Yangtse Incident: The Story of H.M.S. Amethyst

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Yangtse Incident: The Story of H.M.S. Amethyst
Yangtse Incident trade.JPG
Directed by Michael Anderson
Produced by Herbert Wilcox
Written by Eric Ambler
Starring Richard Todd
William Hartnell
Akim Tamiroff
Distributed by British Lion Films
Distributors Corporation of America (US)
Release date
1 April 1957
Running time
113 min
Country United Kingdom
Language English

Yangtse Incident: The Story of H.M.S. Amethyst (1957) is a British war film that tells the story of the British frigate HMS Amethyst caught up in the Chinese Civil War.

It was based upon the book written by Lawrence Earl. The film was known in the US by the alternative titles Battle Hell, Escape of the Amethyst, Their Greatest Glory and Yangtze Incident. Non-English language titles include the direct German translation of Yangtse-Zwischenfall, and Commando sur le Yang-Tse in France. In Belgium it was known as Feu sur le Yangtse (French) and Vuur op de Yangtse (Flemish/Dutch), both meaning "Fire on the Yangtse".

The film was entered into the 1957 Cannes Film Festival.[1]


On 19 April 1949, the Royal Navy frigate HMS Amethyst sails up the Yangtze River on her way to Nanking, the Chinese capital, to deliver supplies to the British Embassy. Suddenly, without warning, People's Liberation Army (PLA) shore batteries open fire and after a heavy engagement, Amethyst lies grounded in the mud and badly damaged. Fifty-four of her crew are dead, dying or seriously wounded while others deteriorate from the tropical heat and the lack of essential medicines, including the ship's captain, who dies of his wounds. An attempt to evacuate the wounded is only partially successful - the officers of the Amethyst become aware that two Petty Officers were captured by the PLA and are being held at a nearby military hospital. After taking stock of their position, the Captain is replaced by Lieutenant Commander John Kerans (Richard Todd), who had been serving as a Naval attaché in nearby Nanking but rushes to the beleaguered ship to take command.

After an attempt by HMS Consort to tow Amethyst off the mud bank fails, Lieutenant Commander Kerans decides to risk steaming down the Yangtze at night without a pilot or suitable charts. Before they can leave, however, the local Communist official Colonel Peng (Akim Tamiroff) makes contact with the Amethyst and at a meeting between senior officers makes his position clear: either the British government releases an apology accepting all responsibility for the entire incident, or the Amethyst will remain his prisoner. Similarly, he will not allow the two wounded sailors to leave unless they give him statements declaring the British to have been the transgressors, which they refuse to do. Kerans dismisses his demands but is able to manipulate Peng into the release of the Petty Officers; meanwhile, as talks progress he has the ship patched up and its engines restored. After some subtle alterations to the ship's outline to try to disguise her, Amethyst slips her cable and heads downriver in the dark following a local merchant ship, which Amethyst uses to show the way through the shoals and distract the PLA. When the shore batteries finally notice the frigate escaping downriver, the merchantman receives the brunt of the PLA artillery and catches fire, while Amethyst presses on at top speed.

Encountering an obstruction in the river in the form of several sunken ships, and having no proper equipment for charting a safe course, Kerans uses both intuition and luck to slip through before then reaching the guns and searchlights of Woosung. After she is inevitably spotted, the Amethyst is forced into a lengthy fight with the PLA batteries as she simply flees with all guns blazing, heading for the mouth of the river just beyond. As day dawns she finally reaches the open ocean, where she greets HMS Concord with the message "Never repeat never has another ship been so welcome". She also sends a signal to headquarters: "Have rejoined the fleet south of Woosung ... No major damage... No casualties....God save the King!" The film then ends with scrolling text reciting verbatim the message sent the very same day from King George VI, commending the crew for their "courage, skill and determination".[2]


