Escape from Hong Kong - The Final Hours


Jack Thorpe MTB 11 of the 2nd MTB Flotilla, Coastal Forces Hong Kong

Stoker A/B Jack Thorpe D/JX.171933 Suffolk

**/**/1919 - 25/02/1944





Jack was initially drafted to MTB 08 before transferring to 11.

MTB 07 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 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.
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 Sea.by 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]

Jack Thorpe stayed on in Burma along with Lt Collingwood, S. P. O. Moore, and P. O. Burrows most likely onboard an R.I. N. Sloop on refugee relief as Collingwood was fluent in Hindi.

Jack along with the eight other remaining ratings in Akyab eventually left Bombay on 14th April and arrived back in the UK 1st June 1942.[2]

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.

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.

After his eventual return to the UK Jack served on the Arctic convoys with the destroyer HMS Mahratta which was attacked by U-boat while escorting convoy JW-057 the largest convoy ever sent to Russia and sunk on 25.02.44 with the loss of 220 souls, including Jack Thorpe aged 25. There were just 17 survivors picked up, of whom one died shortly after.

Remembered with Honour

 

The MTB Incident.

 

Shaoguan [Kukong] 6th January 1942





A/B Thorpe ?? & S.P.O. Charlie Moore 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 later swapped the jackets with an incoming detachment of Australian/British Marines of the 204 military Mission.













Stoker A/B Jack Thorpe

Photo from the Thorpe family collection©

 

















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

Log entry:

10.36; Dropped depth charges; 9 seconds.

10.40 -11.10; Fishing












MTB 11 loading the torpedo's. Each BPB MTB carried two 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 ©






















MTB 11 on patrol with the 2nd MTB Flotilla

Photo from Al Downey's collection ©





























MTB 11 coming alongside.

Photo from Lt C J Collingwood's collection ©



























The crew of MTB 8 or 11 !!

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

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

Photo from the Thorpe family 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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Music; Wild China by  Barnaby Taylor and performed by Cheng Yu and the UK Chinese Ensemble

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