History of HMS Consort and the
Yangtze Incident sent in by William Leitch
HMS Consort in drydock at Singapore getting the
HMS Consort, oiling at sea.
Sent in by William Leitch
The Yangtze Incident
Much has been written about that termed the Yangtze Incident of 1949.
Within the House of Commons there exists columns of Hansard Papers
relative to the incident.
There is the book "The Yangtze Incident, by Lawrence Earl,
published 1952" only four years after the incident. Mr Earl's story
is more or less a story about one of the ships involved in the Yangtze
Incident (H.M.S. Amethyst).
This was followed in 1957 by that which some would have us believe to be
an epic film under the title of The Yangtze Incident, directed by
Michael Anderson, in which Richard Todd, played the staring role.
The same film has other titles such as, Battle Hell, Escape of the
Amethyst, Their Greatest Glory.
Now in this computer age with all the search engines that are available,
you only have to type in Yangtze Incident, or Britain's Small Wars, and
there you have a few pages where some individual is more or less
reiterating what has already been stated and some have gone to the
extent of producing what they would have as a photographic story of the
The full and true Story of the Yangtze Incident has never been told but
it is a story that has to be told, it is not a story about one ship the
H.M.S. Amethyst, and its amazing escape from the Yangtze River, Its not
a story about four British Royal Navy Ships, as in fact there were five
ships involved, H.M.S. Consort, H.M.A.S. Shoalhaven, H.M.S. Amethyst,
H.M.S. London and H.M.S. Blackswan.
By the very fact that I have mentioned H.M.A.S. Shoalhaven, this will
have some in high office cringing, good, as it may well be constructive
to the present day government and to the Admiralty whilst being
destructive to the deceit and deception that has been allowed to exist
for the past fifty odd years relative to the Yangtze Incident.
In 1945 a treaty known as the Warsaw Treaty was drawn up and signed by
Great Britain, the U.S.of A, and U.S.S.R., the treaty was in effect to
none intervention into the internal affairs of China. In 1949 the
internal affairs within China, were that China was split with two
warring parties, the warring parties were the forces of Mao Tse Tung of
The Peoples Liberation or Republic Army, and Chiang Kai-Shek, the
Nationalist with his Army. These known facts even to the simplest of
minds tell you that there are two authorities in China.
To endorse the fact of two separate authorities these two separate
authorities or warring forces were in the early part of 1949 holding
peace talks in Peking, when the peace talks between the two broke down,
Mao Tse Tung, with his Peoples Liberation Army massing on the North bank
of the River Yangtze, issued demands on the Nationalist government that
included unconditional Surrender.
If the Nationalists did not meet those demands then the crossing of the
Yangtze River would take place on 17th April 1949. The threat by The
Peoples Liberation Army was not carried out on the 17th April, 1945 but
on the 17th of April, 1949 it was announced by The Peoples Liberation
Army, that the 20th April, 1949 was the last day for their ultimatum to
be accepted, should it not be accepted, then on the 21st April, 1949 the
C.C.P., Peoples Liberation Army would cross the Yangtze River.
What is the importance of the dates shown?. The answer is a simple one,
they provide the facts to peace talks, and the break down of peace
talks, they endorse the fact that there were two existing authorities
within China, and the Yangtze River was a known war zone. At this
juncture the Moscow Treaty or Declaration of 1945 has also to be
remembered (None Intervention into Chinas Internal Affairs).
H.M.S. Consort, a "C" class destroyer built on the river
Clyde, and belonging to the British Royal Navy, was guard ship to and
for the British Embassy at Nanking on the Yangtze River she had been
there for some time and her relief was long over due and her stores were
depleted. The relief ship was H.M.A.S. Shoalhaven, which was at Shanghai
and should have relieved the Consort on 16th April 1949 the relief did
not take place. The Shoalhaven was stood down. You are not told that in
the book or film about the Yangtze Incident.
At the British Embassy in Nanking the British Ambassador was Sir Ralph
Stevenson, he had a counterpart out there on the Far East Station, in
the form of the Australian Ambassador a prudent individual to say the
least. He obviously was aware of the uncertain conditions that existed
and by reading the signals knew the area to be a civil war zone fraught
with danger. A situation that was exempt from intervention.
