Escape from Hong Kong

逃離香港

Escape party in Waichow:  Photos from the Barker, Hide, & Ross collections Click here to enlarge ©

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Planning the Escape

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Lieutenant-Commander Gerard H Gandy RN (Ret) (MTB 10) pulled off one of the most audacious escapes of WW II right under the noses of the Japanese.
Gandy prevailed against all the odds by escaping, then marching his ships company three thousand miles overland through the mountains of southern China and Burma to freedom without serious loss or injury.
With over twenty first hand written and oral accounts obtained, including Admiral Chan Chak's journal and the ships log of MTB 07, this is their story.
Several books have been published extolling the virtues of the staff officers from Battle HQ who volunteered to escort the Adm to the rendezvous with the Motor Torpedo Boats which resulted in a fiasco down Aberdeen Channel.
Were they team players and heroes, or just a bunch of Hooray Henry's, whose only concern was for themselves.
Read on and decide for yourself to determine just who were the real heroes and who were not!

23rd December 1941 (Tues)

Maj Goring GOC3 BHQ "The General informed me that there was a plan afoot for a small Naval party to smuggle out a very important Chinese naval officer, a certain Admiral Chan Chak, provided there was a suitable boat left un-sunk.
If I cared to see the organizer there might be room for me; and, since I knew Adm Chan Chak personally, I might be given the task of escorting him to the rendezvous when the moment came."
[17]

Capt Freddie Guest and Peter Macmillan soon got wind of Goring's conversation with the GOC and approached the GOC1, who was later executed by the Japanese while a POW. Nothing stayed secret within the tight confines of the underground labyrinth of the Battle-Box HQ.

Capt Freddie Guest BHQ We decided to put the plan to Colonel Newnham the GOC1. Much to our surprise he showed much interest. This discussion was never mentioned again. " [29]

Lt-Cdr Gandy RN (Ret) (MTB 10) "MTB's collected stores, arms and clothing for possible escape overland." [15]

Ships Log MTB 07 "Secured alongside H Y ferry in Aberdeen Harbour from patrol. Shelling and bombing all day but no damage or casualties. 17.50 loaded 3 inch howitzer ammunition for Stanley. After dark ran ammunition into Stanley pier under rifle fire. Unloaded and returned without casualties. Anchored West of Aberdeen Island." [5]

C.410 under the command of Lt Pthick RNR survived bombing by the IJA in Aberdeen Harbour.

Eddie Brazel HKRNVR (C.410) "We were extremely lucky not to have been sunk as six planes came over and as we were out in the middle of the harbour doing a job, they spotted us, and promptly attacked and as we had no defensive weapons of any sort there was nothing we could do about it, fortunately the straddled us, six bombs dropping on both the port and starboard beams and another six slap-bang in front of us, we were fairly damaged by shrapnel, but fortune favours the brave and no one was even hit let alone wounded." [46]

Colin McEwan SOE (MTB) "Similar to yesterday, we, in company with 07 lay alongside the ferry [H. Y. ferry] again, after coming in on a most glorious morning, and spent the day striking in stores and dodging shells and trench mortars. The crews, as a land force, were naturally short of equipment and with this in mind Sub-Lieutenant Legge and I paid a visit to H. Q. and there ransacked a huge store of loose equipment, webbing etc, belonging to the dead and wounded. It was a ghoulish job, prowling over dead men's effects and not a very pleasant experience but, after all, the stuff was of no use to them.
There was an amazing collection of gear apart from regulation equipment; haversacks and pockets had spilled open and, in the general disorder, could be found cheque books, photographs, letters, pipes etc. and in one corner, we had an amazing haul of eight packets of 'Chesterfield' [cigarettes]. Ultimately we collected what was of use to us.
In the evening we put behind Ap Li Chau again, and again still no orders. It was another lovely evening and during my hour of watch I realised how communicative men become in the early morning. Men I had only just met and who knew me only as Mac, Jock; or 'Sir' according to their ideas of what I was or whether their officer was present, while sharing a watch, opened up, and gave one all details of their lives and ideas on the Navy and life in general.
It was the same evening too, that I noticed the intense admiration and interest they all had for Mike. All of them regular sailors and accustomed to taking orders, they seemed greatly impressed by the appearance of someone who, while obviously in command of things, yet gave the impression of being able to do things and who could be called Mike' by the very people he was commanding without any 'loss of face' or apparent loss of efficiency."
[11]

Nathan M Greenfield "Saw Mike the SOE agent go by road to BHQ for a briefing, and again the following day when he and WO Benny Proulx were asked to take captured Japanese documents with them, this time coming under enemy fire as they left Aberdeen." [78]

24th December 1941 (Wed)

