Saturday 21 September 2019

Pillbox No. 22 - Beach Defence Unit

As part of preparations for the defence of Hong Kong, during the late 1930s and early 1940s, some seventy-two beach defence pillboxes were constructed around the shoreline of Hong Kong Island.  PB No. 1 was located at Sandy Bay and the PBs were numbered in ascending order in an anticlockwise direction from Sandy Bay to the shoreline below Mount Davis (PB No. 72). These first and last of these PBs can be seen in the pre-war map extract below.

The map shows PB 1 (First) and PB 72 (Last) of the littoral PBs
The red numbered squares on the map represent a beach defence PB. The unnumbered PBs (like those shown at the top of Mount Davis Road) are line-of-gap or other PBs but not beach defence units. Those that have not been coloured-in on the map (see the north shore) were uncompleted when the map was drawn up circa December 1939.
In December 1941, most of the beach defence PBs were manned by 1st Battalion Middlesex (1/Mx). The PBs on the northeast shore were manned by the Royal Scots (2/RS)  and then after the evacuation of Kowloon, they were manned by 5/7 Rajputs.  The PB shown below is No. 22 at Chung Hom Kok. 

PB 22

PB 22 from the beach

LL 22 (Lyon Light) 50 metres from PB 22

PB 22 relative to Lyon Light 22
In the photo, you can see the loopholes (firing apertures) and the steel shutters. Much of the stone cladding that gave it camouflage has come off, but some of it still remains around the loopholes and the commander's observation tower. Also visible are the spoked horizontal ventilation ducts on the roof. The vertical ventilation shaft is not visible. Rob Weir a former Flight Engineer with Cathay Pacific made an in-depth study of Hong Kong's wartime fixed defences when he lived in Hong Kong.  He is the go-to man for anything to do with Pillboxes, batteries and other defences. He has visited most of the extant PBs in Hong Kong.  I asked Rob whether most of the Island beach defence units were 2-loophole-type PBs. He wrote:
The majority of the known beach defence PBs were 2-loophole type (27), the second in number were 3-loophole (11), and there were also 4 loophole (3). I specify known because most of those along the northern edge of the Island, in the built-up area, are unknown, and there are no survivors. PB 59 on the Royal Navy Yard north arm was 4 loophole, but it was different in shape to all other known ones, and also had two Lyon Lights on the roof. PB 63 at the Vehicular Ferry appeared to be a 3-loophole type.
The 1939 map extract with military annotations shows PB 22 situated on the west side of Chung Hom Kok (then referred to as Chung Am Kok) facing Stanley Bay.

Map showing the location of PB 22
In December 1941,  PB 22 was manned by 'B' Coy 1/Mx under the command of Captain Weedon. The PB had a crew of 8 men under Sgt Robins. In addition to their two Vickers guns, they had one 0.45 Thompson sub-machine gun (TSMG), six .303 Lee Enfield rifles, two .455 Webley revolvers. They had 10,000 rounds of 303 ammunition and 750 tracer rounds. They had 1,000 rounds for the TSMG and 54 rounds for the two revolvers. They also had twelve hand grenades. (See weapons  inventory for 'B' Coy in Addendum below). 'B' Coy was responsible for PBs 21 (West Bay on Chung Am  Kok Beach) to PB 30 (Turtle Bay Beach at Red Hill).
   Each PB had a telephone with which it could contact other PBs and their Coy HQ. Most of the PBs had a single separate Lyon Light (searchlight) in a reinforced concrete structure normally within 50 metres of the PB. In some cases, the Lyon Light was on the roof of the PB, as below (PB 33a on Cape D'Aguilar).

PB 33a with ruined Lyon Light structure on the roof
The Lyon Light structure normally had a crew of two men. They were in contact with the PB by voice pipe. The searchlight was powered by a petrol engine. Cans of petrol and paraffin were stored in the PB. The paraffin was used for the hurricane lamps. These oil lamps would have provided a faint light, no doubt producing some fumes but the PBs were well ventilated. The searchlight structure also had a hurricane lamp. In the PB the men slept on canvas collapsible bunks with a metal tubular frame. Mosquito nets were available and mosquito veils and gloves were available for those on sentry duty. One single army blanket was issued for each bunk. Latrine buckets were provided as well as washing buckets. Drinking water was held in large  2-gallon and 4-gallon containers. Washing was done using seawater and saltwater soap was made available. Rations were delivered by truck from Coy HQ. The PBs had stores of kettles, spades, maps, prismatic compasses, binoculars, sandbags and other equipment.   
   A beach defence unit (BDU) was defined as the PB and its Lyon Light structure.  Each BDU would post two sentries at night, one outside the PB and one inside. The outside sentry was mainly expected to act as a shore watcher but also to keep watch on the landward side. At PB 17 on Repulse Bay  Beach sentries were killed by infiltrating Japanese.  The sentries were equipped with red and white  Verey gun cartridges. A red flare was fired if a suspected landing was taking place. The inside sentry would watch from the loopholes and would man the telephone. Lyon lights were not to be exposed - other than briefly except when landing craft were within the arc of the Medium Machine Guns (Vickers Guns).

Entry to Lyon Light structure at PB 14 at Brick Hill

Vickers mounting at PB 3 at WNC Gap

PB 17 buried at the back of  Repulse Bay Beach
In PB 21 you can see the metal frame of the collapsible bunks - they would have had a canvas base between the poles

PB 6 at Waterfall Bay the Lyon Light was in the tower to the left of the PB

Returning to PB 22:  After the Japanese effected a landing on 18 December and after East Brigade withdrew to the Stanley Perimeter, the crew of PBs 21, 22, 29 and 30 were redeployed to Stanley. PB 23 was moved to a new alternative position on a rocky promontory near Stanley Village. 'B' and 'D' Coy were combined into Middlesex Detachment with their HQ at St Stephen's Prep school. They took an active part in the brutal and close-quarter fighting during the Battle for Stanley.  Sgt George Robins was injured during shelling at Bungalow 1 near the Y-junction (which separates the 'Prison Road' from the 'Fort Road') at  Stanley Village.


'B' Coy PBs - weapons inventory 

Pte William Beningield was stationed at PB 22 as per his son David Beningfield on FB 18 July 2020.