Thursday 8 July 2021

Mount Davis - Underground bunker and the F2 Gun

F2 Gun

In December 1941, there were three 9.2-inch guns on Mount Davis they were numbered from the lower gun: F1, F2 and F3. F3, being the topmost gun, had the widest traverse for landward firing although still blocked to some extent by terrain around the Peak. Jubilee Battery consisting of three 6-inch guns was situated below Mount Davis and was unable engage in landward firing as the battery was completelty blocked by terrain on the landward side. The gun in the photograph is F2. The middle gun. In fact, you can see the numbering 'F2' painted on the gun emplacement (lower middle). I'm not sure of the date of this photo but I would think early-1930s. 

Pre-war pic of F2 (IWM)

Adaptions were made to these three gun emplacements. F2 for example had a blast wall constructed at the rear as can be seen in the photo below.  When the battery was completed in 1912 there were five 9.2-inch gun emplacements. At that time, there were two other gun emplacements between F2 and F3. These two guns were moved to Stanley in the mid-1930s. 

F2 Emplacement as it today (2021) showing the gun pit and the rear blast wall (Author)

On a recent visit to F2 we found the usual ammunition lockers with steel doors  missing as below:

Steel doors removed - Ammunition lockers

The photograph below shows the access and hoist to the underground magazine. The magazine pit was about 8 to 10 foot deep. 

Access to underground magazine and hoisting equipment

Hoisting pulley  (the shells weighed 380 pounds).

Western Fire Command

The Coastal Defence was divided into Western Fire Command and Eastern Fire Command.

Western Fire Command consisted of 12 Coast Regiment which operated  the batteries at Mount Davis (24 Coast Battery), Stonecutters and Jubilee (26 Coast Battery). Also under Western Fire Command were the batteries at Aberdeen (No. 3 Battery HKVDC) and Stonecutters (Parade Battery). The coastal defence guns in the western sector consisted of:

Mount Davis............3 x 9.2-inch 

Stonecutters.............3 x 6-inch

Jubilee......................3 x 6-inch

Aberdeen Island.......2 x 4-inch    

Parade Battery.........2 x 60-pdrs

In addition there were two 3-inch AA guns situated on Mount Davis, but these were part of the 5th Anti-Aircraft Regiment.

Western Fire Command HQ was based in the complex of rooms which included the Fortress Plotting Room (FPR) until it was penetrated and put out of action by Japanese shelling. Western Fire Command then relocated to RN Port War Signal Station on the mid-slopes of Mount Davis. The damage to the Plotting Room area occurred on 16 December. The shell was  a 24cm (9.45-inches) shell fired from a Japanese siege mortar, the largest calibre artillery piece employed in the battle. 

The RA War Diary states:

A 24 cm dud worked its way through a ventilation shaft and finished up behind a signal test frame. There were some twenty men in the plotting room at the time but no one was injured. The Fire Direction Table was undamaged but as the Plotting Room was neither weather nor shell-proof and all the instruments smothered in dust and debris, the two remaining guns [F3 had been put out of action by another dud 24 cm shell on 13 December] were connected up to the position finder direct. (UK National Archives)

RSM Ford was in the Plotting Room. He described the destruction in his personal war diary.

Today the Mount has received its bitterest and most intense bombardment. The plotting rooms [Note by Author: the plural suggesting the Fortress Plotting Room and Western Fire Command was in a collection of rooms in the underground bunker of which more later] and barrack rooms have been blown in and at about 5 o'clock we had to evacuate under shell-fire in parties of five. BSM Barlow and myself established order in the Battery Plotting Room amid smoke and fumes. Our lights are out and blower plant disabled and daylights visible through the roof. This roof was once a thickness of 15 ft of earth and concrete. A shell penetrated right through a steel door, ripped all the bricks from one wall [note the use of brick walls which we will see in our exploration of the bunker later] ploughed through another wall and finished up in the Telephone Exchange [a separate adjoining room] without exploding. Truly a miracle. All our troops are intact except one sergeant shell shocked and one gunner wounded. 

