The Army in the Pacific War, 1941-1945
The Second Great War was world-wide. There were important operations in every ocean, and on almost every continent. The Canadian Army's main effort, however, was exerted in Europe against the Germans. The Japanese did not enter the war for more than two years after its outbreak; and by the time of their attack Canada had already built up her field army in the United Kingdom. The support and development of that army continued to be her primary care until the defeat of Germany, and thereafter the collapse of Japan interposed before major Canadian military forces could be sent to the Pacific. This chapter deals, therefore, with certain isolated episodes only: chiefly with the defence of Hong Kong in 1941, the enterprise against Kiska in 1943, and the plans for a Canadian Army Pacific Force which were interrupted by the Japanese surrender.
The Dispatch of Canadian Troops to Hong Kong
The possibility of Canada's contributing to the security of Hong Kong was first suggested by the British Government in September, 1941, a little less than three months before the Japanese attack. At this time, it will be recalled, there were already three Canadian divisions and a tank brigade in Britain, while another division was moving thither shortly.
As the telegram sent by the Dominions Office in London to the Government of Canada on 19 September 1941 was the basis of the subsequent Canadian action, and as under wartime conditions it could not be included in the Report of the. Royal Commission which investigated that action in 1942, it is printed here. The text has been paraphrased in accordance with security regulations:
United Kingdom Government has been conferring with late G.O.C. who has lately returned to this country upon the defences of Hong Kong. In the event of war in the Far East accepted policy has been that Hong Kong should be considered as an outpost and held as long as possible. We have thought hitherto that it would not serve any ultimate useful purpose to increase the existing army garrison which consists of four battalions of infantry and repre sents bare minimum required for its assigned task.
Situation in the Orient however has now altered. There have been signs of a certain weakening in attitude of Japan towards United States
and ourselves. Defences of Malaya have been improved. Under these conditions our view is that a small reinforcement (e.g. one or two more battalions) of Hong Kong garrison would be very fully justified. It would reassure Chiang Kai Shek as to genuineness of our intention to hold the colony and in addition would have a very great moral effect throughout the Far East. This action would strengthen garrison out of all proportion to actual numbers involved and would greatly encourage the garrison and the colony.
We should be most grateful if Government of Canada would give consideration to providing for this purpose one or two Canadian battalions from Canada. Your Government will be well aware of difficulties now being experienced by us in providing the forces demanded by the situation in various parts of the world, despite the very great assistance which Dominions are furnishing. We consider that Canadian Government in view of Canada's special position in the North Pacific would wish in any case to be informed of the need as seen by us for the reinforcement of Hong Kong and the special value of such a measure at present time, even though on very limited scale. The fact that the United States have recently sent a small reinforcement to the Philippines may also be relevant. If the Government of Canada could cooperate with us in the suggested manner it would be of the greatest help. We much hope that they will feel able to do this.
We would communicate with you again regarding the best time for despatch in the light of the general political situation in the Far East if your government concur in principle in sending one or two battalions.
On receipt of this telegram the War Committee of the Canadian Cabinet obtained the advice of the General Staff and consulted the Minister of National Defence, then in the United States. On 29 September the Secretary of State for External Affairs cabled to the Secretary of State for the Dominions that the Government agreed in principle to "the despatch of two battalions to strengthen the garrison at Hong Kong" and would "be glad to consider arrangements proposed for sending them." The Dominions Office replied on 1 October expressing the gratitude of the United Kingdom Government; and on 9 October a further telegram advised Ottawa that "in all circumstances" it would be most desirable if the two Canadian battalions could be dispatched "at a very early date." Two days later the War Office asked for a brigade headquarters, a signal section and certain additional specialists, and Canada agreed to provide these also. By this time administrative arrangements for the dispatch of the force were already under way.
It will be noted that neither in Ottawa nor in London (from which Ottawa derived most of its intelligence on such matters) was there at this time any apprehension of immediate war in the Pacific. On the contrary, it was believed that the Japanese attitude was showing signs of
"weakening" and that in these circumstances the reinforcement of Hong Kong would serve as a deterrent to hostile action by Japan. As Colonel Ralston put it before the Royal Commission, "It seemed to me from what I knew generally that above all things we needed time, and I had very definitely in my mind, rightly or wrongly, that if Japan did come into the war the United States would be in, too; and I had it definitely in my mind that the United States were none too ready to come in, and anything which would either defer or deter Japan from coming in would be highly desirable from our point of view." On 16-17 October, while the Canadian expedition was being organized, there was a change of Government in Japan and General Tojo became Prime Minister. This, however, was evidently not interpreted as involving immediate danger of hostilities, and it was still hoped that Canada's proposed action would have a useful deterrent effect. On 30 October the Chief of the Imperial General Staff cabled the C.G.S. at Ottawa thanking him for the speed with which the force had been organized, and remarking, "The moral effect of their arrival in November will be much greater than it would have been two months later". As the Report of the Royal Commission pointed out, it is quite clear that both in London and Ottawa it was considered that the troops being dispatched to Hong Kong would be "employed in garrison duties".
