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In 1965, “The Sand Pebbles” producers offered a $1,000 reward for a picture of USS Villalobos.

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Surprisingly, more than 50 years later, there are only a few pictures on the internet of USS Villalobos (PG-42), the Spanish American War- era river gunboat, and none of the Villalobos underway. Maybe “The Sand Pebbles” production company never found a photo and that’s why the fictional USS San Pablo looks as much like the Yangtze Patrol river patrol gunboats USS Palos (PG-16) and her sister-ship USS Monocacy (PG-20) as she resembles the Spanish-built Villalobos, the declared inspiration for Richard McKenna’s Yangtze Patrol river gunboat in his 1962 novel.

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During the period setting of the movie, “The Sand Pebbles”, from June 1926 when Machinist Mate 1c Jake Holman steps aboard San Pablo through March 1927, when Holman meets his tragic hero end in Hunan Province at the China Light Mission, by fictional Paoshan on Tungting Lake, downriver on the Siang (north) from Changhsha, there were only four bonafide river gunboats on the US Yangtze Patrol: The Spanish American War prize-ships (spoils of war) Villalobos and Elcano (PG-38), and the WWI era sister-ships Palos and Monocacy (redesignated as PR-1 and PR-2 in 1928). While sometimes referred to as “gunboats”, USS Pigeon was a converted Lapwing-class minesweeper and USS Isabel, often the flagship of COMYANGPAT during the 20’s, was a converted yacht. Note- the below photo of Palos with a wooden wheelhouse was a post 1927 modification.

 

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Palos and Monocacy, launched and commission in 1914, were built to plans prepared by Yarrow & Co., Ltd. a Scottish firm that had built gunboats for the Royal Navy. They were constructed at the Mare Island (California) Navy Yard, then broken down for shipment to China, where they were reassembled at Shanghai. They closely resemble the Royal Navy Yangtze River gunboats, sister ships HMS Woodcock and Woodlark, launched in 1898. Funding for Palos and Monocacy was obtained in June 1912, as a result of the recommendation two years earlier by Naval Shipbuilding Board president, Admiral George Dewey, for a new class of river gunboats for the Yangtze, with 3-foot draft, 14-knot speed, twin-screws, "several rudders for extreme handiness," combined coal- and oil-fueled boilers, bulletproof protection, and a battery of two 6-pounders, two 3-inch mounts, and six machine guns. Dewey also suggested building these ships as double-enders - fitted with screws and rudders at both ends - since they had to operate in narrow channels, although this feature was not in the ultimate design for Palos and Monocacy. With a shallow draft of only 29 inches, the gunboats could navigate areas on the Upper Yangtze (between Ichang and Chungking) never before traversed by US gunboats. Palos became the first U.S. warship to reach Chungking, 1,300 miles (2,100 km) from the sea, in August 1914.

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The 150-foot steel-hulled gunboat, “USS San Pablo” being built by Vaughn & Jung Engineering Ltd. of Hong Kong for “The Sand Pebbles” in 1966.

 

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The 165-foot steel-hulled gunboat, “USS Palos” and sister ship “USS Monocacy” being built at Mare Island Naval Shipyard in 1913. The ships were then disassembled and transported across the Pacific to be rebuilt at Shanghai for service with the Yangtze Patrol starting in 1914.

 

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Map of Hunan Province China, Tungting (Dongting) Lake, Siang (Xiang) River and Changsha. Ichang, where the "Upper Yangtze" starts would be at the top, and off the map:

 

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Yangtze Patrol river gunboats USS Villalobos and Palos and other reinforcement war ships at Hankow, China, in January 1927.

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Great thread! Here are two photos of the original Sand Pebbles. McKenna mentions the potted plants and sure enough they are there. These came out of a great collection from a sailor who served on her before WWI and was broken up on ebay

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Always looking for items associated with the China Marines! Visit chinamarine.org

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Super topic _ great film! Thanks for posting.


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"I have only two men out of my company and 20 out of some other company. We need support, but it is almost suicide to try to get it here as we are swept by machine gun fire and constant barrage is on us. I have no one on my left and only a few on my right. I will hold." (Message sent by 1st Lt. Clifton B. Cates. USMC, 96th Co., Soissons, 19 July 1918 - later 19th Commandant of the Marine Corps 1948-1952)

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I too still love that movie!

 

Kurt


My hobby is my job and my job is my hobby. High School and University History Instructor

 

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I still showed that movie in class until around 1999 or so; great teaching tool about imperialism/colonialism.

 

Kurt


My hobby is my job and my job is my hobby. High School and University History Instructor

 

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Thanks for your comments. I'm working on a post about the historical events in China during 1926-27 that are the background for the “The Sand Pebbles”. Dirk, thanks for posting photos of Villalobos from your personal collection. With the potted plants, fancy chairs, and the relaxed attitude of the sailors and pre-WW I “Ensign Bordelles”, they could be gathered on a breezy verandah waiting for the mint juleps - except for the 3” gun on the fantail and the sailor taking the bead with the Springfield ‘03. Anyone else with China river gunboat, or crew photo from the teens and twenties-- or "Sand Pebbles" images, your photos are welcome and appreciated here.

 

"Sand Pebbles" historical trivia question (and no googling): Who were the "gearwheels" and how did they get their name?

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Here is an old China hand, Finn W. Outler. He served with the Yangtze Patrol from 1929 to 1939 on the gunboats USS Panay and USS Luzon.

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Aerial looking forward to your post. I have a large photo/paper grouping to a River Rat on the Monocacy 1927. Who joined the ship upriver in Chungking and later sailed her down to Shanghai and back to include going to Changsha on the lake which was the Sand Pebbles patrol area.


Always looking for items associated with the China Marines! Visit chinamarine.org

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