Background to the Battle- Causes

The battle started off all because of the Second Sino Japanese war. As the Second Sino Japanese war continued between Japan and China, Japan took over most of China. Britain and Hong Kong were afraid that Japan would take over too much of China. Hong Kong was surrounded by Japan after they took over Guangzhou on October 21, 1938. Britain was afraid that Japan would become too powerful and wouldn’t be able to defend Hong Kong. Britain continued working on their new defensive line that extended from Gin Drinkers Bay to Port Shelter which had already begun in 1936. This line was called the Gin Drinkers line. After Japan took over China, a whole bunch of Chinese refugees moved to Hong Kong making Hong Kong crowded and an easier target. After taking over China, the next target is Pearl Harbour.
Pre-war Hong Kong
Pre-war Hong Kong
Hong Kong during WW2
Hong Kong during WW2
Pearl Harbour was attacked by the Japanese Imperial General Headquarters. The attack on Pearl Harbour was a surprise attack conducted by the Japanese Imperial General Headquarters. After the attack on Pearl Harbour, the Japanese army goes and invades Hong Kong. Hong Kong tries to resist and was able to resist the attack for two weeks. However, after that, they could not hold on any longer and the Japanese military massacred the Chinese refugees that lived there and many other people. In 1940, Britain decided to decrease the Hong Kong Garrison into a smaller size and put the other part of the army elsewhere just in case Japan came through a different route a
Canadian Soldiers in Hong Kong
Canadian Soldiers in Hong Kong
nd attacked. The Hong Kong Garrison was a British Commonwealth force that protected Hong Kong. In September 1941, Winston Churchill thought that there weren't enough soldiers in Hong Kong, so he decides to send more troops to Hong Kong to have a stronger defensive line, but soon after his decision, they think about it one more time and decides to cancel the plan. Because of that, in December 1941, the Japanese military was too powerful for the Hong Kong Garrison so they surrendered. Hong Kong was angered by this so Britain assured the Chinese leader, Chiang Kai Shek that they want to protect Hong Kong. During the autumn of 1941, the Canadian government offered Britain to send two infantry battalions and a brigade headquarters which is able to hold 1,975 soldiers to reinforce the Hong Kong Garrison and Britain accepted the offer. The two Canadian battalions were the Royal Rifles of Canada which were from Quebec and the Winnipeg Grenadiers which were from Manitoba. The Royal Rifles of Canada were a Canadian rifle unit and fought alongside with the Winnipeg Grenadiers. The Winnipeg Grenadiers were a group of companies that helped support the military and the Royal Rifles of Canada. The Royal Rifles of Canada had only worked in Newfoundland and New Brunswick for protection. So the Royal Rifles of Canada were inexperienced due to lack of training and real fighting. As a result, many Canadian soldiers did not have any field experience by the time they arrived in Hong Kong as well as the Winnipeg Grenadiers.

What happened during the battle? -Components

Map of the invasion of Hong Kong
Map of the invasion of Hong Kong

The Battle of Hong Kong started at 8.00AM on December 8th 1941 when the the Japanese Imperial Army invaded Hong Kong. It started less that eight hours after the surpise air attack by the Japanese on the American Navy in Pearl Harbor. Quickly, after the start of the battle the Japanese destroyed the few aircraft and small navy that the garrison had and, therefore gained control of the air and sea which indeed, leads to the domination of land. Due too the withdrawal of troops and ships by Allies the forces at Hong Kong were small and inexperienced compared to the might of the war-hardened Japanese army. Although th British decided to place some Canadians and East Asians to increase moral in the Pacific Commonwealth. The Allies quickly were forced back from the Sham Chun River at the border between China and Hong Kong and instead deployed the troops to the Gin Drinkers’ Line a stronger line of fortifications far to the South. The strategy failed and the line broke when the Japanese captured the Shing Mun Redoubt. As the Japenese encroached on the last Allied troops they started to evacuate the peninsula to the Hong Kong Island on December 11th. On December 13th the final troops left the peninsula destroying all fortifications and harbours in their wake. The same day the Japanese demanded a British surrender but, the British denied the offer.The defense of Hong Kong Island started soon after with the separation of the troops into Western and Eastern Brigades. After artillery bombardment of the the island’s north shore the Japanese offered the chioce for surrender and was again rejected by the British. On December 18th the Japanese began an amphibious invasion on the North Eastern shores of the island. Following a South Western route they met heavy resistance by Allied Troops. After battling for two days the Japanese forces made it to the Southern coast of the island splitting the resistance in half onto two Peninsulas.On December 25th subsequently called ‘Black Christmas’ the Japanese crushed much of the remaining allied forces and infamously tortured and killed the prisoners from the British field hospital at St. Stephen’s College. Later that day General Matby with a suffering army with no ability to make any kind of naval, air or land resistance requested to the Governor of Hong Kong Sir Mark Aitchison Young to surrender to the Japanese. On Christmas day, the British formally surrendered Hong Kong to the Japanese at the Peninsula Hotel Hong Kong. The Allies lost Hong Kong for a variety of reasons but, mainly because of lack of confidence in it’s defense, the lack of naval and air support, and an unadequete amount of defensive troops

