Letters from Shanghai
Letters from Robert T. Stanger, USN

The following letters were sent by Robert T. Stanger, while serving as a crewman on USS Edsall DD-219.
The ship was in Shanghai, China at this time and he writes about witnessing the Japanese invasion of
China. Robert retired as a Commander in 1956 after serving in submarines during World War II.

Aug. 22, 1937

Dear folks,

At this time I know you are worrying about me and you may have some cause to. I'm writing or putting the contents mild(ly) and without exaggeration, it's bad enough without that. By the time that you recieve (sic) this the crisis will have passed over and the outcome will be known so by that time it will be too late to worry - so calm yourselves, I'm taking no chances now or even (unreadable) But meantime I'm writing this letter from the Power House of the Standard Oil Company. It is situated on Whangpoo River where our ship is using their dock. We are here to protect this Co. and the American owned Shanghai Power Co. just across the river. It's a hot spot and we see too much Japanese Bombing & Gunnery Exercises at too close a range (200 yds) to feel comfortable.

The Japs draw to(o) much wild firing from the Chinese and we are on edge most of the time fearing those wild Chinese bullets and shells. The Chinese are completely lacking in guts, but with their lack of modern fighting equipment they should be. The Chinese engineers that work regularly are completely lacking of guts. Everytime they hear artillery fire, anti-aircraft fire or bombs and machine gun fire they get their hat & coat on and head in the opposite direction leaving an electrician 1/c and myself to run the plant. It practically runs itself and all they have are three boilers, two generators and a few pumps for fighting fires. After the bombardment is over they come back laughing about their fright but let another explosion occur and that laughing expression changes to plain wide eyed horror. I feel like kicking them in the slats - if you're going to get it, you're going to get it. If you're under cover, my policy is to stay there when guns and anti-aircraft shrapnel start popping but darting from one cover to another is exposing yourself unnecessarily.

At first my curiosity drove me to seeing all engagements of any kind that was possible but since a stray shell exploded on the Augusta, killing one man and injuring eighteen others, and since shrapnel from anti-aircraft shells exploding at 5,000 feet have rained on our decks too often, the novelty wore off quickly. As we were evacuating 350 refugees from this war torn city Japanese ships opened up a barrage of shells on a Chinese Airplane that was doing some high altitude bombing and one woman fainted while several others got the jitters. Speaking of American Refugees, only approximately 50 of the 350 were white, the remainder was (sic) Chinese, Japanese and Filipinos. I certainly gave one missionary a piece of my mind that he won't forget, he was complaining about his discomfort.

This Shanghai War is so complicated and complex, you can't begin to imagine the problems it involves. There are foreign owned factories, buildings and warehouses all over Shanghai. Both sides will move in these places, in some cases, but most of the time they take that area and the other side will damage the foreign owned property in trying to occupy that area. That is tough on a neutral man's pocketbook for likely he won't be repaid for the damage. A small oil tank farm, like they have in Luling, that belonged to an English concern was bombed by a Chinese plane three mornings ago and has been burning ever since. It is just across the river and the reason the Chinese bombed it was because the Japs had moved in and were firing from that property. Another obstacle the Chinese have is this - the Jap ships lie so close to us that the Chinese can't fire in return for fear of hitting us and the Japs blasé (sic) away at the Chinese right abeam of us. If there ever was a nation of yellow-bellied Orientals, these Japs are it; hiding behind the apron of neutral nation's navies with the men and fighting equipment they have. Jap ships come in day and night loaded with stores, guns and men.

It is a miracle that some of our crew haven't been injured by the shellfire in this immediate vicinity. They all dash up to the topside to see what's going on at the sound of gunfire. All of us, myself included, have a sore neck from looking up at airplanes. There is always the chance of a plane making a mistake about your identity even though we have a large flag spread horizontally on the awning. If the ship is going to be bombed I want to know about it but at the first white puff of smoke I find cover. Maybe I have the instinct of an ostrich; the other day I was standing under the canvass awning listening to the rapid fire anti-aircraft of a Jap destroyer with a feeling of perfect security how about that. Every morning we find new shell holes in the ground of Standard Oil Co. from the night firing. There are many "dud" shells and a Chinese dug one up today, afterward I took a picture of it and did a bit of evacuation myself - they are very dangerous to handle.

