The information on this page is the work of Fred Greguras, Marine, collector and historian. As a 2nd LT, Greguras served in Vietnam as a rifle platoon commander with Hotel Company, 2nd Battalion 5th Marine Regiment. Since the war Fred has made repeated visits to China to identify locations associated with the China Marines. This section deals with his visits to Tientsin. Fred continues to return to China and will periodically submit updates as he revises his work. We are fortunate to have the results of his efforts on this web site.
October 29, 2006
Tianjin, formerly named Tientsin, is presently a large city with a population of about 10 million people. The city is about 70 miles southeast of Beijing. I visited the city on October 29, 2006 to look for sites related to the Marines’ presence there, primarily the barracks area from the period immediately prior to World War II. In early September, 2006, I had attended the reunion of the North China Marines organization and met several Marines who were captured by the Japanese in Tientsin on December 8, 1941. Meeting those Marines provided the impetus for me to visit Tientsin.
Louie Liu of the Tianjin Museum of Modern History served as my guide. It would have been impossible to find the sites in the short time I had in Tientsin without his help. The museum, located at 317 Hebei Road (formerly Wellington Road), has an excellent collection of images and other materials on the modern history of Tientsin. Tientsin has a long association with Marine Corps history including as the starting point for the force that relieved the Boxers’ siege of the Peking legations in August, 1900.
The Tientsin Marine magazine identified the pre-World War II Marine barracks’ address as Shansi (also spelled Shensi) and Race Course Roads and various maps show the barracks at this site. Shansi Road is now named Guangdong Road and Race Course Road is currently named Machang Road. The barracks area (the “Compound”) was bounded by Shansi Road on the west, Barracks Road (Jiujiang Road) on the east, Tangshan Road on the north, and Bureau Street (Pukou Road) on the south. Tangshan Road intersects with Race Course Road at the northwest corner of the Marine Compound. Shansi and Barracks Roads are north‑south roads.
I had Google Earth aerial photos but no detailed maps of the Compound at the time of my visit. I plan to explore the Compound in greater detail next Spring using the maps mentioned below.
History of the Compound
The Compound was initially used by the Army’s 15th Infantry Regiment beginning in 1917. The Marines took over the Compound from the 15th Infantry on March 2, 1938. The 15th Infantry had been ordered to leave China. The Marine units consisted of Dog and Charlie Companies and a headquarters detachment, a total of about 200 officers and men. The size of the Marine detachment in Tientsin was reduced in the Fall, 1940 and by May, 1941, it was down to about 60 men. The Marines were ordered out of China on November 10, 1941. The remaining Tientsin Marines (48 men) were scheduled to embark on the SS Harrison on December 9, 1941 and leave China the next day. Their Compound had been surrounded by the Japanese when the Marines awakened on the morning of December 8, 1941 and they spent the rest of the war in POW camps. Chester M. Biggs, Jr., The United States Marines in North China, 1894-1942 published by McFarland & Co., 2003, has a detailed description of Marine activities in Tientsin in the 1938-1941 period.
Description of the Compound
Alfred E. Cornebise, The United States 15th Infantry Regiment in China, 1912-38, published by McFarland & Co., 2004, at pages 11-12 describes the Compound as follows:
“In that year , the Oriental Real Estate Company . . . constructed three lines of buildings running east and west, with some detached structures. These were leased to the American command by the firm which maintained, heated, lighted and provided water for the establishment. The arrangement of the buildings subdivided the compound into three parallel courtyards, the largest of which, being 260 by 90 feet, was used for regimental ceremonies. . . . Nearly all of the structures were three to four stories high, with finished basements. Constructed of brick covered with plaster or stucco, all had electricity and running water on each floor. . . . The hospital building was constructed specifically for that purpose, as was a large building known as Recreation Hall, which had a stage and was utilized for indoor athletic games, theatricals and movies. . . . On the west side of the compound and across Shansi Road in an adjoining area were the stables, the corral, various sheds, the wagon park, an ice plant which also furnished distilled water, a bakery, the veterinary hospital, the post exchange and a blacksmith shop.”
Professor Cornebise also provided me with a 1930 detailed map of the Compound when I contacted him upon my return from China.
Marines Marion Guynn, Frank Kossyta and Frank Prater have vivid memories of the Compound. Each drew a map of the Compound as it was when the Marines occupied it. Mr. Kossyta served with the 15th Infantry at Tientsin from 1935-1938 and went back to Fort Lewis, Washington with the regiment. Mr. Kossyta went back to Tientsin as a Marine in early 1939. He also drew a map showing the Army’s use of the Compound. Some of the Compound buildings were used for different purposes when the Marines were there or not used at all because it was a smaller force.
The description of the Compound below is generally by the three lines of east-west buildings, north, middle and south.
The entire Compound was enclosed by a seven foot high brick wall with a barbed wire fence on top. The Marines built this wall to its seven foot level and placed the barbed wire on top according to Mr. Kossyta. There were four gates into the Compound; Gate 1 was a pedestrian only gate at the southwest corner. Gate 2, the main gate, was at the west wall between the north and middle row of buildings. Pedestrians and vehicles could use this gate. Gate 4 was directly east of Gate 2 on the east wall of the Compound, and could be used by both vehicles and pedestrians. A vehicle road went east across the Compound from Gate 2 to Gate 4. The road between Gates 2 and 4 was about equal distance between Tangshan Road and Bureau Street. Gate 3, for pedestrians only, was in the north wall in front of the headquarters building.
