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A Brief History of U.S. Marines on the Yangtze River

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A Brief History of U.S. Marines on the Yangtze River



'A Brief History of the U.S. Marines of the Yangtze River' is a narrative of the 4th Marine Regiment since it played a key role during this period and is the key unit in the SPWAW Mini-Campaign “Yangtze River Patrol.”Official historical records of the Marine Corps and appropriate historical works were utilized in compiling this narrative.It is published for the information of those interested in the SPWAW Mini-Campaign “Yangtze River Patrol” and in the events in which the 4th Marines has participated.

The narrative not only highlights the significant actions of the 4th Marines on the Yangtze River, but also furnishes a general history of the Regiment activities prior to this period.Bruce L. Hodgman, a former Marine that served in Vietnam with the 3rd Marines, did final editing and preparation of this narrative.The 4th Marines is one of the more illustrious and colorful regiments in the Marine Corps.It has since its activation over a half century ago served throughout the world with distinction in both war and peace.The regiment was originally activated on April 16, 1914.Three years earlier, however, a unit with the numerical designation of 4th Regiment was activated for a very brief period.This regiment was provisional in nature.The intent behind its creation in April 1911 was that it be used primarily for expeditionary duty.It was later re-designated as the Provisional Battalion and then was deactivated on 12 July 1911.The present 4th Marines, consequently does not trace its history and lineage back to this organization.

In the spring of 1914, relations between the United States and Mexico had deteriorated to an extremely low level.A very grave crisis developed early in April when a number of American sailors from the USS DOLPHIN were seized by Mexican authorities at Tampico.Although the bluejackets were soon released with apologies, the Mexicans refused to salute the American flag as demanded by Rear Admiral Henry T. Mayo, the senior U. S. naval officer present in the area.Tensions were heightened when 11 days later it was learned that a German vessel loaded with arms was about to land at Vera Cruz in violation of an earlier American embargo on such shipments.As a result, on 21 April, President Woodrow Wilson ordered United States naval forces to land and seize the customs house at Vera Cruz.American military forces, in addition, were ordered to concentrate on the border and to embark for waters off Mexico.

The Marines maintained their vigil through May and June while preparing for a possible landing, if the situation ashore warranted it.Although no landing was necessary, the three ships with the regiment on board kept the Mexican coast under surveillance by cruising up and down the shoreline.By the end of June 1914, tensions between Mexico and the United States had sufficiently eased to allow the withdrawal of the 4th Regiment from Mexican waters.Thus ended the regiment's first expedition to Latin America, much to the disappointment of its personnel who had expected to see action.

The Dominican Republic

In the spring of 1916, civil war broke out in the Dominican Republic and the Dominican Government was powerless to end the strife.The country had for years experienced something less than domestic tranquility.It had been in the past subjected to foreign intervention in one form or another as a result of the chaotic conditions that were continually present in the country.Intervention was nothing new therefore.The United States felt that the situation in 1916 could not be tolerated any further.Fears for the safety of Americans and other foreigners in the country arose among American Government officials.The Wilson Administration promptly decided to support the government of President Juan Jimenez, such as it was.American sailors and Marines from nearby Cuba and Haiti and the United States were ordered to intervene in May 1916.It was hoped that these forces would eventually bring some stability to the Caribbean nation.

As the Americans entered Santo Domingo, the capital, the rebels withdrew to Santiago, the second largest city, where a rival government was established.American authorities in the country called for reinforcements as the rebels prepared to make a stand.The only Marines that could be spared were those of the 4th Regiment.On June 6, 1916, the entire regiment entrained at San Diego for New Orleans.It boarded the USS Hancock three days later and sailed immediately for the troubled country.Colonel Pendleton, upon the arrival of the regiment in Dominican waters, was designated commander of all naval forces operating ashore.His command included a number of ships' detachments and separate companies that already were deployed.The 4th Regiment subsequently made its initial landing at Monte Cristi on 21 June 1916.Preparations were promptly begun for a drive on Santiago which was held by rebel leader Desiderio Arias.

