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The Decisive Years

After the surrender of Japan in August 1945, the Kuomintang reactionaries, in defiance of the strong desire of the entire nation for peace and reconstruction, launched a large-scale civil war with the intention of eliminating the Communist Party and the revolutionary forces under its leadership. Under the command of Mao Zedong, the army and the people in the liberated areas rose in resistance. This was the War of Liberation, a war of decisive importance in the history of China's democratic revolution.

Before launching all-out civil war, Chiang Kai-shek engaged in peace negotiations with the Communist Party, While at the same time stepping up war preparations and provoking incessant local fighting. At that time Deng Xiaoping was Secretary of the Shanxi-Hebei-Shandong-Henan Bureau of the Central Committee and concurrently Political Commissar of the Shanxi-Hebei-shandong-Henan Military Command, of which Liu Bocheng was commander. Located in the central plains and crossed by the Beiping-Hankou, Tianjin-Pukou and Datong-Puzhou railways, the Shanxi-Hebei-Shandong-Henan Liberated Area was of great strategic importance, as it blocked the Kuomintang troops' advance towards the liberated areas of north and northeast China. Accordingly, this area became the Kuomintang's first target.

In September 1945 Liu Bocheng and Deng Xiaoping directed the famous Battle of Shangdang, in the changzhi area in southeastern Shanxi. In this battle their troops defeated all the 13 divisions of Yan Xishan's army, numbering more than 35,000, which had intruded into the Shanxi-Hebei-Shandong-Henan Liberated Area. Having thus consolidated their rear, they immediately marched east to intercept the Kuomintang troops that were advancing north along the Beiping-Hankou railway. At the Battle of Handan they routed two enemy armies and won over another, putting out of action a total of more than 40,000 Kuomintang army's attack on the liberated areas, greatly strengthened the position of the Communist Party in the negotiations in Chongqing and played an important part in hastening a cease-fire agreement.

In June 1946 the Kuomintang tore up the cease-fire agreement and launched all-out civil war. The main force of the Shanxi-Hebei-Shandong-Henan Field Army commanded by Liu and Deng engaged in mobile warfare on both sides of the Longhai Railway. Advancing and withdrawing over great distances, they fought nine big engagements in quick succession, at Longhai, Dingtao, Juye and other places, annihilating large numbers of Kuomintang effective.

The situation was still grave when the War of Liberation entered its second year. The Kuomintang army, though greatly weakened, was still nearly twice as large as the People's Liberation Army and vastly superior in arms and equipment. In an attempt to take the war deep into the liberated areas, it was making heavy attacks on key points in Shandong and northern Shaanxi. In light of the new overall situation, the Communist Party led by Mao Zedong decided to pass immediately from strategic defense to strategic offense, without waiting to have smashed the enemy attack and gained superiority over the Kuomintang. Focusing its attack on the Central Plains, where the enemy was weak, and shifting to exterior-line operations, the PAL would thrust directly to the enemy's rear, hoping to bring about a strategic change in the war situation.

According to the Central Committee's plan, it was the main force of the Shanxi-Hebei-Shandong-Henan Field Army under the command of Liu Bocheng and Deng Xiaoping that was to carry out this crucial mission. At the end of June 1947, in a surprise move, Liu and Deng, with an army of 120,000, crossed the dangerous Huanghe (Yellow River) and entered southwestern Shandong. In 28 days of continuous fighting they routed 56,000 enemy troops, thus clearing the way for their march south. They decided that instead of leaving contingents behind to secure each city they took, they would press forward by forced marches. In 20-odd days, despite blocking and pursuit by hundreds of thousands of enemy troops, they crossed the Longhai railway and covered a distance of 500 kilometers, traversing the marshy 15-kilometer floodplain of the Huanghe, wading the Shahe, Ruhe and Huaihe rivers and finally reaching the Dabie Mountains on the borders of Hubei, Henan and Anhui provinces.

