WORLD-OBITS-L ArchivesArchiver > WORLD-OBITS > 2008-11 > 1226883829
From: "Peter McCrae" <>
Subject: [W-OBITS] CLEAVER: Gordon Cleaver 2008
Date: Mon, 17 Nov 2008 01:03:49 -0000
Leading Seaman Gordon Cleaver
Hero of the Pearl River Incident in which his patrol boat was shelled by a
Communist Chinese warship
Last Updated: 6:16PM GMT 10 Nov 2008
Gordon Cleaver (right) with comrade Able Seaman A C Knight
Leading Seaman Gordon Cleaver, who has died aged 75, was the hero of the
Pearl River Incident in 1953 when, with half his shipmates killed, he took
command of his patrol boat to bring her into British waters off Hong Kong.
On Sept 9, 1953, Cleaver, who had just been made up to a leading hand in
Harbour Defence Motor Launch 1323, was watching traffic at the mouth of the
river on the Hong Kong boundary with China. Her captain, the South-African
born Lieutenant GCX Merriman, had just inspected a junk when he saw a
warship, flying the Communist Chinese flag, coming downriver.
Despite orders to avoid provocation so soon after the Korean War armistice,
Merriman steered a course to intercept. Cleaver went to the six-pounder gun
on the forecastle, ready to jump into the mounting should action stations be
sounded. With the distance between the two ships closing rapidly, Merriman
had just taken photographs with a telescopic camera, when the Chinese
warship hoisted an international flag "K", signalling him to stop his
vessel, emphasising this with a burst of small arms fire.
Ignoring the order Merriman turned away and increased to full speed when a
large calibre shell smashed into ML 1323's engine room without exploding. As
the crew sheltered in the lightly armoured wheelhouse, Cleaver entered the
engine room to find a large hole in the port side and opposite an unexploded
shell, which he carried on deck and dropped over the side.
Chinese machine-gun fire now cut through the wooden hull of ML 1323 to
destroy the radio. As Merriman gave the order "Action Stations!" a shell
shattered the bridge, severing his legs and a hand. He cried out for
morphine, but when Cleaver forced open the safe he could find only papers
and a sextant. Meanwhile more shells killed everyone in the wheelhouse and
detonated the launch's ammunition.
Cleaver helped to put out a fierce fire in the engine room and then, still
under attack, calmly unscrewed a deck plate to connect the emergency
steering. While two unarmed RAF Hornets screamed over the Chinese warship to
draw her fire, he then steered for the police station on one of the colony's
With the wrecked engines knocking as blood ran onto them from the decks
above, he ordered Stokers Milner and Clarke, who were unhurt, to reduce
speed in order to avoid the engines stalling.
With help from Clarke, Cleaver cut away the mast which was trailing over the
side and rehoisted the White Ensign at the stern.
Despite rising wind and rough seas he gradually closed the coast until a
Hong Kong Marine Police launch took ML 1323 in tow.
In under three hours the action was over: among the six dead were Merriman
and Captain EF Gower of the Royal Hong Kong Defence Force, and four others
were seriously injured. Cleaver was found to have shown outstanding coolness
and courageousness when suddenly and unexpectedly surrounded by death and
bloodshed, and was awarded the BEM.
Gordon Cleaver was born on March 20 1933, the son of a Surrey postman, and
joined the Navy at HMS St Vincent, Gosport, as a boy seaman in 1948. In
retirement he worked in engineering management in Middlesex, and at the time
of his death he was an effective chairman of the Hong Kong Flotilla
Association. The Untold Story of HDML 1323 by John H Fleming was published
Gordon Cleaver, who died on October 28, is survived by his wife Jean; there
were no children.
|[W-OBITS] CLEAVER: Gordon Cleaver 2008 by "Peter McCrae" <>|