Battle of Nanjing and the Rape of Nanjing
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Japanese troops marched for Nanjing, the capital of China, almost immediately after capturing the city of Shanghai on the coast. Along the way, the exhausted Chinese troops failed to hold positions east of Nanjing. The town of Kunshan in Jiangsu Province was lost in two days, the Wufu defensive line had collapsed by 19 Nov, and the Xicheng Line was overrun on 26 Nov. Among the Chinese leadership, two sides existed regarding the defense of Nanjing. General Li Zongren thought deploying troops to Nanjing would be a waste of resources; he proposed declaring Nanjing an open city, meanwhile the troops should be tasked to destroy anything that could be used by the Japanese after Nanjing became captured. General Bai Chongxi and advisor General Alexander von Falkenhausen of the German Army voiced support for Li's plan. Chiang Kaishek, however, overruled his officers, citing that a lack of effort to defend the political capital would have severe consequences to the morale of the troops and China's international prestige; "I am personally in favor of defending Nanking to the death", said Chiang, placing former rival General Tang Shengzhi in charge of the city's 100,000-strong defense. Tang, who knew well that most of his troops were untrained recent conscripts, was not confident in his newfound responsibilities, but he put on a strong public face. In a press conference on 27 Nov, he enthusiastically announced that his men would stand the ground against any Japanese attack, but urged the westerners in the city to depart. Meanwhile, he also ordered all buildings and wooded areas to be cleared about a mile from the perimeter of the city, to eliminate any cover for the Japanese troops; this would prove to be a controversial order as it increased the number of refugees crowding the city, and the charred walls of hastily burned homes offered as much protection for the Japanese as intact ones. Behind the scenes, however, Tang sought alternative means to save the city, including a busy week working through the westerns in Nanjing to both persuade Chiang to allow him to declare Nanjing an open city and negotiate a truce with the Japanese; both efforts would fail.
On 1 Dec, the Chinese government left the city, setting up the temporary capital at Chongqing several days later; Chiang and his family did not leave Nanjing until 7 Dec. As the troops prepared the defenses, the civilian side of government was left to the international committee headed by German businessman John Rabe. As the Chinese government left, the troops continued to destroy buildings and infrastructure within the city just as they had done outside the city walls days earlier; in total, this scorched earth policy caused between US$20,000,000 to US$30,000,000 worth of damage during the period between the fall of Shanghai and the start of the Battle of Nanjing. After the government officials departed, the civilians began fleeing the city en masse, creating mass panic. Tang controversially closed off all routes to the civilian to stem the panic, going as far as burning the boats on the Yangtze River to prevent further unauthorized evacuations.
Battle of Nanjing
10-13 Dec 1937
When the Japanese troops arrived at the outskirts of Nanjing in early Dec, Tang realized that his defenses, untrained and demoralized to the point that many were simply abandoning their posts, had no chance of winning. Chiang maintained that Tang, previously enthusiastic but now realizing the impossibility of winning, should continue to stage the defense. On 7 Dec, the Japanese Army announced internally that soldiers who commit "illegal acts" and "dishonor the Japanese Army" during the conquest of Nanjing would be severely punished. Early on 9 Dec, the Japanese Army arrived at the Nanjing's city wall, and demanded surrender within the following 24 hours. No Chinese envoy appeared, and at 1300 hours, General Iwane Matsui and Lieutenant General Prince Asaka (Yasuhiko) concluded that the Chinese were not interested in negotiating, and gave the order for attack.
