Fate of the Nationalist light cruisers Ning Hai and Ping Hai

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Fate of the Nationalist light cruisers Ning Hai and Ping Hai

Post by sjchan » 17 May 2007 09:32

Although the Nationalist Navy was totally outclassed by the Japanese naval forces in the Sino Japanese War and most surface vessels were sunk within the first year of hostilities, the story of the its two most modern ships, the light cruiser Ning Hai and its sister ship Ping Hai is nonetheless fairly colorful.

The Ning Hai was ironically built in Japan in 1931 and officially joined the Nationalist Navy in 1932; it was a small vessel of some 2500 tons but already one of the most powerful ships in the Nationalist navy. It also carried two seaplanes. Construction of its sister ship, the Ping Hai, started in 1932. It was to be designed and built in China (it was a close copy of the Ning Hai). In 1935 the partially completed ship was sent to Japan to be fitted out with its main armament, but by then relations between China and Japan was very strained, and it was not until 1936 that the fittings were finished. Even though, the Japanese refused to install some of the anti-aircraft guns and machine guns, and the Chinese eventually have to buy German replacements. The key difference between the Ning Hai and the Ping Hai was that the latter did not carry any seaplanes. There are plenty of photos of these two vessels here:

http://big5.chinabroadcast.cn/gate/big5 ... 280506.htm

Awarding the tender to the Japanese for building the Ning Hai actually came in for a lot of criticism although the main reason was simply that it was the lowest tender. The fact that the cruiser was so small was also roundly criticized, although once again it was for a good reason: the Chinese navy has no chance against its Japanese counterpart in open seas; nonetheless such a small cruiser was ideally suitable for the Yangtze River. Little did the Chinese realize that its eventual adversary would come primarily from the air.

The Ning Hai and the Ping Hai were part of the Chinese blocking force at Jiangyin. This force was the subject of massive air attacks by both land-based planes as well as naval planes from the Kaga on Sep 21-23, 1937. The crew on the two ships resisted courageously until they began to run out of ammunition. Hit repeatedly by bombs, both ships sank in shallow waters with more than 60 casualties.

Some seldom seen photos of the Ning Hai after it was sunk were posted here (the pictures came from a Japanese engineer who participated in the subsequent salvage operations):

http://blog.sina.com.cn/u/476745f6010008f2 (note in the 3rd photo from the bottom some of the guns had been removed by the Chinese).

The Japanese managed to salvage both the Ning Hai and the Ping Hai, some rare photos for the salvage operations on the Ping Hai:


The Ping Hai was salvaged in February 1938, and the Ning Hai in June. Incidentally, the first attempt on the Ning Hai in April 1938 failed and two divers were crushed to death.

The story of these ships did not end here. Initially, like many of the vessels salvaged, they were to be given to the puppet regime. Eventually, it was decided to move them to Japan where they were scheduled to be converted to coast defense vessels. However, other more urgent needs preempted this effort, and the ships languished as off-shore temporary housing until there were hastily re-armed again in mid 1944 as light cruisers primarily for escorting transport vessels. The Ning Hai was now the Ioshima (see http://ww2db.com/ship_spec.php?ship_id=132 and http://ww2db.com/ship_spec.php?ship_id=131 for the new specifications), and the Ping Hai the Yasojima (Yasoshima?).

It turns out that neither last very long under their new masters in the days of US aerial dominance. The Ioshima was sunk on Sep 19, 1944 by the US submarine Shad east of Honshu. The Yasojima was sunk in the Leyte Gulf by US naval planes from the USS Langley and Ticonderoga on Nov 25, 1944.

The last moments of the Yasojima was caught by the US naval planes:

http://www.dayofthekamikaze.com/timeline.html (the sinking occurred around 1400 on the timeline).

If our naval experts have anything to add, please do. I am actually kind of new to the topic of the Nationalist Navy during WW2 and it seemed that they did put up a reasonably good fight despite the odds.

Jerry Asher
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Joined: 06 Aug 2006 02:48
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Post by Jerry Asher » 18 May 2007 04:57

Well done SJ

The best accounts I have seen in English are those contained in Lacroix and Wells, Japanese Cruisers of the Pacific War. There is a vivid account of IJN air operations against the two ships, page 690 covering Sept 22-25. I assume there had been earlier IJN air activity and perhaps even attacks on the ships at the Jiangyin bockade, but have not come across any documentation.

Chinese sources may be able to clear up some details on Ping Hai. As late as November 1936, US intelligence was unsure what its armanment was.

For what they were, these were very good training platforms. Slow and unarmored, they were very well suited for working the Yangzi; simply minimizing its wake by governing its speed helped. With the variety of weapons and torpedoes and initially seaplanes, they were well runded training ships. Often overlooked is how powerful their guns were relative to any other Chinese force. Thus any leader seeking to oust Jiang knew that the armament of the Ning Hai in particular would have to be overcome.

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