Osprey's The Long March 1934-35


Benjamin Lai


Osprey Publishing


$24.00 MSRP


Scott Van Aken

Notes: 96 pages, 7 x 9 inches, softcover
ISBN: 978-1-4728-3401-0

China in the first half of the 20th century was a nation torn by internal strife. With the end of the imperial rule in 1911, the Republic of China was established. However, that was not really the sort of central government that was able to exert control over such a large nation. Indeed, much of the country was controlled by local warlords who offered only minimal loyalty and some were outwardly hostice. There was also a rise in communism as helped along by the Soviets once that nation was formed. This was probably the biggest threat to the Chinese central government.

When Chiang Kaishek took over of the ruling party in 1926, he set forth a program to try to exterminate the communists. This was not an easy task as the opposition had set up several areas of control, called Soviets, all over the inner portions of China. These were back in the country and away from the coastal areas generally controlled by the ruling Nationalists.

Without going into a great deal of detail, by 1933-34, the Nationalists had built up a huge army, often well equipped and in some cases very well trained by European mercenaries, many of whom were German. It was time to make an effort to get rid of the communist armies. After the initial battles, it became quite obvious that the communists could not defeat the National Army in a head to head battle. Thus it was decided to retreat with what forces they had even further back into the countryside. Thus began nearly two years of tactical retreat.

In the communist army, decisions were made by committee as much as anything else. Any soldier was able to make suggestions and at the higher echelons, there was considerable debate over how to proceed when it came to military action. It was the Politburo who eventually made the final decision, a method that is still used today where the Chinese Army is under control of the party and not the government.

There were basically four 'red' armies at the time. The first and fourth were the largest and most powerful. Mao Zedong was in charge of the first. He also had some of the best planners and his decisions on how to operate were more often than not the correct one. This, as much as anything else, propelled him into leadership positions and eventually overall leadership of the communist Chinese.

This book takes what is, for most westerners, a very confusing series of events and makes the whole campaign one that is fairly easy to follow. As mentioned, the entire Long March was a tactical retreat. The red army was constantly hounded by the Nationalist Army, however, what the communists lacked in equipment, was made up by troop loyalty and imagination. Situations where the Nationalists should have thoroughly trounced their opponents turned out to be the opposite. Kaishek's leadership and those of many of his generals was often shoddy and Kaishek was constantly meddling in the campaign instead of letting his generals run the show. The result is that Mao and his men were able to reach an area of safety and with the invasion of the Japanese, both the Nationalists and communists joined forces until they were removed from the country.

I very much enjoyed this one and learned a great deal. One has to admire the way that the red Chinese were able to out-fox the nationalists during what had to be an incredible experience for all involved. A super book and one I can easily recommend to you.

June 2019

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