The advance on the city was begun on the 26th and was spearheaded by the regiment.Two columns moved toward Santiago from two different points.The main column, which included the 4th Regiment reinforced by artillery, departed Monte Cristi by road.The other column which included the 4th and 9th Companies of Marines and the Marine Detachments from the USS New Jersey and the USS Rhode Island left by train from the coastal town of Puerto Plata.This latter column under Major Hiram (Hiking Hiram) Bearss was to link up with Pendleton's force at Navarette for the final phase of the drive on Santiago.

Pendleton began preparations for the seizure of the position but delayed his attack until the following morning.A frontal assault was ordered.Pendleton brought up his artillery to cover the first line of trenches while a mounted machine gun company was emplaced in a flanking position.The regiment, after working its way forward to effective firing positions, was drawn up in a line for the assault.With support from the artillery battery and from the machine guns, the infantry charged the enemy lines, only to be halted temporarily by heavy defending fire.The assault, however, was continued after fixed bayonets were ordered.This time the Marines were successful in forcing the rebels to withdraw from the first line of trenches.

This encounter with rebel Dominicans was the first actual combat engagement for the 4th Regiment and it more than adequately met the test of its combat effectiveness.The significance of this battle lies in the fact that this was the first experience of Marines advancing with the support of modern artillery and machine guns.

Casualties for the Leathernecks amounted to one killed and eight wounded.Rebel casualties could not be determined.The battle was important in the history of the 4th Marines insofar as the regiment subsequently acquired its first Medal of Honor recipient.First Sergeant Roswell Winans, while manning his machine gun, displayed such exceptional valor that he was later awarded the nation's highest military honor.

Following the completion of the American occupation of the country in July, the Dominicans still continued to quarrel over the establishment of a cohesive government.This continued disunity led to the formation on 29 November 1916 of an American military government in the Dominican Republic.The newly activated 2d Marine Brigade of which the 4th Regiment was a component unit then divided the country into zones for occupation purposes.The 4th Regiment was assigned to the northern zone.Its primary mission was that of maintaining law and order.Regimental headquarters was established at Santiago with the numbered companies located elsewhere.

Second Brigade units supported the military government for the next six years by garrisoning the country and carrying out the policies of the regime.One of the most important tasks of the Marines was suppression of banditry that at times was both difficult and frustrating for the Leathernecks.Organized banditry did not cease until mid-1922.After persistent and continuous efforts by the brigade, the most active bandit leaders by that year had either surrendered or had been captured or killed.The 4th Regiment and the entire brigade had for years been actively occupied in disarming the general populace while attempting to control banditry.By July 1922, the 2d Brigade had collected about 53,000 firearms; 200,000 rounds of ammunition; and some 14,000 cutting weapons.



On July 1, 1925, the 4th Marines were ordered to Santa Barbara, California to aid local authorities.An earthquake had severely damaged the city.The regiment, besides rendering general assistance to the townspeople, assisted civilian officials in restoring order, guarding property, and preventing looting.

In 1926, the 4th Regiment was again called upon to perform a peacekeeping mission.The Marine Corps for the second time during the 1920s had orders to protect the United States mail.Following a series of mail robberies, the Federal Government on October 20, 1926, directed the Marine Corps to furnish units for mail guard duty.The country was divided into two zones with the 4th Regiment designated as the Western Mail Guards.Brigadier General Smedley D. Butler with his headquarters in San Francisco was placed in charge of the Western Zone.Units of the 4th Regiment were deployed throughout the western states.4th Regiment Marines not only performed guard service on trains and trucks carrying the mail but also were also detailed to guard post offices and railroad stations.

China Marines

Threats to the security of the International Settlement in Shanghai, China early in 1927 earmarked the 4th Regiment for a new and more colorful period in its history.With it’s stationing in Shanghai the regiment became known throughout the Marine Corps as the 'China Marines.'Personnel of the 4th Regiment for nearly 15 years protected American interests and maintained the American presence in Shanghai and at times the situation in the city was at times extremely critical.China had for years been troubled by internal disorders and civil wars.During times of crisis events in China often took on an anti-foreign tinge, prompting the call by foreign nationals for intervention by their governments on their behalf.During their fourteen years in Shanghai, the 4th Marines were exposed to activities that would not gain the full attention of most Americans until the United States became directly involved in the war. Although the Fourth Marines were a relatively small unit (consisting at various times of between 1,200 to 1,600 men) awash in a sea of 3,000,000 Chinese nationals and tens of thousands of other foreign citizens living in Shanghai, they affected the local economy as well as local opinions of Americans, serving as 'unofficial ambassadors' to the local populace. Likewise, their opinions of Chinese citizens and culture were shaped by their experiences in Shanghai.

