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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A Definitive Account


Preface

The 2nd MTB Flotilla evaded capture, and escaped from Hong Kong, engaging in secret negotiations with Chinese guerrillas before scuttling their boats deep behind enemy lines. They crossed China under the guidance of the legendry one legged Chinese Admiral Chan Chak and aided by allied special forces they crossed into Burma.
They were feted at every city they passed through and at one stage were entertained by the Surgeon-General of the Republic of China for three days.
In Rangoon they fought insurgents and fifth columnists alongside the elite volunteer Force Viper Commando before escaping on the last merchantman out.
Sworn to secrecy most took their secrets to the grave, leaving their diaries and accounts to whom it may concern. It is an epic tale of East meets West with consequences that reverberate around the world and across time.
This is their story, an epic tale told by those who escaped, there no supposition, no fiction. Hong Kong could not be held but had to be defended.

Research compiled by Buddy Hide Jr

The Chinese had been fighting the invading Japanese for since 1937and following the invasion of Hong Kong on 8th December 1941 the IJA pushed the British back to Hong Kong Island where the Japanese established a bridgehead in just ten days. The situation was a huge embarrassment and it was decided at the very highest level that the Chinese delegation in Hong Kong, led by Admiral Chan Chak, must be returned to Free China at all costs. The mission was delegated to the senior service with their flotilla of low profile, high speed motor torpedo boats. On Christmas Day as the Colony surrendered to the overwhelming force of the Imperial Japanese Army the planned escape was put into action. Of the seventy two men who set out and attempted to escape, sixty eight landed on the beach at Nanao in Japanese occupied China the following morning. I grew up with this incredible story, for my father was one of those men . In 1959 I joined my elder brother, David, at the Royal Hospital School where I met other sons of the Christmas Day Hong Kong escape party.
To me and my siblings the green and white Gosport ferry was the 'Star Ferry' and Portsmouth was 'Hong Kong Island'. The MTB base, HMS Hornet, in Gosport just added spice to our fertile minds.
One of those was Pony Moore who was later asked by HRH Prince Philip to regale the escape several times in after dinner stories at the estate in Anglesey where he worked and HRH came for an annual shoot. With my father keeping his copy of the iconic Waichow photo hanging in the family home I was never going to forget this amazing event.
To me and my siblings growing up in Gosport before we emigrated the green and white Gosport to Portsmouth ferry was the 'Star Ferry' and Portsmouth was 'Hong Kong Island'. The MTB base, HMS Hornet, in Gosport just added spice to our fertile minds.

After my father's untimely death, and the first stirrings of a public internet system I decided to see if I could utilize it to bring the iconic Waichow photo to life and trace my father's former Hong Kong colleagues, or their descendants. I published a one page web site back in 1997/8, and, to my amazement I got some response. An early contact was from the son of Admiral Chan Chak. This was the start of a lifelong friendship with the Admiral's twin sons Donald and Duncan.
The Chan family gave me exclusive access to their fathers journals, meticulously written up by Admiral Chan Chak. In 1999 we spent an entire afternoon and evening discussing the escape. Chan Chak had a copy of the iconic 'Waichow Photo' with all the names and under the gaze of a large portrait of Chan Chak we vowed to bring the photo to life and retrace the route to Waichow. This we achieved ten years later in 2009 along with nearly one hundred other descendants. We had also arranged an exhibition entitled 'Escape from Hong Kong the road to Waichow' which was on display at the Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence for over three years, attracting just under 500,000 paying visitors.

Some of my other very early contacts included Alex Kennedy’s widow Joy, David MacDougall’s family, Ted Ross’s son Warwick, and Laurence Kilbee, late O/C MTB 08 who lived local to me here in Sussex. Although Laurence was put ashore by Gandy just as the Chan Chak party turned up, he was a mine of information on the build-up to the MTB departure.
Another very early contact was Tony Banham of hongkongwardiary.com. Even though Tony held a degree in computing he had not thought of utilizing the WWW for his research. It was not long before he followed my example, reaping the benefits of people coming to him as against him chasing them. I was able to supply the MTB information for his first publication “Not the Slightest Chance”.

Over the years I have tracked down and obtained every known first-hand account of this most ordacious of escapes. In 2003 a Professor at the University of Minnesota faxed me a first-hand account held in the archives of Gandy’s party arriving in Guiyang after one of their Lorries had overturned. Yet more came from church archives in New Zealand. I passed on some of those accounts to others who went on to publish their interpretation of the events.
With the many first-hand accounts I have obtained I believe this is the closest that can be achieved after such a long gap from the time of those most extraordinary events on Christmas Day 1941 in Hong Kong.
This is the written words of those who escaped, there is no supposition, and no speculation to pad out the gaps.

Over the years I was fortunate in having Chan Chak’s twin sons take me on guided tours of Hong Kong, visiting the principle sites relating to the escape with their accounts, as told to them by their father. I even visited the Admiral's former office on the 4th floor of the Pedder building. I followed in the footsteps of Chan Chak and the party  coming down the external stairs from his private office to the pavement in Pedder Street to start their escape journey to rendezvous with the MTB’s. We followed the route to the very building where Chan Chak waited in Aberdeen while the Cornflower launch was readied.

