Royal Navy Cmdr. John Kerans, hailed as a hero after he stealthily ran his frigate through a Communist blockade of China in 1949, is dead at age 70, the Times of London reported Friday.
Kerans died Wednesday in a hospital near his home in Surrey, south of London. The cause of death was not reported.
Kerans, Irish-born, was an assistant naval attache at the British Embassy in Nanking when the Chinese Communists were fighting the Chiang Kai-shek government. The frigate Amethyst had gone up the Yangtze River with stores for the embassy at Nanking when it was shelled by a Communist shore battery and 17 were killed, including the captain.
The ship anchored, and Kerans was allowed to board it as the new commanding officer. As negotiations between the British and the Communists dragged on for the ship’s release, Kerans decided to escape. He turned the ship around on the night of July 30, 1949, and navigated past shoals and sandbanks in darkness to reach safety and then the open sea, 140 miles away. The ship was shelled but there were no casualties.
When the Amethyst got home, Kerans headed the ship’s company on a parade through the streets of Plymouth and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order by King George VI.
He later served briefly as a Conservative member of Parliament.