- Taylor, R.A. CPO, RN
- Biographies and personal histories, History - WW2, History - Between the wars
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- March 1984 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Obviously with the Admiral onboard, Hankow was more or less the base for directing operations, however we travelled up and down the river ensuring that all was well for RN facilities, where some boats had to remain for weeks at a time. In most cases they were tied up to floating pontoons but when they were anchored problems existed, from floating debris, floating rafts and silting of the anchor, which the capstan engine was unable to lift. In these cases the anchor cable was parted, a 44-gallon drum slid over it, re- join the cable and allow the drum to settle. With working the cable up and down this acted as a cutting edge and the current did the rest. After this necessity the anchor was sighted, which of course, depended on river conditions. It may be of interest to know that at Hankow when the river is in flood 1½ million cubic yards of soil in suspension every hour flows down river to Woosung Flats.
Another great navigation hazard was the huge log rafts. Thousands of logs were tied together, a virtual village constructed on them and floated down to Shanghai. Once there, the village people returned to their sampans, going back up river, the round trip taking 6 to 8 months with them living off the fish in the river and land on the way.
What was most interesting to see was a mass of floating ducks, floating down river to the market. One day I watched the Chinese clear a piece of ground and lace it with thousands of fish hooks then sprinkling rice over the ground. When the ducks landed and started walking, their web feet were hooked. They were then gathered, each leg tied together, and made to walk to the river for the onward trip.
Also of interest was to see ships of the main fleet sail up river for a few days. Apart from the show of force, and of course breaking the monotony for us, the fresh water with all its grit careened the ships’ bottoms, which of course meant less docking and better fuel consumption.
Obviously with a gunboat in each port various recreational facilities were provided. A wet canteen and football fields were provided plus of course, a mixture of Japanese and EWO beer brewed in Shanghai, which was most enjoyable after our shooting trip.
Many sailors off-duty were formed to go beating, for those with guns, chasing deer, hare and rousing pheasants and quail, which were in abundance near some ports. We often dined quite royally from some of their efforts. A most hilarious occasion arose on one of these shooting trips. For hours we got nothing, so on returning to the ship we passed a pig farm. One frustrated sailor said: ‘I’m going to shoot something’, so he raised his gun and put a barrel of shot into a huge pig’s rear end. The commotion it caused was most unwelcome as we were chased over paddy fields by irate farmers before reaching the safety of the ship.
We did look a motley throng, covered in mud and rice shoots. Quite amusing also was the early morning duck shoots. Decoy ducks were placed in still water beckoning the oncoming horde, often successful. It could be said that the most interesting and at times most frightening was the journey from Ichang to Chungking, a distance of 310 miles with a different river level of 300 feet, passing through the Yangtse Gorges, where the current runs anywhere from 10 to 18 knots. Before proceeding, river levels are obtained from various stations on the upper reaches, and when suitable, Chinese pilots and helmsmen are embarked.
Two specially designed ships were allocated this river stretch – H.M. Ships Falcon and Petrel, being of about 300 tons and engined by turbines. However during an uprising near Chungking, the Admiral decided to sail there.
At Ichang we refitted the engines, did a 4- hour full power trial, embarked bearing off spares. Two telegraph poles positioned, one forward and one aft with the necessary TAGLES to thrust out either side to keep off the cliff. Two stops only were available on the way. One, an anchorage, the other at Wanshein. You had to reach these or perish. Time allocated for 310 miles was three days at full speed. The first day through the gorge, 90 miles, was terrific. Doing 18 knots we were barely making headway and at one place stopped in front of a virtual weir for 20 minutes.