Early last August Chinese Nationalist reconnaissance pilots flying their RF-84s brought word to Gen. Wang Shu-ming, Chief of the General Staff of the Republic of China, that the Communist Air Force had occupied Chenghai and Liencheng, two airfields in Fukien Province opposite Taiwan. There were indications that other fields in the same area soon would be filled with MIGs. The Communists clearly were on the move again in the Far East.
General Wang communicated this report at once to Maj. Gen. Fred Dean, USAF, Commander of Air Task Force 13 on Taiwan, who in turn passed the word to Headquarters PACAF at Hickam and to Headquarters USAF. Radio Peiping soon was on the air with an announcement that Quemoy and Matsu, the footholds held by President Chiang Kai-shek’s forces near the mainland, would be assaulted as a prelude to the conquest of Taiwan.
Thus, if you could believe Mao Tse-tung, the government of the Republic of China (GRC), America’s ally and a keystone of opposition in Asia to Communist expansion, was in trouble. Of equal concern was the fact that the United States, pledged to the defense of Taiwan, could be drawn into a most complex politico-military situation.
The Taiwan Strait crisis, while it may not yet have ended, can be analyzed in three phases: (1) Chicom aggressions; (2) US and GRC responses; (3) Relaxation of tensions.
The period of Communist aggression actually originated earlier than 1958. The Chicoms carried out military attacks in the Strait ten years ago. Taiwan, always a thorn in the side of Mao, has been subjected to a barrage of propaganda and of political maneuvering since 1949 when President Chiang’s forces retreated to the island.
Later in 1949 the Chinese Nationalists under Gen. Hu Lien repulsed 15,000 Chicoms who assaulted Quemoy. Six years later in 1954 Chou En-lai said: “It is imperative to liberate Taiwan and liquidate the traitorous Chiang Kai-shek group.” In September 1954 the Chicoms began an artillery barrage of Quemoy, stepping up the firings to a high of about 5,000 rounds a day.
In the 1958 campaign the Chinese Communist Air Force quickly followed up their August occupancy of Chenghai and Liencheng by reconnaissance of Quemoy, only minutes away from their bases. At this juncture there were three intelligence viewpoints:
¾ Quemoy would be subjected to artillery bombardment from Amoy, Tateng, Weitou, and Chingyang. Principal targets on the Nationalist-held island were well within range of the Communist 152-mm. and 122mm. guns. The shelling would be followed by air attacks to soften up the defenses prior to a full-scale amphibious assault across the five to seven miles of open water.
¾ An effort would be made to interdict Quemoy by air attack and some artillery. In such an effort to starve out President Chiang’s forces the all-important supply lines to Taiwan would be cut by air attack. This accomplished, the Chicoms hoped that it would only be necessary to pause and graciously allow the withdrawing Nationalist a safe passage. Here the belief was that the US would not guarantee the convoys to Quemoy and probably would hold President Chiang’s Air Force in check.
¾ The Communists would pour on a heavy artillery barrage coupled with a similar effort in the propaganda field, hoping that the US advisers and policy makers would declare Quemoy untenable and withdraw the 90,000 troops to Taiwan. No airpower would be employed in order to avoid retaliation by the Chinats against the mainland fields or “hot pursuit” by the USAF.
The military considerations which bore on these alternate courses were bout as follows: An amphibious assault looked dangerous. The Chinese Nationalists were well entrenched on the hilly islands with every approach covered from concrete emplacements. Beaches were mined and barricaded. President Chiang’s forces were itching for a fight and probably could have held and at the same time inflicted heavy losses on the Communists. In this event a primary Chicom objective, to gain prestige in Asia, would be defeated and they would lose face. Similarly, the interdiction of Quemoy by artillery coupled with the use of airpower over the Strait had disadvantages and was not too inviting. It might have given Gen. Chen Chiashang’s well-trained, eager, and ready Nationalist Air Force an opportunity for a “turkey shoot.” This could open up the war into a major conflict, which neither the Chinese Communists nor the Soviets wanted. Also, as a result of some early brushes with the Chinat Air Force, the Chicoms were not too confident of the capabilities of their MIG squadrons.
