Book Review: Yangtze Showdown: China and the Ordeal of HMS Amethyst


by Brian Izzard

Barnsley, Eng.: Seaforth Pen & Sword / Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2015. Pp. x, 276. Illus., map, appends., notes, biblio., index. $45.95. ISBN: 1848322240

A Desperate Escape by a Small Ship

British journalist and maritime historian Izzard, who has written on the destruction of the liner Queen Elizabeth and other topics, here takes up the today largely forgotten epic tale of the entrapment of HMS Amethyst by the Chinese Communists on the Yangtze River in April of 1949, during the closing phase of the Chinese Civil War, and the frigate’s dramatic escape downriver to the sea in late June of that year, which became the subject of an excellent 1957 film that bears her name.

The actual escape takes up only one of Izzard’s 30 chapters, as he sets the stage by discussing the circumstances surrounding these events. We learn why Amethyst came to be up the Yangtze, how the Red Chinese manage to trap her, the complex and delicate negotiations between the British and Red Chinese, and men of the ship’s company, most notably Lt. Cdr. John Kerans (1915-1985), who took command of the ship during the crisis, early in which her captain and many crewmen had been killed. Then there are several chapters which discuss various options available to the governments involved (keeping in mind that Britain did not recognize the Red Chinese as the a government), as well as to Kerans, the effects of weather, the planning for the escape, and the escape itself. Several more chapters follow, covering the aftermath of these events, including diplomatic and military ass covering, and the later careers of some of the participants, most notably Kerans, who would be awarded the DSO for his feat and later spent many years in Parliament. Five appendices offer addition information.

Yangtze Showdown is well written, with several gripping battle pieces, for a good sea story and a look inside the early days of the Cold War.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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