Chapter XIV(See Maps 6 and 7 and Sketches 4, 5 and 7)
The Defense of Hong Kong, December 1941
The Second World War may be said to comprise, basically, three great series of operations: the campaigns of the Western Allies against Germany; the operations between the Germans and the Russians on the Easter Front; and the war waged against Japan in the Pacific. it is with the first of these that the history of the Canadian Army is chiefly concerned. Its main effort was exerted in Europe against the Germans. The Japanese did not enter the war for more than two years after its outbreak in Europe; and by the time of their attack in December 1941 Canada had already built up a large field army in the United Kingdom. Until the defeat of the Germans in May 1945 the support and development of that army continued to be Canada's primary concern, and Germany's collapse was followed by Japan's before large Canadian forces could be re-deployed in the Pacific.
The Army in the Pacific War, 1941-1945
Nevertheless, the Army played a part, though not a very extensive one, in the Pacific ear. Two Canadian battalions helped to defend Hong Kong in 1941; an infantry brigade was employed in the enterprise against Kiska in 1943; and a force of divisional strength was being organized for action in the Pacific at the time of the final Japanese surrender. Along with some minor activities, and the home-defence measures in British Columbia already described, these episodes constitute the record of Canadian Army participation in the war against Japan. They are the subject of the chapters which follow.
Something has already been said of the development of the Japanese menace during the period following the outbreak of war in Europe. We have noted the fears about Japanese intentions which were current in the
The Situation in the Far East, 1939-1941
summer of 1940, and the steps taken in Canada in consequence.* No attack took place at that time; Japan signed the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy in September, but remained neutral; and the Canadian force in Britain continued to be built up. As 1941 advanced, however, the situation in the Pacific deteriorated. Relations between the United States and Japan grew worse and it was more and more obvious that the aims of the two countries were impossible to reconcile. Active discussion was going on between them from the spring of 1941 onwards, without important progress being made towards a settlement. The United States had not intention of condoning Japan's programme of expansion; and Japan had no intention of abandoning that programme. As we now know, on 2 July a Japanese Imperial Conference decided to continue diplomatic negotiations while also completing preparations for military action.1 Nevertheless, it was long before the United States and Great Britain wholly abandoned hope of continued peace--or, at any rate, postponement of war--in the Pacific.
Britain's unavoidable weakness of the Far East--the consequence of the death-struggle in which she was engaged in Europe--had produced painful searchings of heart in London as to the policy to be pursued at Hong Kong. This was particularly the case after Dunkirk. In August 1940 and Chiefs of Staff considered the matter and decided that the colony should be "regarded as an outpost and held as long as possible"; it was recognized that in the event of war with Japan it could neither be reinforced nor relieved. In October the Governor of the Colony, Sire Geoffrey Northcote, recommended the withdrawal of the garrison "in order to avoid the slaughter of civilians and the destruction of property which would follow a Japanese attack". The Chiefs of Staff, after consultation with the Foreign Office, opposed this suggestion on political grounds--such action, it was felt, would discourage China, encourage Japan and shake American faith in Britain. However, a request the same month from Major-General A.E. Gresett, G.O.C. British Troops in Hong Kong was refused on the ground that it could only be supplied by India at the expense of reinforcement for the Middle East.2
At the beginning of 1941 the newly-appointed British Commander-in-Chief in the Far East (Air Chief Marshal Sir Robert Brooke-Popham) pressed his superiors to reinforce the garrison of Hong Kong. Mr. Churchill had no sympathy with these representations, and he has published3 a memorandum which he wrote on the subject:
Prime Minister to General Ismay 7 Jan. 41
This is all wrong. If Japan goes to war with us there is not the slightest chance of holding Hong Kong or relieving it. It is most unwise to increase the loss we shall suffer there. Instead of increasing the garrison it ought to be reduced to a symbolical scale. Any trouble arising there must be dealt with at
* Above, Chapters III and V.
the Peace conference after the war. We must avoid frittering away our resources on untenable positions. Japan will think long before declaring war on the British Empire, and whether there are two or six battalions at Hong Kong will make no difference to her choice. I wish we had fewer troops there, but to move any would be noticeable and dangerous.
Subsequently the British Prime Minister was to "allow himself to be drawn from this position". (This would seem to have been one of those cases where second thought are not best.) In the meantime, however, the Chiefs of Staff informed Brooke-Popham that reinforcement was not considered desirable. They viewed Hong Kong "as an undesirable military commitment", they told him, but demilitarization was not now possible in view of the effect it would have in both Japan and China. It had been decided, however, to increase the official "period before relief" for the fortress from 90 to 130 days, and to build up all its reserve supplies accordingly. A decision to build up food and ammunition reserves to this standard had been taken earlier.4 The words "period before relief", it should be explained are simply the usual formula on which fortress reserves are calculated; the use of the phrase did not necessarily imply an opinion that it would actually be practicable to relieve the colony after 130 days.
The Commander-in-Chief in the Far East returned to the charge. his appreciation of the situation in his area was confident. "To us out here", he wrote on 18 January 1941, "it seems no longer a question of reducing our losses in Hong Kong but of ensuring the security of places that will be of great value in taking offensive action at a later stage of the war." The War Office, however, felt that this was too rosy a view, and the Chiefs of Staff adhered to their previous decision.5
In August of 1941, General Grasett, who had just retired from his appointment in China, returned to the United Kingdom by way of Canada, his native country. In Ottawa he had "long discussions" with the Chief of the General STaff, General Crerar, who later recalled that Grasett had said that "the addition of two or more battalions to the forces then at Hong Kong would render the garrison strong enough to withstand for an extensive period of siege an attack by such forces as the Japanese could bring to bear against it." Grasett, however, did not raise the question of obtaining these battalions from Canada.6 On 3 September, after reaching England, he met the Chiefs of Staff and argued strongly for such a reinforcement, now suggesting that Canada might supply the units. The Chiefs were convinced, and
The Request for Canadian Help at Hong Kong
on 10 September sent to Mr. Churchill a memorandum7 recommending an approach to the Canadian Government. The essential paragraphs ran:
3. The Chiefs of Staff have previously advised against the despatch of more reinforcements to Hong Kong because they considered that it would only have been to throw good money after bad, but the position in the Far East has now changed. Our defense in Malaya have been improved and Japan has latterly shown a certain weakness in her attitude towards Great Britain and the United States.*
4. A small reinforcement of one or two battalions would increase the strength of the garrison out of all proportion to the actual numbers involved, and it would provide a strong stimulus to the garrison and to the Colony. Further, it would have a very great moral effect in the whole of hte Far East and itwould show Chiang Kai Shek that we really intend to fight it out at Hong Kong.
The Chiefs did not argue that the situation had improved to the point where it would be practicable to relieve Hong Kong in the event of war with Japan. The Chief of the Imperial General STaff had produced a draft memorandum suggesting that relief might be possible after four and a half months; but the Chief of the Naval Staff "considered this misleading" and it was deleted.8
The Prime Minister accepted the Chiefs' advice, making however one reservation. He wrote on 15 September: "It is a question of timing. There is no objection to the approach being made as poposed; but a further decision should be taken before the battalions actually sail."9 Accordingly, on 19 September the Dominions Office, London, dispatched the following telegram10 to the Government of Canada:
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 Fart 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 represents bare minimum reuqired 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 veiw 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
* The army strength in Malaya increased from nine battalions in August 1940 to 32 on 7 Dedcember 1941. Two capital ships (H.M. Ships Prince of Wales and Repulse) were sent to Singapore before the Japanese attack.
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.
There is no need to dwell upon the contrast either between this communication and the rugged common sense of Churchill's earlier appreciation, or between the situation as presented in it and the actual facts as known to us today. The historian's hindsight is always far, far better than the foresight of the men, groping in the dark, who had to do the work at the time.
The War Committee of the Canadian Cabinet considered the telegram on 23 September, but deferred decision pending examination by the General Staff and consultation with the Minister of National Defence (Colonel Ralston), who was then in the United States. On 24 September General Crerar sent a memorandum to the Acting Minister, Mr. C. G. Power. This paper itself made no specific recommendation on the point of policy, but indicated that it would be possible to provide two battalions, as requested by the British Government, "without reducing the strength of our Coast Defence garrisons and without further mobilization". That evening however Crerar spoke by telephone with Ralston in Los Angeles, telling him that he had "definitely recommended that Canadian Army should take this on". Ralston approved in principle.11
On 27 September a message arrived from Colonel Ralston conveying his approval and specifying that the units "should be sent from troops now in Canada and not from England".12 On the 29th the Canadian Prime Minister, in his capacity as Secretary of State for External Affairs, cabled to the Dominions Office that the Canadian Government agreed in principle to send two battalions to strengthen the Hong Kong garrison, and would be glad to consider arrangements for their dispatch.13 On 2 October, accordingly, the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff, remembering Mr. Churchill's reservation, asked his approval for going ahead with arrangements to send the battalions. He gave it, subject to the concurrence of the Foreign Secretary, which was immediately forthcoming. On 8 October the Chiefs of Staff authorized the reinforcement operation to proceed.14
It is worth while to examine the reasons for the Canadian Government's decision. Canada had at this period no intelligence organization of her own capable of making a fully adequate estimate of the situation in the Far East; essentially, Ottawa depended upon London for such information. Nor was any military appreciation requested of or prepared by the Canadian General Staff as to the situation of Hong Kong in the event of war with
Japan.15 The Canadian Government had not been told of Mr. Churchill's earlier doubts. It was of course amply clear however that the garrison's position in war would be most perilous. The Government's decision was evidently made mainly upon the circumstances as presented in the Dominions Office cable. Colonel Ralston retrospectively explained16 the reasoning which led him to concur in the dispatch of the Canadian force:
Without labouring it the considerations set out in the telegram were very largely the factors which influenced me in connection with it. . . . I had at the end of the consideration of the telegram this in mind, that the furnishing of one or two battalions would do a great deal more than a force of that size would usually do. 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. . . ;. It seemed to me that we had an opportunity to make a contribution, perhaps not large in numbers but certainly effective in its results which we should not disregard.
A similar account was given by the Naval Minister, Mr. Angus L. Macdonald.17 On 2 October the Minister of National Defence reported to the Cabinet War Committee that the United Kingdom Government's suggestion had been referred to him and approved,, after examination by the General Staff. The Committee confirmed the approval for the dispatch of the two battalions, noting that the actual units would be selected by the Minister of National Defence in consultation with the General Staff.
The selection received careful attention. The Director of Military Training was asked to prepare a list of infantry battalions in Canada in order of priority according to training, and sent it to the Director of Staff Duties on 24 September.18 The ten battalions which he listed under Class "A", i.e., those best trained, were with one exception units of the 4th Division, which at this time was still in Canada.* Seven other units were included in Class "B", these being either units of the newly-organized 6th Division or employed on coast defence. Finally, the D.M.T. listed nine battalions, which "due either to recent employment requiring a period of refresher training, or to insufficient training, are not recommended for operational consideration at present".
On 26 September the Director of Staff Duties (Colonel W. H. S. Macklin) made a submission19 to the Chief of the General Staff, based on these recommendations, providing for consideration lists of alternative selections from both Class "A" and Class "B". The G.O.C. 4th Division (MajorGeneral L. F. Page) strongly reprobated the suggestion that his formation should be robbed of two battalions for the Hong Kong task;20 and after considering the whole situation the C.G.S. decided that the best course was
* See above, pages 91, 99.
to select two battalions, The Royal Rifles of Canada and The Winnipeg Grenadiers, which had been included by the Director of Military Training among those not recommended for operational consideration. Both had recently returned from garrison duties in areas adjacent to Canada (the Royal Rifles from Newfoundland, the Winnipeg Grenadiers from Jamaica), and the D.M.T. had presumably considered that they were among those in need of "refresher training".
On 30 September the C.G.S. made his formal recommendation21 to the Minister. He wrote: "As these units are going to a distant and important garrison where they will be detached from other Canadian forces, a primary consideration is that they should be efficient, well-trained battalions capable of upholding the credit of the Dominion in any circumstances." It would be unsound, he said, to "disrupt" the 4th Division, and it seemed to him best to select units from among those on coast defence duty or from the 6th Division. In recommending specifically the Royal Rifles and the Winnipeg Grenadiers, General Crerar wrote:The Minister approved this recommendation on 9 October.22
10. As you know, these units returned not long ago from duty in Newfoundland and Jamaica respectively. The duties which they there carried out were not in many respects unlike the task which awaits the units to be sent to Hong Kong. The experience they have had will therefore be of no small value to them in their new role. Both are units of proven efficiency.
11. In my opinion, the balance of argument favours the selection of these two battalions. I would be very reluctant to allot them indefinitely to a home defence role as the effect on their morale, following a period of "semi-overseas" responsibilities would be bound to be adverse. The selection represents both Eastern and Western Canada. In the case of the Royal Rifles, there is also the fact that this battalion, while nominally English-speaking is actually drawn from a region overwhelmingly French-speaking in character and contains an important proportion of Canadians of French descent.
On 11 October the War Office, through C.M.H.Q., asked for a brigade headquarters and various specialists details including a signal section. This request had originated the previous day with the G.O.C. Hong Kong.23 Mr. Power (now again Acting Minister) immediately approved the proposal and the recommendation of the C.G.S. that Colonel J. K. Lawson, a Permanent Force officer then serving as Director of Military Training, should be appointed to the command with the rank of Brigadier. Colonel Ralston had been consulted. Simultaneously approval was given for the appointment of Colonel P. Hennessy, Director of Organization, as officer-in-charge of administration under the brigade commander.24
It may be noted here that after the Canadians reached Hong Kong, and a few days before war broke out in the Far East, C.M.H.Q informed the C.G.S. that the British Chiefs of Staff Committee had recommended increasing the Canadian force to a brigade group by asking Canada for a third infantry battalion and ancillary troops.25 This suggestion had in fact
been made by the G.O.C. Hong Kong by 19 November, three days after the Canadians' arrival. He reported that it originated with Brigadier Lawson, who recommended that Canada be asked to provide a third infantry battalion, a field regiment of artillery, a field company of engineers, a field ambulance and certain personnel of other arms and services. Lawson had expressed the opinion that these would be provided with alacrity.26 Before proceeding with the matter, the British Chiefs of Staff took the significant precaution of checking with the Far East Command to make certain that no one had suggested to the Canadian Government that air support for the Hong Kong garrison was yet in view.* They also observed that they could not agree with the suggestion of the
G.O.C. Hong Kong that this reinforcement would enable him to hold permanently the Gin Drinkers Line on the mainland, but did agree that it would greatly increase the security of the island. On receiving the required assurance, they recommended that a further approach be made to Canada. On 6 December the War Office formally invited the Dominions Office to ask Canada for the additional units; but the approach was never made.28 The reason is obvious. The Japanese attack began the following day, and the reinforcement of Hong Kong ceased to be practicable. The Royal Rifles of Canada had been mobilized on 8 July 1940 and in the following winter were sent to Newfoundland for garrison duty. They returned to Canada in August 1941 and in September were assigned to coast defence duty at Saint John, N.B., where they were serving when warned for duty with the expedition to Hong Kong. The unit was commanded throughout its active service by Lt.-Col. W. J. Home, a Permanent Force officer.29 The Winnipeg Grenadiers were mobilized as a machine-gun battalion on 1 September 1939, and as we have seen were dispatched to the West Indies to relieve a British battalion in the early summer of 1940. At this time the unit was converted to a rifle battalion. It returned to Canada in September and October 1941 and was warned for Hong Kong almost immediately. It had been commanded since June 1941 by Lt.-Col. J. L. R. Sutcliffe.30
The establishment adopted for each of the battalions sent to Hong Kong totalled, with attached personnel, 34 officers and 773 other ranks.31 It was decided that, in addition, the battalions should take "first reinforcements" amounting to six officers and 150 other ranks each. At the time when the
* The C.-in-C. Far East, when apprised of the forthcoming reinforcement, had inquired whether this implied a basic change of policy at Hong Kong. The Chiefs of Staff replied on 6 November that policy was unaltered-the colony was still an outpost, to be held as long as possible; but it had become practicable for Britain and the United States to "take a more forward line in the Far East". It was emphasized that air resources were still insufficient to permit the stationing of air forces at Hong Kong.27 It is worth noting that the terms of the message sent to Canada on 19 September (above, page 440) seemed to imply that the "outpost" policy had been abandoned.
units were selected, the Royal Rifles were at full strength and indeed had three officers and 59 other ranks surplus to establishment. The Winnipeg Grenadiers, who at an earlier time had been on a lower (garrison) establishment, were still five officers and 52 other ranks under strength. Subsequently, some 80 men of the Grenadiers and some 71 of the Rifles were struck off strength, for medical or other reasons.32 To bring the battalions up to strength and provide them with first reinforcements, then, approximately 440 new men in all were required, and had to be provided during the very short period (14-16 days) between the time when the two units were warned for duty (9 October) and their entrainment for Vancouver. It was also essential to maintain secrecy concerning the projected trans-Pacific move, and this somewhat hampered the process of collecting the necessary men.
