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


Sir: Referring to your letter of 22 August, 1921, (FE–893.00/3984) relative to the suggestion from the American Consulate General at Hankow, in which it is indicated that naval convoys are desired for the protection of American chartered junks through danger zones in the upper reaches of the Yangtze River, I have the honor to invite attention to a copy of a report from the Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Asiatic Fleet, herewith enclosed, in which he treats of the policy being followed in the conduct of naval operations in the Yangtze River.

In view of the statements contained in the accompanying report, and in the report dated 7 June, 1921,25 which you acknowledge in the above cited letter, this Department, before issuing further instructions in the premises to the Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Asiatic Fleet, begs to be informed of the attitude of the Department of State toward the providing of naval escorts to vessels not entitled to fly the United States flag.

This Department approves the decision of the Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Asiatic Fleet, in not placing armed guards on board vessels not entitled to fly the United States flag. The providing of naval escorts for such vessels when carrying American cargo introduces a somewhat different question. Should the Department of State decide that the provision of such escorts may be considered legitimate under existing circumstances on the Yangtze River, it is pointed out that naval escorts can not be provided in all cases on account of the limited number of vessels available for such duty.


Edwin Denby

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


1. The Commander in Chief left Shanghai in the Wilmington on June 9th for a general investigating trip up the Yangtze River. …

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5. The general disturbed conditions in China due to the lack of a strong central government are emphasized in the Yangtze Valley. The Department has been informed of the burning and looting of Ichang on June 11th and that of Wuchang, opposite Hankow, on June 7th. A general feeling of nervousness is apparent among foreign residents in the treaty ports of the Yangtze. The Commander [Page 529] in Chief believes that the apprehensions of the foreigners have considerable foundation and has instructed the Patrol Commander to keep his Flagship as much as possible at Hankow in order that he may be centrally located in the disturbed area. This and the distribution of the various vessels throughout the valley where trouble may most be expected will it is hoped provide a reasonable degree of safety for our citizens and their property.

6. The Department has been advised in a previous communication, dated 7 June 1921, of the arrangement made by the Patrol Commander during the past winter by which men were detached from vessels and placed as armed guards aboard junks carrying the freight of the Standard Oil Company. As soon as the Commander in Chief learned of this he directed that the practice cease. The Commander in Chief pointed out to the representatives of the Standard Oil Company the illegality of hoisting the U.S. Flag on foreign owned bottoms and I informed them that under the existing rules no protection would be offered such vessels.

7. Even were it legal to send armed guards aboard the freight junks the crews of our gunboats are too small to permit them being depleted for such a purpose. Nor would it be admissible to entrust enlisted men with such duty unsupervised by their commanding or other commissioned officer. The Commander in Chief still permits the guarding of regular steamers flying the U.S. Flag where they are apt to be threatened by bandits en route up or down the river. This he does with great reluctance on account of the inadvisability of weakening the vessels from which the men must be taken for the purpose. It is probable that the Department will receive requests from the Standard Oil people in the United States to continue the practice so unfortunately begun by the Patrol Commander last winter. For the reason set forth above the Commander in Chief strongly recommends that this be not done.

8. A copy of a general policy regarding the protection to be afforded by our river gunboats is herewith enclosed.

Joseph Strauss

The Commander in Chief of the Asiatic Fleet (Strauss) to the Commander of the Yangtze Patrol (Wood)


1. The Commander in Chief’s policy with respect to the work of the Yangtze Patrol is as follows:

The primary object of the patrol is to protect the lives and property of American citizens legitimately residing on Chinese territory [Page 530] in the Yangtze Valley at such places as are accessible to the vessels of the patrol.
This protection will be by force wherever it is clearly apparent that the local Chinese authorities are failing to afford such protection. That is to say, where either the Chinese authorities themselves call on us to aid them, or, having failed to make a call, the danger to our people is imminent and undoubted. Of this latter the Patrol Commander or the Senior Officer Present must be the judge.
In case of suspected danger, arrangements will be made by which an observer on shore, provided with rockets or other signal apparatus, may be placed so that in event of the danger becoming real, proper signals may be sent to the ship in order that the ship may make all preparations for meeting the emergency.
Commanding Officers will keep in close touch with the Consul on shore or, in his absence, with reliable Americans, in order that they may be kept informed of the condition of affairs.
Vessels of the patrol will be kept at disturbed points or where they may readily reach them.
With the present force, care must be exercised that the meager landing force of each vessel be not weakened by detaching members of the crew to form armed guards for vessels legitimately flying the U.S. flag, unless such action is very necessary.
No action which needlessly infringes on the neutrality of Chinese territory will be taken. Care must always be exercised to avoid wounding the national sensibilities of the Chinese.
Vessels are entitled to fly the U.S. flag when they are duly registered U.S. merchant vessels, or are wholly owned by U.S. citizens, or U.S. citizens own a controlling interest in them. Such ownership must be authenticated by consular documents.

Joseph Strauss
  1. Ante, p. 524.