Hainan Island Campaign in 1950, as a part of the Chinese Civil War
The Landing Operation on Hainan Island (Chinese: 海南岛登陆战役; pinyin: Hǎinándǎo Dēnglù Zhànyì), also known as the Battle of Hainan Island (海南岛战役) or the Hainan Campaign (海南战役) for short, was a series of battles fought between the Kuomintang (Nationalists) (National Revolutionary Army, NRA) and the People's Liberation Army (PLA) for the island of Hainan during the resumption of the Chinese Civil War in the post-World War II period, and resulted in a Communist victory.
The Nationalist strategy was simple: defend the island of Hainan by fending off the imminent Communist attack. The Nationalists formed the General Headquarters of Hainan Defense and Xue Yue was named as commander-in-chief. Five armies and two divisions, a naval fleet totaling more than four dozen warships, a marine regiment, and four groups of the air force with forty-five aircraft of various kinds were assigned to defend the island, and a 3-D defense was established. The Nationalist 32nd Army was assigned to guard the eastern portion of the island, the Nationalist Temporarily Organized 13th Division, the Training Division, and the 62nd Army were assigned to guard the northern part of the island, the Nationalist 4th and 64th Armies were assigned to guard the western part of the island, the Nationalist 63rd Army was assigned to guard the southern part of the island. Nationalist 3rd fleet and air force units were tasked to patrol the waters and prevent the enemy from approaching the island. Like his troops, Xue was confident they could hold the island, and he named the defensive setup after his courtesy name: the Boling Defensive Line (Chinese: 伯陵防线).
People's Liberation Army preparing to cross the Qiongzhou Strait in 1950
The Communist high command, the central military committee of the Communist Party of China, directed the Fourth Field Army to be very careful in planning the takeover of the island, which would be best completed in the spring and summer of 1950. The XV Corps of the Fourth Field Army – headed by its commander-in-chief Deng Hua and political commissar Lai Chuanzhu – had a strength of more than 100,000 troops, and was deployed to the Leizhou Peninsula and adjacent coastal regions. The 40th and 43rd Armies of the XV Corps were tasked as the vanguard of the campaign to take the island in December, 1949. The Communists mobilized a total of 2,130 junks and over 4,000 civilian sailors for their cause, and the 15,000 man Qiongya Column (琼崖纵队) on the island itself was ordered to fight a campaign against the Nationalist island garrison in order to tie them down, which would result in insufficient resistance on the beachheads when the actual landing took place.
On 1 February 1950, Ye Jianying, commander-in-chief and political commissar of the Guangdong Military Region, held a conference at Guangzhou with the officers of the XV Corps of the IV Field Army. It was decided at the conference that small-scale landings would be conducted first to probe the weakness of the island's defense, and to strengthen the Qiongya Column on the island in coordination with the landing forces.
Order of battle
Location of Hainan island with respect to mainland Asia.
Nationalist Revolutionary Army:
- Ground Forces
- 4th Army
- 32nd Army
- 62nd Army
- 63rd Army
- 64th Army
- A marine regiment
- Temporarily Organized 13th Division
- Training Division
- Naval Forces
- Air Forces
- 4 air force groups (45 aircraft)
Peoples Liberation Army:
- Landing Forces
- Naval Forces
- Resistance Forces
To strengthen the island's defense, the nationalist troops on the island were devoted to eradication campaigns against the Qiongya Column on the island, which severely weakened the coastal defense on both the eastern and western flanks. The PLA exploited this opportunity by launching small scale landings to probe and infiltrate the coastal defenses. The two selected landing spots were the region of White Horse Well (Baimajing, 白马井) in the northwest and Red Water Port (Chishui, 赤水) in the northeast. At 7:00 PM on 5 March 1950, a regimental sized battalion, totalling over eight hundred troops from the 118th Division of the communist 40th Army in a total of thirteen junks, sailed from Cape Lighthouse (Dengloujiao, 灯楼角) at the southwestern tip of the Leizhou Peninsula, under the cover of darkness.
