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On Guerrilla Warfare  byMAO TSE-TUNG

7. The Strategy of Guerrilla Resistance Against Japan

​It has been definitely decided that in the strategy of our war against Japan, guerrilla strategy must be auxiliary to fundamental orthodox methods.  If this were a small country, guerrilla activities could be carried out close to the scene of operations of the regular army and directly complementary to them.  In such a case, there would be no question of guerrilla strategy as such.  Nor, would the question arise if our country were as strong as Russia, for example, and be able to speedily eject an invader.  The question exists because China, a weak country of vast size, has today progressed to the point where it has become possible to adopt the policy of a protracted war characterized by guerrilla operations.  Although these may at first glance seem to be abnormal or heterodox, such is not actually the case.

​Because Japanese military power is inadequate, much of the territory her armies have overrun is without sufficient garrison troops.  Under such circumstances the primary functions of guerrillas are three:  First: to conduct a war on exterior lines, that is in the rear of the enemy; Second: to establish bases; and, Last: to extend the war areas.  Thus, guerrilla participation in the war is not merely a matter of purely local guerrilla tactics, but involves strategical considerations.

Such war with its vast time and space factors establishes a new military process: the focal point of which is China today.  The Japanese are apparently attempting to recall a past that saw the Yuan extinguish the Sung and the Ch'ing conquer the Ming; that witnessed the extension of the British Empire to North America and India; that saw the Latins overrun Central and South America.  As far as China today is concerned, such dreams of conquest are fantastic and without reality.  Today's China is better equipped than was the China of yesterday, and a new type of guerrilla hostilities is a part of that equipment.  If our enemy fails to take these facts into consideration and makes too optimistic an estimate of the situation, he courts disaster.

​Though the strategy of guerrillas is inseparable from war strategy as a whole, the actual conduct of these hostilities differs from the conduct of orthodox operations.  Each type of warfare has methods peculiar to itself, and methods suitable to regular warfare cannot be applied with success to the special situations that confront guerrillas.

Before we treat the practical aspects of guerrilla war, it might be well to recall the fundamental axiom of combat on which all military action is based.  This can be stated: 'Conservation of one's own strength; destruction of enemy strength.'  A military policy based on this axiom is consonant with a national policy directed towards the building of a free and prosperous Chinese state and the destruction of government applies in military strength.  Is the sacrifice demanded by war in conflict with the idea of self-preservation?  Not at all.  The sacrifices demanded are necessary both to destroy the enemy and to preserve ourselves; the sacrifice of a part of the people is necessary to preserve the whole.  Al the considerations of military action are derived from this axiom.  Its application is as apparent in all tactical and strategical conceptions as it is in the simple case of the soldier who shoots at his enemy from a covered position.

All guerrilla units start from nothing and grow.  What methods should we select to ensure the conservation and development of our own strength and the destruction of that of the enemy?  The essential requirements are the six listed below:

  • ​Conduct of operations to complement those of the regular army.

  • The establishment of bases.

  • A clear understanding of the relationship that exists between the attack and the defense.

  • The development of mobile operations.

  • Correct command.

The enemy, though numerically weak, is strong in the quality of his troops and their equipment; we, on the other hand, are strong numerically but weak as to quality.  These considerations have been taken into account in the development of the policy of tactical offense, tactical speed, and tactical operations on exterior lines in a war that, strategically speaking, is defensive in character, protracted in nature, and conducted along interior lines.  Our strategy is based on these conceptions.  They must be kept in mind in the conduct of all operations.

​Although the element of surprise is not absent in orthodox warfare, there are fewer opportunities to apply it than there are during guerrilla hostilities.  In the latter, speed is essential.  The movements of guerrilla troops must be secret and of supernatural rapidity; the enemy must be taken unaware, and the action entered speedily.  There can be no procrastination in the execution of plans; no assumption of a negative or passive defense; no great dispersion of forces in many local engagements.  The basic method is the attack in a violent and deceptive form.

While there may be cases where the attack will extend over a period of several days (if that length of time is necessary to annihilate an enemy group), it is more profitable to launch and push an attack with maximum speed.  The tactics of defense have no place in the realm of guerrilla warfare.  If a delaying action is necessary, such places as defiles, river crossings, and villages offer the most suitable conditions, for it is in such places that the enemy's arrangements may be disrupted and he may be annihilated.

