Chinese Civil War

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1950 May 25 - Aug 7

Wanshan Archipelago Campaign

Wanshan Archipelago, Xiangzhou

The communist takeover of the Wanshan Archipelago eliminated the nationalist threat to its vital shipping lines to Hong Kong and Macau and crushed nationalist blockade of mouth of the Pearl River. The Wanshan Archipelago Campaign was the first combined army and naval operation for the communists and in addition to damaging and sinking nationalist ships, eleven nationalist ships were captured and they provided valuable local defense asset once they were completely repaired and returned to the active service in the communist fleet. One of the major contributor to the success was the correct tactics of not engaging the overwhelmingly superior opposing naval fleet, but instead, utilizing the numerically and technically superior shore batteries that the communists did enjoy to engage opposing naval targets that were outgunned. The largest island, the Trash Tail (Lajiwei, 垃圾尾) Island, was renamed Laurel Mountain (Guishan, 桂山) Island, in honor of the landing ship Laurel Mountain (Guishan, 桂山), the largest communist naval vessel participated in the conflict.

The nationalist control of the Wanshan Archipelago was mostly symbolic for political propaganda and the battle for the control of the archipelago was destined to fail for the same simple reason just like the earlier Battle of Nan'ao Island: the location was just too far away from any friendly bases and thus it was difficult to support in war, and when the support was available, it was rather costly. Although the largest island provided a relatively good anchorage, there was just not enough land to build any comprehensive facilities and infrastructures to support a fleet. As a result, many of the repairs that could be done locally had the comprehensive facilities and infrastructures been available would require traveling back to the distant friendly bases, thus greatly increased cost. When a major damage occurred, tugs were needed to tow the damaged vessel, and in the event of war when tugs could not be available, the damaged vessels had to be abandoned. In contrast, the communists had comprehensive facilities and infrastructures on the mainland and since the archipelago at the communist's doorstep, they could simply recover the abandoned nationalist vessels and repair them after taking them back to the mainland, and put them back into service to fight against the former owners of these vessels, as the case of the eleven naval vessels abandoned by the nationalists after the battle.

As for the blockade of the mouth of the Pearl River, it certainly caused difficulties for the communists. However, these difficulties could be overcome because there were and still are link between the mainland and Hong Kong, and Macau via land, and for the maritime traffic, the nationalist naval force could only cover the coastal region outside the effective range of the communist's land batteries and the communist could simply move a little deeper into the Pearl River to avoid the nationalist naval force. Though this did indeed increased the cost for the communist, the price tag for the operation of the naval task force performing this duty so far away from any support base was far greater comparatively speaking, because communist transportation was mostly by wooden junks that only required wind, while the modern nationalist navy required much more, such as fuel and maintenance supplies. Many nationalist strategist and naval commanders had pointed out this disadvantage and along with the geographically disadvantage (i.e. the lack of comprehensive facilities and infrastructures), wisely and correctly suggest to withdraw from the Wanshan Archipelago in order to strengthen the defense elsewhere, but their requests were denied because holding on something at the enemy's door step would have a significant symbolic meaning of great political propaganda value, but when the inevitable fall had finally occurred, the resulting disaster had negated any previous gains in political and psychological propaganda.

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