The Consul General at Tsingtao (Turner) to the Minister-Counselor of Embassy in China (Clark)32

Dear Lewis: Having done a bit of reflecting on the significance of the fall of Tsinan, and having had a long talk with Admiral Badger [Page 323] this morning on the subject of the position that the U. S. Navy now finds itself placed in at Tsingtao, I am impelled to speak my piece for the record and for whatever my views are worth.

The journalist, Berrigan by name, whose recent article in the Saturday Evening Post described the U. S. Navy as being trapped in Tsingtao, was not far wrong in my opinion. The simple facts of the situation, which are so plain that they seem to be generally overlooked, are as follows:

The United States Navy and Marines moved into Tsingtao soon after VJ Day, coincidentally with similar actions by United States forces throughout the Far East. They were operating on wartime directives which allowed them wide scope. From other parts of China they have withdrawn; in Tsingtao they still remain, partly because of an old tradition of a U. S. Navy summer training establishment in North China, partly because the die-hards in the Navy hate to give up their hold on this strategic harbor.

These are the real reasons for the Navy’s presence in Tsingtao. But ask any naval officer why the Navy stays on here and you will get a specious or a confused answer. Even Admiral Badger has admitted to me that he is not certain why the Navy is here, and that if he had been originally consulted the Navy would not be here. Of course, he adds that now that the Navy is here he perceives no way of leaving.

As regards the official mission of the Navy in Tsingtao, I have never been able to get a clear explanation, although I tried both while I was at the Embassy and since my arrival here. Ask ranking naval officers and they will tell you that their primary mission is to support the U. S. Navy Advisory Group and to give protection to American citizens in North China. They will also admit that their mission is to counter Soviet strength in Dairen and to serve as a stabilizing influence in the Chinese civil war—whatever that may mean. I repeat that no one, most of all the Navy people here on the spot, seems to have any clear idea of why they are here.

This situation did no great harm as long as the Chinese Government had generally recognized authority in this area and offered no objection to the Navy’s presence here. However, the rule of the Nanking Government in this area may be said to have vanished, with the exception of the tiny perimeter around Tsingtao. The people now seizing control, whether we like them or not, are Communists who are bitterly hostile to America and the American Navy, and we may confidently assume that they are not going to adopt the same complacent attitude towards a foreign force on their soil.

We have thus drifted into a position where if we do not take action to resolve our dilemma the Communists will probably do so for us. [Page 324] This rich city of Tsingtao can be had for the taking by the Communists. Everyone admits that the Chinese forces guarding the city would be a pushover for the veteran armies of Chen Yi. The talk of reinforcing the local garrison is eye-wash—why should Nanking expend its dwindling power on an isolated outpost of little importance in the great struggle? The small force of American Marines is not much more than a moral deterrent in the way of the Communists, and if the latter were aware of Washington’s recent decree about their refraining from military action, the Communists would probably move in overnight.

So here we have an impossible situation: a military force on foreign soil whose instructions are not to fight but who may soon be forced either to fight in self-defense or to tuck tail and run. Six months ago or even six weeks ago it would have been possible for the Navy to retire from this situation without the loss of too much face. Now that Tsinan has fallen and the shadow of the victorious Communists falls across Eastern Shantung, it becomes more and more difficult for the Navy to extricate itself without serious loss of prestige for itself and for the United States. But the longer we wait the more difficult the problem will be—until perhaps the Communists march into the city and decide the answer for us. If the Marines are still here at that time I do not see how it will be possible to avoid a clash with a hostile army flushed with victory. Once a fight starts, the Marines will not withdraw, and we will be confronted by a first class battle. No matter who wins this battle it will have tremendous repercussions throughout China and probably throughout the world. If Chinese soldiers on Chinese soil are killed by foreign troops, the reaction of all Chinese will be much the same regardless of their politics. Furthermore, the reaction of the rest of the world will be much the same as that of the Chinese.

Now these are the simple thoughts of a simple fellow. Sometimes I think it is the smart fellows who get us into trouble and who are too subtle to recognize a plain fact when they see it. Furthermore, my prescription for this situation is also simple: get these Navy and Marine Forces out of here as fast as possible; cut the losses and forget about the matter of face; withdraw our lines to Japan, and thereby improve our strategic as well as our political position.

With this off my chest I will set about preparing this office for “going behind the iron curtain” which the Department blandly prescribes for us but gives us neither direct instructions nor advice.

Sincerely yours,

William T. Turner
  1. Copy transmitted to the Chief of the Division of Chinese Affairs (Sprouse) by the Consul General in his covering letter of October 1; received October 12.