The Chief of the General Staff (General Crerar) recommended the selection for this duty of two battalions which had lately been employed on similar tasks outside of Canada: the Winnipeg Grenadiers (commanded by Lt.-Col. J. L. R. Sutcliffe), who had recently returned from Jamaica, and the Royal Rifles of Canada (commanded by Lt.Col. W. J. Home), who had similarly returned from Newfoundland. These units had been mobilized since 1 September 1939 and 8 July 1940 respectively and were "of proven efficiency". It was naturally considered undesirable to disrupt the organization of a division intended for the European theatre by withdrawing two battalions from it. It seems doubtful whether units more efficient in any significant degree than those selected could have been obtained without actually bringing battalions back from the Corps in England--which was clearly out of the question.1 The officer selected to command the force was Colonel J. K. Lawson, a Permanent Force soldier then serving as Director of Military Training at Ottawa, who was promoted Brigadier. With him as Senior Administrative Officer went Colonel P. Hennessy, whose function it was to handle special Canadian administrative business, of which there would be a good deal in such a detached force.
The units were to take their "first reinforcements" with them, and accordingly required drafts to bring them up to this additional strength. It was later reported that men not fully trained were posted into them, and the Royal Commissioner found that, in fact, of 448 new volunteers transferred to the two battalions at this time, approximately 120 had received less than the sixteen weeks' training normally prescribed as requisite before men were sent overseas. The explanation was found in the need for "speed and secrecy": the whole process, including the grant of embarkation leave and the move to the West Coast, had to take place between 9 October, when the units were warned for overseas service, and 27 October, when they sailed; and in the interest of secrecy it was undesirable to extend the search for qualified volunteers beyond a few localities. The Commissioner concluded that the fact that six per cent of the men of the whole force fell short, in varying degrees, of the accepted standard of training, did not detrimentally affect the force's fighting efficiency. In spite of the outbreak of war three weeks after the force arrived at Hong Kong, all the men concerned had opportunities for improving their training before 7 December.
On one point the Commissioner concluded that there had been some administrative slackness. The Awatea, the ship which carried the troops to Hong Kong, sailed with some cargo space empty and it appeared likely that she could have carried a few (though only a few) of the force's 212 transport vehicles had they been available. Twenty vehicles, including six Bren carriers, were in fact sent forward with this in view, but reached Vancouver after the ship had sailed. In the Commissioner's opinion this could have been avoided by greater energy and alertness on the part of Movement Control. As it was, these twenty vehicles were loaded along with all the others on the American vessel "Don José", which sailed from Vancouver on 4 November. Under orders from the United States naval authorities, this ship went by way of Honolulu and Manila, reaching the latter place only after war had broken out with Japan. The vehicles accordingly never reached Hong Kong, but were diverted with Canadian concurrence to the use of the United States forces in the Philippines. The vehicles intended for the Awatea would have been useful at Hong Kong, for transport was short there. On the other hand, the lack of them certainly had no significant effect upon the outcome of the fighting.
A total of 1973 Canadian officers and soldiers (plus two Auxiliary Services Supervisors) sailed from Vancouver on 27 October in the Awatea and her naval escort, H.M.C.S. Prince Robert. The passage was uneventful, and useful training was carried out on board. "C" Force, as the Canadian contingent was called, reached Hong Kong on 16 November and was greeted by the Governor, Sir Mark Young, and the G.O.C. British Troops in China, Major-General C. M. Maltby, who was
The North Pacific Ocean
also commander of the fortress. So far the whole transaction had been cloaked in secrecy, but with the movement safely completed an announcement was now issued to the effect that "a Canadian Force under the command of Brigadier J. K. Lawson" had arrived at Hong Kong and would serve as part of the garrison there.
Hong Kong and Its Defenses
The Crown Colony of Hong Kong consists of Hong Kong Island, the adjacent mainland peninsula of Kowloon, and beyond the latter the "New Territories". Its total area is 410 square miles. The Island itself is about 29 square miles in extent and very mountainous; there is almost no flat ground. The strait between island and mainland is less than half a mile wide at its narrowest point, the Lye Mun Passage at the island's northeast corner. The population of the Colony early in 1941 was 1,500,000. The vast majority were Chinese, many of them recent arrivals. There were certainly some Japanese agents and sympathizers among them.
The colony had always been a "defended port" of some strength, but following the Washington treaties of 1922 any improvement in the defences had been precluded by the agreement then made to maintain the status quo in such matters in this part of the Pacific. This arrangement lapsed only in 1937. Thereafter the defences were somewhat improved. It is interesting to note that in the summer of 1939 the War Office appreciated that the Japanese, being now well placed on the adjacent Chinese mainland, were less likely to attack the colony from the sea. In December 1941 there were some thirty fixed guns, of calibres up to 9.2-inch, in position in the defences. The available mobile artillery was largely extemporized and included none of the latest types. There were 20 anti-aircraft guns, of which however only four were 3.7.-inch and two 40-millimetre Bofors, the rest being of earlier models. There was no radar equipment.
By the time of the Japanese attack, all naval units of any importance had been withdrawn to European waters or south to Singapore (they could have accomplished little at Hong Kong) and only a few small vessels remained. This was less serious for the defenders than their total lack of air support. At the colony's airfield there were at most six military aircraft, and there was no hope of assistance from outside, for the nearest R.A.F. station was Kota Bharu in Malaya, roughly 1300 miles away to the south-west. This isolation was the fatal feature of Hong Kong's strategic situation, more particularly in view of the nearness of Japan and of Japanese bases in Formosa and on the Chinese mainland. Those concerned with planning its defence, nevertheless, took the view that it was capable of holding out for a long period. General Grasett, the retiring G.O.C. British Troops in China, who passed through Canada en route to
England in the summer of 1941, had expressed to the Chief of the General Staff the opinion that the garrison, if reinforced by two or more additional battalions, would be able to withstand for an extensive period of siege such forces as the Japanese could bring against it. Reserve supplies for 130 days were on hand.
