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China’s Sunken Warships – Part 4

April 15, 2010

Death Wish  or Discretion ?  (Part 4)


1. China’s ‘Four Fleet’ Policy – 1). Beiyang Fleet, 2). Nanyang Fleet  3). Fujian Fleet, 4). Guangdong Fleet 11. Modern  21st Century China
2. 20th Century Sino-Japanese Conflict 12. Farewell to Purdah ?
3. Nationalist Navy 1930 – 1945 13. Naval Command Structure
4. China’s Coastal / Coast Guard Fleet 14. Aircraft Carrier Developments
5. Survey Ships 15. Submarines
6. China’s Merchant Marine 16. Predicting Future Flashpoints
7. Fleet free of KMT control 17. Paracel and Spratly Archipelagos
8. Captured Japanese Shipping 18. Legitimacy of Claim
9. Blockade as a Weapon 19. Diplomacy
10. Cargo Ships Raised 20. Conclusion


Having spent some time exploring for the occidental mind the historic causes and dark recesses of oriental tensions between China and Japan, its is now possible to better understand why that antipathy remains to this day.

The apparently meteorite rise of Japan’s navy after World War One was, literally, at China’s expense; the land grab of the 1930s was at China’s expense; and the modernisation and  economic development of China we see today was deferred by the devastation inflicted by Japan during the 1930s (see Part 3).

However, the abuse of China by Japan and China’s natural distrust arising there from is routed further back in history – to the actions of the colonial powers which forced a weak China to open up its markets.

And in an example of the wheel of life turning full circle, we have to recall that in an earlier age China used its power and might to intimidate neighbours and adjacent nations.

However, a stronger China in the 19th century would have been able to demand less onerous terms and form alliances beneficial to itself and not merely beneficial to the other party. Japan did this when faced with the ‘Tripartite Entente” nations of France, Germany and Russia over the latter’s desperation to secure Port Arthur (see Part 3, Treaty of Shimonoseki 1895). Japan only agreed to vacate Port Arthur if China paid her an additional indemnity of 30 million taels, or 450 million yen.

By 1907 Japan, which already had close ties with Britain, had forged the Franco-Japanese Entente and French government backing for a $1,000 million to convert out of its high interest loans. Newspapers of the day report how France was already privately worried about Japan’s obvious ambitions on French Indo-China.

The French foreign ministry recognised in private papers just “. . . how impossible it would be to defend Indo-China against Japanese aggression.”  It was a worry that persistently stalked the corridors of the French foreign office. From that we can gain an appreciation of how Japan was viewed not just by China but her neighbours and even colonial powers – she was the world’s loose cannon.

What was to befall the Allied powers in Dec 1941 had already fallen on China a century earlier and again as recently as 1931.

In every naval campaign China had rarely come out ahead and had usually been defeated. Only in the Sino French war were there signs of Chinese’s military successes – but they were not naval. The assessment of historians is that China lacked by the mid 19th century both Admirals with panache, audacious commanders and vessels of comparable technology. But to be fair, this was recognised by the Emperor and his ministers as reported in the following chapter. (See also for instance, “Naval Warfare and the Refraction of China’s Self-Strengthening Reforms into Scientific and Technological Failure, 1860-1895”, by Benjamin A. Elman, UCLA, History Department). [1]

1. China’s ‘Four Fleet’ Policy

In previous chapters (Part 2 and 3) some time has been spent examining the Beiyang Fleet (the Northern Seas Fleet) and in passing mention has also been made of the Nanyang Fleet (the Southern Seas Fleet), but in the 19th century the Qing Dynasty of China had 4 distinct navies;

The hypothesis was that the Beiyang Fleet or Northern Seas Fleet would be the poised to defend northern China, the Yellow Sea and Korea, and the Nanyang Fleet – the Southern Seas Fleet, based in Shanghai – the south. The Fujian Fleet and the Guangdong Fleet completed the four but it is not clear what regional responsibilities they had, ie was it eastward looking, or coastline protection or internal rivers ? We do know that China had a severe piracy problem.

All the fleets became involved in ship buying without overall coordination and the type of equipment and training of the sailors received depended on which fleet employed them.

The name of the politician Li Hongzhang is a recuring thread in this commentary and it was he who regarded one naval command as not being feasible and lent his support to the adoption of  the four distinct fleet policy. In a politically unstable country such as China, riven with factions, it might has been ‘politic’ to divide and rule the navy which if unified might one day have challenged the Dynasty or lead a military coup.

China of the 1870s had the following 4 navies:

1. the Beiyang Fleet;

2. the Nanyang Fleet;

3. the Fujian fleet, and

4. the Guangdong Fleet.

From 1863 the Emperor spent extensively on ‘foreign built’ naval craft. The Keansgoo (1863) was a ship built expressly for the Emperor and during her sea trials was declared the fastest vessel of her time.

China recognised by the 1870s that they needed a modern fleet, especially after the disaster of the Opium War.  For many years the navy had been sidelined in favour of the Army and the two major Chinese shipyards at Shanghai and Fuzhou (alt. sp. Foochow)  simply could not produce the modern, technologically advanced ships needed.  Ships with Western technology would have to be purchased abroad. So in 1875, four gunboats from Britain were ordered.

China’s experiment with foreign built navy lead to the creation of the Lay-Osborn flotilla. Over the next 35 years China built up her steam powered navy (1870 – 1905), and nor was she reticent in embracing new design concepts  (see Table 18 for list of new steam powered warships). China’s navy adopted many innovative designs which can be confidently called cutting edge technology for their time (and by their very nature not fully tested or proven in combat).

From 1876 China began taking possession of Rendel gunboats, then the fastest and most heavily armoured ships afloat with the largest and most powerful guns. [2]

These were followed by her acquisition of Rendel cruisers (sometimes referred to as Elswick cruisers), mounting 10” breech loading guns on a relatively small hull.

Elswick cruisers (built at Elswick / Vickers shipyard from 1868 onwards) were designed by Rendel and were fast for their era. They were the precursor of the much larger battlecruisers of 50 years later, and they took account of the new developments in explosive shell technology. Thus they became known as ‘protected cruisers’.

In a ‘protected cruiser’, the armour was arranged on their decks inside the vessel, to protect the boilers and steam engines (which were below the waterline) and not just the hull.

A typical Rendel cruiser made for the Chinese would be between 1,350 and 2,930 ton and capable of 16 knots (see Part 3, Table 4. First Sino-Japanese War). Many countries expressed interest in this new type of warship and they were sold to several countries including Japan, e.g. the Izumi 1884. Eventually the displacement of protected cruisers increased beyond the 4,000 ton mark and 7,000 tons was not unusual.

Caveat: It should always be born in mind that the displacement (tonnage) listed in these Tables may represent the net, gross or displacement tonnage of ships. As one source puts it, these measures “were used indiscriminately in the past”For example, the 194 ft ‘Lui Hsing’ is alternatively listed as 449 tons, 724 tons and 1,500 tons. This is as true for Part 4 as it is for Tables in all the previous Parts in this commentary. This make ship identification even more problematical.

1). Beiyang Fleet

Table 12. Warships of the Beiyang Fleet

(circa 1894)

Name Launch / Laid down Length Displacem’t Speed (kts) Engine Main Guns Torpedo / Second ary Fate
Dingyuan (flagship), 1882, Stettin Germany Ironclad Battleship   7,670 tons 14   4 x 12”, 2 x 6”   Torpedoed & scuttled 1895
Zhenyuan (aka Chen Yuan) 1882, Stettin Ironclad Battleship   7,670 / 7,430 tons 14 / 12   4 x 12” 2 x 6”   Captured 1895
King Yuen,(sp ?), aka Ying Yuen & King Yuan   1887, Armstrong / Stettin ? Armoured cruiser   2,850 tons 10   2 × 8.3”, 2 × 5.9”, 8 × m/guns,  4 x 18” torpedo   Sunk Sept 17, 1894
Lai Yuen   1887, Vulcan, Stettin, Built in Germany. Armoured cruiser   2,830 tons 10       Damaged / Sunk 1895
Chih Yuen *1887 / Chi Yuen ? / Jijuan ? Protected Cruisers   2,300  tons 15   2 x 8”, 1 x 6”, 4 x 3”, 6 x 2” 4  x 14” torpedo   Sunk Sep 1894 /1895 /  ? Nov 1904
Zhiyuan *Alterative for Chih Yuen ? 1887 Elswick. Protected Cruisers   2,355 tons 18   3 x 8.3”, 2 × 5.9”, 8 x 2.2”, 4 x 18” torpedo   Not known
Ching Yuen (sp Ching Yuan ?) aka Jingjuan 1887 Elswick Protected Cruisers   2,850 /  2,355 tons   14 / 18   3 x 8.2”, 2 x 5.9”, 8 x 2.2”, 4 x torpedo   Sunk 1895
 ? 1887 Elswick Protected Cruisers   2,850 / 2,355 tons 14 / 18   3 x 8.2”, 2 x 5.9”, 8 x 2.2”, 4 x torpedo   Sunk 1895
Tsi Yuen  / aka Chi Yuan.   1883, Stettin Torpedo Cruiser   2,440 tons 15   2 x 8”, 1 x 6”, 4 x 3”, 6 x 2”, 4 x 15” torpedoes   Captured March 1895
Chaoyong   1881,  Birkenhead Torpedo Cruiser   1,350 tons 15   2 x 12”, 4 x  4.7” quickfire, 2 x 1”, 3 x torpedo tubes ( Alternative 2 x 10”, 2 x twin 9 lbs, 4 x 11mm gatling gun, 4 x 37mm, 2 x quad  Nor- denfeldt). Sunk 17 Sept 1894
Huang No data found – –       – –   – –
Kuang Ping   see Kwang Ping below         – –   – –
Kwang Ping ## 1895 Torpedo Cruiser – – 1,000 tons     3 x 4.7”   Captured at  Weihaiwei
Ping (Ping yuan ? ) 1889, Navy Yard at Foochow Torpedo Cruiser – – No data found     – –   – –
Yangwei # Identical to Chao-yong / 1881, Birkenhead, Torpedo Cruiser   1,350 tons 5  ?   2 x 10”, 4 × 4.7”, 2 × twin  9 lb, 4 × 11 mm Gatling guns, 4 × 37mm Hotchkiss  2 × 4 barrelled Nordenfelt   -­ –
Pingyuan 1888 Foochow Arsenal, Coastal warship   2,100 2,150 / tons 6 / 10   1 x 10”, 2 x 6”, 8 x machine guns, 4 x 18” torpedo   Captured in 1895 at Weihaiwei
Kwan Chia (Kuang Chia ? ) Corvette   1,290  tons   10 / 14   1 x 6”, 4 x 5”,  6 x 37mm   Total loss 1894
Others See Table 5, Part 3             – –


1A). Beiyang Fleet Gunboats

There are reports that Nanyang Fleet was originally to have had the four of the new steel Rendel gunboats, the Zhendong, Zhenxi, Zhennan and Zhenbei (completed in 1879), but Li Hongzhang a highly placed statesman liked them so much that he diverted them to the Beiyang Fleet.

As ‘compensation’, the Nanyang Fleet were given the Longxiang, Huwei, Feiting and the Cedian. These were four iron Rendel ‘alphabetical’ gunboats (alpha, beta, gamma etc) that had been in service at the port of Tianjin since 1876 (Tianjin is the nearest port to Peking – about 50 miles south – and is marked as ‘Taku’ on the Gulf of Chihli (see map in Part 3, “1st Sino-Japanese War”).

Table 13. Gunboats of the Beiyang Fleet   
Name Launch / Laid down Length Displacem’t Speed (kts) Engine Main Guns Torpedo / Second ary Fate
Zhenzhong 1879, Laird, Birkenhead  – – 440 tons 10 kts   – – Two 22-lb guns (1 x 35-ton Armstrong ?) – –
Zhenpang 1879, Birken-head  – – 440 tons 10 kts   – – Two 22-lb guns (1 x 35-ton Armstrong ?) – –
Zhendong 1879,  Birken-head   – – 440 tons 10 kts   – – Two 22-lb guns (1 x 35-ton Armstrong ?) – –
Zhenxi, 1879,  Birken-head   – – 440 tons 10 kts   – – Two 22-lb guns (1 x 35-ton Armstrong ?) – –
Zhennan 1879, Birken-head   – – 440 tons 10 kts   – – Two 22-lb guns (1 x 35-ton Armstrong ?) – –
Zhenbei 1879,  Birken-head   – – 440 tons 10 kts   – – Two 22-lb guns (1 x 35-ton Armstrong ?) – –
 Total 6                


2). Nanyang Fleet

Based at Shanghai, the Southern Seas Fleet (Nanyang) was, until 1885, the largest of China’s four regional fleets.

In the early 1880s its best ships were the modern composite cruiser Kaiji, completed in 1884 at the Foochow Navy Yard, the composite sloops Kangji and Chengching, also recent products of the Foochow Navy Yard (1878 and 1880).

The 2,630-ton wooden steam frigate, Yuyuan, was built at the Kiangnan Arsenal in 1873.

However, because there was no unified command structure every time China found itself at war with, say, Russia, Japan or a European power, the full force of the enemy tended to fall on one of the four navies. As a consequence China’s four navies were not used to their full advantage and slowly decimated.

The Nanyang Fleet, established in the 1870s, suffered some losses in the Sino-French War (August 1884 – April 1885), but escaped largely intact in the Sino-Japanese War. It was formally abolished in 1909.

Table 14. Warships of the Nanyang Fleet

(Southern Seas Fleet, based in Shanghai)

As composed in August 1884

Name(Wade Giles / Pinyin) Launch / Laid down Length Displacem’t Speed (kts) Engine Main Guns Torpedo / Second ary Fate
Ts’ao-chiang / Caojiang (wooden gunboat) 1869, Kiangnan Arsenal Dockyard   640 tons 9   4 x 6.3” Vavasseur gun   Captured by Japan, 25th July 1894.  renamed ‘Soko’
Ts’e-hai / Zehai (wooden gunboat) 1869, Kiangnan Dockyard   600 tons 12   15 x 4.7” guns   – –
Wei-ching / Weijing (wooden gunboat) 1870, Kiangnan Dockyard   1,000 tons 12   – –   – –
Hai-an / Haian wooden steam frigate 1872, Kiangnan Dockyard   2,800 tons 12   2 x 8.2”,  4 x 5.9”, 2 x 4.7” Krupp cannon   – –
Ching-yuan / Jingyuan (wooden gunboat) 1872, Foochow Navy Yard(Chih Yuan Class ?)   572.5 tons 8   2 x 6.3” Vavasseur, 2 x 40 lb guns   Sunk 9th February 1895 (Sino – Japanese war?)
Yu-yuan / Yuyuan (wooden steam frigate) 1873, Kiangnan Dockyard   2,800 (2,630) tons 14   2 x 8.2”, 4 x 5.9” Krupp cannon, 20 x 4.7” guns   Sunk by torpedo, 14 Feb 1885 Battle of Shipu (Sino- French war)
Yuan-k’ai / Yuankai (wooden sloop/ transport) 1875, Foochow Navy Yard   1,250 tons 10   1 x 6.2”, 4 x 40-lb guns    
Teng-ying-chou / Dengyingzhou (wooden transport) 1876, Foochow Navy Yard   1,258 tons 10   1 x 6.2”,  4 x 4.7” guns    
Chin-ou / Jinou (Experimental Ironclad) 1876, Kiangnan Dockyard – – 195 tons – –   1 x 6.7” Krupp MLR    
Lung-hsiang / Longxiang(iron Rendel gunboat) 1876, Mitchell & Co.   319 tons – –   1 x 11” 26.5-ton Armstrong MLR, 2 x 12 lb Galting ? Alpha, renamed Lung Hsiang, discarded 1895
Fei-t’ing / Feiting (iron Rendel gunboat) 1876, Mitchell & Co.   400 tons 9   1 x 12.5” 38-ton Armstrong gun, 2 x 12-lb guns, 1 x Gatling Gamma renamed Fei Ting. Discarded 1905
Ts’e-tien / Cedian (iron Rendel gunboat) 1876, Mitchell & Co.   – – 319 tons   – –   – – 1 x 12.5” 38.5-ton Armstrong gun, two 12 lb guns   – – Delta, renamed Tse Tien.  Discarded 1905
Hu-wei / Huwei (iron Rendel gunboat) 1876, Mitchell & Co.   – – 319 tons   – –   – – 1 x 26.5-ton Armstrong gun   – – Beta, renamed Hu Wei, discarded 1895
Ch’ao-wu Chaowu (composite sloop) Wei Yuen Class ? 1878, Foochow Navy Yard   – – 1,250 tons 11   – – 1 x  7.4”, 4 x 40 lb guns   – – – –
K’ang-chi / Kangji (composite sloop) 1879, Foochow Navy Yard   – – 1,200 tons – –   – – 1 x  7” MLR, 6 x  4.7” MLR   – – Sunk, by friendly fire, 14 Feb 1885 Battle of Shipu, near Ningbo (Sino- French War)
Ch’eng-ch’ing / Chengqing (composite sloop) 1880, Foochow Navy Yard   – – 1,200 tons – –   – – 1 x 7”  MLR, 6 x  4.7” MLR   – – – –
K’ai-chi / Chengqing (composite cruiser) 1884, Foochow Navy Yard   – – 2,153 tons 15   – – 2 x 8.2”  6 x 4.7”Krupp cannon, 4 x Norde-nfeldt – –
Nanchen / Nan-ch’en (steel cruiser) 1884, Howaldt, Kiel, Germany   2,200 tons 15   2 x 8” Armstrong 8 x 4.7” quickfirers   – –
Nanrui / Nan-jui (steel cruiser) 1884, Howaldt, Kiel, Germany   2,200 tons 15   2 x 8” Armstrong, 8 x 4.7” quickfirers   – –
Total 20  –   –   –   –   –   –  Captured 1 Sunk 2 Sunk 1
Iota Renamed Chen Chung. To which fleet do  Iota & Kappa  belong  ? 1880 Flatiron – Alphabetical class  – –  – –  – –  – –     – – Did Japan take advantage of Sino-French War ? Or is the date wrong and this is a Weihaiwei prize ? Captured 12th Feb  1885, then became Japanese Chin Chu
Kappa Renamed Chen Pien 1880 Flatiron – Alphabetical class  – –  – –  – –  – –   – – Ditto the above.   Captured 12th Feb  1885, then became Japanese Chim Pien


The minor clash with France illustrates how China’s four navies were not used to their full advantage and thus as a fighting threat slowly ground down.

French explorers had by the 1880s pushed up to and then north of Hanoi following the Red River. This was the mountainous Chinese province of Yunnan on China’s southerly perimeter. The French, ambitious for empire, sought to consolidate on these explorations by claiming what is now the whole of North Vietnam and naturally China objected.

This gave rise to the undeclared war known as the Sino-French War 1884 – 1885, (10 years before the First Sino-Japanese War).

A French fleet of approx 15 ships was dispatched and laid siege to Formosa / Taiwan (see map). In Aug 1884 the Fujian Fleet was all but erased by Admiral Amédée Courbet’s Far Eastern Squadron at the Battle of Fuzhou – a mainland port opposite the island of Taiwan (formerly Formosa) on Aug 23rd 1884.

Nine of the eleven vessels of the Fujian Fleet were destroyed in less than an hour. The French knew that the type of vessel available to the Fujian Fleet could be overcome.

However, when the French – their fleet increased to approx 20 ships – also inflicted losses on the Nanyang Fleet at the Battle of Shipu near the port of Ningbo (Feb 1885) and suffered no losses themselves, the Nanyang Fleet, and China, suffered a significant humiliation.

Left: Chinese coast showing Hong Kong, Shanghai and the island of Taiwan.

The Nanyang Fleet suffered the loss of Yuyuan and Chengqing in Feb 1885 and then the fleet was trapped in port by the French. The Kaiji, Nanrui, Nanchen, Chaowu, Yuankai and two ‘alphabetical’ gunboats were blockaded in Zhenhai Bay from March 1885 for the rest of the war. The French lost no ships and had very few killed or injured.

Following the fiasco of the French victory over the Fujian Fleet 6 months earlier (Aug 23rd 1884), the account given by Europeans at the Battle of Shipu, near Ningbo, epidermises Chinese divisions and lack of confidence in their own ability.

