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Marco Polo Bridge Incident

The Marco Polo Bridge Incident was an accidental battle between the Japanese and Chinese armies, opening the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945).

Names

  • "The Marco Polo Bridge Incident" and Battle of Lugou Bridge are the battle's Western name.
  • Well known among the Chinese as:
    • Incident of July 7 (七七事變 pinyin: qi1 qi1 shi4 bian4)
    • Lugouqiao Incident (蘆溝橋事變 lu2 gou1 qiao2 shi4 bian4)
    • July 7 Lugouqiao (七七蘆溝橋 qi1 qi1 lu2 gou1 qiao2)
  • In Japanese:
    • Roko Bridge Matter (盧溝橋事件 Rokokyo-jiken')
    • Roko Bridge Incident (盧溝橋事変 Rokokyo-jihen')

"Lugouqiao" (蘆溝橋 lu2 gou1 qiao2) literally means "Reed-gutter Bridge".

Note: All Chinese personal names are preceded by family names.

Overview
On July 7, 1937, the Japanese Imperial Army attacked the bridge. Despite determined resistance by KMT forces, Japanese army managed to take the bridge and eventually Beijing which was abandoned by KMT.

Historical significance

The battle officially marked large-scale Japanese invasion of China, and is often considered to be the start of the second Sino-Japanese War. With the Japanese victory its Imperial Army could move on to the North China Plain (north of Huang He) without much resistance since their tanks were formidable against the low-tech Chinese armies (KMT and CCP).

Prelude to the Battle

After the Incident of September 18 in 1931, Japan had occupied Manchuria and had created an nominally independent state of Manchukuo with Ai-xin-jue-luo Pu-yi (the last emperor of China) as its sovereign. That state is widely regarded to have been a puppet government with real power concentrated in the hands of the Japanese, which constituted the only significant military forces in Manchuria. Although the Kuomintang and the international community refused to recognize the legality of the Japanese occupation, a truce had been negotiated in 1931.

At the end of 1932, Japanese Guandong Army invaded Chahar Province. (KMT's 29th Army, lead by General Song Zhe Yuan and armed only with spears and obsolete rifles, resisted the aggression, resulting in the War of Resistance at the Great Wall. The province fell to the Japanese after the predictable victory therefore areas to the west of Beijing fell to the Japanese.

In 1933, Japan annexed Rehe Province using the security of Manzhouguo as a pretext. Consequently all areas north of the Great Wall and hence north of Beijing fell to Japan. In 1935, Japan annexed eastern portion of Hebei Province and established yet another puppet government, Eastern Ji Anticommunist Automated Government (冀東防共自治政府 abbreviated as Eastern Ji Automated Government 冀東自治政府). Later that year, Ho Yinqin[?] (何應欽) and Mijiro Umemura[?] (梅津美次郎) signed an agreement, known as the Ho-Umemura Agreement by which the Japanese could deploy troops around Beijing at will. As a result at the start of 1937, areas occupied by Japanese surrounded Beijing at north, west and east.

Japanese installations of various puppet governments were deliberate attempts to annex whole country of China by nibbling. The puppet government at Nanjing with Wang Jingwei as head was another obvious example.

Geography around the bridge and Beijing

Beijing locates on the Yen Mountain[?], which is the only highlands north of the North China Plain.

Lugou Bridge (蘆溝橋 lugouqiao) locates in Fengtai (豐台 feng1 tai2), a suburb area south of Beijing. It is also known as the Marco Polo Bridge[?] because the bridge was believed to be described in the works of Marco Polo.)

4 strategic posts secured Beijing from outside the city.

East of the city: Tongzhou Town (通州鎮)
Northwest: Nankou Town (南口鎮) at Changping Prefecture (昌平縣xian)
South: Fengtai Town (豐台鎮)
Southwest: Lugou Bridge at Wanping Prefecture (宛平縣) where Wanping Town(宛平鎮) was located. The bridge was the choke point of Pinghan Railway (Beijing-Wuhan Railway) and guarded the only passage leading Beijing to KMT-controlled area from the south. Nanwan Town (南宛鎮) located between Wanping town and Beijing.

Before the start of the battle, all the first 3 posts were under Japanese control except the southwest. The west end of the bridge was controlled by the Japanese as the east by KMT. If the bridge fell, the city will be completely cut off and easily captured.

