Robert (Bob) Stonell - Escape from Hong Kong - The Final Hours

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Robert Henry Stonell MTB 11 of the 2nd MTB Flotilla, Coastal Forces Hong Kong

PO Bob Stonell 
Click here for the iconic Waichow photo




Stoker Petty Officer Robert. H. Stonell MiD P/KX.80217 Eggham, Surrey

Mentioned in Despatches

Click here to return to the Waichow Photo

Photos from the Hide and Stonell collections ©

Bob wrote up his experiance of escaping from Hong Kong, most probably during the five day river journey from Waichow to Lung Cheung as they were forbidden to record anything whilst behind the Japanese lines.


The MTB Incident.

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]

Bob swapped place with the Coxswain PO Rob Spirit and took over the wheel after Spirit was injured by shrapnel in his neck during the retreat from this action.

Coxswain Acting Petty Officer Rob Spirit injured by shrapnel during the battle for Hong Kong on 19th December 1941. He swapped places with the Chief Engineer Stoker Petty Officer Bob Stonell in the wheel house.

Rob endured nearly four years as a Japanese prisoner-of-war, surviving the infamous Lisbon Maru incident.

Photo from Buddy Hide's collection ©






Act PO Rob Spirit at the wheel of MTB 11 
	Photo from the  Hide collection ©

Coxswain Acting Petty Officer Rob Spirit at the wheel on MTB 11 alongside Chief engineer Petty Officer Bob stonell on the throttles.

Photo from Buddy Hide's collection ©







SPO Stonell on the throtle in the wheel-house 
    Photo from the Hide collection ©

Chief Engineer Petty Officer Bob Stonell on the throttles in the wheelhouse next to Coxswain Act PO Rob Spirit.

Photo from the Hide collection ©

Bob captained the football matches during the escape. At Kukong they played against the local YMCA in Zhongshan Park with a crowd of 2-3000, losing 8-2, the excuse being that the ground, the ball, and opponents were all too small.[5] He also directed a concert put on by the Escapees in Cape Town described by Kennedy as "course".

After 3000 miles traveling overland through China and Burma he arrived in a deserted Rangoon. After departing Rangoon for Calcutta and a thirty six hour train journey to Bombay he proceeded to the UK.

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. [2]


The MTB Incident.


MTB 11




MTB 11 being worked up at HMS Vernon after completion in July 1938 & on mouse over laying depth charges on exercise in 1940.

Log entry:

10.36; Dropped depth charges; 9 seconds.
10.40 -11.10; Fishing




Loading the torpedos 
    Photo from Lt Collingwood's collection ©

Loading the torpedo's on MTB 11. Each BPB MTB carried two torpedo's on overhead rails in the engine room. The torpedo's faced forward and were launched through ports in the stern into the flip over gantry rails. The direction of the boat was the direction of the torpedo, so once launched the boat had to veer off to allow the torpedo free way.

Photo from the Hide collection ©








Lt C J Collingwood RNVR and crew on board MTB 11 in 1940 
    Photo from the Hide collection ©






Lt C J Collingwood and crew of MTB 11 in 1940

Photo from the Hide collection ©

Bob Stonell and crew on board MTB 11

P O Bob Stonell and crew on board MTB 11

Photo from the Stonell family collection ©

MTB 11 Crew 
      Photo from Jack Thorpe's collection &copy






The crew of MTB 11.

Back row: A/B Jack Thorpe, PO ?, A/B Alf Burrows ?, A/B Alex Kelly ?.

Front row: A/B Lew Whatley ?, A/B Ken Holmes ?, A/B ? ?

Photo from Jack Thorpe's collection©









Sam Carr arriving in Kukong 6th Jan 1942 
    Photo from the Ted Ross collection &copy




Lt-Cmdr Gandy with his back to the camera, A/PO Burrows, A/B Lenny Rann,
L/S Les Barker, & S.P.O. Stonell falling in to march into Kukong on the 6th January 1942.

Photo from Ted Ross's collection ©





8th May 1942 (Fri)

HMT 'Narkunda' arrived in Freetown Harbour in Sierra Leone.
After two days re-victualing the Narkunda shaped course for the UK.

15th May 1942 (Thur)

A concert, "The Killjoys," arranged and organized by Lt-Cdr Gandy, Lt Ashby, PO Stonell, & L/S (Pony) Moore was performed by the ships companies of HMTB's, HMT "Narkunda", HMS "Ranchi", "Cilicia," "Cockchafer," & "Birmingham" The performers from the MTB's were (Pony) Moore, Al Rutter, & Eddie Charleson.

Photos from the Hide collection ©

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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