The Battle of Yijiangshan Islands (simplified Chinese: 一江山岛战役; traditional Chinese: 一江山島戰役) was a conflict between forces of the National Revolutionary Army (NRA) of the Republic of China and the People's Liberation Army (PLA) of the People's Republic of China, over one of the last strongholds of Nationalist (ROC) forces near mainland China on the Yijiangshan Islands. The conflict occurred from January 18 to January 20, 1955 during the First Taiwan Strait Crisis, and resulted in a PLA victory and the complete destruction of the ROC garrison.
The Yijiangshan Islands consist of two islands, the Northern Yijang (Chinese: 北一江) Island and the Southern Yijiang (Chinese: 南一江) Island, and the region is approximately 1.2 square kilometers (0.46 square miles) in area. Due to its strategic location near the coast of Zhejiang, it had become a forward base for the Nationalist defense of Chinese coastal islands centered on Dachen Island, as well as a base for launching guerrilla attacks on mainland China.
The Nationalist defense force consisted of the following units and totaled more than 1000:
Yijiangshan Regional Headquarters
- The 2nd Assault Group
- The 4th Assault Group
- The 4th Assault Squadron
- One artillery squadron
In addition, the Nationalist defenders could call up the air and naval support when needed.
The Communist attackers totaled more than 5,000, with the landing force totaling one regiment and one battalion from the following units:
- The 178th regiment of the 60th Division of the 20th Army
- The 180th regiment of the 60th Division of the 20th Army
- 137 naval vessels, (including more than 70 landing vessels, and more than 40 escort vessels).
- 184 aircraft from a total of 22 groups, 7 artillery battalions, and 2 anti-aircraft artillery regiments assigned to support the landing force.
In addition, over 30,000 civilians and three dozen civilian ships were mobilized for logistic support.
When the fight began on January 18, 1955, the Nationalist air force and navy did not participate due to overwhelming Communist firepower. The battle started at 08:00 with People's Liberation Army (PLA) bombers from three groups and ground attack aircraft from 2 groups bombing and strafing the islands. At the same time, bombers from another group and ground attack aircraft from the second group began bombing and strafing the Dachen Islands as a diversion. At 09:00, 50 long range artillery pieces shelled the Yijiangshan Islands.
Around noon, 70+ naval vessels carrying the landing force sailed from Gaodao (Chinese: 高岛), Queerao (Chinese: 雀儿岙), Toumenshan Island (Chinese: 头门山岛) in three formations in two waves, with more than 40 escort vessels. 2 hours later, the 10 specially converted naval vessels with rocket launchers bombarded Yijiangshan island in conjunction with bombers from 3 groups and 1 squadron, ground attack aircraft from 2 groups, before landing on 20 landing spots. However, the defenders took advantage of their fortifications and severely disrupted the attackers’ formation after their successful landing. As a result, most of the Communist casualties suffered during the battle were at this initial stage.
The Communists immediately called for fire support after they met with fierce enemy fire, and PLA aircraft responded by attacking enemy positions at extremely low altitude. With the first line of defence was quickly overpowered by flamethrowers, bombs, and artillery, the PLA gained ground rapidly. Most of the PLA casualties (as many as 200 dead and 400 wounded) resulted from attacks on two machine gun nests. Air strikes and massive artillery bombardments eventually knocked out these two positions. As the demoralized defenders retreated into their tunnels, the attackers changed their tactics by fighting in small groups, and using recoilless rifles and flamethrowers to gradually torch the NRA soldiers to death, including the tunnel complex of the Nationalist 4th Assault Group—the largest on the island.
By 17:30, the battle on the islands subsided with the PLA having taken 95 hills over 132 meters, and the decimation of the NRA defenders was almost complete with 567 killed (mostly burned by the flamethrowers) and 519 captured alive according to the often exaggerated PRC source; or 712 soldiers and 12 nurses died in the line of duty according to the Taiwan source. The Communist forces were then ordered to assume a defensive posture for the next day, to prepare for a possible Nationalist counterattack that never materialized. Wang Shen-Ming (Chinese: 王生民), the NRA commander was on the phone mentioned he was 50 yards (45 meters) from the approaching Communists. He committed suicide with a hand grenade, ended all the communication and resistance at his 121 hill cave headquarter. Also on the January 19, the Communist force begun their shelling on Dachen Archipelago about 13,2 kilometers (8.12 miles) away, but these actions were still originally intended to prevent possible counterattacks. Finally, on January 20, 1955, the islands were formally declared to be firmly in Communist hands.
The scale of the battle was minute, and the most important gain of the PLA was demoralizing the NRA will power to continue holding on to some of the islets difficult to defend. The Nationalists became aware that the logistics to send support from Taiwan Island was difficult with its antiquated air force and a lack of strong Navy. The Nationalist lost a destroyer, named Taiping. The Korean War by then was over. The PLA had ample military resources including MiG jets, and warships focused on wiping out anti-Communist resistance. This was the prelude to the eventual abandonment of Dachen island with the United States urging Taiwan not to spread too thin. According to Taiwan sources, the troops garrison consists of mostly former fishermen/pirates and civil war refugees. Some of the casualties were female interns from a Political Warfare College.
There are a number of shrines, roads, and even a restaurant today to commemorate the Nationalist resistance on Taiwan. The 18,000 refugees, soldiers and their decedents consider themselves to be fortunate to have relocated to Taiwan.
At any rate, over 500 bombs and 50,000 shells were fired over two little rocky islets. PLA launched an amphibious assault with 182 aircraft, bombers, long distance artilleries. Over 5,000 troops were landed with the mobilization of 30,000 civilians. It was considered an example of PRC's modern warfare.
The government of the Republic of China reported that all 720 NRA troops died, while killing more than 3,000 enemy soldiers. This assertion was proven false in 2011, when a prisoner of war from the battle, Chen Hsiao-pin, visited Taiwan. The People's Republic of China reported that the PLA killed 519 and captured 567 NRA troops. The PLA lost 393 troops.
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