Photograph of street in Canton, ca. 1919

Department of Commerce. Via Wikimedia Commons

Canton (Guangzhou; 113.239E 23.125N), located on the estuary of the Pearl River, is one of the most important and most ancient port cities of China.  Arab merchants were trading through this port as early as the 2nd century, and the Portuguese first arrived in 1516.  Canton was the first of the treaty ports, and maintained a monopoly on the South China trade until the rise of Hong Kong ca. 1880.  It was the terminus of the southern China rail system after 1936 and a center of river traffic, with a population of about a million and a half persons. The various waterways of the city were crowded with river vessels housing tens of thousands more.  Vessels of up to 2000 tons could navigate 200 miles upstream to Wuchow.  Because of silting, large oceangoing vessels docked at Whampoa, 10 miles downstream from Canton.

The city was repeatedly bombed, beginning on 2 February 1938, though the Japanese were careful to avoid the International Settlement at Shameen. The city was taken by 21 Army, which landed at Bias Bay east of Hong Kong on 12 October 1938 and rapidly advanced to Canton against negligible opposition. Meanwhile Japanese aircraft destroyed the Chinese river communications, sinking seven gunboats and four PT boats. The Chinese had counted on the British at Hong Kong to deter a Japanese move against Canton, but the landings well away from the British stronghold caught the Chinese by surprise. The timing, just two weeks after the Munich crisis, took advantage of the perception of Western weakness. The Japanese entered Canton on 21 October, after the defending 12 Army Group had abandoned the city without a fight, and captured the Humen fortress on the Pearl River from the landward side the next day.

At the time war broke out, Canton Special Base Force garrisoned the city, and the airfield at Tien Flo based 44 Air Regiment with 24 Ki-51 Sonia and 11 C5M Babs; 45 AIr Regiment with 36 Ki-36 Ida; 47 Squadron with 9 preproduction Ki-61 Tony; and 82 Light Squadron with 12 Ki-48 Lily.

Japanese order of battle, 12 October 1938

21 Army (Mikio)     
About 70,000 men
11 Division

18 Division

104 Division

Kuomintang order of battle, 12 October 1938

12 Army Group (Yu)     
About 55,000  men
62 Army

63 Army

65 Army

Rail connections



River connections



Dorn (1974)
Peattie et al. (2011)

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