Home' Navy News : November 8th 2012 Contents 18
November 8, 2012
WHILE the story of
shelling and daring
escape down China's
Yangtze River in
1949 is part of Navy folklore, little is
known of HMAS Shoalhaven's part
in the incident.
It was Shoalhaven that had origi-
nally been tasked with resupplying the
British Embassy at Nanking and stand-
ing by to evacuate Commonwealth
citizens as Chinese Communist forces
rapidly advanced on the Chinese
However, a last-minute decision
by the Australian ambassador, that to
sail to Nanking would be "recklessly
provocative", resulted in Shoalhaven
offloading the stores onto Amethyst at
Former radar plot operator Don
Jensen, now 84, of Bundaberg, said
Amethyst set sail on the morning of
"By about 2pm she was shot to
pieces up the Yangtze River," he said.
"I'm glad we put our goods on
Amethyst, otherwise I wouldn't be
With Amethyst aground, her cap-
tain mortally wounded and several
crew dead, and still taking fire from
Communist field guns on the river
bank, a rescue attempt was launched.
HMS Consort steamed down from
Nanking while HM Ships London
and Black Swan quickly departed
Shoalhaven's lucky escape
The rescue attempt was unsuccess-
ful with all three ships suffering doz-
ens of casualties and sustaining serious
damage from the Communist artillery.
Shoalhaven was brought to one
hour's notice for sea and final prepara-
tions made to proceed upriver to assist
Amethyst at 10am on April 20.
However, she remained at Shanghai
as a wireless telegraphic guard for the
Australian naval attaché there.
The ship's surgeon, LEUT Chalk,
was temporarily transferred to Black
Swan and later to London prior to
those ships coming under fire.
He returned to Shoalhaven,
unscathed, on April 22.
Eighty-three year old former sig-
nalman Milton Fuller, of Brisbane, and
now a volunteer guide on Shoalhaven's
sister ship HMAS Diamantina at
the Queensland Maritime Museum,
remembers the incident well.
He said many of Shoalhaven's
crew members were disappointed they
missed the Nanking trip and the rescue
attempt for Amethyst.
"We wished we could have done
more for Amethyst as she took our
place, but it would only have antago-
nised the situation if we went," he said.
"But after we heard about
Amethyst and London, and saw Black
Swan, we were glad we weren't there.
"I remember talking to some of the
signalmen on Amethyst and hearing
one of them was killed the next day."
Former AB Ned Forsyth of Hervey
Bay, also 84, remembers being pulled
out of his hammock late the night
before Shoalhaven was due to sail up
"We went alongside Amethyst and
pumped our fuel and water into her,
and loaded big cases of stores off our
deck onto hers," he said.
"When I later saw how badly the
Black Swan was shot up, I thanked
Christ it wasn't us who'd gone out
Mr Forsyth said he was disappoint-
ed Shoalhaven's part in the incident
wasn't very well known.
"But to be fair we didn't see the
action the British ships did and we
didn't get pounded by shore batteries."
CLOSE CALL: HMAS Shoalhaven was originally tasked to resupply the British Embassy at Nankang, China, in
1949, but a last minute decision by Australia's ambassador arguably saved Aussie sailors' lives.
Photo courtesy Sea Power Centre
A last minute decision by an Australian ambassador saved HMAS
Shoalhaven from Communist onslaught, SGT Dave Morley reports.
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