Naval History Homepage and Site Search


Post World War 2 - Contemporary Accounts


Links to London Gazette, Hansard etc:
Battle of Trafalgar 1805
all World War 1:
Royal Navy & British Army Despatches
Royal Navy Honours & Gallantry Award

RN Ships Receiving Salvage and Bounty Money
post-World War 2:
Corfu Channel Mining Incident, 1946
HMS Amethyst Incident, Yangste River, 1949
Operation Musketeer, Suez Campaign, 1956
October 13, 1949: HMS Amethyst passing through Suez Canal en route home following the Yangtze Incident. (Photo courtesy of Robert W. Green, click to enlarge)

return to post-war, 1945 on

Source: "The Naval Review" 1950 edition, Part 1
Key: 1 - 6, successive locations of HMS Amethyst


This is a short introduction to the HMS Amethyst incident in the Yangtse River when she was fired on by Communist forces with heavy losses to herself and those ships that attempted to rescue her. The London Gazette lists the honours awarded but did not include an official despatch. In its place the proceedings of the House of Commons as recorded in Hansard have been quoted. These cover events in some detail until around the arrival of Commander Kerans to take over command. His own account - from "The Naval Review" - continues the story until her escape and rejoining the Fleet.

The source of the images is Photo Ships unless otherwise captioned. The source of the maps are listed. My thanks to all.

A problem with this account is that the name of the locations in use in the 1940/1950's are no longer used. Most of the modern day Chinese names have been identified, with two exceptions and the variations are noted on the Google map. There is still the question of the name of the river itself. Maikel of the Old Weather project, which has edited the log books of British gunboats on the Yangtze lists nearly 20 English variations. In the event, both Yangtse and Yangtze has been used according to the sources quoted.


Hansard Parliamentary Proceedings (right)

Events in Outline

Background Maps

Main Ships Present and Images

British Honours and Awards

The Film


April-July 1949

HMS Amethyst (Lieutenant-Commander Skinner) sailed from Shanghai on 19th April to relieve HMS Consort at Nanking. Fired at on 20th at around 0900, 60 miles from Nanking and grounded on Rose Island with heavy casualties, about 60 crew landed and many made their way to Shanghai with Chinese help

Consort ordered from Nanking to assist Amethyst; Black Swan ordered from Shanghai to Kiang Yin, 40 miles short of Amethyst. Consort arrived around 1500, but heavily hit (20th) and unable to take Amethyst in tow. Continued downstream. HMS London ordered to proceed up the Yangtse and meet Black Swan and Consort at Kiang Yin around 2000. Consort too damaged and ordered to Shanghai.

On the 21st at c0200, Amethyst refloated and anchored two miles above Rose Island. Later in the morning, London and Black Swan tried to close Amethyst but came under heavy fire, which was returned, and there were some casualties. Both ships returned to Kiang Yin where they were fired at again. Damaged and with more casualties, they proceeded to Shanghai. That evening, a naval officer and RAF doctor reached Amethyst by Sunderland flying boat.

On the night of 21st/22nd April Amethyst evacuated more wounded and moved ten miles up river to evacuate more. She now had three naval officers, one RAF doctor, 52 ratings and 8 Chinese on onboard. On the 22nd, in the PM, Lt-Cdr Kerans, Asst Naval Attache at Nankin arrived to assume command. Also on the 22nd, another attempt was made to land by a Sunderland but she was driven off by artillery fire. Amethyst moved a further four miles up river.

She remained there for three months before escaping on the night of 30/31st July. HMS Concord was present at this time.


The Yangtze River and China - this map was prepared for the "Wahnsein Incident" that took place just 30 years before. The story of the Amethyst played out between Nanking and Shanghai

Yangtse River from Nanking down to Shanghai and out to Saddle Islands

Sketch showing successive positions of HMS Amethyst
from Rose Island up river to Chiangking area (inland south of river)


(with links to some ship histories, mainly World War 2)

Heavy cruiser - London
Destroyers - Concord, Consort
Frigates Amethyst, Black Swan

in order of action:

HMS Amethyst (Navy Photos)

HMS Consort

HMS London
the handsome three-funnelled County-class reconstruction

HMS Black Swan

HMS Concord

HMS Amethyst after the "Incident"

The following images and their captions are courtesy of Maritime Quest. Click here to go direct to the complete collection

"April 27, 1949: Crewmen on HMS Amethyst F-116 seen while trapped on Rose Island during the Yangtze Incident. Note the battle damage to the flag." The names of the crew can be found on Maritime Quest.

"July 31, 1949: This rare photo shows HMS Amethyst F-116 shortly after emerging from the Yangtze River after making her escape. The photo was taken by Derek Hodgson from HMS Concord R-63 about 08:00. (Photo courtesy of Derek Hodgson, R.N., HMS Concord) 1949 Derek Hodgson all rights reserved"

"July 31, 1949: HMS Amethyst F-116 seen alongside HMS Concord R-63 after her escape from the Yangtze River. (Photo from the collection of Leading Seaman Les Belton, R.N.) Courtesy of Julie Newman"

HMS Amethyst, seen it is believed from HMS Jamaica

"August 1, 1949: HMS Amethyst F-116 seen from HMS Jamaica. 'After AMETHYST escaped, she was escorted towards Hong Kong by HMS CONCORD. At the same time HMS Jamaica, flying the Flag of Admiral Madden, Second in Command Far East Station, and HMS COSSACK, were sailed to meet AMETHYST and CONCORD. These photographs show these ships meeting AMETHYST. It is of note that after JAMAICA joined us we started to take in water from one of the shell holes and we hove to and shipwrights from JAMAICA came over and fitted a cement box over the hole. CONCORD was detached and sent to Japan, and I think she was sad not to be with us when we made our entrance into HONG KONG Harbour." - Lt. Cdr. K. Stewart Hett, M.B.E., R.N. (ret.) (Photo from the collection of Chief Yeoman of Signals Leonard William Willis, R.N. Courtesy of Leonard Willis)'"


Wednesday, 20 April 1949


Amethyst, sloop (Hansard, 19 killed, 27 wounded as of 26th)

ALDERTON, John M, Surgeon Lieutenant, killed
AUBREY, Owen F C, Chief Petty Officer Stoker Mechanic, P/KX 80496, killed
BAKER, Thomas O, Sick Berth Attendant, D/SMX 817098, killed
BARNBROOK, Maurice J E, Boy 1c, D/JX 836255, killed
BARROW, William, Leading Stoker Mechanic, P/SKX 790306, killed
BATTAMS, Charles W, Ordinary Seaman, D/SSX 837992, killed
CRANN, Leslie, Stoker Mechanic, D/KX 93630, killed
DRISCOLL, Albert E, Ordinary Seaman, D/SSX 815835, killed
GRIFFITHS, Dennis J, Ordinary Seaman, D/SSX 855416, killed
HICKS, Sydney P, Electrician's Mate 1c, D/MX 802832, killed
MASKELL, Victor D, Stoker Mechanic, C/KX 118897, killed
MORGAN, Dennis H, Stoker Mechanic, D/SKX 770391, killed
MULDOON, Patrick, Stoker Mechanic, D/SKX 833831, killed
SINNOTT, Patrick J, Ordinary Seaman, D/SSX 815697, killed
SKINNER, Bernard M, Lieutenant Commander, DOW 20th/21st
TATTERSALL, Edmund, Writer, D/SMX 815173, killed
THOMAS, David G, Ordinary Seaman, D/SSX 855432, killed
VINCENT, Albert A J, Able Seaman, D/JX 162775, killed
WRIGHT, Reginald J, Ordinary Seaman, D/SSX 831955, killed
 (Note: the above list totals 19 killed including the CO who died later that day. One more DOW on the 2nd gives a total of 20 died)

