Saturday 8 February 2020

965 Defence Battery, Royal Artillery in the Battle for Hong Kong

965 Defence Battery (965 DB) was an independent mobile battery primarily equipped with 18-pdr field guns and 2-pdr anti-tank guns. Its main role was beach defence in tandem with the beach defence pillboxes. The battery also had responsibility for the three guns located at Belchers Fort. The commanding officer was Major Basil Forrester. There were a total of four officers and 144 men including British and Indian Other Ranks (BORs and IORs). Lt Challoner appears to have been assigned from HKSRA to 965 DB.

British 18-pdr in France in 1940 (Wikipedia)
The 18-pdr field gun was the standard British artillery piece in WW1. It was known as the 'infantry killer'. The Germans used howitzers, which, with their higher trajectory could be fired from cover ie on the reverse of a hill. The howitzers were known as 'gun and bunker busters' and were more effective in trench warfare. The 18-pdr guns were mostly equipped with anti-personnel (AP) shells. The fuse  could be set to a maximum delay of 22 seconds allowing it to explode in the air with its mass of musket type balls being dispersed over a wide area cutting down infantry formations. The 18-pdrs were used in this capacity in the Battle for Hong Kong. In areas where the Japanse infantry were advancing (for example the ridge between Bridge Hill-Notting Hill and Sugar Loaf-the Twins one can still pick up many of these shot balls fired by 18-pdrs from 965 DB at Stanley. 

Balls from 18-pdr AP shells fired by 965 Defence Battery 

The infantry was supported by the Hong Kong Singapore Royal Artillery (HKSRA). They were equipped with 3.7-inch, 4.5-inch and 6-inch howitzers. They were referred to as the mobile artillery but, in fact, their guns were mostly located in pre-prepared battery positions and not moved around.  On the 19 December 1941, East Group Royal Artillery lost most of its howitzers in the eastern sector because of the lack of mule transport for the 3.7-inch howitzers and lack of towing trucks for the larger guns. On 19 December, following the Japanese landings on the night of 18 December, only one gun, a 3.7-inch from Tai Tam Fork Battery, was successfully brought back to Stanley.  
   L/Bdr Albert Shepherd, was a member of 965 DB. In his interview (IWM sound tape) he talks about the battle very briefly. He mentions being sent to Shau Kei Wan (must have been Tai Koo) and then withdrawing after coming under British artillery fire which suggests it was just after the initial  Japanese landings.
We got an order to go up to Shau Kei Wan Dock Yard.  We were in a truck pulling the 2-pounder gun. We then came under shell fire from British guns. We left the 2-pounder which was useless anyway. 
Shepherd was dismissive of the 2-pdr describing it as a 'pea-shooter'. In fact, it was quite a good weapon to combat light armoured vehicles and it was more effective than the Boys anti-tank rifle which was used by the infantry in Hong Kong, but was later replaced in other theatres by the PIAT. The 2-pdr AT gun fired a 40mm (1.6-inch) shell with an effective range of up to 1,000 yards. It had a crew of 3 to 5 men and could be towed by a 15-cwt light truck. It was used very effectively in the battle for Stanley knocking out two Japanse light tanks attacking the village from the Beach Road. 

2-pdr anti tank gun (Wikipedia)
15-cwt truck (D-Day

The 18-pdr and 2-pdr guns used by 965 DB were fully mobile with dedicated towing trucks. They were frequently moved. The initial deployment was as follows (source: The Guns and Gunners of Hong Kong (Dennis Rollo):


Location                              Guns                              Fate

Belcher's Upper                   1x6-inch                        put out od action (25/12)
Belcher's Lower.                  2x4.7-inch                     put out of action (25/12)
Repulse Bay                         2x18-pdr                      One retained at Belchers
                                                                                  One to Stanley
Tai Tam Bay                         2x18-pdr                       To Stanley  
Stanley Bay                          2x18-pdr.                      To Braemar Beach 
Promontory                          1x2-pdr                          Lost at Stanley (24/12)
Island Bay (Skek-O)            1x2-pdr                          Lost at Stanley (24/12) 
Deep Water Bay                   1x2-pdr                         Lost at Stanley (24/12)
Tai Ho Wan (Telegraph Bay) 1x2-pdr                         Lost at Tai Koo Docks (18/12)

This suggests an initial six 18-pdrs and four 2-pdrs


Repulse Bay      One 18-pdr remained at Belchers, then moved to Wan Chai and destroyed.
                          One 18-pdr moved to Stanley and put out of action at Stanley View on 23/12

Tai Tam Bay          Two 18-pdr to Stanley on 19/12 and put out of action 24/25

Stanley Bay            Two 18-pdr to Braemar on 11/12 and destroyed there on 18/12 

Promontory            One 2-pdr to Stanley on 19/12 and destroyed 25/12

Island Bay              One 2-pdr to Stanley on 19/12 and destroyed 25/12

Deep Water Bay    One 2-pdr  to north shore (13/12)  then to Stanley (19/12). Lost 24/25.

