The March of the Volunteers
Prologue: Morning Calm

From the moment the rugged plateaus of Soviet Central Asia were overrun by the Draka, it was clear that the Dominate of Draka will be driven out of its Eastern conquests only by enormous expenditures of blood. Tenacious in defence and heedless of casualty, the Draka’s mastery of that the harshest terrain in the heartland of Asia can only be challenged by a much larger army, and one that is prepared to pay an exorbitant price for every inch of soil regained.

The Soviet Union and the British Empire’s determination and resources were equal to the task, but it was expected that the campaign shall take the better part of two years, exacting an estimate of no less than a million in casualty. The strategic counter-attack was expected to begin in late 1942, to come to a successful close at middle to late 1944, from whence the allies would proceed across Persia to Mesopotamia, and then onto the Suez Canal by late 1946.

No one at that time had expected that a relatively small force made up entirely of light infantry, without aircrafts or motorised or armoured vehicles and artillery, the modern implements of warfare, would, with little more than rifle and grenade, so thoroughly dislodged the Draka that the Dominate Central Asian Command was all-but annihilated by the summer of 1943...

Heaven's Crusade, Martin Gilbert

Marshal Peng Dehuai pulled aside the blanket that covered the doorway of the last forward headquarters of the Taiping People's Volunteers, and pulled on his somewhat snug field uniform as he emerged, suppressing a slight shiver at the decidedly bracing morning air of the high Pamirs. The so-called headquarters was a rather modest affair, little more than a barn constructed by Uighur herdsmen God knows how many decades ago to shelter their herds high in the mountains. That it was abandoned had no little relevance to the this war - the border areas had became too dangerous for herdsmen since the lands of the Tajiks and the Kirghiz had been overrun by the Serpents in their drive to flank the Soviet heartland. And so the fortuitously located barn became a sentry post for Taiping borderers, and after that a convenient command post to co-ordinate the largest infiltration effort in the history of warfare.

At that, Peng looked back at the shelter, and saw with a small start that a balding man in a drab private’s uniform was standing just outside the entrance, regarding him in silence. Even now, Peng couldn't quite believe that the infamous Guo Sui, Nationalist guerrilla leader who had plagued the Taipings, the moribund Qing and later the Japanese for well-on two decades finally accepted the authority of the Heavenly King. Mao Zedong, newly created Count of Yanan, had fought the Taiping for many years in his native Henan before the Taiping's concentrated efforts became too much for the Nationalists. And in a Long March that would go down as one of greatest marches in history, he led the Nationalist Army from Henan to Sichuan, through Eastern Tibet, before he finally founded an enclave in Ningxia, the no-man's land between the Mongolian puppet state, the rebellious Northern provinces and Taiping core territories, where he began to build the basis of a new China, one based on nationalistic principles and unfettered by Western ideology or superstition. The Japanese's invasion of the Northern provinces, of course, cut short his project. Soon he found himself under assault from the North and the East, and only his unparalleled expertise in guerrilla warfare and the ruggedness of the terrain had prevented Yanan from being overrun by the vastly superior enemies. In an ironic twist of fate, the Yanan salient's survival had bought the Taiping prince of Gansu and governors of Sichuan and Shaanxi precious time to arrange the defence of south Shaanxi province, the gateway to Sichuan, the heart of China's hinterlands, and so Mao found himself the saviour of his bitter enemies. But that had paved the way to the Nationalist leader's reconciliation with the Taiping regime. For did they not both fight an enemy who would seek to extinguish China? For the good of the Nation, then, Mao Zedong acknowledged that the Heavenly King at present represented the interest of the Chinese nation. It was not an admission of great, or indeed any grace, but the Heavenly King understood the value Mao represented to national unity, his appeal as a great Nationalist, and especially how it might further galvanise the already growing resistance movements in the Northern provinces. And so the Nationalist leader found himself Count of Yanan, and commander of the re-organised Eighth Route Army of Long March veterans which continued to defend the hills of Ningxia with tenacity and skill, a thorn on the side of the Japanese, and a source of vital intelligence which were to prove valuable in thwarting the second and third Japanese drives against Xian.