After the arrival of the Canadians, General Maltby had available for the defence of the colony a total force of just under 14,000, including naval and air force personnel and such non-combatants as nursing sisters. The military force included two coast regiments and one antiaircraft regiment of the Royal Artillery (all containing many Indian personnel), a regiment of the Hong Kong and Singapore Royal Artillery (Indian troops with British officers), and two engineer companies. There was one battalion of British infantry (the 2nd Battalion, Royal Scots), one British machine-gun battalion (the 1st Battalion, Middlesex Regiment), and two Indian infantry battalions (the 5th Battalion, the 7th Rajput Regiment and the 2nd Battalion, the 14th Punjab Regiment). Not least useful was the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps, which included units of artillery, infantry and other arms.
Until late in 1941 the defence plan provided for using one battalion on the mainland and a brigade on the island in the first phase. In the event of attack from the landward side, the mainland positions would be held long enough to permit the complete military evacuation of Kowloon, after which the defence (except for a small bridgehead on Devil's Peak Peninsula covering Lye Mun Passage) would be concentrated on the island. The Canadians' arrival permitted the G.O.C. to increase his mainland force to a full brigade. The Mainland Brigade, commanded by Brigadier C. Wallis, was composed of the Royal Scots and the two Indian battalions. The Canadian signal section was allotted to this brigade. The Island Brigade, under Brigadier Lawson, consisted of the two Canadian battalions (the Winnipeg Grenadiers in the southwest sector, the Royal Rifles in the south-east) and the Middlesex Regiment. The Canadian units, facing the sea, both had beach defence for their primary role; the Middlesex with their Vickers medium machine-guns had the task of holding the system of pillboxes (over sixty in number) with which the whole island was girdled.
Although their battle stations were on the island, the Canadians were quartered on the mainland, at Sham Shui Po Camp on the edge of the city of Kowloon. Here they carried on active training, with special emphasis on mastery of infantry weapons. Their battle role, however, received careful attention. Officers and N.C.Os. of the two battalions, down to and including section commanders, carried out several reconnaissances of defence positions and roads on the island during the three weeks preceding the outbreak of war; and there were two "manning exercises", in which the battle positions on the island were actually occupied by one
platoon of each company for several days. When the attack came, then, the Canadians had some knowledge of the ground over which they had to fight, though much less than they would have had at a later time.
It will be noted that the task to which the defence scheme assigned them was a static one, designed to counter an attack from the sea. In this role they were never employed, as no such attack took place. The battalions did a considerable amount of actual fighting in the general areas of the island allotted to them in the original plan. The fighting, however, took the form of mobile warfare against an enemy advancing across the island's remarkably rugged terrain from the direction of the mainland.
The Attack On Hong Kong
In spite of the optimism that had been current in London in September and October, the Japanese attack on Hong Kong did not take the garrison by surprise. Every battle position was manned and ready for action when it came. It is clear, however, that the energy and skill with which the attack was delivered were greater than the authorities on the spot had expected.
The plans agreed upon between the Japanese Army and Navy in November 1941 for their cold-blooded campaign of conquest included virtually simultaneous attacks at many points. Most important of these was the air blow struck at the United States fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; but the same day saw attacks on Northern Malaya, the Philippines, Guam, Wake Island and Hong Kong. The first bomb fell on Pearl Harbor at 7:55 a.m. on 7 December (Hawaiian time).2 The attacks on the other points followed within a few hours as the daylight, sweeping westward, showed the successive objectives to the Japanese airmen. Both the Pearl Harbor and Hong Kong attacks were made just after first light; but the former thus preceded the latter by over six hours.
On 6 December (Hong Kong date),3 Headquarters China Command at Hong Kong issued a warning of impending war and ordered all officers to keep in touch with their unit headquarters. Reports of Japanese concentrations opposite the frontier had been received, and further reports continued to come in. On the morning of 7 December the entire garrison was ordered to war stations. The Canadian force was ferried across from the mainland to the island, and by five in the afternoon the battalions had manned their battle positions and Brigadier Lawson's headquarters was set up in a group of shelters provided for the purpose at Wong Nei Chong Gap, in the middle of the island. The planned dispositions were thus completed some fifteen hours before the
Japanese blow fell.
At 4:45 a.m. on 8 December Intelligence at Hong Kong intercepted a Tokyo broadcast warning the Japanese people that war was imminent. General Maltby's headquarters immediately sent orders to carry out the obstructive demolitions prepared in the frontier area. At 6:45 a.m. the garrison was warned that war had begun (Pearl Harbor having been attacked some five hours before). At about 8:00 a.m. the colony's aerodrome at Kai Tak was heavily and skilfully attacked by about fifty Japanese aircraft, and all the half-dozen R.A.F. machines there were either damaged or destroyed. The Japanese also gave some attention to the nearly-empty camp at Sham Shui Po. So began the attack on Hong Kong.
