— How Japanese Forces Captured Hongkong

 The article about how Japanese forces captured Hong Kong was copied from “The Hongkong News” special supplement dated December 25, 1942.


As it became increasingly evident that the talks in Washington between Admiral Nomura and Mr Cordell Hull would not see a settlement of Pacific relations between Japan and the United States, the Japanese Expeditionary Forces in South China, under the command of Lt General Takashi Sakai, held themselves in readiness for an attack on Hongkong. Every preparation had been made for the eventuality of such an attack and the troops had been specially trained for the conditions under which they would have to fight.

It was Japan’s first fight against for former ally Britain and as the forces in this far-flung outpost of the British Empire had been greatly reinforced and the fortifications strengthened, the Imperial forces made very careful preparations so as to ensure a speedy and successful operation.

Immediately on the outbreak of war, at dawn on December 8, last year, the Japanese troops who were being held in readiness in South China to move on the Sino-British border, received their orders to attack.HKKln-1


Surging like a flood, the Japanese forces easily disposed of the nine British pillboxes which constituted the border defence line and swarmed over the boundary at Shumchun, Shataukok and other points, meeting hardly any resistance worthy of mention, the British forces having been completely paralysed by the speed and suddenness of the Japanese attack.

The first position at which any real resistance was offered, was at Tai Mo Shan (mountain). This consists of a range of ragged peaks whose heights were scaled by the Japanese troops with the use of rope ladders.

The field headquarters of the British troops, which was on the 500 metre peak of this mountain range, was stormed and captured in less than eight hours, the Imperial troops showing great skill and courage in climbing the face of the bare rock height in the face of intense fire from the defenders.

Indeed the British troops must have been greatly surprised by the daring and agility of the Japanese attackers, and the easy success of our soldiers was no doubt due to the intense preparation they had undergone for this particular assault during the preceding year when they constantly practised climbing a similar mountain somewhere near Canton with the use of rope ladders. Without such preparation, the capture of the British field headquarters would undoubtedly have taken a much longer time.


The Japanese front line troops advanced so rapidly on that first day of war that the main body which followed was hard pressed to keep up with their pace. One detachment advanced 80 kilometres that day.

While the Imperial land forces were thus swarming through the New Territories towards Kowloon, Japanese Army air forces carried out a death-dealing blow to the British air strength in Hongkong, by raiding Kai Tak Aerodrome on the morning of December 8, and destroying the 14 enemy planes which were on the ground near the hangars or in the harbour waters nearby.

Four of these planes were British Army bombers and one was the Pan-American Airways Clipper which was completely fuelled and waiting in readiness to take off for Manila that morning. Twelve of the 14 planes were completely burnt out and the other two damaged beyond use.

Although the attack on Kai Tak was made several hours after the Japanese forces had crossed the Sino-British border, the defences at Kai Tak were taken by surprise owing to the swiftness of the attack.


Passing through dense clouds the Imperial bombers power-dived at terrific speed and literally swept the entire air base with bombs and bullets before a single enemy plane could rise to meet them. The Japanese fighter planes which escorted their bombers were so disappointed at meeting no resistance that they, too, followed the bombers, diving over the aerodrome and spraying it with machine-gun bullets.

The second day of the war saw the Japanese troops attacking a 255 metre hill which, according to military terms, is called Hill 255 and another summit called Hill 341. These two were the most strategic points held by the British for the defence of Shing Mun Reservoir, and the enemy had concentrated large forces there.

The attack, which was made at night, commenced with heavy artillery fire directed on the enemy’s defences. The artillery successfully smashed with equal rapidity both flanks of the British troops, after which the infantry made a joint attack from all directions under cover of artillery fire.

One detachment of Japanese troops, using a neglected forest path, the existence of which even the British were not aware of, took the enemy by surprise from the rear. And with the collapse of the defences on Hills 255 and 341, the main British defence lines on the Kowloon Peninsula were broken.


From then onward, other detachments made frontal attacks on the enemy, whose main defence line on the 20 kilometre long and six kilometre wide mountain range was smashed up, despite the fact that they had over 200 well-fortified positions on the various summits of the range.

HKTaikooIt may be mentioned that so skilful were the Japanese in night fighting that the fact the British used searchlights failed to deter the attacking troops.

On the night of December 9, another detachment of Japanese troops landed on Tsing I Island, to the west of Hongkong harbour, and completely occupied it. The same detachment later advanced and captured Kum Shan, another strategic point, and almost immediately after occupied the entire line between Kum Shan and Woo Pui Ling (mountain), enemy resistance being easily crushed.

Our troops advancing on the left flank, making full use of our ships on the night of December 10, made a swift advance on the enemy’s right flank which was lightly defended. Our troops passed the Shui Au Shan (mountain) the following morning, and occupied some of the central positions of the mountains in Kowloon. At dawn on December 12, the Japanese troops had the whole of Kowloon under their controls.