Two Chinese airplanes dropped gas bombs across the river on Japanese positions yesterday morning and later took them! The Chinese are putting up a mighty offense on the ground and if they had the airplanes the Japs have they would win without a doubt. As it is and has been in the past few days the Chinese have the upper hand and have been driving wedges in the Jap lines. It is nearly all house to house fighting with very little field fighting. The few American Made Chinese airplanes fly circles around the Jap planes and when they get in a dog fight that prevents the Jap anti aircraft guns to help out, nine out of ten times the Jap plane is the one that falls in flames. What the nationality of the pilots flying Chinese planes is I don't know but they know their onions about flying and dog-fighting.

Six Jap ships have tied up to buoys just opposite Stand[ard] Oil this afternoon and since everything has been so quiet today, we are expecting them to try to retake the positions the Chinese gassed them out of on the other side of the river yesterday. Hell will break loose if they lay down a barrage from those ships to cover their landing party because the Chinese have some light artillery and machine guns there. We will be in the Chinese's line of fire and it will be pretty hot for awhile. This power plant building has two walls of 12" reinforced concrete between these ships and yours truly so I really feel better than I would at home on the ship. It can't last over three weeks at the most, both sides have been fighting viciously trying to end it and the result will be China running out of ammunition and airplanes unless some neutral country gives her some. Just don't worry things always happen for the best!

I made out an allotment today, payable to Papa to be deposited in my name in the bank there but I want you and Hazel to be able to draw on it in case of necessity or emergency. I won't be drawing on this account but I want the bank to send me a blank for witnesses signature. The allotment is $30 per month for thirty months that I hope that will be..(blanked out) Keep this news in the immediate family, please. I also have an allotment made out today, my first opportunity in three months due to change in paymasters for $6.76 per month to cover the $2000 Endowment Life Insurance Policy with Veterans Administration. Mail to and from the states has been a hit and miss proposition for the last month and worse than ever right now. I sent a money order in plenty of time to convert and pay the first premium of my new policy but I will be unable to to get a check there to pay the one for the month of Sept. I have a "Grace Period of 30 Days" and should the check fail to reach there in time I can renew the policy by paying the 3 ½% interest on the deficient premium which is negligible. Very few Mail boats are coming in here now and then those that do haven't been carrying the (219) mail. Our mail orderly in order to have.. (blanked out) the river in an open boat to take the mail to the Augusta and take the chance of getting caught in a cross fire from the Japs & Chinese, so we haven't sent nor received mail since we got here.

Money orders must be secured on the Augusta and that is just one more difficulty that I'm having with my remittance for my insurance and also that little debt that I owe you. My insurance allotment won't take effect until Nov. 1st I am going to try to hold this letter open and if possible send a money order to you remitting, of which I am going to try to hold this letter open and if possible send a money order to you remitting, of which you can forward two months premiums. Next payday I will send another check to you and if its excessive save it and deposit it later. Love to all - Cuz it's a beautiful night, even at White Rock.


Aug. 24, 1937

Dear Papa,

Well today finds me still trying to get that money order and that is why I haven't mailed letter yet. There isn't much to tell about the present situation that I haven't told before. The fighting has been erratic for the last few days. Except for last night this section of the river has been generally quiet but last night shrapnel hell was whizzing so loud and bursting so close that word was received to clear the topside. Today we escorted a Dollar Line tug full of refugees and baggage from the Bund to a point a mile or more this side of Waosung. The tug followed us down the river to the place the President Pierce was to anchor but we continued down the river until we passed the $ Liner. Her decks were full of tourists and everyone of them was waving like we were long lost friends.

We soon knew the reason why they were so glad to see us. We anchored after passing them and what a spot we picked, the Chinese were dropping shells all around us before we could get out of there. I got some pictures of the 30-50 foot splashes the shells made. Afterward the Chinese brought their range down and caused plenty of casualties to the Jap artillery that held just the river bank. It was only a quarter of a mile and we could see the trench mortars and men fly where some of the shells hit. We cheered to see that sight because yesterday while a few of us were atop of the Shanghai Power Co. (200 ft. high) we looked down on a Jap patrol of six men shoot a Chinese noncombatant in cold blood, bayonet two that they found in a house and throw all three of them in a house afire. They take no prisoners.