When in Hong Kong, I, of course prefer to cross over to Kowloon on board the "Star ferry," rather than the newer road tunnels, or the MTR. There is something about it that reminds me of my innocent youth in Gosport dreaming of Hong Kong.
Lieutenant-Commander Gerard H Gandy RN (Ret) pulled off this most audacious escape right under the noses of the Japanese. Prevailing against all the odds, he marched his ships company three thousand miles overland through the mountains of southern China and Burma to freedom without serious loss or injury.

Several books have been published extolling the virtues of the staff officers from Battle HQ, who volunteered to look after the Admiral, and escort him to the rendezvous with the Motor Torpedo Boats. But were they team players and heroes, or were they just a bunch of self-opinionated "Hooray Henry's" whose only concern was saving themselves!
Read the most comprehensive account ever written at www.hongkongescape.org and judge for yourself just who were the villains, and who were not.

This is the words of those who escaped, you decide.

Lieutenant-Commander Gerard H Gandy RN (Ret) was undoubtedly the hero in pulling off this most audacious escape right under the noses of the Japanese.  Prevailing against all the odds, Gandy escaped and marched his ships company three thousand miles overland through the mountainous terrain of southern China to freedom without serious loss or injury.

Nobody has lived with, and researched this episode in the battle for Hong Kong for as long, or as passionately as I have.

Planning the Admiral's Escape

F W Kendall SOE Returned to Hong Kong after his mining consultancy in southern China was interrupted by the Japanese occupation. Mike, as he was known was recruited by Jim Gaven when he visited the Colony. In July 1941 Mike, along with Eddie Teesdale went on an STS101 course in Singapore. On their return to Hong Kong they recruited ten operatives to join the newly formed Reconnaissance Unit. In August 1941 Christopher Hudson was appointed as the first head of the SOE Far East branch in London. [67]

Maj-Gen S. Woodburn Kirby (Author) "The Far Eastern situation was examined in 1921 by the Committee of Imperial Defence which came to the conclusion that there was no possibility of making Hong Kong sufficiently secure against attack. Thus it could no longer be considered an adequate base for British naval forces in the Far East." [96]

The Admiralty telegram declaring war arrived at 05.12 local time on the 8th December 1941. Just under three hours later the first air raid from Canton was bombing Kai Tak airport destroying the old RAF fleet along with the Pan Am Clipper preparing for take-off from Kowloon Bay.
All shipping had been cleared by 02.00 with 39 scuttled, 13 seized, 1 sunk by air attack, and 3 captured at sea, with 6 unknown.
An estimated 15,000 Sampans and Junks had collected in Yaumati Typhoon Anchorage between Stonecutters Island and the Mainland. With River Steamers scuttled across the entrance and the outer approaches mined.

All but one of the SOE were behind enemy lines when the Japanese invaded. They reported tp Colonel L A Nenham, GOC1 at Battle HK, later executed while POW. [11]
After just twelve days of hostilities the Japanese were swarming over Hong Kong Island. It was decicided at the highest level in government that the Chinese Military Council in Hong Kong, led by Admiral Chan Chak, must be returned to Free China at all costs. The 2nd MTB Flotilla was immediately stood down from front line duties in preparation for this most ordacious of tasks, to escape right under the noses of the IJA on Christmas Day 1941.

F W Kendall SOE "About a week before Hong Kong fell I was asked to prepare an escape route. We had five MTB’s there, all fully equipped and what not and the night of the surrender we took off these, I was the leader of that group which had got these MTB’s with about seventy odd people on board. Key personnel from Government and key military personnel, people who could tell the story of Hong Kong outside." [67]

Staffies in the Battle-Box HQ soon got wind of the navy's intended mission, prompting a few to start scheming how to tag along.

Maj Goring BHQ "One night I found myself alone with the General [Maltby]. I told him that, In the event of surrender, I intended to attempt an escape. How do you propose to do it?" he asked. Take a sampan and sail away I suppose. I replied.
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 [Mike Kendall] there might be room for me; and, since I knew Admiral Chan Chak personally, I might be given the task of escorting him to the rendezvous when the moment came." [17]

The General and his commanding officers told the staffies who requested to flee the Colony that they could go when the end came, not before. They would have to make their own arrangements if they wished to join the official escape party.
Those who knew Mike Kendall cotacted him to make arrangements to join the escape party, others apparently just tagged along.

George Wright-Nooth (Author) "It was about this time that I had an offer to join an escape bid to get out of Hong Kong at the eleventh hour, which we could all see was fast approaching. It was Robinson, the fellow policeman whom I had got to know quite well, who offered me a passage on one of the boats." [42]

George Wright-Nooth failed to join the escape party in the end.