The third alternate course, a heavy barrage on the key pints on the sixty-square-mile island, was the one adopted by Mao and Gen. Su Yü, Chief of Staff of the Peoples Liberation Army, Su Yü, long an advocate of attack in the Taiwan are, banked on the US assessing the risks in the tricky Strait as too great, American policy makers he reasoned, would ask President Chiang to pull back his forces to the Penghus or even Taiwan. It was, as one observer pointed out, “a plan of intimidation, very neat and simple. No air. No assault, not too much risk. Just shells.” This was the one to be followed.
On August 18 the Chicom aggression started with 100 shells fired at Quemoy and threatening overflights conducted by the MIG-17s. However, no bombs were dropped. On August 23 they stepped this up to 50,000 rounds. Quemoy was ripped by 300 guns firing an average of about 165 rounds each. The following day 40,000 more rounds were fired. And in the next five days an average of about 10,000 rounds was delivered. On August 28 they predicted dire events, warning the Nationalists “to withdraw” and stating that “a landing is imminent.”
Three days later the big card war played when the Soviet Union announced that it would give Communist China “the necessary moral and material aid in the just struggle for the liberation of Taiwan.” “He who threatens China,” Pravda announced, “must not forget that he is threatening the Soviet people also, since the Soviet people are linked to China by unbreakable ties. Any aggression by the United States in the Far East will unavoidably bring about an exacerbation of the whole international situation and lead to spreading the war.” The threat appeared to be growing and, with the USSR statement, appeared especially formidable and worrisome to Vice Adm. Roland N. Smoot, Commander of the Taiwan Defense Command; to Maj. Gen. Thomas Moorman, Commander of the Thirteenth Air Force; and to American Ambassador Everett Drumright. Unless President Chiang was advised by the US to withdraw, and followed up by a withdrawal, it appeared that a general war might develop in Asia. The period of Communist aggression had reached its climax. The next move was up to the US.
The reply was not long in coming. The second phase of the Taiwan Strait crisis, the period of American response, opened on August 29 when a fighter-interceptor squadron equipped with F-86Ds was moved from Okinawa to Taiwan. The transfer of the F-86Ds was completed eight hours after the directive was dispatched from Headquarters PACAF in Honolulu.
The next day first units of Tactical Air Command’s Composite Air Strike Force (CASF), a squadron of F-100 supersonic fighter-bombers and accompanying tankers, and a squadron of C-130 Hercules transports, were ordered to Taiwan. It was to be a flight of 7,000 miles for the single-place fighter-bombers. Inflight refuelings would be required on the long hops. MATS was directed to provide logistics backup. The transfer of the first F-100s from California to Taiwan was accomplished in five days. The first C-130s were in place at Clark, in the Philippines, sixty hours after departure from Hamilton, AFT, Calif.
In the following week the US stiffened further, showing no signs of encouraging President Chiang to withdraw. Secretary of the Army Wilber Brucker, who happened to be in the Far East on an inspection tour, warned the Communist not to underestimate American intentions. The aircraft carrier Essex, which had been in Mediterranean waters with the Sixth Fleet, was moving toward the Taiwan Strait accompanied by four destroyers. The Midway, which had been in the eastern Pacific, also was en route to join Adm. Wallace Beakley’s Seventh Fleet, which soon would have six carriers. Other naval reinforcements including the cruiser Los Angeles brought the total of combatant ships up to fifty-three. Advance elements of the First Marine Air Wing from Iwakuni, Japan, were ordered to Taiwan.
