List of Updates
Want to join?
Writer Development Section
Join Club ChangerS
Letters To The Editor
Terms and Conditions
Today in Alternate History
Day in Alternate History Blog
Bloody Kaifeng - Part 1
Captain Hiroshi Neji looked across the turbid waters of the Yellow River. Across
towards Kaifeng. Already, the 5th Imperial Army had swept through much of
Northern China and Hiroshi had fought with them the whole way, from the storming
of Beijing, down to the push through Shandong, driving the Chinese before them.
Now, General Matsui was poised to cross the Yellow River and break the enemy
resistance in Kaifeng.
Of course, the formalities had to be observed and so leaflets had been dropped
on the city the night before. Neji had read one from a batch that had been
dropped on his battalion's encampment by mistake.
The Japanese Army, one million strong, has already conquered Shandong. We are
poised to storm the city of Kaifeng... The Japanese Army shall show no mercy
toward those who offer resistance, treating them with extreme severity, but
shall harm neither innocent civilians nor Chinese military personnel who
manifest no hostility. It is our earnest desire to preserve our shared East
Asian culture. If your troops continue to fight, the destruction of Kaifeng is
inevitable. The culture that has endured for a millennium will be reduced to
ashes, and your city will crumble into rubble. This offer is issued to your
troops on behalf of the Imperial Japanese Army. Surrender the city or be
"Do you think they'll respond?" asked Sakagawa Hiro another of the
Seventy-fifth Battalion's Captains. Sakagawa, a tank squadron commander had come
nosing around for any information that Hiroshi, the intelligence officer, might
have gleaned from High Command about tomorrow's expected battle.
"I doubt it," replied Hiroshi, "We'll probably have to go
charging across those bridges tomorrow, just like in the plan."
The Chinese infantrymen clustered around the armoured car from which their
Colonel waved to them.
"Soldiers of China," bellowed Colonel Liu, "No doubt you have
read the leaflets which the enemy has dropped. Pay no heed to them. Tomorrow
they'll come across that river and we will bleed them!"
A cheer rose, ragged at first but gathering strength as Liu thundered on,
exhorting them with classical and historical allusions.
"Ten Thousand Years to the Emperor!" he concluded.
"Ten Thousand Years!" came the roared response.
Inside the armoured car, Lieutenant Colonel Nigel Wickham the British military
observer clapped drily as the Colonel sat down.
"Quite the speech."
"The men need something to put fire in their bellies," replied Liu,
"They know that by this time tomorrow we're going to be outnumbered,
surrounded and fighting for our lives."
Captain Neji dived for cover as a bullet ricocheted off the
pavement next to him. He knew it wasn't randomly targetted- the Chinese were
falling back through the rubble strewn streets of the outer city but sniper
teams had stayed behind and were bleeding the Japanese ranks as they marched
through the wreckage. His men close behind him, Neji smashed through a half-open
door as another bullet whined past his ear.
This had obviously been the back door of a rather substantial residence and
Neji's men fanned out through the house, checking for enemy troops or enemy
A cowering old man was dragged out of a closet and thrown to the ground at the
Captain's feet. Judging by his garb he was a servant- probably left behind to
look after the house while the owners fled to a more salubrious location.
Neji grabbed the man by his collar and shook him.
"Food?" he snarled in the broken pidgin Chinese he had picked up over
the course of the campaign.
The servant pointed fearfully towards the kitchen.
"Good," said the captain, "Sergeant! Detail two men to see what
they can find."
"And what about this scum, sir?" asked the sergeant, "Do we shoot
Neji considered. They had been in the city for two days so far and supplies were
coming up to the front in increasingly erratic quantities. They were still quite
well stocked at the moment but Neji prided himself on thinking ahead.
"No need to waste ammunition, sergeant. Bayonets wil do the job just as
Two days...it felt like they had been fighting for two weeks. The slaughter had
been terrible as the Imperial Japanese Army had hurled itself across the Yellow
River, the Chinese defending the opposite bank in force. Neji's troops had
cowered in the bottom of a leaky boat as Chinese aircraft swooped low overhead,
strafing them before being driven off by incoming Japanese air support. As Neji
and his men peeked above the gunwales they had seen what looked like a vision of
hell as Kaifeng burned before them, much of the city already ruined by the
Japanese bombing and artillery bombardment.
And then the landing. They had clawed up from the river, whole platoons of the
Emperor's soldiers charging into the Chinese machineguns. The defenders had been
overwhelmed after an entire day of fighting but the cost had been terrible.
Fresh troops had been brought up and the Japanese had begun pushing into the
city inch by bloody inch. Neji had thought the Japanese to be the bravest, most
determined soldiers on Earth but he had been unnerved by the way the Chinese had
held, fighting desperately to give other units time to fall back.
Now it appeared that the main Chinese force had finally fallen back from this
sector and the Japanese were finally getting a bit of a rest. If you could call
constant sniper fire a rest. At least his battalion hadn't been ordered to
continue the advance into the night- fresh units were being brought up to do
that and the bloodied, decimated first wave had been ordered to hold.
The muffled thud of artillery fire sounded in the distance- General Matsui was
determined to hit the enemy-held sectors of Kaifeng twice as hard tonight. Hopefully,
thought Neji, that'll make tomorrow's push easier.
His head jerked up sharply at the sound of another explosion, much nearer,
followed by screams.
The men in the kitchen!