Sq-Ldr Max Oxford RAF "One of the queer organizations we had for operating behind the enemy lines was led by a Canadian adventurer [Kendall] I had known for some time and he asked me if I would care to join him in a break for freedom when the end came." [85]

Capt Freddie Guest BHQ "Captain Peter Macmillan, a staff officer like myself, and I decided to to take our chance and contact the Chinese Admiral, Chan Chak, with the object of trying to make an escape.
After some difficulty we managed to find him with his ADC Henry Hsu and told them that although we had no set plans we were prepared to try to escape with them to the Chinese mainland."
[29]

Ted Ross MoI "We contacted some daring Chinese junkmen and made tentative plans to have them smuggle us out at a thousand dollars a head. This plan failed because we couldn't leave until after the surrender. The junks couldn't hang around waiting indefinitely as the Jap's were capturing one place after another along the coastline, and we could give them no indication when or where we'd be when the white flag went up." [28]

Philip Snow (Author) "In Hong Kong itself a close link was developed with Chan Chak, a Nationalist Admiral raised in the Colony who hobbles onto the stage like a Chinese Long John Silver with a wooden leg and prominent, pugnacious jaw.
Shortly after Canton fell in 1938 this picturesque figure had been sent to Hong Kong by Chiang-Kai-Shek to take charge of the Nationalist underground there."
[71]

Oliver Lindsay (Author) "The Admiral was a flamboyant and ruthless character. He had lost a leg in a naval action against the Japanese on the Yangtze River. The mission’s second-in-command, Major-General S K Yee, represented the Chinese Secret Service. During the fighting for Hong Kong both these officers assisted the British with counter-espionage measures and in the liquidation of Chinese fifth-columnists." [80]

Adm Chan Chak CN Had earned a fearsome reputaion defending Sun Yat Sen, the Father of the Nation and was known locally as the Nelson of the East. He had enjoyed a guided tour of his hero's flag-ship, HMS Victory during an official visit to England in 1933. From then on he made it his business to be close to the British in Hong Kong. [90]

Colin McEwan S.O.E. "They were the Nationalist government's representatives in HK trying to establish contact with the guerrillas in the HK border area, whom we would supply with arms in turn for their interfering in the Japanese lines of communication." [11]

Thirty seven old David MacDougall was on his second posting to Hong Kong with the Colonial Service, having first arrived in 1928 as a cadet after graduating with an M. A, from St Andrews University in Scotland. When hostilities erupted in Europe he returned to Hong Kong as Secretary to the Far Eastern Bureau of the Ministry of Information (MoI). Mac was answerable to John Galvin, Deputy Head of the Far Eastern Bureau of the Ministry of Information, based in Chungking. [26]
Mac had offices on the 1st floor of the Hong Kong Bank building. Along with many others he was forced to evacuate to the Gloucester Hotel in Des Voeux Road on the corner with Pedder Street.

Chan Chak had been wounded while defending Canton from the Japanese in 1939 and came to Hong Kong for medical treatment resulting in the amputation of his left leg. He soon recovered and worked on his fitness and was appointed the head of the Chinese Military Mission in Hong Kong. Operating under cover as a stock-broker, trading as Wah Kee & Company with offices registered in Shell House, formerly the APC building at 24-32 Queen's Road Central. His mission consisted of 37 year old Colonel S. K. Yee known as S.K posing as an insurance salesman from Shanghai who spoke perfect English without an accent. Twenty nine year old Flag Lt-Commander Heng Hsu CN, ADC to Chan and known as Henry, along with 45 year old Coxswain Yeung Chuen his bodyguard and martial arts expert.
The wily Admiral controlled a network of informers, spies, as well as pirate-come-smugglers from the Dapeng Peninsula on the far side of Mirs Bay. They operated in and around Hong Kong waters and the Pearl Delta. Western commodities especially petrol were highly sought after in what was predominantly a chaotic and lawless part of China.
When the Japanese invaded Chan secured a residence on the 4th floor of the Pedder Building, close to the Gloucester Hotel. Under British Colonial law, no natives of the empire could overnight in a European hotel, only visiting by invitation was permitted.
A keen sportsman Chan was not deterred by his disability. He enjoyed prolonged swimming sessions in the numerous bays around Hong Kong, as well as regular knockabouts on the tennis court with David MacDougall amongst others.

Kendall the leader of "S.O.E." only had two of his team in Hong Kong when the Japanese invaded, Colin McEwan as his 'runner' and John Talan his undercover man in HK. The remainder were trapped behind enemy lines. [11] Their tasks were many and varied.

Colin McEwan SOE "Frances Woodley Kendall, Mike, as he was generally known, came from Vancouver although he had lived in Hong Kong for several years. He was originally a mining engineer with a knowledge of explosives. His wife was Chinese and he was also a Cantonese speaker with some knowledge of other dialects.
Kendall, who was not a member of the Volunteers, was in Hong Kong officially to advise on refugee camps and that was said to have been his 'cover'. As officer commanding S.O.E., Kendall reported directly to Colonel Newnham (Chief of Staff and GOC1) at military headquarters." [11]

Kendall and his team engaged in the art of "ungentlemanly warfare" and were known as the 'Recce Unit'.

With the planes now destroyed the Governor and C-in-C of Hong Kong, Sir Marc Young was going through the options to facilitate extracting the Chinese Military Council headed by Admiral Chan Chak out of Hong Kong and safely back to Free China in order for Britain to save face with the Nationalist Chinese Government.

When Christmas Day dawned none had any idea of the events that lay ahead. These events would be etched in their minds for the rest of their natural lives. With all Royal Navy ships scuttled except for the 2nd MTB Flotilla and its support vessels, the Royal Navy was now fighting on the front line alongside the military as infantrymen in the trenches.