The Air Force CASF under Brig. Gen. A. P. Tacon was enlarged. It now included squadrons of F-100s, B-57s, and McDonnell F-101 Voodoos; a reconnaissance task force of FR-101s, KB-50s, and C-130 Hercules transports; and a combat-control unit with accompanying radar, communications equipment, and personnel. The first elements were beginning to pass through Hickam at Honolulu.
In addition a unit of Lockheed F-104 Starfighter, fastest operational aircraft possessed by the US, was ordered to Taiwan from Continental Air Defense Command (see “Starfighters on Formosa,” January ’59 Air Force).
With the Tactical Air Command squadrons as well as the Navy’s carrier squadrons moving toward Taiwan the Chicoms, while continuing their aggressive moves, held their air carefully in check. Heavy torpedo boat attacks were launched against the Nationalist effort to resupply Quemoy. On the night of September 1 the biggest surface engagement so far took place when the Nationalist Navy hit back at the Chicoms, claiming eleven of the torpedo boats destroyed.
The military moves well under way, the American position was further defined by a formal statement authorized by President Eisenhower on September 4 and issued by Secretary of State Dulles. The communists were warned that American forces were ready to defend the offshore islands if a Red attack endangered Taiwan. No consideration was being given to evacuation of the island, Mr. Dulles said. The Secretary of State added that “naked use” of armed force by the Chinese Communists “to achieve territorial ambitions would pose an issue far transcending the offshore islands and even the security of Taiwan. It would forecast a widespread used of force in the Far East which would endanger vital free world positions and the security of the United States,” the Secretary said.
Immediately afterward it was announced in Washington that the Seventh Fleet was convoying supplies to within three miles of Quemoy. The American line was becoming increasingly firm. One week later President Eisenhower’s “No-Far-East-Munich” speech capped the series of American pronouncements. In his speech the President said: “There is not going to be any appeasement.”
The cold war cycle now had completed a turn. The Communists had challenged with heavy shellings and heavier threats. The US had replied by augmenting its very considerable forces on station in the Far East. The President had announced US policy: No appeasement.
On September 8, four days before the President spoke, the artillery shellings had gone up again to 50,000 rounds, the same figure with which they launched the aggression. On September 11, just before the President’s speech, the firings hit a new high of 60,000 rounds. After the President’s speech and with strong Air Force and naval augmentation now in the Taiwan area the shellings fell sharply to an average of about 6,000 rounds a day for the twenty-five days up to October 7 when the cease fire was announced.
It was now apparent to the Communists that now cheap victories could be achieved in the Taiwan Strait. The amphibious assault plan was out. Furthermore the Communist leaders had no intention of allowing the MIG squadrons to tangle with the US Air Force’s F-104s and F-100s, both equipped with Sidewinders, or with either the Navy’s F11F or the Marines’ F4D, none of which is to be taken lightly in air-to-air combat.
As the artillery barrage failed and simultaneously as American intentions became firm and clearly understood, the Taiwan Strait situation eased.
In this period of relaxation, during twelve days of which there were no firings, the Chinats moved tens of thousands of tons of supplies to Quemoy. With this stockpile established on the island all hopes the Chicoms entertained of starving out President Chiang’s garrisons were gone.
A senseless pattern of sporadic firing followed. This can be attributed to the abiding fear possessed by the Chicom leaders that someone somewhere would label their efforts in the Strait as weak and ineffective. The objective of these “on-again-off-again” firings was more to bolster Chicom assurances of their own prowess than it was to interdict President Chiang’s supplies, which now stood at record highs.
After several days of erratic shooting, or no shooting at all, the Chicoms fired a near record 40,000 rounds on November 3.
Whether this heavy shelling was pointed at President Chiang’s diversions on Quemoy or was a parting few shots fired to influence the American voters about to go to the polls is still a subject of friendly debate among US officers who gather at days end at the Grand Hotel or at the Friends of china Club in Taipei.
For a further and somewhat more incisive look at the Taiwan Strait crisis, let’s examine the four battles — Air, Shells, Supply, and Words.
