Nanjing Incident

Nanjing Incident
Nanjing Incident
Part of the Chinese Civil War, Yangtze Patrol
National Government of the R.O.C.jpg
The Nationalist capital building in Nanjing, 1927.
Date March 21-27, 1927
Location Nanjing, Yangtze River, China
Result Foreign citizens evacuated successfully.
 United Kingdom
 United States
 Empire of Japan
China Communists
Republic of China Nationalists
Commanders and leaders
United Kingdom Sir Reginald Tyrwhitt
US Naval Jack 48 stars.svg Roy C. Smith
This event should not be confused with the Rape of Nanking in 1937.

The Nanjing Incident, or Nanking Incident, (Chinese: ; pinyin: Nánjīng Shìjiàn), occurred in March of 1927 during the capture of the city by Communist forces from the Nationalists. Warships bombarded Nanjing in defense of the foreign citizens within the city. Several ships were involved in the engagement, including vessels from Great Britain, the United States, Japan, Italy, the Netherlands and France. marines and sailors were also landed for rescue operations. Both Chinese Nationalist and Communist forces were hostile to the foreign navies or their citizens during the event.[1]


Nanking in 1927 was a treaty port located on the southern shores of the Yangtze River, a large waterway that separates northern and southern China. Because the foreign interests in China were largely American and European, squadrons of foreign naval vessels were stationed in the Yangtze to protect their citizens doing business at the treaty ports. The British Royal Navy operated the China Station under Rear Admiral Sir Reginald Tyrwhitt and the United States Navy the Yangtze Patrol; both lasted for around 80 years until World War II. Conflict in China had been the same for years, since the beginning of the Warlord era, rebels from the south and communists in the north fought a long war which finally ended in 1949 with the Nationalist withdrawal from the mainland to Taiwan. The 1920s were some of the more troubled years in this drawn out war, sailors who patrolled in Chinese waters were constantly being landed for the protection of lives and property in many different types of civil disorder, particularly riots. As was the case in Nanking in late March of 1927. A Communist army was marching south to take the city which was a center of foreign trading activity as well as the capital of Nationalist China. When the Communists neared the city, the overwhelmed Nationalist officers deserted so riots broke out as the enlisted men began to retreat but about 10,000 were trapped within the city without transportation to leave while over 70,000 Communists prepared to enter.[2][3]

The American destroyer USS Noa.

Nationalists who were supposed to defend the city began burning houses and attacked the British, American and Japanese consulates, killing the British and Japanese consuls in the process. Uniformed Communists executed the American vice president of Nanking University, Doctor John Elias Williams. Soldiers of the 6th Army systematically looted the homes and businesses of the foreign residents. One Japanese naval officer was killed along with at least one Frenchmen and one Italian. Danger of this type was already expected, so warships from six nations were at anchor off Nanking or nearing their destination. The British sent the majority of the fleet, including the heavy cruiser HMS Vindictive, the light cruisers HMS Carlisle and Emerald, the minesweeper destroyers gunboat HMS Aphis arrived toward the end of the engagement, and Cricket was also involved in the naval operations at the time. Five American destroyers were at Nanking; USS Noa under Roy C. Smith, William B. Preston, John D. Ford, Pillsbury and Simpson.[4][5][6]

The Chinese forces stormed the consulates of America, Britain, and Japan, looting nearly every foreign property and almost assassinating the Japanese consul. An American, two British, one French, an Italian, and a Japanese were killed by Chinese Nationalist forces. Chinese snipers targeted the American consul and marines who were guarding him, Chinese bullets forced them to flee into Sacony Hall where American citizens were hiding out, one Chinese soldier declared, "We don't want money, anyway, we want to kill."[7]

Chinese Kuomintang National Revolutionary Army soldiers marched into the British concessions in Hankou during the Northern Expedition.

