Expeditionary Duty Shanqhai, China
1937-1938 and 1940-1941
'This duty was most unique in two respects -at the start, observation of a 'future full blown WWII-type war at close hand and secondly, in the return to the States, participation in the then "state of the art" amphibious operation in Lahaina, Hawaii.
In 1937-1938 the Shanghai International Settlement was occupied by the U.S., Britain and Italy. The American Sector was by far the largest area with the meandering Soochow Creek separating it from the Hongkew-Chapei battle ground of the entrenched Chinese against the invading Japanese.
Weeks before the arrival of the 6th Marines there had been massive loss of life in the International Settlement as the result of the Japanese invasion. Refugees from adjacent areas piled into the settlement. There was a constant round of pickup of the dead bodies in the streets by the Shanghai Benevolent Society. Added to this condition was an ill-fated misguided and unsuccessful bombing attack by the Chinese on the Battleship lzuma moored in Hongkew just adjacent to the Settlement. Thousands in the Settlement were killed in two areas, Nanking Road and World Amusement Center area "struck by bombs meant for the Izuma. The small one seat plane, piloted by a mercenary White Russian had four powerful bombs attached with an improvised bomb release system. Two bombs falling on the Nanking Road area reportedly killed three thousand. The two bombs falling on the World Amusement Center area located between the French Concession and the International Settlement reportedly killed two thousand. In addition to the reported five thousand killed, there were massive numbers of injured and massive structural damages.
The cleanup of the devastation created was a job well done. Upon arrival of the 6th Marines downtown Shanghai was fully functioning in structure not hit.
Shanghai in 1937 could be likened to WWI Paris of 1918 in this respect: downtown stores, restaurants and night clubs were doing business as usual with a raging war being conducted in areas adjacent to city limits.
The Wangpoo River and the Bund can be termed the "bottom" boundary of the defense of the American Sector of the international Settlement with the "right" boundary and "top" boundary being the meandering Soochow Creek. The French Concession abutted the entire left boundary of the American Sector.
The Italian and British areas extended to the left from the "top" boundary of the American Sector. Each 6th Marine rifle company with a machine gun platoon attached rotated with the same of the'4th Marines in manning the defense of the American Sector of the International Settlement. Sandbag pill box positions covered each entry into the Settlement from across the creek. The green uniform was worn with leggings and WWI helmet. Live ammunition and hand grenades were carried. Riflemen were then equipped with the '03 Springfield. The BAR and .30 cal Browning machine gun completed their arsenal of weapons. Officers carried the .45 pistols plus ammunition.
Rooftops of multi-story mills and warehouses on the Settlement side of Soochow Creek provided for observation of the fighting in the battle area. The main OP in the American Sector was the roof of the Foo Fung Flour Mill.
As events turned out "F" Company had most of its assignments "on line" in the sector that included the Foo Fung Mill, My platoon CP was in that building. Consequently, I was able to make a number of visits to the roof top observation post and view the battle ground goings on across the creek. The accurate use of shelling by the Japanese was apparent. The myth of poor eye sight was dispelled. Literally the mill roof was a theatre to watch the show across the creek.
I saw some instances of Japanese artillery fire into the Settlement. I believe, however, that it was done in the process of adjusting fires on Chinese positions on their side of the Creek and at the very edge. On one of these occasions while inspecting my sentry posts in the Foo Fung Flour Mill area a number of shell bursts hit nearby. Luckily, I was able to take quick cover in an opening in the mill building adjacent to the road. When it appeared that the firing had ended, I resumed my walk on the roadway. After about ten paces I came upon a number of pieces of shrapnel on the road. Started to pick up a piece but could not -all were white hot. I kicked one piece off the road so I could pick it up later; which I did I still have that souvenir.
In the 20's and 30's the USA exported much scrap metal. There was much public speculation as to how much of it and when it would be returned to us in the form of shell fire in a future war. At the time I picked up my souvenir had the amusing thought -"It could have come from my father's 1921 Model T Ford, who knows?"
My routine of sentry post visits required walking through crowded areas particularly at night, when many were sleeping outside. My pistol was kept unloaded, I did however, carry (attached to my waist) a leather covered short steel staff with a leather covered lead bludgeon on the end for protection. Had it made for me after my first "on-line" assignment. A number of officers used this type of gadget as a swagger stick.
My platoon happened to be in line at the time of the Chinese withdrawal. One afternoon a massive smoke screen covered the battle area. The smoke screen lifted the next day. The Chinese had apparently successf~~lly evacuated and moved to the North. It was amusing to see the Japanese units attack an evacuated position across from the OP. One group would step and fire into the position. Awhile later another group repeated the attack followed a short while later by a third group. What ran through my mind was that there would be many claims of destroying a pillbox by many, for a pillbox that actually didn't exist. The Chinese, according to accounts, were long gone by the time the smoke screen left and their attack started.
The most eventful time of my 1937-1938 Shanghai tour was when I sat in my shared cabin aboard the troop transport Chaumont about to depart for the USA. I was sick of Shanghai and its surroundings of poverty and stench. The fine restaurants and night clubs 'available were no help. The surrounding poverty on the streets was overwhelming. Aside from that I was homesick for stateside friends and-way of life. This same feeling I had at the end of my 2 tour in 1941. En route to the USA the 6th Marines in the troop transport participated in a landing exercise at Lahaina, Hawaii. Ships of the Pacific Fleet joined them for the exercise to provide the additional ship-to- shore needs-motor launches (no ramp or flat bottoms in 1938) Designator units aboard the Chaumont went aboard these ships to use their launches for the landing before the exercise start. The only radio communications for the ship-to-shore movement was that between ships. Troops took their places in the launches on board ship. 'The launches, on the davit were then lowered into the water. 'the ship-to-shore movement was controlled by signal flags and motor launch coxswain vision. It soon developed that there would be surf. 'that was found out for sure when we hit the beach. Every motor launch and motor boat broached-to. Men and equipment went into the water as they were disembarking from a swaying and lurching motor launch.
After return to San Diego, the riflemen with rusted rifle bores were issued new ones and had their pay docked for the cost. Reason: failure to properly use the brush and thong (in the butt of the Springfield rifle for field use).
Those Marines with service 1937-1945 observed the evolvement of a most remarkable Marine Corps-Navy achievement -the emergence from the 1938 Lahaina debacles, to the state of the art amphibious warfare of WWII.