The Air Battle
The air Battle is best illustrated by an engagement that took place September 19 in the narrow waters of the Strait when four Commie torpedo boats went out to intercept two Chinat LSTs engaged in the resupply of Quemoy. As the torpedo boats approached the convoy, they were hit by Chinat Sabrejets. The attacking pilots claimed three of the four boats.
Two waves of MIGs then appeared, apparently a little late for their rendezvous with the boats, and found themselves in a fight with the F-86s. Five MIGs were claimed, and the rest returned to the mainland. There were no Chinat losses.
Five days later thirty-two Sabrejets encountered around 100 MIGs over the Strait. According to a Chinat spokesman the Communists were trying to draw the Sabrejets over the mainland in a “tricky maneuver to influence public opinion as well as the United Nations.” But the Chinat pilots stayed over the water fighting the MIGs up and down the Strait from Wenchow to Swatow. When it was over, they claimed eleven destroyed for the biggest day of the Taiwan Strait crisis. This brought the total destroyed by September 24 up to twenty-five.
How can this tremendous disparity between the Communist MIGs and the Chinat Sabrejets be explained? The MIG-17s are reported to have a capability of 60,000 feet and can fly 635 knots with afterburner. The Sabres operate at a top altitude of 48,000 feet and at 600 knots.
First of all the Chinat pilots are among the most experienced in the world. Many have over 1,400 hours in the F086 alone. They are eager, skillful, and their tactics are good.
The Communist pilots on the other hand, according to the Chinats, appeared inexperienced and indecisive. In one case a returning Sabre pilot was hard to say: “I should not even claim that one as a kill. He just sat there.” Chicom gunnery was not very good, and there was little if any teamwork.
As an American observer said after talking to a group of Chinats just back from the Strait: “Superior equipment will not always effect a balance against experience plus the tiger spirit. We learned this one in Korea, and we see it again in the Strait.”
Shortly after the “big day” of September 24 Radio Peiping announced that the Chinats were using the Sidewinder. Soon afterward a picture of what was called Sidewinder appeared in Chinese Communist papers. From the tone of the Peiping statement, which promised “punishment for this criminal action,” it was apparent that they did not like the heat-seeking, air-to-air missile and that they were hurt.
Another factor influencing the air war was the US Air Force F-104, which appeared over Taipei to bolster the air defenses of Taiwan. The Mach 2 fighter made a tremendous impression of both sides of Taiwan Strait.
When the air over the Strait finally calmed, thirty-one MIGs had gone down. Two Sabres were reported lost. The Chicom effort to draw the Chinats and, hopefully, the US over the mainland, label this as an aggression, and then blast over Radio Peiping that an invasion had occurred and had failed. Simultaneously as the Commies lost the air Battle, the shellings fell of sharply. Soon the cease-fire was announced.
The Battle of Shells
The shelling of the Quemoy complex, Big and Little Quemoy and the two extremely small islands of Ertan and Tatan, will go down in the annals of military history as one of the most intense and longest sustained artillery bombardments ever directed against a single military objective.
The Communists started firing on August 23 from approximately 300 well-stocked artillery positions. All of the relatively small Quemoy complex could be brought under fire.
This was the major military effort in the Taiwan Strait crisis. The Chicoms hoped through the use of artillery either to cause a direct withdrawal of President Chiang’s troops or, in combination with their psychological offensive, to force Gen. Hu Lien’s six nationalist divisions to surrender. Either would have been a decisive victory for the Peoples Republic and would have been a serious setback in Asia for the free world.
