Wednesday, 11 October 2017

A potpourri of Stanley Camp and Stanley Photographs

Prison officers Club (1945)

Stanley Village from the hill leading to the fort - a sketch map from 1/Mx war diary (UKNA)

Stanley Prison 

Repulse Bay - on the way to Stanley

Stanley Military Cemetery

Maryknoll House 

Friday, 6 October 2017

HMS Birkenhead

The Honourable East India Company (HEIC) vessel Nemesis was built at John Laird's shipyard at Birkenhead. When she was launched in 1839, she was one of the first steam powered warships to be built. Although other paddle steamers were present on the China station during the First Opium War (1839-1842), Nemesis was the first iron hulled steamer to operate in eastern waters. She was a marvel of her time and played a very prominent role in the Anglo-Chinese War living up to her namesake, the  goddess of retribution and revenge.

HMS Birkenhead was also an iron hulled paddle steamer, and like Nemesis she was built at John Laird, and launched in 1845. She had been designed as a frigate, but by this time paddles were giving way to propellors, and Birkenhead was instead commissioned as a troopship. Seven years later, in February 1852 she sank off the coast of South Africa. Her sinking and the conduct of her officers and men and the soldiers she carried became something of a legend in Victorian England, depicted in paintings and poetry and from whence came the expression the "Birkenhead drill". 

The Birkenhead began her last tragic voyage in Portsmouth in January 1852. She was under the command of Captain Robert Salmond. The troops from various regiments were under the overall command of Lt-Col Alexander Seton. At the time of her sinking she was carrying approximately 643 men, women and children. The ship hit an unchartered submerged rock at night which holed her bows, broke bulkheads,  and caused flooding to the engine room and lower decks. A number soldiers were killed below decks many still in their hammocks, whilst others were able to make their way to the upper deck. The soldiers mustered on the deck, and some were ordered aft to help bring up the bows. Some of the soldiers were ordered to assist the crew in lowering the lifeboats, whilst others were detailed to man the pumps below decks. The order went out that women and children should go first. That, and the discipline of the soldiers, accepting their fate, and mustering whilst the ship went down to allow women and children to get away first became known as the "Birkenhead drill" and was immortalised by Rudyard Kipling. 

"But to stand an' be still
 the Birken'ead drill
 is a damn tough bullet to chew." 

The wreck of the Birkenhead by Thomas Hemy (1892)
Of the eight or nine boats only three were lowered. The others could not be lowered from the davits, or freed from the paddle top. All of the women and children and a number of the men were embarked on the three boats. They were later picked up by two schooners. The Birkenhead sank within twenty minutes of hitting the rock which is now called Birkenhead Rock in memory of all those who lost their lives, either by drowning or being killed by sharks.

A rendition that better depicts the sinking being at night 
The ship sank at around 0200 hours. The exact number of survivors is not known but thought to be between 194 and 205. These included 80 survivors who were able to get on the three life boats that were lowered.  When I first read about the loss of the Birkenhead I had the impression there were a number of women and children onboard. In fact there were only seven women and thirteen children aboard, suggesting there were sixty men on the lifeboats. We know the survivors included 113 Army all ranks, 6 Royal Marines and 54 Navy  all ranks.  It may be that a large portion of the men in the boats were made up of the 54 naval personnel who survived and who may have manned the oars on the lifeboats. The lifeboats also picked up men from the water. Around 445 men lost their lives in the  sinking which took place in shark infested and bitterly cold seas. It was like an early version of the Titanic which also sank on another clear and starry night without enough lifeboats for those onboard. 

The Wreck of the Birkenhead by Charles Dixon (1901)
As the ship went down, an order was given for the horses onboard to be cut loose and pushed over the ship's side in the hope they would be able to swim ashore. There were nine horse belonging to the Army officers. Of these one broke a leg on being pushed into the sea, and was thought to have been eaten by sharks, but the remainder managed to swim ashore and two of them were reunited with their owners who survived by swimming ashore.

The schooners Lioness and Seahorse arrived on the scene of the sinking at noon the following day. The Lioness picked up the survivors from the first two boats ( a cutter and a gig). They then found some forty survivors clinging to the wreckage of the main mast and rigging. The Lioness rescued some 116 people from the boats and from the wreckage in the water. The third boat (a cutter) managed to make the nearby shore. The Seahorse rescued some twenty survivors from the water. A whaleboat from nearby Dyer Island had joined the rescue effort and picked up some four survivors. Some survivors managed to swim the two miles to the shore.

The most senior Army officer to survive was Captain Wright of the 91st Regiment of Foot.  He testified as to the steadfastness and discipline of the men at the court martial convened on HMS Victory.
"The order and regularity that prevailed on board, from the moment the ship struck till she totally disappeared, far exceeded anything that I had thought could be effected by the best discipline; and it is the more to be wondered at seeing that most of the soldiers were but a short time in the service. Everyone did as he was directed and there was not a murmur or cry amongst them until the ship made her final plunge – all received their orders and carried them out as if they were embarking, instead of going to the bottom – I never saw any embarkation conducted with so little noise or confusion."
Colour Sgt John O'Neil also serving with the 91st Regiment was one of those who escaped death by swimming to that distant shore. In 1901, during a presentation on the occasion of his retirement, he commented about the sinking:
"I might be allowed to say a word or two about the memorable disaster, the wreck of the Birkenhead My share in that is soon told: simple obedience of orders, standing on deck slowly but surely sinking, whilst the women and children got safely away in the boats, then by God's providence and a long and perilous swim midst sharks, breakers and seaweeds, I managed to scramble ashore." 
Private Francis Ginn of the 43rd Light Infantry was an 18 year-old recruit. He stood muster with other soldiers on the deck, whilst the ship went down allowing others, and in particular the women and children to go first. He was a strong swimmer and when the ship went down he struck out for the shore. He swam through the night until in an exhausted state he was picked up by a Dutch fishing boat and brought ashore.

Cpl William Smith of 12th Regiment of Foot recalled the shock felt throughout the ship as the vessel collided with the rock. Distress rockets were fired.
"There was a panic for a short time but admirable discipline was maintained through the efforts of the officers. Good order was eventually restored. I believe twenty minutes had hardly elapsed before the vessel was in pieces. I was sleeping on the lower deck when the shock came and crowded up the ladder with others but found it difficult work. Some never came up at all but were drowned in their hammocks the water rushing in so suddenly. Most of the troops were fallen in on deck with the exception of some sixty men who were told to go below to man the chain pumps;  they never came up again but were all drowned like rats in a hole. After gaining the deck I went and assisted the crew in rigging the chain pumps I remained there, and I think it was about the hardest twenty minutes  work I ever did in my life. We all worked like Trojans. I remained below the whole time. I know very little about what happened on deck during this time. I think I was the only man that ever came up again from the pumps. "
An officer, Lt John Girardot, then told the men on the pumps it was no use, they could not control the flooding,  and they were ordered to go to the upper deck. Smith was one of those nearest the ladder. By the time he reached the upper deck it was already awash. The ship was going down so fast, sinking by the bows, her smokestack lying across the deck. He described there being insufficient time to get the other boats launched whereas some other accounts talk about jammed davits. Smith could not swim but he managed to cling to a broken spar and eventually made the shore. He described how the dark outline of the  mountains made the shore look closer than it was, and many of those that struck out towards the coast were unable to make the distance which he estimated at about two miles.

