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HMS Amethyst (U16)

HMS Amethyst (U16)

Overview


HMS Amethyst was a Modified Black Swan-class
Black Swan class sloop
The Black Swan class and Modified Black Swan class were two classes of sloop of the Royal Navy and Royal Indian Navy. Thirteen Black Swans were launched between 1939 and 1943, including four for the Royal Indian Navy; twenty-four Modified Black Swans were launched between 1942 and 1945, including...

 sloop
Sloop-of-war
In the 18th and most of the 19th centuries, a sloop-of-war was a warship with a single gun deck that carried up to eighteen guns. As the rating system covered all vessels with 20 guns and above, this meant that the term sloop-of-war actually encompassed all the unrated combat vessels including the...

 of the Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

. She was laid down by Alexander Stephens and Sons of Linthouse
Linthouse
Linthouse is a district in the Scottish city of Glasgow. It is situated south of the River Clyde. It is immediately west of Govan, and although it is often referred to locally as 'Govan' due to its closeness, it is in fact a distinct area .Linthouse was home to the shipbuilder...

, Govan
Govan
Govan is a district and former burgh now part of southwest City of Glasgow, Scotland. It is situated west of Glasgow city centre, on the south bank of the River Clyde, opposite the mouth of the River Kelvin and the district of Partick....

 Scotland
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

 on 25 March 1942, launched on 7 May 1943 and commissioned on 2 November 1943, with the pennant number
Pennant number
In the modern Royal Navy, and other navies of Europe and the Commonwealth, ships are identified by pennant numbers...

 U16. After World War II she was modified and redesignated as a frigate
Frigate
A frigate is any of several types of warship, the term having been used for ships of various sizes and roles over the last few centuries.In the 17th century, the term was used for any warship built for speed and maneuverability, the description often used being "frigate-built"...

, and renumbered F116.

During World War II, Amethyst was deployed mostly on anti-submarine patrols and escort duties.
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HMS Amethyst was a Modified Black Swan-class
Black Swan class sloop
The Black Swan class and Modified Black Swan class were two classes of sloop of the Royal Navy and Royal Indian Navy. Thirteen Black Swans were launched between 1939 and 1943, including four for the Royal Indian Navy; twenty-four Modified Black Swans were launched between 1942 and 1945, including...

 sloop
Sloop-of-war
In the 18th and most of the 19th centuries, a sloop-of-war was a warship with a single gun deck that carried up to eighteen guns. As the rating system covered all vessels with 20 guns and above, this meant that the term sloop-of-war actually encompassed all the unrated combat vessels including the...

 of the Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

. She was laid down by Alexander Stephens and Sons of Linthouse
Linthouse
Linthouse is a district in the Scottish city of Glasgow. It is situated south of the River Clyde. It is immediately west of Govan, and although it is often referred to locally as 'Govan' due to its closeness, it is in fact a distinct area .Linthouse was home to the shipbuilder...

, Govan
Govan
Govan is a district and former burgh now part of southwest City of Glasgow, Scotland. It is situated west of Glasgow city centre, on the south bank of the River Clyde, opposite the mouth of the River Kelvin and the district of Partick....

 Scotland
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

 on 25 March 1942, launched on 7 May 1943 and commissioned on 2 November 1943, with the pennant number
Pennant number
In the modern Royal Navy, and other navies of Europe and the Commonwealth, ships are identified by pennant numbers...

 U16. After World War II she was modified and redesignated as a frigate
Frigate
A frigate is any of several types of warship, the term having been used for ships of various sizes and roles over the last few centuries.In the 17th century, the term was used for any warship built for speed and maneuverability, the description often used being "frigate-built"...

, and renumbered F116.

Second World War


During World War II, Amethyst was deployed mostly on anti-submarine patrols and escort duties. On 20 February 1945 she attacked and sank the U-boat
U-boat
U-boat is the anglicized version of the German word U-Boot , itself an abbreviation of Unterseeboot , and refers to military submarines operated by Germany, particularly in World War I and World War II...

 U-1276
Unterseeboot 1276
German submarine U-1276 was a Type VIIC/41 U-boat of the Kriegsmarine. Bremer Vulkan of Bremen-Vegesack laid down her keel on July 13, 1943. She was commissioned April 6, 1944 with Oberleutnant Karl Heinz Wendt in command...

 with depth charge
Depth charge
A depth charge is an anti-submarine warfare weapon intended to destroy or cripple a target submarine by the shock of exploding near it. Most use explosives and a fuze set to go off at a preselected depth in the ocean. Depth charges can be dropped by either surface ships, patrol aircraft, or from...

s. U-1276 had just sunk HMS Vervain
HMS Vervain (K190)
HMS Vervain was a Flower-class corvette of the Royal Navy. She served during the Second World War.On 28 February 1943 the liberty ship SS Wade Hampton was torpedoed by U-405 while sailing in a convoy from New York to Murmansk, Russia...

