Deng Xiaoping

A Review of the History of the Second Field Army


Published: November 20, 1989
Translated by: Unknown
Source: Deng Xiaoping Works
Transcription for MIA: Joonas Laine


We veterans haven’t had a chance to get together for many years. Let’s take this opportunity to have a chat today.

Looking back to the war years, I should say that our Second Field Army accomplished its tasks fairly well at every stage. That is my overall appraisal.

Throughout the War of Liberation the Second Field Army stood in the forefront of the struggle against the enemy. At first we were in the Shanxi-Hebei-Shandong-Henan area. As Comrade Liu Bocheng put it, this was the gateway to the North China Liberated Area, and it was through this gateway that the enemy had to launch his attack. Just as we had expected, while Chairman Mao was holding peace negotiations with the Kuomintang in Chongqing, the enemy came in two columns. One column was led by Yan Xishan, and against it we fought the Shangdang Campaign. The other column was led by Ma Fawu and Gao Shuxun, and against it we fought the Ping-Han Campaign.

Earlier, during the War of Resistance Against Japan, we had also stood at the gateway. At that time our forces were the predecessors of the Second Field Army. The Kuomintang had engaged our troops in skirmishes in all the major liberated areas, especially in the Shanxi-Hebei-Shandong-Henan area. After the victory over Japan, their first attack on the liberated areas was unleashed at this same gateway, but we did not have many troops to guard it. Yan Xishan had more than 38,000 troops with which to attack the Shangdang area, while we had only a little over 30,000. Organizationally, we did not even have a complete, fully staffed regiment, and our soldiers were poorly equipped and had only a small amount of ammunition. You might say that they were only a formation of guerrilla forces.

Besides, there were no generals available to command the battle that was about to begin. Only Li Da was at the front, while many other generals were away attending a meeting in Yan’an. We flew back to the Taihang area in a transport plane of the U.S. Army Observation Group based in Yan’an. Aboard that plane were Bocheng and I, Chen Xilian, Chen Zaidao, Chen Geng and others. (Song Renqiong was in southern Hebei at the time.) When we arrived, the battle was already raging. As soon as we alighted from the plane, we hurried to the front. Under those circumstances it was not easy to annihilate all of Yan Xishan’s attacking troops. I should say we did more than was expected of us.

That was followed by the Ping-Han Campaign. The attack was launched by three corps under Ma Fawu and Gao Shuxun, two deputy commanders of the Kuomintang’s 11th War Zone, and a local Hebei army column of the Kuomintang under Qiao Mingli. Both the 40th and 30th corps under Ma Fawu were strong. The New 8th Corps under Gao Shuxun also had high combat effectiveness. In Matou Town Xilian and his troops fought them tooth and nail at the cost of hundreds of casualties. We encountered more difficulties in the Ping-Han Campaign than we had in the Shangdang Campaign. After the Shangdang Campaign we received some supplies of ammunition and better equipment, but we remained a collection of guerrillas. We fought the Ping-Han Campaign in a state of utter exhaustion. The enemy began to attack us before all of our units had reached their positions. On the telephone I told Su Zhenhua to hold out at the front for five days until the follow-up units reached the designated places. Su’s 1st Column blocked the enemy’s advance, making it possible for the follow-up units to get to their positions on time.

I should say that the Ping-Han Campaign was mainly a successful political battle, because we persuaded Gao Shuxun to revolt and cross over to our side. If we had fought fire with fire, we would have suffered a great many casualties. I have always felt sorry that we are not fair to Gao Shuxun afterwards. He made no small contribution. If he had not revolted, the enemy would not have collapsed so utterly. They could not have won, but they would have been able to retreat; at least their main force could have escaped. Thanks to Gao’s revolt, we wiped out two of Ma Fawu’s corps, and only 3,000 men escaped.

We invested much capital in this political battle. Gao Shuxun had had ties with us when he was under the command of Tang Enbo. As we had maintained ties with him for a long time, we sent our chief of staff Li Da in person to Gao’s headquarters in Matou, to persuade him to revolt. Many of you probably don’t know anything about this episode. Li Da was accompanied by Wang Dingnan, our liaison officer, whom I met many times. We were sure that Gao Shuxun was inclined to revolt, but he was still hesitating. At the moment the Kuomintang was trying to eliminate its Northwest Army, to which Gao’s New 8th Corps belonged. That was a problem. When Li Da and Wang Dingnan got to Matou, they found all the motor vehicles and horse-drawn carriages facing south, ready to beat a retreat. As soon as they met with Gao, they reached an agreement: he decided to revolt, and next day he prepared to lead his troops to the liberated area in the Northwest. The day after that, Bocheng called on him in Matou. Thrown into a panic, Ma Fawu ordered his two corps to withdraw south. Consequently, we were able to intercept them in the South, on the north bank of the Zhanghe River, winning another battle.

