Reference: The New York Times Article, 18 December 1937

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Butchery Marked Capture of Nanking


Civilians Also Killed as the Japanese Spread Terror in Nanking


Capital’s Fall Laid to Poor Tactics of Chiang Kai-shek and Leaders’ Fight

By F. Tillman Durdin

ABOARD THE U. S. S. OAHU at Shanghai, Dec. 17 – Through wholesale atrocities and vandalism at Nanking the Japanese Army has thrown away a rare opportunity to gain the respect and confidence of the Chinese inhabitants and of foreign opinion there.

The collapse of Chinese authority and the break-up of the Chinese Army left many Chinese in Nanking ready to respond to order and organization, which seemed in prospect with the entry of the Japanese troops. A tremendous sense of relief over the outlook for a cessation of the fearful bombardment and the elimination of the threat of serious disorders by the Chinese troops pervaded the Chinese populace when the Japanese took over control within the walls.

It was felt Japanese rule might be severe, at least until war conditions were over. Two days of Japanese occupation changed the whole outlook. Wholesale looting, the violation of women, the murder of civilians, the eviction of Chinese from their homes, mass executions of war prisoners and the impressing of able-bodied men turned Nanking into a city of terror.

Many Civilian Slain

The killing of civilians was widespread. Foreigners who traveled widely through the city Wednesday found civilians dead on every street. Some of the victims were aged men, women and children.

Policemen and firemen were special objects of attack. Many victims were bayoneted and some of the wounds were barbarously cruel.

Any person who ran because of fear or excitement was likely to be killed on the spot as was any one caught by roving patrols in streets or alleys after dark. Many slayings were witnessed by foreigners.

The Japanese looting amounted almost to plundering of the entire city. Nearly every building was entered by Japanese soldiers, often under the eyes of their officers, and the men took whatever they wanted. The Japanese soldiers often impressed Chinese to carry their loot.

Food apparently was in first demand. Everything else that was useful or valuable had its turn. Peculiarly disgraceful was the robbing of refugees by soldiers who conducted mass searches in the refugee centers and took money and valuables, often the entire possessions of the unfortunates.

The staff of the American Mission University Hospital was stripped of cash and watches. Other possessions were taken from the nurses’ dormitory. The faculty houses of American Ginling College were invaded by soldiers who took food and valuables.

The hospital and the Ginling College buildings were flying American flags and bore on the doors official proclamations in Chinese from the United States Embassy denoting American ownership.

U. S. Envoy’s Home Raided

Even the home of the United States Ambassador was invaded. When informed by excited embassy servants of this incursion, Arthur Menken, Paramount newsreel cameraman, and the writer confronted five soldiers in the Ambassador’s kitchen and demanded that they leave. The men departed sullenly and sheepishly. Their only loot was a flashlight.

Many Chinese men reported to foreigners the abduction and rape of wives and daughters. These Chinese appeared for aid, which the foreigners usually were powerless to give.

The mass executions of war prisoners added to the horrors the Japanese brought to Nanking. After killing the Chinese soldiers who threw down their arms and surrendered, the Japanese combed the city for men in civilian garb who were suspected of being former soldiers.

In one building in the refugee zone 400 men were seized. They were marched off, tied in batches of fifty, between lines of riflemen and machine gunners, to the execution ground.

Just before boarding the ship for Shanghai the writer watched the execution of 200 men on the Bund. The killings took ten minutes. The men were lined against a wall and shot. Then a number of Japanese, armed with pistols, trod nonchalantly around the crumpled bodies, pumping bullets into any that were still kicking.

The army men performing the gruesome job had invited navy men from the warship anchored off the Bund to view the scene. A large group of military spectators apparently greatly enjoyed the spectacle.

When the first column of Japanese troops marched from the South Gate up Chungshan Road toward the city’s Big Circle, small knots of Chinese civilians broke into scattering cheers, so great was their relief that the siege was over and so high were their hopes that the Japanese would restore peace and order. There are no cheers in Nanking now for the Japanese.

By despoiling the city and population the Japanese have driven deeper into the Chinese a repressed hatred that will smolder through years as forms of forms of the anti-Japanism that Tokyo professes to be fighting to eradicate from China.

Disaster in Nanking’s Fall

The capture of Nanking was the most overwhelming defeat suffered by the Chinese and one of the most tragic military debacles in the history of modern warfare. In attempting to defend Nanking the Chinese allowed themselves to be surrounded and then systematically slaughtered.

The defeat caused the loss of tens of thousands of trained soldiers and millions of dollars worth of equipment and the demoralization of the Chinese forces in the Yangtze Valley whose courage and spirit in the early phases of the warfare enabled the Chinese troops to hold up the Japanese advance around Shanghai nearly two months. Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek was responsible to a great degree because against the unanimous counsel of his German military advisers and the opinions of his chief of staff, General Pai Chung-hsi, he permitted the futile defense of the city.

More immediately responsible was General Tang Sheng-chih and associated division commanders who deserted their troops and fled, not even attempting to make the most of a desperate situation following the entry of the first Japanese troops inside the city’s walls.

The flight of the many Chinese soldiers was possible by only a few exits. Instead of sticking by their men to hold the invaders at bay with a few strategically placed units while the others withdrew, many army leaders deserted, causing panic among the rank and file.

