Drowned Earth: The Strategic Breaching of the Yellow River Dyke, 1938

Lary, D.
April 2001
War in History;Apr2001, Vol. 8 Issue 2, p191
Academic Journal
Early in the war of resistance against Japan, the Chinese military command used a tragic version of scorched-earth tactics: they denied access to the Japanese imperial army to a vast stretch of China not by literally scorching it but by drowning it. In June 1938 the Chinese command turned the ultimate symbol of Chinese civilization, the Yellow River, into a weapon of war. The southern dyke of the River was breached at Huayuankou (Flower Garden Mouth) in Henan, 30 miles to the west of the Japanese vanguard. A cataclysmic flood swept through the breach, killing by the lowest estimate half a million people and turning millions of others into refugees. The breach of the dyke was an attempt at strategic interdiction, to limit the mobility of the Japanese army and stop it moving further west. The waters of the River were to do what soldiers had not been able to do: to halt the Japanese advance. The breaching was a strategic move born of desperation. As the Japanese armies continued their relentless advance across China, sober strategic thinking in the Chinese command gave way to a mood close to panic, in which any conceivable action could be taken to stop the Japanese advance.


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