  • Richard Todd as Lieutenant-Commander John Simon Kerans, RN, British Assistant Naval Attaché, Nanking, and replacement Commanding Officer
  • William Hartnell as Leading Seaman (Quartermaster) Leslie Frank, RN, Coxswain
  • Akim Tamiroff as Colonel Peng, PLA Political Officer
  • Donald Houston as Lieutenant Geoffrey Lee Weston, DSC, RN, First Lieutenant
  • Keye Luke as Captain Kuo Tai, PLA
  • Sophie Stewart as Miss Charlotte Dunlap, hospital matron
  • Robert Urquhart as Flight Lieutenant Michael Edward Fearnley, RAF, replacement Medical Officer
  • James Kenney as Lieutenant Keith Stewart Hett, RN
  • Richard Leech as Lieutenant Strain, RN
  • Michael Brill as Lieutenant Peter Egerton Capel Berger, RN
  • Barry Foster as Stores Petty Officer John Justin McCarthy, RN
  • Thomas Heathcote as Commissioned Gunner Monaghan, RN
  • Sam Kydd as Able Seaman Walker, RN
  • Ewen Solon as Engine Room Artificer 2nd Class Leonard Walter Williams, RN
  • Brian Smith as Boy 1st Class Keith Cantrill Martin, RN
  • Kenneth Cope Store's Rating HMS Amythest
  • Alfred Burke as Petty Officer
  • Richard Coleman as Lieutenant-Commander Bernard Morland Skinner, RN, Commanding Officer
  • Ian Bannen as Stoker Mechanic Sammy Bannister, RN
  • Ray Jackson as Telegraphist Jack Leonard French, RN
  • Gordon Whiting as Surgeon Lieutenant John Michael Alderton, RN, Medical Officer
  • Bernard Cribbins as Able Seaman James Bryson, RN (his feature film debut)
  • Anthony Chinn as PLA Officer
  • John Paul as Staff Officer Operations
  • Basil Dignam as Sir Lionel Henry Lamb, British Ambassador to the Republic of China
  • Ralph Truman as Vice-Admiral
  • Gene Anderson as Ruth Worth, nurse
  • John Horsley as Chief Staff Officer
  • Tom Bowman as Commander Ian Greig Robertson, DSC, RN, Commanding Officer, HMS Consort
  • Jeremy Burnham as Flag Lieutenant to Vice-Admiral
  • Cyril Luckham as Commander-in-Chief, Far Eastern Station
  • Allan Cuthbertson as Captain Donaldson, RN, British Naval Attaché, Nanking
  • Ballard Berkeley as Lieutenant-Colonel Dewar-Curie, British Assistant Military Attaché, Nanking
  • Keith Faulkner as Ordinary Signalman
  • Rhett Ward as Lieutenant Mirehouse, RN
  • Philip Vickers as Surgeon Lieutenant Packard, RN
  • Tsai Chin as Sampan Woman


  • HMS Amethyst was brought out of store to participate in the film as herself. As the Amethyst's main engines were no longer operational, her sister Black Swan-class sloop HMS Magpie stood in for shots of the ship moving and firing her guns.
  • John Kerans, by then promoted to commander, served as technical advisor during the production.[3]
  • The destroyer HMS Teazer stood in for both HMS Consort and HMS Concord. As Consort, down from Nanking, she wore the correct pennant number D76; as Concord, up from Shanghai, her pennant number was covered by Union flags. Teazer is depicted firing her guns broadside and turning at speed in the narrow confines of the Stour estuary as Consort attempts to get a towing line to Amethyst under heavy gunfire.
  • The rivers Orwell and Stour - which run between Ipswich and Manningtree, in Suffolk, England - doubled as the Yangtze River during the making of this film. The Chinese PLA gun batteries - depicted by old Royal Navy field guns on land carriages - were deployed on the sloping banks of the Boys' Training Establishment HMS Ganges which was sited at Shotley Gate, facing Felixstowe on the Orwell, and Harwich on the Stour, where the rivers converge.

The film was meant to be distributed by RKO but they withdrew during production leaving Herbert Wilcox in debt for £150,000. The National Film Finance Corporation stepped in to make up the short fall.[4]


The film was the 15th most popular movie at the British box office in 1957.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Yangtse Incident". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 2009-02-08. 
  2. ^ "HMS AMETHYST BREAKS OUT OF THE YANGTZE RIVER (MP168)". maritimeprints.com. Retrieved 11 September 2013. 
  3. ^ The opening film credits state: "Technical advisor Commander J. S. Kerans D.S.O, R.N. who commanded H.M.S. Amethyst during much of the period of the story, and whose exceptional help is gratefully acknowledged."
  4. ^ Harper, Sue; Porter, Vincent (2003). British Cinema of the 1950s: The Decline of Deference. Oxford University Press. p. 158. 
  5. ^ LINDSAY ANDERSON, and DAVID DENT. "Time For New Ideas." Times [London, England] 8 Jan. 1958: 9. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 11 July 2012.

External links[edit]