The Battle for Hong Kong

 

MTB 07 CrestMTB 07 Lewis gun  
  Click here to read more ©Ron Ashby commands MTB 07 under fire.  
	Photo from Hong Kong 1941-45 published by Osprey Publishing.  
	Illustration by Giuseppe Rava. 
	Click here for more information MTB 07 in Hong Kong  
  Click here to read more   
  Photo from the Hide collection ©.MTB 07 Crest

The Balaclava of the Sea

16th December 1941 (Tues)

Ships Log MTB 07 "11.17 secured on fuel lighter. Five bombs dropped on graveyard on opposite bank.
12.09 secured on
(HMS) 'Aldgate'. Several serious raids during day on dockyard (27 planes at a time) '08' burnt out.
18.00 Slipped, proceeded to Telegraph Bay with '26' on beach protection duty."
[5]

Lt Kilbee HKRNVR "Worst day of the battle for me and my crew. Having been hoisted onto the slip during the night, biggest air raid on Aberdeen dock this morning, enemy after Thracian. About noon large formation of planes dropped bombs from high level; the target was Thracian our biggest warship.
I was in Aberdeen Industrial School building with my crew having lunch. The damage in the dock was extensive and by the time I got there MTB 08 was well on fire and became a total loss. Thracian further damaged, so that evening she was towed out to Round Island (opposite Repulse Bay) and beached."
[16]

A/B Holmes "We have been mucked about from earhole to breakfast time" [86]

18th December 1941(Thurs)

The SOE team were being shown over the ML French in Aberdeen dockyard by Lt J B Colls. Their task was to supply Chinese guerillas with small arms.

Colin McEwan S.O.E. "Lt Colls showed us over the 'French' — a snappy little cruiser on the lines of an MTB —fast and fairly quiet." [11]

(Oliver Lindsay) Author "At 7 pm the 2nd Battalion 228 Regiment in groups of fourteen silently embarked in the small collapsible assault craft. Colonel Doi stood at the water's edge as the first boats pushed off from Kai Tak into the darkness. He then climbed on a large barge which carried eighty officers and men of his tactical HQ. Thick black smoke was being blown across the harbour from the burning oil tanks at North Point." [80]

Colonel Doi, IJA "Halfway across the harbour, our attempt had gone undetected because the grounded ships concealed our move. But time and again the water was lit as brightly as broad daylight by the flare of burning heavy oil in the storage tanks on the opposite shore. Searchlight beams from Lyemun Point also played on the harbour. Streams of enemy machine-gun fire from the opposite shore and Lyemun Point slowed the boats. Some boats had their oars broken and men rowed with their entrenching shovels. As the first wave approached the Island, they signalled to the second, still at Kai Tak, to start their crossing." [80]

19th December 1941 (Fri)

Be Just and Fear Naught

Buddy Hide on MTB 07 under fire.  
	Photo from Hong Kong 1941-45 published by Osprey Publishing. 
	Illustration by Giuseppe Rava. 
	Click here for more information

The flotilla took a beating during the battle for Hong Kong.
When the Japanese invaded Hong Kong Island, the 2nd MTB Flotilla was ordered to attack and shoot up everything in sight, and to expend all ammunition in the process. Unbeknown to the flotilla, the Japanese had already established a beach head on the Island west of the Sugar Refinery at North Point.
Guns to the left, guns to the right, guns to the front and cannon from above, on they sped into the fiery jaws of the oriental dragon itself. This was the maritime equivalent of the charge of the light brigade in the Crimea.
Lt Ronnie Ashby whose family motto was "Be Just and Fear Naught" led the flotilla with Jix Prest & Buddy Hide at the controls of MTB 07. Pressing home the attack under withering fire from land, sea, and air, they suffered heavy losses in the process. Only three MTB's survived to limp back and come alongside HMS Robin in Aberdeen. Lt Kennedy on MTB "09" towed the stricken "07", peppered with 97 holes and two dead bodies in the engine room, back to base. The flotilla had lost 40% of its attacking force. The attack was arguably the most daring daylight MTB attack of all time, and was referred to as The Balaclava of the Sea.by Coastal Forces world wide. They were hailed "The bravest of the brave."

