Ever since the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931, Sino-Japanese relations had been uneasy, resulting in several military exchanges, and culminating in a failed attempt by the Japanese on 8 July 1937 to take control of the Lugou or ‘Marco Polo’ Bridge near Beijing. Major battles followed, in which the better-equipped Japanese, after fierce Chinese resistance lasting three months, captured Shanghai, Nanking and Wuhan, and massacred hundreds of thousands of civilians in the process. To make matters worse, the Chinese themselves were divided between Chiang Kai-Shek’s Kuomintang Army and Mao Tse-Tung’s communists, a situation which the Japanese exploited, enabling them by 1941 to control all the strategically important locations as far south as Indo-China. In the Ichi-Go operation, launched in April 1944, the Japanese further captured the airfields in southern China from which the Americans had been flying their bombers in the Pacific war.
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