Across the Marco Polo Bridge

Tokyo, Japan, 1936

Chapter One: Gekokujo

On the afternoon of the 25th of February, the sky over the capital city of the Yamato Throne was dark, masking the thick blanket of snow that covered the streets and rooftops. The city looked just as much western as oriental under the mask: A few hundred yards from the traditional Imperial Palace was the four-story concrete structure holding the Imperial Household Ministry, and just outside the old stone walls was a long line of modern buildings, the Imperial Theatre and the Dai Ichi Building as modern as anything in New York. Next to the Palace was the Diet Building, still under construction. Beyond it in turn were the spacious dwellings of important officials; the Prime Minister's in particular seemed an odd melange of Frank Lloyd Wright and traditional Oriental. But just blocks away were rows geisha houses, sushi stands, and little shops lit by brightly coloured paper lamps.

The city seemed at peace, with revellers looking for amusement or pleasure out as they always were, navigating their way through the snow of the city. Ginza avenue was already teeming, its modern pleasures in contrast to the traditional red lamps that the police patrolling it carried, gishas in traditional costume riding in rickshaws just a few blocks away down streets where the west might never have existed. The police were nearly as relaxed as the revellers; with the record snowfall, crime in the city had taken a dip. Appearences were, however, deceptive; as they often were in the orient. Boiling beneath the surface of the revellers' joy was an impending revolt.

At one end of the Palace grounds were the barracks of the 1st Gem Division. The pampered elite of the Army, filled with the best young officers and men--and in theory the most reliable. They guarded the Emperor and in theory were the bulwark of the regime. But dissent had spread in them on their learning of orders to ship out for Manchuria. As with any such elite guard unit that was not properly handled, their contempt and their distaste for the orders had quickly spread. Many of the officers were members of the political faction which had argued against further intervention in Manchuria. Most of the men simply didn't want to go.

Their contempt was not secret: One unit of the division had just a few days prior urinated in unison at the police headquarters. But the kempeitai and Tokyo police assumed they had a handle on any possible revolutionary consequences of the revolt. They were wrong. 1400 officers and men were planning to act that night. They were going to commit gekokujo--'insubordination', a mild euphenism from the fifteenth century age of crisis in Japan to refer to what had become an effectively legitimized criminal action.

Movements towards westernization and democracy contrasted with the inexperience of Japan at such concepts; countless scandals and charges of bribery and corruption regularly brought fist-fights to the floor of the Diet. The officers thought themselves motivated by very humanitarian or at least enlightened principles, but they were not democratic. Matched against democratic movements were the populist-nationalist organizations, the strongest under Kita Ikki. His tract, A General Outline of Measures for the Reconstruction of Japan was devoured by radicals and supporters of the Emperor alike; it combined a mishmash of socialism and imperialism and spoke out against Japanese imitation of the West.

He called for the cultivation of the traditional Japanese spirit, limitation of wealth to about $500,000 an individual, "removing the barriers between nationa and Emperor" (a euphenism for abolishing the cabinet and Diet), restricting voting to the heads of families, nationalization of industries, and restricting women to the activities of the home. His theories swept through the Japanese youth, groaning under the yoke of casual oligarchy and the extreme poverty of the lower classes. They took root, and spread. The goal of revitalizing Japan by the power of the spirit and liberating Asia from "Western and Christian domination" was bandied about until the euphenism nearly became the truth.

Japan's history on the Asian continent in the past fifty years was a tangled one. They had entered Korea on the invitation of the King of Korea when the Tai'ping Dynasty had tried to impose their brand of Christianity on the local Confucian populace. The bloody Sino-Japanese War of 1895 had led to the annexation of Korea and Formosa; additional concessions, however, had been stalled by the blocking efforts of Russia, America, and Britain, who had forbidden Japan from annexing the Shenyang Penninsula, which Russia then took over itself. Thanks to the feckless Emperor Nicholas II the stage was set for another round of bloody conflict over control of the region in the Russo-Japanese war.

The Japanese had won, in part thanks to their increasing technological exchanges with the Domination of Draka. They had annexed the Liaodong penninsula and gained control of the railroads in Manchuria. The war had left them badly in debt, however, and that resulted in a deepening relationship with the Draka as their economy recovered. Hard cash from the Domination and raw materials combined with the rapidly advancing Japanese mass production techniques, which were far more efficient and produced far higher-quality equipment than that which the slave-operated factories of Drakia could hope for.

Then came World War One. Japanese and Draka military personnel had cooperated on several fronts as the Draka launched their greatest wave of expansion yet and the Empire of Japan had gained the Shandong peninsula and numerous pacific islands as the spoils of their combat against Germany. The Japanese Empire now stretched from the Kuriles to New Guinea. The Japanese had been impressed in the conflict by their Drakan allies, their stern regimented discipline and rigid class distinctions. The Draka had found the Japanese, with their equally rigid class distinctions, absolute racial purity, and vicious military bearing, an acceptable race even by their impossible standards.

From 1905 on the Japanese had been effectively in control of Manchuria, niceties aside. The Japanese government had poured money into developing the region and clearing it of bandits and dangers to foreigners, and colonists had flooded into the sparsely populated but mineral-rich region. In 1931 two military officers, Ishihara Kanji and Itagaki Seishiro, had acted to end the poverty of the Japanese people and start the path towards an equal and strong Japan with a reverent populace under the Emperor. Itagaki had written:

"Manchuria is, of course, important from the point of view of Japanese capitalism. From the standpoint of the Proletariat, which finds it necessary to demand the equalization of national wealth, no fundamental solution can be found within the boundaries of naturally poor Japan that will ensure a livelihood for the people at large." With the euphenisms wiped away it meant that the Japanese people would prosper equally courtesy of the labour of enslaved foreign lands. Seven hundred million Asians waited to be liberated from the Imperialism of France and Britain and the deviant Christianity of the Tai'pings to find their Heaven-mandated role as the servants of the Japanese master race.

By 18 September of that year the Kwantung Army was virtually their private force. A general sent from Japan to restore order was diverted in a geisha house as the two colonies acted. Bombs set by the Japanese provided their pretext for the full takeover of Manchuria. If the general had heard the gunfire that followed, he did not care; for he already knew about the plot, and approved of it. By morning Mukden was in Japanese hands and their control of the railroads rapidly allowed them to seize the whole region of Manchuria. The Army General Staff ordered the Kwantung Army to limit the spread of hostilities, mindful of the developing relationship between Taiping China and Krasnov's Soviet Union. The Kwantung Army ignored the order and continued to expand hostilities. It was gekokujo on a tremendous scale.

The abortive Brocade Flag Revolution of the Cherry Society in Japan that followed was, however, broken up. But the plot resulted in only two arrests and a few reprimands; the War Minister was reduced to limp acquiesence over the annexation. Everyone claimed to be acting in the best interests of Japan, and success forgave 'insubordination'. The government continued, but Manchuria was now Japanese. The abortive revolution assured the success of the venture. Following 1931 there was a series of incidents: the assasination of the Finance Minister, the abortive 15/5 Incident, on and on. The public was on the side of the revolutionaries and little was done because of it.

By now the revolutionaries who had supported the 1931 Incident were split into two factions. The Control Clique believed it was necessary to conquer all of China and most of the East Indies to guarantee Japan's prosperity, and security from Communism. They were in many ways inspired by the Draka's nearly unstoppable line of conquests. The Imperial Way Clique, mainly Kita followers, were convinced that an industrialized Manchuria would be sufficient. The younger idealistic officers belonged to the latter faction, and these were the people who acted on that night against the intentions of the Control Clique.

It was four AM in the morning on 26 February when Captain Koda Kiyosada and the other rebel leaders roused their men. He was contemplative as he went about waking them up in the pre-dawn hours, the big snowflakes drifting down outside as if in the Fourty-Seven Ronin. The men knew nothing of the plot; they had not been told and believed it another night manoeuvre. But now they were going to act, and Captain Koda expected to die. He quietly murmured to one of the more trusted enlisted men, "there will be killing tonight" as he inspected them. Koda's men were going to be seizing the War Minister's office if all went according to plan.

Other groups of men were also leaving towards their assigned targets. Led by a Lieutenant Kurihara, one group was tasked with assasinating the Prime Minister. Other groups would assasinate the Finance Minister, Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal, Grand Chamberlain, and Inspector General of Military Education. Further groups were tasked with operations outside the city: Count Makino Nobuaki and Prince Saionji Kinmochi, the later shockingly the last of the surviving genro. But it was understood as necessary to stop the deadly path upon which Japan was set. Captain Koda's group would be tasked with delivering the demands and forcing the Army leadership to their course.

Lieutenant Kuihara's men had the easiest time. There was a kempei with them, sympathetic to their cause. When he reached the front gate he simply ordered "open the gate, quick!" The other kempei guarding the gate, seeing a comrade, obeyed. Lieutenant Kuihara personally rushed up and disarmed him; the kempei moved on to the other guard--who was outright sleeping--and disarmed him also before he could awaken. With the gates open and the other guards unalerted, Kuihara and the other officers went in first. It seemed almost childishly simple. Padding across snow-covered ground they reached the doors to the Prime Minister's residence and entered.

Kuihara snapped on the hall light for a moment to get his bearings, then turned it off again. Suddenly the peace of the night was interrupted by a stacco burst of deafening gunfire. Kuihara and the other officers hit the ground, shouting for their men to come forward. The rebels advanced, supported by several heavy machine-guns which began to tear through the house. The heavy chandelier down the hall from Kuihara, covering from the gunfire of the policemen, was shattered by a burst from the machine-guns and fell, glass flung about around them.

Sakomizu Hisatsune, the Prime Minister's secretary, heard the unmistakeable sound from the office building across the street. Looking out, he saw part of the Prime Minister's guard detachment milling around in confusion near the back gate. But Sakomizu had long expected an attempt on the Prime Minister's life and immediately acted where the man's chosen guards did not. He reached for the phone in the haste of tense fear. "Police headquarters?"

"We just heard the minister's alarm bell ring," replied an indistinct voice. "One platoon is already on the way. Reinforcement units are just leaving." He hung up, initially relieved, and began to dress to go aide the Prime Minister. But as he went outside he saw the glint of bayonets. Shots echoed, and one of the policemen fell, the others retreating. More army troops had arrived and established a cordon around the Prime Minister's house. But as they entered the house they encountered a figure standing in opposition.

Retired Colonel Matsuo Denzo, the Prime Minister's brother-in-law and unofficial factotum, charged out to confront the soldiers. For a moment the firing ceased. Then:

"Shoot him!" yelled Lieutenant Kuihara, mistaking Matsuo for the Prime Minister. For a moment afterwards his men hesitated. He shouted again. "You men will be in Manchuria soon! What are you going to do, if you can't kill a man or two now!?" The men opened fire.

"Tenno Heika banzai!" cried Matsuo as he slumped down on a doorstep, blood flowing everywhere. Painfully he straightened his shoulders as though on parade, but he could not keep from groaning in agony at the mortal wounds. The soldiers were rigid with shock at what they had done.

"Todome!" Lieutenant Kuihara shouted, turning to his most trusted ranker--'finish him'! The man hesitated; all he had was a pistol. "Use it!" snapped Kuihara impatiently. The man leveled the pistol and fired one shot into Matsuo's chest and then another between his eyes. The colonel fell forward, the snow dyed red. Kuihara compared his image with a picture he had of the Prime Minister. "Okada! Banzai!"

A few blocks from the Prime Minister's residence, Captain Koda led one hundred and seventy men into the residence of the War Minister, Kawashima Yoshiyuki. His men stomped through the house and turned up the War Minister in short order. Koda stepped before him with an insubordinate gaze and raised his voice to strident demands:

"I am Captain Koda of the Gem Division; I represent the will of the army and the people! We have come to see that the government is reformed, and that His Majesty's will is again respected by the whole nation."

"You have no authority for such demands!" Kawashima shot back, the old man raising his voice contemptuously against the danger of the rebel soldiers.

"The will of Japan is with us--that is my authority! The people should not be seperated from their Emperor. Western influences should be abolished! This is understood by all good Japanese."

"To say a mere Captain speaks of the people is complete insubordination!"

"Ah, but I do, Sir; the reforming desires of the nation are represented in the officers and rank of the Army. Our demands will not be ignored!" A moment and he continued, reading from a list of demands:

"The leaders of the Control clique must be arrested. Officers of a correct," by this it was meant Imperial Way "ideological background must be assigned to the key positions of the army. General Araki Sadao must be made commander of the Kwantung Army, for the purpose of coercing Red Russia. You must go to the Emperor on our behalf and.."

"Outrageous!" Kawashima trembled with rage and shook his fist, ignoring his dangerous plight. The argument between the two continued for some time, Koda unwilling to kill the War Minister when he was needed and Kawashima unwilling to give in. As time passed most of the generals vascillated, unwilling to decide in their support.

As the generals vascillated, Control Clique mid-grade officers acted. Major Katakura Tadashi drove up to the War Minister's residence, infuriated by the insolence and insubordination of the rebels. He leaped out of his car, which he had driven himself, shouting at them in the War Minister's coutyard. "You have misused the power of His Majesty's Army. His Majesty alone has the right to mobilize troops! Stand down at once!" It was the turn of the rank and file of the Imperial Way clique to vascillate. Officers from both sides stood around shouting at each other with little regard for their own safety in the volatile situation, while the men waited for something that would put them into action.

"The Showa Restoration is what we are all thinking of," Major Katakura continued to harangue the crowd that had by now gathered, a mix of military personnel and curious civilians. "I feel as you do about the reforms. But we must continue to revere the Emperor and honor the Supreme Command. Don't make private use of troops!"

One of the rebel officers in the Prime Minister's resident finally emerged from their own argument with the elements of Supreme Command inside to deal with Katakura's haranguing of the enlisted personnel. "We cannot let you in to see the minister."

"Did the minister himself tell you that?"

"No, Captain Koda gave the order. The minister is just getting ready to go to the Imperial Palace. Please wait awhile. The situation will soon clear up."

