Battle of Changde

Battle of Changde
Battle of Changde
Part of World War II - the Second Sino-Japanese War
Changde crouching prisoner.jpg
A captured Japanese soldier crouches before his Chinese captors at Changde
Date November 2, 1943 (1943-11-02) - December 20, 1943 (1943-12-21)
Location Changde and vicinity
  • Japanese capture of the town[1]
  • Japanese planned withdrawal in January 1944[1]
Republic of China National Revolutionary Army, Republic of China Japan Imperial Japanese Army, Empire of Japan
Commanders and leaders
Republic of China Army Flag.svg Sun Lianzhong Japan Isamu Yokoyama
Unknown Unknown
Casualties and losses
Unknown Chinese claim: 40,000+ killed and wounded[2]

The Battle of Changde (simplified Chinese: 常德会战; traditional Chinese: 常德會戰; pinyin: Chángdé Huìzhàn) was a major engagement in the Second Sino-Japanese War in and around the Chinese city of Changde in the province of Hunan. During the battle, Japan used extensive biological and chemical weapons.

The purpose of the Japanese offensive was not to hold the city, but to maintain pressure on the Chinese National Revolutionary Army "in order to destroy their main units, to deny them the time needed for recuperation, regrouping, and retraining, and to make sure that no Chinese troops could be spared for the Burma front."[1]

Contemporary Western newspapers depicted the battle as a Chinese victory.[3][4][5][6][7] American government film footage shows victorious Chinese troops with Japanese prisoners and captured Japanese flags and equipment on display after the battle.[8] In addition, an American newsreel titled "Chinese troops drive Japs from Changteh" showed Chinese troops firing, with dead and captured Japanese on display.[2]



On the 2nd of November 1943, Isamu Yokoyama, commander of the Imperial Japanese 11th Army, deployed the 39th, 58th, 13th, 3rd, 116th and 68th divisions, a grand total of around 60,000 troops, to attack Changde from the north and the east. The Changde region was protected by the Chinese 6th war area's 10th, 26th, 29th and 33rd army groups, as well as a river defense force, and two other corps, for a grand total of 14 corps.

On the 14th, the Japanese 13th division, with aid from collaborators, drove south to break through the defense lines of the Chinese 10th and 29th group armies. On the 16th, Japanese paratroopers landed on Taoyuan, a county in the Chande region. At the same time, the Japanese 3rd and 116th divisions reached Changde. The city was guarded by the Chinese 74th corps' 57th division, whose commander, Yu Chengwan, led his 8000 soldiers to fight against the overwhelming attack of 2 Japanese divisions. 11 days and nights of fierce fighting saw heavy casualties on both sides. When Chinese reinforcements arrived, the remaining 300 soldiers of the 57th division escaped the city. None of them were not wounded. On the 5th of December, Changde was lost.

While the 57th division pinned down the Japanese in the city, the rest of the 74th corps, and 18th, 73rd, 79th, and 100th corps, as well as the 9th war area's 10th corps, 99th corps and Jiangxi's 58th corps arrived at the battlefield, forming a counter-encirclement on the Japanese forces.

Fang Xianjue's 10th corps was first to strike, successfully retaking Deshan on the 29th of November, before attacking the Japanese positions at Changde from the south. The Japanese could not stop the Chinese attack, so they employed poison gas. The battle lasted for 6 days and nights. The Chinese 10th division's commander Sun Minjin was shot 5 times in the body and killed in action.

At this time, the other Chinese units were pressing onto the Japanese positions. On the 11th of December, the Chinese army broke into the city, whereupon intense house to house fighting occurred. The Japanese army's supply lines were cut off by the Chinese. Without food and ammunition, the Japanese army retreated on the 13th. Upon leaving, their Unit 731 spread bubonic plague, while the army burnt buildings and killed people in frustration.

The Chinese units pursued the retreating Japanese army for more than 20 days. By the 5th of January 1944, both sides were at their original positions prior to the battle. During this campaign, other than the 10th division's Sun Minjin, two more division commanders of the Chinese army died. One was the 44th corps' 150th division's Lieutenant General Xu Guozhang, while the other one was the 73rd corps' 5th division's Lieutenant General Peng Shiliang. General Xu was killed at Taifushan in Changde's northwest, aged 37. General Peng was killed the Taoyuan-Shimen line, aged 38.

The Changde campaign had the largest participation of the Chinese air force since the Battle of Wuhan[9].

Reporter Israel Epstein witnessed and reported on the battle. Witold Urbanowicz, a Polish pilot fighting in China in 1943, saw the city just after the battle. According to Urbanowicz, nearly 300,000 civilians died in Changde.[1]

Biological and chemical attacks

During the Khabarovsk War Crimes Trials, some witnesses, such as Major General Kiyashi Kawashima, testified that, as early as November 1941, about 40 members of Unit 731 airdropped fleas contaminated with bubonic plague on Changde and that this caused outbreaks of plague epidemics. Overall, 7,643 Chinese died in 1942 following this infestation.[10] Some Japanese soldiers, notably Yoshio Shinozuka, also admitted to have spread bubonic plague within a 36-kilometer (22 mi) radius around the city. However, the Japanese actions did not achieve their objective, as the Chinese defenders continued to resist.

In the intense fighting, Japanese forces could not overcome heavy Chinese resistance, so they decided to have Unit 516 fire poison gas artillery shells, possibly contained mustard gas or lewisite, into the city. Unit 516 and other units used assorted chemicals in liquid or gaseous form, including mustard gas, lewisite, cyanic acid gas and phosgene, experimentally and sometimes operationally. This was effective in spreading fear, terror and death with devastating effect against both humans and livestock.


Chinese soldiers in combat  
Chinese soldiers in combat in a gas attack  
Japanese prisoners at Changde  


  1. ^ a b c d ed. Hsiung, James C. and Steven I. Levine China's Bitter Victory: The War with Japan 1937-1945, p.161
  2. ^ a b Newsreel 'Chinese troops drive Japs from Changteh' US Government Archive number for this video is: 208 UN 91 FGMC
  3. ^ Simon Newton Dexter North, Francis Graham Wickware, Albert Bushnell Hart (1944). The American Year Book: Volume 29. T. Nelson & Sons. p. 94. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  4. ^ George Creel (1949). Russia's race for Asia. Bobbs-Merrill Co.. p. 214. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  5. ^ Free world, Volume 8. Free World, Inc.. 1944. p. 309. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  6. ^ Philip J. Jaffe (1943). Amerasia, Volume 7. Amerasia, inc.. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  7. ^ LIFE Feb 21, 1944
  8. ^ Chinese troops defeat the Japanese in Changteh China and capture their military equipment during World War II. US Government Archive number for this video is: 208 UN 89 FGMC
  9. ^ Program about the Battle of Changde
  10. ^ Vet refuses to take Unit 731 to his grave, Japan Times, 2004


  • Hsu Long-hsuen and Chang Ming-kai, History of The Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945) 2nd Ed., 1971. Translated by Wen Ha-hsiung, Chung Wu Publishing; 33, 140th Lane, Tung-hwa Street, Taipei, Taiwan Republic of China. Pg. 412-416 Map 38
  • Daniel Barenblatt, A plague upon Humanity, HarperCollns, 2004, pp. 220–221

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