Escape from Hong Kong - The Final Hours

逃離香港

The 2nd MTB Flotilla breaks out: Photos from Ashby & Hide family collections ©

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Breakout from Encirclement

25th December 1941 (Thurs) Continued

A lively discussion ensued on board MTB 10. The BHQ staff had no idea of the condition of the boats and were in favour of sailing the fifteen hundred nautical miles south to Singapore. The Senior Service were insisting on staying local due to fuel shortages. With the arguments continuing back and forth Gandy went for'ard to seek the Admiral's council. Chan Chak had been listening with amusement to the arguments while resting in Gandy's cot after his ordeal.

Adm Chan Chak CN"After I boarded the boat, a British officer offered me a cup of coffee. The captains and soldiers from other boats all met up in our boat, one captain (Gandy) came to my bed and showed me the map to discuss the escape route and how to organise the other boats.
Finally, Robinson (Police Chief Inspector) suggested to everyone that I should make the final decision. I used a red pen to mark the direction."
[6]

The officers of the 2nd MTB Flotilla were renowned throughout the Colony for their speed, seamanship and daring, now they prepared one last time to put their skills to the test as a flotilla.
Lt Ashby consulted with his chief Engineer PO Buddy Hide who confirmed that 07 only had enough fuel for a maximum of seventy nautical milest at reduced speed due to abandoning refuling the previous morning while being shelled. They would have to take a chance on the direct route across Mirs Bay in full view of Hong Kong territory. Others pointed out that their high maintenance, thoroughbred boats, were badly beaten up and desperately lacked the high levels of maintenance they thrived on. They were all dangerously low on fuel. [5] [21]

L/S Les Barker (MTB 11) "9.20pm – MTB’s 07, 09, 10, 11, and 27 left Hong Kong for Mirs Bay. The Eastern end of HK was still firing away as we passed." [24]

Chan Chak dons Gandy's uniform and assumes command © 
    Photo from the SCMP ©

Lieut-Commander Gandy loaned his only cap to Vice Admiral Chan Chak CN, his new C-in-C, along with his number one uniform. Although it lacked the broad gold stripe denoting his rank in the Chinese Navy he wore it with pride for the duration of the escape. Admiral Chan Chak and his staff remained on Gandy’s boat, the remaining nine survivors divided themselves up between the other four MTB’s. Guest & Macmillan on 07, Goring, Oxford and Robinson on 09, Wright and Christensen on 11, MacDougall & Ross remaining on 27.

Left: Chief engineer SPO Stonell at the controls alongside the Coxswain on board MTB 11

With just three torpedoes between them the engines were tuned up, the noise was ear shattering and nerves were jangling. [9]

Lt Kennedy RNVR (MTB 09) "As the boats crept out into the middle of the bay, the shattering roar of the engines had never sounded so loud before." [9]

Capt Freddie Guest BHQ "The boats all started up with the loudest roar I had ever heard, and with a bound we were away like the start of a regatta race. The very sound seemed to split the darkness asunder, and lights seemed to appear from nowhere. I looked back at the ill-feted Island of Hong Kong and could see the glow of the many flames of the fires still burning and silhouetted against a lovely clear black Eastern sky." [29]

The Chinese called the MTB's Wind Thunder Boats with good reason, as the 2nd MTB Flotilla started up their engines and eased out on their final voyage, proceeding on various courses at 22 knots. [5]

 

Colin McEwan SOE (MTB 11) "The flotilla complete, we set off and at every angle, up to Stanley fires could be seen." [11]

 

The 2nd MTB Flotilla, all that remained of the once mighty China Station, breaks out from Hong Kong as darkness closes in to proceed to a watery grave in Mirs Bay. ©

Lt Collingwood RN (MTB 11) "We still waited and later, six hours after capitulation, five MTB's put to sea. On board were certain official officers and Admiral Chan Chak who had also a very narrow escape through Aberdeen channel and ended up by swimming to us." [8]

Lt- Cdr Gandy RN (Ret) (MTB 10) "All his (Chan Chak) party were fitted out as well as possible into dry clothes and the 2nd MTB Flotilla, proceeded at 22 knots for Mirs Bay on various courses and well off shore." [15]

Colin McEwan SOE (MTB 11) "At that stage the night was by no means perfect — the moon throwing a path of glittering light, a queer crazy paving of sparkles over our courses. By degrees however it darkened and in the peculiar half light it was difficult to discern the boat ahead apart from its phosphorescent light." [11]

Lt Ashby on 07 with the two army captains from BHQ on board took the shortest route, keeping close inshore to save fuel. He was close enough to be fired on and see his own bungalow in flames. [21]
As the night set in the radio conditions changed from ground wave to skip wave on the frequencies they used, bringing Singapore and Malaya both within easy radio range.

