Chongching after necessary urban renewal, 1952

Chongching after necessary urban renewal, 1952

Since I began reading Antony Beevor’s The Second World War I have returned to my old Hearts of Iron 2 campaign. When last I played I had just defeat the perfidious USA, establishing am empire stretching from the east coast of the USA to Yemen, stretching as far North as the Canadian arctic and as far south as New Zealand. The only major powers still outside my control were the UK, Germany, the USSR and Nationalist China. The USSR has been largely ignoring me, but very soon after I had annexed the USA – in fact, before I had had a chance to repatriate my troops – that devious Generalissimo, Chiang Kai-Shek, declared war on me! I made several failed attempts to win that war, but gave up sometime in 1950 with a large portion of my army stuck on the eastern seaboard of mainland China, and being pushed back from my previous holdings in India and Burma. Many of my troops were still moving around the USA, and no matter what I did I couldn’t seem to defeat the Chinese. So, like all good gamers everywhere, I gave up and moved on to something else.

Having had my interest in the war reignited by Beevor’s book I thought I’d give it another go. I decided to use a new strategy, at least for the short term: consolidate my holdings so that there was no risk of losing the parts of China I had gained, and then build a huge fleet of missiles that would destroy China’s industry, rendering them incapable of fighting, while I shifted my armies around and built new ones. I realized I was woefully short of land-based aircraft, tanks, mountain troops or for that matter unit attachments – a consequence of fighting the war in the Pacific. So, I would rebalance my army by building it up, while laying waste to Chinese industry and reorganizing my forces.

China’s defense in depth and the role of strategic bombardment

China’s armed forces basically consist of three types of unit: infantry, mountain infantry, and militia. It has vast numbers of all three, but limited industry with which to support them. To give a sense of contrast, when the war started China had perhaps 3-5 tank divisions, maybe 150 divisions of various forms of infantry, one obsolete air arm (soon eliminated) and total industrial capacity (IC) of 100. I had perhaps 80 divisions including marines, tanks, cavalry and mountain troops, three or four land-based air arms (also soon depreciated) and a total industrial capacity near 300 (I think). I could run a large productive enterprise, maintain an excess of supplies, and fully reinforce all those troops while upgrading them and fighting an aggressive war. China at 100 IC was already incapable of balancing all those tasks. When it started the war it was largely neglecting upgrades, but even a small drop in IC would force it to choose between income, supplies and reinforcements. Low income means growing dissent; low commitment to supplies can lead to complete social collapse very rapidly if not addressed; and low reinforcements means the slow attrition of forces, especially those in mountainous or jungle areas with poor supply – like a lot of the Nationalist Chinese troops who had waged an unjustifiable war of aggression on my peace-loving troops in Thailand and Burma.

The Chinese strategy for deploying these soldiers appeared to be one of defense in depth: multiple layers of large armies all mutually reinforcing one another. This makes encirclement and destruction close to impossible, because although you can win against an army in a province, by the time you have moved troops there another army attacks from the rear and cleans you up. Fighting wars of encirclement and destruction is the only way to make headway against your enemy in the start of a war, but is extremely difficult to do if you don’t have the troop numbers, since you need to be able to advance, protect your flanks, and have reserves to smash the encircled army.  This is particularly difficult when you have poor infrastructure and tough terrain, so movement forward is slow – never a problem for defenders with reserves in depth. With my troops spread out from Rangoon in the south to Beijing in the north, and under attack along the entire front, it just wasn’t possible to make headway. I think around Beijing I tried encirclements of the province of Datong perhaps five times in one year, and every time I was beaten back before I could complete the snare. This is dangerous when you’re up against numerically superior but inferior troops, because if you destroy your own troops’ morale you can suffer highly effective counter-attacks, and when you are defending a strip of land only three provinces wide with the sea at your back, you don’t have much space to retreat.

So, the simple solution in the short term was to hold what I had gained while I built up and reorganized forces; and simultaneously to destroy industry so that Nationalist China suffered growth in dissent, reduction in supplies, and the inability to reinforce troops. Even if in the short term I couldn’t gain ground from this, it would force the enemy to pay dearly for each province they recaptured, and prevent them from growing their forces while I grew mine. Then I could run a couple of counter-attacks once my forces were bigger.

1950: reorganization, entrapment and strategic bombardment

During the first year of the war I had to move troops from the far coast of the USA to China, then deploy them inland. I also needed to build specialist troops (mountaineers) and tanks to help me through the tough terrain of inland China. Later in the year I realized that China had no air force but that I lacked the planes to take advantage of it, so I established a large aircraft construction program, and I also needed to modernize and update much of my equipment. This is because for Japan the first stage of the war is naval and not land-based, and infantry power tends to be neglected compared to having an advanced (and huge) fleet.

While I engaged in all this reorganization I tried to lay a few traps to whittle away my enemy. This involved withdrawing from attacks and letting my enemy penetrate inward by multiple provinces, then smashing into their rear lines to encircle the invader. This is a risky move because they can recapture key strategic areas, and I had to play this game near Nanjing or Beijing, both places I didn’t want to lose. The game never worked in the Beijing area – they would attack across too wide a front and I would have to repulse the entire front before I could do encirclements. But it worked just south of Nanjing, where I lured maybe 5 or 6 divisions into such a trap and manged to destroy them, though it took time and lost me a front line area in the process of relocating troops. Unfortunately, against an army the size of Nationalist China, five divisions isn’t worth the expenditure of reinforcements. By the time mid-1951 came around I was down to 400 manpower and losing 1 more a day in reinforcements, and it was looking like I wouldn’t actually be able to enlarge my army suffiiciently if I also had to bleed my population to reinforce brave divisions.

