HMS Amethyst (F116)

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HMS Amethyst (U16).jpg
Career Royal Navy Ensign
Class and type: Modified Black Swan-class sloop
Name: HMS Amethyst
Builder: Alexander Stephens and Sons, Govan
Laid down: 25 March 1942
Launched: 7 May 1943
Commissioned: 2 November 1943
Fate: Scrapped 19 January 1957
General characteristics
Displacement: 1,350 tons
Length: 283 ft (86 m)
Beam: 38.5 ft (11.7 m)
Propulsion: Geared turbines
two shafts
Speed: 20 knots at 4,300 hp
Complement: 192 men
Notes: Pennant number U16 (later F116)

HMS Amethyst (U16/F116) was a Modified Black Swan-class sloop of the Royal Navy. She was laid down by Alexander Stephens and Sons of Linthouse, Govan Scotland on 25 March 1942, launched on 7 May 1943 and commissioned on 2 November 1943, with the pennant number U16. After World War Two she was modified and redesignated as a frigate, and renumbered F116.

Second World War

Amethyst was deployed mostly on anti-submarine patrols and escort duties. On 20 February 1945 she attacked and sank the U-boat U-1276 with depth charges. U-1276 had just sunk HMS Vervain, a Flower-class corvette. The action took place in the North Atlantic, south of Waterford and resulted in the loss of all 49 of the U-boat's crew.

Yangtze Incident

On 20 April 1949, HMS Amethyst was on her way from Shanghai to Nanjing (Nanking) on the Yangtze River to replace HMS Consort, which was standing as guard ship for the British Embassy there due to the Chinese Civil War between the Kuomintang (KMT) and the Chinese Communists. At around 08:31, after a burst of small arms fire, a People's Liberation Army (PLA) field gun battery 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 flags were unfurled on either side of the ship, after which there was no more firing.

At 09:30, as the frigate approached Jiangyin (Kiangyin) 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 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 and Bren guns, 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-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. 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 was sighted, flying seven White Ensigns and three Union flags, 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 Simon 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 and the frigate (ex-sloop and Amethyst's sister ship) Black Swan 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.[citation needed] The PLA's casualties were 252 in these artillery duels.[1]

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. As it was only in 1988 that the PLA commander Ye Fei admitted that it was his troops that fired first[2], during the negotiations the Communists kept insisting that the British ship fired first.[3]

On 30 July 1949 Amethyst slipped her chain and headed downriver in the dark, beginning a 104-mile 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 of 31 July, Amethyst approached the PLA forts at Wusong (Woosung) and Par Shan 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 before arriving in Hong Kong on 11 August 1949[4], the signal transmitted: "Have rejoined the fleet off Woosung...God save the King."

Chinese records state that the PLA warned the Amethyst to stop, "but she opened fire on, collided with, and sank a number of junks and escaped from the Yangtse River."

The American Suspense radio series included an episode entitled Log of the Marne (22 October 1951), largely based on the events of the Yangtze incident.[5]

In the 1957 film Yangtse Incident: The Story of HMS Amethyst (released as Battle Hell in the US, and also as Escape of the Amethyst and Their Greatest Glory) starring Richard Todd as Kerans, Amethyst re-enacted her role. As her engines were no longer operational, shots of the ship moving used her sister ship, Magpie.

See also


  2. Ye Fei, Zhengzhan jishi [Recollections of a career in the military] (Shanghai,1988), 272-276. Cited in "The United States, the Chinese Communist Party, and the Soviet Union, 1948-1950: A Reappraisal" by Michael Sheng, The Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 63, No. 4 (Nov., 1994), p.533
  3. A Chinese account in 2005 (in Chinese)
  4. Hong Kong Welcomes Amethyst - Movietone Digital Archive
  5. [1]

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 - 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

es:HMS Amethyst (F116) fr:HMS Amethyst (U16) zh:紫石英号事件