The Bettencourt Diary

Private Bettencourt was a nineteen year old Marine serving aboard the USS Sacramento, a US Asiatic Fleet gunboat, when the Second Battle of Shanghai began in August of 1937.  At the start of the battle, the Sacramento, or Sac as she was called by her crew, was ordered from the upper Whangpoo River near the center of Shanghai to the lower Whangpoo, just on the eastern edge of the International Settlement to protect the Riverside Power Station- the main power plant for the city of Shanghai. The Sacramento’s Marine detachment of 32 men, and augmented by additional sailors from the gunboat, disembarked on 13 August 1937 just as hostilities began.  Bettencourt’s diary, unlike many letters I’ve read from other Marines who observed the Battle of Shanghai,  was not meant for publication. Therefore, he was free to record his feelings as they were at the time.  His emotions run from being anxious to get ashore and do his duty to outright fear as he realizes just how intense prolonged combat really was.  Given the slang used throughout the diary, one must be careful in holding him to social standards of today- sometimes he looks with sympathy on the Chinese and other times he is rather callous to their plight. The same mixed feelings are expressed toward the Japanese. The bottom line is he becomes hardened to the dangers and suffering around him, unlike several other men in his detachment who are unable to endure the stress of prolonged combat.  By the time he and his shipmates are relieved of duty, his overriding concern is to have enough tobacco to chew.  Yet at the back of the diary, written months after the battle had ended, Bettencourt writes a series of poems describing the horrors of war as he witnessed them and a longing to go home.   


Bettencourt does not always use periods to mark the end of sentences,  instead he used a dash. I've tried to use the same dashes in the transcription. He also abbreviates a number of words…at times I’ve left the abbreviation as is, and other times I’ve added the complete word.     


12 Aug (10:00) 37.

Been quite a bit of action all evening.  Japs running back and forth-have been messing with 4” guns on tincans.  Sent over landing party about 9:30 PM looks like trouble for sure this time-Chinese blockaded upper river about 5:00 PM-used junks and old steamers-trying to protect munitions dumps and navy yard-tension almost to the breaking point-something bound to break soon- I hope so away will be better than just waiting and not knowing.


  13 Aug 37. Shanghai, China  

  Rev at 3 AM this day. Made up combat packs and stood by til about 0900- or 1000 AM.- finished moving supplies about 2:00 pm- rested til 6:00 pm- patrolled to 8: pm. Not much to day-some regular fire about 6:15 PM-sounded like 3 in and.50 M.G.-looks like a real war before long-are now at Shanghai Power Company-an American outfit-refugees tried to break in-nothing serious tho.  Now about 8 PM- am going to read and then to sleep.


  14 Aug 37. Shanghai, China  

   About 0900 PM. Rev 5:30 AM- came off patrol at 6:15 AM- about 9:45 Chinese began dropping  bombs- landed mighty close-called out all detachments to repel event of refugees from bombed area-about 1 PM landed sailors. Sac[ramento ]  nearly deserted- about 3 PM dropped 2 “eggs” in Standard Oil, killed sampan full of Chinese – nearly got  Sac[ramento]  pretty steady M.G. fire most of day- 2 or 3 fires quite few Chin[ese] killed  or maimed- will likely  be more bombing later at nite or early in the morning-must sleep in clothes-what a hell of a war-something don’t pop I’ll go nuts-probably will any how-just for practice. What a guere”!!   Am going to try and get a little sleep- I have radio now-uses gas engine makes enough noise to wake the dead.


  15 Aug 37. Shanghai, China  

2:30 P.M. Well they done it last nite – Bombs fell on two hotels and a movie –about 900 hundred killed and maimed- probably an accident-Chinks damnest  bombers I ever  heard tell of- can’t hit what they aim at –what a war-used shovels to pick up the pieces after “eggs” fell-blew up a cabaret or 2- the shit head-worst shots then I am, and I’m bad – may evacuate Americans out of Shanghai-been raining like hell most of nite-all day- haven’t taken off clothes in 24 hours nor shaved for three days. 8:15 PM Dam these screwy Chinks- bombed for about 45 minutes nearly blew up the Sac[ramento]. One came in 250 feet of the power plant-damn near got a couple of patrols-picked up pieces of shrapnel after raid- been a miserable day- steady rain and plenty of wind- been sitting around in soaked clothes all evening-just changed sox, there dirty but dry. Standing by for more trouble- blew up some places up town-killed and wounded over 1,000, I think-sailors gone back to ship, moving to naval buoy up river- Augusta standing by a wharf downstream. Hope I last out- am plenty jittery and dirty.  

