393.115/11–2049: Telegram

The Ambassador in Korea (Muccio) to the Secretary of State

1419. Embtel 1411, Deptel 973.11 Following text Vice Consul Valdes’12 report dated November 18 on Flying Cloud.

“I have the honor to report the arrival in Pusan, at 0800 a. m., November 18, 1949, of the American SS Flying Cloud, after a voyage from Shanghai, China.

“On her voyage into Shanghai, the SS Flying Cloud was challenged by blinker by a Chinese Navy LST, armed with 3–inch guns. As the guns were covered and the LST could not therefore order the Flying [Page 1168] Cloud to stop by putting a shot across her bow, Captain F. H. Rylander picked up speed and steamed into Shanghai.

“In port the ship loaded approximately 2,000 dead-weight tons of cargo for the US, the cargo consisting mostly of tea, but also including cotton, bristles, duck feathers, and goose feathers. A payment of $8,500 was received for freight charges, the Communists paying in American notes of all denominations from $1 to $100, including a few $2 bills. The notes did not appear very worn. The ship also loaded stores for the Norwegian ship Promise, A. P. Pattison and Co., being agents both for the Isbrandtsen Line and the Promise. The latter was being held at the entrance of the Yangtze River for lack of Nationalist clearance to enter Shanghai, and at the time the Flying Cloud sailed from Shanghai, on November 13, had been without stores for 4 days, therefore technically being a ship in distress. It was hoped that by carrying stores for a distressed ship the Flying Cloud would have a better chance of being cleared by the blockading ships.

“Captain Rylander anchored at Woosung overnight and on November 14 proceeded down river. He wanted to make the run past the blockade ships at flood tide and accordingly again anchored overnight. In sight of where he anchored, but hull down, were a Chinese Navy destroyer escort, Jap-type fishing motorship taken over by the Chinese Navy, and two British merchant ships they were holding, the SS Wosang, of Jardine, Matheson, and the SS Tsinan, of Butterfield and Swire. On the morning of November 15, Captain Rylander heaved anchor and proceeded down river. The Chinese DE challenged him by flashing “A” (request for call letters) from an arc-searchlight mounted on her mast. This was at a range of (approximately 5 miles, and the Flying Cloud had no blinker strong enough to permit a reply. At 0713, and at a range of about 3 miles, the DE put a shot across the bow of the Flying Cloud. This was apparently a blank shell, as no one on the American ship observed a splash. Captain Rylander immediately answered the DE’s challenge and was instructed to anchor. He replied that he would anchor when closer. He was asked if he had passengers and cargo, and he replied in the affirmative. He anchored when he was within 2 miles of the DE, which was at the charted position of the [garble] light vessel (which had been removed). At 0942 a boarding party consisting of two lieutenants (Tang and Wang), apparently unarmed, escorted by two armed sailors, arrived in the fishing vessel. Captain Rylander asked Miss Esther Hoffman, secretary of the American Military Attaché in Nanking, Brig. General Soule, to be present at the meeting as interpreter.

“The Chinese lieutenants were most courteous, according to both Captain Rylander and Miss Hoffman, and seemed rather distressed [Page 1169] at their mission. They opened the conference by explaining that they had stopped the Flying Cloud because they had been ordered to do so. The Captain requested permission to proceed with his food for the Promise and pointed out that the tradition of the sea called for succoring of a ship in distress. He suggested that the Chinese warship signal ‘proceed this errand’ in a way that the two British merchant ships could read the message, saying that the British would understand, and hinting that in this manner the Chinese would have face (but not using the expression “save face”). He was asked if he had any contraband on board. He replied that he did not. He was asked if he had any Chinese passengers. He replied that he did not, but he had one Chinese crew member. He handed the officers a copy of a radiogram he had received from Hans Isbrandtsen, owner of the Line, ordering him to proceed even if stopped, and explained that his orders were therefore to sail and that he intended to do so at 1500, with the flood tide. He preferred to sail with their permission, but he would sail in any case.