Lt-Cmd Gandy RN (Rtrd) "About 08.30 I received an urgent telephone call from XDO to V2 (me) in "Robin" to send one sub-division into Hong Kong harbour to Lewis-gun Japanese crossing from Kowloon Bay towards Taikoo in boats and ferries; another sub-division to standby for orders at Green Island, with remainder to await orders at Aberdeen.
MTB's 07 and 09 were fresh, having had the night off, and were selected for the first sub-division. All boats ordered alongside "Robin" to prepare ammunition etc.
On trying to start up "10's" engine, the starters on two engines jammed up, trailing in was tried but was unsuccessful with one engine alone. I suspect my Stoker P.O
(P.O. S Carr)!!!"
[15]

Lt Collingwood RN "That morning there was a continuous ferry of Jap's crossing the harbour, coming from all directions and in every conceivable type of craft procurable, towed by small collapsible outboard motor boats. The commodore sent our flotilla a signal reading ‘take all the ammunition you can muster, go into Kowloon Bay in relays and stop the flow of Jap's. Stay there until your ammunition is expended'." [8]

MTB 10 with V2 aboard had to swap with MTB 11 for the second sub-division, and 10 remained alongside "Robin."

Ships Log MTB 07 "Go and shoot-up everything in sight until nothing remained or ammo ran out." [5]


MTB cap tally. Beware the sting in the tail  Click here to read more.

MTB 07 attacked at full power with with 09 one cable (200 yards) astern. The enemy were taken by surprise and did not fire on the two MTB's until they neared North Point where they came under withering fire from land, sea and air, suffering heavy losses in the process.
Guns to the left, guns to the right, guns in front and cannon from above, on they sped into the fiery jaws of the oriental dragon itself. This was the maritime equivalent of the charge of the light brigade in the Crimea.
Opening fire at half a cable from the enemy craft with both pairs of Lewis guns plus a stripped Lewis in the hands of the 1st Officer on the bridge Ashby ran parallel at five yards to the enemy craft giving the gunners free range to fire down into them as they overtook them. The wash overturned the enemy craft as they overtook them, and as they had not been ordered to pick up any survivorsas Ashby turned to run over any remains.

Lt Ron Ashby HKRNVR "At 08.45 on Friday December 19th, 1941, acting on instructions received through you from XDO to Proceed into Harbour & shoot anything inside.
On nearing North Point I came under heavy machine-gun fire and this was my first indication that the Japanese had actually landed and established themselves on Hong Kong Island.
Got to within one hundred yards before opening fire with all five machine-guns. Tracer showed bullets sprayed target most effectively. A moment or so later, & we ran into a hail of fire from both Kowloon and North Point---rifle, machine-gun, and shell fire, while a plane continually dived down on our stern, spraying us with machine-gun and cannon. I passed down the leading string at a distance of about five yards, firing continuously. The landing craft capsized in my wash and there appeared to be no survivors.
I then came under machine-gun fire from both shores and from wrecks in the harbour, from howitzers, and light artillery fire from both shores, also from cannon and machine-gun fire from aircraft."
[5]

Lt Kennedy RNVR "Attack by aircraft soon demanded all our attention, and Ronnie Ashby in "07" signaled "Full throttle." Keeping close in to Hong Kong, we passed the dockyard and made for Kowloon Bay, when suddenly guns opened up from the shore. To our bewilderment most of the firing came from the island, our own side, and we hauled out indignantly into the middle of the stream." [9]

Lt-Cmd Gandy RN (Rtrd) "At 08.45 MTB's 07 and 09 proceeded at full speed and made a most successful surprise daylight attack on Japanese towed in flat bottom boats overturning them with wash, Lewis-gunning them and completely dispersing the daylight landing attempt." [15]

Lt Kilbee HKRNVR "MTB's 07, and 09 led the attack, sinking one landing craft, and inflicting heavy casualties on a number of other enemy craft." [16]

Leading Stoker R Barker killed when MTB 07 was straffed accros the stern. 
    Photo from the Hide collection ©

Lt Ron Ashby HKRNVR "The boat was hit several times and a cannon shell exploded in the engine-room, putting the starboard engine out of action and killing the leading Stoker, R. Barker." [5]

Left: Leading Stoker R Barker killed when MTB 07 was straffed accros the stern with cannon fire.