16 Aug 37, Shanghai China  

 It is a home, mate, it is a home!!  

Another day gone –not much doing-Japs “egged” Chinks drome {aerodrome ?} this AM.  Drove them out of air- big Jap plane carrier off Woosung-evacuating foreigners out of Shanghai in morning- British sending troops from Hong Kong- more Jap ships in this afternoon and evening-laying off Woosung-maybe fixing to try and blow forts there off the map. Has quit raining and been pretty warm- may run all people out of here- got word Chinks going to blow up Power Company-may not be true but you can never tell- Sacramento back up river again.  Augusta also moved up a was-c clothes not off in three days-not shaved yet  I’ll fight for ‘em but dammed if I’ll keep clean-short of smoking-chewing-about 3 plugs left-  Top Kick [1st Sgt Louis Rubenstein] ratios cigarettes 1 pack per man at a time-oh well still got plenty of “Joe” if need be. Running out of sox too- going to be hell pretty dam sudden-


17 Aug 37

This is for yesterday nite’s and today so far. 2 AM now ben ready to evacuate all day- had almost 10,000 people in here in last 48 hours-got rid of about 3-4 thousand last eighteen hours maybe safe for a time as Chinks and Japs agreed not to shell or bomb here but not taking their word for much as truck of Japs tried to get in about 9 PM. Last nite Been evacuating more Chinks from 12 MN ti l1 AM-not much sleep in 36 hours about ready to throw in the sponge-don’t give a dam what happens I’m sick of it all- why do people want to go to war any how?  - Peace and sleep and clean clothes – a quiet sport to sleep- and as I am good {????} sitting or lying down just thinking- guess it’ll come out O.K. tho –were not being run out of our homes nor being parted from our kids and wives  etc.- gosh I’m tied as hell but no sleep for me- just lie here and think of home and bombs and bodies blown to hell-big guns booming at intervals- got lots of “Joe” so things aren’t so worse as they might be- about 3 A.M. and still no sleep.    


18 Aug 37 (Cont’d) 

Well finally got about 9 hours sleep shut eye and feel better- out on coal pile 2 hours.- Japs killing Chinks as they see ‘em- tried to get in here but no smoke – our gate from 10-12 M.N.- Japs detachment and I scared hell of each other- had a good laugh over it tho.


19 Aug, Shanghai, China 

Not a bad day –spasmodic firing plenty of Nips flying all over 2-3 Nip soldiers tried to come over wall during day- don’t know what they want- have to be mighty careful- just brought Chink prisoner in for questioning. Likely came over fence to get out of danger- may be a Chink spy or sniper running from Japs- boy are we are in a sensitive spot- if we aren’t careful Japs or Chinks will turn and wipe us out- Japs all around us- just across the road and in buildings spying on us- boy howdy, what a place-a     [unreadable sentence]   Kin- hey Ma look what they are doing to your kid- oh well you can’t live forever- and I can’t die any younger so what? The SMP [Shanghai Municipal Police] left this afternoon and are now over at the egg  plant next to us- men are getting pretty tired of this place- looks like we will be  here duration of the war- 1or 2 men are scared shitless –afraid of everyone. 

20 Aug 37, Shanghai China

Have been here 1 week seems like month- not much doing today-Chinks flying again-“egged” japs couple of times- not much good tho. Dodo Dynamite {Josephine Hutton]  killed  other day in air raid- was a damn good gal-guess she’ll have plenty of company before war is over- going to miss her like hell- Chink army driving closer to here every day now-new day now Nips have guards on all street corners – on good terms with them -every truck load passes waves at each other-they don’t bother us- hope nips run Chinks out of air again- feel safer then.  Stray shot shots whiz by every so often- no one hurt so far- got Chink laundry man here – he’s  scared still- told him Japs killing every Chink they see- come up behind hi man clapped hands loud- he darned near died of fright- he’s no damn good anyway too wise or thinks so anyway. Got letter from Da FC. Today- am a cousin twice by add and Leu- keep up the good work kids- live in it {unreadable] 



21 Aug 37  

About 2:20 AM. Chinks have been shelling all around since 10: PM last nite- quite a few landing close. Fighting getting closer day by day must evacuate soon. Be impossible to stay and be safe- in fact mighty uncertain at present- just came off watch ducked shrapnel for about 1 hour- shells passing over low- am in a nervous state most of the time now- hope we get relieved but not likely. 10 PM.  Been pretty quiet except around 6 AM when the bombing – “egged” Jap supply dumps  one landing on Asiatic Petrol Company  storage tank- tank still burning lighting up the whole district- are driving coolies over wall- Japs shooting them – plain murder.