The policy adopted was that the men required would be found from among those volunteering to serve overseas in a "semi-tropical" climate. Those for the Royal Rifles were provided from Military District No. 2 (102 from two Advanced Training Centres at Camp Borden, and 52 from The Midland Regiment). The Winnipeg Grenadiers got 252 men from Military District No. 10 (189 from an Advanced Training Centre at Winnipeg, which also provided 12 officers; 40 from No. 10 District Depot; and 23 from a Basic Training Centre at Portage la Prairie), and 30 from an Advanced Training Centre at Dundurn in Military District No. 12.33
The standard of training of the men thus added to the two battalions was one of the main points considered by the Royal Commission which subsequently investigated the dispatch of the force. The accepted policy governing reinforcements for the Corps in Britain was that men should not leave Canada without undergoing "the full period of training laid down", which was 16 weeks.34 The Commissioner (Sir Lyman Duff), after careful analysis, found that "approximately 120 men were included in the expedition before they had completed their prescribed periods of training".35 (An army analysis indicates that of all the men added to the two units, 23 had served for two months or less, while 172 had served for twelve months or more.)36 These 120 men amounted to about six per cent of the whole force dispatched. The Commissioner concluded that the fact that this small number of men fell short, in varying degrees, of the accepted standard of training at the time when the force sailed, did not detrimentally affect its fighting efficiency. There is no reason to disagree with this finding. The total proportion was small, the majority of these men had been trained for the greater part of the period prescribed, and a young soldier learns his duties more rapidly as a member of a field unit than in a training centre. And all the men concerned had opportunities for improving their training to some extent before the war with Japan began on 7 December.*
* The greenest men in the force were three who had only 38 days' service when it sailed, and 78 days at the time of the Japanese attack.37
The Training and Equipment of the Expeditionary Force
A more important question is that of the general state of training of the battalions that went to Hong Kong.
The Royal Rifles had completed basic training before going to Newfoundland. In the island the battalion was at first divided, but in the spring of 1941 it was concentrated as a unit at St. John's and thereafter was in a position to train somewhat more effectively. Company exercises were frequent, but the unit's records indicate that it had little chance to exercise as a battalion in mobile warfare. Range facilities in Newfoundland were not very good, but there was considerable firing with both rifle and Bren gun, and T.O.E.Ts. (Tests of Elementary Training) were carried out for both weapons.38
The Winnipeg Grenadiers had made respectable progress before being sent to Jamaica. All personnel had "been taught to use the rifle and carried out' T.O.E.T."39 The majority of men had fired the rifle classification before going to the West Indies. In Jamaica, where the unit was under British authority, hardly any ammunition for training could be spared at this period, but a few more men classified there. After the battalion had been warned for Hong Kong, the St. Charles ranges at Winnipeg were set aside for it for one week and some 600 men fired "a course with rifles at various ranges".40 Its duties in Jamaica had kept the unit busy and scattered, and there is no record of any tactical exercises on the battalion level. A 'useful programme of field training had been carried out at Montpelier Camp, one company at a time.41
Both units' training had been considerably hampered, as was generally the case at this moment, by deficiencies in certain types of arms and ammunition. This was particularly the case with respect to mortars and anti-tank weapons. The Royal Rifles in Newfoundland had 3-inch mortars, but no ammunition, and only one 2-inch mortar for instructional purposes. Before leaving Newfoundland the unit received four Thompson machine carbines, but no ammunition. It had no Boys anti-tank riffles, and grenade- throwing was practised with dummies, no live grenades being available for training. The Winnipeg Grenadiers in Jamaica had anti-tank rifles for instruction, but no ammunition; they had no 2-inch mortars, and although 3-inch mortars were available, again there was no ammunition for training. Of these deficiencies, that preventing adequate 3-inch mortar training was probably the most serious in practice.42
Writing on 15 November from the transport that carried the greater part
of the force across the Pacific, Brigadier Lawson made this report on his men's state of training:43
H.Q. Details--These appear to have been well selected. They are keen, anxious to work, well behaved and so far as can be judged on board ship, are well trained.
Units--Both units contain excellent material and a number of good instructors. Having been employed most of their time since mobilization on coast defence duties, neither has done much field training, even of sub-units.
Neither has completed its T.O.E.T.s for infantry weapons since many of these have not previously been available for them.*
Despite the crowded situation on board ship training has been carried out regularly since the 30th October, time prior to that being required for re-organization of battalions on their new establishments, assimilation of new men, changes in administrative arrangements on board ship, drawing of Khaki drill, etc.
Emphasis has been laid on physical training, weapon training, P.A.G. [protection against gas] and such specialist training as could be carried out. . . .
The two battalions had clearly not reached that advanced state of training which one would wish troops to attain before being sent against the enemy. The lack of range practice for the Grenadiers in Jamaica is particularly striking, though compensated for in some degree by the week of intensive work at Winnipeg. The absence of tactical exercises at battalion level, the result of the nature of the units' duties in Newfoundland and Jamaica, is noticeable. But to say baldly that they were "untrained" is to give a quite wrong impression. And it must constantly be kept in mind that both British and Canadian authorities believed that the troops were going to Hong Kong for garrison duty, and (in the light of the Dominions Office cable of 19 September) there seemed every reason to anticipate a considerable period during which any training deficiencies could be remedied.
There were no troops in Canada in the autumn of 1941 which can be said to have attained a really high standard of field training. To obtain two battalions whose training was clearly equal to immediate battle, it would have been necessary to bring back units from the Corps in Britain.† But the British authorities had specifically asked for battalions "from Canada" and had emphasized in a cable of 9 October the importance of their moving "at a very early date".44 It was out of the question to send units from England, nor did the circumstances as known in London and Ottawa at the time indicate that such action was necessary.
The units, having been completed with personnel, moved according to schedule. The Royal Rifles left Valcartier on 23 October and were joined
* Tests of Elementary Training are normally carried out at the end of a soldier's recruit training. Brigadier Lawson's statement refers specifically only to tests concerning those weapons which the units did not have. We have noted above that both units had carried out T.O.E.Ts. with the rifle. Both had been adequately supplied with light machine-guns and had undoubtedly carried out T.O.E.Ts. with this weapon also.
† One could go further and say that, apart from the few divisions actually in contact with the enemy, there were in 1941 no troops in the Commonwealth properly trained as training was understood at a later period of the war. We still had lot to learn.
at Ottawa the same day by the Headquarters details which had concentrated there. The Winnipeg Grenadiers left Winnipeg on 25 October. The trains reached Vancouver on the 27th and the men went aboard at once. The bulk of the force embarked on the Awatea, the British transport provided for the expedition; but four officers and 105 other ranks of the Royal Rifles were carried in the escorting ship provided by the Royal Canadian Navy, H.M.C.S. Prince Robert. The ships sailed later the same night.45
There were some deficiencies in both personnel and equipment. A total of 51 men, all but one belonging to The Winnipeg Grenadiers, were found to be absent without leave. As the brigade commander pointed out, the Grenadiers were in an exceptionally unfavourable position, having had an especially large number of men lately posted to the regiment, and having taken no less than 15 new officers on strength. Both units, he remarked, "had a number of men who did not know, and were not known by, their officers". Referring to the absences his report proceeded, "some men never entrained, others did not reach the port of embarkation, while others who were employed on loading parties, etc., apparently took the opportunity to absent themselves, the fact that they were absent not being discovered until after the ship sailed."46
There was an incident at Vancouver before sailing. The Awatea was crowded and uncomfortable. Lawson reported, "While the officers, W.Os., N.C.Os. and the men generally realized that conditions would improve, some 30 or 40 men determined to break ship. They were, however, restrained, force being necessary at one period to do this. The men implicated, were I understand, without exception, those who had not been with the unit long enough to get to know, or be known by their officers".47 A report from the Embarkation Staff Officer at Vancouver describes how "about fifty" men forced their way "off the gangway into the shed", but were "persuaded by their officers and N.C.O's to return in a matter of about twenty minutes".48
All told, the actual strength of the force which sailed was 96 officers (plus two Auxiliary Services supervisors) and 1877 other ranks. This included two medical officers and two nursing sisters (in addition to regimental medical officers); two officers of the Canadian Dental Corps with their assistants; three chaplains; and a detachment of the Canadian Postal Corps. There was in addition one military stowaway, a soldier of the R.C.A.M.C. who was sent back to Canada in Prince Robert.49
With respect to the force's mechanical transport there was both bad luck and some inefficiency. Canada was to provide this transport, amounting to a total of 212 vehicles.* It was out of the question for the Awatea, which
* 45 motorcycles, 6 Ford cars, 57 Universal carriers, 63 15-cwt. trucks, 2 15-cwt. water-tanks, and 39 3-ton trucks.50
had little cargo space, to carry more than a few of them, and no other ship was available to sail simultaneously with the balance. When it came to light that the Awatea could carry some vehicles, arrangements were made to fill space by loading six carriers, two water- tanks, and as many 15-cwt. trucks (probably about 12) as there was room for. The vehicles, however, did not reach Vancouver until 28 and 29 October, when the Awatea had already sailed. It is not entirely certain that they could have been loaded, even had they arrived on time, for the ship's captain had indicated that it might be necessary to use the space for additional oil fuel.51 However, the Royal Commissioner after reviewing the record was of the opinion that the vehicles could have been loaded and that it should have been possible to arrange for them to accompany the force. He reported:52 "Had more energy and initiative been shown by the Quartermaster General's Branch, charged with the movement of the equipment for the force, the availability of this space would have been ascertained earlier and the vehicles would have arrived in time for loading on October 24; and there is, in my opinion, no good reason for thinking that, had they arrived at that time, they would not have been taken on board."*
The result was that no transport went with the Canadian force, and in the event it received no Canadian vehicles before it was plunged into action. The whole 212 vehicles intended for it were loaded on the American freighter Don Jose, which sailed from Vancouver on 4 November, a week after the force, and in normal circumstances would have reached Hong Kong about 6 December. Under orders from the United States naval authorities, this ship was routed by Honolulu and Manila, and reached the latter only on 12 December, after the outbreak of war with Japan.54 On 19 December the War Committee of the Canadian Cabinet approved diverting the vehicles to the use of the U.S. forces then struggling to defend the Philippines against the Japanese.
The Canadian force was fully equipped with armament at contemporary scales when it sailed from Canada, except for anti-tank rifles (of which only two were available) and ammunition for 2-inch and 3-inch mortars and for signal pistols. The British authorities had agreed to supply these items at Hong Kong, although the full scale could not be provided at once.55
Brigadier Lawson had been given a comprehensive directive from the Chief of the General Staff. 56 This authorized him to place himself and his troops "in combination with" the British forces of the Hong Kong garrison in accordance with the terms of the Visiting Forces Act (above, page 255);
* There were changes in the personnel of the Quartermaster-General's Branch at the Department of National Defence after the facts came to light but before the Royal Commissioner reported. The Quartermaster General, the Director of Supplies and Transport, and the A.Q.M.G. (Movement Control) were all retired during the early months of 1942.53
and he was instructed to do so at the time of landing in the colony. He was not to withdraw his force from combination "other than in circumstances that you judge to be of compelling necessity, in which case you are to seek further instructions from Canada". Other portions of the directive ran:
2. Your mission is limited to the reinforcement of the British garrison serving at Hong Kong (including the Leased Territory) and to participate [sic] to the limit of your strength in the defence of the colony, should occasion arise requiring you so to do. . . .
6. In the fulfilment of your mission, you will bear in mind that all matters concerning Military operations will be dealt with by you through the General Officer Commanding, Hong Kong, whose powers in these respects in relation to the Force under your command are exercisable within the limitations laid down in the Visiting Forces Act (Canada). Insofar as discipline is concerned, the General Officer Commanding has not, under the Act mentioned, been vested with authority to convene and confirm the findings and sentences of Court-Martial, in respect of Canadian personnel serving under your command. . . .
8. You will keep constantly in mind the fact that you are responsible to the Canadian Government for the Force under your command. In consequence your channel of authority and communication on all questions (except those concerning military operations referred to in paragraph 6 of these instructions) including matters of general policy as well as of transfers, exchanges, recalls and reinforcements, will be direct to National Defence Headquarters.
9. The general maintenance of your Force will be undertaken by British administrative services in Hong Kong. 10. You will keep me constantly informed as to your situation generally.
"C" Force, as Brigadier Lawson's force was called, reached Honolulu on 2 November and Manila on the 14th. At Manila the escort was reinforced by a British cruiser, H.M.S. Danae; the Admiralty had arranged this "in view of the altered circumstances"57 (presumably the advent of the Tojo government in Japan). On 16 November the Canadians arrived at Hong Kong and were welcomed by the Governor, Sir Mark Young. They were given quarters in Sham Shui Po Camp, on the edge of the mainland city of Kowloon. Secrecy had been maintained until the move was completed; however, since a major object in sending the force was the moral effect which it was optimistically hoped its arrival would have in the Far East, an immediate announcement was now made: "A Canadian Force under the command of Brigadier J. K. Lawson has arrived at Hong Kong after a safe and uneventful voyage.58
The Development of the Japanese War Plans
Throughout 1941 the Japanese were getting ready for the war with the Commonwealth, the United States and the Netherlands which would be launched if those countries failed to acquiesce in Japan's imperialistic designs. Japanese planning has been carefully investigated since the war. The report
of the United States Joint Congressional Committee on the attack on Pearl Harbor59 is a very valuable source of information on the whole situation during 1941. More recently there has been thorough research by American official and semi-official historians60 as well as by independent scholars.61
The Japanese Imperial Conference of 2 July (above, page 438) decided to adhere to a programme of southward expansion. Late in July, in the face of strong British and American representations, the Japanese forced Vichy France to agree to their entering French IndoChina. This was followed by the "freezing" of Japanese assets in the United States and Commonwealth countries. On 1 August President Roosevelt imposed what amounted to an embargo on the export of motor and aircraft oils to Japan. These events brought decision nearer. In an Imperial Conference at Tokyo on 6 September, the Emperor used his influence against immediate hostilities, at least; but the Army and Navy were authorized to prepare for offensive operations.62 Thus, at the time when the British Government requested Canadian assistance at Hong Kong, the Japanese were actively getting ready for war; but they had not yet made the decision to commence it and presumably would not have done so had they found it possible to gain their ends in the Far East without conflict with Britain and the United States.