What was the outcome and effect of the battle? -Consequences

On December 25th, 1941 the Battle of Hong Kong was over. The people of Hong Kong finally surrendered allowing the Japanese to take over. To this day, December 25th, 1941 was referred to as “Black Christmas”. By the end of this battle, 2,133 soldiers from the British Commonwealth were killed and 1,300 were injured. Of the 1975 troops that Canada sent, approximately 290 were killed, approximately 493 were injured and the rest were imprisoned. Japan lost about 3,000 troops trying to take over Hong Kong. On February 20th, 1942, General Rensuke Isogai became Hong Kong’s first Japanese governor. The victory of taking over Hong Kong was not enough for the Japanese, they celebrated in a cruel and repulsive way. The Japanese people stabbed injured soldiers, rapped over 10,000 women including girls, and treated prisoners inhumanely. In one year, over one hundred died due to cruel treatment.
General Rensuke Isogai

The Japanese had taken over all the factories. Exchange rates for Yen were also made very high. At first, two Hong Kong dollars could purchase one Yen, than it was raised to four Hong Kong dollars to one Yen. By 1943, all goods were to be marked in Japanese and purchased with Yen. At this point in time, Yen was now their legal currency. Food was rationed and limits were put on how much rice you could purchase. Due to not enough food, many died from starvation. Hospitals were changed to military hospitals, providing less Hong Kong people with medical attention when needed. In terms of schools, all schools were forced to teach Japanese to their students and to teach about the famous stories important to Japan. Those who did poorly on examinations were given physical punishment. Every source of propaganda was closely watched. The Hong Kong News became Japans way of communication. Ten newspapers were shut down to five newspapers and all radio stations were used specifically for Japanese propaganda.

Even though the battle had ended, there were still small groups of people trying to fight off the Japanese. The East River Guerrillas began at only 200 people and eventually grew to 6000. They rescued Americans that got shot down, they protected traders, killed Chinese traitors, attacked the police station, and bombed the Kai Tak Airport.

After the Hong Kong people had suffered for about three and a half years, the USA decided to finally take some action. On August 6th, 1945 the US dropped an atomic bomb called the “Enola Gay” on Hiroshima, killing over 70,000 instantaneously. Three days later on August 9th, 1945 another atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, killed over 40,000 people. The Japanese finally surrender on August 15th, 1945, allowing WWII to officially be over. As soon as the Japanese surrendered, Britain took back Hong Kong.
Atomic bomb in Hiroshima
Japan surrenders WWII

When the Canadian veterans were finally allowed to return home, they returned only to find compensation no different from any other veteran. The severity of the long years of imprisonment, and constant ill health made no difference. The Canadian POW’s were in Hong Kong for over three and a half years. Of the 1975 that left to Hong Kong from Vancouver in October 1941, 550 would not return. The Sai Wan Bay Cemetery was built for all those who fought and lost their lives defending Hong Kong. This war truly shows the support and respect Canada has for Britain. In times of danger, Canada defends any ally of Britain.

Sai Wan Bay Cemetery

What role did Canada or the Canadians play in the battle?

Looking back at history, sending Canadian troops over to Hong Kong was, in many eyes, a political expediency – meaning it was not right/just, but for political advantage instead. When one looks back at the aftermath of the battle, the horrible treatment for the soldiers that were POWs was unbelievably inhumane…

When it came to choosing the battalions for this Hong Kong battle…
v Senior officers wanted to keep the top “A” and “B” battalions for service in England, and so the two battalions assigned for Hong Kong were the Winnipeg Grenadiers and the Royal Rifles of Canada, both from a “C” class. As they returned from Jamaica and Newfoundland in September and October 1941, over 400 new soldiers had to be enlisted. As a result, young men (mostly 16 to 17 year olds), and men that no other unit wanted, were recruited to defend the British colony of Hong Kong against the Japanese.
Logo for The Winnipeg Grenadiers
A Royal Rifles of Canada badge

v However, not all the volunteers were inexperienced. A great Canadian leader, John Stroud, had good knowledge and experience with new machine guns. Stroud had learned to drive a bren-gun carrier before he was sent to Newfoundland with the rest of his regiment. Once he knew that the Royal Rifles would be fighting overseas, he swapped places with one of the men, and was later “up for sergeant” of the “B” Company of the Royal Rifles.

