North China Field Army (1947-1948)

North China Field Army (1947-1948)

One of the main forces of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) during the Chinese Civil War (1946-1949). The Chinese Communist Party (CCP, or the Communist Party of China) reorganized its military forces after the collapse of the CCP-Guomindang (GMD, or Kuomintang, KMT; the Chinese Nationalist Party) military coalition during the Anti-Japanese War (1937-1945). Abandoning the designations that the CCP adopted after joining the GMD forces during the United Front, the CCP high command combined the Eighth Route Army with provincial military forces to assemble conventional forces into the standing field armies that were supported by militia and guerrilla elements.

In May 1948, the Shanxi-Chahar-Hebei and Shanxi-Hebei-Shandong-Henan Military Districts merged to become the North China Military District. Nie Rongzhen (Nieh Jung-ch’en) (1899-1992) served as commander and Bo Yibo was the political commissar. Unlike other military districts, the North China Military District never officially organized a standing field army, but its forces were unofficially known as the North China Field Army. In the fall of 1948, the Military District consisted of three armies, two independent columns, and seven subdistricts composed mainly of militia, irregulars, and other support personnel. The First Army was commanded by Xu Xiangqian, the Second Army by Yang Dezhi, and the Third Army by Yang Chengwu.

The North China Field Army’s main action of note was during the BeipingTianjin (Ping-Jin) Campaign. The Second and Third Army sealed off the west escape route of Fu Zuoyi (Fu Tso-yi) (1895-1974), commander of the GMD forces in north China, and destroyed some of his best formations, while Lin Biao’s (Lin Piao) (1906-1971) Northeast Field Army infiltrated south to isolate Beiping (now Beijing) and Tianjin (Tientsin). During this time, the First Army, which was besieging Yan Xishan’s (Yen Hsi-shan) (1883-1960) army in Taiyuan, the capital city of Shanxi (Shansi) Province, scaled back its operations to confuse Fu Zuoyi and convince him to stay in place.

After the Communist victory in Pingjin, Xu Xiangqian captured Taiyuan in the spring of 1949, thus clearing the final GMD army from the north China plain.After these victories, the three armies were redesignated the Eighteenth, Nineteenth and Twentieth Armies respectively, and their formal association with north China was eliminated. The Eighteenth and Nineteenth Army Groups moved to northwest China, while the Twentieth Army Group remained in the capital region to guard Beijing.

In November 1948, the Central Military Commission (CMC) of the CCP decided to reorganize its troops and called all the CCP forces the “Chinese People’s Liberation Army” (PLA). In January 1949, the CMC established four field armies, including the First Field Army (diyi yezhanjun) in the northwest, the Second (dier yezhanjun) in central China, the Third (disan yezhanjun) in eastern China, and the Fourth (disi yezhanjun) in the northeast. Each field army had two to four army groups, and each army group had two to four armies.

To continue the CCP victory of the Chinese Civil War in northwest China, the CMC reinforced more armies into the First Field Army. The Eighteenth Army Group under the command of Zhou Shidi, including the Sixtieth, Sixty-First, and SixtySecond Armies, joined the First Field Army in the spring of 1949. Then the Nineteenth Army Group under the command of Yang Dezhi, including the Sixty-Third, SixtyFourth, and Sixty-Fifth Armies, joined the First Field Army during that summer. By this time, the total number of the First Field Army had reached 344,000 troops.

Dr. Christopher Lew

See also: Anti-Japanese War; Beiping-Tianjin Campaign; Chinese Civil War; Chinese Communist Party; First Field Army; Fu Zuoyi; Guomindang; Lin Biao; Nie Rongzhen; People’s Liberation Army; United Front; Xu Xiangqian.


Lew, Christopher. The Third Revolutionary Chinese Civil War: An Analysis of Communist Strategy and Leadership. London: Routledge, 2009.

Li, Xiaobing. A History of the Modern Chinese Army. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2007.

Rongzhen, Nie. Inside the Red Star: Memoirs of Marshal Nie Rongzhen. Trans. by Zhong Renyi. Beijing: New World Press, 1988.

Westad, Odd Arne. The Chinese Civil War, 1946-1950: Decisive Encounters. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003.