Lt-Cdr G H Gandy RN (Rtrd) leading the flotilla accross China ©As the Imperial Japanese Army overwhelmed the defending forces, it was the Senior Service that was called upon to extract the Chinese Military Mission led by Admiral Chan Chak from Hong Kong. The 2nd MTB Flotilla accomplished this most dramatic saga on Christmas Day 1941 following the fiasco in Aberdeen Channel. They endured murderous machine gun fire in broad daylight tearing their flimsy craft apart, followed by non-stop bursts as they swam for their very lives towards the nearest isle.

Fifty four year old Cmdr Hugh Montague RN (Ret) also escaped with a crew of two officers and four ratings after salvaging the yellow funneled Dockyard diesel launch C.410 in Aberdeen Channel, and joined up with the MTB's in Mirs Bay the following day.

PO Buddy Hide & guerrilla leader Leung Wingyuan 
  Photo from the Ross family collection ©Following secret negotiation with a Chinese gang ruffians who survived on the proceeds of piracy & smuggling, they landed deep behind enemy lines on the Dapeng Peninsula in Mirs Bay.
Carrying fifty-sixty pound packs over mountainous terrain and fording rivers they endured four days and nights of forced marching, passing through the Japanese lines, all the time being guided by the Chinese Guerrillas. They finally reached the relative safety of the bombed out city of Waichow now Huizhou in Free China, being subjected to yet another air raid. Some had bullet wounds, others injuries picked up during the march, with more suffering severe illness. Some had footwear that fitted, some not.

It was the beginning of a nineteen thousand seven hundred mile odyssey, with 3000 miles of hostile mountainous terrain across southern China and Burma by foot, river, truck, and train, all the time being targeted by Japanese bombers. They encountered the harsh Chinese winter, sometimes sleeping rough out in the open, in cleared out floating brothels, and even places with bubonic plague.
Finally they reached their goal, Rangoon in Burma. They had triumphed over adversity only to be confronted with the Japanese invading forces in that place and were forced to escape all over again, sailing out right through the inbound Japanese armada.
Of the sixty eight men who landed at NanAo deep behind enemy lines on the Dapeng Peninsula in Mirs Bay, sixty four survived the war to witness peace again, some were back to witness the Japanese surrender in Hong Kong in 1945. Others went on to hold high office as Law makers, Governors, Mayors, and an Olympic Committee Member. One went on to be hailed as arguably the most famous Coastal Forces Commanding Officer of WW II.

The flotilla & escape party were honored with twenty one awards for their exploits in Hong Kong and subsequent escape
1 K.B.E. 1 C.B.E. 1 M.B.E. 2 O.B.E.s 2 D.S.C.s 14 M.i.Ds. 1 KGC.

7th Dec 1941 (Sun)

Eddie Brazel HKRNVR "All the land volunteers received their mobilisation orders, which were to be completed by 10.00 hrs the following day." [46]

8th Dec 1941 (Mon)

Ships Log (MTB 07) "07.30 Monoplane, 10,000 feet; course 180o, Overhead." [5]

Chan had been woken in the early hours and informed of the Japanese invasion of Malaya, followed two hours later with the attack on Pearl Harbour. He in turn roused his staff and made an early start, catching the Star ferry to the Island city of Victoria. During the crossing the Imperial Japanese Air force (IJA) attacked Kai Tak airport in neutral Hong Kong. The local time was 08.00 hours and Chan and his party had a clear view of the Twelve Tachikawa Ki-36 "Ida" Army bombers of the 45th Sentai based at Canton escorted by nine Ki-27 "Nate" fighters attack on Kai Tak airport, Kowloon. The Idas bomb from low level, while the Nates strafe. They destroyed all the planes at Kai Tak airdrome including the Pan Am Hong Kong Clipper preparing to take off from Kowloon Bay. The Japanese simultaneously invaded the New Territories with an overwhelming ground force outnumbering the allied troops 4-1.

A PanAm Sikorsky S-42 similar to the Hong Kong Clipper

A Pan Am Sikorsky S-42 similar to the Hong Kong Clipper destroyed by bombing as it prepared to take off from Kowloon Bay

Gordon E Torrey "I finally got a passage booked on a vessel called "Kung Sang" sailing from Hong Kong 8th Dec 1941. As we cleared Hong Kong harbour early that morning the Japanese started bombing."

Ships Log (MTB 07) "08.00 AIR-RAID. Slipped, proceeded towards Green Island." [5]

The only remaining navy presence were the eight boats of the 2nd MTB Flotilla, along with an old mine laying destroyer and a few river gun boats.