Maj Goring GOC3 BHQ "I had organised into one party Admiral Chan Chak; 'Henry' Hsu Heng, his ade-de-camp; the Admiral's personal gunman; and four Britons whom I will call Bill (Robinson) the policeman, Max (Oxford) the airman, David (MacDougall) the Civil Servant, and Ted (Ross) the reporter. They were to remain together in the Gloucester Hotel, near the telephone, with transport available to take them to the rendezvous the moment I gave the word. The Commodore promised I should have an hour's warning of the departure of the boats, if any. The plan was complete on Christmas Eve." [17]

Admiral Chan Chak CN "At 10.00 we had a conference where it became apparent the British troops were very tired and enemy were increasing their troops on Hong Kong Island. If the National Chinese Army can not send extra support it will be very difficult to turn the tide and I suggested we should consolidate our defence around the port area of Victoria as the senior National party told me to wait till the new year and I believe they will not be wrong. The British representative said the problem was that there was not enough food and water, in fact the water supply was cut off three days ago." [6]

Lt-Cdr Gandy RN (Ret) (MTB 10) "Mr F.W.K. proceeded to Hong Kong for information and returned to MTB 10, and all MTB's lay to West of Aberdeen Island or Telegraph Bay for the night, those going out of harbour attracting a few rounds from the field gun which was preferable to the route by Aberdeen Channel where machine - gun fire was encountered probably from Bennet's Hill." [15]

Sub-Lt David Legge HKRNVR (MTB 11) "One of our greatest bugbears was the fact that we had to refuel from lighters in the middle of the harbour, while in sight and within range of Jap trench mortars. It took about two hours to pump up by hand the several hundred gallons of gasoline required every day. We had many near misses both from trench mortars and from aerial bombs, but it wouldn't have been so bad if we had not been in the very close proximity of 10,000 gallons of aviation spirit." [18]

The fuel lighter at Aberdeen had a faulty pump, requiring the crews to form chain gangs with buckets to transfer the high octane petrol. [9]

Ships Log MTB 07 "Proceeded from West of Aberdeen Island to fueling lighter just before dawn - took on 180 gallons before light when heavy shelling forced fueling to be abandoned. Dodged shelling and proceeded to H.Y Ferry in Aberdeen harbour - secured on 11 alongside Ferry. Shelling of this area was carried out for several hours. Many near misses but no damage or casualties. Five dive bombing attacks without result. 18.45. Still intact - proceeded West of Aberdeen Island and anchored at 'instant notice'." [5]

L/S Les Barker (MTB 11) "Dive bombing and shelling along the islands now, killing a lot of men. Was getting pretty bad, but still we stuck at it. Jap's are advancing down to our island." [24]

Colin McEwan SOE (MTB 11) "Our vocabulary is now increasing and we have learned to use the expressions Pongo, 'Matloe and Pani [respectively a soldier or marine, a sailor, an Indian word meaning water] with accuracy. This was Xmas Eve and here we were again alongside our old friend the ferry [H. Y. ferry], improving our speed in getting down especially when one shell hit the bow of the ferry, doing no damage.
There were one or two amusing incidents during the morning; the A. B. who, while carefully crossing the gangplank, was affected by the wave of a passing boat, fell in, and, on emerging, cursed the Navy, the War, the Jap's, the Far East in general, and Aberdeen in particular. During the tirade he managed to find time for a detailed account of the Aberdeen sanitary system, with special reference to the ultimate destination of the sanitary engineer who had planned the same.
The two small Chinese children whose air raid shelter consisted of a large wicker basket, the lid of which was closed during air raids and shelling; and our friend Jixer' Prest, the Coxswain, who while climbing out of the conning tower with the rum jar heard a shell coming— ducked— remembered the rum— reappeared, shielding the rum next his heart — and again carefully ducked to what shelter the thin planking of the vessel could afford.
One last feat of gallantry worth recording is that of that gallant sailor Lieut. Ashby who, when a shell burst, instead of going flat, bowed gracefully showing a shiny polished blue serge bottom as his means of all round defence. Again, though, one had the feeling that it was good to be with such people."
[11]

In the evening Admiral Chan Chak and his staff had supper in the Gloucester Hotel, but being native Chinese they were barred from staying there overnight.

