Thursday, June 30, 2005


The ChinaGunboatMan is devoted to perpetuating the history of the Asiatic Fleet. It existed only in the hearts and minds oif those that served in its command. By publishing only true stories of the Philippine-China-Japan area before WWII, that are related to the Asiatic Fleet. we hope to honor only those that served therein. Their good and bad times will make up for future
historians the picture of what happened during those years from 1845 and on in that distant foreign land.

History is made up of these men who served inconspicuously in this far away Asian land, unknown and unheralded by the country they defended. Yet even in their last days, served silently and heroically to the end. The Asiatic Fleet, as we know it, and lived it, is only history. It can never, ever happen again.

We invite all personnel, military or civilian that are interested in, and supportive of, the objectives of the SouthChina Yangtze Patrol to join up with us. You will receive the unique ChinaGunBoatMan newsletter every quarter, you will be qualified to attend our annual reunion and you will enjoy the association with our old "China Hands" that "have been there and done that" duty in the Asiatic Fleet. Welcome Aboard! Send the following information to our Secretary Denver Keplinger, 79 Caesar Circle, Amherst Village, Amherst, OH 44001. Phone (440) 985-2044 or E Mail: Denverkep. Annual dues $18.00 but joining after July lst only $9.00. You will be rewarded with a current ChinaGunBoatMan newsletter when you registration is received.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Some Background

Walter Ashe is editor for the China Gunboatman's newsletter and served in the USS Asheville. One of the younger members is Kelly Geary whose grandfather was the CO of USS Edsall - Lost without a trace - No survivors. Edsall had just rescued survivors from the USS Langley when it ran afoul of an INJ cruiser. Records do exist from the IJN cruiser that confirm its loss to gunfire. More about the Edsall will be on this blog soon.

