Escape from Hong Kong - The Final Hours



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The 2nd MTB Flotilla in the Battle for Hong Kong 1941

By Lt Laurence Dudley Kilbee HKRNVR O/C MTB 08

L D Kilbee 1915 - 2006

Laurence along with Ron Ashby joined the Hong Kong Naval Volunteer Force in November 1937. The HKNVF later mobilized as the HKRNVR when the United Kingdom declared war on Germany in 1939.

I had the pleasure of knowing Laurence and he gave me an insight to life with the 2nd MTB Flotilla. Sadly he passed away in January 2006.

December 8th to 25th 1941 by Lt. Laurence Dudley Kilbee [Late of MTB 27, 08. ML French & MTB 10]

The allied military objective was to deny Kowloon harbour to the Japanese and stop Japanese troops deploying to other theatre's of war in the Far East.

Extracts from the diary by Lt L.D.Kilbee HKRNVR late O/ C MTB 08 & ML French and 1st Officer MTB 10 written during his early days in a Japanese P.O.W camp when events during the battle were still fresh in his mind.

With the outbreak of hostilities on the 8th of December, as the Japanese crossed the border and bombed Kai Tak the Flotilla moved lock stock and barrel to Aberdeen. The operation was completed without mishap, and by sundown all boats were fueled and ready to take up their designated night time positions as a striking force.

8th, 9th, and 10th of December: There was much enemy aircraft activity during daylight in which the Flotilla was involved in one way or another, but unless doing a specific job the boats kept as inconspicuous as possible. HMS Cicala took the brunt of enemy air attacks in the Castle Peak and Cap Shui Mun area. No enemy aircraft appeared at night.

10th December: MTB 08 with MTB 10 went on night patrol off Po Toi, and ordered to investigate suspicious vessel near the Lemmas (N.E. Head). After steaming for half an hour, observed searchlight to the South, made preparations for attacking when signal received to return to patrol off Po Toi. Disappointing outcome made worse by news of sinking of Repulse and Prince of Wales off Singapore.

11th December: A day of non-stop activity for all Naval craft, with APV's involved in battle with junks thought to be carrying Japanese troops. All available vessels, including MTB's ordered to Kowloon Bay to evacuate our troops from the mainland. 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 H. M. Ships Thracian, Indera, and Tern. The bay was a fantastic site, full of every conceivable craft. By the time it was getting dark I took the Commodore back to F.M.O. steps to await further orders. At 1900 hours the Flag Lieut arrived with orders for me to proceed to Stonecutters Island and embark wounded. The Island had been under shellfire for the past 24 hours. I took onboard three stretcher cases, and a number of walking wounded and brought them back to the dockyard. At 2100 hours ordered to sink Tamar, which had been moved to a buoy in the harbour. It was a very dark night with no lights anywhere, so a hazardous operation to fire torpedoes. Apart from trying to avoid junks without lights, and harbour buoys I was fired on from Hong Kong side. I fired one torpedo without success, and on arriving back was met by Cdr Craven, S.O.O who had been trying desperately to contact MTB. 08 to cancel the operation. It had been decided to put charges onboard to sink HMS Tamar


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 expend all ammunition shooting up everything in sight. Unbeknown to the flotilla, the Japanese had already established a beach head on the Island west of the Sugar Refinery at North Point.
Guns to the left, guns to the right, guns in front and cannon from above, on they sped into the fiery jaws of the oriental dragon itself. This was the maritime equivalent of the charge of the light brigade in the Crimea.
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 Coastal Forces world wide. They were hailed "The bravest of the brave."

12th December: Evacuation of troops in the Kowloon Bay area continued during the night. MTB 11 damaged but able to return to base. Next day December 13th destroyed C.B's, then proceeded to Kowloon Bay to contact 4 A.V.P's overdue. Passed through Sulphur Channel, found 2 AVP's and told them to return to Deep Water Bay. Went through harbour at 30 knots keeping well to Hong Kong side. Fired on from Holts Wharf, no casualties On reaching Lye Mun, spotted 2 remaining A.P.V's and told them to return to Deep Water Bay via Tathong Channel, depressing site, many sunken vessels. One engine breakdown off Collinson, so returned to Aberdeen on 2 engines. Later in the day proceeded to Green Island (engine repaired) to evacuate lighthouse personal. Damaged propeller on uncharted rock. Mount Davis under heavy shell fire. Just before sunset Japanese plane dropped a stick of bombs which landed in dock area. No boats damaged, but one bomb set oil drums alight on dockside, which started fires fanned by strong wind. Worked MTB 08 out of the dock with the aid of AVP Perla, and was towed out to mid stream.

14th December: Remained all day in Aberdeen waiting to go on slip (MTB 11 not ready to come off until next day) December 15th, bad news. Thracian ran aground during the night off N.E. corner of Lamma and had to go into dock, MTB 11 still on slip.

16th December: 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.

17th & 18th December: I took over the duties of Base MTB officer. During my time in this job, before I went to MTB 10 as 1st Lieut, 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.

