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The First Shanghai War – Howitzers on the Racecourse in 1932

Posted: July 24th, 2011 | 5 Comments »

The Shanghai War of 1932 – January to March. The Japanese orchestrated an incident to cause trouble leading to anti-Japanese protests and boycotts. Fighting broke out between the Japanese and Chinese 19th Route Army and, contrary to expectations, the Chinese put up a hell of a fight. The fighting in Hongkew (Hongkou) was especially fierce, not far from the International Settlement. So the foreign troops in the Settlement got ready for a fight – including a Tasmanian member of the Hong Kong Volunteers called Errol Flynn (who deserted when the going got tough)! My old mate Carl Crow was even made an officer in the Shanghai Volunteer Force, given a gun and assigned to a unit of British troops to make sure they didn’t shoot at Chinese troops mistaking them for Japanese. All hands to the pump in foreign Shanghai in other words.

Here then are some pictures I came across recently from that time – they show a foreign army detachment (navy – American?) observing the fighting in Hongkew from a rooftop and also digging in (in February in Shanghai that ground would have been hard!) with their Howitzers on the racecourse (now People’s Square). I’m assuming the two pictures of the Howitzer emplacements are taken from the Observation Point in the first photograph – which would place them probably on top of one of the buildings along Nanjing West Road (Bubbling Well Road as was) around by the Park Hotel (still standing) looking down onto the racecourse somewhere around where the Museum of Contemporary Art is now.

5 Comments on “The First Shanghai War – Howitzers on the Racecourse in 1932”

  1. 1 Michael Cole said at 8:35 am on July 24th, 2011:

    Mr Paul,

    Thanks for sharing these photos and observations. Pretty amazing that the “incident” went on over three months in 1932, and yet the city continued to experience one of it’s largest building booms in 1931-34.

    Was fighting in the streets just not as scary as breadlines back home?

    Michael Cole

  2. 2 Paul French said at 9:19 am on July 24th, 2011:

    The fighting never eventually spilled into the Settlement despite the mobilisations of the local regiments and the SVC. As ever when China had a disruption it just forced more refugees into the Settlement and Frenchtown and so more housing was needed and had to be built to accommodate the influx.

  3. 3 Ann Carol said at 8:52 am on March 31st, 2015:

    Hi , These are amazing photo’s just wondering where you may have obtained them from as I have similar photo’s that my Grandfather or Grandfathers family took and the hand writing looks similar.


  4. 4 paul French said at 3:41 pm on March 31st, 2015:

    I bought them on ebay about 7-8 years ago when writing about journalists in China – a batch of half a dozen were for sale.

  5. 5 Graham Thompson said at 6:00 pm on April 23rd, 2018:

    Hi Paul, only just seen these, nice pics ! These are Royal Navy guns. The “5th C.S.” reference on the second one is almost certainly 5th Cruiser Squadron. I believe the guns are 4.5 inch howitzers, landed probably from either HMS Kent, HMS Suffolk or HMS Berwick, which I think were all at Shanghai at some point during this emergency.

    I guess they might be HMS Suffolk – the Lieutenant Commander at left and the sailor standing at the right in the O.P. pic have what looks like a standing horse on their helmets (as do the gun crew in the third pic, I think), which was that ship’s mascot.

    Anyway, great pics !

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