China · Genocide · Japan · Military · Second World War

December 13, 1937 – Nanking Falls to Japanese Invaders

There are some stories that are too horrific to write about. This is one of those times. —I cannot think of a photo that I want to use for this article and fair warning, and image search will lead to VERY disturbing photos!!!

I am going to talk about some of the things that happened from the 30,000 foot level of events and provide links to other sites like The History Place and let them tell the more graphic stories.

In August 1937, the Japanese Imperial Army met the Chinese National Republican Army in the city of Shanghai. The Japanese Army though outnumbered had the technological superiority in weapons, training, and support. The Imperial Army thought that the fight for Shanghai would be over in a day. The general staff was shocked and appalled that it was almost the end of November before the city fell.

The Chinese forces proved more resistant than anyone had thought possible and fought admirably. The Japanese general staff had bragged that all of China would fall in three months. It took them three months to get out of Shanghai.

Side Note: It has been said that a soldier does not fight hard than when he fights for his own home. This has been shown over and over throughout history. I can only imagine the carnage that an invading force entering the United States would face.

The last month of fighting for Shanghai was some of the bloodiest fighting in the entire Second World War and it cost the Japanese dearly. This hurt the Imperial Army’s morale and set them on an unprecedented path of revenge and retribution.

Chinese general Chiang Kai-shek put their best soldiers between Shanghai and Nanking in an attempt to push the Japanese back. These units suffered a 60% casualty rate including almost half their junior officers. This resulted in the defenders of Nanking to be less organized even though these soldiers greatly outnumbered the advancing Japanese forces.

Modern Day China – Showing Shanghai and Nanking (now called Nanjing)
Image Source: The History Place

On December 13, 1937, the Imperial Japanese Army entered Nanking with orders to “kill all captives.” The Japanese soldier of the 30’s and 40’s believed in honor. Honoring one’s family, country, and ancestors were first and foremost in their minds. By surrendering to the enemy, you dishonored yourself, your unit, your country and your ancestors and you were not worthy to be called a man.

The first thing that they needed to deal with in Nanking were the almost  90,000 less-than-human surrendering soldiers. These men became bayonet and machine gun targets for younger less experienced soldiers.

During the siege and fall of Nanjing, as well as the ensuing massacre, 27 Westerners, including five American and British journalists, chose to stay inside the city walls. The journalists stayed to cover the Nanjing battle and the city’s expected fall. When the Nanjing carnage unfolded in front of them, they immediately took to their pens, though they tried in vain to find a way to send out the reports from the fallen city. On December 15, Archibald Trojan Steele of the Chicago Daily News, Frank Tillman Durdin of the New York Times, Arthur von Briesen Menken of the Paramount Newsreel, and Leslie C. Smith of Reuters managed to leave for Shanghai by USS Oahu and HMS Ladybird, while Charles Yates McDaniel of the Associated Press went to Shanghai by Japanese destroyer Tsuga the following day. It was the five American and British correspondents who first broke the news of the Nanjing carnage while it was still in progress, hoping to expose the atrocities to the outside world.


Killing these prisoners was the start of the six-week long “Rape of Nanking.” When it was over 300,000 of the 600,000 people living in the city would die horrible deaths.  Those that survived would become heroin and opium addicts thanks to the “generosity” of the Japanese Army.

These sites tell a much better picture of the viciousness and brutality than I am willing to write and they are worth the read. – they are also my sources for this article.


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