Saturday, July 27

On the Life and Death Decisions of Generals ...

It was with more than a little relief that we were called to a press briefing on the morning of the 27th July. The young officer, Captain Jennings, who had briefed us previously aboard the USS Solace was freshly dressed, quite dapper and apparently unperturbed by what was happening in the streets and houses surrounding our base. His manner and delivery was, again, efficient and his briefing was detailed ...
Gentlemen, you are aware that the relief expedition led by General Seymour, was forced to return to Tientsin in late June, but alongside this, despite many rumours and press reports to the contrary, we can report that the citizens and guards in the foreign legations at Peking are safe and that, since the 17th July, there appears to have been a lull in the hostilities there.
    Concerning the situation here in Tientsin, which was under siege from early June, the allied forces initially underestimated the capability of the Chinese forces, thinking that they could easily be brushed aside. This turned out to be a grave error in the face of fierce Chinese resistance. However, on 13th July, after further reinforcements had arrived, the eight-nation allied force to assault the walled city of Tientsin consisted of about 6,900 soldiers: 2,500 Russians, 2,000 Japanese, 900 Americans, 800 British, 600 French, and 100 Germans and Austrians. The challenge was substantial. The walls of Tientsin are 20 feet high and 16 feet thick, the Chinese had about 12,000 soldiers within the city or in nearby forts. The plan of the allies was to storm the city on two sides: British, American, Japanese and French troops would attack the South Gate; Russian and German troops would attack the East Gate.
    Initially the attack went poorly for the Allies in large part due to some breakdown in overall command, a number of communication failures and un-coordinated troop deployments. The main effort against the South Gate became pinned down in an exposed position under Chinese fire from within the city. The allied troops were forced to lie face down in mud, wherein the dark-blue American uniforms provided targets for the Chinese troops, and severe losses were suffered by the allies.
    Eventually the allied attacks were successful and at 3.00 am on the morning of the 14th, the Japanese force broke through the South gate, followed shortly by the Russians at the east gate and, in the face of these allied victories, the Chinese defenders made good their escape.
    For the alliance, this was a difficult battle with heavy casualties. Two hundred and fifty soldiers of the allied armies were killed and about 500 wounded. The Japanese lost 320 killed and wounded; the Russians and Germans 44 killed and some 100 wounded; the Americans 25 killed, and 98 wounded; the British, 17 killed and 87 wounded; and the French 13 killed and 50 wounded. Chinese casualties, military and civilian, are unknown, but probably heavy.
Captain Jennings then said that he would answer questions - but I doubt that he expected the furore that this simple statement unleashed. The two issues to which the assembled media demanded responses were: the looting, the atrocities and the killings to which most had already been horrified witnesses; and an explanation of why the relief expedition had not yet left for Peking. He responded ...
Once inside the city there were some additional communication breakdowns and some instances of looting by the allied forces. As the Chinese soldiers had already withdrawn it was the local Chinese who suffered the most and some civilians were killed in the skirmishes. We have no reports of American troops being involved but there have been some instances of allied troops assaulting civilians, including the rape of some women. The German and Russian commands are currently conducting inquiries into reports that their troops have behaved with particular savagery, bayoneting their victims after they had abused them. It is also reported that the allies have covered up a number of atrocities by labelling all Chinese dead as Boxers, which lends legitimacy to the killings. In addition, we are aware that the Japanese have executed some suspected Boxers by beheading them but, conversely, they are acclaimed by the local citizens to be the best behaved of all the foreign soldiers.
   So far as the relief expedition is concerned, out latest information is that, because of the fighting prowess and the strength of resistance already demonstrated by the Chinese, it is estimated that at least 50,000 to 70,000 troops will be necessary to mount a successful campaign. More troops from all of the eight nations in the alliance are currently en route for Tientsin and the expedition will be mounted as soon as these forces are in place. Major-General Gasalee, who will be leading the expedition has indicated that he expects this to be within the next three to four weeks. Thank you Gentlemen, that is all ...
To say that the silence was deafening as Captain Jennings left the briefing room, would be an understatement of the highest order, and it took several minutes for us to assimilate what we had just been told. Had we heard correctly that the 900 souls in Peking, who had already been under siege for more than a month were to be left - isolated and alone - for at least another four weeks? Could it be true that, with more than 35,000 troops already garrisoned in Tientsin, and more arriving daily, our gallant Generals had decided that this force needed to be at least double in strength before they would be able to challenge an enemy that was already defeated and in flight?
    How can it be that those considered to be amongst our best soldiers, promoted to the highest military offices, appear habitually incapable of making clear, correct and courageous decisions ...?

Officers and Soldiers of the Eight-Nation Alliance

Major-General Albert Gasalee
Knight Grand Commander of the Order of the Indian Empire
Commander, Eight-Nation Alliance Forces, Tientsin 1900

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