Steamship Sunday – U.S.S. Panay Sunk By The Japanese

Steamship Sunday


U.S.S. Panay Sunk by the Japanese, 12 December 1937

Launched in 1928, the USS Panay was one of five shallow draft river gunboats built to protect American interests along the Yangtze River during the Chinese civil war. Her distinctive appearance owed as much to creating impressions as it did to naval architecture. According to the Design History:

“It is important as a factor in American influence in China that these vessels outclass in smartness of finish and appearance the gunboats of all other nationalities”.

Displacing 450 tons and 180′ in length, the Panay was armed with two 3″/50 caliber guns and an assortment of .30 caliber weapons.

During the battle for Nanking in the Sino-Japanese War, the Panay was attacked and sunk on 12 December 1937 by Japanese warplanes in Chinese waters. The American vessel, neutral in the Chinese-Japanese conflict, was escorting U.S. evacuees and three Standard Oil barges away from Nanking, the war-torn Chinese capital on the Yangtze River. After the Panay was sunk, the Japanese fighters machine-gunned lifeboats and survivors huddling on the shore of the Yangtze. Two U.S. sailors and a civilian passenger were killed and 11 personnel seriously wounded, setting off a major crisis in U.S.-Japanese relations.




Although Panay‘s position had been reported to the Japanese as required, the neutral vessel was clearly marked, and the day was sunny and clear, the Japanese maintained that the attack was unintentional, and they agreed to pay $2 million in reparations. Two neutral British vessels were also attacked by the Japanese in the final days of the battle for Nanking.

The incident was the inspiration for Richard McKenna’s 1962 novel and the 1966 movie The Sand Pebbles starring Steve McQueen, Richard Attenborough, Richard Crenna.

1937 Newsreel of the Attack on the Panay (YouTube)

The Sand Pebbles (You Tube)


Related: Pacific Paratrooper has these two great posts:

Kimmel and Short, The Other Pearl Harbor Story


In my opinion, the treatment of Admiral Kimmel and General Short in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor adds credence to Robert Stinnett’s conclusion that Roosevelt knew full-well that the attack on Pearl Harbor was coming.

Why Japan’s Air Force Failed


IJN aircraft carrier Kasagi, 1945

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