Lt Kennedy RNVR "I could now see that "07" was bearing down on a number of landing craft, and there were more beyond, So the enemy must have landed during the night under cover of the smoke screen from the blazing oil-tanks.
Ashby ordered "Act independently," and swinging to starboard "09" made for the next group of boats. "
[9]




Tel Tom Duckworth killed when MTB 07 was hit by IJA cannon fire.  
    Photo from the Hide collection ©Lt Ron Ashby HKRNVR "I ordered the Telegraphist, T.G. Duckworth, to the engine-room to investigate. My speed was reduced to 22 knots. However, I turned and attacked a second bunch of landing craft with machine-gun fire at point-blank range with most satisfactory effect. Another cannon-shell now put my port engine out of action and my Telegraphist was killed by machine-gun fire.
My speed was reduced to 12 knots and I was making water in the engine-room, so I had no alternative but to try to extricate myself and endeavor to reach my Base."
[5]

Left: Telegraphist Tom Duckworth was killed when MTB 07 was hit by IJA machine-gun fire while administering first aid to L/St Barker.

Ships Log MTB 07 "On way back the other wing engine conked out, and speed reduced to eight knots. Still under very heavy fire & Tel Duckworth who had gone to Barker's aid also killed. No one else injured, although conning tower received several hits from machine-gun fire. " [5]

Lt Kilbee HKRNVR " 07 was hit twice in the engine room, killing a stoker, and the telegrapher who took his place." [16]

Lt-Cmd Gandy RN (Rtrd) "07 attacked twice having lost one engine, then lost another, and then 09 on the way back took her in tow." [15]

HERO Crest. Beware the Sting in the TailLt Kennedy RNVR "Speed was reduced to deal with the craft , and it was put out of action by fire from the Lewis-guns, and from a Bren Light Automatic operated by the 1st Lieutenant from the conning-tower with much effect.
All our machine-guns were chattering incessantly, and Tommy Brewer, belligerent as ever, kept swinging an automatic rifle over my head in his eagerness not to miss a single target. "For God's sake Tommy," I shouted, "watch what you're doing with that gun. You'll kill someone."
When we took stock on the other side of the bay, there was little ammunition left, but by this time all the landing craft had been sunk or driven back to shelter."
[9]

Lt Ron Ashby HKRNVR "I headed for the Naval Yard under intense machine-gun and howitzer fire and under attack from three aircraft. I directed fire against the diving aircraft and tracers were observed to enter the fuselage of two of them, one of which made off towards Kowloon low down and did not return.
After passing the Naval Dockyard firing slackened off, 09 re-joined then and I was able leave Harbour by Sulphur Channel. After rounding Mt Davis my center and last engine gave out and I ordered 09 to take me in tow. The crew were able to plug most of the bullet holes below the water line and by pumping it was possible to keep the boat afloat."
[5]

Lt Kennedy RNVR "07" seemed to be in trouble. She was making back through the harbour at reduced speed, and we turned after her to run the gauntlet again, zigzagging wildly at full throttle.
The firing slackened as we caught up with her, limping on one engine, and when she broke down completely, we took her in tow.

Lt Collingwood RN "The Jap fighters had scored several hits on MTB 07 and she only had one engine left and so "09" took her in tow. As we went in a few minutes later, we passed them coming back, one towing the other." [8]

Lt Kennedy RNVR "Three other boats passed us on the way in to attack, so we wished them "God speed" by lamp." [9]

PO Bob Spirit wounded in the Balaclava action & later along with PO Alf Hunt survived the sinking of the Lisbon Maru. 
	Photo from the Hide collection ©

