The Second Encirclement Campaign against the Honghu Soviet was a series of battles launched by the Chinese Nationalist Government that was intended to destroy communist Honghu Soviet and its Chinese Red Army in the local region. It was responded by the Communists’ Second Counter-Encirclement Campaign at Honghu Soviet (Chinese: 洪湖苏区第二次反围剿), also called by the communists as the Second Counter-Encirclement Campaign at Honghu Revolutionary Base (Chinese: 洪湖革命根据地第二次反围剿), in which the local Chinese Red Army successfully defended their soviet republic in the Honghu region against the Nationalist attacks from March 1, 1931, to early June, 1931.
After their defeat in the First Encirclement Campaign against Honghu Soviet in early February 1931 and the subsequent forced withdraw to regroup, nationalist forces launched the second encirclement campaign against the communist base in Honghu on March 1, 1931. The nationalists believed that their poorly supplied communist enemy would not have sufficient time to recover from previous battles in the last encirclement campaign, and they must not wait too long to provide more times for their communist enemy. The nationalist commander-in-chief was the same one in the First Encirclement Campaign against Honghu Soviet, the 10th Army commander Xu Yuanquan (徐源泉), whose 10th Army was not deployed directly in the campaign, but instead, deployed some distance away from the battlefield as strategic reserve. The brunt of the fighting was to be carried out mostly by troops of regional warlords who were nominally under the command of Chiang Kai-shek.
The communists were not jubilant after their victory achieved in First Encirclement Campaign against Honghu Soviet, because they were fully aware the nationalist withdraw was only temporary and it was only matter of time before the nationalists resume their assault on Honghu Soviet. To better prepare the defense of their homebase against the new wave of the imminent nationalist attacks which had already begun, communists restructured their organization in Honghu Soviet. In the early March 1931, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CCoCPC) sent Xià Xī (夏曦) to Honghu Soviet for restructuring. To better coordinate administrative activities, CPC Hunan – Western Hubei Bureau was formed, and to better coordinate political activities, CPC provisional Hunan – Western Hubei provincial committee was formed. To better coordinate military affairs, Revolutionary military committee was formed, and Xià Xī was named as the CPC party secretary of the Hunan – Western Hubei Bureau, and the chairman of the revolutionary military committee. Cui Mei (崔玫) was named as the party secretary of the CPC provisional Hunan – Western Hubei provincial committee, and he was later succeed by Yang Guanghua (杨光华). This restructure of communist party apparatus was proven to be catastrophic later on, when Xià Xī carried out huge purges on local communist ranks, resulting in causing more damage than the military actions taken by their nationalist enemy.
Nationalists:Newly Organized 11th Division
44th Brigade of the 15th Division
2 Brigades (including the 142nd Brigade) of the 48th Division
Newly Organized 2nd Brigade
Newly Organized 3rd Brigade
Communists:9th Division (Brigade-sized)
Hunan – Western Hubei Garrison Regiment
Mianyang Independent Regiment
Independent battalions of guerrillas
On March 1, 1931, the nationalist Newly Organized 11th Division and a brigade of the nationalist 48th Division crossed the Yangtze River and attacked the communist base on the southern bank of the Yangtze River. The local communist force was unable to repel the numerically and technically superior nationalist force, and was forced to fall back, and nationalists took Lotus Pond (Ouchi, 藕池), Stone Head (Shishou, 石首) as a result.
Communists were fully aware that they were no match for the enemy and reasoned that if they were to concentrate their forces and face off the enemy, they would be annihilated. Instead, the communists decided to split their forces into two, operating on both banks of the Yangtze River, and once the nationalists were stretched out too thin, the communists would counterattack. The primary objectives of communists were to defend their base on the southern bank of the Yangtze River, and to reestablish their base in the northern bank of the Yangtze River when possible, and if the enemy was overstretched and provided the needed opportunity, the communist would establish new bases if possible. Under the command of Duan Dechang (段德昌), the communist Independent Regiment and CPC party apparatus crossed the Yangtze River, and began guerrilla warfare in the regions of Qianjiang (潜江), Mianyang (沔阳) and Jiangli (监利), deep behind the nationalist line in the heart of the nationalist-controlled area. Under the command Zhou Yiqun (周逸群), the communist force on the southern bank of the Yangtze River also began guerrilla warfare, and at the same time, a portion of the force penetrated deep into the regions around the Dongting Lake, while another portion of the force escorted the local populace to the Eastern Mountain (Dongshan, 东山) region.
