811.30 Asiatic Fleet/941

Memorandum by the Assistant Chief of the Division of Far Eastern Affairs (Adams)66

This memorandum is intended to supplement and amplify the confidential memorandum of August 20, 1941 entitled “Question of Withdrawal of American Marines from China.”

With regard to the question of the possible withdrawal of American Marines ashore in China, consideration should be given to the problem of arrangements for the carrying-on of the duties now being discharged by those Marines.

In as much as the American Marines are stationed in areas surrounded by Japanese-occupied areas, it may be assumed that the duties now being discharged by the Marines would, in the event of their withdrawal, be taken over by the Japanese. Regardless of whether the Japanese could be reasonably expected to carry out faithfully any arrangement that might be made with them with respect to the taking over by them of the duties of the American Marines, there would be obvious advantages, from the viewpoint of the areas concerned, to an [Page 560] orderly transfer of responsibility under locally made arrangements, and it is suggested that, in case it be decided to withdraw the Marines, such withdrawal should be preceded by local, informal and unofficial arrangements with the Japanese at Shanghai, Peiping and Tientsin. The small station at Chinwangtao could probably be closed without formality in the discretion of the senior Marine officer in North China.

The United States Government has in China five small, specially constructed river gunboats which are not structurally suitable for voyages at sea. One of these vessels, the U. S. S. Tutuila, is at Chungking and may be eliminated from this discussion. The other four are in Japanese-occupied territory. The Luzon, flagship of the Yangtze flotilla, is usually at Shanghai. Either the Guam or the Oahu is usually stationed at Hankow, the other vessel being at some intermediate river port or at Shanghai. The U. S. S. Mindanao is usually stationed at Canton. In connection with discussion of the question of withdrawal of the American Marine forces ashore in China, there naturally arises the problem of the four above-mentioned river gunboats in Japanese-occupied territory. They present, because of their greater mobility, somewhat less difficulty in regard to withdrawal than do the American Marines stationed ashore in China. While these vessels were not designed for voyages at sea, those in the Yangtze area could by selecting suitable weather, work their way down the China coast to Hong Kong and, with the U. S. S. Mindanao, from there to Manila.

There has now been received, through naval sources, a message from the Naval Attaché at Chungking, under date of August 19, 1941,67 to the effect that Chinese Intelligence Service had information, dated August 6, that the Japanese have all plans made for occupying the International Settlement by a coup in the form of a surprise night operation involving, inter alia, capture of the American Marines by two battalions of Japanese garrison troops. There was added in the message the statement that there was no evidence that decision had been reached or date fixed for such an operation. The statement was also made that the plan is probably the same as one evolved some two years ago. There has also been received, through the War Department, a message from the Military Attaché at Chungking under date of August 19,67 to the effect that information in regard to Japanese plans for the seizure of the International Settlement and French Concession at Shanghai were made available by the Chinese Intelligence Service apparently for propaganda purposes; that if the Japanese Government would not authorize seizure of the International Settlement and French Concession at Shanghai, the Japanese army proposes to blockade those areas as was done at Tientsin two years ago, incidents to be created to justify such action.

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In view of the strained relations between the United States and Japan it would be surprising if the Japanese Army had not, as a matter of military preparedness, worked out some kind of “war plan” for the taking over, if and when, of the International Settlement. The American Government has received previous reports in regard to such a plan. While it seems improbable that the Japanese would in the immediate future precipitate a rupture of relations with the United States by taking organized military action against the American Marines in China, the possibility that such an attempt might in some circumstances be made should not be entirely eliminated from consideration. FE67a does not regard such action as likely to be taken in the near future. Provocative action such as that envisaged in the Military Attaché’s message described above would have to be dealt with in a manner governed by the circumstances attending such provocative action.

In considering the question of the possible withdrawal of American armed forces from China, there should be borne in mind the fact that those forces may reasonably be described as under present conditions the keystone in the whole structure of the Occidental position in Japanese-occupied China. Their withdrawal would inevitably, whether or not hostilities with Japan ensued, be followed by collapse of the Occidental position. With this consideration in mind it seems obvious that decision to withdraw American forces from Japanese-occupied China should not be made until it becomes apparent that a rupture of relations between the United States and Japan is probably inevitable. There is some danger that such waiting might result in the internment not only of the American Marines ashore but of the three gunboats in central China and of the gunboat in Canton and Hong Kong waters. The course which the Government of the United States has outlined for the United States would seem to have become definite enough by now to make the question of rupture between the United States and Japan dependent upon Japanese action. The United States is aligned against Hitlerism. If Japan should undertake to implement unreservedly its alignment with the forces of aggression, then a rupture between the United States and Japan would probably occur. Unless the United States should itself deliberately disrupt relations with Japan, which it is believed that the United States will not choose to do, Japan, because of its knowledge of its own plans, will know before the United States that a rupture of American-Japanese relations is going to take place and will have made preparations to execute promptly plans made in accordance with that knowledge. It may be that the first intimation that the Government of the United States will have that a rupture with Japan [Page 562] is inevitable will be some overt act on the part of Japan too late for the orderly withdrawal of the American forces ashore and the American gunboats in China. It is believed, however, that the importance of the steadying role which the American forces in China are playing, their service in maintaining communications, and their potential assistance in connection with civilian withdrawals, justifies this Government in assuming the risks involved in retention of the American forces in China in their present position until the last practicable moment.

Recommendation was made in the memorandum of August 20, referred to above, that decision on the question of withdrawal of the American Marines ashore in China be held in abeyance pending certain developments in the field of high policy. Recommendation is now further made that plans be made to afford facilities for the withdrawal of American nationals in Japanese-occupied China, and thereafter to withdraw in an orderly manner the American Marines ashore in accordance with the confidential memorandum of August 20, 1941, mentioned above, and to withdraw at the same time the U. S. S. Luzon, Guam, Oahu and Mindanao.

The further recommendation is made that decision to carry these plans into execution be not made until a conclusion shall have been reached that a rupture between the United States and Japan has become inevitable.

  1. Initialed by the Assistant Chief of the Division of Far Eastern Affairs (Mackay); notation by the Adviser on Political Relations (Hornbeck)—“I am not sure that local negotiations would suffice.”
  2. Not printed.
  3. Not printed.
  4. Division of Far Eastern Affairs.