Adm Chan Chak "I can hear the explosians from the Wanchai area getting nearer. During the dinner I discussed our strategy with my army officer Yee (SK) and army officer Yee Shang Yu and his wife Yiang Hanshao. There are also some British and American woman who looked calm but watching them I could see they were concerned. They were drinking and then started to sing. An old Chinese saying came to mind about singing and crying and that is what I could see. After dinner Chan Chak went to the reading room where he read a poem he had written when he was young 'If not succeed I will devote it to my country' which I then wrote in my passport before writing letters to my wife and parents explaining that the end is near and I will never surrender to the Japanese and bring shame on my whole family." [6]

He asked his younger brother Chan Chi to leave the city immediately and deliver the two letters to his wife and parents. But for himself and his comrades, it would be a most difficult task to get away. The city was guarded by air, land, and sea. [6]

25th December 1941 (Thurs)

Ships Log MTB 07 "Soon after dawn tied up alongside Dairy Farm pier (Telegraph Bay) with “09” alongside & both boats camouflaged with branches, canvas, etc. (very effective). Remained there all day, no trouble." [5]

Petty Officer Buddy Hide (MTB 07) "We returned from patrol about dawn on Christmas Day, and were told to find a secluded spot West of Ap Lei Chau. My boat MTB 07 along with 09 went into Telegraph bay between Mt Davies and Aberdeen and lay alongside the MTB 07 & 09 under camouflage in Tejegraph Bay on Christmas Day.  
 Click here to enlarge.  
  Photo from the Hide collection ©Dairy Farm pier close to Pill Box No 4.
We were to hide and await orders for the pre-arranged escape later in the day from Aberdeen just prior to surrender. We covered our boats with straw and branches of trees & canvas as the Japanese bombers were targeting the Flotilla. We were able to procure some dairy produce including Chicken and cream from the dairy farm and had a reasonable Christmas Dinner along with a double ration of rum." [21]

The Admiral along with his younger brother, Chan Chi, had spent Christmas Eve with family and friends at the Gloucester Hotel. Earlier he had written letters for his wife and parents, which he would have delivered when he knew it was time to escape.

Adm Chan Chak CN "I went back to my office, called for my brother Chan Chi shortly after 7am and handed him the two letters that I wrote yesterday, instructing him to have them carefully and secretly delivered. He was at a loss at that time and did not know what I was doing, and dared not ask either, just holding the letters with tears swelling in his eyes, he turned around and walked out of the office slowly with his head down.
Although I felt really sad, I always had to maintain my morale at critical moments. The decision had been made, there was no going back, I eventually calmed down.
The Governor and the Commander of the Army and Navy informed me of their determination to declare a truce.
Update meeting at 9am. Once again, I lectured our comrades Hong Kong right now is at its most serious [critical] turning point, we had to go undercover to carry out the upcoming work, we had to remain calm at all time but stay alert, there would only be vertical connections between comrades, no more horizontal links, everyone must hold firm their individual positions, and offer their utmost endeavors to perform their duties for the country.

Received a phone call at 930am from the military force, due to internal reorganisation, the joint update meeting had been temporarily cancelled, I was instructed to wait for a phone call from the Hong Kong Governor.
Based on my initial determination of "either victory or death," I started to discuss with the Governor, asking him for a final decision. I asked him if he still had a fleet to hand over to me direct. Thereupon, the Governor decided to offer me the only five torpedo boats remaining for a thrust through the enemy blockading line with a party consisting of the high officers of the Army, Navy, and Air Force.
For now, the future of Hong Kong had been determined."
[6]
]

GOC Maltby, Fortress HQ: "A special defence meeting was nmmediately called, where it was decided that there could be no talk of surrender." [49]] p723

Admiral Chan Chak and his party led what was effectively the shadow Government in the Colony, administering the Civil affairs of the vast Chinese population within the Colony.

Ted Ross MoI "The fifth column was well organized, and they did all in their power to create disturbances.” [28]

The British needed to return the Admiral and his mission back to Free China in order to retain Generalissimo Chiang-Kei-Shek's confidence.

Tim Carew) (Author) "Sir Mark Young immediately called a special defence meeting, where it was decided that there could be no talk of surrender." [86]

There was an impromptu truce initiated by the Japanese at 09.00 till noon, when Major C M Manners & Mr A L Shields came across from the Japanese lines under a white flag. They told of the artillery and troops in reserve and urged His Excellency the Governor and C-in-C Sir Marc Young & the GOC General Maltby that it was futile to continue.
Although the cease-fire was observed by the ground troops, the IJA operating out of Canton seemed unaware and continued bombing Hong Kong.
The C-in-C Sir Mark Young took this oppertunity to broadcast a message to the troops.

Sir Mark Young C-in-C "In pride and admiration I send my greetings this Christmas Day to all who are fighting and to all who are working so nobly and so well to sustain Hong Kong against the assault of the enemy. Fight on!" [86]

The bombardment of Hong Kong Island resumed in earnest at 12.00 precisely.

