CAIC Z-10 Attack Helicopter

Z-10/H/K Thunderbolt at Chinese Military Aviation

The seven tonne Z-10, built by CAIC, entered service with the Chinese Army in 2012. While some French and Israeli hard- ware is reportedly used on the Z-10, all mission software is reportedly indigenous. The digital cockpit features HUD, multi- function displays, night-vision goggle compatibility, fully-integrated navigation systems and a fly-by-wire control system. Later aircraft are equipped with terrain- avoidance and terrain following radar.

The primary mission for the treetop hugging WZ-10 is battlefield interdiction, eliminating the enemy ground fixed and mobile forces, and concurrently certain air combat ability. Development of a dedicated attack helicopter began in the mid-1990s at the 602 Institute and Changhe Aircraft Industry Company (CHAIC) in Jingdezhen, Jiangxi Province.

The design uses the power plant and transmission derived from the Harbin Z-9, with the fuselage modified to accommodate two pilots.

The helicopter can carry up to 8 ATGMs, or IR-guided short-range AAMs. Although the helicopter might still not be as capable as the U.S. AH-64 Apache, it will probably play a significant role in Army Aviation modernisation and force compabilities.

The navigation and avionics are probably from domestic sources. The navigation system consists of radioaltimeter, doppler radar and GPS.

Reports indicate that the WZ-10 has an optics system that relays sensor information to the pilots helmets; essentially a system similar to the US Integrated Helmet and Display Sighting System (IHADSS). The helmet system also controls the direction that the machine gun is aiming. This allows the pilots to have an improved situation awareness as they can monitor flight systems and observe the terrain.

Two wings along the fuselage that are roughly 4.32 meters long may carry 1,500 kilograms of munitions, including a 57.0 mm multibarrel rockets, the red arrow 10(HJ-10) anti-tank missile. A 23 mm machine gun is fixed to the cabin at the front of the helicopter.

The fire control system is similar to the French Starry Night digital integration design.

The WZ-10 is also equipped with radar warning systems and with systems that will alert the crew that it has been targetted with laser range finders. The helicopter is also equipped with passive countermeasures and in an effort to reduce fratricide is equipped with IFF.

The cabin’s bulletproof glass may resist 7.62 millimeter ammunition and composite armor under the cabin resists 12.7 millimeters machine gun fires. The cabin is equipped to maximize fire protection and thw WZ-10 is also outfitted with ejection seats similar to the Ka-50.

China’s Z-10 attack helicopter can carry the HJ-10 SAL-guided missile. Also known as the AKD-10, this has a range of up to 8 km. The HJ-10 (AKD-10) is China’s third-generation of battlefield anti-tank missile (after the HJ-8 and HJ-9), and the first to be developed as an airborne weapon from the outset. The HJ-10 forms part of the wider weapons and systems package that has been produced for the Changhe Z-10 (WZ-10) combat helicopter. The HJ-10 is in the same class as the US AGM-114 Hellfire but follows a slightly different design approach. The status of the HJ-10 is closely linked to that of the Z-10 attack helicopter which has been under secretive development in China since the late 1990s. The Z-10 is China’s first modern combat helicopter but it has received considerable technical assistance and direct design input from several Western suppliers. The main obstacle to progress for the programme has been to secure a suitable indigenous powerplant. A handful of Z-10 prototypes flew with Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6C turboshafts, but production standard aircraft (perhaps designated Z-10A) are to be powered by a Chinese-built WZ-9 engine. Delays in fully developing and producing these engines have slowed the Z-10’s entry into service with the People Liberation Army (PLA).



    Prototype for basic tests. Not all has the same layout in that some had fenestron configuration while others had traditional tail rotor configuration; some had chin gun turret while other had chain gun; some had nose mounted electro-optical system while others had mast mounted electro-opical system. During test flights, test pilot had to make numerous dangerous emergency landings due to various malfunctions.


    Pre-production series powered by Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6C-76 turboshaft engine.


    Simplified Z-10H powered with domestic Chinese WZ-9 engine of 930 – 950 kW range. Due to the drastic reduction of power by nearly a third, MASWS, IRCM and some other subsystems removed; armor is also greatly reduced to save weight.


    3 samples built for Pakistan[14] with equipment missing in Z-10K added back, powered by WZ-9C engine with maximum power around 1000 – 1100 kW. Was not selected by Pakistan after evaluation, but the design was used to upgrade Z-10 built earlier when more powerful engine became available.


    Upgraded variant first unveiled in 2018 with active and passive countermeasures, missile approach warning system, radar warning receiver, new engine exhaust nozzle pointed upwards to reduce infrared signature, new intake filtration systems and armor panels, more powerful 1200 kW engine, larger ammunition magazine, appliqué graphene-based armor panels, infrared jammer, and a new IFF interrogator.

Z-10 millimeter wave radar

    Equipped with Z-19’s millimeter wave radar for ground testing.

General characteristics

    Crew: 2

    Length: 14.15 m (46 ft 5 in)

    Height: 3.85 m (12 ft 8 in)

    Empty weight: 5,100 kg (11,244 lb)

    Gross weight: 5,540 kg (12,214 lb)

    Max takeoff weight: 7,000 kg (15,432 lb)

    Powerplant: 2 × WoZhou-9 (WZ-9) turboshaft engines, 1,000 kW (1,300 hp) each

    Main rotor diameter: 12 m (39 ft 4 in)


    Maximum speed: 270 km/h (170 mph, 150 kn)

    Cruise speed: 230 km/h (140 mph, 120 kn)

    Range: 800 km (500 mi, 430 nmi)

    Service ceiling: 6,400 m (21,000 ft)

    g limits: +3

    Rate of climb: 10 m/s (2,000 ft/min) +


    Guns: 1x 23 mm (0.906 in) revolver gun or 1x 25 mm (0.984 in) M242 Bushmaster chain gun

    Hardpoints: 4 with a capacity of 1,500 kg (3,307 lb) useful load,

    Rockets: 57 mm (2.244 in) or 90 mm (3.543 in) unguided rocket pods

    Missiles: ** Up to 16 HJ-10 air to surface / anti-tank / anti-helicopter missiles. ADK10 is reported to be the official name of HJ10 missile.

        Up to 16 HJ-8, HJ-9 missiles

        Up to 16 TY-90 air-to-air missiles

        Up to 4 PL-5, PL-7, PL-9 air-to-air missiles


    YH millimetre-wave fire-control radar

    Helmet mounted sight with night vision goggles

    BM/KG300G self protection jamming pod

    Blue Sky navigation pod

    KZ900 reconnaissance pod

    YH-96 electronic warfare suite


Forces Engaged

Han: 300,000 men. Commander: Liu Pang, also known as Kao-ti.

Ch’u: 100,000 men. Commander: Hsiang Yu.


Liu Pang’s victory removed his last rival for power in China and allowed him to establish the Han dynasty.

Historical Setting

Established in the eleventh century b.c., the Chou dynasty had been seriously weakened after the loss of its capital city in 771. The dynasty reestablished itself to the east in Loyang in the central Chinese plains. It flourished for a time, but by the fourth century b.c. a number of rulers began to claim independence for their regions. Eight kingdoms emerged, and, although the Chou dynasty officially still existed, each of the kings strove to establish his own ruling line. The eight fought each other for a century and a half (401–256 b.c.) in what has come to be called the Era of the Warring States. In 256, a new ruler came to the throne of the westernmost state, Ch’in. As ruler, his title was Ch’in Shi Huang-ti. Between 230 and 221 b.c., Shi Huang-ti conquered his seven rivals and unified China into an empire. His reign was relatively brief, and he left behind no strong successor after his death in 210, so rebellions quickly began breaking out across the new empire.

Two men fought their way into contention to replace the falling dynasty. One was Hsiang Yu, a professional soldier described as a huge, uncultured man, but an outstanding military leader. His homeland was Ch’u, in modern east-central China, and had been the largest of the warring states. His main rival was Liu Pang, born a commoner but rising to hold a minor bureaucratic position in the administration of Shi Huang-ti.

Hsiang Yu established his reputation while leading Ch’u forces against those of the dying Ch’in Empire. That recognition brought support from other regions in rebellion, which were willing to follow him. He, along with his uncle, had started an uprising in the province of Ch’u in 209, and he soon led a growing army north-westward toward the capital city of Hsien-yang. Liu Pang, who had been raising forces in the north in modern Hubei province, marched to join Hsiang Yu in the fourth month of 208. Together they named a new king of Ch’u as a rival to the Ch’ins and then marched to relieve a Ch’in siege of Chu-lu; there Hsiang Yu scored a major victory that vaulted him to preeminent command of all the provinces arrayed against the Ch’in.

While Hsiang Yu was engaged at Chu-lu, the king of Ch’u had dispatched Liu Pang to attack the territory around the Ch’in capital at Hsien-yang. In that area, Liu Pang scored a number of victories, culminating with a battle at Lan-t’ien in the tenth month of 206. After that battle, the final Ch’in king fell into his hands, and that allowed Liu Pang to occupy the capital. The records indicate that Liu Pang was a wise and tolerant victor, and he began reforming some of the harsher Ch’in legal practices under which much of the population had suffered. All was peaceful in Hsien-yang until Hsiang Yu arrived 2 months later. He ordered the Ch’in king executed and then allowed his men to pillage the city after he had looted the treasury for himself and his officers. Such actions alienated Liu Pang, who for a time remained passive.

Hsiang Yu began reorganizing China, not along the Ch’in lines of centralized rule but by decreeing the creation of nineteen minor kingdoms, which were to operate within a confederacy, which he would lead. He was able to assume that position by killing the king he had recently enthroned in Ch’u. Liu Pang was awarded with one of the three kingdoms carved out of the original Ch’in territory, his being located in the southern part of the region, that is, the most remote. Probably Hsiang Yu was looking to distance himself from a leader who was a strong potential rival. That territory had been the region of Han, and Liu Pang named himself the king of Han. The reward of such a poor area in return for his services, as well as rumors that the advisors of Hsiang Yu were recommending that he have Liu Pang assassinated, motivated the new king of Han to challenge his former ally.

The Battle

Liu Pang went on campaign in the fifth month of 206, beginning by conquering the other kingdoms of the west that had made up the old Ch’in homeland. As he advanced toward Loyang, word came that Hsiang Yu had murdered the king of Ch’u. That inspired Liu Pang to call for a general rising of the provinces to aid him in punishing a regicide. A quick strike at Hsiang Yu’s capital city of P’eng-ch’eng was a disaster, however, and Liu Pang found himself defeated by his enemy’s army. Only a timely storm covered his escape along with only a few dozen cavalry. Things looked grim; not only were the provincial kings beginning to join Hsiang Yu but also he had captured some of Liu Pang’s family, including his father. The only positive in this entire situation was the work of Liu Pang’s loyal generals, who continued to raise troops for him and seize provinces away from the main theater of battle.

Liu Pang’s luck did not improve. In a strike at Hsing-yang on the Yellow River, he once again found himself besieged and escaped with only a few men. Hsiang Yu was unable to take advantage of this because Liu Pang’s subordinate, General Han Hsin, was conquering provinces in the east. At one point, the enemy armies encamped for several months on either side of the Yellow River at Guangwu. Hsiang Yu threatened to execute Liu Pang’s father, but to no avail. Failing that, Hsiang Yu challenged his foe to determine everything in single combat, but Liu Pang knew that he was no physical match for Hsiang Yu. From a distance, however, Hsiang Yu was able to hit Liu Pang with a crossbow bolt that wounded but did not kill him. Liu Pang withdrew from the river to the nearby city of Chenggao, where Hsiang Yu once again besieged him.

