Sunday, 9 June 2019

What happened to No. 4 Battery at Pak Sha Wan in December 1941

What exactly happened at Pak Sha Wan Battery, on 18 December 1941 which was the night the Japanese Army landed on Hong Kong Island. It has never been very clear. Did the Japanese by-pass the battery as they moved inland to capture Sai Wan AA Fort and Lye Mun Barracks? Was the reported attempted landing at Pak Sha Wan on the night of 15 December a false alarm? During that night the British searchlights were illuminated over the narrow Lye Mun Strait and a British artillery barrage was laid down, but Japanese records do not refer to any attempted invasion on 15 December. What action was the battery involved in? Was the commanding officer a malingerer as suggested in some accounts, or was he a strong leader who fought on until his men were forced to capitulate some two days after the Japanese landings. Did a number of the battery personnel desert their post? What exactly happened there? 

The battery location

The battery was located on the northeast shore of Hong Kong Island directly opposite Devil's Peak Peninsula on the Mainland. The harbour narrowed at this point to form the Lye Mun Strait. The red coloured areas shown in the map were military restricted areas. Pak Sha Wan was a coastal defence battery and formed part of Eastern Fire Command. Its position allowed it to fire on Junk Bay and on the eastern approaches to the harbour. It was also in a position to conduct landward firing. During the battle, it ended up being on the front line.

Pre-war map showing the location of Pak Sha Wan Battery
The photograph below (probably dated between 1947-49), taken from Sai Wan Military Cemetery, shows the battery position relative to Sai Wan Hill and Lye Mun Gap.

Sai Wan Military Cemetery 
History of the Battery

The battery, completed in 1903, was originally designed to accommodate four 12-pounder Quick Firing (QF) guns. These were replaced in 1910 with three 6-inch breech-loading (BL) guns. In 1936/37 one of the 6-inch guns was removed. Dennis Rollo, in The Guns & Gunners of Hong Kong (1991), wrote that the empty emplacement was the middle one (No. 2) but at some point, a wooden dummy gun was installed. The three gun emplacements still exist, and likewise the magazines and Battery Observation Post (BOP). The ruins, especially the BOP, also referred to as the Battery Command Post (BCP), and the blast walls and the gun positions show considerable fragmentation and splinter damage. The ruins are inaccessible to the public as they lie within a closed area of the Coastal Defence Museum compound.

Battery Layout (Source: The Guns & Gunners of Hong Kong - Dennis Rollo)
1912 Plan of the battery (Source: UKNA WO78/5351) 
Post War Photo of No 1 Gun Emplacement ( Source: The Guns & Gunners of Hong Kong - Dennis Rollo)
The military installations at Lye Mun promontory included Lye Mun Barracks which had been built around 1897. New barracks buildings had been added in 1938. The Sai Wan Redoubt had been completed around 1903 at about the same time as Pak Sha Wan Battery. After mobilisation in December 1941, Lye Mun Barracks were mostly empty as the troops had been deployed to their battle positions. One 3.7-inch howitzer manned by the Hong Kong Singapore Royal Artillery (HKSRA) had been moved to the barracks area from Tai Tam Fork Battery and was positioned mid-way between the Barracks and Sai Wan AA Fort. The howitzer had been moved to Lye Mun to conduct fire on Japanese mortar positions and observation posts that had been sighted on Devil's Peak Peninsula. At Sai Wan Fort, the old Victorian redoubt remained but an AA Fort had been built around it consisting of two 3-inch AA guns and various battery buildings most of which still remain today and are fully accessible. Lye Mun Barracks buildings are now part of the Lye Mun Park & Holiday Village and have been well preserved. Day visits can be arranged. Situated close to Sai Wan Hill, there were two howitzer sections each consisting of two 6-inch guns manned by HKSRA. One (the Sai Wan Section) was situated southeast of Sai Wan Hill and the other (Parker Section) was situated off Island Road between Lye Mun Gap and Tai Tam Gap. 'C' Coy, Royal Rifles of Canada, were positioned at and around Lye Mun Gap. The Victorian redoubt on the cliffs at Lye Mun and its attached batteries (West, Central and Reverse Batteries) were no longer in use. Today this structure houses the Museum of Coastal Defence.