From their position in the Dabie Mountains north of the Changjiang (Yangtze River), the enemy under Liu and Deng posed a direct threat to the vast Kuomintang areas south of the river, including Nanjing in the east and Wuhan in the west. The Kuomintang was obliged to assemble its main forces to defend the area and encircled the Dabie Mountain region with 30 bridges numbering 200,000 men. The troops under Liu and Deng were exhausted from continuous marching and fighting and were unfamiliar with the terrain. Furthermore, since they had only just arrived in the new area, they had no time to set up local governments and mobilize the people, so they were short of food, clothing and ammunition. Liu Bocheng took command of part of the force and broke through the encirclement to build new base areas along the western reaches of the Huaihe River, while Deng Xiaoping and Li Xiannian, Deputy Commander of the Central Plains Military Command, were left to command a crack force whose task was to continue stubborn resistance in the mountains. Calling on the soldiers to be selfless, Deng said that there were two loads to be selfless, Deng said that there were two loads to be carried, and one was heavier than the other. If they in the Dabie Mountains carried the heavier load, other armies another regions would be able to destroy large numbers of enemy troops and carry out intensive work among the masses, which would be greatly to the general advantage. They should therefore hold on firmly, no matter how weak they became and what hardships they had to endure. Sharing the hardest conditions with their men, Deng and Li maneuvered in the mountain gullies day and night, often on empty stomachs. They divided their forces into smaller units, some to deal with the enemy's local "peace preservation corps" and others to engage in grassroots political work. If a large enemy force was approaching, they would concentrate part of their troops to attack it. Meantime, they mobilized the people to struggle against despotic feudal landlords and organized local armed forces and militia, thus establishing a solid base in the Dabie Mountains.

In the end, the repeated "suppression" operations conducted by massive Kuomintang forces were defeated. Deployed in a triangle in the middle of the Changjiang, Huaihe, Huanghe and Hanshui rivers three armies-the one led by Liu and Deng and two field armies newly arrived in the south, one led by Chen Yi and Su Yu, the other by Chen Geng and Xie Fuzhi-pinned down some 90 of the more than 160 brigades of enemy troops stationed on the southern front. They pushed the battle line south from the Huanghe to the north bank of the Changjiang and made the Central Plains, which had served as the rear of the Kuomintang troops in their offensives on the liberated areas, the base from which the PLA would advance to nationwide victory. This was a success of great strategic importance. In May 1984 the Central Committee appointed Deng Xiaoping First Secretary of its Central Plains Bureau and Political Commissar of the Central Plains Military Command.

With the launching of the successive Liaoxi-Shenyang, Huai-Hai and Beiping-Tianjin campaigns, the War of Liberation finally entered decisive stage.

In November 1948 the Huai-Hai Campaigns began. It was to last 65 days.

The battlefield of the Huai-Hai Campaign, centered on Xuzhou, covered a wide area, from the shores of the Yellow Sea in the east to the borders of Henan and Anhui provinces in the west, and from the areas along the Longhai Railway in the north to the Huaihe River in the south. For the Communist-led forces, this enemy-occupied area constituted a barrier to the Changjiang and to Nanjing, the capital of the Kuomintang government. After the fall of Jinan, the Kuomintang government drew back its forces and assembled in the Xuzhou area all the best troops on the southern front that were operating under its direct control-five armies and the troops from three pacification zones, totaling 800,000 men.

On the PLA side, seven columns of the Central Plains Field Army (later named the Second Field Army), 16 columns of the East China Field Army (later named the Third Field Army) and some local armed forces, or a total of 600,000 men, participated in this decisive campaign. They were supported by 5.4 million volunteer laborers, who-using carts, wheelbarrows, shoulder-poles, boats, and any other means at hand -transported 200,000 tons of grain and 7,000 tons of ammunition and other military materiel. At this point, it was truly a people's war. Deng Xiaoping was appointed Secretary of the General Front-line Committee, which was to command both the Central Plains Field Army and the East China Field Army and to take charge of everything at the front. The other members of the Committee were Liu Bocheng, Chen Yi, Su Yu and Tan Zhenlin. Deng and his fellow commanders made prudent dispositions in accordance with the strategy outlined by the Central Committee and with the policy decisions of Mao Zedong. Once operational plans were decided upon, Deng was to help organize their execution and to share command at the front.

