The WW2 Chinese armies do not have their own book but they take up a hefty slice of the Empires in Flames campaign book. There are 3 variants of Chinese, KMT, Communist and Warlord but the same figures could be worked up into any of these. The chance of encountering a historical opponent is slim. There are Japanese in China lists in the Armies of Japan, Ostfront and Empires in Flames book. The Soviet Nomohan army could be faced in a border skirmish battle and possibly late Free French or Commonwealth as incidents between local guerillas and returning colonial forces, Korean War actions are also on the cards. To be fair the chance of a historical match up (both dates and campaigns) in any Bolt Action pick-up game is unlikely.
The first obstacle is finding a manufacturer of the right stuff in the right scale. As the period covered could go from at least the Japanese annexation of Manchuria in 1931 to the Chinese Civil War hotting up in 1946 there is some variation in what fits in where. At the very end of our period Warlord have a Korean War range. Amongst the dedicated offerings Reiver Castings do a range of large 28mms.
The second figure from left is a Copplestone. The other 3 are Reiver. All much the same size but the Reiver slightly less detailed. Painting the eyes and eyebrows on a Copplestone is relatively easy but it is difficult to achieve much above a slit on the Reiver. The Reiver arms also are a little awkward.
Copplestone are another option also of large 28mms although their Back of Beyond range is more properly set in the 1920s. This Copplestone towers above a plastic Warlord figure.
The major uniform update for the 1930s on the Copplestones being a replacement of the peaked flat hat with with a simpler cap like a German ski cap.
1st Corps do 2 packs (8 figures total) or very nice figures hidden in their 20th Century Follies range. These have the early period service cap but it is floppy enough to get by as a later ski style hat. A Copplestone is at the far right for size comparison.
The other 1st Corps pack is of long swordsmen. The 2 rifles shown below are Warlord plastic add-ons. There are some non-specific figures that could also work from the range for China. Notably some period cars and Tintin. ‘Tintin and the Blue Lotus’ being set in our period and the Chinese traditional script banners drawn in the book allegedly hide anti-Japanese messages.
Another option is to convert figures from other forces. These are Warlord Kachin fighters. The turban clad models being particularly suitable for Moslem guerillas.
Any figure with long puttees such as Japanese, Dutch or French would do for the bottom part of the figure. Replacement heads would need to be made or swapped with the Chinese cap, Brodie helmet (think WW1 UK) or German WW2 M35 helmet. One of the closest not-Chinese nations would be Finns, even the grey uniform colour could work. The major sticking point would be the long boots worn by the Finns, not unknown in China but unlikely to be worn by the whole of their rank and file. A workable get by is to use Warlord plastic Japanese bodies but German rifles and heads. This requires 1 German early war sprue to 2 Japanese sprues. The parts match is reasonably good. Some filler may be needed but the arms, heads and bodies all stay in proportion. A cheaper approach is to stick with eary war Germans alone and convert the boots to puttees. This could be achieved by winding thin strips of tape or modeling putty around the boots. These are German-Japanese plastic hybrids gunning for the Chinese army.
At this scale rifles all look much the same. The common LMG would be a Czech design similar to the British (Czech) Bren, not the German MG the guys above are carrying. Copplestone only have Lewis gunners in their back of beyond range ruling out any simple LMG conversions. Reiver do several LMGs, MMGs and mortars in their range. Unfortunately they do not do a Boys ATG.
Artizan designs do French Foreign Legion with the correct sort of LMG. They are a close match to the Copplestone figure in the middle below. The Artizan pack comes with 3 LMG men and a rifleman. The jacket and hat are OK for Chinese, 3 of the Artizan figures have long scarves. These could be tricky to file off so have been painted in the same pale brown as their puttees here to pick up some contrast.
Mortars and smaller field guns are also similar between nations, just the crews need to be sourced. Interestingly the Copplestone Chinese generic gun does seem to be the same leFK16 field gun as in the Warlord list. The model and real gun do have a gun shield but the list IeFK16 does not, a saving of 5 points.
The heavy mortar does not need a mover still this mule limber looks the part.
