The China Marines —Part IV

1937 Marco Polo Bridge IncidentJapan, utilizing Manchuria as a forward base, began a systematic program of seizing Chinese territory from 1932 onward, so it is no surprise that heavy fighting between Japanese and Chinese forces erupted again early in 1937, or that these clashes became steadily worse. The incident at the Marco Polo Bridge outside Beijing is but one example. The Japanese used the battle that they started as justification for sending more troops to Shanghai. After Japanese soldiers were killed by Chinese civilians, Japan dispatched several of its warships to Shanghai and landed troops into the city. Chinese forces soon arrived to oppose the Japanese.

The 4th Marines was once more deployed along Soochow (today, Suzhou) creek. As before international military units joined forces. The rules of engagement handed to the 4th Marines included the following: “Prevent both belligerents from entering the American sector of the International Settlement by means other than rifle fire.” Amazing.

Believing that the present crisis could have disastrous consequences to American interests in China, the US government ordered that the 4th Marines be reinforced. The Second Marine Brigade under the command of Brigadier General John C. Beaumont sailed from California in August 1937. The Brigade was mainly composed of an anti-aircraft battery and the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 6th Marines. The 4th Marines became part of the Brigade on September 20th.

By the end of October, Japanese forces controlled all of the area around Shanghai, leaving the international settlement surrounded by increasingly belligerent Japanese forces. Japan, with its jurisdiction of territory adjacent to the city began a campaign to undermine the position of the Western Powers. The main concern of the 4th Marines at this point became one of thwarting the Japanese from seizing the American sector of the settlement. Meanwhile, other elements of the international community quietly began a withdrawal from Shanghai. Admiral Thomas C. Hart, then commanding the Asiatic Fleet, believed war with Japan was inevitable and recommended the withdrawal of the 4th Marines from Shanghai. No action was taken on this recommendation, however, until November 1941 when Washington finally consented to the withdrawal of US forces from China.

Most of the China Marines escaped what happened next —albeit, temporarily. When the 4th Marines departed China, they went to the Philippines —and eventually to an island called Corregidor.

1941 Col Ashurst SurrenderNot every China Marine made it out before the Japanese declared war on the United States, however. There remained Marines assigned to Embassy Duty; they were stationed in Peking (Beijing), Tientsin (Tianjin), and Chinwangtao (Qinhuangdao) some 140 miles northeast of Tientsin, which in late November 1941 totaled 189 Marines and a 14-man detachment Navy medical personnel. They were scheduled to depart China on 10 December 1941 but on the morning of 8 December, the North China Marines awoke to find themselves completely surrounded by an overwhelming number of Imperial Japanese Army. Outnumbered and outgunned, Colonel William W. Ashurst, USMC surrendered his Marines while under the impression that the Japanese would abide the Boxer Protocol of 1901. Ostensibly, this protocol gave diplomatic status to Embassy Marines, but no such clause seems to exist. It was a misunderstanding that may have prevented Marines from making an escape from Japanese captivity while en route to Shanghai.

End of series