Hongkong island, which is separated from Kowloon only by the harbour, then became like a trapped fish. It is really amazing when we consider the enormous gains which our troops had accomplished within these 84 hours after their advance from the Sino-British border.

The British had withdrawn all their forces, including the Police from Kowloon, and now concentrated their entire attention on the defence of Hongkong island. The siege of Hongkong thus really began on December 12, with the Japanese forces separated from the beleaguered island by a mere mile of water which separates it from Kowloon.

In order that Hongkong’s 1,000,000 citizens might be spared the sufferings of war, on Saturday, December 14, the Japanese command sent a peace mission to give the Hongkong garrison the opportunity of making an honourable surrender, and to prevent unnecessary bloodshed. This was in accordance with the time-honoured Japanese spirit of bushido, or chivalry.

The mission, which came across in a motor launch, carried a large white banner across which was inscribed with the words “Peace Mission“, and included an English woman, Mrs C R Lee, wife of the private secretary of the then British Governor of Hongkong.


While the members of the mission waited on Queen’s Pier until Governor Mark Young gave his reply to the Japanese request, Mrs Lee gave local newspapermen a slight description of the journey across the harbour. She said that the Japanese had treated her and other British people in Kowloon very courteously and with all due consideration. They had even allowed Mrs MacDonald, who was in poor health, to come across with her and enter a hospital.

Taking up the thread of her story of the cross-harbour journey Mrs Lee said, “We had scarcely left the wharf when the Hongkong garrison began to fire on us. I have been machine-gunned before but I didn’t relish the idea of being fired on by my own side. However, the shooting stopped after a few shots had hit the water before the bows of the vessel and we knew that the garrison had realised the Japanese object.”

The British Governor having refused to surrender, the peace mission, with Mrs Lee, returned to Kowloon. The previous night a terrific explosion shook Hongkong about 11 o’clock,causing the plate glass windows of practically every shop in the central district to break into pieces. The whole city rocked with the concussion and only the next day was the cause of the explosion ascertained.


It transpired that a lighter in tow, bringing the British ammunition from Stonecutter’s Island to Hongkong, was fired upon by British sentries on the waterfront causing nearly ten tons of TNT to blow up. Nothing of course was seen of the men who were bringing over the gun powder.

In an official communique issued on December 16, in connection with the Japanese peace mission, the Governor, Mark Young, said, “Not only is this Colony strong enough to resist all attempts at invasion, but it has the loyal backing of the resources and peoples of the British Empire, of the United States of America, and of the Republic of China. British subjects, and those who have sought the protection of the British Empire, can rest assured that there will never be any surrender to the Japanese.”

An equally high-handed attitude was maintained by the British authorities when on December 17, the Japanese, after silencing most of the guns on Hongkong, sent another peace mission over, but this opportunity of an honourable surrender, which would have saved many people, specially the Chinese, much hardship and loss, the Governor turned down with a curt reply that he was not prepared to receive any further communications from the Japanese on the subject of surrender. Yet a week later, Hongkong capitulated unconditionally on its 100th Christmas Day of British rule.


The Japanese attack on Hongkong, the fort which the British military experts considered “impregnable”, will go down in history as an outstanding example of military strategy, fighting skill and daring.

On December 17 morning, a young Japanese lieutenant with four soldiers, dressed as Chinese, crossed over to Hongkong in a fishing junk, under the very eyes of the British defences. They spent the greater part of the day investigating possible landing grounds and examining the defence positions.

That night Japanese troops, which had in the meantime been concentrating on the east side of Kai Tak airfield and near the Kowloon Cement Works since December 15, boarded several specially constructed military barges which had been collected there for the purpose of conveying them across.

Special expert swimmers cleared the mines which had been laid by HKNPthe British and the barges crossed over under cover of heavy artillery fire. Seeing the Japanese advance, enemy searchlights went into play immediately and their machine-guns along the water front opened a withering fire, but the brave forces of Imperial Japan advanced unchecked and landed at various places in North Point and Shaukiwan.


Despite fire from British motor torpedo boats nearby, further Japanese forces crossed over to Hongkong island and easily captured Lyemun fort. Thus [sic] communication with the mainland was definitely established the Japanese reinforcements were able to cross the water as they pleased.

HKTaiHangTwo hours after the first landing, which was made at 1am on December 19, the Japanese occupied Jardine’s Hill and by 7:30am the same day the main body of the Japanese army landed in Hongkong. By that time the Japanese advance forces had already captured Mount Davis in the west and Chai Wan Bay in the east of Hongkong.

By noon that day, the greater part of Hongkong island was in Japanese hands and for the first time, the Japanese national flag was flying on some of the hills overlooking the urban areas.