PO Buddy Hide (MTB 07) "At 9.30 p.m. we were told to slip and proceed, we proceeded to sea and were fired upon. We were all that was left of the once mighty China Station I had joined three years ago, now we were proceeding to a watery grave in Mirs Bay." [21]

Oliver Lindsay (Author) "The hero of the occasion was undoubtedly Gandy." [80]

Cdr Montague RN (Ret) SNO Aberdeen "I consider it highly fortunate that Lieutenant-Commander Gandy showed such commendable discretion in not precipitately obeying the order to go at once." [1]

Capt Freddie Guest BHQ "I asked a Naval rating what was happening and he said “We are just getting out to the main channel, sir, and when all are out we’ll open throttle and go like hell for the gap off Stanley Point. If we get through there safely, we shall be in the open sea and should be OK.”
The Jap’s turned guns, machine-guns, and star shells on to us from all along the Stanley Peninsula beaches. It was just like hell let loose, what with the fierce roar of those four powerful engines, the booming of the guns, the rattling of the machine-guns and the lighting up of the star shells. It was indeed something to remember."
[29]

Sub-Lt Goodwin NZRNVR (late MTB 10) "From Fort Stanley the 9.2 guns continued to thunder distant defiance until eight o'clock PM , when the commanding officer was finally convinced that the surrender had really been signed. There remained a profound silence, broken only by the occasional crack of a rifle as some looter was discovered at his work.
Into the silence came a muffled throbbing roar, full of significance for me, for I knew that that came from the motors of the five remaining MTBs, tuning up for their last run. The sound faded and was gone. With it went my last link with the free world; I was a prisoner of the Japanese.
" [108]

MTB 07 under fire.  
	Photo from Hong Kong 1941-45 published by Osprey Publishing. 
	Click here for more information

Ships Log (MTB 07) "No trouble, sighted nothing but a distant searchlight out at sea." [5]

The escaping MTBs were discovered by a Japanese warship, the IJN Tsuga, a Momi-class destroyer, in company with the IJN MTB Kasasagi of the 15th MTB Squadron, Canton, as they entered Mirs Bay. [109]

Lt- Cdr Gandy RN (Ret) (MTB 10) "The searchlight of a destroyer or cruiser was seen well to seaward at one time, and what appeared to be a red rocket was fired. But no contact was made with enemy." [15]

Adm Chan Chak CN "Around 30 minutes later, they met the Japanese (kui juk laam) big ship and they saw the big ship. The location is 10 li from Dai Pang Wan (Mirs Bay), at first they only used the search light to look for us, then they turned off the lights and it looked like they got ready for battle. Four shots were fired by the cruiser, but fortunately none of them hit us. Then the Japanese retreated." [6]

Left MTB 07 under fire

PO Buddy Hide (MTB 07) "Then we encountered Jap warships, but managed to slip them. They could not find us with their searchlights." [21]

Lt Collingwood RN (MTB 11) "It was a calm, clear night and we needed to avoid the search lights which were trying to pick us up, but we were too far away. We slipped past a Jap cruiser later, with only one boat with torpedoes and none of the boats in much of a condition. No orders were given to attack and we slipped away to NanAo in China." [8]

Lt Kennedy RNVR (MTB 09) "When we entered the wide mouth of Mirs Bay searchlights swept the sky to the east, where an enemy cruiser on the horizon had apparently mistaken the roar of our engines for aircraft." [9]

Sub-Lt Legge HKRNVR (MTB 11) "After about two hours we saw the searchlights of a Jap warship some miles away, which had obviously heard our motors, but she never spotted us and we passed out of sight." [18]

Colin McEwan SOE (MTB 11) "Only one incident worth recording occurred when well on the starboard bow a searchlight was seen —possibly some Jap. destroyer. Anyway it did not pick us up and in the ever gathering darkness and on we went." [11]

