The Fifth Encirclement Campaign was a series of battles fought during the Chinese Civil War from September 25, 1933 to October 1934 between Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang (nationalist) and the Chinese communists. During this campaign, Kuomintang force has successfully overran the communist base of Jiangxi Soviet and forced the communists on the run, which would later known as the Long March. Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang called this campaign the Fifth Encirclement Campaign (Template:Zh-c) at the time, while the Chinese communists call it the Fifth Counter Encirclement Campaign (Template:Zh-c).
After the failure of the 4th encirclement campaign in the spring of 1933, Chiang Kai-shek immdiately mobilized over half a million troops to for the next encirclement campaign. The nationalist troops eventually totalled more than a million, most of which was consisted of regional warlords' forces, and the largest was Guangdong warlord Chen Jitang's force, totalled more than 300,000, (or 30% of the total nationalist force), which was mobilized to blockade the southern border of the Jiangxi Soviet. However, like most of the warlords who were half heartedly drawn to the campaign, they only wanted to keep their own power and did not actively participated in the fiercest battles, so they only participated in blockade and guard the newly occupied communist regions after being conquered by Chiang Kai-shek's own troops, who did most of the fighting.
Chiang Kai-shek took the job of the commander-in-chief of the campaign and sent up his headquarter in Nanchang. In addition to succeeding in mobilizing many warlords' troops, Chiang also adopted his German advisors' strategy, which involved the systematic encirclement of the Jiangxi Soviet region with fortified blockhouses. This method proved to be very effective. In an effort to break the blockade, the Red Army under the orders of the three man committee consisted of Bo Gu, Zhou Enlai and Li De (Otto Braun) besieged the forts many times but suffered heavy casualties with little success, resulting the Jiangxi Soviet shrunk significantly in size due to the Chinese Red Army's disastrous manpower and material loss.
The campaign officially started on September 25, 1933 when the first Kuomintang assult on the communist positions begun, and merely three days later, the communists lost Lichuan (黎川). Although the communist force managed to stopped the nationalist force at the southwest of Lichuan (黎川), its following operations ended in failure: when the 24th division of the Chinese Red Army attempted to take Xiaoshi (硝石) on October 9, 1933, it ended in disaster: not only Xiaoshi (硝石) remained firmly in the nationalist hand, the communists were forced to withdraw several days later with heavy casualties. Witnessing the success of his tactic, Chiang Kai-shek issued a new order from his Nanchang headquarter on October 17, 1933, requiring his troops to follow the principle of on the defensive tactically, but on the offensive strategically in order to perfect his German advisors' strategy. In contrast, the communist leadership, namely, the three men committee, refused to adjust their tactics and still stubbornly and rigidly continued the futile fights betweem Kuomintang's blockhouses in the hope of defeating the enemy outside the communist base. The result was obivous, from September 25, 1933 to the mid November 1933, not only the Chinese Red Army failed to achieve the unrealistic dream of defeating the enemy outside the communist base, but it also suffered great loss, while the nationalist force suffered very little under the protection of their fortifications.
On December 11, 1933, a total of eight columns of Kuomintang force ventured out their fortifications and begun the new offensive. The communist leadership not only failed to concentrated their forces by splitting the Chinese Red Army into two, but also decided to clash head on with the nationalist force with numerical and technical superiority. As a result, the communist force suffered once again without achieving any victories. By the end of January 1934, the warlords' forces begun to participate in the battles, and the forces of Fujian warlords struck from the east in coordination with the nationalist forces in the north and the south, further pressuring the communist force into smaller regions, inflicting severe casualties on the Chinese Red Army during the period between January 1934 and March 1934.
On April 10, 1934, eleven divisions of the nationalist troops begun their attack on Guangchang (广昌), and the communists decided to concentrate a total of nine divisions to defend Guangchang and hopefully, crush the enemy in the area north of Guangchang (广昌). Due to the nationalist numerical and technical superiorities, communist strongholds at Ganzhu (甘竹)、Great Luo Mountain (大罗山)、Yanfuzhang (延福嶂) fell. On the dawn of April 19, 1934, the communists launched an unsuccessful counterattack at the nationalist force at the Great Luo Mountain (大罗山), only to be driven off with heavy loss. On April 27, 1934, the nationalists launched their final assult on Guangchang (广昌), succeeding in taking it by the evening and inflicting over 5,500 casualties of its communist defenders on the same day. The remanents of the shattered communist defense force was forced to flee in the separate direction to the south and west under the cover of the darkness.
