Shanghai 1932: Chinese 19th Route Army defends against Japanese invasion. This is the thirteenth in a series on Australia's early intelligence activities, the ninth on the life of Harry Freame.
While the Freame family was absorbed in the day-to-day rhythms of life in the Kentucky of the 1930s, the world was changing in ways that would bring Harry back to his old life and have tragic consequences for them all.
Japan had entered the First World War with a clear objective, the creation of an empire to rival that of the European powers and the US.
Prior to the War, Japan had added Taiwan (1895) and Korea (1910) to its Empire. The War gave it the German holdings in China and the Marianas, Caroline and Marshall Islands in the Pacific that had been part of German New Guinea.
Japan had not finished. In 1931, it invaded and conquered Northeast China (Manchuria), establishing a puppet state, Manchukuo, with the last Manchu Emperor of China, Puyi, as official head of state.
On 28 January 1932 came what is called the 28 January or first Shanghai incident.
Anti-Japanese feeling had been rising. On January 18, five Japanese Buddhist monks, members of an ardently nationalist sect in Shanghai, were severely beaten. The police response caused anti-Japanese rioting.
On 28 January Japan responded with military force. After heavy fighting against Chinese forces, the Japanese imposed their will. In a League of Nations brokered truce, the Chinese Government was forced to withdraw all Chinese troops, making Shanghai a demilitarised zone.
This Japanese victory sent shock waves around the world.
It was the first time that carrier aircraft had been used to bomb a city. An inferior force measured by numbers had been able to triumph. And in so doing, an entire international naval fleet based at Shanghai had been bottled up by Japanese blockade.
In January 1934, an Imperial Naval conference was held in Singapore to consider the growing Japanese threat. Australia was represented.
There were at least two ironies about this conference.
The first was that Japanese intelligence had improved to the point that two of their spies were able to send every detail to Tokyo. The second was that British signal intelligence had also improved to the point that they were able to decode the spies’ reports!
Some action would follow, although it was too slow. Again, the Australian Government dragged its heels.
Australia saw a threat, but it wanted the British and the other Dominions and colonies to pay for the intelligence activities required to monitor the threat. That would prove a costly error.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 8 May 2019. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here 2017, here 2018, here 2019