The Japanese 36th Infantry Regiment of the 9th Division attacked the heavily-defended Guanghua Gate at 1400 hours, which was manned by some of the few experienced troops at Nanjing. During the course of the afternoon, the Chinese troops at Guanghua Gate increased to 1,000. Concrete pill boxes, tankettes, and the usage of fire inflicted large numbers of casualties among the Japanese, but greater firepower eventually overwhelmed the Chinese. By nightfall, Japanese mountain guns had destroyed part of the gate, and the Japanese troops poured in and drove out the last of the defenders. Knowing that morale had been low to begin with, Tang gathered his divisional commanders at his headquarters, and the group unanimously decided that winning was impossible. Tang refused to be the sole blame for losing the battle, thus he had everyone sign the document from Chiang noting that retreat was only permitted when absolutely necessary. On 12 Dec, Tang decided to extract himself later that day, Yijiang Gate in the north was the only gate still in Chinese control; he left the city without officially announcing the surrender of the city, and the uncertainly soon led to the retreating completely breaking down. Many men found their commanding officers disappearing, and began to flee in all directions in panic. As organization broke down, so did discipline; American journalists Frank Tillman Durdin of the New York Times and Archibald Steele of the Chicago Daily News reported witnessing Chinese troops looting shops, while others threw away their uniforms and weapons in an attempt to disappear into the civilian population. The retreat became even further disrupted when the troops of the Chinese 36th Division at Yijiang Gate, still holding on to orders to block any retreat (Tang never revoke his previous order before he fled the city), confronted the units attempting to pass through the gate. Thousands of Chinese troops crowded inside the Yijiang Gate, and it was not before long that many began to force their way through, and the 36th Division troops opened fire on those they considered deserters. Some began to push in even greater panic, and many were trampled to death.
At 1327 hours on 12 Dec, American gunboat USS Panay and three tankers were in the Yangtze River, upstream from Nanjing. Though Panay flied American flags, they came under attack by three B4Y Type 96 bombers and nine A4N Type 95 fighters. Panay sank at 1554 hours with three deaths. The gunboat was the first American ship lost in WW2. The Panay Incident caused some tension between Japanese-American relations, though officially it was settled on 24 Dec 1937 when the Japanese government apologized and paid over US$2,000,000 for what was said to be the result of a mis-identification.
At 0300 hours on 12 Dec, Tang met with his staff officers and ordered a small group of troops to evacuate across the Yangtze River while the remainder was to conduct a break out attack on the Japanese lines in the south. By the time he met with his officers again at 1700 hours, however, dire situations changed his mind, and he increased the size of the river evacuation to include 5 divisions worth of men. At 1800 hours, the evacuation was in full swing, but in utter chaos. Thousands of troops and even more refugees crowded the routes to the docks, with the movement slowed even further by abandoned military equipment and civilian carts. Hundreds, if not more, were trampled to death, while accidental fires consumed many others. Tang, having been ordered to leave the city by Chiang, made it to the docks in a staff car at 2100 hours and boarded a small coal-powered launch, safely reaching the opposite shore.
In the morning of 13 Dec, men of the Japanese 6th and 114th Divisions entered the city, followed by the men of the 9th (via Guanghua Gate) and 16th (via Zhongshan and Taiping Gates) Divisions; these four divisions numbered about 50,000 men. That afternoon, two small Japanese river flotillas arrived at Nanjing's ports. By nightfall, the Japanese had declared the battle a victory.
The Rape of Nanjing
13 Dec 1937-31 Jan 1938
After the Japanese sacked Nanjing, the conquering troops engaged in a six-week long orgy of violence. Depending on various sources, somewhere between 50,000 to over 300,000 Chinese, mostly civilians and prisoners of war, were killed. Those who had bullets ripping through their bodies as they ran away could have been said the lucky ones, as many other victims suffered worse fates. Deaths resulted from bayoneting, burning, crushing by tanks, burying, and decapitation were common. Even worse were those who bled to death by after being nailed to telephone poles or doors, castrated, delimbed, or disemboweled. And then there were the over 20,000 cases of rapes, victims of which crime ranged from girls under 10 years of age to over 80 years of age; many of those who were raped, itself a grotesque crime, were further tortured by the Japanese troops by impalement of their vaginas with everything from beer bottles to bayonets. Few but not unseen atrocities were committed by the most sadistic, who tore out fetuses from pregnant women with bayonets and forced sons to rape their mothers. In 1938, a 16-millimeter film made by Episcopal missionary John Magee was smuggled out of China and eventually made its way to the United States. It was shown anonymously to certain US Congressmen, US Army, and Red Cross members. The original films were found in the 1990s after being lost for more than fifty years, documenting aftermath of the atrocity. Over time, many Japanese veterans of the war stepped forth and admitted to the atrocities that took place, confirming the widespread violence.