Katakura immediately assumed that the rebels were using violence to compel the War Minister's obedience in aiding the establishment of a military government. There was little he could tell about what was going on inside the residence. Immediately he started for it, regardless of what the rebel officer had said. There he encountered General Mazaki. He only paused for a moment: now the situation was clear, General Mazaki must be in charge of the revolt. He resisted the impulse to stab him.

Just then, however, the War Minister himself came out, still buckling on his sword. Katakura started towards him and he suddenly felt an awesome blow on his head. He staggered, smelling blood and putting his left hand to his head. "You don't have to shoot!" He did not know if he was dying or not. Turning, he saw a pale and shaking, almost manic-looking captain advancing on him with his sword drawn. "We can talk! Sheathe your sword!" The captain did so, but changed his mind and drew it again.

"You must be Captain Koda," Katakura continued, now a bit desperately. "You can't mobilize troops unless you get an imperial order." Faintly he heard someone in the background say "we must not shed blood like this." He staggered again. Several officers, this time, approached to help him and aid him to the Prime Minister's car. As Katakura was brought to it, he saw some kempeitai men. "Get the kempei to the car!" he exclaimed.

"Of course!" Someone replied, and a barrage of shouting followed before the kempei approached. "We should take you to the Army Hospital, or maybe the Army Medical College," some voice proclaimed as he was being laid out on the back seat of the Prime Minister's car.

"No...Some private hospital! A private hospital in the city!" Katakura shouted back; he didn't want to be assasinated in bed.

The War Minister, prostrated before the Emperor, made his report. The Emperor listened in silence. Ordinarily if he replied at all, it would be in vague terms. The distress of the events he had heard--the blatant assasination of his ministers, the insubordination of the ranks of the Army's most elite division--these things forced him to act. His chief advisor, Prince Saionji, had long taught that Japan needed a father figure, not a despot. But Saionji was not there and the government was collapsing into chaos. The Showa Emperor acted. By law he had full plenary powers, but by custom he could not go against the will of his cabinet and generals. Now, however, his cabinet was half dead and his generals suffered from revolt in the ranks.

For the first time in his life, the Showa Emperor issued orders, such as they were from the God of Japan. "This event is extremely regrettable regardless of the question of spirit. In Our judgment this action mars the glory of Our national essence. This message should be directly conveyed to the leaders of the revolt by Our Minister."

By dawn it was over. The judgment of the divine Emperor was sufficient when directly conveyed to the rebels, and it was followed up with an Imperial Postscript expressing the Emperor's regret at their actions and believe in, however good intentioned, the fact that such indiscipline went against the national interest. The result was inevitable, of course. The officers had all committed hara-kiri before the sun had risen to its zenith. The men were spared as might be expected of such a society of rigid class; they could not be blamed for obedience.

With Saionji dead the Emperor's principle source of restraining advice was gone. But Prime Minister Okada had in fact survived, and his survival guaranteed the victory of the Control clique. It now stood for discipline against rebellion; for the side of the army which had followed the Will of the Emperor. The Control Clique largely pushed aside the liberal reformists in the government as they moved to quickly finish a crackdown on their Imperial Way foes. The way was set for the military plans deemed absolutely vital by the Japanese Supreme Command.

The Domination of Draka had demonstrated the success of an homogenous nation acting in concert to conquer vast portions of the globe. Japan, unified under kodo and on, the Imperial Will and the moral obligation all held to their parents and to the Emperor as the national parent. The nation's soldiers, guided by the code of bushido, would do better than the Draka could even dream of. The glory of the Japanese Race and its eternal prosperity would be assured by its orderly, heaven-mandated rule over the whole of Asia.

They already had allies. The Korean and Manchurian protectorates could provide troops, some reliable. Mongolia had, in the estimation of the Control clique planners, been moving steadily towards alliance with Japan due to their shared need to defend against the dangers of communism. And under the corrupt Taiping regime, surely the masses remained truly reverent of Heaven, rather than the false western faith; they would rise to greet masters who would rule them according to the principles of celestial tradition. Beyond lay vast colonial empires, with all their subjects groaning under the weight of colonial oppression by the white barbarians.

Their liberation would at once sate the needs of Japan and make their peoples happy: For surely their destiny lay in finding their place in the heaven-mandated rule of the Showa Emperor. It was unthinkable that any of their 'brethren' in Asia would prefer anything but the justly stern rule of the superiors whom Heaven had deigned to put over them. And if they were corrupted by western thoughts, western religion, or Russian communism, the spirit of bushido would triumph over them, also.

Russia alone, it was thought, might pose a threat; but Japan had defeated Russia before, and now they were weakened and forced to guard long borders against the Domination of Draka. Drakia would serve its purpose, thusly; the anvil upon which Japan would grind down her enemies. The resource for the conquests that would, in turn, render her superflous. And, most importantly, the document they readily offered up for the Japanese government to sign: A division of the world that once before only a Pope would have thought to conceive. The road south was opened to the reign of Amaterasu's heirs.

Chapter Two: Follow the Japanese Flag

Manchuria, 1937

Japan ruled an endless swathe of tiny islands stretched across the Pacific, from the Solomons to the Ryukus. They made a dangerous necklace around the American PIs, and the Americans knew it. Crucial, standing between the islands and in the middle of the necklace, was the American Guam. It and the other outposts between Hawaii and the PIs would have to be reduced to prevent an American relief effort from succeeding. This nagging problem had long given ammunition to the army, determined instead to expand into China. The expansion was already taking place.

Even after the 26 February Revolt Japanese internal affairs were disordered. The Emperor had acted and the guilty had paid--either by suicide or by, in the case of Kita Ikki, firing squad. But the very fact that the Emperor had acted left a question-mark on Japanese politics as to if he would be proactive. The Showa Emperor had no desire to be proactive in his reign; it was simply that the act of insubordination and the murder of one of the genro had been to much. But it had the side effect of allowing the Control Clique to behave as though it had the total support of the Emperor.

The goals of the Control Clique were clear, and they were rapidly acted upon. Major General Doihara Kenji was the leader of an influential branch of radicals in the Kwantung Army. He was brilliant, flamboyant, and had a talent for intrigue; the western press called him "the Lawrence of Manchuria" after the famed British officer who--still was, by some accounts--waged guerilla war against the Domination in the twenties, leading raiding parties to boil forth out of the Rub al-Khali, the Empty Quarter, to strike at Drakan supply columns and kidnap citizens. He had originally been posted to the region after the creation of the Japanese-Mongol Buddhist Association in 1918 and had spent the last eighteen years fighting in the Gobi to guarantee the autonomy of Greater Mongolia, aided by the infamous White Russian, Baron Roman von Ungern-Sternberg.

"The White Baron" and General Doihara had managed to carve Inner Mongolia away from China; before that, they had restored the Jebtsundambas in Outer Mongolia after the Taiping Chinese had marched in and imprisoned them in 1919 at the behest of Lenin. This had created Greater Mongolia by 1928 and then the two had fought to sustain it. Ultimately, however, Baron von Ungern-Sternberg--renowned for his cruelty even though he'd had an interest in buddhism from youth--had been assinated by one of his own men, and the Whites and Royalist Cossacks in Mongolia had been formed into a legion under Doihara. He had promptly turned his eyes south.

Taiping rule had always been tenuous, especially as modernization efforts seemed to have failed. The bulk of Taiping support had always been concentrated in the south and the west; in excess of ninety percent of the population south of the Yangtze and a majority between the Yangtze and Yellow rivers were of the Taiping Christian faith. But the five northern provinces had a much more tenuous belief in the government's faith; they remained mostly to the Buddhist/Confucian school and resisted the change imposed by the government in Nanking. This had indeed been the exact reason why Japan had gotten a foothold on the continent, anyway: After crushing several traditionalist rebellions the Taipings had turned their eyes towards Korea.

The King of Korea had invited the Japanese in to defend tradition, and though their rule since the successful Sino-Japanese war had been heavy, it was based on tradition and was not as disliked as it could have been. The same was true in Manchuria. Raised in a highly ordered world, confucian peasants expected stern rule from above. The Japanese gave it to them, and as long as they peasantry accepted their mandated role under Heaven as the servants of the Japanese race, there was little done to them. Doihara saw in this an opportunity in north China, groaning as it was under the weight of the Taiping government, corrupted, it was said, by the religion of the Foreign Devils.

In 1935 General Doihara made his move. He travelled incognito into the five northern Chinese provinces, encouraging important leaders to stage a revolt against the Taiping rule. Prime Minister Okada had discovered this effort, and ordered that Doihara be stopped. But the General ignored Tokyo just as Ishihara had done, and the plot that gestated in the wake of his daring undercover missions was so successful that the provinces revolted and five thousand Japanese troops were sent south to 'guard their autonomy'. They were then opened up to Japanese merchants under the slong "Follow the Japanese Flag". The world sat silently as the Rising Sun flew over vast new stretches of mainland Asia.

Taiping China, however, was not as weak as it appeared. It was simply disjointed. The Northern King had been the weakest of the lot ideologically, prone to capitalist influence. The Eastern and Southern Kings were both firm Taipings and the Western King (of Sinkiang) was Muslim. It was in the Muslim and Taiping elements--united by a common monotheism and sense of religious/societal responsibility--that China formed a firm, united body. The Great King of Heavenly Peace in Nanking, Heir to the Brother of Jesus Christ, bided his time and appealed to his Soviet allies. There was as much space to trade in China as there were lives, for precious time.

Beginning under Lenin the goal of the communization of Asia had been plain. Trotsky's ideology of Permanent Revolution demanded it, and even the fact that the effort had backfired in Mongolia did not slow things down. Now under Krasnov the Soviet Union had moderated and began to look at details. The Taipings were desperate, and under someone committed to reviving the previous reform efforts. It was the perfect match. Though in theory an autocratic theocracy the Taipings actually practiced a form of 'Christian Socialism'. The Imperial title was hereditary; the four regional Kings were appointed for life by the Taiping Emperor. But under them was a basically communist government.

All decisions under the level of the four Kings were made by regional boards including representatives from the communes of the nation. There was no private land; instead, each commune held all land in common, with men and women living in gender-segregated barracks. Each commune made decisions through direct democracy and acted as a corporate entity under the government responsible for local control. They also appointed representatives to the greater deliberatory bodies of the various cantons and provinces which dealt with issues below the purview of the regional or national authority. Capitalism was only allowed in cities and the extraction industry and was checked by laws granting extensive powers to form unions and trade brotherhoods. The church, controlled by the government, operated massive relief institutions.

The most important part of the Taiping social organization was that everyone was a soldier. Communes could be mobilized in their whole and fight as complete military units, albeit a seperate union for men and another for women for each commune. Each of these units was fully armed and regularly trained and the Taipings were capable, at least in theory, of mobilizing well more than fifty percent of their national population. But of course this could not in fact be done due to logistical concerns and the simple need to maintain agricultural production. It still, however, created massive manpower reserves.

Taiping China had turned to the Soviets for help, and under Krasnov it had poured in. Agricultural advice, industrial aide, development funds, and most of all, military equipment. The Soviets, constantly upgrading their armies in a never-ending industrial contest with the Domination of Draka, had hordes of obsoleted equipment to send to Taiping China--which was in fact quite serviceable by the standards of nearly any other nation. Before long the mix of foreign weapons from countless sources began to give way to uniform lines of Mosin-Nagants. A massive, if biplane, airforce was built up. Tanks with Christie suspensions began to appear in parades in Nanking, backed by the smoke rising up from the stacks of new factories. On the recommendation of Krasnov, Tibet was invaded in a lightning attack that completely overran the nation to protect it from Drakan intrigue.

By 1937 the Taipings were gaining steadily in their military preparations, and the survivors of the Imperial Way clique--including Ishihara--threw their last effort into stopping the military preparations of the Control Clique and General Doihara. But the Control Clique was feeling the pinch also. They realized that soon the Taipings would be to strong to beat and they felt the need to act before the well-equipped hordes could deter the strength of the Japanese Will; it was necessary that at least a few more western provinces be seized to connect the Shandong peninsula with the rest of the area under Japanese control.

Japanese troops had been in the area of Beijing to protect Japanese interests in the capital since the 1895 war. They were, though, just a small diplomatic garrison there and in Tientsin. As the northern provinces had been pulled away, more troops arrived; but still they were not of significant numbers. The relations between the Chinese and Japanese in the region were good. The tension in Japan over the course of action did not seem to reach there, and did not seem intense yet. There was still, at least, some time. Neither side suspected what would happen on a July night at the ancient stone bridge southwest of Beijing named after Marco Polo.

Captain Aihara Harashi turned to his trumpeteer. "Sound the recall," he ordered. His men ahead were in manoeuvres nearby the old stone-arch bridge, the Marco Polo bridge. They had just been completed as night came to northern China. Across the other side of the bridge were Chinese troops of brigade strength also on manoeuvres. There were no problems, though; this area was quiet and relations between the two sides were, all things said, good. The manoeuvres had been successful and Captain Aihara was looking forward to reporting back to his regimental commander.

The trumpet sounded, clarion-clear in the crisp air of the night. Just as the echo of it left the sky and Captain Aihara was turning back to his horse to mount up and lead the column towards regiment HQ, however, a fusilade of shots ripped across the clear night air. He flinched but did not seek cover as he was stunned for the moment. He realized, though, that the shots had come from the Chinese side. His mind was immediately seized with the fear of the much larger Chinese force rushing across the Marco Polo bridge to overwhelm his small force.

"Fire! Fire! The Chinese are attacking!" He yelled, his trumpeteer taking up the signal immediately. The platoon commanders got their men turned about towards the Marco Polo bridge and fired their own salvo, and then another. Shots were returned from the Chinese side, but at that distance and in the dark, nobody appeared to be hit yet. The police on both sides of the bridge had already scrambled for cover. Captain Aihara managed to ride up to his radio detachment; they had already contacted regimental headquarters.