“He stressed that while the US Government recognized the Nationalist Government of China, it did not recognize the blockade. When he pointed out that there were American passengers aboard the officers requested and were given passenger list. They also requested, and were given copy of the manifest and of customs clearance, the Captain having stated that the ship carried American Government ECA cargo for Korea. According to Miss Hoffman, the Captain furnished every document requested. At one point in the conference, the Captain left his room in search of some documents, and the Chinese officers asked Miss Hoffman in Chinese if he really did plan to sail. She replied that he did, and repeated that he would like to sail with their permission. She emphasized that they should understand that he intended to proceed in any case, and that he was not bluffing. She feels that they were difficult to convince of this fact, and believed that they were not able to convince their commander of it. She commented to the officers that she hoped that they would not try to stop the ship by force because of the harmful publicity that would ensue.

“When the Captain returned the same subject was covered again. The Captain suggested that if they followed him when he got under way they had best be careful, or the British ships would slip out behind him. One Chinese officer, who understood English, learned [sic] and agreed that they probably would. During the course of conference Mr. Walter Sullivan, New York Times correspondent assigned to Korea, sent up note stating that he was proceeding to Korea at the request of President Rhee. The Captain passed the note to the Chinese officers.

[Page 1170]

“From attitude of the two Chinese lieutenants, both Miss Hoffman and Captain Rylander felt that if the two British ships had not been present the Chinese would have let Flying Cloud proceed. They felt that after China had held British ships for 11 days, they considered that some sort of resistance was demanded in case of Flying Cloud.

“After Chinese officers returned to their ship there was no word from DE until approximately 1300, when commander signaled that he regretted he had no authority to permit Flying Cloud to proceed and suggested that Captain contact his Government to arrange matter with Chinese Government, or return to Shanghai and discharge his cargo (not specifying whether he meant entire cargo or merely that part loaded in Shanghai). He added ‘please take my advice otherwise I cannot be responsible for any accident’. He then said he was informing his superiors. Captain Rylander replied he was sailing on evening tide, at 1500.

“An hour or so later the DE flashed a final message:

‘I am so sorry, your Government has been so kind to our country. However, I have no authority to permit you to proceed. I suggest you return to Shanghai and discharge cargo.’

“Captain Rylander placed all passengers in first ’tween-deck in passageway along engine room on side away from DE (starboard), and at 1536 he heaved anchor and got under way. He was able to heave anchor unobserved by virtue of having originally halted 2 miles from the DE, but as soon as he was seen to move, both fishing vessel and DE steamed into firing position. At 1542 fishing vessel opened fire with carbines, and DE soon joined in with weapons of all calibres. The Captain at this point had to negotiate a bend in channel, steering a close course between wreck and beach, and had to offer his broadside at range of about 400 yards from the DE. At 1553 small shell, probably 20 millimeter, burst the ships’s number 1 fire hydrant in the port bow, and immediately thereafter 3–inch shell hit number 4 hold lower ’tween-deck on port side. Hundreds of small calibre bullets hit the hull but none penetrated. The firing was over at 1555, and neither Chinese warship made any (attempt to follow the Flying Cloud. The firing started well astern, obviously intended as a warning, and gradually crept towards ship. It was obvious, according to Captain, that Chinese were carefully avoiding deck housing and superstructure, and were, therefore, trying not to hit any personnel. The DE had a main battery of three 3–inch guns, but only one was fired, and that only twice. Given extremely short range and fact that main battery of DE was virtually not used, it would appear that Chinese commander was not trying seriously to damage the ship.

[Page 1171]

“The only damage resulted from the single hit by a 3–inch shell. The shell was apparently set for instantaneous explosion, for it tore a hole in the hull 13 by 15 inches. The Captain said he could not have chosen a better spot for shell to hit, since only things stored near hole were some old grab buckets that were not damaged. The only damage to cargo was possibly a pound of slightly battered tea.

“Two miles outside Kiutoan Spit buoy the ship passed a British frigate (F–60) which signaled that Promise had not been able to wait for her stores, but had sailed for Hong Kong.

“It should be pointed out that the signals cited above are not verbatim. The Captain stated that he did not record the blinker signals verbatim. The above account, however, was obtained from the Captain, Miss Hoffman, and Mr. Sullivan, and no one story contradicted either of the others.”

  1. Neither printed.
  2. Philip H. Valdes, Vice Consul at Seoul and Third Secretary of Embassy in Korea.