P.S. Enclosed you will find money order for $64. For the last month radio messages for the states have been prohibited so that is why you haven't heard from me by wire.

Aug. 29, 1937

Dear folks,

Sent you a radiogram yesterday from the U.S.S. Goldstar since it has been impossible to send one from this ship since this trouble started. Don't think that I'm on that ship for duty and send my mail to her. I'll be six months getting a letter addressed to her, she is station ship at Guam and only gets to China twice a year. My radiogram explained what I wanted you to do for me and if it went through as I wrote it, you see I'm in Shanghai. This is a follow up letter for the last letter which contained the money order for sixty four dollars.

Other than shrapnel shells, or rather the fragments and particles of same, raining on our decks occasionally we haven't been hit yet. Some of those shells whistle Yankee Doodle before they reach their destination. When they start coming too close, we are kept below decks until it ceases. In the daytime we don't know where they come from but at night their lightning like flash tells which Army fired the shells. It makes us plenty mad to be so near their targets for if they do hit us all that will come of it is a formal apology. After that shot that hit the Augusta and killed a man, we would like to lay out some shells to return the close shots that the damned Japs fire.

War isn't nice by any means but to see so many non-combatants slaughtered isn't a nice sight either. The Japs are such rotten gunners, we saw them fire a shot hitting their own men not 500 yds form the gun and in plain sight. On the bank of this river near Waosung the Japs haven't gained 50 yds in a week of fighting and if their losses in men and guns have been as heavy as they were the two times we passed that place for the week it must have run into hundreds. Those large caliber Chinese guns put a few shells dangerously close to us but we are still for them. Japan is to blame and I hope they are completely wiped out or weakened to the pont where Russia can make short work of them.

The Japs must always win face and have a horror of losing face but they are going to lose lots of it if the Chinese can continue to make them use everything they have. The French and English are taking a firmer stand here than we are and especially the English since their Ambassador to China was shot. There will be hell to pay if he dies. All of the foreign fleets here could blow the Jap navy high and dry. I used to have a higher regard for their ability than I do now but what I've seen of Japs gunnery is enough grounds to feel a bit cocky. I've seen two seaplanes crack up while making landings. Three shot down in flames and one disintegrate completely when an anti aircraft shell hit its loaded bomb rack - all of them Jap planes. They claim China is losing more planes than they are but it is propaganda to save their face.

About two o'clock every morning the Chinese start an aerial bombardment and the Japs anti-aircraft guns wake me up. The Japs don't do any night flying here and if their flying at night is as rotten as their firing at an enemy plane at night is - it is no wonder, the Chinese drop their bombs and sail serenely away into the night. Just outside the Stand. Oil Compound a Chinese machine gun sniping post is located. I was over there

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.... bombardment she would up anchor and return the next day. So one night the Germans moved that marker buoy within the shore battery's range and when the Idzumo steamed into port the next day they nearly sank her before she could up anchor and get out of range. The Japs captured that port later and made all the Germans hostages marry a Jap. That way all the property of value would eventually fall into Japanese hands and before the Japs evacuated Tsingtao just recently it was a Japanese city in China. But our Idzumo is still floating and after repairs she is still living at a ripe old age.

The Jap nation grew up feeling like one foot was supported by the Idzumo and they have come to think she has a charmed life. Although the Japs have much better heavy cruisers and more powerful but none with the charmed life that she has. The Idzumo is the Japanese "Rabbit's foot" and it has been a "Jinx to the Chinks" since the Japs first attempt at Carving themselves a piece of Chinese soil. In 1932 the Chinese tried to sink the Idzumo with a mine but they missed. A fast Chinese motor boat with a torpedo missed that ship at point blank range the night of Aug. 13th. Twice this week mines exploded nearby but failed to sink the Japs Rabbit foot. Now the Chinese do hate that ship and want her on the bottom. The Chinese Gov. offers 2,000 Mex to their aviators if they hit her with a bomb and 20,000 Mex to the person who sinks her. If she does sink it will bottle up the Augusta and at least ten other foreign warships, so you see our Admiral must be fairly sure that the old American made Idzumo can take what the Chinks can dish out. So much for history!