Two ships from the Beiyang Fleet, the relatively-modern cruisers Chaoyong and Yangwei were originally earmarked in Feb 1885 to bolster the Nanyang fleet. They were under the command of the German ‘guest-admiral’ Siebelin, but the politician Li Hongzhang again intervened in naval affairs. He diverted them back into Korean waters claiming that tension between China and Japan over Korea was increasing.

According to L. C. Arlington, an American naval officer serving as a ‘foreign adviser’ aboard the Nanyang Fleet’s frigate Yuyuan, the Chinese sortie out of Shanghai to relieve the French blockade of Formosa (Taiwan) was made in a mood of deep despondency. The Chinese captains had no confidence in their ability to meet the French in combat and were determined to avoid battle if they possibly could.

Constantly stopping en route, the Chinese captains were reluctant when in port to clear the sides of local small craft that came along side despite warnings from advisors. It was this failure that allowed the French to use a very small launch to deliver a torpedo that sank the Yuyuan. [3]

Table 15. Warship Additions to the Nanyang Fleet 

(Southern Seas Fleet, based in Shanghai)

Post  Sino-French War, ie 1885

Name Launch / Laid down Length Displacem’t Speed (kts) Engine Main Guns Torpedo / Second ary Fate
Pao-min / Baomin 1885, Kiangnan Dockyard. Steel cruiser   1,477 tons 16   2 x 200 lb, 6 x  70 lb guns    
Ching-ch’ing / Jingqing 1886, Foochow Navy Yard. Composite cruiser   1,477 tons 15   2 x 15-cm, 5 x 4.7” Krupp cannon    
Huan-t’ai / Huantai 1887, Foochow Navy Yard. Composite cruiser   1,477 tons 15   2 x 15 cm, 5 x  4.7” Krupp cannon    


The loss to the Nanyang Fleet of Yuyuan and Chengqing in Feb. 1885 eroded its advantage (approx. 20 ships) over the Beiyang Fleet i.e., Northern Seas Fleet (approx. 16 ships).

By 1894, on the eve of the Sino-Japanese War, the Beiyang Fleet is stated as having a comfortable superiority over the Nanyang Fleet both in numbers of ships and quality. Nevertheless, the Nanyang Fleet continued to acquire new ships after the Sino-French War, some of reasonable quality (Table 15).

3). Fujian Fleet

The news of the destruction of the Fujian Fleet (Aug 23rd 1884) ) in the opening month of the undeclared Sino-French War was greeted by an outbreak of patriotic fervour in China. Chinese citizens vented their humiliation by attacks on foreigners and foreign property. There was considerable sympathy for China in Europe, and the Chinese were able to hire a number of British, German and American army and navy officers as ‘advisers’.

Nine Chinese ships were sunk in less than an hour, including the corvette Yangwu, the flagship of the Fujian fleet. As the Table below reveals, most to Chinese ships were around the 1,391 tons mark and some only 200 tons.

The obliteration of the  Fujian Fleet was entirely avoidable and could certainly have been ameliorated. Orders, direct from the Empress Dowager Cixi, to the commanders of China’s other three regional fleets were ignored. The admirals of these 3 fleets simply declined to send ships to reinforce the Fujian Fleet. This was treason and it would come back to haunt the Beiyang fleet in the Sino Japanese War when yet another one of China’s four fleets would  be all but wiped out.

Ranged against them were the French ironclad battleship’s Bayard, La Galissonnière, Turenne, Triomphante, and Atalante.

Right: La Galissonnière, 1880.

Visually, La Galissonnière, was very similar to the other ships mentioned above, albeit that the Bayard was 5,800 tons and the La Galissonnière was only 2,363 tons. Both were much larger vessels than anything in the Fujian Fleet.

The speed, 15 knots, of the La Galissonnière, and her fire power 15 x 5.5 inch guns and 8 x 1 pounder revolvers must, in conjunction with the other French ships, have simply overwhelmed the Chinese fleet (later her 5.5 inch guns replaced by Quick Firing Conversions).

The Bayard, too was a wooden hull ship with full rigging but had side armour creating a displacement of 5,800 tons. She was armed with 4 × 9.5” guns in single mount barbettes, 6 × 5.5” deck guns and 1 × 6.4” gun in the bow plus 6 × 2.5” guns.

Table 16. Composition of the Fujian Fleet

Battle of Fuzhou, Aug 1884

(listed according to date of construction)

Name Launch/ Laid down Length Displacem’t Speed (kts) Engine Main Guns Torpedo / Secondary Fate
Fu-hsing / Fuxing 1870, Foochow Navy Yard   515 tons – –   3 guns   Sunk
Chen-wei / Zhenwei 1872, Foochow Navy Yard   572.5 tons 10   6 guns   Sunk
Fu-p’o  / Fupo 1870, Foochow Navy Yard   1,258 tons – –   5 guns   Escaped to avoid capture
Fei-yun / Feiyun/ described as a Scout-transport 1872, Foochow Navy Yard   258 / 1,258 tons 13   5 Prussian breechloaders   Sunk 23rd August 1884. (look at tonnage ?).
Yang-wu / Yangwu 1872, Foochow Navy Yard   1,393 tons 15   13 British muzzle-loaders   Sunk
Chi-an  / Ji’an / Scout-transport 1873, Foochow Navy Yard   1,258 tons 12   5 guns   Sunk
Yung-pao  / Yongbao 1873, Foochow Navy Yard   1,391 tons – –   3 guns   Sunk
Ch’en-hang  / Chenhang 1874, Foochow Navy Yard   1,391 tons,   – –   3 guns   Sunk
Chien-sheng  / Jiansheng 1875, Laird, Birkenhead   250 tons – –   – –   Sunk
Fu-sheng  / Fusheng 1875, Laird, Birkenhead   280 tons – –   – –   Sunk
I-hsin  / Yixin 1876, Foochow Navy Yard   No data available – –   – –   Escaped to avoid capture  
Heng-hai  / Henghai 1885, Foochow Navy Yard   No data available – –   – –    ?
Fu-ching  / Fujing 1893, Foochow Navy Yard   2,200 tons 17   2 x 8” Armstrong guns, 8 x quickfirers   Available in  1893 ie after war.  


After the victory over the Fujian Fleet (Aug 23rd 1884) the French squadron was joined in Oct 1884 by several cruisers. From the Middle East came the Rigault de Genouilly; the Nielly and Champlain were sent from the Indian Ocean station.

At the end of November 1884 a fourth cruiser, Éclaireur, arrived from the Pacific station.

In January 1885 the squadron was joined by the cruisers Duchaffaut from New Caledonia and Laperouse (2,240 tons) from France. At the end of March 1885 yet another cruiser, the Kerguelen, was transferred from the Pacific station to join the squadron.

By the summer of 1885 French naval forces in the Tonkin Gulf region had been reinforced again by the cruisers Fabert and La Clocheterie, and the seagoing gunboat Jaguar, previously based at Along Bay as part of the Tonkin flotilla.

Table 17. French Order of Battle – Summer 1885
Battleships / ironclads Bayard, La Galissonnière, Turenne, Triomphante, Atalante.
Cruisers (1st Class) Duguay-Trouin, Villars, d’Estaing, Laperouse, Nielly, Magon, Primauguet, Roland.
Cruisers (2nd Class): Champlain, Châteaurenault, Éclaireur, Rigault de Genouilly
Cruisers (3rd Class): Kerguelen, Volta, Duchaffaut. (Fabert, La Clocheterie ?)
Others Jaguar, Torpedo boats, auxiliaries etc


No information can be found on the cruisers Fabert and La Clocheterie, so determining whether they were cruisers of the 1st Class or 3rd Class category is uncertain.

Only the 17 knot Fu-ching (Fujing) armed with 2 x 8” Armstrong guns and 8 x quickfire guns could have put up any real opposition to the French, but this 2,200 ton ship was not available the Fujian Fleet until 1893, i.e. after the Sino-French war.

Out of the melee of sinking ships only two ships of the Fujian Fleet, the Fu-p’o (Fupo) and the I-hsin (Yixin) avoided being sunk by escaping up river away from the French.

4). Guangdong Fleet

The Guangdong Fleet was the smallest of China’s four regional fleets during the second half of the nineteenth century. It played virtually no part in the Sino-French War, but some of its ships saw action 10 years later in the Sino-Japanese War.

All the ships shown in the table below were commissioned after the Sino-French War ( August 1884 – April 1885).

By common consent among established authorities of the Guangdong Fleet, its exact composition of ships has yet to be determined. Available records do not give a complete account of the ships at its disposal so the following table has to be treated as tentative and or provisional.

Table 18.  Composition of the Guangdong Fleet 1885

Acquisitions made by the Guangdong Fleet after the Sino-French War, 1884–85

Name (Ppinyin / (Wade Giles Launch/ Laid down Length Displacem’t Speed (kts) Engine Main Guns Torpedo / Second ary Fate
Leihu / Lei-hu (steam torpedo boat) 1884, Stettin, Germany   64 tons   Steam 2 x bow torpedo tubes, 1 x Hotchkiss  Bow  Torpedo – see HMS Speedy photo below Arrived in Canton China in 1885.
Leilong / Lei-lung (steam torpedo boat) 1884, Stettin, Germany   64 tons   Steam 2 x bow torpedo tubes, 1 x Hotchkiss   Arrived in Canton China in 1885.
Leidui / Lei-tui (steam torpedo boat) 1885, Schichau, Germany   26 tons    Steam 1 x bow torpedo tube   Arrived in China in 1886.
Leigan / Lei-kan (steam torpedo boat) 1885, Schichau, Germany   26 tons    Steam 1 x bow torpedo tube   Arrived in China in 1886.
Leikan / Lei-k’an (steam torpedo boat) 1885, Schichau, Germany   26 tons    Steam 1 x bow torpedo tube   Arrived in China in 1886.
Leikun / Lei-k’un (steam torpedo boat) 1885, Schichau, Germany   26 tons    Steam 1 x  bow torpedo tube   Arrived in China in 1886.
Leili / Lei-li (steam torpedo boat) 1885, Schichau, Germany   26 tons    Steam 1 x bow torpedo tube   Arrived in China in 1886.
Leiliang / Lei-liang (steam torpedo boat) 1885, Schichau, Germany   26 tons    Steam 1 x bow torpedo tube   Arrived in China in 1886.
Leisun / Lei-sun (steam torpedo boat) 1885, Schichau, Germany   26 tons    Steam 1 x bow torpedo tube   Arrived in China in 1886.
Leizhen / Lei-chen (steam torpedo boat) 1885, Schichau, Germany   26 tons    Steam 1 x bow torpedo tube   Arrived in China in 1886.
Leizhong / Lei-chung (steam torpedo boat) 1885, Schichau, Germany   26 tons    Steam 1 x bow torpedo tube   Arrived in China in 1886.
Guangheng / Kuang-heng (comp-osite shallow draft gunboat) 1886, Canton   300 tons     1 x 5.9” and 1 x 3.5” Krupp breechloader, 3 x Nordenfeldts    
Guangli / Kuang-li (comp-osite shallow draft gunboat) 1886, Canton   300 tons     1 x 5.9” and 1 x 3.5” Krupp breechloader, 3 Nordenfeldts    
Guangyuan / Kuang-yuan (compos ite shallow draft gunboat) 1886, Canton   300 tons     1 x 5.9” and 1 x 3.5” Krupp breechloader, 3 Nordenfeldts    
Guangzhen / * Kuang-chen (composite shallow-draft gunboat) 1886, Canton   300 tons     1 x 5.9” and 1 x 3.5” Krupp breechloader, 3 Nordenfeldts    
Guanggeng / Kuang-keng (wooden gunboat) c.1887, Foochow Navy Yard   320 tons     2 x 4.7” 1 x 3.9”, 2 x  Hotchkiss    
Guangxing / Kuang-hsing (wooden gunboat) c.1887, Foochow Navy Yard   320 tons     2 x 4.7” 1 x 3.9”, 2 x  Hotchkiss    
Guangzhen / * Kuang-chen (wooden gunboat) c.1887, Foochow Navy Yard   320 tons     2 x 4.7” 1 x 3.9”, 2 x  Hotchkiss    
Guangkui / Kuang-k’uei (wooden gunboat) c.1887, Foochow Navy Yard   320 tons     2 x 4.7” 1 x 3.9”, 2 x  Hotchkiss    
Guangjia / Kuang-chia (composite cruiser 1887, Foochow Navy Yard   1,296 tons, 15   1 x 5.9”,  4 x 4.7” Krupp breechloaders    
Guangyi / Kuang-i(steel torpedo gunboat) 1892, Foochow Navy Yard   1,000 tons     3 x 4.7” Krupp quickfirers    
Guangbing / Kuang-ping (steel torpedo gunboat) 1892, Foochow Navy Yard   1,000 tons     3 x 4.7” Krupp quickfirers    
Guangding / Kuang-ting (steel torpedo gunboat) 1892, Foochow Navy Yard   1,000 tons     3 x 4.7” Krupp quickfirers    
Total 24                


Having stated that it is difficult to establish the numbers and types in the Guangdong Fleet during the 1870s and early 1880s the local British authorities in Hong Kong did make an attempt. They estimated about fifteen small war vessels built and stationed at Canton, adjacent to Hong Kong, between 1865 and 1885, and the home port of both the Guangdong and Fujian Fleets.

The fleet is also believed to contain at least 7 vessels purchased from overseas in line with the Emperor’s intention to modernise the navy. The identity of these vessels is not entirely certain, but probably included the wooden steamships Feilong, Tianjin, Zhenhai, Anlan and Zhentao. These 4 ships are not found in any listing and so have not been included in the Table in this commentary until they can be independently cross-referenced.

The Guangdong Fleet is also accredited with the composite gunboats Guangdong, and Shandong, completed at Dumbarton in 1868. Also around this time a ship by the name of Feilong was lost in a typhoon in 1874, and an outdated Zhenhai was condemned in the same year. [4]

To add to the confusion the Guangdong Fleet took delivery in 1881 of a 440-ton steel Rendel gunboat built by Armstrong and Co. also named Zhenhai. This was probably a case of simply reviving the name of the ‘steamer’ Zhenhai, condemned in 1874 (see Para above).

The acquisition of the Rendel designed gunboat came at about the same time as  Li Hongzhang ordered  with six gunboats of similar design for the Beiyang Fleet (a sweetener for being the Cinderella Fleet, one is tempted to think?).

Interestingly, several British gunboats of the Dapper, Gleaner and Albacore class (see Table 19 below), are reported as being sold off by the British in in Hong Kong the late 1860s. The Dapper Class were wooden hulled gunboats of 232 tons, steam and sail powered, but fitted with screw propellers.

Several of these former British gun boats are believed to have served in the Second Opium War (1856–1860). If, as seems likely, two of them were acquired by the Guangdong Fleet it implies a possibility that there were others and that they were allotted to the Guangdong Fleet or other Chinese fleets. These former British gun boats will be listed in a separate Table below.

One of these former British gunboat directed to the Guangdong Fleet was probably Suiqing (also spelt Sui-ching or Sui-tsing), she is described as being subsequently lost at sea in 1886.

An insight into the overall lack of competent ships and seamanship is gleaned from instructions to the Guangdong Fleet in May 1882.

The French seizure of the citadel of Hanoi in April 1882 provoked the Qing government into wanting to ‘show the flag’ and send a signal to France that China viewed French colonial expansion in the Tonkin Gulf region with grave concern.


Left: Map of Tonkin Gulf, Red River and Hainan island.

In a letter concerning the deployment of the fleet, the Guangdong authorities, based near Hong Kong, mention that the only reasonably large ships at their disposal were the Haijing, (which literally translated means ‘forbidden ocean’), Qingha, and Dongyong (ref. Lung Chang). Unfortunately none of these 3 ships can be located or identified using the internet. (e.g. NB. Hong Kong, which is just off the adjacent map, can be found by drawing a straight line from Da Nang, touching the southerly coast of Hainan and continuing North West.

Two ships of the Fuijan Fleet, the Feiyun and Ji’an (or Chi-an), were seconded to the Guangdong Fleet at about this time. They remained in service with the Guangdong Fleet until August 1884, ie at the time of the Sino-French War. Both are listed as “sunk”

Given Guangdong’s proximity to Tonkin (northern Vietnam), where the main clashes in the Sino-French War took place, the Guangdong Fleet might have been expected to play a prominent part in the war. In fact it remained in harbour throughout the nine-month war. In March 1885 French warships imposed a blockade of the Cantonese port of Pak-Hoi (see map, east of Hong Gai). No attempt was made by the Guangdong Fleet to break this blockade

Despite these sertbacks, the Guangdong Fleet grew significantly during the second half of the 1880s, acquiring a force of gunboats and other ships. Some of these ships were built in China, either at the Canton Dockyard or the Foochow Navy Yard, while others were purchased from Germany. The locally-built warships normally contained the character guang for Guangdong) in their names.

The first additions to the fleet were the gunboats Guangheng, Guangli, Guangyuan and Guangzhen. These were shallow draft gunboats built at the Whampoa dockyard and were designed to guard the approaches to Canton.

One composite cruiser and three steel torpedo boats were built at the Foochow Navy Yard for the Guangdong Fleet between 1887 and 1892, named respectively Guangjia, Guangyi, Guangbing and Guangding (‘Guangdong A, B, C and D’). [5]

The Foochow Navy Yard also supplied the Guangdong Fleet with four shallow-draught  wooden gunboats at about the same period: Guanggeng, Guangxing, Guangzhen and Guangkui. Their tonnage is variously given as 320 tons or 560 tons.

In the post Sino-French War period two 64-ton first class steam torpedo boats, Leihu and Leilong were completed for the Guangdong Fleet (see Table 18 above). Built at the Vulcan works at Stettin in 1884, their delivery to China was delayed by the European powers for a year because of the outbreak of the Sino-French War. They arrived in Canton in late 1885.

A year later, in 1885, nine 26-ton second class torpedo boats were completed for the Guangdong Fleet this time from the Schichau works in Germany and arrived in China in 1886. Like their larger predecessors built at the Vulcan works in Stettin, they all contained the character Lei in their names. The Leidui, Leigan, Leikan, Leikun, Leili, Leiliang, Leisun, Leizhen, and Leizhong. are all listed in the Table above.

In an attempt to clarify matters, and for future study, listed below are all the gunboats referred to earlier as disposed of by the Royal Navy with a Hong Kong / Guangdong connection. Some will have been broken up for scrap, some converted into commercial vessels, but some may have been re-named and re-used as warships, e.g. HMS Snap, which became the Japanese warship Kaku-ten-shan – some may even have been refloated or never actually scrapped when sold as ‘scrap’.