So during the War of Resistance Against Japan there had been skirmishes between us and the KMT troops in all the liberated areas across the country, but especially in the Shanxi-Hebei-Shandong-Henan area. It was also in this area that after we won the war against Japan, Chiang Kai-shek launched his initial attacks on us. It was only after the fighting started that we began to form the Second Field Army, consisting of a few columns. After the Shangdang Campaign, we organized four columns. Deployed from east to west, they were the 1st Column, led by Yang Dezhi and Su Zhenhua in the Hebei-Shandong-Henan area; the 2nd Column, led by Chen Zaidao and Song Renqiong in southern Hebei; the 3rd Column, led by Chen Xilian and Peng Tao in the Taihang area; and the 4th Column, led by Chen Geng and Xie Fuzhi in the Taiyue area. Later we established the 6th and 7th columns.

In the first year of the War of Liberation we reached the target figure set by the Central Military Commission for enemy troops to be annihilated. Three months after the war started, Chairman Mao had said that if we could wipe out a total of eight Kuomintang brigades a month on all the fronts across the country, we were sure to win. Just as he hoped, in the first year we wiped out 97 and a half brigades, slightly exceeding the target. The Second Field Army fulfilled the quota alloted to it for its area and probably did slightly better. As that task had been accomplished on all fronts, we were able to start the strategic counteroffensive one or two years ahead of schedule. When the War of Liberation had begun, a counteroffensive had not been put on the agenda, because we were uncertain of the timing. But after fighting for a year, from July 1946 to July 1947, we confidently decided to launch a counteroffensive. One reason was that in the first year of battle we had wiped out nearly a hundred enemy brigades and improved our military equipment accordingly. Another reason was that the objective situation compelled us to start the counteroffensive at an early date.

At that time the Kuomintang was attacking key sectors in Shandong and Yan’an, which were like the two ends of a carrying pole. Our Shanxi-Hebei-Shandong-Henan area lay in between, at the centre of the pole, where the porter shoulders it. Accordingly, we employed what Comrade Bocheng called the “carrying-pole strategy”. It was our task to draw the enemy troops from both ends towards the centre, in a counteroffensive that carried out the strategic intentions of the Central Military Commission and Chairman Mao. First, we crossed the Yellow River and annihilated four division headquarters and nine and a half brigades of the enemy at one stroke. This initial victory displayed the terrific momentum of our counteroffensive. Crossing the Yellow River was actually the beginning of the counteroffensive.

But how deep should we penetrate into the enemy-controlled areas? The annihilation of nine and a half enemy brigades was merely a show of strength. What action should we take next? That was more important. We sent a telegram to the Military Commission saying that we could take advantage of the favourable situation to wipe out more enemy troops in the Shanxi-Hebei-Shandong-Henan area and to draw more of them and pin them down. The situation was very good. Chairman Mao sent a highly confidential telegram to Bocheng and me saying that things in northern Shaanxi were “very difficult”. We immediately wired back to say that in two weeks we would take action, leaping directly into the enemy’s rear in the Dabie Mountains and later moving out again.

In fact, we were on the march in less than ten days. We had to operate without a rear area to fall back on. You can imagine how difficult it was! Conditions in the South were hard for the Northerners. Shortly after we crossed the Huaihe River, many of them suffered from diarrhoea. The Huaihe is the actual demarcation line between northern and southern China. The “South” refers to the area south of the Huaihe, not south of the Yangtze. South of the Huaihe the terrain was mountainous, and the people grew rice. That was the way of life in the South. But we had not anticipated all the difficulties; we only knew that Northerners would be unaccustomed to certain things in the South. After we crossed the Huaihe River, we came to realize that some Southerners, like those from Hubei, Henan and Anhui, were not used to things in the South either, since they had been in the North for many years.