The United States itself was not averse to intervening militarily, for on a number of occasions U.S, Marines landed to provide protection for American citizens and their property. In the mid-1920s, fighting broke out between opposing Chinese factions around the city of Shanghai, which contained the largest foreign settlement in China.Twice in 1925 Marines landed to protect American interests.Two years later, a more serious threat loomed over Shanghai and the foreign interests located within the International Settlement of the city.

Nationalist Chinese forces in early 1927 were pushing toward the city and crushing all those who opposed their advance.This caused consternation not only in the local Chinese community but also in the foreign settlement, because historically the defenders of a Chinese city when threatened with imminent defeat would loot the city and then abandon it to the opposing side who would in turn loot what remained.The fears of the foreign element in Shanghai were intensified, moreover, by the reputation of the Nationalists, especially the Communist faction, for being violently opposed to foreigners and their interests. Old China hands recalled the fanatic outbursts of the Boxers and urged their governments to send forces to Shanghai to protect them and their interests.In addition, officials of those countries who already had forces stationed in the city requested that their garrisons be reinforced.The foreigners had heard the rumors of massacres and brutality especially by fanatical Chinese troops known as the “Dare Deaths” under the employ of local Warlords.

The United States, feeling that the situation warranted intervention, ordered the transfer of about 340 Marines from Guam to Shanghai.Their arrival in February did nothing to quiet the fears of American citizens.In the meantime, however, the 4th Regiment following its return from mail guard duty was dispatched to China.The regiment, less the 2nd Battalion, had embarked on board the USS CHAUMONT and sailed from San Diego on February 3, 1927.On board the transport was Major Alexander A. Vandegrift's 3rd Battalion, which was recently reactivated.

Three weeks after its departure, the USS CHAUMONT dropped anchor off Shanghai, but the regiment did not disembark at this time.The State Department had instructed Clarence Gauss, the consul general in Shanghai, not to request military aid until danger to American life and property was well defined.Immediate criticism was forthcoming from American citizens and other nationalities, because of the reluctance of American authorities to permit the deployment of the regiment.Nonetheless, the regiment was not permitted to land, although fighting around the International Settlement increased in intensity after the arrival of the 4th Marines.On the 21st of March, the Municipal Council of the International Settlement finally declared a state of emergency.This was the justification that American officials needed.Consul General Gauss approved the landing of the 4th Marine Regiment that same day.

Once ashore, the regiment's initial mission became one of reinforcing the Marines already in Shanghai in the prevention of rioting and mob violence within the American sector.Its main concern was protecting American lives and property from the many warring factions, bandits and river pirates.In so doing, the regiment cooperated with the forces of seven other nations in the protection of the International Settlement.The 4th Marine Regiment was assigned to help maintain internal security and established roving river patrols in the eastern and western sectors of the zone.The regiment was limited to internal defense since its orders specified that it was not to come into conflict with Chinese troops.It was, therefore, not deployed at the barricades along the perimeter of the zone.But on several occasions, British and Italian forces manning the barricades asked and received machine gun support from mounted machine gun company of the regiment when the fighting threatened to spill over into the International Settlement.The foreign powers were determined to prevent the warring factions from entering their sectors of the city.The British, in applying this policy, were forced to open fire on those Chinese soldiers who attempted to break through the Settlement's defense lines.The British had evidence to believe a Chinese General (or Warlord) had recently broke ranks with the government over the payment of opium and the presence of foreigners was more than he was willing to accept.

A few days after the landing of the 4th Regiment, Brigadier General Smedley D. Butler, a veteran of the Boxer Rebellion, arrived in Shanghai to take command of all Marine forces ashore.Butler's command was originally designated as the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force, Asiatic Fleet.The Expeditionary Battalion, which had landed earlier, was attached on 4th Regiment with the designation of Provisional Battalion.The original instructions of the 4th Regiment, the main element of the brigade, were subsequently amplified by General Butler who now gave the regiment more leeway in accomplishing its mission.He specifically ordered the Marines to support the perimeter defenses, if necessary, to prevent a breakthrough and protect American lives or property at will.Additionally, they received gunfire support from the US Navy when various gunboats the Navy’s Yangtze River Patrol where ordered into the area in support of Gen. Butler.




