(1912 German map of Tsingtao)

The Seizure of Tsingtao (Qingdao) - 1938

© 2012 Bob Hackett, Sander Kingsepp and Anthony Tully

Tsingtao (now Qingdao) is located on Shantung (Shandong) Peninsula in northern China on the Yellow Sea. The area dates back at least 6,000 years. In 1891 the Qing government began to improve Tsingtao's existing fortifications against naval attack. German troops seized Tsingtao in 1897. In 1898, China conceded the area to Germany. The Germans considered Tsingtao a strategically important port. It was administered by the Imperial German Navy as the Kiaochow Bay concession from 1898 to 1914. The German Navy bases their Far East Squadron in Tsingtao which facilitates their ships conducting operations throughout the Pacific. [1]

(Map of Yellow Sea showing Qingdao (Tsingtao), Tianjin (Tientsin) and Beijing (Peking)

3 August 1914: World War I Begins:
Germany declares war on France and invades Belgium. Britain then declares war on Germany and Austria.

15 August 1914:
Japanese Prime Minister Count Okuma Shigenobu issues an ultimatum to Kaiser Wilhelm in Berlin. He demands German naval vessels at Kiaochow (Tsingtao) either leave or surrender and that Germany allow destruction of their fortifications there. He further demands Germany’s colonial possessions in China and their islands in the Pacific be turned over to Japan. The Germans do not respond. On 23 August, Japan formally declares war on the German Empire. Thereafter, the IJN occupies the former German colonies (purchased from Spain by Germany) in the Carolines, Palau, Marianas and the Marshall Islands.

7 November 1914: The Siege of Tsingtao
After a siege of over two months, the outnumbered German garrison at Tsingtao surrenders the colony and its harbor to the Japanese who, in accordance with the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, occupy the surrounding Shantung province. Japan wants Tsingtao because it gives them a base from which they can dominate the Yellow Sea sea lanes serving Manchuria and northeastern China.

The IJN sends armored cruiser IWATE, flagship of the Second Fleet's 2nd Battle Squadron, to Tsingtao.

China enters World War I on the side of the Allied Triple Entente with the condition that all German Shantung will be returned to China.

28 June 1919: The Treaty of Versailles:
After the defeat of Germany, Japan is given a mandate over the ex-German colonies in the Pacific with the exception of Tsingtao, although they regain their leasehold there. Despite China's agreement with the Allied Triple Entente, the Treaty of Versailles transfers German concessions in Shandong to Japan rather than returning sovereign authority to China.

The Treaty of Versailles

12 November 1921 to 6 February 1922: The Shantung Treaty and the Washington Naval Conference:
Foggy Bottom, Washington DC. The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) Memorial Continental Hall hosts the Washington Naval Conference. Delegates attend from the United States, Great Britain, France, Italy, Japan and four other nations to discuss limits on the proliferation of arms and other matters. During the conference, the Shantung Treaty is signed that requires Japan to restore Kiaochow to China. [2]

DAR Memorial Continental Hall

December 1922:
Under the terms of the Shantung Treaty, Tsingtao reverts to Chinese rule, but the Japanese retain control of the Shantung Railway. In 1929, Tsingtao becomes a municipality of the Republic of China Government.

Six S-class boats of the United States Asiatic Fleet's (USAF) SubDiv 17 and tender USS CANOPUS (AS-9) arrive at Manila (Cavite), Philippines. The submarines and their tender normally winter at Manila (Cavite and spend the summer operating mainly from Tsingtao and Chefoo. They also call at Shanghai, Amoy and Chinwangtao on the China coast.

(Submarines S-36 (SS-141), S-37 (SS-142), S-39 (SS-144), S-41 (SS-146) at Tsingtao showing their 4-inch/50 cal deck guns)

1 September 1931:
Admiral Charles B. McVay (USNA 1890) is relieved of command of the Asiatic Fleet by Vice Admiral (later Admiral) Montgomery M. Taylor (USNA 1890). During the fall, USAF submarines based at Tsingtao and destroyers based at Chefoo hold exercises, then proceed to Manila. One DesDiv remains in Chinese waters, while the other destroyers are in the Philippines. Aircraft tender USS JASON (AV-2) and aircraft also operate in the Tsingtao and Chefoo areas during this period, then proceed to Manila Political unrest in China calls for constant vigilance by the Asiatic Fleet to protect American lives and property. [3]

(USS JASON with Martin T4M torpedo planes (right) aboard, ca. '31-'32)

7 July 1937: The Marco Polo Bridge Incident ("First China Incident"):
Hun River, Lukuokiao, China. Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) troops on night maneuvers at the Marco Polo Bridge fire blank cartridges. Chinese troops across the river think they are under attack. They fire live rounds back, but do not cause injuries. At morning roll call, the Japanese discover a soldier missing and assume the Chinese have captured him. The Japanese demand entry to the Beijing suburb of Wanping to look for the soldier, but the Chinese refuse. The Japanese then shell the city. An undeclared war on China begins.