Consort, destroyer (Hansard, 10 killed, 4 seriously wounded as of 26th)
AKHURST, John C, Petty Officer Telegraphist, D/JX 146838, killed
GIFFORD, Raymond G, Stoker Mechanic, D/KX 134757, killed
GURNEY, Maurice J, Chief Petty Officer, D/JX 126455, killed
HUTTON, Christopher N D, Able Seaman, P/SSX 660881, killed
IREDALE, Dennis, Ordinary Telegraphist, P/SSX 660921, killed
JENKINSON, Sidney, Ordinary Seaman, D/SSX 840980, DOW
MOIR, William, Leading Seaman, D/JX 150273, DOW
MORTON, Albert, Petty Officer, D/JX 161232, killed
THEAY, Charles V, Ordinary Seaman, D/SSX 852996, killed
TOBIN, John, Electrician's Mate, D/MX 844428, killed

Thursday, 21 April 1949

CHINESE CIVIL WAR, Yangzte River crossed on this date

Black Swan, frigate, (Hansard, 7 wounded as of 26th)

London, heavy cruiser (Hansard, 13 killed, 15 wounded as of 26th)
ARKELL, James H, Leading Seaman, C/JX 804754, killed
ELLWOOD, Arthur W, Able Seaman, C/JX 371567, killed
FOLEY, James P, Able Seaman, D/JX 552734, killed
HARRISON, Edgar G W, Act/Able Seaman, C/JX 174555, killed
JARVIS, Lawrence H V, Marine, CH/X 43488, killed
JONES, Sidney O, Ordinary Seaman, C/SSX 818150, killed
LANE, John C, Ordinary Seaman, C/SSX 815537, killed
PULLIN, William G, Able Seaman, C/JX 319158, killed
ROPER, Alec B, Petty Officer, C/JX 153283, killed
SHELTON, Harry, Able Seaman, C/SSX 818928, killed
STOWERS, Patrick J, Chief Petty Officer Writer, P.MX 59958, killed
WALSINGHAM, Stanley W A, Ordinary Seaman, C/SSX 661463, killed
(Note: the above list totals 12 killed plus one seaman DOW on the 23rd; two more crew later DOW)

Friday, 22 April 1949

Amethyst, shore gunfire
WINTER, George, Ordinary Seaman, D/SSX 818706, DOW

Saturday, 23 April 1949

London, shore gunfire
WARWICK, Geoffrey G, Ordinary Seaman, C/JX 820226, DOW

Thursday, 5 May 1949

London, shore gunfire
FISHER, William, Marine, PO/X 3600, DOW

Friday, 6 May 1949

London, shore gunfire
GRICE-HUTCHINSON, Charles R, Lieutenant Commander, DOW


Recorded in The London Gazette, issue 38604, 6th May 1949

ADMIRALTY, Whitehall, SW1,
6th May, 1949.

The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the following awards in recognition of outstanding services when HMS AMETHYST was fired upon by Chinese military forces when proceeding to Nanking.

Bar to the Distinguished Service Cross

Lieutenant Geoffrey Lee WESTON, D.S.C., Royal Navy,
for gallantry and outstanding devotion to duty. Although dangerously wounded, he continued to exercise command of HMS AMETHYST after the death of her Commanding Officer, until relieved in his command some 56 hours later. He refused to leave his ship until his relief had been ordered.

Distinguished Service Medal

Telegraphist Jack Leonard FRENCH, D/JX 671532,
for outstanding devotion to duty. After the early hours of 21st April, he was the only Telegraphist left in HMS AMETHYST, and from then onwards his efforts kept the ship in almost continuous communication with the outside world. He carried on single-handed, continuously and unsleeping, receiving and transmitting vital wireless messages with accuracy and speed for a considerable period before arrangements could be made to give him periods of rest.

Posthumous Mention in Despatches

Lieutenant-Commander Bernard Morland SKINNER, Royal Navy,
for utmost gallantry and devotion to duty in command of HMS AMETHYST until he succumbed to his wounds.

Recorded in The London Gazette, issue 38683, 5th August 1949

ADMIRALTY, Whitehall, S.W.1,
5th August, 1949.

The KING has been graciously pleased to give orders for the following appointment to the Distinguished Service Order:

To be a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order.

Lieutenant-Commander John Simon KERANS, Royal Navy,
for gallantry, skill and determination while in command of HMS AMETHYST in the planning and execution of her daring passage down the Yangtse River when she escaped from Chinese military forces.

When proceeding to Nanking in April, HMS AMETHYST was fired on and damaged and was forced to remain for three months under the constant watch of shore batteries which frequently threatened her destruction. On the night of 30th July, HMS AMETHYST silently slipped her cable and, following astern of a Yangtse steamer, made her way down the river under heavy flre from the shore batteries. Lieutenant-Commander Kerans, without the help of a pilot, took his ship down the 140 miles of river, negotiating varying currents, sandbanks and turns without suffering damage or casualty. HMS AMETHYST finally reached safey with only nine tons of fuel remaining.

Recorded in The London Gazette, issue 38751, 1st November 1949

ADMIRALTY, Whitehall, S.W.1.
1st November, 1949.

The KING has been graciously pleased to give orders for the following appointment to the Distinguished Service Order and to approve the following awards:

For outstanding courage and devotion to duty in HMS AMETHYST when she was fired upon by Chinese military forces while she was proceeding to Nanking on 20th April, 1949; and subsequently when forced to remain for three months in the Yangtze River under the constant watch of shore batteries until she made her daring escape down the River on the night of 30th-31st July, 1949:

Distinguished Service Cross

Lieutenant Peter Egerton Capel BERGER, Royal Navy.

Distinguished Service Medal.

Acting Petty Officer (QM.1) Leslie FRANK, D/JX 667520.
Engine Room Artificer Second Class Leonard Walter WILLIAMS, D/MX 55557.

Posthumous Mention in Despatches.

Surgeon Lieutenant John Michael ALDERTON, M.B., B.S., Royal Navy.
Ordinary Seaman Reginald Jack WRIGHT, D/SSX 831955.

Mention in Despatches.

Lieutenant Keith Stewart HETT, Royal Navy.
Electrical Artificer Third Class Lionel Harry CHARE, D/MX 55237.
Petty Officer (C.1) William Henry FREEMAN, D/JX 149820.
Boy First Class Keith Cantrill MARTIN, D/JX 836190.
Stores Petty Officer John Justin Mccarthy, D/MX 57988.

(Other awards to HMS AMETHYST were published in the London Gazette No. 38604 of 6th May, 1949; and No. 38683 of 5th August, 1949.)

For great courage when he was flown to HMS AMETHYST on 21st April, 1949, and joined her under heavy fire. With great skill and untiring devotion to duty he rendered invaluable services to HMS AMETHYST's wounded:

Distinguished Service Cross.

Flight Lieutenant Michael Edward FEARNLEY, 59425, Royal Air Force.

