Battle of Hong Kong
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
In 1841, the United Kingdom leased Hong Kong Island, Kowloon Peninsula, and surrounding land from China. Over the following 100 years, Hong Kong grew into a busy port city and became one of the symbols of British power in the Far East. Hong Kong was considered to be politically important; aside from being British territory, it was also important for the British to be present to remind China that the British stood near in support of China in the Second Sino-Japanese War, albeit indirectly. Nevertheless, British military leaders understood that it was not strategically important, thus at the eve of the Japanese invasion, the territory was only lightly defended with British, Indian, and Chinese troops. The garrison had 29 coastal guns, all deployed on Hong Kong Island, and was supported by a small naval contingent consisted of one destroyer, eight torpedo boats, and four gunboats. In Nov 1941, two Canadian infantry division arrived to reinforce the garrison, bolstering the strength to 15,000 men.
Just before the start of the Pacific War, 52,000-strong Japanese 38th Division under the command of Takashi Sakai gathered just north of the border. Inaccurate British intelligence reported that only 20,000 men were present, thus providing the garrison a false sense of security.
At 0800 on 8 Dec 1941, eight hours after the Pearl Harbor attack, the Japanese troops poured across the border, engaging the British and Commonwealth troops dug in along the Gin Drinker's Line immediately behind the border. British Major General Christopher Michael Maltby lost the few aircraft he had under his command, therefore had a difficult campaign early on as he had no control of the air while his troops were out-numbered. During the night of 9 Dec, Japanese troops mounted a massed attack on the western portion of the defensive line, and the Gin Drinkers' Line collapsed by 10 Dec. On 11 Dec, as Japanese troops advanced southward along the Kowloon Peninsula, Maltby ordered the evacuation of all troops to Hong Kong Island. On 13 Dec the Rajputs of the British Indian Army, the last of the British troops on the mainland, fell back onto Hong Kong Island.
After a failed call for surrender on 13 Dec, the Japanese again demanded surrender on 15 Dec. After receiving the rejection, Japanese artillery and aircraft conducted an intense bombardment on Hong Kong Island on 15 Dec. On 17 Dec, yet another demand for surrender was issued, but was again rejected. A light Japanese force crossed the Lye Mun Pass and landed on Hong Kong in the evening of 18 Dec, and a stronger beachhead was established by the next morning. On 19 Dec, the Japanese troops overran the key Wong Nai Chong Gap in the center of the island, thus dividing the British defense in half. By 20 Dec, the Japanese held control of the western half of the island. It was then that the worst of the atrocities began. At the Salesian Mission on the Chai Wan Road, the Japanese massacred nuns and members of the medical staff there after they had surrendered. As the Japanese captured the reservoir, the British garrison's water supply situation grew desperate quickly. On 24 Dec, Japanese soldiers entered the British field hospital at St. Stephen's College and tortured and killed over 60 injured soldiers, nurses, and doctors.
In the afternoon of 25 Dec 1941, later named "Black Christmas", Governor General of Hong Kong Sir Mark Aitchison Young surrendered at the third floor of the Peninsula Hong Kong hotel. In the 18-day battle, Japan suffered 2,754 casualties and the British 11,848. Isogai Rensuke was named the Japanese military governor of Hong Kong. Japanese atrocities remain rampant despite the end of fighting. Many women, including nuns, were reported raped and some killed. Some British officials were forced to dig their own graves before being executed. Ramon Muniz Lavelle, Argentinian commercial attaché to Tokyo, was in Hong Kong shortly after the initial battle; he documented incidences where British soldiers were bayoneted while they laid helplessly in their beds at the Stanley Hospital. He also reported witnessing British women, with their hands tied behind their backs, repeatedly raped by Japanese soldiers.
The local Chinese waged a guerrilla war against Japanese occupation under the banner of two groups, Gangjiu and Dongjiang. Resistance continued until the day British rule was re-established in Hong Kong on 15 Aug 1945.
Sources: American Caesar, the Pacific Campaign, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, Wikipedia.