"Sir, the colonel is demanding an immediate cease-fire," the radio operator shouted over the sounds of the fusilade. That made Captain Aihara pause for a moment, and his senses took over again. "Cease-fire! Cease-fire!" The trumpet call sounded out, and as his own men ceased fire he advanced up to the rampart of the bridge, waving a white kerchief. The Chinese, miraculously or by orders, also ceased fire, and shortly a Taiping Major rode up opposite him on the bridge.

"Major, your men have fired upon my troops!" Captain Aihara shouted, in English, almost certainly their shared language. "But my superiors desire no bloodshed--do we have a cease-fire?"

"We do! I do not know what happened," the Taiping Major answered. "My Brigadier is investigating this at this moment."

"Then let us get back to our commands and order them, Major. Let us have a cease-fire hold indefinitely, until we can consult more fully with our superiours," Aihara continued.

"Of course, that is certainly reasonable. Let us meet here again in three hours."

"Agreed, then."

They rode back to their respective commanders, and there Captain Aihara immediately ordered roll to be called. No men were wounded or killed, but one man was missing. Aihara shrugged at that; the man was probably a coward who had fled at the sound of battle and would have to be duly punished when inevitably caught. Then he went to talk to his regimental commander, who informed him that a second company had been dispatched to the bridge. Aihara was dumbfounded. He did not understand why his Colonel had decided to reinforce him after this minor incident; it could only make things worse.

The Japanese Army was based on obedience, however--all the moreso after the acts of insubordination the year before--and there was only one tack to take: "Sir, my men can hold the bridge should hostilities resume without reinforcement."

"Brave words Captain Aihara, from a brave man I'm sure--but you are facing a full brigade! No, the order stands; a second company is being sent to reinforce you."

"Yes, Sir."

Captain Aihara waited in a nervous paranoia, in the minutes that followed, hoping that the hours would pass and he would meet with the Taiping Major again before the second company arrived. But the other company commander, having a serious view of the situation from the orders that were passed from the Regimental commander through the battalion commander to himself, was marching at the double-quick, hastening his men along as quickly as possible along the old road to the bridge. It was a race between the appointed time and the arrival of the company, and Captain Aihara had his men fortify their position as he waited, fearing the worst. It came.

The company marched up well before the Taiping Major returned, resplendant, loud and eager in their effort to get to the bridge, urged on by the officers who were still in dress uniform from being at the military barracks, rather than their field gear. The fixed bayonets of the marching men glinted faintly under the soft light of a half moon and the stars beyond. The Taipings saw them and assumed it was a much larger fire. They resumed firing, and from that point on, China and Japan were at war. There just remained the formalities to follow.

Tokyo Japan, 1937

General Ishihara had, despite the repression of the Imperial Way Clique, managed to rise high in the Japanese Army and was now head of Operations. He was a lonely voice at the top, though, as the army operations staff and cabinet members met that night to discuss not the incident at the Marco Polo Bridge but another--at Langfang. It had been absolute chaos. General Hashimoto Gun, chief of staff of the North China Garrison, had done his best to prevent the spread of hostilities after the Chinese opened fire on the second company.

The Japanese forces had counterattacked despite numerical inferiority, and intermittent fighting had gone on around the Marco Polo Bridge until another cease-fire had been arranged. But later that day, just as General Hashimoto had arranged for the withdraw of the Japanese forces, they had been fired upon while withdrawing. Again the Japanese counterattacked and thought it seemed obvious that a third party was involved to many, both sides had accused each other of violating the truce and intermittent skirmishes were now taking place in the area. A desperate appeal by the military attache in Nanking, General Kita Seiichi, followed.

A truce was agreed to, and Chinese troops began to tore up their defences. The militarists had, however, already forced the cabinet to reinforce North China with two brigades from the Kwantung army, another division from Korea, along with a Korean Army division, and three divisions from the homeland. Prince Konoye was assured it was a normal troop movement to suppress banditry. But things had turned out differently. As more Japanese troops entered the area, nervous troops faced each other off at short range throughout the disputed boundary lines and in the area of the provinces.

Further compounding the situation was the fact that the Japanese military, regardless of their geographical location, always used Tokyo time. This made it nearly impossible for Japanese and Chinese forces to coordinate specific withdraw times and meeting dates due to the confusion it fostered. Finally it all came together. The place was just outside the railway depot in Langfang, and that morning troops had started firing at each other there in ernest.

"We must chastise the outrageous Chinese," Kiyoshi Katsuki declared, the Lieutenant General representing the Imperial General Staff. "They have been constantly provoking us to create an incident so that they may reconquer Manchuria."

"It was opined today in Nichi Nichi," War Minister Sugiyama commented, "that the Chinese have forced us to 'cross the Rubicon'. This is absolutely true; the debased Christian and Socialist regime that rules China leaves us little choice but to punish them. They are agitating merely so they can suppress buddhists and destroy our commercial interests; a short campaign of three months should be sufficient to gain us total security in Asia."

"That is absolute madness! The Soviets have been regularly supplying the Taipings and the Taipings have no end of troops," Ishihara countered. "We cannot hope to force China to terms in three months, or even at all."
"We have the latest equipment--the best designs in the world are Drakian and with our excellent manufacturing equipment we turn them out in quantity, while Soviet equipment is inferior and has been shown to be inferior in the skirmishes around Alma-Aty," General Katsuki retaliated. "And even then all the Taipings have is western Christianity. The people hold no real respect for them. Our warriors fight with bushido; their armies will all break and run if we launch a real offensive south--just like women!" He laughed, for of course women in the Taiping nation did fight, and the laugh was shared by others.

"Do not forget that our precious Drakian allies also allow women to serve in military forces," Ishihara replied, unruffled.

"That just shows to me how debased westerners are, and Arabs also, that they could let such an army defeat them," Katsuki countered. "Think of how much Drakia has conquered--real men with bushido, fighting for kodo, such an army as that--such an army as we have!--it could overwhelm the world." Katsuki invoked both at once at the fighting code of the Army and the belief in world order and peace to be achieved by Japanese control of Asia--literally 'The Imperial Way', ironically connected with the old defunct clique.

"Japan is expanding," Matsuoka Yosuke stated flatly to resound Katsuki's words. "We need the strength of a greater position in Asia to defend ourselves from the hegemony of foreign nations. China must be eliminated for Japan to survive."

"We are in great danger, anyway," Hirota Kiko, the Foreign Minister, added. "As these other nations grow in power they seek conquests; Mr. Matsuoka is correct. Our expansion is self-protection against the aims of other Empires. But we must also remember that in acting, we will be supported by our asian brothers, while corrupt colonial and christian regimes shall not. This gives us both the ability and the right to rule over the nations of Asia. Already the Koreans, Manchurians, Mongolians, and buddhist Chinese stand ready to fight with us to the death for their sacred customs and traditions against the imprint of foreign ideals."

Prince Konoye sat in silence listening to the differing opinions, letting them all speak before he made up his mind. The argument continued for some time. It became clear that if he did not act, his cabinet would fall. What would happen after that, nobody could know. Hearing the arguments and realizing his precarious situation, he chose to remain in control of the situation rather than surrender it to another: but in reality his decision was the precise cause of his loss of control.

"It appears that we must launch a punitive expedition against China; a New Order must be established in Asia for our own security--and for the peace and prosperity of the Asian peoples. I understand from these discussions that the Army believes China can be forced to terms before fall; so be it, the troops will be dispatched and those in theatre given the appropriate orders. I shall draft a message for the Diet, and another for China."

The Rubicon had indeed been crossed.

Chapter Three: May the Emperor Live for Ten Thousand Years.

On the Zi River,
Shandong Province,
Taiping China, 1937

The burly man, his hair close-cropped, turned to his subordinates and shouted "let's go!" Without waiting for them, he finished stripping off his uniform jacket and cap and leapt into the water. His headquarters staff had no choice but to follow him, as the radio men loading their equipment into a little river boat redoubled their effort. Behind Major General Yamashita Tomoyuki, the men of the scout company were still dismounting for the crossing. His 3rd Mechanized Division was still several miles back, racing to catch up. They'd finished off the resistance in the Weifang area only two days prior and had already succeeded in crossing the Mi and overruning Yidu as well. They were now less than fifty kilometers along the railroad from main junction at Zibo where the Taiping divisions now on the verge of being encircled were hastening to escape southward.

Japanese forces had already raced their way to the Huang river, but the Taipings had been dug in there and held, the bridges blown to prevent a major crossing. The Japanese Army Air Force and the Imperial Japanese Navy had gone into action then, with Japanese aircraft dominating the skies over the Huang delta and supporting naval ships that came in at close range to pound Taiping positions, with several losses from defensive batteries. They had cleared the way for a progressive crossing of the channels of the Huang, though, and with heavy fighting in the marshes at the big river's mouth, the Japanese divisions stacked in the Shandong peninsula had attacked. The swiftness and ferocity of the strike had pummeled its way through the Taiping infantry divisions on the border.

General Yamashita with the 3rd Mechanized and General Tojo with the 1st Armored had led a spearhead that overran the Taiping defences with enough speed to get them in position to hit the flank of the defending reserve armoured force, harried as it was by constant Japanese air attack. The divisions of the two generals had annihilated the force reserves and wrapped a steel arm about the rest of the Taiping lines. Then they had driven on Weifang and seized it before the Taiping divisions could escape. The fighting that had raged in their desperate effort to break out had ended with the abject destruction of the Taiping divisions, and Yamashita had started the drive west as soon as it was remotely possible, driving to the very limit and beyond of their supply lines. Now the much larger force defending the northern Huang was just a few kilometers and a single river from suffering the fate of the Shandong force.

That river was being crossed now. The water was cold, rolling down from the Lu Shan range in the south, towards the sea, through fertile Chinese countryside that had once been on the hinterland of the Shang dynasty more than three thousand years ago and was now an integral part of China. Or, at least, it had been until Yamashita's charging armoured cars had screeched to a halt on the bank, the village there already abandoned. Ahead of them the small barges that served as ferries for this crossing had been abandoned on the shore by the villagers fleeing across the river to escape the oncoming Japanese Army. The biggest, meant for cattle, would suffice for taking mortars and motorcycles with sidecars and LMGs across. Everything else would have to wait for the bridging equipment, but Yamashita knew that now less a hundred strokes of his strong arms seperated him from the assurance that his engineers would safely bridge the Zi.

Yamashita felt the tips of his fingers nearly touch the bottom, the vigorous strokes of his arms carrying up to the shore in churning water, an exemplary piece of swimming as he crossed the river in nearly full uniform, and in a time that might have made an Olympian envious. A foot jabbed down into pebbly soil and he stood up and waded the rest of the way to the far shore, drawing his sword as he did and waving his men on. "Come on, come on, hurry up!" He shouted out across the river as he walked towards the beached barges, his sword still out and glinting when the sun caught it through the light clouds, the general utterly heedless of any danger from an armed party that might be in the area.

His men began to reach shore, most exhausted by the swim, unlike their general who did not seem to notice that he had just been plowing his way through icy, fast-running water. The men on the small boats got there in the midst of the swimmers and the radio was unloaded, along with a Type 96, and then two more. The little machine gun was hated by most soldiers who had to use it, but worked decently enough. The Domination, at any rate, was enamoured of the Japanese 6.5mm, which had been part of the reason for the decision to retain it. The infantry carbines his men in the scout company used were in fact Drakian semiautomatic designs rechambered for 6.5mm. The Type 96s were quickly set up to cover the beach and as more of the soldiers swam across, one of Yamashita's officers went into them, threatening to beat them with his scabbard if they rested after the swim rather than work on getting the barges back across.

Yamashita grabbed the handset to his radio that his operator had somehow managed to keep from damage on the ride over in the rickety little canoe. "MAJOR AIHARA!? Status report!" The command, hopefully, going out to the commander of the engineering unit attached to the 3rd Mechanized.

"Sir!" The voice echoed back, scratchy from the poor reception even at this short range. "As per your orders, Sir, we are advancing at the head of the column with one battery attached. We're less than eight kilometers out, and we should have the guns there in twenty minutes. Bridging equipment following!"

"Do everything you can, Major Aihara. The enemy can be here in hours if they find out!"

"Yes sir!"

"Yamashita, Out." The general, looking like so much of an angry bull, the genius that had brought him here hidden under that rough demeanour, handed over the handset and went to inspect the scratch lines forming as the barges, now, began to get hauled across via the long chain spanning the river there. Now that he'd placed himself at the front his officers had to make every effort to get up to their general, and the rest was mostly academic.

In the intervening time scouts were worked up forward and others sent ranging ahead on bikes. Mortars were brought over and HMGs, and finally the guns appeared, six 100mm howitzers rolling up behind their snorting diesel trucks and being hastily wheeled into position to cover the far bank at range. The bridging equipment was not far behind and if it did get here in time, then his tanks and Tojo's could cross and the chance to annihilate a whole enemy army would be their's.

It got there. The awkward looking amphibious bridging equipment had been driven all-out on the rather poor roads, but enough of the vehicles hadn't broken down for them to construct the bridge they needed, despite the questionable Drakian engineering. Yamashita listened as the snorting engines brought up the equipment and prepared for the crossing, Major Aihara visible as he was driven around in the sidecar of a motorcycle, standing up crazily and shouting at his men to hurry up as the driver circled the engineering unit at breakneck speed. In some ways the Japanese officer corps was melodramatic and amateurish, but their incredible martial commitment could not be doubted.

Then it happened. As the bridging equipment was being set up, one of the motorcycles that they had sent out came racing back, just one of the two-man crew still on it and looking flush from his hell-breaking race as he rode up, saluting frantically. "Sir, the enemy is just a couple of klicks up, they've got armoured cars."

Captain Morioka, the commander of the recon company, turned back towards Yamashita.

"I heard, Captain," Yamashita answered and himself went for the radio again. "Battery Two?"

"Here, General!"

"Do you have contact with the forward observers?"

"Yes sir, General. We are receiving them."

"You are free to fire. Begin with ranging fire, then a suppression barrage once they confirm the coordinates. Don't worry about ammunition."