In the Huai-Hai Campaign the Kuomintang had more troops than the PLA and enjoyed an even greater superiority in arms and equipment. For this reason, the PLA adopted the basic tactic of repeatedly isolating segments of the enemy's main force and annihilating them one by one by concentrating a superior force. At the outset of the campaign the two armies led by He Jifeng and Zhang Kexia, deputy commanders of the Third Pacification Zone of the Kuomintang army, who were actually underground Communist Party members, who were actually underground Communist Party members, suddenly revolted on the battlefront. The main force of the East China Field Army poured through this opening in the enemy defenses to block the retreat of the army commanded by Huang Botao, which was moving towards Xuzhou from east of the Grand Canal, and tightly encircle it the Nianzhuang area,. After this, the General Front-line Committee, again on its own proposal with the approval of the Military Commission, moved the Central Plains Field Army to the rear of the enemy and took by surprise Suxian County along the Tianjin-Pukou Railway, a place of strategic significance. By so doing they severed communications between Xuzhou and its rear, isolating the large number of Kuomintang troops massed around the city and cutting off their retreat. After wiping out Huang Botao's army, the General Front-line Committee made another suggestion: next they should eliminate Huang Wei's army of reinforcements, which had come a long way from southern Henan, was cut off from support and was suffering from fatigue and shortage of food. The Military Commission promptly agreed to this plan and gave Liu, Chen and Deng authority of make decisions in emergency situations without seeking approval from the Commission. Accordingly, supported by a part of the East China Field Army, the main force of the Central Plains Field Army besieged Huang Wei's crack units in the Shuangduiji area between the Huihe and Guohe rivers, and in some 20 days of fierce fighting annihilated them. Then the East China Field Army pressed on to defeat the three armies led by Qiu Qingquan, Li Mi and Sun Yuanliang, which had managed to break out of the siege of Xuzhou and to flee west. Thus the Huai-Hai Campaign ended in complete victory.

Through 65 days of fighting the PLA had finally triumphed, wiping out 555,000 enemy troops. (Speaking about the campaign later, Mao Zedong once said facetiously to commanders of the campaign, "The Huai-Hai Campaign was well fought-it was like a pot of half-cooked rice, but bit by bit you managed to choke it down.") By this time the Kuomintang's crack troops on the southern front had been wiped out, the road to Nanjing was open and the collapse of the reactionary regime was imminent.

In April 1949 the General Front-line Committee, still with Deng serving as its Secretary and commanding the Second and Third Field Armies, directed the crossing of the Changjiang. Breaking through the line of defense painstakingly constructed by the Kuomintang over 500 kilometres from Jiujiang (Jiangxi Province) in the west to Jiangyin (Jiangsu Province) in the east, the mighty force,

one million strong, fought its way across the Changjiang and went on to liberate Nanjing and Shanghai and the vast areas of Jiangsu, Anhui, Zhejiang and Jiangxi provinces. The liberation of Nanjing signaled the collapse of the Kuomintang government. On the eve of this vast operation, Deng Xiaoping had received another appointment: he had been made First Secretary of the East China Bureau and placed in charge of taking over the east China region, the power base of the Kuomintang.

When the People's Republic of China was proclaimed on October 1, 1949, Deng attended the grand inauguration ceremony in Beijing. Soon afterwards he joined his comrades-in-arms and set out to liberate the Great Southwest of China.

(Deng Xiaoping Pictorial)

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