Wednesday 7 April 2021

A walk through history - Mount Davis, Hong Kong

In 1900, a decision was taken to establish a battery of five 9.2-inch coastal defence guns on Mount Davis so as to command the western approaches to the harbour. The battery was completed in 1912. In 1935, two of the five guns were moved to Fort Stanley. During the Battle for Hong Kong, the battery at Fort Davis consisted of three 9.2-inch Mark V coastal defence guns and two 3-inch AA guns. The battery, known as 24 Coast Battery, was part of Western Fire Command, which was responsible for the coastal defence batteries in the western sector of Hong Kong Island. There were no coastal defence batteries situated on the Mainland during the battle. 

Jubilee Battery, below Mount Davis and situated close to the shoreline, was equipped with three 6-inch guns. The guns on Mount Davis, especially F3, the highest gun, were able to traverse and fire landward, which they did with great effect during the battle, although it was not what they were designed for. The batteries had limited amounts of high-explosive shells and were mainly equipped with amour-piercing shells, which were more effective in engaging enemy warships. The guns at Jubilee were blocked by terrain and could only fire seawards. When the coastal defence batteries were constructed, it was not contemplated that they would be used for landward firing at infantry positions. The artillery support for the infantry was expected to be provided by the howitzers of the mobile artillery. In fact. the coastal defence guns and beach defence guns (18-pdrs) played a major role in engaging enemy infantry and for destructive shoots on for example infrastructure targets. 

The AA section at Fort Davis was part of 17th AA Battery, 5th Ant Aircraft Regiment. The section commander was Lt Jock Wedderburn who later escaped from prisoner of war camp. 

WW2-era map of Mount Davis (HK Government)

F2 Gun - One of the 9.2-inch guns at Fort Davis.   (IWM)

March 2021

It is Saturday 13 March, 2021. The taxi drops me and my son, Chris, at the junction of Mount Davis Road and Victoria Road. We start walking up the military road that leads to the summit. I am armed with a wartime sketch map which indicates that the first military building is the Guard Room and beside it the main gate or barrier.  Hidden in the trees, we find a ruined building that may be the Guard Room although I find no evidence of the gate posts.

Could this be the Guard House?

The inside of the structure devoured by a tree

Walking up the gun-road we come to a latrine or toilet block and then to the first gun emplacement F1.

No mistake what this is

Gun emplacement F1

Splinter-proof structure near F1 (possibly used as a gun store for F1)

Battery Observation Post for F1 with concrete pillar (possibly for Range Finder equipment)

December 1941

7 December 1941
A State of Emergency is declared. RSM Enos Ford is ordered to his war station at Fort Davis

8 December 1941
RSM Ford is woken up by the sound of bombing and strafing as Kai Tak was raided at around 0800 hours. The two Fort Davis AA guns open fire, although the Japanese aircraft are out of range. Stonecutters Island with its three 6-inch guns (26 Coast Battery) and two 60-pdrs at Parade Battery is subjected to a heavy aerial bombardment.

9 December 1941:
Ford has a grandstand view of the continued bombing  and shelling of Stonecutters during the morning. On this day, Mount Davis receives the first ranging shots from Japanese artillery. He takes shelter, and emerging later finds that a private car belonging to one of the gunners has been blown to pieces. The water tank has been hit. Ford writes in his neat hand-written diary (now held at the Imperial War Museum) that the F3 gun is in action answering the Japanese fire round for round. The Royal Artillery War Diary mentions that Fort Davis guns were engaged in destructive shoots at factories and at a road bridge on Castle Peak Road during the evening. During the night 9/10 December, the Japanese capture the Shing Mun Redoubt, the strongpoint, on the left flank of the Gin Drinkers Line.  Ford is somewhat disparaging in his diary about his commanding officer, Major Eric Anderson and the second-in-command Captain Ben Hammett. 

Major Anderson and Captain Hammett have gone to earth and cannot be located. So has Joe Gould [RSM Henry ('Joe') Gould]. Shelling continues throughout the day, and troops are ordered to remain under-cover if not on duty.

10 December 1941:
A concentration of artillery fire from Mount Davis (F3 gun), Stonecutters No 1 Gun (6-inch) and the two 60-pdr guns is brought down on the Shing Mun Redoubt. Fort Davis and Stonecutters again came under heavy bombardment. Ford takes a trip to the Cathay Hotel near North Point where he had been staying before the battle.