While the Canadian expeditionary force was being organized, there was a change of government in Japan. Prince Konoye had been reluctant to take the responsibility of making a decision for war. He resigned on 16 October, and on the 18th General Tojo, formerly War Minister, became Prime Minister.63 (It was mainly the Army that was forcing the pace.) The new government, it is now clear, was essentially a war government, and its accession marked a decisive advance in Japanese aggressive policy. But this was not fully recognized at the time in London, Washington and Ottawa. It is clear that at first, and for a considerable time, the significance of the change was misconceived. It is important to establish just what the potential Allies' appreciation of the situation was during the next few weeks.
The immediate American reaction is represented in a warning64 sent on 16 October to the Commander-in-Chief of the United States Pacific Fleet, which ran in part:
The resignation of the Japanese Cabinet has created a grave situation. If a new cabinet is formed it will probably be strongly nationalistic and anti-American. If the Konoye cabinet remains the effect will be that it will operate under a new mandate which will not include rapprochement with the U.S. In either case hostilities between Japan and Russia are a strong possibility. Since the U.S. and Britain are held responsible by Japan for her present desperate situation there is also a possibility that Japan may attack these two powers. In view of these possibilities you will take due precautions. . . .
Similar views were held in London, and continued to be held after Tojo formed his government. On 21 October General Lee, the American
Military Attaché in London, reported65 that he had received comments from the Chief of "the British Far East Intelligence" as follows:
1. It is thought that Japan will not advance southward, except possibly into Thailand, because of the danger of becoming embroiled with the United States and Britain, especially in view of the firm stand taken by the U.S. However, Japanese troops will be strengthened in Indo-China. . . .
2. Agreement among all previously divergent opinions in the army and navy in order to make certain of their assistance in any future projects launched is one aim of the new cabinet, which is unquestionably geared for war. The new Premier is wholly pro-German. It is believed that the Japs will advance on Vladiavostok [sic] and the Maritime Provinces [of Siberia] the minute Soviet disintegration appears imminent. In the meantime, speeches by the new cabinet should be viewed as obscuring their real intention. . . .
In other words, British Intelligence accepted the fact that Tojo's was a government of extremists, but the experts could not yet bring themselves to believe that the war it contemplated was one against the United States and Britain. They believed that the Japanese would attack Russia, who had been at grips with Germany since June. (Actually, the Japanese had set aside all idea of an attack on Russia by the decision of 2 July.)
On 26 October Canadian Military Headquarters, London, sent to the Department of National Defence a Most Secret telegram66 reporting the latest War Office views of the war situation generally as obtained in "informal discussion". The Japanese situation was dealt with as follows:
Situation Japan. (a) Consensus opinion that war in Far East unlikely at present. While no immediate action by Japan expected, however will be probably more vigorous assertions what she considers her rights. Japan apparently only prepared at moment to assist Germany by rattling sabre to contain Russian troops Far East. Japan realises how she can aid Germany but cannot see quite so clearly what Germany can do for her. (b) Generally considered that when time arrives initial movement of Japanese force will probably he northerly against Russia and not to south against our forces . . . .€ (c) Factors in favour northerly expansion by Japanese appear to be, first, presence of Vladivostock within easy bomber range Japan; second, oil in northern half of Island of Sakhalin; third, fishing rights in Gulf of Perzbinski [?Penzhinsk]. (d) Strength Japanese forces Canton area three divisions, one independent bde, one-tank bn. Dispositions follow. Area Canton incl Sunmanfow 104 Div and one tank bn. Area west of Canton incl Samshui Koming 38 Div and 228 Inf Regt. Area south of Canton incl Sunwui 229 Inf Regt. Sheklung 18 Div. Tsengshing 23 Inf Bde. Tamshuihu 35 Inf Bde. Japanese frontier force radius 30 miles Hong Kong strength 3000 with 18 guns. (e) Understand Chinese Government have undertaken to attack Japanese in rear of Canton if Japs attack Hong Kong. Chinese claim to be prepared to use 10 divisions for this effort.
This message was sent the day before the Canadian force sailed for Hong Kong. It will be noted that the War Office did not entirely discount the possibility of a Japanese attack on the colony, but the opinion is very definite, first that war in the Far East is unlikely at present, and secondly that when
* Details of Russian and Japanese troop dispositions omitted.
and if Japan does attack she is more likely to turn against Russia than against the British Commonwealth.
On 5 November Mr. Churchill sent President Roosevelt a personal message67 which indicates that he did not yet expect immediate war with Japan. The italics have been supplied:
. . . What we need now is a deterrent of the most general and formidable character. The Japanese have as yet taken no final decision, and the Emperor appears to be exercising restraint. When we talked about this at Argentia you spoke of gaining time, and this policy has been brilliantly successful so far. But our joint embargo is steadily forcing the Japanese to decisions for peace or war . . . No independent action by ourselves will deter Japan because we are so much tied up elsewhere. But of course we will stand with you and do our utmost to back you in whatever course you choose. I think, myself, that Japan is more likely to drift into war than to plunge in. . . .
Such were the views held on the highest level in . London when Brigadier Lawson and his-men were in mid-Pacific on their way to Hong Kong. It is clear that the Royal Commissioner was fully justified in expressing the opinion "that nothing occurred between September 29 and October 27 that would have furnished any cogent reason" for Canada's withdrawing from the responsibility she had taken up.*
At the beginning of November (the precise date does not appear) the Japanese Army and Navy arrived at a "Central Agreement"70 for their tremendous campaign of cold- blooded aggression. Nothing less was intended than the occupation of "the Philippines, Guam, Hong Kong, British Malaya, Burma, the Bismarcks, Java, Sumatra, Borneo, Celebes, Timor"; and as is well known the whole programme was duly carried out.
On 5 November the Japanese government decided to make war if a settlement with the United States had not been reached by 25 November. The same day the Chief of the Naval General Staff ordered Admiral Yamamoto, Commander of the Combined Fleet, "in view of the fact that it is feared war has become unavoidable with the United States, Great Britain, and the Netherlands," to complete "the various preparations for war operations . . . by the first part of December". Yamamoto instantly issued Combined Fleet Operation Order No. 1, which had been in readiness.71 While
* During the public discussions later there were repeated references to half-a-dozen secret cables from the Dominions Office to the Department of External Affairs. These have been examined by the present writer. They were commentaries on the international situation, and the United Kingdom Government found itself unable to agree to a Canadian suggestion that they be published, the reason being that such telegrams "are framed on the basis that they will not be published and the whole system of full and frank communication between His Majesty's Governments would be prejudiced if telegrams of this nature had to be prepared on the basis that this rule might not eventually be observed".68 The British Prime Minister confirmed however that none of the messages contained any warning that "early hostile action by Japan against the United Kingdom or the United States was expected".69 The reader of the foregoing paragraphs will have realized that there is no need of these telegrams to establish that no such expectation was entertained in London. They merely provide additional confirmation of a situation which is made quite clear in published papers.
thus whetting the dagger, Japan was still busy on the diplomatic front. On 15 November a special Japanese ambassador, Saburo Kurusu, arrived in Washington. It would seem that he had a dual role. He was to make a final effort to induce the Americans to accept Japan's terms; there was still time to halt the war machine if Japan could gain her ends without fighting. At the same time, Kurusu's presence in Washington would serve to distract American attention from the military movements and help to ensure a successful surprise attack. The United States Government was far from completely deceived. Its experts had broken the Japanese ciphers, and wireless messages addressed to the Japanese ambassadors were frequently on the American Secretary of State's desk before they reached those for whom they were intended. Mr. Hull knew, accordingly, that a message dated 5 November had set the 25th of the month as the last day by which an agreement could be completed. On 22 November another intercepted message extended the deadline to the 29th and added, "After that things are automatically going to happen".72
On 1 December another Imperial Conference in Tokyo, at which the Emperor sat silent, took the final irrevocable decision to commence hostilities. The same day the Chief of the Naval General Staff sent to the C.-in-C. Combined Fleet the following message:
Japan under the necessity of her self-preservation, has reached a decision to declare war on the United States of America, British Empire, and the Netherlands. Time to start action will be announced later. . . .
The naval task force that was to attack Pearl Harbor was already at sea.73
Not until the first week of November did the British and American governments begin to believe that an immediate attack by Japan upon themselves was likely. Following the interception of the first "deadline" message, Mr. Hull, at a Cabinet meeting in Washington on 7 November, delivered a warning concluding with these words: "In my opinion, relations are extremely critical. We should be on the lookout for a military attack by Japan anywhere at any time."74 This may be said to indicate the onset of really acute apprehension.
At the beginning of November the British in the Far East were still sanguine. A "combined situation report" produced by Intelligence at Hong Kong and dated 1 November expressed the view that visible Japanese preparations were "more likely part of a general tightening up to concert pitch rather than the final touches before plunging off the deep end". But about 20 November Japanese military movements suggesting the possibility of early attack began to be apparent to British and American intelligence staffs. On 22 November the British Commander-in-Chief, Far East, made an appreciation which reflects an increasing sense of the danger of such
attack. The same day, precautions were taken; in particular, air reinforcements were sent to Northern Malaya.75 Only at the end of the month, however, did G.H.Q. at Singapore come to believe that Japan "might be actually on the verge of starting war". On l. December G.H.Q. ordered "No. 2 degree of readiness" and the volunteer forces in the British colonies were mobilized.76 The British there and in London, who had long viewed the prospect with considerable optimism, now had somewhat less doubt of the real facts,* and when the attack came a week later it did not take them by surprise.
It is apparent from the foregoing that the actual Japanese orders for their stealthy attack were not issued until after "C" Force had sailed from Canada, and that the British authorities in the Far East did not become convinced that attack was really probable until about a fortnight after Brigadier Lawson's force arrived at Hong Kong.
The Defences of Hong Kong
The Crown Colony of Hong Kong consists of Hong Kong Island, off the coast of China, south-east of the city of Canton; the adjacent mainland peninsula of Kowloon; and beyond Kowloon the "New Territories", which are leased to the British Crown. The total area is 410 square miles. The island itself has an area of about 29 square miles. It is extremely mountainous. The strait separating island from mainland is less than half a mile wide at its narrowest point, the Lye Mun Passage at the island's north-east corner. The Colony's population early in 1941 was 1,500,000, the vast majority being Chinese, many of them refugees from the Japanese aggression which had been in progress in China since 1931.
Hong Kong was the headquarters and base of the Royal Navy's China station, and had always been a "defended port" of some strength. The Washington treaties of 1922, however, had included an agreement to maintain the status quo in matters of fixed defences in this part of the Pacific. This agreement lapsed only in 1937, and while it was in force the British authorities were precluded from increasing the armament of Hong Kong. In 1935-36, however, they undertook a programme of modernizing and reorganizing the existing armament. By December 1941 the 9.2-inch guns forming the backbone of this armament had been re-sited (three on Mount Davis, three at the southeastern point of Stanley Peninsula, and two at the point of Cape D'Aguilar); some had been given higher-angle mountings.77 The main concern
* Nevertheless, the last combined situation report prepared by the Intelligence staffs at Hong Kong, dated 1 December, observes that it is still doubtful "if war has actually been decided on": "The danger is rather that Japan may drift into war by continuing her present foreign policy which is bound to lead to a conflict with. the Democratic Powers sooner or later."
was still resistance to seaborne attack.* But by July 1939 the War Office in London was planning on the assumption that the Japanese, being now well placed on the adjacent Chinese mainland, were henceforth less likely to attack the colony from the sea.78
In December 1941, when war came in the Far East, the fixed defences of Hong Kong mounted eight 9.2-inch guns, fifteen 6-inch, two 4.7-inch, and four 4-inch. The mobile artillery was largely extemporized and included none of the latest types, the guns being twelve 6-inch howitzers, four 60-pounders, and eight 4.5-inch and eight 3.7-inch howitzers. There were also six 18-pounders and four 2-pounders for beach defence. The "approved scale" of anti-aircraft defence for the Colony was 32 heavy and 30 light guns, of which, however, only 14 heavy and two light guns (plus two naval guns) were on hand; four heavy and eight light guns were en route but never arrived. Two of the heavy guns were 4.5-inch and four were 3.7-inch, the others being of earlier models. There was no radar equipment.79 In view of the absence of air support, this weakness of the antiaircraft artillery was particularly unfortunate. In justice to the British authorities, however, it must be noted that in October, immediately after the final decision was taken to reinforce the Colony, the War Office cancelled an existing ruling forbidding the C.-in-
C. Far East to allocate additional A.A. guns to Hong Kong. He was authorized on 13 October to send any guns he could; but none arrived before the Japanese attack.80 By the time of the attack, all major naval vessels had been withdrawn to European waters or south to Singapore. The largest vessel remaining under the Commodore Hong Kong (Commodore A. C. Collinson) was the old destroyer Thracian; two other destroyers were sailed for Singapore the day of the attack. There were also several gunboats and a flotilla of motor torpedo boats.81 A worse weakness was the colony's total lack of air support. At its single airfield, at Kai Tak on the mainland, there was only "a station flight . . . for target towing purposes for which no war role was envisaged apart from local reconnaissance; the aircraft here were two Walrus amphibians and three Vildebeeste torpedo bombers.82 The nearest R.A.F. station was Kota Bharu in Malaya, nearly 1400 miles away to the south-west. With Japan comparatively near, and Japanese forces in Formosa and on the Chinese mainland, this isolation was the insuperable factor in Hong Kong's strategic situation. British planners nevertheless considered that it should be able to hold out for a long time. We have seen General Grasett's views and noted that reserve supplies for 130 days were now maintained at the fortress.83
* The fortress guns were able to engage landward targets (General. Maltby records that "calculations to hit one hundred points" had been worked out in peacetime), but the events of the siege were to show that the quantity of suitable ammunition available for this sort of shooting (25 rounds per gun) was inadequate.
The G.O.C. Hong Kong, Major-General C. M. Maltby, an Indian Army officer who had succeeded General Grasett in July 1941, had under his command for the defence of the Colony a total force, including the Canadians, of some 14,000 all ranks.* This however includes many non-combatants (nursing sisters, St. John Ambulance Brigade, etc., etc.) and also includes Naval and R.A.F. personnel. Maltby later estimated the maximum strength in actual "fighting troops" at 11,000.84 The military force included the 8th and 12th Coast Regiments and 5th Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery (all three containing many Indian personnel); the 1st Hong Kong Regiment, Hong Kong and Singapore Royal Artillery (Indian troops with British officers); the 965th Defence Battery, R.A. (also including many Indians), which manned the beach-defence guns; and the 22nd and 40th Fortress Companies, Royal Engineers, many of whose personnel were Chinese.
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, 7th Rajput Regiment and the 2nd Battalion, 14th Punjab Regiment). The Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps included units of artillery, infantry and other arms, and was to do most gallant and useful work during the defence. Counting non-combatants, the whole force amounted to 8919 British, Canadian and Colonial personnel, 4402 Indians, and 660 Chinese.85 The garrison was thus extraordinarily mixed in its composition; in the words of the "C" Force report, it was "hardly a combination likely to make an efficient fighting force". Its training likewise showed some deficiencies. Of the Canadians we have already spoken. The other battalions also suffered from shortages of special weapons and ammunition similar to those which had affected the Canadian training. General Maltby writes in his Dispatch:86
It was unfortunate that the equipment situation in other theatres of war had not permitted earlier despatch of the garrison's infantry mortars and ammunition. For instance, the worst case, the 2/14 Punjab Regt. had had one 3 in. mortar demonstration, of a few rounds only, but ammunition in any appreciable quantity did not arrive until November and then only 70 rounds per battalion both for war and for practice. Hence these mortars were fired and registered for the first time in their battle positions and twelve hours later were in action against the enemy.