Eddie Brazel HKRNVR : "All un-mobilised Naval volunteers received their mobilisation orders during the morning." [46]

Eric Cox Walker HKRNVR: "We soon realised it was the real thing, and the HKRNVR ships were in action right away. Later that morning they were all shifted round to Aberdeen where they were moored single line ahead and presented such a target that of course we had two raids the following day with one or two near misses.  After that all ships were transferred to Deep Water Bay with the “Cornflower” as H.Q." [56]

Sq-Ldr Max Oxford RAF "During 17 days of fighting we had no air support, but Gen Chiang Kai-Shek kindly offered to send a Chinese Air Force to help us, and we were very happy to see them." [85]

Gen Chiang Kai-Shek sent planes from the China National Aviation Company (CNAC), to evacuate Chinese VIP's including Madam Sun Yat-Sen with her sister Soong Ai-ling and her husband, the KMT Finance Minister H.H. Kung. They were escorted to Kai Tak by Two-gun Cohen. The eight American pilots flew a total of sixteen sorties evacuating 275 persons under cover of darkness to Chungking between the 8th and 10th December.
General Zheng, a staff officer from Chungking, along with Lieutenant-Colonel Harry Owen-Hughes made the last flight out. Owen-Hughes took on the role of liaison officer to the Chinese military in Chungking. The pilot's were Charles L. Sharp, Hugh L. Woods, Harold A. Sweet, William McDonald, Frank L. Higgs, Robert S. Angle, P.W. Kessler and S.E. Scott. [95]

9th Dec 1941 (Tues)

Lt Kilbee HKRNVR (MTB 08) "No enemy aircraft flew at night!" [16]

10th Dec 1941 (Wed)

Ted Ross MoI "On the third day we moved from our offices in the Hong Kong Bank building over to our distribution office in the Gloucester Hotel. Our office there was on the third floor, with another five floors overhead, so we were reasonably safe. It was also convenient as it was a converted hotel room with bathroom and bedding. The last two weeks we worked and slept in the office.
We had three heavy shells in the Gloucester, one right on our third floor. It was a big baby, looked about nine point two, but fortunately for us it didn't explode."
[28]

11th Dec 1941 (Thurs)

Lt Kilbee HKRNVR (MTB 08) "A day of non-stop activity for all Naval craft, with APV's involved in battle with junks thought to be carrying Japanese troops.
I had the job in MTB 08 of picking up Commodore Collinson and his Flag Lieut Cecil Gray, and taking them to Kowloon Bay, where as duty MTB I ferried them between HM Ships Thracian, Indira, and Tern. The bay was a fantastic site, full of every conceivable craft"
[16]

12th Dec 1941(Fri)

Ted Ross MoI "All troops were evacuated from the Kowloon side by the morning of the twelfth, except for a small group of Indians holding out at Devil's Peak.
All motor cars were commandeered by the Government for use by essential service workers only. Gangs were sent around the streets to pick up all cars and drive them to car dumps, the main reason being to clear the streets for essential traffic, and secondly so that those authorised to drive could go to the dump and pick up a car. In effect, as cars were damaged by shell fire or collision, got flat tyres or run-down batteries, they were simply left for wrecking crews to pick up, and the drivers went to the dump for another one."
[28]

Similarly all marine vessels requisitioned for use by the navy and military.

Ted Ross MoI "I picked myself a peach of a big new Buick Special. Glass and debris littered all the main streets, but none were completely blocked.
We used it for everything; dashing up to headquarters three times a day for communiqués, distributing leaflets and pamphlets, picking up gasoline, oil, and food supplies.
I drove it right through the siege, through streets littered with debris, broken glass and hanging trolley wires, and never even got a puncture."
[28]

Chan Chak decided the only way to control the Triads on the island was to raise money to out-pay the Japanese. He then appointed Triad leaders to each quarter of the island. [7]

There was no mass carnage on the scale of Kowloon recorded on the island.
Mike Kendall and his team started their ant fifth-Columnist patrols on this night and were instrumental in eliminating Japanese sympathisers. [11]

(Philip Snow (Author) "Over the following days the Nationalist Vigilantes captured a total of 500 to 600 Wang Jingwei partisans. [6]
At least 400 of these subversives were liquidated by Chan's Loyal and righteous themselves. Others were despatched with a shot in the back of the neck by the British police in a cul-de-sac running between the Gloucester Hotel and Lane Crawford's department store in Dez Voeux Road which became known as Blood Alley.
The one legged Admiral assumed energetic overall charge of the counter-insurgency. One evening he personally hurled a hand grenade to eliminate a fifth columnist who was flashing a signal light." [71]

Colin McEwan S.O.E. "At last 10 o'clock came and with the feelings very confused we had the jail opened and our prisoners handed over. I had expected to feel some sympathy for them but instead felt only a slow anger and a feeling that they were not human beings in the real sense of the word. Coming out into the street was dark as hell and all we could feel was the presence of the Punjab guard, the rasp of their boots, and the occasional whimper of one of the prisoners who was taking it pretty badly.
In Queen's Road they were soon lined up and shot, though one of them, who all along had preserved a dead silence, made a break for it and was cornered in an alley after a chase. Duly placarded they were left and home we went again via the Punjab H. Q. where some marvelous crusty bread, cheese, and whisky proved exactly what the doctor ordered.
On the way home we were all pretty quiet — I personally had a mindful of thoughts — the changes we had seen — the difference in our lives — different attitudes to life and its value — change in occupation"
[11]

13th Dec 1941 (Sat)