It appeared on occasion during the bombardment that the Chicom effort was pointed at “softening up” the Quemoy defenses prior to an invasion attempt. On August 23 they fired 50,000 rounds, and on August 24, 35,000 rounds. Again on September 8, 50,000 rounds hit Quemoy, and three days later 60,000 rounds were fired. These intense rates of fire caused serious disruption, especially to the supply effort. It appeared to many that Radio Peiping’s announcement that a landing would take place could be taken at face value and that the Chicoms were about to jump off, using a miscellaneous assortment of craft including junks in an invasion effort across the narrow waters. Tateng Island or Amoy seemed to be the logical launch points. The well-entrenched Chinats zeroed in their own guns on the open water and waited.
But there was no invasion, the Chicoms apparently remembering well the severe losses they took in the 1949 debacle. Mao, it would appear, had no intention of allowing a 1958 repetition. There were too many bystanders in Asia watching the outcome; the impact of such a setback would be too far-reaching.
Among the favorite targets hit during the 1958 shelling of Quemoy were the two landing strips used by the Chinat Air Force for the movement of personnel and critically needed supplies. Landing beaches, command posts, and Chinat gun positions were raked over at will by the Chicom gunners. Virtually all of Quemoy’s sixty square miles was covered. Little Quemoy, only six square miles, Tatan with ninety-six acres and Ertan with forty acres, received similarly intense shelling.
The cautious Chinats, waiting for an invasion effort and conserving their ammunition, initially were heavily outgunned. However, following President Eisenhower’s “No Munich” statement and with US forces augmented, the Chicom firings dropped off in mid-September. The invasion apparently was not to be launched. At this point the Chinats reached into their carefully hoarded ammunition reserves and stepped up their counterbattery fire.
The crisis now had lessened. Between September 13 and October 6 the Chicom firings fell to an average of around 6,000 rounds a day. This was not a sufficient rate in anyone’s book to achieve interdiction of Quemoy.
On October 7 the cease-fire was announced. A slight flurry took place between October 20 and October 23. The difficult to discern on-again-off-again pattern then developed with the Communists apparently endeavoring to appear as humanitarians on even days while they played the barbarians’ role on odd days.
The pattern of Communist firings throughout the Quemoy crisis can only be described as erratic. The major artillery effort was concentrated from August 23 to September 11. After that the rate of fire was sporadic and never posed a serious treat to Quemoy’s defenders.
Considering the intensity of the shelling directed at Quemoy, the casualties were relatively low. At the time of the cease-fire the Chinats announced that 1,000 military personnel had been killed or wounded. A total of eighty civilians were killed and 220 wounded. The low-casualty rate among civilians can be attributed to the fact that many of the people of Quemoy lived underground during most of the conflict. There was little serious damage inflicted on the well-prepared Nationalist defenses. Morale of the troops on Quemoy, many of whom were Taiwanese and were not motivated by a desire to return to the mainland, remained high throughout the artillery bombardment.
In the cease-fire period the Chinat resupply effort went on without interruption. At the close of the Battle of Shells Quemoy stood better defended, better equipped, and better stocked than at the start of the Communist aggression.
The Battle of Supply
Interdiction of Quemoy by artillery fire offered the Chicoms a course of action with built-in safeguards. A successful interdiction effort could force the surrender or withdrawal of the Chinat garrison and yet involved little risk of a major war. They had confidence that the fire from their 300 gun positions could cut the supply lines from Taiwan and achieve their objectives without the necessity of employing their numerically superior Air Force or their limited naval force. There was a further possibility that the US would assess the risks of a war as too great and would encourage President Chiang’s withdrawal even through the interdiction effort had not in itself achieved its goals.
At the start it appeared that the Chicoms might be able to sever successfully the GRC supply lines. However, in retrospect their initial successes can be attributed more to weaknesses in Chinat technique than to the artillery effort. Chinat attempts to carry out the resupply in their traditional easy-going fashion proved to be entirely inadequate. LSTs, during the phase, used only limited sections of the Quemoy beach which had been prepared for their operation and which had long since been zeroed in by Chicom artillery. After arrival, the LSTs would sometimes wait for an hour or longer before a confused, time-consuming, hand-unloading operation commenced. When the inevitable shelling started, there was a headlong flight for cover while the supply ships attempted to withdraw from the area. This procedure would be repeated the following day with tremendous piles of supplies exposed on the beachhead adding to the congestion and confusion. It became apparent even to the Chinats that both their unloading discipline as well as their system were faulty.
