- First Zhili–Fengtian War
War Part of Warlord era Date April 10, 1922 - June 18, 1922 Location Zhili, China Result Zhili victory Belligerents
Commanders and leaders Wu Peifu Zhang Zuolin Strength 100,000 120,000 Casualties and losses Low 20,000 killed, 10,000 deserted, 40,000 surrendered
The First Zhili–Fengtian War (Chinese: 第一次直奉戰爭; pinyin: Dìyīcì Zhífèng Zhànzhēng) was a 1922 conflict in the Republic of China's Warlord Era between the Zhili and Fengtian cliques for control of Beijing. The war led to the defeat of the Fengtian clique and the fall of its leader, Zhang Zuolin, from the coalition Zhili-Fengtian government in Beijing. Wu Peifu was credited as the strategist behind Zhili's victory.
Having jointly seized Beijing in 1920, the Fengtien and Zhili cliques controlled the nominal government of China. Tensions soon began building between the two cliques in their uneasy coalition government. In 1922, the Fengtian clique replaced Premier Jin Yunpeng with Liang Shiyi without getting the prior consent of their partner, the Zhili clique. While the Zhili clique had the backing of the British and Americans, the Fengtian leader was backed by Japan. The Japanese government had once supported their enemy, the Anhui clique, but had switched sides soon after the change of power. On December 25, 1921, a cabinet under Liang Shiyi’s leadership was formed with strong support from Zhang Zuolin, whereupon the new cabinet immediately granted amnesty to six former cabinet members of the Anhui clique. The Zhili clique strongly opposed the plan but were overruled.
The conflict further intensified as the new cabinet refused to give some three million dollars in military budgets previously promised to the Zhili clique. As a result, Wu Peifu and other Zhili clique members forced Liang Shiyi to resign on January 25, 1922. With the pro-Fengtian clique cabinet having collapsed only a month after its formation, Zhang Zuolin threatened to resolve the conflict by force. Troops were deployed on April 10, 1922, though Wu Peifu and his Zhili clique did not formally denounce their opponent until April 25, 1922.
Zhili armies deployed around 100,000 troops, while the Fengtian army deployed some 120,000 troops.
The Zhili armies commander-in-chief and commander of the western front was Wu Peifu. The commander-in-chiefs of the central front and eastern fronts were Wang Chengbin (王承斌) and Zhang Guorong (张国熔) respectively. Zhang Fulai (张富来) was the deputy commander-in-chief of the eastern front:
Zhang Zuolin was Commander-in-chief of the Fengtian army and commander of the eastern front. His deputy commander-in-chief and deputy commander of the eastern front was Sun Liechen (孙烈臣) The commander of the western front was Zhang Jinghui. Under him were three echelons commanded by Bao Deshan (鲍德山), Zhang Xueliang and Li Jinglin (李景林).
In a repeat of the earlier Zhili-Anhui War, the Fengtian army was to attack the Zhili army on two fronts, east and west. The general headquarter of the Fengtian army was at Junliangcheng, which was also the Fengtian army headquarter of the eastern front. Commander-in-chief of the Fengtian army, Zhang Zuolin, personally led the eastern front and on April 29, 1922 he reached his general headquarter and immediately ordered the attack. Zhang Jinghui was named commander-in-chief of the Fengtian western front, which was divided into three echelons. The headquarter of Fengtian army’s western front was in Changxindian (长辛店), and the Fengtian army in the west was tasked to directly attack the Zhili army's headquarter in Baoding.
The Zhili army was deployed across three fronts. Wu Peifu’s force headed by the 3rd Division in the west was headquartered in the region of Glazed Glass River (Liulihe, 琉璃河). Wang Chengbin (王承斌)’s force was spearheaded by the 23rd Division at Gu’an (固安). Zhang Guorong (张国熔)’s force, with the 26th Division, was stationed in the east at Great City (Dacheng, 大城), and later was reinforced by Zhang Fulai (张富来)’s 24th Division. Wu Peifu was the commander-in-chief of all of Zhili forces.