For outstanding courage and devotion to duty while serving in HM Ships London, Consort, and Black Swan during their attempts to assist HMS AMETHYST while under very heavy gun-fire on 20th-21st April, 1949:

Bar to the Distinguished Service Order

Captain Peter Grenville Lyon CAZALET. D.S.O., D.S.C., Royal Navy, H.M.S London

To be a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order

Commander Ian Greig ROBERTSON, D.S.C., Royal Navy, HMS Consort.

Distinguished Service Cross.

Mr. Reginald SMITH, Senior Commissioned Gunner, Royal Navy, HMS London.
Distinguished Service Medal

Able Seaman Alan Earle DUDLEY, D/JX 315663,HMS London
Bandmaster Frederick George HARWOOD, R.M.B.X. 368, Royal Marines. HMS London.
Leading Stoker Mechanic Tony Arthur Oliver JOHNSON, D/KX 98914, HMS Consort.
Chief Petty Officer Henry William ROBINSON, G.M., D/JX 133428, HMS Consort.

Posthumous Mention in Despatches

Chief Writer Patrick Joseph STOWERS, P/MX 59958, HMS London.

Mention in Despatches

Lieutenant William Henry BONNER, Royal Navy,HMS Consort
Commander Richard George Wyndham HARE, O.B.E., Royal Navy
Surgeon Lieutenant William Lewis OWEN, M.B., Ch.B., Royal. Navy, HMS Black Swan
Surgeon Commander Wilfred Bertram TAYLOR, L.R.C.P. & S., L.D.S., Royal Navy, HMS London.
Ordinary Seaman Ivan Rees BENNETT-BOUND, D/JX 818261, HMS Consort.
Chief Petty Officer Stoker Mechanic Henry Charles FLETCHER, C/KX 80918, HMS London,
Ordinary Seaman Graham Leslie FOWLER, D/JX 847810, HMS Black Swan.
Corporal William Frank HART, Po.X. 2455, Royal Marines, HMS London.
Chief Petty Officer (Temporary) Thomas Alexander LEARMOUTH, C/JX 150825, HMS London.
Able Seaman Albert Mckee, D/JX 423392, HMS Consort.
Acting Leading Telegraphist Robert Kenneth John MILLER, C/JX 371938, HMS Consort.
Chief Petty Office Telegraphist Reginald Gordon STOVELL, D/JX 134322, HMS Black Swan.


Commander Kerens with actor Richard Todd

( Hickman)

An excellent film  was released in 1957 as "The Yangtse Incident", which by those who were there seems to have been accepted as an authenitc portrayal of events. Amethyst was actually brought out of reserve to play her own part. According to Mason, she was holed by an explosive charge during filming and had to be withdrawn from use. According to Wikipedia her main engines were not operational and sloop HMS Magpie stood in for scenes were she is under way.

British actor Richard Todd played the part of Commander Kerans with the usual aplomb that characterised his war film roles. But then this was based on real experience. As a captain in the 7th Parachute Battalion, he dropped near Pegasus Bridge on D-day to help defend it against German counter-attacks.

A number of short films about HMS Amethyst can be found in Youtube.

the report of proceedings of the House of Commons (HC) and the House of Lords (HL)

available under the Open Parliament Licence

HL Deb 26 April 1949 vol 162 cc23-35 23
3.46 p.m.


My Lords, I ask leave of your Lordships to intervene to make a statement on the circumstances in which His Majesty's ships were fired upon in the Yangtse River
(Yangtze Kiang). The statement is similar to one now being made by the Prime Minister in another place.

The House will wish to have a full account of the circumstances in which His Majesty's ships were fired upon in the Yangtse River, with grievous casualties and damage. I will first explain what our position is with regard to the civil war in China. It has been repeatedly stated in this House that our policy has been governed by the Moscow Declaration of December, 1945, in which the United Kingdom, the United States and the Soviet Union declared a policy of non-intervention in China's internal affairs. In view of the considerable British interests in China and of the presence of large British communities, His Majesty's Government decided some months ago that His Majesty's Ambassador and His Majesty's consular officers in China should remain at their posts, and this was announced to the House by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary on December 9. We were not alone in the decision to remain at Nanking (Nanjing). Other Powers represented there, with the exception of the Soviet Union, reached the same decision, and there has since been full consultation between the members of the Diplomatic Corps at Nanking.

In the disturbed conditions which have prevailed in recent months, warships of various Powers have been at Shanghai and Nanking so that in the event of a breakdown of law and order as the result of hostilities they would be able to assist in the evacuation of their nationals. When the Chinese Government decided to move to Canton, it is true that a warning was issued about warships in the Yangtse. Nevertheless it is a fact that since that time the movements of our warships in the Yangtse have taken place with the full knowledge and consent of the National Government of China. I want to make the point, therefore, that, when the incident took place to which I am about to refer, H.M.S. "Amethyst" was proceeding on her lawful occasions, and that there was no other properly constituted authority to whom His Majesty's Government were under an obligation to notify her movements even had they been in a position to do so.

The House will wish to know whether any steps were taken by our authorities in China to make contact with the Communist authorities. Some time has lapsed since Communist forces overran Mukden, Peking and Tientsin where we have consular posts. His Majesty's consular officers at these posts have been endeavouring for some time past to reach day-to-day working arrangements with the local authorities. Their approaches have, however, been rejected on every occasion, without any reason being given for such a rejection. The same policy was followed in rejecting a letter from His Majesty's Consul in Peking about the "Amethyst" when the incident had occurred.

In conformity with the decision to remain at Nanking, His Majesty's ships had been relieving one another at that port at regular intervals for some months past. On this occasion the object of the passage of H.M.S. "Amethyst" was to relieve H.M.S. "Consort" at Nanking. Opposing Chinese forces had been massed along the banks of the Yangtse for a considerable time and there were repeated rumours for some weeks that the Communists were about to cross the river. H.M.S. "Consort" was already overdue for relief, but this relief was postponed in view of a Communist ultimatum which was due to expire on April 12 and which might have been followed by the crossing of the Yangtse. On April 12 His Majesty's Ambassador learned that the ultimatum had been extended to April 15. The relief had therefore still to be postponed. Only on April 18 was it learned that the final expiry of the ultimatum might lead to the crossing of the Yangtse by the Communist forces on April 21. The necessity for relieving H.M.S. "Consort" as early as possible remained. She was running short of supplies after a long stay at Nanking and in any case a frigate was considered more suitable than a destroyer to be stationed at that port.

The Flag Officer therefore decided, with the agreement of His Majesty's Ambassador, that the passage should be timed to allow "Amethyst" to reach Nanking a clear twenty-four hours before the expiry of the latest Communist ultimatum. Had there been no incident, "Amethyst" would have reached Nanking on April 20. It was in the light of these known facts that the decision was made for "Amethyst" to sail, and this decision was in my opinion correct.

Thus early on Tuesday, April 19, the frigate H.M.S. "Amethyst" (Lieutenant-Commander Skinner) sailed from Shanghai for Nanking, wearing the White Ensign and the Union Jack and with the Union Jack painted on her hull. When "Amethyst" reached a point on the Yangtse River some sixty miles from Nanking, at about nine o'clock, Chinese time, in the morning of the 20th, she came under heavy fire from batteries on the north bank, suffered considerable damage and casualties and eventually grounded on Rose Island (Leigong Dao). After this, the captain decided to land about sixty of her crew, including her wounded, who got ashore by swimming or in sampans, being shelled and machine-gunned as they did so. We know that a large proportion have, with Chinese help, arrived at Shanghai.

