The Real Sand Pebbles (page 2)
memorandum from the Yangtze Patrol commander, and a dispatch from the American Legation in Peking, strongly recommending increased naval presence on the Yangtze. The picture shows a steamer of the "Loong Mow" clan, which, with a 206-foot length, 31-foot beam, 8-foot draft, and 15.6 knots speed, approximated the characteristics of the river gunboats recommended by several naval officers.

The cost of this ship was 175,000 Shanghai "taels," or "about Gold $200,000, exclusive of armament and radio set." Quality was described as "perfectly satisfactory." In fact, the Japanese Navy purchased one of the ships for use as a river escort.

Late that spring, the Navy requested four gunboats but raised its bid in July to six. The Bureau of Construction and Repair then agreed that the boats could be built most economically in China, since the Kiangnan Dock and Engineering Works was "apparently perfectly capable of building vessels of this type complete."

The design took detailed form during preparation of the 1924 ship-construction proposal. In October 1924, the Bureau of Construction and Repair reported to Secretary of the Navy Curtis D. Wilbur that the General Boards recommended characteristics were being met, with some alterations. These included reduced bulletproof protection to meet weight limitation, diesel (instead of steam) engines capable of driving the vessel at 15 knots, and three (as opposed to four) rudders. Not only did these changes reduce the ships' maneuverability and defensive protection, but Washington officials overlooked the almost complete absence of diesel repair facilities and personnel in China."

The bureau by this time had produced a ship's plan based on the Kiangnan design, resembling closely a typical shallow-draft Yangtze River steamer. Secretary Wilbur agreed with this recommendation, and the Navy's appropriations request for 1926 included $4.2 million to build six such ships. Congress approved this request in December 1924, and the Secretary could tell the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral E. W. Eberle, that finally he would be receiving new gunboats.

The ships would be built in Shanghai, with the main propulsion machinery (boilers, engines, and pumps), ordnance equipment, bulletproof steel, and various other "articles of outfit" furnished by the U.S. Government. Bureau of Construction and Repair officers were concerned that material shipped to China would be subject to onerous import
duties, which would increase costs significantly. Admiral Thomas Washington, the Asiatic Fleet commander who would oversee construction, was directed to "take 

USS Guam
The USS Guam (PG-43) was the first of the Yangtze Patrol gunboats completed. Here, she is still under construction but near completion - more than 10 months late - at the Kiangnan Dock and Engineering Works in Shanghai. She was renamed 'Wake' in 1941 to free the Guam name for a new cruiser.

up with the customs officials the proposal to admit, free of import duty, any materials specially ordered by the contractor for these vessels," which would amount more than 800 tons of material, including main propelling and auxillary machinery. Edwin Cunningham, U.S. consul-general in Shanghai, reached agreement with the Chinese government after three month of negotiation, when the Chinese agreed to duty-free importation of gunboat construction material.

The Bureau of Construction and Repair approved the design in April 1925. The blueprints did not reach the Superintendent of Construction in Shanghai until a year later, however, since they had to be endorsed by the other Navy bureaus - a torturous bureaucratic process."

Admiral Washington awarded the contract to Kiangnan Dock and Engineering Works in March 1925. He noted that 14.5 knots was the maximum guaranteed speed for the smallest boats, intended for service on the upper Yangtze, which was "considered sufficient to navigate the up river gorges." In fact, this speed proved later to be marginal at best, and the Navy was wrong not to insist on its previous requirement of 16 knots, with an emergency capability for 17. The fleet commander also said that the largest ship, would be "flag-configured" -  equipped with the additional quarters and office space for an admiral and his staff and "were needed at an early date [to serve as] flagships" of the Yangtze Patrol and Asiatic Fleet.

Six new gunboats were authorized, funded, and designed, and the contract awarded. Although the Asiatic Fleet commander exercised supervisory control, the day-to-day decision, were assigned to Commander L. S. Border, Superintending Constructor in Shanghai. As construction of the new gunboats began, they were designated "River Gunboat" ("PR" later changed to "PG"), with numbers 43 through 48. Border wrote to Washington that three weeks should be added to the U.S. to Shanghai shipping time to allow for delays in passing material through China's customs, despite the 

agreement with the government and Kiangnan's posted bond with the customs office in Shanghai.

The United States ordered the first hull material on 12 March 1926; the Kiangnan planners had "faired" the design lines in their molding loft by the end of the month. The shipbuilding contract allowed Kiangnan 12 months to build each gunboat, with the first, hull number 43, scheduled for launching 1 November 1926 and delivery to the Navy 1 March 1927.

Construction was under way by mid-June 1926, although it was troubled immediately by contractor difficulties with design changes. All of the many changes required

Approval by Border, by the fleet commander, and by one or more of the Washington bureaus. This requirement caused delays first apparent during the process of approving the design drawings. Kiangnan had to submit each to the Bureau of Construction and Repair via Border and the Asiatic Fleet commander. Kiangnan could begin work only after a drawing was approved and returned.

Construction was in full swing by July 1926; in August, Border already was reporting all the ships one to two months behind schedule, owing chiefly to the late delivery of bulletproof steel. The shipbuilder complained that no steel had been received and that while they were paying U.S. Steel "an addition[al] price for prompt shipment overland by rail to save time over the Panama route. This additional amount of money has been wasted." Kiangnan soon complained to U.S. Steel again than despite the promises of "two letters from your New York office we have no idea where the steel is at present." The complaint proceeded:

As you are responsible for delivering this material at Shanghai, we should have thought that your shipping department would have booked space so that the cargo could come through without these delays at San Francisco... These delays on your part are very serious both to the U.S. Navy and ourselves.

Border then spoke up, telling Kiangnan that "over nine months of the contract times for the construction of these vessels has elapsed while only a small percentage of progress has been made to date." Kiangnan cited this letter in another appeal to U.S. Steel, in which they asked for a refund of their "additional price for prompt delivery" and threatened "a claim against you for any penalty demanded from us by the U.S. Navy Department."

In response, U.S. Steel's Shanghai manager traced the processing and production of Kiangnan's orders. Of course, he concluded

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Source: Naval History Magazine - February 2000

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