Signals were sent to the Admiralty and the Shoalhaven was stood down and
H.M.S. Amethyst was thereafter selected to take the Shoalhaven's place,
and recalled from sea to do so. In the book, Yangtze Incident by
Lawrence Earl, there is a reference to H.M.S. Amethyst beginning her
journey up the Yangtze River at 9 a.m., on the 20th April 1949 and doing
so with full clearance from the then Government of China. That
statement is then followed by a further statement to the effect "
Even to-day it is not clear why the Amethyst was fired upon. Then you
have the question by the author, "Was the "first salvo" a
deliberate, sneering affront to Britain and the Royal Navy?"
H.M.S. Amethyst, did not begin her journey up the Yangtze River on the
20th April 1949 the Amethyst begun her journey on the 19th of April 1949
and in beginning her journey on that date she did not have clearance or
consent from the Nationalist Government in China, clearance or consent
came from the Nationalist after the Amethyst had begun her journey on
the 19th of April 1949. The Amethyst on reaching Kiang Yin, on the 19th
April 1949 was ordered by signal from a Nationalist Gun Boat, to drop
anchor and darken ship, as the Nationalists had forbidden the movements
of ships on the Yangtze after dark.
So what you now have is Amethyst, at anchor in close proximity to the
Nationalists gunboats at Kiang Yin, on the night prior to the date for
ending the ultimatum issued by the C.C.P, to the Nationalists. Are we to
believe that the event was not noticed or monitored by the P.L.A. on the
not to distant North shore of the Yangtze River?
What must have been the thoughts of the P.L.A, as one thing is certain
they had not been notified of Amethyst's intention or movement?
H.M.S. Amethyst, at dawn on the morning of 20th April weighed anchor and
began making her way up river, about an hour into her journey because of
fog and treacherous currents, at the insistence of the Chinese pilot the
Amethyst, dropped anchor. The Amethyst was completely enshrouded in fog
neither the North or South bank of the river was visible to the naked
eye so this can well be a situation of vice versa between the ship and
shore. Radar would have played a part in this situation so far as the
Amethyst was concerned, as radar would have pointed out the shorelines
of both banks of the river as well as the movement of the large flat
bottomed vessels ploughing their trade on the river, those vessels would
appear as mere blips on the radar screen.
Now whether the P.L.A. were monitoring the movements of Amethyst, by
means of radar that is not within my knowledge I merely refer to the use
of radar for supposition and speculative purposes that has by others
been put forward in writing about the Yangtze Incident.
It is recorded that at approximately 7.30 am. On the morning of 20th
April 1949 the fog dispersed and Amethyst again got under way and was
soon travelling at a speed of eleven knots. At 8.30 am, she reached a
point on the river where she would be passing a heavily manned P.L.A.
battery position. On approach to this position the order was given for
speed to be increased to sixteen knots making manoeuvre ability and
response quicker. The bow wave would be noticeably higher and wake would
be greater. It was at this time that a salvo fired from the North side
of the river passed over and also fell around Amethyst causing no damage
to the ship. The immediate reaction to this event onboard Amethyst
came in the form of three orders from Lieutenant Commander Skinner, on
the bridge of Amethyst, the first order was to the wheelhouse "Full
Ahead Both Engines" the second order "Union Jacks to be
unfurled down the sides of the ship" and "Director, get on
target". Amethyst is now travelling at full speed and no further
shots or salvos from the P.L.A. Batteries were fired at, over, or around
her at that time or location.
Was that first salvo from the P.L.A. Batteries warring shots of the
fashion (stop and state your business)? Was it when Union Jacks
were unfurled Amethyst was given some respite? Or was it because the
last order of "Director get on target" was not carried out,
Amethysts armament remaining fore and aft? By the very fact that
the order of "Director, get on target" being given Amethysts
ships company was in the "Stand Too" position (a warship at
readiness with armament manned and armed.
When the order, "Director, get on target" was given by
Lieutenant Commander Skinner, the immediate response should have
resulted in the traversing and elevation of Amethysts armament being
directed towards the source from which the salvo came that went over and
around the ship.
