The Secretary of the Navy ( Denby ) to the Secretary of State


Sir: I have to forward herewith for the information of the Department of State, a copy of a letter dated 7 June, 1921, from the Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Asiatic Fleet, at Shanghai, China, with attendant correspondence in regard to the placing of armed guards on vessels operating in the Yangtze River.


Edwin Denby

The Commander in Chief of the Asiatic Fleet ( Strauss ) to the Chief of Naval Operations ( Coontz )

Inclosures (A) to (J)20a are explanatory of recent operations in the upper reaches of the Yangtze River.
It will be noted that the practice of sending armed-guards on board Chinese junks to convoy Standard Oil Company’s freight carried in other Chinese junks was authorized by the Commander [Page 525] Yangtze Patrol. It seems that these junks, owned by Chinese, frequently hoisted the American flag. As a result of this practice a junk with an armed guard of three enlisted men from the Monocacy was attacked in the night by robbers. The armed guard resisted the attack and repelled the robbers, but Everett Conley, a fireman second class, was wounded in the knee so badly that his leg had to be amputated.
The Commander in Chief has disapproved the practice of sending detachments of the crews of our gunboats to be quartered on board foreign-owned vessels to protect them, notwithstanding the fact that they are carrying American-owned goods. Apart from the illegality of such practice, the obvious result of weakening the influence of the United States flag as a protective agency would undoubtedly follow and probably lead to international complications. Subsequent to issuing the necessary orders (copy inclosed, marked (I)21), the Commander in Chief was furnished a letter from the Department of State22 by the Peking Legation which fully sustained this view. The British evidently hold the same opinion as will be noted in the last sentence of the despatch from H.M.S. Widgeon to the Senior British Naval Officer, Yangtze.21
While the Commander in Chief feels that the disturbed conditions in the interior of China releases us from too strict an application of international law, nevertheless he desires to avoid wounding the susceptibilities of the authorities of a friendly nation unnecessarily. The indiscriminate hoisting of the United States flag should receive no countenance on our part.
The Commander in Chief has been informed by an official of the Standard Oil Company at Shanghai that they will address a letter to the State Department requesting a relaxation of the rule. This will no doubt be referred to the Navy Department, and pending any decision in the matter, the existing rule will be observed until modified by the Navy Department.
Joseph Strauss
  1. Not printed.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Ante, p. 519.
  4. Not printed.