The decision to make the 500-kilometre march south was very daring; it shows how brilliant Chairman Mao’s strategy was. This task fell to the Second Field Army. It was the most difficult in the entire War of Liberation. I don’t mean that it was so difficult to wipe out nine and a half enemy brigades. The difficult thing was to keep advancing for five hundred kilometres in defiance of all sorts of hardships. That was the heavy load we shouldered. It was really hard to cross the areas that had been flooded by the Yellow River. Since we were unable to carry our heavy weapons, we had to leave them behind. That’s why the Second Field Army did not have much artillery when it took part in the Huai-Hai Campaign. When we were going to cross the Huaihe, God helped us. The river had sunk so low that at that moment we could wade across. Nobody had ever known that one could walk across the Huaihe. Just when we arrived, the waters, which had been rising, suddenly fell. Bocheng himself walked into the river, proving that we could wade across. So things became much easier for us. Otherwise, we would have taken casualties, and even if we had managed to cross the Huihe, our subsequent struggle would have been harder. We faced a grim and perilous situation, but I should say that on the whole, we accomplished the shift to strategic counteroffensive quite smoothly, moving rapidly into the Dabie Mountains.

The success of our struggle in the Dabie Mountains was mainly due to our correct policies, including our military policy. This last was to establish military areas and sub-areas and to station one third of the units of our Field Army there. This was because our success or failure would be determined not by how many enemy troops we could eliminate but by whether we could hold our ground. That was Chairman Mao’s strategic decision. What would victory mean? Not that we had wiped out a certain number of enemy troops. Of course, we should try to eliminate the enemy; we should try hard to fight several battles of annihilation. In this connection, we did not fulfil our task well, and the number of enemy troops we annihilated was not great. Aside from the local peace preservation corps, we only wiped out a few enemy brigades. But the key question was whether we could hold our ground. Victory would mean that we were able to hold the territory we won. And we did that. We marched five hundred kilometres until we reached the banks of the Yangtze, with Wuhan, Nanjing and Shanghai before us. The areas we had liberated had a population of 45 million. That was a true victory. That was the significance of our 500-kilometre march.

The Dabie Mountains did not allow much room for strategic manoeuvre and could hardly accommodate large numbers of troops. We felt particularly constrained there because we had been accustomed to operating on the plains, where we could disperse or concentrate large numbers of troops. After we divided our troops and established military areas and sub-areas, our main force shifted gradually towards the North. Incidentally, some comrades were eager to fight a few battles of annihilation. We held a meeting at which I said we should avoid all battles. That was because we could not afford to lose one, or our situation would be hopeless.

Later Bocheng and I were separated. Bocheng led the 1st Column, the headquarters staff of the Field Army and the detachment directly under the headquarters out of the mountains to the area north of the Huaihe River, where he exercised overall command of the Field Army. The 10th and 12th columns under Wang Hongkun and Zhang Caiqian, which had marched south towards the Dabie Mountains as follow-up units, were not in the mountains either. They were spreading out in the areas of Tongbai and Jianghan. [Li] Xiannian, Li Da and I kept a frontline command post in the mountains, which consisted of perhaps several hundred men*–¥anyway, less than a thousand. We commanded some other columns too. Our principle was to avoid battle and do everything possible to gain a firm foothold. The 6th Column undertook many more tasks than the others, shuttling back and forth in the mountains. Now it moved from west to east, now from east to west. Today it made one trip and tomorrow another. Nobody can recall how many trips it made. All this was intended to keep the enemy on the move and confuse him. The other units, scattered appropriately, stayed relatively quiet and avoided confrontations with the enemy. After two months of this, we reported to the Central Military Commission and Chairman Mao that we had obtained a firm foothold in the Dabie Mountains and accomplished our strategic task. Our main force withdrew north, preparing to fight major battles. The major battles were to be fought there.

Our victory in the Dabie Mountains was mainly due to our accurate assessment of the situation and our correct handling of certain problems. We accomplished our strategic task without too much trouble and without too many casualties. We overcame all sorts of hardships, got a firm foothold and extended the battle line from the Yellow River to the Yangtze. That’s why I say that the Second Field Army shouldered a heavy load in the strategic counteroffensive, or as I like to say, we passed the test. The Second Field Army was weakened by the struggle in the Dabie Mountains. Only the 9th Column under Qin Jiwei maintained its full strength. The other four columns, the main body of the army, was now undermanned and found it hard to get recruits. Of the four columns, three had merely two brigades apiece, and only one had three brigades. It was with these units that we joined in the Huai-Hai Campa

