Monday, 6 August 2018

Captain Kenneth Allanson, Royal Artillery - The Battle for Hong Kong

Kenneth Edward Allanson was born in 1912 in Woking, Surrey. He was the youngest of five siblings, with two brothers and two sisters. The family moved to Lee Green, South London in the late 1920s. After leaving school Kenneth trained and qualified as a solicitor. Law Society records show that he was admitted in 1933 at the age of twenty-one. He was a member of the law firm Bate & Co. of Lincoln's Inn.

In 1938 he joined the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC), a Territorial Army unit based in the City of London. His eldest brother, James Allanson, had already joined the Territorial Army some years earlier, and initially served with a London based field artillery regiment, which later converted to an anti-tank role. During WW2 his regiment formed part of the 51st Highland Division and he served in North Africa and Italy. Kenneth's brother, Harold Allanson, had been resident in Burma before the war. During the war, he served with Z Force in Burma, a special forces unit operating behind enemy lines, and providing intelligence to 14th Army HQ on Japanese forces, movements and logistics.

Kenneth was mobilised after the outbreak of war and selected for officer training. In May 1940, at the age of twenty-eight, he was commissioned as a subaltern in the Royal Artillery. He was subsequently posted to Hong Kong, and fought in the short, but brutal Battle for Hong Kong in December 1941.

2/Lt Kenneth Allanson (Courtesy of Christopher Allanson)
Commissioned as a 2/Lt (London Gazette)
In Hong Kong Kenneth served with 8th Coast Regiment, Eastern Fire Command. The regiment was commanded by Lt-Col Selby Shaw, MC, RA. He was assigned to 12th Coast Battery which was located at Stanley Fort. The battery consisted of three Mark VII 9.2-inch coastal defence guns. The battery was commanded by Major William Stevenson, RA.

 8th Coast Regiment, RA (Source: Major Templer's Diary Imperial War Museum)
The coastal defence of Hong Kong in December 1941 was formidable. Eastern Fire Command consisted of two 9.2-inch batteries (Bokhara and Stanley), and four 6-inch batteries (Collinson, Chung Hom Kok, Bluff Head and Pak Sha Wan, and one 4-inch battery at D'Aguilar. Western Fire Command consisted of a battery of three 9.2-inch guns at Fort Davis and two 6-inch batteries (Stonecutters and Jubilee), one 4-inch battery on Aberdeen Island and two 60-pdrs on Stonecutters Island. The coastal defence batteries covered all the seaward approaches to Hong Kong.

The Royal Navy had established minefields, consisting of both contact mines and remote controlled mines, around the approaches to Hong Kong. Indicator loops had been laid on the seabed, which could detect the movement of enemy ships or submarines. This information could then be relayed to the coastal defence batteries, or to the mine control stations, and the intruding vessel could then be sunk by gunfire, or by remote controlled mines. The photograph below shows one of the 9.2-inch coastal defence guns at Fort Davis.  

9.2-inch gun at Fort Davis (Source: Wikipedia)
The combination of coastal defence batteries, minefields, and the presence of fast motor torpedo boats ensured that the Japanese Navy stayed well back. As in Singapore, the guns were pointing seaward, but that is what they were designed for. These were coastal defence batteries built to defend Hong Kong from seaborne attack or invasion. They were mostly equipped with armour piercing shells for use against enemy warships, but had insufficient quantities of high explosive and shrapnel ammunition required for landward firing. Many of the coastal defence guns, including the three 9.2-inch batteries could traverse and fire inland, and they were used very effectively in this capacity, despite the shortage of suitable ammunition. The guns at some of the coastal batteries, like Jubilee, were situated too low, and were blocked by terrain, which prevented them from firing in a landward direction.

Map of Hong Kong Island (Source: HK Govt. Maps Office)

Sketch Map of HK Island (Source: Writer)


The infantry was supported by the mobile field artillery of the Hong Kong Singapore Royal Artillery (HKSRA), who were equipped with 3.7-inch, 4.5-inch and 6-inch howitzers. The 3.7-inch guns were transported by pack mules, and the larger guns were towed by Army trucks. There was some movement of guns, but most stayed in pre-prepared gun positions. The infantry was also supported by 965 Defence Battery which was equipped with six 18-pdr fields guns, and eight 2-pdr anti-tank guns. Their main role was beach defence in support of the pillboxes, manned by the Middlesex Regiment, which ringed the Island shoreline.

In order to alleviate the shortage of officers in the HKSRA, a number of officers from the two coastal defence regiments were assigned to the mobile artillery. Captain Kenneth Allanson (then listed as a Lieutenant) was posted from 8th Coast Regiment, RA to East Group, RA on 15th December 1941. East Group consisted of all the mobile howitzers in the eastern sector of the Island. Their HQ was at Tai Tam Gap alongside East Infantry Brigade HQ.