, a Flower-class corvette
Corvette
A corvette is a small, maneuverable, lightly armed warship, originally smaller than a frigate and larger than a coastal patrol craft or fast attack craft , although many recent designs resemble frigates in size and role...

. The action took place in the North Atlantic, south of Waterford
Waterford
Waterford is a city in the South-East Region of Ireland. It is the oldest city in the country and fifth largest by population. Waterford City Council is the local government authority for the city and its immediate hinterland...

 and resulted in the loss of all 49 of the U-boat's crew.

During the war the Amethyst was credited, along with the sloops , , , and frigate , with sinking the U-482
German submarine U-482
German submarine U-482 was a Type VIIC U-boat of the German Kriegsmarine during World War II. She was laid down on 13 February 1942 at Deutsche Werke in Kiel and went into service on 1 December 1943 under the command of Hartmut von Matuschka....

 in the North Channel on 16 January 1945. The British Admiralty withdrew this credit in a post-war reassessment.

Yangtse Incident


On 20 April 1949, HMS Amethyst was on her way from Shanghai
Shanghai
Shanghai is the largest city by population in China and the largest city proper in the world. It is one of the four province-level municipalities in the People's Republic of China, with a total population of over 23 million as of 2010...

 to Nanking (now Nanjing
Nanjing
' is the capital of Jiangsu province in China and has a prominent place in Chinese history and culture, having been the capital of China on several occasions...

) on the Yangtse (Yangtze
Yangtze River
The Yangtze, Yangzi or Cháng Jiāng is the longest river in Asia, and the third-longest in the world. It flows for from the glaciers on the Tibetan Plateau in Qinghai eastward across southwest, central and eastern China before emptying into the East China Sea at Shanghai. It is also one of the...

) River to replace HMS Consort, which was standing as guard ship
Guard ship
A guard ship is a warship stationed at some port or harbour to act as a guard, and in former times in the Royal Navy to receive the men impressed for service...

 for the British Embassy there during the Chinese Civil War
Chinese Civil War
The Chinese Civil War was a civil war fought between the Kuomintang , the governing party of the Republic of China, and the Communist Party of China , for the control of China which eventually led to China's division into two Chinas, Republic of China and People's Republic of...

 between the Kuomintang
Kuomintang
The Kuomintang of China , sometimes romanized as Guomindang via the Pinyin transcription system or GMD for short, and translated as the Chinese Nationalist Party is a founding and ruling political party of the Republic of China . Its guiding ideology is the Three Principles of the People, espoused...

 (KMT) and the Chinese Communists. According to the British Navy, at around 08:31, after a burst of small arms
Small arms
Small arms is a term of art used by armed forces to denote infantry weapons an individual soldier may carry. The description is usually limited to revolvers, pistols, submachine guns, carbines, assault rifles, battle rifles, multiple barrel firearms, sniper rifles, squad automatic weapons, light...

 fire, a PLA field gun
Field gun
A field gun is an artillery piece. Originally the term referred to smaller guns that could accompany a field army on the march and when in combat could be moved about the battlefield in response to changing circumstances, as to opposed guns installed in a fort, or to siege cannon or mortars which...

 battery
Artillery battery
In military organizations, an artillery battery is a unit of guns, mortars, rockets or missiles so grouped in order to facilitate better battlefield communication and command and control, as well as to provide dispersion for its constituent gunnery crews and their systems...

 on the north bank of the river fired a salvo of ten shells, which fell well short of the ship, and was assumed to be part of a regular bombardment of Nationalist forces on the south bank. Speed was increased, and large Union flag
Union Flag
The Union Flag, also known as the Union Jack, is the flag of the United Kingdom. It retains an official or semi-official status in some Commonwealth Realms; for example, it is known as the Royal Union Flag in Canada. It is also used as an official flag in some of the smaller British overseas...

s were unfurled on either side of the ship, after which there was no more firing.

At 09:30, as the frigate approached Kiangyin (Jiangyin
Jiangyin
Jiangyin is a city in China's Jiangsu province on the Yangtze River. It has population of 1.2 million . The total GDP reached RMB 171.3 billion yuan in 2009, an increase of 11.6% from 2008. The GDP per capita reached RMB 142,572 yuan...