"Banzai!" The battery commander shouted over the radio.

Yamashita started striding for the nearest high ground, clutching his binoculars. He had not yet reached it when the first of the howitzers boomed out. He did as the second fired, but the targets, in the rolling hills, were just out of his line of sight it seemed. A third gun fired alone. Then a long pause. Looking back across the river he could see the battery's commanding officer rushing about waving his sword as the last of the guns finished reloading. Then he raised it up, high... And as it came down, the howitzers thundered in unison. Yamashita turned back to the horizon, and there was a distant flash and then a much more discernable rumble. The guns were already firing again, as fast as they could, in unison, and then individually with that same rapidity.

The crack of the howitzers was at once dull and intense, echoing for miles, and the explosions of their HE shells doubling it as they resounded back towards the Japanese positions. Mortars were readied and machine-guns held in the ready tensely, but the force ahead of them had gotten enough. The Taipings in this area, already in serious straits, assumed the worst--or much more than the worst--from the artillery fire their scouting forces took. And that meant precious time for Yamashita's division as they tried to muster the force needed to repel what they already though was a crossing. It was all he needed.

Around Zibo,
Shandong Province,
Taiping China, 1937

The crude oil refineries on the outskirts of Zibo were burning from bomb attack. "Inbred Bastards," Yamashita muttered a curse at the fools in air command who had hit them; worst of all, Japanese wasn't a good language for cursing. The damage probably wasn't severe but any damage would harm the Japanese ability to use the desperately needed facilities and exploit the region's oil, which though not available in great quantities, remained precious to the Japanese Empire. Qilu petrochemical was the second largest facility in China and it had been built using Soviet technology. Now it, and the whole city of Zibo, were under mortal threat.

There was a low ridgeline, a rise really of little more than a hundred feet, that jabbed out from the Lu Shan in the south and cupped the city within its curving, low slope. That had to be taken to break through and seize the refineries, and more importantly, the road and rail connections to the south through which the Taipings were escaping. Japanese units were now attacking it, his and Tojo's divisions. Though it was a low rise, it was more than sufficient for their purposes. It could be advanced up, taken, and then the Model 4 150mm howitzers could be brought up and from there they would easily command the city.

The diesels on the Japanese M-96 tanks spat out great clouds of oily smoke as they started to advance, the ridge ahead abruptly obscured in smoke as massed 150mm howitzers opened up, rapid-firing in the sort of quick suppression fire the Japanese favoured to support attacks. The Taipings had enough 122mm guns up there for counterbattery fire, but the Japanese commanded the sky and, though inefficient, were capable of correcting their guns based on aerial recon. The Taipings could not, and that ultimately counted as the tanks began to reach the base of the rise and the troop carriers started to unload, some already burning from the fire of Taiping antitank guns.

Japanese M-96 tanks were based on a prototype version of the Drakian Hond II chassis, but were armed with a long 75 instead of the 90 the Drakian version--which was just seeing production--had. In fact, the Japanese had managed to mass produce the M-96 faster than the Domination had, though the quality control on the tanks was poor. The Japanese ceased fire now, and immediately the bulk of the Taiping antitank guns, undamaged by the barrage, opened up. They were a mix of French 47mm, long guns that would have killed any Japanese tank before the M-96 easily, and Soviet L-10 76mm antitank guns which could still do the job.

Japanese tanks started to burn, but not enough, not nearly enough; their return fire was HE for now, but every so often they'd get sight of a T-28, the Soviet tank that was endemic to service in the Taiping Army, or a BT-5 light. They were both easy for the Japanese tanks to take out, but they tore through the lighter vehicles of the divisions and, using HE, the infantry advancing alongside them uphill at the double-quick, bayonets fixed. Some of the 122mm guns that had survived opened up again; they were firing AP and all at once one of the Japanese M-96s exploded, turret flung into the air. But the advance continued.

Lieutenant Sawaki straightened, clencing his ears as his gunner shouted at him, hearing nothing except pain and feeling the wetness from blood. The gunner and his loader, working together through long practice to the point that they did not need words, slammed in another 75mm round of armour-piercer. Sawaki's periscope was intact and he aimed around in it towards the BT-5 they'd been targeting. "FIRE!" Immediately after the gun recoilled, before he could tell of its success, he shouted again with his full lung power: FORWARD! FORWARD! at the driver

It might have been their round it; it might have been another. But in moments the BT-5 was burning, struck even as the hit they had just suffered still seemed to resound in the turret. Vaguely he could hear the flat cracking thuds of the big 75mm guns of nearby tanks, somehow still reaching him despite his wiped out eardrums, perhaps one of them, perhaps his gun, it did not matter. But he did not, however, hear the 47mm that fired again, managing a lucky side hit on the treads of another M-96, immobilizing it.

Sawaki did manage to see it, though, and that was more than enough. Through the smoke rising over the battlefield he just discern where the gun had fired from behind concealment. Close enough.... "HALT! HE!"

"LOADED!" The tank had ground to a halt, the driver had heard him somehow.

He could barely hear it or even make out what the gunners had said, himself, but he got enough for it to matter: "FIRE!"

The 75mm long gun boomed again, and the area around the concealed antitank gun turned into smoke and fire. The other tanks of 4th Battalion, 1st Armoured Division, were roaring ahead again, climbing up the gradual rise. "FORWARD! FORWARD! Sawaki shouted again, and the tank now charged up towards the crest of the hill, the driver grunting as he manhandled the direct controls for the heavy vehicle, all of them covered in what seemed like liters of sweat. The infantry was right behind them, countless bodies having been left behind, but their support fanatically provided as men with bayonets ran alongside the great steel monsters to keep up.

His platoon had been savaged and they were barely in contact with each other, probably the rather fragile Japanese radios have been mostly shattered outright by any sort of impact whatsoever on the tank. But they knew where to go: Forward, at all costs! And they had, the remnants of nearly a hundred burning Taiping tanks littering the ridge. It was fortunate for the Japanese that they had struck when they did, for beyond there were many more tanks that might have been brought into the fight, and many more guns; but it is hard to position the equipment of an army already in retreat, and that natural confusion had been what had doomed the Taiping effort. The Imperial Japanese Army was literally riding the wave of victory.

The infantry caught up with them, rifles with bayonets held up high into the air, pumped up again and again, the officers pumping their swords in the sky--such few as had survived, for they took even more grevious casualties than the men leading them, sabres drawn, up the hill. Their faces were all dirty from soot smoke and dirt churned around alike, and some where bloody; their uniforms were in disarray. But they were Japanese, and their excitement at victory shown through. "Tenno Heika banzai! Tenno Heika banzai! Tenno Heika banzai! Tenno Heika banzai! They were all shouting. Sawaki couldn't hear it, but he could see it, and he opened the tank and thrust himself out, fist pumping as he shouted as well, barely understanding his own words: "Tenno Heika banzai!"--May the Emperor Live for Ten Thousand Years.

They had taken the ridge. Zibo was before them and it simply remained for the artillery to be brought up, which Yamashita was already taking care of. Below the efforts of as many Taiping units to escape as possible from the looming encirclement were merely redoubled, whilst some others tried to organize counterattacks from among confused, desperate soldiers that they could not force into order in time. It was the total collapse of an army; but it was just one army. The Taipings had already lost one around Shandong and this was another, and larger one, but they had far more than just those.

Unnoticed, though they would be later, were the wrecks of four odd tanks that had given the Japanese quite a lot of trouble, though they had been eventually overcome. They were BT-7Ms, and the Taipings had many more--and some of their replacements as well. Yamashita would notice them and the Japanese would analyze them, soon enough, but for now the goal was simply to charge south and in the manic haste of victory, the fever that struck the country with these great victories, the small details were ignored as the warrior spirit of Japan overcome the waves of the demon-corrupted Christian foe.

Chapter Four: Let us build a Great Wall of Flesh and Blood.

Nanking, capital of
T'ai-p'ing t'ien-kuo,
February of 1938

Relatives of Jesus Christ had to get ready in the morning before duty like anyone else. Her Royal Highness Lady Colonel-General Mary Magdelene Hsiu-ch', Daughter of the Divine Lineage, Third Princess-Regnant, Duchess Kham, Countess of Lhasa, had just finished toweling off after an early morning shower. It was around oh-five-hundred hours in Nanking, capital of 'The Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace', and the distant thud of heavy artillery could be barely discerned. Officially she did not need to be in for duty until 0600, but her mind was troubled that morning and rest had come fitfully. Something was in the air, instinct told her.

The rumble of artillery was probably the heavy guns of the quadrangle forts, which had halted the enemy advance along the coast some 140km from the mouth of the Yangtze River. They had been built just after the First World War, taking into account all the lessons of fortresses learned from it, and were specifically designed to keep an enemy advancing from the north out of artillery range of the capital. Additional defences had been built along the canal, but these had proven somewhat less adequet. Still, though, the line had been held and the sound was a constant reminder of the effort put into it.

Artillery, as Mary knew, could be heard at great range; the people of London had in the seventeenth century known when their fleets went into action in the channel; those of Dover in 1916, when an offensive was mounted on the Western Front. There were also numerous guns which had either been brought up by railroad or floated up the Grand Canal to fixed positions before the Japanese had in turn brought up the artillery necessary to deny the canal to the Taipings. These guns were also large as 16in--some of the coastal fortresses had 18in guns--and they ranged deep into Japanese occupied territory, disrupting their supplies.

The battle in the air was also improving as that on the ground turned static. New Soviet fighters were arriving regularly, and that supply couldn't be halted by the Japanese and Mongolian forces, even if they cut the rail-line--which, unfortunately, they were very close to doing. Already it was under artillery fire in several places and supplies were intermittent. But each train that got through unloaded hundreds of T-31 tanks directly to the combat areas. They were less needed along the Grand Canal, though some were being sent there, too. The old heavy tanks the Soviets had sent them were, in general, more useful fighting from fixed positions, and artillery better still.

A principle problem of the Taipings remained supplies. They had mobilized tens of millions of soldiers by now, but there was probably going to be famine because of it. The Soviets were sending arms as fast as they could--over the railroad for as long as it was open, through Tibet on unfinished roads and with pack animals, though that was a desperate business only suited for the most valuable of supplies, and in the air through Tibet, where great ANT-20 and ANT-20bis transports were carrying vital war materials into the Taiping nation. New industries had been built up in Sichuan, and these had replaced those lost with Shaanxi had fallen; but the cumulative loss of production still hurt. At least the majority of bauxite refineries in China were in the south.

Mary finished buttoning up her dress uniform's field-gray coat, each of the buttons gleaming solid gold with a bas-relief Cross Bottony etched upon it. The same cross was emblazoned in gold across the red band of her cap. Short of the distinguishing markers of rank, however, the uniform was otherwise rather austere; the Taipings did not make a habit of wearing the medals they had received on their uniforms, it was considered ostentatious. Or, more precisely, ungodly pride, and for a scion of the dynasty such a concept was impossible.

Taiping society had many contradictions in it. It was, in theory, totally equal. Anyone could reach a position as high as one of the four subordinate 'Kings' of the Emperor in Nanking. This was based on a principle of meritocratic advancement which had of late been strengthened. But at the top was the Emperor--the direct descendant of Hung Hsiu-ch', the Younger Brother of Jesus Christ. So though Taiping society as a whole was just as egalitarian as Soviet society, at the top was a man regarded as nearly divine. That was only partially correct.

In reality, Taiping theology had in some aspects been influenced by Nestorianism--or at least the end product had. After Hung's death there had been some turmoil, but his son in the end codified and stabilized the faith by declaring that his father had been the younger brother of Jesus Christ and not the younger brother of the Son of God. These individuals were identified as different, as Nestorious had done long ago, and this allowed for an official edict explaining that Hung had been perfectly mortal--he had simply been held in heaven until it was time for him to complete the work of his older brother, and convert the East to the Word of God. None of which succeeded in greatly affecting the reverence that the average Taiping had for their theocratic monarchy.

The Soviet Union under Lenin had proposed the concept of national rights, even for the minorities in the USSR. Each respective nation should be united under communism and each had a right to its own cultural tradition. In that vein relations were opened with the ailing Taiping Dynasty and it had seen a steady resurgence since. Though ultimately the north--a constant source of trouble, with European powers moving in every time a Buddhist revolt happened--was lost to Japan, the Soviets had been working industriously to bring up the capabilities of the south, and they had succeeded.

Mary buckled her sword--a gift from Ivan Krasnov, in fact--and headed out of her rooms in the vast palace complex of Nanking. The area was heavily defended by anti-aircraft guns and now by the latest models of Soviet fighters, and the Japanese had stopped bothering to raid and concentrated on tactical support a few weeks ago. Then she headed for the warroom. Mary was, of course, young for her rank; like Crown Prince Wilhelm of Germany (who had, apparently, recently been reinstated in the Heer by Goering) she had been promoted with the usual speed of a dynastic scion--and like him, she managed the intelligence and capability to have at least some role in actual operational combat.

At the moment her job was the relatively secondary one of sector support for the Nanking area. It had a tremendously important purpose, however; it meant that she commanded the strategic reserves behind the canal line and the Quadrangle. If there was a major breakthrough she would have to control the deployment of forces to counter it. She was aware that her comparative inexperience would count against her in that--though she had fought in the invasion of Tibet and won her titles there, that had not had any major combat to speak of, only a division of troops armed with Lee-Enfields and a few old machine-guns and artillery pieces to overrun.

Fortunately her advisor was more than capable on the matter. General A. D. Loktionov, in his dumpy Red Army field uniform (his dress uniform had far to much weight of medals for Taiping tastes) was standing under the massive Taiping flag adorning one wall of the military operations centre in the palace, a brilliant red flag with a white Cross Bottony adorning the centre. He looked rather dejected as Mary headed over to greet him.

"What's happened, Alexei?" In Russian, of course.

"The Japs took Lanzhou, it just came through the wire," Alexsandr Loktionov replied. "And their latest offensive is threatening the Tianshui area." The General had an excellent Soviet informality with the Taiping royalty he encountered, but did not seem offended by them. Nor they by him, for that matter; the royals were all used to dealing with Soviets by now, as vital as they were to the survival of the Taiping nation and faith.

