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Tito’s forces were the most remarkable of all the partisan armies, a quarter of a million in 1943, who inflicted extensive casualties on the German military. The partisans themselves lost 305,000 men and women.35 Tito clashed with the Soviet leadership, who reprimanded the Yugoslav partisans for ultra-leftism. The great strength of Tito’s forces, though, was that they were committed to liberating themselves. ‘If we ourselves do not do our best in the struggle against the invader, if we sit with folded arms, we cannot expect the Red Army to liberate us’, said Tito’s righthand man Milovan Djilas. The Partisans ‘Anti-Fascists Council of National Liberation’ first met in Bihac on 26 November 1942, and would have named itself a government, but the Soviets objected that they could not, still hoping that the Royalists could be brought on side.
Tito’s Central Committee ‘knew that the Soviets viewed our struggle, and our relations with the royal government, in the light of their relations with Great Britain’– in other words, the Soviets followed the British policy of demanding that the Royalist government’s rights be observed.36 Between January and April 1943, the Partisans faced a sustained German offensive, ‘Operation Weiss’, or the Fourth Anti-Partisan Offensive, which rallied six German, three Italian and two Chetnik divisions. The campaign cost the Partisans 8000 men and women, but Tito survived by crossing the Neretva River into eastern Bosnia and scored the moral victory. Weiss was followed up with a Fifth Anti-Partisan Offensive in May and June 1943, but this time the German forces were pushed back after initial success, cementing the Yugoslav National Liberation Army’s reputation. That December the Soviet government issued a communiqué supporting Tito’s provisional government. The same month, in Teheran, the Allies together backed Tito’s partisans and British support for Mihailovic was abandoned.37 In 1943 Churchill batted off criticism of the Titoists saying that ‘the partisans and patriots in Yugoslavia and Albania were containing as many [German] divisions as the British and American armies together’. Hitler’s SS liaison officer Obergruppenfuehrer Karl Wolff said that ‘at least fifty divisions were engaged throughout the Balkans on occupation duty, primarily to check partisan activity’ – which was indeed more than were deployed in North Africa.38 British ambitions in the Balkans were damaged by their support for Mihailovic. The pressure for change built up in the SOE, and eventually, Churchill intervened sending the aristocratic Tory MP Fitzroy Maclean to Yugoslavia to support Tito.39
Allies’ fear of the resistance movement
A sharp-eyed Dwight MacDonald saw that Allied policy had turned around, from making a big political appeal for support in the early years of the war, as the resistance grew ‘everything is being done to de-politicize this war’. Rather the new official line was ‘this is not a revolutionary war and must not be allowed to “get out of hand”’ 40 The British intelligence officer and Soviet spy Kim Philby saw that ‘the resistance movements leant so heavily towards the Soviet Union, and the balance was only restored in France, Italy, and Greece by a massive Anglo-American military presence’.41 Put simply, the reason that the Second Front was finally opened up was because of the fear that the people would liberate themselves. Nazi rule had been welcomed by western leaders in 1920 and 1933 when it helped stabilize capitalism. Even when Germany’s territorial ambitions were too much for Churchill and Roosevelt to tolerate, they were still content to leave Fascist rule in place on the Continent – even seeking a modus viviendi with the authoritarian regimes in Spain, Portugal and Vichy France. On the other hand, they were prepared to use the partisan movements to destabilise Germany when it became a threat to American and British geopolitical ambitions. But now that Fascist rule threatened to provoke popular uprisings the Allies were finally persuaded to impose their own writ on Western Europe, rather than let power fall into the streets.
Chapter Twenty Two Partisans of the East In the east the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere was proving to be a sham, and for many, a death-trap. Of all peoples who suffered, it was the Chinese, both in China and across East Asia who were the hate figures of the Japanese Imperial mission. While many Indians, Burmese, Malays, Indonesians and Filipinos had seen the chance of a positive change in the Japan’s pan-Asian appeal, few Chinese could. When resistance to Japan’s presence in East Asia grew it was led by the Chinese, though soon enough they would be joined by many of the nationalist movements that Fujiwara Iwaichi had helped to organise to fight the British Empire.
The Chinese nationalist movement was divided between the two wings of the Kuomintang, the Communists under Mao Zedong, based in Yunan since retreating from the cities to the countryside, and the Nationalists under Chiang Kai-Shek. The nationalists had fought in earnest since August 1937 when Chiang Kai-Shek sent his crack troops to challenge Japan in Shanghai, at a cost of 250,000 Chinese. Retreating into the interior, Chiang’s forces inflicted a defeat on the Japanese at Tai’erzhuang that cost them 30,000 men.1 In 1938, to try to halt the Japanese advance into China, Chiang Kai-Shek ordered the dykes on the Yellow River breached, flooding thousands of square kilometres of Henan, Anhui and Jengsu, killing more than 800,000, and cementing his reputation as a tyrant.
