German Military Mission to China 1927-1938
The origins of the German Military Mission to China lay in the international struggle for a colonial empire in the Far East. As is well known, Germany was a latecomer to the colonial empirebuilding efforts of the mid to late 1800’s, and this also applied to theGerman efforts in obtaining trading concessions and trading posts inChina. This, however, does not mean that Germany did not focus on China.
The first German ships to arrive in China belonged to the Royal PrussianAsian Trading Company in 1751. From then until about 1860, German business and commercial activities in China were generally slow and quiet. In 1860, three German warships, the “Arcona”, the “Frauenlob” andthe “Thetis” sailed to China to begin formal trade negotiations withChina. On 02 September 1861, Prussia opened up formal diplomatic and trade relations with China through the signing of the Tientsin most-favored-nation treaty. As the German warships first weighed anchor in the bay of Kiauchou, near the city of Tsingtao (Qingdao), this is the area where the Germans focused on the most to establish themselves.Although the economic pace somewhat increased after 1861, as a whole,the German-Chinese commercial picture was relatively quiet until theGerman unification of 1871. After this event, German companies began totake a more serious look at the Chinese trade market.
In 1885, Bismarck passed a steamship subsidy bill. German commercialentities were quick to take advantage of the government subsidies andthey quickly began evaluating investment and trade opportunities inChina. By 1895, only Great Britain moved more goods between China andEurope than Germany did. During the last years of the 1880’s, Germany was also, in all probability, the second largest importer of European goods to the Middle Kingdom. The Deutsch-Asiatische Bank became so economically and financially powerful in such a short period of time that the British (and British financial institutions in China) were forced to treat German commercial interests on equal footings. 20
From the Chinese perspective, and essentially prior to 1897, Germans andGermany was, for the most part, held in very high respect. As manyChinese saw things, Germany was a relatively small nation, which had avery well trained and equipped military force and it was now able to project its economic and political influences throughout the world.These accomplishments and capabilities appealed greatly to the Chinese,for they too wished to be able to better project economic influences andpolitical power both inside and outside of China.
Chinese observers of the Franco-Prussian war, such as the influentialjournalist Wang T’ao, who wrote the “Record of the Franco-Prussian War”(P’u Fa Chan Chi) for his Chinese audience, and other individuals suchas Li Hung Chang, Chang Chih Tung, Liu Kun-I, provided excellent firsthand accounts of German military capabilities. As early as 1872, Li HungChang, the military governor of the province of Chihli, sent severalChinese military officers to German so they could attend theKriegsakademie (this effort was however of questionable value). In 1885,when Li Hung Chang established a military academy near Tientsin(Tianjin), he hired German military instructors to represent its staff.A second military academy was opened in Canton (Guangzhou) and again,German military experts were employed.
The Sino-Japanese war of 1894-1895 was a disaster for China. It clearly highlighted many weaknesses of the Chinese Army. As a result of themilitary loss to Japan, the Imperial Chinese Court ordered theestablishment of two new armies based on German drill instructions,German organization and German training efforts. These were the “NewArmy” (Tzu Ch’iang Ch FCng) under the command of Chang Chih Tung and the”Newly Created Army” (Hsien Chien Lu Ch FCn) under the command of Y FCanShik-k’ai. Major Baron von Reitzenstein was appointed as the head military advisor and instructor for this effort. One of the first thingshe did was to establish a German-language training school for all of hisChinese commanders (brigade, battalion and company level).
In addition to providing military advisors, Germany also provided China with economic advisors. Krupp made out like a bandit on these efforts.For example, Krupp guns and Krupp backed construction efforts were instrumental in building up the Chinese fortifications at Port Arthur.In 1891, German also won a small contract to build a railroad in China.
In the early 1890’s, the German political posture in China changed.Germany, led primarily by the wishes of Kaiser Wilhelm II, coupled withthe “Sammlungspolitik” of Johannes von Miquel and the naval strategy ofAdmiral von Tirpitz now became more of an imperialist power by joining the race to obtain colonies.