Journalist Edgar Snow provided the following eyewitness account:
Property damage to the city of Nanjing was also extensive. Unlike the many other cities that were devastated during WW2, which were largely damaged by either aerial bombing or by fierce fighting, only about 1% to 2% of the damage done at Nanjing were caused by military actions. Almost all of the damage were done during after Chinese troops had departed, and most of the damage were caused by systematic torching of entire neighborhoods by Japanese troops.
Many of the women who survived the rapes would commit suicide. Months later, many infant babies, drowned or choked to death, were found around the city; speculations held that they were children conceived by the raped women.
There were some who claim that the atrocities were not as widespread as reported by the Chinese and the westerners. There were eyewitnesses from Nanjing's International Safety Zone who said that the atrocities were isolated (even Rabe estimated only 50,000 to 60,000 deaths), while interviews with Japanese junior officers and soldiers present at Nanjing during these months sometimes resulted in testimonies that either noted the city of nearly deserted thus the death toll could not have been as high or claimed that the conduct of the Japanese troops in general were honorable. While the true death toll could never be verified, it would still be likely that, in the span of a few weeks, the number of Chinese deaths rivaled the number of Japanese killed by the two atomic blasts near the end of the war.
Iris Chang, The Rape of Nanking
The Japan Times
WWW Memorial Hall of the Victims in the Nanjing Massacre
Battle of Nanjing and the Rape of Nanjing Interactive Map
Battle of Nanjing and the Rape of Nanjing Timeline
|15 Aug 1937||Japanese Army General Iwane Matsui, en route from Tokyo, Japan for China where he would pick up his newly assigned command over the Shanghai Expeditionary Force, he noted to War Minister Hajime Sugiyama that "[t]here is no solution exception to break the power of Chiang Kaishek by capturing Nanjing. That is what I must do."|
|21 Sep 1937||Prince Naruhiko ordered the Japanese Army Air Service to begin a renewed air offensive against the Chinese capital of Nanjing.|
|11 Nov 1937||The Japanese army began to advance on Nanjing, China.|
|16 Nov 1937||Chiang Kaishek ordered Chinese government ministries and agencies to depart from the capital city of Nanjing within the next three to four days.|
|19 Nov 1937||The Wufu defensive line between Shanghai and Nanjing in China was overrun by Japanese troops. to the rear, Lieutenant General Shun Tada ordered Lieutenant General Heisuke Yanagawa to stop the Japanese 10th Army's advance toward Nanjing, but Yanagawa did not comply with the order.|
|20 Nov 1937||The order for Chinese government ministries to evacuate the capital city of Nanjing to Hankou, originally ordered by Chiang Kaishek on 16 Nov 1937, was publicly announced at 1200 hours.|
|22 Nov 1937||The Japanese Central China Area Army requested Tokyo the permission to assault Nanjing, China.|
|25 Nov 1937||From Nanjing, China, German businessman John Rabe sent a message to Adolf Hitler, appealing for the German leader to voice concern over the atrocities committed by the Japanese in China.|
|26 Nov 1937||The Xicheng defensive line between Shanghai and Nanjing in China was overrun by Japanese troops.|
|27 Nov 1937||During a press conference, Tang Shengzhi, the Commander-in-Chief of all forces in Nanjing, China, advised foreign residents in Nanjing to depart but stressed that his troops would defend the city against the impending Japanese attack.|
|1 Dec 1937||The Imperial General Headquarters in Tokyo, Japan ordered the Japanese Central China Area Army to advance toward Nanjing, China. On the same day, several top Chinese cabinet level advisers departed from the capital.|
|2 Dec 1937||The officials of the Nanjing Branch of the Palace Museum of China ordered the treasures stored at the Taoist monastery Chaotian Gong, which had arrived from Beiping and Shanghai in Dec 1936, to be moved westward ahead of the Japanese attack.|
