Bodies and Structures 2.0: Deep-Mapping Modern East Asian History

Aerial Route through the Gobi

Long-distance flight meant that the Japanese had to build several airports across the Gobi desert. In 1936, the Chief of Staff of the Kwantung Army, Itagaki Seishirō, began planning for a 1500-kilometer airway out of Manchukuo linking Huade, Bailingmiao, Baotou, Shawangfu, Dingyuanying, and Ejen-e. While Japan had no authority in these towns besides a string of intelligence units, Itagaki proposed that the Manchuria Aviation Company and the secret service convince Mongol princes to allow airports for reasons of reconnaissance. The terminal point at Ejen-e, in the northwest corner of the Gobi, would function as a strategic entre into Qinghai, Tibet, and Xinjiang during a possible Japanese invasion in the future.

On the Mongolia Aviation Plan (1936)

Itagaki Seishirō

Top secret

Mongolia Aviation Plan

Kwantung Army Headquarters, 10 July 1936

I. Objective

a. Implement a regular airway between Dehua [sic]—Bailingmiao—Baotou—Shawangfu—Dingyuanying—Ejene along with covert operations vis-à-vis the Mongols

b. Request forces stationed in China to cooperate with the Kantō Army in implementing this airline through the Manchuria Aviation Company

II. Outline

a. Install secret military agencies, alongside negotiations with Mongol princedoms, out to Alashan, and so on, have provisional flights, then set up above-ground facilities, finally have a regular airway, and extend it to "Ejene." Further, watch for an opportunity for flights to Ningxia, Liangzhou, Suzhou, Zhazang.

b. Quickly establish a correspondingly robust foundation, along with arranging required sites to have fuel, personnel, equipment, and materials; [at least] should have in Dehua and Baotou.

c. For the time being, secret military agencies will conduct communications, then arrange wireless for the [Manchuria Aviation] Company.

d. Defray transportation costs within the required outlay through classified military expenditures.

e. Use the personnel, equipment, and materials from the North China aviation office and request cooperation from the stationed forces for wireless communication for work, and so on, in Baotou.

f. To make the aviation company determine the details of the plan on the basis [of what is written above].

Setting up this aerial route came at considerable infrastructural cost. For the rudimentary airbase in Dingyuanying, for instance, the Manchuria Aviation Company dispatched four Japanese employees with fake passports via caravan. The team saddled a hundred and fifty camels, each with four eighteen-liter boxes of gasoline, to make the arduous forty-five day trip across the Gobi so that this outpost could supply fuel—9000 liters to be exact—along this route.

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