Pak Sha Wan Battery in December 1941

The battery consisting of two 6-inch BL guns was manned by No. 4 Battery HKVDC. The battery consisted of three officers and ninety-four men. It was commanded by Captain K. M A. Barnett. Kenneth Myer Arthur Barnett was born in London in March 1911. He was a graduate of King's College, Cambridge where he studied Classics. In 1934, aged twenty-three, he joined the Colonial Service in Hong Kong as a cadet officer. He was sent to Canton for two years to learn Chinese. He had served as a Magistrate at Kowloon Magistracy until 1941 when he was transferred to the War Taxation Office. He joined the HKVDC in 1937 initially as a gunner, and then in 1939, he was selected to serve as a  commissioned officer. No. 4 Battery was mainly comprised of Chinese, Portuguese and Eurasian gunners and NCOs. These included Capt. Barnett,  2/Lt Ronald Sleap, BSM John Delgado and BQMS Ignatius Fernandez. Lt Henry Buxton from No. 2 Battery had been sent, on 17 December, to No. 4 Battery to relieve 2/Lt Sleap. The battery was manned following the announcement of a State of Emergency on Sunday 7 December. The following day the Japanese Army crossed the border into Hong Kong and the war began.
   After the evacuation of British troops from the Mainland was completed on Saturday 13 December the battery, and the surrounding area and the whole of the northeast shore came under increasingly heavy artillery and aerial bombardment. This bombardment was particularly heavy during the day on 18 December as a prelude to the Japanese landings that occurred that night. The whole of the Lye Mun area and the shoreline from North Point to Shau Kei Wan was completely pulverised. The Military commander, Major General C. M. Maltby described the bombardment of the battery in his Report on Operations for 14/15 December.
Pak Sha Wan Battery (Chinese Volunteers) came in for particular attention, being shelled and mortared. Its Battery Command Post and all internal communications were destroyed and the Battery Commander was wounded and evacuated. ... At this juncture owing to an imperfectly conveyed message and an error of judgement of the junior officer left in acting command, the personnel were given the option of going to Stanley. All but two Chinese left; seventeen British and Portuguese stayed. A few British gunners were later sent up as reinforcements. (Report on Operations by Major-General Maltby)
I assume the junior officer was 2/Lt Sleap who was later relieved by Lt Henry Buxton from No. 2 Battery, HKVDC, at Stanley. What was the real explanation for the depletion of the battery personnel? Gunner Maximo Cheng recalled in an interview for the Imperial War Museum (IWM) that a Chinese Sergeant, perhaps acting as a spokesman, stated they could not take much more of the continual bombardment. Cheng recalled that a number of the gunners were marched out and taken to Stanley Fort where No 2 Battery HKVDC was based. He also stated that some of the gunners had deserted. Phillip Bruce, writing in Second to None the story of the Hong Kong Volunteers (1991), refers to a visit by Kenneth Barnet to the ruins of the battery in 1987 at which time he indicated that an arrangement had been made to exchange gunners. The story goes that Barnett had got through to Captain Douglas Crozier, the commanding officer at No. 2 Battery at Stanley. He had advised Crozier that some of the battery personnel were getting jittery from being constantly under shellfire. They had discussed sending battery personnel back to recuperate and replacing them with men from No 2 Battery who had not yet been under fire. Cheng had been part of a searchlight emplacement crew. He recalled that during the bombardment they sheltered in the underground-magazines. He recalled that when he left for Stanley a number of Chinese, Portuguese and British gunners and NCO's remained at Pak Sha Wan Battery. It is not clear whether any of the personnel were switched other than Lt Buxton being sent from Stanley to replace 2/Lt Sleap, nor is it clear whether 2/Lt Sleap did move in time to Stanley, or whether he was still in the battery on the night of the Japanese landings.
   The war diary of the Royal Rifles of Canada states that on 15 December when Pak Sha Wan Battery reportedly came under attack (the attempted landing), a number of the battery personnel withdrew to Island Road at Lye Mun Gap. This must have been the group that Maximo Cheng refers to and the one that Maltby suggests 2/Lt Sleap authorised to withdraw. This decision was made in the absence of his battery commander who was reportedly wounded. Carl Vincent writing in No Reason Why (1981) suggests that Captain Barnett, who is not mentioned by name, may not have been wounded. He sought medical treatment from Captain Banfill, the MO for the Royal Rifles of Canada.
The previous day this same officer, a local magistrate, had been in to see Banfill at the Lye Mun Advanced Dressing Station (ADS). His battery had been shelled or bombed and several of his men wounded. The officer himself had his head and arm dressed but on examination revealed no wounds at all. (No Reason Why p.143)
Perhaps, he had a concussion from the blast effects of the artillery fire, and, perhaps, like many of his men, his nerves were strained from the continual barrage, but he did return to his post.
   