Neji rushed through the door, revolver drawn to find both of the men that had
been sent scrounging down. One lay still and obviously dead, the other writhed
on the floor, screaming, his face a hideous mess.
"A nail bomb, sir," said the sergeant, already crouching behind the
still dying man. When they lifted the lid of the rice vat it blew up in their
So, thought Neji, choking down the bile that rose in his throat, that's
how it's going to be...
Sometimes they couldn't tell if it was day or night, the
smoke was so thick.
And besides, in bloody Kaifeng day tended to blend into night- it was all pretty
much the same whether you were Japanese or Chinese. Scuttle through the
buildings, trying to the snipers, trying to get some food- if there was any to
be had- trying to avoid setting off any of the nasty little booby traps both
sides had gotten adroit at using. Trying to stay alive.
It was worse if you were a civilian.
The lucky ones had managed to flee the city before or during the opening phases
of the battle. Those who hadn't got out after two weeks were now mostly dead.
Almost all of them anyway- Colonel Liu had ceased to wonder at how the few
street urchins who seemed to tag along with the battalion ad managed to stay
alive for nigh on two months now. They were useful though, scuttling
through the warren of passageways through ruined buildings, squeezing through
gaps too small for grown men.
In the distance he heard the crump of falling Japanese bombs...yes, both
sides were still bombing the city though it seemed like there was nothing left
to bomb. And it wasn't even as if either side could tell who they were dropping
bombs on. Not neat fronts in this battle, just an endless whirl of men
trying to stay alive. A battle measured not in li or miles of kilometres
but rather in blocks, in feet, in inches of territory.
But the bombs dropped remorselessly. Liu remembered one skirmish, interrupted by
an artillery barrage which, judging by the direction had probbaly been fired by
the Japanese. All around him, men had dashed for cover, ignoring their foes,
cowering in a daze of fear until it was over. Liu had awoken from that daze to
find himself crouched behind the gutted shell of a car with a Japanese soldier.
He had reacted faster than the other man, shooting him through the jaw with his
Men crouched, reloading their rifles, separated from their enemies by a cracked
concrete wall, so close that in the lulls between battle they could sometimes
hear each other breathing.
Or there were the terrible battles fought in the sewers, men clawing at each
other in near total darkness fighting with knives and rifle-butts and bayonets
and crude clubs and teeth.
It was hell come to earth.
No shouts of "Ten thousand years" to cheer the men on now- they were
beyond cheering. But still, in the main, they had not broken. Oh there were some
who curled up and would not move, some who screamed and laughed and cried, some
who just died, quietly without a mark on them.
The explosions were getting nearer.
But if it was this bad for Liu's troops it was worse for the Japanese. It seemed
that while fresh Chinese troops were coming up to reinforce the city, the same
was not true for the Japanese. At least the Chinese troops could be rotated back
from time to time...not very often but at least it was possible. General Matsui
had comitted all his troops to Kaifeng and could not rotate his troops without
reducing the pressure he was putting on the Chinese.
Liu didn't even notice that he was diving for cover- after all this time it was
Soon, he thought, Soon they will break
Neji, swayed for a moment before catching himself.
He couldn't let himself collapse. Not now. Not when he was the senior surviving
officer of the 15th Battalion. What remained of it anyway.
Barely a company's worth of men stood behind him on the dusty ground of the
square, hurriedly cleared of rubble for the ceremony. The same pattern was
repeated in the other Japanese units that stood at attention, awaiting their
No General Matsui, oh no. The General had been to smart to lose his honour here-
reports differed as to how he had met his end. The official version, authorised
by Colonel Hiroshi, now the commander of the 5th Imperial Army, was that the
General and his command staff had disembowelled themselves honourably. The
Chinese said that an artillery barrage, followed by a quick assault by Chinese
infantry had finished off the General.
No matter. Either way the man had died honourably. As had many of Neji's brother
officers. His shattered hand sent a stab of pain up his arm. Why had he chosen
When the order to lay down arms had come from Colonel Hiroshi, many of Neji's
comrades had charged screaming into enemy machineguns. They had little
ammunition left and so they had charged with their issue katanas drawns.
Japanese steel against Britiah-made machineguns. It had been like something out
of the Boshin War. That was the Japanese way, surely? That was how one should
lay down one's life for the Tenno, the Emperor.
But Neji could not make himself do that. Some few of the enlisted men had
charged with their officers, bayonets fixed. Most had simply slumped, stunned by
the order to surrender.
They didn't understand it. The Emperor's Army was the finest in the world and
the Chinese were decadent and soft...that had been what they were told. But
somehow the Fifth Army had been flanked, encircled, cut off from supplies and
beaten into submission. They had fought gloriously for two months in the hell
that was Kaifeng but for every Chinese gaijin they struck down two more
had appeared...the innumerable hordes of the Son of Heaven had been fed into the
meat grinder, slaughtered. But there were always more of them, more than the
Japanese could kill. And in the end the Fifth Army had broken.
There were even rumours that some Japanese troops had shot their own officers.
Neji didn't believe that. He couldn't.
And now was the moment. Now Colonel Hiroshi was saluting the Chinese general,
turning to face his men. The command came for them to lay down their arms.
And then Neji knew why he had not charged with his brother officers. He knew why
he had set one bullet aside. The world slowed to a crawl around him as calmly he
drew his revolver and shot Colonel Hiroshi between the eyes.
And he stood and laughed in the sunshine as shouts rose around him.
He didn't even feel anything when his own men dragged him down.
To Episode 4