This page has two main aims. The first one is, of course, exploring the fairly under-appreciated armor of China in the 1925-1950 period. During this time, various factions, such as the myriad of warlords, Nationalists (KMT/GMD), the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the Japanese Imperial Army, French and British policing forces in treaty ports (mainly Shanghai), and others all operated AFVs of some description.
However, the second aim of this page is to give an understanding of the context in which these vehicles operated. For example, it may make no sense to the reader for the USSR to supply the KMT with AFVs in the late 1930s when the Chinese Communist Party might seem a more likely candidate for Soviet assistance. For this reason, constant references to the political, geographic, and military context will be made.
This page begins with a brief explanation of the collapse of the Qing Empire (with a very basic explanation of important events, 1839-1916 for contextual understanding), and then moves swiftly on to the early stages of the republic up until 1916. This is actually quite necessary context, as the events of the 19th century directly lay the foundations for significant events in the 20th century. For example, the devolution of military powers to local governments during the Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864) is one of the major reasons as to why China was fragmented by warlords, 1916-1928.
Collapse of the Qing Empire, 1839-1912
Throughout the last two centuries, China was one of the most turbulent parts of the world. The collapse of the Qing dynasty in 1912 was preceded by a series of national humiliations by foreign powers through unequal treaties following the Opium Wars and the Sino-Japanese Wars.
Work in progress. Coming Soon: “The Culture of the Qing”, “The Opium Wars”, “The Taiping”, “The Tongzhi Restoration”, “The First Sino-Japanese War”, “The Boxer Rebellion”, “The Russo-Japanese War”.
A Turbulent Republic, 1912-1916
The collapse of the Qing Dynasty in 1912 led to a republic being declared. However, this was not to last. When Yuan Shikai was elected president in 1913, his rule was fairly autocratic. He even declared himself Emperor in 1915, attempting to restore the monarchy. Provincial officials refused and began to rebel, and Yuan eventually died of uremia on June 6th, 1916. Fractured, divided, and lacking a strong government, local warlords began to assert autonomy, thus plunging the nation into the so-called Warlord Era.
Work in progress. Coming Soon: “Shanghai Policing Vehicles”
One of a few series of armored cars built in Shanghai for local policing forces. These ones do not have a name, but were built for the British and were highly standardized. They look as if their design was based on the Rolls Royce, of which there were a handful in Shanghai.
One of a series of locally built, standardized armored cars for French policing forces in Shanghai. Many of these were built.
The Warlord Era, 1916-1928
Work in progress.
In 1925, the famous (or perhaps, infamous) warlord Zhang Zuolin acquired the first tanks to be operated by non-colonial militaries in China. These were Renault FTs sold to him by the French, which were locally armed with 37 mm (1.46 in) guns or ZB-33 machine guns.
Renault FT with Manchuria 37 mm (1.46 in) gun of the Fengtian Army.
At this time, two parties with originally similar doctrines, the Nationalists (KMT/GMD) and the Communist Party (CCP), were vying for power. Both parties wanted a united China, had a Leninist political doctrine, and were democratically centralized. Encouraged by the USSR, who actually believed the KMT to be the most viable party, the parties partnered into an united front.
In 1925, the Nationalist leader, Sun Yat-sen died of cancer, which can be seen as a turning point in the KMT-CCP alliance. Chiang Kai-Shek rose to power in the KMT, and was virulently anti-Communist. During the so-called “Northern Expedition” (1926-1928) from their base in southern China, the Nationalists intended to take back and unify the whole of China from rebels, warlords, and foreign imperialists.
The Northern Expedition (1926-1928)
In February 1926, the Nationalist Army reached Shanghai. At this point, a crucial ideological note must be made. The CCP at this time was led by leaders more inclined to Soviet style Communism, which stressed the role of the urban proletariat, contrary to Mao, who would rise to prominence in later in the mid-1930s, during the Long March. With the focus of the CCP in the 1920s being on urban proletarians, this meant that the CCP organized strikes and uprisings of urban workers in Shanghai, in order to help the Nationalists capture the city.