However as that order was not carried out, it is Lawrence Earl, in his
book the Yangtze Incident, 1952 edition who provides an excuse to the
order not being carried out and does so in this manner now being Quoted
Because it is difficult, if not impossible, to engage a target which has
not yet been located this order was not carried out. The communist
batteries here were completely hidden in low scrub. In this preliminary
bombardment (of which no account appeared in the press at the time) no
one was hurt; no damage was done. The communist guns stopped firing
after about twelve rounds. Perhaps by then the gunners had recognised
the unfurled Union Jacks. * Unquote. The next paragraph begins with the
following two sentences. (Amethysts guns were unloaded. They had
not been fired.)
Here you have a formulated opinion as to why in Mr Earl's terms, (The
Communists guns stopped firing and the layman terms he attributes to the
naval term and order of "Stand Down from Action stations"
Amethysts armament unloaded. Mr Earl, can also be seen here to
point out that no account of this preliminary bombardment appeared in
the press which he emphasises by the use of brackets. Obliviously Mr
Earl's research prior to writing his book included the interviewing some
members of the Amethysts ships company for their version of the events
leading up to and resulting in and from the Yangtze Incident, which of
course can be gleamed from the preface of his book Yangtze Incident.
(Ah, the currying of favour to all who lightened Mr Earl's way that led
to the publication of his book. In particular the Department of Naval
Information of the Admiralty was most helpful and co-operative in
getting the necessary permission and in lighting my way, states Mr Earl
in his preface.
If the preface of Mr Earls book has to be accepted as Fair Comment then
it is also entitled to fair retort and here I digress for a moment to
provide Fair Retort. "The Yangtze Incident, written by Mr Lawrence
Earl, was written at a time prior to the release of official
documentation relating to the Yangtze Incident his story revolves round
the traumatic experience of one ship and its ships company that became
involved in conflict during peace time. Mr Earl's Claim is that his book
is primarily the result of interviewing many members of the Amethyst's
ships company after the action was over. In so doing he states within
the preface of his book "It is, I think, none the less factual
because of that" he goes on to state "In all, I spoke to no
fewer than thirty-six officers and men whose duties had scattered them
through all parts of the ship. I checked and cross-checked their
stories, not because I doubted any of them, but because, in the heat of
the action, with shells bursting inward, with disaster close at hand,
with excitement at boiling-point and fear never far away, details are
apt to go unnoticed by some and scraps of information to be forgotten
forever. I talked to these men who were there, to many of them for
several hours each, and to some for periods of up to four days; and they
dug deep into their memories and made the telling of this story
possible." Well it may well be, that Mr Earl, in interviewing those
men from the Amethyst he caused them to dig deep into their memories it
is however regretful that he did not hoist by the same petard, which is
obvious when, the statement made by Prime Minister Clement Attlee,
The House of Commons 26th April 1949 is considered for its terms. Earls,
interest in the Yangtze Incident was not in the men from the ships
company of Amethyst, but merely in the stories that he could extract
from them that would provide him with revenue at their expense. If I am
wrong no doubt someone will want to correct me, in the meantime I claim
Now to continue. Amethysts respite from the shore batteries of the P.L.A.
must have been of great relief to the ships company especially to the
sixteen inexperienced boy seamen that made up part of the complement
consisting of one hundred and eighty-three in total, made up from
officers, chief petty officers, petty officers, leading hands, and other
lower deck ratings of all branches that made up that ships company, to
state that the ships company of H.M.S. Amethyst was a youngish one, that
should be considered as an understatement, it is a statement to be found
within Mr Earl's book, made without the provision of age.
Recorded events will show that respite from the batteries of the P.L.A.
was for the Amethyst short lived as Amethyst at 9.20 a.m., on
approaching an area on the Yangtze known as San-Chiang-Ying had to pass
the P.L.A. Battery that was stationed there on that point of land also
on approach in this area was Rose Island which Amethyst would pass Port
side on in order to reach the twisting channel that lay ahead. It was at
this juncture in time as Amethyst, was passing the P.L.A. Battery that a
shell fired from a P.L.A. Battery passed over Amethyst
With this event the order was again given "Full ahead both"
seconds later the ships bridge took a hit this was followed by a hit on
In the wheelhouse at that time were the following ratings, Leading
Seaman Leslie Frank, Chief Petty Officer, Rosslyn Nicholls, (as
coxswain, on the wheel) and Ordinary Seaman, Reginald Wright, so what
you have here is Frank, a leading seaman with twenty four year service
in the Navy, on duty working to order, the Starboard telegraph sending
messages to the ships engine-room department responsible for the
functioning of the Starboard engine. The similar duty for the Port
engine is the responsibility of Ordinary Seaman, Reginald Wright, but
the overall duty in respect to command and response is the inherent duty
of the person on the wheel, in this situation that duty fell upon Chief
Petty Officer, Coxswain, Rosslyn Nicholls.