Vice-Admiral Madden, the Flag Officer Second in Command Far Eastern Station, ordered the destroyer H.M.S. "Consort" (Commander Robertson) from Nanking to go to "Amethyst's" assistance, and the frigate H.M.S. "Black Swan" (Captain Jay) from Shanghai to Kiang Yin, forty miles down river from the "Amethyst." "Consort" reached "Amethyst" at about three in the afternoon and was immediately heavily engaged. She found the fire too heavy to approach "Amethyst" and therefore passed her at speed down river. She turned two miles below and again closed "Amethyst" to take her in tow. But she again came under such heavy fire that she was obliged to abandon the attempt, although she answered the shore batteries with her full armament and signalled that she had silenced most of the opposition. Half an hour later her signals ceased, though in fact she was making a second attempt to take "Amethyst" in tow, having turned downstream again. This attempt also failed and she sustained further damage and casualties during which her steering was affected. She therefore had to continue downstream out of the firing area.

Meanwhile, the cruiser H.M.S. "London" (Captain Cazalet), wearing the flag of Flag Officer Second in Command, was also proceeding up the Yangtse at best speed. The three ships "London," "Black Swan," and "Consort" met at Kiang Yin (believed to be Jiangyin) at about eight that evening. It was found that "Consort" was extensively damaged; she was ordered to proceed to Shanghai to land her dead and wounded and effect repairs. At about two o'clock in the morning of the 21st, the "Amethyst" succeeded in refloating herself by her own efforts and anchored two miles above Rose Island. She could go no further, as her chart was destroyed. Her hull was holed in several places, her captain severely wounded, her first lieutenant wounded, and her doctor killed. There were only four unwounded officers left, and one telegraphist to carry out all wireless communications.

Later the same morning the "London" and the "Black Swan" endeavoured to close the "Amethyst," but met with heavy fire causing some casualties. The fire was, of course, returned, but the Flag Officer then decided that it would not be possible to bring the damaged "Amethyst" down river without further serious loss of life in all ships; he therefore ordered the "London" and "Black Swan" to return to Kiang Yin. At Kiang Yin they were fired upon by batteries, and suffered considerable casualties and damage. Both ships afterwards proceeded to Shanghai to land their dead and wounded and to effect repairs.

That afternoon a naval and a Royal Air Force doctor, with medical supplies and charts, were flown by a Sunderland aircraft of the Royal Air Force to the "Amethyst." Both the aircraft and the "Amethyst" were fired upon. The ship was hit, but the Sunderland managed to transfer the R.A.F. doctor and some medical supplies before being forced to take off. The "Amethyst" then took shelter in a creek.

During the night of the 21st-22nd, "Amethyst" succeeded in evacuating a further batch of her wounded to a nearby town. After doing so, she moved ten miles up river under cover of darkness, though under rifle fire from the banks, and again anchored; she then completed the landing of all her more seriously wounded, including her captain. I regret to say that this very gallant officer, who had insisted on remaining with his ship up to this time, died of his wounds soon after. There remained on board three Royal Navy officers, one Royal Air Force doctor, fifty-two ratings and eight Chinese. At about this time Lieutenant-Commander Kerans, the Assistant Naval Attaché at Nanking, reached the ship and assumed command.

Another courageous effort to reach "Amethyst" was made by the R.A.F. in a Sunderland on the afternoon of the 22, but the aircraft was driven off by artillery fire without succeeding in making contact. The "Amethyst" then moved a further four miles up river. She was in close touch with the Flag Officer, and after a number of courses had been considered, it was decided that she should remain where she was.

Perhaps I may at this point anticipate two questions which may possibly be asked: first, how was it that His Majesty's ships suffered such extensive damage and casualties; and second, why they were not able to silence the opposing batteries and fight their way through. In answer to the first, I would only say that warships are not designed to operate in rivers against massed artillery and infantry sheltered by reeds and mudbanks. The Communist forces appear to have been concentrated in considerable strength and are reported as being lavishly equipped with howitzers, medium artillery and field guns. The above facts also provide much of the answer to the second question, only I would add this. The Flag Officer's policy throughout was designed only to rescue H.M.S. "Amethyst" and to avoid unnecessary casualties. There was no question of a punitive expedition and His Majesty's ships fired only to silence the forces firing against them.

I will at this point briefly summarise the losses and damage which resulted. The casualties were: H.M.S. "London," 13 killed, 15 wounded; H.M.S. "Consort," 10 killed, 4 seriously wounded, H.M.S. "Amethyst," 19 killed, 27 wounded; H.M.S. "Black Swan," 7 wounded. In addition, 12 ratings are still missing. Of the damage to the ships, the "London" suffered the most severely, having been holed repeatedly in her hull and upper works. The damage to the "Consort" and the "Black Swan" was less serious. "London" and the "Black Swan" have already completed their emergency repairs. The "Amethyst" suffered severe damage but was repaired by the efforts of her own crew to be capable of a speed of seventeen knots.

When H.M.S. "Amethyst" was fired upon by Communist forces, His Majesty's Ambassador instructed His Majesty's Consular Officer in charge at Peking to communicate to the highest competent Chinese Communist authority, by whatever means possible, a message informing them of this and seeking the issue of immediate instructions by them to their military commanders along the Yangtse to desist from such firing. A subsequent message emphasised the urgent need of medical attention of the casualties and reiterated the request for instructions to prevent further firing upon these ships of the Royal Navy engaged in peaceful and humanitarian tasks. The local Communist authorities, however, refused to accept the Consul's letters.

At this time Mr. Edward Youde, a Third Secretary in His Majesty's Foreign Service who has a good knowledge of Chinese, volunteered to try and contact the Communist forces north of Pukou in the hope of reaching some commanding officer with sufficient authority to stop the firing. His Majesty's Ambassador agreed to this attempt, and Mr. Youde passed through the Nationalist lines on the night of April 21. Thanks to his courage and determination, Mr. Youde succeeded in reaching the forward headquarters of the People's Liberation Army in the Pukou area on April 23. He described the situation as he knew it when he left Nanking on April 21, and pointed out to them the peaceful and humanitarian nature of the mission of H.M.S. "Amethyst," and requested that she be allowed to proceed to Nanking or Shanghai without further molestation.

Their headquarters took the line that clearance had not been obtained from the People's Liberation Army, and that she had entered the war area. They also complained of heavy casualties incurred by their troops as a result of fire from His Majesty's ships. They refused to admit justification of self-defence. After consulting higher authority, the headquarters stated that in the circumstances they would be prepared to allow the ship 29 to proceed to Nanking, but only on condition that she should assist the People's Liberation Army to cross the Yangtse. Such a condition was obviously unacceptable.

My attention has been drawn to a communiqué broadcast by the Communists which said that on the date in question warships on the Yangtse opened fire to prevent its crossing by Communist forces. It further stated that it was not until the following day that they learned that these ships were not all Chinese but that four British ships were among them. The Communists state that their forces suffered 252 casualties as a result of this firing, and claim that His Majesty's Government have directly participated in the Chinese civil war by firing on Communist positions. These claims are, of course, so far as they relate to His Majesty's Government or the Royal Navy, as fantastic as they are unfounded.

If there was any initial misunderstanding as to the nationality of H.M.S. "Amethyst." this would have been speedily resolved had the authorities in Peking acted on His Majesty's Ambassador's message. Moreover, had the Communist authorities objected in the past to the movement of British ships on the Yangtse, it was always open to them to raise these through our consular authorities in North China. It is the fact that for reasons best known to themselves the Communists have failed to notify any foreign authority present in areas which they have occupied of the channels through which contact can be maintained, and that they have rejected all communications made to them. In these circumstances, His Majesty's Government can only reserve their position.