Table 19. Royal Navy Ships Sold or Disposed of in Hong Kong

(circa 1860 – 1890)

Name Launch/ Laid down Length Displacem’t Speed (kts) Engine Main Guns Type / Class Fate
HMS Starling 1st Feb 1855,  W & H Pitcher, Northfleet           Dapper Class Sold in Hong Kong Dec 1st. 1871
HMS Snap 3rd Feb  1855,  W & H Pitcher, Northfleet           Dapper Class Sold in 1868, then resold to  Japanese as the warship Kaku-ten-shan. In 1872 became merchantman Snap
HMS Weazel   19 March 1855. W & H Pitcher, Northfleet           Dapper Class Sold at Hong Kong on 18th Nov. 1869
HMS Banterer (see below, HMS Speedy launched 1883) 29 Sept 1855,  W & H Pitcher, Northfleet           Albacore Class. See also Part 3, Sect 8. Grounded in action at Taku Forts on 25 June 1859. Refloated and sold at Hong Kong on 30th Dec. 1872
HMS Bustard 20 Oct. 1855, W & H Pitcher, Northfleet           Albacore Class Fitted for foreign service. Sold to Cheeong Loong at Hong Kong on 18th Nov. 1869.
HMS Hardy 1 March 1856, Charles Hill & Sons, Bristol           Albacore Class Sold at Hong Kong on 9 February 1869
HMS Bouncer 23 Feb 1856, C J Mare & Company, Leamouth           Albacore Class Sold at Hong Kong on 1st Feb 1871
HMS Forester 23 January 1856R & H Green, Blackwall Yard           Albacore Class In Hong Kong 1868 became yard craft YC7 Was lost there in a typhoon 2nd Sept 1871
HMS Opossum 26 February 1856, Money Wigram & Son, Northampton           Albacore Class 1876 became a hospital hulk, then a mooring vessel in 1891. Renamed Siren in 1895 and sold at Hong Kong in 1896
HMS Haughty   9 Feb 1856, W & H Pitcher, Northfleet           Albacore Class Sold at Hong Kong on 23 May 1867
HMS Flamer 10 April 1856Fletcher & Fearnall, Limehouse           Albacore Class 1868 coastal defence. 1871   Hospital ship. Blown ashore and wrecked  during typhoon  22 Sept 1871. Sold
HMS Drake 8 March 1856, Pembroke Dockyard           Albacore Class Sold at Hong Kong on 9 February 1869
HMS Clown 20 May 1856, William Cowley Miller, Toxteth Dock, Liverpool             In 1867. became coal lighter YC1. Renamed YC6 in Dec 1869. Wrecked in typhoon  2 Sept 1871
HMS Watchful 4 June 1856T & W Smith, North Shields             Sold at Hong Kong on 1 February 1871
HMS Woodcock 6 June 1856, T & W Smith, North Shields             Sold at Hong Kong on 1 February 1871
HMS Algerine # see below 24 February 1857W. & H. Pitcher, Northfleet   .       Algerine  Class gunboat Sold in  HK 2nd April 1872, became the merchantman Algerine. Scrapped 1894
HMS Slaney 17 March 1857W. & H. Pitcher, Northfleet           Algerine Class gunboat Wrecked in a typhoon in the Paracel Isles 550 mls south of HK on 9 May 1870
HMS Esk 28 April 1877 Palmers Shipbuilding & Iron Company, Jarrow           Medina class gunboat Sold in HK April 1903
HMS Tweed see below 23 August 1877 Palmers Shipbuilding & Iron Company, Jarrow           Medina class gunboat Sold at Hong Kong on 21 November 1905
HMS Rifleman 10 August 1846 Portsmouth Dock yard Wooden Screw         Rifleman class gunvessel Survey ship in 1862. Sold in HK on 18 Nov 1869
HMS Mullett (or Mullet) # 3 February 1860, Charles Lungley, Rotherhithe 145 ft 570 tons 10 Steam   1 x 68-pdr MLSB, 2 x Two 24 lbs howitzers, 2 x  20 lbs breech-loaders. Replaced by 7” 110 lb breech-loader Philomel-class wooden screw gunvessel. They were  a larger version of Algerine Class  of the 1850s Sold at Hong Kong for mercantile use on 25 April 1872, renamed Formosa. Became Melbourn e converted to ammunition dump ship ie magazine ship.
HMS Cormorant 9 February 1860, Money Wigram & Son, Blackwall Yard           Cormorant class gunvessel Sold 7 June 1870 at HK for £3,365.
HMS Myrmidon 5 June 1867Chatham Dockyard           Cormorant class gunvessel Survey ship in 1884. Sold at Hong Kong in April 1889
HMS Swift 29 Nov 1879 Thames Ironworks & Ship building Company, Leamouth           Linnet class ‘composite’ gunvessel Sold at Hong Kong in 1920 for mercantile use, renamed Hoi Ching. Sold 1902 ?
 # HMS Mullet, see ‘Algerine’ photo below  Total  25              


One source places HMS Dapper herself (launched March 1855, 232 tons) as a training hulk in 1855 and as a cooking depot by 1897. The inconsistency is that if she was launched in 1855, why was she a training hulk in the same year yet reportedly not scrapped until 1922 ?

What might some of the ships sold off in Hong Kong have looked like ? It might be difficult in the 21st century to imagine them, i.e. the Dapper, Gleaner, Linnet and Albacore class as few photographs exist. Where pictures are available of such ships they are, in the main, of the next generation, ie post 1880.

Right: HMS Albacore (1883).

The HMS Albacore as she looked in the 1880s is shown here. She is typical of gun boats at the end of the 19th century. Sold in 1906 she was a 4-gun screw gun-boat, launched at Birkenhead in 1883. Capable of 11 knots,  she was 135 ft long, displaced 560 tons and had a 770 horsepower engine ( ).

The next generation HMS Albacore (the seventh ship to bear the name) was a turbine powered “torpedo-boat destroyer”, built speculatively in 1909 at Palmer’s of Jarrow. She was of 440 tons, 8,000 horsepower, 221 ft, long and had a speed of 30 knots (the HMS Albacore pictured above looks unlikely to be able to achieve 30 knots).

It is unlikely that the navy would sell off 20 year old ships and that the HMS Albacore that was probably sold in Hong Kong was a forerunner to the one pictured above. That being the case it is more likely to resemble HMS Algerine (see below). Gunboats launched in the 1860s could look as old-fashioned as Capt. Cooke’s Beagle.  Most of the available pictures of ships launched in the 1860s are not of high enough resolution to reproduce here.

The picture (left) is of HMS Algerine, circa 1880, used here because she resembles many ships then on active service in the 1860s. While retaining an all wooden hull appearance, ships of her era were switching to ironcladding and even all-iron construction. This is best exemplified by the launch in 1861 of the revolutionary all-metal HMS Warrior at 9,210 tons.

HMS Algerine is listed as a 3-gun, screw gun vessel, built at Belfast in 1880 (1879). She was 774 tons (835 tons ?), had a 750 horsepower engine, and a speed of 10 knots.  Her length was 157 ft. The “Algerine” was sold in 1892 and replaced in 1895 with the launch of another HMS Algerine which served in Canada.

The 1895 HMS Algerine was a 6-gun, twin-screw gunboat of 1,050 tons, a 1,400 horsepower engine, and a speed of 13 knots. Her length was 185 ft.

The contrast in design between HMS Algerine (1880) and HMS Speedy launched in 1893, (see also Part 3), shows the pace of technological change.

Right: HMS Speedy (1883) an Alarm class torpedo boat. Note bow torpedo tube

This transition period was remarkable both for its speed and the technology involved. Gone are the masts and rigging as a supplementary form of propulsion to be replaced by token / ceremonial masts which were not to fulfil an equally useful purpose until the introduction to the fleet of ‘wireless sets’ in 1900. Nelson-style guns in casements were replaced by rotating gun turret each capable of 180 degrees arc of fire.

Ships like HMS Speedy and HMS Tweed (right) mentioned in Table 19 above, still had open bridges and helms but these were positioned amidships. HMS Tweed, a Medina Class gunboat, was launched in 1876 (or 1877), and sold in Hong Kong in 1905.



2. 20th Century Sino-Japanese Conflict

The inter-war years again saw China as a graveyard for ships and at times the trend seems never ending. In previous Parts of this commentary it has become abundantly clear that the maritime ‘death toll’ in ships didn’t end in the 19th century but continued into the 20th century (Part 1 Table 2 China’s Warship Fleet, 1918 – 1945).

Despite internal turmoil, e.g. Boxer Rebellion, China had, before and after the 1911 Revolution, ambitious plans for a stream navy.

In Part 3 it was stated that China’s Beiyang Fleet was judged to be the “Best in Asia” and during the late 1880s was the 8th largest in the world. (See  One aspect that perhaps should have been expanded upon in Part 3 was that Japan had, by 1914, developed close ties with Britain and modeled its navy on Britain’s. Historically, Britain had learnt by the 18th century that meritocracy with stiff exams to be passed before any promotion and not nepotism, was the surest way of founding a strong navy where success was most likely to be achieved.

Despite economic constraints and military setbacks the Manchu (Qing) dynasty continued naval procurement. The Chinese Revolution of 1911 that ende China being ruled by an Emporer, inevitably setback this programme but as the Table 20 below shows an extensive programme of ship building was nonetheless maintained in the period from 1905 to 1914.  The period immediately after World War I saw no ship building in China.

However, it was not until the Nationalist government took over in 1928 that real efforts were made to bring these plans to fruition. In the final analysis, lack of money restricted any substantial build up of naval forces. Credit must go to David Chessum for compiling the list of ships shown below as Table 20 (

Table 20. Warships Built for Export – for China and in China

Part 1 and 2, (1905 – 1939)

Part 1. Jan 1st 1905 – Aug 1914 
Name Type Client Country Built Yard Tonn’ age Laid Down Launch Comple’d
Chao Ho Light Training Cruiser China UK Armstrong-Whitworth 2,750 7.11.10 23.10.11 21.2.1912  delivered
Ying Swei Light Training Cruiser China UK Vickers, Sons & Maxim Ltd 2,750 1910 14.7.11 12.11.12delivered
Fei Hung # Cruiser China USA New York SB Co 2,600 14.6.11 4.5.12 11.1913 Bought by  Greece, Helle
Chang Feng Destroyer China Germany Schichau, Elbing 390   6.11 delivered
Fei Hung # Destroyer China Germany Schichau, Elbing 390   1912 delivered
Fu Po Destroyer China Germany Schichau, Elbing 390   1912 delivered
Lung Tuan Destroyer China Austria-Hungary Stabilimento Tecnico Triestino 400   1913 1914  Taken over by Austria, Warasdiner
Ching Po Destroyer China Italy Ansaldo, Sestri Ponente 400 1911 6.12.12 21.7.1913 delivered
Chiang Chen Gunboat China Japan Kawasaki Yd, Kobe 565 1907 18.9.1907 07 delivered
Chiang Hung Gunboat China Japan Kawasaki Yd, Kobe 565 1907 2.6.1907 07 delivered
Chiang Li Gunboat China Japan Kawasaki Yd, Kobe 565 1907 18.8.07 07 delivered
Chu Chien Gunboat China Japan Kawasaki Yd, Kobe 752   31.7.06 delivered
Chu Kuan Gunboat China Japan Kawasaki Yd, Kobe 752   14.8.07 delivered
Chu Tai Gunboat China Japan Kawasaki Yd, Kobe 752   25.9.06 delivered
Chu Tung Gunboat China Japan Kawasaki Yd, Kobe 752   12.6.06 delivered
Chu Yiu Gunboat China Japan Kawasaki Yd, Kobe 752   1.4.07 delivered
Chu Yu Gunboat China Japan Kawasaki Yd, Kobe 752   21.2.07 delivered
Yung Feng Gunboat China Japan Mitsubishi, Nagasaki 780   1912 delivered
Yung Hsiang Gunboat China Japan Kawasaki, Kobe 780   20.3.12 delivered
Hu Chung Torpedo Boat China Japan Kawasaki 96   1.11.06 delivered
Hu Ngo Torpedo Boat China Japan Kawasaki 96   10.6.06 delivered
Hu Peng Torpedo Boat China Japan Kawasaki 96   10.6.06 delivered
Hu Ying Torpedo Boat China Japan Kawasaki 96   17.11.06 delivered
Chiang His River Gunboat China Germany Germania 140   1911 delivered
Chiang Kun River Gunboat China Germany Germania 140   1912 delivered
Part 2. Jan 1st 1919 – Sept 3rd 1939
Ning Hai Light Cruiser China Japan Harima 2,500 1930 1.10.31 delivered
Chin Yen River Gunboat China Japan Harima 270   35 delivered
Shun Tien River Gunboat China Japan Harima 270   34 delivered
Ting Pien River Gunboat China Japan Harima 270   35 delivered
Yang Min River Gunboat China Japan Harima 270   34 delivered
? Submarine China Germany Flenderwerft, Lubeck 275   – – Taken over by Germany, U120
? Submarine China Germany Flenderwerft, Lubeck 275   – – Taken over by Germany, U121
Argus River Gunboat France China Arsenal de Toulon, China 178   23 delivered
Vigilante River Gunboat France China Arsenal de Toulon, China     23 delivered
Ermanno Carlotto River Gunboat Italy China Shanghai Dock & Engineering Co 180   21 delivered
Tutuila  River Gunboat USA China Kiangnan Dock and Engineering Works, Shanghai 370 17.10.26 14.6.27 2.3.1928 delivered
Wake ex-Guam River Gunboat USA China Kiangnan Dock and Engineering Works, Shanghai 370 17.10.26 28.5.27 28.12.1927 delivered
Oahu  River Gunboat USA China Kiangnan Dock and Engineering Works, Shanghai 450 18.12.26 26.11.27 20.10.28 delivered
Panay  River Gunboat USA China Kiangnan Dock and Engineering Works, Shanghai 450 18.12.26 10.11.27 10.9.1928 delivered
Luzon  River Gunboat USA China Kiangnan Dock and Engineering Works, Shanghai 560 20.11.26 12.9.27 1.6.1928 delivered
Mindanao  River Gunboat USA China Kiangnan Dock and Engineering Works, Shanghai 560 20.11.26 28.9.27 10.7.28 delivered

Ships in the Table above appear to be of modest size, re: tonnage and this could reflect the overriding need for river policing or monetary constraints preventing investment in larger ships, e.g. frigates, destroyers and light cruisers of 1,000 to 3,000 tons (see Ning Hai).

Details are sketchy of the Chinese naval programme in the late 1920s but the following data (Table 21), has been put together from available sources. Ships launched prior to the inter-war period are included where they have undergone substantive refitting and retro-fitting of new equipment, e.g. Ren Sheng 1911, retrofit 1928, or may have received modifications, or cannot be found, e.g. Fu Hsing. Though listed in commentaries of the 20th century, the only ship of that name found is the one listed as being sunk at the Battle of Fuzhou 1894 (Fujian Fleet, see Table 16 above).

Table 21. Ships Launched by China

 (built pre 1939)  

Name Cross-Refer’ce Launch Displce-’t / tons Length (ft) Fate
Lui Hsing None 1902 1,500 194 ft Name not found
Fu Hsing None 1914 6,800 ? 269 Name not found
Hai Hsing # formerly Yung Chi (China)  None. See Table 31 1924 1,960   See below (1915)
Hai Hsing # formerly Yung Chi (China)   See Table 31 1915 860   Sunk. Refloated by Japan. Used on Yangtze. Survived war.
Chuen Hsing None 1927 1,960 ? 260 Name not found
Fen Hsing None 1933 500 ? 170 Not found
Hai Ping None 1933 450 ? 138 Name not found (but Ping Hai can be found)
Fei Ying   [quot. ‘old gunboat’] Reclassified as destroyer  1930.     Name not found
Wanhsing   Not found       Scuttled 29 Aug 1937
Wen Hsing None 1934 340 ? 143 Name not found (NB but a Wanhsing scuttled Aug 1937
Shu Hsing   1934 235 136 Name not found
Ping Hai Table 22 1936 2,448 360 ft Sunk
Ning Hai Table 22 1932 2,448  360 ft Sunk
Hai Rong Table 22 Sister ship ?     Sunk
Hsien Ning  None 1928  418 tons    
Chunghsing   Not found   2,748   Sunk 18 Aug 1937
Kung Sheng Table 26 1911 Converted to gunboat June 1928     Sunk
Yi Sheng Table 26 1911ditto Jan 1928 350   Sunk
Shun Sheng Table 26 1911 ditto Dec 1929 380   Scuttled
Yung Sheng / Yongsheng Table 26 1908 ditto Mar 1928 280   Sunk by Japanese planes
Chung Shan formerly Yung Feng     1910 780 ton gunboat, 14 kts   Sunk at Battle of Wuhan 1938
Ren Sheng / Rensheng Aka Yensheng  Table 26 1911 ditto Mar 1928 260   Sunk
Yue 22 # Aka Qihong Zhang ?  Table 30 1936 54 tons 92 ft Sunk by Japanese planes
Zhen Hai Table 30 Converted in 1924 2,708    
Yue 371  Table 30 Purchased Circa 1936 54 E-boat Survived the war.
Yue 253 Table 30 Circa 1936 54 E-boat Survived the war.
Yan 161 Table 30 Circa 1936 14 tons MTB Scuttled 1944 [?]
Shi 34 Table 30 Circa 1936 14 MTB Sunk
Shi 102 Table 30 Circa 1936 14 MTB Sunk
Shi 181 Table 30 Circa 1936 14 MTB Sunk
Shi 223 Table 30 Circa 1936 14 MTB Sunk
Wen 42 Table 30 Circa 1936 14 MTB Scuttled
Wen 88 Table 30 Circa 1936 14 MTB Scuttled
Wen 93 Table 30 Circa 1936 14 MTB Sunk
Wen 171 Table 30 Circa 1936 14 MTB Scuttled
Yan 92 Table 30 Circa 1936 14 MTB Captured
Yan 53 Table 30 Circa 1936 14 MTB Scuttled


What may also be surprising is that having discarded the Four Fleet policy as ineffective in 1909, the same policy re-emerges by the time we reach 1931.

It has been possible from trawling the Internet and specialist websites to locate the names and some data of Chinese warships (see Parts 1, 2  and 3), but it is the resurgence inside China that has proven the key to a better understanding of what exactly happened to which ships.

Renewed interest in its naval history – no doubt connected to China’s outstanding economic performance in the past two decades – has produced a wealthier generation with access to Western technology (the internet) and enough leisure time to ask questions and make enquiries that life in a rural setting would formerly have prohibited. It is from these sources inside China that we learn that the sequence of events regarding ships of the Chinese Nationalist Party or Kuomintang days.

As a prelude to the presenting of new tables another small detour, this time into the founding of the Republic and the Nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek, will be advantageous.

Quickly stated, the Qing or Manchu Dynasty ended in 1912 followed by a warlords phase followed then by the founding of a Republic which was nominally unified under the Kuomintang (KMT). China was in the early stages of industrialisation and modernisation but this progress was retarded as the country was caught up in the conflicts between the Kuomintang government and the Communist Party (CCP), overcoming the remnants of the War Lord system and the Japan’s invasion.

In addition to these forces pulling in different directions, there was the perennial Chinese problem of corruption in government and among the civil service. ‘Cliques’ besieged good governance just as they had during the Manchu Dynasty. Perhaps this is why the naval forces were again divided into four components.

‘Nation-building’ efforts were sporadic in the years leading up to 1931 and were stopped completely with the full-scale invasion by Japan in 1937.

By this time Chiang Kai-shek was the leader of the ‘Kuomintang’, which is better known in the West as the Nationalist government. What is not so well known is that Chiang Kai-shek, like Mao Tse-tung (aka Mao Zedong), was a revolutionary and in 1916 a prominent member of the pro-democracy ‘Chinese Revolutionary Party’. Chiang Kai-shek was schooled at the Baoding Military Academy (China) and then served in the Imperial Japanese Army from 1909 to 1911. He knew nothing of the west and in common with the last of the Qing dynasty his deeply held Confucian views led him to see nothing useful there to absorb. Later in his career, in 1924, Chiang Kai-shek was appointed commandant the Whampoa Military Academy which has always played an important role in Chinese history. It was this power base that enabled him to eventually assume the mantle of Chinese leader.

However, he was leader of a China still plagued by truculent and obdurate War Lords and military campaigns in the 1920s to neutralise their influence nearly bankrupted the country. It was for this reason – and the tribute of millions of taels paid over by the Qing dynasty – that resulted in a meagre and obsolete navy.

The ships listed in the tables below may appear plentiful but their age, speed and size indicates they were no match for the more modern Japanese navy. The decision, therefore, to sacrifice them as blockships becomes ever more defensible. The tactic of fighting and then withdrawing ever deeper into the interior of one’s own country was a tactic used by the Soviets in 1941.

3. Nationalist Navy 1930 – 1945

The following observations/comments and tables are derived from Chinese sources; the list of ships in the Nationalist Navy at the outbreak of the war  is based on two documents in Kangri Zhanzheng Zhengmain Zhanchang (vol. 3) pp 1735-40 and 1894-96.

1st Fleet

The largest and strongest Chinese fleet in the inter-war years was the 1st fleet staffed by naval officers from Fujian province. This reputedly fell under the contoll of the Min clique.

 2nd Fleet

Little is known at the time of writing about this particular fleet. What can be deduced is that the gross tonnage of the 2nd Fleet was smaller than the other fleets and its ships very much smaller, ie none of 1,000 tons and most around 700 tons.