It is obvious from Mr Earl's book that prior to writing it he had an
extensive interview with Leading Seaman, Leslie Frank, regarding the hit
on the wheelhouse. Here it should be remembered that before the
wheelhouse was hit the order of "Full ahead both engines" had
been signalled via the telegraph to the engine room so the ships speed
was gradually increasing to "full speed" which from a
technical point of view Amethyst would be travelling at a rivet popping
speed of twenty eight knots within at least two minutes of that order
reaching the engine room. "A second later Frank, in the wheelhouse,
heard a shattering explosion right upon him. Someone screamed. As Frank
felt a swift blow on his back and fell to the floor he saw Nicholls fall
to one side, dragging the wheel to port with him. This first hit as it
happened sealed Amethysts fate. Frank was dazed. He scrambled to
his feet a moment later, wondering what had hit the ship. Nicholls
was groaning. He had been seriously hit through the right thigh, and he
had a bad gash on his forehead. Frank pulled Nicholls' hand from the
wheel and turned the wheel back amidships, hoping to get Amethyst back
on to the course Nicholls had been steering. Wheelhouse to bridge! He
shouted up the voice pipe. Wheelhouse to bridge! But there was no
reply" "As soon as the shell had hit the wheelhouse
Weston hurried to the Bridge. He passed through the wheelhouse on his
way. (I saw various bodies lying about,) he reported later. "There
were gasps and groans. I was in a hurry." (Weston was gunnery
officer as well as first Lieutenant). Let me point out here that as a
result of the publication of the book Yangtze Incident, a film by the
same title was produced both were and are garbage.
If we accept what Earl states in the preface of his book, which I again
quote from I checked and cross checked their stories, not because I
doubted any of them, but because, in the heat of action, with shells
bursting inward, with disaster close at hand, with excitement at boiling
point and fear never far away, details are apt to go unnoticed by some
and scraps of conversation to be forgotten forever. * Unquote.
In relating to Franks experience in the wheelhouse Franks received a
swift blow to his back and fell to the floor he saw Nicholls fall to one
side dragging the wheel to port with him. The imputation here is
defamatory the imputation being that Nicholls upon being wounded and
holding onto the wheel was dragging the ship off course that drag could
not have been more than a half turn on that wheel an almost negative
movement a movement yes but an almost negative one. Unless allowed to
persist and go uncorrected while travelling at speed. "Frank was
dazed. He scrambled to his feet a moment later, wondering what had hit
the ship. Nicholls was groaning. He had been seriously hit through his
right thigh and he had a bad gash on his forehead. Frank pulled Nicholls'
hand from the wheel and turned the wheel back amidships, hoping to get
Amethyst back on the course that Nicholls had been steering. There you
have Earl's account of Frank's statement as to what transpired the
alleged statement of a Leading Seaman with twenty-four years of service
in the Royal Navy.
Earl in relating to Franks experience of what happened, what he saw and
what he done, all of which if we accept and believe it as we are being
asked to by the terms within the preface then why is there no mention in
Franks alleged statement used by Earl in his book relating to Weston
passing through the wheelhouse seeing bodies and hearing moans and
groans. Did Weston the ships First Lieutenant not notice that there was
no one at the wheel of Amethyst steaming at full speed ahead was his
hurry to get to the Bridge more important than the wheel being manned
and course checked. Earl provides the excuse for Weston, "He
was in a hurry"
Back to Leading Seaman Frank and his reported part and actions by Mr
Earl if we accept those actions we are by fact condemning Frank as being
an incompetent Leading Seaman who by his actions caused the grounding of
the Amethyst, Earl in his story reports "Frank pulled Nicholls'
hand from the wheel and turned the wheel back amidships hoping to get
Amethyst back on to the course Nicholls had been steering". That
statement is a condemnation of Frank's ability as a Leading Seaman with
twenty tears service in the Navy, by putting the wheel amidships hoping
to get Amethyst backs on the course that Nicholls' was steering. Franks
by his action of putting the wheel amidships only, was in fact setting
an incorrect course as a true course, if momentary variation existed.