The 2 in. mortar situation was worse, for there had been no receipt even of dummies, consequently the men had had no instruction in detonating. There had been no preliminary shooting and the 2 in. mortar ammunition was delivered actually in battle.
Surviving officers of the Canadian units are generally of the opinion that those units' battleworthiness was not inferior to that of the others of the garrison.87
* A very detailed list in the report of Headquarters, "C" Force gives a total of 13,981 all ranks. Air Chief Marshal Brooke-Popham's despatch gives the approximate strength as 14,564.
The Royal Scots had been at Hong Kong since January 1938 and the Middlesex Regiment since August 1937. General Maltby remarks in his dispatch that the former had had a high incidence of sickness, including much malaria. The Rajput Regiment had arrived in June 1937 and the Punjab Regiment in November 1940.88 The Canadians, of course, landed only three weeks before war began. It was unfortunate that the last troops to reach Hong Kong did not have more time to become familiar with the rest of the garrison as well as with their battlefield.
The Hong Kong Defence Plan
The defence of Hong Kong was necessarily planned in two successive phases: a delaying action in the mainland territories, followed (assuming that the attack was pressed by large forces) by a prolonged defence of Hong Kong Island. As we have seen, the British had considered for some time past that attack from the direction of the mainland was likely; General Maltby nevertheless records89 that throughout the siege he anticipated a landing on the southern shores of the island which never came to pass. The Commanderin-Chief in the Far East* (Air Chief Marshal Sir Robert Brooke-Popham) emphasizes that the plan was to conduct the main defence on the island. "Whilst the enemy were to be delayed as long as possible in any advance over the leased territory on the mainland, the troops had orders to retire if attacked in force, as they were required for the defence of the Island itself".91
Until the impending arrival of the Canadian battalions was reported, the intention was to employ on the mainland only one infantry battalion, its task being "to cover a comprehensive scheme of demolitions and to act as a delaying force".92 An "Interim Defence Scheme" prepared in 1939 noted that in these circumstances little resistance could be offered on the mainland, as the battalion there was required for the defence of the island and it was essential that it withdraw without serious loss. There was, however, provision for a delaying action astride the Devil's Peak peninsula.93 Sir Robert Brooke- Popham in his submission of 18 January 1941 (above, page 439) wrote, "From personal reconnaissance on the spot and full discussion with the Service heads concerned, I came to the conclusion that one Battalion on the mainland could only offer a slight resistance and that its evacuation to the Island might have to take place in 48 hours, but that if the one battalion could be multiplied by three the period of resistance would in all probability be multiplied by six." The news about the Canadians enabled General Maltby to change his plan and adopt a defence scheme "which had
* The C.-in-C. Far East, with Headquarters at Singapore, exercised 'operational control and general direction of training"90 over Army and Air forces in Malaya, Burma and Hong Kong. The naval forces in his area were not under his command.
been originally outlined in 1937" but had "never been fully practised" as there had never been enough troops available. It envisaged employing three infantry battalions on the mainland, holding a prepared position known officially as the Inner Line, but more commonly, from the fact that its left flank rested on Gin Drinkers Bay, as the Gin Drinkers Line. This line, some ten-and-a-half miles long, was "sited on very commanding country" but had very little depth.94 The one-battalion plan had provided merely for holding rear guard positions astride the "main defiles" on it.95 Before the Canadians actually arrived, detailed reconnaissances had been made and "the exact defence plan" for holding the Gin Drinkers Line worked out. Maltby writes, "A considerable amount of work was found to be necessary, for (except for the centre sector) the line was in its partially completed form of three years previously, when the general policy of defence was altered and the Gin Drinkers Line abandoned". A few days before the Canadians' arrival large working parties were provided by the three battalions now to be deployed on the mainland, and a little later the battalions occupied their sectors permanently to push the work on faster.
General Maltby believed that if he had time to develop the Gin Drinkers Line, and if the enemy did not launch a major offensive, this position would protect Kowloon, the harbour and the northern part of Hong Kong Island from artillery fire from the land. In the event of a major attack, moreover, he hoped that the prepared mainland positions would ensure enough time to complete demolitions on the mainland, clear vital supplies from mainland to island, and sink shipping in the harbour. He records that he saw no reason why he should not be able to resist on the mainland for seven days or more.96
The Gin Drinkers Line consisted of entrenchments reinforced at intervals by concrete pillboxes. Sir Robert Brooke-Popham observed in his post-war dispatch, with perhaps some slight exaggeration, that although the line was naturally strong and much work had been done on it, "it would have required two divisions or more to hold properly".97 As it was, Maltby, with his three battalions, planned to hold it with a system of "platoon localities", the gaps between these being "covered by fire by day and by patrolling at night". All the battalions were in the line, and only the Royal Scots, on the left, could spare a company for local reserve; the 2/14 Punjab's fourth rifle company was forward as advanced troops, the 5/7 Rajput's, though not in the line, was earmarked as brigade reserve.98 Maltby deployed in support of the Mainland Brigade a considerable part of his mobile artillery (one troop of 6-inch and one of 4.5-inch howitzers, and two troops of 3.7s).99
The G.O.C. chose for the mainland the three battalions which had been some time under his command: the 5/7 Rajput Regiment as right battalion, the 2/14 Punjab Regiment in the centre and the 2nd Royal Scots on the left. These units were organized into a Mainland Brigade commanded
by Lt.-Col. C. Wallis, Indian Army, who was given the local rank of Brigadier. Under the new arrangements, Brigadier Lawson on his arrival took command of the Island Brigade, composed of the two Canadian battalions and the 1st Middlesex Regiment. The latter unit's task was to hold the system of concrete pillboxes (numbered from 1 to 72) which had been constructed around the island's shores. The Canadian signal section was allotted to the Mainland Brigade.100 Such was the defence scheme in which the Canadians took their places.
As we have seen, although the Canadian units' battle stations were on the island, they were quartered on the mainland. During the three weeks between their arrival and the outbreak of war they were busy. The first few days were occupied with "smartening up drill to offset effects of voyage" and administrative arrangements, but also with reconnaissance by all officers and N.C.Os. down to section commanders of the terrain which the plan required them to defend. Some weapon training was also done.101 The following week the units were exercised in occupying their action stations. Brigadier Lawson's report for the week ending 29 November ran in part, 'Battalions have carried out two 48-hour manning exercises each for approximately 50% of strength. Those not manning continued weapon training".102 Throughout this training period at Hong Kong, special emphasis was placed upon mastery of infantry weapons.103
Beginning on 1 December, an actual "partial manning" was undertaken, evidently as the result of the apprehension of war. In each battalion, one platoon of each company plus some details from battalion headquarters and from the headquarters company took up their positions. They would normally have been relieved by other platoons after a week, but when relief was due war appeared so imminent that they were left where they were.104
The Canadian battalions' task under the defence scheme was static: beach defence, to counter that landing from the sea which Maltby expected. The Winnipeg Grenadiers were allotted the south-west sector of the island, the Royal Rifles the south-east one. As a result of the reconnaissances (which were carried out both by car and by motor launch) and the exercises, the units, when the attack came, had some knowledge of the difficult terrain over which they had to fight, though much less of course than they would have had at a later time. But since there was no attack from the sea, they were ultimately employed in a role quite different from that for which their brief training at Hong Kong was designed to fit them. They did considerable actual fighting in the general areas assigned to them in the original plan; but it took the form of mobile warfare against an enemy advancing across the island from the direction of the mainland.
The transport situation was difficult, for military transport generally was
short at Hong Kong* and as we have seen the Canadians' own vehicles never arrived. In the first instance, during the training period, only half a dozen trucks per battalion were available for them.106 After the outbreak of war, civilian vehicles were requisitioned, but the supply was never adequate, particularly since many were driven by Chinese who were prone to desertion and sometimes sabotaged the vehicles as well. It is recorded that the Royal Rifles never had more than 12 trucks at one time, but the Grenadiers "operated over 30 vehicles" which served brigade headquarters as well as the battalion.107 The Royal Scots lent each Canadian battalion one universal carrier for training purposes. These were retained after war broke out and were the only carriers the Canadians had,108 apart from some belonging to units of the Volunteer Defence Corps which were attached. Since the rugged terrain restricted any kind of vehicle movement largely to the roads, the lack of these tracked vehicles was not particularly keenly felt; but the shortage of trucks for moving men from place to place meant unnecessary fatigue for the troops, who had to move on foot, and slowed our tactical movements.109 The dozen trucks which ought to have been loaded on the A watea would not in themselves have improved this situation very much; but the arrival of the general body of Canadian transport loaded on the Don Jose would have helped the defenders a great deal.
As for the general equipment situation, it will be recalled that the battalions left Canada almost fully equipped, the only important deficiencies being anti-tank rifles and mortar ammunition. The Royal Rifles' war diary records that 3-inch mortar bombs were drawn on 4 December. The G.O.C. signalled the War Office on 24 November that the anti-tank rifles available at Hong Kong would be redistributed throughout his command, and this was done. These weapons, however, were of little use in the operations.110
The Japanese Attack Begins
The operations at Hong Kong present the historian with a difficult task. There are almost no strictly contemporary records on either side. The "war diaries" and "reports" which must be used as the basis of the narrative of the defence were compiled months if not years after the events, in Japanese prison camps, under the most difficult conditions and almost entirely from memory. In these circumstances discrepancies and differences of opinion are inevitable. British and Canadian versions of the same event sometimes differ, nor do individuals of the same nation by any means always agree. The information available from the Japanese side is incomplete and defective. Faced with this intractable material, the chronicler can only do his best. The
* General Maltby lists as one of the major disabilities of his force "the lack of regular transport driven by disciplined drivers".105
narrative which follows is the writer's own interpretation of evidence which is often unsatisfactory. Some of those who were there will doubtless not agree with it.
It has been made clear above that although the British authorities in the Far East did not become convinced that war was probable until a late date (if indeed-they ever became fully convinced), the Japanese nevertheless did not succeed in surprising them. At Hong Kong, every battle position was manned and ready for action. It is very evident, however, that the energy and skill with which the enemy delivered his sudden stroke were greater than the local British command had expected.
The Japanese plan called for virtually simultaneous attacks at widelyseparated points. The blow struck by carrier-borne aircraft at the United States fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, was only one enterprise of many. 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 - which is 12:15 p.m. on the same date by Ottawa time, and 1:25 a.m. on 8 December by Hong Kong time.* The attacks on the other objectives followed hour by hour as the daylight, moving westward, showed their targets to the Japanese airmen. Both the Pearl Harbor and Hong Kong attacks were delivered not long after dawn; but the former thus preceded the latter by over six hours.
We now know that on 6 November the General Commanding the Japanese China Expeditionary Army had been sent orders to prepare to attack Hong Kong, in cooperation with the Navy, with a force of which the 38th Division under the direction of the commander of the Twenty-Third Army "would form the core".111 The operations had been referred to in the "Central Agreement"112 between the Japanese Navy and Army in the following terms:
Hong Kong Operations.
One group of 23d Army, and 2d China Fleet as nuclear force.
Annihilate local enemy shipping, assault enemy positions on the Kowloon Peninsula, occupy Hong Kong. After completion of the occupation, the group above will be assembled as the group to occupy the Netherlands East Indies.
Although Allied estimates of the military force employed against Hong Kong run as high as three divisions, it is clear from the Japanese sources now availablet that it was only one reinforced infantry division. The
* All dates and times in the account that follows are those of Hong Kong unless otherwise noted.
† The basic source is a narrative prepared by Japanese officers under the direction of the United States occupation authorities in Tokyo, and kindly made available by those authorities. This "First Demobilization Bureau" account is based partly on documents (it contains many direct quotations, or what appear to be direct quotations) and partly on personal recollections. Many of the original Japanese documents are stated to have been destroyed by bombing or otherwise and their sense "reconstructed from memory"; though it is indicated that use has been made of papers preserved by individual Japanese officers. There is much more detail on the plans than on the operation itself. The shortcomings of this source are evident. We also have, however, the records of the interrogation of senior officers (Ito, Tanaka and Shoji) by the British authorities, some other papers based on interrogations, and an account written by Doi on the basis of his diary and recollections; and these independent accounts support the general authenticity of the First Demobilization Bureau narrative. This narrative is designated "Japanese Studies in World War II, No. 71 (Operation Record of China Theater) Vol. II". The Hong Kong portion is Chapter 3, Section 3. There are some other similar Japanese narratives, but this is the most important.
Map 6: Mainland Positions, Hong Kong, December 1941
Twenty-Third Army (which in western military parlance would have been called a Corps) was the formation operating about Canton. It was commanded by Lieut.-General Takashi Sakai. Before the outbreak of war in the Far East, it was composed of three divisions, one independent mixed brigade and two infantry regiments (equivalent to Canadian brigades). In the autumn of 1941 it was given another division.113
The force assigned to the capture of Hong Kong, as already indicated, was the 38th Division, commanded by Lieut.-General Sano Tadayoshi, with Major-General Ito Takeo as infantry commander under him. The division was composed of the normal three infantry regiments, the 228th (Colonel Doi Teihichi), the 229th (Colonel Tanaka Ryosaburo) and the 230th (Colonel Shoji Toshishige). It had the usual units of artillery, engineers, signals, etc.114 For the Hong Kong operations it was strongly reinforced with additional troops. The translated Japanese accounts of the order of battle are difficult to interpret, but there was a large force of artillery, apparently the whole of the Army Artillery of the Twenty-Third Army. This included a Siege Unit which is listed as consisting of a heavy artillery regiment armed with 15-centimetre howitzers, two independent heavy artillery battalions armed with 24-centimetre (9.4-inch) howitzers, and an independent mortar battalion. Special engineer units (including a landing craft unit) and transportation units were provided. In addition, the division was assisted by the "Araki Detachment", consisting of the 66th Infantry Regiment (three battalions) with an artillery battalion and other troops attached.115 This force did not take part in the attack on Hong Kong, but had the task of covering the besieging troops against possible interference by the Chinese. A considerable air force was assigned to co-operate with the 38th Division under command of the Twenty-Third Army. It consisted116 of three independent air squadrons, three reconnaissance "planes" and a light bomber regiment.