History of the Asiatic Fleet

by Walter Ashe
If you ever wanted a story to stir the hearts, and yes, even the souls of Americans, a story of dedication, beyond and above the call to duty, a story filled with courage, a story crying for recognition. This is that story!
It is a story of the Asiatic Fleet, that since 1854, under different names, had been the protector of American lives and property in the Far East, predominantly the Philippines and China.
Our Combined Forces, U.S.Navy Asiatic Fleet survivors are uniting in an effort to bring a long overdue recognition to the heartbreaking struggles of that great fleet, as it fought, alone, against the overwhelming modern Japanese Navy subsequent to the disaster at Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. If you have not heard of it, don't worry, you are not alone, not many have.
The Asiatic Fleet, long the peace-keeper in Asia, was the only American naval force available to challenge the onrushing hordes of Japanese forces, hell bent to conquer the oil rich fields of the east Indies, after the disaster at Pearl Harbor. Between this prize, sailed the proud, although overage ships of the Asiatic Fleet. Three cruisers, 13 WW1 vintage destroyers, 29 submarines, auxiliaries, two large gunboats, inshore patrol boats, 6 motor torpedo boats and 36 PBY's. Their orders were to fight the Japanese, to delay their progress. And fight they did!
The U.S. Marines, Navy men and women, also a part of the Asiatic Fleet Command were fighting a fierce delaying action on Bataan and Corregidor, against the Japanese Army sweeping into the Philippines. You have heard of the Bataan Death March? They were in it!
The Asiatic Fleet's only repair facilities at Cavite in the Philippines was destroyed a few days after Pearl Harbor. MacArthur's priceless airforce was wiped out on the ground. That left practically no aircover for the Asiatic Fleet. A disaster for naval vessels as we found out when the mighty British battleships Prince of Wales and the Repulse were sunk by Japanese planes in a few hours. They had no air cover. Also the Houston found out later when they fired at enemy aircraft that a lot of their anti-aircraft shells were defective and would not explode! The submarines had the same heart-breaking results. Some of their torpedoes bounced off the Japanese hulls without exploding! Relief that they thought would be coming momentarily, never came, but fight they continued doing. Sometimes winning, sometimes losing, but gradually falling back to defending new shores. They were more than heroes. They kept fighting when heroes would have stopped!
Little by little, the enemy became stronger and they had to back off. First they defended the American territories and when the Japanese occupied those, they were ordered to join with the Dutch to try and save the oil rich East Indies. The command was turned over to the Dutch and American Commander, Admiral Thomas C. Hart was relieved and returned to the U.S., with deep regret by the officers and men of the Asiatic Fleet. They fought side by side under a command called ABDA (American, British, Dutch and Australians). When there was not any more land to defend and Japanese Fleet had flooded the whole area with ships and planes, they were told to retire to Australia, as best they could, and what was left of them. Some made it, some did not!
If you were to read the story of the "Battle of Balikpapan" in J. Daniel Mullin's book "Another Six Hundred," where four little U.S. World War I vintage destroyers, USS FORD, POPE, PARROTT, and PAUL JONES, undaunted by much superior Japanese naval forces, made a night time attack on a Japanese invasion fleet, miraculously, not only sank several Japanese ships, but escaped to fight another day. You would be very proud of those American sailors. Also and not heralded, as it should have been, this was the first naval engagement against an enemy force since the Spanish American War! That alone should have brought out banner headlines. The lone heavy cruiser, the USS HOUSTON, and destroyers USS JOHN D. FORD and USS POPE had the honor of receiving the Presidential Unit Citation. The USS JOHN D. FORD and USS POPE also were awarded the Philippine, National China, and the US Army Distinguished Unit Citations. The USS HOUSTON died fighting in the Battle of Sunda Strait, wracked by bombs from Japanese planes (The Americans had no air support), punctured by shells, she died firing at the enemy with her decks awash and sinking.
Our light cruiser USS MARBLEHEAD was so badly damaged that she could not carry on and retired from the battle, buried her dead at Tjilatjap and made it back to the United States via India, using pumps all the way to keep from sinking. They saved their ship. The MARBLEHEAD was awarded the Navy Commendation Citation. The destroyers USS POPE,STEWART,PEARY,EDSALL and PILLSBURY fought gallantly but there were just too many against them. They died like the HOUSTON, blasting away at the enemy until the end.
The aircraft carrier USS LANGLEY tried desperately to bring much-needed planes to the American forces, but too late, as by then the Japanese had control of the area, and she too was sunk. The gunboat USS ASHEVILLE, alone, and having fulfilled her duties was heading for Australia and met a large Japanese task force, and was sunk with only one survivor, who later died in the Japanese prison camp in Makassar from inhuman treatment as did many others.
We lost 22 ships, 1,826 killed, 518 placed in prison camps too horrible to describe. Many died there. They were expendable, so it seemed. There were stories (later verified) about sailors being beheaded and others that were doused with gasoline and set on fire. They were beaten, starved and tortured in those beastly prison camps. Some were herded into old rusted Japanese freighters and removed to Japan. Sadly, American planes, not knowing that their comrades were piled into the vessels cargo holds sank many of those ships.
Many of the men who survived the sinking of their ships were left to die in the shark infested waters or were machine gunned while they cried for help. The story of why the crew from the USS POPE were rescued by a Japanese destroyer was an epoch of naval history. When the POPE had been sunk by a Japanese task force and the surviving officers and men were in the water expecting death, a Japanese destroyer approached. The gunnery officer from the POPE , Lt. William R. "Bill" Wilson, had survived and when the destroyer approached he shouted to the Japanese commander in perfect Japanese. He had previously had duty in the Naval Attaché office in Tokyo and had perfected the language. Unbelievable, the Japanese captain happened to have met him in Tokyo and due to that unforeseen coincidence all the surviving men from the POPE were saved. They were taken to a prison camp, but in spite of the misery there, many survived and were released at the end of the war.
The auxiliary ships, held in ports to repair the crippled ships as they limped back from their battles, had no protection from the steady bombing by the Japanese Air Force. They had to cover their ship with palm fronds, and say a prayer as their only means of protection.
The story of the PBY's that flew against the Japanese naval forces was another heartbreaking tale. They dutifully flew bombing raids over the Japanese fleet without any air protection and their big awkward planes, were torn to pieces by the Japanese fighter planes. There were no other planes available and despite the hazards they flew and many died.
And so it happened. It is almost impossible to believe that after all of this heroism, the bitter struggles to obey orders, that not one word of praise or recognition for this fleet was ever given. Can you believe that a display of the combatants in the Pacific during World War II by the National Archives, did not indicate one word in the display that the Asiatic Fleet ever existed ! Can your further believe that in the National Geographic Magazine of December 1991, a fold out map displayed, likewise, all the naval engagements in the Pacific during WWII, and where the Asiatic Fleet fought, died and were imprisoned, there was placed a big Japanese flag, inscribed Java Seas 27 Feb.1942! The day the USS HOUSTON was sunk and other ships met their doom. Is that fair? Did those men die carrying the American flag, only to be remembered as a Japanese victory ? Why? You may ask? Is it because we Americans don't want to illustrate our defeats? Is it because we don't want to be reminded of our losses? Or is it the embarrassment that we allowed it to happen? Did we look the other way when the Asiatic Fleet needed help? Did we only see the problems of Europe or Hitler? Was the conflict in the far, far away Asia mist beyond our cares? Or lastly was it because they did not want to publish such losses after the disaster at Pearl Harbor? History will have the answer, today we can only question it.

