Sailors under siege

THE YANGTZE INCIDENT

Allan George pays tribute to the heroics displayed on a frigate that was trapped for 100 days under the guns of the Chinese communists in 1949

Amethyst runs the Yangtze gauntlet
MONTAGUE DAWSON (ARTIST)/CHRONICLE/ ALAMY

In Communist China, it was heralded as the end of ‘gunboat diplomacy’. In Britain, it was a symbol of stoicism and endurance against unfathomable odds. For the Royal Navy, it was a difficult job well done. And for the crew of the frigate HMS Amethyst... well, they were probably just relieved to be out of harm’s way.

Amethyst was peacefully – and lawfully – steaming up the Yangtze river when she came under attack by Chinese communist artillery on April 20, 1949. The frigate was on the way to relieve the British guardship at Nanking (now Nanjing), capital of the Chinese nationalist government, more than 200 miles from the river’s mouth. Damaged by the shellfire, Amethyst was trapped in the river for almost three months. More than 20 seamen were killed and many more injured. So began an extraordinary tale of British sailors under siege.

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