The plan of attack was simple. The Japanese were well aware of the existence of the Gin Drinkers Line and expected that the main opposition
* This is the version given in the text of the main First Demobilization Bureau narrative. The order of battle tables accompanying it gave rather different details. In some matters of minor detail this narrative contradicts itself. A narrative of air operations (included in "Japanese Studies in World War II, No. 76") states that the force directly cooperating with the Twenty-Third Army was "an air unit with one light bomber regiment as its nucleus (about 40 planes)", and that a heavy bomber regiment (18 planes) went into action on 16 December. It seems probable that the latter unit continued to take part until the surrender, but this is not specifically stated.
encountered would be along it. They proposed to move immediately after news arrived that their operation in Malaya had definitely begun, attacking across the boundary with the 228th and 230th Regiments and three mountain artillery battalions, grouped under General Ito, on the right, and the 229th Regiment on the left. They would press forward to the Gin Drinkers Line, and organize a major attack to break through it. Having cleared the Kowloon peninsula, they would prepare to attack Hong Kong. The plan was to land on the northern side of the island "and from there enlarge our gains.117 To facilitate this they proposed to stage an important demonstration against the southern beaches to lead the British to expect a landing there. They intended to make free use of landing craft to turn the British flanks during the operations in the Kowloon Peninsula.118
On 6 December, Headquarters China Command at Hong Kong issued a "warning of impending war" and ordered all officers to keep in touch with their units.119 On the morning of the 7th, the entire garrison was ordered to war stations.120 The Canadian units were ferried across from Kowloon to the island, and by five in the afternoon they had manned their battle positions overlooking the south shore and Brigadier Lawson's headquarters had been set up in a group of shelters provided for the purpose at Wong Nei Chong Gap, in the middle of the island. Even on this day, General Maltby sent an optimistic appreciation to the War Office, expressing the view that reports of Japanese concentrations near the frontier were "certainly exaggerated" and had been fostered by the Japanese "to cover up their numerical weakness in South China". But he took no chances, and his garrison's dispositions were completed some fifteen hours before the first shot was fired.121
At 4:45 a.m. on 8 December Intelligence at Hong Kong reported that Tokyo had broadcast a warning to the Japanese people that war was imminent. Maltby's headquarters immediately sent orders to "blow" the obstructive demolitions on the frontier, and at 6:45 the garrison was warned that war had begun.122 Pearl Harbor had been attacked about five hours before. The first blow at Hong Kong followed immediately. At about 8:00 a.m. there was a heavy and skilful attack by 48 Japanese aircraft.* All the very few R.A.F. machines at Kai Tak aerodrome were either damaged or detroyed, as were a number of civil planes. The nearly-empty camp at Sham Shui Po was also bombed, causing the first Canadian casualties, two men of the Royal Canadian Signals wounded.123
From an early hour on 8 December the Japanese ground forces were moving across the frontier of the New Territories and were in touch with the British forward troops (a company of the 2/14 Punjab with some armoured
* General Maltby writes in his dispatch, "The efficiency of the enemy air force was probably the greatest surprise to me."
cars and carriers). These troops fell back towards the Gin Drinkers Line, inflicting casualties and concentrating upon ensuring that the demolitions were carried out. In general, this is said to have been effected, although General Maltby writes, "some failed to provide the measure of delaying action anticipated".124 Actually, the Japanese seem to have been very little discommoded. At dawn on the 9th the British forward troops were on Monastery Ridge, just in advance of the Gin Drinkers Line. That evening they withdrew into the Line in accordance with orders.125
The Loss of the Gin Drinkers Line and the Withdrawal to the Island
The Japanese, expecting serious trouble with the Gin Drinkers Line, had planned a pause before it during which they would "make preparations for a major attack". It is stated that orders issued on the morning of the 9th defined the main point of attack as the high ground south-west of Jubilee Reservoir, and the preparations were to be completed "within a week". However, "the operations progressed much faster than anticipated".126
The most important position on the left flank of the Gin Drinkers Line was Shing Mun Redoubt, on the north end of Smuggler's Ridge, directly overlooking the Reservoir- the high ground which the Japanese had seen as their chief objective. It was held by a platoon of the Royal Scots, who also had a company headquarters there. On the afternoon of 9 December Colonel Doi, commanding the Japanese 228th Regiment, who had had the forethought to obtain the divisional commander's concurrence in his exploiting any opportunities that might arise, went forward with a small party to reconnoitre this area. He says he formed the impression that the British were not expecting an early attack. Although the position was in the 230th Regiment's sector, he accordingly ordered a night attack led by his 3rd Battalion, which assaulted Shing Mun Redoubt about midnight. For some time there was fierce fighting, both in underground tunnels and on the surface; but the redoubt fell into Japanese hands.127
This was a disaster. General Maltby writes, "The capture by surprise of this key position, which dominated a large portion of the left flank and the importance of which had been so frequently stressed beforehand, directly and gravely affected subsequent events and prejudiced Naval, Military and Civil defence arrangements." The surprise was doubtless facilitated by the fact that the British had believed that "Japanese night work was poor".128 This had now been proved to be the reverse of the truth. Maltby discussed with Brigadier Wallis "the possibility of mounting an immediate counterattack", but this was ruled out "as the nearest troops were a mile away, the
Sketh 4: Hong Kong and New Territories
ground precipitous and broken, and the exact situation round the Redoubt very obscure".129 No attempt was made to use the Royal Scots' reserve company (above, page 459) and no counter-attack was made against Shing Mun Redoubt then or later. The G.O.C., however, ordered an artillery concentration to be put down upon it in the early hours of 10 December. Earlier, as soon as it was clear that the Redoubt was gone, he decided to send to the mainland "D" Company of The Winnipeg Grenadiers, which was at Wong Nei Chong Gap as reserve for the Island Brigade. The company, placed at Wallis's disposal, was in position at his headquarters early in the morning. It stood by in Kowloon throughout 10 December.130
The Japanese command disapproved of Doi's initiative, which was considered irregular, and he testifies that in spite of the precaution he had taken before the attack he was actually ordered to withdraw from the Redoubt! He declined to do so and about noon of the 10th- obtained his superiors' consent to remain. But no further major attack was made that day. Early on the morning of 11 December the Japanese attacked the Royal Scots' left flank, driving them back some distance and "exposing the junction of the Castle Peak and Taipo Roads",131 thus endangering the withdrawal of the troops on the right of the line.* The situation was critical, and General Maltby moved up the Winnipeg Grenadiers company and a Bren carrier force from Kai Tak aerodrome to cover the gap.132 During the afternoon the Grenadiers' forward platoons exchanged shots with the Japanese and came under intermittent shellfire, but there was no heavy engagement and apparently no Canadian casualties.133 The Japanese give no details of this day, merely observing that, encouraged by their unexpected success at Shing Mun, they attacked on the 11th and "easily" broke through the British line.134 The Gin Drinkers position was now hopelessly compromised, and in consequence, at midday on the 11th, Maltby ordered the mainland troops to withdraw to the island, except for the 5/7 Rajput Regiment, who were to hold the Devil's Peak peninsula.135
The withdrawal was carried out that night. "D" Company of the Winnipeg Grenadiers covered the Royal Scots' retirement down the Kowloon peninsula. There was no enemy pressure, but the Grenadiers speak of "slight opposition from fifth columnists in Kowloon". The Royal Scots were in their barracks in Victoria City by 10:30 p.m. The company of Grenadiers were in the quarters where they were to have a day's rest three hours later.136 "Much mechanical transport, nearly all carriers, and all armoured cars" were reported evacuated.137 Not all of the 2/14 Punjab Regiment could be withdrawn that 'night, and the battalion headquarters and two companies remained on the Devil's Peak peninsula during the following day. To
* The Tai Po road ran down the east side, the Castle Peak road down the west side of the peninsula. They came together at the north end of Sham Shui Po.
conform to the other movements, the garrison of Stonecutters Island, off Sham Shui Po, had been withdrawn on the 11th, the coastal guns there being destroyed. (Nevertheless, the Japanese air narrative records that aircraft continued to attack Stonecutters on the 12th, 13th and 14th, "silencing" the guns.)138
Late in the afternoon of 12 December the Japanese attacked the 5/7 Rajput Regiment in the prepared Ma Lau Tong position across the base of Devil's Peak peninsula. The attack was not covered by artillery fire and was beaten off with considerable loss, the island guns intervening with effect.139 At ten p.m. General Maltby ordered the 5/7 Rajput to withdraw to a shorter prepared line in rear, at Hai Wan. The remainder of the 2/14 Punjab were ferried over to the island in the course of the night, followed by the single troop of 3.7-inch howitzers which had been left to support the defenders of Devil's Peak.140 As morning approached, Maltby took the decision to withdraw all remaining troops to the island immediately. The pre-war defence plans had envisaged a rather more prolonged delaying action on the peninsula, recognizing however that everything would depend on the general situation.* Devil's Peak overlooked the north-east comer of the island at short range, and with it in their hands the Japanese would find it very easy to cross the narrow Lye Mun Passage to the island; but the General "foresaw the greatest difficulties and even the impossibility of maintaining the 5/7 Rajput Regt. with ammunition and supplies in their isolated position". He also needed this unit to hold the north-east sector of the island. The Rajputs were accordingly ordered back at once; the last covering troops from the mainland reached the island at 9:20 a.m. on 13 December. Fortunately, there was no Japanese air interference with the movement's final stage, which had had to be carried out in daylight.141
The retirement to the island had been well conducted and little equipment was lost. The artillery was successfully evacuated, although some ammunition had to be abandoned and the desertion of Chinese ferry personnel resulted in the loss of most of the transport mules;142 this was unfortunate in view of the general transport situation and the nature of the island's terrain. If the Japanese had exerted more pressure, they could have made much trouble during this phase. As it was, it is conjectured, they had been so surprised by their own rapid success that they failed to make the most of their opportunities.
Successful though the actual withdrawal had been, it must be said that the defence of Hong Kong had begun very badly. At the first moment of contact with the Gin Drinkers Line, the Japanese had won a success which had a fundamental effect upon all the later phases of the little campaign, and had established a moral superiority over the defenders which was never
* This is the picture presented in Plan "B" (two battalions on mainland) included in the Interim Defence Scheme of 1939. Plan "C" (three battalions on mainland) was to be issued when occasion demanded; no copy has been found.
overcome. The effect upon the civilian population, white and yellow, was particularly bad. The white residents had tended to overrate the strength of the fortress, and the easy success of the Japanese, and the fact that the retirement to the island came only five days after their attack, had a proportionately discouraging effect upon them.143 At the same time, the disaffected elements among the Chinese population were encouraged in the same degree. The prospect for a prolonged defence of Hong Kong Island was not bright.
Following the withdrawal to the island, the defending forces were reorganized. The infantry continued to form two brigades, but they were differently constituted. The East Brigade was commanded by Brigadier Wallis and consisted of The Royal Rifles of Canada and the 5/7 Rajput. The West Brigade, under Brigadier Lawson, comprised The Royal Scots,* The Winnipeg Grenadiers and the 2/14 Punjab, with the Canadian signallers attached. The Middlesex battalion was directly under Fortress Headquarters, though its detachments manning pillboxes were under the operational command of the battalions in whose areas they were located.144 The new arrangement had the serious disadvantage of separating the Canadian battalions and removing one of them from Lawson's command. He recognized the unsatisfactory aspect of this in a telegram sent on 14 December, which explained the action by the "undesirability in present circumstances of taking moves which can be avoided".145 The point was well taken, doubtless, but the Canadians would have been more effectively employed fighting together under their own brigadier, especially as they had not had time to get to know the British commanders and staff officers properly. Both Canadian units were still charged with the immediate task of defending the southern beaches; General Maltby, with no air reconnaissance to help him, continued to apprehend a seaborne attack and feared to concentrate against the obvious menace to the north coast. The new system of command became effective at midnight 13-14 December. Lawson's headquarters remained at Wong Nei Chong; Wallis established his at Tai Tam Gap, a central position in the eastern sector. The inter-brigade boundary ran just east of the central north-south road across the island.146
On the morning of 13 December a Japanese envoy delivered under a flag of truce a letter from General Sakai "requesting surrender of colony and threatening severe artillery and aerial bombardment in the event of refusal". The request was of course rejected. During the day Japanese shelling increased. A 9.2-inch gun on Mount Davis was knocked out by a direct hit, Belcher Fort nearby was also shelled, and there were serious fires in the
* This battalion held the north-east sector of the island until the night of 14-15 December, when it was relieved by the 5/7 Rajput and withdrawn into reserve. General Maltby considered that it needed a period of recuperation after its experiences on the mainland.
urban communities in the north-western region. The situation report for the day remarked, "Our Chinese labour situation grave and majority of mechanical transport drivers deserted.147
The next day Hong Kong reported that the shelling had grown more intense and more accurate; more coast-defence guns were hit, and difficulty with the civilian population continued.148 On the 15th the shelling of the batteries went on and at the same time a systematic bombardment of the pillboxes along the north shore was reported, several being knocked out. The Japanese were collecting small craft in Kowloon Bay and were clearly preparing to cross. On the night of 14-15 December H.M.S. Thracian entered the Bay and shelled two river steamers, which blew up, while a special agent destroyed a third ship believed to be serving as an observation post for enemy artillery. It was reported that Japanese air attacks so far had been "for reconnaissance and nuisance value only".149
In the evening of 15 December the Japanese were reported to have made "an attempted landing" at Pak Sha Wan on the Lye Mun Passage, "using small rubber boats and improvised rafts". The garrison brought down heavy artillery and machine-gun fire. "C" Company of the Royal Rifles sent a party to occupy the Pak Sha Wan coast-defence battery, which had apparently been evacuated by its garrison, but when the Canadians advanced no enemy was met.150 There is no explanation of this affair in any Japanese account available. It may have been a feint intended to induce the defenders to reveal their positions.
On the 16th there was a noticeable increase in both air activity and shelling. This was the day the Japanese brought their heavy bombers into action (above, page 463, n.). By the end of the day "more than half" of the pillboxes on the eastern sector of the north shore, from Lye Mun to Bowrington, had been knocked out.151 The next day the Japanese sent a second flag of truce with another demand for surrender signed by Sakai and by the Naval Commander-in-Chief, Vice-Admiral Niimi. General Maltby telegraphed, "Envoys apparently genuinely surprised and disconcerted when proposal was summarily rejected. They left with hint that bombardment would be more indiscriminate than hitherto.152
Through 18 December the shelling and bombing continued. More damage was done, two 18-pounder beach-defence guns at Braemar were destroyed, and just before and after dusk there was "an extremely heavy bombardment by artillery and mortars" of the Lye Mun peninsula.153 The fifth column was very active; in the early evening two successive fires at the West Brigade garage shelter destroyed five cars.154 Large fires were burning along the shore, including a particularly bad one in petrol and oil tanks at North Point. In the morning the Rajput Commanding Officer had decided that "exhaustion from perpetual enemy fire" made it necessary to relieve-his right forward platoon, at Pak Sha Wan, but that this could not be-done
until after nightfall. It was apparently effected. Late in the afternoon Wallis visited the Rajput headquarters, and "it was jointly appreciated that the long and persistent fire of all natures, air attacks and the heavy pall of smoke drifting across the waterfront were almost certain to prelude an attempt to land after dark".155
The Attack on Hong Kong Island
The Japanese narrative observes, "Encouraged by the unexpected[ly] rapid capture of Kowloon Peninsula, the Army decided to follow it up with an immediate attack against Hong Kong, denying the enemy the opportunity to gather themselves." Arrangements were made for the Navy to support the landing and make a demonstration along the island's southern shore as in the original plan; and for the siege artillery to take up positions "on the highland in the northern region of Kowloon City" and bombard the British batteries and beach defences. As in the advance down the Kowloon peninsula, the 229th Regiment was to operate on the left, embarking about Kung Tong Tsai and landing near Sau Ki Wan. The main body, on the right, would embark at Kowloon and Tai Wan Tsun and land in the North Point-Braemar Point area. It was to consist of the 228th and 230th Regiments, with the former on the left. Each regiment was to be without one of its three battalions. The whole main body was evidently to be commanded by General Ito, although Ito does not mention this in his own statement. This force was to break through our beach positions and swing right, advancing westward over the northern half of the island. The 229th Regiment, attacking without its 1st battalion, which was to be held in reserve, was likewise to swing right after landing and advance westward over the island's southern half.* The 3rd Battalion of the 228th and the 1st Battalion of the 230th were to remain in Kowloon City for protective duty. The landing craft were apparently provided by a "landing engineer unit" composed of the 20th Independent Engineer Regiment and the 1st and 2nd Bridging Material Companies from the 9th Division.156
The Japanese account states that beginning at dusk on 18 December the navy made its demonstration against the island's south-western shore. This, if it really happened, seems to have attracted no British attention. The bombardment had left small doubt in the defenders' minds that the attack was coming in on the north shore; and it actually began about 8.30 p.m.†
* The First Demobilization Bureau narrative indicates that part of the 229th's main body was to attack Stanley Peninsula. The evidence of the regiment's commander, Tanaka, however, is that this task fell to the 1st Battalion, from divisional reserve.
