A CCP account of crossing the Luding Bridge (1935)

“Crossing the Luding Bridge” is a CCP report, probably drawn from the writings of Yang Chengwu and Edgar Snow, on the Red Army’s exploits at the Dadu River:

“The Luding Bridge was built centuries ago, and in the manner of all bridges of the deep rivers of western China. Heavy iron chains… were stretched across the river, their ends embedded on each side under great piles of cemented rock, beneath the stone bridgeheads. Thick boards lashed over the chains made the road of the bridge, but upon their arrival the Reds found that half this wooden flooring had been removed, and before them only the bare iron chains swung to a point midway in the stream.

Below, the reddish waters, cascading down from the mountain gorges of the river’s upper reaches, pounded against the ugly boulders rising from the river bed and tossed white froth high into the air. The roar of the rushing torrent was deafening. Not even a fish could hold its own against that water. Fording or crossing in boats was out of the question. The bridge was the only way to get to the other side.

At the northern bridgehead an enemy machine gun nest faced them, and behind it were positions held by a regiment of troops. The bridge should, of course, have been destroyed, but the Sichuanese were sentimental about their few bridges; it was not easy to rebuild them, and they were costly… And who would have thought the Reds would insanely try to cross on the chains alone?

No time was to be lost. The bridge must be captured before enemy reinforcements arrived. Once more volunteers were called for. One by one Red soldiers stepped forward to risk their lives, and, of those who offered themselves, thirty were chosen.

We began our attack at four in the afternoon. All the buglers of the regiment blew the charge call in unison, and we opened up with every weapon we had against the enemy on the opposite bank. The firing, the shouts of the men, reverberated through the valley. Carrying tommy-guns, big knives strapped across their backs, 12 grenades apiece tucked into their belts, 22 heroes, led by Commander Liao, climbed across the swaying bridge chains, in the teeth of intense enemy fire. Behind them came the officers and men of 3rd Company, each carrying a plank in addition to full battle gear; they fought and laid planks at the same time…

Snipers shot at the Reds tossing high above the water, working slowly toward them. The first warrior was hit, and dropped into the current below; a second fell, and then a third. But as others drew nearer the centre, the bridge flooring somewhat protected these dare-to-dies, and most of the enemy bullets glanced off, or ended in the cliffs on the opposite bank.

Probably never before had the Sichuanese seen fighters like these – men for whom soldiering was not just a rice bowl, and youths ready to commit suicide to win. Were they human beings or madmen or gods? Was their own morale affected? Did they perhaps not shoot to kill? Did some of them secretly pray that these men would succeed in their attempt?

At last one Red crawled up over the bridge flooring, uncapped a grenade and tossed it with perfect aim into the enemy redoubt. Nationalist officers ordered the rest of the planking torn up. It was already too late. More Reds were crawling into sight. (Kerosene) was thrown on the planking and it began to burn. By then about 20 Reds were moving forward on their hands and knees, tossing grenade after grenade into the enemy machine-gun nest…

The following day … thousands of troops strode across the Luding Bridge. We had conquered the seething barrier of the Dadu River. The losses were minimal. One source puts the dead at seventeen, with “many scorched and wounded, and a few severely burned,” another at under 50, of whom 12 were blown by the wind into the river below. By the time the pursuing Nationalist reinforcements arrived, the Red Army had escaped into the mountains of western Sichuan to later endure even more intense hardship. Jiang Jieshi was furious. The rest is history.”