They were, after all, and according to Ivan Krasnov himself, just the natural cultural representation of Chinese socialist tendencies. Farmland was held collectively, all major industries were nationalized with worker-elected management, governments from the provincial level on down were elected on the one-person, one-vote principle, and provincial governments appointed approved delegates to the National Advisory Council. The major parties in the country at the moment were the Christian Socialist Party and, a distant second, the Chinese Communist Party, united in popular fronts which dominated provincial and national politics.

At the top, however, remained the theocratic dynasty that had reined China since the 1860s, and in that time had seen their fortunes rise, waver, and--until the Japanese invasion--seemingly recover. But the Japanese had slowed. Their conquests had carried them to the Grand Canal but not further. The vital Henan region remained under Chinese control. Alexei was reminded of the odd nature of the Taipings by the woman in front of him. At once royal and an ardent supporter of the people--she regarded socialism as a necessary component of her dynasty's Christian faith--she was also a soldier who's rank was more than for fun; in the Taiping military women fought as equals to men.

The system was partially based on the British regimental system. Men and women fought in segregated battalions drawn from the same region. That tradition had been established during the great Taiping Revolution that had established the Dynasty. Above the battalion level--for example, the battalions composing a brigade--the units would be mixed and matched, and men and women equally could be promoted to officer ranks above those of battalion commander; sex was irrelevant in commanding a Brigade formation or higher. It took a bit of getting used to, certainly, but it generally resulted in about one woman in the army for every two men, a fair proportion considering the higher number of women who dedicated themselves to the faith, or could not meet requirements, or were required in the munitions factories (factory personnel were also, for example, organized into battalions, each of which was usually assigned its own shift and worked in competition with other such battalion-shifts).

"Well, I expected as much," Mary answered after a moment, looking up to the grand national situation board, which had indeed been updated to reflect the confirmed fall of Lanzhou. There was another dealing with her theatre on the far wall. "We all knew that the Japs were concentrating their offensive towards the Lanzhou area to cut the resupply route with the Soviet Union. Momentum was on their side; they'll surely take Baoji as well, for that matter. But we can halt them in Xi'an and that will be that. All the gains they make now will be hotly contested in poor terrain; they'll pay for them."

"Assuming, of course, that they don't breach the canal, Comrade. I also think that Hanzhong is rather vulnerable."

"Hanzhong, perhaps, will fall in attempt to flank the Xi'an area; but they won't get farther than Ankang that way, and the passes are just to vicious for them to penetrate into Sichuan or further than Ankang--it will take them a long time to advance in that area, and the longer it takes them, the firmer our defences will be prepared on the best terrain. As for the canal?" A tight smile. "That is our job, Alexei."

A rumbling Russian laugh. "Of course, which means we can give them the unpleasant surprise they deserve. But better to hold the canal than to have to turn Henan into a battleground. Still, once the Japanese find out that they cannot breach our defences in the west, they will try it. They got to confident after their forced crossing of the Yellow."

"Huang," Mary corrected. "And at any rate you're right, they did. But we couldn't risk our best equipment there anyway--maybe we would have stopped them, but we might have also just lost it and found ourselves defending the Yangtze by now instead of the Grand Canal."

"Advice I gave to your father, if I recall."

"True enough," Mary allowed. "But a forced crossing will be very different here. They do not have naval support, either on the Canal or the upper reaches of the Huang, and their air force is encountering increasing difficulty with our own--which will just get worse, railway or no. Even if they can force a crossing I am confident that once they exceed the range of their fixed artillery and are forced to rely on field howitzers, we can trounce them. Especially with the new tanks."

"We got one last trainload of T-31s through, in fact. They are being routed to the Xi'an area for deployment," Alexei added. "The others will be sent to the Turkestan Army."

"I should like to see them take Xining," Mary commented with a faint snort.

"Ha! They will not even try, I think, they know the decisive engagement is in the east, and trying to fight a tank army in the desert with a firm supply line straight to our heartland is going to make even a Samurai think twice--not to mention the Soviet pilots over Turkestan, of course." A cordial smile.

"That's going to hurt you at some point, Alexei."

"The Japs, attack us directly!? Like I said, there are limits to the Samurai spirit. They are not fools."

"They are allied to the Draka."

"I concede the point, Comrade Princess. Though it would be in better humour if you would let us bring Vodka..." The one thing Alexei could not stand about the Taipings, really, was their absolutely puritan attitude to any sort of drug--including alcohol. Their sole vice was tea, and that was weak by Russian standards. Oh well, a great sacrifice in the name of the Motherland it is, but it must be made...

Six in the morning. Like clockwork, the distant strains of the national anthem were heard as the brilliant red flag with its white Cross Bottony was run up on the massive flagpole--easily two hundred feet high--that stood outside the palace, that flag being equally grandiose in its dimensions as it stood guard over the central plaza of the palace complex, which was an imposing Socialist Realist structure built as a 'palace of the proletariat' with museums, office facilities, a large church, and military headquarters concentrated together and much of it open to the public. The old palace had been just that, and now served appropriately as a museum.

The east is saved, the son has risen,
China has given us Hung Hsiu-ch',
He provides for the Chinese people,
He is the savior of all the east!

Dynasty Hsiu-ch' loves the people,
Our gracious Emperors guide us,
In developing a new China,
Glorious saviors, leading towards progress!

Dynasty Hsiu-ch' shines under the son,
Everywhere they walk, people are saved.
Where there is the Dynasty Hsiu-ch',
All are equal, the people are liberated!

As the Imperial Band ceased to play, the Bottony Flag spread widely in the light breeze, someone slightly more efficient than a clock strode in, stiffly erect and dressed in a full German Field Marshal's uniform. The advisors of the Taiping Army were not just Soviets, though they dominated the force. There were nearly two thousand Soviet military personnel in eastern China alone--more in Sinkiang--but also five hundred Germans and about two hundred French, the later a reflection of the long ties the Taiping Dynasty had with the Republic (and, originally, Empire). German interests in China had, however, been lost after 1918; thus the Germans under Alexander von Falkenhausen were considered the most neutral of the aide groups, though now all were appreciated.

Of course, the Americans did not like the Japanese penetration of China, either, but they were not the sort to send out large contigents of advisory officers. Instead they let you buy arms. In the tank armies still training up for operations with the First Yangtze Front there were five hundred and fifty modern American Heavy Tanks. Some of these, due to lack of spare parts, were held in attrition reserve. The rest were equipping tank divisions which would soon reach operational readiness. Already having seen action in the extreme west around Lanzhou and in the east on the coast--in support of the forts--were about a hundred each of French and British heavy tanks. More of the French tanks would be coming--not many, for Indochina was vulnerable--but everything would help.

Soviet commitments remained the best. The soviet factories in Sichuan were producing T-26s at the moment, and those tanks along with T-28s and BT-5s had done most of the fighting so far. Production, however, had been retooled--now the T-26/76 was being produced instead. Quite simply, it was a tank destroyer with a 76.2mm gun on the T-26 chassis, the result of the lessons learned fighting the Japanese M-96. Production was coming as fast as it could, but it would take time. The same for the 122mm conversions of the T-35, of which China had the some 150 of these tanks which had been produced and found failures. It was easier, in general, for the Chinese industry to modify rather than build, and so that and the T-28 rearmament programme were proceeding as rapidly as allowed by the commitment of new tanks to frontline units. Above all, however, the Soviets had sent the T-31. This tank, along with a few SU-85 assault guns that had been sent just before the railway was cut, comprised the striking force of three divisions in First Tank Army.

First Tank Army was the first Army equipped with modern tanks in the Taiping Imperial Army. Soon Third Tank Army would also be brought to operational status, and both were concentrated under the First Yangtze Front. This would be the fist of the principle force called upon by the Taiping nation to defend itself and it was the job of these Soviet and German advisors to insure its capability to do so. As they filed into the meeting room of the General Staff--there were several other Chinese officers, who arrived a bit late, and the leader of the French advisors, who arrived even later--concerns over the fall of Lanzhou dominated the discussion. But most of them had been expecting it for some time and none thought it to be disastrous or even necessarily serious. The Japanese and their Mongolian allies had suffered heavy losses taking the city, particularly in tanks, and their position there was potentially under threat from two directions.

"As I see it the situation at Lanzhou, despite the loss of almost all non-air-transportable supplies from the Soviet Union, is not serious enough to warrant realignment. The Japanese Army knows where it has to break through to overrun the bulk of Central China, and they will attempt to do so as soon as they can concentrate what they feel are sufficient forces," von Falkenhausen finally ended the conversation on the West.

"That leaves several areas for their advance," Mary replied. "Most of which would be in the area of the Caozhou Salient. Our lines along the Grand Canal and the Huang form a dangerous bulge into Japanese-occupied territory there and there are several points which are exploitable by Japanese forces; thanks to the nature of the lakes that line the canal, though, we can identify these relatively easily. It would be impossible for the Japanese to force the Canal and then these lakes under heavy defensive fire, and they don't have enough Drakian bridging equipment anyway."

"The area south of Peixian on the Grand Canal, the area east of Kaifeng on the Yellow--the Huang--and the Jining area on the Canal. Of these only the Peixian and Jining areas have the infrastructure built up to support a major assault by the Japanese, but precisely because of that they may still consider an assault crossing of the Huang as either a diversion or an effort to cut the neck of the Caozhou Salient," Marshal Loktionov summarized.

Von Falkenhausen nodded very, very slightly. "The area immediately east of Kaifeng should be reinforced and work on the secondary line along the Fei Huang accelerated. A crossing in the Peixian area would face a push into the built-up Suchow area, constricted by marshes in the south. Adequet defensive preparations can be provided in all areas but we must hold back our heavy and mobile units for a counterattack. In fact, I advise that should any of these crossings be made our initial response be a withdrawl. As our command of the air only increases, any rapid advance will quickly outrun supply lines crossing bridgeheads under continuous aerial attack, and make a successful counteroffensive most likely."

Mary listened in silence and then spoke, mainly to Von Falkenhausen: "We cannot expect troops falling back to effectively man the secondary defensive lines; I am afraid that despite all the improvements our discipline cannot compare to that of the German Army at this time. We will have to use second-line troops. Give them enough concrete and artillery and they can hold for the time necessary to regroup and use our concentrated armoured reserves to the greatest effect, but the cost will be steep."

"It will have to be accepted. I can attest to the stiffness of relatively untrained and poorly equipped troops against the Draka in the Almy-Ata region. With the proper motivation they can produce incredible exploits." Loktionov's eyes spoke of memories, bloody ones in times of desperation and bravery.

"Then I know what we will call the secondary line," Mary spoke softly: "The Great Wall of Flesh and Blood."

Tokyo, Empire of Japan
May of 1938

"We will attack in all three places at once!!!" 4th Army's Chief of Staff Mutaguchi Renya had leaped up, hands pressed to the table and eyes aflame as he made the declaration that concluded his proposal, and then proceeded to summarize it again. "Each has sufficient merit, and the combination of many assaults from many different sides will keep the Taipings off balance, prevent adequet placement of reserves, and greatly improve the chances of success."

The conference of the Manchurian Army commanders and the General Staff in Tokyo had been raccuous and long; it was already the early morning and they were still going at, until at last the 4th Army's Chief of Staff, a rising star in the army, couldn't take it any longer. Naturally his solution placated the adherents of the three respective proposed locations for breaching the Taiping defences and immediately the room quieted down to murmurs.

"We do not have enough troops to make three simultaneous assaults," protested General Ishihara. "Every single one of them would be compromised by their shared weakness in manpower and resource commitments."

"But we can bring up more allied troops," General Terauchi Hisaichi countered; he was referring to Korean, Manchurian, and Chinese Buddhist units that had been raised in the occupied regions, in a slightly unconscious imitation of the Drakian Janissary programme. The White Russians and Mongolians of course had more freedom of action, and not all that many units for that matter.

"They are of contemptible quality;" Ishihara's voice was raised and after these long hours of listening to manic rantings he himself was getting pretty worked up. "It is absolute madness. We should abandon the idea entirely and use our strength--in light infantry which does not depend on mechanical equipment--to push down into Sichuan. With the Taipings' last main centres of industry seized the rest of the country will fall in due course."

"Those mountains would be insane to attack across, even with light infantry!"

"Do you doubt the spirit of the Japanese soldier!?"

"No! But you are the operations chief, you should know about the situation in the terrain there. Some things are simply impossible. Anyway, all we would need the allied troops for is holding the current lines to allow us to concentrate all-Japanese divisions."

"Nothing is impossible for a Japanese!" Ishihara leaped to his feet, shouting at Hisaichi and putting a hand on the hilt of his sword.

"And that is why we can succeed in these attacks," Renya cried. "We will just waste our men if we push into Sichuan--one great blow to surround and collapse the Taiping Armies will gain us China and an open road to Indochina! We must strike!"

"You are being insubordinate!!" Ishihara screamed back. "As chief of operations this is my area of specialty and I know that it is absolutely impossible for these attacks to be carried out in combination."

"If these attacks are not conducted as outlined, I shall resign in protest!!" Renya had a hand on the hilt of his sword now, as well.

"Enough!!!!" War Minister Sugiyama finally cried, having heard, indeed, enough. He leapt to his own feet and pounded his fists into the table at the same time. "It is agreed--we shall attack at the three proposed crossing points in a coordinated assault. However!, General Ishihara, we shall also activate sufficient reserves of infantry from the homeland to, when combined with infantry reserves for these attacks, immediately make an assault into Sichuan should the protested attacks not make sufficient gains or destroy enough of the Taiping Army to cause a general collapse."

"I assure you that will be a necessary contigency," Ishihara replied, but he was moving to sit down and appeared at least somewhat mollified.

"If it becomes one, you will have more than enough time to make it work, as I am off a mind to place you in charge of the Western Army to persecute the attack because of your own insistance on it," Sugiyama continued, being himself rather irate.