On 01 November 1897, two German missionaries were murdered in China.This was an excuse the Germans were waiting for. In reply to the crimes,and as a German naval presence was conveniently located there, Admiralvon Diedrichs ordered his small naval contingents to occupy most of theKiaochou Bay area; in part, to find the killers and in part to giveGermany a better position to lay claim to the region. The German shipsparticipating in this was the Cruiser SMS Cormoran, Cruiser SMS Kaiserand Cruiser SMS Prinzess Wilhelm
In short, in 1898, Germany forcibly obtained a 99-year lease on theKiaochou peninsula as well as many extensive concessions in ShangdongProvince.
Of importance here is to note that the German colony of Kiaochou was notunder the jurisdiction of the Reichs-Kolonial-Amt. The German navyadministered the colony. Specifically by its Reichsmarineverwaltungsection, by the authority of a special royal decree dated 17 June 1898.The German Governor-General was always a high-ranking naval officer:
The initial German Schutz- und Besatzungstruppe consisted of the III. Seebatallion(Cuxhaven) – in 1898, Truppel and in 1914, von Kessingercommanding – with 55 German naval officers, 2274 German naval infantry troops, aMatrosenartillerie section added specifically for service in Kiaochou, and 84 non-Germanauxiliaries, presumably ethnic Chinese. There was also a small civilian police force under the jurisdiction of the German Governor-General. The “Bismarck-Kaserne” in Tsingtao served as the primary residences for the German troops.
Later, 500 German naval troops of the Peking (Beijing) and Tientsin(Tianjin) stationed Deutsche Ostasiatische Marine detachment was added to the colonial forces. To aid in the defense of the colony, the Germans also erected a small military Feldbahn, which the Japanese disassembled after they occupied the colony in 1914.
Of further interest is that German-Kiaochou operated along business lines – it was designed for profit. In fact, for most of the German colonial period, Kiaochou made more profit for Berlin and Germany than did all of the other German colonies combined.
In 1900, Field Marshal von Waldersee commanded the German contingent of the international relief force sent to suppress the Boxer rebellion.Participating in the Boxer rebellion suppression campaign were militarycontingents from Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain,Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Russia and the United States of America.German participation in this did a great deal of goodwill damage theGermans had up until then enjoyed in China. Of note is that in manywestern military publications, the order by the Allied commander asPeking was about to be attacked, “Germans to the front”, somewhat overemphasizes the German contribution.
Just as a small anecdotal sidebar, when German monks established their first orders in Tsingtao, (the German monks were primarily from Franken,or Franconia), as an extra activity to supplement their primary calling they did in China what they did back in Germany – make beer. Soon, asmall plant was established in Tsingtao to increase production and satisfy the demand. When the Japanese took over the facility in 1914 and when the Chinese took over the beer making facility in 1922, they both changed the name of the brew, but they both also retained the original formula. During World War Two, the Japanese occupied the brewery again and this time, they renamed it “Rising Sun Beer”. But as before, the formula remained unchanged. Today, at least in North America, the beer is known as “Tsingtao Beer”. But the formula is still the originalGerman one!
After the Boxer rebellion episode, the Germans essentially minimized their participation in Chinese affairs and focused more on the economic development of their colonial holdings in China. Germans in China were requested by the German colonial authorities to learn and speak Chinese as much as possible and in fact, many Germans enjoyed a good command of the Chinese language at the time. Germans were also encouraged to useChinese names when working with their local staffs or negotiating for contracts with Chinese companies. Shortly before 1914, Germany established an “Ingenieur- und Medizinschule” in Shanghai (now I believe the Tungchi University). When the Chinese republic was established in1912, Germany was one of the first nations to offer China generous tradeand loan agreements – in part out of an honest desire to be a “goodguy”, but then also to make sure that the other imperial powers, such asEngland and France, would not gain trade advantages over Germany.Germany built a number of schools in its region, which were open forboth Chinese and Germans to attend.
When the First World War broke out, Japan took advantage of this, and asan Allied power, it attacked and conquered Tsingtao (Qingdao) on 07November 1914. The German naval forces stationed in Tsingtao, thehomeport of the German East Asian squadron, decided that it would bebest to leave and return to German waters via the Drake Passage betweenAntarctica and South America. This force consisted of the followingships and as is well known, fought two important battles, Coronel andFalklands, as they sailed towards Germany:
To better defend the colony, in 1912, the Germans began building adefensive perimeter around Tsingtao – the Boxerlinie. Two artillerycontingents were established to aid in the defenses, theLandfrontbatterien and the Seefrontbatterien.