Liu Pang’s subordinates were so successful in liberating provinces that Hsiang Yu had conquered and harassing his supply lines, that Hsiang Yu was forced at one point to take a part of his army to recover some of his losses. While Hsiang Yu was gone, Liu Pang’s army provoked a battle with the remaining besiegers and defeated them. Hearing of that, Hsiang Yu marched his men back, but Liu Pang refused to give battle, retreating into the mountains. Hsiang Yu at this point (203 b.c.) offered Liu Pang a deal: divide China between them, with Liu Pang being lord of the west and Hsiang Yu being lord of the east. Liu Pang agreed and received his hostage relatives in return. The agreement was short-lived. Liu Pang’s subordinates convinced him that the tide had turned and that many of the provincial leaders now supported him. That, plus the fact that the Ch’u forces were exhausted from their continued marching and were short on supplies, convinced Liu Pang to return to the east for a final battle.

The confrontation took place at Kai-hsia, in modern Anhui province. For the first time, some of Liu Pang’s subordinates hesitated to join him, but with assurances that they would be rewarded with provinces of their own after the war, they marched. At Kai-hsia, Hsiang Yu built himself a walled camp, which Liu Pang’s forces surrounded in the twelfth month of 202. The only relatively contemporary account describes Liu Pang in command of 300,000 men and Hsiang Yu in charge of 100,000. The battle started with General Han Hsin attacking the Ch’u center, but failing to break through. He withdrew, and Generals Kong and Bi attacked from the flanks. As the Ch’u army began to flater, Han Hsin renewed his attack in the center, and the enemy retreated to its camp.

After a night of drinking and tears with his wife, Hsiang Yu gathered 800 cavalry and broke out of his surrounded camp in the early morning darkness. The following morning, when Liu Pang learned what had happened, he dispatched 5,000 cavalry in pursuit. Hsiang Yu crossed the Huai River at the head of only 100 horsemen. Lost, he stopped and asked a farmer for directions. He was tricked and rode into a swamp, where the Han cavalry cornered him. Surrounded, Hsiang Yu was defiant. He swore to his men that Heaven was against him and that nothing he had ever done in battle had warranted such a fate. To prove his worthiness, he told his men, “For your sake I shall break through the enemy’s encirclements, cut down their leaders, and sever their banners, that you may know it is Heaven which has destroyed me and no fault of mine in arms” (Sima Qian, Records of the Grand Historian: Han Dynasty I, pp. 45–46).

Promising to kill an enemy general, he divided his remaining men into four squadrons, each to ride down from their encircled hilltop in a different direction, and then reassemble on the east side. His charge scattered the Han cavalry, and he did kill a general and then rejoined his men. They formed into three groups this time, and the returning Han horsemen did not know which group Hsiang Yu was in, so they divided into three groups as well and again surrounded them. Another charge resulted in Hsiang Yu killing a colonel and a reported 50 to 100 men. Again regrouping, he found that his force had lost only 2 men. This running battle drifted southward toward the Yangtze River. There a boatman offered to aid his escape, but Hsiang Yu would not delay Heaven’s judgment. He gave the man his horse, which he had ridden in 5 years of combat, and then led his men dismounted back to face the Han. After a fierce fight and being wounded numerous times, Hsiang Yu was surrounded. Knowing a price was on his head as a reward, he removed it with his own sword.


After Hsiang Yu’s death, all of his domain of Ch’u surrendered, except for the city of Lu. Liu Pang set out with his entire army to capture the city, which refused to submit. Moved by their courage, Liu rode up to the city walls with Hsiang Yu’s head. Upon seeing that, they surrendered and were treated with honor. He also buried the dismembered body of Hsiang Yu with full honors and refused to execute any of his family.

After the battle, Liu Pang’s subordinates urged him to take the title huang-ti, emperor. He accepted the title, and thus he began the Han dynasty, taking the throne name Kao-ti. He was regarded as a good emperor, reigning until 195. After a few years of struggle, he had inherited the united empire formed by Ch’in Shih Huang-ti, and he and his successors improved and expanded it.

Although at first anti-intellectual, Kao-ti realized over time the benefits of wise men, and he overturned the ban on books that Shih Huang-ti had implemented. Kao-ti embraced the teachings of Confucianism; he saw in it the means to rule well. Confucius taught that a good leader would inspire his people, and so Confucian scholars in a bureaucracy, leading the administration, should be the path to a secure and prosperous country. The bureaucracy that administered China until the twentieth century began here and survived through multiple successive dynasties. Kao-ti attempted to retain the administrative organization of the Ch’in emperor, keeping the country divided into provinces overseen by appointed imperial governors. He had to keep his promise, however, to reward his generals. He did so, but over time transferred them around until they became more governors than lords.

The most successful of the Han emperors was Wu Ti (147–81), who extended Han borders well to the west. He was successful in defeating the Hsiung-nu, driving them westward across Asia’s steppes until they arrived a few hundred years later in western Europe as the Huns. The Han dynasty also revived and expanded the trade with the west along the famous Silk Road. Securing that trade route, as well as mounting military and exploratory expeditions, Han envoys reportedly traveled as far as Parthia (modern Iran), where the Roman Empire occasionally fought. The dynasty that Liu Pang established in the wake of his victory at Kai-hsia consolidated the beginnings of the empire that Shih Huang-ti instituted, handing down to later dynasties a unified population, which to this day call themselves the “people of Han.”


Grousset, René. The Rise and Splendour of the Chinese Empire. Translated by Anthony Watson-Gandy and Terence Gordon. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1953; Sima Qian. Records of the Grand Historian: Han Dynasty I. Translated by Burton Watson. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993; Twitchett, Denis, and Michael Loewe. The Cambridge History of China, vol. 1. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986.



Communist forces’ campaigns during November 1948 up to January 1949, the northern one being the Ping-Jin campaign, and the southern one being the Huai-Hai campaign.

Map showing the Huaihai campaign as one of the three campaigns during Chinese Civil War.

7 November 1948–10 January 1949

Forces Engaged

Communist: 500,000 men. Commander: General Chen Yi.

Nationalist: 500,000 men. Commander: General Pai Chung-hsi.


A Communist victory sealed the fate of Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek, who was forced to resign as president. This led to destruction of the Nationalist army and government in China, establishing Communist rule on the mainland and Nationalist rule on Formosa (Taiwan).

Historical Setting

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was formally established in 1921 as the Chinese government was recovering from Japanese domination during World War I. In the mid-1920s, the CCP cooperated with the ruling Kuomintang, or Nationalist Party, but in 1927 started a civil war that raged until 1937. In that year, the Japanese invaded out of Manchuria and drove deep into China down the coast toward Hong Kong. This external threat convinced Communist leader Mao Tse-tung to conclude a wary alliance with Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek. Mao’s forces operated in the northern part of China, whereas Chiang’s armies, aided by the Americans, fought in the southern and western parts. Mao’s forces, never well equipped, did their best to harass and pin down Japanese troops while Chiang held the south and cooperated with U.S. and British activities in Burma.

When the Japanese were defeated in August 1945, Communist-Nationalist cooperation evaporated. Both parties proclaimed their desire for peace, but neither did anything to accomplish it. Instead, they both scrambled to grab land and materiel owned by the Japanese during the war. From late August to early October 1945, Mao and Chiang met in Chung-king for discussions that were overseen by U.S. ambassador Patrick Hurley and resulted in a statement of mutual peaceful goals. However, both Chinese leaders continued to struggle for control of the resource-rich province of Manchuria. Later that year, U.S. President Harry Truman sent General George Marshall to broker talks between the Communists and Nationalists, resulting in a temporary cease-fire. An agreement on an updated version of the 1936 constitution was also announced after 3 weeks of talks, but both sides soon showed their unwillingness to exhibit any true cooperation. Unsuccessful, Marshall left in January 1947.

Fighting continued in Manchuria, where the cease-fire agreement did not apply, and soon was general throughout the country. Since late 1946, the Nationalists had been seizing key cities and towns from the Communists; in March 1947, they pushed the Communists out of their stronghold in the city of Yenan, some 400 miles southwest of the capital of Peking (Beijing). The Communists did the most to make political capital out of these aggressive actions, both to motivate support in China as well as to lessen U.S. support for Chiang. Communist-inspired demonstrations wore down the morale of the Kuomintang troops and probably hastened the withdrawal of U.S. troops from China in early 1947. U.S. military aid to Chiang dried up as well. With growing mass support, the Communists on 10 October 1947 issued a call for the overthrow of Chiang Kai-shek’s administration. They also promised a number of personal freedoms, an easing of land taxes, and a democratic government.

Mao Tse-tung’s forces gathered growing support, not only through their propaganda but through their actions. Where Kuomintang troops had looted the cities they occupied, Communist troops were under strict orders to behave themselves. The peaceful nature of the Communist takeover of cities, with very little retribution, had the same effect on the population that similar strategies have done through the ages: Cyrus the Great of Persia, Alexander the Great of Macedon, and Genghis Khan all were magnanimous to cities that did not resist, thus encouraging the others.

On the battlefields, the Communists were enjoying similar successes. In April 1948, they recaptured Yenan, reestablishing Mao’s headquarters. By May, Communist forces had isolated much of the Kuomintang army by capturing Hopei and Shansi provinces. This placed their forces in two masses: Manchuria was almost completely under their control, with the second area stretching from the coast to the Yellow River. Only a strip of Nationalist-controlled railway running east-west from Tientsin through Peking to Paotow separated the Communist armies. Meanwhile, in the south, large Communist partisan groups operated inland from Hong Kong, Canton, and Indochina. In east-central China, Chiang’s army controlled a cross-shaped area of land along two railroad lines: east-west from Kaifeng through Suchow to the coast, and north-south from Nanking to Tsinan. It was at Kaifeng and Suchow that the Communists would launch their largest offensives in 1948 and where they would find success.

The Battle

Until the summer of 1948, the Communists had depended on guerrilla tactics, using harassment of supply and railroad lines, attacks on isolated outposts, and localized numerical superiority to establish the widespread control they had attained. They now felt strong enough to engage in traditional warfare, and the battle for the city of Kaifeng was their first attempt. They were aided in their effort by Nationalist political actions. During the elections for president in April, Chiang Kai-shek’s choice for vice-president was rejected by the National Assembly. This rejection was an indication of Chiang’s weakening political power. He was able to fill military positions, however, and Generals Ku Chu-tung and Yu Han-mou became chief of the supreme staff and commander in chief, respectively. They were notable both for their strong loyalty to Chiang and their lack of strong military ability.

Kaifeng, capital of Honan province and situated at a key railroad junction, was defended by 250,000 regular Kuomintang forces and about 50,000 auxiliaries. The Communists attacked with about 200,000 regular troops supported by guerrillas. After 2 weeks of maneuvering beginning in late May 1949, Communist General Chen Yi received intelligence that the garrison defending the city had been weakened in response to the maneuvers. He thus launched an immediate attack on the city on 17 June. Communist forces quickly captured the city’s two airfields, and then the city itself fell on 19 June. This was a major defeat that Chiang could not afford, so he took personal command of the operations to respond. Ordering attacks from east and west down the railroad lines, he force Chen Yi to abandon Kaifeng, retreating southward, where the Kuomintang pincers inflicted a defeat on the Communists. Chen Yi, after inflicting 90,000 casualties on the Nationalists, ordered his troops to disperse. The Nationalists regained Kaifeng, but their success was primarily the result of superior numbers rather than tactical ability, in which they proved lacking. Again, the behavior of Communist troops during their occupation of Kaifeng was exemplary, and the Communists had time to plant saboteurs and party organizers throughout the city.

Through the summer of 1948, realization of the growing power of Mao’s forces became apparent even to the Nationalists. The defense minister openly criticized generals who enriched themselves in the midst of the crisis, and many generals openly criticized the defense ministry for meddling in operations, giving conflicting orders, and disseminating unchecked intelligence reports. It was also reported that the forces of the two enemies were now almost equal, each with about a million soldiers under arms and with almost equal artillery; 2 years earlier, the Kuomintang forces had outnumbered the Communists under arms by almost five to one. Almost half the Communists were in central China, showing a shift in emphasis from Manchuria to the southern region. The battle at Kaifeng illustrated both the strength and the shift in strategy that the Communists now employed.

