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

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Retired Marine, historian, writer.

12 thoughts on “The China Marines —Part IV”

    1. We cannot remember these fine Americans enough. Most of them have already passed on, and my view is that most of us are not worthy of wearing their shoes. Seriously.


  1. How many of the 189 Marines on embassy duty and the 14 men of the Navy medical detachment survived Japanese captivity?


    1. Most of these sailors and Marines survived the war. Here is what I have learned about the men who died while in captivity:

      Carrol Wilson Bucher died from electrocution while attempting to escape, Woosung 28 Aug 1942.

      Holland Cash – died from complications following an appendix operation in Kiangwan 18 Nov 1944.

      Ralph Harris Goudy died from food poisoning in Tokyo No. 5 12 Mar 1944.. The POWs were always hungry and he found an open can with food remains in it. The cause of death this Marine’s death was listed as heart failure.

      William E. Killebrew – died from (alleged) pneumonia at Fukuoka #3-B 10 Feb 1944.

      According to NARA records, Raymond Elmo Lease died at Ofuna on 31 Dec 1944. Enterostenosis is listed as the cause of death.

      Max H. Nuese died at Fukuoka #3 from the effects of a beating on 13 Dec 1944. Cause of death, however, is listed as croup pneumonia and Beri-Beri, a vitamin deficiency that affects the heart.

      Richard Rider was killed in an air raid at Osaka 13-B Tsumori on the night of 13 March 1945. Cause of death listed as injury of the lung. He was hit in the chest by shrapnel.

      Clyde Edward Roark died 29 Jan 1945 at Kiangwan with cause of death undetermined.

      Fernando C. Rodriquez died at Osaka 13-B Tsumori on 5 Nov 1944. Cause of death listed as pulmonary tuberculosis.

      May God accept their souls.


  2. How these China Marines must have looked at the ROE of “…other than rifle fire.” It’s like telling Billary not to lie. I can’t believe anyone could have issued orders like this. Like you wrote, amazing.

    I am deeply sorry the Marines you mentioned above perished in a way unimaginable for a Marine… After all that training to fight… I did read about a Sgt. John Rachitsky, a China Marine who fought through Tarawa and Guadalcanal only to perish on the first day on Saipan. Perhaps he was one of those who pulled out on an earlier date.

    This was a very informative historical series.


    1. Thank you. I would be grateful if you can provide a link to your resources about Sergeant Rachitsky.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. “by means other than rifle fire”
    What in God’s name did they have in mind? DRONES? Small arms fire? bayonets?

    What’s amazing is knowing how Japan was on the move that we were so unwatchful in the Philippines.


  4. There is more background – personal color type – here in an old Marine Corps Chevron publication from 6/13/43. We’d see this now as a bit of a yellow journalism piece, but it show how one marine involved in protecting the international settlement saw things (or how his PR officer did). It looks like he was there in 1937.——-en-20–1–txt-txIN——-#


    1. An exceptional find, Baysider … thank you so much for your contribution.


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