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Vice Admiral Felix L. Johnson, USN (Ret.) (1897-1981)

Based on five interviews conducted by Dr. John T. Mason Jr. from August 1971 through February 1972, the volume contains 278 pages of interview transcript plus an index. The transcript is copyright 1974 by the U.S. Naval Institute; the interviewee has placed no restrictions on its use.

Following graduation in 1919, Johnson served in the battleship USS Delaware (BB-28) during Haitian Campaign. He joined the USS Penguin (AM-33) in 1923 when she was ordered on Yangtze Patrol. In 1928 Johnson was ordered to Asiatic Station and while en route to China served as navigator of schooner yacht Atlantic in the Spanish ocean race, New York to Santander. In 1929 he served as aide and flag lieutenant to CinC U.S. Asiatic Fleet. Following duty with the CNO, Johnson reported in 1936 as a member of the Naval Mission to Brazil. During World War II he was CO of the USS President Adams (AP-38/APA-19) in the South Pacific, landing troops at Cape Torokina, Bougainville, and the Solomon Islands. In 1945 Johnson was CO of the USS Springfield (CL-66), providing escort protection for President Franklin Roosevelt to Yalta, then joining the Fifth Fleet in Pacific campaign. He was Director of Naval Intelligence until his retirement in 1952.

An index to this volume can be viewed here (.pdf).

In this selection from his first interview with Dr. Mason on 31 August 1971 at the Jubilee Farm in St. Mary's County, Maryland, Admiral Johnson talks about his time with the Yangtze Patol, protecting American interests on China's longest river, during the late 1920s -- the same time period in which Richard McKenna's famous novel on the subject, The Sand Pebbles, is set.

USS Pigeon (AM-47) in Chinese waters.Admiral Johnson: The gunboats, such as I was in, the Pigeon and the Penguin, could only go as far as Ichang, which is at the foot of the gorges. There we began to strike the rapids so we couldn’t cruise there. We had two little gunboats called the Palos and the Monocacy which did the run on the River protecting American interests from Ichang up to Chungking.

Dr. Mason: Protecting American interests from what?

Admiral Johnson: From bandits. Some bandits and Chinese were beginning to take some cracks at us even then, and our job was to protect them if anything did happen. We put an armed guard on each American merchant ship running from Ichang to Chungking - I suppose that’s about two or three hundred miles up there. An armed guard usually would consist of eight enlisted men and one officer.

I've made that run many times, and been fired on by bandits. That was the first time I was ever fired on.

SS Robert Dollar of the Dollar Line steams up the Yangtze RiverDr. Mason: What kind of guns did they possess?

Admiral Johnson: Nothing but rifles. I don't know that they had any machine guns.

But we had armor plate around the bridges of these little gunboats, so when the shooting started we'd drop the armor plate and there were slits in there where we could put our rifles to reply.

Dr. Mason: And you were escorting a merchant ship?

Admiral Johnson: Yes, I was escorting this merchant ship, that's right. It was the merchant ships that had these shutters on them. The Dollar Line had several boats that ran up through there.


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