|3 Dec 1937||Japanese 16th Division and 9th Division began an attack on Chinese 83rd Corps and 66th Corps east of Nanjing, China.|
|7 Dec 1937||Chinese President Chiang Kaishek departed Nanjing, China by plane. The civilian administration of the city was left to an International Committee led by John Rabe. Outside the city, several villages were set ablaze by Chinese troops to prevent them from being used by the approaching Japanese troops. Meanwhile, on the Japanese side, General Iwane Matsui ordered the siege of Nanjing, China.|
|8 Dec 1937||Chinese Air Force squadrons departed Nanjing, China for airfields to the west, leaving the capital city without fighter defense and with little modern communications equipment.|
|9 Dec 1937||In the morning, Japanese troops reached the outskirts of Nanjing, China. At 1200 hours, Japanese aircraft dropped leaflets into the walled city, urging surrender within 24 hours, with the offered terms expiring at 1200 hours on the following day. Chinese commanding officer Tang Shengzhi publicly rejected the demand, but in private he, urged on by the international community in Nanjing, considered negotiating for a ceasefire; such negotiation would be pending Chiang Kaishek's approval.|
|10 Dec 1937||Chiang Kaishek rejected Tang Shengzhi's request to negotiate with the Japanese for an evacuation of Nanjing, China. Having received no response to the ultimatum issued on the previous day that expired at noon, the Japanese began the assault at 1300 hours. General Iwane Matsui's order to attack included the wording "[y]ou are to observe military regulations to the letter, to set an example for the future.... Anyone who loots or starts a fire, even accidentally, will be severely punished."|
|12 Dec 1937||At 0300 hours, General Tang Shengzhi, commanding officer of Chinese forces in Nanjing, China, having learned that Japanese naval vessels were heading up the Yangtze River, ordered his officers to prepare a small group of men to retreat across the river while the bulk would gather for an offensive to break out of the Japanese line. During the day, troops of the Japanese 114th Division wooed 1,500 Chinese troops into surrendering at the southern side of the city wall, promising to spare them their lives; they were all executed by the end of the following day. In the afternoon, Japanese bombers sank the American gunboat USS Panay in Nanjing, China at 1554 hours. At 1700 hours, Tang met with his officers again (several of whom were absent, having fled the city without permission) and was told that the Japanese were advancing faster than anticipated. He decided to increase the size of the Yangtze River evacuation to 5 divisions of troops. Tang would depart via the Yijiang Gate on the northern side of the city at 2100 hours, crossing the river on a small launch.|
|13 Dec 1937||The Japanese Sabae Regiment occupied the Guanghua Gate in Nanjing, China after two days of heavy fighting. In the afternoon, Chinese forces twice attempted to attack the headquarters of the Shanghai Expeditionary Force at Tangshuizhen, but the Japanese was able to repulse the attacks. Later in the day, Zhongshan Gate and Taiping Gate were captured by the Japanese as well, while Japanese Navy warships began to arrive to provide support. By nightfall, the Chinese capital city was declared as captured. German businessman John Rabe, who was in Nanjing, noted the diary entry on this date "It is not until we tour the city that we learn the extent of destruction. We come across corpses every 100 to 200 yards. The bodies of civilians that I examined had bullet holes in their backs. These people had presumably been fleeing and were shot from behind. The Japanese march through the city in groups of ten to twenty soldiers and loot the shops.... I watched with my own eyes as they looted the café of our German baker Herr Kiessling. Hempel's hotel was broken into as well, as almost every shop on Chung Shang and Taiping Road." On this day, troops of the Japanese 16th Division massacred over 3,000 Chinese people, military and civilian, attempting to flee the combat near Guanjiangan and Jiangli areas of Nanjing. Troops of the Japanese 114th Division captured over 1,000 Chinese during its mop up operations, most of whom would be executed within days. Vessels operated by the 11th Task Force of the Japanese 3rd Fleet fired on Chinese refugees attempting to cross the Yangtze River.|