Battle of Hong Kong Timeline
|3 Sep 1941||Canadian Lieutenant-General Arthur Grasett MC, DSO (1888-1971), the former General Officer Commanding in Hong Kong, suggested to the Chiefs of Staff in London, England, United Kingdom that with the addition of two or more battalions, the colony's garrison would be strong enough to resist, for an extensive period, any Japanese seige. He further affirmed that Canada might be prepared to provide the battalions.|
|25 Oct 1941||A Canadian brigade under the command of Brigadier John Lawson MC sailed from Vancouver, Canada to reinforce the garrison on Hong Kong.|
|8 Dec 1941||Japanese forces invaded the British colony of Hong Kong. British and Canadian garrison at Hong Kong was hopelessly outnumbered and beyond reach of any Allied help. Within less than two days the defenders would be forced to retreat to Hong Kong island itself.|
|9 Dec 1941||Japanese troops breached a western segment of the British Gin Drinker's Line, which stretched from the Gin Drinker's Bay (Zuijiu Wan) in the west to the White Sands Bay (Baisha Wan) in the east, at 225 High Ground north of Hong Kong Island. 27 prisoners were taken.|
|10 Dec 1941||British troops withdrew onto Hong Kong island after the defensive Gin Drinker's Line collapsed.|
|11 Dec 1941||Japanese troops advanced southward along the Kowloon Peninsula north of Hong Kong, capturing Stonecutter's Island.|
|13 Dec 1941||Chinese troops mounted an offensive against Japanese troops in the Hong Kong area; earlier on the same day, the last British troops in Kowloon on the mainland were evacuated onto Hong Kong island.|
|14 Dec 1941||The British authorities at Hong Kong refused the Japanese demand for surrender.|
|15 Dec 1941||A group of 300 Japanese troops crossed the Lye Mun Channel onto Hong Kong island at 0300 hours, but the Allied defenders on the beach drove off this amphibious attack. Starting on this date, the Japanese artillery and aerial bombardment on the northern coast of Hong Kong island began.|
|16 Dec 1941||Japanese continued to bombard the northern shore of Hong Kong island by artillery and aircraft.|
|17 Dec 1941||The Japanese artillery and aerial bombardment on the northern coast of Hong Kong island, which began on 15 Dec 1941, ceased at 1130 hours as the Japanese observed the raising of a white flag from the defensive positions on the beaches. At 1430 hours, Governor of Hong Kong Sir Mark Young again rejected the Japanese demand for surrender. The bombardment would resume shortly after.|
|18 Dec 1941||As oil refineries on the northern coast of Hong Kong island burned with thick black smoke, 3,500 Japanese troops crossed the Lye Mun Channel and established a beachhead at 2200 hours. Two hours later, another force of 4,000 would follow. Japanese troops executed 20 colonial Chinese prisoners of war at Sai Wan Hill, while 26 male medical personnel and 2 wounded soldiers were executed by beheading at the Salesian Mission Advanced Dressing Station; the female medical personnel at the latter location were set free after being forced to witness the beheading.|
|19 Dec 1941||Japanese troops reached the Wong Nai Chung Gap in central Hong Kong island where they were held by Canadian and colonial Chinese troops. Seven ships of the British Royal Navy (river gunboat HMS Tern, minelayer HMS Redstart, boom vessel HMS Watergate, boom vessel HMS Barlight, boom vessel HMS Aldgate, tug HMS Poet Chaucer, and tug HMS Alliance), along with several merchant vessels, were scuttled in the Hong Kong harbor to prevent Japanese capture.|
|20 Dec 1941||After holding off the Japanese troops at Wong Nai Chung Gap in central Hong Kong island for a day, Canadian and colonial Chinese troops begin falling back suffering heavy casualties. Out to sea, British motor torpedo boats MTB 12 and MTB 26 were sunk and MTB 7, MTB 11, and MTB 18 were damaged during an attempt to disrupt Japanese landing operations.|
|21 Dec 1941||While Canadian and colonial Chinese troops completed the withdraw from Wong Nai Chung Gap in central Hong Kong island, order began to crumble as panic built up rapidly. On the same day, Japanese aircraft sank British river gunboat HMS Cicala, killing 1 and wounding 1.|
|23 Dec 1941||Allied troops in Hong Kong withdrew to the final line, "The Ridge", at the Stanley Peninsula.|
|24 Dec 1941||Japanese troops penetrated the final Allied defensive line, "The Ridge", at the Stanley Peninsula on Hong Kong island. At St. Stephen's College Emergency Hospital, 56 wounded soldiers, doctors, and nurses were bayoneted while a number of female civilians were raped. Near the coast, British destroyer HMS Thracian was damaged by Japanese aircraft and was forced to run aground to prevent sinking.|
|25 Dec 1941||British Governor of Hong Kong Sir Mark Young and Commander of British Forces in Hong Kong General Maltby ordered the surrender of the colony at 1515 hours, which was signed shortly after at the Japanese field headquarters at the Peninsula Hong Kong hotel by Young. At around the same time, British river gunboat HMS Robin was scuttled to prevent capture.|
|26 Dec 1941||General Takashi Sakai, commander of Hong Kong Operation, paraded through Victoria, Hong Kong with the troops of the Japanese 38th Infantry Division.|
|5 Mar 1942||The British government announced that, according to information shared with the United Kingdom by the Japanese government, there were 5,072 British, 1,689 Canadian, 3,829 Indian, and 357 men of other nationalities currently under captivity in Hong Kong as prisoners of war.|
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James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, 23 Feb 1945