As the Canadian troops were chiefly deployed on the island, and the attack came from the land side, they played little part in the first phase of the defence. In the course of 8 December Japanese troops crossed the frontier of the colony, and late in the afternoon fighting began between them and the forward forces of the Mainland Brigade. That night the enemy developed strong pressure and these British advanced units fell back upon the Brigade's main body, which was holding the chief mainland defence line. This line had been constructed on strong ground five or six miles north of the harbour strait separating mainland and island. It covered the isthmus between Tide Cove and Gin Drinkers Bay, and was known as the Gin Drinkers Line. It was considered capable of being held for a week or more.
This expectation was not realized. On the night of 9-10 December the Japanese, showing an aptitude for night fighting with which the British had not credited them, surprised and captured Shing Mun Redoubt, a key position in the left sector of the line. On the same night "D" Company of the Winnipeg Grenadiers, which had been serving as a reserve company under direct control of the Island Brigade, was brought over to the mainland to strengthen this sector.4 It was committed on the 11th, and while not heavily engaged established the claim of the Winnipeg Grenadiers to be the first infantry unit of the Canadian Army to be in action in the Second Great War.
The loss of Shing Mun Redoubt was fatal to the hope of prolonged defence of the Gin Drinkers Line. At noon on the--11th orders were issued for the withdrawal to the island that night of all troops except the 5/7 Rajput, who were to hold the Devil's Peak Peninsula. The defence
plans had assumed that this final foothold on the mainland could be held more or less indefinitely. The company of Winnipeg Grenadiers covered the withdrawal of the Royal Scots. It had some trouble with "fifth columnists" in Kowloon, but was back on the island in the early hours of the 12th. Some of the 2/14 Punjab, on the other flank, did not get away from the mainland until that night. The 5/7 Rajput beat off a strong Japanese attack on the afternoon of the 12th, inflicting many casualties; but General Maltby, finding that to supply them in their isolated position was going to be difficult if not impossible, and needing them to hold a sector of the island, now ordered them too to withdraw. This was accomplished under cover of artillery fire in the early morning of 13 December. By 8:30 a.m. that day the defenders of Hong Kong were entirely concentrated on the island. The mainland defence had lasted five days.
The forces were now reorganized into an East and a West Brigade. The former, commanded by Brigadier Wallis, consisted of the Royal Rifles and the 5/7 Rajput; the latter, under Brigadier Lawson, comprised the Royal Scots, the Grenadiers and the 2/14 Punjab. The Canadian signallers were now allotted to Lawson. The Middlesex were directly under Fortress Headquarters. Thus organized, the garrison faced its further ordeal. That it was to have no respite was indicated by the heavy artillery bombardment now directed at the island, which knocked out several of the defending guns on the 13th and 14th. Varied by a series of destructive air raids, this bombardment continued for six days, steadily reducing the defenders' means of resistance. A systematic and effective shelling of the pillboxes along the north shore was particularly ominous.
The Landings on Hong Kong Island
On 13 December the Japanese demanded the surrender of Hong Kong and received a brusque refusal. On the night of the 15th-16th, an apparent landing attempt at the north-east point of the island was successfully repulsed. On the 17th the enemy renewed the demand for surrender, accompanying it with what amounted to a threat of indiscriminate bombardment. Their envoy was "apparently genuinely surprised and disconcerted" when this proposal too was summarily rejected. The colony still presented a brave front, but its fall was only a question of time. The most that could now be hoped for was to prolong the defence and inflict as much damage as might be upon the enemy; as the Governor told General Maltby, "every day gained was a direct help" to the Allied cause. The crippling blow inflicted upon the United States fleet at Pearl Harbor, and the sinking of H.M.S. Prince of Wales and H.M.S. Repulse by Japanese aircraft off Malaya on 10 December, had put an end to the possibility (never very great) of relief by British or
American forces; and the Chinese armies were not in a position to give the immediate aid which was required.
About 8:00 p.m. on 18 December the final and most desperate phase of the Hong Kong battle set in. In the darkness the Japanese began crossing the island's narrow moat in small boats towed by ferry steamers. They poured ashore in large numbers on a front of about two miles at the north-east corner, disregarding heavy losses inflicted on them by the 5/7 Rajput who held the pillboxes there. Then, having overcome the defenders of this area, the enemy, displaying the energy, the skill in night fighting and the accurate knowledge of the terrain and of our defences which were in evidence throughout the operations, fanned out to east and west and advanced up the valleys leading to the high ground in the centre of the island. By morning he had infiltrated as far as Wong Nei Chong and Tai Tam Gaps.
The first Canadian troopss to come into action were those of "C" Company of the Royal Rifles, which was in reserve in the area adjacent to the landings. In unsuccessful counter-attacks which it delivered during the night this company both suffered and inflicted heavy casualties. During the night also platoons from other companies of the Rifles sought to prevent the enemy from gaining. Mount Parker (1700 feet) or to evict him from the positions he had reached. Many men' were lost in this endeavour, but dawn found the enemy in possession of the summit of the hill. During the morning of the 19th General Maltby authorized the East Brigade to withdraw southward towards Stanley Peninsula. Operations by scattered platoons had accomplished nothing, and it was now hoped to concentrate the troops on this part of the front in a strong group capable of effective counterattack. The withdrawal took place that afternoon and a line was occupied running through the vicinity of Stanley Mound. The Brigade now consisted of little but the Royal Rifles and some companies of the Volunteer Defence Corps, for the Rajput battalion had been virtually destroyed in the fighting about the enemy's points of landing. Unfortunately, some much-needed mobile artillery was destroyed by our own forces during the withdrawal, apparently through a misunderstanding of orders. Still worse, the enemy had reached the sea west of Stanley and our force there was now cut off from the main body in the western part of the island.
