Thursday 22 September 2016

Mount Davis - A walk among the ruins

Mount Davis is a prominent hill feature situated at the western end of Hong Kong Island. It commands the western approaches to the harbour and not surprisingly it was occupied by the military who first established a coastal defense battery (Fort Davis) in 1912 consisting of five 9.2-inch coastal defense guns.  

Wartime map showing Mount Davis
The close-up below shows the winding military road running up to the fort from Victoria Road. During WW2 there were three 9.2-inch guns at Fort Davis and two 3-inch AA guns. Two of the original five 9.2-inch guns were relocated to Stanley Fort. In December 1941, the 9.2-inch battery at Fort Davis was under the command of Major Eric Anderson 24th Coast Battery, 12th Coast Regiment, Royal Artillery,  and formed part of Western Fire Command.  Western Fire Command had its HQ at Fort Davis. The AA guns were commanded by Lt G. Wedderburn, 17th Heavy AA Battery, Royal Artillery. After the surrender he escaped from POW Camp in February 1942 and made his way to Free China.

Just below Mount Davis on the shoreline was Jubilee Battery armed with three 6-inch guns but far too low and blocked by terrain to be able to fire inland. 

Close up showing the restricted military area in red

One fine September day, I decided to take a stroll up to the fort, having not been up there for some time, and I wanted to take some photographs of the wartime structures and gun emplacements. At the bottom of Mount Davis Road, at the foot of Mount Davis, is a charming long colonial building called Felix Villas. There were originally two blocks on either side of Mount Davis Road. They were built in 1922 and residents enjoyed the leafy surrounds with wonderful sea views and sun sets. They were originally described as flats, but they seem to be what we would call today terraced town houses. They are occupied by tenants who no doubt appreciate the high ceilings, the fire places, the balustrades,  the colonial charm and the long sea views. 

Felix Mansions
Colonial elegance
The blocks were called Felix Villas after the British  property developer  Felix Alexander Joseph who was born in Hong Kong in 1890, son of Saul Albert Joseph also a long term resident of Hong Kong. Felix died in 1949 in the UK.  He was not in Hong Kong during WW2. I noticed there were two or three elderly internees during WW2 with the surname Joseph but I'm not sure if they are related. Felix married Gladys Enid Abelson (1904-1976). The Army commandeered Felix Villas once war started.  It was used as accommodation for the gunners. Mount Davis was one of the most heavily bombed and shelled locations in Hong Kong during the fighting in December 1941.

After walking up the military road I noticed a ruined military structure on the hillside. It could be the guardhouse - although it seemed a bit too low down the hill to be the location of the guardroom and gate to the fort.

Military structure - could this be the guardhouse ?
Further up the road, but before reaching the No. 1 Gun emplacement. There was another set of military structures on the hillside above the road. This fitted more with descriptions I have seen of where the guardroom and gate was located. The photo below shows signs of the original camouflage paint on this structure. This same colour camouflage pattern can be seen on other WW2 structures in Hong Kong.

Wartime camouflage paint pattern still evident
I then came to the ruined and war damaged No.1 Gun emplacement. The view from the gun site  is obscured by the trees. There were no trees on this hillside in 1941 and the gun emplacements and their Battery Observation Posts (BOPs) had an unobstructed view. Just behind the battery hidden on the hillside is what appears to be a BOP with what looks like an a concrete structure for the range finder. 

No 1 Gun Emplacement
No. 1 Gun Emplacement 
The 9.2-inch guns were designed for coastal defense and not for land firing. They were powerful guns that could fire a 350-pound shell more than 20 kilometers. They ensured that the Japanese Navy stayed well out of range. However their normal ammunition consisted of armour-piercing shells for targeting enemy warships. There was a shortage of High Explosive (HE) and shrapnel shells (anti-personnel) that were needed for firing at land targets and Japanese infantry positions. The guns could traverse and fire landwards, and they were used very effectively in this role, although it was not what they were designed for.

Entry to the lower floor of Port War Signal Station
A little way past No. 1 Gun a path leads up to to a two-storey structure which was the Port War Signal Station - operated by the Royal Navy half way up the hillside of Mount Davis. The path leads to the entry portal to the lower storey by way of  a high sided concrete passageway shown above.

Top floor of RN Signal Station
Continuing up the military road I came to the No. 2 Gun emplacement with its high concrete screen.  There is a splinter proof war shelter behind it at road level. 

No. 2 Gun concrete screen

No. 2 Gun Emplacement

No 3 Gun (the "pet" of the battery) 
Battery Observation Post with war damaged collapsed roof.

Battery buildings

Ruins of battery buildings

Fragmentation damage

Wartime fragmentation damage

Battery buildings
The No. 3 gun was the "pet" of the battery because it was the highest gun and was most effective at landward firing. On the 24th of December a force of fifty gunners was assembled from Jubilee and Fort Davis to fight as infantry in Wan Chai as Fortress HQ desperately looked for additional troops for the front line. After the surrender on 25th December the battery personnel remained at Mount Davis continuing to use  Felix Villas for accommodation. The Japanese arrived and took over the fort on 27th December. On 28th December the battery personnel were marched to Victoria Barracks and ferried, then marched, to Sham Shui Po Camp on 30th December.