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 (1939-1945) WWII
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George
Centre Hastings ON Canada
Posts: 12686
Joined: 2009
Christmas Day, Hong Kong
12/25/2022 12:31:47 PM
On this day in 1941 the British and Commonwealth garrison surrendered Hong Kong to the Japanese forces after the soldiers of the garrison had fought for their lives since the Japanese had invaded on Dec. 7/8 only 7 hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The battle and the surrender were accompanied by atrocities committed by the Japanese against POW and medical staff in the hospitals and against the native Hong Kong people.

The colony of Hong Kong was not comprised of the island only. It included a good deal of the Chinese mainland provinces of Kow Loon and the New Territories where the British had established what was supposed to be a sturdy defensive line. When the Japanese 38th division attacked on the mainland they drove the British and Commonwealth defenders back to what was called the Gin Drinkers Line which you will see as a dotted line on this map.



The Gin Drinkers Line consisted of a network of tunnels and concrete pill boxes.





Defending Hong Kong was a very small garrison of fewer than 15,000 men.


Facing this group were elements of Japanese 38th division with 52,000 men. British intelligence had pegged their number at 20,000. The garrison had very few aircraft which were quickly destroyed.

The Japanese quickly overwhelmed the outpost at the Gin Drinkers line and forced the British garrison back to Hong Kong island. By Dec. 13 the rear guard of the Indian Rajputs returned to the island. The Japanese contacted the governor of the island to demand surrender on the 13th and again on the 15th and once more on the 17th. The British refused to surrender.

On Dec. 18 the Japanese crossed the strait and landed on the island. The next day they charged down the Wong Nai Chong Gap which divided the island and that effectively split the British defence forces into an eastern and western group with no co-ordination between them.



This is a photograph of the Wong Nai Chong gap and if you look closely you will see an arrow pointing to the place where Canadian Brig. Gen. Lawson's body was found. This is just outside the Canadian HQ and so quickly did the Japanese advance down the gap, the HQ did not have time to leave. Lawson's last communication with the British commander was, "We're heading outside to fight the Japs". He and the few HQ staff charged out, Lawson apparently with two pistols and were cut down by MG fire. The Japanese buried Lawson with full military honours, something that they did not extend to British, Indian or Canadian soldiers who were captured.



There are detailed analyses of the battle and how the defensive effort degraded to company sized attacks that sometimes served little purpose other than to see men killed with little to show for the effort. On Dec. 20 the Japanese had seized the western side of the island. They had already committed atrocities against POW but they seemed to accelerate in number and ferocity after this date. Several historians have speculated that the Japanese soldiers were extremely angry at the attempts to defend against them. They had already lined up a group of Indian POW and bayonetted them to death just after the original amphibious landing.

There was a group of nuns and medical people at a Silesian Mission and when the Japanese arrived a massacre took place.

On Dec. 24 the last of the British and Commonwealth defenders were forced to the area near the British field hospital at St. Stephen's College on the Stanley Peninsula. The Japanese entered and began to bayonet wounded soldiers in their beds. They raped and killed nurses. Over 60 died at the hospital. On Christmas Day, the British governor General Sir Mark Young and the military decided that there was nothing more to be done and they surrendered.

There was controversy in the aftermath as the Canadians had heard a rumour that the British were already crafting a battle diary that would shift blame for the defeat on the Commonwealth forces and especially the Canadians. British HQ had already destroyed any materials that would be valuable to the Japanese and so had the G-G. And so, they set about writing their history. Getting wind of this the Canadians, whose officers had sparred with some British officers over orders that they considered foolish, began to record their record of events as they waited in the prison camps on the mainland.

The record did show that the Canadians, on one occasion had refused a British order to send a company to attack a Japanese position because they would be slaughtered. In the end they did comply and the slaughter took place. The Canadians felt that the officer in question had had a nervous breakdown and was not competent to lead.

The record did show that the great majority of company sized attacks undertaken during the defence of the island were by one of the two Canadian regiments.

The other controversy is whether the Canadians should have sent troops at all. We know now that the British knew full well that they could not defend this outpost of the Empire but they did ask Canada to send troops. The British had hoped to indicate to the Chinese that they were in the fight no matter what.

That Canada complied without an extensive analysis of the situation in Hong Kong is also controversial in Canada. It seems that General Harry Crerar had recommended that the Canadian regiments be assigned to the Hong Kong garrison. Crerar was knowledgeable about the situation in Asia. He had written papers specifically related to the defence of Hong Kong.

The selection of the Canadian troops is the third controversy. Neither the Winnipeg Grenadiers nor the Royal Rifles of Canada were rated as top level troops. They were still in training and when they arrived in Hong Kong, about three weeks before the invasion, some of their instruction on the use of basic weaponry including grenades had still to be taught.

While it is certainly a Canadian interpretation, our historians feel that they fought like tigers, in desperation of course. But they should not have been there. They were not ready nor did they have transport. Their trucks and other vehicles were on an American vessel en route to Hong Kong when the Japanese attacks occurred. They never got them.