Cdr Montague RN (Ret) (C.410) "We were greatly alarmed when a searchlight found us. We turned directly away to the South West and presently the light was switched off. It is possible that our yellow funnel looked like a sail and the destroyer thought we were only a sampan. Shortly afterwards the destroyer, which was steaming South Eastwards fired four rounds to the eastward. When she was lost to sight we circled back to the North East and in due course we reached Nanao. Shortly afterwards the torpedo boats arrived, which gave us great content. We hailed them and were taken aboard." [1]

Eddie Brazel HKRNVR (C.410) "About 10.30 p.m. we were picked up in the searchlight from a Nip cruiser, and they held us for about ten minutes, we naturally thought that our last moment had come. But for some unknown reason they let us proceed on our way." [46]

L/St Charlie Evans (MTB 07) "Once a coastal battery picked us up in searchlights and a jap destroyer also shone on us. Luckily they either didn’t notice us or thought 5 mtbs too much for them.. They left us alone and we scambled out at a little place 40 / 50 miles from island." [12]

Capt Freddie Guest BHQ "There appeared out of the darkness a large black shape on our starboard side, and in a flash one of the Naval officers had identified it and yelled out that it was a Japanese destroyer. Suddenly, out of the darkness came the powerfully beam of a searchlight which swept slowly round the horizon and, a moment later, had picked us up. A shout came from the look-out, and the Commander came out on deck at once. "A Japanese destroyer!" he said curtly. A moment later their guns opened fire on us. They put up a number of star shells which seemed to light up the whole horizon. They were about three miles away and luckily for us were going in the opposite direction. Their shells fell short and because of our speed, we were quickly out of range." [29]

Ted Ross MoI "About an hour later a Jap destroyer (or light cruiser, we couldn't tell which in the darkness) heard us and got us in her searchlights. She fired four shots at us, but they all fell wide and we continued on." [28]

Moon-set was at 00.35 .[67]

On entering Mirs Bay they kept a sharp lookout, keeping well off from the Hong Kong side. Approaching the island of Tung Ping Chau they slowed down and stood off waiting for the moon to set. All confidential papers were sealed in weighted steel chests and dumped overboard in deep water along with the detinators for the torpedos and mines on board each boat.
The flotilla then moved close inshore tied up on Gandy’s boat at anchor off the east coast of Tung Ping Chau at 01.30 in total darkness.

26th December 1941 (Fri)

Adm Chan Chak CN "Before dawn, our boats all arrived in our fatherland. Mr Liang Yungg-Yuan, a gang leader and his men were already there to meet us." [6]

Lt-Cdr Gandy RN (Ret) (MTB 10) "Under Admiral Chan Chak's 'instructions' the flotilla anchored off Ping Chau Island , where Mr F.W.K. went ashore under cover of manned Lewis guns and brought off the head man to confer with the Admiral. The Admiral thus received information that the small harbour of NanAo was free of Japanese and that the Chinese guerillas would meet him there and escort the party through the Japanese lines to the Chinese Army" [15]

Ships Log (MTB 07) "All boats tied up on '10' E of Ping Chau, where party was sent ashore to contact local guerrillas." [5]

Lt Kennedy RNVR (MTB 09) "Coming in towards the coast the boats slowed down and stopped off Nanao. The engines were cut and all was suddenly still." [9]

Adm Chan Chak CN "When I was planning the escape, I had already asked a trusted assistant to contact Leung Wing-Yuen, the gang leader stationed at Mir Bay area, asked him to make the necessary preparations, that night Leung and his team came and met us upon our arrival, so I commanded him to provide more boats to help unloading all the weapons and radio equipment from the torpedo boats." [6]

Capt Freddie Guest BHQ "Our Flotilla was now approaching the small inhabited island of Ping Chau, which was just off the mainland. We quietly drifted in to about 200 yards of the shore. It was decided we should send a party ashore to find out if this part of the coast was occupied by the Jap's." [29]

Colin McEwan SOE (MTB 11) "Mike, Tai and I, along with Henry Tsui went ashore for any news of any possible Jap movements in the area and by a stroke of luck Mike and Henry contacted the local guerrilla leader. Mention of Admiral Chan's name speeded up matters and soon we had moved across to Namo where we disembarked after some hours of packing and stripping the boat of all available gear." [11]