Richard Nesbitt was fourteen years old at the time. His father was Quartermaster of the 12th Suffolk Regiment.
"I have a very clear and distinct recollection of all that occurred.  I saved myself by making for and fastening on to one of the boats to which I clung for some time and was eventually pulled on board. We were afterwards picked up by the schooner Lioness and never shall I forget the great kindness of Captain and Mrs Ramsden to all the survivors - men, women and children.  I don't think half an hour could have elapsed from her striking until she broke up."
Cpl William Butler described the impact as being like a "clap off thunder" when the steamer hit the rock.
"The Captain and officers behaved splendidly; the former sang out, ‘Soldiers and sailors, keep quiet, and I will save you all ” There was calm after panic; we lowered the gangway, and pitched four guns and the horses overboard.  Captain Wright, of the 91st, jumped after his horse and got ashore with him.  The Captain ordered Mr. Brodie, to get the paddle box boats loose.  In doing so he got his thighs jammed.  When the vessel went down, the boat he had loosened remained in the water keel up. I saw four men get ashore on her, one man sitting on the keel with a big coat on, the three others paddling. Three on a spar also reached the shore, two men and a cabin boy; the boy sat on the spar, and the men paddled. I saw another get ashore on a truss of hay. As to the troops being paraded it is imagination. She was loaded to the funnel. The last words I heard the Captain say were “Soldiers and sailors, I’ve done what I can for you. I can't do more. Those who can swim do so; those who can’t climb the rigging.” Then it was a rush. I got hold of a bit of wreckage, on which it took me about seven hours to reach the shore where the survivors mustered in lots of six to ten who knew each other and walked in the direction of Simon's Bay, taking two days to reach the same."
Lt Girardot, 43rd Light Infantry, survived the sinking. He later recalled being dragged down as the ship submerged. Somebody was hanging on to his leg but he managed to kick himself free.  He clung onto some driftwood and and paddled towards the shoreline. He recalled seeing many men killed by sharks. Some survivors tried to swim to the lifeboats but they pulled away in fear of being swamped by men in the water desperate to get aboard. Many spoke of the cries of those drowning and those being mauled by sharks. Captain Bond-Shelton was also dragged down when the ship sank, but he rose to the surface because he was wearing a Mackintosh life preserver. He struck out towards the shore and was swimming with two others who  at one stage screamed and were dragged under by a sharks.

On reaching the shore Bond-Shelton described the difficulty of getting through the masses of seaweed. He was reunited with his horse which he found at the water's edge.  For Private William Tuck who made it ashore, this was his second shipwreck. Thomas Cuffin was on the helm when the ship sank. He acted as coxswain of the second cutter and picked up 32 survivors from the water before rowing to the shore. As helmsman he had to give witness at the court martial in Portsmouth. The court martial proceedings  which were commonly conducted for a sinking or collision, were dropped because no senior naval officers had survived.

I suspect the story may have been embellished over time aided by those dramatic paintings. One of the survivor's account described the soldiers mustering in their uniform as being "imagination."  Thomas Cuffin, the helmsman, contacted Thomas Hemy, the artist, who painted the most famous rendition of the sinking in 1892 some forty years after the event. Cuffin told Hemy that he had seen the troops fall in line, at the orders of an officer in the form of a parade or mustering. So perhaps, it should not be too quickly dismissed. Some of the accounts talk of the initial panic, but all of the accounts confirm the calmness of the officers, and the subsequent discipline of the men.  There can be no doubt that courage was on display that tragic night in which so many lost their lives and the "Birkenhead drill" became an example and an aspiration.


Survivors accounts from
"Nemesis - the first iron warship and her world"  Adrian Marshall (2016)
"China Station - the British military in the Middle Kingdom 1839-1997 Mark Felton (2013)

Saturday, 30 September 2017

HMS Rattlesnake

Wandering, and wondering around the enchanting Hong Kong cemetery at Happy Valley ones finds the memorial stone for William Brodie, RN, the commander of HMS Rattlesnake. He died aged fifty-six in June 1841. His grave is the oldest in the cemetery dating back to a only five months from the de facto possession of Hong Kong in January 1841, during the First Opium War (1839-1842). Dr Edward Cree, the Surgeon onboard Rattlesnake, recalled Brodie's delirious death in his diary. He died from malaria, a debilitating disease that still effected British soldiery on the Gin Drinkers Line one hundred years later in December 1941. A painting by Dr Cree depicts the military prossession to the burial place in what was then an unspoilt Happy Valley.

Edward Cree (Forgotten Souls - A social history of the Hong Kong Cemetery) 
He was buried at that place before the Happy Valley Cemetery became an official cemetery in 1845, and at some stage his coffin was exhumed and he was reburied at the Wan Chai Protestant Burial Ground and then relocated again in 1889 to Happy Valley. The Wan Chai cemetery was only used from 1841 until 1845 when Happy Valley was officially opened. At the time of the closure of the Wan Chai cemetery some fifty graves (all from 1841-1845) were relocated to Happy Valley. The name Happy Valley was thought to have been derived from its use as an euphemism for cemeteries. 

I wondered what was HMS Rattlesnake's story with such an aggressive but memorable name. The ship's artistic Surgeon, Lt Edward Cree, prolifically produced such beautiful water colours of the pre-digital world of the early 19th century. It turned out that the ship was a 28-gun sixth rate corvette launched at Chatham Dockyard in 1822. She had been ordered for the Royal Navy in 1818, and her keel laid down in 1819. She was one of a class of fourteen similar vessels known as Atholl class corvettes. The corvettes were similar to a frigate with one main gun deck, and further guns placed on the quarterdeck. Rattlesnake had ten 32-pdr cannons on each side of her main gun deck,  and six 18-pdrs on her quarterdeck and two 9-pdrs on her forecastle deck. Here's how she looked in 1853 as depicted in the Illustrated London News.
 HMS Rattlesnake depicted in Illustrated London News February 1853

We know that during the period 1827-1829 she was stationed off the Greek coast during the Greek War of Independence. The war was fought to liberate Greece from the Ottoman Empire. Britain, France and Russia supported Greece. Rattlesnake's commander was Captain The Hon. Charles Orlando Bridgeman who later became a Vice Admiral. The ship's log book for this period,  kept by Midshipman Talvera Anson, still survives in the New York Public Library. 

In 1834, HMS Rattlesnake under the command of Captain William Hobson, was serving on the East Indies and China Station. A naval station that covered the Indian Ocean and the China Coast. In 1836, Rattlesnake was dispatched to Australia and New Zealand. In 1838 she returned to England. We next see her on the China Station during the First Opium War (1839-1842) at that time under the command of William Brodie and with Surgeon Dr Edward Cree recording her adventures through his diaries and watercolours. Other corvettes of the Atholl class on the China Station included North Star, Alligator, Samarang and Nimrod. A monument in Happy Valley Cemetery commemorates the death of Lt Benjamin Fox who died in May 1841 following cannon shot wounds incurred whilst leading a landing party during the attack on the high ground north of Canton. HMS Nimrod was the last survivor of her class being broken up in 1907.

When Hong Kong was acquired by the British Crown in January 1841 - Palmerston had criticised Captain Elliot the Plenipotentiary and Superintendent of Trade for not getting enough concessions from the Qing dynasty court. He regarded Hong Kong Island as a "barren rock with hardly a house on it",  and which would "never be a mart for trade." Dr Edward Cree on Rattlesnake took a similar view. "a mountainous, desolate looking place with only a few fishermen's huts to be seen." The main habitation was a placed called Chek-chu, now known as Stanley. The oldest graves in Stanley Military Cemetery date back to this precarious time on the edge of empire. 