The autumn of 1948 was disastrous for the Nationalists. They were forced to surrender Tsinan, their final city on the Shantung Peninsula, strengthening the Communist hold on the northeast coast. The few remaining Kuomintang garrisons besieged in Manchurian cities also were defeated. By early November, all of Manchuria was under Communist control, and almost half the Nationalist army was captured or killed. The Nationalists also ceded to the Communists vast amounts of weapons and materiel. With no threat to their rear, the Communists could now face southward and carry on the war against a greatly reduced enemy force. Their next target was the major Kuomintang force in the south based at Suchow, near the Huai Hai (River).

Communist General Chen Yi teamed with General Liu Po-cheng to field a force of almost 600,000 men. Kuomintang command fell to General Liu Chih, who also commanded about 600,000 men in four army groups: 2nd, 7th, 13th, and 16th. The 13th was based in Suchow, the 7th to the east at the junction of the Lunghai railroad and the Grand Canal, the 2nd to the west on the railroad to Kaifeng, and the 16th to the south along the railroad to Peng-pu on the Huai. The battle opened on 5 November when Chen Yi attacked from the east at the 7th Army Group while Liu Po-cheng drove the 2nd Army Group in the west back into Suchow and then swung south to drive back the 16th into the city. Chen Yi’s attack was facilitated by the defection of two Kuomintang generals and 23,000 men. The 7th Army Group was quickly encircled 30 miles east of Suchow, their retreat hampered by even more defections as well as the rapidity of Chen Yi’s attack.

Chiang ordered fifteen divisions from the 2nd and 16th Army Groups to relieve the surrounded 7th, but they moved too slowly and lost too many men, only to learn of the 7th’s defeat and surrender on 22 November; only 3,000 of its original 90,000 men escaped. In spite of the fact that the Nationalists had complete air superiority and flew as many as 500 sorties per day, the air forces failed to work cooperatively with the ground forces and were therefore rarely effective. A relief column comprised of the Nationalist Eighth Army and 12th Army Group was also ineffective; poor coordination kept them from linking up before being attacked by Chen Yi’s forces from the east and Liu Po-cheng’s from the northwest. The 12th Army Group, 125,000 strong, found itself surrounded at Shwangchiaochi on 26 November.

At this point, Chiang decided to abandon Suchow. He hoped that the troops remaining in the city could march to the rescue of the 12th Army Group and then escape southward. The 13th Army Group marched out of the city on 1 December, but, because of poor leadership, poor morale, or both, they found themselves outmaneuvered, pushed westward, and surrounded at Yungcheng on 6 December. Inside that encirclement were the remnants of the 2nd, 13th, and 16th Army Groups, numbering about 200,000 men, with all their artillery and tanks. Although nine infantry divisions remained free to act along the Huai Hai, they were too small and uncoordinated to relieve either of the surrounded forces. The isolated embattled forces were living off what food could be scrounged from local farms or dropped by parachute, but low morale soon hit rock bottom. Huge numbers of troops, sometimes entire divisions at once, defected to the Communists.

Chiang’s last hope was to commit his Sixth Army from Peng-pu, but 15 days of fighting netted them only 17 miles against fierce guerrilla attacks. By 15 December, the Communist noose closed on the 12th Army Group. At Yungcheng, the remains of the three army groups had been reduced by half from combat and defections. Bombarded by propaganda as much as artillery, the Kuomintang troops had almost no fight left in them. After 3 weeks of only light skirmishing, the Communists launched their final assault on 6 January 1949; by 10 January the battle was over.


Virtually the entire Nationalist force of 600,000 men around Suchow ceased to exist. Approximately 327,000 men had either been captured or had voluntarily given themselves up to the Communists. Every Kuomintang general in the battle had been captured or killed. The military disaster merely reflected the condition of the Nationalist government. Inflation was so rampant that the currency was worthless. Black marketeers operated openly and with the support of the population. Attempted currency reform failed. The countryside was filled with bandits and looters while food supplies rapidly diminished. U.S. aid came under close government scrutiny in Washington, with George Marshall (now secretary of state) stating that the only way to save the Chinese administration from Communist takeover was to have Americans completely take over, an option he did not relish: “The present regime has lost the confidence of the people, reflected in the refusal of soldiers to fight and the refusal of the people to cooperate in economic reforms” (Chassin, The Communist Conquest of China, p. 202). All aid was suspended on 20 December 1948.

Faced with nothing but disaster all around him, Chiang Kai-shek on 21 January 1949 resigned the presidency. The next day, Peking surrendered to the Communists and Mao transferred his capital to that city. When new Nationalist President Li Tsung-jen sent representatives to Mao on 1 April to discuss peace terms, “unconditional surrender” was the response. Unable to comply, the Nationalists continued to try to wage war, but with decreasing positive results. Communist forces crossed the Yangtze River on 20 April, followed by the rapid capture of most of south China’s major cities: Nanking on 22 April, Nanchang on 23 May, and Shanghai on 27 May. The Nationalists kept shifting their capital city, from Nanking to Canton to Chungking to Chengtu, and finally to Formosa, completely off the mainland of China.

The victory at Suchow broke the Nationalists’ back, which had long been bending. When Chiang, the heart and soul of the Nationalist cause since the 1920s, gave up power in the wake of the battle, no clearer sign of their demise could have been given. He was able to reorganize a government in exile on the island of Formosa, naming it Taiwan, on 7 December 1949; he also retained control of three small islands between Formosa and the mainland. More importantly, Chiang kept international recognition of his position as leader of the Chinese people. Although Mao Tse-tung established a de facto government that was recognized by Communist regimes around the world, the Nationalists kept western recognition and assistance, as well as a seat on the Security Council in the United Nations. That seat, as well as the question of sovereignty in general, led to Sino-U.S. tensions for the following two decades, not eased until the administration of Richard Nixon. Mao’s accession to power gave him control over the largest Communist population in the world, but differences in philosophical and political matters kept him from being solidly in Moscow’s camp. The Moscow-Beijing rivalry probably went a long way toward keeping the Cold War relatively cold, for neither China nor the Soviet Union could focus on the United States with a suspicious neighbor at its back.


Chassin, Lionel Max. The Communist Conquest of China. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1965; Fairbank, John K., and Albert Feuerwerker, eds. The Cambridge History of China, vol. 13. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986; Houn, Franklin W. A Short History of Chinese Communism. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1967; Morwood, William. Duel for the Middle Kingdom. New York: Everest House, 1980.

Chinese Chariots

Despite a number of vehicles having been recovered from graves and sacrificial pits, all aspects of the chariot’s employment in the ancient period pose vexing questions, particularly whether they were deployed by themselves as discrete operational units or were accompanied by either loosely or closely integrated infantry. Because even the oracular inscriptions for King Wu Ting’s well-documented reign provide few clues, and the tomb paintings recently discovered that date to the Warring States and thereafter mainly depict hunting scenes and parades, far more is known about the chariot’s physical structure than its utilization. The chariot’s essence has always been mobility, but prestige and displays of conspicuous authority rather than battlefield exploitation may have been defining factors in the Shang.

Some traditionally oriented scholars continue to assert that chariots played a significant role in Shang warfare; others deny that they were ever employed as a combat element. The Shang’s reputed employment of chariots, whether nine or seventy, to vanquish the Hsia is highly improbable given the complete absence of late seventeenth-century BCE or Erh-li-kang artifacts that might support such claims. However, Warring States writers idealistically ascribed differences in conception and operational characteristics to the Three Dynasties: “The war chariots of the Hsia rulers were called “hooked chariots,” because they put uprightness first; those of the Shang were called “chariots of the new moon,” because they put speed first; and those of the Chou were called “the source of weapons,” because they put excellence first.”

The few figures preserved in Shang dynasty oracular inscriptions, Chou bronze inscriptions, and other comparatively reliable written vestiges indicate that chariots were sparsely employed in Shang and Western Chou martial efforts. The chariot’s first recorded participation in Chinese warfare actually occurs about seven to eight hundred years after their initial utilization in the West, ironically just before the Near Eastern states would abandon them as their primary fighting component due to infantry challenges. King Wu Ting’s use of a hundred vehicle regiments for expeditionary actions, already discussed, seems to have initiated their operational deployment, though the only concrete reference to Shang chariots (ch’e) appears in the quasi-military context of the hunt.

Chariots must have been extensively employed in the late Jen-fang campaigns, but no numbers have been preserved. Thus the next semi-reliable figure is the universally acknowledged 300 chariots that were employed by King Wu of the Chou to penetrate the Shang’s massive troop deployment at the Battle of Mu-yeh, precipitating their collapse. Some accounts suggest that the Chou had another 50 chariots in reserve, while the number fielded by the Shang, strangely unspecified in the traditional histories, could hardly have been less than several hundred. King Wu reportedly had a thousand at his ascension, some no doubt captured from the Shang, though others may have belonged to his allies and merely been numbered among those present for the ceremony. Several hundred were also captured from the Shang’s allies in postconquest campaigns, as well as in suppressing the subsequent revolt.

Nevertheless, chariots seem to have been minimal in early Western Chou operational forces. Scattered evidence suggests that field contingents never exceeded several hundred, with as few as a hundred chariots participating in expeditionary campaigns. Although one of their efforts against the Hsien-yün resulted in the capture of 127 chariots from a supposedly “barbarian” or steppe power, King Li’s campaign against the Marquis of E seems to have been typical. Despite total enemy casualties being nearly 18,000, inscriptions on the bronze vessel known as the Hsiao-yü Ting indicate that a mere 30 chariots were captured in one clash, though a second force of 100 is also mentioned. Somewhat larger numbers were deployed slightly later in campaigns against the Wei-fang, but the maximum figure ever reported for the Western Chou, the 3,000 supposedly dispatched southward against the rising power of Ching/Ch’u in King Hsüan’s reign (827-782), is certainly exaggerated despite the king’s reputation for having revitalized Chou military affairs, as well as unreliable because it is based solely on an ode known as “Gathering Millet.”

The chariot’s effectiveness in the Shang, early Chou, and perhaps even beyond must be questioned in the face of the constraints discussed below, the difficulties that will be examined in the next section, and the lessons that can be learned from contemporary experiments with replica vehicles. However, it should be remembered that although numerous reasons can be adduced why chariots could not have functioned as generally imagined, voluminous historical literature, both Western and Asian, energetically speaks about their employment in battle. Ruling groups were still expending vast sums to build, maintain, and employ chariot forces in the Warring States period, and the Han continued to field enormous numbers against steppe enemies, incontrovertible evidence that rather than being historical chimeras or simply artifacts of military conservatism, they continued to be regarded as crucial weapons systems.

Although all the Warring States military writings contain a few brief observations on chariot operations, only two, the Wu-tzu and Liu-t’ao, preserve significant passages. Primarily important for understanding the nature of the era’s conflict, they still furnish vital clues to the chariot’s modes of employment and identify a number of inherent limitations that would have inescapably plagued the Shang and Western Chou, long before chariots would explosively multiply to become the operational focus for field forces.

Chariots were considered one of the army’s core elements: “Horses, oxen, chariots, weapons, relaxation, and an adequate diet are the army’s strength. Fast chariots, fleet infantrymen, bows and arrows, and a strong defense are what is meant by ‘augmenting the army.’” Several passages indicate that chariots were viewed as capable of “penetrating enemy formations and defeating strong enemies.” Those used in conjunction with large numbers of attached infantry and long weapons were said not only to be able to “penetrate solid formations” but also to “defeat infantry and cavalry.” “When the horses and chariots are sturdy and the armor and weapons advantageous, even a light force can penetrate deeply.” “Chariots are the feathers and wings of the army, the means to penetrate solid formations, press strong enemies, and cut off their flight.” Before the advent of cavalry, they also acted as “fleet observers, the means to pursue defeated armies, sever supply lines, and strike roving forces.”