There is no Copplestone medium or light mortar. Japanese knee mortars can be assigned as lights. Crusader have 2 Dragon Portes medium mortars (60 and 80mm). The Adrian helmet here is unusual in China but not unknown. The jackets are also rather fancy especially around the cuff but this pack is a serviceable stand in. A major bonus is that Copplestone, Crusader and Artizan are all supplied by North Star so only 1 set of postage is charged.
This Zis2 may not have shown up in China but is the only decent anti-tank the 8th Route Army has. It should only be used as a late war or Chinese Civil War piece. It is a Butlers 3D printed model with a Reiver crew. The MMG alongside is a Copplestone.
Armour and heavy weapons supply is tricky as between the invasion of Manchuria in 1931, the capture of Shanghai in 1937 and Pearl Harbour in 1941 the Japanese gradually nailed down all routes of external supply to China. German and Italian vehicle supply and other military aid stopped in 1937. The Soviet Union shipped tanks to China, the railway being in the hands of the Japanese, but this source dried up in 1939 after the Soviet-Japanese non-agression pact. Any supply from French Indo China stopped in 1941 and the Burma Road was only active between 1940 and 1942. That would leave the caravan trails from Russia East of Mongolia to Xinjiang province; itself under the control of the Warlord Sheng Shicai. A possibility as the Soviets invaded Xinjiang with tanks in 1934 and although technically losing still maintaining an influence in the region.
At the scale of Bolt Action the KMT have access to a few vehicles representing early war forces or old stock still running, coincidentally also matching up well with the Finnish early war list. The Communists only have use of captured Japanese tanks, an option that is probably not worth taking up. Warlord armies are basically a cut down KMT force but requiring a captain or major as a compulsory choice.
The Ba10 is available from Butlers Printed Models amongst other 3D print sources. Here a Ba6 stands in; considering the date of supply Ba10s would be more likely than Ba10s in theatre. The major difference being that the Ba10 has a rounded turret not the same as the T26 turret here. The T26 is cheaper than the Ba10 but loses recce and only has a single MMG in the co-ax position so it cannot be fired alongside the main gun. The Ba10 has an additional LMG in the bow. The T26 could be a Vickers 6-Ton tank, almost identical in size and function at this scale but available to the KMT a few years earlier than the Soviet supplied T26s. No insignia here as these vehicles might get drafted back to serve with a Soviet Bolt Action force.
Reiver do a Carden-Loyd carrier, here next to a Reiver trumpeter. The scale matches up to true 1/56. Compared to the Empress Carden Loyd there is a noticeable lack of detail, the inside view of the tracks for example is not carved but the top does come off and there are seats modeled inside. On the plus side the Reiver model is just over half the price and as a viable Bolt Action vehicle the Carden Loyd would never be first choice to put on the table.
Having sourced figures there is the issue of what colour to paint them. Hues of pale blue touching on pure grey is the colour choice that really shouts Chinese (who else could they be?). It would be the best choice for earlier KMT forces, Warlords and for the poorly supplied Communists up until late in the war. Greeny yellow is the best match for loyal KMT especially the German equipped units who should also be issued with German helmets. A choice that would be unlikely to be common in Communist units and preventing any hope of using the same German influenced models for KMT, Communist and Warlord lists. Buff or khaki could be used anywhere but in particular those forces supplied from India and Burma or indirectly by deserters from Japanese collaboration troops. Communist guerillas in Malaya were in the majority Chinese and a khaki paint scheme would cover them with the interesting option of fighting Indian collaborationist troops under Japanese command. Late in the war KMT troops will look very similar to USA infantry because of the stocks of surplus equipment received from Uncle Sam. There are a great many Chinese films and TV series set in the period and the stock solution is grey Communists, green KMT and brown Japanese, easy for the viewer to tell apart.
These Copplestone flat caps have been ground down with a Dremel. Results are mixed but only really show up when painted. In retrospect a little more rounding of the top of the cap would be in order.
Here are the Copplestone infantry in fur hats. A good to go choice as the issue Winter hat did have fur flaps that drop down plus some non-issue Winter wear would not be unreasonable. Having 2 sorts of headwear allows easy distinguishing between regular and Guerilla squads. In this theatre Guerillas would derive no benefit from being in military or civilian attire, no hiding from reprisals nor expectation of ‘honours of war’.
Assault troops with SMGs are useful as NCOs or in the dedicated scout unit. The head swap at the end looks a bit of a pin head in ‘real’ life but in this photo shows up OK.
Both the KMT and Communists can field a 3-man scout unit and Guerilla squads of up to 9. Both options have forward set up and outflanking bonuses making the scout option less flexible at the same equivalent points cost. A 3-man unit is OK for taking out small teams but bigger squad is much more survivable with better tactical options. Considering the lack of anti-tank all round the Communists would do well to give Guerilla units anti-tank grenades.
Copplestone big sword lads, a genuine option for the period. The KMT and Warlord lists allow a full squad of these at Veteran status but a horrific points sting. They act like a Japanese squad in homing into close combat. They should be armed with rifles as well, there were 3 separate sheathed swords in the pack of 10 infantry that can be used to give riflemen a big sword and help mark the big swords as all having rifles. Another use for the unit is as pistol armed guerillas.
The guy at the end has been given an additional pack to act as an anti-tank suicide guy. The Chinese armies have 3 of these just like the Japanese. They are a cheap dice source but of limited use. They need to pass a tank terror test to attack enclosed armoured vehicles and then have to survive any fire on the way in. To have good odds of passing the tank test at morale -3 they want to be Veteran (7 up to go in). Regulars might do it and inexperienced would need to be very lucky. Having 2 or 3 of these ready to go ensures that when the 1st takes an early bath the target has pulled its die in defensive fire giving the 2nd man in a better chance of success. Open topped vehicles are easy meat for them especially those tracked contraptions with a big gun on the top that sit out on the back field and pound away.
A Chinese army includes a free unit of 14 inexperienced infantry. The Copplestone packs of 10 bandits and 4 bandit command set fit the bill, unlike the other Copplestone infantry packs every single figure is different. These could be seen as criminal bandits hoovered up to support the cause. The only drawback is that some are barefoot in army that is broadly Winter themed.
A less successful endeavor is this attempt to convert Perry ACW cavalry to become mounted Chinese. The Warlord arms fit the Perry bodies and bits of WW2 kit have been added. The real problem was the faces look too European and converting the ACW kepis to Chinese hats had mixed success. These figures are not finished, the next stage would be a wash then highlights and basing.
Rather than reinforce failure they went for lengthening of the jackets with modelling putty and head swaps to Japanese.
An improvement but still not even close to proper models such as the Copplestone cavalry that are almost zero effort to put together and only twice the price.
This 1,000 point 1938 KMT list is a vanilla early war army. The big sword figures are working as pistol armed guerillas to cut back on points and fit in as much infantry as possible while running the 2 vehicles. The Shanghai list options are similar but with a few more variations. The only Chinese special rule made use of being the free levy squad although the guerillas can forward deploy and ignore terrain on turn 1. Adding a 2nd platoon with 2 more light vehicles but dropping some infantry would make a viable 1,250 list.
This Communist 8th Route Army 1000 point list relies on a pile of infantry as its anti-tank options are severely limited. Indirect fire units sit at the back and hope to range in. There is no place for a sniper here. With a forward deploy strategy putting guerilla units to the fore he would be lucky to get enough useful clear targets to pay back his cost. The tank hunters are veteran in the hope that they will survive and get into contact. Expanding this list to 1,250 would be challenging as adding more infantry might lead to bunching and units blocking each others’ line of sight. Upgrading part of the army to veteran might be an option.
Communist infantry (including their small teams and cavalry) have a 9″ move after deployment but before the 1st turn. Originally this was in addition to the forward deployment of guerillas and tank hunters plus the ability of guerilla units to treat terrain and obstacles as open on the first turn. In theory a guerilla unit could set up adjacent to the table centre line, deploy a further 9″ then move another 12″ on its first turn. Alas, units can no longer forward deploy and sparrow tactics.
For some historical background China Fights Back is a1938 account of the 8th Route Army by an American observer.