Admiral Chan Chak in Kukong;  
  Click here to read more ©MTB 09. Photos from the Chan Chak & Hide collections ©

Robert Hempenstall - Escape from Hong Kong - The Final Hours

| Contact | National Archives | Hong Kong War Diary | HERO Media Page | HERO Face book | Mwadui | Guest Book | Site Map | The Author | Site Map | Contact|

Robert (Bobby) Hempenstall MTB 09 of the 2nd MTB Flotilla, Coastal Forces Hong Kong

A/B Bob Hempenstall MTB 09. 
    Click here to return to the Waichow photo.     
    Photo from Buddy Hide's collection &copy




A/B: Robert Hempenstall D/JX143024 (Highgate North London)

1919 - 1946

Remembered with Honour

A/B Bob Hempenstall at Waichow 30th Dec 1941.

After 3000 miles traveling overland through China and Burma he arrived in a deserted Rangoon. After five weeks he left onboard the Armed Merchant Cruiser Heinrich Jessen bound for Calcutta along with Lt-Cmdr Gandy, Lt Collingwood, Lt Ashby & ratings.

Following a spell in hospital Robert left Calcutta and returned to England where he was drafted to HMS Defiance (III), the Royal Navy's torpedo school, on 13 July 1942, Later he served in the Atlantic campaign and in support of the 6 June 1944 D-Day landings. After the cessation of hostilities in 1945, Robert was drafted to the Royal Navy Middle East HQ, HMS Angelo, the shore base fort in Malta known as a "Stone Frigate". Robert, a Leading Seaman,was drafted to one of two Motor Fishing Vessels requisioned by the Navy under the command of Sub-Lt Peter J Campion RNVR to sail to Haifa. Their objective was "to protect the harbour from underwater agents trying to limpet mine the ships moored therein. This we did by dropping small depth charges at irregular intervals. The depth charges - rather large grenades really - were primed by lighting a wick after which you had a few seconds to throw it overboard. Unfortunately in the middle watch an AB dropped a lighted charge which rolled into the scuppers and it was Robert Hempenstall who tried to rescue it. He was killed instantly". [55] [76]

Robert was laid to rest in the Khayat Beach War Cemetery five kilometers south-west of Haifa on the Tel-Aviv highway.


MTB 07, with PO's John Prest and Buddy Hide at the controls, under fire.  
	Photo from Hong Kong 1941-45 published by Osprey Publishing. 
	Illustration by Giuseppe Rava. 
	Click here for more information

The flotilla took a beating during the battle for Hong Kong.
When the Japanese invaded Hong Kong Island, the 2nd MTB Flotilla was ordered to attack and 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 to the front and cannon from above, on they sped into the fiery jaws of the oriental dragon itself. This was the maritime equivalent of the charge of the light brigade in the Crimea.
Lt Ronnie Ashby whose family motto was "Be Just and Fear Naught" led the flotilla with Jix Prest & Buddy Hide at the controls of MTB 07. Pressing home the attack under withering fire from land, sea, and air, they suffered heavy losses in the process. Only three MTB's survived to limp back and come alongside HMS Robin in Aberdeen. Lt Kennedy on MTB "09" towed the stricken "07", peppered with 97 holes and two dead bodies in the engine room, back to base. The flotilla had lost 40% of its attacking force. The attack was arguably the most daring daylight MTB attack of all time, and was referred to as The Balaclava of the Coastal Forces world wide. They were hailed "The bravest of the brave."

Lt Kennedy RNVR: "MTB 11 returned alone from the harbour with her coxswain wounded. There was a long silent pause as we strained our ears to catch the sound of distant engines, but none came. It was a dark day for the flotilla, and for the whole island." [9]

On the 21st December nine planes of the Japanese airforce flew lazily over HMS Cicala.

