Purpose of this blog

Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Guarded Gem

Part one of the story is here.

HMS Consort had taken a battering, and nearly suffered the same fate as HMS Amethyst as her wheelhouse had taken a hit which caused her to veer towards the shore.  She retreated from under the Chinese guns and silence fell on the area.

Inside the badly damaged HMS Amethyst 1st Lt Weston was propped up against a bulkhead.  He had shrapnel in his lungs and liver.  Despite this and with the aid of a drug cocktail of morphine and benzedrine 1st Lt Weston stayed in command.  The casualty toll was tremendous, even the ships cat, Simon, had been injured.  Simon had been asleep in the captains cabin when a shell detonated a mere three feet from him.  Heavily burnt and pebble dashed by splinters Simon was not expected to survive.
Able Seacat Simon
The ship herself was in a terrible state, with over fifty holes below the waterline and run aground.  The much reduced crew worked hard and made an attempt to get her re-floated, but she was stuck fast.  Overnight the crew continued to work in the pitch darkness until 0115 on 21st April, and after lightening the bow, HMS Amethyst came free.  The crew had sighted two of the batteries that engaged both her and HMS Consort, and they managed to identify a location that would beyond the range of both Chinese batteries.  She anchored there, out of immediate danger, but unable to limp back to safety.

As luck would have it Vice-Admiral Charles Madden was en-route to Shanghai for St Georges Day celebrations.  He was aboard the Cruiser HMS London and had HMS Amethyst's sister ship HMS Black Swan with him.  He immediately sailed both ships down the river to rescue HMS Amethyst.  When the armoured bulk of London appeared on the scene at 1130, the Chinese guessed what Vice-Admiral Madden's intentions were.  The Chinese gun batteries opened fire.  HMS London should have made short work of the emplaced positions, however the Chinese were perfectly camouflaged.  HMS London was hit twelve times, with twenty wounded and multiple killed, including the London's Captain.  Unable to locate the enemy, and taking serious damage the relief force had to withdraw to safety.
London class cruiser
Later that day a Chinese Nationalist doctor called Chu Wei offered to help, and boarded HMS Amethyst.  However as the opening salvoes of the battle had wrecked the sick bay, and Dr Wei had almost no supplies there was little he could do.  But at 1600 an RAF Sunderland appeared on the scene.  She touched down near the anchored ship, loaded with supplies and an RAF Medical officer called Flight Lieutenant Fearnley.

The Chief Gunnery Officer of HMS Amethyst obtained a sampan,  and crossed over to the Sunderland. When he boarded he started heaving the boxes of precious supplies into the sampan, while Flt Lt Fearnley stowed them.  Suddenly a burst of firing broke out as the Chinese Communists opened fire on the plane. The RAF pilot immediately rammed the throttle home and surged away, taking off while the Chinese fire chased the lumbering aircraft.

Flt Lt Fearnley was stranded in the boat, with bullets whistling past him.  The Chinese boat crew had no intention of closing with HMS Amethyst while the Communists were shooting at the ship.  Flt Lt Fearnley pulled out his sidearm and convinced the sampan crew otherwise.
Dr Wei then arranged for the wounded to be unloaded to the Nationalist controlled river bank, and they were treated and shipped onto Shanghai.

Overnight HMS Amethyst moved another ten miles closer to Shanghai.  Here Lieutenant Commander John Simon Kerans (the Assistant Naval Attache from Shanghai Embassy) arrived on the scene.  Upon hearing of HMS Amethyst’s fate he had immediately borrowed a Jeep from some Australians and departed on an overland trek of 72 miles, only to find that overnight Amethyst had moved, and he had to chase her down stream.  Upon arriving he took command and practically had to throw 1st Lt Weston off the ship, who didn't want to be evacuated.
However the Chinese Communists had attacked the Nationalists, and forced them back. This left both banks of the river in enemy hands, and HMS Amethyst utterly surrounded.  The Communists then began to emplace further batteries of guns all around her.

Over the following months diplomatic exchanges between the Communists and the British continued.  The British were seeking safe passage, the Communists were trying to get the British to admit they opened fire first and invaded China.

On board ship fuel and food was getting scarce.  The men were on half rations, and the ship was often shut down, the sailors having to lie in the stifling heat in utter darkness as the ventilators were switched off along with the lights.

To make matters worse the ship became infested with rats.  Often the sailors could feel the rats nibbling at them as they lay down.  This plague threatened to destroy what little food supplies the ship had.  It was then the heavily wounded ships cat, Simon, came into his element.  Despite the odds he had survived the shell that hit next to him.  Before he'd been taken on board he'd been a feral cat in Hong Kong.  He set to work on the infestation of rats and very quickly got the situation under control.  He also acted as a pet to keep the crew's morale up, with the assistance of the ships terrier named Peggy.  During the period of virtual captivity the crew worked hard to repair the damage as best they could.
Peggy and HMS Amethyst's crew
Then at the end of July Lt Cdr Kerans began to issue odd orders, such as wrapping the anchor chain in blankets and greasing everything.  At 1800 on the 30th of July Lt Cdr Kerans informed the crew that they would be making an escape attempt in four hours time.

Part three is here.


  1. Hey Listy.
    Thank you, a good read while waitiing for Sunday night meal.
    Looking forward to part3 next week.

  2. Cat marines, they served proudly in the British navy

  3. Just listened to a Radio 4 program (UK) where the Amethyst's fire controller was talking about this very action. Most interesting. Further info on HMS Belfast - apparently she fired 8000 6-inch shells during the Korean war and had to have her barrels replaced. Amazing.

  4. Your Amethyst story brought back memories, as I was then a 14 year old boy stuck in Shanghai that was soon to fall to the Communist People's Liberation Army. I write my version of these events in my memoir "A Foreign Kid in World War II Shanghai".