Mao himself, however, were of greater value to China elsewhere. So he found himself making radio speeches and public appearances, and speaking to recalcitrant nobles and gentry. Acutely aware as he was that his power was severely weakened away from his gun barrels the Eighth Route Army, nevertheless he acquiesced, perhaps to prepare for the future. When Allied High Command first floated the idea of a Taiping force to infiltrate Central Asia in order to relieve pressure on the buckling Soviet Central Asian front, the Taiping General Staff immediately thought of the one man who was the acknowledged master of getting an army across thousands of miles of hostile territory, and so Mao Zedong, Count Yanan, found himself the leader of a contingent of formerly Nationalist advisors in the Westernmost extreme of the Heavenly Kingdom, planning and overseeing the infiltration campaign.

“Your grace.” Peng nodded.

“Marshal.” Mao walked forwards, hands behind his back.

“Last words?”

“Only nineteen. Di jin wo tui, di zhu wo yao, di pei wo da, di tui wo zhui. When the enemy advances we retreat; when the enemy rests we harass; when the enemy tires we attack; when the enemy retreats we pursue.”
Peng blinked, and nodded. Perhaps a tad contrived, but sound advice. And then he paused. “Those are sixteen words, your grace.”

“Go with God.”

In reply, Peng merely raised his eyebrows.

Mao smiled. “It isn’t a matter of names, but of China and her unity.”

At this point, another figure emerged, saving Peng from having to reply to that. That figure was quite incongruous with his surroundings, a tall, blond man in the dishevelled uniform of a German Brigadegeneral, and, unlike most Germans officers Peng’d seen, looked uncomfortable in it. This was of course Max Looff, who still hadn’t gotten used to the idea that he was an army officer. Max Looff was the commander of the German cruiser SMS Königsberg during the Great War, and was drafted along with his crew by the then Brigadegeneral Paul Erich von Lettow-Vorbeck in the defence of Celicia. He soon became the brigadier’s right-hand man, and learnt through brutal warfare both guerilla tactics and meticullous planning, and it is in that capacity he was seconded to the Taiping in assisting them to draw out detailed operational procedures and decide upon different operational zones for the regiments.

“Indeed, Marshal, may God go with you.” Looff does not speak much Mandarin, but that line was hard to miss in Taiping China. Switching to German, he added, “It is time to go, Marshal. We shall see you to the border.”

At this, the three of them walked towards the bottom of the valley, where Peng’s entourage and the staff of the TPV headquarters awaited.


This was to be the first projection of Taiping power outside her territory in this the worldwide struggle with the enemies of God and men. The Heavenly King had been reluctant to commit so large a force, and more critically, so large a force of veterans, to the North-western Front. However, the needs of the allies – and to secure a safe supply route for China, and to ensure that supplies in good quantity do indeed go through, he had been persuaded to send the Taiping People’s Volunteers, three Front Armies strong, into Drakan Central Asia.

There was no great ceremony to mark the beginning of the march from which many will not return, no fanfare, no celebrations, for all must be done with stealth and speed. Already the advanced elements of the 1st Taiping Volunteer Front Army under Lin Biao’s Heavenly Banner Army had entered Draka-controlled Kirgizstan in regimental strength. To the south Prince-General Mahamed Beg’s Western Volunteer Front Army had its own advanced elements under the 1st Uighur Volunteer Army almost on top of the Drakan garrison-towns in the Ferghana valley, and the main body was poised to cross the border at about the same time as Peng.

A hundred regiments of light infantry against a million dug in Serpent Citizens and Janissaries with heavy equipment and air-support.

Unbidden, a poem from the times of the Tang came to Peng’s mind:

Qin shi Mingyue Han shi Guan/
Wanli Changzheng ren mei huan.
Dan shi Longcheng feijiang zai/
Bu jiao huma du Yinshan.

The Moon since the Qin, the Gate since the Han/
In the march of ten thousand
li few ever returned.
If the General of the Dragon City still lived/
No barbarian would have been permitted to cross the Hills of Yin.

Straightening, Peng walked towards the waiting Pamirs. This would be a long climb, and he wasn’t getting any younger. It was time to begin.

In the distance, a lonely bugle sounded.