In connection with the first landing on the night of December 18-19, a small unit which landed at North Point encountered an enemy force equipped with tanks, and a fierce engagement took place for five hours before the British were subdued.

The night of December 19 was wet and there was a drizzle most of the time. Despite this and other difficulties, the Japanese pursued the enemy to the forts on Victoria Peak and also on Stanley peninsula.


The streets of Hongkong were being subjected to fierce bombardment by Japanese guns. There was also street fighting in the outskirts of the city.

On December 21 and 22, the Japanese advanced on Mount Nicholson, Deep Water Bay behind Victoria Peak and Chai Wan Hill, where the British defenders were wiped out. The enemy, using tanks along both roads to the north and south of Mount Nicholson put up fierce resistance. Several counter-attacks were repulsed and Mount Nicholson eventually fell into Japanese hands.

The Canadian troops, under the command of General Lawson, suffered terrible losses and the rest were captured. This victory was the beginning of the collapse of the British defences of Hongkong.

In the afternoon of December 22, advancing from Jun Iu Hill on the western side of Deep Water Bay, the Japanese occupied Mount Cameron, thus gaining the whole of the southern region of Hongkong island.

By December 23 the weather cleared up and all strategic points again became easy targets for the Japanese and by December 24 the Japanese attacks from air, land and sea were intensified.


During those days the British were firmly entrenched in Wongneichong Gap, Japanese attacking troops met withering fire and several enemy counter-attacks were repulsed. Eventually the Gap was captured and the whole of the defending force there taken prisoners.

HKbusterminusTwo Stone Hill was the next enemy point to be seized. The British put up very stiff resistance but in defiance of heavy machine-gun and artillery fire, Japanese Okada troops, after much hand-to-hand fighting on the ridge, succeeded in taking this strategic point.

Despite all these continued reverses, on December 20, Governor Mark Young issued a message to the military forces in Hongkong in which he said, “The time has come to advance against the enemy. The eyes of the Empire are upon you. Be strong, be resolute, and do your duty.”

Up to this day nobody seems to know where or how the hopelessly harassed British troops were expected to advance on that day. The first indication that British resistance in Hongkong was breaking up came on December 23, when the official communique said, “As a result of continuous attack, there was a slight Japanese penetration in the central sector of the Mount Cameron direction … Briefly, the situation is substantially unchanged.”


By December 25, Japanese troops were fighting their way into the central area through the streets of Wanchai, practically every defence point in the hills having succumbed to the Imperial forces. But there was some surprise when all firing ceased abruptly about 4pm and the news got round that the British forces had capitulated.

The story goes that some British officers, seeing the hopelessness of the position, had rushed down the hill to the Japanese lines carrying a white flag and offered to open negotiations for the surrender of Hongkong.

One of the officers was Lieut-Colonel H.W.M. Stewart of the Middlesex Regiment and two other officers named Robb and Berry.  They were accompanied by two corporals and surrendered to the Suzukawa Unit, not far from Mount Cameron.

Taken before two Japanese Staff Officers, the surrender party were [sic] asked under what authority they had come.

They replied that they had come on instructions of Governor Mark Young.

Asked whether they had any documents to prove they had authority to surrender, they replied in the negative.

Lieut-Col Stewart and his party were then told that no negotiations for surrender could be entertained unless they came from Governor Mark Young or General Maltby, the British Commander-in-Chief, and they were given a time limit until 6:30pm, after which firing was to commence. Later direct negotiations were made by Governor Mark Young and General Maltby with the Japanese command for the surrender of Hongkong.

In the meantime the public were unaware of what was going on. The first intimation that the “cease fire” order had been given was the appearance of a large white flag over the Exchange Building in Ice House Street. It was also noticed that the Union Jack, which was flying over Government House, had been taken down.


Confirmation that Hongkong had surrendered came later in the evening when the British military authorities issued the following statement:

“The garrison of Hongkong, having fought until all reserves were expended and until all means of support were exhausted, were ordered to cease active hostilities. The Authorities are in contact with the Japanese Military Authorities and further instructions will be issued in due course.”

That night, Governor Mark Young and General Maltby, the British Commander-in-Chief, went over with the white flag to the Japanese Headquarters at the Peninsula Hotel and asked for an interview with Lt General Sakai offering to surrender Hongkong unconditionally. The historic meeting between victor and vanquished was held in a very nice spirit and the Japanese treatment of the defeated British ever since has been as generous and fair as the manner in which they fought and conquered this century old bastion of British influence in China.


The Hong Kong News, a pre-war Japanese-owned English newspaper, was revived on January 1942 during the Japanese occupation. The editor, E.G. Ogura, was Japanese and the staff members were mainly Chinese and Portuguese who previously worked for the South China Morning Post. It became the mouthpiece of Japanese propaganda.
[Source: Wiki]




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1941 December 25 ~ Japanese Invasion of Hong Kong

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