Passages in Sun Pin’s Military Methods and other works indicate that somewhat specialized chariots evolved in the Warring States, the basic distinction being between faster (or lighter) models and heavier chariots protected by leather armor and designed for assaults. A few of even greater size and dedicated function were thought capable of accomplishing even more: “If the advance of the Three Armies is stopped, then there are the ‘Martial Assault Great Fu-hsü Chariots.’” “Great Fu-hsü Attack Chariots that carry Praying Mantis Martial warriors can attack both horizontal and vertical formations.” Variants with a smaller turning ratio, known as “Short-axle, Quick turning Spear and Halberd Fu-hsü Chariots,” might be successfully employed “to defeat both infantry and cavalry” and “urgently press the attack against invaders and intercept their flight.”

Chariots were deemed astonishingly powerful: “Chariots and cavalry are the army’s martial weapons. Ten chariots can defeat a thousand men, a hundred chariots can defeat ten thousand men.” The Liu-t’ao’s authors even ventured detailed estimates of the relative effectiveness of chariots and infantry: “After the masses of the Three Armies have been arrayed opposite the enemy, when fighting on easy terrain one chariot is equivalent to eighty infantrymen and eighty infantrymen are equivalent to one chariot. On difficult terrain one chariot is equivalent to forty infantrymen and forty infantrymen are equivalent to one chariot.”

These are startling numbers, all the more so for having been penned late in the Warring States period when states still numbered their chariots by the thousands. Even allowing for exaggeration, given that the Liu-t’ao generally reflects well-pondered experience and is a veritable compendium of Warring States military science, the era’s commanders must have had great confidence in the chariot’s capabilities. Nevertheless, it might be noted that the great T’ang dynasty commander Li Ching, upon examining these materials in the light of his own experience at a remove of a thousand years, concluded that the infantry / chariot equivalence should only be three to one.

Chariots were also employed to ensure a measured advance in the Spring and Autumn, Warring States, and later periods when they no longer functioned as the decisive means for penetration. Li Ching’s comments about his historically well-known expeditionary campaign against the Turks indicate that even in the T’ang and early Sung they were still considered the means to constrain large force movements: “When I conducted the punitive campaign against the T’u-ch’üeh we traveled westward several thousand li. Narrow chariots and deer-horn chariots are essential to the army. They allow controlling the expenditure of energy, provide a defense to the fore, and constrain the regiments and squads of five.”

Although certainly not applicable to the Shang, chariots could also be cobbled together to provide a temporary defense, particularly the larger versions equipped with protective roofs. The authors of the great Sung dynasty military compendium, the Wu-ching Tsung-yao, after (somewhat surprisingly) commenting that “the essentials of employing chariots are all found in the ancient military methods,” concluded that “the methods for chariot warfare can trample fervency, create strong formations, and thwart mobile attacks. When in motion vehicles can transport provisions and armaments, when halted can be circled to create encampment defenses.”

Numerous examples of employing chariots as obstacles or for exigent defense are seen as early as the Spring and Autumn period. The later military writings cite several Han dynasty exploitations of “circled wagons” being employed as temporary bastions, including three incidents in which beleaguered commanders expeditiously deployed their chariots much as Jan Ziska would in the West to successfully withstand significantly superior forces. Sometimes the wheels were removed, but generally the chariots were simply maneuvered into a condensed array.

Combat Issues – Chinese Chariots

Fighting from a moving chariot would have been difficult at best, given the bumping and jarring, not to mention the fleeting moment when a shock weapon could be brought to bear against nearby fighters on the ground or used to strike warriors in an oncoming vehicle. Thus the exceptional accomplishments attributed to racing archers may have been preserved precisely because of their uniqueness. Furthermore, even if the chariots merely served as transport to the point of conflict, fighters manning the compartment would have suffered the discomfort of confinement.

Though seemingly spacious, the approximately 32-by-48-inch compartment turns out to be highly limiting when occupied by three warriors bearing weapons and garbed in rudimentary protective leather armor. Experiments conducted over several years with martial artists well trained in such traditional weapons as long- and short-handled halberds, battle axes, daggers, and swords prove that they would have lacked the freedom of maneuver required to fend off, let alone vanquish, attackers. The driver, who faces no threat from the front where the horses block access, is mainly vulnerable to an oblique attack. However, being pinned in the center with the horses and shaft protruding in front of him, he is unable to contribute much to either the attack or defense, whether in motion or at rest. But the other two combatants are exposed from about 45 degrees right around to 180 degrees dead center at the back, where neither shields nor any other form of protection was ever affixed.

If the archer positions himself somewhat laterally on the right side so that his shooting stance puts his arm toward the outside of the chariot rather than to the inside against the driver, he can fire toward the front or out to the sides with little interference. However, swinging around to shoot to the rear is virtually impossible. Conversely, an archer standing on the left, reputedly the normal Shang position, is badly hampered by the driver (even if the driver is kneeling) as he tries to fit an arrow to his bow and fire in any direction. Shots to the rear become possible if he stands laterally facing outward and thus draws his bow on the exterior side of the compartment, in mirror image to an archer positioned on the right side aiming forward.

Wielding the era’s preferred shock weapon, a dagger-axe with a three-foot handle, is easily accomplished on the right side, particularly for blows directed to the front or somewhat alongside, but when swinging outward to counterattack perpendicular to the chariot’s forward orientation, care has to be taken to avoid striking the archer standing on the opposite side on the backswing. Blows directed to the rear that require swinging around prove impossible without dramatically modifying the motion, as well as fruitless because potential attackers, already at the limit of effective range, can easily dodge any strike.

Even if solitary attackers might be thwarted, multiple attackers, especially those bearing five-foot-long spears, would have been easily able to slay the chariot’s occupants without being endangered, unless the archer employed his bow at point-blank range. Whether armed with long or short weapons, multiple attackers create chaos because the heavily confined chariot crew, standing back to back and arm to shoulder, are unable to dodge, bend, or deflect oncoming blows and can only rely on any shields they may have carried or the protection offered by early body armor. Vulnerability would therefore have been especially acute to the rear, though presumably somewhat mitigated by the chariot’s forward battlefield motion.

A single occupant wielding a full-length saber or long two-handed weapon fared far better in these admittedly static tests. Two men, though sometimes impinging on each other or even colliding, still had sufficient freedom of maneuver to fight effectively, even if the archer occupied the left side as traditionally portrayed. Three men suffered the difficulties noted; four became an example of “close packing,” all four being totally incapable of wielding any sort of crushing weapon.

These problems apparently prompted the development of very long-handled spears and dagger-axes in the Spring and Autumn that were presumably intended for battling similarly equipped warriors in enemy chariots. However, for the three chariot occupants this additional length simply exacerbated the lack of maneuverability, particularly because the weapons tended to be held at least a quarter of the way up the shaft rather than at the very butt. (Grasping with two hands increases the power and control, but at the sacrifice of maneuverability.) Even with these longer weapons, two warriors riding fast-moving, converging chariots would only have had a moment to strike each other—making it not impossible but highly unlikely to significantly contribute to the battle’s effort. Rather than as conventionally depicted in contemporary movies, the drivers probably slowed, even halted, to allow the occupants to clash.

Experiments also revealed the height of the compartment to be not just a detrimental factor but also highly puzzling. A horizontal pole or rim that falls somewhere around the middle of the upper thigh provides adequate stabilization for a warrior to maintain a fighting stance and would have prevented falling over in sudden motion, but to provide real functional support the height should rise approximately to a man’s waist. However, though not entirely useless, Shang chariot walls would have risen to just above knee level, a height that tended to cause modern fighters to lose their balance and tumble out because the rail effectively acted as a fulcrum.

The axle’s high placement in a relatively lightweight vehicle would have resulted in a high center of gravity, making stability a crucial issue for any occupants trying to employ their weapons at speed. In addition, there were no springs or any sort of suspension mounting for the chariot box, even though late Shang models apparently began to employ the cantilevered wooden junction called a “crouching rabbit,” which was obviously designed to reduce the effects of the wooden wheels bouncing over the terrain through its tensing and bowing action. The horses loosely coupled to the front shaft and the weight of the three-man crew would have stabilized the vehicle somewhat, but the traditional chariot would certainly have been inherently unstable and rocked jarringly from side to side on the uneven terrain of natural battlefields, just like a modern lightweight SUV.

The straw and moss padding spread on the compartment’s wooden floor to provide additional damping proved to be minimally absorptive while inducing further instability, just as sponge padding might on the floor of an open pickup truck. (Comfortable when stationary, spongelike substances tend to exhibit less desirable properties when the vehicle is in motion or the fighter is active.) In some cases the floors were fabricated by interweaving leather thongs, but their effectiveness in reconstructive experiments was decidedly poor, particularly after they lost their initial tension, and they could even result in the fighter’s stance becoming more tenuous. The use of interior straps and efforts to improve the battlefield in the Spring and Autumn period confirm that stability continued to be a problem: the warriors were jostled about as the chariot moved at speed across the terrain.

Chinese Operations in the Korean War, 1950–1953 Part I

When China’s peasant army intervened in the Korean War in October 1950, all of the material factors favored the UN armies. Led by Marshal Peng Dehuai, the Chinese attacked into Korea with roughly 380,000 men commanded by two army groups, the 13th and the 9th.6 The 13th Army Group with about 180,000 men faced the main UN force, the US Eighth Army marching up the western side of the Korean peninsula, while the 9th Army Group faced the US X Corps on the eastern side with only about 120,000 men. In addition, the units assigned to the 13th Army Group were all veteran formations from the Chinese civil war. Against them, the UN forces consisted of 450,000 men, of which about 225,000 were Republic of Korea (ROK) troops.

Peng Dehuai in his Marshal uniform

In addition to their slight numerical edge, the UN armies, and particularly their American backbone, possessed an incalculable advantage in equipment, mobility, and firepower. Chinese units were laughably underequipped compared to their American counterparts. Only one-quarter to one-third of the Chinese infantrymen even had rifles. The vast majority went into battle with only grenades. The Chinese armies attacked without any artillery. They had a few Katyusha MRL batteries but held these in reserve at first. They had no antitank weapons. Instead, every Chinese platoon carried enough TNT for 8–10 five-pound satchel charges that had to be placed in the wheels of a tank or thrown through an open hatch to have any effect. The heaviest weapons Chinese units possessed were a handful of 120-mm mortars per regiment and only light mortars and light machine guns at lower echelons. Those weapons the Chinese did have were a heterogeneous assortment captured from the Japanese and the Guomindang and so consisted of older US, European, Japanese, and some Russian small arms. The Chinese had no radios below regimental headquarters, and had so few of these that divisions generally relied on runners for communications. Finally, the Chinese entered Korea with a logistics system that had to rely entirely on porters except for about 800 old trucks, of which only 300–400 were operational on any given day.

The Chinese Intervene. The initial Chinese assault began on October 21, 1950. They struck with total surprise. Chinese CC&D efforts were phenomenal, and US intelligence never detected the movement of their vast armies into Korea. The Chinese also were greatly aided by the self-deception of UN-commander General Douglas MacArthur’s headquarters. MacArthur adamantly believed that the Chinese would not intervene (and if they did that they would be easily defeated by US air power), and so he and his subordinates repeatedly disregarded evidence of an impending Chinese offensive.

