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February 14, 2013
THE WWII and Korean
War exploits of HMAS
Warramunga I have been well
documented over the years but
little is known of her service in China.
In 1949, Warramunga was ordered
to proceed up the Yangtze River to
Nanking with orders to stand by to res-
cue Commonwealth nationals should
the Chinese civil war become more
While crossing the China Seas
from Sasebo in Japan, she received
an SOS signal from passenger ship
Taiping at 1.45am on January 28,
Taiping, carrying around 1500 pas-
sengers who were escaping the com-
munist advances in China, had col-
lided with collier Kien Yuan in thick
fog near the Chou Shan Islands.
Warramunga arrived in the area
three hours later finding only an oil
slick with her 20-inch searchlight.
Kien Yuan, with 2700 tons of coal
on board, was hit amid ships and sank
in five minutes with 72 of her 74 crew
going down with her.
At 6.30am small objects, which
were later found to be rafts and wreck-
age, were sighted two miles ahead.
Les Gibson, now 82, was a quarter-
master in Warramunga at the time and
said the ship followed the oil slick and
flotsam until they found the rafts.
"One of our sailors in a boat saw
a raft with eight or nine kids on it, all
frozen to death," Mr Gibson said.
"We just had to leave them because
it was more important to help those
By 7.15am, 35 survivors were on
board. They were the only survivors of
almost 1600 passengers and crew from
the two ships.
Mr Gibson said one of the female
survivors died not long after being
brought on board.
"She got a naval funeral," he said.
"We sewed her into a weighted bag
and she went over the side."
The 31 males and four females
were distressed, covered in oil and suf-
fering from exposure after six hours
One survivor, Chiao Chung Chow,
said a large Chinese passenger ship
that sailed periodically between
Keelung and Shanghai had slowed
down before Warramunga arrived but
then sailed off without stopping.
Mr Chow later tracked down three
of Warramunga's crew and came to
Australia in 1996 to thank them per-
HMAS Warramunga I played a brief yet
unique role in the Chinese civil war, SGT
Dave Morley reports.
Warramunga's doctor attended to
the survivors while crew members fed
them hot porridge.
For their actions, the crew were
thanked in a letter from Chinese
authorities that read "... all the peo-
ple of China are greatly influenced by
your righteous deed".
After landing the survivors in
Woosung, Warramunga steamed on
to Shanghai and secured to a buoy, a
dangerous exercise in the fast-flowing
Local leave was granted while
the CO liaised with Royal Navy and
Nationalist Chinese Navy officers
before the ship sailed to Nanking.
Arriving on January 31, official
buses took ratings on sightseeing tours
of Nanking so the locals could see
men in 'British' uniform.
That night a sentry saw three peo-
ple tampering with Warramunga's
head ropes and fired over their heads,
causing them to run off.
After that, searchlights were
trained on the mooring lines at night.
One of Mr Gibson's most vivid
memories of Warramunga's period at
Nanking was a bus trip to have lunch
at the Canadian Embassy.
"We were near the railway station
and I saw a dead communist sympa-
thiser, with his head resting about 10
feet away," he said.
"Then we saw another bloke hang-
ing from a gibbet outside the pictures
-- apparently he'd tried to rob the place.
"I remember counting the bodies
floating down the river from the fight-
ing between the Nationalists and the
HMS Hart relieved Warramunga
on February 15.
Warramunga returned to her duties
with the British Commonwealth
Occupation Force in Japan before
returning to Sydney in April 1949.
Wreckage and rescues
AT SEA: HMAS
Warramunga I, a Tribal-
class destroyer which saw
significant service in both
WWII and the Korean War,
was also involved in rescues
in the China Seas after the
Photo: Sea Power Centre
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