Captain Allanson was posted to East Group, RA on 15th Dec 1941 (Source: National Archives)
On transfer to East Group, it is not clear, whether Captain Allanson was deployed to East Group HQ at Tai Tam Gap, or immediately deployed to the 3rd Medium Battery, which consisted of two sections of two 6-inch howitzers, located at Sai Wan and Parker. What is clear, is that on the night of 18th December 1941, when the Japanese landed on the north shore of the Island, Captain Allanson was in command of the Sai Wan Howitzer Section.
"The landing was a very close threat to the Sai Wan Section which prepared to defend itself with small arms, and 2/Lt Allanson who joined on the 15th December from 8th Coast Regt, RA was in charge at Sai Wan at this time, and Captain Feilden arrived there at about 2100 hrs with reinforcements from Parker." (Source: War Diary Royal Artillery Island East Group - National Archives)
On Thursday 18th December, the Japanese landed three infantry regiments (228th, 229th and 230th) on the north shore of Hong Kong Island. Each regiment utilised two of their three infantry battalions. Each battalion consisted of one thousand men. Artillery and other support troops followed the infantry. The infantry consisted of 6,000 men, and it is likely that during the night 18th/19th December that 8,000 to 10,000 men were landed on the northeast shore between North Point and Shau Kei Wan. The shore line in this sector was defended by three companies, 'A', 'C' and 'D' Coy, from 5th/7th Rajputs. 'C' Coy Royal Rifles of Canada was the nearest infantry to the Sai Wan Howitzer Section with their Coy HQ located at Lye Mun Gap close to Lye Mun Barracks. At North Point, there was a group of militia, known as the Hughes Group, defending the Hong Kong Electric power station. The British, Canadian and Indian troops defending this section of the north shore totalled around 700 men. They were outnumbered by the Japanese troops involved in the landings by more than ten to one. Lt-Col Cadogan-Rawlinson's Rajput battalion put up a good fight, but were destroyed on the north shore that night.

The 6-inch howitzers of the 3rd Medium Battery were heavy weapons with a basic weight of 4.4 tons.   They required a heavy (8-ton) Scammell Army truck to tow them in and out of their gun positions.

6-inch Howitzer (Source: Royal Artillery Museum)
Scammell truck towing an 8-inch Howitzer (Source: Wikipedia) 
The Parker 6-inch Howitzer Section was located in a cutting beside Island Road. It was protected on two flanks by hillside. The Sai Wan 6-inch Howitzer Section was in a slightly more exposed position, but protected on one side by the slope of Sai Wan Hill. The positioning close to the hillside provided some protection from the heavy aerial and artillery bombardment that occurred during the week prior to the Japanese landings. During the fighting on the Mainland that took place in the first week of the battle, the Sai Wan and Parker Sections were used very effectively to support the Mainland Infantry Brigade. During the siege of the Island, which occurred in the second week of the battle, the two howitzer sections were used for providing counter-battery fire. The howitzer positions were targeted by Japanese counter-battery fire, and incurred several near misses, but no direct hits.

Captain Allanson's howitzer section was located below Sai Wan Hill, and off Island Road in a location that was accessed by a small track known as Cemetery Road. On top of Sai Wan Hill there was an AA section manned by 5th AA Battery, HKVDC. The AA section was equipped with two 3-inch anti-aircraft guns. The AA position was accessed by a road running through Lye Mun Barracks. On the night of the Japanese landings there was a 3.7-inch howitzer positioned midway between the barracks and the AA position. The gun, commanded by Captain Bombas, RA, had been brought up from the Tai Tam Fork 3.7-inch Howitzer Section to fire at Japanese AOPs and mortar positions located across the narrows on Devil's Peak Peninsula.

Sai Wan Howitzer Section (Source: Govt Maps Office - Annotations made by the writer)


One battalion from the 229th Infantry landed at Aldrich Bay, and then moved inland, and up the north facing slopes of Mount Parker. A second battalion from the 229th Regiment landed at two locations near Kung Am. This battalion quickly seized the Pak Sha Wan 6-inch coastal defence battery, and the Sai Wan AA position. Lye Mun barracks were mostly empty, the troops having been deployed to their war stations. The 3.7-inch howitzer located between the barracks and the AA position was overrun and captured. Captain Bombas managed to escape down the hill where he proceeded to the Sai Wan 6-inch Howitzer Section. Captain Goldman, the officer in command of the Sai Wan AA Section, also managed to escape down the hill and reached Captain Allanson's position. The volunteer gunners that were captured at the AA position were rounded up, disarmed, held for a short period, and then put to death by bayonet, one after the other. Two of the gunners, although badly wounded, survived and were able to give evidence at war crimes trials held after the war. This was the first of a number of atrocities that were committed by Japanese troops during the fighting on Hong Kong Island. 