Commander: Kapitänleutnant Wittman
Commander: Fregattenkapiän Huss
As of May 1914, the German land forces available in Kiaochou werea permanent peacetime force of 15 officers, 30 staff employees,and III./SB of 30 officers and 1269 men. War time activations added11 officers and 170 men, plus 19 officers and 755 mento the Matrosenartillerie. War time mobilizations added 76 officers and 1,400 men.The civilian police force added approximately 50 policemen. This force was led byGovernor-General Kapitän zur See Meyer-Waldeck, Chief of Staff Kapitän zur See Saxer,and Adjutant Major von Kayser.
Battalion Commander: Oberstleutnant von Kessinger
Ostasiatische Marine detachment in Peking and Tientsin led by OberstleutnantKuhlo and his three companies were warned in time regarding the potential outbreak of the war and they made it by rail to Tsingtao by 01August 1914. Of note is that Dr. Dorpm Füller organized theMarine detachment evacuation – he would become the Reichsverkehrsminister(Reichs Transportation Minister) in the Third Reich.
On 15 August 1914, British and Japanese naval forces appeared andblockaded the German port of Tsingtao. Their ultimatum was for Germanforces to surrender by 23 August 1914. The Germans declined. During thefirst week of September 1914, a Japanese force of divisional strength(or greater) and reinforced by a British infantry brigade, landed on thenorth shores of the Shandong peninsula. The Germans could barely count4.000 defenders against a force at least 10 times this size, if notgreater. By 28 September 1914, Tsingtao was surrounded. On 07 November1914, the Germans spiked and destroyed their surviving guns with theirlast rounds, and subsequently, they surrendered to the Japanese. On 14August 1917, China declared war on Germany. In 1918, China protestedthat the Versailles Treaty Shangtung paragraphs had no right to transferthe former German possession of Japan. In 1922, Japan relented and Chinaessentially regained most of what the Germans had seized in 1898.
In an interesting comparison, in 1914, German investments in Chinatotaled close to USD 260 million, in 1918, only USD 40 million remained;in 1914, close to 300 German companies were represented in China, in1918, only two remained.
Although Germany was stripped of her colonies in 1918 and Germaneconomic interests in China took a severe beating, within a fewyears into the early 1920’s, German merchantmen enjoyed phenomenal successes in China. This was primarily because on 20 May 1921, China andGermany signed an agreement whereby Germany would void its compensationclaims of the Boxer rebellion and Germany reimbursed China for the costof holding German POWs during the First World War. China and Germanythus re-established diplomatic relations. Of further note is that thiswas the first time China was treated on equal terms in a treaty itsigned with a major Western power. By 1927, German had more companiesrepresented in China than it had in 1914 and nearly all of them enjoyedphenomenal business success in China.
A major contributing factor as to why the German companies didparticularly well in China after 1918 was that China wanted arms morethan anything else. Arms of all types were needed for the continuingChinese civil wars – and Germany had plenty of them for sale. Most ofthe German arms reaching China in the early 1920’s were clearly fromstocks the German had hidden from the Versailles arms inspectors; butnew arms were also being clandestinely delivered to China. By 1925,German military advisors were actively supporting Chinese armsproduction centers as advisors and engineers.
With some difficult periods relating to colonialism and imperialism, onthe whole, Chinese and Chinese military/political leaders held Germansand Germany in fairly high regards. This background is one keycontributing factor as to why the Chinese worked so closely with theGermans in the 1920’s and 1930’s in both economic and military matters.
German Military Mission to China 1927-1938
The origins of the German Military Mission to China in the 1920’s and1930’s can be traced back to the early period of Sun Yat Sen, the fatherof the Chinese Republic and to the selection by Germany of a number wellqualified of German military liaison officers, such as von Falkenhausen,von Seeckt, Bauer and a few others, to manage this sensitive account.
Prior to World War One, Sun Yat Sen traveled to Germany on a number ofoccasions. He admired how Germany unified itself, how its academic,economic and social welfare institutions operated, etc. He often thoughtthat many aspects of German life could also be applied to China to helpdevelop China and to help give China a strong foundation for the future.Of importance here is that Sun Yat Sen was not a Germanophile – but he did have a strong appreciation for German accomplishments. Manyinfluential Kuomintang (KMT) officials, such as Chiang Kai-Shek and Dr.Chu Chia-hua, shared this (pro-German) feeling.
