Les Démons de la Montagne Froide
The ‘Han Shan Corps’ in the Central Asian War
The Caporal-Chef marched out onto the parade ground at Sidi-Bel-Abbès, and came to an inch perfect halt under the baking sun. He glared at us, sweltering, pasty and nervous, with undisguised disdain. His immaculate uniform was adorned with numerous medals, badges and lanyards. His face was scarred with a vicious diagonal cut that distorted his features horrifically. There were rumours that his decorations and scars were the result of a bayonet fight with a fanatical Manchurian colonial sapper – we were soon to learn the truth for ourselves.
The Manchurian colony of Han Shan in the Delta Pavonis system is a harsh world for its settlers who are forced to live in high mountains and plateaus at constant risk of attack by local animals. Casualty rates among the initial colonists were very high, but bred a mixture of self reliance, physical fitness and self discipline amongst the Manchurian colonists. Indeed for many years the future of the colony was far from assured and several settlements failed, but the efforts of the Han Shan colonists combined with continued emigration from Earth meant the colony began to thrive. The colonists also became well know for their xenophobic attitudes to off-worlders in general and foreigners in particular.
Military presence in the colony was maintained initially by a contingent of the Pale Banner which established itself alongside the civilian population. However all of the citizens quickly became a part of a de-facto paramilitary militia system established to protect the settlements from the native wildlife. The militia provided a framework to coordinate the response to incursions and also provide military training to the colonists. Essentially every colonist was expected to become proficient in the handling of both firearms and melee weapons and come to the aid of each other in times of threat. This helped tie the bonds between colonists even further, and stories of successful and unsuccessful rescues became commonplace on news broadcasts.
In early 2282 in response to the crisis that would become the Central Asian War the fighting elements of the local Pale Banner Jalan (brigade) was redeployed to Earth, leaving the colony largely undefended except for its citizen militia. At the outbreak of war the elements of the militia surrounded the 'ESA Factory', a trading compound hosting several large corporations near the space port, in what became known as the ‘New Boxer Incident’. In response French, Japanese, British and Bavarian ships responded and landed a force which evacuated the compound after a bloody clash with the militia. The western forces, highly trained intervention troops, had a stiff fight with the under-equipped Han Shan militia and suffered numerous casualties before withdrawal.
Han Shan society was outraged by the raid and the four hundred deaths it caused both in the fighting and the aftermath thanks to the destruction of anti-wildlife defences by orbital bombardment. The colonial governor believed that they had acted with great restraint in only surrounding the compounds and not storming them, although some of the inhabitants had been killed when they had ventured out. The governor believed the raid to have been launched as a publicity stunt for the Earth media and also as a threat to other Manchurian colonies on the Chinese Arm.
The response was immediate and spontaneous, with tens of thousands of colonists flocking to government buildings in their settlements and demanding to be able to fight. The government was slightly stunned by the response of fourteen thousand citizens arrived volunteering for battle. In the end the militia structure was able to cope with the expansion with the aid of retired members of the Pale Banner. The Manchurian government on Earth was slightly more at a loss, however agreed to the dispatch of a regiment to Sol, largely for propaganda purposes. The volunteers remaining at Han Shan refused to disband and drilled with whatever was at hand, becoming very proficient at minor infantry tactics. This group of volunteers became known as the ‘Han Shan Corps’, although it would never operate as such.
The first regiment dispatched was titled the 603rd Infantry Regiment and had battalions drawn from each of the three major settled regions of Han Shan. The regiment was recruited by ballot from the volunteers on Han Shan, and the officers, nominally appointed by the governor, were actually voted from the ranks of the volunteers. The newly formed 603rd Infantry rejoiced as being the cream of the colony and looked forward to making their name and avenging the French led raid on their homeworld. In the meantime three more infantry regiments were to be formed (604th, 606th and 607th) at Han Shan, with plans for three more once they were established. In addition a group of potential staff officers was dispatched for training on Earth to enable the creation of a divisional or higher headquarters if required or to reinforce Earth raised divisions of the Green Standard People’s Army.
The 603rd Inf Regt underwent a further period of training on Earth, being brought up to the latest Manchurian training levels, before finally deploying operationally into the Central Asian Republic in 2283 attached to the 114th Mechanised Division in the 63rd Group Army on the relatively quiet and mountainous southern part of the line. The 603rd soon proved themselves with an aggressive patrolling program which frankly terrorised the opposing CARA division.