Simultaneously with this tactic I also tried strategic bombardment. I built ICBMs 10 at a time and launched them at all China’s major industrial centres, usually managing to knock its base IC down by 40 in one night. There’s a lesson here for war planners in long wars: distribute your industry. One ICBM can do 10-12 points of IC damage, but if you only have 3 or 4 IC in a province you limit their effectiveness. Amongst China’s 80 points of base IC, 10-12 were in Chongqing, 6 in Chengdu and 6 in Urumqi, so three missiles could knock off a quarter of its value easily. This didn’t cause the collapse I hoped for, and Chinese IC seems to grow back ridiculously fast, but it is satisfying nonetheless to restart the game as China after one of these attacks and to see the lines of red in their production tab: no production of new soldiers at all, no reinforcements, no upgrades, and all industrial output committed to supplies and money. I compounded this by nuking Chonqing twice in two years (destroying 10 IC each time and slowing down its rate of regrowth) and also Xinyuang once. Nuking Xinyuang destroyed 3 points of IC but also wiped out 10 divisions of soldiers who were inconveniently perched there. By this time China could not replace lost units, so that was 10 divisions I would never have to face again. Nukes also cause an automatic 10% of dissent, which is extremely useful because it puts a further dent on IC and reduces the effectiveness of soldiers.

Nonetheless, for this whole year I made no progress. Just gathered an enormous army in eastern and northern China, and watched as the Chinese army slowly recaptured parts of southeast Asia that I thought would be mine for eternity.

1951: regaining the initiative

From mid-1951 my armies from America and my newly-produced planes and tanks began to flood the eastern areas. I deployed them in the south near Sichuan, in the middle to protect my possessions around Nanjing (a very important area) and somewhat further north to try and trap large numbers of soldiers around Beijing. I also deployed tactical bombers and later close air support fighter-bombers into these campaign areas, and by the end of 1952 I had enough of these planes to be able to rotate them out when their strength began to wane. It’s a testament to the obstinacy and ferocity of the Chinese army that even though they had no functioning anti-aircraft guns and no air force, I still had to rotate my airplanes out or lose them (in fact I did lose a couple of divisions over the year). During this time I also continued my strategic bombardment. This was to prove useful for an unexpected but important subsidiary reason: with all its available IC constantly diverted to supplies and reducing dissent, the Chinese government could not build anti-tank or anti-aircraft attachments for its units, even though they are cheap and quick. With functioning industry it would have been able to flood its units with these counter-measures, which would have led to the very rapid destruction of my (still quite small) tactical support air wings. Unfortunately my strategic bombardment had forced the Chinese to put all military production of any kind on hold for a year.

Once my forces were in place I began the long, slow process of encircling and destroying armies while gaining ground. This didn’t work so well in the south on the road to Chongching, with continual set backs and frustrations, but I had some success sealing off peninsulas and advancing down one side of a great river to the north. In each encirclement I would tend to liquidate 3-5 divisions. During this year I lost maybe 10 divisions of my own, who were trapped and destroyed before I realized (multi-tasking all this stuff can lead to slip ups). Progress was slow, grinding and frustrating, but the lack of Chinese reinforcements meant that over this year their armies weakened and became increasingly disorganized. They also began to spread more thinly as I chewed off smaller armies, and the defense in depth tactic began to weaken.

1952: the big push

By the beginning of 1952 I had managed to reorganize and assemble a spare army, which I used to recapture Rangoon in an amphibious assault. From there I pushed out north through the jungle with the Irawaddy River on my right, stomping Chinese units as I went. In the mountains of Burma and India isolated units of Chinese mountain troops were being destroyed by a combination of exposure, lack of supply and constant aerial attack. In mid-1952 I landed a second expeditionary force in western India, using new motorized units with rocket artillery to push rapidly across the sub-continent and completely separate the Indian armies from supply lines over the Himalayas. I soon ruthlessly put them down and moved to attack towards Calcutta, while simultaneously redeploying a huge army of marines to capture Chittagong and cut off more troops between my Irawaddy armies and the marine invasion. Within two months a horrific jungle war that had tied up 20 or 30 divisions for 2 years – including the complete annihilation of 5-10 – became a rout, with whole Nationalist armies being torn apart in the high mountains. Meanwhile the defensive line around Chongching collapsed and in one month I managed to surround 20 divisions in the capital area, eliminating all of them while capturing most of China’s industrial heartland. In the north, the Beijing front finally got encircled with a huge pincer movement into the Mongolian desert, and the Chinese army was finished as a fighting force. My newest nuke didn’t have to be deployed, and in three months the war had changed from a stalemate to complete destruction. With the simultaneous collapse of Indian, Burmese, Manchukuo and Sichuan fronts the Chinese lost their will to go on, and offered unconditional surrender.

Of course I took it. I now possess an Empire of unparalleled size: from the Azores in the Atlantic through America and Asia to Oman, including all of India and China, Canada, every piece of land in the Pacific and all of Oceania. All that remains of foreign possessions in this Greater Co-prosperity Sphere is a ragtag group of starving British soldiers in Hong Kong. Only two allies stand between me and the complete destruction of the colonial powers: Britain and France. I have already destroyed half the British navy – can I conquer them before Germany does? And do I dare to take on the Soviet Union?

Where next for the Empire of the Eternal Sun?

Image credit: that picture is actually PLA soldiers entering North Korea at Yalu, but it looks like I imagine much of China looked after this 3 year war was over…