One key persona was Dr. Chu Chia-hua. He had studied engineering at theBerlin Metallurgical Institute during the First World War. In 1926, inhis capacity as President of the Sun Yat Sen University in Canton, hecontacted Colonel Max Bauer (a former Chief of Staff to Ludendorff inthe Strategic Mobilization Department – Bauer was a chief architect ofthe “Hindenburg Programm”, a program to better integrate the needs ofthe German army with German military goods suppliers), to study businessopportunities in China. The offer was accepted and in 1927, Bauer metChiang Kai-Shek. Bauer possessed great interpersonal skills and the two became fast friends. Chiang Kai-Shek even offered Bauer to be his military advisor (position accepted).
Upon reviewing the situation, Bauer came to the conclusion that German industrial capacities could be mobilized to reconstruct the Chinese economy. In 1928, Bauer returned to Germany and began making the needed contacts with German industrialists. His efforts, however, were met with mixed results. A big reason for his somewhat “cool” reception in Germany was that working on military issues with any foreign nations was amassive political hot potato for Germany for a post-Versailles Treaty era Germany. Although Bauer tried hard, in the end, the GermanReichswehr did not provide all of the support to China Bauer had hoped for.
However, Bauer did have two important successes before he died of an illness he picked up in China. He was able to establish aHandelsabteilung (Trade Department) and the Reichswehr cautiously didenter into a more formal working relationship with the clandestineGerman military advisory group established in Nanking (Nanjing).
Back in China, Bauer advised his now very close friend, Chiang Kai-Shek,to enforce his drafted Military Demobilization and Reorganization Plan.In 1928, the Chinese Army had approximately 2.25 million men under arms.Bauer recommended that China retain only a small core army, trained toGerman standards and place the rest of the soldiers into local militia forces. While the plan was sound, it was not adopted. Another round of the civil war broke out because no one in China could agree on who had to give up what and who would control that which remained.
Despite this setback, Bauer and his German team worked with ChiangKai-Shek to establish a new Chinese Army based on German standards. Amodel division was established in Nanking. The Central Military Academy was relocated to Nanking from Whampoa, where it was staffed with German military experts. A key focus was on establishing new military command and communications protocols for the new Chinese Army.
Bauer regretfully passed away suddenly on 06 May 1929 and was buried inChina with a funeral, which was the equal of any state funeral.
During this time frame, German aviation companies were also working strongly to establish a presence in China. Lufthansa was one of the leading developers of new aviation routes all over eastern Asia. Anumber of German-Chinese aviation companies were also established, such as the EURASIA Fluggesellschaft. In the early period, Junkers F-34’swere used; later Ju-52’s also become available. These companies also few out German military personnel to China and they also helped deliver goods and supplies in both directions as required.
After his death, Colonel Hermann Kriebel succeeded Bauer in his post.Kriebel, as may be known, delivered the final German statement to theAllied surrender commission on 11 November 1918 – “We will see you again in 20 years.”.
What Bauer had built in China up with such great hopes for the future,Kriebel, in part, undid very fast. In short, Kriebel was a diplomatic failure – he lacked interpersonal communications skills, especially when dealing with his Chinese hosts. Although Kriebel was replaced quickly,the new man on the job, Georg Wetzell, was also not a good candidate for he too lacked the needed social graces.
Chiang Kai-Shek wanted German-trained troops to fight the warlords ofYen His-san and Feng Y FC-hsiang – Wetzell did not deliver. When theJapanese attacked Shanghai in 1932, Wetzell was nowhere to be seen and the Chinese troops suffered greatly. In contrast, during the second battle for Shanghai in 1937, von Falkenhausen and his German colleagues were dressed in Chinese uniforms and directed Chinese troops right up to the Japanese front lines. This did wonders for the Chinese morale.
