Albert Downey - Escape from Hong Kong

 

MTB 10. Photos from the Hide & Ross collections ©

 

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Albert Leonard Downey DSM RN MTB 10 of the 2nd MTB Flotilla, Hong Kong Coastal Forces

Stoker A/B Albert Leonard Downey DSM D/J109308

1907 - 1979

A/B Albert Downey of MTB 10       
      Photo from the Downey family collection collection ©

Stoker A/B Al Downey

Photo from the Downey family collection ©

Al served twenty four years in the RN 1924 - 1948 and had two two year periods on HMS Rodney 30-32 & 36-38; one of two Nelson class battleships. Downey is listed as serving on/with "Queen Elizabeth" 1933-1936 No ship of that name found for those dates!!

Downey also served on the Insect class river gunboat HMS Scarab Nov 1927 - Apr 1929 at (Y)Iching.

Lt-Cmd Gandy RN (Rtrd): "Adm Chan Chak was said to be hiding in a cave wounded and without his artificial leg and Commander Hsu Heng (Henry) with able seaman A L Downey ST D/J109308 went in a skiff into enemy's field of fire to pick him up, but could not find him and returned: Lieutenant-Commander John Humphrey Yorath RN (Rtrd), and Mr Robinson finally taking the skiff in the dark and succeeding in finding the Adm who had climbed from his original hiding place to another." [15]


Oliver Lindsay, Author : "Henry Szue said he could find the Adm whom he had left in a cave, and so he was sent in a skiff with the most reliable rating, Able Seaman A L Downey. They returned as it became dark to report that, although the Adm only had one leg and a bullet still in his wrist, he had left the cave and could not be found." [80]









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 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]

When the escape party started swimming out to the MTB's it was necessary to send a skiff across to Aberdeen Island (Now Ap Lei Pai) to pick up Adm Chan Chak who not only had one leg but was also shot in the arm. Len made three trips to the tombolo ajoing Ap Lei Pai. Firstly picking up MacDougall and Ross, then along with Hsu Heng (Henry) and Yeung Chuen to pick up the wounded Adm. Not finding him where Henry had left him they returned to get more men. Cdr Yorath and Bill Robinson then joined them and they made the trip again this time locating the Adm by whistling. He had somehow climbed up the slope after hearing the sniper taking pot shots at MacDougall and Ross earlier.

Cmdr Yorath: "The Adm was practically at the top of the hill, although it was a difficult climb. I think he must have gone up there to die - Chinese like having their graves on hillsides. We lugged him down and got him in the boat. He must have suffered agonies. As we rowed back, he sat facing me in the stern and crossed himself which rather surprised me.".[43]

After 3000 miles traveling overland through China and Burma he arrived in a deserted Rangoon. There he joined Lt Kennedy along with Bill Dyer on the Burmese Minesweeper Somagyi.

Al Downey joined the Royal Navy on his eighteenth birthday in 1925 after earning a living as an Errand Boy in Devonport. In March 1938 he was stationed at HMS Vernon with MTB's for six months prior to joining HMS Tamar [MTB 11] in September 1938.

After escaping on Christmas Day 1941 with Adm Chan Chak and the Chinese Liaison Party he stayed on in Burma with Lt Kennedy onboard the minesweeper Somagyi. They proceeded up the coast to Akyab with a flotilla of M. L's crewed by escape party ratings.

Al along with the eight other remaining ratings in Akyab eventually left Bombay on 14th April and arrived back in the UK 1st June 1942.[82]

Al Downey was mentioned in Lt Kennedy's self published book "Hong Kong Full Circle 1939-45 " covering the battle for Hong Kong and subsequent escape.

In June 1943 Al was promoted to Acting Petty Officer while serving on M. L. 490 and met up with Lt Kennedy again when he was posted to Fort William.

Downey was awarded the D.S.M in June 1945 when took command after his Commanding Officer was shot while serving on ML 196 in the D Day landings at Gold Beach, Normandy. He retired from the R. N. as a Petty Officer after 22 years service in 1948 and joined H. M. Customs, as a launch skipper for twenty years before retiring to Totnes in Devon where he died aged 71.

Lt Collingwood stayed onboard the Danish ship "Heinrich Jessen" and proceeded to Akyab, eventually flying out from Chittagong to Calcutta on the 18th April. From there he went on to Ceylon before returning to the UK.

Lieutenant Commander Gandy R. N. (Rtrd) had prevailed against all the odds, and triumphed over adversity to deliver all his people back to safety without loss of life or serious injury after evading capture and escaping from Hong Kong on Christmas Day 1941.

PO Prest: "We travelled by cycles, lorries, junks, and donkeys, but mostly we walked. It was a case of march or die"

Buddy Hide: "On the whole, the moral, spirits, and courage of the party was magnificent. I think it was the shear thoughts of beating the Jap's, and the prospects of getting home after three years, some of us four years from home, that made us carry on."

It is unprecedented in the annuls of the Royal Navy, that a Flotilla evaded capture to escape across an entire continent to fight another day.

Albert Downey with CPO Thums, PO Charlie Moore, & PO Prest in Kukong ©





C.P.O. Gilbert Thums, P.O. Charlie Moore, A/B Downey, & Cox P.O. Prest in Kukong.














MTB 10 on patrol.  
	Click here to see more of the Flotilla.      
    Photo from the Hide collection ©

 

 

 

MTB 10 on patrol with the flotilla.

Photo from Downey family collection ©

 

 

 

 

 

 

A/B Albert Downey, PO Prest & ?? in Kukong ©

 

 

 

Stoker A/B Abertl Downey, Cox P.O. Jixer Prest, & ?? arrive in Shaoguan (Kukong) 6th January 1942.







 

MTB 10

 

 

 

Left: MTB 10 proceeding out of the Kowloon camber.
Royal Navy etiquette of the day required the flotilla leader to wear a darker colour without a Pennant number on the hull.

 

 

 

 

 

 

MTB 10 laying off Stonecutters Island.  
    Photo from the Hide collection &copy

 

 

 

MTB 10 laying off Stonecutters Island

Photo from Lt Ashby's collection ©









Telegram confirming Albert Downey's escape. 
	 Click here to return to the Waichow escape photo.       
     Photo from the Downey family collection ©







Telegram confirming Albert Downey's escape from Hong Kong

Photo from the Downey family collection ©

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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