Left: PO Coxswain Robert Spirit was wounded in the neck on board MTB 11

Lt Collingwood RN "As we went in, the Japs began to take notice and we met furious fire from the mainland, from Hong Kong Island itself (where the Japs had formed a bridgehead) and also from the Japanese fighters overhead.
I started to zigzag violently and kept well in the middle of the bay. Shortly after the Jap's had opened fire on me we were hit several times, and my cox'n
( PO Robert Spirit) was wounded in the neck.
When I next had a chance to turn round I could see no sign of "12." It was now that I was attacked by aircraft, I kept up a constant zigzagging and was not hit. On asking my ratings if they had seen what happened to "12" they said she stopped with clouds of white smoke issuing from her."
[8]

 

Sub-Lt George McGill HKRNVR killed when MTB 12 took a direct hit in the Balaclava of the sea.  
	Photo from the Hide collection ©L/S Les Barker "MTB 07 cut completely through one of the native craft. He saw the bottoms of the sam-pans filled with Jap's, lying shoulder to shoulder, and sent into each boat a fusillade of Lewis gun bullets. The fire was not returned." [24]

Left: Sub-Lt George Spedding McGill HKRNVR killed when MTB 12 took a direct hit.

Sub-Lt Legge HKRNVR "No sooner had we passed the Kowloon point than they let us have it, from both sides field guns at point blank range, machine guns, rifles, and planes dive-bombing and machine gunning and cannoning us. Merry hell was let loose and only our speed and the fact that we were zigzagging wildly all the time saved us. We shot right down the harbor, could see nothing to attack and had to come back the same way.
I was squatting outside the conning tower, behind one of the depth charges with a stripped-Lewis gun in my hands and a rating
(L/S Les Barker) handing me fresh pans. There was nothing concrete to fire at but the flashes of their guns and the direction in which the splashes of the machine gun fire came from, but I fired off fourteen pans of ammunition before my gun finally got red hot and jammed for the last time." [18]

Lt Collingwood RN "We kept going and reached comparative safety where we examined the damage to our boats and personnel. The Japs had not finished however and we were then dive bombed and only escaped once more by the smallest of margins." [8]

Sub-Lt Legge HKRNVR "On the way back we stopped around the corner to signal to shore not to send any more boats out as there was nothing to attack, and met the next two boats coming out. We were cruising along at about eight knots when the other two boats (26 & 27) started to fire at something. I looked up and the first thing that caught my eye was a bomb no more than fifty yards away coming straight at the boat.
The plane, at which they were firing, had just pulled out of its dive above us but we hadn’t heard it because of the sound of our motors, and we were pretty well shaken up from what we had been through. I think I shall see that bomb until my dying day. " [18]

Lt Kilbee HKRNVR "MTB's "11" and "12" were next in, 11 withdrew but "12" pressed on and received a direct hit on the conning tower, killing the C. O. Lieut Colls HKRNVR, and the 1st Lieut, Sub Lt G. McGill HKRNVR, MTB 12 was last seen crashing into the sea wall on the Kowloon side." [16]

Lt John Colls HKRNVR killed when MTB 12 took a direct hit in the Balaclava of the sea. 
	Click here to read more.Tel P.O. Alf Hunt "I was on the bridge of "12" standing next to Lt Colls when we took a direct hit. I woke up on the beach tied up with barbed wire, and surrounded by Japanese soldiers ." [25]

Left: Lt John Baxter Colls HKRNVR killed when MTB 12 took a direct hit.

A/B Arthur Bartlett Survived the blast on "12" and managed to swim ashore to Hong Kong Island where he was taken to the Queen Mary hospital suffering immersion. He along with PO Alf Hunt subsequently spent nearly four years as Japanese POW's.

