SS Louise Moller Sweeps Past

Nationalist Warship claiming to be the RFA Black Ranger

as a RN Frigate Stands By

 

 

On 28 October 1949 the British tanker Louise Moller (previously RFA Rapidol) swept past in defiance of a Nationalist gunboat in the Yangtse Estuary in international waters to run through the Shanghai sea blockade successfully and delivered half a million gallons of diesel oil for Caltex.

 

 

SS Louise Moller Sweeps Past

Nationalist Warship claiming to be the RFA Black Ranger

as a RN Frigate Stands By

 

On 28 October 1949 the British tanker Louise Moller (previously RFA Rapidol) swept past in defiance of a Nationalist gunboat in the Yangtse Estuary in international waters to run through the Shanghai sea blockade successfully and delivered half a million gallons of diesel oil for Caltex.

 

HMS Mounts Bay, which escorted the merchant vessel up to the three-mile territorial limit, stood by within firing range as the dash was made in broad daylight. No shot was fired by either naval craft.

 

RFA_Rapidol

RFA Rapidol some years before she became the Louise Moller

 

The Louise Moller, (Captain, Mr T A Lupton) arrived back in Hong Kong on the 2 November 1949 from Shanghai. She was the first vessel to return from running the Shanghai blockade since the implementation of the Royal Navy’s decision to afford protection to British shipping off the China Coast.

 

Mr Lupton, an old China hand and related the eventful trip on his arrival in Hong Kong when interviewed by the local press aboard his ship. “We left Hong Kong with some half a million gallons of diesel oil for Caltex at noon on 23 October for Shanghai” the genial skipper began. The Louise Moller kept clear of the coast in accordance with instructions to avoid Nationalist patrol boats and also to disguise the fact that she was bound for the Communist metropolis. Before reaching Amoy waters the Louise Moller met two unidentified vessels which were running with Station lights. The tanker identified herself as Fleet Auxiliary Black Ranger on fuelling service for HM ships patrolling off the China Coast. The answer from the craft was undecipherable. Off Amoy, the Louise Moller encountered a Nationalist gun boat, some three miles away, which had her searchlights directed to seaward.

 

“We saw flashes ashore, presumably gunfire or bombs” Mr Lupton recalled. The island was illuminated by blazing searchlights scanning the skies apparently for enemy aircraft.

 

Approaching Tai Chow Island on 27 October at dawn the Master said he saw a Butterfield and Swire vessel (which he presumed to be the SS Tsinan) leaving her anchorage inside the minefield.  Reaching Brothers Island (Settle Group) the Louise Moller ran without lights. The Tsinan was ahead and was blacked out likewise. At dawn the following day, two war ships came into sight. There were no identifications visible to those aboard the Louise Moller. The warships proceeded in a Northward direction. No contact was made.

 

 

Tsinan-01

SS Tsinan

 

“We assumed they were Nationalist naval craft and radioed to the Commodore in Hong Kong reporting that we were being intercepted by Nationalist gunboats” Mr Lupton said.

Later it was discovered that the two craft were Royal Navy ships. A third vessel flying the White Ensign came into view. She was also not identified.

 

The Louise Moller contacted two British Warships at 3pm on the same day at the Yangtse Estuary. “We were advised that a Nationalist guard ship was then patrolling the Yangtse area in the charted position of Tungsha Bank buoy, which was out of position. The Royal Navy also informed us that the Nationalist craft had under tow a Kuiton lightship. This had been removed from its charted position inside the three-mile territorial limit to five miles outside the limit. Consequently, British warships were able to escort us past the Nationalist guard ship to the edge of the three-mile limit. When we approached, the guard ship ordered us to stop by flags and by light. Their guns were all manned. We acted on our own initiative to ignore the order and swept past the craft. The Louise Moller swept by with a strong flood tide at full speed ahead passing the belligerent Nationalist vessel as close as 100 yards away.” Mr Lupton said.

 

The Kuiton Light vessel had been removed and other navigation aids were destroyed. “We had to negotiate through by using two lead lines and proceed with the utmost caution. Woosung was sighted at 7pm and we anchored for the night. Customs, Immigration and Security Police officials and men board the ship and made a through search. Captain C D Smith, Yangtse veteran pilot, arrived at daybreak and took us in to moor at Buoy 40-41, where part of our cargo was discharged into a Caltex tanker. The Louise Moller remained at the buoy till evening, when she berthed alongside the Caltex pier.”

 

The British tanker stayed in Communist waters for 35 hours before sailing for home.

 

During her sojourn there, two air raids shook the area.  “Two planes came at about 6am and dropped several bombs far from the Caltex installations,” an officer declared. “Another two arrived some time in the evening and strafed the same spot. The planes circled overhead for a while but did nothing untoward,” he said.

 

Chief Officer C Fryer, of Aldbrough, Hull, said that he noticed two ex Japanese destroyers camouflaged, along the bank of the river. “They were apparently barracks for the soldiers, who were seen in training. Green creepers were spread over the hull and they seemed to have been there for quite a while. The hull was painted green too. Trees and nets covered the upper decks of the craft”

 

Another officer related. “The Tsinan was astern at about two miles away when we made the dash. She followed us in and passed us on the following day when we were moored at the buoy. She went into Shanghai waters evidently.  The Communist officials were civil and treated us with respect. Cameras and binoculars were noted and not sealed. We could operate our radios. Cigarettes and foreign monies were sealed however. Each person was given 100 cigarettes only. We met HMS Mounts Bay before reaching the Yangtse and she escorted us for about five hours.”

 

The Louise Moller has five European officers aboard. They include Mr Lupton, Second Officer B Alger (South Africa), Chief Engineer Norman McAskill DSO (Glasgow) and Second Engineer W Forbes (Dundee).

 

The local press report finished by stating that it is understood that the Louise Moller may leave for the North for a second attempt. Whether the Louise Moller made a second attempt to run the blockade is not known.

 

 

Copyright © 2008 – 2017 Christopher J White

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