The China Marines —Part II

22 Co 4th Regt 001The regiment’s first duty was to reinforce Marines assigned to the diplomatic legation already in Shanghai and the prevention of rioting and mob violence within the American sector of the international settlement. Cooperative arrangements were made with the military forces of seven other nations. Responsibility for internal security —which is to say, within the international settlement— went to the American Marines, Spanish, Dutch, and Portuguese units. These included checkpoints and roving patrols in the eastern and western sections of the settlement. The regiment was, however, limited to internal defensive measures—its orders specific to avoid confronting Chinese military units. These orders kept the Marines from manning barricades along the perimeter of the settlement, but machine gun sections were occasionally provided to reinforce British and Italian sectors. There were occasions when British forces opened fire on Chinese, but American Marines were not involved in any of these incidents.

In late March, Brigadier General Smedley D. Butler, a veteran of the Boxer Rebellion, arrived to take overall command of Marines serving in China, which included two battalions of the 4th Regiment and one provisional battalion of Marines from Guam. In early April, Butler’s command was designated 3rd Marine Brigade. Butler gave the 4th Regiment more leeway in accomplishing its mission, specifically ordering them to man perimeter defenses, and prevent any breakthrough by anyone.

Marine Corps reinforcements for service in China began to form in the Philippines, including the 3rd Battalion, 6th Regiment, 1st Battalion, 10th Regiment, and 2nd Battalion, 4th Regiment. While this provisional regiment did arrive off shore of Shanghai in mid-April, it was ultimately sent ashore at Tientsin.

The situation in Shanghai improved considerably by May 1927. Military forces were withdrawn from the perimeter and Marines discontinued patrolling within the settlement by the end of that month. Working in unison, American, British, Japanese, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Dutch forces were able to maintain the integrity of the international settlement. At Tientsin, 2nd Battalion, 4th Regiment was redesignated as the 2nd Battalion, 12th Regiment, the provisional battalion was deactivated, and Marines were either folded into existing units or ordered to other posts and stations at the time.

To be continued

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Retired Marine, historian, writer.

8 thoughts on “The China Marines —Part II”

  1. It would be interesting to read your take on General Butler, the Fighting Quaker. From his stint trying to clean up corruption in Philadelphia to his book, War is a Racket. Look forward to next installment.


    1. I appreciate the fact that you stop by to read these posts and comment. Thank you.

      I previously posted about Old Gimlet Eye … a little over a year ago. You can read the post here.

      I have mixed feelings about General Butler. My reading suggests that like most of us, he was a very complex man and full of contradictions. I believe he was a quality leader of Marines early on: courageous and cool headed in the heat of battle, leading his Marines from the front, and always a straight shooter. Over time, I think he transformed himself into an insufferable ass.

      Here we have a senior Marine Corps officer who gossiped like a girl, and this got him into serious trouble with President Hoover by “telling tales out of school” about Benito Mussolini. It caused a stir in the State Department, and Hoover ordered the Secretary of the Navy to court martial him. Butler formally apologized and the court martial was cancelled.

      I suspect that the genesis of his difficulty in Philadelphia was his acerbic demeanor toward almost everyone, including the Mayor, of course, but also the men in blue uniforms who carried loaded weapons. I am surprised someone in the police department didn’t shoot him when he came out of his house to go to work. He was universally despised in Philadelphia.

      For me, Butler becomes even more disappointing after retirement, for here is a retired major general openly critical of the use of Marines to placate the interests of industrialists, who concomitantly collected a nice sum of money (in those days) for giving that speech (ad nauseam). In this, he may have rivaled the Clintons. Beyond this, if General Butler was so opposed to this use of Marines, why didn’t he resign his commission, as a matter of principle, back when he was a mere captain, or major?

      Finally, we have Butler involved in the supposed conspiracy to overthrow the government of the United States. There may, of course, have been something to this since there were many Americans in the 1930s that felt Mussolini’s brand of fascism could be a good thing for America. No unions, and he made the trains run on time. The problem is that by now, Butler had no credibility with anyone and so his accusations were largely taken as fantasy. The government got around this by “leaking” his secret testimony in front of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, and once the cat was out of the bag, the intended putsch (if there was one) disappeared into the woodwork.


  2. Well, that link was an interesting read, Mustang. Yes, I’ve gotten the impression the general turned into something of a crank. “Gossiped like a girl” – well, I had to look that one up. Gads! Seems very un-general like. To rise into the ranks of field grade officers I’d think you have to have some kind of political skills, much less with a star. Maybe I’m overlaying a late 20th century ethic on a more ‘wild west’ kind of time.


    1. The so-called “good old boy’s network” exists in many organizations and our military services is no exception. At one time in the Navy and Marine Corps, we referred to this group as “ring knockers,” but in the past 50 years or so this has expanded to include non-alumni of the USNA. They are fair-haired boys who have a “den daddy” looking out for them, to help them along the way — outside the scope of normal leadership. The shame of this is, of course, that anyone who wants to lead Marines should require special help along the way. Seems unfair to me: either you have it, or you don’t. We lost an entire barracks full of Marines because of the poor leadership of one of these fair-haired boys—who somehow, amazingly escaped a court-martial.

      In any case, at the time of Butler’s problem with President Hoover, former Commandant Major General John A. Lejeune went to bat for Butler … not that it did any good as what saved him from court-martial was his apology. I also found it interesting that Lejeune served as a den daddy to LtCol Pete Ellis as well. Over many years, Lejeune pretended not to notice Ellis’ chronic alcoholism, which ultimately killed him. The same Lejeune who today is remembered as a paragon of virtue on the issue of leadership but appears to have failed Ellis in a rather substantial way. I’ve written about Ellis, but hesitate to post it owing to its length. He was a good man poorly led.


  3. Your overall stories on the pre-WWII US Marines is intriguing to say the least, sir. It certainly appears the US Marines have been present in China on and off, including the heroic actions by Myers in the Boxer Rebellion (if my memory serves me correct). But one pattern I discern is how the Marines get deployed (understrength) then get handcuffed, even back then. To be in restraint is not core to the Marines, I feel. It also just gets them killed, even to this day…but that’s just this civilian’s opinion. 🙂


    1. It is the role of politicians to behave as low, despicable creatures. It is the role of Marines to defend the United States of America.

      Semper Fi, Koji-san

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