3rd Fleet

The second largest fleet was the 3rd fleet, or Manchurian Navy, was based in the Northeast (circa 1933). Once again, another Chinese fleet stayed in harbour as the Japanese took over Manchuria in 1931-1932.

4th Fleet

This was the Cantonese Navy equipped only with some river gunboats and armed ships

Central Navy

Referred to sometimes as the “Central (national) Navy”,  this division was run by Chiang Kai-shek’s own clique and reportedly had “dozens” (?) of brand new MTBs from UK and Germany (this may be an exaggeration. It is likely, given the sales figures and sinkages, to be  in the region of 12).

From internet posts it appears that the Central Navy might in fact be a combination of the Chinese 1st and 2nd fleet that had no loyalty to Chiang Kai-shek. It is mentioned only rarely and never with no hard evidence(

When the minister of navy, Chen Shaokuan, defied orders to send Hai Chen and Hai Chi (described as cruisers), to Nanking a brief skirmish between Chinese warships broke out near Hong Kong (June 21st 1935, 9:00 am). The Hai Rong, not part of the Central Navy, exchanged salvoes with her sister ship Hai Chou which was.

Left: Chen Shaokuan

Chen Shaokuan sent the newest cruiser, Ning Hai, to Shanghai under escort with three old cruisers Hai Rong, Hai Chou, Ying Rui, (and Yat Sen ?). The ships are listed in Table 22 below.

 After protracted negotiations, Chen Shaokuan accepted Chiang Kai-shek’s order and allowed the two cruisers to sail to Nanking, and withdrew his own cruisers.

Right: Hai Chou being refitted.

Rumours at the time suggested that the Chinese 1st and 2nd fleets, the Central Navy, were gathering on the Yangtze River mouth to detain them.

Chiang Kai-shek sent several air force squadrons to escort them into Nanking harbour on July 18th 1937, where the joined the 3rd fleet.

Right: Hai Rong, 2,950 tons

Reportedly their crews never met or said a word to members of the Central Navy when on shore leave.

This is given as the reason why Chen Shaokuan insisted that Hai Chi and Hai Chen must be scuttled too, when the Highest Military Committee told him to scuttle his ships to block the Yangtze River in 1937 (see Table 22 below).

Right: Hai Chi. 2,980 tons, light cruiser / destroyer.




China’s 1st Fleet

Table 22. China’s 1st Fleet

Chinese Frigates, Destroyers and Gunboats – Inter-War years

(probably incomplete)

NB. In places the spellings on this table reflect the modern form adopted by China today, e.g. Ninghai rather then the traditional Ning Hai and Haichou rather than Hai Chou.
Name Launch/ Laid down Length Displacem’t Speed (kts) Engine Main Guns Torpedo / Secondary Fate
Ying Rui / Yingrui ?  – – – – 2,460 tons  – –  – –  – –    – – Sunk by aircraft 23  Oct 1937
Jiankang Coastal Patrol Boats   390 tons  – –  – – Four mines, twin m/guns 2 x 18“ torpedoes See Part 1 Sunk 26 Sept 1937
Kean  – –  – – 1,290 tons  – –  – –   – –   – – Survived the war
Da Tong / Datong ? /  Tu Tung Sloop  – – 1,050 tons  – –  – –  – – Unconfirm – Cruiser / sloop. Two entries. Part 2 Table 3 Sunk 12 Aug 1937 at Jiangyin blockship. Raised in 1959,
Zhong Shan / Zhongshan ?   1910 Formerly Yongfeng ? Japanese Mitsubishi Shipyard 200 ft 844 / 836 tons 13   – –   – – Cruiser / sloopPart 1 Sunk Aug 1937 / 24th Oct 1938 by aircraft at Jinkou.
Ziqiang   – –   – – 1,050  tons   – –   – –   – – Unconfirmed  – Cruiser / sloop Sunk Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as block ship
Tong Ji / Tongji ? See also Tonhji See below 252.7 ft 1,900  tons 10.5   2 x 6”  starboard 5 x  4.7” Krupp guns 3 x 6 lbs (57 mm),   8 x 1 lbs (37 mm) guns. Training ship. Part 2 Table 3 Sunk 12 Aug 1937 block ship at Jiangyin ?
Tong Ji / Tongji ? Training ship    – – 6,000 tons   – –   – –    – – Is this a separate ship and a different navy ? Raised Feb – May1962
Hai Rong / Hairrong (See Ping Hai class ? Part 1 & 2) 1897German built 328 feet 2,950 tons 19.5   3 x Krupp 5.9“ single-loaded 8 x 4.1”, 2 x  40mm AA guns fitted mid 1930s. 6 x 1 lbs (37 mm) 3 x 14” torpedo tubes with under-water launch tube. Sunk Sept 1937  at Jiangyin as blockship. Raised 25 Apr 1959
Ning Hai / Ninghai 1932 360 ft 2,448 / 2,600 tons 23 Oil 3 x double 5.5”, 6 × 3 “AA guns, 4  or 10 x m/guns 4 x 21” torpedoes2 x FloatplanesSee Part 1 Sunk Sept 23 1937 by Japanese planes at Jiangyin & again 1944
Ping Hai / Pinghai 1936 360 ft 2,448 tons / 2,600 tons 23 Oil 3 × double 5.5” (suspect) 6 × 76 mm (3 “) AA guns No Float planes Part 1 Sunk Sept 22 1937 by Japanese planes at Jiangyin & again 1944
Yong Ji / Yongji   – –  – – 860 tons   – –   – –   – – Part 2 Table 3. See Table 28 Damaged Oct 21st 1938. Sunk by aircraft Oct 1938
Hai Chou  / Haichou [dubious]Sloop aka Hai Zhou / Hai Chao British built. Used as Revenue Cutter/ 1916 Belfast / ex-HMS Pemstemon 328 ft (255 ft) (2,950) / 1,250  tons 19.5    – – 1 x 4.7”,  3 x Krupp 5.9“ single-loaded 8 x 4.1” 6 x 1 lbs (37 mm) 3 x 14” torpedo tubes with  under-water launch tube / Laid up mid-1930’s, Raised 1964. Part 2 Table 3 Damaged by shore battery. Sunk Sept 1937 at Jiangyin as blockship. Raised in 1964
Yixian     – –   – – 1,500 tons   – –   – –   – – See Part 1 Sunk by aircraft 26 Sept 1937 at YonganZhou ?
Yongjian     – –   – – 860 tons   – –   – –   – – Same ship as listed in Part 2 Table 3 ? Sunk by planes Aug 1937 at Shanghai
Dingan    – –    – – 1,140 tons    – –    – –    – – Transport ship. see Part 2 Sunk by aircraft Dec 17, 1942 at Chuan Jiang
Total 15             Survived  1  Sunk 14


Extensive delving into every possible file and record freely available on the internet brought forth this telling comment;  “ . . . . the Chinese navy was too weak and negligible to be a “fleet in being”, and  it was divided into several cliques.”

The egos and rivalries of the various cliques governing their particular part of China gave rise to expression of pettiness that this example epitomizes: it is said that on Sept 25th 1937, when it was decided that two antique cruisers of the 1st fleet (the Min clique) should be scuttled, the navy commander Chen Shaokuan (head of Min clique) demanded that the other two cruisers which did not belong to his clique should be scuttled too.

China’s 2nd Fleet

Table 23. China’s 2nd Fleet

Chinese Frigates, Destroyers and Gunboats – Inter-War years  

(probably incomplete) 

NB the spellings reflect the modern form adopted by China today, e.g. Chutai rather then the traditional Chu Tai and Weisheng rather than Wei Sheng
Name pinning ? Launch/ Laid down Length Displacem’t Speed (kts) Engine Main Guns  Torpedo / Secondary Fate
Chutai   – – – – 745  – – – – – – – – Sunk Oct 1937 by Japanese planes near Jiangyin ? / June 1st 1938 damaged
Chuyou – – – – 745 – – – – – – – – Survived the war / sunk Sept 29 1937
Chutong – – – – 745 – – – – – – – – Damaged 24th Oct  1938.Survived the war
Chuqian – – – – 745 – – – – – – – – Survived the war
Chuguan – – – – 745 – – – – – – – – Survived the war
Jiangyuan – – – – 565 – – – –     Damaged Oct 5th 1937 / Oct 21st 1938 Survived the war
Jiangzhen   – – – – 565          Damaged July 20th 1938 Scuttled Oct 26, 1938
Yongsui       600           Survived the war 
Minquan     460         Survived the war
Minsheng       500         Damaged July 20th 1938. Sunk July 1938 by planes at Yueyang. / Scuttled Oct 26th  1938
Xianning     420         Sunk July 1st 1938 at Wuwen 
Desheng    – –   930        Seaplane tender: Sunk Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as blockship 
Weisheng    – –   930        Seaplane tender: Sunk Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as blockship 
Jiangkun   – –   140          Sunk Aug 24th 1941 by Japanese planes at Taiziwan 
Jiangxi       140         Sunk Aug 24th 1941 by Japanese planes at Taiziwan
Hue       96         Sunk Oct 1937 by Japanese planes at Shiyugang
Husun     96         Damaged 4th Sept 1940. Survived the war
Huying     96         Sunk Aug 1938 by Japanese planes at Lanxi
Hupeng     96         Sunk Oct 3rd 1937 by Japanese planes near Jiangyin
Total 18           Survived 8 Sunk 10 


China’s  3rd Fleet

Table 24. China’s  3rd Fleet 

Manchurian Navy 

Chinese Frigates, Destroyers and Gunboats – Inter-War years

(probably incomplete) 

NB the spellings reflect the modern form adopted by China today, e.g. Haichen rather then the traditional Hai Chen and Dinghai rather than Ding Hai.
Name Launch / Laid down Length Displacem’t Speed (kts) Engine Main Guns  Torpedo / Secondary Fate
Haiqi *  Cruiser   4,300          Sunk Sep 1937 Jiangyin block
Haichen *  Cruiser   2,950         Sunk Sep 1937 Jiangyin block. Raised in 1960
Zhaohe #  Cruiser / destroyer   2,460         Sunk by Japanese planes nr Humen
Chuyu     745         Sunk Dec 1937 Tsingtao Qingdao, blockship
Yongxiang     860         No  details found
Jiangli     565         No  details found
Tongan       390          Sunk Dec 1937 Tsingtao Qingdao, blockship
Zhenhai    Frigate ?   1,400          Sunk Dec 1937 Tsingtao Qingdao, blockship
Dinghai     900         Sunk Dec 1937 Tsingtao Qingdao, blockship
Total   9             Survived Not known Sunk 7 + ? 
* These are described at  as “the Haiqi, Haichen, and “Chenghe” classes of naval destroyers. . . .”but at 4,300 and 2,950 tons these are more likely to be seen as light cruisers. NB. In an excerpt from, “Tragedy of Chinese Revolution” (a ROC publication), the Haiqi, Haishen, and Zhaohe [#] are cited as active in the conveying of important politicians, e.g. Sun Yat, circa 1922.


In Shandong province it is reported that 12 ‘aged’ warships and 1 merchant ship were scuttled by the Chinese 3rd Fleet on Dec 12th 1937 as blockships.

Four of them are listed as sunk in Liugongdao, Weihai, and another 9 were scuttled in Qingdao. Later, more than 20 ships were scuttled in Qingdao to block the harbour.

The tactic of blocking waterways to frustrate the fingers of Japanese advance will be covered in a separate section later.

China’s  4th Fleet

Table 25. China’s  4th Fleet

Cantonese Navy

Chinese Frigates, Destroyers and Gunboats – Inter-War years

(probably incomplete)

NB At this point in time nothing is known of ships that were allotted to the 4th Fleet in the Inter-War years. It is described bysome sources as “weak” and equipped with “some river gunboats and armed ships”;
Name Launch/ Laid down Length Displacem’t Speed (kts) Engine Main Guns Torpedo / Secondary Fate
 – – – –   – – – – – – – – – – – –  – – 
Total Unknown – –  – – – – – – – – – –   – –

The vessel, Zhen Hai, became a Seaplane tender for the Cantonese Navy one Chinese source says. The ship was formerly a German transport ship seized by China after World War One. It became the freighter “Hsiang Li” and was then purchased by a Manchurian warlord, Zhang Zuolin, in 1923 together with another freighter “Guang Li” (built in Japan). They were then converted into training ships. The former German transport ship Hsiang Li was renamed Zhen Hai (a name that crops up repeatedly), and the Guang Li was renamed the “Wei Hai”.

Specifications of Zhen Hai: 2,708 tons , 1,200 hps steam engine, coal powered, 12 knts , 2 x 4.7” Armstrong naval gun, 4 x 3” field guns and was  converted in 1924 to carry two Schreck FBA-19 planes as a seaplane tender. Reputedly scuttled in Tsingtao harbour on Dec 26th 1937 and alternatively, in another account sunk in the Pearl River during an IJN air raid on Sept 25th 1937.

4. China’s Coastal Fleet  (Coast Guard)

Table 26. China’s Coastal Fleet  (Coast Guard)

Chinese Gunboats and Coastal Ships  – Inter-War years 

(probably incomplete) 

NB the spellings reflect the modern form adopted by China today, e.g. Shunsheng rather then the traditional Shun Sheng and Weining rather than Wei Ning.
Name Launch/ Laid down Length Displa’’ment Speed (kts) Engine Main Guns  Torpedo / Secondary Fate
Shunsheng   1911  Shanghai Ruirong Shipy’d Retrofit Dec 1929  Kiangnan Shipy’d. – – 380  – – – – – – – – – Sunk Nov 1938 Hunan Yingtiantan as  blockship
Jiangning – – – – 300 – – – – – – – – – Sunk Oct 1937 by Japanese planes Paozizhou
Haining – – – – 300 – – – – – – – – – Sunk July 24th 1938 by planes at  Dingjias- han
Suning – – – – 300 – – – – – – – – – Sunk June 1st 1938 by planes nr. Fuzhou
Weining – – – – 300 – – – – – – – – – Survived the war after being captured by Japanese
Funing – – – – 300 – – – – – – – – – Sunk May 1938 by Japanese planes nr Fuzhou
Suining – – – – 300 – – – – – – – – – Damaged Oct 5th 1937 Sunk July 13th 1938 by planes at Huangshigang
Chongning – – – – 300 – – – – – – [ See the Changning below] Damaged June 29th 1938Sunk July 3rd 1938 by planes at Tianjiazhen
Yining   – – – – 300  – – – – – – – – – Damaged June 25th  1938.  Survived the war
Zhengning   – – – – 300  – – – – – – – – – Sunk May 1938 by Japanese planes nr Fuzhou
Changning – – – – 300 – – – – – – ChOngning is a different ship. Damaged 25th June 1938 Sunk July 1st   1938 by planes at Wuwen
Yisheng 1911 Yangzi shipy’d  Retrofit Jan 1928 Kiangnan Shipy’d as River gunboat   350 – – – – – – – – – Damaged March 27th  1938. Sunk Nov 11th 1938 by planes at Ouchikou
Rensheng / aka Yensheng ? / Kung Sheng ? 1911 Retrofit 1928 as above   260 – – – – – – – – – Sunk Nov 11th 1938 by  planes at Ouchikou
Yongsheng / Yungsheng ? – – – – 280 – – – – – – – – – Sunk Nov 11th  1938 by planes at Ouchikou
Total   15           Survived 2 Sunk 13
A citation for a “Yungsheng” states it was built at the Kiangnan Shipyard in 1908, and retrofitted in March 1928.


 5. China’s Survey Ship Fleet


Table 27. China’s Survey Ship Fleet 

Type of Chinese Vessel Used Unknown – Inter-War years 

(probably incomplete) 

NB As in previous Tables the spellings will reflect the modern form adopted by China today rather then the traditional. 
Name Launch/ Laid down Length Displacem’t Speed (kts) Engine Main Guns  Torpedo / Secondary Fate
Ganlou   – –   400  – –       Sunk Sept 3rd 1940 by planes at Taiziwan
Tunri   – – – – – –  500 – – – – – –  – – – – – –  Sunk Aug 26th 1937 by Japanese gunboats nr Jiangyin
Qingtian   – – – – 280         Sunk Oct 3rd 1937 by planes nr Jiangyin
Chengsheng  (1875 ?)(Laird, Birken-head, Iron Rendel ? )    280 / (256) tons     (1 x 10”, 1 x 16 or 18 ton MLR, 2 light guns ?)   Scuttled Oct 22nd 1938 in Shandong after the armament removed.
Gongsheng / Gong Sheng   But listed elsewhere as a gun boat ?   280         Sunk Oct 22nd 1938 by planes nr Guangzhou
Miscellaneous       – – – – – –   
Wusheng / Wu Sheng  Gunboat/ sloop   740         Sunk 12 Aug 1937 Jiangyin blockship. Raised in 1960.
Chenzi     90         Sunk Aug 1937 Jiangyin blockship
Suzi     90         Sunk Aug 1937 Jiangyin blockship
Puan     2,305         Sunk June 1939 Shanghai blockship
Unconfirmed     – – – – – –     
Chen   – –    – –  – –     Torpedo boat ? Sunk 12 Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as blockship
Su  – –   – –  – –     Torpedo boat ? Sunk 12 Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as blockship
Total 11           Survived 0   Sunk 11


6. China’s Merchant Marine

Table 28. China’s Merchant Ship Fleet 

Inter -War years  

(probably incomplete) 

NB As in previous Tables the spellings will reflect the modern form adopted by China today rather then the traditional.
Name Launch/ Laid down Length Displacem’t Speed (kts) Engine Main Guns  Torpedo / Secondary Fate
Jiahe / Ka Ho  – – – – 1,733  tons – – – – – – – – Sunk 12 Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as blockship
Xinming / Hsing ming  – – – – 2,133 tons – – – – – – – – Sunk 12 Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as blockship
Tonghua / Tung Wah  – – – – 1,176 tons – – – – – – – – Sunk 12 Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as blockship
Yushun  – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Sunk 12 Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as blockship
Taishun  – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Sunk 12 Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as blockship
Guangli / is this the Guangli Kwanglee ?  See Guangli Table 18 above – – 2,359 tons – – – – – – – – Sunk 12 Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as blockship
Xingsh  – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Sunk 12 Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as blockship
Huaxin  – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Sunk 12 Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as blockship
Huai’an – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Sunk 12 Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as blockship
Tongli  – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Sunk 12 Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as blockship
Ningjing – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Sunk 12 Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as blockship
Kunxing – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Sunk 12 Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as blockship
Xin Ping’an – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Sunk 12 Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as blockship
Maoli II – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Sunk 12 Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as blockship
Yuanchang – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Sunk 12 Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as blockship
Muyou – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Sunk 12 Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as blockship
Huafu / Huafu HwaFoo  – – – – 2,833 tons – – – – – – – – Sunk 12 Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as blockship
Dalong – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Sunk 12 Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as blockship
Tonghe – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Sunk 12 Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as blockship
Ruikang – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Sunk 12 Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as blockship
Gongping / Gongping Kungping  – – – – 2,705 tons – – – – – – – – Sunk 12 Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as blockship
Wanzai – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Sunk 12 Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as blockship
Yongji See Table 22 (but Oct 38 v Aug 1937) – – – – – –   – – – – Sunk 12 Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as block ship
Total 23           Survived 0  Sunk 23 
Plus 185 sampans, junks, & 8 pontoons confiscat ed from local Japanese shipping firms – – – – – – – – – –  – – Sunk 12 Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as block- ship 

 7. Fleet free of KMT control

Table 29. Ships in the Guangdong Fleet

 – reputedly not under direct KMT control.