In 1845, Rattlesnake was converted to a hydrographical survey ship and between 1846 and 1850 took part in a voyage of discovery and marine survey in the Antipodes, under the command of Captain Owen Stanley, and which was documented in detail in a journal by John MacGilliveray, the botanist and in paintings by Oswald Brierly the ship's artist. The Assistant Surgeon Thomas Huxley was a naturalist and the papers he wrote on Rattlesnake established his reputation as a scientist. He later worked closely with Charles Darwin and was one of his strongest supporters. It was during this voyage that Rattlesnake rescued Barbara Thompson (1831-1916) from a small island north of Queensland. She had been shipwrecked from the cutter America some five years earlier and had lived amongst the local tribes who were thought to be cannibals. One of the tribe members had taken her as plunder for a wife, but she had been treated well by the tribe. She would have been about 14 years old when taken. She had come out to Australia as a child with her family on the immigrant ship John Barry travelling in steerage class. At the time of her shipwreck she was living with a sea-captain in Brisbane. The Rattlesnake brought her back to Sydney where she was reunited with her family.

HMS Rattlesnake in 1853 by Oswald Brierly
As for Rattlesnake, she was finally broken up, where her life began, at Chatham Dockyard in 1860. 

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Captain Sir Humphrey Fleming Senhouse

Humphrey Fleming Senhouse was born in 1781 in Barbados where his father, an  officer in the Royal Navy, was serving as Surveyor General for Barbados and the Leeward Islands. Senhouse joined the Royal Navy in 1797 at the age of sixteen. His first ship was HMS Prince of Wales, which had been launched in 1794 at Portsmouth. She was a 98-gun ship-of-the-line. She was the flagship of Admiral Sir Henry Harvey, commander of the Leeward Islands Station, and responsible for the capture of Trinidad from the Spanish. Later that year, in November 1797 Senhouse transferred to the gun brig Requin, a former French warship (Le Requin) captured in 1795 and pressed into service with the Royal Navy. A small ship with a compliment of around sixty officers and men and a single gun deck equipped with ten 4-pounders. The commander Lt William Wood Senhouse was one of Humphrey Senhouse's  brothers. In 1799 Senhouse sailed to England on Requin. Senhouse then served on HMS Fisguard, a 48-gun frigate, formerly a French frigate (Resistance) that was captured by the Royal Navy in 1795.

The capture of French warship Immortalit√© by HMS Fisgard 
In 1802,  Senhouse passed the qualifying examinations, and  was promoted to Lieutenant. He served at the Battle of Trafalgar, 21st October, 1805, onboard HMS Conqueror a 74-gun ship-of-the-line which was in the thick of action throughout the battle. She was commanded by Captain Israel Pellew. Conqueror was in the van, she was fourth in line in the weather column led by  the flagship HMS Victory. Villenueve's flagship the Bucentaure surrendered to Conqueror's Captain of Marines who had been put aboard to take the surrender whilst Conqueror chased and engaged Santisma de Trinidad.

To find the link with Hong Kong, we have to fast forward through an illustrious naval career, in which Senhouse saw action in the War of 1812, commanded a number of warships, was knighted, and promoted to the rank of Captain. Mount Stenhouse (incorrectly spelt) on Lamma Island is named after him.

Mount Stenhouse on Lamma Island
Senhouse was posted to the China Station in April 1839 as second in command of the Naval squadron in China reporting to Commodore Sir James Bremer. He commanded HMS Blenheim, a 74-gun ship-of-the-line, in the First Anglo-Chinese War (1839-1841), more often referred to as the First Opium War. 

HMS Blenheim
Senhouse was involved in the action at the Bogue Forts and the fighting around Chuenpi Island in the Pearl River, the gateway to  Canton. At the Chuenpi Convention assembled in January 1841, the Chinese Commissioner Qi Shan agreed to cede Hong Kong Island to the British Crown. However, the Qing Court was not happy with this arrangement. They thought Qi had conceded to much and he was dismissed. The treaty was repudiated and hostilities were resumed. The British were not happy either and thought that Captain Charles Elliot the Superintendent of Trade had not extracted enough. Palmerston famously derided Hong Kong as being a barren rock, with hardly a house upon it, and which would never be a mart for trade. Elliot was recalled and replaced by Sir Henry Pottinger who was appointed as Plenipotentiary and Superintendent of Trade. The war was brought to and end in 1842 with the Treaty of Nanking in which amongst other concessions, including the establishment of treaty ports and reparations, Hong Kong was granted in perpetuity to the Crown.

Senhouse may have been present with Commodore Bremer at the de facto taking of possession of Hong Kong Island in January 1841. Later that year, he succumbed to fever and died on board HMS Blenheim on 13th June 1841. In accordance with his wishes, and bearing in mind that Hong Kong still had a doubtful future as a Crown Colony,  he was interred at the Protestant Cemetery in Macau. The iron-clad paddle steamer Nemesis arrived in Macau with his body on 16th June 1841.  His memorial can still  be seen to day in the old cemetery. 

Memorial for Senhouse in the Protestant Cemetery in Macau

Captain Sir Humphrey Fleming Senhouse (1781-1841)
He died aged sixty and was survived by his wife Elizabeth Manley. They married in 1810 and had  nine children of which five predeceased him. Elizabeth lived on until 1865 when she passed away aged eighty-one. 

Saturday, 5 August 2017

A reflection on Japanese and German War Crimes (Monthly Blog - Aug 2017)

I had just made a presentation to a class of 12-year olds at an international school in Hong Kong on the subject of the Battle for Hong Kong. I had talked briefly, without going into too much detail, about some of the war atrocities committed in Hong Kong for example the Christmas Day massacre at St Stephen's College Hospital in Stanley in December 1941, when Japanese troops bayoneted patients in their beds, raped European and Chinese nurses, and raped, mutilated and killed three of the European nurses. At the end of the presentation, one of the pupils put her hand up and asked: "Why did the Japanese do such things?" Not surprisingly she found it difficult to reconcile such cruelty with what she knew of Japan and Japanese people today, who are polite and charming, and very different from their forbears who served in the Imperial Japanese Army in the period 1931 to 1945.

I struggled to answer the question because there is no quick or easy answer. I may have mumbled something about us all having the capacity for good and evil within us, and that war crimes were not the preserve of any one country, any one side, or any one people. The Japanese soldier in WW2 was generally brave, a trait we admire, but at the same time shockingly brutal and inhumane. Brigadier John Masters who fought against the Japanese in Burma had this to say of their bravery and brutality.
"They are the bravest people I have ever met. In any armies, any one of them, nearly every Japanese would have had a Congressional Medal or a Victoria Cross. It is the fashion to dismiss their courage as fanaticism, but that only begs the question. They believed in something and they were willing to die for it.  What else is bravery?

