Wednesday 21 June 2017

Following the route taken by 'D' Coy Royal Rifles of Canada (Monthly Blog June 2017)

Following the route taken by 'D' Coy Royal Rifles of Canada on Saturday 20th December 1941 

It was a wet week in Hong Kong, which had started with a No. 8 typhoon. The nine-day weather forecast predicted nothing but intermittent storms. On Saturday 17th June I set out in the relentless rain to follow the route taken by 'D' Coy Royal Rifles of Canada during an attack made through Repulse Bay View in an anti-clockwise direction around Violet Hill. The annotated war time maps below show the route taken by 'D' Coy, as deduced from reading the battalion war diary combined with on-the-ground re-enactment. Take a close look at these two maps, and then let's follow the route taken by this company along the catchments to the point where they made a surprise attack on a Japanese mobile battery positioned at Gauge Basin in the afternoon of 20th December 1941.

Stage 1:  Stanley View to Repulse Bay View
Stage 2: Repulse Bay View to Gauge Basin
By way of background, the Japanese landed on the north shore of the Island on the night of Thursday 18th and Friday 19th December 1941. The landing force included three infantry regiments (228th, 229th, and 230th) of the 38th Division of the Imperial Japanese Army. Each regiment utilised two of their three battalions. The 3rd battalion initially remaining on the Mainland and under Divisional command. Each battalion consisted of 1,000 men. They landed between North Point and Shau Kei Wan. They were augmented by artillery, engineers, gendarmes and other support troops. They moved quickly inland having overrun the Indian infantry battalion (5th/7th Rajputs) responsible for the defence of that sector of the Island shore. All six infantry battalions converged from different directions on Wong Nai Chung (WNC) Gap, a strategic central point on the Island. The first battalion to arrive at WNC Gap were from Colonel Shoji's 230th Regiment which had landed at North Point and proceeded along Sir Cecil's Ride through the night. One battalion was sent up Jardine's Lookout and one continued to WNC Gap. At dawn on Friday 19th the lead troops had seized WNC Gap Police Station situated on a knoll at the gap, they had surrounded the Advanced Dressing Station (ADS) situated in three splinter proof shelters at the top of Blue Pool Road where it intersected with WNC Gap Road, half way between the police station knoll and West Infantry Brigade HQ. They also captured the AA battery at Stanley Gap. The leading troops had suffered many casualties when PB 1 on the western slopes of Jardine's Lookout had opened fire in the early light of dawn. Later that morning (Friday 19th December) West Brigade HQ found itself on the front line. Brigadier Lawson and his brigade staff were trapped in their cluster of splinter proof shelters north off WNC Gap and facing Jardine's Lookout. At approximately 1000 hours Brigadier Lawson called Major-General Maltby, in his underground bunker referred to as the Battle Box,  to say he was going to try and fight his way out. As he rushed out with a small group of Brigade staff he was shot in the legs by machine gun fire and bled to death in front of his shelters. 

During Friday 19th December a number of counterattacks were made to recapture WNC Gap and to relieve the Brigadier and his HQ not realising that he was already dead. The counterattacks were made by different units from different directions and included Royal Engineers, Royal Navy, Royal Artillery, Royal Scots and Winnipeg Grenadiers. These counterattacks were courageously prosecuted, but were unsuccessful because they were made against well-entrenched Japanese positions who were there in significantly superior numbers. On Friday and Saturday the Japanese had four battalions of infantry at or around WNC Gap.

East Infantry Brigade had spent the whole day on Friday 19th December withdrawing from the eastern sector of the Island in order to avoid being cut off by the rapidity of the Japanese advance. In the process they lost most of their mobile artillery, because the batteries found themselves on the front line and there were no lorries to tow the 6-inch and 4.5-inch howitzers out of their positions and there were no mules to transport the 3.7-inch howitzers. Only one howitzer was successfully withdrawn to Stanley. This was the 3.7-inch howitzer at Tai Tam Fork Battery. The loss of so much of the mobile artillery would have a huge cost in East Infantry Brigade's subsequent counterattacks which were made with inadequate mortar and artillery support. On Friday night the withdrawal to the Stanley perimeter was completed. The next day, on Saturday 20th,  East Brigade would counterattack WNC Gap in an effort to join hands with West Brigade. That was the plan, and now everything depended on Brigadier Wallis and East Infantry Brigade to break through. 

