The U.S. Navy’s Yangtze Patrol was a strange sea creature: a naval force with trifling combat power but appreciable heft as a constabulary and diplomatic force. “YangPat” was gunboat diplomacy made manifest. The Navy formally instituted the Yangtze River flotilla a century ago, on 25 December 1919, but its origins run much deeper into the past.
U.S. “River Rats” had been doing their best to defend American lives, interests, and property in China for decades by 1919, even as tumult engulfed—and ultimately brought down—the Celestial Empire. In his history of the patrol, Rear Admiral Kemp Tolley, a one-time gunboat executive officer and self-proclaimed River Rat, dates the flotilla’s inception to 1854, when the sidewheel steam frigate Susquehanna became the first U.S. Navy man-of-war to foray up the Yangtze.1
1. Kemp Tolley, Yangtze Patrol: The U.S. Navy in China (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1971), 13–16.
2. John B. Hattendorf, “Introduction,” in J. C. Wylie, Military Strategy: A General Theory of Power Control (1967; reprint, Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2014), xi–xiii.
3. For convenience’s sake I use Yangtze Patrol and YangPat to denote the gunboat force both before and after it received the name in 1919.
4. U.S. Secretary of the Navy, Annual Reports of the Navy Department for the Fiscal Year (Including Operations to November 15, 1921) 1921 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1921), 6–7.
5. Hal Brands, “Paradoxes of the Gray Zone,” Foreign Policy Research Institute E-Note, 5 February 2016.
6. Tolley, Yangtze Patrol, 5.
7. Alfred Thayer Mahan, The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660–1783 (1890; repr., New York: Dover, 1987), 43–44.
8. Richard McKenna, The Sand Pebbles (New York: Harper & Row, 1962).
9. Tolley, Yangtze Patrol, 34.
10. Tolley, 54.
11. Tolley, 98.
12. Tolley, 97.
13. Wylie, Military Strategy, 22–26.
14. Tolley, Yangtze Patrol, 98.