They pressed home the attack when no other troops in the world have done so, when all hope of success was gone. ... The Japanese simply came on, using all their skill and rage, until they were stopped by death. In defence,  they held their ground with furious tenacity that never faltered. They had to be killed, company by company, squad by squad, man by man, to the last.
  ... they wrote beautiful little poems in their diaries and practiced bayonet work on their prisoners. Frugal, bestial, barbarous and brave, artistic and brutal."
Japanese troops from 228th Regiment cross the border into Hong Kong
When I first started researching the Battle of Hong Kong I was appalled to read of the horrific war crimes committed by Japanese troops against surrendered soldiers and civilians in locations around Hong Kong which I was so familiar with,  including Stanley, Wong Nai Chung Gap, Blue Pool Road and Repulse Bay. I read the details in the depositions and evidence provided by survivors of these atrocities. Somehow one or two survived some of these atrocities, often despite terrible injuries, and lived  to tell the tale. Two soldiers survived the bayonetting of surrendered soldiers at the Sai Wan AA fort and two soldiers  and one civilian survived the killing of medical orderlies and civilian staff at the Salesian Mission building at Shau Kei Wan. This killing was witnessed by a large number of Japanese troops who were reportedly laughing and enjoying the spectacle of the killing. In the case of the slaughtering of St John Ambulance Brigade civilian orderlies at the Advanced Dressing Station at Wong Nai Chung Gap, none survived, but it was witnessed by others, who were later captured, and some of whom managed to escape.

An Australian POW about to be executed with crowd in the background
Japanese bayoneting Chinese prisoners with crowd in the background

Chinese prisoner used for bayonet practice
When the Pacific War started in December 1941, Japan had already been at war in China for ten years since they  seized Manchuria in 1931. They invaded the rest of China in 1937. The most notorious atrocity occurred in December 1937 when the Japanese Army captured Nanking, the former capital, and killed over 200,000 civilians, including women, children and surrendered soldiers. Some Japanese rightists and revisionist historians have claimed the Rape of Nanking never happened, or that only soldiers were executed, or that the numbers quoted were exaggerated. They claim the women forced into prostitution in Japanese military brothels, known by the euphemism of "comfort women," were willing volunteers. Naturally this causes outrage in many Asian countries.

One former Japanese soldier, Shiro Azuma, who committed war crimes in Nanking, wrote a  book in 1987 entitled "My Nanking Platoon" in which he told of the atrocities he had witnessed, and had participated in, during the war in China. He was one of the few former Japanese soldiers to admit their participation in such killings. His full diary was published in Japan in 2001 and an English version was published in 2006. He made several trips to China to apologise and to atone in some way. He described how Japanese soldiery looked down on the Chinese as being inferior, and in the same way they felt contempt for European Prisoners of War for having surrendered. This contempt made it easier for them to be inhumane.
"We were taught that we were a superior race since we lived only for the sake of a human god  - our Emperor." (Shiro Azuma)
Occasionally they saw something to admire in their enemy. In Hong Kong when the Japanese found the body of Brigadier Lawson outside his bunker, they gave him a proper and decent burial. The idea of such a senior officer being killed in action appealed to them. When the Japanese captured the AA Battery at Stanley Gap, Colonel Doi described how two British soldiers held out, by locking themselves into an ammunition locker.
"Despite all our efforts to persuade them to surrender they refused, so we left them there overnight. The next morning, getting no response to our repeated call, we broke down the door and found that the two had killed themselves with their pistols. We buried these brave men with utmost care in hearty tribute to their souls." (Ex-Col. Doi 228th Infantry Regiment)
This act would have appealed to the Japanese psyche, it would have been seen as death before dishonour, and killing yourself rather than surrendering was the way of the warrior.

Although war crimes trials were held after the war and many were found guilty of war crimes and   subsequently imprisoned or executed; the crimes were too rampant, too commonplace and too deeply ingrained in the culture of the Japanese Army. As a result most perpetrators were never brought to justice. The country as a whole, unlike Germany, never fully atoned, people today are uncomfortable to talk about it, it is considered impolite to raise the subject. The attack on Pearl Harbour and the simultaneous attack on Hong Kong, Philippines and Malaya is still seen by some Japanese as having been a matter of survival. The narrative goes that they were being contained by the western powers, who were applying embargoes on trade and particularly on Japan's oil imports, and insisting they withdraw from Indo-China and from China. Some Japanese attempted to justify the war by saying that their actions helped liberate Asia from European colonialism.  They wanted to replace European colonialism with the Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, Asia for the Asiatics, but under Japanese leadership and control.

It's all a long time ago now, and as they say the past is a foreign country, but the failure to atone, to admit their actions, and to genuinely apologise, is still a major issue and a sensitive subject for many Asian countries today. When I look at the photographs on the internet, like the ones posted above, and reflect on the widespread atrocities inflicted by the Japanese military, at a time that is still within living memory,  I think of that question that I struggled to answer - why did the Japanese behave this way !

German war crimes

The German Army in WW2, especially the Waffen-SS, also committed a large number of atrocities against surrendered soldiers and civilians. The mass genocide of Jewish civilians by Nazi Germany was a depravity unmatched. Nazi Germany was an authoritarian state, which like Japan, believed in racial superiority, and wanted to create a new order in Europe, in the same way that Japan wanted to create a new order in Asia.

With the new Dunkirk film showing in cinemas, I am going to highlight two massacres of surrendered British soldiers which took place in May 1940, during the fighting retreat to Dunkirk by the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). 
2nd Bn Coldstream Guards - 1st Guards Brigade arriving in Cherbourg in September 1939
The BEF arrived in France in 1939 and by May 1940 had been built up to 10 Divisions, in three Corps numbering 400,000 men. They were deployed to the Franco-Belgian border. If Germany invaded Belgium and Holland to open the way to Northern France, then British and French troops would move into Belgium to form a line that stretched from the Channel coast to the Maginot Line. On 10th May, German troops invaded the Low Countries and the BEF moved up to their deployment position on the River Dial. The BEF fought very gallantly but against overwhelming odds and were pushed back to the Channel ports. The rescue of the BEF from Dunkirk was an amazing  story. It was described as a miracle of deliverance.

The massacre of surrendered British troops at Le Paradis 27th May 1940 

During the retreat to Dunkirk some ninety-nine men of the 2nd Battalion Royal Norfolk Regiment, having been cut off from their Battalion and Brigade, and running low on ammunition surrendered to a Waffen-SS Regiment at the village of Le Paradis. The men were searched and disarmed, then led into a field and executed by machine gun fire. Two men survived Private Albert Pooley and Private William O'Callaghan. At first their tale was not believed.

When they were first captured, and whilst Pooley was being searched, and having items stolen from him, A German soldier took offence to his expression and clubbed him in the face with a rifle butt knocking out four of his teeth. The Germans had mounted two heavy machine guns in the field. When all the men were in the field an order was given to fire. O'Callaghan was shot in the arm. Pooley was shot four times with two bullet wounds in one of his legs. The firing stopped, and there was the sound of moaning from wounded and dying men. Pooley heard the sound of bayonets being fixed and then German soldiers went amongst the wounded men administering the coup de grace with bayonets and rifle fire. O' Callaghan feigned death and was passed by. Pooley lay still but a wounded soldier near him moved and shots were fired. Two of the shots hit Pooley in his already wounded leg. After nightfall, O'Callaghan dragged Pooley away from the field. The following day German soldiers forced French villagers to bury the dead. Pooley and O'Callaghan found shelter amongst some war damaged farm buildings. They survived by eating raw potatoes and drinking water from puddles. They were discovered by a French woman, Madame Duquenne-Creton who owned the ruined farm. She cleaned and bandaged their wounds and fed them.  In fear of reprisals, the head of the French village informed the Germans of the presence of the two wounded British soldiers. They were well treated by their German captors, from the regular German Army, who took them to a military hospital.