Lets for the moment take the crap within Earls book a stage further
without me actually quoting from his book Earl has it that when franks
set the wheel amidships in hoping to correct the ships course he noticed
that the gyro compass was not functioning so he began yelling
"Wheelhouse to Bridge" with no response Frank's took a course
on the magnetic compass and put the ship steady on it then made his way
up and onto the Bridge. From the Bridge, to Frank's shocked horror he
saw that Amethyst was heading strait for the bank on Rose Island which
loomed pretty close. Franks slid down the ladder from the Bridge, into
the Wheelhouse and pushed the wheel over to starboard.
There is no point of taking the attempts of preventing the Amethyst from
grounding as they failed she ran aground a sitting duck to the P.L.A.
In this position and situation a Flash Signal was sent out from the
Amethyst, the descriptive meaning of a Flash Signal when explained means
a signal that supersedes all other trans missions, the signal sent was
(Under Heavy Fire. AM AGROUND. LARGE NUMBER OF CASUALTIES.)
That signal was transmitted at twenty minutes to ten on the morning of
20th April 1949 at a time when Amethyst is aground on Rose Island also
transmitted was the navigational position showing where the ship was
aground the latter turned out to be wrong.
From Amethysts position at 9.20 am the order being given "Full
Ahead Both Engines" then being hit on the Bridge and Wheelhouse,
until the time of grounding on rose island from where she transmitted
the signal "Under heavy fire. Am aground. Large number of
casualties" at 9.40 a m, amounted to twenty minutes.
When H. M.S. Consort, at Nanking, picked up that flash signal the
response was immediate. The British Embassy at Nanking was informed the
British Ambassador Sir Ralph Stevenson stationed at Nanking immediately
sent dispatches to the C.C.P. Headquarters requesting an immediate
H.M.S. Consort was ordered to the rescue of Amethyst.
Here an analysis to the above paragraph is necessary and will arm the
readers with knowledge and insight into matters concerning the Yangtze
(1) When Sir Ralph Stevenson, the British Ambassador stationed at
Nanking, dispatched messages to the C.C.P
requesting an immediate cease-fire to the C.C.P. Peoples Liberation
Army's bombardment of Amethyst, he
done so recognising the C.C.P. and its army as an authority. He done so
as the Sovereign and States diplomat
stationed at Nanking. Key dates of modern China are capable of
showing that the C.C.P. - Chinese Communist
Party was established 1921 and in 1946 the C.C.P. created the P.L.A.
"peoples Liberation Army" these key
dates show that the C.C.P. with its created P.L.A. is a constituted
authority, one recognised by the British
Ambassador at Nanking at the time of the Yangtze Incident.
(2) Consort was ordered to the rescue of Amethyst, H.M.S. Consort
stationed at Nanking was stationed there as
guard ship to the British Embassy and nationals out there, there were no
other warships at Nanking therefore
by ordering Consort to the assistance of Amethyst the British Embassy,
Ambassador his staff and British
nationals were left unprotected.
While these procedures and preparations were being put in place Amethyst
was at the mercy of the P.L.A. batteries and gunner's ratings were being
killed and wounded the order was given to abandon ship, that decision
was changed. It was decided to land those wounded, with others assisting
in the evacuation while at the same time keeping the equivalent of a
steaming crew on board.
H.M.S. Consort in reaching Amethyst made three valiant efforts to take
Amethyst in tow. To this day the overall valour and seamanship that went
into those three efforts has never been fully recognised. As a result of
the damage and casualties that was inflicted upon H.M.S. Consort, she
had to retire from the action. Ten of her ships company were dead
and a great many wounded for some of the wounded their Naval careers
ended. That night 20th April 1949 H.M.S. Consort tied up alongside of
H.M.S. London, while the some of the wounded were being transferred on
to the London for medical attention engineers from the London were
assisting in repairs to the Consort that would provide passage to
Shanghai. When it became known that the London and Black Swan were going
to attempt rescuing the Amethyst, almost to a man Consorts Ships Company
those not wounded were volunteering to take part in the rescue their
request were refused as it was necessary to get the ship to Shanghai.