Captain Allanson's howitzer position was compromised by the capture of the AA position. The 6-inch howitzers and their gun crews found themselves unexpectedly on the front line, and the gunners came under increasingly heavy small arms fire from Japanese troops occupying the AA position above them. Efforts were made to re-take Sai Wan Hill by Captain Bombas with the help of Canadian troops from 'C' Coy Royal Rifles of Canada. These efforts were unsuccessful, and in the early hours of Friday 19th December the two howitzers were disabled, and the gunners evacuated to Parker Section further up Island Road. The howitzers could not be withdrawn, because of the lack of towing trucks. Vehicles had been pooled, and as a result there was no dedicated transport available near the gun positions when they were most needed.  

The Japanese attacked Wong Nai Chung Gap (WNC Gap) early in the morning of 19th December.  By noon, the Japanese owned the high ground of Mount Parker, Mount Butler and Jardines Lookout. Brigadier John Lawson, commanding West Infantry Brigade, was killed as were most of the officers and Other Ranks at both West Infantry and West Group HQ. East Infantry Brigade and East Group HQ came under small arms fire from Mount Parker in the late morning. A decision was made by the military commanders that all troops in the eastern sector of the island were to withdraw to Stanley in order to avoid being cut off. The infantry would then launch a counterattack from Stanley.

The coastal defence batteries at Collinson, Chung Hom Kok, D'Aguilar and Bokhara were put out of action and abandoned. The mobile artillery was ordered to withdraw, but without towing trucks for the 4.5 and 6-inch howitzers, and without mules for the 3.7-inch howitzers, the guns were abandoned. East Group lost all their guns except one. On that day of chaos and confusion they lost four 6-inch howitzers, four 4.5-inch howitzers, and three 3.7-inch howitzers. The only gun to be successfully brought back to Stanley was a 3.7-inch howitzer based at Tai Tam Fork Section. West Group lost three 3.7-inch and two 6-inch howitzers, which were located on Stanley Gap Road near WNC Gap. 

Captain Allanson initially withdrew to Parker Section, and later was ordered to withdraw to Stanley Fort. The gunners, without their howitzers, had to fight as infantry. A large group of approximately one hundred gunners was assembled that evening, and ordered to mount an infantry assault on WNC Gap. They first cleared Repulse Bay Road, which was blocked by shot up vehicles. This allowed two armoured cars to get through to WNC Gap, and provide fire support for the attack. They managed to do what no other unit had been able to achieve during a series of counterattacks made by other units during that day (19th December). They were successful in re-capturing the police station and the knoll at the centre of WNC Gap. The police station was held for a period of hours, but the Japanese with four infantry battalions in the area around WNC Gap were able to rush up reinforcements and regain both the police station and the knoll. The gunners fighting in the unfamiliar role of infantry incurred very heavy casualties. Only thirteen gunners made it back to Stanley, the rest were killed or captured. Lt-Col Yale, Major De Vere Hunt and Captain Feilden were all killed at WNC Gap.

The war diary for East Group states that during the same evening, Major Duncan and Captain Allanson were sent to Wan Chai Gap to take over command of West Group HQ which had been destroyed earlier that day at WNC Gap. West Group still retained a number of howitzers in their sector of the Island, but their officers at Counter-Bombardment HQ and West Group HQ had all been killed.
"On the evening of 19th December Major Duncan was ordered to go to Wan Chai Gap and to take over command of West Group RA, and he set off taking with him 2/Lt Allanson." (East Group War Diary)
I am not sure what happened to Captain Allanson after this date, but I assume he remained with West Group HQ, because after 20th December it would have been impossible for him, or Major Duncan, to get from Wan Chai Gap back to East Group at Stanley. There is no further reference to Major Duncan or Captain Allanson in the war diaries. I assume that Major Duncan remained as commander of West Group until 22nd December. On that day, Major Crowe, RA who had been injured on 19th December, was released from hospital and took command of West Group. Although also a Major it is possible that Major Duncan remained with West Group HQ and likewise Captain Allanson. Another possibility is that one or both officers moved to West Group Administrative Pool located at Ho Tung Gardens on the Peak. This was the home of Robert and Clara Ho Tung who referred to it as The Falls. Robert Ho Tung had left Hong Kong before the war started.

On the night of 23rd/24th December, West Group HQ withdrew to Victoria Gap following a withdrawal by the infantry from Wan Chai Gap. The area around Victoria Gap was subject to heavy bombardment. Major John Munro, Brigade Major RA, recalls visiting West Group HQ during a truce in the morning of 25th December.
"After considerable search I found West Group HQ in a culvert under Lugard Road. Crowe had been shelled out of three houses where he had established his HQ." (Diary of Major Monro held at Imperial War Museum)
The Crown Colony capitulated in the early afternoon of 25th December 1941. The surrendered troops were corralled at various locations, but mostly around Victoria Barracks. A few days later they were incarcerated in POW camps at Sham Shui Po, Argyle Street and North Point. Captain Allanson may have initially entered Sham Shui Po Camp, but if so, a few months later, in April 1942, he was transferred to Argyle Street Camp, which became designated as an officer's camp.

