Map of Ichi-go plan

U.S. Army. Via

The largest operation attempted by the Japanese in China during the Pacific War was the Icho-go offensive of 1944, which involved up to 400,000 Japanese troops and 800,000 Chinese troops. Of these, the Japanese admitted about 30,000 casualties, while the Chinese suffered nearly 300,000 casualties. The campaign exhausted the strength of both powers, but with Japan already facing disaster in the Pacific, the most momentous consequence of Ichi-go was the weakening of the Kuomintang in the face of the Chinese Communist challenge.

The immediate objectives of the offensive were, first, to capture airfields in south China from which American air forces were preparing to carry out a strategic bombing campaign against southern Japan; second, to preempt any Allied counteroffensive from Yunnan; third, to establish land communications from Korea to Rangoon and bypass the increasingly tight American submarine blockade; and, fourth, to destabilize the Kuomintang government and possibly force China out of the war. The Japanese believed that the latter might even bring the United States to the negotiating table for a compromise peace.

Preparations were extensive. The Japanese diverted the Yellow River and repaired its railroad bridges, moved rail stock to the main Peiping-Hankow line, expanded airfields, and equipped their forces with 100,000 horses, 800 tanks, 1500 artillery pieces, 240 aircraft, and 15,000 motor vehicles. The Japanese scraped the bottom of the barrel for this offensive: Over 80% of the strength of China Expeditionary Army was committed, and replacements were brought in from Manchuria and Korea who were so poorly equipped that some were ordered to share rifles until they could capture Chinese weapons. At the same time, the Japanese engaged in a disinformation campaign meant to create the impression that they were only opening the rail line to compensate for difficult navigation along the Yangtze River.

The American ambassador to China, Clarence Gauss, reported as early as 23 March that "Japan is preparing for a new drive in Honan" (quoted by Mitter 2013). However, Stilwell was determined to open the Burma Road and dismissed these indications. Chinese intelligence failed to recognize Japanese preparations for Ichi-go in spite of a tip from the French in Indochina on 27 April 1944 that this was a major effort by the Japanese. By then the Japanese offensive in the north, Ko-go, had been underway for ten days, but the Chinese evaluated this as a localized effort and dismissed the French intelligence as a piece of Japanese disinformation meant to draw Chinese troops out of Burma. There had not been major fighting in China since 1940, and Chiang Kai-shek did not believe the Japanese would conduct serious operations anywhere but central China. Chinese intelligence simply could not believe that Japan had the resources to attack along the entire rail corridor from Peiping to Indochina.  The lack of Japanese river vessels seemed to preclude a serious advance along the Yangtze to Chungking. This failure of Chinese intelligence would prove disastrous.

Ichi-go consisted of three main phases. The first, Ko-go ("Keikan offensive"), which commenced on 17 April 1944, was an advance across the Yellow River into Honan by 400,000 Japanese troops against about 100,000 defenders. This advance sought to clear the railroad between Chengchow and Hankow. The attacking force was spearheaded by three infantry and one tank division of 12 Army (Uchiyama) and supported by a large number of independent mixed brigades. Luoyang fell on 25 May 1944 and the railroad was secured by June 1944. The thirty defending divisions, led by T'ang En-po, enjoyed no support from the people of Honan, who were embittered by continuing taxation in a time of famine and were allegedly incited by Communist collaborators. One participant in the battle later claimed that "Actually this is truly painful for me to say: in the end the damages we suffered from the attack by the people were more serious than the losses from battles with the enemy" (quoted by Mitter 2013). Leadership by Chiang Ting-wen and Tang En-po was entirely lacking, the two being accused of corruption and the latter even being accused of fleeing from the front. The low morale of the hinese troops involved was evident in their lack of discipline during the retreat, which included widespread crimes against the people of Henan.

Japanese order of battle, Operation Ko-go

North China Area Army (Okamura; at Peiping)     

1 Army (Yoshimoto)

37 Division (Nagano)

12 Army (Uchiyama)

27 Division (Ochiai)

62 Division (Fujioka)

110 Division (Hayashi)

3 Armored Division (Yamaji)

7 Independent Brigade

9 Independent Brigade

4 Cavalry Brigade

Elements, 5 Air Army
About 230 aircraft were committed to the campaign

Kuomintang order of battle, Operation Ko-go

1 War Area (Chiang Ting-wen)     
Chiang's deputy, Tang En-po, exercised operational command of most of the army groups from 1 War Area