) further up the river, she came under sustained fire from a second PLA battery. The first shell passed over the ship, but the second hit the wheelhouse, and the injured coxswain
Coxswain
The coxswain is the person in charge of a boat, particularly its navigation and steering. The etymology of the word gives us a literal meaning of "boat servant" since it comes from cox, a coxboat or other small vessel kept aboard a ship, and swain, which can be rendered as boy, in authority. ...

 grounded Amethyst on Rose Island. The bridge was also hit, mortally wounding Lieutenant Commander B. M. Skinner and injuring First-Lieutenant Geoffrey Weston, before he could pass on the captain's order to return fire. Other PLA shells exploded in the sick bay, the port engine room, and finally the generator, just after the injured Weston's last transmission: "Under heavy fire. Am aground in approx position 31.10' North 119.50' East. Large number of casualties." The loss of power also disabled the gyrocompass, and electrically controlled firing circuits. Amethyst was now a helpless target.

The frigate grounded in such a way that neither of the two gun turrets at the front of the ship could be brought to bear on the PLA batteries, leaving the single stern turret to return fire with some thirty shells before it was hit, knocking out one of its two guns. The remaining gun returned a few more shots until ordered by Weston to cease fire in the hope that this would cause the PLA to do likewise. The shore batteries, however, continued to fire both medium and heavy artillery, causing more damage and casualties to the ship. Weston ordered the uninjured crewmen to take up defensive positions with Lee-Enfield rifles
Lee-Enfield
The Lee-Enfield bolt-action, magazine-fed, repeating rifle was the main firearm used by the military forces of the British Empire and Commonwealth during the first half of the 20th century...

 and Bren guns
Bren
The Bren, usually called the Bren Gun, was a series of light machine guns adopted by Britain in the 1930s and used in various roles until 1991...

, and prepare to repel boarders.

Some time between 10:00 and 10:30, Weston ordered the immediate evacuation of most of the crew. Everyone capable of swimming was ordered over the side, while the non-swimmers and walking wounded used the only one of the ship's boats left undamaged. Fifty-nine ratings and four Chinese mess boys made it to the Kuomintang
Kuomintang
The Kuomintang of China , sometimes romanized as Guomindang via the Pinyin transcription system or GMD for short, and translated as the Chinese Nationalist Party is a founding and ruling political party of the Republic of China . Its guiding ideology is the Three Principles of the People, espoused...

-controlled Southern bank, but several more were cut down in the water by PLA machine gun and artillery fire before reaching safety. Those that survived were taken to a nearby Nationalist Army hospital, and afterwards trucked back to Shanghai
Shanghai
Shanghai is the largest city by population in China and the largest city proper in the world. It is one of the four province-level municipalities in the People's Republic of China, with a total population of over 23 million as of 2010...

. 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 PLA snipers.

By the time the shelling stopped at about 11:00, 22 men had been killed and 31 wounded in all. Amethyst had received over 50 hits and holes below the waterline were plugged with hammocks and bedding. During this time HMS Consort
HMS Consort (R76)
HMS Consort was a C-class destroyer of the Royal Navy, launched on 19 October 1944 and commissioned on 19 March 1946.She lost 49 crew whilst berthed at Nanking in 1949 when she was attacked by the Chinese...

 was sighted, flying seven White Ensign
White Ensign
The White Ensign or St George's Ensign is an ensign flown on British Royal Navy ships and shore establishments. It consists of a red St George's Cross on a white field with the Union Flag in the upper canton....

s and three Union flag
Union Flag
The Union Flag, also known as the Union Jack, is the flag of the United Kingdom. It retains an official or semi-official status in some Commonwealth Realms; for example, it is known as the Royal Union Flag in Canada. It is also used as an official flag in some of the smaller British overseas...

s, steaming down from Nanking at 29 knots. Consort came under fire from the shore batteries and returned fire with her 4.5 inch (114 mm) guns, destroying the enemy shore batteries before she attempted to take Amethyst in tow. HMS Consort turned about with all guns blazing at the north bank batteries, destroying an enemy position. However, Consort came under heavy fire, and the attempt was abandoned with 10 killed and three injured.

Lieutenant Geoffrey Weston refloated Amethyst on 22 April and moved her out of range of the PLA's artillery. The British Naval Attaché Lieutenant-Commander John Kerans joined the ship later that day and assumed command.

On 26 April an attempt to free the Amethyst from the mud was successful, the ship 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." The cruiser London
HMS London (69)
HMS London was a member of the second group of the County class heavy cruiser of the Royal Navy. She and her sisters; Sussex, Shropshire, and Devonshire differed from the earlier group of Counties, , by having a smaller forward superstructure, which was positioned slightly further aft, and next...

 and the frigate (ex-sloop and Amethyst's sister ship) Black Swan
HMS Black Swan (L57)
HMS Black Swan , named after the Black Swan, was the name ship of the Black Swan-class of sloops of the British Royal Navy. This class was admired for its sea-going qualities...

 were heavily shelled as they attempted to help Amethyst and retreated with 3 killed and 14 wounded. In Chinese records this battle happened on 22 April.