The night of 15 December

Major-General Maltby wrote in his published report on operations that an attempted landing took place on 15 December.
At 2100 hours, an attempted landing was reported by the Pak Sha Wan Battery (HKVDC). It was ascertained later from several sources that a very bold attempt was made by the enemy who, with small rubber boats and petrol tin rafts for equipment, swam across in fair strength - estimates varied from one to three companies. All were shot in the water, the depleted battery contributing stout defence. (Major-General Maltby)
Brigadier Wallis, at his underground Brigade HQ at Tai Tam Gap, received reports from Pak Sha Wan that an attempted landing was taking place and that the sentry beam had been illuminated. Wallis arranged for East Group Royal Artillery to lay down an artillery barrage in the narrows and on the foreshore of Devils Peak Peninsula. For anybody in the vicinity, it must have looked like a full-scale battle. However, Japanese reports make no reference to an attempted landing on this date. They had sent swimmers across to recce the Island foreshore but had made no attempt at a landing.  The North Point fixed beam was also illuminated that evening and some PB's on the north shore fired red Verey lights indicating enemy sightings. These may well have been Chinese sampans and junks. Major Evan Stewart described the attempted landing in his book Hong Kong Volunteers in Battle (1953).
The No. 2 searchlight of 4th Battery HKVDC was depressed and showed Japanese in considerable numbers crossing the channel, using a junk, small rafts and rubber boats. The battery promptly opened fire and sank the junk, besides doing considerable damage among the rafts. ... The Japanese counter batteries quickly opened ... the searchlight was hit and considerable further damage done to the fort. (Major Evan Steart)
BQMS Charles Barman was at Lye Mun with an ammunition convoy and witnessed the attempted landing.
I saw others from my vantage point ... making the journey in a weird assortment of craft such as small rubber boats, sampans and junks. As this armada arrived at the middle of the harbour the defenders pored a murderous fire into the Japanese. A junk punctuated by hundreds of bullets was holed and sank , sampans were hit and overturned. ... The channel became a dark shambles of shrieking struggling and drowning Japanese. (Resist to the End (2009) p. 35)
There is no doubt for people there, it seemed that they were being attacked and that a major battle was in progress. However, as Carl Vincent and some other writers suggest, it is possible that these were Chinese junks and sampans escaping from the Mainland. There had been many other such false alarms and shootings during that week. The launch Jeannette had been sunk on the night of 12 December when a PB crew thought they were being attacked by a Japanese vessel full of troops. The withdrawal to Stanley by a large number of No. 4 Battery occurred on that night. Later, after the commotion had died down, Major Bishop led a party of riflemen into Pak Sha Wan Fort. 