The war diaries refer to Captain Allanson as a 2/Lt or Lt, but at some stage he was promoted to the rank of Captain. This could have been on transfer to 3rd Medium Battery, or on transfer to West Group HQ, or during the incarceration, but I suspect it was more likely to have been during the battle. MoD files (Forces-War-Records.co.uk) and Commonwealth War Graves Commission records (cwgc.org) all accord him the rank of Captain.

In September 1942, Captain Allanson was one of some 1,800 POWs who were to be transferred to Japan to work as slave labourers at docks, mines and factories. The POWs were taken on-board a Japanese freighter, the Lisbon Maru, which sailed from Hong Kong on 27th September 1942. 

The freighter Lisbon Maru (Source: Wikipedia)
The vessel was armed fore and aft, and displayed no markings to indicate that POWs were aboard. In addition to the POWs, the Lisbon Maru carried 778 Japanese troops. The POWs were crowded into three holds. Captain Allanson together with 380 men of the Royal Artillery, under the command of Major William Pitt, 8th Coast Regiment, were allocated to No. 3 Hold. This was the stern-most of the three holds allocated to the POWs, and was located aft of the bridge structure. The POWs were mostly sick with many suffering the effects of malnutrition, and others suffering from diphtheria, dysentery and malaria. The holds were overcrowded, filthy, rat infested, and there was no sanitary or washing facilities provided for the POWs below deck.

During the morning of 1st October, whilst some one hundred miles southeast of Shanghai, the ship was torpedoed by an American submarine, the USS Grouper. The submarine commander had no way of knowing that the Japanese freighter was carrying British POWs. The submarine fired six torpedoes, the fourth of which hit the freighter in her stern near the propeller shaft. The ship started taking on water and developed a list to port, but the old freighter took 24 hours to sink. The POWs were battened down in the holds. The air became musty and difficult to breath, and without access to toilets the conditions soon deteriorated. Since the freighter was slowly sinking by the stern, the No. 3 Hold was taking in the most water. A four-man water pump was lowered into the hold, and Captain Allanson helped to operate the pump.

The Japanese escort vessels tried to tow the sinking ship, but to no avail. By the morning of 2nd October it became obvious that the ship was going down, and would sink at any time. The Japanese soldiers had already been taken off, leaving a number of the crew and some armed guards. The Japanese were prepared to let the ship sink with the POWs trapped in the holds. When it became clear that the ship was going down, the men in No. 2 Hold managed to break out and release the covers on the two other holds. Many of the POWs were shot as they came out on deck. Many jumped over the ship's side and started swimming away from the stricken vessel, but a number of these men were shot whilst in the water. It was only after Chinese fishermen, from nearby islands, had started picking up survivors that the Japanese did the same. Some 800 British POWs lost their lives, including Captain Allanson who was subsequently reported as missing, believed drowned. The No. 3 Hold, which had taken in so much water, had the highest number of casualties from drowning.

After the war, one of the survivors of the sinking, who had been in the same hold, visited Kenneth's widowed mother, Dora Maude Allanson, and told her that Kenneth had manned the pumps to the end. In helping to save others, he gave up his life. He was remembered by Battery Quartermaster Sergeant Charles Barman, HKSRA, who kept a diary, and who had been in Argyle Street Camp with   Kenneth Allanson.
"I heard yesterday that Lieut Allanson of the 8th Coast Regiment was one of the unfortunates to go down when the Lisbon Maru was sunk last year, he was an excellent officer." (Resist to the End (2009) Charles Barman).
.....................



KEA visiting his sister in South Africa - September 1940 (Courtesy Christopher Allanson)

In happier times (Courtesy Christopher Allanson)

Acknowledgements:
My special thanks to Christopher Allanson, whose own father, James Allanson, served in the 51st Highland Division in North Africa and Italy. Kenneth was James Allanson's youngest brother. 

Information:
As usual if anybody can add to this story, or provide more information on Captain Kenneth Allanson, please do so by commenting on the post, or by contacting the writer. 

Lisbon Maru:
The full story of the sinking can be read in Tony Banham's book The Sinking of the Lisbon Maru - Britain's Forgotten Wartime Tragedy (2006).

Artillery Glossary:

Troop:   Refers to a unit of 4 guns. A Field Regiment normally had three Batteries and each Battery had two Troops.

Section: Refers to a unit of less than 4 guns (usually 2 and therefore a half Troop). Sections were sometimes designated Left and Right Sections.

  





1 comment:

  1. Excellent reading and research, thank you for your hard works

    ReplyDelete