For unknown reasons, the Nationalist Army stalled and did not support the workers in Shanghai. Some scholarship has suggested that this was an attempt by Chiang Kai-Shek to dampen Communist power, but this is not proven. In March, 1927, the CCP organizes strikes involving 600,000 workers, and only then did the Nationalist army take Shanghai.
In April 1927, the so-called “White Terror” began, whereby the Nationalists began to purge China of Communists and similar unions. With a new police force, and rumors of the involvement of Warlords, foreigners, and organized crime, Chiang Kai-Shek began attacks on Communists, activists, and trade unions. The involvement of foreigners and organized crime was, no doubt, exacerbated by Chinese Communist scholarship, but the events of 1926-1927 proved one thing – a war between the CCP and KMT was inevitable.
The Nanjing Decade, 1928-1937
Work in Progress.
Kuomintang (possibly Chinese Collaborationist Army) Renault FT with a 37 mm Manchurian gun. This almost certainly originally belonged to the Fengtian Army.
Imports from Vickers
Taking the advice of their German advisors, the KMT began seeking out arms contracts. Eventually, the Nationalists imported 60 tanks from Vickers between 1930 and 1936 and are as follows:
- 1930: 12 Vickers Mark VI Machine Gun Carriers with six trailers and spare parts.
- Early 1933: 12 Vickers-Carden-Loyd Light Amphibious Tanks were sold to the Canton (Guangdong) Provincial Government. Possibly unarmed. These were presumably appropriated by the Nationalist Army, as the total number of tanks fielded by the KMT in Shanghai numbered about 60, and excluding these 12 VCL Light Amphibious Tanks, the number bought by the KMT to that point only reached 48. The figure of 60 also presumably excludes the Vickers Dragon, an armored gun tow tractor which was sold in small numbers (possibly a dozen) to China.
- Late 1933: 1 Vickers-Carden-Loyd Light Amphibious Tank.
- Early 1934: 12 Vickers-Carden-Loyd Light Amphibious Tanks, 12 Vickers Mark B Type Es (with 3200 47 mm/1.85 in rounds). Delivered to Nanking/Nanjing between 29th September – 13th November 1934.
- Mid 1934: 4 Vickers-Carden-Loyd Light Amphibious Tanks, 4 Vickers Mark B Type Es (with 2860 47 mm/1.85 in rounds, and plenty of spare parts). Delivered between 11th March – 10th May 1935.
- Late 1935: 4 Vickers-Carden-Loyd Light Amphibious Tanks, 4 Vickers Mark B Type Es (with 2400 47 mm/1.85 in rounds). The Mark B Type Es had extended turrets equipped with Marconi G2A radios. Delivered 21st October 1936.
Vickers-Carden-Loyd Light Amphibious Tanks of the KMT, circa mid-1930s.
Total War in China, 1937-1945
The Second Sino-Japanese War had its immediate roots in Beiping (Beijing) due to local tensions between the Imperial Japanese Army (who, under the agreement following the Boxer Protocol 1901, were allowed to station troops in Beiping) and the local Chinese garrison. To cut a long story short, on July 7th, Japanese troops were firing their weapons around Wanping Fortress. The local Japanese commander then declared that one of his men had gone missing, and demanded to search Wanping. The accusation was that the Chinese 29th Army of General Song Zhueyan inside Wanping must have kidnapped or killed him. Previously, the Chinese garrison did as they were told, but on this occasion, they refused to comply. Small gunfights broke out at Marco Polo Bridge, and these gunfights were usually over as quick as they started with ceasefires signed by local military and government officials.
However, Chiang Kai-shek was concerned that this might be evidence of further Japanese expansion into China, and took matters into his own hands. Chiang began moving his troops from central China up to the north in order to be ready for further Japanese aggression. The Japanese saw this as a threat, and by late July, both the Japanese and the Chinese were mass-mobilizing for war. Japan was reluctant to declare war officially, but sent the elite Kwantung Army (along with local allied armies) into Beiping and Tianjin on July 26th – both of which were under Japanese control by the end of the month. Fighting in Hubei province was left to local military commanders such as Song Zhueyan.