†This is the time estimated by Fortress Headquarters.157 The Japanese narrative says that the landing began at nine.
Doi states that his first wave crossed the harbour by rowing in collapsible assault boats; the second wave went in powered landing craft, and in collapsible assault boats towed by landing craft. At Lye Mun Passage "motor boats and small craft" are said to have plied back and forth across the strait.158
The first brunt of the assault fell upon the 5/7 Rajput, who were manning the shore pillboxes in the area attacked. Their Commanding Officer's report indicates that machine- guns and mortars took a considerable toll of the Japanese.159 Probably because of uncertainty at higher headquarters as to what was really happening, and the difficulty of seeing targets (the smoke interfered with the operation of such searchlights as were workable),160 it appears that the heavy guns of the fortress did not come into action until some time after the first landings, when Brigadier Wallis brought down a series of 6-inch concentrations on the docks at Quarry Point and adjacent areas.161 The Japanese narrative is very brief at this point and does not refer to losses during the landings. Col. Tanaka, commanding the 229th Regiment, says that his 3rd Battalion met "stiff opposition . . . during the crossing of the harbour" from machine-guns on the east side of Aldrich Bay. Doi also reports intense machine-gun fire. An account based upon information from Tanaka, Shoji and. Lt.-Gen. Higuchi, who was Vice Chief of Staff of the Twenty-Third Army,162 states that machine-gun fire from the direction of Causeway Bay caused "30 or 40 casualties" to Shoji's second and third waves landing at North Point. The Japanese landings were facilitated by the fact that fifth columnists had been cutting the beach defence wire.163 In the eastern sector, Tanaka's 2nd (left) Battalion moved by way of Lye Mun Barracks upon Sai Wan Hill, while another portion of it pushed south towards Boa Vista. His 3rd Battalion, coming ashore in the middle of Aldrich Bay, advanced straight up the steep slope of Mount Parker* and seized the summit.164
The enemy's immediate objectives in the Sai Wan area were Sai Wan Fort, an old walled redoubt on the hill of the same name, with an anti-aircraft site not far away, and the coast-defence battery at Pak Sha Wan. This whole area had been heavily bombarded by the Japanese 9-inch howitzers; and the Chinese gunners at Pak Sha Wan had decamped or been released on 14 December, reducing the battery's effectiveness.165 It appears that at the very outset of the landings a truckload of fifth columnists or Japanese disguised as coolie labourers got into Sai Wan Fort and seized it.166 "C" Company of The Royal Rifles of Canada was supporting this sector, and when the situation became clear the company commander (Major W. A. Bishop) organized a counter-attack with two platoons. It went in at 10:35 p.m.,
* Major G.B. Puddicombe, who went over the ground with Tanaka at the time of the latter's trial, was impressed with the fact that the Japanese troops must have been in remarkably fine physical condition.
apparently supported by two 6-inch howitzers sited nearby. The hillside in front was cleared, but the old fort's walls kept the assailants out. Another platoon failed to recover Lye Mun Barracks. The attack on Sai Wan cost nine men killed.* "At midnight the fight was going fiercely" and repeated Japanese attacks were being beaten back. The fact that the company possessed unusual firepower--it had a number of extra automatic weapons- enabled it to inflict heavy losses on the enemy. At about 1:30 "C" Company, then clearly in danger of encirclement, was ordered to retire southward.168
Other elements of the Royal Rifles went into action on the west side of Mount Parker. From midnight onwards three different platoons were ordered forward successively from the Boa Vista area to reinforce the posts on and around Parker, though there is some conflict of evidence as to the orders they received.169 Since a great part of Tanaka's 3rd Battalion was on Mount Parker, these parties had no chance. The whole of one platoon and two sections of another became casualties.170
All along the front of attack, it is clear, the Japanese had got ashore in large numbers, though not without losses. The three regiments worked forward rapidly, Shoji's and Doi's moving south from North Point and Braemar Point respectively, in some confusion in the dark (both regimental commanders claim that their men captured Jardine's Lookout).171 Before the morning of the 19th dawned the Japanese were in the area of Wong Nei Chong Gap. Throughout, they displayed accurate knowledge of the terrain and the defences; and once more, contrary to the belief so strongly held by the British before the outbreak of war, they had given "conclusive proof of a very high standard of night training".172
A message received in London at 5:15 a.m. British time on the 19th told a grim story: "Situation very grave, deep penetration made by enemy". It added that cipher books and equipment were being destroyed.173 General Maltby, however, had not abandoned hope. In a situation report sent through naval channels the same day he wrote, "Japanese will undoubtedly try to ferry more men over tonight and continue infiltration but I hope to be in a position to launch a general counter-attack tomorrow at dawn".174
Operations in the Eastern Sector
In the course of 19-20 December the East and West Brigades were separated, when the Japanese reached the south shore of the island at Repulse Bay. It is convenient, accordingly, to deal with the rest of the defence in
* There was much misunderstanding about this attack. Brigadier Wallis recorded a British officer's report that it was not made;167 but the records of the Royal Rifles, who were on the spot, are quite definite.
two sections, relating first the events in the eastern area where Brigadier Wallis was in command.
The 5/7 Rajput, upon whom the enemy's initial attack had fallen, had virtually ceased to exist.175 Wallis's East Brigade now consisted in practice of the Royal Rifles and some units of the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps, with some Middlesex machine- gunners. About 9:30 a.m. on the 19th Wallis discussed the situation with Maltby and recommended withdrawing southward. The enemy was well established on the high hills from Mount Parker to Jardine's Lookout; piecemeal platoon operations against him had failed, and piecemeal company operations were likely to have the same result. Wallis considered that the best course was to concentrate the available infantry and mobile artillery in a secure base area and thus create a reserve capable of effective counter-attack against the high ground. Maltby approved and orders were issued for a withdrawal to the area Stone HillStanley Village.176 Unfortunately, the direction of this retirement, as it turned out, contributed to touch being lost between the two brigades.
Early in the afternoon the Royal Rifles began to fall back, and by nightfall the battalion had taken up its new positions. Brigade Headquarters was set up at Stone Hill, where there was a telephone exchange, with the headquarters of the Royal Rifles alongside. The Rifles had companies at Palm Villa (on the coast of Tai Tam Bay), Stone Hill, Sugar Loaf Hill, Stanley View and Stanley Mound. The battalion's strength had already been much reduced as a result of the fighting around Mount Parker and Sai Wan Fort.177
During the day the coastal batteries at Capes D'Aguilar and Collinson on the island's east coast were abandoned, the guns being destroyed before the withdrawal. This disappointed Wallis; since the guns were in selfcontained forts he had expected them to remain in action after the infantry withdrew.178 Moreover, some much-needed mobile artillery (at Red Hill and Gauge Basin) was destroyed during the retirement-in the brigadier's opinion, unnecessarily.179
Wallis's plan was to counter-attack either through Gauge Basin or by the more westerly route along the shore of Repulse Bay. He had wished a company of the Volunteer Defence Corps to remain in the Gauge Basin area and had relied on its presence to cover an advance by this route. The company, however, had beer; driven out after offering fierce resistance to Tanaka's advance; and Wallis accordingly decided to move by Repulse Bay, the object being to reach Wong Nei Chong Gap and make contact with the West Brigade. The Royal Rifles' main objective was to be Violet Hill.180 The advance began at 8:00 a.m. on 20 December, with "A" Company of the Rifles in the lead.181 The plan called for support by two 3.7-inch howitzers, the only effective mobile guns remaining to the East Brigade. But they could not help, for they "were only getting into position and sorting
equipment and were unable to fire at this time"; and the heavy coast-defence guns at the tip of Stanley Peninsula could not be brought. to bear.182
The Japanese had forestalled the Canadians at Repulse Bay, but only by a narrow margin. During the night Tanaka's two battalions had moved south, seizing Violet Hill, and by 8:00 a.m. the 3rd Battalion had reached the Repulse Bay Hotel, where it met resistance from a Middlesex detachment.183 "A" Company of the Rifles found the Japanese holding the hotel garage; they were also on the hillside above the hotel in strength. The Rifles cleared out the platoon in the garage, but could not evict the enemy above. Attempting to push on up the coast road, "A" Company ran into heavy fire. The advance came to a halt, and the company took up a defensive position around the hotel and a large house called Castle Eucliffe. It was ordered to hold the hotel until the many civilians there could be removed. "D" Company of the Rifles was subsequently pushed forward across the hills on the right towards Violet Hill. Failing to dislodge the Japanese from there, it withdrew to Stanley View. "B" Company, late in the afternoon, was ordered to advance through "A"; these orders were subsequently countermanded by Brigade, repeated, and again countermanded.184
On the 21st Brigadier Wallis made another attempt. Believing that the enemy were not so strong on the eastern part of his front, he decided to advance through the area of Tai Tam Tuk Reservoir. Fortress Headquarters approved, and he issued verbal orders early on the morning of the 21st.185 The movement began about 9:15 a.m. A quarter of an hour later the advanced guard came under heavy fire from the hills ahead. The Rifles pushed forward, and by about noon they had driven the enemy off the hills immediately south of the Reservoir. Thereafter the advance was held up by a machine-gun post at the crossroads at the Reservoir's south end, but Bren carriers were brought up and the troops on the spot, about 30 men of the Rifles and the Volunteer Defence Corps, with two carriers, "rushed the position under a rain of hand grenades (many of which failed to explode)" and wiped out the enemy in it.186 But despite the degree of success that had been achieved, the advance had broken down. The enemy was still in strength nearby, the Royal Rifles' companies, occupying the hill positions they had seized, had become separated, and the regiment had run out of 3-inch mortar ammunition and was weakened by casualties. The brigade commander was forced to the conclusion that he must withdraw and "harbour his force in its former positions.187
In the course of the afternoon, General Maltby had ordered Wallis to send all available men to Repulse Bay and make a new attempt to break through on this line to Wong Nei Chong. The brigadier accordingly sent Major C. R. Templer, R.A., with two carriers and 30 or 40 men, to take charge in the Repulse Bay area and carry out this operation.188 "A" Company
of the Rifles had previously pushed two platoons northward to join up with some British administrative details who were holding a house called "The Ridge", some 400 yards short of Wong Nei Chong Gap. Templer now took the balance of the company and advanced north, picking up one of the detached platoons on the way. The attack against the Gap failed, and "A" Company withdrew to the area of "The Ridge" for the night. Subsequently, however, two platoons were ordered by Fortress Headquarters (which was still in touch with the troops in this area) to occupy a water "catchment", on the hills overlooking the junction of the coastal road and the road north to the Gap, which the enemy was believed to be using as a supply route. The platoons were ambushed, suffered heavily, and withdrew to positions near Repulse Bay.189 They had probably struck Tanaka's main force.*
It may be well to tell here the rest of the story of the fighting in the Repulse Bay area. Early on 22 December Major C. A. Young, commanding "A" Company, was again ordered forward to "The Ridge". He occupied the house, reinforcing the British troops who were still there, with what men he had, and the position was held throughout the day. The senior British officer decided to try to break through the enemy lines. Major Young, feeling that chances would be better after nightfall, held the Canadians in their position, and then withdrew to Castle Eucliffe under cover of darkness.190
Late on the night of 22-3 December, "A" Company received through Major Templer orders to retire to the Royal Rifles' position at Stanley. A China Command situation report the following day stated, "Garrisoned hotel was evacuated by Stanley force last [night] as surrounded and untenable, and small party of women and children unable to walk had unfortunately to surrender".191 This was the end of resistance to the Japanese in the Repulse Bay area. The best chance of rejoining the battalion seemed to lie in splitting up into small groups, and in this manner part of the company reached Stone Hill that night. The next night Major Young with a considerable party got across the Bay to
H.M.S. Thracian, which was lying aground on Round Island. (The destroyer had been damaged by grounding during her operation on the night of 14-15 December and had been run ashore here after much of her equipment had been removed.)192 They remained on board for two days, and after dark on the 25th paddled over to Stanley Peninsula in Carley. floats. But the island was already fully in Japanese hands. The party turned back, and finally surrendered.193
* In spite of the disjointed nature of our operations in this area, they gave the Japanese much trouble and imposed much delay. Tanaka testified that he himself remained three whole days (20-23 December) in a position on the hill about 500. yards north-west of the Repulse Bay Hotel, and it is clear that almost the whole of his two battalions was in the area. Tanaka writes that the commander of the 3rd Battalion "later reported that he had suffered heavy casualties in the vicinity of Repulse Bay and that his battalion had taken no prisoners". This battalion had been so badly mauled that it took no part in the final phase of the operations.
The End on Stanley Peninsula
After 21 December no further attempts were made by Wallis's main force to drive northward, for the troops were in bad shape and the 22nd and 23rd saw constant attacks by the Japanese, who had been reinforced.*
The numbers, physical condition and morale of the Royal Rifles were declining. For several days before the enemy landings, the men had had no hot meals and no sleep except what they could catch in the scattered 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".194 Now they were nearly at the end of their rope, utterly beaten down by fatigue. The Brigade war diary and the observations of Canadian officers indicate that there was little mutual confidence between Wallis and this depleted and exhausted battalion which was practically the whole of his infantry force.
At noon on 22 December the enemy took Sugar Loaf Hill, but later in the day three parties of volunteers from "C" Company went forward and by nightfall had retaken the position. "B" Company, however, was forced off the top of Stanley Mound, to the southwest, and when it attempted to recover the position early on the 23rd the fire of enemy troops who had infiltrated to the south of the Mound broke up the attempt.195 That evening orders were given for a general withdrawal to Stanley Peninsula. Lt.-Col. Home had reported that 18 of his officers were now killed, wounded or missing, and the strength of his main body ("A" Company being at Repulse Bay) was only 350 men.196 He evidently recommended the retirement in the belief that his worn-out troops would have a better chance on the flatter ground around Stanley Village. It was accordingly carried out after dark.197 On the morning of 24 December, then, the Royal Rifles were holding positions in and around Stanley Village, across the narrow neck of the peninsula. "B" Company had been sent to occupy an anti-aircraft position at Chung Hum Kok, a subsidiary peninsula to the west, where it would protect the left flank. Part of the company lost its way in the dark, and found itself with the main body in Stanley Village; but about 65 all ranks reached Chung Hum Kok and held on there until the end.198
* It is impossible to be completely definite on the question of what Japanese troops were employed at Stanley, for no evidence is available from any enemy officer who actually fought there. Tanaka said that his 1st Battalion, which was detached from his command, took Stanley. Ito said that after the British advance towards Tai Tam Tuk Reservoir (i.e., on 21 December) Divisional Headquarters ordered to Stanley the reserve battalion of Shoji's regiment (from Kowloon). Doi states that the other battalion from Kowloon (his own 3rd Battalion) was brought from there and returned to his command on the Japanese right flank on 24 December. It seems very probable, then, that Tanaka's 1st Battalion, from immediate divisional reserve, was the first unit employed at Stanley, and that on 21 December it was reinforced by the 1st Battalion of Shoji from Kowloon.
