In the middle of the 3-month long Battle of Shanghai, the small town of Luodian on the outskirts of Shanghai saw some of the heaviest fighting. After Japanese troops made successful amphibious landings along the northern coast, many Chinese troops fell back to Luodian, and over a 10-day period the town was heavily contested and changed hands multiple times.
It's clear from many facts that this town was strategically important, but it's not clear why this is so. Consider this map (actually I couldn't find a good map, so Google Maps would do fine too):
- Wikipedia, and other sites, claim that Luodian was a strategically important transportation centre. Wikipedia specifically says that it connects "Baoshan, downtown Shanghai, Jiading, Songjiang and several other towns with highways". I can't find a contemporary map showing highways, but from the map the only connection would be between Jiading and Baoshan. Songjiang is not even on the map; it's too far to the south. Which important towns does Luodian connect?
- Shanghai lies on a peninsula at risk of being cut off, so the fighting at this stage was focused on cutting off transportation routes into Shanghai from the mainland. By far the most important links would be the two railways leading out of Shanghai, with the northern branch connecting to Suzhou and Nanjing beyond. Jiading is also somewhat important; there's a road going northwest from here parallel to the railway, meeting it eventually at Wuxi. Another important location would be Dachang, which is very close to this railway and was the communications hub for the Chinese forces. It's clear why Dachang would be important, which it was; it was the next site of heavy fighting after Luodian, and its loss forced the Chinese to begin withdrawing from Shanghai. Luodian isn't anywhere near these strategically important targets, and yet it saw some of the heaviest fighting. What strategic targets did Luodian threaten?
- Although it's true that Luodian lies between the coastal landings and important targets like the railway and Shanghai, you can see from the map that many other towns also fit these criteria, yet none of them saw fighting as heavy as Luodian. Why weren't other towns between the coast and Shanghai fought as fiercely as Luodian?
- Luodian is indefensible. No defensive works were present due to the previous cease fire, and as a small town on an alluvial plain, defenders were forced to rely on trenches, which could not be dug deep as the water table was so high the soldiers were submerged in the trenches, leaving them vulnerable to bombardment.
So I can't see why Luodian was so important, given its poor (apparent) strategic value and defensibility. And yet both sides considered it important and fought hard for it:
- 300,000 Chinese and 100,000 Japanese troops were involved in Luodian. These numbers are more than a third of the total troop numbers in the whole battle.
- Alexander von Falkenhausen, Chiang Kai-shek's advisor, insisted on holding it at all costs.
- The Chinese suffered a 50% casualty rate in Luodian. The intensity of the fighting earned it the nickname "grinding mill of flesh and blood".