Several junks of one company made the same navigational error and landed directly on the beach where the nationalist coastal defenses were the strongest, and most of them were killed while the survivors committed suicide by blowing themselves up with grenades. However, this mistake produced an unexpected benefit for the attackers by making the defenders erroneously believe this would be the main spot of future landings. The NRA redeployed their forces to boost its defenses, leaving other places vulnerable. At 2:00 PM on 6 March 1950, the bulk of the landing force successfully landed in the region of Chaotouxu (超头圩), to the south of the region of White Horse Well, linked up with the 9th Regiment of the 1st Division of the Qiongya Column. A regimental sized battalion, totalling over a thousand troops from the 128th Division and the 43rd Division sailed at 1:00 PM on 10 March 1950 in twenty-one junks from Naozhou Island located to the southeast of Zhanjiang. After more than twenty hours and a hundred and ten nautical miles, these forces successfully landed in the region stretched from Red River Port to Copper Drum Ridge (Tongguling, 铜鼓岭) at 9:00 AM the next day.
The high command of the XV Corps ordered its 40th and 43rd Army to organize further small scale channel crossings. On 26 March 1950, four regimental-sized battalions (over three thousand troops of the 118th Division and the 40th Army) sailed in eighty-one junks from Cape Lighthouse at 7:00 PM. Although the distance was only twenty-two nautical miles, the landing force failed to reach their destination on time due to changes in the tide and wind. It was not until 8:00 AM the next day that the scattered landing force landed in a 20 km stretch region centered at Yubao Port (玉包). In spite of that, the 1st Division reached the area in time and linked up with the landing forces. On 21 March 1950, four regimental sized battalions from the 127th Division of the communist 43rd Army (more than thirty-seven hundred troops in eighty-eight junks) sailed at 10:00 PM from Boshe Port (博赊) at the southeastern side of the Leizhou Peninsula, and after sailing around twenty-two nautical miles, successfully landed at Beichuang Port (北创) at 5:00 AM the next day. They linked up with an independent regiment and the 11th Regiment of the Qiongya Column.
On 10 April 1950, the XC Corps high command launched an amphibious landing in two waves in northern Hainan.
The first wave consisted of the main force, was aimed east and west, and included eight brigade-sized regiments: two from the 43rd Army and six from the 40th Army. They left the Leizhou Peninsula in three hundred fifty junks at 7.30 PM on 16 April 1950. The second wave consisted of five brigade-sized regiments of the communist 43rd Army. Units of the 40th Army that landed earlier and the 1st Division of the Qiongya Column would strike the Nationalist coastal defenses to the north of Lingao, while the 3rd Division of the Qiongya Column and units of the 43rd Army would strike the defenses in the Fortune Mountain (Fushan, 福山) region of Chengmai County to complement the landing forces in the east and west. The NRA did not detect the departure of the enemy forces until hours after the enemy fleets left port, which prevented their navy from intercepting the crossing PLA troops in time.
During the crossing, the escort fleet of the 40th Army discovered that the Nationalist 3rd Fleet, with the destroyer "Eternal Peace" (太平號, Taipinghao) as its flagship, was approaching the Communist landing forces from behind, in an attempt to intercept the fleet. The escort fleet, consisting of armed junks, immediately took action and outflanked the pursuing flotilla.
The NRA had gravely underestimated their enemy and did not expect the approaching junks to be armed, mistaking them for troop and cargo carriers. The Nationalist fleet attempted to capture them, which allowed the Communist junks to close the distance between them, at which point they fired their hidden mountain guns. Firing at close range and with the Nationalist ships unable to depress their guns low enough in time to fire back, the junks' gunners badly damaged the enemy flagship early during the engagement and forced it to retreat.
The remaining nationalist ships continued to fight, but their efforts were largely ineffective. Not only were they hindered by the loss of their flagship, but in their haste to prepare for the defense of the island, they had also failed to change the ammunition of the warships. Most of the armor-piercing and semi armor-piercing ordinance, designed to be used against armored ships and fortified bunkers, failed to detonate when hitting the wooden junks and simply flew through them. Coupled with the fact that their guns could not be depressed low enough to hit the enemy ships at such close range, this rendered the nationalist navy's guns nearly useless throughout the engagement.