The Royal Rifles were not in good condition. For several days before the enemy landings the men had had no hot meals and no sleep except what they could catch in the weapon pits which they were continuously manning. Even in the earliest stage of the island fighting, it is recorded, "some would fall down in the roadway and go to sleep, and it took several shakings to get them going again". For this exhausted and weakened battalion, counter-attack in.the mountainous terrain of Hong Kong was a task of desperate difficulty. Nevertheless,
during the next three days Brigadier Wallis's force at Stanley made a series of brave efforts to drive northward and join hands with the main body or evict the enemy from the high peaks which he had seized.
The first attempt took the form of a leftward thrust along the shore of Repulse Bay in the hope of making contact with the West Brigade around Wong Nei Chong Gap. This broke down about noon on the 20th in the face of fierce machine-gun fire from hill positions, after the leading troops had cleared the area about the Repulse Bay Hotel. One company of the Rifles was left to hold this area and thereafter was isolated. Next day another attack was made with the object of reaching Wong Nei Chong by a more easterly route. It ran into heavy opposition south of Tai Tam Tuk Reservoir. A succession of determined attacks drove the Japanese from positions on the hills round about, and destroyed a party holding the crossroads south of the reservoir; thereafter a counter-attack by Japanese light tanks was beaten off; but further advance proved impossible. On the same evening the detached company at the Repulse Bay Hotel moved north and made contact with a party of British troops holding a house a few hundred yards short of Wong Nei Chong Gap. This position was held through 22 December against heavy enemy pressure. After dark the garrison again withdrew to the vicinity of the Hotel, and the Hotel itself was ordered evacuated later that night. Only about the equivalent of a platoon of the troops here managed to filter back through the enemy's lines and join the force at Stanley.
No further attempts were made by Wallis's force to drive north, for 22 and 23 December brought constant attacks upon it by the Japanese. On the former day the enemy took Sugar Loaf Hill, and the Royal Rifles took it back again. Another company, however, lost Stanley Mound and did not succeed in recovering it; and late in the afternoon of the 23rd the whole force had to be pulled back to Stanley Peninsula. Next day the Royal Rifles were taken out to Stanley Fort, well down the peninsula, for a rest, while the Volunteer Defence Corps companies and other available troops held the line. The Rifles had to be brought back in the early hours of Christmas Day because of increasing Japanese pressure. Brigadier Wallis ordered a counter-attack to recover ground lost during the night near Stanley Prison. "D" Company delivered it early in the afternoon. There was no artillery support, for the coastal guns lower down the peninsula could not bear. The company suffered very heavy casualties before the attack came to a halt. In the early evening another company was moving forward under fire when a car flying a white flag came down the road with the news that the Governor had surrendered the Colony.
The Defense of the Western Part of the Island
We must now go back a week and deal with the fortunes of the
West Brigade and the Winnipeg Grenadiers.
The first men of the Grenadiers to go into action on the island were three platoons organized as "flying columns" for swift and immediate counter-attack. All three moved forward after the enemy landings on the night of 18-19 December. Two of them were directed respectively upon the hills known as Jardine's Lookout and Mount Butler. Both were repulsed by the advancing enemy, and both platoon commanders were killed. Early in the morning of the 19th, Brigadier Lawson, whose headquarters was still at Wong Nei Chong Gap, ordered "A" Company of the Grenadiers to engage the enemy on Jardine's Lookout and thence advance to Mount Butler. The company pushed forward boldly and at first made excellent progress, but in the end, in spite of great gallantry, came to disaster. In the words of the battalion report, "After stiff fighting during which the Company was surrounded and attacked by superior numbers, all officers, N.C.Os. and men, with a very few exceptions, were killed, wounded or taken prisoner. All officers were killed or severely wounded."
During the company's advance it had become divided. Survivors later testified that one party led by Company Sergeant-Major J. R. Osborn (a veteran of the First Great War) got through to Mount Butler, captured the summit at the point of the bayonet and held it for three hours. The position then becoming untenable owing to the enemy's superior numbers and fierce fire, Osborn withdrew his party, himself covering its retirement, and succeeding in rejoining what was left of the rest of the company. The whole body now attempted to pull back to Wong Nei Chong, but found itself surrounded. Enemy grenades began to fall in the company position, and Osborn caught several and threw them back. At last one fell where he could not retrieve it in time; and the Sergeant-Major, shouting a warning, threw himself upon it as it exploded, giving his life for his comrades. A sergeant who had stood beside him believed that this sacrifice saved him "and at least six other men who were in our group". Not many minutes after Osborn's death the Japanese finally rushed the position and the survivors of "A" Company became prisoners. After the final defeat of Japan, C.S.M. Osborn's gallantry was recognized by the award of the Victoria Cross.
When it became clear that the Japanese were close to the West Brigade headquarters, Brigadier Lawson decided to withdraw it to a previously selected site some distance in rear. Before the withdrawal could be completed, the Wong Nei Chong position was overrun. About ten in the morning of 19 December Lawson reported to Fortress Headquarters that the enemy was firing into his shelters at point-blank range and that he was "going outside to fight it out". He did so and in doing so lost his life. No eye-witness survived to tell the story of his last fight. About twenty-four hours later the Canadian officer next in
seniority was also dead; for Colonel Hennessy was mortally wounded when a heavy shell struck the house allotted to him as office and quarters. The West Brigade had no commander from the time of Brigadier Lawson's death until the morning of 20 December, when Colonel H. B. Rose of the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps was appointed. During this period operations were co-ordinated by Fortress Headquarters.
