STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

Unearthed bombs recall Hong Kong's WWII 'Black Christmas'

The discovery of two ...

Posted: Feb 3, 2018 6:10 PM
Updated: Feb 3, 2018 6:10 PM

The discovery of two World War II-era bombs in Hong Kong's Wan Chai district in the past week has raised interest in the city's largely forgotten wartime history, which saw a blitzkrieg campaign to take the then-British colony, leading to more than three years of Japanese occupation.

Held by the Japanese from late 1941 until the end of the World War II, the city was often the target of US Army Air Corps, and later Navy bombers, intent on disrupting Japanese shipping in the Pacific theater.

Japanese military installations and supply ships clustered around the city's Victoria Harbour were a target of heavy US Navy bombing, Chi Man Kwong, an assistant professor at Hong Kong Baptist University said.

The bombs discovered this week would have fallen into the harbor and have only been unearthed with land reclamation and construction work, he said.

Hong Kong Police bomb disposal officer Alick McWhirter confirmed the newly found bombs were of US design.

'Massive air battle'

According to US military archives, the US Army Air Corps began bombing Hong Kong when it was under Japanese occupation in the fall of 1942, striking the city dozens of times.

Most of those air raids were carried out by B-24 and B-25 bombers, the former of which could carry up to 8,000 pounds of bombs.

By 1945 occasional sorties by pairs of dive bombers had developed into a more concentrated campaign, David Macri, a historical researcher and academic based in Hong Kong said.

"Hong Kong was a safe harbor, protected by anti-aircraft guns, where Japanese ships could get respite but that also made it a big target," he told CNN.

"In mid-January 1945 there was a massive air battle over Hong Kong, (American aviators) were trying to sink as many ships as they could, and that's probably where this (recently discovered) ordnance would have come from."

Forgotten history

The unearthed US ordnance has put a spotlight on an often-overlooked part of the city's history.

Among the forests and walking trails that criss-cross the hills surrounding Hong Kong, lie the almost-forgotten remains of the city's wartime history. A series of pitted concrete pillboxes and bunkers, the city's wartime defenses sit neglected in amongst the trees and vines.

They are among the last vestiges of a relatively unknown chapter of World War II, a short-lived battle for a territory which, while important to British interests in Asia, ended up being quickly ceded to the Japanese by the UK military leadership.

Despite Hong Kong's perceived importance to British interests in Asia, the city fell quickly as the Allied defenders were vastly outnumbered by Japanese troops.

Britain's wartime ruler, Winston Churchill, was dismissive of Allied prospects from holding onto the vital port.

"There is not the slightest chance of holding Hong Kong or relieving it," he said in January 1941.

Early-morning attack

The Japanese invasion began in the early hours of December 8, 1941, shortly after Japanese navy launched its attack on Pearl Harbor. It was part of a multi-pronged offensive which also saw Japan, on the same day, invade Hong Kong, Guam, the Wake Islands and British Malaya, including Singapore.

Japanese troops, mainly infantrymen, marched across the Lo Wu crossing linking Hong Kong with mainland China early that morning, supported by heavy artillery barrages.

But the efforts of the around 12,000-strong Allied contingent, including relatively inexperienced troops from Canada, and more battle-hardened British and Indian soldiers, alongside local troops and volunteer units stationed in the British territory was a doomed attempt to protect the city.

Within two days, Allied troops had been pushed back from the Kowloon peninsula to Hong Kong island as the defenses strung across the border with mainland China -- known as the "Gin Drinker's Line," harkening back to happier times when families would picnic in the hills -- were overrun by vastly superior Japanese numbers and firepower.

An American officer who was caught up in Hong Kong during those fateful weeks and later repatriated as diplomatic staff reported that the defense was ineffective, but that there no shortage of bravery from the troops, says Macri.

"They really went out and did what they could. It was a smaller garrison, 12-14,000 troops, similar (in size) to a division but an ad hoc group," Macri said.

"They were faced with a hopeless task but did a good job -- as much as could be expected. They put up a good fight."

Short-lived defense

Hong Kong fell after just over two weeks of frenzied fighting between Japanese invaders and the Allied defenders, according to archives from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

The Royal Air Force's minimal presence -- three outdated biplanes and a couple of seaplanes -- were destroyed in a bombing raid on the Kai Tak airfield before they could even take off.

From the island, Allied troops managed to keep the Japanese at bay for a few days before they managed to cross the harbor.

When they finally crossed, in the eastern part of the island, the Allies mounted a spirited, but ultimately fruitless defense, including street fighting -- two famous lion statues outside the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporations headquarters still bear the pockmarked bullet scars of the fighting -- and battles on the island's forested hillsides.