This quarter promotion is more promising than ever before for me. For the first time I think that I made the squadron list which means, at least I'm a competitor. I bet Brandt who is MM2/c with 16 years service 10 Mex that he would make MM 1/c Another fellow bet me that I would make MM 1/C this quarter. That is the two best bets I ever made, I can't lose. It's an old navy custom to pass the cigars to 116 men when we make a rate and I'll gladly pass out the cigars any day if I can just get that chevron. The last time that I bought the cigars, I had just made MM 2/c (Machinist Mate Second Class) and the Zane was in Havana, Cuba. I bought Coronas for five cents each, was that a break for me, I ask you? All hands smoke "advancement cigars" for a couple of weeks after the rate returns come back from the bureau.

It's a small world after all. Who should recognize me the other day but an old Dallas running mate of mine who is a sailor on the Stewart (DD-224). He is a cousin of Truman Hendricks and though I've met him countless times in Chefoo and Manila I just supposed that he was some guy that I had known in the Fleet at home. It's funny how you meet people who you have known on the other side of the world before you "Jined the Navy.

Sept. 7, 1937

Dear folks,

Since the American Mail Liners have stopped coming to Shanghai, I am giving up hope of getting mail from you for quite awhile. How this letter will leave Shanghai in the near future I don't know but I'm writing anyway.

Everything here is just about the same as before. The Japs have started two "big pushes" and the Chinese Army stopped them in their tracks and inflicted heavy Jap losses. I managed to be one of three men who rode the tug up to Shanghai on business yesterday. The trip going and coming was uneventful. The windows of all the stores are protected by stacked sand bags. At each intersection there is a circular blockhouse built of sand bags and barbed wire barriers are stretched across some of the streets to prevent Chinese from overcrowding the International Settlement. The Chinese refugees live on the sidewalks and you can hardly walk because they sho' do like to sleep. Maybe they think sleep staves off starvation! In the French Concession the French soldiers patrol the streets in armored cars. These French mean business and in reply to a Jap warning to all ships passing Jap ships in the river to the Jap warships a wide margin, we saw a French Warship crowd a Jap warship so much that the Jap had to stop or run aground.

Except for the overcrowded streets, the sand bag barricades, the never ending sound of Jap planes overhead with an .. (Missing)

Sept. 10, 1937

Dear folks,

Everything is about as good as could be expected under the existing situation here. They are still raising hell and we cease to even look in the general direction of an explosion unless it is exceeding loud. These Chinese planes in their surprise attack are in such a hurry to drop their bombs and scram that they hit the water not 300 yards from us. The Japs have gun boats anchored at intervals up this river and two of them are very close. About 600 yards away and adjacent to Shanghai Power Co. is a Jap owned Cotton Goods Mill which the Japs are using for an ammunition dump. They haul it in there by the truckloads and I hope that the Chinese don't know about that as long as we are here.

The Japs are pretty smart putting that ammo dump right next to American owned property that we are protecting. A Jap transport ship anchored between Standard Oil where we are docked and S'hai Power Co. a few days ago and a Chinese Officer from this side of the river asked our Capt. To move out so they could shoot some of their five point one's at the Jap ship. The Capt. told him that he would have to shoot over us and that he had better be damned careful that he didn't hit American owned property. The Chinese got pretty mad but there was no firing on that Jap ship. You see what the Chinese are up against and the Japs hide under the aprons of foreign countries at every opportunity.

The Jap Army planes are now doing all the bombing here and I must say that they are more accurate than their Navy bombing planes are. Their (undecipherable) pursuit and observation planes are as fast as anything that we have here or at home. I still say that any first class Army & Navy can give the Japs a thorough trouncing. The people at home who have that fear of the Japs taking Alaska, Honolulu or any part of our West Coast have read too many of those "War scare articles in the Sunday Magazine Section of the newspapers or too many of the same kind in that good for nothing Liberty Magazine. Now articles of that kind serve their purpose at a time like the present re-armament campaign. It scares the taxpayer to a point where he doesn't growl about the expenditure for bringing the Army and Navy to a high point of efficiency.