When we prepared to join in the Huai-Hai Campaign, the general situation was excellent. Victories had been won in the Northeast theatre, which greatly encouraged the whole nation. We had also gained a firm foothold in the Northwest. The main forces of the Central Plains, Shanxi-Hebei-Shandong-Henan and East China Field Armies that were operating in the area of the Central Plains stood like the three legs of a tripod. The Huai-Hai Campaign was a joint operation of the Second Field Army and the Third Field Army. As Chairman Mao said, the joint operation of the two armies meant not just a two- or three-fold increase of strength, a quantitative change, but a qualitative change. For the Huai-Hai Campaign, the Central Committee formed a General Front Committee of five members. Three of us were appointed to a Standing Committee, of which I was the Secretary. Chairman Mao said to me, “I give you the power of command.” Chairman Mao himself gave me that power. It was I who was responsible for making the policy decisions and the plans for the Huai-Hai Campaign, in accordance with instructions from the Central Military Commission and Chairman Mao. During the campaign in which we crossed the Yangtze, after our troops broke through the enemy’s defence line along the river, my command post was in the headquarters of the Third Field Army, and Zhang Zhen was the chief of staff. I drew up the plan for that campaign too, which was also known as the Nanjing-Shanghai-Hangzhou Campaign. Before that, of course, we fought a few skirmishes. We never let pass a chance of winning a victory; we did everything we should have done. Later we moved out of the Dabie Mountains and reached western Henan, where we established the enlarged Central Plains Bureau and the Central Plains Military Command.

The Second Field Army was a tightly knit unit, and there was excellent coordination between the higher and lower officers, between the columns and even at the grass-roots level. You may have noticed that from the beginning of the war, every operation was commanded by the heads of the columns, not by Bocheng and me. The Yangshanji battle was commanded by Chen Zaidao. Quite a few battles were commanded by Chen Xilian. Some of the battles at Shuangduiji were commanded by Wang Jinshan and Du Yide and some by Chen Geng, Yang Yong and Su Zhenhua. We never found that our subordinates made any mistakes, and we never had to correct the tactics of any column leader. If we had any different opinions about the way they were commanding an operation or discovered something that could be done better, we would contact them on the telephone. This practice greatly enhanced mutual trust between the higher and lower officers and increased the combat effectiveness of our troops. It also helped stimulate the initiative of the commanders, or in philosophical terms, helped them display their subjective initiative. The leaders trusted their subordinates and vice versa. We had relations of unity and mutual trust from the very beginning of our operations, and those relations gave us immense strength. It was mainly thanks to them that the Second Field Army grew into such a formidable combat force.

No major battles were fought after the Huai-Hai Campaign. After we crossed the Yangtze, no battles could be considered big except for the one fought by the Third Field Army in and around Shanghai. While marching into the Southwest, we fought just one easy battle against Hu Zongnan, and we did not have to fight much against Song Xilian. But we fought a real battle and won a brilliant victory in suppressing the bandits. After we reached the Southwest, the Southwest Bureau summed up the tasks for 1950 in the following figures: 900,000, 900,000, 60 million and 600,000. The first 900,000 referred to the number of Kuomintang officers and men who had revolted, surrendered or been captured. We had to solve the big problem of absorbing them, making arrangements for them and remoulding them through education. The second 900,000 referred to the bandits we had to wipe out. We accomplished that without too much trouble. In general, it was very difficult to fight bandits, but we fought so bravely that we struck fear into their hearts. The 60 million referred to the working masses, who accounted for 90 per cent of the population in the Southwest. We had to arouse them to carry out land reform and emancipate themselves. The 600,000 referred to our own officers and men. We had to help them develop their abilities so that they could undertake new and heavy assignments. All of these four tasks were fulfilled satisfactorily. In the meantime, the 18th Army, which had once been a unit under the Shanxi-Hebei-Shandong-Henan Military Command, was incorporated into the Second Field Army.

That’s the history of the Second Field Army. We shouldered heavy loads and fulfilled our tasks, living up to the expectations of the Party and the people. We suffered great hardships, but we surmounted all our difficulties. I can say that throughout all the battles, there was no unit that failed to do what was expected of it. All the units — even new ones — were able to carry out difficult tasks. All the units performed very well. That’s all I have to say. I have been talking about the past; it is worth remembering.

(A talk with veteran comrades writing the history of the wars fought by the Second Field Army.)