Canada was not an innocent dupe in this decision making process. Canadian troops had been despatched to Britain at the start of the war, arriving in Jan/Feb of 1940. Canadians, with memories of the glory achieved by the Canadian Corps in WW1, clamoured for their troops to see action. And the Canadian government and the military felt that the Hong Kong mission would certainly placate the people. It was a poor decision taken for the wrong reasons.

This is "C" Company of the Royal Rifles of Canada en route to Hong Kong. The Newfoundland dog in the middle is the mascot named "Gander". They got him on board ship by listing him as a soldier as a "Sergeant Gander".



While being attacked on a ridge in Hong Kong, the soldiers of the Royal Rifles watched Gander as he attacked Japanese soldiers who would run as he nipped their heels. That he wasn't shot is inexplicable. Gander knew what a grenade was and on a number of occasions he had picked up Japanese grenades, carried them out of the defensive position and dropped near the Japanese. Of course there would be one time that his timing was off and he was killed. The soldiers had written about him while in prison camp and in the year 2000, this dog was awarded the Dickin Medal given to animals that show great bravery or perform great deeds.

This is CSM John Osborne, VC, "A" Company, Winnipeg Grenadiers



On December 19, he and his men were defending a position and had tossed back many grenades thrown by the Japanese. When CSM Osborne saw a grenade land that he could not get to he shouted a warning to his men and threw his body on top of the grenade. He was posthumously awarded the VC.

The British, Indians and Canadians and the Hong Kong Defence Force have their own stories of bravery but I can only tell what I know of the Canadians.

The casualty lists vary from source to source but the Canadian sources indicate that of the 1973 men sent to Hong Kong, 290 were killed while 493 were wounded. The rest were taken as POW. Another 264 would die under the harsh treatment meted out by the Japanese in their POW camps. Those that returned home were emaciated and physically and psychologically damaged.

British casualties (Imperial plus Commonwealth troops) totalled 11,848 of the nearly 15,000


Dec. 25, 1941. The blackest of Christmases in Hong Kong

Cheers,

George










Michigan Dave
Muskegon MI USA
Posts: 7322
Joined: 2006
Christmas Day, Hong Kong
12/25/2022 2:09:45 PM
Hi George,

It seems the Imperial Japanese forces do not consider Christmas Cease fires! No Christmas Truce from them!?

Definitely not a peaceful festive Holliday for the Commonwealth Troops, especially Canadians!!

Thanks for the battle maps, & reply!
Sad episode!
MD
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"The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract."
George
Centre Hastings ON Canada
Posts: 12686
Joined: 2009
Christmas Day, Hong Kong
12/25/2022 4:16:00 PM
Quote:
Hi George,

It seems the Imperial Japanese forces do not consider Christmas Cease fires! No Christmas Truce from them!?

Definitely not a peaceful festive Holliday for the Commonwealth Troops, especially Canadians!!

Thanks for the battle maps, & reply!
Sad episode!
MD


Thanks MD. I gave the story of the Canadian involvement in this battle but I would be remiss if I did not emphasize that all Commonwealth troops in the garrison suffered.
Canada saw 290 deaths.

This is the Sai Wan War Cemetery which is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission



There are 2,071 graves in this cemetery. 228 are Canadian. That is significant but there are 1,492 members of the Commonwealth buried here. 445 of the burials are unidentified. We can do the math and see that the British and Commonwealth members all did their bit. They were Indians, Brits, Canadians and Chinese (Hong Kong).

Note that not all the members of the garrison are buried here. There is a military cemetery called the Stanley Military Cemetery in the SE end of the island. This cemetery was already established on the island when the war began. Sai Wan was built in 1946.

There were 528 graves at Stanley Military Cemetery but not all died during the Hong Kong battle. I know that a few of the Canadians are buried here because one of the final battles was fought in this cemetery and members of the Royal Rifles of Canada were involved. There are also 145 unidentified graves in this cemetery.

Back at Sai Wan Cemetery there is a memorial to the over 2,000 Commonwealth soldiers that died in the defence of Hong Kong. On that memorial are the names of 144 dead soldiers whose religion demanded cremation. There are also names of men that died on the mainland and were buried there. Those graves could not be maintained in China.



I guess that my point is that Hong Kong was never a Canadian show. That is just where my interest lies because of my nationality and the controversies surrounding the participation of Canadian troops in defence of that outpost.

Remembering the British, Indian, Hong Kong and Canadians who fought there. Remembering also that some of those interred are women who were nursing sisters who died at the hands of the Japanese.

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George
OpanaPointer
St. Louis MO USA
Posts: 1574
Joined: 2010
Christmas Day, Hong Kong
12/26/2022 9:53:53 AM
Took off from SeaTac on January 11th. Landed in Hong Kong (Kai Tak) January 13th. My birthday that year was hijacked by the International Date Line.

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