William O'Callaghan was sent to a POW camp in Poland. Albert Pooley remained in hospital in Germany until 1943 at which time he was repatriated to England. On return he told military officials about the massacre at Le Paradis but nobody believed him. They could not accept that the German Army would behave in such a manner. It was not until after the war, when O'Callaghan was repatriated, and confirmed the story given by Pooley that an official investigation began. The Commander of the unit was Lt-Col Fritz Knoechlein. 

Lt-Col Fritz KnoechleinAdd caption
Knoechlein survived the war and was traced in Germany, arrested and brought to trial in October 1948. He pleaded not-guilty on the grounds that he was not present at the execution although he did not deny the execution took place. His defence also claimed the execution was justified because the British were using dum-dum bullets and had misused a flag of truce. O'Callaghan and Pooley both gave evidence at the British Military Court in Hamburg, as did Madame Duquenne-Creton and another villager from Le Paradis.
O'Callaghan and Pooley at War Crimes Trials in Hamburg
Knoechlein was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. He was executed on 29th January 1949. A book entitled "The Vengeance of Private Pooley" written by Cyril Jolly was published in 1956 which describes the fighting around Le Paradis, the killing, and finally the long awaited vengeance. However, no other German soldier, not the machine gunners, nor the soldiers administering the coup de grace, nor the officers or senior NCOs that were present, were brought to trial. Some of them got away with murder.

The massacre of surrendered British troops at Wormhaudt 28th May 1940

Despite its Germanic name, Wormhoudt is a small town situated in Northern France about 12 miles southeast of Dunkirk and six miles west of the Belgian border.  In May 1941 it was on the route taken by the BEF as they fought a fighting retreat back to the Channel ports to try and avoid being cut off. The British troops consisted of members of 2nd Bn Royal Warwickshire Regiment, 4th Bn Cheshire Regiment and Worcestershire Yeomanry. They formed part of the 48th Division. Facing superior numbers, and having depleted their ammunition, a group of about one hundred surrendered  to an SS unit - the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler. This SS unit formed part of the lead troops of the 20th Motorised Division supported by 10th Panzer Division. The surrendered soldiers were taken to a nearby barn. The SS guards acted brutally, killing wounded stragglers on the way to the barn, and beating soldiers with rifle butts. Once the prisoners were in the barn, the SS troops threw grenades into the building. In an act of self sacrifice two British NCO's Sgt Stanley Moore and CSM Augustus Jennings threw themselves on grenades to protect their men from the fragmentation blast. The guards then ordered the British to come out in groups of five, and these were then shot. A few survived including Gunner Brian Fahey who was in one of the groups of five called outside. He was shot in the back, but survived, and later managed to crawl back into the barn where there were still a number of wounded men who had survived the carnage. The senior British officer Captain Lynn-Allen died whilst trying to escape. During the massacre 80 men were killed and 15 were wounded of the wounded only six survived. Later the group of wounded men in the barn, including Gunner Fahey, were found by regular  German soldiers and given treatment for their wounds.

Wilhelme Mohnke
The officer commanding the SS unit which carried out this massacre was Wilhelm Mohnke. He never faced trial and denied that he gave orders to execute prisoners of war. The matter was referred to the War Crimes Unit, but it was a found there were insufficient grounds on which to conduct a trial against Mohnke. A number of SS witnesses had died on the Eastern Front and others refused to talk or testify - invoking the SS oath.  In 1988 Jeff Rooker, a Member of Parliament started a campaign to have the case re-opened, but this was unsuccessful on grounds of insufficient evidence. Mohnke lived out his life in Germany and died aged ninety in August 2001. Some would say he got away with murder. 

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

HMS Thanet (Monthly Blog - July 2017)

HMS Thanet was ordered in 1917 from the Tyneside ship builders Hawthorn Leslie, a company established  in 1866 by the amalgamation of A. Leslie & Co. (shipbuilders) at Hebburn-on-Tyne and R & W Hawthorn (locomotive manufacturers) at Newcastle-upon-Tyne. She was one of sixty-seven S-class destroyers ordered for the Royal Navy during WW1. Her keel was laid down in December 1917. She was completed and launched on 5th November 1918 just a week before WW1 ended. She completed her sea trials and was commissioned in August 1919. HMS Thracian, a destroyer of the same class, which fought in the Battle for Hong Kong, and HMS Kelly, commanded by Lord Louis Mountbatten, were also built at Hawthorn Leslie's shipbuilding yard on the Tyne.

HMS Thanet
Thanet displaced 1,075 tons and had a top speed of 36 knots. She was equipped with three quick firing (QF) 4-inch guns, one forward, one amidships (between the funnels) and one astern. In addition she had a pom-pom gun for AA defence, and two sets of twin torpedoes tubes. She had a usual complement of around ninety-six men and six officers. Her pennant number was H29, and her motto in hoc signo vinces, translated from Latin as in this sign you will conquer. After commissioning, Thanet was used for trials of aircraft platforms on warships, presumably with the platform extended over her lengthy stern section. In December 1919 she visited the Isle of Thanet in North East Kent. A British Pathe film clip records the officers and men visiting Ramsgate, at which time time the civic authorities of Thanet, and the three main towns, including Margate and Ramsgate, and presumably Broadstairs, presented the ship with silverware.

After the carnage of the Great War, the League of Nations had been established with the object  of ensuring peace through a combination of dispute resolution, disarmament, and arms control. People thought that the Great War had been the war to end all wars. Troops were de-mobilised, and ships were de-commissioned. HMS Thanet was a brand new warship, but the war was over and she was surplus to needs, and in 1921, Thanet was mothballed and placed in the reserve fleet. I have not been able to find out  how long she spent in the reserve fleet, but  in 1939 she was dispatched to the Far East where she joined the small RN force based in Hong Kong. She was commanded by Lt-Cdr John Mowlam from February 1939 until April 1941, at which time Cdr Bernard Davies took command of the Hong Kong based destroyer. 

  Jaunty caps, well turned out, good drill - the ship's company of HMS Thanet at the march-past in pre-war Hong Kong
By the time the Pacific War started there were three S-class destroyers stationed in Hong Kong. These were HMS Thanet,  HMS Scout and HMS Thracian. There were eight MTBs and four river gunboats. The largest gunboats were HMS Cicala and HMS Moth. They were well armed with two 6-inch guns, one 3-inch high angle (HA) gun, and a pom-pom gun. There were a variety of boom defence vessels, and the minelayer, HMS Redstart, which was used for laying contact mines, remote controlled mines and indicator loops. There were a number of converted launches and tugs, described as auxiliary patrol vessels (APVs) and manned by the HKRNVR. They were used for conducting minefield patrols, minesweeping and war patrols. The APVs were slow and lightly armed and once war started they were of little use militarily.

The main naval and military presence in the Far East was in Singapore. Hong Kong was seen as an isolated outpost and a strategic liability. Churchill knew it could not be defended. It was too close to Japanese aircraft bases in Formosa and Southern China and the Japanese had several divisions across the border. This explains the weakness of the Royal Navy and RAF in Hong Kong in the lead up to war. On the day war started, 8th December, 1941, Thracian, which had been converted into a minelayer role by clearing its rear gun and adding minelaying racks to its stern-quarters, was laying mines in Port Shelter guarded by ThanetScout was in dry-dock at Tai Koo  having its bottom plates cleaned. HMS Moth and HMAPV Margaret were in dry-dock at the RN dockyard. These two vessels never got out, and were later scuttled in the dock, and played no part in the battle.