A Note from Hancock Website

From USS HANCOCK web pages.

Recently your Yeoman was reading some of our 'On-Site Memorials' and came upon one entered by Kelley Long. I wrote her what a moving memorial she made to her Grandfather, a sailor who lost his life while serving in the Asiatic Fleet, off of Java in WWII, and received an E-Mail back from her, announcing to me the recent Presidential Proclamation which I am including on this site. I believe knowledge of this, heretofore little-known Fleet be made public and it behooves me, your Yeoman, to make some space for this acknowledgement. Please read Kelley's return Email, and the subsequent History regarding the Asiatic Fleet, and then, the Presidential Proclamation, making March 1, 2002 as "Asiatic Fleet Memorial Day... follow these links; they are very important to all of us...

"Hi Jake,
Thank you for your kind words. I have been truly blessed to have pursued this path and made the discoveries. As up until then, we only knew my grandfather was MIA. We had NO idea the wealth of information that was eventually brought to us. And I think this has helped my mom immensely as she was one month short of being two years old. Her older sister and brother knew their father, but she would never be held by him or hear his voice. She had a hard time mourning someone she never knew, yet was so much a part of her. By divine intervention, I have become acquainted with a number of Asiatic Fleet veterans and invited to the USS Trinity's reunion in San Diego earlier this month. The connection with the Trinity was that the Edsall helped to escort the oiler 1/20/42 off Darwin, Australia when they came under enemy submarine attack. The crew of the Trinity held fond memories of the Edsall and treated my mother so sweetly. Anyway, I have attached quite a bit of information, and you can share it with everyone you know. These brave men did so much for our country, I felt the need to help them get the word out.

On behalf of the veterans of the Asiatic Fleet from WWII, I would like to share this message* with you and anyone else you can share this with. I have attached President Bush's Proclamation, and included in the text below the requested announcement - a letter that one of our surviving Asiatic Fleet veterans had written hoping the government would honor their request to be acknowledged, and the history behind getting the Proclamation. Many people do not even know about the Asiatic Fleet so I hope the attachment and the enclosed letter will help enlighten you on what these brave individuals accomplished for our country.

Kelley Long (Geary)
(....note by poster (Kelly's grandfather's destroyer the USS Edsall was lost without a trace to Japanese gunfire in early March 1942.)
Mission Viejo, CA"

USS ASHEVILLE 63rd Memorial


I want to thank everyone here today for joining us in this Memorial ceremony. It is your support that makes the memory of those 160 sailors, on the good ship USS Asheville PG21, that gave their lives so we could be here today, such a memorable occasion. Your attendance shows the great spirit that prevails in our city. The late navy Admiral Boorda, then Chief of Naval Personnel, said “For a city, without harbor, beach or pier Asheville has truly proven itself a great “Navy Town.”

The gunboat Asheville, built in Charleston shipyard, served in China waters off and on since 1923. She was not a fleet ship but operated independently, giving refuge and protection for American citizens along the 2,000 mile China coast.

I am very proud to have served on the Asheville for 2-1/2 years, from 1936-1939, along the China coast. I must say that of all the ships I served on in my 30 years naval service, the Asheville was the most memorable of all. Fortunately I was not onboard on March 3, 1942 when she was sunk, in battle with a large Japanese force. All hands were lost in the shark infested waters without a hope of rescue, except one who was taken onboard the Japanese warship apparently to identify the ship they had sunk. He died in a Japanese prison camp, enduring 3 years of horrible treatment, from pellagra, dysentery and heart trouble. But like the Grecian legend bird ,the Phoenix, that built its greatness from its own ashes, we have kept the navy ship Asheville high in the navies history and today it triumphantly rises from the ashes of that gunboat to become the new nuclear attack submarine , USS ASHEVILLE SSN758, that today sails majestically throughout the Pacific ocean and our city was instrumental in its commissioning.

In 1984 we organized a reunion here in Asheville for the former Asheville sailors. It was a wonderful occasion. The city turned all out and entertained us royally. A private tour of the Biltmore House was given by Bill Cecil, the merchant businesses gave us an arrival party, the Mayor gave each a gold sealed proclamation, the Rotary Club gave corsages to all that attended the banquet given by the Asheville Industries and Men’s Garden Club put roses in every room we occupied. The banks and the Veteran groups paid for our luncheon at the Deer Park Restaurant. Young’s travel supplied bus service and the Citizen-Times supplied plenty of newspaper coverage. Well, it was so successful we founded a permanent organization called the South China Patrol, later the Yangtze Patrol joined us and now we are the South China Yangtze Patrol. Part of our membership now are “patrons” who joined with us because they wanted to be a part of such a unique group of “Old China Hands” as we are known, and to receive our award winning newsletter called the ChinaGunBoatMan of which I am honored to be the editor. Also during the commissioning of our latest attack nuclear submarine, the USS ASHEVILLE SSN758, we organized a naval display of all the four ships named after our city, with funds supplied by the local Fleet Reserve Association and the Navy League. The North Carolina local department of History and Archives did all the building for us. It is here today, in the city hall, that we also honor the establishment of this naval display.

