Nanking Incident, 1927

HMS Emerald shells Chinese positions in Nanking, during the March, 1927, fighting in the city. Photo in the collections of the Imperial War Museums.

Location Nanking, China

In March, 1927, the National Revolutionary Army was advancing on Nanking during its effort to unify China under Chiang Kai-shek. Nanking was a treaty city, with a large foreign population. The warlord who had control of the city abandoned it in the face of the NRA advance, and they walked right in on the 24th. Soon, things went south, with anti-foreigner sentiments running high, and soldiers and civilians alike began rioting. Looting and attacks on foreigners began, and most of the foreign nationals took refuge at Socony Hill. In response, the warships of the American Yangtze Patrol and the British China Station were deployed to protect the civilians. The ships arrived in the afternoon, and began shelling NRA positions with high-explosive rounds. British and American sailors and marines were landed, and began evacuating civilians to ships in the river. The next morning, destroyer USS William B. Preston was making way to escort the SS Kungwo to the coast, when she was hit by sniper fire from the shore. After silencing the snipers, the two ships proceeded down river, but were engaged by Chinese batteries in Fort Hsing-Shan. Preston successfully silenced the fort, and turned over the Kungwo to British forces off shore, before heading back to Nanking. Japanese, Italian, and French ships joined in the rescue efforts. The Chinese commander managed to reign in his troops on the 26th, and asked the Red Cross to mediate a cease-fire. On the 27th, Preston left Nanking with the last seventy refugees aboard, and (open) hostilities ended by the end of the day. Chiang Kai-shek blamed the Communist Chinese for the incident, and this led to his purge of them from the NRA, and, subsequently, the Chinese Civil War. The Kuomintang made a formal apology to the foreign governments, and paid an undisclosed sum in reparations.