YANGSTE WEST RIVER PATROL SQUADRON
H.M.S. CICALA, H.M.S. MOTH AND H.M.S. TARANTULA
There were two rivers in China where the British River Gunboats served.
The Yangtse and Si-Kiang
The latter was often referred to as the West River.
Modern spelling - Xijiang
The photos below are from an album of unique and original photographs dated from 1937 depicting ships and officers from the Yangtse West River Squadron. H.M.S. Moth arrived in China in the summer of 1920 and was stationed on the West River with her sister ships H.M.S. Cicala and H.M.S. Tarantula.
The photos below may be enlarged by clicking on each of the miniatures which follow the photo pages.
In keeping with our usual practice, we have restored the enlargements.
Map of the , and the (watershed/drainage basin) in yellow. The Lubao Yong and Xinan Yong converge with the Liuxi River to form the main branch of the just north of . The long and wide includes the dense network of cities that span nine prefectures of Province, into the South China Sea. Using and data.
Canton - Estuary from Album
Squadron Officers aboard H.M.S. Moth
Lt. Bob Blacker of H.M.S. Cicala sent the following Christmas Cards home.
Squadron Officers - West River 1937
H.M.S Moth, Cicala and Tarantula in Hong Kong
The Coronation of George VI
West River 1937
H.M.S. Moth – West River
H.M.S. Moth - West River
H.M.S. Tarantula - 1937
Bocca Tigris - See map insert below for location
General views of the city of Canton. M/S of Pathe cameraman A T Hull filming with a hand-held camera. Several shots of smoke rising from the city during a bombing raid by the Japanese. Distressed people mill about a busy street; quick shot of bombers flying overhead. Bodies are strewn about amongst the rubble of bombed buildings; people work to clear the debris; women search for their possessions in the ruins of their homes.
The Campaign to Seize Canton (Guangzhou) - 1937 - 1938
Contemporaneous photo of two Insect Gunboats in Canton 1937
Looking upstream from USS MINDANAO (PR-8) at smoke from a Japanese air raid on Canton, summer 1937.
British "Insect" Class Gunboats visible in this view are probably H.M.S. CICALA (L) and H.M.S. TARANTULA or MOTH.
Description: Courtesy of Rear Admiral J.D. Shaw USN (RET), 1973
On Sunday, December 7th, 1941 in the graving dock in the naval yard at Hong Kong H.M.S. Moth was undergoing an extensive refit, which necessitated the removal of some of her hull plates. Under Japanese attack and with no skilled workers available to complete repairs sufficiently to enable her to be re-floated, or to even undock the vessel, Commodore Collinson decided to put the gunboat out of action. Her guns were hastily removed, the pom-pom being mounted near the entrance to the graving dock, and the 3-inch handed over to the military to replace one of their own guns which had been destroyed. The ship's company were sent to join up with the garrison forces, the sluices were opened and the dock was flooded. Soon the Moth was completely submerged save for the top of her foremast protruding from the sea of debris floating about in the graving dock.
After the fall of Hong Kong, the conquerors set to work and salvaged the scuttled British Insect class gunboat Moth from her resting place in the flooded graving dock. They re-armed her and put her into service, and under the revived name of Suma she flew the Rising Sun from her ensign staff. From Hong Kong she was later steamed northwards to the Yangtse, a river she had not previously known.
Then one day an American military aircraft on a minelaying mission dropped a clutch of lethal eggs in the Yangtse a few miles above Nanking. On March 19th, 1945, while H.I.J.M.S. Suma was steaming down river she ran on to one of those mines and was blown to pieces. Thus, the fifth of the Insects to meet her ultimate fate died twice.
A summary of the ship's history may be viewed at:
H.M.S. Cicala in drydock. Canton.
On 21 December H.M.S Cicala which had so far survived sixty dive bombing attacks and almost continuous shelling from Japanese shore batteries and mortars was again attacked by dive bombers after sailing close to Deep Water Bay to shell Japanese mortar positions on Shouson Hill and Bennet's Hill. Once again after eight unsuccessful attacks the ninthmanaged to drop three bombs along the centre line of the ship, one smashing the starboard skiff on its davits and blowing a hole in the hull, one passing through the ship's company mess deck to explode beneath the hull and the third going straight through the aft compartment without exploding. The gunboat began to flood uncontrollably and settled slowly in the East Lamma Channel. Lt Cdr Kennedy witnessing her end from MTB-09.
On 23 Dec 2015 we received the following from Buddy Hide Jr. regarding H.M.S. Cicala's end.
Contrary to most reports HMS Cicala commanded by Lt-Cmd John C Boldero was scuttled by depth charges from MTB 09 in East Lamma Channel, Hong Kong after being hit by a string of bombs on 22nd December 1941.
The Senior Naval Officer, Aberdeen, Cmd Hugh Montague RN (Rtrd) signalled Lt-CMD Gerrard Gandy RN (Rtrd) on MTB 10 to take of survivors and sink the gallant Cicala. Gandy in turn ordered Lt Alexander Kennedy on MTB 09 to depth charge her, which Kennedy did using all six of his depth charges. MTB 07 was standing by.
I have Gandy's hand-written account along with the Log Book of MTB 07, on which my father was serving, and Kennedy's account in his self-published book "Hong Kong Full Circle 1939-45".
Buddy Hide Jr
Author of Escape from Hong Kong at: http://www.hongkongescape.org/Kennedy.htm#HKFC
On the 21st December nine planes of the Japanese air-force flew lazily over HMS Cicala.
The Senior Naval Officer Aberdeen, Commander Montague RN, signalled to evacuate the Cicala ships company and sink her by depth charge; the latter job I delegated to MTB 09 while I took off the crew in MTB 10. This was when my First Lieutenant ( ) got wounded by a stray piece of shell."
: "Near Aberdeen (East Lamma Channel) the "Cicala" was doing yeoman service with her two six-inch guns bombarding enemy positions, and in consequence came under repeated attack from the air. The value of her work was confirmed the next morning by the determination of the Japanese to silence her. The "Cicala" was steaming slowly near the coast continuing the bombardment when the air attack began. Nine planes circled high above her and one by one peeled off leisurely into a dive. Eight times the water rose up like a curtain round the ship, and eight times it fell to reveal the "Cicala" still sitting there firing at the land. It was agonising to watch, but after the bombs had gone from the last aircraft and the fountains of spray subsided, her guns were silent and smoke was coming from the ship.
'And now there were five!' Five naval vessels left, all of them MTBs.