Inside the Archives: The Yangtze River Patrol Collection

John Sanders
Special Collections & Archives
Dudley Knox Library
Naval Postgraduate School
Monterey, California

Wednesday, April 26, 1911: “Got into tail of typhoon about 5 a.m. Sea roughest experienced yet. Lucky we are heading into it. Eased up a bit about 8 p.m. Maintained 8 to 12 knots thro it. NY and Albany pulled off some struts.”

Friday, April 28, 1911: “Sighted land at 11:50 a.m. Anchor at Nagasaki at 12:38 to buoys right in front of town. This is or looks like nice place. Quite a puzzle to get into harbor. Received 5 bags of mail.”

Wednesday, October 18, 1911: “Just had time to grab breakfast and get ready to go ashore in landing force. Went in American party. Forces from all ships guarding concessions. We went to Japanese consulate. Chink gunboats fired on land forces on both sides of river just below us. Everybody up in arms. Rebels victorious all day.”

Guy Harter, 1913 portrait. From the Dudley Knox Library, Naval Postgraduate School.

Guy Harter, 1913 portrait. From the Dudley Knox Library, Naval Postgraduate School.

These entries were written in pencil in a 3-inch by 6-inch leather diary that has pre-printed tide tables for Boston and New York harbors and a list of American presidents. William Howard Taft, the nation’s 27th chief executive, was in office when Guy Harter enlisted in the Navy and subsequently boarded an Asiatic Fleet gunboat en route to the Yangtze River in 1911, his uniform bearing the insignia of a yeoman.

Many of Harter’s diary entries speak only of boredom and quiet along the river. A few, however, capture the action, mystery and uncertainty of naval forces sent to protect American interests in China during the revolutions in 1911 and 1912.

Harter’s pocket diary is just the beginning of a remarkable journey into the early 20th-Century Orient captured by the pencil, typewriter and camera lens of this sailor.

Harter’s photo scrapbook shows crews reconstructing the USS Monocacy (PG-20) and the USS Palos (PG-16) in 1913, the first gunboats designed and delivered by the Navy to ply the upper reaches of the treacherous Yangtze. Photos capture Harter and shipmates at work and on liberty as well as scenes of rebel forces during an attack and the burning of Nanking in 1912. Another scrapbook contains a brilliant assortment of menus, playbills, programs, receipts, stamps, news clippings – and a red scrap of fabric Harter has labeled, “What was left of the Wilmington’s Ensign after the typhoon had ceased blowing Sunday afternoon. August 17, 1913, 4:30 p.m.” Beneath this, Harter has written, “Hong Kong, China.”

His chronicles of life as a River Rat offer deep perspective for the scholar interested in American naval action and U.S.-China relations a century ago.

His records are among several personal diaries and photo scrapbooks created by Yangtze River Patrol sailors. This collection of River Rat memorabilia and documents give added perspective to the Navy History & Heritage Command’s ten linear feet of documents in its China Repository and to the ship models and artifacts held by the United States Navy Memorial.

The Yangtze River Patrol Collection includes the only known set of the Yangtze River Patroller newsletter. The newsletter focuses largely on reunion plans and social news of members of the Yangtze River Patrol Association however each issue typically includes a personal recollection of naval life in China.

Harter’s scrapbooks are among the records that have been digitized and are readily accessible on the Dudley Knox Library’s web at

For additional information about the collection and other holdings, contact John Sanders, Special Collections Manager, Dudley Knox Library, Naval Postgraduate School. E-Mail:; Phone: 831-656-3346.

The Knox Library. Photo courtesy John Sanders.

The Dudley Knox Library. Photo courtesy John Sanders.

(Return to the July 2015 Table of Contents)

Version 2John Sanders is a former Naval Postgraduate School public affairs officer who, with support and guidance from university librarian Eleanor Uhlinger, established the NPS archives. His other works have appeared in publications such as Aerospace America and the Dictionary of Professional Military Education.

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16 Responses to Inside the Archives: The Yangtze River Patrol Collection

  1. James Reilly says:

    My father was a 15 year old sailor on the Yangtze River patrol from 1929 to 1934.
    I’ve got some photos he took while there . . . one is of Gen. Butler, USMC and another is of some high ranking naval officers. I was wondering if you could help me identify these men?
    My father was William James Reilly, USS John D. Ford, DD-228. His Yangtze Service Medal
    is number 7257.
    How can I get these pics to you if you can help me?