After various meetings within the Kuomintang, Chiang decided to meet the Japanese invasion with his best soldiers in Shanghai.
The Battle of Shanghai, 1937
Chiang used his best troops to defend Shanghai, the 87th and 88th divisions, who were trained by German advisors. An estimated 200,000 Chinese soldiers from across China poured into the city and took up defensive positions. In early August, the Japanese began landing in Shanghai from the Cruiser Izumo. The National Revolutionary Army attempted to destroy the Izumo through a daring aerial attack on 14th August. The Izumo sustained damage, but something went wrong with the bombing mission – numerous bombs were accidentally dropped on a very busy civilian area (which was also the International Settlement), and an estimated 1000 people were killed.
The Japanese realized that Shanghai would be a major battle and amassed 100,000 troops by early September, including an estimated 300 tanks of various classes (according to photographs, this included many Type 89 Yi-Go tanks). The city was heavily bombed by the Japanese air force in order to soften up resistance, but early attempts to capture the city by the Japanese caused stalemates along the narrow streets, and both sides began to dig-in. It was at this point that the Chinese began using their Vickers tanks.
Vickers Mark E Type B, knocked out by the Japanese in Shanghai, 1937.
A Japanese Type 89 Yi-Go medium tank in the streets of Beijing, surrounded by curious civilians, China, August 1937.
The First Soviet Arms Sales (1937-1938?)
After the heavy losses in 1937 at the Battle of Shanghai and the Battle of Nanjing, the KMT appealed to the USSR for arms sales. As a result of the Sino-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, signed in August, 1937, the USSR began supplying the KMT’s newly formed 200th Division with Soviet equipment. 83 T-26s were sold, along with small, but unknown numbers of BT-5s (at least 4), BA-27s (at least 4), BA-3/6s (unclear which model, at least two), BA-20s (unclear which model), and possibly some BA-10Ms (which are possibly misidentified BA-3/6s). Despite sounding impressive, Soviet arms shipments to Spain were much greater, and such a small number of AFVs would never cover the vast expanses of China from further Japanese gains.
T-26 (probably an M1935) “596” of the KMT. The turret is camouflaged with foliage probably as a means of camouflage from aircraft.
Coming Soon: “The Battle of Nanjing”, “The Battle of Wuhan”, “The Burma Campaign”.
Chiang Kai-shek inspects a KMT CV-35 of the 200th Division, circa 1938.
KMT Panzer I Ausf.As armed with DP or DT machine guns, abandoned in Nanjing, December, 1937.
Chinese M4A4 Sherman in Burma.
The Chinese Civil War, 1945-1950
Work in progress.
KMT Armored Corps, May, 1946
Figures given by “The Tank Division of the People’s Liberation Army, 1945-1955” report that in May, 1946, the KMT had the following vehicles in service:
- 55 Type 94 TK
- 63 CV-35
- 116 M3A3 Stuart
- 117 Type 95 Ha-Go
- 49 T-26
- 14 Vickers Mark E Type B
- 71 Type 97 Chi-Ha
- 67 Type 97 Chi-Ha Shinhoto
The number of CV-35s is rather dubious, and it is believed that all Vickers Mark E Type B tanks were lost in combat at Shanghai, 1937.
The Soviet Arms Sales to the PLA, 1950-55
Dr. Martin Andrew reports the following figures:
- 1950 – 300 T-34-85s, 60 IS-2s and 40 ISU-122s, which were organized into 10 regiments (30 T-34/85 medium tanks, 6 IS-2 heavy tanks, and 4 ISU-122 tank destroyers in each).
- 1951 – 96 T-34-85s, and 64 SU-76s, which were organized into 4 regiments.
- 1952 – 312 T-34-85s, and 208 SU-76s, which were organized into 13 regiments.
- 1953 – 480 T-34-85s, and 320 SU-76s, which were organized into 13 regiments (based on a total number of 40 regiments at this point).
- 1954 – 649 T-34-85s, 320 SU-76s, 22 IS-2s, 99 SU-100s, 67 ISU-152s, and 9 ARVs (two of which were based on the ISU chassis, the others likely being T-34s).