The House will wish to join me in expressing sympathy with the relatives of all those who have been killed or wounded in this action, and in expressing admiration of the courage of all those who took part in it. Five names deserve special tribute. Lieutenant-Commander Skinner, R.N., the captain of the "Amethyst," behaved with the utmost gallantry till he succumbed to his wounds. The first lieutenant, Lieutenant J. C. Weston, refused to leave the "Amethyst," although dangerously wounded, until relieved in command by Lieutenant-Commander Kerans fifty-six hours later. Telegraphist J. L. French showed superlative devotion to duty. He was the only telegraphist left in the "Amethyst" after the early hours of April 21; and from then onwards his efforts kept the ship in almost continuous communication with Shanghai. The name should also be mentioned of Flight-Lieutenant K. H. Letford, D.S.O., D.F.C., who landed a Sunderland aircraft under fire to convey the naval and R.A.F. doctors to "Amethyst." The fifth name is that of Mr. Youde, whose one-man mission through the Communist armies I have already mentioned.

Without a doubt many other cases of bravery and devotion will be revealed when all the facts are known. But we already have ample evidence that the conduct of the whole ship's company of H.M.S. "Amethyst" was beyond all praise, though a considerable proportion were young sailors under fire for the first time. We have had reports of seamen and marines remaining at their task for up to twenty-four hours, though badly wounded, and of men declining to have their wounds treated until cases they considered more urgent had been dealt with. I have heard too that in H.M.S. "London" and "Black Swan," when there was a possibility of volunteers being flown to "Amethyst," there was almost acrimonious rivalry for selection to take on this heroic task.

I should mention that the United States naval authorities at Shanghai placed their resources unstintingly at our disposal, and the kindness and help of the British communities at Shanghai have been beyond all praise. Finally, the Chinese Nationalist forces in the Chinkiang area were most helpful in providing medical aid and stores which they could ill afford. The House will join with me in expressing our gratitude to all of these. I should like, in concluding this statement, to pay a tribute to the British communities in China, who have shown such steadfast behaviour in the difficult conditions in which they find themselves, and whose decision to remain in China in spite of the uncertainties created by the civil war is in accordance with the best British tradition.

The House is now in full possession of the facts known to His Majesty's Government, and we shall, of course, continue to keep the House informed of developments as they occur. It will be realised that the situation is at present very fluid, but if, at a later stage, there is a general desire for a debate on this matter, I am sure that this can be considered through the usual channels.

Commander Kerans own account now takes over the story


1950 edition, Part 1
with permission of Roger Welby-Everard, Assistant Editor (On-Line)


by Commander J. S. Kerans., R.N

Commander Kerans
(enlargement includes actor Richard Todd)

Much has already been written concerning H.M.S. Amethyst and her detention by the Communists' People's Liberation Army in the Yangtse Kiang, not only in the Press but in official documents; a detailed account would now be redundant. Political considerations debar certain details and, in addition, publication of other matter might be prejudicial to the safety of certain people still in Communist-occupied China.

It is intended to attempt, in the following paragraphs, to try and elaborate on some of the less publicized points and bring out certain salutary lessons learnt. There will, therefore, be no co-ordinated and co-related "story" in the strict sense.


This was in evidence right from the start when the Embassy in Nanking became aware of the disaster which had overtaken one of H.M. ships whilst in pursuit of "their lawful occasions" No crossings of the Yangtse River had up to this time taken place, and uncertainty had prevailed for some weeks as to Communist intentions and ultimatums which so far had meant little in a war of "nerves." The Commander-in-Chief of the Chinese Nationalists' Navy, Admiral Kwei Yung-chin (now in Formosa) offered every facility and help that he could to assist in succouring Amethyst's wounded; his orders were quickly conveyed to the Nationalist Army authorities in the immediate neighbourhood of Rose Island, where the ship had grounded.

Based on a Reuter's report that a number of wounded had reached a hospital in Chingkiang (subsequently found to be incorrect) I reached there by jeep (loaned by the Australian Military Attache) with our Assistant Military Attache on the 21st of April, 1949, with medical supplies. The Chinese Naval Headquarters offered us all assistance possible in the circumstances, and before dark that day we were at the village of Tachiang, the headquarters of the local Regional Commander; here stretcher-bearers and coolie carriers were organized, since the roads to the banks of the Yangtse petered out as far as vehicular traffic was concerned.

We had by now the Medical Officer (United States Navy) from the American Embassy at Nanking and his sick berth assistant with us, and the Chinese Naval Chief of Staff from Chingkiang; with this heterogeneous "team" we moved off to reach the nearest point to the Amethyst. After many and various tracks and considerable delays we intercepted some wounded shortly after midnight not far from the coast. It was here that it was learned that a Chinese National Army medical officer with two orderlies had been onboard the Amethyst that day to render first aid. In spite of language difficulties and intermittent sniping he stuck to his job and did invaluable work. After evacuating her wounded, except her first lieutenant, the Amethyst moved upstream during the night towards Chingkiang (Zhenjiang); it was impossible to reach her and by dawn the following day the dead and wounded were embarked for Chingkiang from Tachiang
(modern location not identifed).

It is here at Chingkiang that Admiral Kwei Yung-chin's authorization to myself worked wonders and after some hesitations we managed to solicit a sleeping coach on the last train to Shanghai. Every assistance to the wounded was given by the American-run Stevenson Mission Hospital at Chingkiang. The matron in charge was an United States subject - one of the many gallant women who devote the greater part of their lives endeavouring to improve the well-being of the Chinese for so little in return.

These brief words show that many people were concerned in the evacuation of the Amethyst's wounded from her difficult position. Later in Shanghai the U.S. authorities placed the United States naval hospital ship Repose from Tsingtao at the Royal Navy's disposal. By this time the Chinese Nationalist Army had successfully evacuated by train from Changchow (about fifteen miles due south of Rose Island - modern location not identifed) some sixty ratings who had been ordered to evacuate the ship when under fire to avoid further loss of life; due to minefields they could not rejoin her. Thus it can be seen that co-operation was much in evidence in the very early stages; this continued in all the ways that were practicable throughout our enforced immobility.

The very ready assistance of the Royal Air Force in Sunderlands from Hongkong was of the highest order. The Yangtse is not an easy place to land in, and Communist gunfire did not assist matters; the help of the R.A.F. medical officer was invaluable and things might well have been difficult without his presence (but see later). It is perhaps not generally known that the first R.A.F. Sunderland to close the Amethyst had two army ranks on board; they were trained "droppers " and if all else failed it was intended to parachute medical supplies to as close to the Amethyst as was possible.


There is no doubt that this was the most important point of all to consider from the word "go"; an incident of this nature which came with such suddenness is bound to affect those concerned in various ways. From all the evidence that I have gathered, there is everything to show that morale was of a high order, in spite of the extreme youth of many ratings. When I joined eventually p.m. on the 22nd of April, 1949, though, it was near breaking point; after three days under fire and with little rest, this was not surprising; in addition the presence of seventeen dead onboard for over fifty-six hours was a depressing influence. In spite of all, they were prepared for the last rites by a valiant team of petty officers and a few junior ratings. Eventually, when the ship's company realized the situation and the hopelessness of movement either way, there was a distinct hardening of determination to stick it out and face the future with equanimity and confidence.

It was thus from the very start that orders were given to sandbag the habitable messdecks and vital spaces such as the W/T office and bridge. This did much to help. Early on I decided that a strict Service routine must, and would be, adhered to from the beginning. This continued throughout and with watchkeeping every day and night on the bridge as well as considerable damage repairs being necessitated, this kept men fit and physically tired.

Non-working hours were hard to fill; there was little to find to do. We were lucky to have had an unbroken S.R.E. (sound recording equipment?) except of course when power was shut down) and a fairly plentiful supply of gramophone records. No attempt by officers was ever made to institute recreational games for ratings. This bore fruit and it was not long before they made their own entertainment; I have felt that there is nothing more a sailor dislikes than being "organized" into whist drives or other such ideas which eventually finish up as a dismal " flop".

The ship's company were always kept fully informed (as far as was possible) of the outcome of all my meetings with the C.P.L.A. (China People's Liberation Army); I did, however, never at any time give them any assurance that events would be speedy - it was a personal opinion, which became truer as time unfortunately wore on. Certain selected chief and petty officers were given access to the ship's signal log each day; this did much to help morale and gave petty officers a clearer knowledge of the issues at stake, and acted as a deterrent to the proverbial false "buzzes."

In addition, the knowledge that everything possible was being done by all authorities elsewhere to extricate the Amethyst gave the ship's company added assurance and confidence. The ability to receive and send telegrams helped immeasurably (265 were despatched during our 101 days internment). Inability to send an outgoing mail was unfortunate but we did receive three bags towards the end of June; for reasons best known to the C.P.L.A. it was well censored and pilfered. The presence of two domestics, and a cat and a dog onboard who had somehow survived the shelling, tended to produce an air of normalcy in messdeck life.

VICTUALLING - This was an important problem from the beginning and needed much care and attention as it was considered essential to provide a balanced diet, with as much additional variety as stocks permitted, to give some compensatory advantage in the circumstances we had found ourselves. Fortuitously the Amethyst was well stocked, having just left Hongkong, and in addition was carrying flour and frying-oil and other provisions for the Embassy at Nanking to replace their emergency stocks which the lengthened stay of the Consort up-river had depleted.

Mercifully the forward galley remained intact and was in constant use throughout; there was thus no difficulty in baking bread and the provision of hot meals. Casualties amongst the cooks (whites as well as Chinese) were nil, which was salutary. By bartering with surplus flour, frying-oil, soap, duffel coats, seaboots and other articles we were able to augment our fare with eggs and potatoes (albeit small, but better than dehydrated). Later on we were able to obtain Communist money (Jen Min Piao, which translated means People's Money) and increase our purchases.

For large amounts I was able on occasions to use Hongkong currency. Whichever way one looks at it we lost heavily on the rate of exchange, and their prices were as the opposition wished; perhaps I reached the limit when after three months I discovered Shanghai-brewed beer was available in Chingkiang, by paying approximately 12s. 6d. per bottle; I was determined that the ship's company would have some amenities, leaving final payment until later. The Commander-in-Chief kindly allowed public money to be used and eventually the Station Central Amenities Fund re-imbursed the Crown. This gave morale a great boost. The daily issue of rum continued as usual - stocks of this were sufficient for many months ahead; this is not surprising when 25 out of the 68 eligible were under twenty years of age.

When I went on to half rations at the beginning of July the seriousness of the situation was very quickly brought home to many ratings. This mainly concerned conservation of cold room stocks and butter, milk, sugar and tea. Looking back on it now there was sufficient calorific value at each meal not to cause undue anxiety; the main trouble was lack of variety. A careful tally was kept on every item each week and the limiting dates of each article were re-assessed. By the end of August it was estimated that starvation would have been very close. Still I was preparing to go on quarter rations early in August; it would have been then that difficulty in maintaining morale might have been hard. In view of this contingency, lack of food was one of my reasons for the "breakout."


I take this item next as everything ultimately depended on damage control and refitting and maintenance of all machinery. Amongst the wounded who were evacuated were the Amethyst's engineer officer and chief E.R.A.; in addition the chief stoker was drowned and others were killed, wounded or evacuated. It was a depleted engine room staff that remained, but mercifully the majority were petty officer stoker mechanics backed up with sufficient hands to run machinery. Considerable credit is due to the senior E.R.A. who kept up the efficiency of his department, with the electrical officer in over-all command. It is interesting to note that this E.R.A. had been a prisoner-of-war of the Japanese for three and a half years in Sumatra.

Without going into details here I cannot stress too highly how important knowledge of damage control is when disasters such as this occur—especially ship knowledge. It was unfortunate that large drafting changes had taken place in the Amethyst only a few days previously. The important points which come to my mind here are accurate damage control markings and dispersion of lockers and fire-fighting equipment. A more simplified form of markings on doors and fans should, I feel, be introduced. Young ratings are inevitably going to forget what the various letterings stand for in time of emergency. The dangers of ratings painting over rubber on hatches and doors is still too evident wherever one looks and in spite of all that has been said in training. Only time and constant supervision will eradicate this very important detail. There is no doubt that our peace-time damage control must be maintained as near to the war-time scale as habitability allows.


The vital factor throughout our detention was over fuel, on which everything depended. The Amethyst left Shanghai on her fateful journey with full tanks. A small amount was lost by pumping to refloat after grounding; by the time I joined her on the 22nd of April approximately 270 tons remained on board. No attempt was made in the early days at conservation since the situation was dangerous and fluid. On April 28th contact had been made with the Communists ashore, and with the realization that time meant little to the C.P.L.A., steps were initiated to curtail consumption. As time wore on the hours without power became greater - at the end we were shut down for as long as 59 hours without steam.

This was grim and was accentuated by the extreme heat which the Yangtse experiences in July. The limiting factors were (a) the cold rooms and (b) the magazines: the former temperatures rose very little, and the latter had some way to go before danger point was reached. I consider we could have exceeded this period and existed shut down for 72 hours at a time with strict rationing of fresh water.

The only power available during these periods was a 24-volt battery supply from the lower power room for the emergency W/T set and a few pin-points of lights in my cabin and on the messdecks. To live in a "dead ship" is an experience which none of us are likely to forget. Our lowest average daily consumption of fuel for the week was a ton a day. Isolation of one side of the engine room helped considerably, and at the same time allowed refitting to continue. Employment of engine room ratings when shut down was difficult, but eventually sufficient items on the upper-deck with departmental affinity were found to keep them fully employed in chipping. From the health point of view this was beneficial in the case of some of the younger ratings.

The outstanding success perhaps of all our time in the River was the receipt of 54 tons of Admiralty oil fuel in 294 drums from Hogee Wharf, Nanking. I shall never know why the Communist authorities were so ready to accede to the entry of this invaluable oil fuel. I should explain here that this was a reserve of fuel built up at Hogee (where H.M. ships lie alongside) in the event of a prolonged stay being necessary at Nanking due to the Civil War. Over the months each ship had filled up so many drums before departure. The Naval Attache's foresight paid handsome dividends in the end. This was the one mistake of Colonel Kang Mao-Chao (the Political Commissioner and chief negotiator against me); for a long time he thought we burned coal!

Embarkation of this fuel in drums was an interesting, though strenuous, operation. Due to shortage of man-power no steam was possible. All this fuel was pumped and poured into the three fuelling connections. No pumps being available and the fuel line being on the port side an excessive list to port was necessitated; fortunately the weather was fine, but I experienced a few anxious moments until steam was raised and we could level off.