Lt- Cdr Gandy RN (Ret) (MTB 10) "The Flotilla then proceeded to Nanao; meeting there (fortunately but apparently quite fortuitously) Commander Hugh Montague R. N, (Ret), late S. N. O. Aberdeen, now in launch C.410 which had run aground entering Nanao." [15]

Cdr Montague RN (Ret) (C.410) "Shortly afterwards the torpedo boats arrived, which gave us great content. We hailed them and were taken aboard."[1]

Maj Goring BHQ "It was then, that he told us, that he (Montague) committed the gravest crime of his naval career. He had fallen asleep! He awoke with a start to find his boat aground, where, he did not know." [17]

Eddie Brazel HKRNVR "When we reached the spot where Admiral Chan Chak’s party were making for, we were not quite sure which bay it was, but once again providence came to our assistance as we went aground again, and we had not been there more than ten minutes when we heard the roar of engines of approaching vessels, and once again we were scared stiff, as we did not know whether they were our own vessels or enemy craft. But when they had shut off their engines we heard some good old English swearing, and we knew then that we were in the right spot. The time was now 1.30 a.m. so we proceeded ashore and were well looked after by the natives who gave us all some hot tea and food." [46]

Kennedy recognised the officers who had arrived on board C.410 including an old Jardines China-hand, Duggy Pethick, a Lieutent in the RNR, who had been the master of C.410 in Aberdeen dockyard.

Lt Kennedy RNVR "In it Commander Montague who had been in overall command at Aberdeen had made his escape from the base with several others. Among them was the redoubtable Pethick from the dockyard who had the misfortune to lose his false teeth and was thoroughly fed up with the whole affair, but determined the Japanese would never catch him." [9]

Lt- Cdr Gandy RN (Ret) "The flotilla proceeded to land stores and arms, eventually scuttling all boats just before daylight on December 26th. It is regretted that scuttling could not take place in water not deeper than 2 fathoms, but there was not much time as it was most important to get the party and stores all on shore before daylight when Japanese reconnaissance might have spotted them." [15]

Ships Log "All ammunition, guns, loose gear etc, was loaded onto Sampans and taken ashore. L.Gs, & ammo, handed over to guerillas temporarily, Bren guns, ammo, provisions, etc retained." [5]

Lt Kennedy RNVR "The men ashore found that reports had been correct and were successful in locating the guerillas. Hours seemed to pass while negotiations went on, but at last we got the message to move in closer to the beach and anchor. Junks came alongside and everything of value was transferred - arms, ammunition, wireless sets, and all manner of stores and provisions. Then came one of the saddest moments of all, sinking the boats." [9]

PO Stonell (MTB 11) "Working all night, put all gear of value on shore, all food stuff, 70-80,000 rounds of ammunition, 19 Lewis-Guns, 5 Bren-Guns, 40 rifles and about 50 revolvers, then proceeded to scuttle boats." [112]

Maj Goring BHQ "We nosed our way into the sand. Those five MTB's and the C.410 had to be stripped of everything movable before daylight. We busied ourselves carrying ashore arms, ammunition, wireless sets, cushions, blankets, food - everything." [17]

Adm Chan Chak CN "I knew the Japanese were not too far away from us. We had to leave immediately. Before leaving the island, I had instructed them to sink the five vessels and to leave all food/supplies behind." [6]

Lt Collingwood RN I disagreed and told the Admiral that the vessels had cost £25,000 each. But he insisted on destroying the vessels because he did not want to leave any trace of evidence for the Japanese." [8]

Maj Goring BHQ "Those five MTB's and C.410 had to be stripped of everything movable before daylight. We busied ourselves carrying ashore arms, ammunition, wireless sets, cushions, blankets, food---everything. And then, to prevent the Japanese from discovering them and using them against us elsewhere, these precious little MTB's which had done such grand service, and cost £25,000 apiece, had to be scuttled. " [17]

Cdr Montague RN (Ret) " When all useful gear was landed the five MTB's and C.410 were scuttled." [1]

Even the fold down bunk beds were removed and taken ashore as McEwan and Talan found when they returned to Nanao attempting to retrieve the Lewis Guns and ammunition in January. [11]

Tommy Brewer, who hailed from a well established Hong Kong family that had resided in the Colony since the mid/late 1800s was determined to have a souvenir and proceeded to remove the boat's crest from the bridge of MTB 09. [79]