I left the fort during an air raid to go to Cathay Hotel to pick up some kit. Miss Ellis, the proprietress, just out of hospital, very defeatist and thinks more of her money than the outcome of the war. Have a meal, tell her to keep cheerful and depart with such kit as I can carry.

Miss Leontine Ellis died of cancer, aged forty-nine, in Stanley Internment Camp in August 1942.

11 December 1941
Ford writes in his diary that the Japanese 'started plastering us with 240mm' (9.45 inches) shells. These shells were fired by the Type 45 Siege Mortar. This was the most powerful artillery piece used by the Japanese in the Battle for Hong Kong. The noise and impact of the falling shot must have been terrifying.

March 2021

I continue up the road from the F1 Gun emplacement, and to my left I come across the ruins of the Royal Navy's two-storey Port War Signal Station.

Port War Signal Station

A steep-sided concrete trench protected by high blast walls leads to the signal station

Entry to Port War Signal Station

After taking a look at the RN Signal Station, we carried on up the road, and as we neared  the top, we came to the F2 Gun emplacement with a splinter-proof shelter across the road built into the hillside. Perhaps, used as a magazine for holding shells close to the gun emplacement. The F2 Gun has a high blast wall at the rear of the emplacement.

F2 Gun emplacement

Ammunition lockers (steel doors missing) at the F2 emplacement

The F2 Gun Emplacement

F2 emplacement and blast wall

Splinter-proof shelter behind F2 (possibly used as a gun-store).

Rob Weir advises that the magazines were underneath gun-pits.
The magazine for each position was basically underneath the gun pit. They are probably still there but inaccessible. I make that comment as the British Army apparently had a set plan for 9.2” Batteries which was applied throughout the Empire. The shells and cartridges come up by a lift or belt to the lower gun floor and are then transferred to the gun using the crane supplied. (Stanley, being a bit more up to date, had powered lifters to the gun).  (Rob Weir)
I do recall a couple of enthusiasts using rope and ladders entered the magazine at one of the 9.2-inch gun emplacements at Fort Davis. 

December 1941

12 December 1941
Ford writes in his diary that he went to Battle HQ (the deep underground bunker known as the Battle-Box) together with Master Gunner Brooks and  Master Gunner Cooper. The latter from Belchers Fort. Belchers Fort was situated in Kennedy Town close to Mount Davis. It was manned by 965 Defence Battery and was equipped with one 6-inch and two 4.7-inch guns.

13 December 1941
The Fire Command Post at Fort Davis received three direct hits from the Japanese 240mm mortar. There were some injuries but no fatalities.  Ford wrote that he had a lucky escape as he should have been on duty but had changed his roster to an earlier one.  Later that night, he went on a recce around the Peak and Mount Kellett looking for an alternative position for the Fire Command Post. A decision was taken later to move Western Fire Command to the RN Port War Signal Station. The Type 45 240mm siege mortar could fire a 440-pound shell a distance of ten to 14 kilometres. 

                                                    Type 45 Siege Mortar and mounting

          Type 45 Siege Mortar in use during the Battle for Hong Kong

14 December 1941
There was a direct hit on a magazine at the AA position. One of the two AA guns was destroyed, and the other could only be fired over open sights without the use of instruments. Nine Indian gunners were killed and six were wounded. The F3 Gun, the highest of the three 9.2-inch guns, was put out of action by a dud 240mm round which fell on the pit shield and 'fizzled like a firework without exploding'. The shell damaged the inside of the barrel, and as a result, it was rendered unable to fire a shell through the bore.  Ford wrote that a number of unexploded shells and bombs were lying around the battery. Belchers Fort, situated nearby,  was put out of action after a heavy bombardment during the day.

15 December 1941
Ford comments that 'we still have two guns and all our troops in action'. Pinewood AA Battery was put out of action  on this day following intense shelling and bombing.

March 2021

Just below the summit are the ruins of what had been the Fortress Plotting Room (FPR). The F3, top-most gun emplacement, is found on the summit close to the ramp.  The F3 gun being described as the 'pet of the battery' because of its elevation and ability to, more or less, fully traverse giving it a wider firing arc.