Those who failed to escape through the gate leading to Hsiakwan and from there across the Yangtze were caught and executed.

The fall of Nanking was predicted in most details two weeks before the Japanese entered. Overwhelming the ill-equipped Chinese troops pitted against them around Kwang-teh and northward, the Japanese broke through and captured Wuhu and other points above Nanking on the Yangtze some days before entering the capital. They thus blocked the Chinese Army’s chance to retire upriver.

Defense Strong at First

The superficial Chinese defense some miles around Nanking were passed without great difficulty. By Dec. 9 the Japanese had reached the wall outside Kwanghwa gate. Driven back within the wall, 50,000 Chinese at first put up a stiff resistance. Japanese casualties were heavy as Chinese units on the wall and for miles outside contested the Japanese infiltration.

However, Japanese big guns and airplanes soon wiped out the Chinese near the wall, both outside and inside, shrapnel taking a particularly heavy toll. Meanwhile, the Japanese pushed around the wall, first threatening the Hsiakwan gate from the west.

When the invaders scaled the wall near the west gate Sunday noon behind a heavy barrage they started the Chinese collapse. Raw recruits of the Eighty-eighth Division bolted first and others soon followed. By evening masses of troops were streaming toward Hsiakwan gate, which was still in Chinese hands.

Officers gave up their attempt to handle the situation. Their men threw away their guns, shed their uniforms and donned civilian garb.

Driving through the city Sunday evening, I witnessed wholesale undressing of an army that was almost comic. Many men shed their uniforms as they marched in formation toward Hsiakwan. Others ran into alleys to transform themselves into civilians. Some soldiers disrobed completely and then robbed civilians of their garments.

While some stubborn regiments continued on Monday to hold up the Japanese, the flight of most of the defenders continued. Hundreds surrendered to foreigners. Dozens of guns were thrust upon me by cowed men who only wanted to know what they could do to be saved from the approaching Japanese.

Hordes surrounded the safety zone headquarters, turning in their guns, and even throwing them over the gate of the compound in their haste to shed military arms. The foreign committeemen at the safety zone accepted their surrender and interned them in buildings in the zone.

Third of Army Trapped

When the Japanese captured Hsiakwan gate they cut off all exit from the city while at least a third of the Chinese Army still was within the walls.

Because of the disorganization of the Chinese a number of units continued fighting Tuesday noon, many of these not realizing the Japanese had surrounded them and that their cause was hopeless. Japanese tank patrols systematically eliminated these.

Tuesday morning, while attempting to motor to Hsiakwan, I encountered a desperate group of about twenty-five Chinese soldiers who were still holding the Ningpo Guild Building in Chungshan Road. They later surrendered.

Thousands of prisoners were executed by the Japanese. Most of the Chinese soldiers who had been interned in the safety zone were shot en masse. The city was combed in a systematic house-to-house search for men having knapsack marks on their shoulders or other signs of having been soldiers. They were herded together and executed.

Many were killed where they were found, including men innocent of any army connection and many wounded soldiers and civilians. I witnessed three mass executions of prisoners within a few hours Wednesday. In one slaughter a tank gun was turned on a group of more than 100 soldiers at a bomb shelter near the Ministry of Communications.

A favorite method of execution was to herd groups of a dozen men at entrances of dugouts and to shoot them so the bodies toppled inside. Dirt then was shoveled in and the men buried.

Since the beginning of the Japanese assault on Nanking the city presented a frightful appearance. The Chinese facilities for the care of army wounded were tragically inadequate, so as early as a week ago injured men were seen often on the streets, some hobbling, others crawling along seeking treatment.

Civilian Casualties Heavy

Civilian casualties also were heavy, amounting to thousands. The only hospital open was the American managed University Hospital and its facilities were inadequate for even a fraction of those hurt.

Nanking’s streets were littered with dead. Sometimes bodies had to be moved before automobiles could pass.

The capture of Hsiakwan Gate by the Japanese was accompanied by the mass killing of the defenders, who were piled up among the sandbags, forming a mound six feet high. Late Wednesday the Japanese had not removed the dead, and two days of heavy military traffic had been passing through, grinding over the remains of men, dogs, and horses.

The Japanese appear to want the horrors to remain as long as possible, to impress on the Chinese the terrible results of resisting Japan.

Chungshan Road was a long avenue of filth and discarded uniforms, rifles, pistols, machine guns, fieldpieces, knives and knapsacks. In some places the Japanese had to hitch tanks to debris to clear the road.

The Chinese burned nearly all suburbs, including fine buildings and homes in Mausoleum Park. Hsiakwan is a mass of charred ruins. The Japanese seemingly avoided wrecking good buildings. The scarcity of air bombardments in the capture indicated their intention to avoid the destruction of buildings.

The Japanese even avoided bombing Chinese troop concentrations in built-up areas, apparently to preserve the buildings. The fine Ministry of Communications building was the only big government structure destroyed inside the city. It was fired by Chinese.

Nanking today is housing a terrorized population who, under alien domination, live in fear of death, torture, and robbery. The graveyard of tens of thousands of Chinese soldiers may also be the graveyard of all Chinese hopes of resisting conquest by Japan.

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