The Brigade advanced early the next morning from Stanley View to Repulse Bay. However what was not known is that time, was that during the night Colonel Tanaka had taken two infantry battalions along the catch-water from WNC Gap Reservoir to Middle Spur. He had also sent troops up and over Violet Hill. In the early hours he had captured Middle Spur which overlooked Repulse Bay and his lead troops had come down paths emerging on Repulse Bay Road. They seized the roadblock at the junction of Repulse Bay Road and Island Road and one unit moved eastwards to Repulse Bay. In doing this, the Japanese had cut the Island in two, and now had a continuous line from the landing grounds on the north shore up Mount Parker Road, down to Gauge Basin, along Stanley Gap Road, and along the water catchment known as Violet Hill Path to Middle Spur and the road junction Repulse Bay Road/Island Road. 

Japanese troops infiltrating into Repulse Bay were spotted by the small garrison at Repulse Bay Hotel and fired on. The Japanese took cover in the hotel garage block, now a Ferrari showroom. As East Brigade arrived at Repulse Bay they were fired on by Japanese troops in the garage block. An 18-pdr field gun from 965 Defence Battery located at Stanley View was utilised to fire on the garage. The garage was retaken and East Brigade continued their advance, but now came under fire from Middle Spur. Wallis ordered Lt-Col Home commanding officer Royal Rifles of Canada to capture Middle Spur and continue the advance up Repulse Bay Road to the gap. Two composite platoons of the Middlesex Regiment were sent up to Violet Hill Path to attack the Japanese troops occupying and digging in at Middle Spur. They were to attack from the east, i.e. in a clockwise direction around Violet Hill. 'D' Coy, Royal Rifles of Canada, were ordered to advance through Repulse Bay View and proceed in an anti-clockwise direction around Violet Hill to Gauge Basin and to press on to WNC Gap. 'D' Coy was commanded by thirty-nine-year-old Major Maurice Parker. He was accompanied by Major Price, Second-in-Command of the battalion, and Flight-Lt Thompson, Brigade Intelligence Officer. A 3-inch mortar detachment  from 'HQ' Coy was assigned to operate under Major Parker's command. 

Major Parker had attended an orders group at Repulse Bay at 0800 hours that morning. His company had spent an uncomfortable night on the rocky crest of Stanley Mound. They came down the path to Stanley View on Saturday morning where they ate their rations, consisting of biscuits and bully beef,  which had been provided the previous day. The advance to Repulse Bay View was made along the water catchment, and the easiest place for an infantry company to access that catchment from Island Road was Stanley View. From Stanley it is a steep but short climb up from the road to the water catchment. Stanley View would have been the  starting point.

Stanley View is a name no longer used, but would have been well known in 1941. It is the area at the junction of Chung Hom Kok Road and what was called Island Road. It may have originally referred to the hill (on the right of the photo immediately below) on which there is a service reservoir. Coming from Repulse Bay it is the first point at which you get a view of Stanley. In 1941 it was a defended area and there are still a number of war time ruins including a military grade toilet block, machine gun pits and various splinter proof shelters. 

The brow at Stanley View - Stanley ahead and Repulse Bay behind.
This view taken from the hillside shows the cutting and road gap at Stanley View
The wartime toilet block - now being devoured by a tree
The 1941 toilet block at Stanley View
A splinter proof shelter (stuffed full of wood) on the hillside south of the road at Stanley View
A cluster of two splinter proof shelters covered by undergrowth at top of Headland Road (Stanley View)
Two destroyed splinter proof shelters on the hillside north of the road near the machine gun pits. These two shelters had been occupied by squatters at some time after the war.
At or around Stanley View, 'D' Coy accessed the catchment path shown below. The water catchment is about 5ft deep,  but gets deeper as it approaches Repulse Bay View where it is about 6ft deep proving good cover for the advancing troops.

