Japanese Attack on United States Gunboat Panay

A flat-bottomed craft built in Shanghai specifically for river duty, Panay served as part of the U.S. Navy's Yangtze Patrol in the Asiatic Fleet, which was responsible for patrolling the Yangtze River to protect American lives and property.

After invading China in the summer of 1937, Japanese forces moved in on the city of Nanking (now known as Nanjing) in December. Panay evacuated the remaining Americans from the city on December 11, bringing the number of people aboard to five officers, fifty-four enlisted men, four U.S. embassy staff, and ten civilians.

On the morning of the 12th, the Japanese air forces received information that fleeing Chinese forces were in the area in ten large steamers and a large number of junks and that they were at a point about 12 and 25 miles upstream from Nanking. While anchored upstream from Nanking, Panay and three Standard Oil tankers, Mei Ping, Mei An, and Mei Hsia, came under attack from Japanese naval aircraft. Panay was hit by two of the eighteen 60-kg (132 pound) bombs dropped by three Yokosuka B4Y Type-96 bombers and strafed by nine Nakajima A4N Type-95 fighters. The Panay sank; three men were killed, and forty-three sailors and five civilians were wounded.

Two newsreel cameraman were aboard during the attack (Norman Alley of Universal News and Eric Mayell of Movietone News), and were able to film part of the attack and, after making the shore, the sinking of the ship in the middle of the river. Survivors were later taken on board the American vessel Oahu and the British gunboats HMS Ladybird and HMS Bee. Earlier the same day, a Japanese shore battery had fired on HMS Ladybird.

The American gunboat USS Panay, which patrolled the Yangtze River near Nanking (Nanjing), China, was used as a bomb shelter for foreign embassy staff during the Japanese bombing of the area. On December 12, 1937, Japanese warplanes suddenly and without provocation dive-bombed repeatedly the Panay and a British gunboat, both of which were moored in the river; the American vessel was sunk, and the British one severely damaged. The US public was outraged by this attack, which caused two deaths and 48 casualties. Claiming its pilots had not seen the US flags painted on the Panay's decks and sides, Japan apologized and paid the indemnity demanded by the United States.