Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Legendary China Marines
Noah H. Belew was a member of the 1st Marine Division

The "Old China Hands" were rescued in the fall of 1945, when the 1st Marine Division landed at Tangku on 30 September. The Division moved by train to Tientsin, Peking, and Chinwangtao. Then on 11 October 1945, the 6th Marine Division landed at Tsingtao, roughly 475 miles southeast of Peking. Together the two divisions rescued American POW's and disarmed the Japanese. They also prevented the Communists from taking control of the Chinese National Government. Nearly 53,000 Marines were involved in China in 1945, as part of the III Amphibious Corps (III AC). MGen Keller E. Rockey, of Iwo Jima fame, was in command. The 6th MarDiv under MGen Lemuel C. Shepherd, Jr. covered the Tientsin region of North China, as well as the Shanghai and Chefoo Airfields and Huangpo River. It linked up with the 1st MarDiv at Tientsin. The III AC accepted surrender in Tientsin of 50,000 Japanese troops on 6 October 1945. The 6th MarDiv accepted the Japanese surrender of 10,000 troops at the Tsingtao racetrack on 25 October 1945.

But hostilities were not over. During October the Marines began to receive fire from Communist forces along the road between Tientsin and Peking. Still, the Marines reduced their forces to around 46,000 in January 1946. Many of the Marines had been overseas for years and were anxious to return to the States. The term "Asiatic" comes to mind! By April the total dropped to about 30,000 Marines still in China. With the growing strength of the Communist forces, the American presence in China was viewed as a thorn. Nearly 2,300 new Marines with "low points" from the 2nd Marine Division were assigned to the "China Draft" in June 1946. Rather than returning from the Pacific with the rest of their division, they would join the 1st MarDiv which became the sole remaining Marine occupation force in China. Colonel Samuel L. Howard, the old 4th Marine Regiment Commander from pre-war China days, returned as a Major General. Taking command of the 1st MarDiv he also became the new Commander of Marine Forces, China on 18 September 1946. (Earlier reports circulating among former POW's said Col Howard was beheaded by the Japanese on Corregidor in May 1942. Obviously untrue, the beheading is believed to be that of an uncooperative Marine Battalion Commander from the 4th Marines.)

Now the Marines new mission was to support the uneasy truce between Communist and Nationalist Chinese forces. They were also directed to protect the industrial and coal production operations and to keep the lines of communication open between Chinwangtao Port and Tientsin. These China Marines routinely guarded bridges and rail lines. Peking, Tientsin, Tsingtao, Tangku, Chinwagtao, and Peitaiho were all garrisoned and patrolled by Marines. This led the Communists to believe the Marines were there to assist the Nationalist Government rather than to preserve the truce between the Chinese combatants.

Many of these new China Hands were killed or wounded by mines, snipers, ambushes, and outright open assaults. The perpetrators were the Communists. Still the Marine totals in China dropped to 4,000 by August 1947. During November 1948, the 9th Marines flew in to join an evacuation of Americans at Tsingtao. The Nationalist Chinese were being defeated militarily. The U. S. State Department decided that the internal conflict between Communist and Nationalist Chinese was not an American problem. By January 1949, the 9th Marines reduced their coverage to around Shanghai. Meanwhile, the Marines at Tsingtao (except for a small contingent of the 3rd Marines - redesignated from the 3rd Bn, 4th Marines) began to embark in shipping. They sailed from China in February 1949. In March the newly redesignated 3rd Marines relieved the 9th Marines at Shanghai. And on 29 April 1949, all Marines remaining in China (less C Co., 3rd Marines at Tsingtao) shoved off. The small rear party of Co. C, 3rd Marines was relieved during May when Company C, 7th Marines flew in from California.

The final WWII/Cold War Marine Corps presence in China ended on 26 May 1949. Today, Marines are once again serving in China on Embassy Duty. Others have become tourists and visitors. With relations no longer strained by the Cold War, all are welcomed as the friends they once were. Still, when we thnk of the Corps' presence in China we picture images of the legendary China Hands.