The Yangtze Incident
The Official Report

In December 1948 and due to the Chinese Civil War a British warship was stationed at Nanking (Nanjing) to act as guard ship to the British Embassy and to evacuate staff and other British Nationals if it became necessary.

On the 20th April 1949 at 0830, H.M.S. Amethyst (Lt. Commander B. M. Skinner RN) en-route to Nanking up the River Yangtze to relieve the guard ship H.M.S. Consort, came under very heavy fire from the north bank, due to serious damage she went aground at Rose Island, she signaled she was under heavy fire, aground, and had suffered casualties. The Captain was mortally wounded; the first Lieutenant though wounded assumed command. During the forenoon the Communist continued to fire at H.M.S. Amethyst. To save further loss of life, about 60 lightly wounded and uninjured were evacuated ashore, further evacuation stopped when those in the water came under fire. Those put ashore eventually arrived in Shanghai. Lt. Cdr. Skinner's wife and two sons were staying in Hong Kong as guests of Ann Rodney wife of Lt. Cdr. Nigel Rodney the Captain of Concord and Admiral Brind asked Ann Rodney to break the news of Lt. Cdr. Skinner's death to Mrs. Skinner.

The signal was heard by H.M.S. Consort (Cdr. I. G. Robertson, DSO, DSC, RN), she immediately prepared to get underway, leaving Nanking and proceeding at 30 knots towards H.M.S. Amethyst, reaching her at 1400. As she approached H.M.S. Amethyst, she came under very heavy fire. She made three attempts to assist H.M.S. Amethyst, but having sustained many casualties and serious damage she abandoned the rescue and proceeded down river. The signal was also picked up by the frigate H.M.S. Black Swan Captain A. D. H. Jay DSO, DSC, RN) in Shanghai, and the cruiser H.M.S. London (Captain P. G. L. Gazalet DSO, DSC, RN) en-route to Shanghai from Hong Kong. At dusk, both ships met H.M.S. Consort off Kiang-yin on the Yangtze. Because of the need to get the wounded to hospital and the damage sustained, H.M.S. Consort took no further part in the action and sailed for Shanghai.

21st April. 0030 H.M.S. Amethyst was re-floated and anchored in the river. At 0600 H.M.S. London and H.M.S. Black Swan went 12 miles up the Yangtze to about 30 miles from H.M.S. Amethyst and waited for further information, none came. At 1030 both sailed up river, with White Ensigns, and large white flags hoisted, (white flags meant neutral ships on a peaceful mission) hung on each side of both ships were large Union Flags. Almost immediately both ships came under heavy point blank fire from the north bank, each receiving direct hits. Both ships proceeded as fast as possible in the narrow river, returning fire. At about 15 miles from H.M.S. Amethyst and having sustained many casualties and a great deal of damage, it was decided that to proceed further would be disastrous for both ships and their crews, the order was given to return to Shanghai. This meant running the gauntlet again with both ships incurring further casualties and damage during the next 50 minutes of almost continuous fire. Both ships arrived at in Shanghai at 1930.

At 1630 an RAF Sunderland Flying Boat (Flt. Lt. K. Letford DSO 7 Bar, DFC, RAF) landed near H.M.S. Amethyst bringing a doctor and medical supplies, as the doctor got into a junk to take him to the ship, firing from the North Bank was directed at the aircraft and it had to take off immediately.

22nd April. Lt. Cdr. J. S. Kerans RN arrived from Nanking. After assessing the situation he took command of H.M.S. Amethyst. She remained a prisoner for 100 days. When it was obvious negotiations for safe passage down river were leading nowhere Lt. Cdr. Kearns planned the escape of H.M.S. Amethyst.

30th July, at 2209 with the Yangtze at its highest, H.M.S. Amethyst started her famous escape. She was fired on and hit once immediately. Though the firing continued there were no further hits from the large guns. During the confusion the shore batteries sank a civilian ferry.

31st July. At 0500 H.M.S. Amethyst met the destroyer H.M.S. Concord (Lt Cdr N. R. H. Rodney RN) at the mouth of the River and sent her famous signal;

"Have rejoined the fleet south of Woosung, no damage or casualties, God Save the King".

As a result of the incident, 3 ,DSO's .'s, 4 DSC's, 1 DFC, 7 DSM's, 1 BEM and many "Mentioned in Dispatches " were awarded.


(Courtesy of William Leitch, RN)
HMS Consort


Page published May 5, 2008