4 Army Group (Sun)

38 Army (Chang)

17 Division
New 35 Division

96 Army (Li)

17 Division
New 14 Division

14 Army Group (Liu Mao-en)

15 Army (Wu)

64 Division
65 Division

Liu Kan's Army

4 Provisional Army (Hsieh)

47 Division
4 Provisional Division

9 Army (Han)

54 Division
New 24 Division

15 Army Group (Ho)

2 Cavalry Army (Liao)

3 Cavalry Division

14 Provisional Division

8 Cavalry Division

1 Provisional Brigade
2 Provisional Brigade
3 Provisional Brigade

19 Army Group (Chen)

9 Provisional Army (Huo)

111 Division
112 Division
30 Provisional Division

28 Army Group (Li)

85 Army (Wu)

11 Reserve Division
23 Division
110 Division

89 Army (Ku)

20 Division
New 1 Division

15 Provisional Army (Liu)

27 Provisional Division
29 Provisional Division

31 Army Group (Wang)

12 Army (Huo Shou-yi)

22 Division
29 Division
55 Provisional Division

13 Army (Shih Chueh)

4 Division
81 Division
89 Divisoin
117 Division
16 Provisional Division

29 Army (Ma)

91 Division
193 Division
16 Provisional Division

New 42 Division
New 43 Division
New 44 Division

36 Army Group (Li)

47 Army (Li)

39 Army Group (Kao)

New 8 Army (Hu)

New 6 Division
29 Provisional Division

14 Army

83 Division
85 Division
94 Division

78 Army (Lai)

New 42 Division
New 43 Division
New 44 Division

8 War Area
Arrived as reinforcements under command of the deputy commander of 8 War Area, Hu Tsung-nan

40 Army (Ma)

39 Division
106 Division
New 4 Division

1 Army (Chang)

167 Division

16 Army (Li)

3 Reserve Division
109 Division

27 Army (Chou)

128 Division

57 Army (Liu)

8 Division
97 Division
New 34 Division

14 Air Force (Chennault; at Hengyang)     

The second phase, To-go ("Shokei offensive"), was an advance into Hunan in June 1944 by a force of 360,000 Japanese spearheaded by 25 infantry divisions, a tank division, 11 independent mixed brigades, a cavalry brigade, and an air division. Transport was lavish by Japanese standards, consisting of 12,000 motor vehicles and 70,000 horses. The Chinese eventually reinforced the defending forces to a maximum strength of 800,000 troops, but were unable to hold Changsha, possibly in part because Chiang did not trust Hsueh and refused to release supplies to his forces. There was also a split in the Chinese high command between those who wished to defend the Kwangchow-Wuhan railway and those who wished to fall back to the Hunan-Kwangsi railway to buy time for the defense of Kweilin.

The Japanese then advanced to Hengyang where, to their surprise, the Chinese 10 Army held the city for 47 days. The defenders enjoyed support from Chennault's 14 Air Force but held mostly through sheer courage. When Chennault begged Stilwell to send more supplies to the defenders, Stilwell replied "Let the stew." (quoted in Mitter 2013). Meanwhile, the advance of 23 Army from Canton was delayed by Chinese counterattacks and the army actually lost touch with its base between 3 and 14 November. However, on 10 November 1944 the Japanese took Kweilin and were threatening Kweiyang. Fear of a Japanese advance clear to Chungking prompted Wedemeyer to airlift 23,000 troops into Kweichow.

The second phase of To-go and final phase of Ichi-go was an advance into Kwangsi in August 1944 by 100,000 Japanese troops against a roughly equal number of Chinese warlord troops, though the Chinese rapidly reinforced the defenders at Tushan (Dushan; 107.571E 25.837N) with five armies from 8 War Area that had previously been keeping watch on the Chinese Communists. By the end of the year, the Japanese had driven the Chinese out of Tushan and secured the railroad between Hengyang and Canton. This led Wedemeyer to predict the imminent fall of Chungking and Kunming and recommend that Chungking be abandoned to hold Kunming. However, the Japanese were at the end of their own logistics, having advanced 600 miles (1000 km) from their supply depots, and American air attacks had reduced military tonnage arriving at the main base at Wuhan from the usual monthly figure of 40,000 tons to just 8000. The Japanese were forced to withdraw from Dushan.

Japanese order of battle, Operation To-go

China Expeditionary Army (Hata; at Nanking)     

6 Area Army (Okabe)
Not activated until 26 August 1944
11 Army (Yokoyama; at Hankow) 10 divisions

3 Division (Yamamoto)

13 Division (Akashika)

27 Division (Ochiai)
Second echelon

34 Division (Ban)
Second echelon

37 Division (Nagano)

40 Division (Aoki)

58 Division (Mori)
Second echelon

64 Division (Funabiki)

68 Division (Tsutsumi)

116 Division (Inagawa)

6 Tank Brigade (Satake)

109 Regiment

5 Independent Brigade
7 Independent Brigade
12 Independent Brigade
17 Independent Mixed Brigade

23 Army (Tanaka; at Canton)

22 Division (Hirata)

104 Division (Suzuki)

22 Independent Brigade
23 Independent Brigade

Elements, 5 Air Army

Kuomintang order of battle, Operation To-go

4 War Area (Chang Fa-kuei)
Tang En-po, exercised operational command of most of the armies from 4 War Area in this operation