Ford describes how the undamaged Fire Direction Table was ordered to be destroyed. I assume he means the plotting table. These tables were large, made of steel, and had concrete support legs. Brigadier Wallis used the Plotting table at East Brigade HQ at Tai Tam Gap to spread out his maps and telephones. The photograph below shows the Fortress Plotting Room  at Tai Tam Gap and the concrete support legs still in situ. 

Fortress Plotting Room (Tai Tam Gap) (Photo by author) 

It looks like there are around eight concrete legs. Notice the steel roof and the concrete (rather than brick) walls. Also notice the colony of un-agitated bats and the bat excreta on the floor. Not my favourite place to visit but it has to be seen. We found a number of these concrete legs mostly broken up when we explored the underground bunker at Mount Davis.  There was a colony of bats in the underground bunker and although there were less of them they were flying around, no doubt agitated by our intrusion.

Exploration of bunkers at Mount Davis

We were able to gain access, but normally a padlocked door prevents entry to the seven largely intact rooms.  Two other areas which I label in the diagram below as 8 and 9 have been destroyed. No 8 was destroyed by war action. No. 9 was damaged and may have been demolished after the war because they were unsafe. 

Sketch Map of underground bunker at Mount Davis (with thanks to James Lewis)

Room 1 was the entrance room and contained brooms and some other equipment. In the photo below you can see the entrance door which is normally locked. This was the only room that had been used for storage. The other rooms are not used. The roof in Room was comprised of steel girders (like the FPR at Tai Tam Gap).

Room 1  the entrance (Author)

The author (courtesy James Lewis)

Various rooms lead off from a central chamber (Photo: Author)

   Room 4 with central pillar but the room is too small to be Plotting Room
 (James Lewis)

One thing we can not be sure about is whether the pillar was added after the war to block the hole in the roof created by the shell and to add support for the installation that has been built in this area above ground. This rather narrow room accessed from Rooms 2 and 3 has a sealed door leading from it (see photo below). We are not sure where this leads to.

The pillar (absent in other rooms) and the bricked up doorway. (Photo: Author) 

Room 5 - a larger brick-built room with two concrete table support legs
 (Photo: James Lewis)

Room 5 may have been the FPR - it is the largest room and it has what might be two concrete plotting table legs - there were others broken up concrete legs in the other adjoining rooms.

Room 7 with tunnel-type portal (Source James Lewis) 

This tunnel portal may have led to Room 9. 

James Lewis in the bunker complex (his face well protected from the bats)

Originally the roof of this area contained the 3rd gun (from the bottom). This gun was removed in mid-1930s and taken to Stanley. The photo below shows the gun emplacements for No 3 and No 4 ( the removed guns). No 4 was converted into a water reservoir.  No 3 emplacement was probably filled in. Photographs (further below) seem to show the blast  wall around part of the emplacement. After the war the area of the 3rd gun emplacement was built over.  

The bunker was situated under the 3rd gun. (Photo from The Guns & Gunners of HK)

It is possible that the bunkers we explored may have been part of the magazine for the 3rd gun (courtesy James Lewis).  The destroyed area marked in the photo can be more clearly seen in this post war photo taken when the RAF manned Mount Davis using it as a radar station.

Post war photo with RAF Nissan huts showing damage to Room 8 area
 (Photo courtesy of Stephen Chadwick Ex RAF Police) 

This photo seems to show the empty emplacement with what looks like a blast wall (as at F2) and no doubt added on after the emplacements were built. The photo shows the considerable damage  to the area described as Room 8 in the sketch map. The next photo dated is 1987 and is interesting as it shows what may be the facade of Room 9 in the sketch map.

1987 Photo showing extant military structures at or near Room 9
 (By kind permission of Gwulo and 367 Association)
The 1987 photo shows the Youth Hostel and interestingly that section of battery buildings  (marked as Room 9 in my sketch map). These are now demolished but when and why? Possibly they were unsafe and it looks like only the facade was extant. The photograph  below taken was from Guns & Gunners of HK and indicates that this is a 1946 photo showing the bomb damaged Fortress Plotting Room - and note there is a pillar as in Room 4  but this is where the similarity ends. The room looks bigger as does the pillar. So where was the FPR ?