Headquarters, motor transportation, radio station, ammunition magazine and other support buildings were inside the Compound, north of the north line of buildings. The flagpole was in front of the headquarters building which bordered Tangshan Road. The Enlisted Mens Club (“EM Club”) was north across Tangshan Road outside the Compound but south of Race Course Road. Mr. Guynn recalled that the EM club was a two story building on very large grounds that extended from Tangshan Road north to Race Course Road in the area where Race Course Road goes northeast. The club grounds extended east from Race Course Road for quite a distance. The first deck included a bar, dance floor and recreation room. The second deck was a sergeants and above only bar. There were two tennis courts on the club grounds.
Just south of the support buildings was the north line of the three lines of the east-west buildings. The north line contained three buildings: the Marines’ post exchange (“PX”) at the west end by the main gate; the quartermaster offices and store house in the middle and then the hospital at the east end bordering Barracks Road. There was a north-south road to the support buildings area between the quartermaster building and hospital. There was a library at the west end of the first deck of the hospital building according to Mr. Kossyta.
The middle line of east-west buildings, also three buildings, from west to east, was Dog Company barracks, Charlie Company barracks and a building that was not used by the Marines.
The third line of east-west buildings at the south end of the Compound bordered Bureau Street. This line contained four buildings. These buildings were the south border of the large courtyard used as an assembly or formation area. This area was between the middle and south lines of buildings. The tall tower (a water tower) that appears in many photos was at the west end of the formation area. A large building along Shanshi Road contained the recreation building (the “Gym”) on the second floor and guard quarters and a brig on the first floor. Gate 1 was in the front of the Gym. The Gym was used for basketball, boxing, dancing and movies according to Mr. Kossyta. A power plant/water treatment plant was at the northeast corner of the Gym and the water tower was on the east side of this plant. The building just east of the Gym was apparently not used by the Marines. The general mess hall was the third building in the south line of buildings and the headquarters detachment barracks was east of the general mess hall. This barracks was at the east side of the Compound in the building used as band quarters by the 15th Infantry.
The Marine’s athletic field, “Can Do” Field, was within close walking distance, west of the Compound across Shansi Road. The “Can Do” name was a leftover from Army occupancy since the 15th Infantry was known as the “Can Do” regiment. The athletic field did not border Shansi Road but was north and west of the buildings on the east side of Shansi Road.
The Compound Today
The Compound is currently being used for residential apartment purposes. Mr. Kossyta remembers seeing the Compound after World War II when it was being converted into apartments. The brick wall built by the Marines still surrounds most of the Compound. Gate 2, the main entrance on Shansi Road still exists and looks much like it did in 1941. A then-and-now photo can be taken to compare with the photo at the bottom of page 179 of Chester Biggs’ book referenced above. The east entrance, Gate 4, directly east of Gate 2, was fenced off and was not being used. There are at least three buildings in the Compound that survive from the pre-World War II period. Two of the buildings are in the north line of east-west buildings and the third is the middle line of buildings. Two buildings border Shansi Road and face each other on the north and south of Gate 2, the main gate. The building to the north was the PX. A third surviving building is in the same row of buildings as the PX but to the east separated from the PX by a more modern apartment building. The third building is the hospital building which borders Barracks Road on the east. It has been abandoned for some time. I was able to go into this building and take a number of photos.
The building just inside of and south of the main gate in the middle line of buildings was Dog Company barracks. It has short towers at its northeast and northwest corners. This is the only building to survive in this east-west line of buildings. Tennis courts and then an apartment building are currently directly east of this building.
The Gym at the west end of the south line of buildings may also still survive based on a study of the aerial photos from Google Earth. No other buildings in the south line of buildings survived.
There is an old building at the southwest corner of Race Course Road and Shansi Road that reportedly was used by the Army but it does not appear on any of the maps I have seen.
Post World War II Sites
Marine units of the III Amphibious Corps were deployed in Tientsin at the end of the war to accept the surrender of Japanese troops and to supervise the repatriation of the troops and Japanese civilians. The initial units that went into Tientsin were the 1st Marines; 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines and the 1st Marine Division headquarters. They were billeted in the international settlement area. Henry I. Shaw, Jr., The U.S. Marines in North China, 1945-1949, published by Historical Branch, Headquarters, USMC, 1960, has a detailed history of the Marines presence in North China following World War II.
Many buildings survive in Tientsin which served as barracks or for other purposes for the Marines in the post World War II period. The III Amphibious Corps headquarters building where the Japanese surrendered has survived as has the 1st Marine Division headquarters building and a number of buildings which served as barracks for Marines, including the old Italian Barracks. Many buildings were needed as “barracks” because of the large number of Marines deployed to Tientsin. The Compound was also used after the war. The French Arsenal east of the city near the airfield, headquarters of the 1st Marine Aircraft wing, has not survived.
Other Places in Tientsin
Tianjin is a dynamic and growing city but there are many buildings remaining from the international settlement period among the new construction. The Astor Hotel still sits on Victoria Road (North Jiefang Road) along the Bund east across the road from what was Victoria Park in the former British Concession. This park was the center of activity of the international settlement. For example, the First Marine Aircraft Wing held a band concert at Victoria Park on July 5, 1946. An article, “Pacific Liberty” in the December, 1948 Leatherneck magazine on liberty places in Asia has a photo of Marines in a rickshaw with a caption “Marines will recall Victoria Park and Tientsin Liberty.”
Gordon Hall, the former administration building for the British Concession that was a favorite postcard scene, is only partially standing at the north end of Victoria Park. The building was severely damaged in the 1976 earthquake and the south part of the building had to be torn down. A building shown in an old postcard as an American military hospital still stands just north of the northwest corner of Victoria Park. The date of the postcard is November, 1917. Many buildings in the area north of Victoria Park had been removed and construction was underway in the area in October 2006.
As indicated, the Compound needs more exploration with maps in hand. Tianjin is a large, fascinating city which is very modern yet has many remnants of the past. The Museum of Modern History has excellent displays on Tianjin’s international settlement