1937 Battle of Shanghai, Japan’s Brutal Attack on China

Battle for Shanghai

In 1937, the first major clash of forces of the Imperial Japanese Army and the Chinese National Republican Army during the Second Sino-Japanese War was recorded in the Battle of Shanghai, or also known as the Battle of Songhu.

During the Japanese onslaught, the terrifying might of the Japanese Army was revealed. Apparently, Japan was far more superior in air power and number of combat troops and China was helpless at stopping the Japanese forces from occupying Shanghai. China had to brave hell and high waters to prevent the invasion of Japan on the capital.

China, despite its bold stand against Japan, was at the losing end. Japan had been making attempts into Chinese territory since 1932. The Chinese are no strangers to the military might of Japan. They tried to protect important industries by removing them from the capital and into the interior China. They aimed their defenses at Shanghai to buy time to move their industries and make allies of the Western powers.

The Battle of Shanghai lasted for three months in three strategic areas in the city — downtown Shanghai, the towns surrounding the city, and the Jiangsu coast where the Japanese amphibians made their offensive landings.

The Chinese desperately relied on small caliber weapons against the heavy artillery fire power, air and naval might and armored defenses of Japan. The bravery, stubbornness and determination of China made it possible for the country to withstand three months defending Shanghai.

At the end of the battle, Shanghai fell and Japan gained control over the city. The best of its troops were defeated. However, the Japanese were surprised at the length of time that the Chinese troops were able to make a stand in the city. They expected a short battle and a swift victory given their military superiority. They did not expect to receive such a blow from China and even tried to grab victory using all means at their dispense even the “less honorable” actions. Their morale drastically fell over the heavy losses they incurred.

Battle for Shanghai

The Battle of Shanghai occurred in three phases. The first stage, which occurred in downtown Shanghai, lasted from August 13 to August 22 of that year.

The second phase occurred on August 23 until October 26 of the same year. The Japanese forces focused their assaults at the Jiangsu beaches. From house to house, the Chinese fought to defend their city and the surrounding towns while the Japanese tried to invade. 

The third stage occurred on October 27 and lasted through the end of November. During this period in 1937, the Chinese were retreating towards the provincial capital of Nanjing while Japanese chased them on the road hurling volleys of fire at every encounter aiming to crush the withdrawing forces.

During the initial phase of the battle, the Chinese planned to take control back from the Japanese who have established fortifications into the center of the city. The Japanese had already launched attacks and the Chinese were already at the disadvantage with only one heavy weapon. The 150 mm howitzers did not stand a chance against heavily fortified Japanese defenses.

The Chinese troops tried their best to do damage by getting their troops close to the fortifications and throwing hand grenades into enemy forces. While they did not destroy the fortifications, they killed many Japanese that way.

The Japanese also rained fire power on Shanghai using their air force. The invading power was, in contrast to China, far more advanced in the quality of  planes and aerial weaponry as well as in numbers. China’s air power tackled the Japanese doing what damage it could with its planes.

On August 14, the Chinese did bombing runs on a supposed target, the Japanese cruiser Idzumo. The cruiser was docked near an International Settlement controlled by the British and where many Chinese also reside.

However, during the raid, four bombs accidentally landed on the settlement killing 700 and injuring 3,000 on-site. Two of these landed in Nanjing road and the other two in front of the Great World Amusement Center on Avenue Edward VII. The latter bombs killed around 2,000 shoppers and passers-by as reported in Wikipedia. 

Battle for Shanghai

China tried its best to counter Japan’s air force. However, its planes were of lesser quality. Most were second hand and lack the necessary parts. The Chinese were not able to replace the planes they have lost because they did not manufacture spare parts and planes. About half of the China’s air force was lost at the end of the battle. Still, China managed to do damage to Japan’s planes.

The second phase, which occurred along the 40 kilometer stretch from downtown Shanghai to Liuhe village, was said to be the bloodiest. The Japanese forces landed wave upon wave at the village of Liuhe while the Chinese defended at the metropolitan area of Shanghai. Thousands were said to have died during the intense combat.

During the third phase, China’s forces retreated from the metropolitan center of Shanghai. They left the areas they fought hard to defend for 75 days to withdraw.

Then General Chiang Kai-shek of China summoned all of the best divisions to defend Shanghai. At the end of the battle, these elite divisions lost 60% of their forces including 10,000 of the 25,000 junior officers. The battle crippled China’s forces making recovery next to impossible.

The Chinese fought to buy time and time they did have at the expense of hundreds of thousands of lives. But help never came and many fell to a strategy that failed to woe foreign allies.

The Chinese, however, were successful in relocating many of their industries to the interior. The Japanese also suffered losses that they were not able to immediately penetrate into Nanjing. China also proved in history that its citizens do not easily give in to invading powers despite its inferiority in armaments.

The intense and full-scale battle was very costly in terms of military as well as civilian casualties.

The Environmental Graffiti reports the photographs that capture the events, drama and action during the Battle of Shanghai and the destruction during the aftermath of the brutalities.

The pictures leave a haunting warning and reminder to future generations of the true costs of armed conflicts which are untold and without parallel in proportions at both sides. Whatever compelled the aggressors to unleash their terrifying powers, wars and battles always leave a trail of ruined lives and homes. 

Battle for Shanghai


Siegphyl is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE