Another little-known Cold War tale.
In 1955, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army embarked on a bloody amphibious landing to capture a fortified Nationalist island, only about twice the size of a typical golf course. Not only did the battle exhibit China’s growing naval capabilities, it was a pivotal moment in a chain of events that led Eisenhower to threaten a nuclear attack on China—and led Congress to pledge itself to the defense of Taiwan.
In 1949, Mao’s People’s Liberation Army succeeded in sweeping the Nationalist Kuomintang (KMT) government out of mainland China. However, the Nationalist navy allowed the KMT to maintain its hold on large islands such as Hainan and Formosa, as well as smaller islands only miles away from major mainland cities such as Kinmen and Matsu. These soon were heavily fortified with Nationalist troops and guns, and engaged in protracted artillery duels with PLA guns on the mainland.
In 1950, the PLA launched a series of amphibious operations, most notably resulting in the capture of Hainan island in the South China Sea. However, a landing in Kinmen was bloodily repulsed by Nationalist tanks in the Battle of Guningtou, barring the way for a final assault on Taiwan itself. Then events intervened, as the outbreak of the Korean War caused President Truman to deploy the U.S. Seventh Fleet to defend Taiwan. However, the naval blockade cut both ways—Truman did not allow Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek to launch attacks on mainland China.
This policy changed with the presidency of Eisenhower in 1953, who withdrew the Seventh Fleet, allowing the Nationalists to build up troops on the forward islands and launch more guerilla raids on the mainland. However, the PLA was able to counter-escalate with new World War II surplus heavy artillery, warships and aircraft it had acquired from Russia. The series of artillery duels, naval battles and aerial bombardments that followed became known as the First Taiwan Strait Crisis.