Fengtian troops deployed on April 10, 1922. After the war broke on April 29, 1922, the Zhili army on the eastern front was driven back to Renqiu and Hejian (河间). Western Zhili forces did not make any progress under the heavy shelling of Fengtian army. On April 30, 1922, Wu Peifu personally went to the front-line to order heavy shelling of the Fengtian front, while his main force outflanked the Fengtian rear. As Zhili troops launched its surprise attack on May 4, 1922, the 16th Division of the Fengtian army (composed of ex-Zhili troops commanded by Feng Guozhang) defected to Wu Peifu. The Temporarily Organized 1st Division of the Fengtian army was forced into retreat from Fengtai, and their defense collapsed on the western front. It was only when the 1st Division of the Fengtian army was deployed in a counterattack was the Zhili advance checked and Changxindian (长辛店) was retaken.
This successful counteroffensive by the Fengtian clique was, however, short lived. Wu Peifu changed tactics by faking a retreat, luring the advancing Fengtian army into an ambush. As the unsuspecting Fengtian troops advanced, it overstretched itself. Seizing the opportunity, Zhili troops flanked the enemy and seized victory once again. This time, the victory was complete; the remaining Fengtian troops of the western front was completely annihilated, with the Zhili army turning its attention eastward.
The Fengtian army on the eastern front was initially victorious, with the Zhili forces holding on in a desperate rearguard action. However, as news of their defeat in the west reached the 1st echelon of the Fengtian army, brigade commander Bao Deshan (鲍德山) refused to continue to attack the enemy, and left his flank dangerously exposed. In danger of being cut off, Zhang Zuolin ordered a general retreat to avoid total annihilation. The Fengtian 2nd echelon, under the command of his son, Zhang Xueliang, was the cream of the Fengtian army, and became the main target of the Zhili attack. Having achieved complete victory in the west, Wu Peifu redeployed his crack troops (the 3rd and 26th Division) and personally directed their attack on Zhang Xueliang's unit. Although Zhang Xueliang successfully repulsed the enemy’s attack with minor casualties, they were eventually forced to lead an organized retreat, abandoning ground.
The 3rd echelon of the Fengtian army on the eastern front was under the command of Li Jinglin (李景林), and initially succeeded in beating back attacks at Yaoma crossing (Yaomadu, 姚马渡). Though capturing over a thousand enemy troops, reports of the western defeat saw morale collapse. Taking advantage of the situation, Zhili forces renewed attacks on the 3rd echelon headquarters in Horse Factory (Machang, 马厂), succeeding in killing and capturing over seven thousand Fengtian troops, and forcing the latter to give up Poplar Willow Green (Yangliuqing, 杨柳青). 3rd Echelon forces retreated to Northern Warehouse (Beicang, 北仓). While preparing to organize a defense at Junliangcheng, the Fengtian troops run into a nearly twenty-thousand Zhili reinforcements arrived by train. Subsequently defeated, the surviving Fengtian army was forced to withdraw to Luanzhou.
By this time it was obvious the Fengtian clique was soundly defeated, and on May 5, 1922, the 23rd Division of the Zhili army - under the command of Wang Chengbin (王承斌) - entered Tianjin. Fengtian forces suffered over twenty thousand fatalities, ten thousand desertions, and forty thousands surrendered to the Zhili clique.
By this time, British missionaries convinced the Zhili clique that the British consul at Luanzhou could broker a peace treaty to terminate hostilities. The British consul suggested a general outline to Zhang Zuolin, whereby he would withdraw all troops from the region inside Shanhaiguan and Zhili forces would cease giving chase. On June 18, 1922, representatives from both sides signed the peace treaty aboard a British warship anchored off the coast of Qinghuangdao, agreeing the general guideline suggested by the British consul. Shanhaiguan subsequently became the border between the two cliques, ending the First Zhili–Fengtian War with a resounding Zhili victory. The Fengtian clique retreated back to Manchuria, while the Zhili armies led by Wu Peifu took control of the central government in Beijing. Wu's Zhili clique ruled the Beiyang government alone until the 1924 Beijing Coup.
- List of battles of the Chinese Civil War
- National Revolutionary Army
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- Second Zhili-Fengtian War
- Zhang Zuolin
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- Zhang, Tongxin History of Wars between Nationalist New Warlords, 1st Edition, published by Heilongjiang People’s Publishing House in Harbin & distributed by New China Bookstore Heilongjiang branch, 1982.
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