Monday, December 10, 2012




On December 16, 1941 the Pottsville Republican reported that the parents of Marine Corps Major Lither Brown stationed with the USMC in China, is a prisoner of war at Tientsin China. In an earlier letter from their son in October prepared them for developments which followed, as he said then that the Marines were in constant surveillance of the Japanese.
Major Brown has been in China for the past five years and is the author of the U.S. marines Handbook. Major Brown is a graduate of Pottsville High School Class of 1917.

“Major Brown was known by all Marines as “Handbook Brown,” in recognition of his authorship of the “Handbook for Marines,” the fore-runner of today’s “Guidebook for Marines,” the latest edition of which I understand is still a mandatory purchase for all Marines.  Major Brown, having laid down a few rules himself for Marines to follow, was a stickler for regulations.  If it wasn’t written down somewhere, said Major Brown, you can’t do it.  The Japanese military bureaucracy, operating under exactly the same ground rules, had no defense against this argument.  In retrospect, I think that Major Brown had a great time instructing the Japanese on how to properly run a prison camp.”
By Robert E. Winslow
Sergeant Major, USMC (Retired) (1939-1970)

The Following account of the capture of the China Marines is from the History of the US Marine Corps in WW 2.

On 8 December 1941 (Manila Time) ,
Japanese forces took their first Marine
prisoners of war—the officers and men
of the American Embassy Guard, Peiping,
and of the Marine Legation Guard,
Tientsin. A detail of 22 men from the
Tientsin detachment was captured while
stockpiling supplies at the Chingwangtao docks
in anticipation of an immediate evacuation.
The North China Marines were scheduled to
depart Chingwangtao on 10 December 1941 in the
President Harrison, which had evacuated the
4th Marines from Shanghai
during the last week of November.

At approximately 0800 on the 8th,
however, about 1,000 Japanese troop s
surrounded the Tientsin barracks, while
three enemy planes circled overhead .
The Marine gate sentry phoned his commanding
officer, Major Luther A . Brown,
and stated that a Japanese officer wanted to
speak to him. 3 The officer, a Major
Omura who was well known to Brown ,
brought a written proposal that all officers and
men be assembled in one place
in the barracks compound, and all o f
their weapons and equipment in another ,
while the Japanese took over. The alternative
to surrender was "that the
Japanese would enforce their proposal
with the troops at hand." 4
Brown told the major that he would
sign the proposal only if the Japanese
accorded his men the privileges due
them under the Boxer Protocol to which
Japan and the United States had been
signatories. Following a telephone conversation
with the local Japanese commander, Lieutenant General Kyoji
Tominaga, with whom Brown had bee n
friendly in prewar days, Major Omura
stated that Tominaga agreed to the stipulation
and that Japan would honor it if
valid. Brown believed that this stipulation should
have guaranteed the repatriation of his men. 5
General Tominaga arranged for
Brown to telephone Colonel William W.
Ashurst, senior Marine officer in North
China and commander of the America n
Embassy Guard in Peiping . Ashurst told
Brown that he was accepting a similar
Japanese proposal and advised the
Tientsin Marine commander to do the
same.° The embassy and legation guard thought
that if they offered no resistance, they
would be considered part of
the diplomatic entourage and therefore
would be repatriated. Unfortunately,
the basis for this belief was nonexistent.
Because their initial treatment was relatively
mild, and because they received
repeated informal Japanese assurance s
that they would be repatriated, the
Marines made no attempt to escape . ?
Following the establishment of communications
with the Japanese Government through Swiss diplomatic channel s
for the purpose of setting up the exchange of Japanese
and American consular officials, the United States
attempted to get Japan to recognize the
diplomatic status of the North Chin a
Marines. In a telegram on 26 December
1941, the Swiss Government was requested to
inform Japan that
"The United States Government considers
that its official personnel subject to this
exchange includes . . . the marine guards
remaining in China and there under
the protection of international agreement. . . .

In reply, Japan stated that "it is
unable to agree to include United States
Marine Guards remaining in China a s
they constitute a military unit."
The United States was busy at this time
setting up the exchange program overall, and
informed the Imperial Government
through Swiss channels that it would
revert to this point at a later date . Japan
inferred from this statement that "th e
United States Government do not insist
in inclusion of the Marine Guards in the
present exchange." 10 This inference
was incorrect because on 13 March,
when it provided a list of the Americans
to be repatriated, the Department of
State referred to what it had said previously
regarding the return of the Marine
guards and stated that it expected the
Japanese Government "to take cognizance
of their true status as diplomatic

Neither Major Brown nor Colonel
Ashurst, who had surrendered the Peiping
guard at 1100 on 8 December, knew
of this diplomatic interchange . On 3
January 1942, the Peiping Marines
were brought to Tientsin and quartered
with Brown's troops. At Major Brown's
intercession, Major Edwin P. McCaulley,
who had retired and was living in
Peiping but was recalled to active duty
as the Quartermaster for the Peiping
Guard, was relocated by the Japanese
to a Tientsin hotel, and later returned
to the United States on the first ex -
change ship.

On the 27th, the entire group of
Marines was moved, together with all
personal effects, by train to Shanghai,
where a Japanese officer told them in
English as they entered the prison camp ,
that "they were not prisoners of war
although they would be treated as such
and that North China Marines would be
repatriated." 13 Until the exchange
ships left without the Marines, the men
believed that they would be repatriated .
Brown said after the war that they
were convinced that they were at least
slated to be returned to the United
States, but that the excuse the Japanese
gave for failing to send them back wa s
that there was not enough room fo r
them on board the exchange ships.
This may have been a valid excuse, for
many grave problems concerning shipboard
accommodations arose which
threatened the whole repatriation process.

On 2 February 1942, the North Chin a
Marines arrived at Woosung prison
camp, at the mouth of the Whangpoo
River near Shanghai, where they joined
the Marine survivors of Wake Islan d
who had arrived on 24 January . Also at
Woosung were a handful of Marines,
who, unlike the others, received diplomatic
immunity and were to be repatriated later in 1942.
These men were Quartermaster Clerk Paul G. Chandler,
First Sergeant Nathan A. Smith, Supply
Sergeant Henry Kijak, and Staff
Sergeant Loren O. Schneider, all members
of the 4th Marines who had been
left at Shanghai to settle government
accounts after their regiment had saile d
for the Philippines. 16 For some unknown
reason, unless they had been gulled into
believing so, the Japanese thought that
these last four were part of the U . S.
consular staff at Shanghai and therefore
entitled to diplomatic immunity.
Chandler and the other three Marines
became prisoners on 8 December, and
were transferred several times to other
prisons in the Shanghai area before
they, too, arrived at Woosung. This was
a former Japanese Army camp, approximately
20 acres overall, and completely
enclosed with two electrified fences. The
buildings were all frame structure and
unheated. Most of the prisoners were
not dressed warmly enough to withstand
the biting Chinese . winter, and
all were insufficiently fed. '

The following North China Marine officers were held at Hakodate #4, Nishi-Ashibetsu from July to September of 1945:Col William Ashurst, Maj Luther Brown, Capt James Climie, Capt James Hester, Capt John White, 1st Lt George Newton, 1st Lt Richard Weber, Navy Commander (Dr) L Thyson, and Chief Marine Gunner William Lee. 

For more info see North China Marines Web site

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