The clique at the head of the Kuomintang, Chiang, his wife, and finance minister HH Kung exploited the support of the US for personal gain. Their demands for aid were heard sympathetically at first, but over time it became clear to Washington that a lot of the money never got to China, and Henry Morgenthau listed the $460 million that was held in accounts in the US. Quite a lot of the money was financing lobbyists and promotions aimed at getting more money, so that the Kuomintang was having a greater impact in Washington than in China. The US Chiefs of Staff were convinced that Chiang was putting up only token resistance and wanted Commander Joe Stilwell to assume command of the Kuomintang Army – a proposal that was too much for Chiang to accept. After all, Stillwell had written that Chiang will only continue his policy and delay, while grabbing for loans and postwar aid, for the purpose of maintaining his present position, based on one-party government, a reactionary policy, or the suppression of democratic ideas with active aid of his gestapo.2 Chiang’s nationalists were challenged by Mao’s Communists. The Communist Party had recovered from its near destruction in Shanghai, and had hardened its core cadre through the ‘long march’ in inland China, and was recruiting nationally-minded youth, disappointed by the corruption under nationalist rule. By 1941 party membership had grown to 700,000.3 That year, the Nationalists broke the truce between the two sides by attacking Ye Ting’s New 4th Army at Maolin in Anhui. The action led Roosevelt to suspend a scheduled loan of $50 million.4 Both nationalists and Communists were at different times suspected of withholding forces from the conflict with Japan in anticipation of their own war for predominance.5 Still, it was in the end the Communists who earned the respect for taking the war to the enemy. A 1944 US mission to Yenan concluded that ‘In Communist China there is... the most cohesive, disciplined and aggressively anti-Japanese regime in China’.6 By the end of the war Mao’s army was 1.3 million strong, and the eventual victor of the Civil War that followed, where it had been just one sixtieth of Chiang’s forces at the start.7
Japan’s long term policy in Korea was to force peasants from the land, which it did by registering ownership under the Cadestral Survey (1911-1918) and buying up plots through the Japanese Oriental Development Company. These dispossessed had to work for Japanese industry in Korea, or in Japan (as two million did by 1945). Under Japan’s forced industrialisation mining output grew five times between 1925 and 1940 while manufacturing doubled. All of Korea’s exports were within the ‘Yen block’, nine tenths to Japan.8 Koreans had demanded equality since the March 1st Movement of 1919, when some two million took part in demonstrations across the country. That led to reforms which put the administration on a more civilian footing, but still the Japanese were in charge. In 1924 a Korean Workers and Peasants League (they became two separate organisations in 1927) gathered many supporters. In 1929 they fought a three-month long strike in Wŏnsan in 1929.
In 1931, with the invasion of China on the pretext of the Manchuria incident, the Korean Workers League launched a strike that led to its suppression by the Japanese authorities.9 There were some partisan bands that fought the Japanese. The best known of these is the one led by the man who would become dictator of North Korea, Kim Il-sung. Like many Koreans who took up arms against Japan Kim Il-sung had been impressed by the Chinese Communist guerrillas. Having moved to Manchuria when young, he joined the North East Anti-Japanese Army in 1936, which was involved in a series of daring raids on Japanese posts between 1937 and 1940 on both sides of the Manchuria-Korean border. Kim led an attack on Pujŏn in 1937 that saw public buildings destroyed and Japanese police officers killed. Other leading Communist Partisans included Yi Hong-gwang (who was killed in
1935) and Ch’oe Hyŏn.10 Veteran nationalist leader and newspaper editor Yuh Woon-Hyung (Yŭ Un-hyŏng) organised an underground Korean Independence League from 10 August 1944, which called for the expulsion of the Japanese and carried out a number of actions. Yuh went on to found the Committee for the Preparation for Korean Independence in 1945.
The Japanese forces found collaborators among the British-sponsored Malay leaders, like Tunku Abdul Rahman. Still, Japan’s Total War Research Institute report of February 1942 showed just how little the Malays could expect. Welcoming the conservative influence of the Buddhist mainland, the Research Institute judged that the islands of the Malay Archipelago were underdeveloped, and would be ‘permanent colonies’ of Japan.11 Abandoned by their local allies, the British authorities reached out to the radical Malayan Communist Party, who were keen to fight. On 19 December 1941the Special Operations Executive’s Frederick Spencer Chapman began training Communists in guerrilla tactics – and even agreed that those who were at that time in jail for their subversive activities against the British Empire could be released to take part. According to Chapman, the Communists who were ‘young, fit and full of enthusiasm were the best material we ever had at the school’. The first detachment of the Malayan Peoples Anti-Japanese Army was set up on 10 January 1942, at Serendah.12 Operating from jungle bases the Malayan Peoples Anti-Japanese Army, became a formidable guerrilla force, harassing Japanese troops, Kempetai, administrators and local collaborators. The British liaison officers, ‘fascinated by the great seriousness of purpose and high intensity of life in the camps’ were unhappy at the MPAJA’s independence. The British had a spy in the Malayan Communist Party leadership named Lai Te, which gave them an advantage, though he also collaborated with the Japanese, calling his influence into question. In any event, the military leadership was effectively in the hands of the more resolute Chin Peng.
To spread their options, the British made links to other Chinese guerrillas who identified as Kuomintang, and tried to force the MPAJA to cooperate with them – though they were broken by the Kempetai in 1944. The British officers came to feel that they ‘were vagrants, dependent on the guerrillas’ charity’ and kept as ‘living exhibits of the decadent and
degraded colonial planter class’.13 Chin Peng had few illusions, though:
the British and their Commonwealth allies retreated, scuttled and surrendered. They used us. They abandoned us. When they returned they expected our undivided loyalty.14 His determination that the MPAJA should rely on its own resources – but take whatever help it could – was the making of one of the most determined partisan groups fighting in the Pacific War.