1946 Photo of FPR (Source: Guns & Gunners of HK)


I may have raised more questions than answers, but I hope the study will be of interest to readers and at least thought provoking. We can say the Fortress Plotting Room was situated most likely in Room 5 and possibly Room 8, but we cannot be sure. The complex that made up the Plotting Room, and Western Fire Command HQ, no doubt consisted of several separate rooms, for example, a room for the Telephone Exchange and a room for the plotting table. Room 4 is the only one with a pillar but it is a narrower room than the one in the 1946 photo and what looks like an open doorway (see photo above) in the right-hand corner of the room does not match Room 4 today.

Room 4, as of today, does have a bricked up portal but it is in the left-hand corner of the room. The main problem with Room 4 is it is too narrow to have contained the plotting table. However, this room (Room 4) could have been the room where the shell first entered the FPR complex. The brick built rooms, like Room 5, may have been originally used as the  magazine for the removed No 3 gun and possibly the nearby removed No 4 gun. We can see from the post-war photos taken during the RAF period at Mount Davis that the building (in the area we describe as Room 8) was very extensively damaged. 

Room 8 may have been the Plotting Room or it may have been the room where the shell first entered, which would explain the extensive damage. Given what limited information we have, I tend to think it was Room 5 that contained the Plotting table with its two standing concrete legs still extant. It was probably the most protected room being directly under the old No. 3 Gun. If I had to hazard a guess - I would say the shell first entered through the roof of Room 8 and that Room 9 was an accommodation block. As always interested in reader's comments and thoughts as to the layout. 



Diary of E. C. Ford Imperial War Museum Docs. 10841

War Diary Royal Artillery UKNA WO 172/1687

Guns & Gunners of Hong Kong  (1991) Denis Rollo

Tuesday 6 July 2021

HMS Unshaken

This story is about a Royal Navy wartime sailor, Stoker Petty Officer Frederick Dack, and the submarine HMS Unshaken (P54) in which he served during the Second World War. Frederick Dack, predeceased his wife, Joan. It was only after Joan passed away, and while her son, Martyn, and her grandaughter Nic together with Nic's husband Jay Dorman were sorting out her possessions that they came across the bag. The bag contained Frederick Dack's war photographs, including shots of  HMS Unshaken and her crew. There was also his Royal Navy service record tracking his wartime career. He had been awarded a Mention in Dispatches (MiD) and there was a copy of the award certificate dated April 1944. The submarine on which he served had been constantly in action while based in the Mediterranean.  He and his ship mates had been in the thick of naval action and always in harm's way.  

Frederick was born in Downham Market, Norfolk in 1920. He joined the Royal Navy, aged twenty, in 1940. He commenced basic training at the shore establishment, HMS Royal Arthur. He then underwent further training at HMS Pembroke in Chatham and then at HMS Dolphin, the submarine training base at Gosport in Hampshire. 

    Frederick Dack (back row at right) at HMS Pembroke
 (Courtesy: Jay & Nic Dorman)

HM Submarine P54 was laid down in 1941 at the Vickers-Armstrong yard in Barrow-in-Furness. She was launched in February 1942. Her first commanding officer was Lt Richard Gatehouse. He commanded from April 1942 until June 1942. The submarine was commissioned in May 1942. Lt Charles Oxborrow was appointed as commanding officer on 21 June 1942. Initially the submarine had no name and was referred to simply as P54. It was not until 1943 that she was given the name Unshaken as one of the Royal Navy's U-class of submarines. It is a striking name, and conjures up the Commander Bond-like image of 'shaken not stirred'. She was, and still is, the only Royal Navy vessel to bear that name.

HMS Unshaken leaving harbour (Source: ClydeMaritime web site)

Ship's badge (Source: Wikipedia)

Unshaken had twin screws powered by diesel engines which could produce a speed of 11.5 knots on the surface and a speed of 10 knots when submerged. She had a normal complement of 33 officers and men. She had four forward 21-inch torpedo tubes and she  had a 3-inch gun (76 mm) mounted on her deck casing. 