Source: “Pictoral History of the Chinese Navy : Ancient times to 1955”, Vol. 3. p. 790
Name Launch / Laid down Length Displacem’t Speed (kts) Engine Main Guns Torpedo / Second’y Fate
Fuan  – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Yongfu – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Hairui – – – – 1,200  – – – – – – – – – –
Haihu / Hai Hu See note below  – – 680 – – – – – – – – Sunk by Japanese planes in Sept 1937 nr Humen
Guangjin  – – – – – – – – – – – – – – No data
Wufeng /  Wu Feng  See Table 32 – – – – – – – – – – – – Sunk by Japanese planes in Sept 1937 near Humen
Jiangda – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Sunk by Japanese planes in Sept 1937 near Humen
Jianggong – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Sunk by Japanese planes in Oct1937 near Punyu
Jianru – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Sunk by planes Sept 1937 nr Humen; Salvaged but sunk again by planes in Oct 1938 near ?
Zhixin – – – – 140 – – – – – – – – Sunk Oct 1938 by Japanese shore batteries.
Zhongkai – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Sunk by Japanese planes in Nov / Dec 1938
Zhongyuan – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Sunk by Japanese planes in Nov / Dec 1938
Anbei – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Sunk by Japanese planes in Nov / Dec 1938
Pingxi – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Guangan    – – 80 – – – – – – – – – –
Guanghua – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Feipeng – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Sunk by Japanese planes in Nov / Dec 1938
Hushan – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Sunk by Japanese planes in Nov / Dec 1938
Songjiang – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Zhujiang – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Jinma – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Zhili – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Jiangcheng – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Lichen – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Haiou – – – – – –  – –  – –  – –  – – – –
Jiangping – – – – 40 – – – – – – – – – –
Suijiang – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Xixing – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Andong – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Sunk by Japanese planes in Nov / Dec 1938
Haijiang – – – – – – – – – – – – – – No data
Haiwei / Hai Wei  – – – – 200 – – – – – – – – Sunk by Japanese planes in Sep 1937 near Yamen
Haizhou / Hai Zhou aka Hai Zhou British built sloop Used as revenue cutter – – 1,250 tons – – – – 1 x 4.7” – – Seriously damaged. Sunk by Japanese planes in Sept 1937 near Humen
Total 32 ? Actual No. not known             Sunk 14

Internet sources refer to the “Hai Hu” (Haihu, or Sea Tiger) as being sunk in Hwangpu (near Guangzhou), by Japanese carrier aircraft (possibly from the Hosho and Ryojo). Reportedly these carrier aircraft also sank the Cantonese torpedo boats “No.1”, “No.2” and “No.4” on Oct 23rd , and sank “No.3” on Oct 25th .

Cantonese gunboats “Jiang Gong” (see Table 29 above), “Gong Sheng” (see Table 27 above), “Zhong Kai” (Chung Kai ?), “Zhong Yuan“, “Fei Peng“, “Hu Shan” (all listed in Table 29 above), were also sunk by IJN carrier aircraft in late October.

Table 30. Chinese Torpedo Boats Sunk

1937 – 1945

Name Tons Fate
Shi 34 14 Sunk Sept 29th 1937 / Damaged Oct 12th 1937.
Shi 102 14 Sunk Aug 16th 1937 by Japanese cruiser Izumo
Shi 181 14 Sunk Nov 11th 1937 / Damaged Oct 12th 1937.
Shi 223 14 Sunk 17th July 1938 in an accident
Wen 42 14 Damaged July 17, 1938. Scuttled in Guangxi in Sept 1944 ?
Wen 88 14 Damaged July 17th 1938. Scuttled in Guangxi in Sept 1944 ?
Wen 93 14 Sunk by Japanese ships in July 1938
Wen 171 14 Scuttled in Guangxi in Sept 1944?
Yan 53 14 Scuttled in Guangxi in Sept 1944?
Yan 92 14 Captured in Oct 1938 by Japanese vessels at Sanshui
Yan 161 14 Damaged Aug 1st 1938. Scuttled in Guangxi in Sept 1944 ?
Yue 22 54 Sunk in Aug 1st / Oct 1938 by Japanese planes (German made E-boat ?)
Yue 253 54 Survived the war
Yue 371 54 Survived the war
Total 14 (10 MTB, 4 E-boats). Only two,  E- boats, survived war.  1. The note accompanying this list reads “Four torpedo boats, all sunk by Japanese planes near Humen in Oct 1937.”2. Note: ‘July 17th 1938, Shi 253 damaged.’


Left: German built E-boat, (1936) Nationalist Navy, Yue 371, Yue 22,Yue 253 and Yan 161. See Table 30 above. 





No commentary of China’s warships in the Inter-War period would be complete without mentioning the puppet government in Manchuria known as Manchukuo. Manchuria and the eastern part of Inner Mongolia had been seized by the Japanese in 1931 and, no doubt to avoid looking like latter-day colonialists; they set up a puppet regime. The Japanese installed Puyi, ‘the Boy Emperor’ and China’s last Emperor as the nominal Regent and Emperor. The film “Empire of the Sun” captures some of the atmospherics of the time.

The Manchukuo Imperial Navy (Mǎnzhōu Dìguó Hǎijūn) was effectively an extension of the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) and not Chinese at all.

Right:  An unidentified ship of the Manchukuo Imperial Navy.

Japan reportedly used her older ships to enlarge the strength of the Manchukuo Navy. However, the picture of the ‘A’ turret on the ship (right) looks modern for 1937 and is reminiscent of the British 4.7” twin Mk XVI (late 1930s). Is the Manchukuo ship above displaying the same closely positioned twin barrels ?

Right: British 4.7” Twin Mk XVI guns (late 1930s).

Manchukuo was a largely land-locked state, so the leadership of the Japanese Kwantung Army group (also referred to as ‘Guandong’ and ‘Kantōgun’ army’), in control of Manchuria saw little to be gained other than symbolic of the legitimacy of the new regime, by creating a naval force (see also Part 2). Their military priority was for land forces and the command over the land that would bring.

 Left:  An unidentified ship of the Manchukuo Imperial Navy (between the Chinese hieroglyphics are Roman numerals – possibly 1,340 for tonnage,  4.7” for the Armstrong guns, launched (?) 1916).

 When the Imperial Japanese Army invaded Manchuria in 1931, they were accompanied by a detachment from the Imperial Japanese Navy to provide coastal defense. However, the main naval requirement in Manchuria was for the defense of its extensive border river system with the Soviet Union (Russia).

Immediately after the 1931 invasion the Northeastern Navy Vice-Minister Shen Hung-lieh and Fleet Commander Hsien Kung-che of the Chinese Nationalist Party or Kuomintang, deserted their posts.

Local Kuomintang (KMT) commander, Captain Yin Tsu-Ch’ien met with Japanese forces and agreed to turn over his fleet of five river gunboats to the Imperial Japanese Navy in Harbin (Feb 15th 1932). This flotilla formed the core of the River Defence Fleet with Japan providing several additional vessels for the long border river system and the Soviet Union threat (coastal defense for Manchukuo was in the hands of the IJN’s 3rd China (North) Fleet. Additional information on some of the ships involved is detailed below.

The enlarged flotilla was to become known as the “Sungari Fleet” and was active only on the Singari, Amur and Ussuri rivers from 1933 onwards. It proved hopelessly inadequate and incompetent. The Japanese instituted numerous training programs in an attempt to raise its capabilities with reserve or retired Japanese officers called-up and assigned to the Sungari Fleet. Chinese cadets were sent to study navigation and gunnery at the IJN.

The flagship of the fleet was the 20 year old destroyer Hai Wei, formerly the Kashi, a Momo class destroyer of the Imperial Japanese Navy.

Left: Kashi’s sister ship Hinoki pictured on patrol at Wuhan, China, 1923.

Kashi was a Momo-class destroyer; launched 1917, 1,080 long tons, 275 ft, capable of 31.kts, and with a distinctive curved lower bow. Armed with 3 × QF 4.7” guns Mk 1 – IV,  she also had 2 × 6.5mm machine guns and 6 × 21” torpedoes. Her engines were heavy oil-fired steam geared turbines. She was transferred to Manchukuo in May 1937 as the Hai Wei; returned to IJN June 1942 renamed Kali, when she was returned to Japanese service; sunk in air attack off Okinawa Oct 1944.

As part of a campaign to ‘pacify’ the resistance to the newly established puppet state of Manchukuo in the Northeast, the Pacification of Manchukuo, plans called for integration between Chinese and Japanese troops. Japanese land forces secured victory in 1941 but the Sungari Fleet made no contribution of note. Indeed, it was still unprepared and disorganised by the time of the Soviet invasion of Manchuria in Aug.1945 but by that time the Japanese had already begun (1938) recalling their ships for duties around the home land. As Japan recalled naval personnel, in 1942, many ships were left idle and inoperable.

Manchukuo did not escape Japanese slavery. A 2007 study by four historians Zhifen Ju, Mitsuyochi Himeta, Toru Kubo and Mark Peattie into Japanese war crimes concluded that more than 10 million Chinese civilians were mobilised during Hirohito’s “Showa Period. Literally translated this means the “period of enlightened peace” and was about as enlightened and peaceful as Japan’s later subterfuge of the disgracefully deceitful ‘Greater Asian co-prosperity sphere‘ (see below).

Japan at this time was the producer and supplier of 90% of the world’s illicit opium and was drummed out of the League of Nations because of it had broken its formal promise to not trade in narcotics. 

The Manchukuo’s government was abolished in 1945 after the defeat of Imperial Japan at the end of World War II.

 Table 31. Japanese Operated Gunboats inc. of non-Japanese origins (coastal and river usage) 

Used by: 1. Japan, 2. Manchukuo Navy or 3. Nanjing puppet state 

Name Launch  Laid- down Type Displac ment Length feet Speed  kts Engine HP Main Guns Guns Service location   Fate
Toba 1911 Gunboat 215 tons 180 16 1,400 2 x3” 25 mm Served on Yangtze during WW2
Hai Hsing formerly Yung Chi (China)  See Table 21               Sunk by Japanese aircraft, but refloated. Given to Nanking Gov’t. Served on Yangtze. Survived war
Ataka   1921 Gunboat 956 tons 235 16   2 x 3” 1 x 4.7” Served on Yangtze.  Flagship.
Seta 1922 Gunboat 305 tons 180 ft 16 2,100 4 x 3”   Served in China
Hozu 1922 “Seta” Class 305 tons 180 ft 16 2,100 4 x 3”   Served in China. Damaged by Chinese aircraft Nov 1944 / 45
Hira 1922 “Seta” Class 305 tons 180 ft 16 2,100 4 x 3”   Served in China. Crippled by Chinese aircraft Nov 1944
Katada 1922 “Seta” Class 305 tons 180 ft 16 2,100 4 x 3”   Served in China
Atami  1929 Gunboat 223 tons 149 ft 16 1,300 2 x 3.1” 6 x m/guns Not known
Futami 1929 “Atami” Class Gunboat 223 tons 149 ft 16 1,300 2 x 3.1” 6 x m/guns Yangtze River
Kotaka 1930 Gunboat   98 ft         Served on Yangtze
Husimi 1930 Gunboat 350 tons 159 ft 17 2,200 4 x 3” 1 x 25mm Yangzte. Damaged     by Chinese aircraft Nov 1944.(‘Nan Chang’ post WWII)
Sumida # 1938 Husimi class 350 tons 159 ft 17 2,200 4 x 3” 1 x 25mm Yangtze. Damaged by Chinese aircraft Nov 1944. (‘Kiang Si’ post WWII)
Sumida # 1903 Gunboat 105 tons 144 ft 13 550 2 x 2.3”   Yangtze. Scrapped 1935.
Okitu 1927 (1921 ?) Gunboat 700 tons 204 ft 13 1,.500 4 x 3.1” 4 x 25mm Formerly Italian ‘Lepanto’. Scuttled in 1943 but refloated by Jap, used as minelayer. Post WWII renamed ‘Siang Ning’
Narumi 1921 Gunboat 180 tons 160 ft 14 1,100 4 x 3”   Formerly Italian ‘Ermano Carlotto’ Scuttled 1943 refloated by Jap. Given to China renamed Kiang Kun’ 1945.
Maiko 1911 Gunboat 180 tons 120 ft 11 250 1 x 57mm   Former Portuguese g/boat ‘Macau’. Sold to Japan in Aug 1943. Renamed Wu Feng after WW II.
Tatara # 1927. Kiangnan Engineering and Dock Works. China Gunboat 370 tons / 350 147 /  159 ft 15 1,950 hp steam 2 x 3”, 8 x .30 cal  1 x 25mm, 1 x 13mm ? Formerly USS Guam renamed USS Wake in Jan 1941. Scuttled at Corregidor 5/42. Refloated by JapServed on Yellow River / Scuttled in Manila as blockship 3/45.Given to ROC 1945 renamed ‘Tai Yuan’. Captured by Communist China 1949. Scrapped 1960s.
Suma 1916 Gunboat 645 tons 237 ft 14 2,000 2 x 6”, 2 x 12 lbs  6 x 7.7mm Maxims Formerly HMS Moth scuttled 12/1941in HK. Salvaged in 1942. Used on Yangstze. Sunk 1945.
Uji  (aka Uzi)  1902 Gunboat 620 tons 180 ft 13 1,000 4 x 3”   Scrapped 1936. A 2nd Uji laid down circa 1939.
Hasidate 1939 Gunboat Hasidate Class 1,110 255 ft 19 4,600 1 x 12cm 4 x 7.6 cm 1 x 25mm Sunk 1945 but a 1947 date also recorded
Uji  (or Uzi) 1939 Gunboat Hasidate Class 1,110 tons 255 ft 19 4,600 1 x 12cm 4 x 7.6 cm 1 x 25mm Damaged by mine 1945. Given to China re-named ‘Chang Chi’
No. 101  1918 / 1920  Destroyer Formerly HMS Thracian. 1,075 tons 276 ft  36 27,000 3 x 4”, 1 x pom-pom 4 x Lewis guns, 2 x 21” torpedo tubes, 2 x fixed 14” TT Captured at HK Dec 1941. Returned to RN Sept 1945. Scrapped 1947.
No 107   Not known Former US tug              Not known
No. 106  1929 formerly Hr. Ms. Banckert Admiralen-class Destroyer             Scuttled 2/3/42. Refloated by Japanese. Scrapped 1949.
No. 109  Not known formerly Dutch custom patrol boat             Not known
# One report states ‘captured at Shanghai’. (, see also ).NB. Ships used after 1945 were those ‘given to China’ means to the Nationalist, i.e. ROC, Gov’t.** When recovered, half scuttled from docks near Tokyo by HMS Undine, she was fitted with centimetric radar (3 to 30 GHz) – then a very secret form of advanced British radar shared with the America. Lagging 5 years behind the Allies this was Japan’s own efforts the FD-2 and FD-3 (1.3 GHz) and compete with centimetric magnetron. See also Long Lance torpedo.


Given the smallness of the Manchukuo Navy we have, pro rata, a greater number of  photographs but sadly, less cataloguing of the names of the ships – a reversal of the situation in Nationalist mainland China where many of the names are known but few photographs survive.

Above: Former Dutch destroyer Banckert refloated and renamed No 106 by Japamese

Unfortunately, only information regarding ships plying the Yellow River and the Yangtze information is readily to hand . There is precious little is available concerning the Singari, Amur and Ussuri rivers of Manchuria.


Right:Suma, formerly HMS Moth pictured in 1942 under Japanese control.



Left: An unidentified ship of the Manchukuo Imperial Navy.





Right: An unidentified ship of the Manchukuo Imperial Navy.





Left:Okitu formerly the Italian gunboat Lepanto.





Right:Toba a Japanese built gunboat (1911) which served on the Yangzte (see table above).




Left: Japanese destroyer “No. 101” formerly HMS Thracian (1920, S-class). Refloated by Japanese in 1942 and later used for Long Lance and Radar trial ship (1944-45).



Japanese ‘numerical’ ships taken from other navies included:-

No. 101 – Destroyer, formerly HMS Thracian, (3 x 4” guns).

No. 102 – an ex-US destroyer of the Semmes Class (1,215 tons, 4 x 4” guns).

No. 103 – an ex-US minesweeper, Bittern type (840 tons, 2 x 3” AA).  Launched in 1919, damaged while at Cavite Navy Yard. Later scuttled in Manila Bay Philippines.

No. 104 – ex Dutch customs and fishery protection vessel (1,011 tons, 2 x 75 mm).

No. 105 –  this is obscure bt thought to be a former US gunboat captured from Spain in 1898.

No. 106 – Dutch destroyer, Banckert, see above.

No. 107 – US tug, see above. 

No. 108 – ex Dutch customs and fishery protection vessel (1,011 tons, 2 x 75 mm).

No. 109 – ex Dutch customs boat (623 tons).

Japanese Navy Suffers First Rebuff

When Pearl Harbour had been attacked, the Special Naval Landing Force troops stationed in Shanghai arrived on the USS Guam and captured it. Its crew had no time to detonate the pre-placed charges. Guam and the HMS Peterel were acting as communication stations manned by a skeleton crew and their main armaments (3” guns) had been removed.

However, when a detachment of Special Naval Landing Force troops arrived to board the British gunboat HMS Peterel moored nearby they received a quite different reception. Informed by the Japanese that their nations were now at war and Peterel must surrender, Lieutenant Polkinghorn, its CO and a RN Volunteer Reserve, played for time by inviting the Japanese officers to come below decks to ‘discuss the matter’. This would have allowed time for the demolition charges to be set off and the code books burned in the boiler room. However, the Japanese officers declined so at gun point Lieutenant Polkinghorn ordered them to “Get off my bloody ship.”

Within minutes HMS Peterel was illuminated by searchlights, Japanese ships and the coastal battery opened fire at point blank range. Hopelessly out-gunned HMS Peterel returned fire, albeit with small arms, with the 9,900 ton Japanese  cruiser Izumo (sp. Idzumo) – armed with 4 × 8” and  14 × 6” rapid fire guns. A nearby destroyer and two gunboats, Seta and Atami also open fire on HMS Peterel. Several Japanese were killed in the fire fight.

On fire and severely damaged by enemy fire, HMS Peterel rolled over and sank. This proved insufficient for the Japanese who continued by machine gunning the surviving sailors as they swam away from the wreck. HMS Peterel became the first British warship sunk in combat by the Japanese navy.

The only reason this did not become yet another Japanese War Crime is due to the action of people born with a higher and a more humane temperament. Rescuers in rowing boats, who also came under Japanese gun fire saved some of the crew. Of the crew of 21 (some say 22), 18 were killed and 12 survived the attack (Alt. 6 of  HMS Peterel‘s crew of 21 men were killed). Some, including Lt. Polkinghorn, were wounded.  They took refuge on a Panamanian merchantman, SS Marizion, which was officered by Norwegians. The Japanese then violated more international law, by boarding the SS Marizion, and seized the survivors as prisoners-of-war, a step that would condemn them to 4 years in a Japanese prisons camp on starvation rations.

Stephen Polkinghorn, Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross in 1945.  ( and


The opening shots of the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937 – 45), are measured from the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, 7th July 1937. By July 12th the Imperial Japanese Navy had put into action plans for the evacuation of residents from the Yangtze River area. Many of the ships listed in Table 31 were used for this operation. Japanese citizens and residents were guarded by the forces of the 11th Gunboat Division. This division was composed of the flagship Yaeyama, Hozu, Futami and Kotaka in Hankow, Katada, Sumida and Kuri in Shanghai, Tsuga in Nanking, Hasu in Wuhu, Atami in Kiukiang, Seta in Changsha, Toba in Ichang, Hira in Chungking (see Table 31 above), and a detachment of 292 personnel of the Shanghai Special Naval Landing Unit in Hankow.

These ships were used to evacuate about 30,000 people including Japanese, Koreans and Formosans (of which 26,600 lived in Shanghai and 1,700 in Hankow). More details can be found at

Only 4, the Yaeyama, Kuri, Tsuga, and Hasu are not listed in the Table above. The ‘China Incident’, a contemporaneous official memorandum written in July 1937 speaks of the Yaeyama being flagship of Rear Admiral Tanimoto Umataro, Commander of the 11th Gunboat Division. The name Yaeyama has appeared previously (Table 4) as a 1,600 ton, 20 knot, well armed ‘protected cruiser’. This craft was official listed as “scrapped” in 1911, so the commentary must refer to the later Yaeyama completed in 1929.which was a minelayer of 1,384-tons (she was sunk 24 Sept 1944). One sources claims that the Yaeyama was originally a Chinese warship captured and renamed by the Japanese but this has to be discounted. The Kuri, Tsuga and Hasu were all 1,050 ton Momi-class destroyers, with the same length and beam as the Momo class.

8. Captured Japanese Shipping

It would be wrong to assume that 100% of the maritime losses of the Japanese invasion were Chinese. Despite the impression given by all the preceeding Tables Japan did suffer ships being sunk and captured during the war. Table 31 lists several warships damaged or sunk by Chinese aircraft and mines.  