22 August 37. Shanghai China 


About 730 Well, another day gone and were still here- but cant tell about tonight. Jap gun boats  gathering just off the docks- Tying to buoys in the middle of the drink- may catch hell tonite-looks like Chinks are preparing for big push- must do something in the next 1 or ten days or they may lose out altogether- Japs have a lot of troops gathering all around us- right across road in empty lots are about 2-3 thousand – they have been killing Chink looters for last 2 days- killed about 10 today – 5 this morning when they burned shacks looking to sniper- about 20 0 bodies laying around in fields and in roads beginning to decompose- give off horrible order- even to turns one stomach- still no attempt to get them out of here- radio seems to be one fritz- no means to communicate except small flashlight- if they can make it work and see it from tincan across and up  river from us. Have got 2 hour watch going to try and sleep some.    


23 Aug 37, Shanghai China 

About 830 PM. Chinks pushed back Jap lines today- fighting about ½ to ¾ miles away- been shelling from Poottung and Yangtszepoo side off and on all day. Snipers and stray shots getting darn frequent around here- Top cut his hand to hell this evening bellying down out of range – sentry  an  {?????} pile moved to safer position, we hope- have run practically all coolies and families out of here- a few workers ad whites left- we don’t get shelled first- should have moved out 2 days ago- Chinks opened up again about 1 ½ hours ago- been shelling ever since., pretty steadily shells landing within few hundred yards- Will be 20 years old in two days- will celebrate by dodging shrapnel I suppose- wonder where I’ll be a year from now- in the states I hope- if we come out of this ok I never want to hear or see anything pertaining to  war, not even a moving picture show, which are a lot of bull anyhow, alongside the real thing.



24 Aug 37, Shanghai China 

Not much today- Chinks run Japs back a little more-made us put out flood lights on roof so Chinks couldn’t use it as a point of aim- not much trouble and only a few skirmishes- mostly bombing by both sides with Nips getting worst of it- Tomorrow- my 20th birthday. What a place to celebrate it in- oh well you can’t have everything.



View from observation post on top of the power plant

25 Aug 37, Shanghai China 


Well here’s another milestone of my life being passed by- just twenty years ago this morning I let out a big protest at being spanked- When have I got a celebration- The slant eyes must know it is my birthday and are giving me some party- they are shelling , shooting and bombing hell out of each other all day . Japan claims this war may last a year or more- some Chink troops on other side of Shan[ghai] have only one rifle for every five men- heard that Russian sending arms and supplies to China- Japs want to stop it but are afraid of Russia- Japan hadn’t better fool with the Soviets or t the USSR- will blow the Japs off the map, may shell and bomb tonite too.   


26 Aug 37, Shanghai China  


Another day, but not another dollar-pretty quiet today- Japs tried to land below Woosung were almost wiped out by Chink field batteries- have flattened forts at Woosung- now if they can demolish Kiangwan  arsenal the Chinks will have to sign articles and mighty fast too- Italy rumored sending supplies overland and by sea- Japs have zoned off coast  from here south of Swatow-Chink ships warned away from here- other ships warned not to be harmed – this may turn into a real war yet- Japs are expecting it to last a year or more if they can keep the people in Japan from raising hell-as things stand both sides are about fifty-fifty- Japs retreat and then the Chinks a regular game of lethal tag.



28 Aug 37, Shanghai China About 9 PM.

 Didn’t say anything yesterday – not a thing happened- once in a while a Nip drops a bomb over Pootung and [Oscar??]  a M.G. not far from here , sends a burst at them – MG fire for last 20 or 30 minutes – sounds like Nips have started their big drive to run Chinks out of Woosung and Yanztsepoo area- Guess we’ll have a pretty loud night- big guns starting to talk now-I bet this is the beginning of a real long war – Jap drive will be well under way by mid night- have 10-12 watch – rumors are that Nanking arsenal putting out plenty arms and ammunition about 3,600 rifles, MG etc.- Russia said to be sending planes and supplies to Chink troops hope they don’t get Oscar tonite- WHAT A HELL OF A COUNTRY-CHINA!!- 


 29 Aug 37.    

Going to try and get some chewing off the Edsall [DD 219] Japs  moving in supplies next door- lot of men gathering across road- Chinks been bombing Japs all day since early morning- guess Nips are fixing to try and run Chicks out of Shanghai sector and take arsenal there looks like a big time in a few days- hope they shoot and bomb straight- hope they call time out so I can change to winter clothes in a month or so.     

