What was the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis (1958)?


The Second Taiwan Strait Crisis, also called the 1958 Taiwan Strait Crisis, was a conflict that took place between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC).

In this conflict, the PRC shelled the islands of Kinmen (Quemoy) and the Matsu Islands along the east coast of mainland China (in the Taiwan Strait) to “liberate” Taiwan from the Chinese Nationalist Party, also known as the Kuomintang (KMT); and to probe the extent of the United States defence of Taiwan’s territory. A naval battle also took place around Dongding Island when the ROC Navy repelled an attempted amphibious landing by the PRC Navy. Later Secretary of State Christian Herter is said to have referred to the conflict as “the first serious nuclear crisis.”

Refer to the First Taiwan Strait Crisis (1954-1955) and the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis (1995-1996).


The conflict was a continuation of the Chinese Civil War and First Taiwan Strait Crisis. The Republic of China (ROC) had begun to build military installations on the island of Kinmen (Quemoy) and the Matsu archipelago. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) began firing artillery at both Kinmen and some of the nearby Matsu islands.

On 24 and 25 August 1958 Chinese Communist and Chinese Nationalist forces clashed in the vicinity of Dongding Island, which the Nationalist troops controlled. The action was seen as an attempt by the communists to land on the island. This was the only naval and amphibious landing action during the crisis. The communist forces were repelled from taking the island. The action has also been seen as an attempt to draw Nationalist forces away from other areas.

{…}on the 24th two night naval engagements took place near Quemoy. The clashes resulted from a Chinese Communist attempt at landing on the small island of Tung-Ting in the Quemoy complex. The first attack involved four Chinese Communist gunboats and six small landing craft while the second involved five Chinese Communist gunboats and thirty motorized junks. According to the GRC Ministry of National Defense, several enemy ships were sunk and the attack was driven off by seven Chinese Nationalist Patrol craft. The GRC lost one LSM (landing craft, mechanized) and had one LST (landing ship, tank) damaged. Prior to September 3, when they were advised of U. S. escort plans, the Nationalists made five attempts to land an LST with troop replacements and several ships. These efforts were turned back by Chinese Communist PT boats and artillery fire.

In the days after shelling began, the American Joint Chiefs of Staff had determined to defend the islands even if the defence necessitated a nuclear response. Throughout the following weeks as the crisis continued to unfold, contingency plans were developed as it became clear that the critical issue was supplying Kinmen. In a meeting on 02 September, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other top officials to formulate an ongoing American strategy. The group determined that the use of nuclear weapons would ultimately be necessary for the defence of Kinmen, but that the United States should initially limit itself to using conventional forces. Throughout the crisis, coordination between American policymakers and military commanders was hampered by communication delays of days at a time, but by September American officials had authorised naval escorts to accompany ROC convoys up to 3 miles of Kinmen and begun to supply the ROC with advanced weapons. The Chinese Communists considered the escorts a violation of the territorial waters of the People’s Republic of China. On 19 September, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev sent a letter warning that the American actions threatened world war, claiming that the Soviet Union would be forced to honour its commitments to the territorial integrity of Communist China. The letter was rejected by the American government.

The American Eisenhower Administration responded to the request for aid from the ROC according to its obligations in the ROC-United States mutual defence treaty that had been ratified in 1954. President Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered the reinforcement of the US Navy Seventh Fleet in the area, and he ordered American naval vessels to help the Nationalist Chinese government to protect the supply lines to the islands. In addition, the US Air Force deployed F-100D Super Sabres, F-101C Voodoos, F-104A Starfighters, and B-57B Canberras to Taiwan to demonstrate support for the republic. The F-104s were disassembled and airlifted to Taiwan in C-124 Globemaster II transport aircraft, marking the first time such a method was used to move fighter aircraft over a long distance.

Also, under a secret effort called “Operation Black Magic”, the US Navy modified some of the F-86 Sabre fighters of the Nationalist Chinese Air Force with its newly developed early AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles. These missiles gave the Nationalist Chinese pilots a decisive edge over the Chinese Communists’ Soviet-made MiG-15 and MiG-17 fighters in the skies over the Matsu Islands and the Taiwan Strait. The Nationalist Chinese pilots used the Sidewinder missiles to score numerous kills on People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) MiG aircraft. The operation suffered blowback when one missile lodged in a MiG-17 without exploding, to be removed after landing and reverse-engineered into the Soviet K-13.

The US Army’s contribution reinforced the strategic air defence capability of the Republic of China. A provisional Nike missile battalion was organized at Fort Bliss, TX, and sent via USMTS USS General J. C. Breckinridge to Nationalist China. The 2nd Missile Battalion was augmented with detachments of signal, ordnance and engineers, totalling some 704 personnel. In addition, American ambassador Everett Drumwright advocated for a pre-emptive strike against PRC positions.

Twelve long-range 203 mm (8.0 in) M115 howitzer artillery pieces and numerous 155 mm howitzers were transferred from the US Marine Corps to the Army of the Nationalist China. These were sent west to Kinmen Island to gain superiority in the artillery duel back and forth over the straits there.

Soon, the Soviet Union dispatched its foreign minister, Andrei Gromyko, to Beijing to discuss the actions of the PLA and the PLAAF, with advice of caution to the Communist Chinese.

On 22 September 1958, the Sidewinder missile was used for the first time in air-to-air combat as 32 Republic of China F-86s clashed with 100 PLAAF MiGs in a series of aerial engagements. Numerous MiGs were shot down by Sidewinders, the first “kills” to be scored by air-to-air missiles in combat.

Soon, the People’s Republic of China was faced with a stalemate, as the PLA’s artillerymen had run out of artillery shells. The Communist Chinese government announced a large decrease in bombardment levels on 06 October 1958.

US Marine Corps Marine Air Group 11 stationed at NAS Atsugi, Japan was sent to Taiwan in March 1960 and landed at Kaohsiung, Taiwan and moved via trucks to Pingtung Air Base about 40 kilometres (25 miles) north of Kaohsiung. They remained there, conducting air operations from the WWII Japanese air strip until sometime in late April 1960 when they returned to Atsugi, Japan. They were joined at Pingtung by a reinforced rifle company from the Ninth Marines based on Okinawa.


“On October 25, [the Chinese Communists] … declared that they would not fire on even-numbered days … if there were no American escort.” This allowed Taiwan to resupply their military units on those islands on those days. Afterwards, both sides continued to bombard each other with shells containing propaganda leaflets on alternate days of the week. This strange informal arrangement continued until the normalisation of diplomatic relations between the United States and the Communist People’s Republic of China in 1979. The timed shelling created little damage and casualties; it was mainly aimed at military compounds and artillery pieces.

On 23 August 2019, the sixty-first anniversary of the beginning of the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis, President Tsai Ing-wen visited the Taiwushan Martyrs’ Shrine (太武山忠烈祠) where she placed flowers and offered incense.

During the crisis, American leadership risked the alienation of the American public, relations with key allies such as France and Japan, and even nuclear war. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles argued that while the status quo result was a victory, the American government could not permit such a situation to arise again.


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