Strategic Appraisal

China: At this time of the war, the Chinese armies (KMT and CCP) were mostly infantry equipped with rifles, spears and sabers. Some soldiers were recruited from peasants and local gangsters, thus well under trained and equipped compared to the Japanese Imperial Army. Outnumbering the enemy and exploiting the battlefield landscape to their advantages had been their only ways to defeat the enemy.

Japan: Subduing the cities guaranteed the fall of the north of Huang He portion of the North China Plain since the Japanese mechanized divisions were formidable against the Chinese armies which had virtually no aircrafts and any anti-tank weaponry.

Troops information and Notable Figures from both sides

Figures

The 29th Army, composed mostly of Feng yu xiang[?]'s forces and infantries, secured the cities of Beijing and Tianjin and the Hebei Province.

KMT forces
Personal Names [abbreviations hereafter] Military Post(s) Non-Military Post(s)
General Song Zheyuan [Song] Commander of 29th Army Chairman of the Hebei Legislative Committee (same as a provincial parliament), Head of the Beijing Securities (similar to police)
General Qin Dechun[?] (秦德純 qin2 de2 chun2) [Qin] Vice Commander of 29th Army Mayor of Beijing
General Liu Ruming (劉汝明 liu2 ru3 ming2) [Liu] Commander of 143th Division Chairman of Chahar Province
General Feng Zhian (馮治安 feng2 zhi4 an1) [Feng] Commander of 37th Division Chairman of Hebei Province
General Zhao Dengru (趙登汝 zhao4 deng1 ru3) [Zhao] Commander of 132th Division N/A
General Zhang Zizhong (張自忠 zhang1 zi4 zhong1) [Zhang] commander of 38th Division Mayor of Tianjin
Colonel Ji Xingwen (吉星文 ji2 xing1 wen2) [Ji] commander of 219th regiment, under 110th brigade of 37th Division N/A

The Japanese Guandong Army at the region was a combination of infantry, tanks, mechanized forces, artilleries and cavalries.

Japanese Forces
Personal Names [abbreviations hereafter] Military Post(s) Composition of the corresponding units
Matsui Taisa = Colonel Matsui (松(matsu) 井(i) 大(tai) 佐(sa)) [Matsui] commander of 117th? Battalion of Guandong Army and troops around Beijing and Tianjin Infantry
? Taii = Captain ? [?] commander of 221th? Mechanized Squadron some tanks and mostly armoured vehicles
? Taii [?] commander of 3(7?)th Battery Artillery with few infantries
? Taii [?] commander of 6(8?)th Squadron Cavalry

Deployment

Phase I

KMT forces
Units Locations of headquarters Strength in number of soldiers Deployments or Duties
29th Army Beijing around 10000 Hebei Province
143th Division Beijing just below 3000 Beijing
37th Division Beijing just below 3000 south of Beijing
132th Division Beijing several thousands between Beijing and Tianjin
38th Division Tianjin several thousands Tianjin
219th regiment, under 110th brigade of 37th Division Wanping Town around 400 of the 3000 deployed right in front of the Japanese for security of the bridge

Japanese Forces
Units Locations of headquarters Strength in number of soldiers Deployments or Duties
117th? Battalion ? around 400 west of Lugou bridge
221th? Mechanized Squadron same as 117th around 400 West of Lugou bridge
3(7?)th Battery Nankou Town around 400 Nankou Town
6(8?)th Squadron Tongzhou Town around 400 Tongzhou Town

Phase II

KMT forces
same as Phase I except 132th was moved to garrison Nanwan Town that is between Wanping Town and Beijing.

Japanese Forces
3(2?)th Division of Guandong Army from Chahar Province and 15(9?)th Division from Manchuria and troops from Phase I were all commanded by General Hashimoto (橋本大将). Strength of Japanese Army sharply increased from around 1000 to around 3000. 34th(?) Army of Guandong army was on its way from Manchuria and Korea.

Course of the Battle

Phase I

Beginning late June 1937, the Japanese army (several hundreds) deployed at the west end of the bridge was practising while Kuomintang forces, garrisoned in Wanping Town, watched closely. At dawn of July 7, the Japanese army telegraphed the KMT forces saying that a soldier was missing and believed to be hiding inside the town. The Japanese demanded that its army should enter the town to search for the missing soldier, who was later found unharmed. There are some disputes among historians over the incident with some historians believing that this was an unintentional accident while others believing that the entire incident was fabricated by the Kwantung Army in order to provide a pretext for the invasion of central China.

