Weaponry in the Chinese Civil War


The Gongchen tank displayed at the Beijing Military Museum. The Gongchen is the Chinese designation of a Japanese-built Type 97 Chi-Ha tank used within the People’s Liberation Army with locally made modifications. It is the first tank ever used by the PLA, and saw service during the Chinese Civil War against the National Revolutionary Army.

During the Civil War the Nationalists were armed with a mixture of small arms with ex-Japanese, US-supplied and pre-1945 weapons used. Throughout the four years of the war they continued to use many of the rifles, sub-machine guns and machine guns left over from the 1937-45 period. As the war progressed they received more and more US weapons, such as the P-17 rifle, the M-2 carbine, the Johnson semi-automatic rifle and the M-3 `Grease Gun’ sub-machine gun. However, Mauser rifles in 7.92mm calibre – originally imported from every possible producing nation in the 1930s – were still the main rifle in Nationalist forces. Machine guns were a mixture of modern Bren and ZB-26 light machine guns and home-produced Type 24 copies of the old water-cooled machine gun. Artillery was made up of US-supplied 75mm, 105mm and 155mm field guns which were still in first-line service with the United States Army in 1945 and older ex-Japanese types. Japanese medium and heavy artillery pieces captured in 1945 were still in service along with a few pre-1945 guns from Germany and other European nations.

The Nationalists had a large number and a variety of types of armoured vehicles in service during the civil war but they were often poorly used by the army. Nationalist tanks included US-supplied M3A3 and M5 Stuart light tanks and about 300 ex-Japanese light and medium tanks. Other types in service included the pre-1945 Nationalist Army’s Soviet-supplied T-26 light tank which also saw service with the Communists. Some T-26s even survived the Civil War and were shipped to Taiwan when the Nationalists withdrew from the mainland in 1949. According to some sources the three organized armoured regiments had a mixture of armoured vehicles with the 1st Regiment having mainly army-surplus M3A3 light tanks and some T-26s. The 2nd Regiment was equipped with T-26s and even a handful of Italian CV-33/35 tankettes which were already obsolete when they were supplied in the mid-1930s. Finally the 3rd Regiment, which was based in Peking, had predominately captured Japanese Type 95 and Type 97 tanks. Because of the poor serviceability of these worn-out tanks they were never used in battle and were captured by the PLA when they took the city in January 1949. Chiang Kai-shek’s adopted son Chiang Ching-kuo was in command of a brigade of M5 Stuarts which took part in the decisive Huai-Hai Campaign in 1948-49. The main types of armoured car in service with the Nationalists were locally produced in government workshops. Built on truck chassis they had metal plate added and were armed usually with machine guns or light cannon. At least four models of these improvised armoured cars were manufactured and several hundred were in service with many ending up in Communist hands by 1949. Other types in service included the usual handful of survivors from the pre-1937 army as well as White Scout cars supplied by the USA in the early 1940s.

During the course of the Civil War a number of attempts were made by the desperate Nationalists to purchase more armoured vehicles. These included an order in 1949 for 200 war-surplus M6 Staghound armoured cars and 200 Daimler scout cars from the UK which were due to be scrapped. Another deal in 1949 involved the purchase of 85 unarmed M4 Sherman medium tanks from British Army surplus stocks also. This private venture would have involved shipping the `scrap’ tanks from Britain to the USA for re-fitting and then onto China. As far as is known, none of the British armoured vehicles reached China before the end of the Civil War, but some may well have found themselves in Taiwan after 1950.

In 1949 the Communists claimed to have received 300,000 rifles and 4,800 machine guns from the Soviets in August 1945, plus heavier equipment including 2,300 trucks, 1,200 artillery pieces of various types and 360 ex-Japanese tanks. Other reports state that at first they were given only limited access to the huge stockpiles of arms captured by the Soviet Army in Manchuria. Arms that were transferred from the Soviet depots from late 1945 until mid-1947 were effectively rationed and sent to the Chinese in instalments. Whatever the truth, they did receive enough small arms to allow a vast expansion of their forces after 1945. This large windfall for the Communists allowed Lin Piao to rapidly expand his 20,000-strong army to 80,000 men. He also formed the first Communist Armoured Corps with 70 ex-Japanese tanks, mainly light vehicles which were often driven by their former Japanese crews.

New recruits for his army came from various sources and included ex-puppet troops, ex-prisoners of war and a number of Korean exiles. Communist arsenals had begun to produce some small arms during the 1937-45 period but these were insufficient to arm the large number of new volunteers for the PLA. Other arms came from captured Nationalist and Japanese sources but again these were too few to equip the Communists. During the first year of the civil war, when the Communists were on the defensive, nearly all the arms they used were ex-Japanese. From 1947 onwards, as the Communists won more victories, the vast majority of arms were captured from the Nationalists in battle. Other smaller quantities of Nationalist arms were sold to the Communists by corrupt government officials. Some were simply stolen from Nationalist arms depots or were captured in ambushes which were specifically aimed at obtaining arms. An arms embargo was placed on Nationalist China in 1946 by the US as attempts were made to force a peace agreement with the Communists. When this embargo was lifted in May 1947 large amounts of arms were immediately shipped to them. Unfortunately for the Nationalists the vast majority of these armaments soon ended up in the hands of the Communists. In May 1947 alone the Communists captured 20,000 Nationalist rifles, and in September 1948 they captured 50,000 rifles stored in ammunition dumps. During the last four months of 1948 the Nationalists re-captured 140,000 recently supplied US rifles and carbines but it was simply too late.

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