What’s special about these two battalions?
v The Royal Rifles were a bilingual unit, as they were from the Quebec City area and ¼ of the men were French-speaking. Coupled with the Winnipeg Grenadiers, both Canadian ground units represented eastern and western regions of Canada.

Significant days for Canadian soldiers during the battle…
v December 10th, the “D” Company of the Winnipeg Grenadiers was dispatched to strengthen the remaining defenders on the mainland. And on the next day, the 11th, they exchanged fire with the Japanese. This day became the first Canadian army unit to engage in combat in WW2.
v On December 13th, the Japanese demanded for the surrender of Hong Kong, but was rejected. Canadians had strong feelings that they had no chances of victory after realization that they were fighting against such a strong enemy… yet they refused to surrender until they were overrun by the enemy. Oh, such bravery, determination and courage!

Through long, hopeless and constant violent attacks, Canadians showed great commitment and sacrifice…
v On December 22nd, the Japanese captured Sugar Loaf Hill, but the Royal Rifles “C” Company still pursued on and recaptured the hill later on. This event shows the determined support of Canadians even in such devastating times.
v An event widely known for this gruesome battle was when the “A” Company of the Grenadiers were in defensive positions when the Japanese began throwing grenades. It was through these grenade attacks that took away the life of a Canadian hero. CSM J.R. Osborn had been catching and throwing several live grenades back. However, one fell and he could not return it quick enough. Sacrificing his life to protect others, he shouted a warning and threw himself at the grenade. At the end of the war, Osborn was awarded a posthumous Victorian Cross.

The number of Canadian casualties that the Battle of Hong Kong brought…
v With 1975 soldiers sent to this battle
v 290 killed: 23 officers and 267 other ranks
v 493 wounded: 28 officers and 465 other ranks
v 264 more died later in prison camps

Even when the battle ended, the cruelty continued…
v POWs were kept in Northern Japan with very harsh conditions, extremely scarce food, and worked as slave labourers in mines or off the docks.
v Bayonetted (stabbed) wounded soldiers, raped women, and made sure the conditions for the prisoners were worse than a hellish nightmare.
"DEADLY DECEMBER The Battle of Hong Kong The Royal Rifles of Canada, The Winnipeg Grenadiers" by Ronald C. Parker is a book written in the perspective of Canadian soldiers who have fought in the Battle of Hong Kong. It talks about their story of fighting, suffering, being wounded, and the long months in a Japanese POW camp.

Remembering our Canadian soldiers…
v A memorial is located at the Sai Wan Bay war cemetery on the island of Hong Kong, in honour of these brave Canadian soldiers who have fought so hard to defend a British colony. Below this is where 283 Canadian soldiers are buried, facing the beautiful view of the sea. Along with another on the Tai Tam Peninsula (Stanley Military cemetery) and even one in Japan (The Yokohama British Commonwealth cemetery).
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, front left, attends the commemoration ceremony at Hong Kong's Sai Wan War Cemetery, which honours Canadian soldiers who fought to defend Hong Kong during World War II. (Dec. 6, 2009)

It was only very recently that the government of the Japan formally apologized to the survivors of this battle for the way they were treated as POWs… 70 years ago!

Analyzing A Primary Source

A political cartoon is a great primary source to obtain true thoughts in a certain perspective, during an event which dates back in history. Even when the majority of political cartoons are biased and may be exaggerated, it shows the audience what the people back then saw as obvious (or had strong opinions/views about). Furthermore, this source can help the audience understand the event better because it shows a visual (that the Japanese were dominating) and brings out the opinions of the people at the time.

Ironically, this cartoon portrays the Japanese as friendly during the Battle of Hong Kong. The action of this dominating Japanese soldier KNEELING DOWN politely to the Canadian soldier shows that the Japanese is giving them a chance to surrender. Evidently, this is a strong bias and one can tell that the author of this source is obviously from the perspective of the Japanese. Comparing this to the content of books, it was said that the Japanese had demanded them to surrender – instead of asking them “politely” to surrender.

This picture was found in “Volume II – World Warriors and Peacekeepers, 19210 – 2000”. This makes a connection to the perspective because this was probably an ad put out by the Japanese government to convince Canadian troops to surrender. As a result, it is apparent that the Japanese wanted to create a powerful, strong, and “good” image of themselves.

This political cartoon will give the citizens of Hong Kong and the Canadian troops the sense of fear, and the sense that they’re being threatened. In other words, the Japanese is pretty much saying, “If you’re not going to surrender – NO PROBLEM! We have our air forces, tanks, and powerful men to kill your small, weak defense in no time! We’re just saying – the best way out for all of you is to shake hands with us and surrender.” As a result, this will cause many of our Canadian troops to feel hopeless, and might even be convinced that giving up would be their only choice if they want to survive.

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