For nearly three days after the Brigadier's fall "D" Company of the Grenadiers held out in its position near the headquarters in Wong Nei Chong Gap. During this period it denied the Japanese the use of the one main north-south road across the island, and killed, it is estimated, over 200 of them.5 Enemy accounts leave no doubt that the resistance offered here considerably upset the Japanese plans and delayed their advance for three days. Only on the morning of 22 December, when ammunition, food and water were exhausted and the enemy had blown in the steel shutters of the company shelters with a light gun, did the senior surviving officer surrender the position, in which there were then 37 wounded men. A series of unco-ordinated attacks by companies of the Grenadiers and the Royal Scots had failed to achieve their object of capturing the Japanese-held Police Station in the Gap and relieving "D" Company. In the last of these, on the night of 20-21 December, the Grenadiers lost three subalterns killed, and every other officer engaged was wounded.
The final phase of the fighting in the western part of the island took the form of a brave attempt to maintain a continuous line across it from Victoria Harbour to the south shore, under continuous bombardment and air attack and constant pressure by Japanese infantry. On the morning of 21 December the Winnipeg Grenadiers occupied Mount Cameron, an important height in the centre of the then existing line, with orders to hold it against any further enemy advance. They did, hold it, under heavy dive-bombing and mortaring, through that day and the next, but were forced back off it by a Japanese attack in the darkness of the night of 22-23 December. British troops stabilized the situation on the western slopes of Mount Cameron and on the following night the line still ran over its western end. The left was held by remnants of the Middlesex (who were clinging gallantly to Leighton Hill) and of the Indian battalions; the Royal Scots were on Mount Cameron; the Grenadiers held the right sector, thence to Bennet's Hill. There were still some elements of the Middlesex holding out around a magazine at Little Hong Kong. On the afternoon of 24 December Leighton Hill was
lost and the enemy made further progress in the Mount Cameron area. The Grenadiers however held positions on the south slope against heavy attacks, and some ground lost at Bennet's Hill was regained by a counterattack at first light on Christmas morning.
The Fall of Hong Kong
The dawn of this, the Allies' grimmest Christmas of the war, found the defenders of Hong Kong in desperate straits. Nevertheless, when the Japanese that morning sent two civilian prisoners with a third demand for surrender, it was still refused. A partial truce of three hours' duration resulted from this overture. When it expired at midday the Japanese attacked immediately. On the left Mount Parish fell, Wan Chai Gap west of Mount Cameron was taken, and the enemy was close to Fortress Headquarters. Bennet's Hill was surrounded and forced to surrender, and the Canadian line to the north gave ground. All communication with the isolated force in Stanley Peninsula had ceased. The water supply for the city of Victoria had been cut off for more than two days, and the fighting troops were feeling the shortage. The main body had only six mobile guns remaining, with an average ammunition supply of 60 rounds per gun. General Maltby now decided that more fighting meant merely useless slaughter. At 3:15 p.m. he advised the Governor that no further military resistance was possible, and the white flag was hoisted. As we have seen, a party was sent to inform Brigadier Wallis of the surrender. He asked for written confirmation, and although fighting ceased at once the formal capitulation of the force at Stanley was delayed until the early hours of 26 December.
Thus the defence of Hong Kong came to an end, after seventeen and a half days of fighting. The colony had fallen more rapidly than had been expected; but very heavy casualties had been inflicted on the enemy and some delay imposed upon his further operations, for the troops employed at Hong Kong were to be used against the Netherlands Indies when the colony fell.6
Canada's losses in this tragic episode were heavy. A total of 23 officers and 267 other ranks were killed or died of wounds.7 This includes a number who were wantonly murdered by the Japanese at the time of their capture or shortly afterwards. The enemy sullied his victory at Hong Kong by acts of barbarism worthy of savages; there were particularly brutal outrages
against the patients and staffs of hospitals and aid posts.8 The number of Canadians wounded in action cannot be established, but it was large.
The harrowing experiences of the prisoners can only be outlined here. Until early in 1943 all the Canadians were kept in camps at Hong Kong. Mainly as a result of conditions in these camps, four officers and 125 other ranks died there; among these did the Japanese without trial when captured after escaping shoot four soldiers.9 A diphtheria epidemic in the summer and autumn of 1942 took many lives. From January 1943 onwards a total of one officer and 1183 other ranks were taken to Japan, where they were forced to work in various industries, chiefly mining. Here again conditions were extremely bad, as evidenced by the fact that some 135 of these men died. Of the 1973 Canadian soldiers who sailed from Vancouver in October 1941, there were 555 who never returned to Canada.10
The sudden attack by Japan resulted in the Canadians who helped to defend Hong Kong going into battle in very unfavourable circumstances. Dispatched to the Far East to serve as garrison troops, at a time when, as we have seen, immediate hostilities were not considered probable, they found themselves plunged abruptly into action without having undergone the concentrated and rigorous battle training which later fitted Canadian soldiers for operations in Italy and North-West Europe. They had no chance for the gradual acquisition of battle wisdom through experience. The extraordinarily rugged and largely unfamiliar terrain of Hong Kong was one of the hardest battlefields on which Canadians fought in any theatre; and after their' long sea voyage, followed by brief training for a static role which was never realized, the Royal Rifles and Winnipeg Grenadiers were not in the best of shape for fighting on scrub-covered mountainsides. These adverse circumstances inevitably reduced the units' tactical efficiency. How hard they fought in spite of such conditions, their casualty lists fully and poignantly show.
