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The Battle of Hong Kong took place during the Pacific campaign of World War II. It began on 8 December 1941 and ended on Christmas Day with Hong Kong, then a British colony, surrendering to the control of Imperial Japan.
Britain had first thought Japan a threat with the ending of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance in the early 1920s, a threat which increased with the expansion of the Sino-Japanese War. On 21 October 1938 the Japanese occupied Guangzhou and Hong Kong was effectively surrounded. Various British Defence studies had already concluded that Hong Kong would be extremely hard to defend in the event of a Japanese attack, but in the mid-1930s, work had begun on new defences, including the Gin Drinkers' Line.By 1940, the British had determined to reduce the Hong Kong Garrison to only a symbolic size. Air Chief Marshal Sir Robert Brooke-Popham, the Commander-in-Chief of the British Far East Command argued that limited reinforcements could allow the garrison to delay a Japanese attack, gaining time elsewhere. Winston Churchill and his army chiefs designated Hong Kong an outpost, and initially decided against sending more troops to the colony. In September 1941, however, they reversed their decision and argued that additional reinforcements would provide a military deterrent against the Japanese, and reassure Chinese leader Chiang Kai Shek that Britain was genuinely interested in defending the colony.
In Autumn 1941, the British government accepted an offer by the Canadian Government to send two infantry battalions and a brigade headquarters (1,975 personnel) to reinforce the Hong Kong garrison. C Force, as it was known, arrived on 16 November on board troopship "Awatea" and armed merchant cruiser "Prince Robert". It did not have all of its equipment as a ship carrying its vehicles was diverted to Manila at the outbreak of war. The Canadian battalions were the Royal Rifles of Canada from Quebec and Winnipeg Grenadiers from Manitoba. The Royal Rifles had only served in Newfoundland and Saint John, New Brunswick prior to their duty in Hong Kong, and the Winnipeg Grenadiers had been posted to Jamaica. As a result, many of the Canadian soldiers did not have much field experience before arriving in Hong Kong.
Overview of the battleEdit
The Japanese attack began shortly after 8 am on 8 December 1941 (Hong Kong local time), less than eight hours after the Attack on Pearl Harbor (because of the day shift that occurs on the international date line between Hawaii and Asia, the Pearl Harbor event is recorded to have occurred on 7 December). British, Canadian and Indian forces, commanded by Major-General Christopher Michael Maltby supported by the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Forces resisted the Japanese invasion by the 38th Division, commanded by Lieutenant General Sakai Takashi, but were outnumbered three to one (Japanese, 52,000; Allied, 14,000) and lacked their opponents' recent combat experience.
The Japanese achieved air superiority on the first day of battle as two of the three Vickers Vildebeest torpedo-reconnaissance aircraft and the two Supermarine Walrus amphibious planes of the RAF Station, which were the only military planes at Hong Kong's Kai Tak Airport, were destroyed by 12 Japanese bombers. The attack also destroyed several civil aircraft including all but two of the aircraft used by the Air Unit of the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corp. The RAF and Air Unit personnel from then fought on as ground troops. British naval vessels were ordered to leave Hong Kong for Singapore.
The Commonwealth forces decided against holding the Sham Chun River, which was quickly forded by the Japanese using temporary bridges, and instead established three battalions in the Gin Drinkers' Line across the hills. These defences were rapidly breached at the Shing Mun Redoubt early on 10 December 1941. The evacuation from Kowloon started on 11 December 1941 under aerial bombardment and artillery barrage. As much as possible, military and harbour facilities were demolished before the withdrawal. By 13 December, the Rajputs of the British Indian Army, the last Commonwealth troops on the mainland, had retreated to Hong Kong Island.
Maltby organised the defence of the island, splitting it between an East Brigade and a West Brigade. On 15 December the Japanese began systematic bombardment of the island's North Shore. Two demands for surrender were made on 13 December and 17 December. When these were rejected, Japanese forces crossed the harbour on the evening of 18 December and landed on the island's North-East. They suffered only light casualties, although no effective command could be maintained until the dawn came. That night, approximately 20 gunners were massacred at the Sai Wan Battery after they had surrendered.
On the morning of 19 December, a Canadian Company Sergeant Major, John Robert Osborn of the Winnipeg Grenadiers, threw himself on top of a grenade, sacrificing himself to save the lives of the men around him; he was later posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. Fierce fighting continued on Hong Kong Island but the Japanese annihilated the headquarters of West Brigade and could not be forced from the Wong Ne Chong Gap that secured the passage between downtown and the secluded southern parts of the island. Again there was a massacre of prisoners, this time of medical staff, in the Salesian Mission on Chai Wan Road. From 20 December the island became split in two with the British Commonwealth forces still holding out around the Stanley peninsula and in the West of the island. At the same time, water supplies started to run short as the Japanese captured the island's reservoirs.
By the afternoon of 25 December 1941, it was clear that further resistance would be futile and British colonial officials headed by the Governor of Hong Kong, Sir Mark Aitchison Young, surrendered in person at the Japanese headquarters on the third floor of the Peninsula Hong Kong hotel. This was the first occasion on which a British Crown Colony has surrendered to an invading force. The garrison had held out for 17 days.
Eighteen days after the battle began, British colonial officials headed by the Governor of Hong Kong, Sir Mark Aitchison Young, surrendered in person on 25 December 1941 at the Japanese headquarters.
Isogai Rensuke became the first Japanese governor of Hong Kong. This ushered in the three years and eight months of Imperial Japanese administration. Japanese soldiers also terrorised the local population by murdering many, raping an estimated 10,000 women, and looting. This day is known in Hong Kong as "Black Christmas".
Prisoners of war were sent to:
Although Hong Kong surrendered to the Japanese, the local Chinese waged a small guerilla war in New Territories. As a result of the resistance, some villages were razed as a punishment. The guerillas fought until the end of the Japanese occupation. Western historical books on the subject have not significantly covered their actions. The resistance groups were known as the Gangjiu and Dongjiang forces.
Enemy civilians (meaning Allied nationals) were interned at the Stanley Internment Camp. Initially, there were 2400 internees although this number was reduced following some repatriations during the war. Internees who died, together with prisoners executed by the Japanese, are buried in Stanley Cemetery.
General Takashi Sakai, who led the invasion of Hong Kong and subsequently served as governor for some time, was tried as a war criminal and executed by a firing squad in 1946.
The Allied dead from the campaign, including British, Canadian and Indian soldiers were eventually interred at the Sai Wan Military Cemetery on the northeastern corner of Hong Kong Island. A total of 1,528 soldiers, mainly Commonwealth, are buried there. There are also graves of other Allied combatants who died in the region during the war, including some Dutch sailors, and were re-interred in Hong Kong post war.
The shield in the colonial coat of arms of Hong Kong granted in 1959 featured the battlement design to commemorate the Defence of Hong Kong during World War II. The arms was in use until 1997 when it was replaced by the current regional emblem.
Lei Yue Mun Fort has lost its defence significance in the post-war period. After the war, it became a training ground for the British Forces until 1987 when it was finally vacated. In view of its historical significance and unique architectural features, the former Urban Council decided in 1993 to conserve and develop Lei Yue Mun Fort into the Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence.
The nearby Sai Wan Battery, with buildings constructed as far back as 1890, housed the Depot and Record Office of the Hong Kong Military Service Corps for nearly four decades after the War. The barracks were handed over to the government in 1985 and were subsequently converted into Lei Yue Mun Park and Holiday Village.
Order of battleEdit
Empire of JapanEdit
British Commonwealth defensive positionsEdit
Key sites of the defence of Hong Kong included:
Notes and ReferencesEdit