Deep Behind Enemy Lines with Chinese Guerrilas

Colin McEwan MI9 "The village, like practically every village we visited, had its quota of old sailors, most of whom seemed at some time in their careers to have sailed in the 'Blue Funnel'. [These old sailors] were all immensely proud of their papers and insisted on showing them. By looking at their Discharge Books, the amount of money which they could collect.
Most of them seemed to have retired and built fairly substantial houses in their own villages but, distrusting Chinese banks as they did had unluckily deposited their cash in the HK banks.
There was no question as to the side on which their sympathies lay in the present trouble and indeed one could not but feel grateful to the various skippers under whom they had sailed for the liking they had for us British and the resultant hospitality they afforded us."
[11]

Adm Chan Chak CN "When Leung joined the Navy, he was 18 years old. He started his training in a torpedo vessel and I soon recognised him for his hard work and his patriotic heart. I was very impressed by the young follower at that time.
I also believed that he would be prominent one day in the Navy. Because when Chan-Chai-Tong took over the Navy and training centre, Leung was one of the unfortunates to be dismissed by him.
After Leung was dismissed from the Navy, he returned to his village, Tung-Kiang. Bandits were plundering and raping throughout his village. He wanted to save his village and gathered 3000 strong men to clean them out. Because Tung-Kiang was quite close to Hong Kong and Macau, the leader of the Chinese government at Tung-Kiang was also under the Japanese control of Wong-Ching-Wai.
At one time, Wong had offered Leung $2000 and 240 guns to work for him. Leung refused to be a traitor, so he declined. This incident was reported back to me. I had confirmed his decision with admiration and encouragement.
Instead."
[6]

The Admiral was the late President of the Southern Kuomintang party, as such he commanded great respect from the locals who adored him.
Everything of value was brought ashore. Sub-Lt Legge had the job of sorting the kit on the mainland as he spoke the language fluently.

Colin McEwan SOE MTB 11 "During this period of hurry and rush the most difficult task of all was to prevent the Chinese, who seemed to have no idea of the old law of mine and thine, from grabbing all and sundry. Anything we did not want was theirs but this did not deter them from having a smack at any available articles especially arms." [11]

Gandy records observing the scuttled wrecks above the water line from NanAo on the evening of 26th. As did McEwan on 3rd January.

Adm Chan Chak CN "After everything had been unloaded to the small boats and checking had been done, I ordered the torpedo boats be sunk so they wouldn't be seized by the enemy. The torpedo boats had deep hulls, we couldn't dock close to the shore so we spent the night on the island. We finished our meal at 4am, left the island in small boats at 5am going to Nanao, arrived at the coast at 630am, we moved on to the gangs headquarters.
I ordered Liung and his gang to be our vanguard, escorting us through the Japanese line and the occupied areas."
[6]

Sub-Lt Legge with the ships dog on MTB 11.  
	Photo from the Hide collection ©Two members were reprimanded for being drunk while scuttling, Coxswain Dyer who had been on 10 for the past three years, and forty year old Cox-Walker. A bottle of gin had been left out in the mess on 10 when the Aberdeen Island party were picked up.

Lt Kennedy RNVR "With a hatchet we drove holes through the bottom of the boat and slashed the buoyant cushions; we opened the sea-water intakes and did everything possible to hasten the end. At last 09 began to settle as the engine-room filled with water and the weight of the engines took her down. Her bow tilted at an angle as she went, slowly as if reluctant to give up the struggle, and when the decks were awash we left her." [9]

Sub-Lt Legge HKRNVR (MTB 11) "Then came the rottenest part having to sink our boats, the boats we had lived in for the last seven or eight months in my case, the last two years or so for others. Thank heaven I was not present to see them go down or take any part in their destruction. I was on shore superintending to the disposal of the stores, etc." [18]

Lt- Cdr Gandy RN (Ret) "The Flotilla proceeded to land stores and arms, eventually scuttling all boats just before daylight on December 26th. It is regretted that the scuttling could not take place in water deeper than 2 fathoms [12 feet or 4m] but there was not much time as it was most important to get the party and stores all on shore before daylight when Japanese reconnaissance might have spotted them. By scuttling, the operations of the 2nd MTB Flotilla at sea were brought to a close." [15]

Lt Collingwood RN "The rest of the night was spent completing the scuttling of our boats. Bruce, my dog, is now one of the party." [8]

 

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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