Fighting the Last War: The 1937 Battle of Shanghai Through the Prism of WWI

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Today the conflicts of the 1930s are generally seen as preludes to World War II, but
for the contemporaries they were late echoes of the Great War. Few could have known
that they lived not in the “postwar era” but the “interwar years”, and that an even
bigger cataclysm was approaching. The battle between Chinese and Japanese forces
for Shanghai from August to November 1937 is a case in point. It took place just 19
years after the end of World War I, reflected in a widespread tendency to look at the
hostilities in China’s largest city through the prism of the global conflict two decades
earlier. Many of the German advisors to the Chinese Army had been through the war
in the trenches and took the tactics they had honed there with them to Shanghai. This
resulted in near-impregnable Chinese defenses in and around the city, and it also
manifested itself in the introduction of shock tactics designed to bring about an early
decision rather than being bogged down in a costly war of attrition. Among Chinese
combatants, cultural references to World War I abounded. One officer described a
period of relative peace as reminiscent of All Quiet on the Western Front. A young
pilot found inspiration in the memoirs of Eddie Rickenbacker, an American fighter
ace of the Great War. Foreign spectators of the Shanghai battle, too, used World War I
as a frequent metaphor. Many had seen active service in Europe during the earlier
conflict and tried to make sense of the events unfolding around them by contrasting
them with their own experiences. The Japanese belligerents, on the other hand, had
little interest in the example of World War I, using the Russo-Japanese War as their
main point of reference, and perhaps they benefited from that. Those who lived
through the battle of Shanghai and actively looked for parallels with World War I
failed to appreciate aspects of the fighting that were truly new and would come to
characterize World War II: Mobile tank warfare, amphibious tactics and air power as
key determinants, and above all an offense-dominant rather than a defense-dominant
Publikationsdato5 jul. 2014
Antal sider19
StatusUdgivet - 5 jul. 2014
BegivenhedThe Impact of World War One on China's Modern History - University of Vienna, Vienna, Østrig
Varighed: 3 jul. 20145 jul. 2014


KonferenceThe Impact of World War One on China's Modern History
LokationUniversity of Vienna

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