"I will take such a post in the field with pleasure." Ishihara replied, assuming once more a dignified expression, and with that, the meeting ended.

Chapter Five: Banzai!

The Grand Canal,
Peixian Area,
Taiping China,
July 2 1938.

The tall grass on the bank of the Grand Canal rustled slightly in the dark. Nobody was there to notice, save the ones who made it rustle. A bit further on, there was a similar brief movement of the grass, and then nothing. Minutes past, and in the light breeze the tall grass rustled. It was impossible to discern the movement there. Then abruptly there was the sound of turmoil. A scream cut through the night, chopped off short. It drifted into the wind over four hundred yards of distance. A flock ducks rose from the canal into the clouded night's sky. They flew to avoid the men who slowly came ashore, releasing their hold on the cork rafts they'd floated across on and, Arisakas raised above their heads, creeping forward out of the water and into the grass which ran right up to the steep banks of the canal.

Squad by squad the Japanese crept forward towards the Taiping positions. Bayonets held fixed, officers gripping the hilts of their swords. Some already were stained with the red of the blood of forward sentries. Ahead the grass was burned away for three hundred yards beyond the forward line of Taiping trenches, the tripwire trench. The Japanese dropped down on their bellies here and waited in the grass. Suddenly from behind there was the deep crack of a single artillery piece, and a starshell illuminated the night in the harsh white of phosphorescence. The Taipings did not have time to react before the rolling thunder of massed artillery opened up. The shells slammed down into no-man's land, HE, fused to take out the mines. The barrage was sudden and intense, heavy mortars pumping out countless rounds in seconds as the night was rent with violence.

Lieutenant Morioka was a platoon commander in the 16th Infantry Division. Though divided into several sections, the division was on the line for this special attack. It was his first time in heavy combat. The roar of the artillery was incredible, the ground in front of him seeming to be alive with fire. General Yamashita had ordered even officers to take cover, and his reputation had largely enforced the order, though it went against Morioka's training, which demanded that a Japanese officer, as a representative of the Samurai class, never show concern for the enemy in combat lest it demoralise the common soldier. He carried only his sword. Most of the officers had ditched their pistols for this mission to avoid an accidental discharge; the guns of the soldiers were only now being loaded.

The shelling continued for what seemed like eternity. In reality it was only five minutes. Even as the great storm of artillery crashed down ahead of them, Morioka knew that amphibious tanks and combat vehicles were crossing the canal, and motor launches packed to the gills with more soldiers as well. But even before the Japanese artillery had ceased there was the incredible sound of the Taiping counterbattery arcing overhead and crashing down, far beyond the other bank of the Grand Canal; lesser shells falling right on it. In turn the Japanese heavy guns opened up and a general duel began.

The firing of the Japanese artillery was taking Japanese life. But this had been expected. Sometimes shells overshot and did damage to the Taiping trenches further to the rear; but sometimes they also fell amongst the Japanese brigade that had brought itself across the river and was now in position to launch the first attack of the great campaign which would give the Japanese all of China as the territory of the Yamato Emperor. Nobody minded. It was necessary to drive home the attack. Yet Morioka could not deny fear even as he thought these things, and tried to defeat it, one hand clutching his chest where he had placed the letter from his young bride back in Kyoto, promising to visit him at the Yakusuni Shrine after he fell in battle. The act restored his courage. Confident of his immortality amongst the glorious dead and the loyalty of his love, he patiently waited for his chance to die.

The barrage ceased abruptly, just a few late shells plunging down ahead of them. Lieutenant Morioka did not wait a single moment. He felt himself rising as though not in control of his own body, sword held high, thrusting it up in exclaimation to each screamed utterance. “BANZAI! BANZAI! BANZAI! Tenno Heika Banzai!!

His platoon rose with countless others, the men repeating the shout as they rushed forward with fixed bayonets. They raced over the ground and Morioka felt himself running with them, no, leading them! The officers charged headlong, the distance seemed so short. But the Taiping fire had hardly been suppressed by that short bombardment. The silence lasted for a while, but they got back to their guns in good time and in good order. And then the killing began.

Machine-guns stuttered in the night. Lebel rifles kept up a constant fire against the charging Japanese, who fired back only occasionally and did their absolute best to get to the Taiping trenches as fast, or faster, than was humanly possible. There were mines that remained intact. These killed many men, blasting them to pieces or catapulting them into the air missing one or both limbs, wreaking havoc. But the Japanese charged on, their officers taking the brunt of the fire but their example leading the men into a fanatical screaming charge. Hundreds of men had to have already been cut down and the time that passed seemed barely more than a minute or two.

The barbed wire before the Taiping trench had been blown out by the barrage in most places. Through one such gap rushed a Japanese officer far in the lead. He leaped down into the Taiping trench even as he was shot repeatedly. “Banzai!” His sword struck a man, hacking off his limb, before multiple bayonet thrusts finally killed him, the cry once more on his lips as he died, but in the end lost in the gurggle of blood.

More officers and men reached the trenches. The men threw grenades and leapt down in, bayoneting and shooting wherever they could. Grenades went off at close range, wounding friend and foe alike. Swords were used in deadly earnest and nobody took or accepted quarter from the other side. But somehow the Japanese succeeded in the confused action.

Lieutenant Morioka was surprised to find himself alive. He had expected to die in the attack, as surely as the night gave way to day. Some of his men were bayoneting the surviving Taipings, stabbing them until their torsos were a mush of blood and oozing, sliced guts. “Come on! Man the trench!” He shouted, as his own bloodlust slowed. “You'll just dull your bayonets, and there may be a counterattack!” Morioka moved among his men, beating them with his scabbard when they did not immediately obey.

The tanks had now reached the western side of the canal and they were moving up the slope. It was steep and slippery; several of them failed to climb it or even rolled over. A few more had been disabled by the Taiping artillery fire which continued to aim at the banks of the Grand Canal. But many got through, as did many of their supporting vehicles and the motor launches. The problem was that the Japanese had very few amphibious vehicles, and most were being used on the Huang in the west for one of the other major attacks.

Targeting for the artillery was shifted quickly. The Taipings had their first trenchline pre-set into their calculations. Once it was clear it was overrun—perhaps even before that, on a commander's gut instinct—the Taiping artillery began to fall on their own trenchline, pummeling the areas which had just been captured by the Japanese and inflicting further severe losses on the 16th Infantry Division.

As the battle continued the Taipings decided to counterattack. On both sides the tactics were primitive compared with the accepted standard as enumerated by the border battles between the Soviets and the Domination of Draka. But the conflict was fought with a ferocity that a western soldier would have perhaps have trouble comprehending. The Japanese were superiour in every way except for manpower. Indeed, a corps-level counterattack was initiated by the Taipings without hesitation against the positions of the 16th Division. The unit, battered by the charge across no-man's land, by the engaging Taiping infantry, by the exertions of their crossing, was very severely pressed.

The situation would surely have been lost for the Japanese without the arrival of the tanks. They were very light vehicles, armed only with 50mm short guns, but their rough terrain performance was nearly as good as it could be, and their amphibious capabilities were necessarily valued. Even so they had extreme difficulty in the terrain. Yet they were more than a match, their machineguns in particular, for the Taiping infantry. Supported by the infantry reinforcements they drove back the attacking Taipings. For a while a doubtful contest was maintained. Japanese attempts to advance using the light tanks and infantry charges supported by brief, suppressive artillery fire met with the Taipings bravely leveraging old French 75s out onto the field and engaging the Japanese tanks with direct fire from them, a tactic which proved actually rather effective.

In the end, however, the Japanese were able to bring over to many troops, their toehold becoming to decisive; they could not be driven back from it. Already Japanese engineers were working on bridging the Canal. It was not of a great width, and they had Drakian-designed bridging equipment. There were also several bridges in the area which, though the Taipings had destroyed them, could be easily repaired with the right equipment. Ample numbers of Manchurian labourers and Taiping POWs served to make the construction of the approaches quick, and they were worked with a sort of ferocity that might have troubled even the Drakian military observers in the area. They were ruthlessly urged on by constant whipping, with anyone who slowed down or collapsed immediately stabbed to death by bayonets or decapacitated, and anyone who appeared to give even the slightest offence—real or imagined--to a Japanese officer, likewise immediately meeting death. The result was a truly frenetic, utterly desperate pace that was aided by the fact that the workers had several maxim guns constantly sighted in on them, ready to open fire if they did not complete their assigned tasks on time.

Once these works were complete, heavy vehicles, the Japanese M-96 heavy tanks and their support and the artillery, could all be brought across. Until then Yamashita did not allow the enemy any chances at all to regroup. He launched countless infantry attacks and drove the light tanks forward as hard as he could to overrun the Taiping trenches and take on their reserves in a manoeuvre engagement before he had a single heavy combat vehicle over the river. The cost was high, but the results were what might be expected from such relentless and enterprising assault.

Simultaneously similar attacks had been launced in the Hanzhuang area. They were also successfully, essentially copying Yamashita's plan for the Peixian offensive and close enough that they could be mutually supporting. The Japanese were rewarded for their planning with a success devastating to the Taiping defensive posture. Before long the line was fractured in two places and two gaps each ten miles wide had been torn in it. The Taiping forces on the canal between them wisely retreated back towards Xuzhou as the Japanese rushed onward towards that critical road and rail junction, bringing up their heavy forces as fast as they could in support. As the Taipings retreated they destroyed everything that they could. The speed of the Japanese offensive, however, limited this, though it would take time to reestablish the vital railways, and that was critical.

Over Xuzhou,
VIP transport,
July 4 1938.

There was an area for about ten kilometers where the Xuzhou-Peixian railway ran between the Fei Huang and a smaller river with a breadth between them of only about two kilometers. This defensive area began about fifty-five kilometers further west than the Grand Canal, and the Japanese would have great difficulty in flanking it for to do so required operations in a constrained area which had even more extensive marshland. Maocun was the town further north on that same smaller river where the northern offensive would have to be held; fortunately the river was fairly broad there, though unfortunately not very deep. It would have to do, the orders to hold had been issued.

Now, the Third Princess Regnant knew very well, came that most interesting of things in warfare. If they were to save Xuzhou and in so doing save the defensive line, it would be a triumph of railways, not of physical exertions. Essentially it had become a race to move the heavy elements of an entire Front into position before the enemy got there. This was a race which would rely on the competency of the railway system's operators and schedulers and heavily, admittedly, on the German and Soviet missions. Until then she would be dealing with the defensive aspects of the conflict around Xuzhou personally, and that was evidenced by the fact that she even now was just flying into the city.

The Japanese inspired terror into the Taiping people; there was no denying it. Terror, as well as hate and a resistant spirit. That spirit was being capitalized on. It already had been capitalized on. Xuzhou had extensive defences and more and more defences were being added to those every day by the labour of hundreds of thousands of Taiping citizens. The would continue to build right up until, if necessary, the Japanese had overrun their positions. There was nothing being held back, for the threat was nearly beyond comprehension.

Japanese brutality was almost impossible to imagine. The torture of prisoners and forced conscript labourers reached levels that made one find it almost impossible to believe that fellow human beings could do such things. Meanwhile, disturbing tales were reaching back from occupied territory. Destruction of all churches. Execution of all religious and government officials. Mass murders in the cities; mass rape in the cities. Burning of crops to deny them to the peasants and the gassing of villages. All of that was done, with tales of particular cruelty—the tossing of babies onto bayonets for instance—which seemed medieval if it could have before existed in the human 'experience', such as it were, at all. A cruel and sinful thing that humanity is. There was not much else to be said for it.

Two other Japanese attacks had been launched. Neither one had been nearly as successful. The attack around Jining had been halted cold, thankfully, with bitter fighting in the streets of the city. Just two days had passed and it was already nearly a ruin, but ruins were difficult to advance in and the Japanese there were just worthlessly expending the lives of their men in the bitter house-to-house fighting to try and expand their toehold across the canal. That meant that the Caozhou salient as a whole would not be recoiled. The danger of it being cut off was still great, however, and some of the staff was proposing a retreat to the Fei Huang. The Emperor had rejected it out of hand. That lesser river would be harder to defend than the Huang and the excellent chain of lakes which backed nearly the whole Grand Canal; beyond that, the resources had been gathered and it was simply time to halt the Japanese advance.

Some generals had lost their nerve by the rapidity and ferocity of it; they were being replaced. Now they would fight, and as Mary's transport landed, four fighters as escort streaking off to come about and land on their own later, she knew exactly how she would accomplish that severe task. The railways would have to deliver on time, the forces would have to be manipulated and stacked, but the basic plan was already conceived in her head. Yet only arriving at Xuzhou and seeing the situation, the placement of the corps of her Front that was there and the success in rallying the retreating units, only this knowledge could tell her precisely how to implement it and the exertions requird to implement it.

One thing was going well for her units directly. The landings to the northeast of Kaifeng had been bottled up completely, not enough infrastructure, not enough boats and amphibians, for the Japanese to succeed. They were pinned to the shore of the Huang not unlike the British had been in the early days of their lands at Gallipoli. Ground was being ceded yet no breakout was threatening from the Japanese. That diverted the defensive units immediately in the area, granted, but allowed Mary to detail another of her corps from Zhuji to the east on another rail-line; compared to the three corps coming up from Suxian that was going to be much easier to handle, even if the distance was further. A sixth corps at Bengbu could not be reliably brought into action in time and so she didn't bother with it; if she failed it would be better to leave it in place so it could be used in another effort at a further defensive line rather than leave it disordered, unable to deploy and yet close enough to the front to be fallen upon by the victorious Japanese.

Thus her plan would have to be effected with five army corps and whatever of the forces retreating from the Grand Canal that could be rallied and made effective in time. The strength of the enemy was unknown; that was to be expected and it would not necessarily change her plans as long as it was in her margin of error. Indeed, those plans largely depended on taking advantage of terrain to compress the enemy formations such that their numbers became irrelevant. Yet there was much work to be done to insure that, and now as her plane came to a stop the time for thinking had come to end and the time for action had begun.

