On October 29, 1937, a large crowd of people gathered on the bank of the Wusong River in Shanghai to watch a spectacle, a life and death struggle unfolding directly in front of them across the river. The crowd was a curious blend of Chinese, European, and American civilians and journalists. Their focus was on the Sihang Warehouse across the river, but it wasn’t the warehouse itself that fascinated the onlookers. Instead, it was the men inside the warehouse, the men of the 524th Regiment, the 88th Division of the Chinese Nationalist Army. The soldiers were elite, and they were widely considered the best of the Nationalist Army. They proudly called themselves “the Generalissimo’s Own,” after Jiang Jieshi, the generalissimo of the Nationalist government and leader of China. The Chinese soldiers were prepared to fight and die to the last man, and they were making their last stand there.
The Battle of Shanghai was a brutal testament to a new era of modern warfare which, according to many historians, signified the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War, and hence World War II. Despite the stand, China was a nation broken into petty warlord fiefdoms and wracked by civil war between Nationalist and Communist forces. This civil war became inextricably intertwined with the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II, and the sheer scale of the horrors of the conflict remain hard to believe today, even as action in that theater is often overlooked because of events in Europe. Indeed, the Japanese launched a brutal campaign across the fragmented realms that made up China, committing atrocities just as horrendous as their Axis ally in Europe.