793.94/13412: Telegram

The Consul General at Shanghai (Lockhart) to the Secretary of State

969. I received today from the Japanese Consul General through the Senior Consul the following statement:

“(1) It is a matter of deep gratification to the Japanese naval authorities that thanks to the readiness with which the authorities of the various foreign powers concerned complied with the request of the Commander-in-Chief of the China Seas Fleet, I. J. N., as conveyed by the communication dated June 11th,11 that vessels of third powers should not enter the Yangtze waters between Wuhu and Hukow, no incident involving a third power has occurred and no casualty, either of life or property, has been suffered by a third party national resident in Anking notwithstanding the heavy fighting that has been going on in that area and the furious attacks to which vessels on the river have been subjected by both the Japanese and Chinese air forces under extremely bad weather conditions.

In this section of the river the Chinese forces have laid many hundreds of mines. And although our fleet has already discovered and destroyed approximately 300 of them, there are yet many more drifting in the muddy waters and are a source of great danger because no safety device has been attached to them. And as the Chinese make their retreat, taking advantage of every little creek and by the use of gunboats, mine-layers, small steamers and junks, they are continuing their mine-laying operations. Cooperating with these river units are other Chinese forces lurking all along both banks of the river; and it must be expected that fighting will continue in this area for some time to come.

Consequently we hope it may be understood that the time has not yet come when the Commander-in-Chief of the China Seas Fleet, I. J. N., can consider that no tactical difficulties will be presented by the entry of naval vessels and other ships of third powers into the above-mentioned area.

(2) With the occupation of Hukow by the Japanese forces, the section of the Yangtze River between Hukow and Hankow, as well as the lake districts adjacent thereto, has already become a battlefield. Especially intensive fighting is taking place in the area between Hukow and Whangshikong, where the Chinese forces now appear to be busily engaged in laying mines in the river. And as it is necessary for our fleet to shell and bomb the vessels thus engaged, as well as the forts on the river bank, it is hoped that all naval vessels and other ships of third powers will leave this danger zone as quickly as possible in order to avoid any casualties.

(3) Near Matung, the Chinese had constructed an extremely strong boom across the Yangtze River completely cutting off all traffic. [Page 155] Upon taking possession of this boom, our fleet opened a passage through it. This passage, however, has been opened solely for reasons of military necessity, so that our consent to its use by any vessel other than those of our naval and military forces cannot be given until such time as the Commander-in-Chief considers that such use will not interfere with the operations of the Japanese forces.

(4) With regard to our request that some way be devised to render the vessels of third powers more easily recognizable, we deeply regret that the replies received from the powers concerned were to the effect that they considered the flags printed on the awnings to be sufficient. From the experiences of our air forces in the present hostilities, we have found that it is impossible for a flyer to distinguish anything like a flag painted on the awning unless he comes so low as to be greatly exposed to the enemy’s anti-aircraft artillery fire; and that, even at such low altitude, such factors as the position of the vessel in relation to the sun, direction in which the vessel is pointed and the direction of attack may make it extremely difficult to distinguish such marking. There are, moreover, cases in which it is almost impossible to distinguish the flags from any distance because they have faded and the awning has become soiled with the passage of time.

It was for such reasons as these that the earlier request was especially made. We deeply appreciate the good will shown by the Standard Oil Company in making its vessels clearly distinguishable by painting the upper half of their hulks. With regard to all other foreign vessels, we cannot but request the authorities and interests concerned once more that, upon reconsideration of this matter, they might arrange to have the vessels made more easily distinguishable by some such device as having them painted in special colors, by flying long streamers from the masthead, by means of lights, et cetera, and thus cooperate with us in our effort to prevent unpleasant questions with third powers arising through mistakes.

(5) Since the use of flags of third powers by the Chinese on their vessels, buildings and other establishments might give rise to situations mutually objectionable and unpleasant, it is hoped that strict measures will be taken by the powers concerned to prevent such use by the Chinese.

(6) The hearty cooperation which the powers have given in many ways to meet the request which the Commander-in-Chief of the China Seas Fleet made out of his desire to prevent mutually undesirable casualties to foreign vessels of war and other ships is deeply appreciated. Especially helpful have been the detailed reports we have received concerning the movements of foreign ships, and we hope that we may continue to be informed of the positions and movements of foreign ships above Hukow without delay.

Contact between the Japanese naval authorities and the powers concerned should, for the most part, be maintained as heretofore between the naval representatives at Shanghai.”

Repeated to Hankow, by mail to Peiping and Tokyo.

  1. See telegram No. 812, June 11, 1938, from the Consul General at Shanghai, Foreign Relations, Japan, 1931–1941, vol. i, p. 597.