During the morning there was a discussion, apparently rather acrimonious, at Brigade Headquarters, which was now in the officers' mess at Stanley Prison. "No R.R.C. personnel had had any rest night or day for a period of 5 consecutive days",199 and the unit diary records that "Lt.-Col. Home insisted that the Battalion should be relieved otherwise he would not be responsible for what would happen". There was still telephone communication with Fortress Headquarters, and after a conversation between Home and General Maltby it was decided that the unit would be relieved that night and go back to Stanley Fort, farther down the peninsula, to rest.200
On Christmas Eve, accordingly, the Royal Rifles were relieved by composite units under Middlesex and Volunteer Defence Corps officers, and fell back to Stanley Fort where sleeping space was allotted; "the last stragglers" came in about 11:00 p.m.201 In the course of the 24th an attempt to reinforce "B" Company at Chung Hum Kok had failed, and during the night Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps troops tried to relieve the force in that position but were ambushed.202 About 2:30 a.m. Brigadier Walls telephoned Lt.-Col. Home and instructed him to occupy the high ground immediately north of the fort. This was necessary, he said, "as the enemy were attacking in Stanley Village and there was grave danger of a breakthrough". These orders were carried out by "C" Company. The rest of the battalion got a full night's rest and was reorganized the following morning.203
During the morning the Brigadier, finding that the Japanese had gained ground in the Stanley Village area and south of it, ordered the Royal Rifles to counter-attack. "D" Company delivered the attack without artillery support; the hills in the peninsula prevented the coastal batteries at its south end* from firing into the area of the isthmus. The attack failed, and "D" Company lost 26 men killed and 75 wounded; late in the afternoon it fell back to Stanley Fort.206 About the same time, Wallis instructed the Rifles to relieve the artillery, acting as infantry, who were holding part of the front line. As the new "A" Company which had been organized during the morning moved forward down the main road to Stanley Village, it came under an artillery concentration and lost six men killed and 12 wounded. "About this time all enemy firing ceased and a motor car flying white flags came up the sloping road towards the entrance to the Fort."207 In it were two British officers who informed Wallis that the Governor had surrendered the colony. He was unwilling to capitulate without written authority, but told the Rifles
* These batteries had been intervening actively in the island fighting to the extent to which they could be brought to bear. The 9.2-inch guns used up all their serviceable land ammunition and were reduced to using armour-piercing shell.204 The two 3.7-inch howitzers, near the prison, had been doing active work, but at this point were out of action as an attempt was being made to withdraw them to a safer position. During the movement the detachment was caught by heavy fire, the lorry being used was riddled and it appears that the guns were never in action again.205
"that effective immediately all firing would cease and that the unit would not fire unless attacked". Early the following morning written confirmation was obtained; the force at Stanley then formally surrendered.208
The Fight for the Western Sector
It is now necessary to go back a week and deal with the story of the West Brigade and the Winnipeg Grenadiers.
On 18 December this Brigade was disposed with the Winnipeg Grenadiers covering the south-west and west coasts of the island, the Royal Scots in reserve in the Wan Chai Gap-Mount Parish area, the 2/14 Punjab in Victoria City and a company of the Middlesex around Leighton Hill.209 The Winnipeg Grenadiers' headquarters was at Wan Chai Gap; their "D" Company was now back. in Brigade Reserve at Wong Nei Chong. On Brigadier Lawson's orders, "flying columns" had been organized from platoons of the Grenadiers' Headquarters Company, to be available at a moment's notice. These platoons were billeted in houses south of Wan Chai Gap.210
When on the evening of 18 December the enemy was reported landing on the northeast coast, Headquarters West Brigade ordered out the flying columns to back up the landing area in case of a breakthrough. One platoon remained through the night at the road-junction north-west of Wong Nei Chong Gap. Another under Lieut. G. A. Birkett reached Jardine's Lookout shortly before first light. It was attacked by superior numbers and forced off the hill, the platoon commander being killed while covering the withdrawal with a Bren gun. The third column, under Lieut. C. D. French, was ordered to Mount Butler, but was repelled by the Japanese holding that hill, French being wounded and subsequently killed.211
About 2:30 in the morning of 19 December, Lawson called "A" Company of the Grenadiers, commanded by Major A. B. Gresham, to his headquarters from its position at Little Hong Kong, and on its arrival ordered it to clear Jardine's Lookout and apparently to push on to Mount Butler. It advanced accordingly. Reports of its action are confused, largely because so many officers and men became casualties. It appears, however, that it became divided, and that part of it, led by Company Sergeant Major J. R. Osborn, drove right through to Mount Butler and captured the top of the hill by a bayonet charge soon after dawn. Two or three hours later a heavy counterattack forced this party back westward. It appears to have rejoined the main body, but in attempting to withdraw to Wong Nei Chong the whole force was surrounded. The Japanese began to throw grenades into its position, and Osbom caught several and threw them back. Finally one fell where he could not retrieve it in time; and Osborn, 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 Osborn's gallantry saved him "and at least six other men who were in our group".212 Shortly afterwards the Japanese rushed the position and "A" Company's survivors became prisoners. All the officers had been "killed or severely wounded",213 Gresham being among the dead. After the defeat of Japan, Osborn was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross.*
An attempt to reinforce the Wong Nei Chong area in the early morning had produced a minor disaster. Three naval platoons on their way up in lorries were ambushed when close to the Gap and lost 24 men killed.214
When it became clear that the Japanese were close to the West Brigade headquarters in the shelters in Wong Nei Chong Gap, Brigadier Lawson decided to withdraw to a new site previously selected on the south side of Mount Nicholson. But before the movement could be completed the headquarters was overrun. About ten in the morning Lawson spoke to General Maltby on the telephone and told him that the enemy was firing into the shelters at pointblank range and that he was "going outside to fight it out".215 In doing so he lost his life, and no witness survived to tell the story. His body was found close to the shelters. Colonel Shoji visited the spot on 23 December. He wrote later, "We wrapped up the body in the blanket of Lt. Okada, O.C. No. 9 Company, which had captured the position. I ordered the temporary burial of the officer on the battleground on which he had died so heroically."216 In 1946 Shoji helped the Canadian authorities find the grave.217
After Lawson's death there was no brigade commander in the western sector until about noon on 20 December, when Colonel H. B. Rose of the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps, a British regular officer, was appointed to command the West Brigade. In the interval the Winnipeg Grenadiers took orders direct from Fortress Headquarters. The Headquarters of the West Group of fortress artillery had been with the brigade headquarters and was overrun at the same time, the officers and men being killed. A new West Group Headquarters was organized in rear later on the 19th.218 It appears that after Lawson's position was overrun a company of the Royal Scots was ordered forward to counter-attack the Gap. It suffered extremely heavy losses and the survivors were brought to a stand a couple of hundred yards north of the headquarters shelters.219
"D" Company of the Grenadiers had been stationed in another group of shelters in Wong Nei Chong Gap across the main road from the brigade headquarters. Two of its platoons in positions north of the Gap were cut off and overrun early on 19 December, but the remaining platoon, another brought up from the west of the island, the company headquarters and some
* It would seem inherently more probable that the hill captured and held for some time by Osborn's party was Jardine's Lookout rather than Mount Butler; but the evidence of the men who were with him specifically identified it as the latter.
individuals of the Grenadiers and other units made a prolonged defence of the shelters. The Grenadiers here were commanded successively by Capt. A. S. Bowman (killed on 19 December while dealing with snipers), Capt. R. W. Philip (subsequently wounded) and Lieut. T. A. Blackwood (also wounded).* The garrison had automatic weapons and plenty of ammunition, and it was able to take heavy toll of the Japanese.222
"D" Company's position was of great importance, as it commanded the one north- south road across the island. And it served to impose a most decided delay upon the enemy's operations generally. The fighting hereabouts and at Repulse Bay are the only episodes of the campaign which the Japanese narrative describes as particularly difficult and expensive. It contains the following passage:223
. . . The advance of our assault troops met with many setbacks. The following day [19 December] the first assault wave by the troops to the right of our right flank [sic] came upon a powerful group of sheltered positions, provided with emplacements at the Eastern foot of Nicholson Hill. The enemy fire from these positions was so heavy that not only was the advance balked, but our troops were thrown into confusion. Our left flank units also faced heavy enemy fire from the defenders occupying a hotel on the Southern side of Tsu-Lo Lan Hill [evidently the Repulse Bay Hotel], and their advance was impeded. Furthermore the terrain in this area was so rugged and separated by interlocking ravines that our contact with the advance units was at one time entirely broken.
Colonel Shoji's independent evidence accords with this. He states that in the fighting on the 19th around the Gap his 3rd Battalion suffered heavy casualties, including the battalion commander; and that he sent a message of apology to the divisional commander on the evening of the 20th for having incurred so many casualties-he says, approximately 800. His account indicates very considerable disruption of the Japanese operations by the resistance in this area, and he reports much uncertainty, particularly in the early stages, as to the whereabouts of the Japanese units on his flanks. During the confusion, it appears, at least one of Doi's battalions got across Shoji's line of communication and came up on his right.224 The fighting in the Gap finally ended on the morning of 22 December. At this time the enemy blew in the steel doors and window shutters of the shelters with a light gun. Ammunition was almost gone and the position was full of wounded men. At 7:00 a.m., after two small parties had left in what proved successful attempts to filter through to battalion headquarters, the remnant of "D" Company surrendered.225
Another small isolated party had fought a similar gallant fight on the island's north shore. Here a group of Volunteers, chiefly men over military
* Major C.A. Lyndon, Brigade Major, "C" Force, reached the position on the 20th from the site in rear which had been selected for the new brigade headquarters; he was apparently killed on the 21st. Lt.-Col. R.D. Walker, H.K.V.D.C. Engineers, was also present but severely wounded.220 Throughout 19 December Eurasian machine-gunners of the H.K.V.D.C., commanded by Lieut. B.C. Field and reinforced by a few Canadians, held two pillboxes on the slopes of Jardine's Lookout above the Gap with "superb gallantry" and killed many Japanese?221
Canadian Troops Arriving at Hong Kong
This photograph shows The Winnipeg Grenadiers at Hong Kong on the day of their arrival, 16 November 1941.
Courtesy Imperial War Museum, London
A Former Japanese Commander Surveys the Hong Kong Battlefield
Maj.-Gen. Tanaka Ryosaburo (who was subsequently sentenced to a long term of imprisonment
for war crimes) looks down on Devil's Peak and Lye Mun Passage, the narrow strait
across which his troops invaded Hong Kong Island on the night of 18 December 1941.
Photograph courtesy Major G.B. Puddicombe, 1947
Wong Nei Chong Gap, Hong Kong Island
The scene of one of the fiercest encounters in the battle of Hong Kong. Here a company of The Winnipeg Grenadiers held our for several days and inflicted much delay and many casualties upon the Japanese, The island's main north-south road runs from right to left across the picture.
Photograph courtesy Major G.B. Puddicombe, 1947
Landing at Kiska, August 1943
Aerial view of tank landing craft (L.C.T.5s) and other craft engaged in landing men an supplies on a beach on the north-west shore of Kiska. The rugged and inhospitable Aleutian terrain is clearly illustrated here.
The End of the War
On board the U.S. battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay, Sunday 2 September 1945. General MacArthur, Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, accepts the Japanese capitulation by signing the instrument of surrender. Colonel L.V.M. Cosgrave, who signed on behalf of Canada, is fourth from the bottom in the front rank of the large group of Allied officers at the right. The Japanese representatives are at the left.
The "Maple Leaf" Reports the End
Separate editions of the newspaper were published in Italy (January 1944-March 1945), North-West Europe (July 1944-May 1946) and the United Kingdom (May 1945-February 1946). Edited by personnel of the Canadian Army Public Relations Groups serving in each of the areas, it kept men and women of the Canadian forces informed of events at home and the progress of the war. Earlier the "Canadian Press News", first published in May 1942, had served the same purpose in Britain. The cut on the page reproduced here shows General H.D.G. Crerar, lately G.O.C.-in-C. First Canadian Army, landing at Halifax on 5 August 1945 on his return to Canada.
age, a few Fighting French soldiers, and some men of the Middlesex, were cut off by the Japanese advance on the night of the first landings; but they held the North Point power station with great determination, and General Maltby records that the delay they imposed was very valuable to him. They could not be relieved, and resistance in this area seems to have ended on the afternoon of 19 December.226
On the afternoon of the 19th also Fortress Headquarters had ordered a general advance eastwards with the object of reaching a line running north from Middle Spur (west of Repulse Bay) through Wong Nei Chong Reservoir.227 This operation made little progress. As part of it, the Headquarters Company of the Winnipeg Grenadiers attacked towards Wong Nei Chong Gap in an attempt to capture the enemy positions there--particularly the police station built on a commanding knoll at the south end of the Gap--and relieve "D" Company. As the company was much under strength, a platoon was borrowed from "C" Company at Aberdeen and some men of the Royal Scots were attached. With a flanking platoon moving over the summit of Mount Nicholson to protect the left, the force moved forward along the mountain's southern slope. A footing was obtained in the Gap, contact was made with "D" Company, and Major E. Hodkinson, who was in command, got orders from Fortress Headquarters to take the police station and then attack Mount Parker. But the assault on the police station failed, Hodkinson and most of his men becoming casualties.228
It is clear that the death of Brigadier Lawson, and the consequent absence of any coordinating authority in the forward area during 19 December, had serious results. There is record of two other company attacks on the police station, and one on Jardine's Lookout (respectively by "B" and "C" companies of the Royal Scots, and a composite company of the same unit) during the night of 19-20 December.229 Could arrangements have been made for more effective command above company level, something solid might have been achieved. Even as it was, we have seen that the Japanese were seriously delayed and confused and suffered heavy casualties.
General Maltby's expressed hope of launching a general counter-attack at dawn on 20 December (above, page 474) was not realized. The only major offensive action attempted that day seems to have been the advance of the Royal Rifles of the East Brigade into the Repulse Bay area. The lack of coordination in the forward area of the western sector was still being felt. Colonel Rose took command of the West Brigade at some unnamed hour "in the morning" and apparently began to influence the situation only in the early afternoon.230 He wished the Royal Scots to push eastward, clear up the situation at Wong Nei Chong and establish themselves in the Stanley Gap area.231 It evidently proved impossible to do this. However, "B" Company of the Winnipeg Grenadiers (Major H. W. Hook), which was still
in its original position at Pok Fu Lam in the west end of the island, was brought up to counter-attack towards Wong Nei Chong. The plan was to send one platoon around the north side of Mount Nicholson, while the main body attacked along the south side. The two parties were to advance during the evening of the 20th to pre-arranged points on either side of the hill, take up positions for the night there, and launch their attack at 7:00 a.m. on the 21st.232 There was discussion of the desirability of this attack being made simultaneously with the East Brigade's (above, page 476), but the latter could not start so early. It was accordingly decided that the West Brigade should move at seven and the East Brigade at nine.233 This "West Brigade attack" was in fact delivered by the single company of Grenadiers.
