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China’s Secret Salvage of Britain’s Lost Submarine

authored by Steven R. Schwankert

Publication Year: 2013

Poseidon: China’s Secret Salvage of Britain’s Lost Submarine represents a work of scholarship using both original Chinese and English-language sources, leading ultimately to the discovery of a hidden chapter in the submarine HMS Poseidon’s history. As The Associated Press wrote, “A lifelong scuba diving obsession led Steven Schwankert to the tale of the HMS Poseidon and the startling discovery that the British submarine, which sank off the northeastern coast of China in the 1930s, had been raised by the Chinese in 1972.” Engaged in surface and submerged attack exercises with its sister ships, June 9, 1931 went horribly wrong for the HMS Poseidon. Despite what most eyewitness accounts describe as “good visibility,” one of Britain’s most modern submarines made a series of misjudgments and collided with a Chinese freighter in the Bohai Sea. In two minutes, the sub went down. Thirty officers and crew escaped before the Poseidon took its final plunge to the bottom. New research has revealed sinister questions about the Poseidon’s sinking, the abandonment of its salvage, and its ultimate fate. Did the British government-on the eve of establishing formal diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China—know that as the Union Jack was being raised in Beijing, Chinese salvors were preparing to salvage their sailors’ grave site for scrap? And what happened to those sailors’ remains during the salvage? This book is not only one of the first accounts of a 20th century shipwreck discovered in Chinese waters, but represents a historical account of the Interwar Period (1919-1938) for the Royal Navy, for China during the Republican Years, and the employment of 21st century technology to make an original discovery and add an additional, final chapter to the history of a Royal Navy submarine.

Published by: Hong Kong University Press, HKU


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xii

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pp. xiii-xv

My first acknowledgment goes to the man who inspired this book: Ed Lanfranco. A gifted historian, Ed’s friendship and interest in my pursuits pushed me towards this once-in-a-lifetime story without either of us knowing it. The unfettered access he gave me to the...

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Notes on Measurements and Romanization

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pp. xvii-19

This book takes place during two distinct periods: 1931, and the present day. Therefore, I have chosen to preserve the spelling and measurements used most commonly in documents from each period. The former British colony of Weihaiwei, now the modern city of...

The Sea King

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pp. xix-21

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pp. 1-2

It is a strange experience to search for one thing and find something else entirely. That is especially true when what is discovered far exceeds the value of the original objective. Rarely is the miner so fortunate to begin digging for coal, only to strike gold....

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1. Hallowed Be Thy Name

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pp. 3-5

The Irishman’s prayer ended after “evil”; Catholics did not say that last bit. He opened his eyes, raised his head, and unclasped his hands, looking around the compartment in the dim glimmer of the flashlight, hoping that his vision would adjust and allow him to see something...

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2. The Men and the Boat

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pp. 7-25

On Tuesday, June 9, almost halfway through 1931, the developed world was suffering in the grip of the Great Depression, but life went on even as millions struggled. In the United States, the Empire State Building, the world’s tallest, had opened in New York...

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3. “This Most Absolutely Forgotten of Imperial Outposts”

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pp. 27-36

During its time as a British colony, Weihaiwei was far from a jewel in the crown. It did not have the magnificent harbor of Hong Kong. It did not see the diverse cargo of Singapore. It was a backwater before it ever came under British control. Weihaiwei’s process of becoming...

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4. Bad Judgment in Good Visibility

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pp. 37-44

That Tuesday in June promised to be a fine late spring day for coastal Shandong Province. The air on Liu Gong Island bore a slight nip from the still-cold waters of Weihaiwei Harbor and the Gulf of Pechihli, into which it emptied. However, given the choice of the chill or the...

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5. Escape

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pp. 45-56

When the submarine came to rest on the Gulf of Pechihli’s muddy bottom, the watertight door began to leak. It took all six of the navy men to shut it, and even then water still flowed in. Reginald Clarke in particular strained to close the door, and took a few minutes to...

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6. Hews and Ho

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pp. 57-62

There are three known, complete versions of the events in the torpedo room and subsequent escape: Patrick Willis’s, first related at the court of enquiry hearing; Edmund Holt’s, also presented in part at the court of enquiry, but in full in Robert H. Davis’s Deep Diving...

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7. “A Damned Lie”

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pp. 63-68

Most surprising is not the British public’s reaction to the event or the media’s interest in covering it. Instead, the surprise comes from the speed with which the story reached smaller communities in places such as the US. Just as the sinking of the Russian submarine ,em>Kursk...

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8. The Court of Enquiry and Court-Martial

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pp. 69-82

Less than a week after the loss of Poseidon, a court of enquiry was convened aboard the flotilla’s depot ship, HMS Medway. The threeman panel comprised Captain Geoffrey Layton of HMS Suffolk, the court’s president and a submariner of renown from World War I;...

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9. Aftermath and Legacy

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pp. 83-104

Although the loss of Poseidon and subsequent court-martial proceedings had publicly damaged Galpin’s professional reputation, privately his stature as a naval officer seemed little diminished. In a message from the commander in chief in China to the Admiralty, dated July 4,...

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10. A Search Begins

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pp. 105-109

In late May 2005, I paid a visit to Ed Lanfranco, United Press International’s Beijing bureau chief. I had first met him in the late 1990s, when we were both interlopers in the Internet industry, he an analyst and I a reporter and entrepreneur. I first visited China in...

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11. London and Portsmouth

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pp. 111-120

Paddington Bear waits at his eponymous railway station, as Sherlock Holmes sits and smokes his pipe and ponders his latest mystery over at 221B Baker Street. Soccer hooligans roam the streets, causing trouble regardless of whether Arsenal or Chelsea won. Harry...

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12. More Than Just the World Cup

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pp. 121-124

While many observers find it useful to classify Chinese cities as first tier (Beijing, Shanghai) or second tier (Hangzhou, Nanjing) to describe levels of income and relative quality of life, the presence of certain fast-food outlets may be a more meaningful measure to...


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pp. Plate1-Plate16

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13. London Again

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pp. 125-136

At the risk of paraphrasing former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld,1 sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know. That is, we expect that a story will turn out one way or another, or that we need this bit of information or that, only to discover that the story is different...

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14. The Rosetta Stone

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pp. 137-142

The story and history of the Royal Navy submarine was recorded primarily in English despite the fact that Poseidon sank off the coast of China. Official accounts, witness statements, court of enquiry proceedings, all of these would have been written in English, and...

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15. The Salvage

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pp. 143-153

Xiandai jianchuan (Modern Ships) is one of several general-interest naval magazines that are popular with younger, generally male, readers in China. Along with articles discussing the continuing development of China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLA Navy), it looks at the...

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16. Finding the Graves

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pp. 155-167

A year passed between my first visit to Weihai and my second. The initial trip had been positive but had not provided any of the answers I had hoped would lie somewhere on Liu Gong Island. There were hints—maps, vistas, and landmarks—but I ended up being little more...

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17. On Eternal Patrol

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pp. 169-187

Throughout the Poseidon research, there was something missing from the process: Despite the sinking having taken place in the twentieth century, there was no personal connection to the incident. Not only had all the survivors passed away but, in many instances, so had their...

Appendix. HMS Poseidon Officers and Crew

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pp. 189-191


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pp. 193-207


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pp. 209-214


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pp. 215-219

E-ISBN-13: 9789888180943
Print-ISBN-13: 9789888208180

Page Count: 240
Illustrations: 33 b/w illus
Publication Year: 2013