F3 Gun emplacement

F3 Gun emplacement

AA Gun equipment (Predictor/Range Finder) platforms

AA gun equipment platforms containing predictor and height-finder

I originally thought these two concrete platforms were the AA gun positions although it occurred to me they were rather too narrow especially compared to the 3-inch AA gun positions at Sai Wan Fort. Rob Weir advises that these platforms were used for predictor and height finder equipment for the AA guns which were thought to be in a walled compound nearby. 
The original site for the 3” guns was a walled compound composed of stone or concrete blocks. A Japanese photo of 1942 showed one mangled gun and part of the compound destroyed. Where it was is unknown, but I suspect in the area which is now the picnic area near the top gun pit (F3). The AA position you showed was built in 1940/1 in anticipation of the supply of 4.5” HAA guns. West Bay, Waterfall Bay and Brick Hill were built at the same time, and Sai Wan and Pinewood reconditioned to take the new guns. Only Waterfall Bay received the 4.5", the others had to make do with what was available. By the time new equipment was received in 1949 there had been a change in policy apparently, and the protected pit with ready use ammo lockers had mainly made way for the gun to be mounted on flat pads at ground level. Three, out of four, remain today just near the top gun position. All HAA was withdrawn from HK in 1957. The walled area on top of the buildings you photographed was protection for the Predictor and Height-finder which fed the information through the control room below, to the guns. (Rob Weir)

December 1941

16 December 1941
Ford described this day as the most intense in terms of bombardment by artillery fire and aerial bombing. The Battery Plotting Room (BPR) was destroyed.  
BSM Barlow and myself  established order in BPR amid smoke and fumes and picric acid. Our lights are out and blower plant  disabled and daylight visible through the roof. This roof was once a thickness of 15 ft of earth and concrete. A shell penetrated right through this, through a steel door, ripped all the bricks from one wall ploughed through another wall and finished up in the telephone exchange without exploding.
Surprisingly there were only two casualties, a sergeant with shell-shock and one injured gunner. The gunners were ordered to temporarily evacuate the fort. They moved to Felix Villas a set of private residential apartments at the bottom of the gun road situated by Victoria Road. The next night they took up their positions again and manned the guns at the fort. When the gunners returned one of them was shot dead by one of the no doubt nervous sentries. 

19 December 
Major Anderson gives his officers and warrant officers the most defeatist talk I've ever heard. He conveys the impression to all that at first sight of the enemy he is prepared to surrender. Captain Hammett continues to disorganise the food by not allowing people to have a hot meal. 
23 December
Ford left the fort and went into town. He was in town during an air raid and had to take shelter in the Supreme Court Building. While he was there two shells hit the roof of the building. 
I decide in a moment of generosity to take my escort and driver to a meal at the Hong Kong Hotel. As soon as the meal was over we get roped in to arrest armed deserters from the Rajputs who were sheltering in air-raid shelters.
The deserters were handed over to Military Police.

24 December 
During the afternoon a force of fifty gunners from Fort Davis and Jubilee were sent to the Wan Chai area to fight as infantry under Lt Arthur Clayton and Battery Sgt Major Barlow. Ford wanted to be included.
I volunteer for the next party but am indignantly informed by Captain Hammett that I shall be of more value in counter-battery work than as an infantry leader. The Davis guns have been in action again today. 
25 December
The colony surrendered. The two remaining guns at Fort Davis are put out of action presumably in the time-honoured way of placing a shell in the muzzle and firing a shell from the breach. On 27 December the Japanese took over the fort. The following day the battery personnel were marched to Victoria Barracks. On 30 December they were incarcerated as prisoners of war for the duration.

March 2021

I wander around the ruined battery buildings on the summit, some of them show splinter damage from the battle which took place nearly eighty years ago. 

Battery buildings protected by a blast wall

A stunning view of High West from the war ruins on Mount Davis

There is an abundance of wartime battery buildings

The Peak (Left) High West (centre) and Kellett (right) from AA position on Davis

A fire-place could it be the Officer's Mess or Senior Ranks Mess ? 

I doubt this is pre-war camouflage (it looks too recent) although original traces are often visible

This December, it will be the 80th anniversary of the battle. In Hong Kong there are still many ruins of war in the form of gun emplacements, battery buildings, splinter-proof shelters and artillery observation posts. One can still find weapons pits and trenches. Enthusiasts, using metal detectors, still find  helmets, bayonets, rifles and other relics of the fighting including live ordnance, for example live rounds, live shells, grenades, mortar bombs and aerial bombs. The Hong Kong Police bomb disposal unit (EOD) are still frequently being called out and the sound of detonations is heard again. The structures like these at Mount Davis are dilapidating over time but they still carry that original and authentic charm and they speak to us of the short but fierce battle that took place here in December 1941 and the period of brutal occupation and internment that followed the surrender on Christmas Day all those years ago.