Tuesday, January 17, 2012

[Distinguished Flying Cross] Captain Columbus Darwin Smith

The 91 year Yangtze River Patrol was performed by the U.S. Navy from 1854 to 1945 to protect American interests in China. Although disrupted during WWII, the river patrol resumed for a short time after the war, until the Chinese Civil War brought it to a formal close.

When the Japanese invaded China in 1937 at the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War, the patrols petered out. By December 1941, the two remaining U.S. Navy gunboats, the U.S.S. Wake and the U.S.S. Tutuila, were stationed at Shanghai and Chungking, respectively.

The U.S.S. Wake, captained by Commander Columbus Darwin Smith since March 1941, was captured hours after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The night before, one of the Japanese officers that Smith knew called him with a bogus story about delivering some turkeys for him and his crew. The Japanese wanted to know where they were in Shanghai.

After Pearl Harbor was attacked, the Japanese seized Shanghai and the Wake. When Smith was informed of the attack, he raced to the gunboat, only to find it under guard by the Japanese Army. There is at least one website that described the capture (and destruction of the British Royal Navy vessel HMS Peterel).

Commander Smith and his crew became prisoners of war. After an early failed escape attempt, he was interred at the Ward Road Jail, the high security prison in Shanghai. He managed to escape in September of 1944 and traveled on foot across nearly a thousand miles of Japanese-occupied territory to safety. The amazing story is presented here and Amazon has the book written on the incident here (a crew list is here).

Columbus Darwin Smith was familiar with China and served there for many years. He was a daring and courageous individual, perfect for a contact with PCs in my Distinguished Flying Cross campaign. Since he served along the Yangtze River, the PCs can meet him anywhere in China.

I decided not to stat him up because I don't think it's necessary. As a contact, friend or even a (friendly) rival of one of the PCs, he'd provide ways for the player characters to interact with both sides of the conflict in China.

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