Lt- Cdr Gandy RN (Ret) (MTB 10)"05.00 XDO withdrew MTB's 07, 09, 11, & 12 from Potoi & Hamiwan and sent them to the northwest of Lyemun to 5/7th Rajputs during the battle for Hong Kong 
    Photo from Tim Carew Fall of Hong Kong ©evacuate troops from the rough pier in bay west of Devils Peak. MTB 11 investigated pier and ran aground on rock in bay when turning away from pier, damaging propellers. MTB's 07 & 09 remained near pier after daylight until soldiers appeared, and with unexpected lack of opposition evacuated 260 Rajputs from North Lyemun to Thracian. The following message was received from the Commodore
(Begins) Well done excellent work in early hours today Saturday V2 for MTB's concerned. (Ends)
All MTB's with the exception of 07 & 12 (the option being left to Commanding Officers) were changed from light grey to camouflage colours, grey, brown, green, yellow."
[15]

Lt Kilbee HKRNVR (MTB 08) "Evacuation of troops in the Kowloon Bay area continued during the night. MTB 11 damaged but able to return to base." [16]

Ships Log (MTB 07) "Evacuating troops from Lyemun, putting them on Thracian. Took 11 in tow, tow parted." [5]

Tim Carew (Author) "At 9 a.m, while the last Rajputs were still in transit, a launch bearing a white flag of truce put off from Kowloon pier. On board the launch were four of Sakai's staff officers bearing a letter addressed to the Governor. The letter demanded the immediate surrender of the Colony and threatened severe and indiscriminate artillery fire and aerial bombardment in the event of refusal. The demand was tantamount to unconditional surrender and was rejected with a curt 'No' from Sir Mark Young." [86]

14th Dec 1941 (Sun)

Air raids over Aberdeen Harbour all day.

15th Dec 1941 (Mon)

Kendall, McEwan, and Talan set out to successfully place underwater limpet mines on a ship occupied by a Japanese observation party off North Point.

Colin McEwan S.O.E. "Here was our chance to try out our 'toys' and by some curious twist this problem was the very one set me during our training course." [11]

16th December 1941 (Tues)

Ships Log (MTB 07) "Several serious raids during day on dockyard. (27 planes at a time) '08' burnt out." [5]

Lt Kilbee HKRNVR (MTB 08) "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]

17th December 1941(Wed)

Lt Kilbee HKRNVR " I took over the duties of Base MTB officer before I went to MTB 10 as 1st Lieut." [16]

Tim Carew (Author) "Chug-Chugging across the harbour was a small launch bearing on its bow a large white banner on which was emblazoned 'PEACE MISSION'.
Three Japanese tripped delicately from the launch Colonel Tada, slender and unsmiling, carrying a large samurai sword; Lieutenant Mizuno, squat and bespectacled, self-consciously carrying a white flag; Mr Othsu, comfortably built and soberly clad in dark civilian clothes, carrying a briefcase. They were all short men and their arrival was, at first sight, irresistibly comic.
With a brisk exchange of salutes, Major Charles Boxer met the Japanese delegation on the quay-side. Steel-helmeted British soldiers stood with fixed bayonets, while a curious and apprehensive Chinese crowd watched the proceedings in open-mouthed amazement." [86]

Major Charles Boxer, the senior inelegance officer was fluent in Japanese and listened intently to anything said between the Japanese. He then proceeded to Government House to deliver the written demands of the Japanese. He returned to the quay-side delegation within the hour bearing a written reply from the Governor and C-in-C Sir Mark Young.

Sir Mark Young Governor HK "The Governor and Commander-in-Chief, Hong Kong, declines most absolutely to enter into any negotiations for the surrender of Hong Kong and he takes this opportunity of saying that he is not prepared to receive any further communication on the subject." [86]

18th December 1941(Thurs)

At a high level meeting in the Battle HQ Kendall was ordered to organise small arms supply to guerrilla forces north of Hong Kong using the RASC Motor Launch "French".

Colin McEwan S.O.E. "Lt Colls showed us over the 'French' [67] a snappy little cruiser on the lines of an MTB —fast and fairly quiet." [11]

Lt Kilbee HKRNVR (MTB 08) "I was ordered to take over ML French (R.A.S.C) and embark Cdr. Peers, C. O. of Thracian and salvage party, and take them to Thracian. I did two such trips." [16]

19th December 1941 (Fri)

Be Just and Fear Naught

HERO Crest, Beware the Sting in the Tail.  
	Click here to read The Balaclava of the Sea.

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. Lt Ronnie Ashby whose motto was "Be Just and Fear Naught" led the flotilla in MTB 07 with Jix Prest & Buddy Hide at the controls, pressing home the attack under withering fire from land, sea and air, suffering heavy losses in the process. Only three MTB's survived to limp back to base in Aberdeen. Lt Kennedy on MTB "09" towed the stricken "07" back to base.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 worldwide. They were hailed "The bravest of the brave."

Lt Kilbee HKRNVR (MTB 08) "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.
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]

Lt Kennedy RNVR (MTB 09) "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]

The proposed small arms supply to the Chinese Guerrillas was abandoned after the Imperial Government in London instructed that the Chinese military mission headed by Admiral Chan Chack must be extracted to safety in Free China before the Colony was overwhelmed by the IJA, at all costs.

