The military histories of Germany and China in the years preceding the Second World War are inextricably linked. One of the more curious testimonies of their close ties must have been when in March 1938 the German Wehrmacht crossed the border into Austria. The Austrian military didn’t oppose them, and the event subsequently became known as the Anschluss, sometimes referred to as the Blumenkrieg, or war of flowers.
Among those Wehrmacht soldiers was the 21-year-old sergeant officer-candidate. Now, sources vary, with some indicating he served in the 98th Gebirgsjäger Regiment, the Wehrmacht’s specialised mountain troops. Others state he commanded a Panzer regiment driving across the border. All that is for sure is that this cadet stood out from the rest of his men. He wasn’t German, and well, he wasn’t even European. Chiang Wei-kuo was the son of Generalissimo Chiang-Kai Shek, President of the Republic of China and head of the Kuomintang, China’s nationalist party. Wei-kuo’s presence in Germany is curious for multiple reasons, especially considering that within two years, China’s adversary during the Second Sino-Japanese war, Japan, would ally with Germany.
So how did Chiang end up invading Austria with his Wehrmacht unit? Well, to begin with, Chiang Kai-shek adopted him when he was three years old. Officially, his father was Tai Jitao, an intimate of Chiang Kai-shek. Tai had an affair with a Japanese woman, who gave birth to Wei-kuo in 1916. Wei-kuo was born in Tokyo, Japan. Tai, fearing his illegitimate child could end his career and marriage, requested Chiang Kai-shek to adopt Wei-kuo. The plan was that Chiang could claim Wei-kuo was a child of Yao Yecheng, one of his concubine’s children. Having one of his concubines raise him as one of her own, Chiang did adopt Wei Kuo as his second son. His oldest, biological son, was Chiang Chin-kuo who would result in quite a bit of diplomatic troubles throughout Chiang’s career. Thanks to this, Tai was able to remain involved in the Kuomintang. For most of Wei-kuo’s life, up until the 1980s, he held up the claim he was Chiang Kai-shek’s biological son. Although rumours certainly persisted throughout his life and career.
As for Wei-kuo, he studied physics in eastern China, at the Dongwu University. Meanwhile, he enrolled as a reserve officer in the Kuomintang army. During this time his brother, Chiang Ching-kuo, left for Moscow to study there. Ching-kuo remained in Moscow for over a decade, and after his father purged leftist elements from the Kuomintang in 1927, Ching-kuo was detained in the Soviet Union, albeit as a… “guest”. We all know what that means. Chiang Kai-shek refused to negotiate a prisoner swap for his son, reasoning that China’s fate was not worth his son’s fate. In 1937 Ching-kuo, together with his Belarusian wife he met there, returned to China.
With one of his sons just returning from virtual imprisonment in the Soviet Union, in late 1937 Chiang decided to send Wei-kuo to Germany to receive a military education there. After all, the Second Sino-Japanese war broke out in July that year. Chiang had great contacts among the German military. For example, Hans von Seeckt, the Chief of the German Army Command during the Weimar Republic, served as Chiang’s military consultant from 1933 to 1935. Alexander von Falkenhausen, another German general, also served as Chiang’s military advisor, playing a vital role during the early stages of the Second Sino-Japanese war. As for Wei-kuo, German military education, renowned for its efficiency and innovation, would be a great asset to him in both the war against the Japanese, but also in the subsequent inevitable war against the Chinese communists.
Wei Kuo enrolled in the Kriegsakademie, or War Academy, in Munich, Bavaria. While he was there, many impactful political developments rapidly followed each other up in Germany. Hitler had been Germany’s dictator for nearly five years and had been planning to incorporate Austria into his German Reich. After blackmailing the Austrian chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg, he forced him to abdicate. Subsequently, Austria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nazi-party member Arthur Seyss-Inquart was named Chancellor of Austria. His first act in office on March 12 was to send the Germans a telegram requesting the Wehrmacht to ‘bring peace and security, and prevent bloodshed.’
And that’s how 21-year-old Wei-kuo crossed the Austrian border together with the Wehrmacht. By this time he recently completed his initial training earning him the rank of Fahnenjunker, an Officer Candidate. According to some sources during the Anschluss Wei-kuo, a sergeant officer-candidate by this point, commanded a Panzer unit. After the successful Anschluss, the Wehrmacht began integrating Austrian army units into their own ranks. This led to Wei-kuo and other officer candidates to command Austrian army units. Wei-kuo was assigned as Lieutenant to a Panzer unit. So basically, a Chinese man in German service commanded an Austrian Wehrmacht Panzer unit following the Anschluss.
