Yangtze Incident

Interviews

April 1949

Where did it happen?

The Yangtze river is the longest river in Asia. It flows from the glaciers on the Tibetan Plateau in Qinghai right through southwest, central and eastern China to the East China Sea.

Why did it happen?

During the Chinese Civil War Britain used its warships to evacuate British citizens and to protect the British Embassy.  One of these warships, HMS Amethyst came under fire from the one of the warring factions.

Background

China was engaged in a civil war between the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the Kuomintang (KLA). In December 1948, Britain decided to evacuate civilians and protect the British Embassy by positioning warships on the river.

On 20th April 1949, HMS Amethyst came under fire from the PLA, killing the Captain, Lieutenant Commander B. M. Skinner and injuring many others. The fire fight that followed resulted in 22 men being killed and 31 wounded.

HMS Amethyst became grounded during the attack and was therefore unable to escape. In order to prevent further loss of life, 60 of the crew tried to evacuate the ship but this was aborted after personnel were fired on in the water.

Later that day, HMS Consort attempted a rescue but came under heavy fire and was forced to continue down river.

Overnight, HMS Amethyst was able to refloat and HMS Black Swan and HMS London attempted a rescue. Despite flying the white ensign to signify a neutral ship on a peaceful mission, both ships came under heavy fire 15 miles away from HMS Amethyst and were forced to abort the rescue mission.

The Amethyst remained captive for 100 days and despite desperate attempts to negotiate a release, it became apparent that a diplomatic solution was not going to be possible.

During the night of 30th July and into 31st July, she managed to escape, with the assistance of HMS Concord, whose crew acted with extreme bravery. HMS Cossack escorted HMS Amethyst back to Hong Kong.

The total casualties for the incident were 46 dead and 68 wounded.