When the Chinese attacked, UN forces were caught spread out all over northern Korea and completely unsuspecting. The Chinese hit so quickly and so hard that many units were overrun before they knew what was happening. Initially, the Chinese deliberately targeted South Korean formations, believing them to be weaker than American or other non-ROK formations. They enveloped the ROK 1st Infantry Division, attacking simultaneously from the rear and both flanks before the division ever knew they were there. The South Koreans fought their way out only because they were able to call on enormous US firepower to cover their retreat. The Chinese then smashed the ROK 6th and 8th Infantry Divisions, caving in the right flank of the ROK II Corps and causing the entire corps to collapse. The Chinese armies kept pushing west, trying to roll up the lines of the US Eighth Army. They enveloped and mauled the US 8th Cavalry Regiment at Unsan, before the Eighth Army commander, Lt. General Walton Walker, ordered the entire army to fall back to the Chongchon River. At the Chongchon, the United States was able to regroup and bring to bear its overwhelming firepower to halt the Chinese advance.

Marshal Peng concluded that it would be too costly to try to break through the UN lines along the Chongchon and instead opted to pull back in hopes of luring the UN armies back north. Peng’s intention was to coax the UN forces out of their fortified lines and get them on the move where they would be easier prey for another Chinese offensive. In addition, the Chinese started to suffer from logistical problems almost immediately. Within days of the initial attacks, Chinese combat units had outstripped their man-powered supply columns. Chinese units carried only three days of food, and after a week of combat were tired and starving. This too argued in favor of a withdrawal and preparation for a new offensive.

The Chinese Second Phase Offensive, their main assault against the UN, began in late November 1950. By that time, Marshal Peng had regrouped and resupplied his forces and believed he had his support services in better shape for a new offensive. He would commit 388,000 Chinese troops against a UN force in northern Korea that now numbered only 342,000. To make matters worse, the Americans had interpreted the withdrawal in early November as an indication that the Chinese had been beaten—despite the fact that they had won nearly every battle they fought—and had run back to Manchuria. Consequently, on November 24, MacArthur ordered a renewed offensive to the Yalu River, despite the misgivings of some of his more clear-headed field commanders. Once again, UN forces pushed back up the peninsula, spread out, and paid little heed to forward reconnaissance. The Chinese struck on November 25th like a hurricane. They attacked with complete surprise and their operations were devastating.

Contrary to popular belief, Chinese forces rarely employed “human wave” attacks. Human wave assaults entail hurling masses of lightly armed infantry against an enemy position in an effort to take that position through shock and attrition. The idea is that the horde of soldiers will simply swamp the position despite their paucity of skills or weaponry. The Chinese regularly employed massed infantry tactics, but rarely human wave attacks. The differences are subtle but important.

In Korea, Chinese forces were so lightly armed that they could not generate adequate firepower for virtually any military operation. Consequently, the Chinese had to employ masses of infantry for those roles in which better-equipped armies would normally use firepower. Specifically, Chinese armies could not use firepower to cover the movements of a unit or to pin an adversary while another force maneuvered against it. Instead, the Chinese had to use infantry assaults for all of these tasks. In addition, the Chinese at times employed what they called the “short attack”—a variant of the Soviet echelon attack, albeit without tanks. In a short attack, Chinese infantry formations would repeatedly attack a narrow enemy defensive sector in hope of wearing down the defenders and creating a breakthrough they could exploit. While manpower-intensive, both of these approaches represented more sophisticated uses of light infantry than what is traditionally meant by a “human wave attack.”

The most common Chinese tactic was to employ masses of infantry to keep constant pressure on a position—just as a Western force would use firepower to do the same—while other elements outflanked and enveloped the enemy position. Obviously, this resulted in terrible casualties because keeping pressure on a UN position required the Chinese to send large numbers of lightly armed infantry into the heavy firepower of US and allied units. The Chinese only employed true human wave attacks on occasion late in the Korean War, when so many of their veteran soldiers had been killed that they had to rely largely on raw recruits who lacked the training and experience to employ more sophisticated tactics.

Bloody or not, Chinese tactics were highly effective, securing victory after victory despite the lopsided imbalance in weapons and equipment. Chinese units employed a constant screen of reconnaissance patrols to locate enemy positions. Chinese patrols would then further probe the enemy lines looking for unit boundaries, flanks, gaps, and other weak points. Under cover of darkness, infantry units would infiltrate through these gaps or around the enemy’s flanks. These forces would be employed in the attack to surround front-line combat units; overrun enemy command posts, artillery, and other support units; and set up ambushes deep in the rear to cut the enemy’s escape route. Other Chinese units, employing painstaking CC&D, would sneak up as close to the enemy defensive positions as possible without giving themselves away. The purpose of this was to be able to rush the defender from a short distance to get into close combat immediately. This was advantageous because the Chinese were superb in hand-to-hand combat and because this hindered UN units from bringing their artillery and air support to bear.

Whenever possible, the Chinese would begin their attack suddenly and under cover of night. Ideally, Chinese infantry infiltrated earlier would combine with formations in front of the enemy to launch assaults from all sides simultaneously. When this was impossible, some units would launch a frontal assault to pin the enemy as other forces conducted a double envelopment of the position. Then, while some reduced the encircled enemy positions, others would bypass them and push on into the rear to attack the enemy’s depth. As soon as one sector was secured, Chinese forces would press on quickly deeper into the enemy’s rear or into the flanks of nearby enemy units. When enemy forces were put to flight, Chinese units pursued aggressively for as long as they could. These tactics were employed at every level of the Chinese military, from army group and army right down to company and platoon, and proved highly successful throughout the war.

The Chinese used these tactics in November 1950 to tear huge holes in the UN lines. The main Chinese attacks were directed against the center of the UN front, where the Eighth Army in the west and the X Corps in the east were separated by the impassable mountains of central Korea. The Chinese 13th Army Group attacked the ROK II Corps and the US IX Corps on the right flank and center (respectively) of the Eighth Army advance while the 9th Army Group attacked the US 7th Infantry Division and the 1st US Marine Division holding the left flank of the US X Corps.

Chinese successes were spectacular. In the west, the Chinese split and then destroyed the two forward divisions of the ROK II Corps, allowing two entire Chinese armies to push around the right flank of the Eighth Army and envelop the US 2nd Infantry Division as well as the right flank of the US 24th Infantry Division. The 2nd Infantry Division took 4,000 casualties and lost over 50 percent of its equipment fighting its way out of the Chinese encirclement. A Turkish Brigade rushed north to hold the collapsing right flank was butchered, and the US 1st Cavalry Division also took heavy losses when it was brought forward for the same purpose. Chinese forces penetrated and enveloped parts of the US 25th Infantry Division and the ROK 1st Infantry Division, forcing both back with heavy losses. In the east, Chinese forces outflanked and mauled the US 7th Infantry Division. The only significant reverse the Chinese suffered during the entire campaign was against the US 1st Marine Division, which conducted a brilliant fighting withdrawal. Although the Chinese threw two entire field armies against them, the Marines fought phenomenally and, with plentiful fire support, they crippled the Chinese 9th Army Group and cut their way south.

The Marines aside, UN forces fell back in panic and confusion and the Chinese pressed them as hard as they could. However, the Chinese advance simply ran out of steam south of Pyongyang. Several factors were at work. First, Chinese forces could not advance as quickly as the UN could retreat. Without any motor transport, the Chinese could not keep pace with the fully mechanized UN units. The Chinese lost contact with the UN on December 3 and did not catch up to them again until December 20 when the UN had regrouped and formed a new defensive line north of Seoul. Second, China’s ramshackle logistical system could not support an advance even as quick as the Chinese infantry could march. As in October, Chinese units quickly began to run out of food and ammunition. As winter crept in and they had no warm clothing, they also began to suffer heavy losses from frostbite and exposure. Many units showed superhuman endurance and kept moving south without resupply, but eventually they too had to halt. Finally, US air power prevented the Chinese from advancing during the day and complicated Chinese logistical problems by working over roads, bridges, and rail lines, and destroying many of the precious few trucks and rail cars the Chinese had.

Continuing the Offensive. The Chinese resumed their assault on New Year’s Eve. This “Third Phase Offensive” was a virtual replay of its predecessor. The Chinese again took the UN forces largely by surprise, launching 280,000 men against a 100-mile assault sector. In the center of the peninsula, Chinese units again concentrated on the ROK II Corps, again smashing through it and then turning onto the flanks of the American units on either side. In the west, the Chinese mostly broke through the ROK divisions deployed between the American divisions, and then conducted double envelopments of the US units. Once again, in the first weeks of the offensive, the Chinese inflicted heavy losses on the UN forces and sent them reeling backward. However, almost immediately, logistical problems and China’s dearth of motor transport—compounded by the relentless pressure of US air power—prevented the Chinese from turning local successes into strategic victories. Time and again, Chinese units could not move fast enough to close their encirclements before the UN units slipped from their grasp. By mid-January 1951, the Chinese had taken Seoul and pushed the UN south of the Han River, but they ran out of steam before they could obliterate the UN armies altogether.

The Third Phase Offensive was China’s last shot at victory in Korea, and when it failed, stalemate became inevitable. By late January 1951, several important changes had deprived the Chinese of the capability to achieve a decisive victory. First off, Chinese losses were staggering. According to Marshal Peng, by the end of the Third Phase Offensive, China had lost roughly half of the force originally deployed to Korea in October and November 1950. Most of these casualties were the result of combat, logistical problems, and winter weather, with combat losses being the smallest of the three categories. What mattered was that so many of those killed were the hardened veterans of World War II and the Chinese Civil War. Consequently, Chinese armies increasingly were filled out with raw recruits sent to Korea with virtually no training.

Meanwhile, Chinese logistical problems continued to worsen. American air power prevented the Chinese from effectively using the railroads inside Korea, so supplies had to be carried by porter from the Manchurian border 300 kilometers away. Chinese divisions required remarkably few provisions compared to their American counterparts, but as soon as they went on the offensive, the extra distance from the Manchurian railheads began to weigh down their advance. At the end of the Third Phase Offensive, Chinese troops were attacking UN units primarily to seize their rations rather than to take their positions or drive them out of Korea.

In addition, Lt. General Matthew Ridgway took command of the US Eighth Army in late 1950 and then succeeded General MacArthur as theater commander in 1951. Ridgway was a brilliant general who rebuilt the UN armies and devised new tactics for fighting the Chinese. With Ridgway in command, UN forces were far more dangerous than they had been in the past.

In early February, Ridgway launched a limited counterattack that made little progress and took heavy casualties. Less than a week later, the Chinese responded with their Fourth Phase Offensive. Through outstanding CC&D efforts the Chinese again surprised the UN units, but the declining strength of the Chinese armies and the growing strength of UN forces with Ridgway in command made this offensive even less successful than the last. Surprise and Chinese tactical prowess again combined to bring some short-term successes: Chinese armies again routed several ROK divisions, allowing the Chinese to penetrate and envelop nearby American units. The US 2nd Infantry Division, finally back on line after its drubbing in November, was once again encircled and mauled. This time, however, Ridgway had devised tactics that allowed the UN to employ its firepower more effectively to kill Chinese and break up their assaults. Chinese units suffered appalling losses as a result of these tactics, and again their logistics failed them, forcing pauses that let UN units slip away before they could be cut off and destroyed. After only a week, the Chinese were forced to pull back to regroup.

It took the Chinese over two months to recover from their Fourth Phase Offensive. During this time, Ridgway launched a series of limited counterattacks that succeeded in retaking Seoul. Then on April 22, the Chinese commenced their Fifth Phase Offensive. This was Peng’s last bid at victory, and for it he had assembled 500,000 Chinese and North Korean troops. Yet it too followed the trend of accomplishing less than its predecessor.