19th December: During the night and early hours enemy troops began landing in the North Point area. MTB's ordered to attack enemy landing craft. MTB's 07, and 09 led the attack, sinking one landing craft, and inflicting heavy casualties on a number of other enemy craft. 07 was hit twice in the engine room, killing a stoker, and the telegrapher who took his place. Both boats returned to base. 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 H.K.R.N.V.R., and the 1st Lieut, Sub Lt G. McGill H.K.R.N.V.R. MTB 12 was last seen crashing into the sea wall on the Kowloon side. MTB's 10, 26, and 27 ordered to return to base. For some reason or other 26 missed the signal, and continued the attack. 26 was last seen stopped under heavy fire from the enemy and became a total loss. C.O. Lieut D. Wagstaff and Sub. Lt J. Eager and crew presumed killed. (Subsequently  confirmed)

21st December: H.M.S. Cicala attacked by a number of enemy planes in East Lamma Channel, and finally sunk after putting up a brave fight. One killed, and two wounded including a number of minor casualties MTB 10 and other small craft picked up survivors during the engagement, during which Lt. R. Goodwin NZRNVR. 1st Officer of MTB 10 was wounded and taken to hospital with other casualties.

From then on I was relieved of my duties as Base MTB officer, and took over as 1st officer of MTB 10.

22nd December: Enemy advances across Hong Kong Island from the East; Aberdeen Base and the Peak area are now within range of the Japanese guns and troops closing in. MTB 10 ordered to take ammunition to pier at Stanley Bay for our troops holding out there. Returned safe and sound to Aberdeen. Next day MTB's could only hide by day, and hope for the best as the Japanese troops closed in. I lost touch with my crew as I could not get ashore to get to the Base at Aberdeen.

25th December: Very difficult to know what is happening on shore, but obviously the situation is desperate. Enemy aircraft still active as boats bombed while at anchor on the South side of Apliechau Island. Surrender came late afternoon. Everyone was on edge waiting for orders. At dusk MTB 10 moved to pier (Waterfall Bay) to await VIP's, who were to try to escape under night cover up the coast to Mirs Bay area. I discussed staying in MTB 10 for the escape with my C. O. Cmdr Gandy who insisted I remain back with some of my crew. Finally scrambled ashore in Telegraph Bay to eventually spend nearly four years in various Japanese Prisoner of War Camps.

Lieutenant L. D. Kilbee H.K.R.N.V.R.

Reproduced for the author August 2000

MTB 08 on full throttle covering the measured mile in East Lama Channel 1941.

Photo from Laurence Kilbee's collection ©


WDL French 
	from Hong Kong Recollections of a British Prisoner of War by Bill Wiseman


Lt Kilbee took command of the War Department Launch "French," operated by the RASC under the blue ensign, briefly between losing MTB 08 and being appointed 1st Officer on MTB 10.

The WDL's were from the same stable as MTB' 07-12.

Drawing from "Hong Kong Recollections of a British Prisoner of War" by Bill Wiseman.

MTB 08 drawn from memory By Laurence Kilbee after his release from POW.

The China Station; December 1941

This part is still under construction

The Ships of The Royal Navy China Station:

        Flag-Ship China Station

         HMS Tamar : Scuttled 12 Dec 1941 Kowloon Harbour.

  1. Two other destroyers, HMS Scout and Thanet, sailed 8 Dec 1941 from Hong Kong for Singapore and so escaped loss. Thracian was retained at Hong Kong to close some gaps in the pre-war minefield (she was fitted for mine laying at the time). After being damaged by grounding on the night of 15-16 Dec while attempting to engage Japanese river steamers near Kowloon she could not be docked for repairs because of damage inflicted on the Aberdeen Dockyard by JAAF bombers and so was scuttled.
  2. Rated as boom defense/gate vessels at time of loss.
  3. Formerly the merchant vessel Embleton requisitioned for naval service as a tug/auxiliary patrol vessel 23 Apr 1940 (ex-HMS Kildysart a sloop built for the RN in 1918).
  4. Watergate : Scuttled 19 Dec 1941 in Deepwater Bay.[2]
  5. Cornflower : Scuttled 19 Dec 1941 in Deepwater Bay.[6]
  6. MTB 26 and MTB 27 were formerly the Chinese boats Kuai 1 and Kuai 2 that were purchased by the RN in Sep 1939 after having been interned at Hong Kong in 1938
  7. Cornflower - RNVR drill ship, formerly the 'Arabis' class sloop of the same name that had been built for the RN during WW1.
  8. Tamar was originally a troopship of 4650tons launched in 1863 that had been hulked as a base ship at Hong Kong in 1897.
  9. Cdr Hughe.M. Montague S.N.O. Aberdeen R. N. Retired records the above vessels fates in his report held by the Public Records Office (PRO) at Kew.
  10. The Senior Naval officer, Hong Kong, gives one destroyer, four gunboats, eight M.T.Bs., seven A.P.Vs. (Auxiliary Patrol Vessels), and an auxiliary craft used for minefield duty (not a fighting unit). (Interview with Commodore A. G. Collison, C.B.E., R. N. (retired), at C.M.H.Q., 27 Jun 46).

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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