There was a plan that in the event of war breaking out Thanet and Scout would sail to Singapore and join Force Z, which had arrived in Singapore on 2nd December 1941, and consisted of  the battleship HMS Prince of Wales and the battlecruiser HMS Repulse and their escorting destroyers. This plan had been agreed with the US naval authorities and included a commitment for some US warships to be sent to Singapore.

After nightfall on Monday 8th December Scout and Thanet sailed through the gates of the anti-submarine  boom at Lye Mun. Since Lt-Cdr  Davies on Thanet was more senior than Lt-Cdr Lambton on Scout,  Thanet took the lead as senior ship. Whilst on passage to Manila they spent some time looking for SS Ulysses which had left Hong Kong on Sunday with passengers bound first for Manila and then Singapore. Ulysses had sent a distress signal after being bombed and strafed by Japanese aircraft on Monday. She was undamaged and changed course for Singapore. She arrived safely in Singapore, but was sunk by a U-boat off the Carolinas while on passage to UK. 

After docking in Manila the destroyer crews learnt that Prince of Wales and Repulse had been sunk by Japanese aircraft. The task force had been sent up the east coast of Malaya to intercept Japanese landings but lacked air cover. The new aircraft carrier HMS Indomitable should have been part of Force Z, but was being repaired following a grounding in the Caribbean Sea. The two destroyers then proceeded to Batavia, now known as Jakarta, and thence to Singapore arriving on 13th December.

The two destroyers were involved initially in escort work around the Straits of Singapore. On Christmas Day Thanet was sent out on an SOS mission to pick up the crew of a Catalina that had been shot down by Japanese AA fire. The crew were picked up by a Dutch submarine before Thanet arrived. On 26th January 1942, a Japanese troop convoy was reported to be approaching Endau, on the east coast of Malaya, north of the town of Mersing, and by leap-frogging down the coast by use of troop landings, the Japanese Army were outflanking the British  and getting closer to Singapore.

Map showing location of Endau relative to Singapore
The Japanese vessels and their destroyer escorts were attacked first by nine RAF Lockheed Hudson bombers and twelve Vickers Vildebeests. The Vildebeests were obsolete torpedo bombers with a maximum speed of 100 mph. The attack was not successful and five of the Vildebeests were shot down. 
Lockheed Hudson 

Later that day, on 26th January, HMS Thanet and HMAS Vampire were ordered to sail from Singapore to intercept the Japanese convoy at Endau some eighty miles north of Singapore.  In the early hours of 27th January they sighted a Japanese warship, thought to be a destroyer, and Vampire fired at her with torpedoes, which missed the target. The Japanese vessel turned out to be a minesweeper and the torpedoes probably passed underneath her shallow hull. A short while later they sighted the  Japanese destroyer IJN Shirayuki, and  Vampire fired two more torpedoes which also missed their target. Thanet then launched her four torpedoes, which also missed. The two Allied destroyers then engaged the Japanese vessels with their 4-inch QF guns. Shirayuki was then joined by the Japanese cruiser Sendai. Outgunned and outnumbered, the two Allied destroyers then started to withdraw towards the southeast. At 0400 hours Thanet was hit in the engine room, lost propulsion and was brought to a stop. Vampire commenced laying a protective smokescreen, but it was too late, Thanet was already sinking. The Japanese destroyers, Fubuki, Hatsuyuki, Asagiri, Amagiri, and Yugiri closed in for the kill. Thanet sunk within fifteen minutes of being hit. Vampire was undamaged, but facing a strong Japanese naval force, had no opportunity to assist Thanet by picking up her survivors, and accordingly, she disengaged and sailed back to Singapore.

After the order was given to abandon ship, it is thought there was enough time for most of Thanet's  crew to get off the ship and into the water. Many were able to get aboard Carley floats, others hanging on to anything that could float, they started paddling, and pushing their rafts towards the Malayan coast. Reports suggest that the Shirayuki picked up thirty-one of Thanet's crew members. They were landed at Endau and handed over to the Army. None of these men were seen again and it is assumed they were all executed by the Japanese Army as an act of retaliation for Japanese losses in an ambush with Australian troops. One of the Thanet officers, Sub-Lt R.H. Danger, the ship's Torpedo Officer, remained on Shirayuki, it is not clear why, perhaps he was wounded, perhaps they wanted to interrogate him as to presence of minefields.  He was later interned in Indochina, and he survived the war.

The web site for Force-Z survivors, highlighted below, details some one hundred and thirteen crew members, including some Chinese stewards and cooks, and identifies those that were killed in action on 27th January 1941. There are thirty-seven listed as killed and their details are also shown in Commonwealth War Graves Commissions records. Thirty of those thirty-seven listed as killed on 27th January must have been in the group picked up by Shirayuki and the remaining seven may have perished when the ship sank, or they may have failed to make it ashore and drowned, or a combination of both or died whilst trying to make their way south to Singapore.

Some seventy-six members of the crew survived the sinking, and made it to the shore including the commanding officer. A large number,  I have not found the exact number, but reports suggest more than fifty of the crew made it back to Singapore ahead of the surrender of Singapore on 15th February 1942. Five crew members are listed as having died in POW Camps. I can not find details of how many ended up in POW camps or where the camps were. Some of the POWs may have been caught in Singapore at the surrender, some may have been captured in Malaya whilst trying to escape south to Singapore.

When the survivors reached the shore they were spread out widely, and therefore split in different groups. Few of them had any footwear or much clothing. They all headed southwards immediately determined to get back to Singapore more than eighty miles away. Some went along the jungle shore following the coast. Some found boats. Some went along roads through the jungle towards Johore. They ran into various RAF aircrew who had been shot down and who were also heading south for the relative safety of Singapore with the Japanese advancing behind them. Sgt Charles MacDonald had been shot down in his Vildebeest, most likely in the attack on the same group of enemy landing ships and destroyers at Endau. He recalled coming across a number of Thanet survivors. They joined up and made their way through the jungle to Singapore. Sgt Harry Lockwood had been shot down in a Fairly Albacore. He recalled meeting up with six Thanet survivors who were heading to Singapore. Two RAF officers who had ditched their aircraft north of Mersing, found a boat which they used to cross the Mersing River. They then ran into a group of Thanet survivors. They joined up, and used the boat to go south, rowing at night and sleeping ashore during the day. They were eventually picked up by a coaster and taken to Singapore.  In another incident, RAF pilot John Fleming had ditched in the sea. He swam ashore and started heading south. He swam the Mersing River and after continuing southwards came across a large group of Thanet survivors, some of which he recalled had been badly injured. They found a whaler and used the boat to sail down the coast. At one point they were hailed by another group of Thanet survivors who were with two aircrew from a shot-down Vildebeest. They were taken onboard and they continued down the coast eventually reaching Singapore.

Between fifty and sixty survivors trickled back to Singapore all having made incredible escapes, some by land and some by sea. The Naval Historical Society of Australia web site states that some of the survivors were allocated to HMS Stronghold and HMS Sultan. The former was another S-class destroyer which was sank in March 1942, the latter was the RN shore base in Singapore. Any of the Thanet crew deployed there would have most likely ended up in POW Camp. Other sources state that a number of Thanet survivors together with other Force Z survivors got away on HMS Endeavour which was reportedly one of the last evacuation ships to get away from Singapore before the surrender.

