Published on February 29, 2008
The Battle for Hong Kong, December 1941: The Battle for Hong Kong, December 1941 Why were the British/Americans so caught off guard? Why were the Canadians there? Were we “lambs to the slaughter” sacrificed by the British? Why were we so ill-prepared? Hong Kong: Hong Kong Were the Canadians somehow responsible for the failure to hold Hong Kong? An Overview: An Overview The strategic “problem” of Japan, 1940-1941 The decision to send Canadians The tactics of survival Japanese Imperialism: Japanese Imperialism 1904: Japan occupies Korea 1931: Japan occupies Manchuria 1937: The “Rape” of Nanking 1940: French Indo-China occupied September: Japan signs the Tri-Partite Pact with Germany and Italy Remains neutral The British Problem: The British Problem The British army is overstretched Defence of UK Middle East India Malaya/Singapore What to do with Hong Kong? August 1940: British Chiefs of Staff “ “Hold as long as possible” but recognized that, if war came, Hong Kong could not be reinforced or relieved. Churchill’s First Position: Churchill’s First Position January 1941 “This is all wrong. If Japan goes to war with us there is not the slightest chance of holding Hong Kong or relieving it.” Why does Churchill change his mind? 1941: The British View: 1941: The British View June: The Germans attack the Soviet Union. (Operation Barbarossa) Would the Japanese fight the Russians (north)? Or the Americans, British, Dutch (south)? Most felt that the Japanese would move north. 1941: The Japanese View: 1941: The Japanese View 2 July 1941: Japanese Imperial Conference Japanese occupy French Indo-China US/UK freeze Japanese assets A policy of deterrence Canadian Involvement: Canadian Involvement August 1941: Major-General A.E. Grasett goes to Ottawa (GOC, Hong Kong defences) Meets with Major-General H.D.G. Crerar, Canadian Chief of Staff “addition of two or more battalions to the forces then at Hong Kong would render the garrison strong.” No decisions on Canadian participation September 1941: September 1941 Grasett makes his case to Churchill changed situation in the Far East British have reinforced Malaya “great moral effect” to reinforce Hong Kong 19 September 1941: 19 September 1941 The British formally request Canadian aid in the defence of Hong Kong As a member of the Canadian Cabinet, how would you respond to this appeal? 27 September 1941: 27 September 1941 The Canadians approve the request “anything which would either defer or deter Japan from coming in [to the war] would be highly desirable from our point of view.” J.L. Ralston, Minister of National Defence Who to Send?: Who to Send? Could Canadian battalions in UK go? What of those in Canada? Royal Rifles of Canada--mobilized 8 July 1940--garrisoned in Newfoundland Winnipeg Grenadiers--mobilized 1 Sept 1940--garrisoned in Jamaica What Level Training?: What Level Training? Basic training (16 weeks) just 6% had less Weapons training (incomplete due to shortages) Company level training incomplete Battalion level training incomplete “C” Force : “C” Force CO Brigadier J.K. Lawson 96 officers/1877 other ranks Set sail Vancouver, 5 October 1941 Arrive Hong Kong, 16 November 1941 Japanese Intentions: Japanese Intentions 18 October--General Tojo leads a “war government” If negotiations break off by 25 November, Japanese plan to attack Phillippines, Guam, Hong Kong, British Malaya, Burma, The Bismarcks, Java, Sumatra, Timor Hong Kong: Hong Kong Population 1941: 1.5 million Colony 410 sq. miles Island 29 sq. miles The Defences: The Defences Limited by Treaty most naval vessels withdrawn little artillery/anti-aircraft guns no aircraft (closest RAF station: 1400 miles) Army defences 11,000 fighting soldiers The Defensive Plan: The Defensive Plan Delay on the mainland Then defend the island Canadian battalions stood guard on the island for a seaborne attack that did not come The Battle Chronology: The Battle Chronology 7 December: Japanese 38th Division attacks from the north 9 December: The “Gin Drinkers Line” is broken 15 December: The Japanese cross to Hong Kong Island 20 December: The island is divided 25 December: The Garrison surrenders 19 December 1941: 19 December 1941 Brigadier Lawson is killed CSM John Osborn, Winnipeg Grenadiers, is killed Wins the Victoria Cross 25 December 1941Maltby Surrenders to the Japanese: 25 December 1941 Maltby Surrenders to the Japanese The Final Canadian Tally: The Final Canadian Tally Dead 23 officers/267 other ranks Wounded 28 officers/465 other ranks Died in captivity: 4 officers/124 other ranks 4 shot Diphtheria, 1942: 50 dead 136 died during forced labour in Japan Of 1975 Canadians who left Canada in October 1941, 557 never returned C.P. Stacey’s verdict: C.P. Stacey’s verdict “We can see today  that the decision to reinforce Hong Kong was a mistake.” “The historian’s hindsight is always far, far better than the foresight of the men, groping in the dark, who had to do the work at the time.” Acknowledgements and Further Reading: Acknowledgements and Further Reading Maps courtesy of Mike Bechthold, Laurier Centre for Military, Strategic and Disarmament Studies, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario Charles Roland, Long Night’s Journey into Day: Prisoners of War in the Far East, 1941-1945. Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2001.