Second Taiwan Strait Crisis

Second Taiwan Strait Crisis
Part of Cold War and Chinese Civil War

Taiwan Strait
Date23 August 1958  22 September 1958
(4 weeks and 2 days)
LocationStrait of Taiwan
Result Ceasefire, status quo ante bellum
Taiwan Republic of China
 United States
China People's Republic of China
Commanders and leaders
Taiwan Chiang Kai-shek
Taiwan Chiang Ching-kuo
Taiwan Hu Lien
Taiwan Ji Xingwen 
Taiwan Zhao Jiaxiang 
Taiwan Zhang Jie 
United States Dwight D. Eisenhower
China Mao Zedong
China Peng Dehuai
China Xu Xiangqian

Taiwan 92,000

United States 704
China 215,000
Casualties and losses
440 ROC troops killed[1] 460 PRC troops killed, 218 civilians killed.

The Second Taiwan Strait Crisis, also called the 1958 Taiwan Strait Crisis, was a conflict that took place between the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC) in which the PRC shelled the islands of Kinmen and the nearby Matsu Islands along the east coast of the PRC (in the Taiwan Strait) to "liberate" Taiwan from the Chinese Nationalist Party, also called Kuomintang (KMT), and probe the extent of the United States defense of Taiwan's territory.


The crisis started with the 823 Artillery Bombardment (Chinese: 八二三砲戰; pinyin: Bā'èrsān Pàozhàn; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Pat-jī-sam Phàu-chiàn) at 5:30 pm on August 23, 1958, when the PRC's People's Liberation Army (PLA) began an intense artillery bombardment against Quemoy (Kinmen). The ROC troops on Kinmen dug in and then returned fire. In the heavy exchange of fire, roughly 440 ROC soldiers and 460 PRC soldiers were killed.[2]

This conflict was a continuation of the First Taiwan Strait Crisis, which had begun immediately after the Korean War was over. The Nationalist Chinese had begun to build on the island of Kinmen and the nearby Matsu archipelago. During 1954, the PLA began firing artillery at both Kinmen and some of the nearby Matsu islands.

The U.S. carrier USS Lexington (CVA-16) with a supply ship and USS Marshall (DD-676) off Taiwan during the crisis.

The American Eisenhower Administration responded to the request for aid from the ROC according to its obligations in the mutual defense treaty that had been ratified in 1954. President Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered the reinforcement of the U.S. Navy Seventh Fleet in the area, and he ordered American naval vessels to help the Nationalist Chinese government to protect the supply lines to the islands.

Also, under a secret effort called "Operation Black Magic", the U.S. Navy modified some of the F-86 Sabre fighter planes of the ROC Air Force with its newly developed AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles (early models). These missiles gave the Nationalist Chinese pilots a decisive edge over the Soviet-made MiG-15 and MiG-17 fighters in the skies over the Matsu Islands and the Taiwan Strait. The ROC pilots used the Sidewinder missiles to score numerous kills on PLAAF MiG aircraft.

The US Army's contribution was to reinforce the strategic air defense capability of the ROC. A provisional Nike battalion was organized at Fort Bliss, TX, and sent via USMTS USS General J. C. Breckinridge (AP-176) to Taiwan. The 2nd Missile Battalion was augmented with detachments of signal, ordnance and engineers, totaling some 704 personnel. Recent research from the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration also indicates that the U.S. Air Force was prepared for nuclear warfare against the PRC.

Twelve long-range 203 mm (8-inch) M115 howitzer artillery pieces and numerous 155 mm howitzers were transferred from the U.S. Marine Corps to the Army of the ROC. These were sent west to Kinmen Island to gain superiority in the artillery duel back and forth over the straits there. The impact of these powerful (but conventional) artillery pieces led some members of the PLA to believe that American artillerymen had begun to use nuclear weapons against them.

Soon, the Soviet Union dispatched its foreign minister, Andrei Gromyko, to Beijing to discuss the actions of the PLA and the Red Chinese Air Force, with advice of caution to the Red Chinese.

On September 22, 1958, the Sidewinder missile was used for the first time in air-to-air combat as 32 Nationalist Chinese F-86s clashed with 100 Red Chinese MiGs in a series of aerial engagements. Numerous MiGs were shot down by Sidewinders, the first "kills" to be scored by air-to-air missiles in combat.

Soon, the PRC was faced with a stalemate, the PLA's artillerymen had run out of artillery shells. The Red Chinese government announced a large decrease in bombardment levels on October 6.


Afterwards, both sides continued to bombard each other with shells containing propaganda leaflets on alternate days of the week. This strange informal arrangement continued until the normalization of diplomatic relations between the United States and the PRC in 1979. The timed shelling eventually created little damage and casualties, it was mainly aimed at military compounds and artillery pieces. It was also a way to expend expired ammunition and training new artillery crews for the PRC in which eventually became a one way shelling from PRC to ROC.

The question of "Matsu and Quemoy (Kinmen)" became an issue in the 1960 U.S. presidential election when Richard Nixon accused John F. Kennedy of being unwilling to commit to using nuclear weapons if the PRC invaded the Nationalist outposts.

The spent shell casings and fragments have become a recyclable resource for steel for the local economy. Since the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis, Kinmen has become famous for its production of meat cleavers made from bombshells.

Mao's intention behind the Taiwan Strait Crisis

The CCP leadership's purpose of shelling the islets of Taiwan was to gain recognition of its international status by the United States, steal the Soviet Union's dominance over the world's communist revolution and most importantly to mobilize the Chinese people to continue the communist revolution in China.

Mao used the US-UK intervention in Iraq and Jordan crisis to justify PRC's attack against the islets under KMT's control by stating that the CCP should "liberate" Taiwan to show support to the communist regime in Iraq and protest against the United States intervention. This demonstrates that one of the reason the PRC planned its attack on the islets of Taiwan was to demonstrate its military capability to the United States and gain recognition over its international influence.

The CCP leadership, unlike from 1949 to 1950 when they consulted the Soviet Union on its foreign policy, kept their plan to attack Jinmen confidential from the Soviet Union. It was only revealed by Zhu Enlai after the second Taiwan Strait Crisis when he appealed for support to the Soviet Union in reaching an agreement with the United States. The CCP leadership hid their plan because it grew doubtful over the Soviet Union's big power chauvinism to control China after the Soviet proposed the establishment of a joint Soviet-China submarine flotilla and jointly owned long wave radio in China in early 1950s. Also China wanted to steal the Soviet Union's leading role in the world's communist movement by making China look morally superior to the Soviet.

Most importantly, however, PRC planned to "liberate" Taiwan to use the tension to mobilize the mass to continue Mao's communist revolution. After the CCP gained control over the Chinese mainland in 1949. Mao's primary concern was the continuation of the communist revolution. The revolution's aim was to transform the "old" China, reclaim China's "central" status in the international community and overhaul the West-oriented international order. Such desire also stemmed from the Chinese leadership's victim mentality that stemmed from China's defeat against the United Kingdom in the Opium War (1839-1842). The victim mentality was also used when the leadership justified its attack against the islets by saying that the PRC is reclaiming China's lost territory from the "Western Imperialists."

See also

Further reading



  1. Maritime Taiwan: Historical Encounters with the East and the West by Shih-Shan Henry Tsai. Page 189. Published 2009


External links

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