The Battle of Guningtou on October 25, 1949 was a pivotal moment in history which restored the crippled morale of the Nationalist Kuomintang (KMT) forces of the Republic of China (ROC) in their fight against the dark tide of communism during the Chinese Civil War. The ROC, commonly referred to today as Taiwan, managed to repel an amphibious landing by Chinese Communist forces of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on the island of Kinmen. After the Communists swept across mainland China and established the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in Beijing, they were on the verge of total victory over the ROC. This crucial win was the first after a series of devastating losses, boosting morale for the KMT and stopping the spread of communism from being absolute. The “Great Victory at Guningtou” spared the last remnants of the Republic of China from the cultural destruction which would befall the mainland under communism and gave resistance to the red tyranny a chance to survive into the 21st Century.
The Specter Spreads
In the wake of World War II, Communist forces under the command of Mao Zedong swept across China, ushering in a new era of darkness which would continue into the modern era. By October 1, 1949, the Nationalist KMT forces under Chiang Kai-shek were in full retreat from the mainland. All of China’s major cities had fallen, with small pockets of resistance far off to the north and south soon to meet the same fate. The Nationalists fell back to Taiwan and maintained garrisons on several smaller islands near Taiwan, including Kinmen and Matsu. The Nationalists still had naval superiority at the time, and the Communists believed they needed to seize Kinmen and Matsu before invading the much larger island of Taiwan. Intent of wiping out the last vestiges of the Republic once and for all, the Chinese Communists launched an amphibious invasion of Kinmen that October.
On October 17, the Communists captured the smaller island of Xiamen. Lacking a navy at the time, they commandeered local fishing boats to use as amphibious landing craft under the cover of night. After the fall of Xiamen, the Nationalists began fortifying their coastal defenses on Kinmen. Landmines and obstacles were set up along the beaches and troops began routine exercises to simulate repelling an amphibious invasion. The Nationalist forces on Kinmen consisted of roughly 40,000 men from the 12th, 18th, and 22nd KMT Army. They were supported by the LST 210, the Chung Lung of the ROC Navy as well as American-made B-26 and B-25 bombers of the ROC Air Force for close air support. The 1st Tank Battalion of the ROC also had American M5A1 “Stuart” tanks from their time serving with the Americans in India as the First Provisional Tank Group.
The Communists Strike
On the night of October 24, 1949, the Communists made their move. Their plan was to use the roughly 200 commandeered fishing boats to quietly ferry 19,000 troops onto the beaches of Kinmen over several trips before moving further inland to take positions at Guningtou, Lungkou, Huwei and dig in to repel a counterattack. If lucky, they would have amassed a large enough invasion force before being discovered and having to fight their way off the beach. However, only about 8,000 Communist troops managed to land on the first and second day before the PLA’s plan went amiss. In the early morning of October 25, fortune favored the Nationalists defenders when they set off one of their own landmines and put the whole island on alert. Flares were fired into the air, illuminating the Communists who had landed on the beach. With the invaders now revealed, the fighting began.
The Nationalist forces opened fire on the Communists who had already come ashore near Lungkou with machine guns, mortars, and artillery. The PLA tried to support their landing forces with artillery fire from the mainland, but had limited intelligence on the island of Kinmen and had to cease fire support in order for the Communist troops to attempt to move further inland without risking friendly fire. Also, a Stuart tank under the command of Lieutenant Yang Chan had broken down during exercises on the beach with a clear line of sight on the invaders. The Communists suffered heavy casualties landing at Lungkou and became pinned down on the beach from the many bunkers and three tanks wearing into them, resulting in their fishing boats being destroyed. Many of the Communist troops were unable to fight back at all due to their guns being waterlogged from the amphibious landing. When the Stuart tanks ran out of ammunition, they moved forward and used their hulking carriages to run over and crush the invaders stuck on the beach with nowhere to run.
The Communists coming in near Guningtou and Huwei managed to land safely, but their fishing boats became stuck on the obstacles along the beach due to the high tide and were eventually destroyed by shore bombardment from the Chung Lung. PLA reinforcements were cut off, and the Communists who made it onto the island were on their own for now, but those landing near Guningtou and Huwei had some initial success. They were able to push inland and hold defensive positions at Shuangru Hill, Guanyin Hill, and the Huwei Highlands for some time before the KMT forces could bring more tanks into the battle the next day and push them back. However, PLA forces were skilled at avoiding ROC tanks by this time, having fought against them extensively on the mainland. The Communists were able to avoid direct confrontation with the tanks in many instances, flanking infantry attempting to use the tanks as cover and avoiding encirclement before moving into the village of Guningtou for a final stand.
On the third day of the invasion, about 1,000 additional PLA troops managed to land and reinforce Guningtou. Yet, this would not be enough. The Communists had found great success on the mainland due to spies and traitors among the ROC feeding them intelligence, and that advantage did not extend to Kinmen. Also, despite the reinforcements arriving, the Communists were still outnumbered and outgunned on Kinmen. Near the end of the last day, the Nationalist forces moved into Guningtou with tanks and limited air support. The fighting was bitter and bloody in the village, with significant close quarters and house-to-house combat. Eventually, the Nationalists wore down the Communists, pushing them out of Guningtou. Out of food, ammunition, and other supplies, the remaining Communists surrendered on the beaches of Guningtou with nowhere left to run.
Aftermath and Legacy
Following their defeat at the Battle of Guningtou, the Communists abandoned their ambitions of conquering Taiwan for the time being. The Nationalists were also dangerously low on morale at the time of the battle, having been driven from their homeland and losing control of the entire Chinese mainland. The major victory at the Battle of Guningtou was also considered to be one last desperate attempt to survive by the beaten and battered ROC. At the time, it was likely the first good news they had heard in a long time after a series of tragedies and defeats. By holding the line on Kinmen Island, the Nationalists also gave a future to the people of Taiwan and a home for traditional Chinese history and culture to survive unmolested by communism.
It is also clear that someone was looking out for the Nationalist forces that fateful day. First, with the tripping of one of their own landmines revealing the enemy; to the waterlogged guns preventing the Communist soldiers from firing back; to the tank which just so happened to break down at just the right spot to repel the invasion force. While everything had gone wrong throughout the Chinese Civil War to lead the Nationalists to this point, everything seemed to go right at just the last moment before they were wiped out forever. As a result, they were spared complete annihilation at the hands of the Communists, and the people of Taiwan today have thus been spared from the horrors which ensued on the mainland under communist rule.
While information on the specific individuals involved in the battle is hard to find in English, the heroes involved in the defense of Kinmen Island in 1949 deserve to be recognized as a whole. Their efforts were instrumental in stopping the spread of communism in the 20th Century. For their sacrifice, all those alive today still have a chance to stand up against communism once and for all.
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