Amethyst remained under guard by the PLA for ten weeks, with vital supplies being withheld from the ship. Negotiations were stuck because Kerans would not accept Major Kung's demand that the British state that they had wrongly invaded Chinese national waters and had fired upon the PLA first. Because the communists (and later the People's Republic of China) did not acknowledge any treaties between the previous Chinese government and British, they insisted that it was illegal for Amethyst to cruise in the Yangtze river. On 30 April, the PLA demanded that Britain, the United States, and France quickly withdraw their armed forces from any parts of China. It was only in 1988 that the PLA commander Ye Fei admitted that it was his troops that fired first; during the negotiations the Communists kept insisting that the British ship fired first.

On 30 July 1949 Amethyst slipped her chain and headed downriver in the dark, beginning a 104 miles (167.4 km) dash for freedom running the gauntlet of Communist guns on both banks of the river. She followed the merchant ship Kiang Ling Liberation, which showed the way through the shoals and distracted the PLA. At 0500 hours on 31 July, Amethyst approached the PLA forts at Par Shan (Baoshan) and Woosung (Wusong
Wusong
Wusong,Chinese: s , t , p Wúsōng. formerly Woosung, was a port town located fourteen miles downriver from Shanghai.The Battle of Woosung occurred on 16 June 1842 between British and Chinese forces during the First Opium War. It was the site of China's first telegraph wires and first railroad, both...

) with their searchlights sweeping the river. The Amethyst, at full speed ahead, broke through the boom at the mouth of the river and made contact with HMS Concord
HMS Concord (R63)
HMS Concord was a C-class destroyer of the Royal Navy.She was initially ordered as HMS Corso during the Second World War, and was built by John I. Thornycroft & Company, Southampton. She was launched on 14 May 1945, renamed HMS Concord in June 1946 and commissioned on 20 December 1946...

 before arriving in Hong Kong on 11 August 1949, the signal transmitted: "Have rejoined the fleet off Woosung...God save the King."

Aftermath


Future Governor of Hong Kong
Governor of Hong Kong
The Governor of Hong Kong was the head of the government of Hong Kong during British rule from 1843 to 1997. The governor's roles were defined in the Hong Kong Letters Patent and Royal Instructions...

 Edward Youde
Edward Youde
Sir Edward Youde GCMG, GCVO, MBE was a British administrator, diplomat and Sinologist. He served as Governor of Hong Kong between 20 May 1982 and 5 December 1986.-Early years:...

 served on the Amethyst, where he served as a negotiatior to the PLA. Youde later received a Member of the Order of the British Empire medal for his actions.

The American Suspense
Suspense (radio program)
-Production background:One of the premier drama programs of the Golden Age of Radio, was subtitled "radio's outstanding theater of thrills" and focused on suspense thriller-type scripts, usually featuring leading Hollywood actors of the era...

 radio series included an episode entitled Log of the Marne (22 October 1951), largely based on the events of the Yangtze incident.

In the 1957 film Yangtse Incident: The Story of HMS Amethyst
Yangtse Incident (1957 film)
Yangtse Incident: The Story of HMS Amethyst is a 1957 British war film that tells the story of the British frigate HMS Amethyst caught up in the Chinese Civil War....

 (in the US most commonly released as Battle Hell , but also as Escape of the Amethyst and Their Greatest Glory) starring Richard Todd
Richard Todd
Richard Todd OBE was an Irish-born British stage and film actor and soldier.-Early life:Richard Todd was born as Richard Andrew Palethorpe-Todd in Dublin, Ireland. His father, Andrew William Palethorpe Todd, was an Irish physician and an international Irish rugby player who gained three caps for...

 as Kerans. For the film, Amethyst was brought out of storage to play herself. As her engines were no longer operational, her sister ship, Magpie
HMS Magpie (U82)
HMS Magpie was a Royal Navy Modified Black Swan class sloop launched in 1943 and broken up in 1959. She was the seventh Royal Navy ship to bear the name...

, was used for shots of the ship moving.

Further reading

  • Leslie Frank - Yangtse River Incident 1949: The Diary of Coxswain Leslie Frank: HMS Amethyst - Yangtse River 19/4/49 to 31/7/49 (2004) ISBN 1-84342-756-7
  • Edwyn Gray
    Edwyn Gray
    Edwyn Gray is a British author who specialises in naval writing although at times has written short stories.He was born in London and educated at the Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe. He read economics at the University of London and then joined the British civil service. His writing career began...

     - Frigate Under Fire: HMS Amethyst's 100 Days of Hell (1987)
  • Malcolm H. Murfett - Hostage on the Yangtze: Britain, China, and the Amethyst Crisis of 1949 (1991) ISBN 0-87021-289-3

External links