The other miracle was the evaporator, which never let us down (only one in this class of ship). One amusing incident I recall was when an extremely harassed and worried E.R.A. reported that the rocker arm on the evaporator was fractured. Inspection by myself and the electrical officer left no doubt at the time. Signals were made and Hongkong Dockyard over a week-end was quickly at work making another; some time later the E.R.A. reported that this fracture had now developed into a very thin streak of cotton waste heavily impregnated in lubricants! Relief was great.


Stability had some interesting problems and a close study of the Ship's Book was made. When the light condition was reached it was approved to flood the forward ballast tank and X magazine (X gun was destroyed, anyway) instead of flooding oil fuel tanks; the two after ones were flooded earlier on. I hoped to keep as many tanks free of Yangtse water and its large amount of sand whilst there was any hope of fuel replenishment. For the passage out of the Yangtse Nos. 1, 2, 7 and 8 O.F.T. and the ballast tank and magazine previously mentioned were flooded. All fuel remaining for the break-out was previously transferred to Nos. 3 and 4 O.F. Tanks to avoid losing too much by loss of suction.

Training in damage control was not overlooked and the boys were put through a course; the many weeks spent in shoring and cutting away damage provided a useful instruction for the great majority.

The world has never seen a good deal of the damage caused to the Amethyst's upperworks since all that was practicable was cut away. To increase stability many heavy weights were struck below - the best examples of this were the damaged Bofors and certain radar equipment (but more of this later).

A blackboard was kept in my cabin throughout with details of fuel of all types remaining in each tank, fresh water, main items of food and limits of endurance in each case.


In all, nineteen meetings took place with the Communist military authorities; of this number eight were preliminary "skirmishes" with the opposition ashore near the Amethyst or onboard. The remainder were all on shore and for the most part held in Chingkiang at the General's headquarters.

These meetings were held with a very thin veil of amicability and rigid formality. The convening authority was the Area Commander, General Yuan Chung-hsien, whose appearances at the table were few and always of short duration. In spite of everything that was said the negotiating powers on his behalf were handed over to the Political Commissioner, Colonel Kang Mao-Chao; he also is alleged to have been the Battery Commander at Sang Chiang Ying who originally fired on the Amethyst.

Kang had two interpreters who were both former students and well indoctrinated in Communist ideologies. It is of interest that everything I have ever said at all these meetings has been religiously taken down in full, in English as well as in Chinese. At some meetings I had the attention of the Press and propaganda section of the C.P.L.A.; thus I am well documented. The keenest photographer was a female who one day actually ventured out in a sampan from the local village nearby to photograph the Amethyst at all angles. The local garrison commander, Captain Tai Kuo-liang, who acted as my personal bodyguard, also attended each meeting; but apart from writing reams he was never allowed to say a word. Funnily enough we used to converse in French.

The progress of the meetings can fairly be summed up as representing a sine curve; at one meeting some hope for safe conduct was given, but the next would speedily dash it to the ground. By July it was evident that the Communists were deliberately protracting the course of proceedings and that safe conduct would only be given provided H.M. Government acceded to damaging admissions which were, of course, quite unacceptable. At no time was any assistance to aid me allowed to enter the area by the C.P.L.A.; every excuse, artifice and device was made to put pressure on myself to assume high-level responsibility to negotiate as a pre-requisite to safe conduct assertion.


That the main W/T office was undamaged in the initial shelling was indeed fortunate and even more so that an electrical officer was onboard. This officer belonged to the senior officer's frigate at Shanghai and was on passage to Nanking in order to repair the Amethyst's radar. (No sooner had he done this than circumstances were such that destruction of classified radar equipment was ordered for security reasons). Some while after many ratings had been ordered to evacuate the Amethyst this officer, having reason to believe that the emergency transmitter was again working, found there were no W/T ratings left onboard. It is coincidence, or perhaps chance, that Telegraphist French was a volunteer to man the whaler ferrying wounded and others to the mainland. He was quickly hauled out of this and thus it was that this rating became the sole wireless operator left in the Amethyst. He did well, and it speaks highly of West Country physique and guts that he stood up to continuous watchkeeping for so long.

Two electrical ratings were eventually trained to read our call-sign and simple procedure. By special arrangements with the flagship or Hongkong continuous watch was always maintained, and the telegraphist rested accordingly. The Type 60 W/T was used when without power and proved itself reliable; the last valve went, however, soon after the Hogee fuel arrived at the beginning of July. This necessitated raising steam for transmission and was therefore costly in fuel. We were able to maintain continuous listening watch with a B.28 receiver.

Having to resort to plain language or other insecure means severely limited the reporting of the outcome of my meetings and imparting my intentions to my Commander-in-Chief. The net result was that we nearly succeeded in deceiving each other as to our ideas. In the end, all was clear.

The volume of traffic throughout our period up-river was fairly high and of necessity signals were extremely lengthy. Excellent co-operation at Stonecutters reduced repetitions to a minimum. It is fairly certain that the opposition were eventually reading our messages; and considering we were on the same wavelength for many months, it is perhaps not surprising. The need for caution was paramount. Lack of codes and cyphers was undoubtedly my severest handicap, and in the end a reasonably secure but limited method was adopted.

Rising temperatures in July began to tell on the telegraphist, and there is no shadow of doubt that physically his mental capacity in reading traffic was falling rapidly. There was unfortunately little we could do when shut down to alleviate conditions. This was one of my paramount reasons that escape was the only solution.


The most difficult aspect of this operation was to make the decision; having obtained political clearance for such an eventuality the final move was left to me, which of course it had to be in the circumstances. It was clear that Colonel Kang had little intention of allowing entry of fuel from Shanghai for a long time, if at all. Moon conditions at the end of July were favourable and I could not risk awaiting another opportunity, since the time was drawing near when operational immobility to get out of the Yangtse would have been reached, even with further very drastic curtailment of fuel consumption.

The climate was at its worst; and though the physical condition of all onboard was reasonably high, no one could have expected such a state of affairs to continue. The Yangtse was at its highest peak so the risk navigationally was worth taking, and if I was hard pressed or badly damaged the channel out to the open sea north of Tsungming Island had hopes of success; there was plenty of river water to pump overboard from the oil fuel tanks and ammunition to jettison to reduce our draught.

As early as May, 1949, I had always considered in my mind that escape would have to be faced eventually. How this could be achieved without disaster I was unable to fathom - but while negotiations gave some hope of eventual agreement I considered it my duty to continue at them to the best of my ability. One thing I felt essential was to reduce the Amethyst's silhouette and increase stability by reducing top-weight. Accordingly a systematic reduction of damaged superstructure and equipment was put in hand. No officer or rating was ever aware of the real object; my "cover" was occupation for the hands and increase of stability by striking below. I was considered somewhat "eccentric" on this score by many! In this way the mast was stripped of many items, radar aerials, aids to gunnery and a host of other items on the upper deck. It was hoped to reduce splinter damage in addition. As could be seen in Hongkong, this was excessive in the initial shelling and caused many casualties, especially electrically.

My object finally was to build up the Amethyst's silhouette to simulate an L.S.T., a number of which had been seen plying the Yangtse commercially. These were former U.S. landing craft which still retained a radar set. For this reason I left an aerial intact and partly because of the risk due to shelling in dismantling it. Black canvas suitably positioned heightened the silhouette and in addition a quantity of dark paint was thrown on to paintwork to gloss it over.

