(Tientsin's (Tianjin) Foreign Concessions in 1912)

The Occupation of Tientsin's (Tianjin) British and American Concessions - 1940-1941

© 2012-2013 Bob Hackett

Tientsin (now Tianjin) is located in northern China along the Hai River about 37 miles up the Peihao River from the Bohai Sea at Taku and 80 miles from Peking (Beijing). Tientsin was already an ancient walled city when Shanghai was but a small town. Tientsin lies at the northern end of the Grand Canal of China, begun in 5 BC, which at 1,100 miles is the world's longest canal. The Grand Canal connects the Hai with the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers. After the opening of the Grand Canal of China during the Sui Dynasty, Tianjin develops into a trading center. In 1404, the Ming Dynasty's Yongle Emperor renames the city Tianjin. It is a shallow draft port, so larger ocean vessels have to dock at the deep water port city Chinwangtao.

(Modern Course of The Grand Canal)

Qing Dynasty soldiers board British-flagged ARROW suspected of being in the opium trade. The soldiers capture and imprisone12 men. In 1858, the British and French send gunboats and capture the Taku forts near Tientsin. In 1858, the Treaties of Tientsin are signed ending the first part of the Second Opium War.

The Emperor of China ratifies the treaties that formally opens Tientsin to trade by Great Britain, France, Russia and the United States. A British concession is quickly established in Tientsin. French, and American concessions follow. In the late 1890s, Japan establishes a concession. Later, Germany and Russia, Austria-Hungary, Italy and Belgium also establish concessions. In 1894-1995, during the First Sino-Japanese War, an American landing party is put ashore at Tientsin to protect the American consulate and other interests, and a United States Expeditionary Force proceeds to Peking (Beijing) to secure the United States legation.

Late 1899:
The Boxer Rebellion that began in Shangtung Province spreads across North China. Foreign missionaries, business persons and travelers as well as Chinese Christians and merchants doing business with foreigners are attacked and murdered. In June 1900, the Boxers seize much of Tientsin.

July 1900:
An Eight-Nation Alliance recapture Tientsin and establish the Tientsin Provisional Government, composed of representatives from each of the occupying forces (Russian, British, Japanese, German, French, American, Austro-Hungarian, and Italian). American land and naval forces participate in taking Tientsin and the Taku forts.

16 August 1900:
Most of the United States Army's 15th Infantry Regiment arrives in Tientsin as part of the China Relief Expedition in the aftermath of the Boxer Rebellion. The Tientsin Provisional Government runs the city until 15 Aug 1902 when it is returned to Qing control. Western nations are permitted to garrison the Tientsin area to ensure open access to Peking. Britain maintains a brigade of two battalions and the Italians, French, Japanese, Germans, Russians, and Austro-Hungarians maintain understrength regiments.

October 1911:
The Chinese Revolution begins at Hankow (Wuhan) to overthrow the Qing Dynasty. Within a few months the Qing falls and the Republic of China is proclaimed. The State Department requests an enhanced military presence to protect American interests. The 15th Infantry Regiment's 2nd Battalion is dispatched to join the international peacekeeping force at Tientsin and arrives in Dec 1911. The 3rd Battalion and regimental headquarters follow in early 1912. During World War I, Allied Forces capture German and Austro-Hungarian garrisons at Tientsin and make them Prisoners of War (POWs). In 1918, the Bolshevik government in Moscow withdraws the Russian garrison.

1 September 1931:
Admiral Charles B. McVay (USNA 1890) is relieved of command of the United States Asiatic Fleet (USAF) by Vice Admiral (later Admiral) Montgomery M. Taylor (USNA 1890). Political unrest in China calls for constant vigilance by the Asiatic Fleet to protect American lives and property. Gunboat USS TULSA (PG-22), later relieved by gunboat ASHEVILLE (PG-21), remains in the Tientsin-Taku-Chefoo area throughout the year. [1]


30 July 1937:
Tientsin. Sharp fighting rages between the Japanese and Chinese. USS AUGUSTA (CA-31), flagship of the United States Asiatic Fleet, is ordered out of Tsingtao and steams to Vladivostok on a "goodwill" voyage to Soviet Russia. Gunboat TULSA, steaming to put her crew ashore for liberty at Tientsin, is ordered instead to steam for Chefoo.

30 July 1937:
Vice Admiral (later Admiral) Hasegawa Kiyoshi's (31)(former CO of NAGATO) Third Fleet is assigned for over-all operations in China and conducts operations in Central and South China waters. Vice Admiral (later Admiral) Yoshida Zengo's (32)(former CO of MUTSU) Second Fleet is assigned to escort IJA transports and assumes responsibility for operations in North China waters. The world's first specially designed landing ship IJA SHINSHU MARU lands LtGen Katsuki Kiyoshi's China Garrison Army's (later 1st Army), Gen Itagaki Seishiro's 5th Division and other troops at at Ta Ku Kou. Tientsin quickly falls, but is not entirely occupied, as the Japanese largely respect the city's foreign concessions.

August 1937:
Of approximately 3,000 Japanese troops in Tientsinís garrison, 2,900 depart to help suppress Chinese militia at nearby Nanyuan. Meanwhile, the Japanese garrison of 100, is taken by surprise. Outnumbered by 10-to-1, they stand off the Chinese who machine-gun their barracks, then entrench themselves in nearby cornfields. Overhead, four Japanese planes bomb the Chinese until Japanese re-enforcements relieve the tiny remnant of the garrison.