USS Edsall, as seen from the power plant


30 Aug 37

Bombed the President Hoover [A civilian passager liner mistaken for a Japanese transport]- no one killed as far as we know

Well, another quiet day – a few planes but outside of desultory 3” and .37 MM firing, nothing happened- Nips still concentrating all around us- supplies of munitions pouring into buildings across the road-something  got to break before long- why else wouldn’t they be getting ready- wish they would have the deciding battle and call an armistice so’s we can go back to normal lives again- but anyway, were al saving our money as they haven’t paid for a month and there’s nothing to buy out here anyway-soon be shifting to Greens [winter uniform]- nights beginning to get cooler- USS Edsall (US destroyer  DD 219) shoved off this evening- said to be going up north- nobody knows  tho- left a radio man here and is he honking-only got one chew of tobacco left- have to find away of getting more -damn this war- why the hell can’t they STOP IT!!



1 Sep 37 


Just 3 mo[nths] on the Sac[ramento] Oh Boy!! Oh Boy!! Boy howdy, am I a veteran or am I- went to the ship today- coming back a Jap tincan and gunboat opened fire on N.Y.K. Godowns [warehouses] - shells went over our heads- could hear them hum- and did they kick up dust, boy howdy- Japs wanted lights out again tonight- guess Chinks are getting their range to easily using this place for an aiming point- expect Nips to start big push in next few days- the n watch the shrapnel fly- snipers busy almost all day long- they hadn’t better get me shot at me- orders or not, I’ll get them, if they don’t get me the first time- looks like we’ll be here for Xmas- maybe not tho- cause the Nips may run out of money if they keep on as they are . The n Chinks will have a field day on Japan and how. Well I guess I’ll get a bit of shut eye- got 2-4 watch- will thy’d knock until after payday at least- got some more chewing 2 plugs can fight while longer now.    

2 Sep 37.

Been here three weeks tomorrow. What a Life!! Been having pretty fine weather lately- sun pretty hot last couple of days everything pretty quiet- some spasmodic artillery fire from Jap ships- rumors   of japs sinking Russian ships- supposed to be bringing supplies to Chinks. Japan going to have Russia on her before she knows it- then watch the fur fly. A plane been dropping flares over around Hongkew may be Jap or Chink, can’t tell- May get pulled out of here in a month or so, maybe. 

 Jap landing troops every day at Woosung and surrounding districts- Chinks putting up stiff defense, but not making much headway- Japs be n having us put out the lights for the last three nights- afraid of Chink batteries. Rumors of three cruisers ready to come out here in a hurry, in case – Got 10-12 watch- let both sides start shelling when I go on watch-all quiet just now well merrily we go to hell!



3 Sep 37 

Well were getting paid tomorrow and except for a few  things I bought since I have been here and some chewing and a pipe I’ve got nothing to spend it on-boy howdy. If this scrap lasts a few months I’ll make old J.P. Morgan look like a pauper- but what a binge I am going to go on when it is all over.  Oh boy oh boy- everything still quiet around here- they’re battling at Woosung  and Pootung  tho- a couple Chink divisions across river from us here and Nips been shelling them at intervals for about 4 or 5 days now. They damn near got the tug coming back from the ships- some scuttlebutt about Sac[ramento] having to evacuate Yanks up north- no mail or anything now- [Admiral]  Yarnell ordered all ships to stay clear of these waters- too many chances getting mined, bombed or torpedoed. Guess we won’t be getting any relief for here for some time yet- Hi ho!!  And a time was had by all- oh yeah!!



4 Sep 37. 

 Well, another day about gone- Japs have set up housekeeping in earnest next door-have brought in a bunch of army planes- field about ¼ mile due north of us- talked about drive tomorrow or next day- Sac[ramento] may leave for Honhg Kong on Monday (6th) bringing all my gear over here tomorrow in seabags- boy howdy, are we gonna have a time now- Hope to Christ some of these brass hats get a belly full of messing things up by God. We can’t even have a decent war around here any more. Be Jesus– oh well, I cant be worried, not when I gotta figure out where my next chewing ‘s coming from now.  Well sure make it hot for Mr. Devil if___



5 Sep 37 


Today first pay day for a month- got me in a sweet spot- put in for $20 and be Jesus if I don’t get but $10 and had $1 and something left when bills were paid- borrowed about $5- got a new pipe. Nips got some mighty big guns mounted across road- When they start shooting one way ,I am moving the other and I won’t be stumbling either. Moved everything I own off ship this AM- Sacramento may go to Hong Kong for coal- plenty here but all in war zone- too risky getting it.  Maybe here till after snow files-  I bet we eat Xmas dinner here and News Years too- Ho hum, guess I better get some shut eye.     