The American Government, fearing additional disorders in other parts of China, ordered more reinforcements to the country in April.Other Marine units arrived and formed the nucleus of a new Provisional Regiment.The newly activated regiment remained, however, in the Philippines for over a month before deploying to China.It finally sailed on board the Chaumont for the Asian mainland on the 10th of June.Although the regiment did enter the port of Shanghai, its final destination was elsewhere.Two and a half weeks after its departure, the USS Chaumont disembarked the Provisional Regiment at Tientsin, China to strengthen American forces in that area.

As the Provisional Regiment was leaving the Philippines for Tientsin, the situation in Shanghai was improving considerably.Fighting and Chinese raids had ceased and the foreign troops were pulled back from their defensive positions.The 4th Regiment discontinued its patrolling in May and began assuming the responsibilities associated with garrison duty.The integrity of the International Settlement had been preserved and maintained through the coordinated efforts of British, Japanese, Italian, American, Spanish, Portuguese, and Dutch military units and the Shanghai Volunteer Corps; no major intrusion into the zone by the warring Chinese occurred.The French had manned their own separate defenses in their concession and did not bring their sector into the overall defense scheme.

Shanghai for the next few years were relatively peaceful, and garrison duty for the 4th Regiment passed uneventfully.One unique fact stands out during this periods -- the creation of the Fessenden Fifes and the subsequent establishment of close ties with the 1st Battalion, Green Howards, a famous British regiment.Under the auspices of Sterling Fessenden, the American chairman of the Shanghai Municipal Council and Civil Commandant of the Shanghai Volunteer Corps, a number of musical instruments were given to the 4th Regiment in late 1927 as a token of appreciation for its service during the previous crisis.

The 4th Regiment, as a result, became the only unit in the Marine Corps to be equipped with a fife and drum corps, known as the Fessenden Fifes in honor of Sterling Fessenden.The Marines were taught to play the instruments by fifers and drummers of the Green Howards, which was also stationed in Shanghai, thus cementing the close relationship between the two regiments, which had been established during the emergency earlier that year.After the withdrawal of the Green Howards, the commanding officers of both regiments would exchange annual greetings to commemorate their service together in Shanghai.

Continuing with its policy of reducing its forces in China, the United States ordered the evacuation of the 3d Marine Brigade in early 1928.The 4th Regiment was detached on January 14, 1928, and a few days later most of those Marines who had been a part of 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force, with the exception of the 4th Regiment, departed China for the Philippines.

The security of the International Settlement was once again threatened in early 1930 and an opportunity for all-out war was in the wind.The occasion for this new disturbance of the peace in the Shanghai area had its origins in the previous September when Japanese forces stationed in Manchuria began the outright seizure of the region.Defeated on the battlefield, the Chinese resorted to other measures to oppose the taking of Manchuria; the most effective being an economic boycott of all Japanese goods and occasionally blocking thee Yangtze River from passage.The boycott was most noticeable in Shanghai -- it was a center of anti-Japanese feeling.Hostility between Chinese and Japanese civilians erupted into bloody clashes between the two groups in January 1932.In retaliation, the Japanese garrison in the city attacked regular Chinese Army units in neighboring Chapei.

The Shanghai Municipal Council on 28 January 1932 declared a state of emergency and requested the 4th Marines be used in guarding the boundaries of the International Settlement.The regiment was deployed immediately along Soochow Creek, the dividing line between the zone and Chapei.Elements of the regiment also assisted the civilian police in patrolling the Settlement, as was the case in 1927.The mission assigned to the 4th Marines was one of preventing the fighting from spilling over into the zone.

In early February, the garrison in Shanghai was reinforced by the arrival of Marines from the Philippines and from the Marine detachment on board the USS HOUSTON.The Army's 31st Infantry, moreover, was ordered to China to strengthen American forces there.Fighting between the antagonists in the meanwhile continued throughout the month.The regiment's defensive positions were constantly exposed to fire from both sides.The conflict raged so close to the Marines' line that stray shells fell regularly within the American sector.Fortunately, no casualties were sustained although regimental personnel reported a number of narrow escapes.