Lieutenant Commander Gandy R. N. (Rtrd) "The Senior Naval Officer Aberdeen, Commander Montague RN, signaled to evacuate the Cicala ships company and sink her by depth charge; the latter job i delegated to MTB 09 while I took off the crew in MTB 10. This was when my First Lieutenant (Sub-Lt Ralph Goodwin NZRNVR) got wounded by a stray piece of shell." [15]

Lt Kennedy: "Near Aberdeen (East Lamma Channel) the “Cicala” was doing yeoman service with her two six-inch guns bombarding enemy positions, and in consequence came under repeated attack from the air. The value of her work was confirmed the next morning by the determination of the Japanese to silence her. The “Cicala” was steaming slowly near the coast continuing the bombardment when the air attack began. Nine planes circled high above her and one by one peeled off leisurely into a dive. Eight times the water rose up like a curtain round the ship, and eight times it fell to reveal the “Cicala” still sitting there firing at the land. It was agonising to watch, but after the bombs had gone from the last aircraft and the fountains of spray subsided, her guns were silent and smoke was coming from the ship.
MTB 10 rushed out to take off survivors, and although the last stick of bombs had fallen squarely along the centre of the ship almost the whole crew was saved. But the old lady was settling very slowly, and MTB 09 was detailed to sink her with depth-charges in case she should drift ashore into enemy hands. I dropped three charges alongside her, then three more, but each time she reared amidships and settled back on an even keel. The “Cicala” was a fighter, but she was gradually going and after half-an-hour had disappeared.
It was a sad end for a gallant ship which had seen service in North Russia after the last war, and had survived over fifty bombing attacks in this.‘And now there were five!’ Five naval vessels left, all of them MTBs."


HMS Cicala

Bobby Hempenstall was mentioned in his C/O's self published book "Hong Kong Full Circle" covering the battle for Hong Kong and subsequent escape.

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

The remaining nine ratings in Akyab eventually left Bombay on 14th April and arrived back in the UK 1st June1942.

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

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

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

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

Click here to return to the Waichow Photo

Smoko  on board MTB 09 in Aberdeen Channel 9th December 1941 
    Photo from Ron Ashby's collection ©

Ships Log MTB 07 9th Dec 1941
07.00 Proceeded back to base with 09
07.30Secured in Aberdeen base
08.45 Air Raid: Slipped
08.55 Secured on lighter 261, entrance to Aberdeen Channel. [5]

Some of the crew of MTB 09 taking a smoko in Aberdeen Channel 9th December 1941 during the battle for Hong Kong.

From the left Stoker A/B Charlie Foster, Coxswain Bill Schillemore, and A/B Bobby Hempenstall

Photo from the Ashby collection ©

The Crew of MTB 09 at Waichow on 30th December 1941

Robert Hempenstall & crew of MTB 09 at Waichow 30th Dec 1942. 
    Run the curser over to identify individuals.     
    Photo from Ron Ashby's collection ©

MTB 09 Crew at Waichow,

Back Row: A/B Penny, A/B; Leslie [Lofty] Gurd, Tel; Harold.P. Hill, A/B Robert Hempenstall

Middle Row: Stoker A/B Charles Foster, L/S; Coxswain William Schillemore, L/St; P.O. Ronald J.C. (Jez) Priestley,

Front Row: Sub-Lt; Tommy Brewer, Lt; Alexander Kennedy, O/C

Photo from the Hide collection ©

Buddy.htm">MTB 09 timing the measured mile in the spring of 1940.     
    Photo from the Hide collection ©

MTB 09 timing over the measured mile in East Lamma Channel in the Spring of 1940

MTB 09 was scuttled along with the remaining 2nd MTB Flotilla off Nan'ao, Mirs Bay, China 26th December 1941.

Photo from the Hide collection ©

Under camouflage in Telegraph Bay just hours before the escape on Christmas Day 1941.

MTBs 07 & 09 under camouflage in Telegraph Bay.     
    Photo from the Hidecollection ©

MTB 07 alongside the stone pier with 09 under camouflage covered in straw and branches hiding from enemy aircraft in Telegraph Bay on the day of the escape, Christmas day 1941. 07 still has a full complement of depth charges on deck.

Photo from the Ashby/Hide collection ©


Click here to return to the Waichow Photo

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.

Contact | Mwadui | Guest Book | Top | © MCMXCVI Hamstat Integrated Systems | Escape from Hong Kong

Site maintained by Hamstat Integrated Systems Inc

© Hong Kong  2019