6 Sep 37. 

Japs moving back- getting all around us- hot fight soon. Not much today- Nips done a little bombing, not much damage tho- sending up flares this evening – things pretty darn quiet – 6 am [?]. Quiet sometimes now- something gotta bust soon.



7 Sep 37. 

Not much today- Japs and Chinks shelling , most of the day- no serious damage by either side- been here almost a month- most likely he here a long time yet? 




8 Sep 37.   

Be one hell of a splash if they hit this munitions dump next to us. .. Nips bombed and shelled on other side of Kung Dohah Mill Couldn’t see anything to make so much fuss about-Japs arte shooting an awful lot of money out of their treasury, and no place to get a hell of a lot more – she’s just about washed up and it won’t be long before shell have to lay down and let China walk over her- wouldn’t be surprised to hear of a revolt in Japan in a few weeks at the war. China stocking up and bidding her time- Chinks bombed pretty darn close about an hour ago- may have gotten two Jap ships- were trying to get Jap landing field about 3 or 4 blocks from here- seem to be bettering their bombing methods- are wising up to diving as low as is safe before turning lose their eggs- four planes this PM. - may be foreign pilots, Russian, German, or Yaks hope this war end’s soon- one way or the other.



10 Sep 37. 

Nothing much happened yesterday- a bit of heavy bombing in Pootung and Yangtsezpoo- went to the ship today – got just opposite a Jap tin can and the damn thing opened fire- be Jesus but those shells came plenty close over us we could hear the whine of the shell as it went by. The Chinks are still holding their own – not advancing but not retreating wither- just leaving the Japs wear themselves out and then they’ll land on them with both feet.



11 Sep 37 

Not much again today- bombing by Nips about ¼ mile over in Yangtszepoo and Pootung- one or 2 fell little to close for comfort but no harm done- ya hoed bunch of supplies up from dock- used poles and the rest- no wonder the Chinks look sat us and say “Crazy Molenes [Marines]” Oh Boy o Boy some fun!



21 Sep 37 

Well, just got back from sickbay on Aug[usta]. Hand still bandaged up, but should be better in a few days-arm hurting a bit- when I first turned in the doc thought I’d have to lose a finger or two, but everything came out ok.  Damn near went nuts in that sick bay-nothing to do but sit around and twiddle my thumbs.



22 Sep 37

Boy oh boy went on liberty today for the first time in almost 2 months. I feel as light as a feather now too.  There’s “frog ears” all over Bubbling Well Rd. and at all the clubs. A bunch of guys out of boot and some of them not even finished training. A bunch of wise guys. Think they come out here to save the country and don’t even know what the hell its all about-haven’t even been to the front lines yet. Wait till they see ‘em fall right in front of them and the shells whiz around their heads. Oh boy!!



23 Sep 37 

Rain and wind all day-Japs had about 75 or 80 planes up from about 12:45 to about 3:50-all of them were light bombers-headed in direction of Nanking-haven’t of any raid there as yet- will know in the morning though.  Hand nearly better-still scribbling south paw as yet.  May get relived from here tomorrow of next day, not sure yet.



24 Sep 37 

Just in from liberty-been pouring all afternoon and how-saw where all the bombs hit along Nanking Rd.  Coolies at work fixing things up again saw a few more old pals from the sixth and one or two from Cavite. Shot the breeze all afternoon with them-may move out of here Sunday-supposed to be straight dope, but I’m from old Missouri when it comes right down to fine points, Its been muddy as hell here for three days now. Hope the new gang likes it.



30 Sep 37 

Well were getting out of here in the morning-straight dope this time, if they don’t change at the last minute-and they just might too-Japs and Chinks at it most of the day-Japs quite tonight, but Chinks dropping an occasional one in their lines. Looks as those we are going to be on the [Soochow] creek for the winter-Sac at Manila now-won’t be here for a month anyway-hope I can get transferred off her before two long, tho-getting tired of the Navy and want to go back to the Marine Corps for a spell.