​The enemy is much stronger than we are, and it is true that we can hinder, distract, disperse, and destroy him only if we disperse our own forces.  Although guerrilla warfare is the warfare of such dispersed units, it is sometimes desirable to concentrate in order to destroy an enemy.  Thus, the principle of concentration of force against a relatively weaker enemy is applicable to guerrilla warfare.

We can prolong this struggle and make of it a protracted war only by gaining positive and lightning-like tactical decisions; by employing our manpower in proper concentrations and dispersions; and by operation on exterior lines in order to surround and destroy our enemy.  If we cannot surround whole armies, we can at least partially destroy them, if we cannot kill the Japanese, we can capture them.  The total effect of many local successes will be to change the relative strengths of the opposing forces.  The destruction of Japan's military power, combined with the international sympathy for China's cause and the revolutionary tendencies evident in Japan, will be sufficient to destroy Japanese imperialism.

​We will next discuss initiative, alertness, and the matter of careful planning.  What is meant by initiative in warfare?  In all battles and wars, a struggle to gain and retain the initiative goes on between the opposing sides, for it is the side that holds the initiative that has liberty of action.  When an army loses the initiative, it loses its liberty; its role becomes passive; it faces the danger of defeat and destruction.

It is more difficult to obtain the initiative when defending on interior lines than it is while attacking on exterior lines.  This is what Japan is doing.  There are, however, several weak points as far as Japan is concerned.  One of these is lack of sufficient manpower for the task; another is her cruelty to the inhabitants of conquered areas; a third is the underestimation of Chinese strength, which as resulted in the differences between military cliques, which, in turn, have been productive of many mistakes in the direction of her military forces.  For instance, she has been gradually compelled to increase her manpower in China while at the same time the many arguments over plans of operations and disposition of troops have resulted in the loss of good opportunities for improvement of her strategical position.  This explains the fact that although the Japanese are frequently able to surround large bodies of Chinese troops, they have never yet been able to capture more than a few.  The Japanese military machine is thus being weakened by insufficiency of manpower, inadequacy of resources, the barbarismof her troops, and the general stupidity that has characterized the conduct of operations.  Her offensive continues unabated, but because of the weaknesses pointed out, her attack must be limited in extent.  She can never conquer China.  The day will come - indeed already has in some areas - when she will be forced into a passive role.  When hostilities commenced, China was passive, but as we enter the second phase of the war we find ourselves pursuing a strategy of mobile warfare, with both guerrillas and regulars operating on exterior lines.  Thus, with each passing day, we seize some degree of initiative from the Japanese.

​The matter of initiative is especially serious for guerrilla forces, who must face critical situations unknown to regular troops.  The superiority of the enemy and the lack of unity and experience within our own ranks may be cited.  Guerrillas can, however, gain the initiative if they keep in mind the weak points of the enemy.  Because of the enemy's insufficient manpower, guerrillas can operate over vast territories, because he is a foreigner and a barbarian, guerrillas can gain the confidence of millionsof their countrymen; because of the stupidity of enemy commanders, guerrillas can make full use of their own cleverness.  Both guerrillas and regulars must exploit these enemy weaknesses while, at the same time, our own are remedied.  Some of our weaknesses are apparent, and are in actuality, sources of strength.  For example, the very fact that most guerrilla groups are small makes it desirable and advantageous for them to appear and disappear in the enemy's rear.  With such activities, the enemy is simply unable to cope.  A similar liberty of action can rarely be obtained by regular forces.

​When the enemy attacks the guerrillas with more than one column, it is difficult for the latter to retain the initiative.  Any error, no matter how slight, in the estimation of the situation is likely to result in forcing the guerrillas into a passive role.  They will then find themselves unable to beat off the attacks of the enemy.

It is apparent that wed can gain and retain the initiative only by a correct estimation of the situation and a proper arrangement of all military and political factors.  A too pessimistic estimate will operate to force us into a passive position with consequent loss of initiative; an overly optimistic estimate with its rash ordering of factors will produce the same result.