Sub-Lt Legge HKRNVR "We had quite a few bullet holes through the hull and our coxswain got one through the throat, but not enough to stop him bringing the boat back. I don’t know to this day how the rest of us came out alive." [18]

 


Lt Donald W Wagstaff HKRNVR killed with all hands when MTB 26 was hit in the Balaclava of the sea.  
	Click here to read more. Lt Parsons HKRNVR "Upon going alongside HMS Robin MTB's 27 and 26 (8th sub division) were ordered to proceed to Green Island and await further orders from XDO, which would be passed to us through Mt Davis signal station.
We proceeded about 09.40 and at about 09.50 when off Mt Davis MTB 11 approached us from Sulphur Channel, and commenced to signal us by Morse. At the same time Mt Davis signal station was calling us up, and ordering us to stay at Green Island. I reduced speed to dead slow in order to receive both these signals; whilst receiving them an enemy was observed making a dive bombing attack on MTB 11, and I opened fire on it.
After ceasing fire MTB 26 was observed to increase speed, pass me and enter Sulphur Channel, refusing to answer my signals. After waiting at Green Island for about half an hour I was ordered to return to Aberdeen by XDO, and did so.
MTB 26 was not seen again."
[62]

Left: Lt Donald William Wagstaff HKRNVR killed when MTB 26 was sunk with all hands.

Colin McEwan S.O.E. "From our window at the Police HQ we had an excellent view of the M. T.B. raid up the harbour. Although we missed the first pair we suddenly saw one — later found out to be Wagstaff's (MTB 26) — come racing up the harbour from Green Island in a straight line for Kowloon Bay. By this time the Jap's, were on both sides of the harbour and both M. G and T.M. fire were brought to bear on the boat while to add to the strafing she was being bombed at the same time.
Suddenly she stopped, started to drift to the HK shore."
[11]

The entire raid by the MTB's was witnessed by Kaneko, the Japanese born wife of Sub-Lt Lewis Bush, late of MTB 08. Kaneko was up on the Peak overlooking Kowloon Harbour that morning. "The racket of shells bursting all around, bombs and small arms, was intense". [91]

MTB 07, Chippy repairing battle damage. 
	Photo from the Hide family collection ©Lt Kilbee HKRNVR " MTB's 10, 26, and 27 ordered to return to base. For some reason or other 26 missed the signal, and continued the attack. 26 was last seen stopped under heavy fire from the enemy and became a total loss. C/O. Lieut D. Wagstaff and Sub. Lt J. Eager and crew presumed killed. (Subsequently  confirmed)." [16]

Left: Chippy repairing hull damage

PO Prest "We counted ninety seven holes in the hull on 07 which we hastily plugged." [84]

Lt Kennedy RNVR MTB 11 returned alone from the harbour with her coxswain wounded. There was a long silent pause as we strained our ears to catch the sound of distant engines, but none came. It was a dark day for the flotilla, and for the whole island." [9]




MTB 26 on full throttle.  
	Photo from the Hide collection ©Lt- Cmdr Gandy RN (Rtrd) "07 & 09 were much fired on by enemy guns, machine-guns, and planes.
MTB 27 (senior sub division boat) was called up and told to wait off Green Island, but MTB 26 neglected to wait, and carried on at full speed into Hong Kong harbour in execution of the original orders, and was not again seen, and believed sunk."
[15]

Left: MTB 26 was a Thornycroft 55 foot CMB bought back from the Chinese Navy in 1939

The flotilla lost two boats and their crews in this action. MTB 07 led what is arguably the most daring daylight MTB attack of all time, dubbed “The Balaclava of the Sea.”

Captain A C Collinson RN, Commodore Hong Kong "The attack carried out by Flotilla was most gallant and an inspiration to everybody. Regret losses incurred but like you proud of their devotion to duty. " [15]

Sub-Lt Legge HKRNVR "We got back to our base and were metaphorically licking our wounds when we got another shock. The order came through for all ships in harbor to be scuttled. The Japs had made a sudden breakthrough and there was a sort of panic." [18]

Commander Hugh Montague RN (Retrd) "The Commodore ordered by signal that all ships except "Cicala" and effective MTB's were to be scuttled.
I also ordered Lieutenant Pittendrigh, R.N.R. (1st Lieutenant of the Dockyard) to keep afloat the water boat WAVE, 2 small fuel lighters, and 2 small petrol lighters.
During the night of 19th/20th the enemy occupied MOUNT BARKER and penetrated to WONG NEI CHONG GAP. At Aberdeen we were ordered to send every available man to assist the troops in counter-attacks. It was arranged that two platoons of Naval Ratings (mainly from THRACIAN) should join the troops attacking WONG NEI CHONG GAP, while the Dockyard Defense Corps should take over the pill-boxes in DEEPWATER BAY to free troops.
The "Thracien's" party arrived at WONG NEI CHONG after the troops had fallen back and were ambushed in their trucks. It is to be feared that about forty men were killed." [1]