After our Army and Navy are up to par again you will notice the absence of those articles and I really think when that time comes our State Dept. should not shirk the responsibilities of protecting American citizens in Foreign Countries. The way our State Dept. has assumed a "not responsible" attitude toward refugees after a first warning when there are no ships is getting to be a blow to our National Prestige. Don't quote me on that or this but what this country needs is another Teddy Roosevelt. We're as powerful as any country in the world today yet other countries soft soap and handle our diplomats with silk gloves and get what they want by making us the leading role and pioneer of a campaign for International Peace

Given Great Britain just 5yrs and she will be unable to fight the war that she can now. While Great Britain is geographically handicapped the odds are better now if she gives those aggravating Japs and the less aggravating Germans a lesson. If you care to get the reliable comparison of European Country's arms superiority just read the article in the June issue of Fortune Magazine titled "Who Dares to Fight" It contrasts the superiority of weapons used in the Spanish Free for all. If I may say so it explodes a few theories, assuming of course that the author is authentic.

Coming back to the present situation, unless China gets lots of planes and anti-aircraft guns her territorial boundaries.. (missing)

Sept. 17, 1937

Dear folks,

The last few days have been so quiet in this area that we seem to think it is the proverbial calm before the storm. The Japs Have a three mile strip of land bordering on the other bank of the river and adjoining their konkerd (sic) Jap concession. This bank of the river is held by the Chinese and there are at least ten thousand of them about a mile behind us. The Japs don't want this side of the river, they would take it eve at the present cost of life. But lately it has been very very dull and I even did some unnecessary overhauling of machinery to kill time. Today I went to the Augusta to buy a new pair of shoes and the other times that I have gone up the river to Auggie on duty the Japs damned near fired their 4 and 5 inch guns over our heads but today there was just one Chinese sniper plinking away spasmodically at the Japs ships and they completely ignored him.

We have orders not to sleep on topside at night because the Jap guns still shoot at a lone Chinese plane every night. I don't even wake up to take a peek out the port to see the fireworks any more. The novelty is past and since it is getting cool I sleep like a log. Nothing short of a bomb hitting my bunk could wake me in cool weather.

What a ship that Augusta is! Very soon I will put in my request for that real ship, one that I could fall in love with. If I can get her I will ride her home and finish out my twenty on her. She's spotless, modern, full of conveniences and very strict on regulations which will suit me fine for that's where I shine. They get the rates on that ship. What they don't want they pass on to us in the way of allotment of rates. I don't blame them - they are looking out for their men.

Well folks in the way of health I could not be better. A cholera epidemic has spread here in Shanghai but it isn't on a large scale. Cold weather is coming and that will end that. There are no Navy cases of cholera, we are inoculated against that. And by the way I am getting my second course of typhoid shots now and my arm is now sore from the third and last one thank Heaven.

I've taken many pictures since we left Chefoo and sold some of them in sets of twelve making a 3¢ Mex profit on each print. They sold like hot cakes on this ship not because they were good but because they were taken of sights in the Shanghai Fracas of 1937. I've made enough money to pay for the experimental photography which I'm still doing some of.

Well it goes without saying that I love everyone of you with all my heart but please write to me. We will be here for months and with no liberty letters do help. Adios

With love,

Friday, September 30, 1937
USS Edsall DD-219

Dear folks,

Here it is a Friday but it sure does seem like a Sunday aboard ship in the states. The ship seems deserted and it is partially due to the liberty section being over at the Club House drinking beer this afternoon. When there is no liberty as there has been since we left Chefoo there is one big job of keeping John Gob the sailor on the straight and narrow. When we first got here we could drop into the club house any time of day until eight o clock and get a beer but you know how some people run things in the ground so that didn't last long. After several bloody fights and after some of my drunken shipmates crawled over the fence and wandered two miles along the Chinese lines in quest of women, it has become necessary to tighten up on us. The sailor will hunt his women and the Marines too for that matter. Three marines got General Courtmartials for using a Tompson (sic) submachine gun to satisfy their desires by holding the gun on three Chinese women and raping them. Although I haven't seen a woman in months, it would take a lot longer than this to make a Chinese woman look white to me. Make no mistake about this, Hilda Ping was white even though she was part Chinese. The American ships anchored off the Bund have been giving 10% of their crews liberty for the last week and it will apply to us too if the sporadic firing...(missing)

Many thanks to Robert R. Stanger for allowing MaritimeQuest to publish his father's letters.

Page published Jan. 21, 2017