Colonel Ji denied the request backed by his superior, General Song. In the evening of July 7, Matsui gave Ji an ultimatum that KMT troops must let Japanese troops enter the town within the next hour or the town will be fired. THe Japanese artillery had already aimed at the town when the ultimatum was sent. At midnight July 8, Japanese artillery units started bombarding the town while the infantry with tanks matched across the bridge at dawn. With order from Song, Ji led the KMT forces of about 1000 to defend at all cost. The Japanese army partially overran the bridge and vicinity in the afternoon. KMT forces, after reinforcement from nearby units, outnumbered the Japanese and retook it completely next day. Japanese army then halted the attack and offered negotiation, marking the end of Phase I. Nevertheless Japanese army still concentrated at the west end of the bridge.

Phase II

During the meeting of all senior KMT officers of the 24th Army in Beijing on July 12, Qin insisted that KMT forces must remain defending and resisted any temptation of negotiating with the Japanese whom he did not trust. Zhang in turn argued the incident on July 7 could still be settled by negotiation. Song then sent Zhang as KMT representative to Tianjin to meet General Hashimoto, the commander of all Japanese forces around the cities of Beijing and Tianjin and in Chahar and Rehe Provinces.

At the beginning Hashimoto told Zhang that the Japanese hoped the incident on July 7 to be settled peacefully. Zhang was encouraged by his friendly gesture and telegraphed Song that any increased Kuomintang (KMT) forces concentration around Beijing would be viewed as an escalation and angered the Japanese. However Song thought Hashimoto was only buying time since he received various reconnaissance reports indicating increasing accumulation of Japanese forces from Manchuria and Korea around Beijing. As the recent Chinese victory relied on outnumbering the opponent, he transferred Zhao's 132th accompanied by Qin to station at Nanwan Town which was between the bridge and Beijing to keep up the pressure from concentration of Japanese forces. Similar to most KMT and Communist Party of China (CPC), 29th Army was under equipped with only rifles and just enough mortars and heavy machine guns with respect to better armed, trained and commanded Japanese troops whose tanks the Chinese armies still did not have any weapon capable of destroying them.

On July 31(?) (end of the month), Japanese promised not to invade Beijing and Tianjin upon agreement of all following terms:

1) KMT must wipe out all anti-Japanese organizations and halt all anti-Japanese activities inside the cities.
2) KMT must take all responsibilities of the incident on July 7.
3) Song, not any other inferior personnel of 29th Army, must apologize.

Zhang accepted the first term and the commander of the battalion under Ji's command will be relieved as an agreement to the second. However Zhang told Hashimoto that he could not decide on behalf of Song, thus cannot agree on the third term at the time. He then returned to Beijing. Hashimoto also hinted that the Japanese would prefer Zhang as the commander of KMT troops around the city. As soon as Zhang's departure, the Japanese launched full-scale attack on Beijing.

On August 10(?), three days after Zhang heading for the city, the bridge and Wanping Town fell to the Japanese. Nanwan Town fell on next day with both divisions (37th and 132th) shattered. Zhao was mortally wounded on battlefield and Qin retreated with the remnants back to the city. In the evening after the fall of Nanwan Town, Zhang finally arrived (As he had to pass through enemy lines to reach the city.). Several days after, Song relieved himself of all non-military posts and appointed Zhang to take his posts and Mayor of Beijing. Qin and Song then led 29th Army out of the city, which was going to be encircled within hours and left Zhang with virtually no troops. Japanese armies enter the city on August 18 without much resistance and installed Zhang as mayor. However Zhang felt he was betrayed and left the city secretly a week later.

Aftermath

With the fall of Beijing on August 18 and Tianjin on 21st, the North China Plain was helpless against Japanese mechanized divisions who occupied it by the end of the year. Chinese armies (KMT and CPC) were on constant retreat until the hard fought Chinese victory at Tai er zhuang.

There are some disputes among historians over KMT handling of Japanese troops approaching Beijing with some historians believing that Zhang and Song intentionally cooperate secretly with Zhang appointment of non-military posts in Beijing. Song and Qin can then safely retreat from the city to retain the fighting ability of 29th Army. Others believed that the Japanese completely sold Zhang out as the Japanese still invaded the cities even though KMG agreed all terms. Zhang was vilified relentlessly by the Chinese media, some of which (like the Shanghai media) reviled him as the traitor of the country. Upon arrival at Nanjing he apologized publicly. Since he later died fighting against the Japanese, KMT pardoned Zhang's activities in Beijing.

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