No military leader is endowed by heaven with an ability to seize the initiative.  It is the intelligent leader who does so after a careful study and estimate of the situation and arrangement of the military and political factors involved.  When a guerrilla unit, through either a poor estimate on the part of its leader or pressure from the enemy is forced into a passive position, its first duty is to extricate itself.  No method can be prescribed for this as the method to be employed will, in every case, depend on the situation.  One can, if necessary, run away.  But there are times when the situation seems hopeless and in reality is not so at all.  It is at such times that the good leader recognizes and seizes the moment when he can regain the lost initiative.

Let us revert to alertness.  To conduct one's troops with alertness is an essential of guerrilla command.  Leaders must realize that to operate alertly is the most important factor in gaining the initiative and vital in its effect of the relative situation that exists between our forces and those of the enemy.  Guerrilla commanders adjust their operations to the enemy situation, to the terrain, and to prevailing local conditions.  Leaders must be alert to sense changes in these factors and make necessary modifications in troop dispositions to accord with them.  The leader must be like a fisherman who with his nets is able both to cast them and to pull them out in awareness of the depth of the water, the strength of the current, or the presence of any obstructions that may foul them.  As the fishermancontrols his nets through the lead ropes, so the guerrilla leader maintains contact with control over his units.  As the fisherman must change his position, so must the guerrilla commander.  Dispersion, concentration, constant change of position - it is in these ways that guerrillas employ their strength.

​In general, guerrilla units disperse to operate:

  • When the enemy is in over-extended defense and sufficient force cannot be concentrated against him, guerrillas must disperse, harass him, and demoralize him.

  • When encircled by the enemy, guerrillas disperse to withdraw.

  • ​When the nature of the ground limits action, guerrillas disperse.

  • When the availability of supplies limits action, they disperse.

  • Guerrillas disperse in order to promote mass movements over a wide area.

​Regardless of the circumstances that prevail at the time of dispersal, caution must be exercised in certain matters:

  • A relatively large group should be retained as a central force.  The remainder of the troops should be divided into groups of absolutely equal size.  In this way, the leader is in a position to deal with any circumstances that may arise.

  • ​Each dispersed unit should have clear and definite responsibilities.  Orders should specify a place in which to proceed, the time of proceeding, and the place, time, and method of assembly.​

​Guerrillas concentrate when the enemy is advancing upon them, and there is opportunity to fall upon him and destroy him.  Concentration may be desirable when the enemy is on the defensive and guerrillas wish to destroy isolated detachments in particular localities.  By the term 'concentrate', we do not mean the assembly of all manpower but rather of only that necessary for the task.  The remaining guerrillas are assigned missions of hindering and delaying the enemy, of destroying isolated groups, or of conducting mass propaganda.

​In addition to the dispersion and concentration of forces, the leader must understand what is termed 'alert shifting'.  When the enemy feels the danger of guerrillas, he will generally send troops out to attack them.  The guerrillas must consider the situation and decide at what time and at what place they wish to fight.  If they find that they cannot fight, they must immediately shift.  Then the enemy may be destroyed piecemeal.  For example: after a guerrilla group has destroyed an enemy detachment at one place, it may be shifted to another area to attack and destroy a second detachment.  Sometimes, it will not be profitable for a unit to become engaged in a certain area, and in that case, it must move immediately.

When the situation is serious, the guerrilla must move with the fludity of water and the ease of the blowing wind.  Their tactics must deceive, tempt, and confuse the enemy.  They must lead the enemy to believe that they will attack him from the east and north, and they must then strike him from the west and the south.  They must strike, then rapidly disperse.  They must move at night.

​Guerrilla initiative is expressed in dispersion, concentration, and the alert shifting of forces.  If guerrillas are stupid and obstinate, they will be led to passive positions and severely damaged.  Skill in conducting guerrilla operations, however, lies not in merely understanding the things we have discussed, but rather in their actual application on the field of battle.  The quick intelligence that constantly watches the ever-changing situation and is able to seize on the right moment for decisive action is found only in keen and thoughtful observers.

Careful planning is necessary if victory is to be won in guerrilla war, and those who fight without method do not understand the nature of guerrilla action.  A plan is necessary regardless of the size of the unit involved; a prudent plan is as necessary in the case of the squad as in the case of the regiment.  The situation must be carefully studied, then an assignment of duties made.  Plans must include both political and military instruction; the matter of supply and equipment, and the matter of co-operation with local civilians.  Without study of these factors, it is impossible either to seize the initiative or to operate alertly.  It is true that guerrillas can make only limited plans, but even so, the factors we have metioned must be considered.