Later in the year they found themselves on the defensive as the first major Allied offensive involving the French got underway. The 114th Division was pushed back by a combination of Russian and CARA mechanised forces and the crack French 27e Division Alpins covering the southern flank of the Allied assault on Alma Ata. The 603rd Inf Regt found itself contesting the high ground against the Chasseurs Alpin with such ferocity that the earned themselves the nickname of Les Démons. The 603rd found itself forced to retreat constantly by the collapse of other parts of the division and many parties of its soldiers were cut off and fought to the end, such was the fierce outlook of the Han Shan volunteers that few prisoners were taken. The rump of the 603rd Infantry Regiment fought their final action of the campaign as part of the divisional rearguard which was soon overrun by Russian heavy armour. Only 30% of the regiment made the final muster, although other wounded would later rejoin the ranks, and although it had been a fierce baptism the regiment had won its first laurels amongst friend and foe alike.
By this time the next wave of regiments had come forward from Delta Pavonis and were now in training in Inner Mongolia alongside other colonial contingents. In addition there were further individual reinforcements to bring the 603rd up to strength. At Han Shan the 609th, 610th and 611th Regiments had been raised and were preparing to be brought forwards whilst a further tranche of regiments (615, 616 and 617) was formed for the defence of the colony and to provide trained battle replacements. In January 2284 the third wave of volunteers took passage to Earth but were became involved in a major battle on the outskirts of the Sol system where one of the transports was lost along with most of the 610th Regiment on board. It was to be the last major Manchurian convoy of the war and very few reinforcements would afterwards reach the Han Shan units.
The 603rd Inf Regt was brought back up to strength late in 2283 and converted into an air assault formation, although retaining its infantry name, and was assigned directly under command of 63rd Group Army. The second wave regiments were grouped into the 187th Motorised Infantry Division as part of the 12th Group Army. The 187th Division was equipped with light wheeled armoured vehicles and most of the formation’s support arms were Earth raised units. The 609th and 611th were combined with the equally newly Earth raised 40th Armoured Regiment in the 189th Mechanised Division and assigned also to the 12th Group Army. The 189th were to be a heavy assault division equipped with Type-27 heavy battle tanks and Type-20 heavy APCs.
The 603rd Regt was back in action in early 2284 taking on a range of French and Russian units in a number of frontier battles, most famously overwhelming a battalion of the French Foreign Legion’s 13e DBLE in a ferocious close quarter fight. 187th Division also came into action on the Central Front launching a series of attacks on the demoralised CARA 14th Division which forced its replacement by a Russian unit. 187th Division then continued its series of limited attacks savaging the 27th Guards Motor Rifle Division in turn. The Han Shan units revelled in their ability to keep their enemy off-guard and outside their comfort zone again resulting in the Russian formation having to be replaced.
At the end of the year 189th Division also entered the field of battle spearheading an assault on the 4th CARA Army that also led to Bavarian and Russian units being sucked into the expanding offensive by 12th Group Army and 2nd Banner Field Corps. The 189th then found itself fighting alongside the 187th for the first time, early in 2285, as that division was brought into action. Fighting side by side the two Han Shan divisions were responsible for breaking open the main defensive front of the 1st CARA Army, although at the cost of substantial casualties. Following this offensive the intensity of the fighting declined as frantic diplomatic efforts stabilised the main front and limited offensive action to minor ground operations but some ferocious air battles. The Han Shan units played a role in these limited operations, building on their already impressive reputation for aggressive patrolling.
By the start of 2286 the fighting reputation of the Han Shan raised units was second to none amongst the Manchurian led forces; even the Banners and Koreans couldn’t match their ferocity. However already problems were beginning to be noted as the supply of replacements could not keep up with the casualty rates in these units. Already the combat support elements had been combed for volunteers for the fighting troops and replaced by Earth born soldiers. Now the infantry regiments themselves had to be reinforced by Earth-born troops, something resented by the xenophobic Han Shaners. Casualty rates amongst the Earth born replacements were however much greater than those amongst the veteran Han Shaners. Eventually the 603rd Regiment had some success with a draft of replacements from the Province of Xizang, and consequently replacements were largely found form this province, although their casualty rates remained high. It was during this timeframe that the 187th Division was converted to a hovermobile formation.
The Manchurian offensive launched in the winter of 2286 took the Allies by surprise, partially distracted by guerrilla activity in the South of the CAR and rumours of Provolution revolts deep inside Manchuria. Air strikes against strategic targets combined with the well planned blinding of Allied satellites aided the initial Manchu thrusts which aimed at the encirclement of key cities and major allied formations. 63rd Group Army were a major element of the assault and the 603rd were engaged in risky long range assaults on key MSR junction locations in the Allied rear made possible only by the surge of Manchurian air power. The 603rd were rapidly relieved, although the 3/603rd had a vicious fight with two battalions from a French airborne division before the spearheads of the 63rd GA arrived.