Oliver Lindsay (Author) "Captain Freddie Guest, one of the duty officers was trying to destroy secret papers and cyphers. Petrol was splashed on bundles of documents in a corridor, but they only smouldered round the edges as more files were frantically thrust upon them. The destruction of the cyphers proved practically impossible. They were eventually carried to a clearing nearby, where they were buried." [80]

Sub-Lt David Legge (MTB 11) "Someone managed to get hold of a bottle of champagne somewhere and we had a drink with our not very special Christmas dinner. A few planes were around but didn’t seem to notice us or at any rate didn’t bother us. Little did we realize the hell that the wretched chaps on the other side of the island were going through." [18]

Lt-Cdr Yorath RN (Rtrd) XDO "At 13.15 sent the signal "Go". [15]
This signal was not relayed on to Gandy untill 15.15.

In Telegraph Bay the crews of MTBs 07 and 09 enjoyed a traditional Christmas dinner with roast duck served with a double tot of rum followed by pudding supplemented with cream and milk from the dairy farm above them. [21]

Sub-Lt David Legge HKRNVR (MTB 11) "We had to keep the whole thing as quiet as possible, we were unable to bring away more people, for whom we had plenty of room. It was rotten to have to leave behind so many of one’s pals and slip off in the night as if we were running away at the last moment, even though we realized that that was not the case." [18]

At 15.00 hours Maltby advised H.E. the Governor and C.-in-C. that the fighting was now entering the city center, and that no further useful military resistance was possible in protecting the civilian population. The Governor ordered all Commanding Officers to break off the fighting and to capitulate to the nearest Japanese Commander, as and when the enemy advanced and opportunity offered.
The surrender was declared one hour before the agreed time with Adm Chan Chak [6] after 17 days of some of the fiercest close quarter combat of WW II. The surrender was formerly signed at 18.00.
MTB's 10, 11 & 27 were to the South of Ap Lei Chau and Aberdeen Island covering the exits from Aberdeen, while MTB's 07 & 09 were standing by in Telegraph Bay

David MacDougall MoI "At 3p.m. on Xmas Day the military told me that our line in Wanchai was breaking and that an armistice was being asked for. I was in my office in the Gloucester." [26]

Ships Log (MTB 07) "Shortly after 15.00 received XDO signal “Go.” At dusk joined rest of flotilla S of Ap Lei Chau" [5]

Lt Kennedy RNVR (MTB 09) "About three o' clock the telegraphist gave an excited shout, 'I think I've just picked up a signal from the Commodore to V2.' V2 was the short title of the flotilla leader. 'It wasn't very clear and all I got was GO' he continued. 'Are you sure' Ashby and I queried, but the operator was listening intently again. 'Yes its just come through again, Sir. One word GO.'
The sight of the hillside with its little patches of white held our gaze for some time. No one said much. The time was three-fifteen, Hong Kong had fallen."
[9]

Sub-Lt Ralph Goodwin NZRNVR late of MTB 10 was lying in a temporary ward within the Hong Kong University just above Telegraph Bay after being wounded after MTB 10 had taken off survirs of the valiant but stricken HMS Cicala four days prior to the surrender and delivered them to Aberdeen. This resulted in CPO Thums, the Coxswain/Bosun of Cicala taking over the wounded first officers duties on MTB 10 on a tempory basis. Goodwin was one of ten NZRNVR posted in the China Station. [102]

Sub-Lt Goodwin NZRNVR (late MTB 10) "The furious sounds of battle grumbled to a grudging silence, and all was still. One of the VADs, a vivacious little French girl, came over with eyes streaming tears to announce, 'They've surrendered.' There could be no 'Dunkirk' for the beleaguered troops, the enemy was all around, and the survivors of the garrison became prisoners of war." [108]

MTB 07 HF Radio T1083 Transmitter & R1082 Receiver.  
  Click here to see more on the radio


Lt's Ashby and Kennedy mustered all hands, and asked if they wished to surrender or attempt the planned escape.

PO Prest (MTB 07) "Surrender or try to escape? - The decision was unanimous. [84]

Left: The T1083 HF Radio Transmitter with its plug in valves & R1082 Radio Receiver as used in the MTB's.

 

 

Lt Douglas Pethick RNR spent the day ceaselessly running errands while commanding his tug-boat Polly, C.410, and like many he was suffering severely from sleep deprivation.

Eddie Brazel HKRNVR (C.410) "At night we had several jobs to do, the last being to run Xmas comforts to the troops holding an AA post, which had been cut-off by the enemy As we proceeded out to fulfill our mission , about 01.30 hrs on Christmas morning we went aground, and in spite of all of our efforts we were unable to get her off. We felt that we had let our troops down." [46]

Research and web publication by Buddy Hide Jr ©

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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