Japan had until April 1938 enjoyed both naval and air superiority, however, on 29th April, 1938 when the Japanese air force launched major air strikes on Wuhan to celebrate Hirohito’s birthday this superiority was questioned. The Chinese had anticipated such a raid and one of the most intense dog fights (air battles) of the Second Sino-Japanese War ensued. The under-funded Chinese air force shot down 21 Japanese planes for the loss of 12 Chinese aircraft.

The Chinese Air Force (CAF) frequently took the fight to the enemy. On Aug 14th 1937 Chinese aircraft attacked IJN flagship Izumo and the Japanese fleet at anchor in Shanghai. Caught up in the attack was the British cruiser HMS Cumberland and the USS Augusta – no one on board either ship was killed (

Six captured Japanese cargo ships were used in Shanghai when the Chinese blockaded the Huangpu River, ie the lower reaches of the Yangtze River. All the other captured Japanese shipping found to date is of the lesser military importance category and could el have been abandoned by the Japanese after their use. Those found so far are:

  1. Tai An, a pontoon, raised in 1960, site: Changshanjiao, Jiangyin.
  2. Han An, a wooden pontoon, raised in 1964, site: between northern and southern bouys of Jiangyin block line.
  3. Fu An, pontoon, raised in 1960, site: Changshanjiao, Jiangyin.
  4. Ji An, barge, 150 tons, raised on Dec 1 1953, site: Changshanjiao, Jiangyin.
  5. Zhen An, pontoon, raised in 1964, site: between northern and southern bouys of Jiangyin block line.
  6. De An, pontoon, length 91.4m, width 15.98m, draught 3.65m, raised between Nov 12 and Dec 30 1958, site: Changshanjiao, Jiangyin.
  7. Sha Shi, pontoon, raised in 1968, site: Changshanjiao, Jiangyin.
  8. Yong Qing, one barge/pontoon were not salvaged.

9. Blockade as a Weapon

Scuttling ships is normally categorized as a negative or self-defeating action, denying an enemy the use of the ship as a war asset. The scuttling of the German Grand Fleet and U-boats at the end of World War I and a repeat at the end of World War II are examples that come readily to mind.

However, it would appear that the Chinese used the scuttling of ships as a pro-active, positive means to counter the Japanese. One of the maps first displayed in Part 3 illustrates how the Japanese invasion of China was principally along its waterways. For clarity, that same map is reproduced here, in Part 4, but as a larger image.

Below: Extent of Japanese Army invasion/occupation by 1940 (shaded Lilac). Note the advances are mainly along rivers (depicted as blue lines).

As a result of these measures some scuttling became better known / famous in China than others, for example, the blockade at Kiangyin is a famous one but is probably little known outside China.

In an effort to be as comprehensive as possible, in what is a relatively little known topic in the West even today, a commentary on the history of the Chinese Nationalist Navy and the Sino-Japanese War would not be complete without an attempt to catalogue the scuttling and blockades.

The following list of river blockades set up by the Chinese Nationalist Navy are in no order of merit or relative importance.

1.  Huangpu River, Shanghai, – 3 block lines of blackships consisting of 1 navy transport ship, 6 captured Japanese cargo ships and 14 Chinese merchant ships, they were scuttled between August 14th and 17th, 1937.

2.  Wulong Shan near Zhenjiang, Yangtze River, Jiangsu province: Built in Aug and Sept 1937, it consisted of 4 merchant ships, 1 pontoon, and ten of sampans. The provincial government of Jiangsu also sunk numerous sampans in inland rivers.

3.  Madang Yangtze River, located in Hubei province: constructed in Dec 1937, and made up of 4 merchant ships and 5 pontoons. The blockade was lengthened between March and June 1938, using 9 more ships, 8 junks and the scuttling of more than 600 small sampans.

4.  Tianjiazhen, Yangtze River, in Hubei province, 10 ‘concrete ships’ were scuttled in July 1938 – the  original plan was to scuttle 12 merchant ships.

5.  Gedian, Yangtze River, again in Hubei province, more ‘concrete ships’ were scuttled in Sep 1938.

6.  Shishou, Yangtze River, in Hubei province – 20 small merchant ships (total tonnage 1,645 tons ?) were scuttled in Nov 1938, with more pontoons scuttled there in 1939.

7.  Xiang River, 7 ships and several junks were scuttled in Nov 1938 to prevent Japanese gunboats entering Dongting Lake.

8.  Shandong province, 12 “aged warships” and 1 merchant ship were scuttled by the Chinese 3rd Fleet on Dec 12 1937. 4 of them were sunk in Liugongdao, Weihai, and other 9 were scuttled in Qingdao. Later more than 20 ships were scuttled in Qingdao to block the harbor.

9.  Jiangsu province, Chinese engineers demolished the harbour at Lianyungang in Sept 1937. Also scuttled there were 6 merchant ships (total tonnage 10,747 tons ?). In 1938, the watercourse which links Guan River and Lianyungang was also blocked by 3 ships (more than 9,000 tons).

10.  Zhejiang province, the mouth of Yong River which leads to Ningbo, the biggest industrial city of Zhejiang province, was blocked in 1939 by 6 ships, 3 small landing crafts, 8 junks. Two other merchant ships were scuttled there in July 1940.

11.  Fujian province, the mouth of Min River was blocked between Sept 1937 and Sept 1938 by over 60 ships including cargo ships, patrol boats, junks and pontoons. The Jin River and some armlets were also blocked.

12.  Guangdong province: the mouths of Pearl River were blocked by 12 retired warships, 17 merchant ships and 135 junks.

13.  Ships scuttled in the most well known blockade, namely that at Jiangyin (Kiangyin) on Aug 12th 1937, included the following ships:  Cruisers / sloops: Datong, Ziqiang.  Training ship: Tongji. Seaplane tender: Weisheng,Desheng. Gunboat: Wusheng. Torpedo boat: Chen, Su. Merchant ships: Jiahe, Xinming, Tonghua, Yushun, Taishun, Guangli, Xingshi, Huaxin, Huai’an, Tongli, Ningjing, Kunxing, Xin Ping’an, Maoli II, Yuanchang, Muyou, Huafu, Dalong, Tonghe, Ruikang, Gongping, Wanzai, Yongji.

These ships were scuttled together with 185 sampans, junks, and eight pontoons that were confiscated from Japanese shipping companies.

10. Cargo Ships Raised

A surprising number of ships were raised / refloated during the conflict. Part of the attraction is that fresh water is not as corrosive as salt water to a ship’s machinery.

It has been noted in earlier Tables that some vessels had been raised from rivers in the 1950s and 1960s. We might assume this was to allow freer navigation and a greater use of the rivers. China’s prosperity and increase in commerce in the last 10 years would almost necessitate higher volumes of river traffic and focus attention on underwater debris from 70 years ago. 

Unlike India, which gained 40,000 miles of railways during colonial years, the hinterland of China and its inner-most provinces have been starved of transport investment. By contrast India can as a result of sustained investment beginning in 1853, daily move 20 million passengers and more than 2 million tonnes of freight, again daily.

The following is a list of cargo ships raised by the Chinese, but it is unclear whether these ships were raised after 1945, or includes some refloating before 1945, or includes only these raised from 1960 onwards (for warship examples see Tables above e.g. Hai Chi, 2,980 tons, raised in 1959/1960; Hai Rong raised on Apr 25th  1959; Hai Chou, raised in 1964).

Table 32.  Cargo Ships Raised  
Name Tons Cause & Date of Sinking
Hairui 1,200  
Haihu 680 Sunk by Japanese planes in Sept 1937 near Humen
Wufeng   Sunk by Japanese planes in Sept 1937 near Humen
Jiangda   Sunk by Japanese planes in Sept 1937 near Humen
Jianru 140 Sunk by Japanese planes in Sept 1937 near Humen; salvaged and sunk again by Japanese planes in Oct 1938
Zhixin 140 Sunk by Japanese shore batteries in Oct 1938
Zhongyuan   Sunk by Japanese planes in Nov / Dec 1938
Zhongkai   Sunk by Japanese planes in Nov / Dec 1938
Anbei   Sunk by Japanese planes in Nov / Dec 1938
Feipeng   Sunk by Japanese planes in Nov / Dec 1938
Guangan 80  
Hushan   Sunk by Japanese planes in Nov / Dec 1938
Andong   Sunk by Japanese planes in Nov / Dec 1938
Haiwei 200 Sunk by Japanese planes in Sept 1937 near Yamen
Haizhou   Sunk by Japanese planes in Sept 1937 near Humen

11. Modern 21st Century China

Mainland China’s path to economic wealth is well underway. It has been made possible by a period uninterrupted by the adventurous or buccaneering behavior of other nations.

The foresight at the end of the 20th century to bring to China an urban, industrialised and middle class society is the key reason its wealth will be long term.

Of all the key components it is the middle class that will prove the most pivotal. Africa, for so long the world’s “basket case” in economic terms now has leaders openly promoting a middle class in their countries. Russia, which for centuries had a two tier society – and arguably still has one with the excess of the oligarchies created in the Pres. Boris Yeltsin years – is edging closer to a middle class as a catalyst for the economy.

China has entered the 21st century poised to enjoy the fruits of industrialisation, however, it has also realised that economic wealth is only guaranteed by military strength and in particular naval power.

The development and sea change in Russia and China can be said to be analogous with England in the 1580s and the change from Elizabeth 1st (Tudor dynasty) to the Stuart reign.

Elizabethan England (1558–1603), saw a flowering of English poetry, music and literature but also economic strictures, redeemed by an effective navy able to prevent a Spanish invasion. What England did not enjoy was a comparable economic flowering. That had to wait until the ascension of the Stuart kings who benefited from the pioneering voyages and the commercial exploitation of lands found in the Elizabethan era. The voyages of Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Francis Drake, the circumnavigation of the globe between 1577-81, and Martin Frobisher’s Arctic exploits etc. made economic growth in the Stuart era a reality.

It laid the foundations of an expansive and outward looking 18th century world power that earned its wealth from global trade. In sharp contrast to the mercantilism of Britain was the “Bullionism” regime of Spain. It seems too obvious to state that if a country, i.e. Spain, imports at relatively little cost large amounts of gold and precious metals which are the basis of any currency’s strength, an upsurge in prosperity should follow. In fact, Spain saw a sharp economic decline and entered a period of high unemployment that dogged it into the 20th century.

Powerful state monopolies, a reliance on raw materials, and de-industrialisation can be said to describe the China of the post 1945 era but it is actually the diagnosis ascribed by economists to Spain of the 17th century, where the omitted element of religion – a suppressive church in the case of Spanish is replaced by a suppressive ideology in the case of China.

12. Farewell to Purdah ?

China has now emerged from its period of purdah, its self-imposed seclusion, and the question must be what form of country will it become, given that it is destined to be a world power in the very near future ? Just as importantly,  what will be ‘the world view’ its political leaders will adopt ?

It is not an open or free, or as ‘readable’ as the countries in the West and in government circles there are alarming signs of a lingering distrust of foreigners and liberal thought. Nevertheless, looking forward we have to ask, what mistakes of history (theirs as well as other world powers), will they repeat ?

‘Trade’ for China is today not confined to an internal market or to other Communist countries and it trade routes are no longer it huge river system. It trades on a global scale. It trades on a global scale. Its initial world trade grew at a time when a proportion of its GDP did not have to be diverted into a naval build up. It could depend on the maritime forces of other nations to maintain freedom of navigation for all and protect China’s sea routes in the process.

 However, as those sea lanes have become ever more vital to China’s prosperity and as China has increasingly come into direct competition for raw materials with the nations it formerly depended upon to protect its maritime fleet, more money has been diverted into navel matters and not, as was traditionally the case, to its huge standing army.

The extent to which China is dependant on Middle Eastern oil is as great as Japan’s reliance in the 1920 and 1930s. The map below depicts her long vulnerable lines of trade and hence China’s need to be self-reliant in defending them. 

Below: China’s economic lifeline, her Middle Eastern oil supply route.

China’s insatiable demand – some would say uncontrollable demand – for oil has sucked supplies away from the West and artificially driven up prices. In other raw materials, i.e. traded commodities, China has now come into direct competition nations which afforded protection for its merchant marine. In other raw materials, i.e. traded commodities such as chrome, zinc, tin, etc, China has now come into direct competition with companies of many nations which traditionally mined refined and marketed these raw materials. If other nations feel, rightly or wrongly, that China is shutting them out of certain markets and commodities, strained relations if not reprisals must be expected. It is then that the value of a merchant marine and a navy to protect it becomes essential.

China’s overall world trade and vulnerability is best shown in the following global map of the busiest international shipping traffic in a single 12 month period. 

Below: Map of World Shipping Traffic Density, in a 12 month period.

Yellow lines indicate where shipping traffic is at the level of 2,500 to 5,000 journeys pa. The oil trade, depicted in the previous map, is shown as yellow in the map above. The other yellow routes through the Mediterranean, through the English Channel into the Baltic and to St Petersburg can be a mixture of all nation’s shipping but the route across the northern pacific to the USA will be predominantly Chinese and Japanese.

Chinese warships are already part of the international fleet stationed off the coast of Somalia to deal with the menace of pirates. Will they go the way of Germany and Italy in 1936 ? (see 

History is said to repeat itself but the mutterer never states that it is rarely in the same form. Thus we have an international fleet imitating measures put in hand for Spain in 1936 and we have pirates which were a major problems in Chinese coastal waters during the 18th and 19th century.

An example of history repeating itself but never exactly in the same way can be seen when comparing the Suez Canal Crisis of 1956 and the US in Dec 1999 when it seized the Panama. Both were highly important for a). their strategic potential and b). to ensure freedom (and not extortion) of international navigation Canal. The common consensus at the time was that ownership would be better exercised by non-excitable, vengeance minded and volatile governments.

Britain invaded Egypt when Nasser nationalised the British owed asset but had to withdraw on the cusp of victory when the US speculated in the money markets against Sterling. The US were prepared to sell-out their wartime alley (and where they had bases to attack Russia) and their sole reliable Middle Eastern ally, Israel.

When the vital interests of the US were at stake they were prepared to violate the 1977 Torrijos-Carter Treaty which gave Panama control over its own canal (see US Canal Zone). On the eve of full Panamanian control, scheduled for 2000, the US had second thoughts and invaded to protect its asset in Dec of 1999. With no world power in a position to oppose it Pres. George Bush suffered only international criticism. General Noriega, then Pres of Panama was a U.S. intelligence asset (i.e. working for the CIA) and his connection with drug money profits was tolerated not least of all by the head of the CIA in the 1970s, and later in the 1980s US President, George Bush.

By Nov of 2004 the Panama Canal had earned for its government a record $1 billion in revenue for that year, and in Dec 2008 the first Russian warship sailed through the Panama Canal (after World War II the canal had been made off-limits to Soviet warships during the Cold War).

So how well equipped and how well prepared is China to manage these history making events and protect its trade routes and sources of wealth ? Gone are the days of focusing on hostile neighbours like Japan. Past too are, or should be, the bravado shows of juvenile military might against the government in Formosa. aka Taiwan.

China is faced with the American conundrum – having eschewed pretences of empire – she now has the task of requiring and then acquiring a deep sea fleet capability. Britain together with other European powers never distained from transforming their historic colonial gains into fuel re-supply bases; a problem for America that was overcome by Allied co-operation during World War II (indeed, America is still ensconced in some former British overseas bases to this day).

But whereas the US has had friendly relations with many countries over many decades, who will give the Chinese overseas bases to operate from when they have a chequered history (sponsoring North Korea and Iran) in international relations ? China has fallen out and upset everyone of her close  neighbours. And who will give the Chinese overseas bases to operate from when to do so could well bring the host country under enormous pressure from America or other global players ?  

In an interview posted on China’s Ministry of Defence website in Dec 2009, a Chinese rear admiral has already urged China to set up navy supply bases overseas. Since 2008, when China had to pay a ransom to free a ship held for nine weeks by Somali pirates (this only encourages more attacks), China has been part of the international patrols operating off the Somali coast and in the narrow Gulf of Aden, escorting Chinese and foreign ships through waters menaced by pirates. The need and solution of operating deep sea naval patrols has thus been identified at the highest level.

The US has the single selling advantage that countries hosting its naval base are welcome to trade with America. Selling into China will be as frustrating as selling into Japan was 30 years ago. In the case of Japan it didn’t matter so much as they had constitutionally foresworn militarism after 1945, but China is different.


13. Naval Command Structure

Numerically, as we can see from the table below (Table 30), China is quite capable of fielding enough ships to protect her regional interests.

Presently, China has divided her maritime resources and responsibilities into the 5 areas show on the adjacent map.

Her maritime resources (fleets) are based at Qingdao in the north Dinghai and Zhen Jiang. They are now called the North Sea Fleet, the East Sea Fleet and the South Sea Fleet. The People’s Liberation Army Navy, or PLAN, is 225,000 men strong. Each fleet is composed of surface forces, submarine forces, naval aviation, and coastal defence forces.

The South Sea Fleet also has two marine brigades, totalling some 10,000 men. The type of ship China possesses are all of the relatively small variety – with the exception of her nuclear powered submarines.

Were China to have no aircraft carriers we could conclude that in the short term at least she has no territorial ambition or need to project her foreign policy. But she already has plans for 3 and while details are shrouded and official denials plentiful it would seem they would be much larger than Japan’s wartime Hiryū (17,300),  Shōkaku (25,675 tons) or Zuikaku (29,800 tons) and probably larger even than Akagi at 36,500,tons.

However, geographically China is at a disadvantage if she is to have a world presence, which aircraft carriers would imply. Unlike America she does not straddle two oceans. Her long coast line may give her home waters superiority but south of Malaya and north to Alaska the outlook begins to look threadbare. The further east and west one looks the worse it becomes. Money hungry Africa is the obvious solution for the setting up of refueling, resupplying and repair bases (as per the Axis proposals for a base in Vichy French Madagascar).

So far as is known, modern China’s navy (i.e. the People’s Liberation Army Navy or PLAN) is roughly of the dimension shown in Table 30.

Table 33. People’s Liberation Army Navy


 (Communist China)

Type  No. Planned No.Active No. in Reserve   
Nuclear Ballistic Missile Submarines 2 5
Nuclear Attack Submarines 4 – 6 5 2
Conventional Ballistic Missile Submarines 0 1
Conventional Attack Submarines  1 47
Total Submarines  7 – 9 58 2
Principal Surface Combatants 
Aircraft Carriers 3 0
Destroyers 26
Frigates 1 51
Total Principal Surface Combatants  4 77
Coastal Warfare Vessels 
Missile Boats 132 110 – 120
Torpedo Boats 20 150
Gun Boats 160 100
Submarine Chasers 75 20
Total Coastal Warfare Vessels  ~387 ~380 – 390
Amphibious Warfare Vessels 
Landing Platforms 1 1
Landing Ships 83
Landing Craft  370 – 480
Total Amphibious Warfare Vessels  1 ~454-564
Mine Warfare Vessels
Mine Warfare Ships 27 42
Mine Warfare Drones  4 26
Total Mine Warfare Vessels  31 68
Total Auxiliary/Support Vessels  ~153
Total – All Vessels  12+ ~1160 – 1270 450+
Total Combat Vessels  12+ ~633 420+
Source: “Total Combat Vessels” counts only submarines, principal surface combatants, coastal warfare vessels, mine warfare ships, landing platforms and ships. These are vessels that would normally be commissioned and excludes landing craft, mine warfare drones and auxiliary/ support vessels. All numbers are approximate. 


Below: A Communist Chinese Xia-class (Type-092) ballistic missile submarine at Hainan.

China’s existing Xia-class submarines (Type-092) are soon to be replaced by the new Jin-class (Type-094). China’s new Jin-class was first spotted in Feb 2008 at the new base on Hainan Island. However, niether the Xia-class or the  new Jin-class (Type-094) have ever conducted a deterrent patrol.  

China already has a submarine base in the Bolshoi Sea (opposite Port Arthur) but appears to be putting a lot work into a second facility at Yulin, on Hainan Island.

This new super-base has a new submarine de-magnetisation facility.

