Friday, 5 December 2014

Parker 6-inch Howitzer Battery

As I write this article I reflect on the fact that tomorrow is Sunday 7th December. The days and dates this year are aligned. On Sunday 7th December 1941 the two 6-inch Howitzer batteries positioned on the Tai Tam Road south of the military installations at Taitam Gap and known as Parker Battery and Saiwan Battery were locked and loaded and ready for action with 200 rounds per  gun in their ammunition lockers beside the gun pits. Each battery had two of these large Howitzers. The batteries were manned by officers and men of the 3rd Medium Battery of the Hong Kong Singapore Royal Artillery.

These guns were classed as mobile artillery but the 6-inch Howitzer is a heavy gun and needed an 8-ton Scammell Army lorry to tow it. The batteries were in action until the 19th of December when orders were given to disable the guns and withdraw to Stanley following the Japanese landings. There was insufficient transport to tow the guns and although rendered unserviceable, they were lost to the enemy.

On the night of 18th/19th December the Japanese had landed on a broad front stretching from North Point to Shau Kei Wan. They had established a bridgehead. They had moved quickly inland and made for the high ground. They had seized Mount Parker, Mount Butler and Sanatorium Gap during the night. This opened the way for them to enter Guage Basin and the reservoirs at Taitam on the south side of the island. During the following morning Japanese forces had taken Jardines Lookout and were fighting at Wong Nei Chung Gap. 

The Japanese Imperial Army army having achieved these objectives within 12 hours of landing and with a constant flow of men and materiel crossing the harbour unabated, had effectively already won the battle for Hong Kong. For the British it was just a matter of time and honour - a losing battle had to be fought until ammunition and supplies ran out, to delay the enemy as much as possible and to maximize his expenditure in terms of men and equipment. It must have become increasingly evident even to the most optimistic that it was just a matter of time.

The coastal batteries at Bokhara, D'Aguilar and Cape Collinson and the East Infantry Brigade headquartered at Tai Tam Gap were in danger of being cut off.  The Japanese that had landed at Shau Kei Wan were already very close to the Parker and Saiwan Batteries and as a result it became necessary for the  East Infantry Brigade under Brigadier Cedric Wallis to withdraw towards  Stanley.

The 6-inch Howitzers stationed at Parker and Saiwan Batteries had a crew of ten men for each gun. They were relatively large guns - the barrel was 6 foot 8 inches long. The whole gun including its carriage was 21 foot long and each gun weighed over 8,000 pounds. It fired an 86 pound High Explosive (HE) shell with a diameter of 6 inches, packed with enough explosive fire-power to spoil anybody's weekend if it landed close by. These guns were used very effectively from their Island positions on Chai Wan Road on Japanese troops and guns on the Mainland.

6-inch Howitzer (Source: Royal Artillery Museum)
Scammell Truck towing a 6-inch Howitzer (Source: Wikipedia)
Rob Weir who has undertaken considerable study of WW2  PBs, Batteries and Fixed Defences in Hong Kong told me that Parker Battery was positioned on Tai Tam Road. Until then I had assumed it was somewhere on Mt Parker but I had no idea where. It's not visible from the road but its literally just off the road. Rob provided me with a sketch map of the Battery position (below) and armed with the sketch map I set out to explore the position and look for evidence of military buildings, gun pits and ammunition storage facilities.

Rough Sketch Map of Parker Battery (Courtesy Rob Weir)

At the ramp leading off from Tai Tam Road (Position A) on the sketch map there is a military splinter proof shelter just visible from the road.

Military shelter at the junction of the Ramp and Taitam Road (Position A)  - (Source: Writers Collection)
The ramp looked like a military road but it had in fact been constructed post war to give access for construction of three nearby electricity pylons.  The area is now very overgrown with a lot of industrial and other refuse dumped around the site. There are signs of demolished squatters huts in the area and some of the military buildings looked like they had been occupied at one time by squatters.

I saw no sign of the shelters at Position B probably obscured by the undergrowth. Then moving more or less parallel to the road I came across several of the low ammunition lockers at Position C and a concrete base shown in Rob's sketch. I would assume the guns were positioned here close to the ammunition lockers.

Several of these ammunition lockers were evident at Position C  -  Parker Bty. (Source: Writers Collection)
Closer to the road  I found the shelters which I assume would be the battery accommodation and offices for the battery personnel which I would assume to be around 40 persons including the two gun crews. In the photograph  (below) they look like they still have traces of war time disruptive camouflage paint.

Battery buildings at Position D - Parker Battery  (Source:  Writers Collection)

Battery accommodation at Position D - Parker Battery (Writers Collection)
On the 19th December at approximately 1000 hours orders were given for the evacuation of the Howitzer batteries at Parker (2 x 6") Guage Basin (2 x 3.7"), Taitam Fork (1 x 3.7") and Red Hill (2 x 4.5").  The guns at Saiwan Battery being almost on the front line had already been disabled in the early hours by the removal of dial sights and percussion locks. At Parker Battery both sets of guns were disabled by the removal of breech blocks. The battery  personnel were then withdrawn to Stanley where they were ordered to fight as infantry.

The 6 inch Howitzers of the 3rd Medium Battery positioned at Parker and Saiwan Batteries had fired with good effect on Japanese troops on the Mainland. They had also been used for counter battery bombardment and to cover the withdrawal of troops from Devils Peak. Both Brigadier Wallis and Lt Col Cadogan-Rawlinson commanding 5th/7th Rajput Regiment had said how accurate and effective the fire had been from these two medium batteries at Parker and Saiwan.

The two 6-inch How batteries had been ranged on by Japanese artillery but no shell landed nearer than 100 yards from the positions which had been carefully sited at pre-prepared localities with protection provided by the terrain.

The Saiwan Battery did have some near misses from aerial bombing the nearest being 20 yards from one of the gun pits. Alternative positions for the guns had been prepared but were not utilized.

The landing at Sau Kei Wan was very close to the Saiwan Battery and the battery personnel prepared to defend themselves with small arms under 2/Lt Kenneth Allanson who had been transferred from 8th Coast Battery to take charge of the Saiwan Battery. Later that night at around 2100 hours Captain Lucien Feilden had arrived with reinforcements from Parker Battery but later they were forced to withdraw back to Parker Battery. The next day Capt Feilden was killed in action when with other members of the HKSRA he was fighting in an infantry role at Wong Nei Chung Gap.

It must have been heartbreaking for the gunners to disable their guns and leave them as trophies for the advancing Japanese but these two batteries found themselves almost in the front line and there was no option.  

As I leave the Parker Howitzer Battery position in the fading light of a December afternoon I reflect on these events and on the fact that we are coming up to the 73rd anniversary of the start of the Pacific War and that this year the dates and days are aligned. These overgrown and sometimes inaccessible remnants of war are a stark reminder of the terror, the destruction and the loss of life that war visited on Hong Kong. I reflect on those who fought and died here in Hong Kong and give a silent salute and I reflect on the fact that this is still within living memory.


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