The 12th GA was a part of the second wave of forces and broke out to the north forcing its way between a Russian Army and the French 2e Corps which fell back on the town of Omsk and was rapidly besieged. The siege of Omsk became an icon of the final year of the CAW, and the town eventually fell with most of its remaining 20 000 man garrison surrendering as the 189th Division smashed through its defences. It was perhaps the greatest triumph of the Han Shaners, but it was also one of the triggers for Japanese intervention. Following the Battle of Omsk the units of 12th GA were exhausted but continued to advance to the Russian border, the Han Shan units were extremely depleted and due to the rapid advance replacements of any kind were hard to come by.
The Allied counter-offensive, of which Japanese troops provided only a very limited number of soldiers, was quick to come as Russian and French reserves flooded in to battle and Manchurian air superiority faded away in the face of French and Japanese reinforcements. The overextended Manchurians gave fierce resistance, but then fell back precipitously as Allied forces bypassed their defences and savaged their supply lines. The 12th GA suffered heavily in the retreat although the 187th and 189th Division held together as fighting forces in the long retreat back to the Manchurian border. These units were only shells of some 3000 men each on their return, but had managed to hold together and keep the Allies at bay.
The Armistice saw the reformation of the 189th Division which had little of its heavy equipment left as an all Earth-born Manchurian division. The soldiers of the 609th and 611th Regiments were dispatched to reinforce the equally depleted 187th Division. The 603rd Regiment was also seriously depleted but had received some reinforcements of Han Shan natives. These units were maintained on the frontier until 2290 when the 187th Division was stood down and its soldiers returned to Han Shan following a parade through Beijing. The 603rd Regiment remained in service until 2292 when it was also stood down and its soldiers repatriated. The only Han Shaners to remain on Earth were volunteers who made up the 1st Battalion of the 650th Colonial Infantry Regiment, a show piece regiment comprised of contingents from Manchuria’s Chinese Arm colonies which continues to serve on the frontier.
The experience of the more than 30 000 volunteers of the ‘Han Shan Corps’, including the 12 000 killed and 14 000 seriously injured, has become a major cultural influence in the colony. The ‘Central Asia Association’ of veterans and their supporters has major political clout in the colony and veterans are accorded immense respect.
Today the paramilitary militia carries on the traditions of the ‘Han Shan Corps’ with each of the regional bodies carrying on the titles and traditions of the 604th, 606th and 607th Regiments. In addition men from the militia can volunteer to serve full time in the 603rd Regiment which is organised on military lines and defends the colony alongside the Pala Banner Jalan. Volunteers from the militia can also serve in the 1/650th Regiment on Earth which is rightly regarded as a crack formation.
Some Han Shan veterans continue to serve as mercenaries. Small numbers can be found on all colonial arms, and Han Shan bodyguards are much sought after amongst businessmen on the Chinese Arm.
Organisation & Equipment
The units of the Han Shan Corps wore no special insignia or distinguishing features on their uniforms. This made it easy for their presence in the line to be concealed or faked. Similarly the Han Shaners are visibly indistinguishable from most Manchurian citizens. It is only their accent and attitudes that marks them out.
Today the 603rd Infantry Regiment and the 1st/650th Colonial Regiment are organised as standard Manchurian GSPA combat forces. The remaining militia regiments on Han Shan are militia units and organised on a regional basis with distributed companies and are not functional combat forces.
Troops from the Han Shan Corps can be gamed in differing ways; they can be played as part of the CAW, as CAW veterans in mercenary units or in current day military units.
Han Shan troops are notable for their high level of skill in hand-to-hand combat as well as their tactical aggressiveness and PCs should reflect this. Towards each other the Han Shaners are stereotypically open, generous, warm, gregarious and willing to sacrifice themselves for their comrades. Towards outsiders (any non Han Shaner basically regardless of nationality) however they are largely close-mouthed, sullen, rude, paranoid and unwelcoming. In action they are ferocious, highly proficient. almost fearless and largely merciless. Even veteran troops will regard a battle with the Han Shaners with caution.
A Han Shan soldier in a group of outsiders may well be a fearsome and respected warrior, however he may well also be ‘hard work’ socially and a bit of an embarrassment in business dealings. There are exceptions in more widely travelled Han Shaners, but these are few and far between.
The ‘Banner’ structure for the Manchurian forces outlined in this article is based on work by Kenji Schwartz.
Copyright, D Hebditch, 2008