Yamashita's HQ,
July 9 1938.

“Your advance has been very impressive so far, General. What is the delay?”

Yamashita remained silent for a while. The Drakian attache, who had arrived from Tokyo in time to miss the start of the offensive—thankfully—was very annoying. He had sort of a snide, nasal air in his voice even though his English was so much better than the mangled version the Drakia normally spoke. Yamashita's was better than their's, for that matter. Then he turned, his bull-headed, shaven look staring down the Drakian officer in his full dress uniform. Yamashita wore combat dress, and only his sword distinguished him from a regular soldier.

“I know the situation on the front. You do not, Brigadier.” He intentionally used the English version of the fellow's rank as a subtle—or considering Yamashita, not so subtle—insult. “I have just come from there and we are now advancing on very badly constrained ground. The tanks have difficulty operating. This is to be expected. It has been little more than six days since the attack began and we have already covered nearly sixty kilometers. Our forces are within fifteen kilometers of Xuzhou and our artillery is hitting the city—if you have not heard that yet you may understand it to be true, for I have just inspected the batteries.

“Ten kilometers a day is excellent progress on poor terrain that is heavily constricted by geography when the enemy is strongly opposing us. In fact, for most of the advance we managed better than that but have only recently slowed.” A grunt, and Yamashita turned from the fellow---Paul van Goostricht or something like that, Yamashita didn't care—and walked over to the plot board that was prominently placed with the grid map over it. He gestured down with his swagger stick. “You see, the area of advance is divided by several watercourses and in this spot is but two kilometers wide, and then can only be accessed by a river crossing. We could obviate the need for that crossing by concentrating the attack from our flanking forces. But they would still have to assault down such a constricted space. So we are going to instead use these forces to make a crossing of the Fei Huang..” A gesture. “There as well.

“The Fei Huang is narrow enough there that we can use your bridging equipment”--a faint snort came as the acknowledgement to that contribution--“That we might bring over heavy equipment as well. But infantry will be sent directly across and we shall try and cut the railway south of Xuzhou. If we can cut the railway our forces approaching the city from the east can grind through the defences at our leisure.”

“An interesting operational decision. I admit that Drakian officers would be hesitant to rely so much on repeated bridges of rivers to gain the flank on the enemy,” the attache replied, nuancing his words carefully. “What do you think are the failure points of your plan?”

“You think like Brits—just go straight ahead,” Yamashita replied flatly, staring at the attache for a moment. “I don't know. I'll find out when they happen. Which means I need to be there to fix them when they do.” And with that he strode out again, his staff glaring at the impudent Drakian more than enough for Yamashita to not bother himself, which was at that a more subtle, and quite monumental, insult.

Marshalling Yards,
July 15 1938.

Once more the sound of the antiaircraft guns firing tapered off in Xuzhou. The workers at the marshalling yard had not stopped during the attack, and they barely noticed the cessation of firing. Men were already rushing to repair the very limited amount of damage done to the yards by the raid. In the meantime the vast number of labourers had not ceased in the task of unloading the latest arrivals from the south. It was amazing what some steel levers and massive amounts of physical labour could do in the absence of a sufficient number of cranes, though all of those were working at maximum capacity as well.

The city had come together splendidly. Mary's presence in that had helped immensely; members of the Imperial family were regarded as halfway to gods despite the christian faith of the region and her assured confidence in bringing her headquarters to Xuzhou had helped stiffen local morale. Gradually the resolve had only strengthened; as the hours went by more and more work was being done, the frenetic efforts of the citizens to meet the Japanese threat. But now they were at the most critical moment. A battalion of T-35 heavy tanks, modified into tank killers which, in their final form, mounted the awesome 152mm Soviet howitzer in a fixed traverse, were being unloaded in the marshalling yard.

Some of them were the older reconstruction design which more modestly had the 122m; they would simply have to do. The moment they were unloaded they were started up by their waiting crews and started for the front. Fortunately the Japanese had been able to do little to interdict the movement of the Taiping troops and in particular heavy armour. Though their fast twin-engine bombers were still making raids they were just that, raids, and if they stayed longer than to make a single pass they would be annihilated. The Japanese ground attack aircraft weren't even in the picture, and that meant everything as those massive improvised tank killers headed slowly on their way north to join another battalion that had already arrived and a collection of Su-85s, T-31s, and tank killer T-26 variants.

Those vehicles had precious little time to go into action. Japanese forces had finally broken through in the north. The monstrous T-35s that rolled past Mary's headquarters would be driving straight to the front where they would engage Japanese forces that were only fifteen kilometers from the city, fighting their way through the masses of infantry and hastily emplaced minefields, tank traps, berms, and trenches, where hundreds of thousands of Taiping citizens laboured even as they were taken under machinegun and artillery fire to improve the massive belts of improvised fortifications that had sprung up around Xuzhou. Japanese forces in the east were only fourteen kilometers from the city but still pinned in the narrow terrain there. The two Japanese forces were separated by no more than twenty-five kilometers, but the countless rivers and wetlands in the area between them made the gulf as effectively great as hundreds of kilometers of flat ground.

That wasn't the bad part. For Mary had just received news that enemy crossings of the Fei Huang in strength were being carried out. That was a direct threat on her supply lines and indeed on the survival of Xuzhou. There was a third battalion of T-35s in the area. They would have to hold until the recently formed and only (nearly) operational battalion of KS-1s that was being rushed north could help to meet the threat. And even that might not be enough—yet she could not worry about that. It would simply have to be. In the meanwhile it would be up to the old rebuilt heavy tanks—and to one overstrength corps of half-armed, barely disciplined and poorly supported infantry. They would have to meet the enemy at the small roadside town of Zhangji, and that engagement would decide the fate of millions.

Chapter Six: With enough blood...

Xuzhou Military District,
Northern Sector,
Taiping China,
July 15-16 1938.

The sky was remarkably clear, for all that the massed artillery and bombs crashed down ahead and around them. Dueling airplanes might occasionally be seen. But in general the artillery cratered the mud, and there was a lot of that. The fields ahead were flooded, new canals had been hastily dug to further complicate the situation, and defences of rocks, of dirt, and some of steel or wood, had been hastily erected in every place. What had once been farmland was now a bizarre sort of battlefield. It was here that the Taipings fought, to the south of Maocun, in a general engagement with the Japanese northern force. But it was just one of several major battles now underway.

It was one that the Taipings intended to be exactly this way. The Japanese had pushed into the area roughly from Zhengji in the northwest to Gupei in the southeast. But that rea was highly constricted and manoeuvring in it nearly impossible; yet it was the best place of attack along the whole line. The problem was that the Taipings had known that and had been preparing for an attack there for months. Their defence was placed in depth according to Soviet concepts. Fields were flooded. Tank traps were prepared. Walls of earth and of stone were erected to limit the manoeuvring ability of vehicles. Lines of trenches were dug. Minefields were laid. Bridges were rigged with charges. Massive numbers of troops were now being concentrated into the area to meet the Japanese offensive.

The Taipings had twenty-six infantry divisions, two independent brigades, two motorised infantry divisions, two artillery divisions, and four armoured divisions operating along a one hundred and fifty kilometer front, about a division for every four kilometers of frontage, and in some case the density was much greater. The Japanese attacking force had twelve infantry divisions, three mechanised divisions, two artillery divisions, and three armoured divisions. But the Japanese forces were in general better equipped. They universally had semiautomatic rifles while their opponents were in many cases equipped with ancient French Lebel and occasionally even Gras rifles; only the best units had Mosin-Nagants.

Though it was absolutely critical to repulse the forces driving south against Xuzhou before they could reach the city, and there was so little space in which to do it, the decisive encounter was evolving south of the city where Yamashita's efforts to punch through the weak-point in the defences was now evolving. Yet both of these efforts were interconnected. The Taipings had to win at both places. Thankfully the eastern approach was essentially stalled in the stacked defences there; that left two fronts, but on both of those fronts victory absolutely had to be achieved.

Breaking through the defences in the north was a relative term. The Japanese had finally blasted their way through the tangled warren of the heaviest of the defences that were concentrated just south of Maocun on the river-line, but there was more behind them. These were by no means complete, but they did not really have to be. By choosing to construct defences heavily in segments rather than a weaker and interconnecting line the Japanese onslaught, at least of armour, was being channeled. An entire Japanese armoured division, though already depleted in the earlier fighting, was slowly slogging its way down into the outskirts of Xuzhou.

Ferocity countered ferocity, and for all that the Japanese had the better small arms they were outnumbered more than two to one. The infantry fighting was a tangled mass of little conflicts separated by barriers and watercourses, short and local little slaughters mixed in with random artillery fire, often poorly planned, that could kill friend or foe alike. The tanks had constricted areas of operation, very constricted, but ultimately that played the worst for the Japanese. The infantry combat had degenerated into a mutual slaughter. The armoured combat was one waiting to happen, and it did.

Each of the heavy T-35 battalions had been divided in two, each section with two companies, one of 122mm armed and one of 152mm armed versions. The tank killers were positioned hull-down at blocking points against the gaps in the inner defensive ring and they were amply supported by BT-7Ms, T-31s, and T-26 tank-killer variants of other battalions. Older T-26s, BT-5s, and T-28s supported the infantry at other points where necessary. The Japanese M-96s surged forward in what free terrain as they had, stacked deep by necessity of space, charging headlong into their opponents in an effort to cut free of their restraints on manoeuvre by massed attack.

There were nearly four hundred M-96s attacking. But they were forced to advance in four deep columns of about a hundred each, straight into the Taiping armour which, due to the constraints on manoeuvrability, could comfortably fight hull-down and in some cases with the weaker vehicles having good crossfire positions to catch the Japanese from their flanks. It didn't matter. The Japanese had no other way to advance to and so they simply chose to rely on the expectation of victory in a direct forced assault. It turned out disastrously.

As one Japanese column approached the Taiping defences they were immediately engaged by twenty-three tank killers, twelve armed with the 152mm gun. Eight M-96s were destroyed outright, mostly by the massive shells but others by good hits from the lesser shells. The regimental commander was leading from the front and he was one of those killed. In the confusion his force simply continued to advance. They now took fire from the sides, sometimes at close range. This did far less damage, the 76.2mm guns not nearly as effective as the massive artillery fitted to the rebuilt T-35s, but it added to the telling effect of their fire, and the several SU-85s on the flanks certainly did rather more than that.

Similar scenes were playing out in other places, as the big Japanese tanks manoeuvred around the burning hulls of those already destroyed just to come under the heavy fire of the Taiping vehicles in their defensive positions. The area was festooned with anti-tank guns and many of these were being wheeled into position to add to the fire, sometimes firing anti-tank rounds and sometimes being used with HE to hit the supporting Japanese infantry. They were hauled by a mix of mules, horses, and where necessary, teams of labourers, dragging them over paths from flanks that seemed inaccessible to the Japanese, over laid-out wood and stone that was piled into the watery fields just high enough to insure that the guns could somehow be dragged through them.

As more and more artillery converged on the advancing Japanese columns they were completely halted, pinned down and savaged by the massed fire of the heavy guns brought against them, the light weapons wheeled in against vulnerable spots or well positioned, the general intensity of the fire all converging to smash through a huge number of the modern Japanese tank arsenal as such were concentrated here. The infantry was called in to save the situation, ordered to charge forward and seize the guns, disable the enemy tanks with satchel charges if necessary, to force open the path to Xuzhou in whatever way as was required.

The effort simply made the situation worse. Charges by the Japanese infantry to get in range were bloodily repulsed with all sorts of machineguns even if the rifle fire was insufficient for the task alone. The mud was churned red as hundreds of men were shot down, bodies blasted to pieces by HE and shrapnel fire, stiff local counterattacks disordering the Japanese attacks, everything happening at ranges much to close and in the most hideous of circumstances. Entire units were caught up on barbed wire and against minefields, blasted to pieces by maxims or mortar fire. The machineguns on the Taiping tanks fired until their barrels veritably glowed with the heat. And yet with each repulse the Japanese picked up their shot-through, mud-splattered flags, rallied, reorganized, and charged again. Reinforcements were thrown without hesitation into the grinder, and the bodies seemed almost stacked in certain places.

Combat continued into the night. The Japanese infantry, in fact, bolstered by reserves, made several headlong charges during the night. In the darkness even minefields which had been previously marked were sometimes blundered into. The sound of men blowing themselves to pieces with a wrong step was obscured by the constant stuttering of the machineguns. A system of runners was actually formed to bring up new machinegun barrels from a factory in Xuzhou which could produce them, directly to the front. In some cases the gunners had been firing almost continuously for more than thirty-six hours and gone through countless barrels. There was a desperate struggle with thousands of porters who had only hours before been engaged in back-breaking labour to improve the defences, now being sent forward with belts of ammunition around their necks and boxes of rifle ammunition tied to their backs, moving out from the city to the fighting units in endless lines.

The situation was only exacerbated by the efforts of the Japanese eastern force, which launched a series of diversionary raids as the morning of the Sixteenth dawned, waves and waves of infantry advancing down a two-kilometer wide front, incredibly dense, a human wall charging directly into the Taiping defences—no, six walls stacked one after the other and moving as fast as they could, trying to overrun the trenches by sheer weight, the barbed wire crushed to the ground by the bodies pinned on it or blasted by mortars worked up to close range, flinging themselves at the Taiping trenches which were defended with equal ferocity. Combat continued until the barrels of rifles were so hot that to touch them would be to receive a serious burn and cartridges were deformed in the breach, sometimes exploding on their user as they were loaded, the capabilities of the ancient rifles pushed to the brink.

Bodies were immediately flung into damaged sections of the parapets to repair them, being used like so much lumber to strengthen the defences. The strain on the limited Taiping medical facilities was so great that the vast majority of the soldiers wounded ended up expiring later; for the Japanese it was not all that much better of a situation. Certainly no prisoners were being taken by either side at this point: Anyone who was surrounded by the enemy was almost invariably bayoneted to death. In one case, during a brief lull in the intensity of the fight, a Japanese officer walked along a line of seventy Taiping captives, most of them seriously wounded, hacking off all of their arms with his sword so that they would bleed to death. The Taipings were more practical—they incoporated the bodies of Japanese soldiers into the defensive parapets without bothering to check on whether or not they were still alive.

