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Before Hong Kong

Page created by Linda May

On 20 October 1941, the fate of 1975 men was sealed. They were to be sent to defend the island of Hong Kong. An island that had been, up until that time, seen as "an undesirable military commitment". An island that was viewed as "not a vital interest". An island that was stated to be an outpost, for which no relief was thought possible.

Other Accounts:

Canadians in Hong Kong from the Veterans Affairs Canada site

HONG KONG: The Inside Story Of Canada’s Role In A Doomed Garrison by J.L. Granatstein in Legion Magazine, November 2011

Dec. 7, 1941 marks Hong Kong battle blunder by C.R. McGuire. The Wayback Times

See also: Tony Banham's short history drafted for the 2005 HKVCA trip to Hong Kong

As early as December 1940 or January 1941 Major General Grassett had begun trying to convince Air Chief Marshal Sir Robert Brooke-Popham of the defencibility of Hong Kong. While it does not appear that he was entirely successful, he did make the point that reinforcements would improve the defensive capability. Brooke-Popham proposed to increase the current garrison from 4 to 6. Prime Minister Winston Churchill, on receipt of this proposal, reiterated that he agreed with the policy previously set and maintained by his Chiefs of Staff - "the retention of Hong Kong is not essential for the security of Singapore i.e. "it should be treated as a valuable outpost only".

January 10 1941 the Chief of the Imperial General Staff recommended that the period before relief should be extended from 90 to 130 days. Simply, they were to increase reserves of food and ammunition to a 130-day supply.

January 19 1941 Brooke-Popham again proposed to increase the garrison. His pleas went unheard.

January 25 1941 the Ministry decided to shelve the whole Hong Kong issue. Unfortunately for Canada, 8 months later, it would be resurrected.

What transpired during those 8 months should have only served to clarify the reasons not to reinforce this "non-defensible outpost"

One of the driving forces behind the Canadian deployment in Hong Kong was Major General A.E Grassett. He possessed an exaggerated belief in the defensibility of Hong Kong and in the Japanese lack of fighting ability.

In a meeting in September of 1941 of the Chiefs of Staff, Grassett presented a proposal suggesting that an additional 2 battalions be deployed for the defense of Hong Kong. For the first time (in writing) Grassett suggested that Canada might be willing to supply these battalions.

The resultant view:
  • Canada could probably find the troops
  • Any troops sent would probably be untrained
  • Troop deployment could result in increased attention being given to the Japanese menace to the Canadian Western Seaboard, resulting in the locking up of troops in the Vancouver area

In a draft memo from Major General J. N. Kennedy, Director of Military Operations and plans, he suggested that the current policy of no reinforcements being sent to Hong Kong should stand. This memo was never sent. The actual memo sent on Sept 7 1941 stated "If you think General Grassett has made out a good case, the Chiefs of Staff may wish to submit it to the Prime Minister."

That same day, a note was drafted to the Prime Minister, making the following points:

  • the situation in Hong Kong had changed - relief may now be possible after 41/2 months
  • the currently available forces in Hong Kong were insufficient to implement the existing defense plan, which was to deny the enemy dry dock and harbour for 130 days
  • a small reinforcement would provide a psychological boost to garrison and the colony
  • Japan had lately shown weakness in attitude towards Great Britain and the United States. >


    The actual note as sent to the Prime Minister made no mention of the possibility of relief after 41/2 months

    19 September 1941 a telegram was sent to the Canadian Government. The most significant point to note in this telegram is that it says that Hong Kong had been regarded as an outpost. Previous notes state that it should be regarded as an outpost. It was this telegram alone that the Canadian Government based its decision.

    It had been Canadian policy up to that time that no military involvement should be entered into lightly. Rather, the government believed it should form its own judgement as to the effectiveness and availability of any Canadian action. Sadly, when the time arrived, Canada was "remarkably uninquisitive" There was more than enough information available, had anyone been inclined to examine it in any detail. E.G. Power, Associate Minister of National Defence stated at the Royal Commission hearings that he had been aware of the existing situation in Hong Kong, but that "the military authorities had assessed all that."

    20 October 1941 the final decision was made. Canadian troops would be made available to reinforce Hong Kong.

    The Battle

    In early December the screen force was deployed on the border. On 7 December the screen commander, Major Grey, 2/14 Punjabis reported heavy troop movements: the defenders were ordered to stand to.

    8 Dec 1941

    The Japanese crossed the border at first light. Kai Tak airport was bombed at 8 am and the RAF effectively put out of action. By last light, the screen force had retreated to the FoTan Valley, a milke north east of Sha Tin. By dawn they were established on Tau Fung Shan Ridge. In the east, the Japanese had reached Tai Po. In the west they had occupied the summit of Tai Mo Shan.

    9 Dec 1941

    The Japanese occupied Sha Tin and Needle Hill. During that night the attack on the Shing Mun Redoubt began.

    10 Dec 1941

    The Shing Mun Redoubt was captured. The defence plan was now in ruins and it was decided to evacuate the island.

    11 Dec 1941

    An intense Japanese bombardment broke the new line in the west. Golden Hill fell to the enemy. At noon evacuation was ordered :
        a) Rajputs and Punjabis to evacuate via Devils Peak peninsula to Lyemun
        b) The remainder to evacuate via Shamshuipo and Star Ferry
    Movement was to begin at last light.

    12 Dec 1941

    In spite of heavy artillery bombardment the evacuation began that evening.

    13 Dec 1941

    Evacuation completed. Japanese demand surrender and are refused.

    15/16 Dec 1941

    Some boats were fired on near Lyemun.

    17 Dec 1941

    Japanese again demand surrender.

    Hong Kong Island Battle Maps

    18 Dec 1941

    Japanese landed on Hong Kong Island after dark.

    19 Dec 1941

    Japanese captured Wong Nei Chung Gap, Mt. Parker, Mt Butler, and Jardines Lookout. They also controlled the Tai Tam Valley

    20 Dec 1941

    Japanese reached Repulse Bay

    22 Dec 1941

    The Ridge was evacuated.

    22-25 Dec 1941

    Fighting centered round Stanley Mound and Stanley itself.

    24 Dec 1941

    Leighton Hill fell.

    25 Dec 1941

    General Maltby surrendered. The written order reached Brig. Wallis just after midnight.