    Any help will be appreciated.

    Thank you,

    James Reilly

  2. Ron Hampton says:

    I have a deep interest in the USS Panay, PR5 December 1937 off Nanking. I have been a collector of the Panay for some timea long . But I have NOT found any info on the Chinese “Crew” on the Panay at that time.
    How many were on board and if so were any lost in the attack? I have been looking for a long time and the only reference I found was in a brief statement made by the last surviving sailor of the crew, “there was about a dozen Chinese”. He too has now past away. All of the our Gunboats on the Yangtze had them during that period. And I have read that the rate of pay was about 75 cents per day but no time frame was given.
    Any and all help is sure welcomed.
    Thanks, Ron – San Diego (Ex White Hat – AD2; 1950 thru 1955)

    • Steve Bryson says:

      Hello Mr. Hampton,

      The crew list at the time of the attack on USS Panay shows the following Chinese crew members:

      DUCEY, Ting Matt1c
      ERH, Yuan T. Matt1c
      SUNG, King F. Matt1c
      WONG, Far Z. Matt1c

      ERH, Yuan T., SUNG, King F. and WONG, Far Z. were each slightly wounded during the attack.

      From what I understand from speaking with sailors from the late 1930s era of the Yangtze Patrol, at that time the Chinese did not play the same role as was depicted in “The Sand Pebbles”, which was set in the 1926-27 time frame.

      Take care,

      Steve Bryson

  3. Victoria Fawns Ross says:

    My uncle, Paul Gareis,served on the Yangtze river patrol in the 1930 s.How can I find out what boat he was stationed on?

    Thank you for your help.
    Victoria Fawns Ross

  4. Art Burnett says:

    Howdy Ran across a small group of photos that appear to be Yantzee River Boat
    Number K 9 appears on port bow. Single stacker (short) Armored Bridge, one is of
    a black mess steward,

  5. Hsiaoshuang says:

    This Yangtze River Patrol is just another shameful demonstration of big power bully tactics. Just wondering how the US feels if there were Chinese or Indian gunboats patrolling the Mississippi River and Potomac River to ensure the white natives behave.

    • Secundius says:

      As I recall, Approximately Fifty Countries had Gunboats patrolling the Chang Jiang (Yangtze) River. Funny how none of them were mentioned in you’re comment…

    • Jake Holman says:

      Probably would feel a lot like the Uyghurs or the Tibetans.

  6. Scott Honour says:

    My father served on one of the Yangtze patrol boats, sometime between 1936 and 1940. I also believe he helped form the Yangtze Patrol association ( not sure if that’s the correct name, doing this by memory ) and I have a couple of the Patroller issues.
    I’m curious if either in the Patroller collection, or in any other parts of your collection that relate to the patrol, there might be mention or info on my father.
    His name was John H Honour Jr and he was a United States Marine at the time. I’ve looked at the ships crew roster for The Panay at the time of her sinking, as on his death bed he had indicated he had been on her at that time but this may have been due to faulty/failing memory, and do not see his name listed. I’m not sure if any Marine contingent would be listed separately as all those listed I’ve seen are either USN or “civilian” on the roster.
    I know it’s a needle in a haystack sort of thing. But perhaps if he was a part of the formation of the group, he might be listed in some of the earlier issues, and possibly some information as to his station might be mentioned.

    Thank you for your time,
    Scott Honour

    • Rob Marut says:

      Hi John,
      My Dad served in the YR Patrol from 1932-1935 and was onboard the Luzon, one of the gunboats. I have a collection of his YR Association newsletters. If I can find anything regarding your Dad, I’ll let you know.

      • Scott Honour says:

        I have one of those journals, and a few other documents from the organization, but have yet to find anything more than him listed as “Patron”.

  7. Tina Sung says:

    My grandfather, King F Sung was on the USS Panay. He was Mess Attendant.

  8. Scott Hatrr says:

    Thank you for this story of my Grandfather Guy Harter. My dad Glenn and Uncle Gene Harter would be very proud.

  9. Scott Harter says:

    Thank you for this story of my Grandfather Guy Harter. My dad Glenn and Uncle Gene Harter would be very proud.

  10. Scott Honour says:

    I have one of those journals, and a few other documents from the organization, but have yet to find anything more than him listed as “Patron”.

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