Over the course of World War II, many different innovations were brought into warfare. This was the first time widespread use of paratroopers would occur. It also saw the use of radar technology, fighter jets, and, most notably, the atomic bomb. So, what the heck does a sailboat dating back to 206 BC find itself doing in arguably the last battle of WW2? This is the story of how Chinese junk boats fought the final battle of the Second World War… all after the fighting had ceased.
Suggested read: How the Higgins Boat Helped End WWII
Chinese Junk Boats Join the Party
Dating back to the Han Dynasty, the Chinese junk has been around for a long, long time and still exists to this day. But when you think about the Pacific Theater, or warfare of any kind in WWII for that matter, ancient sailboats aren’t exactly what come to mind.
On August 15, 1945, Japan surrendered only days after the United States had dropped the second nuke. This means that on August 21, the violence that occurred was unnecessary. However, communications weren’t near what they are today, and this meant delays in getting the message out.
So, when a junk boat under the command of Japanese fighters started firing, it took the Chinese and Americans sailing through the waters by surprise, which would spark one of the most interesting battles in WW2.
Americans operating in and around China had been a thing long before World War II. This is why having boats featuring both American Military and Chinese forces wasn’t an unusual occurrence.
Navy Lieutenant Livingston Swentzel and Marine Lieutenant Stewart Pittman were working to help hinder any efforts by Japan to operate around China. Heading to Shanghai, they took command of two Chinese junks featuring a variety of weapons, seven Americans, and 20 Chinese guerilla fighters.
The Japanese were significantly more prepared. Featuring 83 Japanese sailors and many different weapons, including a 75mm howitzer, they were ready to fight. This would be evident when they used their howitzer to destroy the foremast of Swentzel’s junk and damage the rudder.
The ships hoisted the American flag and got into battle. While Lt. Swentzel’s Chinese junk boat was worse for wear, Lt. Pittman’s was not. He expertly maneuvered into the counteroffensive that allowed his ship to get close to the Japanese ship.
In about 45 minutes, it was over. One of the main things the Americans and Chinese had going for them was their cache of hand grenades. These were used as cover and allowed for a boarding party to successfully overtake the Japanese ship.
There would be 44 Japanese casualties, and another 35 were wounded. The ship was also successfully taken from Japan as a prize. All of the ships would then find their way to Shanghai, and Swentzel would earn the Navy Cross, while Pittman was awarded a Silver Star.
Communication Issues at the End of WWII
There were several communication issues at the end of WWII extending far beyond Chinese junks fighting it out. Many different Japanese fighters had been sent throughout islands in southeast Asia.
After losing radio communication in such remote locations, they only knew their existing orders and did what they had to do to survive. This would cause incidents such as Teruo Nakamura’s long overdue surrender, as he wasn’t brought back into society until 30 years later, surrendering only in 1974.
It’s hard to imagine the determination and survival skills that these troops exhibited to survive for that long. Each that managed to do so would return to a world vastly different than the one they had left, providing a variety of challenges and opportunities.
The Chinese Junk Made a War Story Treasure
The last sailing battle could have been a miscommunication with the Japanese thinking the Chinese junk ships were pirates, as suggested by some reports. It could have been a lack of communication due to the limitations of technology at the time. Either way, it created a very unique situation.
It wouldn’t be right to call this a celebration, but it’s definitely a surprising story from the war. But the Chinese junk boat finding itself in the largest war in modern history is fascinating, to say the least, from a conflict that seems to provide an endless supply of interesting stories.