What saved the German mission in China from the disaster was the appointment of von Seeckt as the mission chief. Although von Seeckt officially retired from the German Army in 1928, he still wielded enormous amounts of respect and influences in and around Germany. Seeckt did go to China and he did provide the Chinese with many military assistance efforts they were seeking from the Germans. For example, Seeckt believed thatChiang Kai-Shek should place his primary efforts on defeating the communists and then focus on the various rebellious warlords of the southern provinces. However, due to ill health, von Seeckt returned toGermany on 28 December 1936.
By 1933, the Deutsche Beraterschaft in China (German Advisory Mission in China) had grown to over 50 personnel. It contained three branches,one covering administrative, aviation, economic, industrial, police and railroad development issues, a second covering General Staff issues, and a thirdcovering military education and training.
In 1935, the trading organization HARPO (Handelsgesellschaft zurVerwertung industrieller Produkte) was established. Its goal was to funnel German military goods to Chiang Kai-Shek through commercial cover. Within a short period of time, more formally documented military training programs were established between China and Germany. Trade toChina not only contained items such as uniforms, guns, munitions, Pz.I-A;s, SdKfz. 221’s and 222’s, etc., it also included items such as manufacturing know-how, railroad technologies, munitions plants,communications technologies, etc. In return, China delivered a number of strategic raw materials to Germany. Of interest is that two German sources state that Germany, through HARPO, also supplied the Chinese navy with submarines.
An important point must be remembered here. Germany was not the only nation bidding for Chinese contracts and influence. During the 1930’s,the United States was strongly focused on aviation issues in China(i.e., The Flying Tigers); the United Kingdom was working with theChinese navy, France established a small military school in Canton, etc.
In 1936, Hitler assigned Alexander von Falkenhausen to serve in theGerman military mission in China. Both von Seeckt and von Falkenhausen contributed greatly to the Chinese military efforts. However, while inChina, von Seeckt was more focused on making commercial contracts forGerman companies that focusing on the military aspects of his assignment- von Falkenhausen was, however, the opposite. His key focus was on preparing and training China’s army on strategy and tactics – German style. As a quick background, in 1900, von Falkenhausen was a young lieutenant in the 91st Oldenburg Infantry Regiment – he volunteered for duty in the German expeditionary force during the Boxer rebellion. From1900-1914, he was the German military attache in Tokyo. So vonFalkenhausen had a fair amount of area knowledge prior to taking his up his new post. When Falkenhausen celebrated his 75th birthday in the1950’s, Chiang Kai-Shek sent him a cheque for $12,000 (USD) as a birthday present.
Shortly after von Falkenhausen arrived in China in the summer of 1934, he prepared a report to Chiang Kai-Shek as to how best to defend China.This report had three key points, that Chiang Kai-Shek could defeat thecommunists in Sichuan Province (or at least keep them in check), thatKwangsi and Kwangtung Provinces could be restrained from takinghostile actions against the Central Chinese Government, and thatJapan was the primary enemy now.
Further, von Falkenhausen recommended that China fight a war ofattrition with Japan – Japan could never hope to win that type of aconflict. China should hold the Yellow River line, but not attack northof that until much later in the war. China should be prepared to give upa number of regions in northern China, including Shangdong, but theretreats must be made slowly. Japan should pay for every advance itmakes. He also recommended a number of fortification constructionefforts to take place in China, the mining of coastal, landing and riverlocations, and so on. Falkenhausen also advised the Chinese to establisha number of guerrilla operations to take effect behind Japanese lines.These efforts would help to weaken an already militarily challengedJapan.
Of interest here is the exact nature of German involvement in the subjugation of Chinese-Communist forces in October 1933 – November 1934.Many credit von Seeckt with being a key tactical advisor to ChiangKai-Shek as he fought the fifth battle against the communist forces.However, this may not be quite the case. The fifth attack by ChiangKai-Shek against the communists began months before von Seeckt arrived in China (von Seeckt arrived in April of 1934). It is possible thatWetzell provided some tactical planning to Chiang Kai-Shek in late 1933.One can suspect that the truth may lie somewhere in the middle – it is entirely possible that both Wetzell and von Seeckt provided strategic and tactical contributions to Chiang Kai-Shek.