The Chinese Kuomintang forces also stormed and seized millions of dollars worth of British concessions in Hankou, refusing to hand them back to Britain. Britain then decided to give them up.[8]

The Japanese sent the gunboats Italians sent the gunboat French the aviso Standard Oil buildings on Sacony Hill. In response at 3:38 pm, the Communists were driven off by high explosive rounds and machine gun fire from Emerald, Wolsey, Noa, Preston and Carlotto, other warships may have participated in the bombardment. A Communist gunboat attack on the Nationalist forces was also thwarted as a result. After the bombardment, the civilians on the hill were rescued by sailors from Noa and Preston. The two American vessels fired 67 shells by this point and thousands of rifle and machine gun rounds. When the warships commenced their attack, the commander of the Communist forces assumed that the ships were firing in aid of the Nationalists so he ordered his men to attack whoever wasn′t among his procession. The barrage reportedly fell near both the hostile Chinese and the evacuees, though there was no incidents of friendly fire.[9][10]


By the end of March 24, Nanking was burning and littered with bomb craters and casualties from the battle. Early the next morning, just before dawn, USS William B. Preston was lifting anchor to escort SS Kungwo out of the area, She was filled with evacuees and needed protection but just as the two ships were starting to leave, sniper fire from the riverbanks hit Preston and the Americans returned fire with their Lewis gun and silenced the attackers after a few moments. Three hours later, as the two vessels steamed down the river, Preston was attacked again. This time, the two ships were in between Silver Island and Fort Hsing-Shan. Rifle fire was first heard, so Preston′s crew were preparing their machine gun when 3 in (76 mm) guns at the fort suddenly engaged them. Several shots missed the two ships, but one eventually hit Preston′s fire control platform, although it caused no casualties. A 4 in (100 mm) gun was then aligned with the fort, and after a few rounds the Chinese gun was silenced. After turning Kungwo over to the British, William B. Preston returned to Nanking and later joined HMS Cricket and SS Wen-chow, 52 mi (84 km) south of Chinkiang. Snipers once again harassed the ships, but machine gun fire from Cricket quickly forced the Chinese to retreat. On March 27, with 70 more refugees aboard, the ship left Nanking and headed downriver. Lieutenant Commander G. B. Ashe later recalled that the Chinese had emplaced a field-piece at a river bend outside of Nanking so he ordered general quarters well in advance of the battery, but when Preston went around the bend the Chinese decided not to fire.[11][12]

By March 26, the Communists took control of the city without much resistance and the First Battle of Nanking was over. About 40 people were killed in total. At least one British sailor was killed, and there was only one American casualty, Fireman Ray D. Plumley. The Nationalists blamed rebels of a warlord for the attacks on the foreign consulates and also accused the Communists of committing atrocities which were credited to Nationalists. The long conflict would continue for years to come, Nationalists troops recaptured Nanking in 1928 and nine years later the Japanese army would attack. American forces involved in the Nanking Incident received the Yangtze Service Medal, three sailors also were awarded the Navy Cross.[13][14]

See Also


  1. ^ Beede, pg. 355
  2. ^ Tolley, pg. 150-160
  3. ^ Beede, pg. 355
  4. ^ Tolley, pg. 150-160
  5. ^ Beede, pg. 355
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Foreign News: NANKING". TIME. Monday, Apr. 04, 1927.,9171,722979,00.html. Retrieved April 11, 2011. 
  8. ^ "CHINA: Japan & France". TIME. Monday, Apr. 11, 1927.,9171,730304,00.html. Retrieved April 11, 2011. 
  9. ^ Tolley, pg. 150-160
  10. ^ Beede, pg. 355
  11. ^ Tolley, pg. 150-160
  12. ^ Beede, pg. 355
  13. ^ Tolley, pg. 150-160
  14. ^ Beede, pg. 355
  • This article includes text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. The entry can be found here.
  • Tolley, Kemp (2000). Yangtze Patrol: The U.S. Navy in China. Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1557508836. 
  • Beede, R. Benjamin (1994). The War of 1898, and U.S. interventions, 1898-1934: an encyclopedia. Taylor & Francis Publishing. ISBN 0824056248. 

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