- 1955 – No figures are given by Dr. Andrew, but there were sales in 1955.
- 72 additional armored recovery vehicles and engineering vehicles were also supplied at unknown dates, probably around 1952-1953.
Total 1950-1954: 1837 T-34-85s, 82 IS-2s, 40 ISU-122, 67 ISU-152, 99 SU-100, 704 SU-76. A total of 2829 tanks, (excluding ARVs and engineering vehicles) organized into 67 regiments. Over 3000 vehicles are reported to have been supplied to the PLA from the USSR 1950-1955.
List of AFVs
Provincial/Warlord Army Vehicles
Fengtian Army (Fengtian Clique) (1925-1931)
Renault FT (some armed with 37mm Manchurian guns, some with MGs)
Various types of improvised armored cars
Armored Car and Tank Corps of Chungking (Chongqing) (1932)
Clectrac 20 tractor tanks with Lewis Gun (no photographic evidence)
Clectrac 30 tractor tanks with 37mm gun (no photographic evidence)
GMC 1931 trucks with 37mm gun and two MGs (no photographic evidence)
Guangdong (Canton) Provincial Government (1933)
Vickers-Carden-Loyd Light Amphibious Tank (four arrived in early 1933)
Note: It is highly likely that other provincial governments and warlords used AFVs, evidence for which is lacking.
Chinese Collaborationist Army, 1937-1945
Type 94 TK
Note: They presumably used other Japanese and locally-built policing vehicles. Photographic evidence is, as per usual, wanting.
Chinese Nationalist Vehicles
Inherited from Warlords and Provincial Governments
Renault FTs (from the Fengtian Army circa 1931) Note: The KMT is reported to have acquired, in various ways, 36 Renault FTs, several of which came directly from France. It seems therefore likely that 33 FTs were inherited from the Fengtian Army. These FTs were captured by Japan in 1931 and used by the Kwantung Army (a defense unit of the IJA) at the Mukden Incident, 1931)
V-C-L Light Amphibious Tanks (whilst the KMT were sold some by Vickers, four of these were presumably appropriated from the Canton Provincial Government and took part in the Battle of Shanghai, 1937.)
Sales from France
Renault FT with 37mm gun (several in 1927, during the Northern Expedition)
Renault UE with a 7.7 mm (0.31 in) machine gun
Sales from Vickers (1930-1936)
Vickers Mark VI Machine Gun Carriers (with six trailers)
Vickers-Carden-Loyd Light Amphibious Tank
Vickers Mark B Type E
Vickers Mark B Type E with Marconi G2A radio
Vickers Dragon prime movers (unknown number, unknown date, presumably a similar time frame)
Sales from Germany and Italy (1935-1936)
Panzer I Ausf. A (armed with DTs or DP machine guns)
Sales from the USSR (1937-1939?)
T-26 (mostly M1935s, but some M1937s)
BT-5 (no photographic evidence)
BA-3/6 (unclear which model, probably BA-6s)
BA-20 /20M (unclear which model, no photographic evidence)
Note: Reports of BAIs and BA-10Ms also exist, but there are no known photographs of these. BAIs seem particularly dubious. BA-10Ms were used by Soviet forces at Khalkin Gol (1939) and in the Invasion of Manchuria (1945), likely leading to confusion in web sources.
Captured/Inherited From Japan
Type 97 Chi-Ha
Type 97 Chi-Ha Shinhoto
Type 95 Ha-Go
Type 94 TK
Note: It seems more than likely that the Nationalists captured or inherited (the circumstances are unclear) other vehicles from Japan.
Lend Lease Supplied from the USA (194x-195x?)
M3A1 Scout Car
M10 GMC (unarmed)
M8 Scott (Taiwan only)
M10 GMC (Taiwan only)
M24 Chaffee (Taiwan only, supplied in 1954)
M36 Jackson (Taiwan only, supplied in 1957)
M10 GMC with 105mm Type 91 Field Gun
Various types of improvised armored cars.
