History Timeline 1920's

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U.S. Timeline - The 1920s

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  • Timeline

  • 1927 Detail

    March 5, 1927 - The civil war in China prompts one thousand United States marines to land in order to protect property of United States interests.

    China Civil War 1927

    Chinese society between two factions, the Kuomintang (KMT) government of the Republic of China (ROC), and the forces of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), had begun to unravel with an international contingent of those living and working in China, including Americans, segmented within the International Settlement of Shanghai. There had been civil unrest in the region for months, but when the nationalistic Kuomintang marched on Shanghai, the U.S. State and War Department decided to act. This was not the first time U.S. Marines had been sent in; they had been sent in twice during 1925 for short periods. This time, the situation seemed to be devolving into something much more dangerous.

    There was history for Chinese forces, of whatever side, to loot the cities that they either abandoned or defeated, and there was no love lost among most Chinese for foreign citizens.

    On January 27, 1927, the 4th Regiment of the U.S. Marine Corps was ordered to the Far East to protect the lives and interests of the Americans living within the International Settlement of Shanghai. However, the people living within that community came from diverse backgrounds; there were English, Dutch, Japanese, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese living there as well. The settlement was self-governing, and at the time Chinese sovereignty intact. They sailed for China from San Diego on February 3, 1927 aboard the USS Chaumont. The 4th Regiment was less their 2nd battalion, but included the 3rd battalion of Major Alexander A. Vandegrift just reactivated.

    Prior to the arrival of the 4th Regiment, a contingent of Marines arrived from Guam with three hundred and forty troops. This small contingent did no quiet the dismay of the Americans in the International Settlement. It took three to four weeks for the Chaumont to arrive, ... the March 5 date used above seems to denote that, however, we have found no independent verification of that date. Whatever date of their technical arrival, they did not disembark immediately. They stayed aboard ship through State Department orders that Consul General Gauss should not request for assistance until it was imperative.

    Imperative was ill-defined. The fighting around Shanghai intensified upon the ship's arrival. A state of emergency was finally declared by the Municipal Council of the International Settlement on March 21; the Consul General requested the assistance of the 4th Regiment that same day.

    The Marine contingent arrived to assure that community stayed protected, assisting the previous force, plus forces from seven other nations, to ensure rioting did not occur within the international settlement or a breach by outside forces. Along with the Spanish, Portuguese, and Dutch, they patrolled the internal area of the settlement under order not to engage the Chinese forces outside. British and Italian forces manned the barricades and were forced several times to use machine gun fire against the Chinese to keep them from the settlement. They asked for the support of the 4th Regiment, but the 4th Regiment was never required to fire against the Chinese troops.

    Brigadier General Smedley D. Butler arrived a few days after the 4th Regiment, and took control of all American forces. He gave the regiment permission to shoot at the Chinese troops if that were required during a breakthrough. Additional troops were ordered sent to Shanghai from San Diego in April, bound for Shanghai with a stop in the Philippines and orders that would change to supporting troops near Tientsin, China, instead.

    Fighting around Shanhai had started to wane and finally ceased prior to the new contingent arriving. The 4th Regiment, along with the other nations, pulled back from their defensive positions and started garrison duty. There had been no breakthroughs into the international community during those months.

    For the next several years, the troops who remained in Shanghai had easy duty, taking advantage of an exchange rate of twenty to one, despite the China Civil War continuing throughout other parts of the country. By 1931, Japan attacked Manchuria, and fighting occurred within the settlement, now with forty-five thousand people, between the China and Japanese sectors. The 4th Regiment replied, ensuring the other sectors were safe. The China Marines, as the 4th Regiment became known as, were always guarded after that, particularly during the Sino-Japanese War that began in 1937. As 1940 approached, and with Europe at war, the Japanese increased their presence in China to nearly five hundred thousand troops. It was apparent that the foreign contingents could not contend with a full scale attack on the International Community of Shanghai. None occurred except for minor skirmishes.

    Two weeks prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, the 4th Regiment left Shanghai, China for duty in the Philippines. Unfortunately, their duty there would end up with many in Japanese POW camps. After World War II ended, the Chinese Civil War reappeared from 1945-1949 with the Communists taking control of the mainland.

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    History of the 4th Marines Prior to the Shanghai Assignment

    The 4th Regiment had been placed into active duty on April 16, 1914 upon an era when relations between Mexico and the United States were at a low ebb. Several soldiers from the USS Dolphin were detained in Tampico, but quickly released. When the Mexican soldiers upon releasing the prisoners refused to salute the American flag, Rear Admiral Henry T. Mayo, was angry. When eleven days later, a German ship arrived with munitions at Vera Cruz, against a U.S. embargo, President Woodrow Wilson ordered the warehouse in Vera Cruz siezed. The 4th Regiment, now at Puget Sound, Washington, was ordered south with other troops aboard the warship USS South Dakota under Colonel Joseph H. Pendleton. They arrived at Acapulco on April 28, 1914. Along with other troops, they remained in Mexican waters through June until tensions in Vera Cruz ceased.

    During the next few years, the men of the 4th Regiment were stationed in San Diego and set up model camps at two world's fairs, the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco and the Panama-California (International) Exposition in San Diego. During that period of relative calm, segments of the 4th regiment were called into potential duty in Mexico, as marauding Indians were threatening the property of American citizens. The 4th Regiment got other duty in 1916 when dispatched to the Dominican Republic during their Civil War. As the first U.S. troops there continued to have trouble containing the strife, the 4th Regiment arrived on the USS Hancock, commanded again by Colonel Pendleton, on June 21, 1916. They were to attack Santiago, which was held by Rebel leader Desiderio Arias. When they encountered the troops on the outskirts of town, this was essentially the first combat experience of the 4th Regiment. Santiago would be occupied several days later. They would remain to patrol the Dominican Republic until 1924.

    During the next two years, the 4th Regiment was engaged in several other missions; assisting with an earthquake disaster in Santa Barbara, California, as well as attempting to quell a string of mail robberies in the western section of the United States. They guarded mail trains and trucks, post offices and railroad stations. The amount of mail robberies dwindled during their duty.

    Photo above: Montage (background) Warehouses along the river in Shanghai, 1890-1923, Unknown author. Courtesy Frank and Francis Carpenter Collection, Library of Congress. (insets) Scenes of the Chinese Civil War, 1927/1928. Courtesy Library of Congress. Photo below: National Revolutionary Army firing on Communist forces in China Civil War, 1930's, CIA. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons. Info source: "Marine Corps Historical Reference Pamphlet, A Brief History of the 4th Marines," 1971, James. S. Santelli; "The China Marines," History Detectives, PBS.com; Wikipedia Commons.

    China Civil War

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