From Mr Earls book Yangtze Incident 1952 edition from page 50 and 51 the
following I now quote* "Perhaps Consort will be back to give us a
hand after dark", Hett offered tentatively. His skin was smooth and
pink; his mouth was small and sensitive; and he looked very young and
school boyish. He was unaware that Consort, in her valiant but
unsuccessful attempt at knocking out the Communist battery, had suffered
serious damage, and had nine of her crew killed and three wounded. He
did not know that, with her wheelhouse badly hit, it was necessary for
her to steer from aft, a difficult operation in the twisting and
forceful current of the Yangtze. "Perhaps," Weston said. He
felt very tired. * Unquote.
Hett, "Perhaps Consort will be back to give us a hand after
dark". The supposition and picture painting of Mr Earl, as to
what was running through Weston's mind before answering Hett, with the
one syllable, "Perhaps".
It is essential here that I have to again return to Mr Earl's book, in
particular the Preface to quote the first sentence therein. I Quote*
Since I was not in Amethyst when she sailed up the Yangtze that April
day in 1949 this book is primarily the result of interviewing many
members of the ships company after the action was over. * Unquote.
"Many members of the Amethysts ships company" Here I am left
wondering if in interviewing many members of Amethysts ships company did
that include any of those who were present at the Ceremonial Burial of
one member of Amethysts ships company ten from the Consort and twelve
from the London within Hung Joa, Cemetery, Shanghai, 24th April 1949 as
the result of attempts at rescuing Amethyst, as there is no mention of
that event in his book. Painting a picture using the power of words is
one thing but to delude via supposition and innuendo claiming that by
the double-checking of the statements made in interviews you are
presenting facts, then that is deception.
I have briefly related to the fact that Consort while along side of
H.M.S. London received some assistance in repairing damage that was
inflicted during her attempts at rescuing the Amethyst, repairs that
were essential in order to provide safe passage to Shanghai, also
mentioned is the fact that some from Consort's ships company who had
been wounded were transferred to the London for medical attention. Lets
now pick up the story from there and in so doing I am doing so with a
vengeance for several reasons that will become clear.
When H.M.S. Consort arrived at Shanghai, Dr Wedderburn treated eight-one
of Consorts Ships Company for wounds. Who is Dr Wedderburn? Dr
Wedderburn, was a doctor who in the company who in the company of a
pilot in a Sunderland flying boat flew over the Yangtze and witnessed
Consorts approach and efforts in attempting to rescue the Amethyst, in
witnessing such Dr Wedderburn, later wrote it down in explicit detail as
both he and the pilot at the time both were of the opinion it was beyond
belief it may well be that Dr Wedderburn, read Earl's book and in so
doing was prompted into his writing of the book "Lotus Garden"
I have personally read the eye witness account of what both the doctor
and pilot witnessed. From what can only be described as a bird's eye
view of the action taken by H.M.S. Consort, her approach at speed, her
devastating fire power that knocked out the P.L.A. Battery's during her
three attempts to take Amethyst in tow, the hits she was taking while
putting in such an effort but what they were witnessing with unbelief
was that there was no one to be seen on the upper decks of the Amethyst.
From Mr Earl's book Yangtze Incident at page 52 I Quote *At about
half-past ten Weston instructed Petty Officer Henry Freeman and Frank to
get a wire ready astern Amethyst so that they would be ready to be towed
off by Consort when she came. Frank and Freeman went aft to the
starboard side of the quarterdeck and uncovered the hawser wheel.
Small arms fire was whistling around them like jet-propelled wasps, and
ricocheting off steel bulkheads with suddenly angrier, higher pitched
whines. The two grabbed at the end of the wire and crawled along
the quarterdeck, pulling the wire with the. They fastened it in place,
but by the time they were finished the small arms fire was intolerably
heavy. They made a quick, scurrying dash for the protected space between
the depth-charge racks. *Unquote
Earl goes on to explain how both men came to realise that they were not
in a protected space and again had to make a scurrying dash to safety
Two things can be derived at from what Earl, relates (1) the towing
position was an extremely dangerous and exposed position that small arms
fire was being concentrated upon. (2) That both Freeman and Frank were
brave men when the overall consideration of the preparation of rigging
and setting a tow line under such conditions must have amounted to.
Also by and from that account there is the further certainty when again
all is considered, and that is, death was an immanent factor waiting for
anyone being sent to pick up and secure the tow under such conditions.
