Chiang Kai-shek and his "moderate" wing of the Kuomintang blamed the outrages on communist elements in the army, an explanation which the Japanese and many westerners were very ready to accept, although there is no good evidence to support this.
Foreign outrage was strong but the Americans and Japanese in particular wanted to avoid action against Chiang that would weaken his hand against the communists, whom they feared far more. Kijuro Shidehara, then the Japanese Foreign Minister, was criticized by many in Japan for this "weak" policy.
Before the Nanjing Incident, Chinese warlord Zhang Zongchang occupied the city of Nanjing. As the Hongyou Army of Kuomintang started their march to Nanjing as part of Kuomintang’s , on March 23rd, Zhang Zongchang retreated out of the city walls and headed towards Xia Guan area of Nanjing, where he immediately fled North across the Yangtze River. On that night, Zhang Zongchang’s remaining troops who were not able to flee across the river looted two foreigners and two abandoned mansions in the city.
On the morning of March 24th, initial elements of the Hongyou Army reached Nanjing. Initially, they questioned each foreign Consul if they were hiding any warlord troops. When answered no, the troops left the Consul. Around 7 AM that morning, the rest of the Hongyou Army reached the city. The 2nd, 6th, and 40th detachments of the Hongyou Army successfully took of the entire city without any retaliation.
At 8 AM, large-scale looting of foreign properties started, lasting until 5 PM that day. Targets were foreign Consuls, churches, schools, businesses, hospitals, and private property. University of Nanking’s vice president John Elias Williams and one of Aurora University’s teacher were both shot dead. During the raid, British and Japanese Consuls were the main targets. Bertram Giles the British Consul-General was injured by gunfire. A representative in the Japanese Consul, who was sick in bed, was also shot at, but was not hit.
At 3 PM that day, Davis of the Consul sent telegrams to American and British ships requesting help. As a result, British cruisers started shelling the city of Nanjing. Commander Cheng Qian ordered a stop to the looting and asked the Red Cross to communicate with the British and American fleet to stop the shelling. One hour later, the shelling from the British stopped. But the looting did not stop until one hour after that at 5 PM.
At the end of the day, 2 British, 1 American, 1 French, 1 Japanese, and 1 Italian were dead. 3 American, 2 British and Japanese were wounded. A sailor on the British Cruiser was hit by return fire from the Hongyou Army and was killed. Around 36 to 39 people were killed in total, 10 wounded.