Executive Secretariat Files: NSC 11

Memorandum by the Secretary of Defense (Forrestal) to the National Security Council23

Subject: Action by U. S. Forces at Tsingtao in Defense of U. S. Lives and Property.

The purpose of this memorandum is to apprise you of the current situation in the Tsingtao area and of the implications of possible future developments there.

On 3 May 1948, the Commander, Naval Forces Western Pacific, (ComNavWesPac), informed the Chief of Naval Operations, (CNO), that the military situation of the Chinese Nationalist Government in the Tsingtao area had deteriorated to such an extent that, while it was not an immediate cause for concern, it did require consideration of what action U. S. forces there would have to take in the event that the Chinese Communist forces should attack Tsingtao. On 10 May, the Commander, Naval Forces Western Pacific, advised,24 in response to a query from the Chief of Naval Operations, that as he had previously stated there was no immediate cause for alarm pending further developments, but he considered it important that the contingency be clear to all concerned and that reasonable readiness be maintained. Copies of the two dispatches setting forth this information are enclosed herewith (see Annexes “A”25 and “B”26 hereto).

An analysis of the military situation in the Shantung Province as of 5 May 1948, made by the Office of Naval Intelligence, (Annex “C”26), substantiates this estimate that the situation at Tsingtao is not an immediate cause for concern, and further estimates that although the Communists have capability of attacking Tsingtao, it is not their present intention of doing so. A possibility nevertheless exists that the Communists may elect to attack Tsingtao.

Legally, the present employment of naval forces in China stems from the provisions of Public Law 512 of 16 July 1946 which, inter alia, authorizes the detail of Naval and Marine Corps personnel to assist the Republic of China in naval matters. This activity is consistent with the U. S. policy of furnishing military assistance to friendly nations, at the request of such nations, throughout the world.

The policy of our government to aid and support the Chinese Nationalist Government has recently been given additional confirmation [Page 315]in the Foreign Assistance Act of 1948 (Public Law 472)27 which extended financial aid to China.

The principal training activity of the Chinese navy was established at Tsingtao soon after the Japanese surrender. The harbor at Tsingtao not only offers the best natural features for the Chinese naval training establishment, but also is the most suitable Chinese harbor to serve as a harbor for U. S. naval forces in Chinese waters.

Current emergency plans provide for the withdrawal of U. S. forces from the Tsingtao area as necessary under pressure, redeploying such forces to a more tenable position further south in China, or withdrawing from China entirely should the situation so require.

My understanding is that pertinent U. S. policy is based on the consideration that the Chinese Nationalist Government is responsible for the protection of foreign lives and interests ashore in China and that intervention on the part of U. S. forces in internal Chinese strife is not to be undertaken. However, a major Communist attack against Tsingtao would generate emergency conditions there beyond the control of the Chinese Nationalist Government, thereby endangering essential U. S. installations, property, and the lives of U. S. citizens. Under such circumstances, measures necessary for the protection of U. S. lives and property would in fact be tantamount to concerted action by U. S. and Chinese Nationalist forces.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff have advised me of the situation outlined above, and they have informed the Commander, Naval Forces Western Pacific, that pending further instruction and if the situation requires it, his proposed general course of action a,which would result in such combined military action in an emergency, is approved.

The Commander, Naval Forces Western Pacific, in his dispatch of 10 May, states as his belief that the withdrawal of U. S. Forces from Tsingtao now or in the foreseeable future is certain to cause permanent damage to the U. S. position in the Orient and to the Nationalist situation affecting all of North China; and that he has discussed his views on this subject with the Ambassador, who concurs in general.

It is understood that the Secretary of State has previously requested the Navy Department to review the status of forces in China at six-month intervals. If any forces are to be maintained in Tsingtao, it does not appear practicable to reduce them below the present level of about 3600. The Joint Chiefs of Staff consider, and I agree, that the implications of complete U. S. withdrawal from the Tsingtao area, either with or without Communist pressure against the city, are such as to require review by the National Security Council as a matter of U. S. government policy with respect to China.

[Page 316]

Accordingly, I recommend that a study of this subject be undertaken by the National Security Council, with particular reference to whether or not United States interests can best be served by the retention of U. S. forces in Tsingtao or by their complete withdrawal.

James Forrestal
  1. Circulated by Rear Adm. Sidney W. Souers, Executive Secretary of the National Security Council, as NSC 11, May 24.
  2. Telegram No. 100835Z, not printed.
  3. Telegram No. 030045Z, May 3, from the Commander of U. S. Naval Forces in the Western Pacific to the Chief of Naval Operations, p. 310.
  4. Not printed.
  5. Not printed.
  6. Approved April 3, 1948; 62 Stat. 137.