The Chinese again achieved tactical surprise, and again aimed their initial assaults at ROK units. However, Ridgway had begun a program to retrain and re-equip ROK troops and, this time, the ROK divisions were pushed back, but not routed. UN troops also had learned to defend their positions in-depth and from all sides so that Chinese infiltration was much harder and less effective. In addition, the UN now had roughly 650,000 troops (227,000 US, 400,000 ROK) defending a much shorter front, making it far more difficult for the Chinese to find gaps between their units. Finally, Ridgway had concentrated unprecedented levels of firepower and simply obliterated everything in front of the UN lines. American artillery batteries were employed to bombard suspected Chinese assembly points whenever an attack seemed possible, while the US air forces conducted over 7,000 ground attack sorties in support of UN troops.

Chinese manpower reserves and tactical skills were such that they were again able to penetrate the UN lines, but they could not translate these breakthroughs into strategic victories. Mobility and logistics problems hobbled the Chinese advance from the start, giving Ridgway time to bring up American divisions held in reserve that proceeded to check and then reduce the Chinese penetrations with overwhelming firepower. As their supplies dwindled and their casualties soared, Chinese morale disintegrated and whole units began to crack under American pummeling. The Chinese pushed to the outskirts of Seoul, but were unable to retake the city.

The War Drags On. After the failure of the Chinese Fifth Phase Offensive, the fighting in Korea bogged down into a bloody stalemate. Both Peng and Ridgway recognized that they could not score a decisive victory over the other. Chinese maneuver skills and manpower resources essentially balanced out American firepower, mobility, and logistics. Both sides conducted frequent limited offensives meant to secure more advantageous defensive terrain, but neither attempted another grand “end-the-war” offensive.

Instead, the Chinese dug-in deep. They built elaborate trench and tunnel complexes with interlocking fields of fire, strongpoints, minefields, and hidden exits from which the defenders could launch sudden counterattacks from unexpected locations. According to Marshal Peng, the Chinese dug 1,250 kilometers of tunnels and 6,240 kilometers of trenches by war’s end. In the late summer of 1951, after the failure of China’s great offensives, the USSR began to provide Beijing with modern weaponry. The Soviets sent tanks, artillery, trucks, infantry weapons, and advanced fighter aircraft such as the MiG-15 to China. This new arsenal gave the Chinese considerably more firepower than in the past and a better ability to hang on to their defensive positions.

As a result of the sudden influx of Soviet equipment into China, the war in the air over Korea became interesting just as the war in the ground deadlocked. The Chinese Communists had never had an air force before, and their pilots had no more than a year of training before they took to the skies, so Beijing set only modest objectives for the new service. Essentially, Marshal Peng asked only that the Chinese Air Force provide air defense for his ground armies. At first, the Chinese fighters tried to intercept US bombers—mostly B-29s—attacking the Chinese logistics network in northern Korea. The B-29 was no match for the MiG-15 and thus Chinese pilots began doing considerable damage to US bomber formations in late 1951. However, these operations prompted the United States to deploy advanced F-86 Sabre and F-84 Thunderjet squadrons to Korea to escort the bombers and clear out the MiGs. In dogfights with the US fighters, especially the Sabres, the Chinese were initially mauled. The Sabre was a slightly more capable aircraft than the MiG, but the big difference was that virtually all of the US pilots were veterans of World War II while the Chinese were brand new to flying. Nevertheless, over time the Chinese pilots gained experience, and some became quite good.

As the size of China’s air force grew and the experience of its pilots improved, Beijing tried more ambitious air operations. First, in April 1951, the Chinese attempted to make a major air effort in support of their Fifth Phase Offensive by employing large numbers of IL-10 Sturmovik ground-attack aircraft they had received from the USSR. However, in ferocious battles with the US Sabres and Thunderjets, the MiGs could not clear the sky for such a ground-support campaign.

Next, the Chinese attempted to halt the US air campaign against Chinese lines of communication that was hampering the flow of supplies south to the front lines. In the summer and fall of 1951, the Chinese deployed 690 combat aircraft in Manchuria, of which 525 were MiG-15s, to try to gain air superiority over the battlefield. At that time, the United States had only one wing of Sabres and another of F-84s in Korea. United States’ pilots reported that the Chinese were better led, better trained, better organized, and employed better tactics than in the past. In some cases, this was because the Soviets had dispatched some of their own veteran pilots to fly the MiGs for the Chinese (and North Koreans).

Although the Chinese continued to be on the losing end against the Sabres, they were able to put up such huge numbers of aircraft that they began to seriously interrupt the US tactical air campaign against their logistics system. In response, the US air forces threw all their assets into a massive offensive counter-air campaign consisting of fighter sweeps and constant attacks on Chinese forward air bases. The MiGs rose in defense and fought huge, swirling dogfights with the American fighters. Although the US Air Force was unable to knock out the Chinese airbases altogether, they shot down hordes of MiGs in this way. Nevertheless, in 1952, the Chinese Air Force became even more aggressive, deploying ever greater numbers of aircraft (1,800 aircraft, including 1,000 jet fighters) and flying them farther and farther south. Still, although Chinese dogfighting skills continued to improve, they could never beat the Sabre pilots, and so over the course of 1952 and 1953, attrition began to wear down the Chinese Air Force, forcing it back on the defensive, and reducing its ability to interfere with other US air operations. Ultimately, the American Sabres would shoot down 566 MiGs for the loss of about 100 of their own.

With the fighting deadlocked on the ground and the United States having defeated the Chinese air threat, both sides agreed to peace talks in 1951. Nevertheless, it took two years of on-again, off-again negotiations to produce a ceasefire agreement on July 27, 1953, largely because of disagreements over the handling of prisoners of war. Actual costs for the Chinese remain unknown, but the most recent assessments suggest that probably around 450,000 Chinese were killed in the fighting. On the other hand, the South Koreans suffered 137,899 killed and the Americans 36,516 dead, most of whom were killed fighting the Chinese.

Patterns of Chinese Military Effectiveness

Overall, Chinese military forces fought very well during the Korean War. Chinese forces labored under a variety of important disadvantages, many of them derived directly from the poverty and underdevelopment of Chinese society at the time. Yet they scored major victories, knocking the UN armies out of North Korea and then fighting them to a draw around the 38th Parallel. Of greater importance, the specific performance of Chinese military forces in battle showed little similarity to that of the Arab armies. Although there were areas of overlap, primarily related to limited technical skills, even in these cases the similarities were not identical.

Chinese Strategic Leadership. China’s generals mostly showed a high degree of competence. Peng Dehuai obviously stands out as a first-rate commander, but Beijing’s strategic direction in general was very good.36 Allan Millett has argued that if Peng had deployed more of his force east of the Chongchon River in the November 1950 Second Phase attack, it would have produced an even more crushing victory than Peng achieved. That may be a correct appraisal, but it still does not detract from Peng’s performance under difficult conditions, nor the scope of what he did accomplish on this and many other occasions. In particular, Peng and China’s other generals seemed to have had an excellent understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of their own forces and carefully crafted their operations to suit those capabilities.

Peng’s various offensives in Korea were well conceived, and had UN forces been less mobile and his own logistical system been more robust, the UN might easily have been thrown off the peninsula altogether. Even working under these constraints his operations achieved remarkable results. His offensives always featured a single-minded concentration of force against the decisive points coupled with deft maneuvers to confuse and cut off enemy formations. Nor would it be fair to criticize Peng for failing to incorporate his own logistical weaknesses and the enemy’s mobility into his planning: Peng’s mission, throw the UN off the Korean peninsula, probably was unattainable given the capabilities of his forces, yet he came remarkably close.

The direction of Chinese operations also was first class in every category. China’s military moves were thoroughly planned and meticulously prepared. Chinese generals used feints, deception, disinformation, and maneuver in superb combinations to achieve surprise and defeat otherwise superior opponents. They were extremely diligent about reconnaissance and intelligence operations. Although willing to pay heavily in casualties, it is difficult to say they squandered lives: Chinese operations were well-thought-through and there was a clear, well-reasoned purpose to their sacrifices. Chinese strategic leaders kept the control and organization of their forces simple and straightforward and commanded enormous armies with remarkably primitive communications systems. Chinese offensives were noteworthy for consistently securing surprise, uncovering the weak sectors in an enemy’s defense, concentrating overwhelming force at the decisive point on a battlefield, and forcing the enemy to fight at a disadvantage through rapid maneuver. On the defensive, Chinese operations were marked by a thorough appreciation for the terrain, extensive and well laid-out fortifications, and an ability to sense the flow of battle and shift forces appropriately in response to changes.

Before we move off the topic of China’s strategic leadership, it is worth noting that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was heavily politicized at this time in commissarist fashion.39 Political officers were present down to company level, and numerous officers and soldiers were Communist Party members who enforced party dogma. Chinese officers generally assumed that the political commissars were more powerful than they were since all military orders had to be countersigned by the ranking political officer.40 Patrick Coe has noted that in the Chinese military of the Korean War, “Decisions in combat (and elsewhere) not only had to be militarily or tactically correct; they also had to be politically correct.” Mao Zedong was a notoriously paranoid, capricious, and bloody-minded dictator who terrified his generals. Peng’s own rise was primarily a result of his steadfast loyalty to Mao, yet Mao endlessly micromanaged Chinese operations, often pushing strategically foolish ideas that drove Peng and his staff to distraction.

All of this reinforces the point that while politicization can be an impediment to military effectiveness, it is not inevitable, and various armies have found ways to compensate. Likewise, emphasizing the promotion of loyalty over competence does not mean that every general in a politicized military will be incompetent. There are brilliant loyalists too, especially in armies with considerable recent combat experience where the audit of battle can help sort the wheat from the chaff.

Chinese Operations in the Korean War, 1950–1953 Part II

Chinese Tactical Leadership.

Chinese junior officers performed equally well, perhaps even better, than their generals. The Chinese employed a highly decentralized command system that placed a heavy burden on tactical leaders. Because Chinese operations were often conducted at night, involved large-scale infiltrations, had few radios, and placed a premium on stealth, it was often impossible for senior commanders to direct their forces in the midst of battle. The Chinese also placed a premium on decisions made on the spot in response to immediate circumstances. In particular, they emphasized the immediate exploitation of gaps and weak points such as unit boundaries, which meant that junior officers were expected to recognize such opportunities and act on them without direct orders. As one historian observed, “The nature of the Chinese Red Army, with its paucity of modern military equipment, placed a great deal of responsibility on unit commanders, they were to follow the general plan if they could, but not be afraid to deviate if it seemed appropriate.” To facilitate this, the Chinese army conducted extensive pre-attack briefings, with senior officers providing remarkable amounts of information to their subordinates to ensure that more junior commanders would be able to make smart decisions during the battle based on a full understanding of the plan and the intelligence regarding enemy forces and intentions. Indeed, virtually all Chinese operations were planned only at general levels, and the specifics were typically left to the commanders in the field to decide as the circumstances dictated.

Chinese junior officers performed extremely well in this system. They kept up a constant stream of patrols to find the enemy, and then to probe for routes of attack, flanks, gaps in the line, unit boundaries, etc. Once they had a reasonable picture of enemy dispositions they formulated a plan of attack and put it into action. They showed tremendous individual initiative and aggressiveness. They rarely seemed to let an opportunity pass, and reacted quickly and flexibly to the ebb and flow of combat. At times, they did miss opportunities to exploit, but typically because their logistics failed them or they had suffered such heavy casualties taking the position that they had too little left to follow through. When one approach failed, Chinese junior officers devised a new plan of action and then put it into effect. They also showed a real flare for improvisation in their approach to combat situations. As just one example of this, in 1950 one Chinese company commander had his men light the dried grass near an American position on fire when they could not find a way to flank the American lines. The grass burned straight up the hill the Americans were holding, forcing them to abandon the position.

