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HMS Belfast and the Yangtse River incident

HMS Belfast was involved in numerous missions during her 25 years of active service, but few were more daring than the rescue operation she oversaw of HMS Amethyst from the Yangtse River in the summer of 1949.

Shortly after the end of the Second World War, civil war broke out in China between the Chinese Communist People's Liberation Army and Nationalist Kuomintang forces. On 20 April 1949, HMS Amethyst was ordered up the Yangtse River to Nanjing, then the capital of China, to act as a guard ship for the British Embassy.

Around 70 miles from its destination, HMS Amethyst came under fire from Communist artillery batteries on the northern bank of the river. The ship ran aground while attempting to evade the shelling and 17 members of the crew were killed. Ten others were wounded including the captain, Lieutenant Commander Bernard Skinner, who later died.

HMS Amethyst's crew eventually managed to re-float the ship and Lieutenant Commander John Kerens, the assistant naval attaché in Beijing, was able to get on board and assume command. He established a truce with the local Communist forces, but conditions on board the ship deteriorated as rations ran short and the crew suffered in extreme heat.

The situation was being closely monitored by Sir Patrick Brind, Commander in Chief of the Far East Station, from his flagship HMS Belfast. Having carefully assessed all available options, Brind signalled for Kerens to get HMS Amethyst away at any cost.

On 30 July 1949, under cover of darkness, HMS Amethyst slipped its anchor chain and started traveling downstream to Shanghai. The journey was arduous, with the ship and her crew coming under artillery fire before negotiating treacherous sandbanks and river barriers to reach their destination.

HMS Amethyst eventually re-joined the British Far East Fleet before arriving in Hong Kong under a glare of publicity from the world's press, who had been eagerly following events of the ship's three month ordeal.

The shot fired at HMS Amethyst was retrieved by acting Commander Kerens, who later donated it to the IWM. You can learn more about the Yangtse River incident by visiting IWM's HMS Belfast, and discover many other stories the ship has to tell.