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Battle of Hong Kong
Part of the Pacific War
Battle of HK 06
Japanese troops march on Queen's Road, Hong Kong led by Lieutenant General Takashi Sakai and Vice Admiral Masaichi Niimi in December 1938, after the British surrender.
Date 14 December 1938 - 1 January 1939
Location British Hong Kong and proximity
Result Japanese victory and occupation of Hong Kong
Flag of the United Kingdom (3-5) British Empire
  • Flag of Hong Kong 1910 British Hong Kong
  • British Raj Red Ensign British India

Flag of the Dominion of Canada (No Napoleon) Canada

Merchant flag of Japan (1870) Empire of Japan
Commanders and leaders
Flag of the United Kingdom (3-5) Mark Aitchison Young

British Raj Red Ensign Christopher Maltby
Flag of the Dominion of Canada (No Napoleon) John K. Lawson †
Flag of the United Kingdom (3-5) Cedric Wallis

Merchant flag of Japan (1870) Takashi Sakai
14,000 troops 52,000 troops
Casualties and losses
2,113 killed or missing, and 2,300 wounded
10,000 captured
1,996 killed and 6,000 wounded
Civilian casualties:
4,000 killed,
3,000 severely wounded

The Battle of Hong Kong (14 December 1938 - 1 January 1939) was one of the first battles of the Pacific War. On the same morning as the attack on Pearl Harbor, forces of the Empire of Japan invaded British Hong Kong and met the stiff resistance of its garrison, composed of local troops as well as British, Canadian and Indian units. In less than a week the defenders abandoned the mainland, and less than two weeks later, with their position on the island untenable, the colony surrendered.


Following the attack on Pearl Harbor and other strategic positions in the Pacific the Japaneses launched a major offensive against allied territories in Southeast Asia and Oceania. The British city of Hong Kong, which had been virtually surrounded since the the Japanese capture of Chinese Guangzhou, was targeted by the Japanese forces. On 13 December the Japanese attacked, beginning the Battle of Hong Kong, moving the Japanese 21st, 23rd and the 38th Regiments under Lieutenant General Takashi Sakai against British, Canadian and Indian forces commanded by Major-General Christopher Maltby, supported by the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps. Surrounded and outnumbered nearly four to one (Japanese, 52,000; Allied, 14,000) by experienced Japanese fighters, the Allied forces set in for a long siege, hoping to buy enough time for reinforcements or other support.

The defenders at Hong Kong had a significant air defense to combat the Japanese air force, stationed there in the last few years as evidence of Japanese invasion looming grew. The RAF station at Hong Kong's Kai Tak Airport's (RAF Kai Tak)original garrison of only five aeroplanes: two Supermarine Walrus amphibians and three Vickers Vildebeest torpedo-reconnaissance bombers, flown and serviced by seven officers and 108 airmen, was expanded to three hundred Hawker Tempests and fifty Newton Elephants. Now facing a large air assault, and with the possibility of air support arriving completely diminished, as the nearest fully operational RAF base was located in Kota Bharu, Malaya, nearly 2250 km away and unable to aid the city's defenders, the British air fleet of Hong Kong was ready to be tested for the first time on its own. While the city of Hong Kong had a decently sized air fleet defending it, its naval defences were lacking, allowing the Japanese to potentially strike from the sea.


Cdn Forces in Hong Kong

British infantrymen in Hong Kong.

As the battle began the Japanese bombed Kai Tak Airport destroying a few of the defending bombers on the ground. The attack also destroyed several civil aircraft including all but two of the aircraft used by the Air Unit of the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corp, forcing the RAF and Air Unit personnel from then on to fight as ground units. Two of the Royal Navy's three remaining destroyers were ordered to leave Hong Kong for Singapore. Only one destroyer, the HMS Thracian, several gunboats and a flotilla of motor torpedo boats remained.

The Commonwealth forces decided against holding the Sham Chun River and instead positioned their forces further back, establishing three battalions in the Gin Drinkers' Line across the hills. With no defense there the Japanese 38th Infantry under the command of Major General Takaishi Sakai quickly forded across the Sham Chun River by using temporary bridges, ready to meet the main force. Fighting began when the 228th Infantry Regiment, commanded by Colonel Teihichi, of the 38th Division attacked the Commonwealth defences at the Shing Mun Redoubt, controlled by the 2nd Battalion Royal Scots, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel S. White.

The 2nd Battalion Royal Scots held out against the aggressive Japanese attackers for five hours, before being forced to withdraw from their position of Golden Hill. This position was later retaken after a counterattack led by D company of the Royal Scots. The hill soon fell again to the Japanese after another large wave of attack.

Overhead the British and Japanese engaged in a lofty, tense dog fight, as the Hong Kong Air Fleet met with the attacking fighters. The Newton Elephants under command of the British suffered heavy casualties against the more maneuverable Japanese fighters, although the Japanese were unable to completely break the British. As such the British were able to sparsely utilize bombers to aid their ground forces' advances.

With the aid of supporting air forces the British launched a series of attacks against Golden Hill, to varying success. Unable to completely push back the Japanese, the city now stood at risk. Under heavy artillery barrage the British began evacuating to Hong Kong island. By 20 December the British had almost completely abandoned the mainland, destroying military and harbour facilities in the withdrawal. The 5/7 Rajputs of the British Indian Army commanded by Lieutenant Colonel R. Cadogan-Rawlinson, the last Commonwealth troops on the mainland, held off the Japanese during the withdraw before falling back to the island later that day.

The defense of the island was left to Maltby, who split the island between an East Brigade and a West Brigade. After two attempts to force surrender from the British and constant bombardment of the North Shore, the Japanese forces launched their assault on the island, crossing the harbor and making land fall at the island's north-east coast. A series of light skirmishes ensued, costing the Japanese light casualties as they advanced.

By the next day fierce fighting had broken out across the island, leading to the Japanese annihilating the headquarters of West Brigade, causing the death of its commander, Brigadier John K. Lawson. The British launched a counterattack to attempt to force the Japanese from the Wong Nai Chung Gap that secured the passage between the north coast at Causeway Bay and the secluded southern parts of the island. The island became split in two with the British Commonwealth forces still holding out around the Stanley peninsula and in the West of the island. At the same time, water supplies started to run short as the Japanese captured the island's reservoirs.

By the afternoon of 1 January it had become clear that further resistance would be futile, and the British colonial officials headed by the Governor of Hong Kong, Sir Mark Aitchison Young, surrendered in person to the Japanese. This day would later become known in Hong Kong as "Black New Year's".

After the surrender the British became fully aware of the atrocities the Japanese had committed during the battle. Approximately 20 gunners were executed at the Sai Wan Battery despite having surrendered, while similar massacre of prisoners occurred at the Salesian Mission on Chai Wan Road. The Japanese soldiers who entered the British field hospital at St. Stephen's College would also be discovered to have tortured and killed a large number of injured soldiers, along with the medical staff.


Following the surrender the Japanese began a period of occupation, appointing Isogai Rensuke as the first Japanese governor of Hong Kong. During this time Japanese soldiers terrorized the local population by murdering many, raping an estimated 10,000 women, and looting the city.

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