The gallant Thanet (Naval Historical Society of Australia)
It has been difficult piecing this story together, particularly as it relates to the escape to Singapore and the fate of the survivors. As usual I would appreciate any comments, corrections or additional information that I can build into this post. I have a spreadsheet for the crew list which I will add to as I get more information on each crew member. As for the gallant Thanet, she still rests in that watery grave off the east coast of Malaysia. Recreational divers have reported diving on Thanet, lying at a depth of some 20 metres, and stating that she was immediately recognisable, although broken in two, by her three sets of single barrelled 4-inch guns which still stand and still seem to whisper by this sign I will conquer. 



Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Following the route taken by 'D' Coy Royal Rifles of Canada (Monthly Blog June 2017)

Following the route taken by 'D' Coy Royal Rifles of Canada on Saturday 20th December 1941 

It was a wet week in Hong Kong, which had started with a No. 8 typhoon. The nine-day weather forecast predicted nothing but intermittent storms. On Saturday 17th June I set out in the relentless rain to follow the route taken by 'D' Coy Royal Rifles of Canada during an attack made through Repulse Bay View in an anti-clockwise direction around Violet Hill. The annotated war time maps below show the route taken by 'D' Coy, as deduced from reading the battalion war diary combined with on-the-ground re-enactment. Take a close look at these two maps, and then let's follow the route taken by this company along the catchments to the point where they made a surprise attack on a Japanese mobile battery positioned at Gauge Basin in the afternoon of 20th December 1941.

Stage 1:  Stanley View to Repulse Bay View
Stage 2: Repulse Bay View to Gauge Basin
By way of background, the Japanese landed on the north shore of the Island on the night of Thursday 18th and Friday 19th December 1941. The landing force included three infantry regiments (228th, 229th, and 230th) of the 38th Division of the Imperial Japanese Army. Each regiment utilised two of their three battalions. The 3rd battalion initially remaining on the Mainland and under Divisional command. Each battalion consisted of 1,000 men. They landed between North Point and Shau Kei Wan. They were augmented by artillery, engineers, gendarmes and other support troops. They moved quickly inland having overrun the Indian infantry battalion (5th/7th Rajputs) responsible for the defence of that sector of the Island shore. All six infantry battalions converged from different directions on Wong Nai Chung (WNC) Gap, a strategic central point on the Island. The first battalion to arrive at WNC Gap were from Colonel Shoji's 230th Regiment which had landed at North Point and proceeded along Sir Cecil's Ride through the night. One battalion was sent up Jardine's Lookout and one continued to WNC Gap. At dawn on Friday 19th the lead troops had seized WNC Gap Police Station situated on a knoll at the gap, they had surrounded the Advanced Dressing Station (ADS) situated in three splinter proof shelters at the top of Blue Pool Road where it intersected with WNC Gap Road, half way between the police station knoll and West Infantry Brigade HQ. They also captured the AA battery at Stanley Gap. The leading troops had suffered many casualties when PB 1 on the western slopes of Jardine's Lookout had opened fire in the early light of dawn. Later that morning (Friday 19th December) West Brigade HQ found itself on the front line. Brigadier Lawson and his brigade staff were trapped in their cluster of splinter proof shelters north off WNC Gap and facing Jardine's Lookout. At approximately 1000 hours Brigadier Lawson called Major-General Maltby, in his underground bunker referred to as the Battle Box,  to say he was going to try and fight his way out. As he rushed out with a small group of Brigade staff he was shot in the legs by machine gun fire and bled to death in front of his shelters. 

During Friday 19th December a number of counterattacks were made to recapture WNC Gap and to relieve the Brigadier and his HQ not realising that he was already dead. The counterattacks were made by different units from different directions and included Royal Engineers, Royal Navy, Royal Artillery, Royal Scots and Winnipeg Grenadiers. These counterattacks were courageously prosecuted, but were unsuccessful because they were made against well-entrenched Japanese positions who were there in significantly superior numbers. On Friday and Saturday the Japanese had four battalions of infantry at or around WNC Gap.

East Infantry Brigade had spent the whole day on Friday 19th December withdrawing from the eastern sector of the Island in order to avoid being cut off by the rapidity of the Japanese advance. In the process they lost most of their mobile artillery, because the batteries found themselves on the front line and there were no lorries to tow the 6-inch and 4.5-inch howitzers out of their positions and there were no mules to transport the 3.7-inch howitzers. Only one howitzer was successfully withdrawn to Stanley. This was the 3.7-inch howitzer at Tai Tam Fork Battery. The loss of so much of the mobile artillery would have a huge cost in East Infantry Brigade's subsequent counterattacks which were made with inadequate mortar and artillery support. On Friday night the withdrawal to the Stanley perimeter was completed. The next day, on Saturday 20th,  East Brigade would counterattack WNC Gap in an effort to join hands with West Brigade. That was the plan, and now everything depended on Brigadier Wallis and East Infantry Brigade to break through. 

The Brigade advanced early the next morning from Stanley View to Repulse Bay. However what was not known is that time, was that during the night Colonel Tanaka had taken two infantry battalions along the catch-water from WNC Gap Reservoir to Middle Spur. He had also sent troops up and over Violet Hill. In the early hours he had captured Middle Spur which overlooked Repulse Bay and his lead troops had come down paths emerging on Repulse Bay Road. They seized the roadblock at the junction of Repulse Bay Road and Island Road and one unit moved eastwards to Repulse Bay. In doing this, the Japanese had cut the Island in two, and now had a continuous line from the landing grounds on the north shore up Mount Parker Road, down to Gauge Basin, along Stanley Gap Road, and along the water catchment known as Violet Hill Path to Middle Spur and the road junction Repulse Bay Road/Island Road. 

Japanese troops infiltrating into Repulse Bay were spotted by the small garrison at Repulse Bay Hotel and fired on. The Japanese took cover in the hotel garage block, now a Ferrari showroom. As East Brigade arrived at Repulse Bay they were fired on by Japanese troops in the garage block. An 18-pdr field gun from 965 Defence Battery located at Stanley View was utilised to fire on the garage. The garage was retaken and East Brigade continued their advance, but now came under fire from Middle Spur. Wallis ordered Lt-Col Home commanding officer Royal Rifles of Canada to capture Middle Spur and continue the advance up Repulse Bay Road to the gap. Two composite platoons of the Middlesex Regiment were sent up to Violet Hill Path to attack the Japanese troops occupying and digging in at Middle Spur. They were to attack from the east, i.e. in a clockwise direction around Violet Hill. 'D' Coy, Royal Rifles of Canada, were ordered to advance through Repulse Bay View and proceed in an anti-clockwise direction around Violet Hill to Gauge Basin and to press on to WNC Gap. 'D' Coy was commanded by thirty-nine-year-old Major Maurice Parker. He was accompanied by Major Price, Second-in-Command of the battalion, and Flight-Lt Thompson, Brigade Intelligence Officer. A 3-inch mortar detachment  from 'HQ' Coy was assigned to operate under Major Parker's command. 

