Friday, 6 February 2015

Japanese Artillery Shells found in the hills of Hong Kong

My friend Stuart Woods and I were recently out metal detecting in the area of Violet Hill in the centre of Hong Kong Island looking for war relics left over from the brief period of fighting on the Island during WW2.  We came across the site of a Japanese Mountain Gun Battery and discovered three live Japanese shells.

The Japanese Army invaded Hong Kong on Monday 8th December 1941 and at approximately the same time their forces simultaneously attacked Malaya, Philippines and the US Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbour. Ten days later after a heavy bombardment their forces crossed the harbor and landed on the North Shore of the Island between North Point and Shau Kei Wan.

This area of the North Shore was defended by one Indian infantry battalion the 5th Battalion of the 7th Rajput Regiment and by one company of the Canadian Army, 'C' Company of the Royal Rifles of Canada. All told this was less than 1,000 defenders who were facing six battalions from three Japanese infantry regiments a total of over 6,000 men with supporting artillery, who got ashore and established a bridgehead.

The defenders were soon overwhelmed and by the early hours the invader had captured Mt Parker, Quarry Gap and Mt Butler. The following morning they captured Jardines Lookout and Wong Nei Chung Gap. In fact by this time the battle was all but over. Yes counter attacks were made and fighting continued until Christmas Day but it was by then a case of fighting a losing battle. Churchill who realized before the war that there "was not the slightest chance of defending Hong Kong" exhorted the Governor Sir Mark Young and the General Officer in Command, General Maltby to fight on, not to surrender and to "resist to the end". This  I think it's fair to say they did.

By the 19th and 20th December Japanese forces controlled Violet Hill and it was probably around this time that they established the mountain gun battery on Violet Hill that we stumbled across in January 2015.

A pre-war map shoeing Violet Hill (bottom centre) and Repulse Bay Road  (left)

What we found hidden in the trees on the reverse side of a hill top was a series of dug outs and trenches providing the battery personnel with some protection from British Artillery and or British naval gun fire. It was here the we found the three shells.  The shells were missing from their nose cone the Type 88 impact fuse which would be fitted before firing. Although they were not found in an orderly row, they had probably been laid out  ready for firing. The next step would have been to have screwed in the fuse to an aperture in the nose cone. The type of fuse would detonate on impact.
75mm Japanese shell
Three  live Japanese WW2 Mountain Gun shells
Although missing the fuses these were live ordnance and potentially dangerous and accordingly we reported the finding to Hong Kong Police. A police van arrived quickly with flashing lights and sirens to the trail head on Tai Tam Reservoir Road and we led then up the steep path to the top of Mount Violet (also called Violet Hill) and showed them the position of the three artillery shells. The police cordoned off the area and Fire Services and the Explosives Ordnance Disposal Unit (EOD) were called   out to make these shells safe through a controlled explosion.

Police and EOD arrive
Fire Trucks in the road

Firemen arrive labouring up the hill with their equipment and wearing their heavy uniform
The police and emergency services were very quick to arrive and very professional.  They safely detonated the three Japanese Artillery Shells . For them this is not an uncommon occurrence. The hills where the fighting occurred still contain bullets, grenades, shells and other remnants of a war fought nearly 74 years ago. A stark reminder of those very different times in Hong Kong and elsewhere which may seem a long time ago now but are are in fact still within living memory.

The mountain guns would have been situated close to where we found the shells. Looking at Japanese Battle Maps it looks like they would have been positioned to fire towards British troops at Aberdeen, Bennett Hill (behind Aberdeen) and on British positions on Shouson Hill.

The guns were either Type 41 or Type 94 Mountain Guns which were used as infantry support artillery. These were mobile artillery that could be stripped down and transported by mule. They could be positioned on uneven ground in hill country and the 75mm shell could fire high explosive or armor piercing shells. They would certainly take the edge off anybody's weekend who was on the receiving end. The Japanese deployed these weapons very effectively. The photo below which Tony Banham informs me was taken somewhere in China (although often labeled as having been taken in Hong Kong) shows how these guns could be used on uneven ground and in mountainous country

Japanese 75mm Mountain Guns in action in China
These three shells which as of today no longer exist would have been used by a mountain battery very much like the one depicted above and most likely sometime between 20-25th December 1941 in the closing stages in the battle for Hong Kong.

As a kind of postscript here are some pictures from Apple Daily of the final result of the detonation.

After the controlled explosion - EOD personnel laying out the remains for the press (Apple Daily)

All thats left of the Artillery Shells (Apple Daily)




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