The Mysterious Disappearance of the Chinese Nanking Battalion

The National Revolutionary Army 185th Infantry Division soldiers during World War II. (Image:  wikipedia  /  CC0 1.0)
The National Revolutionary Army 185th Infantry Division soldiers during World War II. (Image: wikipedia / CC0 1.0)

On December 10, 1939, during the horrors of the Japanese aggression against the Republic of China during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-45), 2,988 Chinese soldiers were assigned to defend a bridge on the Yangtze River. By morning, the soldiers had simply vanished.

Ready to fight

The commander of the newly-arrived battalion was a colonel, Li Fu Sien. He was ordered to defend the Nanjing’s hills, which consisted of a 3.2 kilometer area, with the view of defending a bridge on the Yangtze River against the impending Japanese attack.

The battalion was the rear guard, advancing toward the Japanese strongholds in the area. They were equipped with a number of heavy artillery and were reported to be ready to fight to the last man if necessary. After seeing that his troops were well dug in for the night and soldiers were posted on watch, the colonel then retired to his sleeping quarters about two miles behind the lines.

ROC soldiers marching to the front lines in 1939. (Image: via wikipedia / CC0 1.0)

ROC soldiers marching to the front lines in 1939. (Image: wikipedia / CC0 1.0)

The next morning, the Colonel was woken by his aid and was told the newly placed troops were not responding to calls or signals. A party was formed from those who were behind the lines. When they arrived at the forward positions, they were simply stunned.

The troops’ position was completely abandoned, there was no sign of struggle, the heavy weapons were still in place and ready to be fired, and their concealed fires still glowed, with rifles stacked close by. With the exception of a handful of troops stationed at the bridge on watch, there was not another single soldier to be seen.

The bulk of the battalion had simply vanished, including all the field officers. Questioning the few men that were on watch revealed nothing. They claimed that no one had slipped by in the night, they had not heard any sounds of combat, and they were unsure of the missing soldiers’ fate.

ROC soldiers in house-to-house fighting in Battle of Taierzhuang. (Image: via wikipedia / CC0 1.0)

ROC soldiers in house-to-house fighting in Battle of Taierzhuang. (Image: wikipedia / CC0 1.0)

The surrounding vegetation was reported to be so sparse that a mass defection was not possible, nor were there any signs on the landscape that any skirmishing had occurred. Not a single corpse or grave was located. And, finally the Japanese later reported they had not engaged any such group of Chinese soldiers in battle during that time.

The farmers living in the area likewise reported they had not heard any gunfire, nor had they seen any soldiers fleeing from the defensive line through the countryside.

Possible reasons

It has been suggested that the Chinese may have decided to surrender to the Japanese. To do this, the soldiers would have had to cross the bridge, which was under constant observation. No such mass crossing had been seen.

However, surrender seems unlikely — the Chinese were well aware of the horrific and widely known ill treatment the Japanese afforded prisoners of war. If they did surrender, they would bef tortured and probably killed outright or die from abuse.

A Chinese Nationalist soldier, age 10, member of a Chinese division from the X Force, boarding planes in Burma bound for China, May 1944. (Image: via wikipedia / CC0 1.0)

A Chinese Nationalist soldier, age 10, member of a Chinese division from the X Force, boarding planes in Burma bound for China, May 1944. (Image: wikipedia / CC0 1.0)

The most reasonable conclusion is probably as follows: Tired of the fighting or seeing the hopelessness of the situation, they simply deserted quietly. Just because there was only one bridge does not mean that was the only way out of the area.  Using the cover of darkness, men familiar with the countryside could have purely melted into the landscape.

The farmers in the area, who were not part of the developing Communist ideology of China or directly involved in the war with Japan, may have been inclined to help hide and cover for the fleeing soldiers.

If it was desertion, there is good reason such a defection would not be forthcoming; China was turning into a true Communist country, and for ideological and morale reasons, no one in authority would ever allow the news that soldiers fighting for the “rightness” of Communism would deign to desert to get out, even to this day.

Chinese suicide bomber putting on an explosive vest made out of Model 24 hand grenades to use in an attack on Japanese tanks at the Battle of Taierzhuang. (Image: via wikipedia / CC0 1.0)

Chinese suicide bomber putting on an explosive vest made out of Model 24 hand grenades to use in an attack on Japanese tanks at the Battle of Taierzhuang. (Image: wikipedia / CC0 1.0)

Another simpler reason not to report a desertion could have been the fact that it would have destroyed morale, and a mass desertion by the Chinese would have been great propaganda for the Japanese to use against the Chinese government, making them look foolish and weak on the world stage.

There are also various theories online to explain the disappearances, such as a UFO abduction, or that the troops retreated into a hollow subterranean layer of the earth. However, there may be another explanation, and perhaps it’s the most reasonable one — it never happened, there was no such battalion or disappearence.  The story may very well be nothing but folklore.

Conjecture is all that remains.

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