In early April, 1931, nationalist 142nd Brigade of the 48th Division, 44th Brigade of the 15th Division, Newly Organized 11th Division, and the 19th Division attacked toward Eastern Mountain region from Tiaoxuankou (调弦口), Wanyu (万庾), Huarong County, and Yueyang respectively. After two major clashes at regions of Rape-Turnip Temple (Sanweisi, 三葑寺) and Pine Wood Bridge (Songbanqiao 松板桥), the communist attempt to check the nationalist advance was crashed. Local communist regular army and the communist Huarong Guerrillas were forced to withdrew to the north of the Yangtze River by mid-April, and the nationalist force succeeded in taking the Eastern Mountain region. However, by this time, the nationalist force was overstretched, and was unable to eradicate the remaining communist guerrillas in the newly conquered region, and moreover, their rear was constantly harassed by the communists forces that had crossed the Yangtze River, and with the bulk of the force deployed away during the campaign, there was simply not enough troops to stay behind to guard the vast areas in the rear. Realizing the nationalists had overstretched themselves way beyond the threshold, the communists jumped on the opportunity to counterattack.
While the crack troops of the nationalist force was penetrating deep into the enemy territory and taking more lands, their rear was guarded by the second rate troops most consisted of poorly trained conscripts who were drafted just shortly prior to the First Encirclement Campaign against Honghu Soviet. Seizing the opportunity, communist force on the northern bank of the Yangtze River including the Independent Regiment attacked and took the town of Red River (Zhuhe 朱河) for four time, annihilated the 2nd Regiment of the nationalist Newly Organized 2nd Brigade in the process, forcing the nationalist brigade to be out of the action for the rest of the campaign. The communist force operated on the northern bank of the Yangtze River also attacked the town of Fengkou (峰口) twice, completely annihilated two battalions of the nationalist Newly Organized 3rd Brigade in the process. A regiment of the nationalist Newly Organized 3rd Brigade consisted of newly drafted conscripts could not handle the pressure and after suffering a defeat that did not produce too much casualties, the surviving conscripts in the regiment deserted en masse. The destruction of the two nationalist newly organized brigades caused the total collapse in the new nationalist positions on the north bank of the Yangtze river, losing nearly all of the territories newly taken from the communists during their earlier success, and the communists thus successfully reestablished their original base on the northern bank of the river.
The complete recovery of the communists on the northern bank of the Yangtze River marked the beginning of the communist counteroffensive. In April, 1931, the communist Independent Regiment was expanded to have a second regiment, the 26th Regiment, and the new formation was renamed as the 9th Division of the 3rd Army, even though the new unit is only a brigade-sized formation at the best, since it only had two regiments. Additional communist military units were also formed, including Hunan – Western Hubei Garrison Regiment, Mianyang Independent Regiment, Training Regiment and the Independent battalions of guerrillas of several counties in the communist base. After the reorganization, communists took the initiative by attacking the nationalists, and in the battle fought in the region of Laoxinkou (老新口) in mid April, the previously badly mauled nationalist Newly Organized 3rd Brigade was struck again with disastrous result: after each of the two surviving regiments of the nationalist Newly Organized 3rd Brigade lost a battalion completely in the battle, the four surviving battalions of the two regiments of the nationalist Newly Organized 3rd Brigade disintegrated when the conscripts in the surviving units deserted en masse. The nationalist Newly Organized 3rd Brigade ceased to function and only existed in names on papers, and after the devastating defeat, regions including Dragon Gulf (Longhaiwan, 龙海湾), Bear’s Mouth (Xiongkou, 熊口), Han River Mouth (Hanhekou, 汉河口), and Dafengkou (大丰口) fell back into the communist hand by late April in a domino effect.
As warlords’ armies begun to crumble, the strategic reserve, Chiang Kai-shek’s own troop, the 10th Army could not offer any help. The reason was because the heightened tension between Chiang and warlords in Guangdong and Guangxi, so the 10th Army was redeployed to Changsha for the preparation to faceoff the warlords from the two provinces in case war broke out. Taking the advantage of the in-fights among the nationalist themselves, the communist force on the northern bank of the Yangtze River attacked toward Jiangling County, and by the early June, 1931, in a series of battles fought in the regions of Three Official’s Palace (Sanguandian, 三官殿), Sand Hill (Shagang, 沙岗), Puji Temple (Pujiguan, 普济观),Haoxue (郝穴),and Wang Family’s Bridge (Wanjiaqiao, 汪家桥), communist force on the northern bank of the Yangtze River succeed in killing over two thousand nationalist troops, capturing more than a thousand guns from the defeated nationalists. The communist force on the southern bank of the Yangtze River also made impressive gains in that it retook the Eastern Mountain region, but during the process, their commander-in-chief Zhou Yiqun was killed in action in a battle near Yueyang. However, this nationalist achievement was not enough to avert the strategic failure of the encirclement campaign and the nationalists were forced to withdraw and call off the campaign. The communists not only successfully defended their base, but in addition, also further strengthened it by expanding into the regions around Tongting Lake, and the communist force on the southern bank of the Yangtze River crossed the Yangtze River after the campaign, and reorganized into the 26th Regiment of the 9th Division of the 3rd Army of the Chinese Red Army.