The plan was disrupted on the evening of the 20th, when Hook's main body, pushing forward through fog and rain, ran into the enemy on the south side of Mount Nicholson near the position where it was supposed to spend the night. The fact is that Doi's 1st Battalion had just seized the hill under cover of the dirty weather, having advanced the time of a planned attack to take advantage of it. The Canadian party retired to Middle Gap, having lost two officers and 20 men. At first light it went forward again, the left party going into action at the same time. A very bitter fight followed, in which the Japanese had the advantage of superior numbers; then "B" Company fell back, having suffered further heavy losses.* Of the 98 all ranks who had gone into the operation, all of the officers, the company sergeant major, six N.C.Os. and 29 men had become casualties.234
The Japanese position was steadily improving. They had continued to land in large numbers through the 19th. Commodore Collinson, noting the absence of effective resistance to this movement early that morning, ordered his motor torpedo boats to attack the landing craft. One or more of the latter were sunk, but two of the M.T.Bs. were lost to air bombing and gunfire.235 On the 20th the Japanese brought artillery ashore on the island, and the following day, their narrative notes, their advanced troops "began to recover" from their initial confusion.236 The situation report sent out from Hong Kong on 22 December237 painted a dark picture, recounting the failure of the Grenadiers' counterattack and that of the Royal Rifles towards Tai Tam Tuk (above, page 476). It mentioned further enemy landings and added, "Our troops are very tired and have suffered heavy casualties." It also reported the death of Colonel Patrick Hennessy, Senior Administrative Officer of the Canadian force. Shortly before ten in the morning of the
* The account of this attack in General Maltby's Despatch is incomplete. It gives the impression that the operation was intended to take place on the evening of 20 December and makes no mention of the fighting on the early morning of the 21st. But Colonel Doi writes, "At dawn on the 21st, the enemy counter-attacked with about 400 men, but they were repulsed after fierce fighting. In that engagement the unit defending the summit exhausted all its hand grenades and fought by throwing stones. This fighting cost one company about 40 per cent in casualties including the company commander and platoon leaders."
20th, the house on Victoria Peak which had been allotted to him as office and quarters was struck by a large-calibre shell. Capt. R. M. Davies, the Field Cashier, was killed instantly and Colonel Hennessy so severely wounded that he died on the way to hospital.238
The Japanese were now firmly in control of Mount Nicholson, and the next hill to the westward, Mount Cameron, became of great importance. On the morning of the 21st Lt.Col. Sutcliffe ordered his second-in-command, Major G. Trist, to gather all available men and hold this position. Trist occupied an area "along the top of the ridge immediately behind the crest" with about 100 men and held it through the afternoon and evening under intermittent artillery and mortar fire.239 On 22 December he was reinforced by a platoon of Royal Engineers and the troops on Mount Cameron were reorganized. That afternoon there was heavy bombardment and some casualties.
At 8:00 p.m. Colonel Doi attacked Mount Cameron with his 2nd Battalion and a company from the 1st. Again he reports fierce fighting and heavy Japanese losses. But after half an hour or so a serious threat developed to the rear of the Canadians' right flank. The Grenadiers' report says, "This information was relayed to Lt.-Col. Sutcliffe who, after a conference with Acting Brigadier Rose issued an order to withdraw to Wan Chai Gap". There is a contradiction in evidence here, as Colonel Rose states that the withdrawal was not authorized by Brigade.240 The troops fell back, apparently "somewhat disorganized".241 The following day, after a period of uncertainty, the situation in this area was stabilized, when the Royal Scots aided by some Marines succeeded in establishing themselves on Mount Cameron's western slopes.242
Throughout the operations the Royal Navy had taken the fullest part that its slender local means allowed. The gunboat Cicala bombarded enemy positions from Deep Water Bay on the 20th and 21st; on the latter date she was sunk by dive-bombing. Thereafter her people fought as infantry, as did the Thracian's also.243
The Fall of Hong Kong
At the time of the action on Mount Cameron, one company of the Winnipeg Grenadiers had not yet been deeply involved in the operations. This was "C", which was still holding its original positions to the south around the Aberdeen Reservoirs and Bennet's Hill, although two platoons had been taken away for action elsewhere. The battalion records that about midnight of 22-23 December, as a result of the precipitate withdrawal from Mount Cameron, Brigade Headquarters ordered this company to retire to
Aberdeen Village; it was suggested that there was no time to reach Mount Gough, to which other troops were pulling back. However, the company tried to reach Mount Gough by the roundabout route by Pok Fu Lam. Here, on communicating with Fortress Headquarters, it was ordered back to its original positions. The troops were too exhausted at the moment to make the move, but it was carried out on the afternoon of the 23rd, "C" Company having been reinforced by 80 more men. In the meantime, naval platoons from Aberdeen had moved into the Bennet's Hill area.244
At midnight 23-24 December, the West Brigade was disposed as follows. On the right were the naval detachments, sharing the defence of Bennet's Hill with the Grenadiers, whose line ran thence to the vicinity of Mount Cameron, their battalion headquarters having returned to Wan Chai Gap. In front, a company of the Middlesex was holding out at Little Hong Kong, almost isolated, although ammunition lorries were still getting through to the magazine there. The Royal Scots were on the northern and western slopes of Mount Cameron, and small remnants of the two Indian battalions were disposed to the north of it. On the extreme left another Middlesex company, much reduced, was holding Leighton Hill with undiminished courage.245
It was clear now that the defence could not last much longer. A report246 sent to London and Ottawa at midday on the 23rd ran:
Enemy has slightly improved his position in last 24 hours but lines hold generally as yesterday. Troops are very tired indeed but spirit. generally good and it is understood that every day's resistance is of value to Allied cause. Water position in City and on Peak is most precarious since principal reservoirs are in enemy's hands ... Very heavy shelling mortaring and dive bombing all morning and extremely difficult to maintain communications. Further fighting will be uncontrolled and confined to centres of resistance of unit[s] as [?and] sub-units. No water in hand and all men physically exhausted after days of continuous fighting. Very heavy mortaring and dive bombing of Mount Cameron just reported with incendiaries setting all that countryside alight.
In both capitals the developments had been watched with an anxiety which was deepened by the utter impossibility of doing anything for the garrison. The Japanese landings on the island had evidently surprised Mr. Churchill. He sent this communication247 to the Governor:
21 Dec 41
Prime Minister to Governor, Hong Kong
We were greatly concerned to hear of the landings on Hong Kong Island which have been effected by the Japanese. We cannot judge from here the conditions which rendered these landings possible or prevented effective counterattacks upon the intruders. There must however be no thought of surrender. Every part of the island must be fought and the enemy resisted with the utmost stubbornness.
The enemy should be compelled to expend the utmost life and equipment. There must be vigorous fighting in the inner defences, and, if need be, from house to house. Every day that you are able to maintain your resistance you help the Allied cause all over the world, and by a prolonged resistance you and your men can win the lasting honour which we are sure will be your due.
The Canadian Government was disturbed by the paucity of information from the besieged colony. On 20 December the Minister of National Defence sent through the War Office a message248 to Brigadier Lawson asking for such as could be sent by whatever means might be available. It added, "The anxious hearts and the hopes and confidence of Canadian people are with you all in magnificent fight you are putting up against heavy odds." Before this message was sent Lawson was dead, and when it reached Hong Kong the senior surviving Canadian officer (Lt.-Col. Home) was cut off in Stanley Peninsula. Lt.-Col. Sutcliffe answered it on 22 December, though for some reason the reply249 did not reach Ottawa until the 27th. It reported the casualties to senior officers and said also:
. . . Situation critical. Canadian troops part prisoners residue engaged casualties heavy . . . Troops have done magnificent work spirit excellent.
This was the last communication from the Canadians at Hong Kong.
The only possible hope of relief for the colony lay in the Chinese armies of Chiang Kai-Shek, and they could do nothing in time. On 21 December the British military attaché at Chungking informed the garrison that the main Chinese attack could not start before 1 January but it was hoped that bombers could operate at once against Japanese aerodromes. There is a vague report of some actual bombing at Kowloon on 20 December.250 The Japanese, we have seen, had disposed a regimental group, the Araki Detachment, to prevent Chinese interference with the siege. It was stationed about Tamshui, some 40 miles north-east of Hong Kong. The Japanese narrative states that during the Hong Kong battle a Chinese force about one and a half divisions strong advanced towards the detachment but attempted no active enterprise.251
A situation report from Hong Kong covering the period down to 5:00 p.m. on the 23rd again emphasized the fatigued condition of the troops and added, "Water and transport situation still very grave." The Middlesex at Leighton Hill had beaten off a determined attack..252 On the 24th it was reported that the Royal Scots had been driven off the top of Mount Cameron during the night and were holding the lower western slopes. In the late afternoon the Japanese, after heavy bombardment, finally captured Leighton Hill.253
There were two enemy attacks in the Winnipeg Grenadiers' sector on this day. One, directed against positions on the south slope of Mount Cameron about 9:30 p.m., was beaten off after severe fighting.254 About midnight on Christmas Eve a Japanese attack estimated as about two companies in strength pushed one platoon out of its position in the Bennet's Hill area, but another platoon and the sailors held their ground tenaciously and drove the enemy back.255
The dawn of Christmas Day found Hong Kong's defenders in desperate straits. Nevertheless, when the Japanese that morning sent another request for surrender, carried by two civilian prisoners, it was still refused, and the Governor reported to London, "Stout fighting is going on. Enemy working toward centre of town. . . . All in very good heart and send Christmas greetings".256 This was a last gesture. A the :e-hour partial truce resulted from the Japanese overture. When it expired at midday the enemy attacked immediately and made rapid progress along the north shore. Mount Parish fell, the Japanese got into Wan Chai Gap and were close to Fortress Headquarters.* All communication with the isolated force in Stanley Peninsula had now been severed; and the main body had only eight- mobile guns left, "with about sixty rounds per gun".258
In these circumstances General Maltby decided that more fighting meant merely useless slaughter, and at 3:15 p.m. he and the Naval Commander advised the Governor that "no further effective military resistance" could be made. Accordingly, the white flag was hoisted;259 and the silence of defeat descended upon Hong Kong.
The Cost of the Defence
Canadian losses at Hong Kong were heavy. A total of 23 officers and 267 other ranks were killed or died of wounds: five officers and 16 other ranks of Brigade Headquarters (including Signals), seven and 123 of the Royal Rifles, and 11 and 128 of the Winnipeg Grenadiers. This includes some who were murdered by the Japanese when trying to surrender or after they had surrendered. Twenty-eight Canadian officers and 465 other ranks were reported wounded.260 The enemy committed numerous acts of wanton barbarism, and many of the defenders who had become prisoners were found butchered.‡ The aid post at the Salesian Mission near Sau Ki Wan was the scene of particularly revolting atrocities when it was overrun on the morning of 19 December.261
The casualties of the British, Colonial and Indian forces cannot be stated exactly. General Maltby's dispatch indicates them as approximately 955 all ranks killed or died of wounds, and 659 missing. These statistics are clearly far from final, but no better ones have so far been compiled.
* The statement in General Maltby's Dispatch, that Bennet's Hill "had been completely surrounded and ... forced to surrender" was evidently based on a false report. Evidence including the naval reports indicates that both the Winnipeg Grenadiers and the sailors withdrew from the hill only after they had been notified of the general surrender.257
†This is the version given in the Royal Artillery report. The G.O.C.'s dispatch says six guns.
‡Major-General Tanaka Ryosaburo was in due time convicted by a War Crimes Court p4 sharing the responsibility for the atrocities, and was sentenced to twenty years' imprisonment.
The Japanese paid a considerable price for their victory, though it was not so high as the British estimated it to be. General Maltby, who mistakenly believed that three divisions had been engaged, thought that their losses might run as high as 3000 killed and 9000 wounded. The Japanese narrative now available states the casualties as 675 killed and 2079 wounded.262 These categorical figures carry some conviction. They indicate that Maltby's polyglot force exacted a very respectable toll.
Only a word can be said of the harrowing experiences of the Canadian prisoners of war. Until 1943 all of them were kept in camps at Hong Kong. Mainly as a result of conditions there, four officers (including Lt.-Col. Sutcliffe) and 124 other ranks died. In addition, four soldiers were shot by the Japanese without trial when captured after escaping.* A diphtheria epidemic in the summer and autumn of 1942 took 50 lives, the chief reason being the refusal of proper medical facilities by the Japanese. The Canadian medical officers nevertheless believe that this epidemic may have actually saved some lives, for the Japanese ultimately put into isolation men suspected of having the disease, who would otherwise have been forced to labour on Kai Tak aerodrome. Formerly, it had been necessary to send sick and half-starved men out to work.263
Beginning in January 1943 a total of one Canadian officer (Capt. J. A. G. Reid, R.C.A.M.C.) 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 136 of these men died.264 Of the 1975 Canadians who sailed from Vancouver in October 1941, there were 557265 who never returned to Canada.†
Some Comments on the Hong Kong Campaign
The sudden attack by Japan resulted in the Canadians who helped to defend Hong Kong going into battle in unfavourable circumstances. The basic cause of their misfortune was the inaccurate appreciation of Japanese intentions made by the western powers in the early autumn of 1941. As we have seen, it was universally anticipated that the Canadians would serve as garrison troops and would have ample time to accustom themselves to conditions at Hong Kong and get further training. These expectations were
* Col. Tokunaga, Commandant of the Hong Kong prison camps, and Capt. Saito, Medical Officer, were tried by a War Crimes court at Hong Kong in October 1946-February 1947 and sentenced to be hanged. The sentences were commuted to life imprisonment and 20 years' imprisonment respectively, later further reduced to 20 years and 15 years.
†One man had died on the original voyage to Hong Kong. The two Canadian nursing sisters were repatriated in 1943.
disappointed, and the battalions were plunged into action without having had a chance either to acquire a really thorough knowledge of their battleground or to complete their training, which as we have seen left something to be desired. Nor did the conditions of the short and nasty campaign permit the gradual acquisition of battle wisdom through experience. The extraordinarily rugged 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 they were never called upon to play, the Royal Rifles and the Winnipeg Grenadiers were not in good shape for fighting on scrub-covered mountainsides.
The British dispositions for the campaign¹s final phase-the defence of the island-left the Canadians on the south shore facing the sea and gave other units the task of meeting the first shock of the attack from the mainland. This arrangement was probably influenced both by the desire to maintain the arrangements made before the outbreak of hostilities (and to make no unnecessary moves), and to avoid placing the Canadian units, whose field training was less advanced than the others¹, in the front line. In practice, it did not prove a particularly good one; once the Japanese had landed on the island and made some progress, the Canadian battalions were practically the only reserve available for counter-attack. This was the task for which their training least fitted them. At the same time, General Maltby¹s persistent and unfounded fear of a seaborne landing on the south shore, by preventing a timely concentration against the menace from the land side, helped to assure the Japanese of decisive numerical superiority in the actual engagements on the island. It was unfortunate, also, that the dispositions did not permit of keeping the two Canadian units together under their own brigadier.
The Royal Rifles of Canada and The Winnipeg Grenadiers would doubtless have been more effective units if they had received more advanced training before going to Hong Kong. But too much can be made of this. Their casualty lists show that their contribution to the defence was a large one, and the Japanese accounts which have been quoted attest the battalions¹ solid fighting qualities. It is satisfactory to read in those accounts that it was in areas where these battalions were the major units engaged that the enemy encountered his greatest difficulties and suffered his heaviest losses.
We can see today that the decision to reinforce Hong Kong was a mistake. The idea that the arrival of two Canadian battalions in the Far East could exercise an important deterrent effect upon Japan was shown up, in the event, as an egregious absurdity, and one which cost the Allied cause the
Map 7: Hong Kong, 18-25 December 1941
loss of 2000 soldiers. However, the seventeen and a half days' fighting at Hong Kong was not wholly useless. The colony's defenders inflicted nearly 3000 casualties upon the Japanese and imposed some delay upon the further operations in which they swept on to conquer the whole of South-East Asia and the East Indies.*
* The Japanese plan provided, as we have seen, that after completing the occupation of Hong Kong the troops employed would be used against the Netherlands Indies. The 38th Division was in fact used in this manner. The 228th Infantry Regiment was employed successively in Amboina, Timor and Java; the 229th and 230th went to Sumatra and later to Java. Fate subsequently caught up with the 38th Division. The greater part of it was sent to Guadalcanal and was very largely destroyed there during January and February 1943.266
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