Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to search results

Archives at The Museum of Flight

Short, Robert



  • Existence: 1904-1932

Robert McCawley Short was born in 1904 in Steilacoom, Washington. After school he trained as an Army Cadet and was eventually granted a commission as a 2nd lieutenant. He had a short and unsuccessful stint as the manager of the Pierce County (Wash.) Airport, but after losing this job he was offered an airmail route between Shanghai and Hangzhou, China. There is speculation that it must have been with the complicity of the War Department that Short went to China, due to his position as a 2nd lieutenant in the Army Reserve, but there is no real evidence of any conspiracy.

Short left for China in February of 1931 on the steamship President Cleveland. Upon arrival in China, however, he found the airmail planes in a state of intense disrepair, and refused to fly them. He eventually landed with the L. E. Gale Company, who marketed American planes in Asia. In his capacity as a plane salesman, he traveled all over Asia selling war planes to various governments on the continent. He formed a cordial relationship with T. V. Soong, the Chinese minister of finance, who appointed him advisor to the Chinese Air Force and hired him as chief instructor at China's School for Military Air Tactics.

In the middle of escalating tensions between China and Japan, Short received a new Boeing Model 218, which he then prepared for delivery to Nanking. He took off on February 18, 1932. Short was reported to have encountered Japanese fighters on this flight, and supposedly shot one down. He did successfully arrive in Nanking but ended up stranded in the city after delivering the plane; the city was at a standstill over fears of Japanese attack.

On February 22nd, Short watched as a train was loaded with refugees attempted to evacuate some citizens from Nanking, whereupon the Japanese immediately flew over and began attacking the train and other civilian targets in the area. This prompted Short to climb into the Boeing plane he had just delivered and fly out to defend the Chinese civilians. Accounts of the ensuing battle differ, but it is certain that Short was outnumbered at least 3 to 1 and the leader of the attack, Susumu Kotani, did die of injuries sustained during the battle. Robert Short was shot down and died of his injuries, which he sustained both during the attack and in the crash. Chinese officials rushed to the town of Szuhou to recover the crashed plane and Robert Short’s body. Short was given a hero’s funeral in Shanghai, which was attended but tens of thousands of Chinese citizens, many Chinese officials, and his own mother and brother.

The Chinese hailed Short as a hero and built a monument at his gravesite in Szuhou, but the monument was destroyed during the Mao era in China. The citizens of Szuhou remade the memorial in 1986 (though the original gravesite is lost), and it still stands as of 2014.


Biography derived from collection materials.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Robert Short Collection

Identifier: 1991-01-07
Abstract Robert McCawley Short (1904-1932) was born in Steilacoom, Washington and worked in China as chief instructor at China's School for Military Air Tactics from 1931-1932. The collection contains licenses, financial documents, correspondence, photographs, ephemera, biographical materials, and clippings related to Short's brief time in China. Additionally, the collection has photographs, ephemera, and correspondence related to the identification and preservation of his memorial.

The Museum of Flight | 9404 E. Marginal Way South | Seattle WA 98108-4097 | 206-764-5874
Contact us with a research request