3-inch deck mounted gun (Courtesy: Jay & Nic Dorman)

Ship's company (Courtesy: Jay & Nic Dorman)

I believe Frederick Dack first joined P54 in April 1942. On 25 June, a month after commissioning, she sailed out of Lerwick, in the Shetland Islands, and was deployed  off the northern Norwegian coast. Her orders were to provide a submarine screen for the Artic convoy PQ-17 and QP 13. In particular to protect the convoys from enemy surface ships. On 5 July 1942, P54 reported a sighting of the German battle ship Tirpitz accompanied by the heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper with escorting destroyers and MTBs. The German surface fleet were stalking the Russian bound convoy. A Russian submarine and an RAF Catalina flying-boat also reported sightings. Later that day, a German aircraft spotted and bombed Unshaken. Three bombs were dropped but they all went wide. Having been observed, the German Admiral in command ordered the surface ships to return to base. Unshaken commenced her second war patrol on 4 August 1942. This time she was ordered to patrol off the coast of southern Norway. On 12 August 1942, Unshaken drew her first blood when she torpedoed and sank the German merchant ship, Georg L. M. Russ. Another German merchant ship, Wolfgang L. M. Russ, was fired on but the torpedo missed its target. In September, Unshaken commenced her third war patrol providing a submarine screen for convoy PQ-18. In October 1942, she was ordered to join the Mediterranean fleet and she sailed south to Gibraltar from her base at Dundee. 

Unshaken in the Mediterranean (Algiers)  (Source: IWM)

The IWM photograph carries the caption 'HM Submarine Unshaken leaving port on patrol against Axis shipping in the Mediterranean'. At Gibraltar, she joined the 8th Submarine Flotilla ahead of the Allied invasion of North Africa. One of her first actions was landing, and then picking up, a reconnaissance party from a beach at Oran on the Algerian coast. 

On 25 November, disaster struck when the submarine surfaced during a storm off the coast of southern France. The commanding officer, Lt Charles Oxborrow,  and two crew members, the Yeoman of Signals, Sydney Bennett, and Able Seaman Charles Thorn were lost overboard when the submarine un-intentionally submerged while they were still on the bridge during heavy weather. The log book describes the submarine slipping down 30 feet. A search was organised but the three  men were not seen again. Sub-Lt Herbert Westmacott assumed command until a replacement officer, Lt Jack Whitton, from the 8th Flotilla, took command at sea after coming aboard from HMS Samphire, a flower class corvette. He remained in command of Unshaken until May 1944.  

On 14 December 1942, a large merchant vessel with two escorts, was attacked with four torpedoes but no hits were achieved. A similar incident occurs on 19 December when three torpedoes were fired at a merchant ship. The torpedoes missed their target and the escort vessel dropped a number of depth charges. On 20 December 1942, a French merchant ship, Oasis, was attacked off the coast of Genoa. The last remaining torpedo was fired and the submarine surfaced and engaged with the deck gun, but no serious damage was inflicted. On 12 January 1943, four torpedoes were fired at the Italian merchant ship, Compania, but again all the torpedoes missed their target. In March 1943, a German U-boat was engaged but the four torpedoes missed their target. Later that month, Unshaken was ordered to Malta where it joined the 10th Submarine Flotilla. 

Finally, her luck changed and on 8 April 1943 she sank the Italian merchant vessel, Foggia having fired three torpedoes. On 10 April she surfaced and fired at a suspension bridge located near Korba on the Tunisian coast. Fifteen rounds were fired with the deck gun and several hits observed. On 28 April, two British destroyers attacked Unshaken while she was surfaced, assuming she was a German U-boat. Unshaken dived to safety and was undamaged. Later that day she sank the Italian torpedo boat Climene. 

The Jolly Roger flown when entering harbour after a successful mission with Frederick Dack at right 
(Courtesy: Jay & Nic Dorman)

 On 28 May 1943, Unshaken landed a raiding party on the the island of Pantilleri located between Sicily and Tunisia. The raiding party consisted of two officers and six other ranks. The mission was to capture a sentry to gain intelligence by interrogation. All went well at first, the party were successfully landed and a sentry was duly captured. However the sentry could not be silenced and subdued. His shouts alerted the other guards and four Italian soldiers came rushing out and were killed by the raiding party. However one of the British soldiers was seriously wounded in the exchange of fire and had to be left behind. The captured Italian resisted all efforts to get him down the cliffs and eventually he had to be left behind. The raiding party returned to Unshaken, but without the sentry the mission was not completed.