Chinese tactical units operated at a quick operational tempo, especially given their lack of motor transport. Chinese junior officers fully recognized the need to hit hard and fast and to keep hitting the enemy with rapid blows so that he could not recover. Consequently, they bypassed resistance when possible and drove as far and as fast into the rear as they could to overrun command posts and keep the enemy reeling. In one incident, Chinese troops smashed the ROK 15th Infantry Regiment and then pursued so quickly that they passed the retreating South Korean troops, overran the regiment’s command post, and then turned to ambush the combat units (again) as they fled south.46 Even when one Chinese unit might stop to regroup on an objective, other elements of the force—or other units of the same formation—would take it upon themselves to keep moving forward to maintain the pace of advance and not give the enemy any breathing space.

One of the greatest strengths of the Chinese military at every level was their predilection for maneuver. Shu Guang Zhang notes that the PLA itself believed that its forces could overcome American advantages in firepower because they were “good at maneuvering, flexibility and mobility and, in particular, good at surrounding and attacking [the] enemy’s flanks by taking tortuous courses, as well as dispersing and concealing forces.” The PLA’s favored form of attack—and counterattack—was what Lin Biao referred to as the “one point, two sides” maneuver, which consisted of a frontal assault to pin the enemy coupled with a double envelopment. Chinese forces at every level from army group to squad employed this approach, and when it proved impossible, they found other ways to maneuver against their foe, performing a single envelopment or simply attacking from an oblique angle to the defender’s lines. American, South Korean, Turkish, British (and in 1962, Indian troops) reported being constantly outflanked and hit from the rear by Chinese units.

These traits were equally apparent in defensive operations. Chinese tactical commanders were just as diligent about reconnaissance when on the defensive. They were careful to disguise their positions and built ingenious defensive networks. Chinese forces were also extremely active on defense and rarely sat passively in their trenches while being attacked. In battle, Chinese units would abandon their positions if they thought that they could move into a better one, preferably one from which they could fire or counterattack into the attacker’s flank or rear. Chinese units counterattacked vigorously and quickly at every level. Indeed, many Chinese defensive positions were designed to lure the enemy in and crush him with a devastating counterattack (often from several sides simultaneously). Whenever possible, the Chinese attempted to conduct flanking counterattacks to cut off the attacking force and crush it. Moreover, if they repulsed an attacker, Chinese units frequently seized the opportunity to pursue or even launch an immediate attack of their own.

The Chinese appear to have done adequately in combined arms operations when their very limited experiences are taken into account. In Korea, the Chinese initially employed pure infantry formations, but by the end of the war they also fielded considerable numbers of artillery batteries. By and large, the Chinese did well in employing their artillery to support their infantry formations both when attacking and in defense.

Chinese Rank and File Performance. China’s soldiery did all that could be expected of them. Personal bravery among Chinese units was very high. The Chinese Army attacked with great confidence and enthusiasm. In Korea, this remained the case until the cold, the lack of food and other supplies, as well as the terrifying losses in combat began to set in during 1951. Chinese unit cohesion was likewise excellent. Although numerous Chinese units did begin to crack in 1951 at the end of the Fifth Phase Offensive, what was impressive was just how much hardship and adversity these formations endured before that happened. By that time, many of the Chinese soldiers were literally starving to death, clinically exhausted, and numbed by five months of attacks into the teeth of UN firepower. Most armies would have fallen apart long before.

Chinese weapons handling was mostly poor, albeit with several bright spots. Chinese marksmanship was lousy across the board. Chinese infantrymen could do little with their small arms. One exception to this rule was that Chinese units were often inexplicably good with light machine guns. Chinese forces also suffered heavily from the limited technical skills of their personnel. Consequently, few could handle electronics equipment, heavy weaponry, or other technology-intensive machines. To at least some extent, the Chinese had to forgo certain weapons that were simply beyond the technical skills of their men. Moreover, Chinese troops rarely got the maximum performance out of even the relatively simple weaponry they employed.

By contrast, Chinese artillery and mortar operations were very competent. Although Chinese forces entered the war with only light mortars and almost no artillery, by 1952 they had learned to employ their new Soviet-supplied indirect-fire weapons in a fairly sophisticated manner. As the war progressed, the ability of Chinese mortar and artillery units to mass their fire became an important element in their defensive operations. Chinese artillery batteries could rapidly combine their fire even when geographically dispersed, their fire missions were often very accurate, and they could quickly and flexibly shift their fire from one target to the next as required by front-line commanders. Chinese mortar units even got so good that they could silence US mortars in counter-battery duels.

Chinese Combat Support and Combat Service Support Performance. Above all else, logistics was the bane of Chinese military operations. In Korea, China might have scored one of the most impressive victories in modern history had its supply services been able to keep pace with its combat units and had its combat units been able to move faster than they did. As one historian has said of Marshal Peng, “It was not the Americans who were defeating him; it was winter, and the Chinese inability to fight this sort of war on a straight offensive basis. The logistics of an attacking army are perhaps six times more difficult than those of a defending army, and Marshal Peng’s logistics, by his own statements, were so ridiculous as to be laughable.”

The causes of these logistics problems may not be as clear as they may seem. The most obvious problem the Chinese faced was that they had too few trucks and trains to supply their army, and too few air defenses to protect the logistical network from air attack. In addition, they had other material complications. For example, in Korea, Chinese forces used a multitude of small arms, none of which were manufactured in China and most of which were no longer manufactured at all. Consequently, providing ammunition and spare parts to the combat units was a nightmare. However, it is unclear whether Chinese logistics problems also were related to China’s low levels of education or other socioeconomic factors. Logistics for an army that is even crudely modern requires quartermasters able to read and do arithmetic and often more complicated mathematics. In addition, supplying such a vast army, over such great distances with such a multitude of different weapons, is a complex project to say the least.

Very little information exists regarding China’s maintenance capabilities. During October and November 1951, the Chinese generally were able to keep 300–400 of their 800 trucks running on any given day. A 50 percent operational readiness rate is usually considered very poor, and this would fit well with the pattern of difficulties the Chinese experienced in other aspects of military operations related to technical skills. Still, it would be rash to conclude based on this single scrap of evidence that Chinese armies experienced considerable problems with maintenance and repairs. The Chinese were using mostly very old trucks captured from the Guomindang and the Japanese. It is unclear what kind of shape they were in when the Chinese Communists got them, or what kind of an inventory of spare parts and lubricants they had by 1950. Moreover, 800 trucks is an absurdly low number to try to support an army of over 300,000 men, so those trucks may have been driven to death. For all of these reasons, this meager evidence on its own cannot support the conclusion that Chinese maintenance practices were poor, even though this would fit the pattern suggested by Chinese problems with logistics and weapons handling.

Limited evidence suggests that Chinese combat engineers were reasonably good. Although the Chinese were known to use infantry battalions to clear paths through minefields by having them walk across in line-abreast, they generally could rely on a competent corps of engineers. In Korea, Chinese engineers built impressive fortifications very quickly. Chinese engineers showed a tremendous ability to cross water obstacles. The US Air Force was constantly frustrated by the speed and ingenuity of Chinese engineers building, repairing, and circumventing bridges knocked down by US air strikes.

Chinese Air Force Performance. China’s air force made a reasonable effort given its newness. The Chinese did not necessarily do “well” in any category of air operations, but deserve high marks for learning quickly.

The planning and direction of Chinese air operations was reasonably good. Chinese Air Force leaders initially recognized that their squadrons were only capable of defensive counter-air missions, and so they concentrated on trying to disrupt the US campaign against Chinese logistics. Later, as the forces available to them improved, they took on more ambitious missions. The Chinese quickly deduced the weaknesses of the F-86 Sabre, specifically its limited range, and designed tactics to try to take advantage of that problem. Although the United States quickly countered, the Chinese in turn devised a counter to the Americans’ counter-tactic. The United States ultimately prevailed in this contest, but this rapid interplay indicates that Chinese Air Force leaders were intelligent, creative, and resourceful and actively tried to shape aerial encounters, rather than passively accepting situations as they occurred.

Chinese air forces concentrated almost exclusively on counter-air missions; consequently, this is the only category of air operations in which the Chinese performance can reasonably be assessed. The Chinese began very poorly but had made major improvements by war’s end. The chief factor was the experience of Chinese pilots. At the start of the war, the Chinese Air Force was brand new and had only a handful of qualified pilots, none of whom had participated in air-to-air combat before. When these men went up against the World War II veterans of the US Air Force they were slaughtered. The Chinese began sending large numbers of pilots to the USSR for training, and over time, they began to give the American pilots a harder time. There was never a month during the Korean War when Chinese MiG squadrons did more damage to the Americans than they sustained themselves, but by 1952 they had reduced the number of losses they were taking and had increased the number of US planes they were shooting down.

Chinese Air Force Performance.

China’s air force made a reasonable effort given its newness. The Chinese did not necessarily do “well” in any category of air operations, but deserve high marks for learning quickly.

The planning and direction of Chinese air operations was reasonably good. Chinese Air Force leaders initially recognized that their squadrons were only capable of defensive counter-air missions, and so they concentrated on trying to disrupt the US campaign against Chinese logistics. Later, as the forces available to them improved, they took on more ambitious missions. The Chinese quickly deduced the weaknesses of the F-86 Sabre, specifically its limited range, and designed tactics to try to take advantage of that problem. Although the United States quickly countered, the Chinese in turn devised a counter to the Americans’ counter-tactic. The United States ultimately prevailed in this contest, but this rapid interplay indicates that Chinese Air Force leaders were intelligent, creative, and resourceful and actively tried to shape aerial encounters, rather than passively accepting situations as they occurred.

Chinese air forces concentrated almost exclusively on counter-air missions; consequently, this is the only category of air operations in which the Chinese performance can reasonably be assessed. The Chinese began very poorly but had made major improvements by war’s end. The chief factor was the experience of Chinese pilots. At the start of the war, the Chinese Air Force was brand new and had only a handful of qualified pilots, none of whom had participated in air-to-air combat before. When these men went up against the World War II veterans of the US Air Force they were slaughtered. The Chinese began sending large numbers of pilots to the USSR for training, and over time, they began to give the American pilots a harder time. There was never a month during the Korean War when Chinese MiG squadrons did more damage to the Americans than they sustained themselves, but by 1952 they had reduced the number of losses they were taking and had increased the number of US planes they were shooting down.

Nevertheless it is still the bottom line that, throughout the war, the Chinese never performed as well as the Americans in air combat maneuvering. They fought aggressively, and they maneuvered, and some of their pilots were able to really exploit the capabilities of their aircraft, but they were never able to do it at the same level as the Americans. As a result, US Sabre pilots racked up at least a 5:1 kill ratio against the Chinese for the war.

Decisive Factors in the Korean War.

Chinese forces did as well as they did in combat for several reasons. Chinese leadership at both strategic and tactical levels was unquestionably the most important factor in Chinese successes. China’s generals did a superb job employing the resources at their disposal to achieve Beijing’s political objectives. In many of their campaigns, the Chinese achieved spectacular results that almost certainly would have been beyond the reach of less competent generals commanding the same forces. Similarly, it is difficult to fault Beijing’s generals for Chinese failures. Ultimately, the tasks set for them by their political masters may well have been unachievable.

Chinese tactical competence was just as important as the skill of their strategic leadership. In battle, the Chinese were an extremely dangerous foe, and what is so incredible is that they achieved this level of tactical prowess despite pitiful weaponry and illiterate soldiers mostly incapable of taking full advantage of the meager equipment they possessed. It is remarkable that Chinese infantry companies of roughly 100 men equipped with no more than a few dozen rifles, perhaps three or four light machine guns, and maybe a light mortar or two, could attack and defeat entrenched American units of roughly equal size but lavishly armed with the most modern weapons and backed by fearsome air and artillery support. Chinese tactical formations maintained a torrid pace of operations, although this inevitably outstripped what their logistical train could support. Their units displayed this tactical excellence from squad to division levels, and the credit for this has to go to China’s tactical commanders. With only a few exceptions, the Americans were never able to match Chinese tactical skills in Korea, and only were able to achieve a stalemate through the application of overwhelming firepower to bleed the Chinese army white—and they could do so only because Chinese logistical failings prevented them from overrunning the peninsula altogether.