29 Army (Sun Yuan-liang)

91 Division
193 Division
11 Reserve Division

87 Army (Lo Kuang-wen)

43 Division
118 Division
New 23 Division

94 Army (Mu Ting-fang)

5 Division
121 Division
35 Provisional Division

98 Army (Liu Hsi-cheng)

42 Division
169 Division

9 War Area (Hsueh Yueh; at Changsha)     

16 Army Group (Hsia Wei)

64 Army (Chang Shih)

155 Division
156 Division
159 Division

31 Army (Huo Wei-chen)

131 Division
135 Division
188 Division

93 Army (Chen Mu-nung)
Later commanded by Kan Li-chu

8 Division
10 Division

24 Army Group (Wang Yao-wu)

73 Army (Peng Wei-jen)

15 Division
77 Division

74 Army (Shih Chung-cheng)

51 Division
57 Division
58 Division

79 Army (Wang Chia-pen)

98 Division
194 Division
6 Provisional Division

100 Army (Li Tien-hsia)

19 Division
63 Division

Li Yu-tang's Army

10 Army (Fang Hsien-chueh)

3 Division
190 Division
10 Reserve Division
54 Provisional Division

46 Army (Li Hsing-shu)

New 19 Division
170 Division
175 Division

62 Army (Huang Tao)

151 Division
157 Division
158 Division
159 Division

2 Assault Group

27 Army Group (Yang Sen)

20 Army (Yang Han-yu)

133 Division
134 Division
New 20 Division

44 Army (Wang Tse-chun)

150 Division
161 Division
162 Division

Ou Chen's Army

26 Army (Ting Chih-pan)

32 Division
41 Division
44 Division

37 Army (Lo Chi)

9 Division
60 Division
95 Division
140 Division

2 Provisional Army (Shen Fa-tsao)

7 Provisional Division
8 Provisional Division

30 Army Group (Wang Ling-chi)

58 Army (Lu Tao-yuan)

New 10 Division
New 11 Division
183 Division

72 Army (Fu Yi)

34 Division
New 13 Division
New 15 Division
New 16 Division

1 Advance Column
2 Advance Column
3 Advance Column
4 Advance Column

4 Army (Chang Teh-nang)

59 Division
90 Division
102 Division

99 Army (Liang Han-ming)

92 Division
99 Division
179 Division
New 23 Division

160 Division

The Ichi-go offensive attained almost all of its objectives, but these proved to be empty. The American airfields were put out of action, though by the end of 1944 this no longer mattered much, since the Americans had recaptured Clark Field in the Philippines and sealed off Formosa Strait from the east. The rail link across central and southern China was secure, but American air interdiction had made the rail link all but useless. Nationalist China lost the best 10% of its troops (over 500,000 men) and 25% of its remaining industrial base, as well as the manpower and agricultural resources of Honan, Hunan, and Kwangsi, putting it effectively out of the war. Again, at this point this no longer mattered much, since American forces were closing in on Japan from the south and east.

Critics of Stilwell point out that, because of his influence, the best Chinese troops had already been committed to Burma when Icho-go commenced, and Stilwell refused to leave the front in Burma to organize the defenses in central China. The most severe critics go so far as to suggest Stilwell deliberately refused to help in order to prove his point about the need for reform in the Chinese Army and perhaps to incite a coup d'état against Chiang. This was the last straw for Chiang, who demanded Stilwell's recall in the middle of the Japanese offensive.

In spite of its stunning success, Icho-go appears to have exhausted the strength of the Japanese Army in China. Army chief of staff Umezu Yoshijiro reported to the Emperor in June 1945 that the combat strength of all Japanese troops in China was equivalent to that of about eight American divisions and that munitions reserves were sufficient for only a single battle. Some of the Japanese planners of the offensive had predicted that it would make little difference to the outcome of the war, and characterized the real objective as "to keep hopes alive for the future" (quoted in Peattie et al. 2011).

The offensive drew so many Japanese troops out of north China that the Chinese Communists were able to greatly expand their areas of control, making the Communists arguably the only real beneficiaries of the campaign.


Allen (1984)

Browne (1967)

Collingham (2011)

Craig (1967)

Domes (1985)

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Gilbert (1989)

Hastings (2007)

Harmsen (2013)

Hoyt (1993)
Hsiung and Levine (1992)

Kehn (2008)

Larrabee (1987)

Liu (1956)

Mitter (2013)

Peattie et al. (2011)

Romanus and Sunderland (1953; 1954, accessed 2011-6-18)

Sih (1977)

Smith (1985)

Tuchman  (1972)

Wilson (1982)

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