March 1938:
The US Armyís 15th Infantry Regiment is withdrawn. Half the US North China 4th Marine force in Peking is then sent to Tientsin as replacements.

June 1939:
Tientsin. The Japanese object to Britainís efforts to stabilize China's currency and claim that Chinese terrorists are operating from the city's British concession.

14 June 1939:
The Japanese blockade British and French Concessions. IJA forces, under LtGen Homma Masaharu (later CG, 14th Army in the Philippines), begin harassing French and British residents and strip searching men and women entering or leaving the Concessions for Chinese currency. Automobile traffic over the international bridge from the French Concession to the main railway station is stopped. The IJN orders all vessels arriving at Tientsin to anchor at the Japanese wharf below the Concessions.

20 June 1939:
Tientsin. Britian evacuates their women and children to safety.

Late June 1939:
Tokyo. The British Ambassador begins conversations with Japan's Foreign Minister, but his request that the blockade be lifted, pending the outcome of negotiations, is refused.

July 1939:
The blockade of the British and French Concessions continues and the residents face a serious food shortage. Searchs continue, particular for British residents.

14 July 1939:
Tokyo. The British Embassy is attacked by a mob of 50,000 Japanese to express resentment over British aid to China. Japan's many demands include that Britain transfer $400,000,000 of the Chinese Government's silver reserves in Tientsin banks to the Japanese-puppet Government at Peiping, turn over control of Chinese banks in the British Concession and that Britain abandon its pro-Chiang Kai-shek policy.

24 July 1939:
House of Commons, London. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain announces that both Governments have come to an agreement under which Britain will recognize the 'special requirements' of the IJA in China, and agree to a certain amount of cooperation with them. The Japanese drop some of their demands such as that British banks turn over all their Chinese silver. Tientsinís foreign concessions retain their integrity.

20 August 1939:
As a result of heavy rains north and west of Tientsin, the Pei Ho river overflows its banks and large portions of Tientsin flood including the foreign concessions and their troops' barracks. The flood kills about 20,000 people in the region until it recedes at the end of September.

(British troops during the Pei Ho River flood)

9 August 1940:
The British Government announces it is withdrawing all her China Station forces at Peking, Shanghai, and Tientsin by the end of the month to bolster the Home and Mediterranean Fleets. This leaves only token garrisons of Italian and American Marines and a few French soldiers in the concessions.

14 November 1941:
President Franklin D. Roosevelt orders the North China 4th Marine Legation Guard stationed in Tientsin, Peking (Beijing) and Chinwangtao (Qinhuangdao), totaling only 212 men, to leave for the Philippines on 10 December 1941.

4 December 1941:
Manila. The American President Line's SS PRESIDENT HARRISON, under charter to the USN, is ordered to evacuate Tientsin and Peking's 4th Marine Legation Guards from Chinwangtao. Proceeding north from Manila, HARRISON's crew notes heavy Japanese shipping moving southward.


8 December 1941:
At about 0230. PRESIDENT HARRISON passes the North Saddle Islands and sets course for Shaweishan Islands, north of the Yangstze estuary. About 0330, Orel A. Pierson, master of the HARRISON receives a message from Cavite Naval Base that Pearl Harbor has been attacked.

By daylight, HARRISON, had not made many miles when a Japanese plane flies overhead and signals the liner to stop with a burst of machine-gun fire. Soon, NAGASAKI MARU, a fast mail boat appears and follows the liner while reporting HARRISON's location to the IJN in Shanghai. Pierson decides to run his ship aground off the Shaweishans to keep it from falling into Japanese hands intact.

Soon, an IJN destroyer comes in view making speed for HARRISON and the plane returns over head, but does not open fire or drop bombs. A liitle after 1300, HARRISON, doing 16 knots, strikes the edge of the island on the port side near No. 1 hatch. HARRISON rides along the edge of the island and rips a hole in her 90 feet longth in her hull before heeling over to starboard and rolling off before reaching the engine room spaces. [2][3]

That same day, the U.S. 4th Marine detachment surrenders to the Japanese. 49 Marines at Tientsin, 22 at Chinwangtao and 141 Marines at Peking surrender. Japan takes control of all the concessions. Vichy France and co-belligerent Italy retain only nominal authority over their concessions. The Japanese occupation of Tientsin lasts until the surrender of Japan on 15 August 1945.

Authors' Notes:
[1] Admiral McVay's son, Captain (later Rear Admiral-Ret) Charles B. McVay, III, was commanding officer of USS INDIANAPOLIS (CA-35) sunk on 30 July 1945 by IJN submarine I-58 with the loss of 879 of her crew of 1,196 men; the worst disaster at sea for the USN during World War II.

[2] PRESIDENT HARRISON carried a crew of 154. They were among the first POWs of WWII. Twelve crew members died in Japanese captivity and three men were killed while abandoning ship. Some officers and crew members were sent to Hokkaido, Japan to work in the coal mines.

[3] Later, a salvage master from Nippon Salvage Co., Japan arrived with a salvage unit. After over a month of diving and repairs, HARRISON was refloated and taken to Shanghai. After temporary repairs, she was taken to to Japan, dry docked and repaired. She was renamed KAKKO MARU, later changed to KACHIDOKI MARU. On 12 Sep '44 while carrying about 900 British POWs, KACHIDOKI MARU was torpedoed and sunk by USS PAMPANITO (SS-383). There were 520 survivors, but more than 400 POWs perished.

See American Merchant Marine at War for more info on SS PRESIDENT HARRISON.

-Bob Hackett

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