pp.502-513, The University of Chicago Press

Xiang, Ah (), Battle of Xuzhou & Chiang Kai-shek`s Stepdown -

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