|14 Dec 1937||Japanese 9th Division began to conduct mop up operations in secured areas of Nanjing, China, occupying, among other buildings, the National Central Hospital. Nearby, at Xianhe Gate and Yaohua Gate of the city wall north of Zijin Mountain, 38th Company of the Japanese 16th Division killed 7,200 Chinese people, military and civilian, during mop up operations; those who were able to flee claimed that some sections of the moat were filled with dead bodies. Near Xuanwu Gate, troops of the Japanese 16th Division executed 500 Chinese civilians. Second Lieutenant Nakamura of the 6th Cavalry Company of the Japanese 6th Division executed 300 prisoners of war. As reported by the International Committee later, Japanese troops entered civilian homes in Nanjing and raped or took away women.|
|15 Dec 1937||Troops of the 23rd Company of the Japanese 6th Division executed over 1,000 captured Chinese military and civilians and over 400 police personnel (all captured in the city legislature building area where a temporary refugee camp was located) outside of Hanzhong Gate of Nanjing, China; their 2,000 bodies were burned. At Yijiangmen at about 1400 hours, Japanese troops rounded up 300 residents of the Jiang estate, killing them by machine gun fire and buring. On the Yangtze River, gunboats Futami and Seta of the Japanese Navy 3rd Fleet fired on Chinese refugees attempting to cross the river; nearby, Japanese naval personnel began executing many of the 9,000 captives they held. As reported by the International Committee later, "a number Japanese soldiers entered the University of Nanking buildings at Tao Yuen and raped 30 women on the spot, some by six men."|
|16 Dec 1937||Japanese 9th Division killed about 6,500 Chinese people, both military in civilian, in Nanjing, China during two days of mop up operations. 20th Company of the Japanese 16th Division massacred more than 7,000 Chinese east of Zijin Mountain. Chinese troops launched a failed counterattack at Qilin Gate of the city wall; 200 Chinese troops who were captured during the failed counterattack were executed by bayoneting by men of the 38th Company of the Japanese 16th Division. On the shore of the Yangtze River, the Japanese 13th Division began to execute large numbers of the 20,000 Chinese captives it held. As reported by the International Committee later, "seven girls (ages ranged from 16 to 21) were taken away from the Military College"; only five of them were able to return on 18 Dec; some of them reported being raped six or seven times daily by Japanese soldiers.|
|17 Dec 1937||At the Sancha Fangsheng Temple and the nearby orphanage in Nanjing, China, Japanese troops massacred 400 to 500 civilians. At a dock on the Yangtze River, Japanese troops massacred over 3,000 prisoners of war, civilian workers of the power plant, and other civilians. German businessman John Rabe, who was in the Chinese capital of Nanjing, noted the diary entry on this date "In one of the houses in the narrow street behind my garden wall, a woman was raped, and then wounded in the neck with a bayonet. I managed to get an ambulance so we can take her to Kulou Hospital.... You hear nothing but rape. If husbands or brothers intervene, they're shot. What you hear and see on all sides is the brutality and bestiality of the Japanese soldiers."|
|18 Dec 1937||Japanese troops executed over 300 Chinese people, military and civilian, on a road outside of Nanjing, China by machine gun. As reported by the International Committee later, at 1600 hours on this date, "at No. 18 I Ho Lu, Japanese soldiers wanted a man's cigarette case and when he hesitated, one of the soldier crashed in the side of his head with a bayonet. The man is now at the University Hospital and is not expected to live."|
