I’ve alluded to the Panay Incident in past posts. It’s a story of what happens when a strong central government falls apart and leaves behind a power vacuum. I think history in this case illustrates what will happen in our near future and is an interesting story. Let’s tell the story now, on the 86th anniversary of the incident.

The US had a large presence of Americans in China in the form of Standard Oil and its refineries, wells, and subsequent employees, so they bought and maintained a fleet of oil tankers and several gunboats for their defense. The gunboats were part of the American naval operation called the Yangtze Patrol, which began following the joint British, French, and American victory in The Second Opium War, in 1918.

The US had maintained a naval presence there since 1854 with the gunboat USS Susquehanna. The naval personnel stationed on the Yangtze river called themselves the “River Rats.” As the last of China’s Dynasties lost its grip on the country, the Asiatic fleet found itself in more and more armed conflict with warring factions that were left behind in the power vacuum. The US was one of those factions, and US companies were making money by picking over the corpse of what had been the Chinese dynasties.

During the following decades, warlordism was becoming a full-blown civil war between Mao Zedong’s Red Army and Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist Army, and this conflict would continue until the communists’ 1949 victory that established the ChiCom government we are all familiar with today.

In 1937, Japan entered the contest and invaded China, soon thereafter beginning the Nanking massacre. During the invasion of Nanking, Standard Oil was attempting to evacuate its employees, a mix of Chinese and US citizens. The evacuation was being carried out by one of those gunboats of the Yangtze Patrol, the USS Panay, and three of those oil tankers. The oil tankers were loaded with refugees, and all four vessels were prominently flying US flags, with the Panay even having a large flag painted on its topmost deck, for visibility from the air. The US Asiatic fleet had notified the Japanese army of their location and mission on the day before the incident.

While anchored upstream from Nanking, Panay and the three Standard Oil tankers were attacked by Japanese naval aircraft. The Panay was struck by two 130 pound bombs and was strafed by six fighters before sinking. Once the ship had gone to the bottom, the three Standard Oil tankers were also bombed and destroyed.

That wasn’t the end of the incident. While the Panay was sinking, Japanese aircraft, supported by gunboats of the Japanese Army, continued pouring fire into the boat and its lifeboats. Then the Japanese also fired upon and strafed the lifeboats and survivors who were trying to make it to shore.

As a result of the attack, three American sailors, the Captain of one of the oil tankers, dozens of Chinese Standard Oil employees, and an Italian journalist were killed. Another 43 sailors and 5 civilians were wounded.

Two US journalists, Norman Alley of Universal News and Eric Mayell of Movietone News, filmed part of the attack as well as the sinking of the ship in the middle of the river.

The Japanese claimed that they did not see the US flags being flown by the vessels, but that is not supported by the facts, and seemed to be a coordinated attack, as several other US and British vessels in the area were fired upon by shore batteries, aircraft, and gunboats of the Japanese armed forces on the same day.

Navy cryptographers had intercepted and decrypted traffic relating to the attacking planes which clearly indicated that they were under orders during the attack and that it had not been a mistake of any kind. This information was not released at the time because it would have revealed that the United States had broken Japanese Naval codes.

Fon Huffman, the last survivor of the incident, died in 2008. The last surviving Japanese pilot who participated in the attack was Kaname Harada, who died in 2016.

The entire incident was the result of world powers dividing up the riches of the collapsing Chinese dynasty. Expect the same thing to happen to a collapsing United States.

Categories: Military


EN2 SS · December 12, 2023 at 8:25 am

Expect the same thing to happen to a collapsing United States.
Well, I’ve got mine, y’all will have to take care of yourselves.

Born in 1948 I’ve seen the rise and fall of the greatest country in the known history of Terra. It’s been fun and it’s been real, but it ain’t been real fun for quite a while now. Good luck and may God take care you all.

Aesop · December 12, 2023 at 2:38 pm

Any world power trying that will learn, to their peril, what cantankerous and ungovernable sons of bitches Americans are when they wish to be so.

It will not go well for any such foolishly interloping world power, but as entertainment, it will surpass the Superbowl.

ModernDayJeremiah · December 12, 2023 at 2:44 pm

Makes the dereliction of duty by the Army and Navy on December 7, 1941, even more blatant. And MacArthur’s inexcusable negligence at Clark Field allowing his aircraft to be destroyed on the ground several hours later

    Divemedic · December 12, 2023 at 3:10 pm

    Yes. Keep in mind that, having broken the Japanese Navy’s codes, there is a high likelihood that the US knew that Pearl Harbor was coming, but they needed a major incident to permit them to enter the war. The US has used the method of provoking an attack that is then used to rile up the citizens on many occasions. (Fort Sumter, The USS Maine, Pearl Harbor, the Tonkin Incident, 9/11 and they now appear to be trying it with both Russia and Iran.)

    That’s where the FBI’s terrorism playbook comes from as well.

Wild, wild west · December 12, 2023 at 2:59 pm

For a sense of what it was like to be a real China sailor living through the collapse of American foreign policy in those days, read the novel The Sand Pebbles by Richard McKenna, who was himself a real China sailor who lived through the collapse of American foreign policy in those days. The movie starring Steve McQueen was based on his book. Get The Naval Institute edition if you can find it because it goes into McKenna’s life in detail.

    Aesop · December 12, 2023 at 6:45 pm

    Nice tip, WWW.

    I can only relate to what it was like to be Steve McQueen at the end of that movie.
    I sat up against the same crate he did and yelled “What the hell happened?!” and fell over on the temple pavement.
    The temple set from The Sand Pebbles was still there in the 70s, along with the M*A*S*H* movie and TV set, the ape village from the original Planet Of The Apes, an old western log stockade, the water tank they filmed the model shots from Poseidon Adventure, and the front end of a (crashed) B-17, after Fox sold it to the state as a park, but before they’d carted all the old sets off the property.

Jester · December 12, 2023 at 10:57 pm

I think we have lost the game already, but it’s not going to be a military coup or fighting countries like Red Dawn. We are already seeing it. It’s an economic defeat. We are already seeing various big bidnesses, political factions (elected) special interest groups, various groups like BLM, Antifa, on and on.

Will we see paratroopers landing in Colorado? No. For the reasons Aseop mentioned. It’s an economic battle and that’s been known for a long time. Will it go the way of Europe and an eventual disarment attempt over a generation? Possibly. I think the bones of this economic giant are what’s being fought over now. And those that are winning are a small club and none of us have the keys to get in the door.

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