Major Parker had attended an orders group at Repulse Bay at 0800 hours that morning. His company had spent an uncomfortable night on the rocky crest of Stanley Mound. They came down the path to Stanley View on Saturday morning where they ate their rations, consisting of biscuits and bully beef,  which had been provided the previous day. The advance to Repulse Bay View was made along the water catchment, and the easiest place for an infantry company to access that catchment from Island Road was Stanley View. From Stanley it is a steep but short climb up from the road to the water catchment. Stanley View would have been the  starting point.

Stanley View is a name no longer used, but would have been well known in 1941. It is the area at the junction of Chung Hom Kok Road and what was called Island Road. It may have originally referred to the hill (on the right of the photo immediately below) on which there is a service reservoir. Coming from Repulse Bay it is the first point at which you get a view of Stanley. In 1941 it was a defended area and there are still a number of war time ruins including a military grade toilet block, machine gun pits and various splinter proof shelters. 

The brow at Stanley View - Stanley ahead and Repulse Bay behind.
This view taken from the hillside shows the cutting and road gap at Stanley View
The wartime toilet block - now being devoured by a tree
The 1941 toilet block at Stanley View
A splinter proof shelter (stuffed full of wood) on the hillside south of the road at Stanley View
A cluster of two splinter proof shelters covered by undergrowth at top of Headland Road (Stanley View)
Two destroyed splinter proof shelters on the hillside north of the road near the machine gun pits. These two shelters had been occupied by squatters at some time after the war.
At or around Stanley View, 'D' Coy accessed the catchment path shown below. The water catchment is about 5ft deep,  but gets deeper as it approaches Repulse Bay View where it is about 6ft deep proving good cover for the advancing troops.

It was about here that 'D' Coy accessed the catchwater

In the photo above you can see the hill south of the road (then called Island Road) with the pipeline running up to the small reservoir on the summit. I believe the reservoir may be post-war, but I suspect there was a pre-war reservoir on that site, because references are made in wartime accounts to there being water pipes running up from South Bay Road, beside a path leading to Stanley View.    The advance started at 1100 hours in broad daylight and so the infantry would have moved inside the catch water to avoid their deployment being seen.
As one gets closer to Repulse Bay View you get a view of Violet Hill
The photo above, taken from the catchment, shows Violet Hill in the background. In 1941 there was less forestation and the path along the catchment was more visible than it is today. This stretch shown in the photograph is open and gives an impression of what it was like in 1941. This view taken in 2017 is unchanged from December 1941, except then there was less undergrowth and less trees. The Japanese were on top of Violet Hill and along the path (Violet Hill Path) that runs along the southern slopes of Violet Hill to WNC Gap Reservoir. In the battalion war diary, Major Parker estimates they proceeded along this catch water for about 1,800 yards which was consistent with my observations.  It leads to an intersection of paths referred to in 1941 as Repulse Bay View. This nomenclature is no longer used. Current maps refer to it as Repulse Bay Gap. Most people would know it as the junction of paths at the bottom of the "one thousand steps" on the Wilson Trail leading up to the Twins. There are two sets of splinter proof shelters remaining at this location but they are entirely covered by the undergrowth. One of these is shown in the photo below.
Hidden from view the splinter proof shelter at Repulsec Bay View with the inevitable rubbish and plastic bottles.
There is another shelter higher up the hill. They were used by the platoon  stationed at this gap in the hills. The position was originally manned by Winnipeg Grenadiers and later by No. 2 Platoon No. 1 Coy HKVDC. They had abandoned these shelters when ordered to evacuate to the Stanley Perimeter on Friday 19th. When Major Parker arrived here at around noon on Saturday 30th he wrote in the battalion war diary that they passed "shelters in which conditions indicated that troops had vacated them hurriedly." At this point they had to cross an area of open ground and proceed uphill to another catch-water running parallel to the first one. This catch water runs northeast towards Gauge Basin. The catch-water is much shallower. The troops went past the low knoll on which Tai Tam Bungalow stands. This was a residence for senior Water Works Engineers and their families in pre-war days. It had been used during the battle as Coy HQ for Captain Harry Penn's No. 1 Coy, HKVDC, until they evacuated to Stanley on Friday 19th.

Workmen's Quarters adjacent to Tai Tam Bungalow

The ruins of Tai Tam Bungalow

The second water catchment (much shallower than the first).
The water catchment ends here right next to the road track which led to Stanley Gap Road and WNC Gap
The catchment path comes to an end at this bridge (shown in photo above) which emerges next to the road track that led up to Stanley Gap Road and WNC Gap. On the right hand side is the knoll on which the Gauge Basin 3.7-inch howitzer battery was situated. The guns had been disabled and abandoned on Friday 19th December.

The lead platoon was Lt Simmon's No. 18 platoon.  After going along the catchment for some 1,500 yards they emerged at Byewash Reservoir soon after having gone past the Tai Tam Bungalow.  At this point they came across a Japanese mobile battery with pack mules. This battery had been observed and engaged as it came down from Tai Tam Gap, crossed the lower reservoir and then drove up Mount Parker Road to occupy a position at Gauge Basin. No. 18 platoon was only 100 to 150yards from the battery. They crawled along the shallow water catchment to get into the best firing position. Then they opened fire causing a large number of casualties to the enemy. Mules screeched and ammunition boxes exploded. Lt Power's No. 17 Platoon had been sent up a higher path and observed Japanese troops at and around Gauge Basin battery and joined the action by opening  fire on them. It was clearly impossible to get through to WNC Gap, and with ammunition running low, the Japanese alerted and in pursuit,  the company withdrew along the two catchments back to Stanley View.

An open area on the road that the battery came up from Tai Tam X-Roads. The battery could have been deployed here when they were ambushed by 'D' Coy
Another view of the open area (possible site of the Japanese mobile battery). The path taken by 'D' Coy was on the hillside across the reservoir
George MacDonnell was a Platoon Sgt in No 18 Platoon. In his book One Soldier's Story (2002) he described how as they were preparing to fire on the mobile battery a Japanese staff car pulled up. As the officers disembarked the platoon opened fire. The range was less than 200 yards, they fired from the cover of the catchment, with the sun behind them. As they withdrew down the catchment they  came under fire from Japanese troops on Violet Hill. One Rifleman was wounded by a bullet in the leg as they crossed the open ground area between the two catchments. They arrived at Stanley View in the dark and rain at 2300 hours. They spent the night at the food stores building at Chung Hom Kok two or three hundred yards from Stanley View.

The mobile battery and troop  column had been fired on, that morning, by Bren gun carriers from No. 3 Platoon (Carrier Platoon) No. 1 Coy, HKVDC, as they approached the dam over the lower reservoir and the Tai Tam X-Roads. The battery had fired on Cash's bungalow thinking that was the source of fire. The battery crossed the dam and turned right at the X-Roads driving up to Gauge Basin.  'D'  Coy took them by surprise. The Japanese had no idea that Canadian troops had infiltrated into that area. 'D' Coy had struck back and struck hard, destroying the battery and causing heavy casualties to both men and mules. George MacDonnell wrote that after the surrender the Japanese tried to find out who had led this audacious raid on the battery, and the Japanese positions at Gauge Basin, but that they were met with a wall of Canadian silence.



My thanks to Geoff Moore for posting this pic on FaceBook Page  Battle of  Hong Kong  - the pre-war photograph shows Repulse Bay, Repulse Bay View and the water catchment running from Stanley View to Repulse Bay View and gives perspective. It was taken from the road above Eucliffe.