War In the Aleutians
As we have already seen, the Japanese invaded the Aleutian Islands in June 1942, opening the offensive with air attacks on the American base at Dutch Harbor on 3 and 4 June. They landed on both Kiska and Attu on the 7th of the month and proceeded to set up defences and establishments
Hong Kong, 7-25 December 1941
there. The force in the islands was gradually increased until in May 1943 there were 2500 troops on Attu and about 5400 on Kiska.
Even though. Kiska is nearly 3000 miles from Vancouver, this enemy incursion into the North American zone was necessarily a source of grave anxiety to Canada as well as the United States. The Americans immediately took counter-measures, launching heavy air attacks against the Japanese garrisons and operating against their communications with naval forces. United States troops occupied the island of Adak in August 1942 and Amchitka in the following January, thus obtaining advanced air bases close to their targets. We have now to review the assistance given by Canada to the United States in the action taken against the Japanese invaders.
At the time of the attacks on Dutch Harbor, one squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force was already serving on Alaskan soil, at Annette Island in the southern tip of the Alaska panhandle--a position important to the defence of the Canadian port of Prince Rupert--and the despatch of further units to Alaska had been arranged with the U.S. authorities; two squadrons indeed were actually in transit. These were sent forward to Anchorage, and subsequently on to Umnak and Amchitka, and played their part in the attacks on the Japanese in the Aleutians. In addition, small forces of the Canadian Army served in Southern Alaska as a result of R.C.A.F. activity there. This was arranged by General Stuart, who arrived on the Pacific Coast on 30 May 1942. On 1 June the first detachment of Canadian anti-aircraft gunners reached Annette Island. The force there was ultimately built up to a light anti-aircraft battery, a heavy anti-aircraft troop, and an aerodrome defence company. Canadian soldiers remained on the island until 27 November 1943, by which time the Japanese had been cleared from the Aleutians and the threat to Alaska no longer existed.
The Enterprise Against Kiska
Bombing and blockade having proved inadequate means for evicting the Japanese from Attu and Kiska, the Americans in the spring of 1943 set about recovering the islands by ground assault. On 12 May United States troops landed on Attu, and one of the fiercest and nastiest battles of the war began. It ended in the complete annihilation of the Japanese defenders, who made their final Banzai charge on 28 May. They had numbered, as we have said, about 2500. The Americans took eleven prisoners; all the rest were killed in action or committed suicide. With Attu in Allied hands, the larger garrison in the more easterly island of Kiska was now in an extremely dangerous situation.
The possibility of the Canadian Army's helping in the Aleutian campaign was first discussed between Lieutenant-General J. L. De Witt,
Commanding General of the U. S. Western Defence Command and Fourth Army, and Major-General G. R. Pearkes, V.C., G.O.C.-in-C. Pacific Command, in April 1943. When it was more formally discussed between Ottawa and Washington next month the American authorities welcomed the idea; definite proposals were formulated and approved, and on 3 June the Chief of the General. Staff telegraphed Pacific Command authorizing the organization of a brigade group to take part in the intended attack on Kiska. An experienced overseas brigade commander, Brigadier H. W. Foster, was brought back from England to take command.
The Canadian force was composed of the Headquarters of the 13th Infantry Brigade, with four infantry battalions: the Canadian Fusiliers, the Winnipeg Grenadiers (re-formed after the destruction of the active battalion at Hong Kong), the Rocky Mountain Rangers and Le Régiment de Hull. The 24th Field Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery, and some smaller units and service detachments, completed the order of battle. All the units contained large numbers of "Home Defence" troops called up for compulsory service under the National Resources Mobilization Act; and a special order-incouncil, dated 18 June 1943, authorized the employment of such troops in the Aleutians. The force was organized on American lines, with Le Régiment de Hull taking the place of a battalion of Combat Engineers which was provided in each parallel American formation. The headquarters of the Brigade was reorganized on the U.S. staff system, and the units were given a considerable amount of American equipment, all transport vehicles, in particular, being of U.S. pattern. In general, Canadian weapons were used.
The Canadian force, numbering exactly 4800 officers and men, sailed from Vancouver Island ports on 12 July in four U.S. transports. On the 21st the troops disembarked at Adak, the American base in the western Aleutians where they were to undergo specialized training. After three strenuous weeks of hardening training and combined exercises, the force re-embarked and the whole expedition sailed for Kiska on 13 August. The military force for the attack on the island amounted, including the Canadians, to over 34,000 men. It was commanded by Major-General C. H. Corlett, U.S. Army.
D Day for the Kiska assault was 15 August. The first troops ashore were to be those of the First Special Service Force, with its Canadian component. When the Special Service men landed, however, they met no resistance; nor did the Canadian brigade when it went ashore next day, nor any other element of the force. Although it was some time before the attackçrs were wholly certain of the fact, and the island (it is 25 miles long) was carefully searched, the Japanese were gone. They had evacuated Kiska over a fortnight before; the Allied blow had struck only the air.