As a result, the PLA was able to advance on the island, and despite the fact that all of the armed junks and the rest of the escort fleet were badly damaged, none of the junks had actually been sunk. In contrast, the numerically superior mountain guns had inflicted considerable damage to the nationalist fleet.
Although the nationalists were unable to halt the communist transports, they could not back away, seeing as they were already behind the enemy landing forces. Leaving their position would leave the defenders on the beaches, who were being attacked on both sides, without fire support. They decided to stay and mingle with the enemy escort fleet, in an attempt to provide support against the landing troops, but were forced to withdraw after several hours of fierce and chaotic battle, during which two more warships were forced to retreat.
As a last resort, they tried to sink the communist fleet holding the second wave of attack, but by that time, the bulk of the PLA forces had already landed.
Exploiting their enemy's dilemma to the fullest, the PLA kept intense pressure on the defenders at their beachhead.
By 3.00 AM on 17 April 1950, the NRA defenders on both the eastern and western flanks of Cape Lingao collapsed under the combined pressure of the landing forces, the Qiongya Column and the units that had landed earlier.
As more troops landed, a firm beachhead was established and advanced inland. Within the next two days, several regions, including Lingao, Fortune Mountain, Meitai (美台) and Jialai (加来) fell into communist hands.
On 20 April 1950, Xue Yue ordered the nationalist 32nd and 62nd Army to attack the PLA beachhead at Meiting (美亭) with six divisions.
This counterattack left other areas weakly defended, which were promptly attacked by the second wave of the PLA's landing forces.
Once the communist forces became strong enough, they attacked the bulk of the counterattacking nationalist forces and eventually annihilated them in the regions of Yellow Bamboo (Huangzhu, 黄竹) and Meiting. The 127th and 128th Divisions of the 43rd Army were ordered to hold Chengmai, along with seven regiments of the 40th Army.
Other communist landing forces were led by the 3rd Division of the Qiongya Column in an effort to surround the nationalist 32nd and 62nd Armies, along with the Temporarily Organized 13th Division and the Training Division, who were attacking the 128th Division of the communist 43rd Army. A fierce battle ensued, resulting in the complete destruction of the nationalist 32nd Army and leaving all other nationalist units badly mauled.
Realizing the situation was hopeless, Xue Yue withdrew his remaining troops southward and retreated to Taiwan. The commander-in-chief and his staff were airlifted to Taiwan in a cargo airplane escorted by two fighters.
People celebrating the communists' victory in Haikou on May 1, 1950.
On 23 April 1950, Haikou fell. In the early morning of 24 April 1950, the second wave of the communist landing forces arrived at Tianwei and joined their comrades in pursuit of the retreating nationalists on three fronts. The communist eastern front consisted of the 119th and 120th Divisions of the 40th Army, the 128th Division of the 43rd Army, the 3rd Division and the Independent Regiment of the Qiongya Column who all advanced with the objective of capturing regions including Jiaji, Wanning and Lingshui in Haikou and Wenchang. The communist central front consisted of the 127th and 129th Division of the 43rd Army, and the objective was to capture the regions of Beili (北黎) and Basuo (八所) in Chengmai. The communist western front consisted of the 118th Division of the 40th Army and units of the 43rd Army, which pursued the nationalist troops that were retreating westward.
By 30 April 1950, Yulin (榆林) and Sanya at the eastern front fell. By 1 May 1950, Beili and Basuo fell into the hands of the communist 43rd Army and the 1st Division of the Qiongya Column. A regiment of the 90th Division and the 286th Division of the nationalist 4th Army were completely destroyed while covering the retreat of other nationalist units in the last battle of the campaign. The communists achieved complete victory at the end.
The communists achieved victory in Hainan despite having little experience in amphibious warfare and the PLA was able to restore the morale after similar unsuccessful attacks at Kinmen and Dengbu in 1949. Communist casualties totaled 4,500 while nationalist losses are estimated around 33,000. The remainder of the nationalist troops retreated to Taiwan.
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