Left: Satellite photo of the new Yulin base and caverns on Hainan (North is left).

Ocean floor topographical maps (below) show perhaps why China is seeking more defensible submarine pens – the Continental shelf extends far out into the Yellow Sea making all submarines leaving the Bolshoi Sea base more detectable and vulnerable.

The benefits of a 2nd base at Hainan become clear when the adjacent sea floor is examined. Submarines can more quickly reach the safety and anonymity of deeper depths sailing due East.

Intelligence reports show a JL-2 missile was test launched from Bohai Bay in May 2008, but currently it is unclear from what platform (ship or sub).

China currently has the most active cruise missile programme. One highlight of her efforts is the development of an anti-ship variant of the CSS-5 ballistic missile. This anti-ship missile has a considerable range – some 1,500 km.  Its final stage is designed for manoeuvrable re-entry, making its target more difficult to anticipate, and thus complicating defence against the missile.  Such a missile could enhance the Chinese ability to attack ships at sea, including, for example, American aircraft carriers in the Taiwan Straits.


More detaila can be found at: and


14. Aircraft Carrier Developments

Rumours abound – and have done so for some years – of China acquiring an aircraft carrier or a small fleet of carriers.

As the years go by fewer and fewer countries are building or replacing aircraft carrier. Canada, Germany, and the Netherlands had by the middle of the 20th century all given up the use of aircraft carriers.

Among Far Eastern countries only Australia operated a conventional aircraft carrier after 1945, HMAS Melbourne (RN Majestic class). [6] Decommissioned in June 1982 she was sold in Feb 1985, to a Chinese shipbuilding company for scrap and reportedly broken up. But in January 2001 reports surfaced that she had been used to train Chinese pilots to land on her angled flight decks. [7] Undoubtedly the hulks of other carriers have also been studied by Chinese’s naval architects. For example, the former Soviet aviation cruiser Minsk was towed from a South Korean scrap yard to a Chinese port in 1998, and in 2001 the former but not fully completed Soviet / Ukrainian carrier Varyag was bought for US$20m and towed from the Black Sea to China to be a “floating casino” – a ruse likely to  fool very few.[8]

Some of the subsequent signals of intention are as follows: [9]

1. October 2006 – the Vice Chairman of the Science and Technology Committee in the PLA’s General Armament Department stated: “The Chinese army will study how to manufacture aircraft carriers so that we can develop our own… aircraft carriers are indispensable if we want to protect our interests in the oceans.”

2. October 2006 – a Russian press report suggested early-stage negotiations were underway for China to purchase up to 50 Russian Su-33 carrier-borne fighters, a variant of the Su-27 already transferred to China. Contract value approx.  $2.5 billion.

3. March 2007 – a Chinese Admiral of the PLAN was quoted as saying that the Chinese shipbuilding industry was actively conducting R&D into aircraft carrier construction and could be ready to build such a vessel by 2010.

4. 2007 – Liu, Wei-Wei; Qu, Xiang-Ju of the School of Aeronautics Science and Technology, Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, China, published a paper “Modeling of carrier-based aircraft ski jump take-off based on tensor” in the Chinese Journal of Aeronautics [vol. 18, n 4, pp 326-335]. However, there are unconfirmed reports that the Chinese had built a ski jump nearly identical to that of the  Varyag at Yanliang [Janliang] Airfield, which is China’s main aviation test facility.

5. 2008 – the “Military Power of the People’s Republic of China” stated “evidence in recent years increasingly suggests China’s leaders may be moving forward with an aircraft carrier program. For example, beginning in early 2006 and with the release of China’s Eleventh Five Year Plan.

6. 2008 – it is reported that Russia has been providing assistance for several years in the construction of three Chinese-designed aircraft carriers. Some analysts have thus predicted that China could have an operational carrier by 2015, while others have considered 2020 to be a more realistic timeframe. [10]

Again relying on Russian sources, it would appear that China’s entry into the aircraft carrier arena will be ambitious and historic with plans for an aircraft carrier of between 40,000 to 60,000 tons. This is half the size of the USS Nimitz (101,000 tons) and down from the 78,000 tons spoken of in 2005.

The danger with aircraft carrier is that they can breed intolerance and superiority among the nations that possess them. For instance, it is not uncommon for the US Navy to described any one of its carriers as “”4.5 acres of sovereign and mobile American territory”, with al the implications for others that such a thought conveys.

The latest news (March 30, 2010), is that the former Russian aircraft carrier, Varyag, has been renamed Shi Lang. After 7 years of tinkering with the half finished aircraft carrier and the construction of a radar mast, she was moved, early in 2010, into dry dock for the fitting of engines and ‘heavy equipment’. [11]

15. Submarines

China alone in Asia operates 8 – 10 nuclear-powered submarines, and among Asian countries has the largest submarine force of 50 – 60 diesel-electric submarines. The former nationalist government now based on Taiwan (ROC), has purchased some conventional diesel-electric submarines from the West. Taiwan’s ability to deter aggression by re-equipping herself is thwarted time and again by Communist China’s bullying tactics of retribution against potential third party suppliers. The purchase of Zwaardvis class submarines in 1988 was perhaps Taiwan’s last successful attempt. [12]

There is a strong suspicion in the case of Communist China (PLAN) that espionage and bribery to  American personnel may have secured blueprints of technology worth millions of dollars and enabled her to build SSBNs well ahead of her true potential – although China is deeply enmeshed with Russian military sales. In a case brought in May 2007, against Chi Mak, 67 a Chinese-born engineer but a naturalised US citizen, the FBI revealed that Chinese spies had become the most active agents in the US. In the previous two years, the FBI has arrested nearly 30 Chinese nationals or Chinese Americans in cases involving US technology

Right: the Hai Lung Class (an improved Dutch design Zwaardvis class submarine), 2,376 tons, speed, knots: 12 surfaced, 20  submerged).

China also has a nuclear ballistic missile capability which makes all the charades, manoeuvrings and brinkmanship all the more dangerous.

In 2002 China bought 8 more Kilo-class submarines (China had already purchased 4 Kilo-class subs from Russia a few years earlier). Design in 1982, the 2,300 ton Kilo class (NATO code) submarines have been widely exported to India, Iran, Indonesia, Poland, Romania, Algeria etc.

Officially they are described as having one fixed-pitch propeller; a surface speed of 10 – 12 knots with a submerged speed of 17 – 25 knots; and a range but only using a snorkel device of 6,000 – 7,500 miles at 7 knots; a submerged range of 400 miles at 3 knots or only 12.7 miles at 21 knots, all of which, if true, together creates a vessel of somewhat limited capabilities.

Left: a Russian ‘Kilo’ class diesel-electric submarine.

China also bought two more Sovremenny-class destroyers, adding to a pair China already had and new deliveries of S300 PMU2 anti-aircraft missiles, plus 40 Su-30 MKK fighter-bombers,with air-to-sea missiles. The NATO code for the Su-30 is ‘Flanker’ and in profile is reminiscent of the American F-15 Eagle with its twin tail fins.

The US$4 billion Chinese contract made Russia its biggest military arms trading nation. In 2002 China was the world’s biggest weapons importer, underscoring its antipathy towards Taiwan. In 2002 China was the world’s biggest weapons importer, underscoring its antipathy towards Taiwan and potential for military supremacy across the Taiwan Strait.   Yet for all this expenditure China has military blind  spots. 

Left: the streamlined hull of a Kilo class submarine, typical of the modern vessel.

A senior U.S. defence official said in 2002 that, “China still cannot find ships at sea,” and that “. . . over-the-horizon targeting escapes them” – a capability of ocean surveillance the US built up in the 1960s, adding that “China has all the tools to build its own but it has not” (yet ?- Ed).

The predicament in which Taiwan finds herself is amply demonstrated by the following list of her submarine capabilities and the age of her submarine stock – some of which are 60 years old and 40 years past their safe diving limit (Table 34).

Table 34. Taiwan Navy


Submarines on Active Duty
Name (Number)  Class  Base  Builder / Country  Laid down  Launched  Commissioned 
Hai Hu (794) Hai Lung Tsoying Wilton Fijenoord, Netherlands Dec 1982 Dec 1986 April 1988
Hai Lung (793) Hai Lung Tsoying Wilton Fijenoord, Netherlands Dec 1982 Oct 1986 October 1987
Hai Pao (792) Guppy II Tsoying Federal SB & DD Co, USA Aug 1944 July 1945 April 1946
Hai Shih (791) Guppy II Tsoying Portsmouth Navy Yard, USA July 1944 Nov 1944 March 1945
Sources: A.D. Baker III, Combat Fleets of the World 2000-2001 (Annapolis: U.S. Naval Institute, 2000) and Stephen Saunders, Jane’s Fighting Ships: 2002-2003 (Coulsdon, Jane’s Information Group, 2002).

Were America or Europe to provide nuclear powered submarines to any of the  squabbling countries in the South China Sea basin, world public opinion would rightly judge them as grossly irresponsible and childishly reckless.  The assessment would be that the West was threatening world stability and being inflammatory through client states (vassal state).

Yet this is precisely the course of action adopted by Russia. Even to contemplate balancing the equation by the West providing Taiwan or, say, the Philippines or Vietnam, with an equal number of submarines is unthinkable. To then make those submarines nuclear powered would be viewed as an act of madnessor and to make them ICBM carriers would be greed overwhelming sober consideration. Recalling the Sino-Soviet conflicts of the late 20th centruy, how confident is Russia that this brotherly co-operation will last ?

Yet as we shall see from the following sections, that may be the only, albeit hideous, course of action open to the West if bloodshed is not to erupt on a regulator basis in that region. China’s Pavlovian-like instincts may kick-in with the effect of meting out what was meted out to her in the past. The prospect of China creating compliant vassal states around her is attractive and certainly one she would not pause or blink twice to achieve. But was it ever thus ? Russia and America have both sought, in their time, to surround themselves with compliant states.

Japan, which does not possess any ‘offensive’ military equipment and has had a pacifist Constitution since 1945 is, nonetheless, able to inspired fear inside China’s government. Unlike the Chinese defence budget, Japan’s defence expenditures has not seen any increases in recent years, yet China is reportedly convinced that Japan is upgrading its military capabilities beyond the level necessary to protect its territory. Even if that were true, it should have occurred to the Chinese mind that their behaviour might be prompting it. It is perfectly reasonable for Japan in the face of overt missile testing in China and Korea to seek anti-missile missile systems – which appears to be what is upsetting the Chinese ( ). If China persists with this paraniod-like behaviour Russia and Russian ambitions may come under closer scrutiny by China.

Is China ‘testing’ the reactions of the West or simply unaware of her actions on others ? On March 14th 2009, US warships had to set course for the South China Sea as a ‘standoff’ developed between a US purpose built surveillance ship, USS Impeccable (5,300 tons), operating in international waters and five Chinese trawler-type boats.

China accused the US ship of ‘spying’ – and it probably was, but all countries do a little eavesdropping and at 100 miles off-shore and in international waters there is nothing a nation can do about it. Why ‘simple’ trawler fishermen should interest themselves in towed sonar arrays and throw grappling hooks to damaged or recover them is not explained by the Chinese. (See also USS Pueblo incident, North Korea, Jan 1968 and Gulf of Tonkin Incident 1964).

The disagreement between the US and China centres on the interpretation of the UN’s “exclusive economic zone” (EEZ) which allows countries to claim, for example, mineral rights and to enforce its law on trespassers. However, China ignores other countries claims for EEZ, see below, and America is not a signatory which dose not aid clarity. The US believes the Convention grants free navigation, within a country’s exclusive economic zone for all countries’ military and civilian aircraft and ships, China does not see it that way.

Only a month earlier (Feb 2009), several Indian newspapers reported the allegations made in the Chinese press that an Indian Kilo-class submarine had tracked a small group of Chinese warships en route to join the anti-pirate efforts off the Somalian coast. Reputedly an Indian naval source was cited as admitting their submarine had tracked the Chinese warships; “Every nation does it,” but denied it had been ‘forced to the surface’ as the Chinese (characteristically) had claimed.

These two incidents demonstrate just how ‘overly-sensitive’ the Chinese government is to the activities of others, and reflects the essentially secretive nature of its government yet is content to disregard the sensitivities of other governments.  For example, recent  reports (May 2010), suggest that the submarine HMS Poseidon which sank in 1931 near Wai Hei Wai and is deemed a war grave, was salvaged without notice circa 2005, simply to test the skills of China’s naval special forces and newly formed underwater recovery units.

Indeed, the US Navy was surprised to find a Chinese Song Class diesel-electric attack submarine (length 160 ft) surfacing in the middle of one of its exercises in the Pacific Ocean (but near Taiwan) in Oct 2006. It had successfully tracked the USS Kitty Hawk and came within viable range for launching torpedoes or missiles at the carrier. Arguably, the Chinese craft was perfectly placed to gather intelligence on the US ships taking part in the exercise. When asked for an explanation Peking pleaded ignorance of the event and dismissed the affair as coincidence. (The USS Kitty Hawk was decommissioned in 2009 after 49 years of service). During 2008, Chinese attack submarines sailed on more patrols than ever before, according to information obtained by Federation of American Scientists from U.S. Naval Intelligence (see graph below).

Chinese Submarine Patrols  1981 – 2008

 (declassified by U.S. Naval Intelligence).

In the medium to short term the two countries who will find themselves in an embrace of long-term rivalry are China and the United States. It was over the South China Sea, between Hainan and the Paracel Islands that a slow, propeller driven American spy plane was harassed in 2001, by Chinese jet fighters. It ended with one of the nibble Chinese jet fighter crashing mid-air into the lumbering 4 engined surveillance plane killing its pilot. None of the American crew were killed but the damaged plane was forced to land at Hainan resulting in the detention of its crew and no doubt  its classified surveillance equipment was examined in detail by Chinese electronic engineers of its surveillance equipment. China could not accept that it had over-reacted and insisted that a letter of apology be received before the crew could be returned to America. This is the propaganda oriented conduct of the old China under Mao.

Hainan Island has become China’s underground submarine base. Reportedly, the island’s caverns are capable of hiding up to 20 nuclear submarines – safe from spy satellite intelligence gathering. However, they are not so safe when they leave their U-boat type pens with ships such as the USS Impeccable able to trace, track and encode each individual submarine’s sonic signature (see Chinese born engineer Chi Mak, above).

16. Predicting Future Flashpoints

In the affairs of nations conflict is almost inevitable. Among advanced countries only Switzerland ever seems to successfully avoid war and conflicts.

This commentary on China’s Sunken Warships began with Part 1 looking into China’s maritime fleet and gunboats in the ‘inter-war years’. And yet, almost unnoticed, we are, in 2010, in another ‘inter-war’ period; we have another military build-up underway this time Asiatic; and a Western world that is again weary of war (and its expense). Russia, by contrast, has government coffers bulging from the profits of oil and gas sales and a cavalier attitude to the future consequences of its present sales of hardware.

Some years after China first started buying Russian made military hardware we find that its activity is adversely affecting its neighbours. By 2009 Vietnam felt compelled to buy 6 Russian-made Kilo submarines for US$2 billion to counter China’s hostile posturing in the South China Sea. [13]Vietnam buys submarines to counter China” and ‘Hanoi seals arms deal with Moscow amid China’s naval build-up, and cosies up to US Defence.’

It has come to light that India, which also operates Russian Kilo class submarines, has been quietly advising Hanoi – not known for its submarine heritage. At the same time Vietnam is forging a military relationship with its former enemy, the US, which has increased its navy strength in the South China Sea.

The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), based in London, estimates China’s spending on its armed forces might already be around US$90 billion per year.Japan, a country far richer than Vietnam, is spending roughly US$42 billion on defence annually simply because it too is anxious about China’s rapidly growing defence budget, which is growing at an annual rate of 17%.  The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), based in London, estimates China’s spending might already be up to US$90 billion on its armed forces per year.

 These developments have to be seen against the backdrop of China’s seizure of the Paracel Islands from Vietnam in 1974. In fact, from 1974 to 1999 ‘shoot-outs’ with the military forces of its neighbours, e.g. Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and the Philippines have been a recurring theme over disputed islands including the Spratly Islands near Brunei in  the South China Sea.

 China and Vietnam have clashed militarily on three occasions: in 1974 Chinese troops invaded the Paracel Islands and drove out the South Vietnamese forces; in 1979 the Chinese army launched a punitive attack against North Vietnam in response to Hanoi’s invasion of Cambodia (China was supporting the inhuman Khmer Rouge regime); and in 1988 communist Chinese and communist Vietnamese naval forces clashed over ownership of the Spratly Islands.

Since 1949, when Mao’s army could claim to have won the war against the non-communist forces on the mainland, China has been no different than any Republic or Colonial power in securing off-shore islands its sees as rightly belonging to China. Islands that ROK forces held were slowly overrun by the Chinese communist Army, eg Hainan.

The Battle of Wanshan Islands, an archipelago near Hong Kong, lasted from May 1950 to Aug 1950 and saw Communist forces successfully occupy the islands (they had more than twice the numbers of ships and army forces).

The Dachen Islands (or Tachen Islands) lie a few miles off the coast and half way bertween Taipai and Shanghai. They were controlled by the Republic of China (the non-communist government which had been based in Taiwan since 1949). The situation for those on Dachen deteriorated until by Feb 1955 the American Navy organised an evacuation by the U.S. Seventh Fleet of 25,000 civilians and military personanel in what is now referred to as the First Taiwan Strait Crisis (14,500 civilians, 10,000 Republic of China servicemen, and 4,000 guerrilla fighters, along with 40,000 tons of military equipment and supplies from the island).

Chiang Kai-shek grudgingly allowed the island to fall to the Communists so that the other offshore island groups, Kinmen and Matsu, could be successfully defended with American help.

The reason behind these Chinese adventures is belief in oil lying beneath the continental shelf. In 1968 oil and natural gas reserves were confirmed and later estimated to be the fourth largest reserve in the world, i.e. on a scale comparable with Kuwait.

A look at a map of the region shows China’s claim of sovereign territorial waters (shown here in red) running from Korea to North Borneo. It begins to explain why clashes occur with its nearest neighbours’. Save for a wafer thin watery border around Vietnam, the Philippines and North Borneo (now Sarawak and Sabah), everything else, China believes, belongs to her.

Right: China’s claim of sovereign territorial water in the South China Sea (marked in red).

China’s territorial ambitions know no bounds and she is claiming islands that belong to Japan far to the north of the Paracel Islands. Peking’s dispute with Tokyo hinges on an estimated natural gas reserve of 200 billion cubic metres centred on the Xihu Trough in the East China Sea. Here the EEZ claims of China lie alongside those of Japan but the joint boundary line is not recongised by China which has been extracting gas since 2006. The gas and oil fields involved are Chungxiao; Shirakaba; Duanqiao; Kusunoki; Tianwaitian and Kashi. Far Eastern commentators see no compromise in the offing because Tokyo and Peking are basing their territorial claims on two different international agreements.

The flashpoint, if there is to be one, will be over a developing nation’s raw materials. China has already shown itself to be obdurate regarding attemots by Western government to rectify tyrannical governments and replace dictators, e.g. Mugabe. It has also shown itself to be more than willing to bully and even fire live rounds at its neighbours. Therefore, the two most likely candidates for a flashpoint will be in Africa (and most probably with the West), or in the islands in the South China Sea – most probably with less powerful nations seen as easy prey. The latter is also more likely as it is closer to home, would not require aircraft carriers to project power and intimidation of smaller navies would be unlikely to result in a humiliating black-eye or the prestige-crushing loss of a capital ship with all the implications that would have for the stability of the Chinese government, e.g. the sinking of the Belgrano in 1982 and the collapse of the Military Junta in Argentina.

Left:ARAGeneral Belgrano, (12,200 tons) pre-1982.

If the local skirmishes escalated into a higher levels of conflict, the positioning of the islands dotted around the South China Sea might enable China to exclude outside assistance or interlopers to what they would see as an internal or domestic dispute. However, this would also run the risk of having her trade routes compromised or even cut-off in retaliation. The traditional ‘great powers’ with their ocean-roaming navies would have to decide whether to render that outside assistance or not. They may conclude that to contain the conflict geographically would be the preferable option, in which case the question has to be answered what military hardware should now be supplied before China embarks on such a campaign.