Tai Ho Wan            One 2-pdr to Tai Koo docks area on 14/12 destroyed there on 18/19

The 965 Defence Battery war diary starts from 19 December and is very brief. However, from this and from the Royal Artillery war diary we can glean the following interim and other movements.


7 December: 965 DB occupied its Beach Defence positions

13 December: Belchers Battery was ordered to fire on lighters at Kowloon wharves. This was undertaken by the 6-inch gun in the upper battery. Fire was seen to be effective with a number of vessels sunk. Battery received some counterbattery fire starting fires in the western district.

14 December: Belchers Battery came under very heavy shelling. The lower Battery Observation Post (BOP) was destroyed and the two 4.7-inch guns were put out of action. 2/Lt Field, the battery commander, was wounded and Master Gunner Cooper was fatally wounded and died the following day. One IOR was killed and two wounded. With the battery badly damaged the remaining IORS were redeployed to serve as infantry. 

14 December: Four Mk1 18-pdr saluting guns were drawn from Ordnance and sent to Stanley. It is unclear whether they were put into action, but I think unlikely. 

15 December: One 2-Pdr was positioned at PB 56 near the China Fleet Club. One 18-Pdr was located near Belchers Battery.

16 December: One 2-pdr moved to a position near Hong Kong Club and one to near Tai Koo Dockyard. The 18-pdr near Belchers remained in position.  Six 12-pdr naval guns were drawn from RN Dockyard and passed to 965 DB to be used at various locations on the south shore in order to free up the 18-pdrs and 2-pdrs to do more mobile work on the north shore. The 12-pdrs never got into action due to technical difficulties with mountings and other difficulties. 

18 December: two 18-pdr beach defence guns from 965 DB situated at Braemar Beach were destroyed by accurate Japanse artillery fire after movement of the guns had been spotted.

19 December: one 18-pdr, under 2/Lt Challoner, in position north of Prison Officers Club covering Tai Tam Road in the vicinity of Erinville (Turtle Cove/Red Hill area) and Shek-O Road. He fired some rounds at the Government Rice Store on Shek-O Road. The remaining two 18-pdrs were at Stanley Fort.
One 2-pdr located at Stanley Police Station. One 2-pdr  located on Fort Road (Wong Ma Kok Road) near playing fields covering Stanley Bay. These guns were supported by their own Beach Defence Searchlights (BDSL). 

20 December: Brigadier Wallis ordered an 18-pdr to be sited at Stanley View at which point it could fire at the Repulse Bay Hotel garage and the hillside of Middle Spur. This gun was commanded by 2/Lt Phillips and was very effective in taking out Japanese mortar positions on Middle Spur. 

21 December: One 2-pdr moved to Island Road near Southcliff to meet reported advance by Japanese light tanks from Tai Tam Gap.
All three 18-pdrs withdrawn to Stanley Fort and two 18-pdrs under 2/Lt Challoner moved to a position covering Tweed Bay. Later one 18-pdr moved to Southcliffe to replace the 2-pdr
Two 18-pdrs under Captain Roberts to Stanley Fort by day. 
Two 2-pdrs withdrawn back to Police Station in Stanley Village

22 December: One of 2/Lt Phillips 18-pdr guns was lost at Stanley View. The gun had come under mortar fire and some of the ammunition was hit. Although man-handled back to a safe position it was too badly damaged and had to be abandoned.  That left two 18-pdrs at Stanley and one at Belchers.

23 December: 2/Lt Challoner and one 18-pdr moved to a position north of Prison Officers Club to cover Island Road near Erinville.

24 December: The two 18-pdrs were located at Tweed Bay by night. One 18-pdr north of Prison Officers Club by day. One 2-pdr located 500 yards east of Stanley Village covering Tai Tam Bay. One 2-pdr at Stanley Police Station covering Stanley Village Road and Beach Road. One 2-pdr covering Stanley Bay from Fort Road at the north-west corner of playing fields. Total of three 2-pounders remaining.

25 December (north shore): At 1300 hours the 18-pdr at Belchers was deployed near Wan Chai Market to support 1/Mx. One of its tasks was to fire at ARP tunnels which could have given the Japanese access to Kennedy Road from Mount Parish.

25 December (south shore): All 2-pdrs overrun. The gun at Stanley Police Station claimed two Japanese light tanks disabled on Beach Road. Efforts made to withdraw one 18-pdr from Tweed Bay.  Later the two 18-pdrs were trapped near the pumping station (on Fort Road) by heavy Japanese MG fire. 