By December 25 1941, the city had fallen and surrender to the Japanese forces ceded, with the governor general of Hong Kong, Sir Mark Young, signing the surrender at the Peninsula Hotel on what became known as "Black Christmas."

During the 18-day battle, 10% of its defenders lost their lives; a further 20% died in Japanese POW camps in the ensuing years. As many as 4,000 civilians also lost their lives.

Brutal occupation

There was an organized -- but "amateurish," according to Kwong -- resistance to the Japanese occupation, which continued until the Japanese surrender at the end of the war in August 1945.

During the three-plus years of Japanese rule, numerous atrocities were reportedly committed by Japanese troops, including civilian rapes and murders, and the execution of surrendered soldiers.

Nurses working at a field hospital were also massacred, just a day before the armistice was signed. An estimated 10,000 civilians died as a result of the occupation, mostly from malnutrition and Allied bombing, Kwong said.

It wasn't until the weeks following V-J Day, in August 1945, that the city was returned to British rule.

With Japan's surrender, Hong Kong's citizens would have breathed a sigh at relief from the US air raids -- bombs from which sometimes went astray, endangering residents -- although their legacy continues to surface to this day.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 314509

Reported Deaths: 7247
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto21626259
Hinds20359415
Harrison17934309
Rankin13634278
Jackson13447246
Madison10099217
Lee9980174
Jones8381163
Forrest7683152
Lauderdale7191241
Lowndes6401147
Lamar623086
Lafayette6200118
Washington5339134
Bolivar4802132
Oktibbeha462798
Panola4588107
Pearl River4512146
Marshall4443103
Warren4393121
Pontotoc420772
Monroe4113133
Union411076
Neshoba4031176
Lincoln3968110
Hancock379386
Leflore3497125
Sunflower336090
Tate334084
Pike3325105
Scott315973
Alcorn313368
Yazoo311669
Itawamba300477
Copiah297065
Coahoma295479
Simpson295288
Tippah288768
Adams286882
Prentiss279760
Marion269280
Leake268373
Wayne262641
Grenada261487
Covington259681
George248048
Newton246861
Winston227281
Tishomingo226967
Jasper221148
Attala214473
Chickasaw207857
Holmes189173
Clay185454
Stone182833
Tallahatchie178841
Clarke178080
Calhoun170832
Yalobusha164338
Smith162434
Walthall133945
Greene130633
Lawrence128624
Montgomery126942
Noxubee126734
Perry126338
Amite123142
Carroll121829
Webster114532
Jefferson Davis107133
Tunica105726
Claiborne102430
Benton99525
Humphreys96733
Kemper95828
Franklin83823
Quitman80916
Choctaw76418
Wilkinson67331
Jefferson65728
Sharkey50217
Issaquena1686
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 532895

Reported Deaths: 11001
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson771431528
Mobile41089808
Madison34837505
Tuscaloosa25810454
Montgomery24355588
Shelby23730249
Baldwin21191309
Lee15892171
Calhoun14522316
Morgan14324279
Etowah13861353
Marshall12250223
Houston10581281
Elmore10060205
Limestone9986151
Cullman9705194
St. Clair9702243
Lauderdale9441242
DeKalb8846187
Talladega8255176
Walker7246277
Autauga6938108
Jackson6815112
Blount6694137
Colbert6310134
Coffee5524119
Dale4850111
Russell443238
Chilton4308112
Franklin426282
Covington4136118
Tallapoosa4039152
Escambia393977
Chambers3578123
Dallas3557152
Clarke351161
Marion3130101
Pike311377
Lawrence300798
Winston275673
Bibb261564
Geneva251477
Marengo249664
Pickens234761
Barbour231756
Hale223277
Butler216469
Fayette212562
Henry189044
Cherokee184745
Randolph181742
Monroe178040
Washington167639
Macon159950
Clay156857
Crenshaw152757
Cleburne149141
Lamar142935
Lowndes139053
Wilcox127130
Bullock122841
Conecuh110629
Coosa107928
Perry107826
Sumter104832
Greene92534
Choctaw61124
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Clear
72° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 48°
Feels Like: 72°
Columbus
Partly Cloudy
73° wxIcon
Hi: 76° Lo: 50°
Feels Like: 73°
Oxford
Clear
68° wxIcon
Hi: 73° Lo: 45°
Feels Like: 68°
Starkville
Clear
68° wxIcon
Hi: 74° Lo: 47°
Feels Like: 68°
Skies remain clear as we wrap up the work week, which will lead us into an excellent weekend in terms of weather. Low humidity will keep temperatures cool or chilly in the mornings and much warmer each afternoon. Humidity gradually returns later in the weekend and early next week.
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather