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"Under heavy fire, am aground"
HMS Amethyst's crest

April 20th 1949

Lieutenant Commander Bernard Skinner

The frigate, HMS Amethyst, steamed up the Yangtze River to relieve the guard ship HMS Consort at Nanking, prepared to evacuate British and Commonwealth citizens caught up in the advance of the Chinese Communist Forces. At about 0830 hours, Amethyst came under fire from Communist shore batteries positioned on the north shore of the river opposite Low Island. HMS Amethyst steamed on and was attacked again by batteries around Xou An Reach and Rose Island where she took three direct hits. Amethyst was hit again  by two shells that struck the bridge wounding Amethyst's Commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander Bernard Skinner. Skinner died from his injuries a day later and he was posthumously mentioned in dispatches. In the confusion that followed, the ship ran aground off Rose Island.

The ship managed to send off a signal to all ships in the area, "Under heavy fire, am aground, large number of casualties". Another shell wrecked the power room below decks disabling the gyrocompass, radio, and electrically controlled firing circuits were out of action. Another direct hit killed the gun crew on the foc'sle. An attempt was made to evacuate the wounded ashore in a damaged sea boat, but the boat was hit killing two men. The surgeon and his assistant administered to the wounded on the quarterdeck when a shell killed both of them. Amethyst was now a helpless target. Some of the ship's company were ordered to swim ashore to Rose Island. Remaining on board were about 40 unwounded men, 12 wounded, and 15 dead. The shelling had stopped but no one could move without drawing the attention of snipers.

damage to Amethyst superstructure

Amethyst had received over 50 hits and holes below the waterline were plugged with hammocks and bedding. During this time HMS Consort was sighted, flying 7 White Ensigns and 3 Union Jack flags, steaming down from Nanking at an incredible 29 Knots. Consort came under fire from the shore batteries but her 4.5-inch guns managed to knock out the enemy shore batteries and she attempted to take Amethyst in tow. HMS Consort  turned about with all guns blazing at the north bank batteries, destroying an enemy position. As she steamed up river for the second time she was fired on by a concentrated number of 37mm anti-tank guns. 

The bridge and wheelhouse were hit with both 'A' and 'B' guns being put out of action and she transferred to emergency steering. Consort came about again under heavy fire and steamed away down river. She had taken 56 hits and lost 9 killed and 30 wounded. Of the 60 seamen who made it ashore from Amethyst, 10 later made it back to the ship later, and 50 eventually reached Shanghai.

Every effort was made to free Amethyst from the mud but to no avail. On the 26th of April, after being aground for six days and in the dead of night, a second attempt to free the Amethyst from the mud was successful after she had been lightened forward. She then proceeded to move up river and anchored off Fu Te Wei. Later that day a signal was received: "HM ships London and Black Swan are moving up river to escort the Amethyst down stream. Be ready to move." But concentrated fire from batteries near Bate Point hit both ships; HMS London was holed 12 times on the port side and lost 12 killed and 20 wounded. HMS Black Swan had 7 wounded. Reluctantly the order was given for both ships to return down river. During the course of the day an RAF Sunderland Flying boat arrived with medical supplies and an RAF doctor but shortly after landing a salvo of shells hit the water 100 yards from the aircraft and it was forced to take off again after disembarking supplies and the doctor.

The worst of Amethyst's wounded were taken off by sampan. The Amethyst anchored 10 miles further upstream and the Sunderland flying boat circled the ship but was unable to land due to heavy fire. At anchor off Tan Cha Ten a boat arrived with the British Naval Attaché Lt. CDR. J. S. Kerans who took command of the Amethyst and started negotiations with the Communist authorities. Months of fruitless negotiations went by and the Peoples Liberation Army occupied the whole area. Vital supplies were withheld as the Chinese insisted that Lt. Cdr. Kerans sign a statement that the Amethyst had wrongly invaded Chinese national waters and had fired upon them first.