These initial failures created some anxiety and tended to exaggerate the Chinat claims of the “critical” shortage on Quemoy. Initially daily minimum resupply requirements were established at 700 tons. This later was reduced by Taiwan Defense Command to 3000 tons and later was cut to the more realistic figure of 200 tons.
No adequate inventory of supplies on Quemoy existed, although there were many more tons cached away than Quemoy’s defenders admitted to or knew about. Faced with the prospect of a long pull, it became apparent to al that improved methods of resupplying Quemoy were essential. US technical aid and advice were solicited and resulted in greatly improved techniques. Chinat underwater demolition teams started to work on opening additional beach areas in order to allow greater dispersion for the supply vessels.
By September 15 the new Chinat tactics were paying off. Small amphibious LVTs (Landing Vehicles, Tracked) poured out of the LSTs and fanned out for the shore carrying loads beyond the critical beach area. He LSTs once empty of their loads pulled away out of range of the Chicom gunners. The operation was completed the following day with the LVTs making a rendezvous with empty “mother” ships. As interesting as the LVT operation appears, the result were limited — each of the “ducks” carrying only about two and one-half tons. One LST carried about twenty-five of the LVTs — total load, sixty-seven and one-half tons.
An even more successful operation involved additional use of the LCMs carried in LSDs. The greater payload capacity of the LCMs allowed the daily average to be raised to the little ovr300 tons, more than enough to meet the minimum supply requirements.
Concurrent with the stepped-up efforts to resupply Quemoy by sea there was a slow but steady improvement in air delivery by Chinese Nationalist Air Force C-46s. Resupply of Quemoy by air, particularly of critically needed items, grew to become an effective complement to the surface resupply. Again there was a gradual gain to the surface resupply. Again there was a gradual gain in efficiency brought about by US technical advice and assistance.
At the very outset of air operations it was necessary to abandon the usual technique of landing, parking, and off-loading the supplies. Chicom gunners kept the strip under a steady barrage. Night airdrops from the C-46s were initiated, and in a short time the tonnage figures rose. A protective Combat Air patrol (CAP) was flown over these resupply aircraft by US Marine pilots.
By the last week in September the Chinese Nationalist Air Force was dropping one-third of the average 200-ton daily resupply to Quemoy. On October 2 the CNAF demonstrated the capability of more than meeting Quemoy’s daily minimum of 200 tons. Now not only could Quemoy be resupplied by sea-lanes, but the CNAF had demonstrated that it could deliver sizable tonnages as well.
The Battle of Supply had been lost by the Communist. One tactic remained. Should they use their Air Force against President Chiagn’s resupply lines? In this decision Mao Tse-tung had a voice, and it was in the negative.
On the fourth of October, only a short time after the Chinese Nationalist Air Force had demonstrated its resupply capability, the Chinese Communists announced the cease-fire.
The Battle of Words
The Taiwan Strait crisis once again demonstrated the Communist tactic of integrating psychological and military objectives. This is the well-established pattern of Communist cold-war strategy.
The Chicom “Battle of Words” appeared to have three main propaganda objectives, with other minor objectives as possible by-products.
The basic objectives were to:
¾ Set the stage for an eventual “peaceful liberation” of Taiwan by destroying the morale of the government of the Republic of Chins;
¾ Cast the United States in the roll of the aggressor; and
¾ Use the “threat of American aggression” as a whip to stimulate greater mass efforts to achieve domestic, political, and economic goals.
Minor psychological objectives appear to have been follows:
¾ Show up the United States as a “paper tiger” to the peoples of Asia;
¾ Destroy or weaken the trend toward the two-China concept; and
¾ Establish claim of sovereignty over coastal waters up to a twelve-mile limit.