Open warfare between the Japanese and the Chinese was halted on March 3, 1932, after the latter withdrew from Chapei.An agreement reached between the two combatants in May stipulated that Chinese forces would remain where they were while the Japanese, on the other hand, would return to the positions they had occupied prior to the 28th of January.Later that year, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Major General Ben H. Fuller, praised the regiment for upholding 'the highest traditions of the Marine Corps' by its conduct during the crisis.

With the return of the 31st Infantry to the Philippines in June, the commander in chief of the Asiatic Fleet recommended that the 4th Marines be brought up to full strength so that it could effectively control the American sector of the International Settlement, thus negating the necessity of calling upon the Army for additional forces in times of crises.For the first time in five years the 4th Marines was a three-battalion-size regiment, but this structure was not permanent in nature.The 4th Marines again reverted to a two-battalion organization with the deactivation of the 3rd Battalion in December 1934.

No noteworthy events interrupted the tranquil nature of the regiment's garrison duties for the next few years, except for an interlude when it performed guard duty on board ships plying the Yangtze River.Men of the 4th Regiment had very few “luxuries” except for appearances as guards on riverboats.Small Marine detachments from the Regiment were used as guards aboard ships of the Yangtze Rapid Steamship Company. Chinese pirates, many under the employ of Chinese Warlords, preyed upon these ships on their upriver voyages.

With the addition of Marine guards aboard the cruise ships all but eliminated the danger of pirates. Steamship duty allowed the Marines to get out of the local environment and see the interior of China. Robert H. Williams, a young Lieutenant at the time, was assigned to such duties and later stated 'It was 'very good duty,' as Marines used to refer to any duty that was undemanding or patrolling was not required, watching rural China glide by from the deck of a riverboat.'The threat of piracy had diminished almost completely by 1935, and the Marine detachments were withdrawn from duty on the river.

Five years after the termination of Sino-Japanese warfare around Shanghai, another confrontation between the belligerents foreshadowed new dangers to the security of the city.From 1932 onwards, Japan, utilizing Manchuria as a base, continually made encroachments on Chinese territory in north China in an effort to bring more area under its influence.Japanese in-roads into China proper led to a clash between Japanese and Chinese forces at the Marco Polo Bridge near Peking on July 7, 1937.The battle was used as an excuse by Japan to send more troops to China.The outbreak of open hostilities was inevitable.As tensions mounted, a Chinese killed two members of the Japanese military in Shanghai.Japan retaliated by sending a number of warships to the city; the landing of troops followed.The Nationalist Government in the meantime began its own movement of troops to the beleaguered city.Bitter fighting eventually broke out between the two antagonists.



The 4th Marines was once again deployed along Soochow Creek at the time of the actual outbreak of fighting.The defense of the International Settlement was coordinated with the other powers as was the case in previous crises.The 4th Marines was ordered to prevent both belligerents from entering the American sector 'by means other than rifle fire.'Gunfire could only be used as a last resort.Recalling the crisis of 1932 and feeling that the present crisis could have disastrous consequences, the American Government decided to send reinforcements.The 2d Marine Expeditionary Brigade under Brigadier General John C. Beaumont, former commanding officer of the 4th Marines, sailed from San Diego in late August.The brigade arrived in Shanghai and the 4th Marines was attached to the brigade.

The 2d Marine Brigade, less the 4th Marines, was withdrawn as an uneasy peace settled over the city.The 4th Marines, as in the past, became the sole protector of American interests in Shanghai following the departure of the brigade on 17 February 1938.Although fighting in the area had ceased, tensions in the International Settlement did not fully subside.Japan, with its jurisdiction of territory adjacent to the city now assured, began a campaign to undermine the position of the Western Powers in the International Settlement.The main concern of the 4th Marines thus became one of the thwarting any Japanese attempt to change to status quo of the American sector.

