Under Attack

Under heavy attack Brigadier Wallis began his mainland demolition work at breakneck speed.. His troops were under an artillery barrage and an air bombardment that shook the world around them. Even under heavy artillery bombardment from the British 6" and 9.2" guns of the 8th Coastal Regiment of the Royal Artillery the Japanese advanced quickly. They captured the key strong point at Shing Mun Redoubt which was a well fortified position which, it was said, could hold for 5 or 6 weeks. It held for 5 hours. Wallis' position had quickly become untenable.

The Royal Scots, the Rajputs and the Punjabi fought a rear-guard action that inflicted moderate losses on the enemy but under tremendous pressure they withdrew to the Gin Drinkers Line. The British expected they could hold out there for a least a week but in an incredible 12 hours the Japanese were on their doorstep. Somehow they had advanced the 40 kilometers from the Chinese border and on the morning of December 9, were pounding on the gates of the Gin Drinkers Line.

Word From Home

On the announcement of hostilities on December 8, the Honourable J.L. Ralston, Canadian Minister of Defense, cabled Brigadier Lawson: "Concurrently with the Dominion's declaration of war against Japan, I send you the assurances of complete confidence that the forces under your command will, in the days ahead, worthily uphold the best traditions of Canadian arms." Lawson replied, "All ranks appreciate your message. We shall do everything in our power to maintain the best traditions of the Canadian Army."

From London, England came a cable addressed to the Canadians. "Canada's China Force is the envy of the Canadian Corps. Lucky guys was the phrase heard on every side with reference to their comrades stationed in the Far East, at Hong Kong. 'And to think, if I'd stayed with my old Regiment, I'd be with them in Hong Kong now.", said one Canadian First Division Colonel who had gone over to England with the 1st. Canadian Contingent two years earlier". In light of what took place that colonel must have counted his lucky stars he had not stayed with those "lucky guys" of his old regiment.

Painting Courtesy of Bill Lake

Damage Reports

On December 9th in a cable from Hong Kong the situation was described. "All defenses of the mainland are being successfully maintained. Artillery fire brought enemy parties to an abrupt halt. Desultory air raids occurred during the day but there were no serious casualties. At least one plane was badly crippled. Air attacks were made on British warships which retaliated with gunfire, beating off the attackers. No ships were lost".

In the words of Rifleman John Beebe, of No.18 Platoon of the Royal Rifles of Canada, "First we got the report of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 8th. and when the first Jap planes came over between 8:30 and 9:00 on the following day we were all at our posts, alerted and ready for them. There were about 40 fighters and bombers in the first batch and just a few British planes to oppose them. But they went up and managed to down a couple of Japs." In fact, no RAF aircraft took to the air that day. Any Japanese aircraft shot over the next few days were brought down by anti-aircraft fire from the guns of The Hong Kong Singapore Royal Artillery, the first Volunteers to see action.

Rifleman Beebe: "A lot of damage was done by the Jap air raid and by the British 9.2 guns at Stanley opened up the same day, firing at the mainland where the Royal Scots were meeting the Japs head-on. The boys were on constant guard, with road blocks set up and under orders to stop everyone without credentials."

While the air raid and the artillery bombardment of December 8 were heavy they left the Canadian troops pretty much unscathed, but the island's infrastructure was a mess. There were water shortages, power failures, and telephone disruptions that made communications difficult. The military were using the telephone lines as a part of its communications network. The Japanese had tapped into the telephone lines and were using them to listen in on what the British were up to, and to pop in false information to further confuse an already off-balance enemy. The constant interruption of service annoyed both the British and the Japanese.

The Japanese had easily slipped hundreds of infiltrators onto the island in many disguises. They were up to the second on English counter measures, troops locations, ammo dumps, vehicle compounds, fuel supplies, artillery gun positions ... the Japanese knew everything worth knowing. The 5th. Column did as much physical damage as they could as well. Even some Chinese who didn't like the British disrupted whatever they could. In one case the Japanese infiltrator offered to guide a truck driven by two Canadians to its destination. The Canadians were killed and the cargo destroyed.

The confusion kept the defenders off balance, caused them to lose sleep, miss meals, and make unnecessary movement of troops. Tired and disoriented the units kept on toiling. The Japanese were not about to let them get any rest.

The Island's Defensive Layout

There was a story that it would take one hundred years to take the island of Hong Kong. Both the British and the Japanese had heard the story and pretty much believed it. It was in every sense of the word ... a formidable fortress. There were 72 reinforced concrete pill boxes around the perimeter of the island, dozens of underground concrete bunkers which could house up to 9 men in each one. "D" Company Headquarters had 17 such bunkers within its perimeter alone. There were numerous fixed position artillery emplacements, ammunition and other supplies to last the defenders 120 days. Getting a foot-hold on the island from the sea would have cost any invader dearly. But, with the Japanese attacking the Gin Drinkers Line on the mainland, General Maltby still refused to entertain the idea that they just might attack from that not too distant shore.




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