In pursuing these objectives the Chicoms unleashed the full force of their propaganda machine. Radio Peiping kept up a vicious, steady stream of vitriolic blasts against the United States. These outpourings claimed that Taiwan and the offshore islands rightfully belonged to the Peoples Republic, that the mere presence of US forces on Taiwan and in the Strait was in fact, an act of military aggression.
To build and keep tensions high, both for external and internal consumption, Peiping initiated an unprecedented series of specific charges of US aggressive actions. Over forty such charges were made, each accompanied by forty such charges were made, each accompanied by vague threats against the US. These charges were designed primarily for domestic consumption as part of an intensified “Hate America” campaign, geared to induce greater economic productive efforts and provide a diversion from the resentments being created within China resulting from the resentments being created within China resulting from the commune program. Highlighting this propaganda effort was the charge that the Chinats were using poison gas shells against the mainland. Similar charges of inhumane warfare were noted after the very successful introduction of Sidewinder missiles into the air battle.
Paralleling the propaganda campaign against the United States, the Chicoms launched an all-out effort to weaken the resistance of the GRC defenders on the offshore islands. Every trick in the propaganda book was used to this end. Loudspeakers were directed at the island defenders, stressing that their cause was hopeless — they were cut off — and offering highly inductive surrender terms. Artillery-fired propaganda leaflets were extensively employed against all Chinat-held offshore positions during the entire period of tension, coordinated with the loudspeaker effort.
A somewhat more sophisticated campaign was aimed at driving a wedge between the higher echelons of the GRC and the US. The campaign capitalized on the impending US elections and stressed the theme that there was no popular support the US policy of aiding the GRC. Another aspect of this campaign was an attempt to convince the GRC and the people of Asia that the US could not be counted upon to come to the aid of its allies. Some effort was also directed toward the fanning of hostility between Americans and Chinese both on Taiwan and the offshore islands on an individual basis.
Still another subtle attempt to weaken the GRC was a concerted, well-directed letter campaign. Numerous letters were received by high GRC officials, delivered through Hong Kong, ostensibly by intermediaries of the Peiping regime. These letters offered attractive terms for top Chinat officials if they would but join their “brethren” on the mainland. Offers of titles, high positions, retirement in luxury, etc., were all spelled out.
An interesting aspect of the Battle of Words was the evident shift of emphasis of the Chicom propaganda campaign to coincide with the risks of a major war. Prior to the firm indication of US determination to withstand Communist aggression, the Chicoms together with the Soviets employed threats of direct USSR military action in retaliation against US forces should the US attack the mainland. As the US position became more firm, and with the buildup of the Chinat-US military posture, Peiping and Moscow, fearful that the conflict might get out of hand, suddenly began stressing that the entire issue was purely a civil war between warring Chinese factions and that the United States had no right to interfere in a strictly domestic affair.
To climax the Battle of Words the Chicoms initiated one of the most unique propaganda tricks in military history. A cease-fire was announced for the purpose of permitting the beleaguered garrisons to be resupplied. This obviously was an attempt to show the world that the blockade had not, in fact, been broken by the success of the combined US-Chinat resupply efforts. Peiping claimed their decision was based on humane considerations or the cut-off garrisons. In an attempt to maintain this position of benevolency the Chicoms adopted the tactic of announcing that they would continue shelling on the odd numbered days of the month, while permitting unrestricted resupply on the even numbered days of the month. This campaign continued and showed no evidence of change by the start of the new year.
In summary, the Chicom Battle of Words again points up the Communist employment of propaganda as a tactical weapon in the cold war. Little or no concern is given to the obvious transparence and superficiality of their propaganda themes. These they play with great dexterity, shifting from one major theme to another depending upon their immediate tactical goals. In the Taiwan crisis they experienced no difficulty in dramatically shifting from a threatening attitude toward the US to a conciliatory theme that the conflict was merely a local issue to be resolved between “Chinese Brothers.” Another example of their dexterity was the shift from their avowed threats to “liberate” Taiwan and the offshore islands by military means to a position of resolving their differences by discussions and amalgamation.