We now know that orders for the evacuation had been issued in
Tokyo on 21 May, while the fighting on Attu was still in progress. For months past, the United States blockade of Kiska had prevented contact with the garrison by surface ship, and it was ordered that the withdrawal should be carried out by submarine; but after several submarines had been lost this attempt was abandoned and a force of light cruisers and destroyers was dispatched to do the work. It waited a considerable time for suitable weather, but on 28 July, under cover of fog, and favoured by the fact that the American blockaders had withdrawn to refuel, it dashed in to Kiska and in an incredibly short space of time (one Japanese account says forty-five minutes, another two hours) embarked the 5100 men still on the island and got safely away. During the period between the withdrawal and the Allied landings American warships repeatedly bombarded Kiska without bringing any reply from the shore guns, but their silence was interpreted as possibly the result of reluctance to give away their positions before an actual assault began.
The Canadian Brigade remained on Kiska (a station rendered disagreeable by fog, rain and savage wind) for more than three months. It was then withdrawn to British Columbia. The last Canadian troops left the island on 12 January 1944. So ended an enterprise which might have produced very bloody fighting, but which the ene-s my's discreet withdrawal turned into one of the great anti-climaxes of the war.
Plans for the Pacific Force
During 1944 the Canadian Government gave much attention to the form of Canada's contribution to the operations against Japan following the defeat of Germany. It was considered desirable that her military forces should operate in areas of direct interest to her as a North American nation, i.e. the North or Central Pacific, rather than in more remote areas such as South-East Asia. By the time of the Quebec Conference in September consideration was being given to using an army division in the Pacific. Conversations with the United States authorities having cleared the way, the War Committee of the Cabinet on--20 November approved a programme under which the Dominion would contribute one division, with ancillary troops as required, to operate under United States higher command and to be organized and equipped in accordance with U.S. tables of organization. The Canadian naval forces for the Pacific would cooperate with the Royal Navy, and the R.C.A.F. component with the Royal Air Force.
On 4 April 1945 the Prime Minister explained this programme in the House of Commons, making the points that the force would be concentrated in Canada before moving to the Pacific, that no one serving in Europe would go to the Pacific "without first having had the opportunity of coming home", and that the force for the Pacific would
be composed entirely of men volunteering for this service. The moment the Germans laid down their arms, questionnaires were circulated among men of the Canadian Army at home and abroad concerning their preferences. The result by 17 July 1945 was that 9943 officers and 68,256 other ranks had volunteered for the Pacific. This was gratifying, but a good many of the male volunteers were too old or, of too low a medical category for the service, while a much larger number off the adventurous young women of the Canadian Women's Army Corps had volunteered than could possibly be used. Among the male volunteers 2796 officers and 36,386 other ranks were in the "most select group" whose age and category made them suitable for the work in hand. As the requirements of the Canadian Army Pacific Force were 30,000 all ranks for the original force and 33,600 to be placed in training as reinforcements, there was a material overall deficiency.
After considerable discussion it was settled that the division for the Pacific should be designated the 6th Canadian Division.11 Its infantry units were however to bear the names of the battalions of the earliest Canadian formation to serve overseas, the 1st Canadian Infantry Division. They would be organized, in accordance with United States practice, not in "brigades" but in "regiments", although these regiments were to be commanded by brigadiers, instead of by colonels as was the American custom. Field artillery "battalions" replaced the "regiments" of British and Canadian organization, and in other respects the establishment of the new division conformed to American organization and terminology, which sounded strange in the ears of most Canadian soldiers. The Royal Montreal Regiment (which had served as the First Canadian Army Headquarters Defence Battalion) was to provide the Division's reconnaissance "troop", and the tank battalion which was to form part of the force was to bear the name of the Canadian Grenadier Guards.
Major-General B. M. Hoffmeister, the distinguished commander of the 5th Canadian Armoured Division in Europe, was appointed to command the 6th Division in the Pacific. The plan was to concentrate the force in Canada and move it to the United States for training. Before organization could be completed, however, the Japanese surrendered. Since 24 November 1944 United States heavy bombers based in the. Marianas had been attacking Japan's home islands in increasing strength. In July 1945 the United States fleet, augmented by a strong British force, began to attack Japan not only with carrier-based aircraft but with shellfire. On 6 August an atomic bomb, by far the most terrible weapon of destruction yet devised, was dropped on Hiroshima, and on 9 August another was dropped on Nagasaki. Russia suddenly declared war
on Japan on the 8th. On 10 August Japan sued for peace. On the 14th active hostilities ceased, and on 2 September the formal act of surrender was signed in Tokyo Bay. On the previous day orders had been issued for the disbandment of the Canadian Army Pacific Force.
In these circumstances, the Canadian Army was represented in the Pacific theatre in the closing phase of the war only by a number of individuals and one or two special units. Two large groups served with the Australian forces. No. 1 Special Wireless Group, Royal Canadian Corps of Signals, was sent out late in 1944 and did useful work in intercepting enemy wireless messages. In addition a number of trained Canadian radar personnel (nine officers and 73 other ranks) were loaned to Australia. From 1944 onwards Canadian officers in considerable numbers were dispatched to gain experience in the Pacific area in operations with Australian, New Zealand and. United States forces. Figures compiled in June 1945 showed that 37 staff officers and 62 regimental officers of the Army had had such opportunities. The experience thus acquired would have been very valuable had the Canadian Army Pacific Force gone into action.
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