Following the Anschluss, Hitler set his eyes on Czechoslovakian Sudetenland, arguing there was a significant German-speaking minority there. It led to the historical, and rather ironic speech by British prime minister Neville Chamberlain who claimed he brokered ‘peace for our times’ after allowing Germany to demand Sudetenland. Wei-kuo didn’t participate in the annexation of Sudetenland, nor in the subsequent German military campaigns. Although according to Jay Taylor, biographer of Wei-kuo’s brother, he claimed he would have liked to.
Weeks before the German invasion of Poland and the outbreak of the Second World War, Wei-kuo graduated. It isn’t exactly clear how, but either upon instructions from Chinese authorities or simply by the Wehrmacht command, he was assigned as Lieutenant to a Panzer division lined up along the Oder River, near the Polish border. Yet on his way to his destination, he travelled through Berlin. Over there, he visited the Chinese embassy, where he received new orders. Due to shifting alliances, he was ordered to travel to the United States to receive military training there. Much to his own disappointment later on, when it became clear he missed the German invasion of Poland because of this. So in the days preceding the outbreak of the full-fledged war against Poland, Wei-kuo sailed to the United States for his new mission.
When he arrived in the United States, Wei-kuo enrolled in the Army Air Corps School in Alabama. Yet within too long, he was moved to the Armored Force Center at Fort Knox since it became clear to his commanders that he commanded a Panzer regiment in Germany and had received extensive training there already. In fact, Wei-kuo was specialised in Alpine warfare, and his Wehrmacht uniform sported the Gebirgsjäger Edelweiss sleeve insignia as a testament of his skill and experience.
After a little over a year, in late 1940, Wei-kuo returned to China. By this point, war had already broken out in the European theatre, but it would take another year before the United States entered the war against Japan. But Wei-kuo arrived in a war-torn China. Since 1937 they faced Japanese offensives, leading to extreme bloodshed. He was stationed in Xi’an, central China, where he commanded a Kuomintang garrison.
For the next five years, Wei-kuo assisted his father Chiang Kai-shek in commanding Chinese efforts against the Japanese. When they emerged victorious in 1945, they faced a new threat: the communists. The subsequent Chinese civil war, pitting the Kuomintang against Mao Zedong’s communist armies, lasted for four years. It again resulted in extreme bloodshed. Wei-kuo commanded an M4 Sherman tank battalion, initially claiming several victories over Mao’s communists.
But it was no use. In 1949 the communists defeated the Kuomintang and Wei-kuo, together with Chiang Kai-shek, fled to Taiwan, together with the majority of Kuomintang soldiers and his tank battalion. As for Tai, Wei-kuo’s biological father, he took his own life following China’s Communist takeover in 1949. In the immediate aftermath of his arrival, Wei-kuo became a divisional strength regiment commander of the armoured corps outside Taiwan’s capital, Taipei. He continued to play a role in Taiwanese politics up until the 1990s. Yet after one of his subordinates, General Chao Chih-hwa attempted a coup in 1964, the so-called Hukou Incident, Wei-kou only played a marginal role in the military. But in name, he remained present and was promoted to the rank of general and president of the Armed Forces University.
And Wei-kuo never forgot his time served in the Wehrmacht. Some online archives and articles reveal Wei-kuo’s affinity with the German military in his later life. In November 1970 he sent a letter to Erich Stoelzner, a German military adviser during the 1930s who retired as a major general of the Kuomintang army. Wei-kuo reiterated Chiang Kai-shek’s gratitude for the “faithful assistance and friendship Stoelzner’s team rendered [the Chinese] during those difficult times.” Not to mention the fact he was the founder of the Chinese Institute of Strategy and Sino-German Cultural and Economic Association.
And Wei-kuo certainly wasn’t the last Chinese soldier to receive training in Germany. From 1964 to 1972, 18 high-ranking Taiwanese officers spent a year training at the General Staff College of the Bundeswehr, the West-German armed forces.
As for Wei-kuo, he retired from the army in 1986 and served as Secretary-General of the National Security Council, advisor of the president of the Republic of China. Eleven years later, in 1997 at the age of 80, Chiang Wei-kuo passed away from kidney failure. His last wish was to be buried in Suzhou on mainland China, but he was buried in a Taiwanese military cemetery due to politics.