With Consort enroot great hopes were being placed on her ability to
elevate Amethysts problems and rescue the ship from its existing
situation. H.M.S. Consort with its motto Loyal and Steadfast was not
about to let what must have been the hopes of those on Amethyst down.
Whiles enroot at a speed that has never been equalled on the Yangtze
preparations were being made in rigging up the towing gear in order to
take the Amethyst in tow, preparations were being made for the
transference of steering from the tiller flat a position in the aft of
the ship almost immediately below Y-gun on the stern of the ship. These
preparations in respect to the steering of the ship were in the event of
the wheelhouse, being knocked out or damaged.
Now as it just so happened the wheelhouse on Consort took a direct hit
on the wheelhouse in the early part of the action so manoeuvrability was
dependent on communications to the tiller flat steering position that
lay almost directly below Y-gun as previously stated add to this the
fact that this position lies between the ships prop-shafts where they
connect to her twin screws (propellers).
Through the deafening crescendo of the 4.5 Y-gun going off every few
seconds, the whine from the prop shafts, the vibration and rumble while
manoeuvring either in the forward or reverse positions the effort was
being continued to rescue Amethyst
By this time it must be pretty obvious that in order to even attempt a
rescue in such a situation was the priority would be, to silencing of
the guns of the opposition that were determined to prevent such an
objective, one thing was certain it was not a case of slowly manoeuvring
into position putting a line aboard the grounded ship taking up the
strain and pulling her from the mud. No, before manoeuvring into
position the P.L.A. batteries had to be silenced so on those three
attempts by Consort she was continually silencing the shore batteries
and positions of the P.L.A. all the while being hit time after time,
fires were breaking out all over the ship the damage control parties
were constantly on the move and hard pressed, their work cut out for
them, armament was being destroyed by the accuracy of the P.L.A.
gunners. Ratings were being killed, others wounded some of the wounded
who were carried to the ward-room that had been set up as a location
where wounded could be taken for medical attention, there, some received
further wounds as a result of shells passing through that location.
How close did Consort come to rescuing Amethyst? "Close enough but
there was no one there to pick up the tow" the reason being no
doubt because of the exposed position and procedure required, in such an
attempt death would have been imminent. Amethyst was aground with no
firepower and the equivalent of a steaming crew left on board.
If the hopes of rescue by those on board Amethyst were dashed then those
same hopes of rescuing the Amethyst for those of Consorts Ships Company
were also dashed and heartfelt considering the cost of what went into
that rescue attempt.
The hopes of those onboard in respect to being rescued were again raised
on learning that the County Class Cruiser, H.M.S. London would be coming
to Amethysts rescue. On the morning of 21st April 1949 the date
set for the invasion and invading forces of the C.C.P in crossing the
Yangtze in force on the upper reaches of the Yangtze at points that were
above and below where the Amethyst was aground H.M.S. London accompanied
by H.M.S. Black Swan, were ordered up river to rescue the Amethyst.
Both of those ships got to within twenty miles of Amethyst before having
to retire because of the damage that was inflicted upon them in the war
zone of the Yangtze by the guns of the P.L.A. invasion forces.
|The incident involving Amethyst and the
subsequent involvement of Consort, took place on the 20th of April 1949.
This was the same date ending the C.C.P. ultimatum as was issued upon
the Nationalists. Gathered along the North shore on the upper reaches of
the Yangtze on that date there were more than one million troops of the
Peoples Liberation Army, poised and ready for the crossing of the
Yangtze. This was not a war game being played out in some club or
establishment with Generals sitting around participating in a game.
In monitoring Chinas internal affairs, the Generals so to speak of or
coin a phrase, including the Admirals on the Far East Station, by their
expertise would be providing their own individual Governments and war
departments with up to date news on the volatile situation that existed
on that station because of and in particular to Britain, because of its
commerce and invested interests within China. Or were they
in conflict with the Government having some sort of ill informed idea
that they should be left in control of matters on the Far East Station
as one thing is certain whoever was responsible for ordering the
Amethyst up river that person or authority ordered that ship on a
Now, as it happens, one of Britain's invested interests in China at that
time was in protecting the Opium trade that existed between Britain
under the auspicious of Nationalist Government within China a trade that
the C.C.P. as an authority within China were determined to put a stop to
and in 1946 created the Peoples Liberation Army to assist in stamping
out that trade.