Cdr Montague RN (Ret) SNO Aberdeen "The Commodore also ordered by signal that all ships except Cicala and effective M.T.Bs were to be scuttled. Cornflower and all A.P.Vs Redstart and Ebonol were scuttled in Deepwater Bay." [1]

Eric Cox Waker HKRNVR: "I was on board HMS Cornflower, we received orders to scuttle all ships, so having done that we proceeded to Aberdeen Industrial School, where the HKRNVR were formed into a regular guard of the H.Q." [56]

20th December 1941(Sat)

Lt-Cdr Gandy RN (Ret) (MTB 10) "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 endeavour 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)

MTB 07 Chippy repairing battle damage Upon hearing of the intended MTB breakout, the C-in-C proposed to utilize the MTB's to solve his diplomatic quandary. The 2nd MTB flotilla was to be put at the disposal of the Chinese Admiral. This was an unprecedented act within the anuls of the Royal Navy, raising a few eyebrows.

Lt-Cdr Gandy RN (Ret) "Mr F.W.K. and his assistants joined the flotilla with bombs and Bren guns. In the afternoon the S.N.O. A (Cmdr Montague RN (Ret) 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]

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 suffering as a consequence.

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

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. Benny Proulx could see the Japanese holding prisoners, including navy ratings, when he and a colleague shot the officer and two of his men before the remainder disappeared into the bushes. Warrant Officer Bill Wright escaped.

Ships Log (MTB 07) "Instant notice." [5]

Lt Kennedy RNVR (MTB 09) "MTB's are to remain at immediate notice for sea." [9]

Lt Kilbee HKRNVR (late MTB 08) "From then on I was relieved of my duties as Base MTB officer, and took over as 1st officer of MTB 10." [16]

Sub-Lt Bush HKRNVR (late MTB 08) "This meant a trip to the city with a Petty Officer. We had to make a department store open up at gunpoint. After filling up a couple of sacks with torches, batteries, and other stores, I gave a receipt" [91]

Lt Ron Ashby and crew on 07.  
    Photo from the Hide collection ©The SOE had been using the RASC War Department "ML French" [67] which was similar to the MTB's [11] commanded by Lt Kilbee HKRNVR [16] late of MTB 08. Lt. R. Goodwin NZRNVR 1st Officer of MTB 10 was wounded and taken to hospital with other casualties during the rescue of crew when HMS Cicala was bombed. The flotilla was put on standby to sail at instant notice to get the Chinese liaison party out of Hong Kong before the surrender.[11]

Lt Kennedy RNVR (MTB 09) "The MTB plans were still uncertain when three members of the Hong Kong Volunteers - Mike, John, and Mac joined us. They had been doing special work during the fighting, sabotage or intelligence, we never knew quite what, as they could all talk fluent Cantonese and had an intimate knowledge of the surrounding country." [9]

Sq-Ldr Max Oxford RAF "One of the queer organisations we had for operating behind the enemy line was led by a Canadian adventurer I had known for some time and he asked me if I would care to join him in a break for freedom when the end came. The plan was to take our two most prominent Chinese intelligence people and join the Motor Torpedo Boats which were to be ordered to run for it when the moment came but not a minute before as they were doing very useful work." [31]

Four Staff officers, Maj Goring GOC3, Squadron-Leader Oxford, Capt Guest, and Captain Macmillan had approached the GOC and requested to flee the Colony prior to surrender, they were granted permission.

Churchill, who had already stated that Hong Kong had "Not the Slightest Chance" was telling the Governor on a daily basis, for the greater good of the Empire, not to surrender.

Winston Churchill (PM) "The enemy should be compelled to expend the utmost life and equipment. Every day that you are able to maintain your resistance you and your men can win the lasting honour which we are sure will be your due." [94]

Winston Churchill (Post War) After the war "These orders were obeyed in spirit and to the letter, the Colony had fought a good fight. They had won indeed the lasting honour." [94]

That evening the SOE agents gave the flotilla crews a talk on survival tactics behind enemy lines in mainland China.

Lt Kennedy RNVR (MTB 09) "Each man prepared a pack of essential clothing such as rubber shoes, spare socks, dark sweaters and so on. Tinned provisions were divided into small sacks suitable for carrying individually, and ammunition for the Bren guns was distributed in the same way. Revolvers were issued onboard and rifles drawn from the armoury ashore." [9]

Lt Ron Ashby HKRNVR MTB 07) "They were interested in getting China’s No. 2, Admiral Chan Chak, some of his staff and some higher British officers away from the Island, and decided to combine the two parties. Three or four days before the end we were under official orders to get away at the last moment at all costs after picking up the official party." [5]

