The Great Hong Kong Typhoon of 1937
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.
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.
The following vessels, noted on the map above, were driven ashore during the typhoon.
- Conte Verde 18,765 GRT
- Asama Maru 17,000 GRT
- Talamba 8,018 GRT
- Hong Peng 4,055 GRT
- Tymeric 5,228 GRT
- Sheng Lee 3,087 GRT
- Feng Lee 2,061 GRT
- HMS Cornflower
- Kalgan 2,655 GRT
- Eng Lee 1,394 GRT
- An Lee 1,O68 GRT
- Hsing Lee 1,174 GRT
- Shenandoah 720 GRT
- Bonneville 4,665 GRT
- Moa Lee 1,946 GRT
- Gertrude Maersk 5,038 GRT
- Van Heutsz 4,588 GRT
- Shuntien 3,039 GRT
- Dahun 2,709 GRT
- Kausing 3,790 GRT
- Hsin Ming 2,133 GRT
- Luhsing 4,130 GRT
- Hsin Ping 1,833 GRT
- Hunan 2,827 GRT
- Kwangchow 2,620 GRT
- Teh Hsing 1,625 GRT
- Emmy 3,895 GRT
- Produce 1,170 GRT
- 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.
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.
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.
P & O Booklet about the Stranding of Talamba
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.
Gertrude Maersk and Van Heutsz
- By courtesy of Tynebuilt Ships & Shipbuilders
- By courtesy of Fred Waddington
- By courtesy of the South China Morning Post
- By courtesy of Alan Spencer-Jones
- By courtesy of David Martin
- By courtesy of P & O
- By courtesy of Derek Ings