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)|
|8th Coast Regiment, RA (Source: Major Templer's Diary Imperial War Museum)|
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)|
|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)|
"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)|
|Sai Wan Howitzer Section (Source: Govt Maps Office - Annotations made by the writer)|
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)
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.
|The freighter Lisbon Maru (Source: Wikipedia)|
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)|
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).
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.