People’s Liberation Army Vehicles
Captured / Inherited from Japan
Type 95 Ha-Go
Type 97 Chi-Ha
Type 97 Chi-Ha Shinhoto
Type 95 So-Ki
Note: Because the USSR was in charge of Japanese disarmament, it is almost certain that every type of vehicle left behind by the Japanese was used by the PLA.
Captured from Nationalists
T-26 (Huahai Campaign, at least one reused, but 3 captured or destroyed)
CV-35 (at least 2)
M3A1 Scout Car
Supplied by the USSR (1950-1955)
Sutton Skunk (Nationalists) – Rejected by Nationalists, apparently under pressure from General Von Seekt. Unknown if the prototype ever arrived in China.
Disston 6-ton Tractor Tank (Nationalists) – Secondary sources report an order (of varying numbers and dates). It is likely that an order was placed and then cancelled.
“Chinese Studebaker Tank” – Unknown user, unknown date, unofficial name. Only two photographs exist, one of which shows a Chinese man on top. Possibly smuggled in by French arms dealers for use by Warlords.
Vickers Mark E Type B (PLA service) – Rumored 3 or 12 used for training. A photo exists, but the publisher acknowledges that the description is dubious.
Locally built SU-76 copy (PLA service) – A photo shows a very dubious looking SU-76, which is believed to be a copy. There is no further information.
Note: An estimated few dozen armored cars were locally made in Shanghai by colonial policing forces (especially by Britain, but also the French), with an unknown fate. It seems more than plausible that they might have been used by the Nationalists, but it is equally plausible that they were scrapped or destroyed before any further use could occur.
CV-33 (Nationalists) – Almost certainly a mis-identification of CV-35s.
Vickers Mark E Type A (Nationalists) – Likely a mis-identification of a Vickers Mark E Type B. Possibly even a typo.
Rolls Royce Armored Car (Nationalists) – Whilst these were used by British policing forces in Shanghai, they may have been withdrawn. The only real suggestion of them being used by the KMT is a scale model war-games fantasy.
Renault NC-31 (PLA service) – Almost certainly a fake made up by Kongzhong (a company involved with Wargaming) for the video game “World of Tanks”. These were used by the Kwantung Army, a unit of the Imperial Japanese Army. The implicit suggestion of them being captured / inherited by the PLA lacks substantiation.
Type T-34 (PLA service) – Almost certainly a fake made up by Kongzhong (a company involved with Wargaming) for the video game “World of Tanks”. North Korea is the only operator of T-34/76s in the region.
Sources and further reading
Correspondence regarding Chinese AFVs with Dr. Martin Andrew
“Arming the Chinese: The Western Armaments Trade in Warlord China, 1920-1928” by Anthony B. Chan
“China’s War with Japan 1937-1945: The Struggle for Survival” by Rana Mitter
“Shanghai 1937: Stalingrad on the Yangtze” by Peter Harmsen
“General of Fortune: The Fabulous Story of One-Arm Sutton” by Charles Drage
“One-Arm Sutton” by Francis Arthur Sutton
“The Gunpowder Age: China, Military Innovation, and the Rise of the West in World History” by Tonio Andrade
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BA-3/6 and BA-27 armored cars, apparently in Chinese service. They may be in service with a provincial government.
Type 94 TK tankettes of the Chinese Collaborationist Army. Confusingly, the CCA also used the White Sun marking.
M10 GMC with 105mm Type 91 field gun of the KMT, reportedly defense of Shanghai, 1949. A handful of these were built.
Renault UEs in KMT service. These probably were modified to mount 7.7mm machine guns.
PLA M3A3 Stuart.
ROCA M8 Scott in Chengkungling, Taiwan.
M5A1 Stuart of the PLA, on display in Beijing.
Type 95 So-Ki of the PLA, on display in a museum in Beijing.
PLA Chi-Ha Shinhoto “34458” and “34457” on parade in Tiananmen Square, 1st October 1949.
18 PLA Ha-Go tanks on parade in Tiananmen Square, 1st October 1949.
IS-2s of the PLA, on parade, National Day, 1959.
Pair of PLA ISU-152s preserved in a museum in Beijing.