11 July 1937:
The IJA and IJN agree to operational jurisdictions in the event of a full-scale war with China. The IJA takes responsibility for northern China and the IJN assumes assumes responsibility for central and southern China.

26 July 1937:
Tsingtao. The evacuation and safeguarding of Japanese women and children begins even before the Imperial Japanese Government authorizes the North China offensive.

31 August 1937:
The last Japanese merchant ship departs Tsingtao escorted by submarine tender JINGEI.

(IJN JINGEI, 1937)

13 August 1937:
Flagship USS AUGUSTA (CA-31) departs Tsingtao for Shanghai carrying the CINC, U.S. Asiatic Fleet, Admiral Harry E. Yarnell (USNA 1899)(former CO of SARATOGA, CV-3.

4 September 1937:
Japanese diplomatic personnel who evacuated Nanking (Nanjing) arrive at Tsingtao by train. The last 320 persons are evacuated from Tsingtao to Lushan (Port Arthur) on old light cruiser/kaibokan IZUMO.

September 1937:
IJN SubDiv 13, based at Tsingtao with submarines I-21 (later I-121) and I-22 (later I-122), joins the naval blockade of the southern Chinese coast.

September 1937:
The Asiatic Fleet's USS POPE (DD-225) evacuates some Americans from Tsingtao to Shanghai.

7 October 1937:
The Japanese advance very rapidly because the Chinese, without artillery or antiaircraft guns, are unable to mount an effective resistance. Shantung Province's northwestern border is overrun by the IJA and its vanguard is only 40 miles from Tsinan.

Tsingtao's streets are barricaded with barrels of sand and water. Later in the week, transport USS CHAUMONT (AP-5)(later USS SAMARITAN (AH-10) is scheduled to arrive en route to Japan. The United States Asiatic Fleet's submarine tender USS CANOPUS (AS-9) is scheduled to arrive and pick up more Americans for Manila next week. USS MARBLEHEAD's (CL-12), temporarily assigned to the United States Asiatic Fleet, Executive Officer claims there are still over four hundred Americans in Tsingtao at the time.

USS CANOPUS and USS CHAUMONT (off Shanghai).

10 December 1937:
IJN transport (later destroyer tender) SHINSHO MARU arrives at Nagashima Strait, near Nagoya. She lands the No. 1 Yokosuka Special Naval Landing Force (SNLF) on practice maneuvers for the planned invasion of Tsingtao (Qingdao), China.

26 December 1937:
Chinese seaplane tender ZHEN HAI is scuttled in Tsingtao harbor.

January 1938:
As Japanese forces approach Tsingtao, looters, panic-stricken Chinese soldiers and gangsters lay waste to Japanese property in the city. Tsingtao's mayor Chinese Admiral Shen Hung-lieh has Chinese looters shot on sight. Numerous corpses accumulate in front of Japanese shops, but as the Chinese start looting and burning indiscriminately, Admiral Shen flees the city along with Tsingtao's Chinese police. The mass flight of Chinese reduces the population of Tsingtao from about 500,000 to about 50,000.

8 January 1938:
Seaplane tender/transport KINUGASA MARU, carrying landing troops, and other unidentified IJN warships depart Lushun for Tsingtao.

9 January 1938:
Tsingtao. Japanese ships crowd the bay. Tsingtao's streets are filled with IJN Special Naval Landing Force (SNLF) marines and IJA soldiers. USS MARBLEHEAD departs Tsingtao for Chefoo. Later that day, British China Station heavy cruiser HMS SUFFOLK also departs for Weihaiwei. British shipping companies curtail or temporarily cancel calls on Tsingtao's outer harbor.

10 January 1938: Operation "B" - The Seizure of Tsingtao:
The Japanese land on unfortified beaches about three miles below Tsingtao’s defenses and take Tsingtao without a struggle. No. 5 and 6 Sasebo SNLF troops land at Shatzekow, 18 miles from Tsingtao and march there on foot. Shortly afterward, KINUGASA, SHINSHO and SHINKO MARUs and four unidentified troopships enter Tsingtao’s harbor and begin disembarking additional SNLF troops. Five destroyers lay off shore. The Japanese post patrols and lower white flags, which had been hoisted on public buildings, in a token of surrender. The Japanese permit foreigners to return to their homes.

Before the landings, Chinese military forces destroy all Japanese cotton mills in the region. Japanese forces press on to capture the Tsingtao-Tsinan Railroad, while others continue the drive on Suchow. The IJA then begins a major offensive southwards along the Hankow Railway through Shansi (Shanxi).

25 July 1939:
Admiral Yarnell is relieved as CinC, Asiatic Fleet, by Admiral Thomas C. Hart (USNA 1897).

April to June 1940:
The Asiatic Fleet’s submarine force makes its last deployment to Tsingtao.

Author's Note:
[1] Tsingtao was called Seito by the Japanese.

[2] Also known as the Conference on the Limitation of Armaments and the Washington Arms Conference.

[3] Admiral McVay's son, 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.

-Bob Hackett, Sander Kingsepp and Anthony Tully

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