H E Sir Mark Young Governor Hong Kong "The time has come to advance against the enemy. The eyes of the Empire are upon us. Be strong. Be resolute and do your duty." [15]

The Warrant Officers at the Chung Hom Kok (Chung Am Kok) Mine Control station near Stanley detonated the controlled mines before destroying the station. They then formed into Royal Navy Divisions to assist in the defence of the Repulse Bay Hotel nearby. Bill Wright was captured at the hotel garage but managed to escape. Benny Proulx was within fifteen yards of the Japanese holding the navy prisoners when he and a colleague shot the officer and two of his men before the remainder disappeared into the bushes.

20th December 1941 (Sat)

Lt-Cmd Gandy RN (Rtrd) "At 13.00 I was ordered to see the 'Extended Defense Officer' (XDO) and Commodore and proceed to headquarters and dockyard on a motorcycle in heavy rain. There was a good deal of shelling on the Hong Kong side but Aberdeen was quiet.
I was then given confidential instructions to carry a European guerilla leader, Mr F.W.K. and his two assistants in the boats of the Flotilla and to land him north of Hong Kong after scuttling, and to endeavor to pass through the Japanese lines with flotilla personnel in the event of Flotilla being ordered to leave Hong Kong. If it was not possible to pass through the lines I was to operate as a "guerilla force" against the Japanese in the hope of relief by Chinese forces.
I was told that some influential Chinese might travel with the party and that I was to be guided as far as possible by the advice of Mr F.W.K. both in preparation for this operation and in the operation itself. I obtained a map from headquarters and returned to base."
[15]

21st December 1941 (Sun)

Sub-Lt Jack Eager RNVR killed when MTB 26 was sunk with all hands in the Balaclava of the sea. 
	Photo from the Hide collection ©


Lt-Cmd Gandy RN (Rtrd) "Mr F.W.K. and his assistants joined the flotilla with bombs and Bren guns. In the afternoon, Cmdr Montague, the Senior Naval Officer-Aberdeen instructed me to stand by for special mission with Mr F.W.K. MTB's crews loaded special iron rations, arms, stores and equipment for this purpose." [15]

Left: Sub Lt Jack Eager HKRNVR killed when MTB 26 was sunk with all hands.

The flotilla had taken a beating and was still licking its wounds two days after its epic attack in Victoria Harbour. These highly tuned thoroughbreds had been denied badly needed maintenance during the battle, and were beginning to suffer as a consequence.

Colin McEwan SOE "Since the 'French' was not available, arrangements had been made for us to use MTB 10 and we loaded her with the ammunition and Brens that we had left." [11]

Ships Log MTB 07 "Remain on instant notice." [5]

Lt Kennedy RNVR "MTB's are to remain at immediate notice for sea." [9]

Lt Kilbee HKRNVR "From then on I was relieved of my duties as Base MTB officer, and took over as 1st officer of MTB 10." [16]

Alfed Lord Tennyson 9th December 1854 The Charge of the Light Brigade at the battle of Balaclava in 1854

"Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro' the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wonder'd.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!"

MTB 07 led the attack losing two dead, all three engines and 98 holes to plug












































The flotilla paid a heavy price losing over 40% of its force

 

 

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Research and web publication by Buddy Hide Jnr ©

The contents of this web site led to a considerable number of escapee families contacting me and now each other, and remains the principle source of contact and private information for the spin off projects that have followed. The personal accounts enabled me to record the complete and true account of this remarkable episode of Sino-British war time co-operation. The information compiled here has directly resulted in a museum exhibition in Hong Kong, a re-enactment of the escape in Hong Kong and China, with a movie drama and documentary in the making.

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