It was at the Regional Asheville Airport since 1994, but here it will be more assessable to local citizens and school groups to understand their great naval heritage.

We propose, and hope to accomplish, a reunion here in 2006 for all those able to travel; after all the members are all in their 80’s. It will probably be our last reunion and what could be better than to have our first and last reunion right here in our namesake city. So with your blessings we hope to have a memorable reunion as great as we had in 1984. Thanks again for your support and attendance today.

Asiatic Fleet Student

Maybe we could advertise the ChinaGunBoatMan to gather more subscribers..I feel a lot would like to subscribe to it but don't realize we accept "Sponsors" as well a Asiatic Fleet members. In fact we have a good percentage of them. Maybe even put a sample of one of the better stories on the web...I just received a letter from one of our "pastor" members Steve Bryson...he has made a most extensive study of the Asiatic Fleet...has almost every book publishe pertaining to it and asking for suggtions on more books. He wants any first person story for his files and has asked me to send him my personal history of my 2-1/2 years on the Asheville in China...from 1936 to 1939...I will send it to him.He is going to build a model of the Tutuila and wants plans to build the Asheville PG21 which I have.He is really Gungho and I admire his interest.That is the type of some of our patrons. Thanks for all of your interest too.You and Steve Bryson are jewels as far as I'm concerned. Best wishes. Walter

Letter to National Geographic

Wednesday, May 25, 2005
Editor National Geographic Magazine
PO BOX 64106
Tampa, FL 33664-4106

Dear Editor:

I am once again subscribing to your magazine. As I have been off and on throughout the years, but this time I have an offer. If I don’t receive a courtesy reply I will never subscribe again. Here is my message:

There are many editors, I know, but hopefully this will find the one who has some historic visions to see the great opportunity in bringing to life a vital part of our history. A part that never can be repeated, a part so little is known about, or cared about by home guards that see only the borders of east and west.

I am talking about the former U.S.Navy Asiatic Fleet, from the first days in 1845 when Congressman Caleb Cushing made treaties with China and to actively establish the Asiatic Fleet, known at that time as the East India Squadron. On and on through the years many dramatic events brought that group to light in military eyes,e.g. The English War with China (we did not participate), the opening of trade with Japan, the Boxer Rebellion, The Battle of Manila Bay in the war with Spain, The Boxer Rebellion. Sinking of the Panay, and certainly by far the battles of the Java Seas, as the poorly equipped, overaged ships, without promised reinforcements, battled to their deaths delaying the modern Japanese Fleet from occupying the oil rich Dutch East Indies.

Certainly the peoples of the United States and specifically the children need to know this vital stage of their heritage. Only the National Geographic Magazine can portray this properly and correct the absence of recognition prevailing in the past.

Please think about this. It has never been told, a sleeping dragon that only needs a sword of revelation to bring it to life and expose it as the exciting history that now lies forgotten.

Walter F. Ashe
Lt. SC, USN (Ret)

The New China Gunboat Log

This log is provided to manage recorded history and news for the surviving members of the United States River Fleet known as the China Gun Boatmen. Walter Ashe, who lives in Asheville, NC and who was a member of the crew of the USS Asheville PG-21, is the primary designated poster. Features from email and from the association newsletter will find a home here. Look for posts to develop over time. Walter left the USS Asheville only a short time before it was lost in battle with the Japanese Imperial Fleet soon after the Pacific War began. Walter carries the torch for the USS Asheville to this day. Within 3 months of the infamous date of December 7, 1941, the entire US Asiatic Fleet and a combined fleet of Allies were on the bottom of the ocean. More than 20 of these warships were American and at least that many more were Allied warships. The combined allied fleets were pawns, used to delay the progress of the Japanese war machine until adequate forces could be brought to bear on the Japanese. The USS Houston (CA-30) was the flagship of the Asiatic Fleet. Walter says, "My "Fleet that did not Exist" should get more publicity because it states in a nut shell the whole story of the Asiatic Fleet during the period 7 December 1941 to 3 March 1942. Other periods have been fully covered in my many issues of the ChinaGunBoatMan."