The three men committee of the communist leadership deepened their mistake by futher dividing its force into six different parts by early July 1934, still daydreamed being able to drive out the enemy, which was ruthlessly crushed by the harsh reality: On August 5, 1934, 9 divisions of the nationalist force ventured out newly fortified positions on the occupied communist regions, started another round of fierce assult, taking regions north of Yiqian (驿前), and soon the adjacent regions. By the late September 1934, the Jiangxi Soviet was left with only Ruijin (瑞金)、Huichang (会昌)、Xingguo (兴国)、Ningdu (宁都)、Shicheng (石城)、Ninghua (宁化)、and Changding (长汀) counties/towns.
It was after this when Zhou Enlai's spy ring within Chiang Kai-shek's headquarter in Nanchang succeeded in delivering important intelligence to the communists to reveal the dangerous situation the communists had faced and the decision to abandon the Jiangxi Salient was finally made, resulting in the beginning of the Long March. As a result of the communist failure to defeat the fifth encirclement, the largest communist base was lost and it was not until 15 years later would the communists be able to return.
The communist failure was mainly due to the extreme leftist policy of the new communist leadership which displaced Mao Zedong, and the critical mistakes the new leadership made included:
- The fifth encirclement campaign was a war of attrition, the communist lacked the necessary replacement of troops its enemy enjoyed, so head-on clashes must be avoided at all cost, like Mao had done. However, the new communist leadership mistakenly believed the era of guerrilla warfare and mobile warfare was over, and it was the time for regular warfare, in which both sides fought on the equal terms. However, the communist force was far from equal to its nationalist counterparts because it lacked the numerical and technical superiority. The result was the obvious decimation of the communist force.
- Hostility toward all nationalist troops. During Mao's reign, warlords and their forces were distinguished from Chiang Kai-shek and his forces, so that the communists were able to achieve some kind of neutrality with the warlords' forces that were drafted by Chiang, and thus avoid most direct confrontations. As a result, communists only had to fight around 50,000 Chiang Kai-shek's own troops in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and to a great degree, the 4th Counter Encirclement Campaigns. When the new communist leadership tookover, all nationalist troops were regarded as enemies of equal danger, and the communists tried to fight all warlords and their forces drafted into the campaign by Chiang Kai-shek, so instead of having to fight an enemy force that was much smaller than it was on paper, the communists actually had to fight an enemy that was as large as it appeared on paper, a feat the communists could not afford.
- Static defense: in addition to match the nationalist tactics in the head-on clashes during attacks, the new communist leadership also ordered the Chinese Red Army to do the same in the static defense, which led to disasters due to the nationalist technical superiority: the concrete fortifications of the nationalists were immune to virtually all communist bombardments, while the communist bunkers built with wood and mud were not immune to anything, not only the nationalist artillery, but also the forces of nature, such as heavy rain. The hastily constructed bunkers with poor construction material only served to help the nationalists by become a death trap for the communist defenders.
- Ignorance on the important of intelligence. The new communist leadership totally lacked the proper realization of the important of the intelligence. The communists were already able to break the nationalist codes in the previous counter encirclement campaigns, which had helped greatly in the earlier communist successes, but the new communist leadership did not trust the cryptography enough to make the entire battles plans according to the intelligence. The problem continued until the Long March when Mao finally returned to power.
- Much increased nationalist strength. In previous campaigns, the nationalist did not have enough troops to guard the newly conquered regions, so their troops were only stationed at important cities / towns / forifications while huge gaps were left in between these garrisons. Communists were therefore able to use mobile and guerrilla warfare tactics to penentrate deep into the heart of the nationalist controlled regions by exploiting these huge gaps, and achieving final victories. Although the nationalist mobile strike force still numbered around 50,000 during the fifth encirclement campaign just like the previous ones, Chiang had ten times of troops at his disposal with a total of half a million, and thus were able to fill all gaps left behind by the mobile strike force. There elimination of gaps between the nationalist garrison in their newly conquered regions consolidated and ensured the nationalist control over the regions and compressed the available space for the enemy to maneuver, thus deprived communists any chance of victory.