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China Service, 1937-39

China ServiceJapanese aggression against China, evidenced by the move into Manchuria in 1931 and subsequent incidents in Shanghai, surfaced anew in 1937 when a minor clash near Peking erupted into a full-scale invasion. The area of hostilities spread quickly, and units of the U.S. Asiatic Fleet, under Admiral Harry E. Yarnell, evacuated American citizens and protected national interests, standing firm again Japan's increasingly belligerent actions toward neutrals. At Shanghai, United States ships were endangered by Japanese aerial bombings and artillery fire. On 12 December 1937, Japanese naval aircraft attacked and sank the river gunboat USS Panay.

On 12 December 1937 Japanese aircraft attacked and sank the USS Panay (PR-5) river gunboat in the Yangtze River. The gunboat and its convoy of tanker ships owned by Standard Oil Company were in the area to provide a quick evacuation for American embassy staff and U.S. citizens as Japanese forces advanced on the Republic of Chinas capital city during the Second Sino-Japanese War that began in July.

In November, Joseph Grew, the American ambassador in China, and most of his staff were ordered to relocate the U.S. embassy to Hankow in southern China. Ropes had been issued to those remaining behind as a means to escape the city over the walls. On Dec. 8, after orders were given for all Americans to evacuate Nanking, Panay became the temporary office of the American embassy. Panays commanding officer, Lt. Cmdr. James Hughes, had ordered large American flags to be flown from both the stern and aft of the gunboat and even larger ones lashed horizontally on the topside and awnings to make the ships nationality as clear as possible.

American officials repeatedly contacted their counterparts in Japan to advise them of Panays location and the names of Americans left in Nanking, mostly journalists and medical staff working in the hospital. As a neutral nation, friendly to both China and Japan, the American embassy requested the Japanese authorities give appropriate protection and facilities to these Americans.

Built as a patrol gunboat for duty on the Yangtze Patrol, USS Panay (PG-45) was reclassified as a river gunboat (PR-5) and commissioned on September 10, 1928. During her patrol duties, she protected American lives and property menaced by bandits and soldier outlaws of various nations. When the Japanese moved through South China, as a result of the Second Sino-Japanese War, American gunboats evacuated most of the Embassy staff from Nanking during November 1937.

On December 12, Panay was evacuating American citizens when it came under attack and was sunk by Japanese aircraft, killing three men and wounding 43 sailors and five civilians. Two Navy Sailors died from the attack: Storekeeper First Class Charles L. Ensminger, and Coxswain Edgar C. Hulsebus. Civilians killed included Standard Oil Tanker Capt. Carl Carlson and Italian journalist Sandro Sandri. Wounded in the attack were 43 Sailors and five civilians.

Incensed, the United States demanded an explanation. The Japanese clamed the attack was unintentional. The Japanese government claimed poor visibility and high-altitude as the excuse, explaining the pilots had been told the ships were Chinese merchants carrying Chinese troops. After a formal protest, a large indemnity was paid early the next year, and the incident was officially settled.

The most senior Japanese Army officer in the region of the attack was also removed from his post under the suspicion he ignored orders not to attack neutral nations. Col. Kingoro Hashimoto was a zealot who believed pulling the United States into a declaration of war would eliminate civilian influence from the Japanese government and complete the Showa Restoration, according to historian Samuel Eliot Morison.

At the end of World War II, the US Navy returned to China to repatriate Japanese soldiers and to assist the Chinese Central Government in enforcing the surrender terms. Seventh Fleet Amphibious Forces provided transport for Chinese Nationalist troops and carried food supplies from Shanghai up the Yangtze to fight near-famine conditions in the interior.

To commemorate the services performed by the personnel of the Navy and Marine Corps during operations in China from 7 July 1937 to 7 September 1939, a service medal to be known as the "China Service Medal" will be issued to the officers and enlisted men who participated in these operations. The award will be made to the officers and enlisted men of the Navy and Marine Corps who served on shore in China during the period from 7 July 1937 to 7 September 1939, and to the officers and enlisted men who were attached to and serving on board any of the vessels mentioned in the following list between the dates appearing below each vessel.

The commemorative purposes for which the China Service Medal was established and authorized by General Order No. 176, dated 1 July 1942, are extended to include the services performed by personnel of the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard during the operations in China subsequent to 2 September 1945, and until a terminal date to be designated. It is further provided that the Secretary of the Navy may tender this medal to personnel of the Army or other components of the Armed Forces of the United States for service which he may determine to be commensurate to and consistent with the services for which the award is made to personnel in the naval service, and this provision for tender shall apply for all periods of time for which award of this medal is authorized.

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Page last modified: 17-03-2021 18:02:59 ZULU