The night of the Japanese Landings

On the night of 18 December, the Japanese landed six infantry battalions on the north shore. Two battalions from the 230th Regiment landed at North Point and two battalions from the 228th Regiment landed at Quarry Bay/Tai Koo. The two battalions from the 229th Regiment landed at Aldrich Bay and Kung Am. The 3rd Battalion 229th Regiment having got ashore in Aldrich Bay moved quickly inland and ascended the north facing slopes of Mount Parker. The 2nd Battalion of the 229th Regiment landed at Kung Am close to Shau Kei Wan. This battalion seized the Sai Wan AA Fort and overran Lye Mun Barracks.
   Major Evan Stewart writing in Hong Kong Volunteers in Battle (1953) states that the Japanese attacked the battery and that the No. 1 Gun was overrun, but they did not press home the attack. These accounts then suggest that Lt Ken Barnett and a small party of gunners held on in the battery for a further two days before surrendering on 20 December. Japanese tactics often involved bypassing strongly held positions, or simply picketing them, while other more important objectives were achieved.  It seems that the Japanese after having overrun the No 1 Gun continued north to put out the search-light rather than infiltrating the rest of the battery buildings.
   We know that thirty-eight-year-old  Lt Henry Buxton from No. 2 Battery (based at Stanley) was ordered by Major Watson to relieve 2/Lt Sleap at Pak Sha Wan Battery after dusk on 17 December. On the 18 December, Lt Buxton led a party of gunners from Pak Sha Wan Battery and ran into a Japanese patrol making their way through the barracks. The Japanese troops were advancing to the battery with the objective of putting out the searchlight which was illuminating the Japanese landing craft crossing the Lye Mun Straits. In the melee Lt Buxton was killed and his troops killed or dispersed. There was only one survivor, who was able to tell what happened during subsequent incarceration. The Japanese had heard the British troops coming, they prepared an ambush, hailed them in English and then opened fire. Robert Gandt interviewed a Japanese officer Lt Akimasa Kishi whilst researching for his book Season of Storms (1982). Lt Kishi's orders were to proceed to Pak Sha Wan Battery and to attack the battery from the rear and simultaneously destroy the searchlight position. It was Kishi's troops that must have run into Lt Buxton's party. Robert Gandt writes that the battery was overrun by Kishi's unit and that Kishi's sergeant had proceeded to the searchlight with a group of twelve men but had faced resistance from the small group of Royal Engineers manning the searchlight. The  Japanese sergeant had been killed. The searchlight was eventually captured, the commanding officer, Captain Otway, RE,  and an NCO, Corporal Pelham managed to escape the position. At the battery, Captain Barnett, who had earlier ordered his remaining gun to fire at Shau Kei Wan, had been by-passed and remained at the battery until surrendering to Japanese troops on or around 20 December.

Conclusions

The battery was undoubtedly a wretched place to be stationed under an almost continuous barrage from 13 to 18 December. I think many of the Volunteers suffered from the nervous strain of being under such a heavy and continuous bombardment. Captain Barnett was reported as having been wounded although some records suggest that no wounds were found on him at the ADS. However, it could have been bruising and concussion combined with shell shock. We don't know, but we do know he returned to his post.
   It is quite likely that the attempted landing on 15 December was a false alarm. The Japanse would not have tried landing with such a small force in such flimsy boats and rafts. When they did cross the harbour on 18 December they brought six infantry battalions and landed more than 8,000 men.
   2/Lt Sleap may not have had much choice in allowing his Chinese gunners to withdraw to Stanley. If he had not done so they may have deserted. According to Maximo Cheng, some did desert. Maximo Cheng suggested that at least one of the guns was out of action and the Command Post was badly damaged. I think it is likely that the Japanese did by-pass the battery after putting the sentry beam out of action. They had other objectives including an RV at Lye Mun Gap the following morning and to get to Tai Tam Gap, Boa Vista and WNC Gap. It is likely that Captain Barnett did hold on to the battery until 20 December when they surrendered.
   It is not clear whether Lt Buxton was extricating or leading a counterattack towards the barracks, we only know that he and his men were killed by Japanese troops advancing through the barracks. Buxton was thirty-eight-years-old at the time of his death. He had married Alberta Walton (nee Pearce) in 1940. She had a daughter Patricia. Buxton's wife, Alberta, was a military volunteer nurse. She was one of three nurses who were raped, mutilated and killed by Japanese troops when they attacked the temporary hospital at St Stephen's College on Christmas Morning.
   Maximo Cheng was incarcerated firstly at North Point and later at Sham Shui Po Camp. He was released from SSP Camp with other Chinese POWs in September 1942. He then obtained a pass to leave for China and eventually reached Kweilin and from there proceeded to India where he joined the British Regular Army later becoming part of the Chindits and fighting in Burma. He was recommended for Officer Training and commissioned as a 2/Lt.
   Kenneth Barnet was interned initially at Argyle Street and later at Sham Shui Po Camp. In 1944, during a visit by Zindel, the Swiss Red Cross Representative in Hong Hong, he spoke out in French to say they were starving and had no medicines. As a result, he was severely beaten by the guards. He was awarded the MiD after the war for his bravery in POW Camps. He survived the incarceration and remained in Hong Kong after the war serving with the British Military Administration. He resumed his career with the Hong Kong Government until retiring in 1969. He was a linguist and could speak several languages including Mandarin and Cantonese. He married a Chinese lady, Joan Wong Hing-sham in February 1946,  whom he had met prior to the war in Canton. They had an adopted daughter who became a lawyer in the UK.