In 1949 rationing of food and clothing was still in existence in Great
Britain the economy was at low ebb as the country was recovering from
the costs of world war two. In 1945 with the defeat of Japan, China was
liberated from the Japanese occupation of China and restored to the
Chinese. In December of 1945 with China being liberated a treaty was
drawn up and became known as the Moscow Declaration, which I have
already referred to for its terms therein and the importance of the
same, just as I have pointed to some Key Dates In Modern China, these I
will now update, 1921 The Chinese Communist Party (C.C.P.) is
established; Mao Zeroing (1893-1976) is one of the party Organizers.
1924 Soviet aid and advisors to G.M.D's Whampoa Military Academy train
GMD/CCP leadership for national unification, headed by Chiang Kai-shek.
1934-1935 at the time known as the Long March, Mao becomes prim leader
of the CCP. 1946-1949 CCP creates the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA).
Civil War ensues. With CCP victory, Chiang and GMD forces flee to
Taiwan. With this update you now have the established facts by
date to the existence of an authority within China known as the CCP. The
purpose of providing this date will become reasonably clear in reading
Within the House of Commons on the 26th April 1949 Prime Minister, Mr
Clement Attlee, two days after the five ships companies from H.M.S.
Consort, Amethyst, London, Black Swan and H.M.A.S. Shoalhaven, among
others were burying some of the dead from the Yangtze Incident, at Hung
Joa Cemetery in Shanghai made a statement concerning the Yangtze
Attlee's Statement to the House of Commons 26th April 1949. I quote*
"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 none-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 Consular Officers in China should
remain at their posts and this was announced to the House by the Foreign
Secretary on 9th December. We are not alone in our decision to remain at
Nanking. 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 a result of the 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 Yangtze.
Nevertheless, it is a fact that since that time the movement of our war
ships in the Yangtze 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, HMS 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." Unquote. The part played by
H.M.S. Consort is also covered in the public statement.
I Quote * "Thus early on Tuesday, 19th April, the frigate HMS
AMETHYST (Lieutenant -Commander Skinner) sailed from Shanghai for
Nanking, wearing the White Ensign and the Union Jack painted on her
hull. When AMETHYST had reached a point on the Yangtze River some 60
miles from Nanking, at about nine o'clock in the morning on the 20th,
she came under heavy fire from batteries on the North bank, suffered
considerable damage and casualties and eventually grounded on Rose
Island. After this the captain decided to land 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 East
Station, ordered the destroyer HMS CONSORT (Commander Robertson) from
Nanking to go to AMETHYST's assistance, and the frigate BLACK SWAN
(Captain Jay) from Shanghai to Kiang Yin, 40 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 hot to approach
AMETHYST and therefore passed her at speed down river. She turned two
miles below and again closed with AMETHYST to take her in tow. But again
she 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 down stream again.
This attempt also failed and she sustained further damage and casualties
during which her steering was effected. She therefore had to continue
down stream out of the firing area." * Unquote.
Within that statement where Attlee relates "In view of the
considerable British interest in china" he does not relate
specifically to what those considerable British interests were. Well,
the considerable British interests were in extracting reserves that
could be found within China such as ivory among other things and paying
for those commodities not in currency such as pounds shillings and pence
but in the form of opium.
In his statement Attlee point's to a great folly, the foolish act of His
Majesty's Government and he does this in pointing to a decision reached
by the Government, which was announced by the Foreign Secretary 9th
December 1948. He, Attlee then goes on to point out more or less
emphasising "We are not alone in the decision to remain at Nanking".
Then he follows up on that rhetoric with an endorsement, "Other
powers represented there, with the exception of the Soviet Union,
reached the same decision and there has since been full consultation
between members of the Diplomatic Corps at Nanking".
There is no explanation as to why the Soviet Union exempted from the
decision to remain at Nanking there is no mention of the fact there were
consultations between the British and Australian Powers represented
there in Nanking that brought about the decision to have the Australian
war ship H.M.A.S. Shoalhaven stood down from the duty of relieving
H.M.S. Consort. In having the Shoal haven stood down the
Australian Powers were exempting them from the lunacy of sending a war
ship into the internal and territorial waters of a nation involved in
civil war and in particular into what amounted to be the war zone
without having taken the necessary and required precautions for safe
would like to thank William Leitch for this
contribution. The complete article written by
William Leitch entitled "Suicide Missions to Order" can be