The initiative can be secured and retained only following a positive victory that results from attack. The attack must be made on guerrilla initiative; that is, guerrillas must not permit themselves to be maneuvered into a position where they are robbed of initiative and where the decision to attack is forced upon them. Any victory will result from careful planning and alert control. Even in defense, all our efforts must be directed toward a resumption of the attack, for it is only by attack that we can extinguish our enemies and preserve ourselves. A defense or a withdrawal is entirely useless as far as extinguishing our enemies is concerned and of only temporary value as far as the conservation of our forces is concerned. This principle is valid both for guerrillas and regular troops; the differences are of degree only, that is to say, in the manner of execution. The relationship that exists between guerrilla and the orthodox forces is important and must be appreciated. Generally speaking, there are types of co-operation between guerrillas and orthodox groups.

These are: Strategical co-operation.
                   Tactical co-operation.
                   Battle co-operation.

Guerrillas who harass the enemy's rear installations and hinder his transport are weakening him and encouraging the national spirit of resistance.  They are co-operating strategically.  For example, the guerrillas in Manchuria had no functions of strategical co-operation with orthodox forces until the war in China started. Since that time, their faction of strategical co-operation is evident; if they can kill one enemy, make the enemy expend one round of ammunition, or hinder one enemy group in its advance southward, our powers of resistance here are proportionately increased.  Such guerrilla action has a positive action on the enemy nation and on its troops, while at the same time it encourages our own countrymen.

Another example of strategical co-operation is furnished by the guerrillas who operate along the P'ing-Sui, P'ing-Han, Chin-P'u, T'ung-Pu, and Cheng-T'ai railways.  This co-operation began when the invader attacked, continued during the period when he held garrisoned cities in the areas, and was intensified when our regular forces counter-attacked, in an effort to restore the lost territories.  As an example of tactical co-operation, we may cite the operations at Hsing-K'ou, when guerrillas both north and south of Yeh Men destroyed the T'ung-P'u railway and the motor roads near P'ing Hosing Pass and Yang Fang K'ou.  A number of small operating bases were established; and organized guerrilla action in Shansi complemented the activities of the regular forces both there and in the defense of Honan.  Similarly, during the south Shantung campaign, guerrillas in the five northern provinces co-operated with the army's operation on the Hsuchow front.  Guerrilla commanders in rear areas and those in command of regiments assigned to operate with orthodox units must co-operate in accordance with the situation.  It is their function to determine weak points in the enemy dispositions, harass them to disrupt their transport, and to undermine their morale.

If guerrilla action were independent, the results to be obtained from tactical co-operation would be lost and those that result from strategical co-operation greatly diminished.  In order to accomplish their mission and improve the degree of co-operation, guerrilla units must be equipped with some means of rapid communication.  For this purpose, two way radio sets are recommended.  Guerrilla forces in the immediate battle area are responsible for close co-operation with regular forces.  Their principal functions are to hinder enemy transport to gather information and to act as outposts and sentinels.  Even without precise instructions from the commander of the regular forces, these missions as well as any others that contribute to the general success should be assumed.  The problem of establishment of bases is of particular importance.  This is so because this war is a cruel and protracted struggle.  The lost territories can be restored only by a strategical counter-attack and this we cannot carry out until the enemy is well into China.  Consequently, some part of our country — or, indeed, most of it — may be captured by the enemy and become his rear area.

​It is our task to develop intensive guerrilla warfare over this vast area and convert the enemy's rear into an additional front.  Thus the enemy will never be able to stop fighting.  In order to subdue the occupied territory, the enemy will have to become increasingly severe and oppressive.  (A guerrilla base may be defined as an area strategically located in which the guerrillas can carry out their duties of training, self-preservation and development).  Ability to fight a war without a rear area is a fundamental characteristic of guerrilla action, but this does not mean that guerrillas can exist and function over a long period of time without the development of base areas. History shows us many examples of peasant revolts that were unsuccessful, and it is fanciful to believe that such movements characterized by banditry and brigandage could succeed in this era of improved communications and military equipment.