The only armament available that could be fought was one 4-inch gun and an Oerlikon (port side). X gun was destroyed and A gun was intact. The starboard Bofors was also destroyed and most of it had been dismantled and struck below. The port Bofors was never onboard, being in Hongkong dockyard for modifications. The starboard Oerlikon was completely shot away. Bren guns and Lanchesters made up the available armament. In the weeks prior to the break-out all R.U. (ready use) ammunition was ditched to reduce fire risk; certain fireworks and "dangerous" ammunition were also thrown overboard for this reason. Sufficient detonators were, however, held back for eventual destruction of the ship if disaster had necessitated it.

The only aid to navigation was the echo-sounder which proved itself reliable and accurate throughout. Experienced Yangtse pilots had, I later learnt, stated that an echo-sounder in the Yangtse could not give a true and accurate sounding due to the fast flow of the river in spate. From this experience it seems that soundings gave me sufficient warning in time to sheer over to deeper water. Lowest recorded reading on the passage out was three fathoms.

We had no charts of the area from where we started to just beyond Rose Island; but a Chinese Admiralty Chart Folio which the Nanking Chinese naval authorities had lent me gave sufficient indication of the courses. The remaining charts we had; but of course over four months out of date. It was found later that about fifty per cent, of the buoys were roughly in place and the remainder non-existent.

My "intention" signal was passed to the Commander-in-Chief and the Concord at the Saddle Islands in the dog watches on the 30th of July, 1949, and at dusk certain selected ratings were briefed in my cabin. The ship's company were later told by word of mouth in view of possible Chinese reaction onboard. It was planned to slip the cable at 2200; but I decided to wait a few minutes to allow the moon (moon set 2315) to disappear behind a bank of clouds. At this precise moment a fully-lighted merchant ship appeared ahead coming down river from Chingkiang. This was fortuitous, and I decided to follow astern of her hoping that I should not be observed by the control points and that in following her I should be navigationally assisted over a difficult portion of the river of which I had no knowledge. What happened later makes it quite certain that the presence of this passenger ship completely confused the Communist batteries.

This ship, now known to be the Kiangling Liberation, was quickly challenged by flares, and rightly replied with the appropriate siren signals. Almost immediately the Amethyst likewise was challenged but made no reply. An H.D.M.L. or L.C.I.(L.) on our port bow, obviously part of the "set-up" waiting for such an eventuality, for reasons best known to herself opened fire at their own batteries across our bows. My immediate impression was that she was endeavouring to stop us and would board if she could. In a matter of seconds the Amethyst came under heavy and reasonably accurate fire from four well placed batteries (three to starboard and one to port). We were quickly hit on the waterline amidships just forward of the bridge; by this time full ahead both had been rung on; for reasons I cannot yet explain the Amethyst took an unaccountable list to starboard and steering was well nigh impossible - nor, of course, would B gun bear.

(I remember vividly feeling sure that we had been badly hit and that one shaft was out of action; in my mind I was making initial plans to beach in a suitable place if I could get clear of the batteries to evacuate my ship's company and then blow up the ship. I prayed that the Commander-in-Chief would have received my initial "under fire" signal; it was with extreme relief we received his reply some minutes later. By then we had passed the first hurdle.)

The Kiangling Liberation soon lost his head and turned to port, switched off his lights, and blew his siren vociferously. The Amethyst began to gather headway at speed and made black smoke; weaving heavily we finally slipped past the Kiangling Liberation with about two feet to spare. On looking astern later it was somewhat surprising to see her on fire and the batteries pounding away in all directions. The use of smoke was advantageous (and again at Kiangyin) and seemed to provide a good aiming mark for the opposition.

The remainder of the passage has been fully told; but I should make it clear that the "boom" which the Press continue even now to make much of did not exist. (This was a relic of Press stories in April, 1949, and no Intelligence has ever found anything to support any pontoons or obstructions being "strung across." In that current it would be beyond the capabilities of Chinese from either side). The Kiangyin Boom (or Kiang Yin = Jiangyin) is a relic of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937 and was a line of sunken merchant ships across the river; all are now below the surface. There is a narrow gap cleared at present and it was normally marked by two flashing buoys. Only one was in place when I passed by and the area was covered by Oerlikon batteries and a small patrol craft; fire from both was ineffectual.

The greatest danger on the passage down was my leaking tiller flat; by strenuous efforts the pumps held and all was well. I might mention here that the initial damage very nearly put paid to the telemotor steering leads running through the depth charge store; rust was so bad that a sharp pencil would nearly penetrate them and there were no spares held onboard.

The sheer guts of those onboard below decks speaks highly for all, especially the youngsters. Engine room temperatures were extremely high and of course there were no reliefs; it was difficult in the circumstances to pass round a steady flow of information from the bridge. Those whose action station was below decks in the early part of the last war will know the strain of waiting only too well.


One small but important point was fully borne out by this tragic incident. There is absolutely nothing wrong in the leadership of the chief and petty officer of to-day. A good many had undertaken disciplinary courses (exact proportion I do not now know - January, 1950) and the merit of these is most fully justified. Chief and petty officers are the important "link in the chain," and no stone should be left unturned to encourage these men to remain on in the Service; so many excellent "types" fail to continue after their "Twelve" that a greater pecuniary incentive should be offered.


Considerable publicity was given to our "escape" and eventual passage to the United Kingdom, and again at Plymouth and London. Some quarters have voiced disapproval of this course - especially as the Black Swan and Consort did not come home too. However, it took place, and we had to face it; taking an over-all view it has really done the Royal Navy little harm, and perhaps our recruiting figures may show an increase.

I have received between 700 and 800 letters and cables from all parts of the United Kingdom, the British Commonwealth and many foreign countries. Many and diverse peoples have written, and in this country of ours it evinces an unswerving loyalty and faith in the hope for a resurgence of more amenable times. This in itself gives much encouragement for the future.

The final honour we were accorded was to appear in Buckingham Palace before His Majesty the King and the Royal Family. Each rating had one friend or relation present (those with gongs, two). Two comments by parents which appeared in the Press are a fair summing up: "The Queen smiled at me, it was all I wanted," and the other: - "Our ….. joined up just two years ago. I never could have dreamed that he would get us inside the Palace in that time."


The last nine months have been difficult but unforgettable times. It was a situation which has had no parallel in history and, it is hoped, will not occur again. From the youngest to the oldest the situation was faced with poise and confidence, which was indeed salutary. This was my greatest asset. The spirit of leadership and devotion to duty by those under my command was fully exemplified throughout; this after all is the fundamental basis of all our training and everything that the Royal Navy has stood for in the past and stands for in the present and the future.

Co-operation was predominant from the start to the finish; and that no link in the "chain" was broken augurs well for the future, and speaks much for the Royal Navy's basic training.

Prayers to Almighty God were not overlooked in our routine during those weary and trying days last summer. There is an ingrained sense of religion deep down in most of us, apparent more in some than in others; how easy it could have been as the empty days wore on to be discouraged and adopt a fatalistic outlook.

In conclusion I quote the final paragraph of my covering letter to the Report on The Yangtse Incident of 1949:

"Our prayers were answered, and escape was achieved without loss of life and serious damage. FAITH is not the least of the lessons to be learnt when in adversity."

Let us not forget this very true statement.

J. S. Kerans.
Commander, R.N.

return to post-war, 1945 on

or to Naval-History.Net

revised 20/2/16