Lt. CDR. J. S. Kerans

Finally Lt. Cdr. Kerans decided to make a break for open waters. On July 31st under cover of darkness, Amethyst slipped her cable and proceeded down stream to begin a 104-mile dash for freedom running the gauntlet of Communist guns on both banks of the river. 0055 hours Amethyst came under heavy fire off Kiang Yin but putting down thick black smoke she confused the Communist gunners on the shore. At 0500 hours she approached the forts at Woosung and Par Shan with their searchlights sweeping the river wheere . The Amethyst, at full speed ahead, passed through to the mouth of the river and made contact with HMS Concord and sent the time-honoured signal.
"Have rejoined the fleet off Woosung...God save the King."

50 years later, a Memorial Grove to the fallen was unveiled at the National Memorial Arboretum. The Grove consists of four Ginkgo trees, representing the four ships, in a gravelled circle marked out by 46 Euphorbia shrubs - one for each man who died during the incident.

Crew Members laid to rest in Shanghai


Yangtse medal

Medal Awarded for the all 
who took part in The 
Yangtse Incident, the 
Naval General Service 
Medal bar (Yangtse 1949) 
is one of the most sought 
after post war medals by 
collectors. The ones awarded 
to the ships Company of 
H.M.S. Amethyst fetching up 
to £600/700. The image on 
the left is a mock up

Most people who served on the Four Ships during the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949 has been known to be one of the most heroic, hopeless, bizarre and ultimately triumphant episodes of post-war Royal Navy history. The story of HMS Amethyst, HMS Consort, HMS London and HMS Black Swann continues.

We can only try to put closure to the "Yangzte Incident" but we cannot put closure to all those who suffer from the memories they have to endure. We have sailors many of them young individuals at the time off on an adventure and with training to be at the ready to serve their country Great Britain.

It has been circulated that a British Representative was sent to Shanghai to what was known as the Hung-Jao Cemetery and gives a report. The report that was produced was sent to the British Prime Minister stated that he had recorded the cemetery had been bulldozed over and a building erected over the top of it. Did this person really go to Shanghai in China? Why try to cover up an issue so important to the lives of shipmates and especially family members who actually lost loved ones.

One person from Amethyst, ten from Consort and 12 from London were buried at the Hung-Jao Cemetery. Most were buried in the Yangtze River due to the circumstances at the time, communicating with family members was very slow. So they had no say as to the burial arrangements. Over the years great changes have taken place, one of my favourite quotes is that Change is Inevitable. The cemetery known as Hung-Jao has been turned into a beautiful park called Pan-Yu Park. It is open to anyone the cemetery does not seem to exist; there is an enclosed part of the park that could be the remnants of the burial place of the men who died.

Another cemetery is now called Soon Ching-Ling Mausoleum; Soon Ching-Ling was a great woman in Chinese history. She is Sun Yatsen's wife, Sun Yatsen is the father of New China. This is also where 600 foreigners were buried from 25 countries; it is also open to the public.

I have a team of people working there at the moment in Shanghai, photos will soon be available of both Parks, and especially of the enclosed area of the Hung-Jao Cemetery, which is now Pan-Yu Park.

We have found a place to put the Memorial but both the British and Chinese have to aggree on this. It is my suggestion that we can erect a monument there in the Pan-Yu Park commemorating ALL those who died during the "Yangtze Incident" for the whole world to see.

It is the least I can do being the son of the man at the wheel of the Amethyst, and in honor to all who served on the Four Ships.

Steven Nicholls

20th April 02

Four Ships Website

"Yesterday is history, Tomorrow a mystery, but Today is a gift... that's why it is called the present. "

 Also see
H.M.S Amethyst and the Yangtse Incident: The Story In Pictures

We'd like to say a Big thank you to Jeremy Olver for letting us use some of the images from his excellent web site Swiftsure Royal Navy Site Jeremy has published a very good page on the Yangtse Incident. Please take a moment to visit his site to view more images of HMS Amethyst.

The 50th. Anniversary of the Yangtze Incident
Saturday 24th. April 1999. From The HMS London site

The Yangzte Incident Story
50th Anniversary, April 1949 - April 1999

Simon and the Amethyst

HMS Amethyst Yangste River
Extracts from the Private log of Leading Seaman Frank Cox

The Yangzte Incident
A Personal Account by Ron Howell. HMS Consort Association

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