​Some guerrilla leaders seem to think that those qualities are present in today's movement; and, before such leaders can comprehend the importance of base areas in the long-term war their mind must be disabused of this idea.

The subject of bases may be better understood if we consider:
       The various categories of bases.
       Guerrilla areas and base areas.
       The establishment of bases.
       The development of bases.

​Guerrilla bases may be classified according to their location as:
       first, mountain bases;
       second, plains bases; and
       last, river, lake, and bay bases.

​The advantages of bases in mountainous areas are evident.  Those which are now established are at Ch'ang P'o Chan, Wu Tai Shan, Taiheng Shan, Tai Shan, Yen Shan, and Mao Shan.  These bases are strongly protected. Similar bases should be established in all enemy rear areas.

Plains country is generally not satisfactory for guerrilla operating bases, but this does not mean that guerrilla warfare cannot flourish in such country or that bases cannot be established there.  The extent of guerrilla development in Hopeh and west Shantung proves the opposite to be the case.  Whether we can count on the use of these bases over long periods of time is questionable.  We can, however, establish small bases of a seasonal or temporary nature.  This we can do because our barbaric enemy simply does not have the manpower to occupy all the areas he has overrun and because the population of China is so numerous that a base can be established anywhere.

Seasonal bases in plains country may be established in the winter when the rivers are frozen over, and in the summer when the crops are growing.  Temporary bases may be established when the enemy is otherwise occupied.  When the enemy advances, the guerrillas who have established bases in the plains area are the first to engage him.  Upon their withdrawal into mountainous country, they should leave behind them guerrilla groups dispersed over the entire area.  Guerrillas shift from base to base on the theory that they must be in one place one day and another place the next.  There are many historical examples of the establishment of bases in river, bay, and lake country, and this is one aspect of our activity that has so far received little attention.  Red guerrillas held out for many years in the Hungtze Lake region.  We should establish bases in the Hungtze and Tai areas and along rivers and watercourses in territory controlled by the enemy so as to deny him access to, and free use of, the water routes.

​There is a difference between the terms base area and guerrilla area.  An area completely surrounded by territory occupied by the enemy is a 'base area'.  Wu Tai Shan, and Taiheng Shan are examples of base areas.  On the other hand, the area east and north of Wu Tai Shan (the Shansi-Hopeh-Chahar border zone) is a guerrilla area.  Such areas can be controlled by guerrillas only while they actually physically occupy them.  Upon their departure, control reverts to a puppet pro-Japanese government.  East Hopeh. for example, was at first a guerrilla area rather than a base area.  A puppet government functioned there.  Eventually, the people, organized and inspired by guerrillas from the Wu Tai mountains, assisted in the transformation of this guerrilla area into a real base area.  Such a task is extremely difficult, for it is largely dependent upon the degree to which the people can be inspired.  In certain garrisoned areas, such as the cities and zones contiguous to the railways, the guerrillas seem unable to drive the Japanese and puppets out. These areas remain guerrilla areas.  At other times, base areas might become guerrilla areas due either to our own mistakes or to the activities of the enemy.  Obviously, in any given area in the war zone, any one of three situations may develop: The area may remain in Chinese hands, it may be lost to the Japanese and puppets, or it may be divided between the combatants.  Guerrilla leaders should endeavour to see that either the first or the last of these situations is assured.

​Another point essential in the establishment of bases is the co-operation that must exist between the armed guerrilla bands and the people.  All our strength must be used to spread the doctrine of armed resistance to Japan, to arm the people, to organize self-defense units, and to train guerrilla bands.  This doctrine must be spread among the people, who must be organized into anti-Japanese groups.  Their political instincts must be sharpened and their martial ardour increased If the workers, the farmers, the lovers of liberty, the young men, the women, and the children are not organized, they will never realize their own anti-Japanese power. Only the united strength of the people can eliminate traitors, recover the measure of political power that has been lost, and conserve and improve what we still retain.