Colin McEwan SOE (MTB 11) "We were soon appointed to our various boats — evidently our original party was growing — and I found myself aboard 11 with Collingwood and Legge while Tai (John Talan) landed on '07' with [Lieutenant R.R.W (Ronnie) Ashby HKRNVR and Sub-Lieutenant Arthur Gee.
For some measure of safety the boats were 'spread' at the harbour approaches and when, in the evening after dusk they congregated we found ourselves in the midst of old friends, Parsons, Kennedy and Brewer. Constant interruption of shelling and bombing, and here at last my first impressions of the Navy acquired during our first visit to the Aberdeen H. Q. were completely dispelled. Here was the best morale I had seen, and that too among men who had, in their frailest of craft, no protection against shells or bombs, except wits, courage— and Lewis guns for any low flying craft.
Moored as they were, all one could do was duck and hope —yet the atmosphere was most cheerful, and the relationship between officers and men most pleasant. I made my first acquaintance with those heavenly twins 'Navy Rum and Navy Tobacco whose praises should be sung in verse and not in mere prose.
The news came that the whole flotilla — or rather what was left of it, was coming on our expedition and the same evening the crews were given an idea of what was afoot, and advice on 'kit requirements'. There they were, 'all sailors' many of whom we found later had done practically no walking, looking forward with equanimity to the prospect of becoming guerillas.
Packing of kit required a fair amount of tact, since each man took a deal of persuading that a load of 50 lbs. would weigh heavily even on a stalwart pair of shoulders after a few miles. Still the packing was done and the most difficult part of the business now was in trying to cool their ardour and make them see that, quite probably, they would not move off the next minute."
[11]

22nd December 1941 (Mon)

Lt-Cdr Gandy RN (Ret) (MTB 10) "Other MTB's this day prepared stores and arms for possible escape. The chief European guerilla leader Mr F.W.K. remained onboard MTB 10." [15]

Lt Kennedy RNVR (MTB 09) "Whatever happened, rapid preparations had to be made to operate on land in the near future, and each man prepared a pack of essential clothing such as rubber shoes, spare socks, dark sweaters and so on. Tinned provisions were divided into small sacks suitable for carrying individually, and ammunition for the Bren guns was distributed in the same way. Revolvers were issued on board and rifles drawn from the armoury ashore." [9]

Lt Kilbee HKRNVR (MTB 10) "I lost touch with my crew (MTB 08) as I could not get ashore to get to the Base at Aberdeen." [16]

Lt Kennedy RNVR "The MTB plans were still uncertain when three members of the Hong Kong Volunteers - Mike, John and Mac - joined us. They had been doing 'special' work during the fighting, sabotage or intelligence, we never knew quite what, as they could all talk fluent Cantonese and had an intimate knowledge of the surrounding country. " [9]

Eddie Brazel HKRNVR (C.410) "The dockyard defence group were calling for engineers and sea-going men to run several launches for them, and another fellew from the office, (Lt Pethick RNR), who was a master mariner promptly volunteered, as luck would have it I was appointed 2nd engineer to a very nice little launch which was equipped with a 'National' diesel and as Jardines are the agents for them I knew a little but not a great deal about it." [46]

Lt Kennedy RNVR "Lieutenant Pethick, who was doing noble work in charge of the dockyard, owned a small a small, flat-bottomed dinghy, driven by a noisy outboard motor, in which he darted about the harbour. This outfit was affectionately known as the 'Flying Bedpan'! During one particular raid he was caught in the middle of the channel and apparently enveloped by a rain of bombs. To the anxious onlookes all seemed to be over, when out through the curtain of spray dashed the 'Bedpan', but with no sign of Pethick. He was there, however, his whole length miraculously coiled down in the sternsheets, lying soaked to the skin and expressing his views on the Japanese in the crudest terms." [9]

Lt Douglas Pethick RNR was appointed Master of the 150 ton diesel powered berthing-tug Polly, known as C.410. with Eddie Brazel as Engineer. Duggy Pethick had been doing stirling work in keeping order within the harbour during constant air raids.

Sub-Lt David Legge "Our greatest worry during the last week was the fact that since the dockyard had become untenable we had no base in which to anchor during the daytime, during which we were supposed to be resting as we were on patrol all night every night. We therefore had to anchor all over the place, behind little islands and in little coves, changing our position several times a day to avoid being spotted by enemy planes.
I imagine that there was hardly an hour during those last few weeks when there was not an enemy plane in the sky somewhere. That meant that we had to keep a constant lookout and the guns manned nearly all the time. We got precious little peace or rest as we were three hours on, three hours off on watch."
[18]

The MTB's were stood down from front-line duty and put on immediate 24/7 notice with Mr F.W.K. (Mike Kendall of the SOE) and his team embedded within the flotilla and begin preparing for this most daring operation.
As news of the intended breakout got round, certain HQ staff officers conspired to flee the colony and hope to join the MTB's in their breakout.

Sub-Lt David Legge (MTB 11) "They were interested in getting China’s No. 2, Admiral Chan Chak and some of his staff along with some higher British officers away from the Island, and decided to combine the two parties. Three or four days before the end we were under official orders to get away at the last moment at all costs after picking up the official party. Were we selfishly pleased! It was a chance. It was obvious that the island could not hold out very much longer." [18]

The RN Division defending the Repuse Bay Hotel, consiting mostly of Warrant Officers from the Chung Hom Kok (Chung Am Kok) Mine Control station, proceeded via a drain to Stanley where, after sunset, they took a launch to Aberdeen.

Lt Kennedy RNVR "As darkness fell excitement ran high when the signal 'MTB's to remain at immediate notice for sea' was receaved." [9]

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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