Japanese armour again pressed forward during the sixteenth and was again thrown back by the defences. In many cases the Taiping tanks had been disabled in the fighting and in the mud themselves, but a fair number of these still fought on as improvised pillboxes while in many cases the Japanese were not much better off; besides, there were countless anti-tank guns, real or improvised, to be used as well. At their nearest the Japanese in the north got within nine kilometers of Xuzhou. But they were thrown back by massed waves of Taiping infantry supported by guns hastily diverted to bite into the flanks of the Japanese force. This high-water mark of the Japanese assault from the north came at 3 PM local time on the sixteenth and in the hours that followed thousands of Taiping troops were killed driving them back.

This sort of fighting continued into the night of the sixteenth, when the Japanese, desperate to succeed, launched all-out Banzai charges on both the northern and eastern fronts, throwing every unit they could muster into the assault. Star Shells from both sides illuminated the field of combat in a hideous way, airplane flares just adding to the contrast and the brilliant and brief flashes of artillery turning the scene into one of hell, with cold mud below and fire in the black sky. In this truly unreal sensory enviroment soldiers collided and fought with each other indiscriminately, many casualties inflicted by one's own forces as the charges began disordered or as the fighting reached the trenches, which, so hastily dug, were often such that the Taiping troops had to fight up to their waists in the mud.

Yet these sorts of suicidally mad attacks did not bring the Japanese victory, and one last great push on the morning of the seventeenth came to naught, only serving to pile more corpses into the defences of the city. Beyond that, the attacks in the north and east had only served to pull Taiping troops away from the area which Yamashita—who had attacked in the east only as a diversion and then only when forced to by his superiours, and had no control over the hopeless drive from the north—had decided would be decisive. And by the seventeenth that field of battle was already fully in play.

Xuzhou Military District,
Zhangji Area,
July 16-18 1938.

The focal point of the attack was about halfway between Shuanggou and Zhangji; the battle would be named for the later but that would only serve as a point of debate in the future. Here Yamashita's men made a forced crossing of the Fei Huang against a blocking corps consisting of conscript units armed with old Gras rifles, occasionally Lebels. They had ancient maxims and in some cases Montigny Mitrailleuse. The Japanese artillery had hit them hard, but they stubbornly held on until a massed assault by light tanks overran their positions.

Even then they fought. Falling back the units were aided by the large numbers of old French 75s available to them. These guns were brought in action against the light tanks, and for a while the corps rallied, fighting hard. It was overstrength, four divisions, and despite the paucity of modern weaponry their gallant use of the 75s against the enemy tanks leveled the odds for a while until Yamashita got the M-96s crossing in large numbers. Once those tanks entered the field the defence effectively collapsed and by early morning on the sixteenth the Japanese had seized Zhangji and cut the road from Shuanggou to Xuzhou.

For a moment the Japanese appeared to be in a position to make their victory total. Their tanks raced up the road toward Xuzhou unopposed. But their was a roadblock. An armoured brigade had managed to get into position, equipped with the last battalion of T-35s, and two more battalions of mixed SU-85s and T-31s. They were reinforced by infantry levies from Xuzhou, textile workers thrown enmasse at the Japanese formations, slaughtered to buy time for more troops to get into position, to protect the tanks from close-in infantry attack. Here the M-96s had more maneouvring room and the battle was less uneven; yet the 152mm guns of those precious few so-armed T-35s still managed to do awesome damage to the enemy.

In the center, however, the Japanese faced their biggest threat. A whole brigade of T-26 tank-killers were supported by a battalion of the new IS-1s which had been sent by airship into Taiping China over the Tibetan plateau after the railroad had been cut. They were not only KS-1s, but they were also manned by Soviet crews. The Soviets, veterans of the battles around Almy-Ata with the Draka, proved themselves absolutely lethal, supported by the T-26 tank killers and several battalions of T-28 light tanks and T-31 mediums. Anti-tank guns were also plentiful.

Those sixty-some KS-1s proved they were worth their weight in gold. With their turreted 122mm guns they were more than capable of taking out the Japanese M-96s, while the long 75s of those vehicles had real difficulty against the heavy frontal armour of the KS-1s. Their expert, veteran Soviet crews, indeed, a real pick of personnel who were all capable of being trainers for the Taipings but were instead rushed into combat due to the lack of time available to train up Taiping crews for the tanks, proved even better. They were opposed at first by one brigade of M-96s, and when they had savaged it a reserve brigade was sent in. The diversion of that brigade nearly killed the Japanese chances to easily take Xuzhou.

By the seventeenth the Japanese had slogged their way into range of the railroad from Suxian to Xuzhou. Here, the Taipings having done everything they could to keep the railroad open, turned it into a weapon. Several armoured trains with 152mm guns on them were positioned to support the slowly retreating Taiping armour, which then rallied and stood. Regular infantry units were arriving in numbers, both marching south from Xuzhou and detraining to the immediate south of the scene of the combat and going directly into action. The Japanese here were assailed on both flanks due to the vulnerability of their position thanks to an extreme bend in the Fei Huang just to the east of Xuzhou. The advance proved untenable without support on the left flank, and that would have to mean victory in the centre.

Throughout the day of the seventeenth a hard tank action was fought around Zhangji. Hundreds of Taiping and Japanese tanks dueled, ground up infantry units on both sides, and manoeuvred for position. The Japanese at one point got within ten kilometers of the railway here but were stopped by a river; though it was easily fordable the Taipings had taken several train-loads of gasoline, dumped it in, and set alight. That delayed the Japanese long enough for a counterattack to drive them back. On the morning of the eighteenth the battlefield was still a confused and uncertain tangle of action in the general vicinity of Zhangji.

At this point it absolutely appeared to both Yamashita and Mary that the battle could go either way. The result of the action in the south hung in the air. Yet Mary had reacted to the Japanese push and the waiting for the result of those orders was what was required; a holding and diversionary action. The southern flank of the Japanese drive was not well secured. And it was close, relatively, to Bengbu, where her last corps waited. Some of those troops, the infantry, had been sent north. But the unit at Bengbu had the excellently fast BT-5, BT-7, and BT-7M tanks. These she had ordered north to Guzhen on the railroad and then to Shuanggou by road.

Of course, the BT-5 and BT-7/7M were designed to run by road on their wheels, and do so at speeds of up to ninety km/h. And they had sufficient range to easily drive from Guzhen to Shuanggou at that speed and go directly into combat. What that came down to was two brigades of light tanks appearing on the flank of the Japanese near Shuanggou having made a two hundred and fifty kilometer road/rail journey down already heavily conjested roads and rails in a period of barely more than two days.

The treads were refitted, the fuel tanks were partially refuelled from whatever could be scrounged in the area, and the crews prepared themselves for action. Elements of the original defending corps which had recoilled in the direction of Shuanggou from the initial Japanese crossing had by this time been at least partially rallied. With support from these infantry units the light tanks went into action on the morning of the 18th, attacking under the soft light of the early dawn.

Lieutenant Morioka's unit was engaged in sporadic combat with remaining elements of the Taiping corps they had routed several days before. Rumour filled the battlefield about successes in the west and in the north but nobody really knew anything concrete. All that they were definitely aware of was the fight in front of them, and here they had been stalled several kilometers from Shuanggou for the past day. The night had been quiet, without the usual harassing fire from the Taipings, and it made them all weary. But none of them were prepared for what came next.

Dust, racing up from the southwest in this area, drier than that to the north. A light artillery barrage from the Taiping positions opened up and the Japanese artillery promptly began counterbattery as the dispersed Japanese troops looked on. The dust gradually resolved itself into the ominous form of tanks racing up towards their positions in numbers. The order came in to hold their position, as now, at last, the Japanese artillery began to fire on the tanks. But it was to late and their spotting was not good enough to hit them all, though it did kill some. Beyond that, the battery commanders foolishly split their fire and continued to duel the Taiping artillery despite its short range and light calibres.

Yet Morioka had little time to curse the fools in the artillery division. The tanks were rushing on, and though they did not look so big, they couldn't be big considering how fast they were, making easily 30km/h across the uneven ground here, they would be lethal against infantry. “Prepare satchel charges!” He ordered; it was the only way here the Japanese infantry had to deal with tanks. Now he fervently hoped for their own tanks to intervene.

The Japanese in the area only had light tanks and amphibious tanks and none of them had guns heavier than 50mm. They had a few guns suited for anti-tank work and these were being hastily concentrated to deal with the threat, along with the reserves. In the meanwhile the light tanks went forward, the fastest the Japanese had but much slower than the excellent Taiping BT-types. Worse than that, the Japanese light tanks were outnumbered at least two to one, possibly even more.

A disastrous result was in the offing for the Japanese army, and it happened, after their tanks had charged recklessly forward to engage the advancing Taipings. The Taipings smashed through the Japanese tanks in a tangled turmoil of action that left Morioka and his men tensely waiting, rarely having chance to fire their guns. Then the remaining Japanese tanks were driven back and the Taipings did not even pause from the action. They immediately began a general pursuit that led them headlong into the Japanese infantry positions, and Morioka prepared to die.

The machineguns of the tanks opened up, slaughtering the Japanese infantry as they raced forward, bullets from the Japanese machineguns bouncing off their armoured hides, mortars exploding around them as they moved to fast to be hit by the Japanese infantry weapons; a few lucky mortar shells disabled a few more Taiping tanks, but there were far to many and they were coming on to fast. Yet the Japanese infantry, having ordered to hold, did not retreat from the armoured onslaught.

Lieutenant Morioka, alternately threatening and encouraging his men, kept them in place, as concealed as much as they possibly could be, until the Taiping tanks were on them. “Hit them! Hit them!” He screamed, as his men directed a hopeless fusillade at the buttoned-up vehicles. If they could not see, the Taiping drivers simply drove through something; that disabled a few tanks but far less than the havoc that would have done been done if the commanders had been visible targets to be shot at. Yet at the same time the real threat, the satchel charges, were pressed forward into the attack, here where the Taiping tanks briefly slowed to navigate the Japanese defensive works, such as they were, and provide support for the infantry racing on behind them.

One of his men somehow got a satchel charge under one of the enemy tanks. The explosion brought it to a halt, smoking and burning. “Banzai!” Morioka shouted. The crew tried to bail out. “Hit them! Hit them!” he screamed, firing a rifle picked up from one of his men who had fallen. The crew of the tank was shot down but then Morioka, already half-deaf from the noise of the combat he had already been in, felt pain blossom in himself and wetness in his uniform, that of blood. He was wounded, no, wounded repeatedly, and collapsed down to the ground without realizing it.

Another tank had arrived, its machinegun scything through his men. He had been one of its first victims; only through the greatest act of will did he keep himself from crying out, from revealing the intensity of his pain. As that pain washed over him, Morioka's mind drifted dreamily to images of Yakusuni in spring and the delicate face of his love, until pain blossomed once more, an indescrible pain, as the tank ran carelessly right over his body. There were a few seconds of incomprehensive and then his brain ceased to function.

The counterattack continued. The amphibious tanks, to slow to charge with the light tanks suicidally against the Taiping advance, were held back and operated with the anti-tank guns and in the infantry reserves. Here the real damage as done, but the amphibious tanks were just as vulnerable as their light counterparts, and slower. The anti-tank guns did not exist in nearly enough numbers and they were low on ammunition besides. The Taipings were assaulted by the courageous and fanatical Japanese infantry; they did not have enough weaponry to deal with the tanks.

Fighting in this area lasted only long enough for the Taiping infantry to catch up and finish dealing with the support of the reserve forces. They overran and found the local brigade commander, flags burned around them and his belly slit in atonement for his failure. By that time the Taiping BT-types were already racing on into the rear areas of the Japanese force, as though they were old fashioned cavalry exploiting the flanks of an enemy army. A sort of cavalry which in this case requird the diversion of the heavy M-96s from the front to deal with them, and in doing so save the Japanese army here from total destruction.

This diversion of the heavy tanks succeeded in saving the Japanese army, but it also allowed a general advance of the Taiping centre force. That in turn drove the Japanese in the north to reluctantly make a general retreat and as they did only the greatest of exertions and fanatical commitment kept the centre forces in a fighting withdrawal, ultimately holding on long enough to guarantee the evacuation of the rest of the Japanese forces, somehow avoiding a general rout.

By the nineteenth of July the battle was over. The Japanese had been driven back to the Fei Huang and additional Taiping units were pressing north from Gupei, pushing the Japanese back into the marshes and areas constrainted by the watercourses, until they had been driven back far enough to give some breathing room, to constrict and to eliminate the possibility of a breakout, until further offensives in the area would only become pointlessly costless to the Taipings rather than of any military value. The Japanese held some land, but it was in an area from which they could not break out and which was ultimately worthless, and it had cost a massive toll in deaths and depletion of equipment to even make this much of a 'success' out of the operation. Thus ended the battles around Xuzhou, and ultimately any real hope the Japanese held for the conquest of Taiping China, though they would refuse to accept it for years longer.


The Japanese lost about 110,000 killed in all three attacks on the various sections of the "Great Wall of Flesh and Blood", or properly, the Grand Canal--Yellow River Defensive Line. This includes during about fourty days of counterattacks. Taiping losses in the same period were around 250,000 killed in all three of those actions.

However, those deaths are not just soldiers--they include civilians or, in the case of the Japanese, labourers. Another important fact to remember is that essentially no prisoners were taken by either side, which somewhat increases casualties. Not included in the earlier division tally were the initial two Japanese divisions, which were badly mauled in the crossing and counterattacks immediately after it. That means there were about 550,000 Japanese troops and 875,000 Taiping troops involved in all aspects of the conflict around Xuzhou alone, with many more at the other two attempted crossing points, though this was the largest.