Escape from Hong Kong

John Pawley - Escape from Hong Kong

Escape from Hong Kong


MTB Crest, Caudae Spiculum Caveo
(Beware the sting in the tail)MTB 11 Lewis-Gunner 
  Click here to read more ©MTB 07 on fast patrol. Photos from the Hide collections © Admiral Chan Chak and party arriving in Waichow   
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  Photo from Admiral Chan Chak's collection ©HERO


John Pawley A/B MTB 07
  Click here to read more on John Pawley
  Photo from Buddy Hide's collection ©


A/B John C Pawley D/J169232 MTB 07 of the 2nd MTB Flotilla, Coastal Forces Hong Kong

A/B John C Pawley D/J169232 (Ivybridge, Devon)

John Pawley at Waichow 30th Dec 1941

Photo from Buddy Hide's collection ©

MTB 07 with Lt R R W Ashby HKRNVR

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]

After 3000 miles traveling overland through China and Burma he arrived in a deserted Rangoon. After five weeks he left onboard the "Heinrich" Jessen bound for Calcutta along with the Commodore Rear Adm Graham, Lt-Cmdr Gandy, Lt Collingwood, Lt Ashby & ratings. From Calcutta it was a thirty six hour train journey across the Indian sub-continent to Bombay where they boarded HMT"Narkunda" bound for Durban where they took onboard 657 Italian POW's before shaping course for Cape Town.

Lt Kennedy: "The 'Laconia' was followed into harbour by another troopship, the 'Narkunda', and to our surprise Gandy and the other half of the M.T.B. party were on board. We were ordered to transfer and so all joined forces again after an interval of two months. The 'Laconia' party received a warm welcome, perhaps not so much as old ship-mates but as extra hands to share duties of guarding the six hundred Italian prisoners-of war being taken to England in the ship. On board the 'Narkunda' the MTB party was almost complete." [9]

The Narkunda set sail again on the 19th April, but had to return due to engine trouble. This time we anchored in Table Bay with no ships boats for a run ashore. We finally got under way on the 28th with a ten-day passage to Freetown.
After two days in Freetown re-victualing the Narkunda shaped course for the UK. A concert called "The Killjoys" had been arranged and organized by Lt-Cdr Gandy, Lt Ashby, PO Stonell, & L/S (Pony) Moore and performed by the combined ships companies onboard of HMTB's, HMT "Narkunda", HMS "Ranchi", "Cilicia," "Cockchafer" & "Birmingham" on Thursday 15th May 1942. The performers from the MTB's were (Pony) Moore, Al Rutter, & Eddie Charleson. As they headed north frequent life boat drill exercises were carried out and the order to sleep fully dressed was given as they negotiated the U-boat packs in the north Atlantic continuously zigzagging en route for the UK. Gandy, Ashby, & Kennedy along with 22 ratings finally arrived in the King George V dock, Sheildhall, Glasgow late afternoon on Friday 22nd May 1942 onboard the "Narkunda."[15]

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"

PO 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 Royal Navy history, that an entire Flotilla company evaded capture to escape across an entire continent to fight another day.


The crew of MTB 07 in Kowloon 1940

MTB 07 crew in Kowloon 1941
      Run the curser over to identify individuals
      Photo from Budyy Hide's collection ©

Photo from the Hide collection ©



John Pawley and crew on patrol  
    Run the curser over to identify individuals  
    Photo from the Hide collection ©

MTB 07 led the daylight attack with 09 at full speed on Japanese landing craft crossing from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island, Lewis gunning and overturning the LCs with her wake. 07 returned and attacked a second time under heavy fire from Kowloon, sunken ships, Hong Kong Island as well as being machine cannoned by IJA aircraft losing two crew and all three engines in the process. 09 came back and took 07 in tow with the two engine room fatalities onboard. The action was dubbed "The balaclava of the sea"

Lt Ron Ashby HKRNVR with the crew of MTB 07

Photo from the Hide collection ©

A 1/24 scale model of MTB 07 takes to the water in 2009 in memory of Ron Ashby & the crew. MTB 07 on patrol in Hong Kong


MTB 07 in Hong Kong







Photos from the Hide collection ©












MTB 07 picking up Chinese wrecked by Japanese pirates
    Photo from the Hide collection ©









Entry from MTB 07's log:

Tues, 21st October 1941.
Stopped, cut engines to pick up 4 Chinese from smashed and overturned junk. Chinese said they were bound from N of Taishan Bay to Hong Kong with a cargo of sweet potatoes when they were stopped by a Jap trawler, their cargo stolen and themselves beaten before Jap's wrecked junk and left them.

1818 Proceeded into Deep Bay.

1828 Stopped to put 4 Chinese on a junk.

Photo from the HideHide collection ©

MTB 07 & 09 under camouflage in Telegraph Bay

MTB 07 & 09 under camouflage in Telegraph Bay by day  prior to the escape on Christmas Day 1941.    
    Photo from the Hide collection ©

Photo from the Hide collection ©

The day before the escape MTB 07 had only managed to take on one hundred and eighty gallons (818 litres) of petrol before being targeted by shell fire. This limited her range to less than one hundred miles (160 Km).

Lt Collingwood RN: "Each boat had been camouflaged according to the individual OC and we lay as close to the rocks and cliffs as possible. By Christmas Eve things were bad and we began to prepare for a getaway if possible in accordance with a pre-arranged scenario. We were no longer in touch with our base and we were all anchored off shore in different bays." [8]

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


The 2nd MTB Flotilla on the Road Across China

Shaoguan [Kukong] 6th January 1942


Lofty Gurd & John Pawley arring in Kukong    
    Photo from the Ted Ross collection ©

Lofty Gurd & John Pawley arriving in Kukong on the 6th January 1942

The padded jackets were obtained by Colonel Owen-Hughes at Lung Chun. Owen-Hughes was the British Liaison officer to the Chinese army. The party swapped the jackets later on in Kunming with an incoming detachment of British/Australian Marines from the 204 Military Mission in China. [46]

Photo from the Ted Ross collection ©

George Arnold with Buddy Hide & the fortunate few 6th Jan 1942 ©


Albert Rutter, Chinese Guerilla Leader Leung Wingyuen with Petty Officer Buddy Hide, & Bones Arnold. Hanging out the truck are Les [Lofty] Gurd, Bill Schillemore, & John Pawley during the epic journey across China.

The padded jackets were obtained by Colonel Owen-Hughes at Lung Chun. Owen-Hughes was the British Liaison officer to the Chinese army. The party swapped the jackets later on in Kunming with an incoming detachment of British/Australian Marines from the 204 Military Mission in China. [46]



Photo from the ILN collection ©


General Wu with the escape party at Guiyang 24th January 1942

General Wu with the escape party at Guiyang 24th January 1942

Ships Log: 24th Jan 1942 "Visit to Governor in the morning. Conducted tour of centre in the afternoon, followed by a tea, & movies after dinner." [5]

Huaxi Park near Guiyang

Hong Kong RN escape party in Huaxi Park, Guiyang 25th January 1942 ©

Lt-Cdr Yorath with officers & ratings visiting Huaxi park, Guiyang.

Dr Lim organized a seven-a-side football match against his training school team.

Photo from the Hide collection ©

Ships Log: 25th Jan 1942 "Visit to park in the morning. Soccer match in the afternoon, lost 6-1. Dinner in the evening given by the Governor." [5]


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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Audio by Lion Rock Films

Music; Wild China by  Barnaby Taylor and performed by Cheng Yu and the UK Chinese Ensemble