On 22 June 1943, Unshaken sank the Italian two-masted schooner Giovanni G. In the afternoon she made an unsuccessful attack on an Italian merchant vessel which was escorted by two corvettes and a torpedo boat. The corvettes dropped depth charges and a near miss caused some minor damage to the submarine. The next day Unshaken sank an Italian merchant ship, Pomo, which was escorted by a corvette and a torpedo boat. On 14 July she sank an Italian patrol boat and on 10 August she sank the Asmara, an Italian troop transporter. Three days later she engaged a German u-boat on the surface. 

 On 9 September, Unshaken came across a submarine and closed in for the attack thinking it was a U-boat. However, they saw it was an Italian submarine the Ciro Menotti. They had  already received a signal advising that the Italians had surrendered the previous day. Unshaken surfaced and fired one round from the 3-inch gun across the Italian submarine's bows. The Italian submarine responded with machine gun fire. The British submarine pulled away to torpedo range. The Italians crew ceased firing. The boats moved to hailing distance and the Italian captain said they were under orders to head for Brindisi. She was forced to stop and a boarding party was sent across. Jack Whitton, the British captain, ordered the Italians to turn around and alter course for Malta. The 3-inch gun was trained on the Italian captain's conning tower. He relented and a boarding party was sent across consisting of three ratings under Lt Swanston. One Italian officer and three ratings were taken aboard the Unshaken as hostages. The Italian submarine was duly escorted to Malta. 

On 2 October Unshaken engaged a German submarine-chaser with two torpedoes in the sea area north of Elba. The German vessel counter-attacked dropping ten depth charges. On 7 October Unshaken attacked a German tanker and a general cargo ship escorted by two E-boats. The torpedoes missed and the E-boats fired several depth charges. In November Unshaken sailed to Britain for a refit in Dundee. The refit scheduled for January 1944 was postponed and Unshaken joined the 9th Submarine Flotilla operating off the Norwegian coast.

Unshaken (Source: 

Unshaken carried out a series of war patrols off the Norwegian coast. One of her last engagements was in April 1944 when she sank a German merchant ship the Asien. In late May 1944 she was scheduled for overdue refit. On 17 July 1944, Lt Jack Pearce was appointed commanding officer of Unshaken and from this period until the end of the war she was used mainly for training purposes rather than war patrols.

HM Submarine Unshaken was de-commissioned in September 1945. She was broken up in February/March 1946 at Troon on the Firth of Clyde. Stoker Petty Officer Dack was demobilised at about the same time in March 1946. The submarine service, sometimes referred to as the silent service, was a demanding role and required men of strong character. Any submarine, but particularly World War 2 submarines would have been cramped and uncomfortable. Most of the time there was no sunlight and no fresh air. The submarines were closely packed with machinery and torpedoes. Fresh water was scarce and washing oneself was not permitted.  Silence was required to avoid noise detection. It was a dangerous occupation. Your chances of escape if hit by a mine or a depth charge were not good. However, it was an elite service, and once a submariner always a submariner. At times it must have been exhilarating, especially coming back from a successful mission flying the Jolly Roger. There was always that combination of fear and excitement with every man attending to his duty and knowing that his shipmate would be doing likewise. It was a brotherhood of the sea. 



At the controls of one of one of HM Submarines (Most likely HMS Unshaken).                                (Courtesy: Jay & Nic Dorman)

HMS Unshaken at Msida Creek, Malta (Courtesy: Jay & Nic Dorman)

Mention in Dispatches (MiD) awarded to Frederick Dack (Courtesy: Jay & Nic Dorman)


Jay and Nic Dorman for permission to use family photographs and providing  information on Frederick Dack. Martin Backhouse for additional information from his extensive research on Unshaken and her crew.



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