|19 Dec 1937||Men of the Japanese 13th Division, having executed tends of thousands of refugees and prisoners of war in Nanjing, China by machine gun, bayonet, and fire since 16 Dec 1937, began to burn the remains; the ashes were dumped into the Yangtze River. Reverend James M. McCallum, who was in Nanjing, noted in his diary "Never I have heard or read such brutality. Rape! Rape! Rape! We estimate at least 1,000 cases a night, and many by day.... Women are being carried off every morning, afternoon and evening. The whole Japanese army seems to be free to go and come as it pleases, and to do whatever it pleases."|
|20 Dec 1937||The Japanese Domei News Agency reported that life in Nanjing, China, which was recently captured by Japanese troops, was returning to normal, and refugees who had fled the city prior and during the battle were starting to return.|
|28 Dec 1937||The Japanese occupation forces in Nanjing, China began registering men.|
|31 Dec 1937||The Japanese occupation forces in Nanjing, China began registering women.|
|8 Jan 1938||A Japanese-controlled newspaper in China published that the residents of Nanjing, China welcomed Chinese troops with joy, and the Japanese Army offered food and other aid to those in need.|
|17 Jan 1938||Japanese Foreign Minister Koki Hirota's message to a diplomat stationed in the United States was intercepted by the Americans. In this message, he made note of the atrocities happening in Nanjing, China and compared the Japanese Army in Nanjing to those serving under Attila the Hun.|
|19 Jan 1938||George Fitch, an American missionary, departed Nanjing, China for Shanghai with 16-millimeter film containing scenes of Japanese atrocities secretly sewn into the lining of his jacket.|
|30 Jan 1938||As reported by the International Committee later, in the Chinese capital of Nanjing at about 1700 hours, Mr. Sone of the Nanjing Theological Seminary was overwhelmed by several hundred women seeking shelter. "One old woman 62 years old went home near Hansimen and Japanese soldiers came at night and wanted to rape her. She said she was too old. So the soldiers rammed a stick up her. But she survived to come back."|
|4 Feb 1938||Japanese troops inspected the buildings of Ginling College, a school for women, in Nanjing, China, and took at least 20 women for their comfort houses.|
|5 Feb 1938||By this date, the International Committee had forwarded to the Japanese embassy a total of 450 cases of murder, rape, and other crimes committed by Japanese soldiers which were observed by American, British, and German nationals in Nanjing, China and reported by their respective embassies.|
|7 Feb 1938||Japanese General Iwane Matsui made a speech during a memorial service for troops of the Shanghai Expeditionary Force who were killed in combat. The speech included his order to "put an end to various reports affecting the prestige of the Japanese troops", referring to reports of atrocities committed by Japanese troops in Nanjing, China. Later on the same day he made an entry in his dairy noting that "I could only feel sadness and responsibility today, which has been overwhelmingly piercing my heart. This is caused by the Army's misbehaviors after the fall of Nanjing and failure to proceed with the autonomous government and other political plans."|
|18 Feb 1938||The Nanjing Safety Zone International Committee was renamed the Nanjing International Rescue Committee.|
|7 Mar 1938||American surgeon Robert O. Wilson of the American-administered University Hospital in the Safety Zone in Nanjing, China wrote to his family, noting that "a conservative estimate of people slaughtered in cold blood is somewhere about 100,000, including of course thousands of soldiers that had thrown down their arms".|
|8 Jun 1938||German businessman John Rabe sent a letter, a detailed report, and a roll of film (shot by US missionary George Fitch) to Adolf Hitler in the hopes that Germany would be able to influence Japan to cease the brutal treatment of the Chinese population. Rabe was unexpected threatened by the Gestapo several days later, warning him to remain quiet on this topic.|
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James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, 23 Feb 1945