17. Paracel and Spratly Archipelagos

For various and hugely powerful cultural reasons the occidental perception of the Pacific is of a vast ocean sparsely populated and dotted with occasional coral reefs. A Westerner’s mind also sees the South China Sea in the same light – a tranquil corner of a troubled world dotted here and there with uninhabited and desert islands. While this is true, it is also misleading. The Asiatic nations surrounding the South China Sea basin are being intimidated by their giant neighbour China. Claims by the smaller countries of island lying off their coastline are being denied by China which is claiming everything in sight.

The reaction of the developed world has been, unaccountably, to treat China with kid gloves, fearing that which she might be capable of, rather than what she is actually capable of. This fear is based on China’s frequent threats of trade embargoes, threats of future sanctions and the cancelling of large orders she has placed, e.g. Dutch Fokker aircraft order cancelled when submarines bought by Taiwan.

The kow-towing by the West is not doubt sincerely intended to bring China ‘on side’ and join other responsible governments in sanctions against ‘rogue states’, e.g. North Korea, Iran, and the Khmer Rouge (now extinguished).

But what has the West to lose really ? Is it likely that China will pick a ‘fighting war’ in the next 10 years with the West ? That’s a very dim prospect. The ‘non-Chinese world’ has bases all around China and a combined fleet of 20 aircraft carriers to seal off the seaward side.

It is surely China who is risking more ! She has new cities of glass and chrome. China would become reduced again without world trade and her shipping arteries can be choked-off at a moments notice. The West is more frightened of shadow cast by China than the actual hardware casting the shadow.

Which brings us to the Paracel and the Spratly Archipelagos. This is a sphere of influence as important to China as the Caribbean is to the US.

Right: Map of the Spratly Islands (circled).

The compelling aspect, at least to an occidental mind, is that these islands were never inhabited, owned or even occupied by any one nation. They have been left uninhabited and in a limbo from the end of the French colonial period and even the Treaty of San Francisco never dealt with them, save for Japan agreeing to give up her claim to them.

In the case of the Spratlys, today a variety of governments are ‘dug in’, reluctant to give ground and hopeful of being awarded the entire island group. Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan, China and Brunei have all laid claim to the islands (some are only reefs in reality) and many are occupied sporadically or by a token force.

Claiming the various islands within the Spratly group began in the 1930s when France first occupied the archipelago. It was not until 1946 that Taiwan took possession of the Itu Aba island – the largest Spratly Island – and a former Japanese submarine base. [15] Currently, 45 islands are occupied by claimant countries.

The discovery of oil deposits under the South China Sea lead to this sudden interest in the area. Vietnam, which assumed the titles and claims of the departed French administration, had incorporated the Spratly Islands and Paracel Islands as a bureaucratic tidying-up exercise for signing contracts with foreign oil companies. But for whatever reason, oil or sovereignty, early in 1974 Communist China attacked the Paracel Islands from sea and air and captured them.

The Paracel Islands lie to the north of the Spratly Islands, near China’s island province of Hainan. Having lost them in the 1970s, the new unified government that was once North Vietnam wants them back.

By not handing them back, China hopes to legitimise her claim to all of the South China Sea and its mineral resources, but in so doing risks being seen as imperialist as the obsolete Emperor dynasties and colonial powers it replaced.

Another reason for retaining the islands is that in 2009 China planned to have completed an underground submarine base on Hainan Island (a modern day U-boat pen facility). With relations warming between Vietnam and America the Paracel Islands would make an excellent listening and tracking site for the US.

In the realm of strategic relevance one also has to consider that the Spratly Islands sit astride the world 2nd busiest tanker routes and one of the world’s top 10 shipping lanes.

Domestically produced oil is available to China from oil rigs located off-shore from Hong Kong and the Pearl River with more blocks coming on-stream. The potential of the northern gas and oil reserves near Japan have already been mentioned as have those in the south around the Spratly Islands.  

Left: View from Pratas Reef, an atoll structure.

However, further out (some 200 miles south east of Hong Kong) is Pratas Reef – a Taiwanese atoll manned by ROC military personnel. This has not only a strategic dimension but represents a possible claim for oil and gas reserves for Taiwan.

Bi-lateral talks have never been China’s strongest suite. In the 1980s discussion with the Philippines over Chinese encroachment of its islands near Palawan ended in deadlock.

Talks with Taiwan have since 1949 always gone no where china wants Taiwan to buckle to its ‘One China’ ideal. Vietnam has been mistreated and bullied and the list of snubs stretches on into the late 1990s. When Hong Kong was handed over to Chinese control – Red Army troops couldn’t keep to a timetable or protocol and nearly arrived at the quay before the future King of England had stepped aboard HMS Britannia. So, diplomatically, the Chinese have shown themselves to be uncouth and gauche, at worst, or naïve and ungroomed, at best.

18. Legitimacy of Claims

China claim to the whole of the South China Sea is wholly unrealistic. The 1960s saw the End of Empire for the European powers – a closing off of an historical chapter that may never come again now that the globe is fully mapped.

Former imperial powers have brought both benefits and drawbacks to the land areas they occupied – as China knows full well.. Some imperial powers have encouraged native economies to thrive, become self sufficient and cradled infant forms of local democracy. But these same imperial powers have made some awful blunders – some reckless and poor long lasting decisions. The merit, even in these, is to learn from them. India, Malaya and Singapore are doing exactly that – Pakistan, Indonesia and China are not.

For China to base her claim on imperial dynasties going back a 1,000 years is as absurd as France reclaiming Algeria or Britain reclaiming its lost colonies in the north Americas. It is anachronistic that China should renew its so-called historic claim to the South China Sea on its imperial predecessors and in the process completely ignores the existence of Vietnam.

Many nations and people may dream, once in a while, of turning back the clock to happier days but most sanely realise this can only ever be a dream – a wistful wish. It only becomes dangerous when national politicians and people act upon such dreams and try to make them become a reality. Yesterday’s glories cannot be preserved in aspic. World events have moved on and new countries have been created.

Such is the case with China. She is basing her claim to the Paracel Islands and all the South China Sea islets on a document issued by, of all people, the former colonial powers, e.g. France, Japan and Britain.

Is it not an irony that China has to cite the Japanese Foreign Ministry which issued a protest declaration to the French at a time when the Second Sino-Japanese War was underway ? French troops, which had long colonised Vietnam, occupied the Paracel Islands on July 3, 1938 after setting up a weather station there in 1932 and on the Spratly Islands in 1937.

The Japanese note read:

“The statement of Great Britain and France made respectively in 1900 and 1921 already declared that the Paracel Islands were part of the Administrative Prefecture of Hainan Island. Therefore, the current claims made by An’nan [Vietnam Gov’t – Ed] or France to the Paracel Islands are totally unjustifiable.”

The modern day chronology of the Paracel Islands is this:

  • 1932 – French Indochina in conjunction with the Nguyen dynasty of Vietnam annexed the islands and set up a weather station on Pattle Island.
  • 1938 – .French troop “invade” the small and barren atolls of the Paracel Islands and set up a radio and weather station.
  • 1939 –   Japan invades and occupies the islands, on the pretense that they are “Chinese territory.” But as Japan invaded both China and Vietnam it is a moot point.
  • 1945 – ROC, i.e. Nationalist China reaffirms its ownership as Chinese sovereignty and sovereignty over all the other islands in the South China Sea. Nationalist China sends a patrol force to the islands, but this move was challenged by the French who by now were back in Indo-China.
  • 1949 – Communist China wins control of mainland and forces Nationalist China to decant to Taiwan. Communist China not recognised as a legitimate country by Western powers.
  • 1954 – North Vietnam becomes independent self-governing state.

It is grossly unfair to neighbouring countries that China should insist on a bulbous 1,000 mile ‘territorial waters’ limit that is all-devouring. It is as unworkable and as undesirable as the original 3-mile-limit. To seek to confine countries like the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam to a small limit of 50 to 100 miles is unconscionable.

Geographically, the Spratly islands are far too south to be reasonably called Chinese ands are more likely to be deemed Vietnam’s or as belonging to the Philippines and North Borneo.

The starting point for all should be the acceptance of the by now standard limit of 12 nautical miles (22 km) from the coastline. Everything else can be negotiated and traded. There should be no ‘linkage’ with any other island group, e.g. attempting to link the Paracel with the Spratly islands.

A competent analysis of the Spratly Islands situation has been prepared by the University for Peace which is an agency /facility of the United Nations and is based in Costa Rica.

They point out the significance of the Spratly Islands and acknowledge that the origins of the various claims are historically complex. However, the international community has addressed the problem and devised what is called “Exclusive Economic Zones” (EEZ). This is now established by the United Nation’s Convention as part of the Law of the Sea. Essentially, claims to off-shore islands and continental shelf rights based on proximity are more likely to be accepted. [15]

The map (left) depicts the new international rulings. A 12 mile territorial waters boundary is mandatory with a further 12 miles allowed for a ‘Contiguous zone’.

A maritime contiguous zone permits countries to enforce its laws and control by prevention or punishment infringements of it customs, fiscal, immigration, and or pollution / sanitary laws. It is linked to the subject of high seas freedom of navigation, over-flights, and related freedoms, such as the conduct of military exercises. The EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) allows countries to legitimately claim a 200 mile zone exclusively for its own economic use /benefit.

Beyond the 200 mile limit the waters are deemed ‘international’ with no question of sovereignty being entertained. For the claims of the smaller countries to succeed they must show that they are within the 200 mile limit which only Sarawak and the Philippines can show (see map Sect. 16). The claims of Taiwan, Malaysia and Vietnam may well fail because of this.

19. Diplomacy


What should be happening is a repetition of the peaceful division of the North Sea between Norway and Britain. Not only is oil flowing to both but it has been concluded in a spirit of co-operation and mutual respect. The whole task has been able to progress at a much faster pace.

Unfortunately, China’s bully boy behaviour appears to be infectious. Russia has now succumbed to graceless moves by adopting a hard stance (no doubt for internal public consumption) with regard claiming Arctic oil reserves. It was never an issue before so why make it one now ?

Open enmity exists between Russia and Belarus, once the closest of allies in the former Soviet Union days, which threatened the heating for millions of homes in Western Europe in Jan 2007. 1 How the world has changed. The First and the Second Opium Wars were initiated after the Chinese arrested a handful of European nationals. Now, when millions are put in jeopardy, there are no military consequences. [16]

The squabbling will cost both countries dear. Who is wrong is immaterial – Russia by doubling the price unilaterally or Belarus for allegedly siphoning-off and re-exporting petroleum products or its imposing of a transit tax ? The source is now tainted and shown to be politically vulnerable. Future European fuel planning will be based on reliability and it will be downgraded with other suppliers (not dependent on Russia) given priority.

France and Germany are the two EU counties most dependent on Russian gas. Locked into Russian contracts they have a storage capacity (in 2009) of 80 days compared to Britain’s 15 days, which buys from several large suppliers on the open market. The unit price of gas to French households is lower than in Britain which has to pay “spot market” prices. However, its vulnerability, including economic blackmail, is low whereas France’s is high. [17]

Diplomacy is nothing without trade and meaningless without a military infrastructure. However, resorting to military measures negates diplomacy and is the hallmark of failed diplomacy or incompetent diplomats. This was not quite true in the days of 19th century gunboat diplomacy when the two could work hand-in-hand.

In a capitalist market, as China will surely discover, reserves of any mineral are worth only what people are willing to risk to pay – and only in anticipation of receiving it. Vulnerability of supply, be it by political, military and or economic forces, lowers the unit value.

Non-receipt means nil value to the producer and customer nation alike. Being a tainted source doesn’t zero the value of the resource, it merely drops the unit value.

Chinas present position is the inverse. She is so desperate for enough oil to meet her internal consumption that, like Japan in 1940, she will risk almost anything and pay almost any price. But were she to secure at some time in the future, all of the South China Sea oil reserves she would still not realise its full theoretical / paper value, though she would be able shore up her industrialisation and buoyant economy.

The last 50 years has seen both Russia and China recognise and financially support newly emergent states of questionable legitimacy – some of which have not been recognised by the West. It was said, that these newly independent states were ‘free at last’ of American (or British) imperialism, and were no longer ‘running dogs’ or ‘lackeys’ of the West – a turn of phrase that brings bewilderment rather than edification to the Western mind.

It is therefore hypercritical for both countries to now impose sanctions on new states it does not agree with, as in the case of China or falls out with, as in the case of Russia, e.g. Ossetia, Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus. This is not to underplay or ignore the less than pristine record of the West which has supported some very unsavoury regimes. However, that was in the second half of the 20th century and the Cold War. The world scene is now very much different, and it is to be hoped that countries that are about to become the new world leaders will watch, learn and inwardly digest the mistakes of their predecessors.

Peking, for instance, has repeatedly warned Vietnam and the Philippines against continuing oil exploration deals with overseas firms when China is physically and legally in no position to oppose such contracts. And even if it were, the self-determination clause of the UN and Communist China’s rhetoric would forbid the prolonging of low living standards among working people of its Asiatic neighbours. Are there echoes there of Japan’s deceitful ‘Greater Asian co-prosperity sphere’ scam (see Part 3) ?

Perhaps the Chinese and Russian attitudes are born of their common Marxist roots where the preeminent ideology was that the “state owned the Means of Production.” Somehow, and this is sheer speculation, that mindset might have found its way into international relations and the goods and services it provides for payment, i.e. foreign trade. Any blockage, dispute or disagreement immediately becomes an affront to the state requiring decisive action.

20. Conclusion

Legacies matter no less in the East, vis-à-vis Sino-Japanese relation, than they do in the West which, in the case of America, is obsessed (to an evangelical level) to see liberal democracies everywhere, e.g. Iraq and Afghanistan.

These latent cultural ideals and historic legacies guide future conduct and in every government there are always two competing wings fighting for supremacy. In the case of the US they are usually referred to as ‘hawks’ and ‘doves’. The evolution of policies and the people behind them, be it in China or the US, is critical if predictions are to be made.

“Every generation learns what it needs to know and then the next generation forgets it.”

Whereas British foreign policy once predominated in world affairs it is now American foreign policy. American politics have been shaped for some years by the political philosophy of the Neo-Cons, i.e. Neo-conservatists. Briefly stated, Neo-conservatism sees virtue in using American power (economic and military) to bring about social change in other countries, e.g. liberalism, democracy and human rights. In other words, the opposite to US isolationism of the 1930s. Or put another way, a variation or extension of British foreign and colonial policy in the 20th century as seen as an interpretation of a Whig version of history which was so prevalent up until the 1930s (See also Roger Scruton’s “A Dictionary of Political Thought” 1982). The Whig version of history can be defiend as an acceptance of the past as an inevitable progression towards a better future of greater liberty and enlightenment, culminating in modern forms of liberal democracy and constitutional monarchy. In general, Whig historians stress the rise of constitutional government, personal freedoms and scientific progress (all of which are food and drink to American culture).

Neo-Cons are more normally associated with right wing views and the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan so it is surprising to learn that the Neo-Cons route into the corridors of power started on the left of politics (a good historical account is given at

In the eyes of the outside world, the upshot, it can be argued, is neo-colonialism, i.e. the right to police, aid and interfere in the way other people behave or govern themselves. Examples of this could be said to be aspects of the Bosnian War and American ‘leverage’ used during the Reagan administration to oust (by resignation) Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines after public uproar at yet another rigged election there.

Neo-Cons were borne from a generation that believed that the principles of liberalism had failed to live up to the ideal and “no longer knew what it was talking about” – in other words, had lost its sense of direction.

While supporting free market economics the neo-conservatives nonetheless embraced the ‘welfare state’ and were willing for the state to interfere when overriding social purposes were at stake. The main characteristics of neo-conservatism are; 1). a tendency to see the world in binary good/evil terms, 2). low tolerance for diplomacy, 3). readiness to use military force, 4). emphasis on US unilateral action, 5). disdain for multilateral organisations, 6). focus on the Middle East, 7). an ‘them and us’ mentality.

As a consequnce it has always been the European view that American foreign policy lacks respect for others, lacks continuity, lack finesse and is clumbsier than it should be. It is easy to see how this philosophy might have appealed to Pres George W Bush in the 2000s.

Some of these characteristic traits echo those of China, and while the world can get by with one superpower having this mental outlook two or more superpowers with very similar outlooks and egos present something of a problem for the rest of humanity.

The problem is containable when an administration is short term, i.e. changed by election every 5 – 8 years. However, China’s method of appointing a chosen successor and ‘grooming’ him in the ways of the Party spells rigamortise and trouble in the years ahead. If this process were to be changed in the future the dangers would subside substantially.

In conclusion, it would have been most rewarding if it could be said that China could be depended upon to assume the mantle of a world leader in 20 years time in a quiet, smooth and dignified manner.

The prospect of it gliding effortlessly to centre stage and being a fair arbiter in world affairs is seductive but unlikely to happen.

The biggest compliment one could have paid to a future China was that it would, to paraphrase and American saying, ‘speak and walk softly but carry a big stick’.

Until China adjusts to this new role the intervening years will see instability and countries choosing to defer disarming. The US might possibly lose global leadership status though not global military power. America has to balance out the rise of China. China’s neighbours need to strike up a new accord or an ‘entente’ with America / the West to create this balance and mutually defend themselves against aggressive overture.

As NATO declines in military importance a South East Asian equivalent may have to replace it. The sheer geographical size and demographics of China makes it impossible for the rest of Asia, including Japan and India, to match it in gravitas and capacity in the next 20 or 30 years. However, China’s vulnerability to a decline in trade should not be overlooked, now thats it urban population is hooked on capitialism and mainlining on consumerism –

China is already a disruptive influence on world trade and the bending of economic laws to satisfy one nation’s desires, especially in Africa, cannot be expected to continue without consequences – unintended or otherwise.

A country governed by politicians who perennially exhibit an inferiority complex, irrationality and paranoia is by definition a dangerous state.


[1] “Naval Warfare and the Refraction of China’s Self-Strengthening Reforms into Scientific and Technological Failure, 1860-1895”

[2]  “The Rendel gunboats – Flatirons”, By Richard M. Anderson.

[3] L. C. Arlington – The Chinese flotilla sailed south slowly and hesitantly, never out of sight of land, and with frequent halts to exercise the ships’ guns. Before the flotilla reached the Taiwan strait Admiral Wu had already despaired of completing his mission. He proposed instead merely to announce that the Chinese flotilla was on its way to Formosa, in the hope that this false rumour would force the French to raise the blockade of Formosa and concentrate their warships for defence. The Chinese flotilla turned around and headed back to Sanmen Bay, close to the Chinese port of Ningbo

[4] “China‘s Struggle for Naval Development, 1839 – 1895” by John Rawlinson, (Harvard, 1967).

[5] Guangdong Fleet, 19th century

[6] India operates an ex-RN ski-jump flight deck aircraft carrier (IRS Viraat, formerly HMS Hermes of Falkland’s War fame). She is due for scraping and 3 carriers are being built by India. Thailand has a modern helicopter carrier.

[7] The world’s aircraft carriers. Global Security. Org

[8] China’s carrier ambitions –  Russian carrier Minsk and Ukrainian carrier Varyag

[9] All the citations listed (1 – 6) are sourced from Global Security. Org

[10] Aircraft Carrier Project, Phase 2 – New Construction. Carrier plans code named “9985 plan” or “Project 9935,” would have had a 48,000 ton displacement (or possibly 78,000 ton), equipped with Russian engines and radars.

[11] “Varyag On The Move Again” . Photo of Varyag, dated March 2010:   

[12]  Taiwan – political pressure placed on potential exporters by mainland China.

[13] “Vietnam buys submarines to counter China” ‘Hanoi seals arms deal with Moscow amid China’s naval build-up, and cosies up to US Defence.’ South China Morning Post Dec 2009. 

[14] The management of the Spratly Islands conflict: and

[15] United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

[16] Gas supplies turned off

[17] Much is made, for political reasons, of the 20th century Holocaust but historically the Taiping Rebellion (1850 – 1864) saw 20 million dead.

[18]  “Russia turns off Europe’s gas taps – again”, Jan 2009 Money Week a financial magazine (see also The Independent’s Jeremy Warner).

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