One need recall that the Chinese communists also had a German military advisor – Otto Braun. In October of 1934, the Chinese communists began their long retreat after being defeated by the Nationalist Chinese forces. During the “Long March”, of about 90,000 communist Chinesetroops (led in part by Mao Zedong) – only 7,000 or so arrived in ShaanxiProvince about a year later 1935. On 13 January 1935, Mao severelycriticized Otto Braun for his failures and told him that Chiang’sGermans were apparently better than his Germans. This may be a bit unfair as Chiang’s Germans had the full backing of the German government while Mao’s Germans were more or less freelancing mercenaries supported in part by Moscow.
As of 1936, Japan’s Kwangtung Army fought its battles with a primary goal being that to avoid risks. Japan had gotten away with most of its demands on China through the threatened use of force. Von Falkenhausen advised Chiang Kai-Shek that for every day that the Japanese did not attack, that was one extra day China would have available to better defend and prepare itself.
Thanks to von Falkenhausen’s strategy and tactics, both Kwangsi andKwangtung provinces fell to Chiang Kai-Shek in the summer of 1936. This was an important victory for Chiang Kai-Shek. In addition, Berlin was very surprised at the fact that Japan did not intervene militarily to save these two provinces from defeat.
By 1937, the Japanese were beginning to pressure the Germans. German advisors in China were detrimental to the Japanese war efforts. Overtly,Hitler told the Japanese that he would curtail and end the German support efforts in China – but on 16 August 1937, he ordered the German military support efforts in China to continue as scheduled.
At this juncture, political events would soon call a halt to the German program in China. On 04 February 1938, Germany was placed into aposition whereby it diplomatically recognized Manchukuo. The Japanesenow increased their anti-German support in China lobbying efforts inBerlin. On 28 April 1938, Göring officially called a halt to German military export shipments through HARPO to China – regardless of contractual obligations. By the summer of 1938, most of the German military advisors in China were recalled to Germany.
Ironically, China had up until this time been a leading source ofTungsten (Wolfram) for Germany. When the German Military Mission leftChina, Japan promised to continue delivering the needed metal -deliveries were never made. In 1943, Speer commented that either Germany finds an alternate source of the vital metal or give up right now.Germany’s available stocks of Tungsten could only be used two ways – tohelp build the jigs and tools necessary for industrial manufacturing orin the weapons themselves. Even Hitler saw the correct decision.
During the last years of the German Military Mission to China, an agreement was reached whereby Germany was obliged to train 20 infantrydivisions by 1937/1938; the whole Chinese army, navy and air force bythe early 1940’s. However, by the time of the Japanese invasion of 1937,only eight divisions were fully trained by the Germans. Among thosetrained were the 83rd, 87th, and 88th Infantry Divisions. Allegedly,Chiang Kai-Shek’s favorite was the 83rd.
In 1933, the Chinese Army consisted of (according to German sources) 134 Infantry Divisions,9 Cavalry Divisions, 17 Cavalry Brigades, 36 Infantry Brigades, 5 Artillery Brigades,20 Artillery Regiments, 600 aircraft (approximately), some railway artillery, limited armoredforces, a small navy, for a total of 37 million mainline troops and 600,000 provincial troops.
Werner Haupt – Die Deutsche Schutztruppe 1889-1918; T FCrmer Verlag;Landsberg am Lech; Germany; 1989; ISBN 3-87829-128-0
Karlheinz Graudenz – Die Deutsche Kolonien; Weltbild Verlag; Augsburg;Germany; 1989; ISBN 3-926187-49-2
Kuo Heng Y FC – Deutsch-chinesische Beziehungen 1928-1939; MinervaPress; Berlin/Munchen, Germany, 1988; ISBN 3-597-10613-7
Bernd Martin – Die Deutsche Beraterschaft in China 1927-1928; DrosteVerlag, Dusseldorf, Germany; 1981; ISBN 3-7700-0588-0
William Kirby – Germany and Republican China; Stanford University Press;Stanford, CA, USA, 1894; ISBN 0-8047-1209-3
Kuo Heng Y FC – Von der Kolonialpolitik zur Kooperation; Minerva Press;Berlin/Munchen; Germany; 1986; ISBN 3-597-10600-5 20
Udo Ratenhof – Die Chinapolitik des Deutschen Reiches 1871-1945; HaraldBoldt Verlag; Boppard am Rhein, Germany; 1987; ISBN 3-7646-1866-3