Members of No. 4 Battery - HKVDC

     Name           Given Names                               No.    Rank      Date of Death


BarnettKen Myer Arthur Capt
BoneAdam3224Sgt24-Dec-41
Brown Harold Wilson 1708Sgt17-Dec-41
BuxtonHenry  ThomasLt18-Dec-41
CamposHenry Maria4836Gnr18-Dec-41
ChanCL-Bdr
ChanChi Wing 3492Gunner
ChanAlbert Kam Chuen4088Gunner
ChangWSF  (Bill) 4386Gunner
ChengMaximo Anthony4616Gunner
CheungYan Sing2800Gunner
ChuaPTGunner
ChungWah Leung (Leslie)4531Gunner
ChungR2579Gunner
DelgadoJohn Anthony2508  or 3787BSM
FernandezIgnatiusBQMS15-Dec-41
GreavesStanley  E.Gunner18-Dec-41
Ho  Sai KwongGunner
KwokChan Lun2880Gunner
LaiJohn4658Gunner
LaiWYGunner
LeeEdward  F4536Gunner
LeonardAlbert  Reginald4271Gunner
LeungJackson2632Gunner
LiKYL-Bdr
LiF XGunner
LimJohn Anthony4343Gunner25-Dec-41
LoKa Mo4272Gunner
LuiT.CGunner
PauCharles Francis3436Gunner
Poon Chun Ho 3494Gunner
Rocha Antonio  JoaoL-Bdr18-Dec-41
RochaCarlos   Eduardo3439Gunner
Rocha Frederico Lizola3438Gunner
Schnepel Frederick4217L-Bdr15-Dec-41
SiuR4984Gunner
SleapRonaldLt
SmithArthur3792Bdr
SoT.Y. Gunner
TangH.Y.H.L-Sgt
TangSik Hung 3481Gunner
ThompsonSgt
Villa-CarlosMiguel3811L-Bdr
XavierAntonio  Maria3820L-Bdr
Officers and Volunteers KIA or DoW
POW at Surrender of Japanese
Released by Japanese 
Did not enter Camp or escaped
N.B.  1.   Lt Henry Buxton was No. 2 Battery but was assigned to No 4 Battery on 17 December 1941
          2.  This is a partial list containing 44 of the 97 members of the battery






4 comments:

  1. Philip - Thank you. A well researched piece. Two questions: In the late 1980s the last British Commander at the Barracks organised for a group of prisoners from Stanley to clear the vegetation around the PSW battery. Japanese ammunition clips were found quite close to the BOP. In an oral recount of the battle the officer mentioned three items that I would like to confirm: 1) That elements of PSW were a poorly constructed. Evidence being the lack of steel reinforcement in the BOP and nearby structures, 2) That some men within the battery (Chinese/Portuguese members of the VDC in his account) held out until after the surrender 3) That the hold-outs were executed and the bodies thrown off the cliff. These were discovered during the land reclamation of Heng Fa Cheng in 1978. Anything in your research to confirm this?

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    Replies
    1. Thank you for your message. I don't know whether there was poor construction or not. I did not hear of that during research. The emplacements all looked pretty solid and consistent with other coastal defence batteries at the time I visited a couple of years ago. The BCP took a direct hit and you can still see the substantial damage. I believe that some of the battery personnel including Captain Barnett held on until surrendering on 20 December but in fairness I believe this was because they were by-passed (rather than holding out) and this because the 2nd Bn 229th had their objectives - i.e. Sai Wan Hill, Lye Mun Barracks and then Boa Vista/Tai Tam Gap and by Friday 19th evening to RV with 3rd Bn 229th at Stanley Gap. Maybe that's why they did not stop to flush out defenders in the battery area. I have not heard of survivors being killed after capture. The bodies may have been from the searchlight emplacement on the cliffs. The Japanese patrol who entered the battery overan No 1 emplacement but only because it was in the way of getting to the searchlight which they had orders to destroy. Hope that helps. Its very difficult getting a clear picture of what happened there. Philip

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  2. Excellent account that throws some "light" on searches of what happened. I have met Maximo years ago. Quite a strong personality. Knew he was at the battery but didn't press for any stories.

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