Some of the above movements taken from 965 Defence Battery war diary and the Royal Artillery war diary are a bit confusing. It is not clear whether the four additional 18-pounders (saluting guns) were put into action. If not I estimate that by Christmas afternoon there were just two 18-pdrs left and it proved impossible to get these back to Stanley Fort. The saluting guns may have been in the fort but I suspect not used. The remaining 2-pdrs had been overrun at the village during the night 24/25.  From 24 December the Japanese owned the overlooking hills and could direct counterbattery fire on the guns if spotted either by sight or flash and as a result, the guns were being moved frequently.

 British officers and partial list of BORs from 965 Defence Battery

SurnameFirst NameRankDate of Death
RobertsWilliam JohnCaptainn/a
ChallonerRichard Harold2/Ltn/a
PhillipsEric Gladstone2/Lt25-Oct-42
BoyceSamuel L/Bdr2-Oct-42
Burnley FredBdr2-Oct-42
ClimoReginald Thomas Sgt25-Dec-41
HewittFrank EdwardGnr2-Oct-42
HewsonThomas JamesGnr2-Oct-42
HildredReginald JohnGnr2-Oct-42
InglisJohn L/Sgtn/a
MaceFrank EdwardGnr2-Oct-42
McCarthyGeorge EbertGnr24-Dec-41
OrrTerence NolanGnr2-Oct-42
RobertsAlfred HenryBdr2-Oct-42
ShirleyErnest FrancisBSM1-Oct-42
SpillerFrederick JohnGnr3-Jun-43
StaffordArthur JohnL/Bdr7-Nov-42
WardEric PhilipL/Bdr25-Dec-41
YeomanHerbert GeorgeGnr2-Oct-42
n/a  Not applicable
Main Source of list:  Tony Banham's


  1. Phillip,
    Many thanks, another illuminating article adding to our overall knowledge of events as experienced by a more minor though no less appreciated Unit.

  2. Very interesting article. Thank you. As an aside, I am helping to restore an 18 pdr (MkII, HSA version) for 15 FD Regt, RCA, in Vancouver, Canada. The GAVs in the UK restored one last year.

  3. I recognise most of the places named, Spent Two years there on 4.2" mortar 1956/ 58. Very interesting article

  4. Gunner R J Hildred 965th DB was my great uncle, i am researching his miltary carrer 1932 to 1942, always looking for information on 965th DN, as you say a very under documented unit. thanks

  5. I have a 1936 sporting medal (football) awarded to John Carley in Aldershot. I'd love to let his descendants have this back and will be doing some research to effect this. Any help from this board would be gratefully received.

    1. He died on the Lisbon Maru (Japanese freighter transporting POWs to work as slave labourers in Japan. I will ak my contacts who are involved in Lisbon Maru research if they can help i e idf they have contacts with family.

    2. Hi Bryher: Couold you send me your email. You can email me on:

    3. I contacted various history buffs one of whom got in touch with COFEPOW (Children of Far East Prisoners of War they think they may have found the family who knew John Carley as Jack and knew he had been lost on the Lisbon Maru and stationed in Hong Kong.

  6. My Uncle James Nellist is listed above found more here than any other site

    1. Thank you for your message. I am glad the article was useful. I'm sorry that your uncle was lost on the Lisbon Maru. Philip

  7. Such an interesting article.My Uncle,Jeremiah O’Connell was one of the soldiers who lost their life on The Lisbon Maru.

  8. Hi Carmel: Thanks for your message. I'm so glad you found the article interesting. I'm sorry that your uncle was one of those many lost on the Lisbon Maru. Philip

  9. Thank you for background new to me. Gnnr Joseph Viotto from Gibraltar was my first-cousin and we have very few details of how or where he died other than he was last reportedly seen boarding a Jap troop ship as POW at Singapore (?)

    1. Sorry! Not anonymous - Julio J. Alcantara - Gibraltar

    2. Dear Julio: Joseph Viotto was born 1 March 1916 in Gibraltar. He served in 965 defence Battery in Hong Kong. He married a Chinese lady from Macau Mrs A. Viotto aka Chow Tai Char. After the surrender he was incarcerated at Sham Shui Po Camp (but he may have been at North Point Camp before that). In September 1942 he was sent to Japan to work as a slave labourer. He never got there because the ship he was on (The Lisbon Maru) was sunk by an American submarine not realising that the armed Japanese freighter was carrying British POWs. I'm afraid he drowned or was shot in the water by the Japanese.

    3. Mrs Viotto gave an address of 19, See Wong Street, Kennedy Town which is on HK Island. He had served in Palestine from 1935 to 1936. I am not sure when he joined the Army and when he arrived in Hong Kong or what was the fate of his Chinese wife.