Shuntien II is the sister ship of Shengking II
The Shuntien II was built by Taikoo Dockyard & Eng. Co., basically an identical copy to her sister ship the Shengking II, built by Scotts SB & Eng Co.
September 2nd. 1937. Blown ashore during a typhoon at Hong Kong while undergoing maintanance at Taikoo Dockyard, refloated.
Built for the express Shanghai - Tientsin sevice.
Events / Stories
Loss of a Gallant Ship
An enquiry by the family of a Royal Artillery gunner killed onboard a China Navigation ship during World War II led to an interesting search through Swire and Admiralty records to try to piece together the last hours of S.S. Shuntien, torpedoed in the Mediterranean in December 1941.
Shuntien, (3059 gross tons), was built by Taikoo Dockyard in 1934 for China Navigation’s Shanghai-Tianjin service. At that time, she was one of the fastest vessels in the fleet, with a normal speed of 16 knots but capability of going much faster. She was compact at just 300 feet long, to allow her to manoeuvre in the river at Tianjin, and had a strengthened, icebreaker bow.
In 1941, as the political storm clouds continued to darken over Asia, Shuntien - in common with a number of other CNCo vessels - was requisitioned under the British government’s Ministry of War Transport liner requisition scheme. Under this scheme, ships were effectively time-chartered by the government, meaning the MOWT directed the vessels’ movements, while the original owners continued to crew them with their own personnel. In August, Shuntien was transferred to Admiralty service as a Defensively Equipped Merchant Ship (DEMS) for use in the Mediterranean, and over the next few months, she acquired a number of Maltese crewmembers to supplement her China coast crew. By December, she was being used to support the British offensive in North Africa, operating out of Alexandria in Egypt.
On 23rd December 1941, Shuntien arrived in convoy at Tobruk in Libya carrying supplies, and after a hasty turnaround, left port again at 1600 hours as part of Convoy TA5, escorted by the British Naval Flower-class corvette HMS Salvia and the three destroyers, Heythrop, Hasty and Hotspur, for the return journey to Alexandria. In addition to her crew of 70, including British officers, an Egyptian wireless operator, Chinese and Maltese deck and engine crew and assorted naval personnel, she also carried 18 Royal Artillery gunners and 1100 German and Italian prisoners of war. The average age of those onboard was well under 30, with many of the crewmembers in their very early 20s; the youngest onboard was Cabin boy Liu Shao Wo, who was only 15 years of age. Illness had prevented both her Second and Third Officers from sailing with the ship outbound from Alex, and they would soon have good reason to be thankful for this twist of fate.
Shuntien was armed with a 12-pounder field gun, four Oerlikon 20 mm anti-aircraft guns, four Marlin M1895/14 machine guns and two World War I vintage Lewis guns - so lightly defended for a voyage through what had become known as “Bomb Alley”, those on board must have felt doomed from the outset. One wonders whether her Captain, William Shinn, whose wife had just given birth to triplets he would never see, was aware that six German U-Boats were known to be patrolling the Libyan coast; when intelligence of the convoy reached them, they closed in like a pack of wolves.
On that fateful December evening, the sun set at 4.30pm, just half an hour after the convoy left Tobruk. A blustery northwester was blowing and there was a strong swell; with her “snub-nosed” conformation, Shuntien would have rolled heavily. The convoy sailed in formation, showing no lights and there was almost no moon that night; for the almost 1200 men crammed onboard, frightened and seasick in the pitch dark, it must have been hell. Submarine lookouts were posted at strategic points all over the ship, and they could just make out the closest vessels in the convoy, escort ship HMS Salvia and merchantman SS Rodi, a captured Italian vessel that was later renamed Empire Patrol. At 1910 hours – three hours into the voyage - these watch-keepers heard the sinister thud of depth charges being dropped by HMS Salvia. Moments later, Shuntien was struck by a single torpedo, blowing away the entire stern section of the ship. Position 32.06 N. 24.46 E. We now know it was fired by U-599, a brand-new German submarine, Type VIIC, commissioned just 19 days earlier, and under the command of Kapitänleutnant Hans Heidtmann, who was later awarded the Knights Cross. The ship sank within five minutes, her bow lifting high into the night sky; there was no time to launch her boats, or to send out a distress message. HMS Salvia plucked 100 men from the black, choppy oil-filled water. Just a few hours later at 01.35 hrs. on 24th December about 100 nautical miles west of Alexandria, HMS Salvia was herself torpedoed by U568, and broke in two, pouring burning oil into the sea, and lost with all hands. The Hunt-class destroyer HMS Heythrop picked up another 19 survivors which were landed at Alexandria and of those lucky ones, Second Engineer John William Hawkrigg gave his account of the sinking to the naval authorities in Alexandria as the only British survivor. He was soon in transit to Calcutta, and within two months was back at sea on another CNCo ship; he served with the company until his retirement in 1962.
So ended the career of Shuntien; in her short, but eventful seven-year life she had already survived piracy and being blown ashore when a violent typhoon struck Hong Kong. She was one of 30 CNCo vessels lost to enemy action during World War II.
Lest we forget… The following members of Shuntien’s crew lost their lives on 23rd December 1941:
Engine Department: Fireman: John Debattista, Fireman: L. Galea, Fireman: John Smith, Donkeyman: Emmanuel Azzopardi, Greaser: Domenic Mercieca, Greaser: John Said
Deck crew: Bosun: Yu Chang Hai, Quartermaster: Chung Un Yung, Quartermaster: Chang King Shun, Quartermaster: Lee Chang Sing, Storekeeper: Wu Ak Kung, Cassab : Sung Pao Kwai, Carpenter: Koon Ching Chay, Chief Steward: E. Palmier, Cook: San Ding Kwai, Pantryman: Henri Caffari, Topass : Chang Cou Hong, Boy: Liu Shao Wo,
Sailors: Chen King Ziang, Chen Shee Chin, Chow Pao Yuen, Kok Chin Kat, Kok Shu Chong, Lee Chin Tuck, Liu Chu Chin