It was about here that 'D' Coy accessed the catchwater

In the photo above you can see the hill south of the road (then called Island Road) with the pipeline running up to the small reservoir on the summit. I believe the reservoir may be post-war, but I suspect there was a pre-war reservoir on that site, because references are made in wartime accounts to there being water pipes running up from South Bay Road, beside a path leading to Stanley View.    The advance started at 1100 hours in broad daylight and so the infantry would have moved inside the catch water to avoid their deployment being seen.
As one gets closer to Repulse Bay View you get a view of Violet Hill
The photo above, taken from the catchment, shows Violet Hill in the background. In 1941 there was less forestation and the path along the catchment was more visible than it is today. This stretch shown in the photograph is open and gives an impression of what it was like in 1941. This view taken in 2017 is unchanged from December 1941, except then there was less undergrowth and less trees. The Japanese were on top of Violet Hill and along the path (Violet Hill Path) that runs along the southern slopes of Violet Hill to WNC Gap Reservoir. In the battalion war diary, Major Parker estimates they proceeded along this catch water for about 1,800 yards which was consistent with my observations.  It leads to an intersection of paths referred to in 1941 as Repulse Bay View. This nomenclature is no longer used. Current maps refer to it as Repulse Bay Gap. Most people would know it as the junction of paths at the bottom of the "one thousand steps" on the Wilson Trail leading up to the Twins. There are two sets of splinter proof shelters remaining at this location but they are entirely covered by the undergrowth. One of these is shown in the photo below.
Hidden from view the splinter proof shelter at Repulsec Bay View with the inevitable rubbish and plastic bottles.
There is another shelter higher up the hill. They were used by the platoon  stationed at this gap in the hills. The position was originally manned by Winnipeg Grenadiers and later by No. 2 Platoon No. 1 Coy HKVDC. They had abandoned these shelters when ordered to evacuate to the Stanley Perimeter on Friday 19th. When Major Parker arrived here at around noon on Saturday 30th he wrote in the battalion war diary that they passed "shelters in which conditions indicated that troops had vacated them hurriedly." At this point they had to cross an area of open ground and proceed uphill to another catch-water running parallel to the first one. This catch water runs northeast towards Gauge Basin. The catch-water is much shallower. The troops went past the low knoll on which Tai Tam Bungalow stands. This was a residence for senior Water Works Engineers and their families in pre-war days. It had been used during the battle as Coy HQ for Captain Harry Penn's No. 1 Coy, HKVDC, until they evacuated to Stanley on Friday 19th.

Workmen's Quarters adjacent to Tai Tam Bungalow

The ruins of Tai Tam Bungalow

The second water catchment (much shallower than the first).
The water catchment ends here right next to the road track which led to Stanley Gap Road and WNC Gap
The catchment path comes to an end at this bridge (shown in photo above) which emerges next to the road track that led up to Stanley Gap Road and WNC Gap. On the right hand side is the knoll on which the Gauge Basin 3.7-inch howitzer battery was situated. The guns had been disabled and abandoned on Friday 19th December.

The lead platoon was Lt Simmon's No. 18 platoon.  After going along the catchment for some 1,500 yards they emerged at Byewash Reservoir soon after having gone past the Tai Tam Bungalow.  At this point they came across a Japanese mobile battery with pack mules. This battery had been observed and engaged as it came down from Tai Tam Gap, crossed the lower reservoir and then drove up Mount Parker Road to occupy a position at Gauge Basin. No. 18 platoon was only 100 to 150yards from the battery. They crawled along the shallow water catchment to get into the best firing position. Then they opened fire causing a large number of casualties to the enemy. Mules screeched and ammunition boxes exploded. Lt Power's No. 17 Platoon had been sent up a higher path and observed Japanese troops at and around Gauge Basin battery and joined the action by opening  fire on them. It was clearly impossible to get through to WNC Gap, and with ammunition running low, the Japanese alerted and in pursuit,  the company withdrew along the two catchments back to Stanley View.

An open area on the road that the battery came up from Tai Tam X-Roads. The battery could have been deployed here when they were ambushed by 'D' Coy
Another view of the open area (possible site of the Japanese mobile battery). The path taken by 'D' Coy was on the hillside across the reservoir
George MacDonnell was a Platoon Sgt in No 18 Platoon. In his book One Soldier's Story (2002) he described how as they were preparing to fire on the mobile battery a Japanese staff car pulled up. As the officers disembarked the platoon opened fire. The range was less than 200 yards, they fired from the cover of the catchment, with the sun behind them. As they withdrew down the catchment they  came under fire from Japanese troops on Violet Hill. One Rifleman was wounded by a bullet in the leg as they crossed the open ground area between the two catchments. They arrived at Stanley View in the dark and rain at 2300 hours. They spent the night at the food stores building at Chung Hom Kok two or three hundred yards from Stanley View.

The mobile battery and troop  column had been fired on, that morning, by Bren gun carriers from No. 3 Platoon (Carrier Platoon) No. 1 Coy, HKVDC, as they approached the dam over the lower reservoir and the Tai Tam X-Roads. The battery had fired on Cash's bungalow thinking that was the source of fire. The battery crossed the dam and turned right at the X-Roads driving up to Gauge Basin.  'D'  Coy took them by surprise. The Japanese had no idea that Canadian troops had infiltrated into that area. 'D' Coy had struck back and struck hard, destroying the battery and causing heavy casualties to both men and mules. George MacDonnell wrote that after the surrender the Japanese tried to find out who had led this audacious raid on the battery, and the Japanese positions at Gauge Basin, but that they were met with a wall of Canadian silence.



My thanks to Geoff Moore for posting this pic on FaceBook Page  Battle of  Hong Kong  - the pre-war photograph shows Repulse Bay, Repulse Bay View and the water catchment running from Stanley View to Repulse Bay View and gives perspective. It was taken from the road above Eucliffe.