While there may have been some tactical advantages that accrued to the Communists from their campaign of words over the Strait issue, basically the real success of the propaganda effort is inextricably linked to the success of the over-all venture. There is, of course, the related influence of a backwash that tends to set in when loudly blasted intentions fail to materialize, for one reason or another. As the shellings dribbled off to sporadic firings on odd days and as the Chinese Nationalist garrisons received heavy supplies on even days, Moscow and Peiping must have assessed this key facet of the Taiwan Strait crisis as something less than a glowing success.
Lessons of Taiwan
It would be useful if out of the experience we gained in Taiwan we could develop a dependable document of Lessons Learned to guide us in future brushes with the Communists. But the nature of the conflict with Communism is such that no specific book of rules can be written.
For the Communist pick not only the time and place but the type of brushfire that they will ignite. They coolly mix their political, military, and psychological efforts into whatever formula they feel will best serve their aggressive designs. It is never easy to predict where the next pressures will be applied.
Nevertheless, we can make a few observations on the basis of this Taiwan Strait crisis.
One of the most effective all-around deterrents to Communist aggression is found in the indigenous military forces of the Asian countries. These Army, Navy, and air Force units testify strongly to the determination of free people to remain free. They are the perfect counterargument to Radio Peiping’s blasts of “American Imperialism” in the Far East. Taiwan Strait provides a good illustration of the military effectiveness of these forces. In addition to their psychological value, which is very considerable, the Republic of China’s Army, Navy, and Air Force that tangled with the Chinese Communists in September and October 1958 gave an excellent account of themselves. Chinese Air Force pilots were overwhelmingly successful in their air-to-air engagements with the MIG squadrons. Communist naval elements that ventured into in the Strait hoping to cut President Chiang’s supply lines came back with bloody noses. And the divisions on Quemoy showed no signs of budging under one of the heaviest artillery barrages in history. Stubbornly dig in, with morale consistently high, they provided both a military challenge to the Reds and a refutation of Peiping’s claims to leadership of the whole Chinese people.
These forces are organized on American military concepts and trained by US advisers in our procedures and to our standards. They create an all-important basic military environment, which in any contingency can work with US units ordered to the area to bolster the indigenous force. Common supplies, aircraft fuels, and communication equipment available on Taiwan bases made it possible for our Tactical Air Command and Continental air Defense Command aircraft to became operationally ready in a minimum of time after their arrival. MAP investments of many years were justified and paid out in the Strait crisis of 1958.
The final and never-to-be-forgotten lesson of the Strait is that the Communist intentions remain as they have been in the past — eliminate the US, all of our forces and influences from Asia, and gradually blot up the small countries. Their entire propaganda effort is pointed at the single theme of getting the United States out of the Far East, at ridding this tremendous area of US influence, a powerful catalyst that tends to bind the small nations into something approaching an anti-Communist effort. If they are ever successful in this fundamental objective of causing the US withdrawal, the map of the world will be remade in a matter of weeks.
The corollary to this is that we must maintain for the foreseeable future a military position in Asia that permits the free world to react quickly when and if the Communists commit a serious overt act. The US today has powerful forces in being in the Western Pacific. In the Taiwan Strait affair of 1958 our forces demonstrated that they can move quickly to troubled areas to back up indigenous units and that they can be augmented in a matter of days, and sometimes of hours. We did it in September of 1958. We certainly can do it again.
Unlike the forces assembled by the Communist, the airpower of the Us Air Force and of the Navy had no aggressive intentions in the Strait. It was there to support an ally, and to make the Communist pause. This is effective deterrence, and it is the basic lesson of Taiwan.
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