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Bloody Kaifeng - Part 1


by Flocculencio

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 destroyed.

"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 civilians.

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 him."

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 well."

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 faces.

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 pistol.

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 automatic.

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 humiliation.

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 to surrender?

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

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