The Great Hong Kong Typhoon of 1937

Introduction

I don't know who wrote this article - possibly Fred Waddington. It was originally published on the MerchantNavyOfficers.com website. Please see this site's HOME PAGE for information about the background to the content republished here.

The Typhoon

Taikoo Dockyard
Vessels Maron, Hong Keng, Van Heutz, Phemus, Taikookom, Sheng Lee, Yusho Maru, Hong Peng, Hong Siang and Taikoo at the Taikoo Shipyard before the typhoon [2]
On the 2nd of September 1937 a typhoon struck Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland, though not the biggest to date, at the time was considered to be the largest in recorded history. British India's Talamba whose career was brought to an abrupt end in 1943 when sunk off Syracuse was amongst those ships damaged and driven ashore. Many fishing boats and junks were sunk along with their crewmembers and twenty-eight ocean going ships were caught up in the storm, an estimated 11,000 people lost their lives.

Account from a Contemporary Document

The original publication of this material had the following note:

The following is text taken direct from a document of the time, my apologies for any spelling errors; it proved extremely difficult to read.

Many large passenger and cargo vessels weathered the typhoon in harbour without damage, the better-known being the P & O vessels Corfu and Ranpura and N.D.L.'s Gneisenau.

The tide rose 18ft against 7ft 6 inches normal height. The Praya being under water which came up as far as Des Veoux Road. The Post Office basement and shops in Connaught Road were flooded. On the mainland sea water reached the lower end of Nathan Road. The force of the wind caused small fish to be blown many yards from the sea on to buildings 90ft above the ground.
Poster
Poster issued by the 'Colony of Hong Kong' showing the locations of the various vessels affected by the typhoon. [3]

The following vessels, noted on the map above, were driven ashore during the typhoon.

  1. Conte Verde 18,765 GRT
  2. Asama Maru 17,000 GRT
  3. Talamba 8,018 GRT
  4. Hong Peng 4,055 GRT
  5. Tymeric 5,228 GRT
  6. Sheng Lee 3,087 GRT
  7. Feng Lee 2,061 GRT
  8. HMS Cornflower
  9. Kalgan 2,655 GRT
  10. Eng Lee 1,394 GRT
  11. An Lee 1,O68 GRT
  12. Hsing Lee 1,174 GRT
  13. Shenandoah 720 GRT
  14. Bonneville 4,665 GRT
  15. Moa Lee 1,946 GRT
  16. Gertrude Maersk 5,038 GRT
  17. Van Heutsz 4,588 GRT
  18. Shuntien 3,039 GRT
  19. Dahun 2,709 GRT
  20. Kausing 3,790 GRT
  21. Hsin Ming 2,133 GRT
  22. Luhsing 4,130 GRT
  23. Hsin Ping 1,833 GRT
  24. Hunan 2,827 GRT
  25. Kwangchow 2,620 GRT
  26. Teh Hsing 1,625 GRT
  27. Ferry
  28. Emmy 3,895 GRT
  29. Produce 1,170 GRT
  30. Tin Sang 398 GRT
During the typhoon a tidal wave overwhelmed the fishing village of Tai Po, New Territories, and demolished practically all the buildings and fishing boats with heavy loss of life. The wave was said to have been 18ft high, and swept into Tide Cove and washed away almost a mile of the railway embankment, the council Canton was suspended for ten days.
Pressure reading Air speeed
Barometric pressure and wind speed readings [3]
The Aberdeen fishing fleet of about forty junks foundered at sea with only five survivors being picked up five days later by the P & O cargo liner SS Mirzapore. These men did survive; at least four hundred and fifty had been drowned. Other wreckage proved that thousands of the floating population lost their lives. Much damage was done on the bathing beaches and the Lady Lido at Repulse Bay was blown ashore. Damage to local property was comparatively light but it was estimated that the number of lives lost exceeded ten thousand. The typhoon was the severest in the history of the colony, which dates from the year 1841.

HMS Suffolk and HMS Duchesa were damaged by Moa Lee. Africa, Turbo and Oldenburg were damaged by collision in Kowloon Bay.
Shaukiwan Bay
Shaukiwan Bay [2]

Talamba

Talamba
Talamba aground [1]
At the time Talamba was chartered to the Chinese Government for the carriage of rice from Rangoon and was anchored at Junk Bay. As the wind speed increased, her Captain managed, with great difficulty, to steer her past two liners but in doing so was himself struck by the Japanese ship Asama Maru by way of her bow and bridge. Losing all control, Talamba was driven ashore on the northern side of Lye Mun Pass and her forward holds and engine room, both severely holed were flooded. It wasn't until the 21st of November that Talamba was finally refloated by the Hong Kong and Whampoa Dockyard Salvage Company and after lesser difficulties with a sand bar she finally entered drydock two days later. Talamba re-entered service in the March of the following year.
Talamba
Talamba aground [4]
Talamba
Talamba aground [2]
Talamba
Talamba aground with an audience [5]
P & O Booklet about the Stranding of Talamba
P & O booklet P & O booklet P & O booklet P & O booklet
P & O Booklet [6]
Clock Presented to Captain Frank Spenceley

Thanks to Derek Ings for sending a photograph of the clock presented by the Shipyard, (Hong Kong and Whampoa Dock) to Captain Frank Spenceley who was serving on Talamba during the time of the incident whilst he was Chief Officer. The clock is inscribed 'T.S.S. Talamba 2.9.37 to 15.3.38' and measures 11 inches by 7 inches and was given to Derek by the wife of Captain Frank Spenceley.

Clock
Clock Presented to Captain Frank Spenceley [7]

An Lee

An Lee An Lee
An Lee [4]

Asama Maru

Asama Maru
Asama Maru was the ship that caused Talamba to run aground [2]
Asama Maru
Asama Maru aground [2]
Asama Maru
Asama Maru aground [2]
Asama Maru
Asama Maru aground [4]

Conte Verde

Conte Vede
Conte Verde aground [2]

Feng Lee

Feng Lee
Feng Lee aground [4]

Gertrude Maersk and Van Heutsz

Gertrude Maersk and Van Heutsz
Gertrude Maersk and Van Heutsz aground [4]
Van Heutsz
Van Heutsz aground [4]

Hunan

Hunan
Hunan under repair [2]

Hupeh

Hupeh
Hupeh [2]

Man Ping

Man Ping
Man Ping [2]

Hong Peng

Hong Peng Hong Peng Hong Peng
Hong Peng grounded [2]
Hong Peng Hong Peng
Close up of damage to Hong Peng [2]
Hong Peng
Hong Peng [4]

Tymeric

Tymeric Tymeric Tymeric Tymeric Tymeric
Tymeric stranded [2]
Tymeric
Tymeric [4]
Tymeric
Tymeric engineers [2]

Unknown Vessels

Grounded vessel
Unknown vessel aground [2]
Grounded vessel
Unknown vessel aground [4]
Grounded tug
Unknown tug aground [4]

Image Credits

  1. By courtesy of Tynebuilt Ships & Shipbuilders
  2. By courtesy of Fred Waddington
  3. By courtesy of the South China Morning Post
  4. By courtesy of Alan Spencer-Jones
  5. By courtesy of David Martin
  6. By courtesy of P & O
  7. By courtesy of Derek Ings