A Japanese move in this direction would probably result in little or no assistance to the 4th Marines from the other foreign military contingents, because of their reduction in strength.The situation became more dubious and uncertain with the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939.The value of Italian troops in preserving the integrity of the zone was doubtful because of Italy's membership along with Japan in the Axis alliance.The summer of 1940 saw a worsening of conditions as Italy was now involved in a shooting war with Great Britain and France.In Shanghai as the French garrison on orders from the Vichy Government was neutralized from use in opposition to the Japanese.Two months later Britain withdrew her forces because of pressing needs elsewhere.The 4th Marines, therefore, became the only obstacle in Japan’s designs on the International Settlement.

The United States seriously began considering the evacuation of its forces from China following the growth of Japanese power and hegemony in the country.Admiral Thomas C. Hart, commander in chief of the Asiatic Fleet, felt that war was inevitable and began pulling out those units under his command that were in exposed positions along the Chinese coast.He also recommended that the 4th Marines be withdrawn from Shanghai.By September 1941, conditions in China were so grave that officials in Shanghai strongly urged the evacuation of all naval personnel from north China, including the 4th Marines.Information had been obtained indicating the Japanese military intended within a short time to seize the entire International Settlement.Incidents were planned by the Japanese so as to give them an excuse to move troops into the American sector.The regiment was placed on alert and ordered to watch for terrorists.

Washington finally consented to the withdrawal of the 4th Marines in the fall because of the increasingly perilous situation and the untenable position of the regiment.Permission for the evacuation was received on 10 November 1941.Plans for its departure that had been drawn up previously were immediately put into effect.The Regiment embarked on the newly arrived USS PRESIDENT MADISON and sailed for the Philippines while the rest of the Regiment boarded the USS PRESIDENT HARRISON.The era of the 'China Marines' thus came to an end.

The 4th Marines has a long and proud history.While some may argue otherwise, their finest hour was defending Corregidor Island in Manila Bay, Philippines during May 1942.Colonel Howard ordered the national and regimental colors of the 4th Regiment burned to prevent their capture. The 4th Marines temporarily, as of noon, ceased to exist.The capture forced the regiment into a state of limbo, but the Marine Corps did not let it die. In February 1944, the 4th Regiment was reborn from units of the 1st Raider Regiment and continued proudly and heroically fighting the Japanese at Guadalcanal, Guam, and Okinawa. The new 4th Marines were the first American combat unit to land in Japan.Those Marines who have in the past been members of the regiment have not only brought honor to the 4th Marines but also to the Marine Corps and to the United States.Throughout its history the regiment has courageously performed whatever duties it has been assigned.Its readiness to meet any emergency has shown that the 4th Marines has an ability to respond to crises that is second to none.Should a future threat to the United States or its Allies arise, the regiment will continue to respond with the professionalism and esprit de corps that it so often has displayed in the past.

U.S.S. Monadnock

Shallow draft gunboats of the U.S. Navy sailed China's largest river for over 50 years before being officially organized as the Yangtze Patrol Force in August 1921. These ships supported U.S. Marines in protecting U.S. citizens against the bandits, river pirates and warlord forces in a turbulent China. In the late-1920's, the internal struggle for power was accompanied by many acts of violence against foreigners. Units of the Yangtze River Patrol, reinforced by fast destroyers and light cruisers from the U.S. Asiatic Fleet, steamed upriver to protect Americans and national interests. Numerous confrontations occurred. When the situation stabilized an uneasy peace returned to the Yangtze valley, and the gunboats resumed anti-bandit activities.

The USS Monadnock was built in 1896 as a heavy armored coast defense monitor in Mare Island, California.This shallow draft gunboat displaced 3,990 tons and carried four 10-inch naval guns in two main turrets, four 4.7-inch naval guns plus 20MM and 30 caliber AA guns.She had a crew of 106 and her coal-fired engines gave her an 18-knot top speed.In June 1898, she departed San Francisco on a two-month voyage to the Philippines, where she provided heavy-gun support following Admiral Dewey's victory at Manila Bay.The ship was de-commissioned in 1923 after spending many years the Philippines and the Yangtze River.In the late 20’s, the Monadnock was saved from the scrap yard and received a major overhaul in Cavite Naval Base, Philippines, for gunfire support with the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force in Shanghai.She remained in commission until 1936 when she was finally sold.








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