August - September 1926



One significant event in which Cockchafer, Scarab and Mantis were involved was the Wanhsien Incident in August and September 1926.


Wanhsien, now known as Wanzhou District, is a port on the Yangtze River about 1,500 miles (2,400 km) upstream from Shanghai. The local warlord, Marshal Wu Pei Fu controlled the area and his local commander was General Yang Sen. General Yang's troops seized the British merchant ship, SS Wanhsien in August 1926, which belonged to the China Navigation Co. The crew of Cockchafer heard the British crew calling for help and sent an officer and boarding party to Wanhsien to investigate. They found the ship occupied by 100 Chinese soldiers. The Navy party obtained the release of the ship after a heated argument.


Two days later another China Navigation Co. ship, the SS Wanliu was boarded by Chinese soldiers. The captain ordered the ship to leave and rumours spread that the ship had intentionally rammed boats full of Chinese soldiers drowning them. In fact two of the boats had collided and one had capsized and it is unclear how many soldiers were lost. The Wanliu steamed upstream while the Chinese soldiers aboard attempted to capture the ship. They were unable to do so by the time the Wanliu reached Wanhsien where Cockchafer sent a boarding party to remove the soldiers.


The reports about the escape of the Wanliu reached General Yang whose troops captured SS Wanhsien again. The British officers were held aboard. Another British merchant ship SS Wantung was also captured. Chinese troops with artillery gathered on the shore. General Yang seized several of Cockchafer's Chinese crewmembers who were ashore and one was killed in full view of the rest of the crew. Yang refused to negotiate with the commander of Cockchafer and the senior officer on the Upper Yangtze, commander of HMS Widgeon headed for Wanhsien while Cockchafer remained at Wanhsien in a standoff with the overwhelming numbers of Chinese troops.


On 1 September 1926 HMS Widgeon arrived at Wanhsien but negotiations did not go well and the Rear Admiral on the Yangtze decided that the matter would have to be settled by force. A British merchant ship, SS Kiawo, was camouflaged and armoured and manned by a naval crew gathered from Cockchafer, HMS Despatch (a light cruiser), HMS Scarab and HMS Mantis. Kiawo sailed on 4 September 1926.


In the evening of 5 September 1926 the Kiawo arrived in sight of Wanhsien. The plan was to board and re-take SS Wanhsien and SS Wantung. While HMS Widgeon and HMS Cockchafer would provide covering fire. Kiawo came under fire from the Chinese troops ashore. She came alongside Wanhsien and boarded under fire. The boarding party rescued the British seaman held onboard after fierce fighting.


In the meantime, Chinese troops onshore and aboard Wantung opened fire on Cockchafer and Widgeon which returned fire. The boarding party aboard SS Wanhsien suffered a number of casualties including the senior British officer from HMS Despatch and Cockchafer's sub-lieutenant who were killed. Having rescued the British merchant seamen onboard SS Wanhsien the attacking force retired to SS Kiawo. After an hour of fighting, the action was discontinued and the two merchant ships were abandoned. The British ships then retired having rescued the crews.




Wanhsien  Expedition

 Naval Officers before the scrap

From HMS Scarab, Cockchafer, Mantis and  SS Kiawo



Wanhsien  Expedition

Surviving Naval Officers 

Surgeon Lieutenant Murray –HMS Mantis

Lieutenant Fogg-Elliot –HMS Mantis

Lieutenant Peterson –HMS Scarab



Sunset on the Yangtze river 2


Gorge between Ichang and Wanhsien



Pom-Pom gun from HMS Cockchafer mounted on SS Kiawo 1926





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