Another important aspect of China’s victories was its superb intelligence capabilities. In Korea, China won the intelligence war, and in doing so, went a great distance toward winning the entire war. China’s constant attention to reconnaissance and its persistent efforts to gather information on its adversary in any way possible usually gave Chinese military leaders at all levels an excellent understanding of the adversary they faced. On the other hand, China’s meticulous attention to operational security and CC&D prevented their enemies from knowing much if anything about their own operations. At the grandest strategic level, the Chinese moved over 300,000 men into Korea without the United States realizing it. At tactical levels, Chinese platoons and battalions often passed right under the noses of US, ROK, and other Western units before and during a battle.

Chinese military setbacks were largely the product of two weaknesses: logistics and weaponry. Chinese deficiencies in supplying and moving their forces were literally crippling because they led to widespread starvation and frostbite. In 1950–1951, this failing was unquestionably the most important factor that prevented China from turning a remarkable victory into a decisive one.

China’s arsenal was its other great problem. The Chinese simply lacked the equipment that their adversaries possessed, both in terms of quantity and quality. The gap between the arms of a US, or even a ROK, unit and those of comparable Chinese units was immeasurable. Nevertheless, China’s deficiencies in terms of arms should not be exaggerated: the Chinese armed forces achieved stunning successes despite this problem, and their defeats do not seem to have been the result of deficiencies in weaponry. Had the Chinese been better armed, their operations almost certainly would have been even more successful, but there is no reason to believe that this would have compensated for the logistical problems that brought their Korean offensives to a halt.

An important aspect of this issue is whether Chinese deficiencies in weaponry and logistics were purely the product of their poverty, or the result of an inability among Chinese personnel to read and write, to understand machinery, and to handle the complex requirements of a modern army. Was the problem simply that the Chinese could not afford to build or buy adequate numbers of modern arms, trucks, and combat consumables? Or, was the problem that even had Beijing been able to acquire adequate supplies of this materiel it would have made little difference because Chinese soldiers and officers would have been unable to employ them properly?

This is a crucial question to understand the impact of underdevelopment on military effectiveness. If the problem is simply one of availability, then this says little about the impact of underdevelopment on the performance of the personnel themselves. Of greatest importance, it would argue that underdevelopment probably was not a very good explanation for Arab military ineffectiveness, because in most of their wars the Arab armies had a surfeit of weapons, mobility assets, and supplies. Unfortunately, very little evidence is available, and what is available is contradictory. For example, the poor dogfighting skills of Chinese pilots suggests that the problem was an inability to fully exploit modern technology. On the other hand, the excellent machine gunning and artillery skills of Chinese ground forces indicate just the opposite, that the problem was simply the inadequacy of the available hardware.

As a final note, although China’s enemies have often blamed their losses on Chinese numerical superiority in manpower, this excuse unconvincing. In Korea, Chinese quantitative advantages were not great. The Chinese often had fewer men in the field than the UN forces. Of course, the UN armies had a much lower “tooth-to-tail” ratio so the Chinese frequently had more combat soldiers available than did the United States. But these imbalances should not have been decisive. For instance, in November 1950, China fielded 388,000 men against 342,000 UN soldiers. Even if one assumes that as much as 80 percent of Chinese manpower were combat troops while only 50 percent of UN manpower were, the net figure is 310,000 Chinese soldiers against 205,000 UN soldiers. Given the immense material disparity between the two sides, such a difference in manpower should not have been decisive. In 2003, an Anglo-American army of about 75,000 troops with similar material advantages crushed an Iraqi army of 300,000 and conquered their country in under a month. If the issue were merely mass versus materiel in Korea, the Chinese advantage in mass should not have outweighed the UN advantage in materiel.

Regardless of the raw balance of manpower, the crucial point is that the Chinese did not win by overwhelming numbers. The Chinese were forced to employ mass as a substitute for firepower in their tactical maneuver schemes. This should not take away from the fact that their victories over the US-led armies in Korea were achieved by superior tactical competence. The Chinese won battles by deceiving, confusing, and outmaneuvering their opponents, not by drowning them in a sea of manpower. Especially prior to Ridgway’s reforms, American military units in Korea were very mediocre, and weren’t even as competent as their World War II antecedents. For the Americans, having more such units would not have made nearly as much difference as having more capable ones.

Chinese and Arab Military Effectiveness.

Comparing Arab military performance since 1948 with the Chinese military experience in the Korean War shows pretty much the same thing as the Libya-Chad case: vast differences in military effectiveness existed between many Arab and non-Arab forces despite comparable levels of socioeconomic development. China’s extreme backwardness does not appear to have produced the same patterns of ineffectiveness in Chinese forces that characterized Arab operations during the postwar era.

Aside from those categories related to limited technical skills, the only areas in which Chinese and Arab armed forces appeared comparable was in the high degrees of unit cohesion and personal bravery displayed by both. Other than this, it is difficult to find areas in which the Arabs fought as well as, or even just similar to, the Chinese. In particular, the Chinese manifested none of the problems the Arabs had with information management and tactical leadership in terms of initiative, creativity, flexibility, responsiveness, etc. Instead, these were areas in which the Chinese excelled. For the Chinese, maneuver warfare and information management were arguably their greatest strengths, whereas for the Arabs these were their greatest weakness.


The AVIC AG600 Kunlong has a maximum take-off weight of 180.000 lbs and is one of the world`s largest flying boats. First flight was on December 24th, 2017 and deliveries are planned to begin in 2022

Codenamed “Kunlong,” the AG600 is designed to be the world’s largest amphibious aircraft. This large-scale special-purpose civil aircraft is developed to assist with fighting forest fires and water rescues.

The Chinese-originated AVIC AG-600 Flying Boat is currently in development and set to become the largest amphibious aircraft in the world when it sees service introduction.

In 1986, the Chinese Navy began operations of the Harbin SH-5, a large amphibious aircraft utilized primarily for maritime patrol and over-water Search and Rescue (SAR). The design emerged from work handled in the 1970s but only seven examples were taken on through production spanning from 1984 to 1985. The local Chinese concern of AVIC (“Aviation Industry Corporation of China”) is now planning a successor based on the SH-5 as the “TA-600”. This development will retain the former’s amphibious capabilities and operate in largely the same roles as its Cold War-era predecessor. Beyond these military-minded roles, it is also envisioned that the TA-600 will be capable of firefighting over the vast, hard-to-reach Chinese wilderness – which will make range and water-hauling key qualities in the design. The TA-600 is expected to begin final assembly in 2015 for delivery during 2016 – this is a delay from the original 2014 delivery window.

The TA-600 has its roots in a 2009 initiative and, at this time, the aircraft retained many of the features seen in the original SH-5. Over the years, its silhouette has been slowly revised by way of modified float supports, a more blended, better-contoured cockpit roofline, and a “T-style” tail unit (as opposed to the split vertical tail fins of the SH-5). On the whole, the aircraft has continued use of flying boat basics – high, shoulder-mounted wings, two engines installed at each wing, and a boat-like hull for water landings. Its standard operating crew will be two pilots, a loadmaster, and any required mission specialists (sortie dependent). The hold will also support seating for up to 50 passengers. The resulting aircraft has proven heavier than previously planned at approximately 107,000lb, up from the original 98,000lb. The added weight has altered the expected operational range, reduced from 3,200 miles to 3,100 miles. Dimensions currently include a wingspan of 131.2 feet. Maximum Take-Off Weight (MTOW) is listed at 117,950lb.

Design plans are for all-new, Chinese-made turboprop engines to power the aircraft through constant speed propellers with an output of at least 5,000 horsepower per engine unit. The current selection remains the aged WJ-6 which is nothing more than the Chinese copy of the Soviet Ivchenko AI-20 series.

With China’s ever-growing reach into the Pacific, aircraft like the TA-600 will play an ever-increasing role to asserting regional dominance over its neighbors and general instability in one of the most important commercial waterways on the planet.

Program Updates

July 2016 – The AG-600 was unveiled to onlookers as a static display – this as an international tribunal sided against Chinese claims in the South China Sea.

November 2016 – The AG-600 amphibian was on public display as part of the 11th Zhuhai Air Show.

November 2016 – There are seventeen AG-600 committed to orders. A first-flight is tentatively scheduled for sometime in 2017.

December 2017 – An AG-600 aircraft recorded the series first-flight on December 24th, 2017. It remains under development heading into 2018.

October 2018 – The AG-600 has made its first-flight from water on October 20th, 2018. It flew for 14 minutes near the Jingmen Zhanghe Airport (Hubei). First-deliveries are scheduled for 2022.


Currently none. Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) military models would include depth charges, naval mines, torpedoes, and provision for dropping conventional ordnance.


Year: 2022

Status: In-Development

Manufacturer(s): Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) – China

Production: 1

Capabilities: Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW); Anti-Ship; Navy/Maritime;

Commercial Market; Search and Rescue (SAR); Reconnaissance (RECCE);

Crew: 3

Length: 121.06 ft (36.9 m)

Width: 127.30 ft (38.8 m)

Height: 39.70 ft (12.1 m)

Weight (Empty): 70,548 lb (32,000 kg)

Weight (MTOW): 117,947 lb (53,500 kg)

Power: 4 x WJ-6 (Ivchenko AI-20) Turboprop engines developing 5,100

horsepower each and driving 6-blded constant-speed propellers.

Speed: 311 mph (500 kph; 270 kts)

Ceiling: 32,808 feet (10,000 m; 6.21 miles)

Range: 2,796 miles (4,500 km; 2,430 nm)

Rate-of-Climb: 2,100 ft/min (640 m/min)

Operators: China (probable)

Harbin Z-20 Helicopter

The Z-20 made its public debut during 1 October 2019 military parade in Beijing.

The naval variant of China’s Z-20 helicopter aboard a destroyer during the summer. A modified Z-20 with a foldaway tail rotor was first seen aboard the Type 055 guided-missile destroyer Nanchang in July. These are likely to become the navy’s Z-20F and carry out anti-submarine duties.

The 10t-class Harbin Z-20 medium helicopter achieved its maiden flight on 23 December 2013. The type was approaching low-rate initial production. Clearly mimicking the Black Hawk in appearance thanks to reverse engineering, the Z-20 is powered by twin WZ-10 turboshafts.

China would argue the helicopter is not a copy, since it has a five-bladed main rotor, fly- by-wire controls and a glass cockpit. The PLA needs the Z-20 for high-altitude operations in western China, plus the platform will likely enjoy multiple applications such as air mobility for army troops, SAR missions and multirole tasks for the PLA Navy.

China’s domestically made utility helicopter, the Z-20, made its debut at the National Day parade on Tuesday, a move that confirmed its active service status within the Chinese military.

All equipment on display in the parade is domestically made and in service, Major General Cai Zhijun, deputy head of the office of the leading group for the military parade, said at a press conference in August.

This means that the Z-20 has already entered active service with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) following a lengthy trial phase.

China’s Ministry of National Defense confirmed the development of the Z-20 in December 2013 after the chopper’s alleged first test flight was spotted in northeastern China. Many pictures of the Z-20 have surfaced on the internet and Chinese aerospace magazines since then.

The Z-20 is a medium-lift utility helicopter that can adapt to different terrains and weather, and is expected to be used by the army and navy, military experts told the Global Times previously, noting that it can also operate on plateau areas like in Southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region, where high elevations could cause problems, including a lack of oxygen.

As a utility helicopter it can be used in many types of missions, including personnel and cargo transport, search and rescue, reconnaissance and anti-submarine, experts said, noting that no other Chinese helicopter is as versatile as the Z-20.

Chinese navy tests new Z-20 helicopter for use on its warships

Harbin Z-20