​We have already touched on geographic factors in our discussion of bases, and we must also mention the economic aspects of the problem.  What economic policy should be adopted?  Any such policy must offer reasonable protection to commerce and business.  We interpret 'reasonable protection' to mean the people must contribute money in proportion to the money they have.  Farmers will be required to furnish a certain share of their crops to guerrilla troops.  Confiscation, except in the case of business run by traitors, is prohibited.  Our activities must be extended over the entire periphery of the base area if we wish to attack the enemy's bases and thus strengthen and develop our own.  This will afford us opportunity to organize, equip, and train the people, thus furthering guerrilla policy as well as the national policy of protected war.  At times, we must emphasize the development and extension of base areas; at other times, the organization, training, or equipment of the people.

​Each guerrilla base will have its own peculiar problems of attack and defense.  In general, the enemy in an endeavour to consolidate his gains, will attempt to extinguish guerrilla bases by dispatching numerous bodies of troops over a number of different routes.  This must be anticipated and the encirclement broken by counter-attacks.   As such enemy columns are without reserves, we should plan on using our main forces to attack one of them by surprise and devote our secondary effort to continual hindrance and harassment.  At the same time, other forces should isolate enemy garrison troops and operate on their lines of supply and communication.  When one column has been disposed of, we may turn our attention to one of the others.  In a base area as large as Wu Tat Shan, for example, there are four or five military sub-divisions.  Guerrillas in these sub-divisions must co-operate to form a primary force to counter-attack the enemy or the area from which he came, while a secondary force harasses and hinders him.  After defeating the enemy in any area, we must take advantage of the period he requires for reorganization to press home our attacks.  we must not attack an objective we are not certain of winning.  We must confine our operations to relatively small areas and destroy the enemy and traitors in those places.  When the inhabitants have been inspired, new volunteers accepted, trained, equipped, and organized, our operations may be extended to include cities and lines of communication not strongly held.  We may hold these at least for temporary (if not for permanent ) periods.  All these are our duties in offensive strategy.  Their object is to lengthen the period that the enemy must remain on the defensive.  Then our military activities and our organizational work among the masses of the people must be zealously expanded; and with equal zeal, the strength of the enemy attacked and diminished.

​It is of great importance that guerrilla units be rested and instructed.  During such times as the enemy is on the defensive, the troops may get some rest and instruction may be carried out.  The development of mobile warfare is not only possible but essential.  This is the case because our current war is a desperate and protracted struggle.  If China were able to conquer the Japanese bandits speedily and to recover her lost territories, there would be no question of long-term war on a national scale.  Hence there would be no question of the relation of guerrilla hostilities into mobile warfare of an orthodox nature, both the quantity and quality of guerrilla must be improved.

Primarily, more men must join the armies; then the quality of equipment and standards of training must be improved.  Political training must be emphasized and our organization, the technique of handling our weapons, our tactics — all must be improved.

Our internal discipline must be strengthened. The soldiers must be educated politically.

There must be a gradual change from guerrilla formations to orthodox regimental organization.  The necessary bureaus and staffs, both political and military, must be provided.

At the same time, attention must be paid to the creation of suitable supply, medical, and hygiene units.

The standards of equipment must be raised and types of weapons increased.

Communication equipment must not be forgotten.

Orthodox standards of discipline must be established. Because guerrilla formations act independently and because they are the most elementary of armed formations, command cannot be too highly centralized; If it were, guerilla action would be too limited in scope.

​At the same time, guerrilla activities to be most effective must be co-ordinated, not only in so far as they themselves are concerned, but additionally with regular troops operating in the same areas.  This co-ordination is a function of the war zone commander and his staff.  In guerrilla base areas, the command must be centralized for strategical purposes and decentralized for tactical purposes.  Centralized strategical command takes care of the general management of all guerrilla units, their co-ordination within war zones, and the general policy regarding guerrilla base areas.  Beyond this, centralization of command will result in interference with subordinate units, as, naturally, the tactics to apply to concrete situations can be determined only as these various situations arise.  This is true in orthodox warfare when communications between lower and higher echelons break down.  In a word, proper guerrilla policy will provide for unified strategy and independent activity.

​Each guerrilla area is divided into districts and these in turn are divided into sub-districts.  Each sub-division has its appointed commander, and while general plans are made by higher commanders, the nature of actions is determined by inferior commanders.  The former may suggest the nature of the action to be taken but cannot define it.  Thus inferior roups heave more or less 
complete local control.​​

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