Shing Mun Redoubt, Tsuen Wan, Hong Kong, July 2019

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1. The History
The day after the Japanese’s attack on Pearl Harbour, leading to the USA declaring war on Japan, a Japanese aircraft attacked the RAF’s base at Kai Tak airfield, Hong Kong on 8th December 1941. This was a prelude to a land invasion of Hong Kong, from the Chinese mainland, with the Colony and its entire garrison being captured in 18 days. In order to defend the mainland from the Japanese attack the British constructed a defence line known as the Gin Drinker’s Line (named due to its western flank’s proximity to Gin Drinker’s Bay. The aim was to hold this defensive line for a period of approximately 3 weeks while the defences of Hong Kong Island could be completed.

With the land border between Hong Kong and China being roughly 35 Kilometres in length and difficult to defend, the British decided to hold their line further south on a shorter 18km stretch across the range of hills that separate Kowloon from the rural New Territories. The resulting Gin Drinker’s Line was a series of defence points, pillboxes and trenches surrounded by barbed-wire including a key defensive position on a spur overlooking Shing Mun Reservoir known as the Shing Mun Redoubt.

The Japanese had been locked in a conflict on the mainland with China since 1937 and had been moving closer to the Hong Kong border in the run-up to their attack. The garrison of 15,000 men, which included both British Royal Artillery and line battalions and two Indian battalions, looked strong enough on paper. Additionally, in November 1941, two Canadian Battalions arrived in Hong Kong, one month before hostilities commenced. This led to a renewed belief that the Gin Drinker’s Line could be held for at least three weeks. However, the Canadian troops were not familiar with the terrain and were “not expecting to be involved in any fighting”. Additionally, the two British battalions had lost their most capable officers to the European theatre and the Japanese had total air superiority after destroying the RAF’s aircraft at Kai Tak. In terms of the Gin Drinker’s line, it had been designed to withstand a naval attack and was designed to be manned by six Battalions. Hence with only three Battalions available, it spread the British Forces far too thinly. The Royal Scots covered the left side, the Punjabis the centre and the Rajputs the right flank. The Gin Drinker’s Line lacked adequate artillery support, although some of the costal batteries could provide covering fire, albeit with armour piercing rounds rather than high explosive shells. Facing the battle-hardened Japanese Forces that numbered 40,000 and included both air force and navy, there was only ever going to be one outcome.

The Redoubt was positioned above the reservoir and sited on the forward slope of Smugglers Ridge Hill, straddling one of the main ‘ancient pathways’ used by villages in the New Territories to travel to Kowloon. Its construction had been started in the 1930s but not completed. It was equipped with five machine guns (including Vickers machine guns and Bren LMGs) four pillboxes (numbered PB400-403), a command post, artillery observation post and five open firing positions. The 1.5-meter-deep defensive channels or trenches were named after the roads of London such as Charing Cross in order to help the soldiers of the Middlesex Regiment.

With the Redoubt being spread over various levels, it was not possible for the various positions to provide supporting fire to each other and numerous areas of “dead ground” allowed attackers to infiltrate the position without being observed. There were also numerous entrances into the complex, none of which were secure. Attackers could enter the tunnels via the various fighting positions and main entrances and the ventilation holes meant they could throw grenades into the complex with ease.

As at the 9th December, 1941, there were just 50 men from the Royal Scots in the position. The Japanese 228th Regiment crossed the Sino Hong Kong Border on 8th December 1941 reaching Shing Mun by the evening of following day. The British had blown-up the road brides but the Japanese advanced on foot, using traditional village paths. The Japanese reached Needle Hill, which lies directly opposite and above Shing Mun Redoubt, on the afternoon of the 9th December, 1941. When darkness fell, 150 Japanese troops launched an attack from the south and east. It came as a complete surprise to the 43 defenders who were completely overwhelmed and didn’t put up much of a fight. As a consequence, none of the defenders were killed during the attack, although one soldier died subsequently of their wounds.

A counter-attack was ordered from The Royal Scots stationed on the Gin Drinker’s line on the morning of the 10th of December. This never materialised, most likely due to the lack of sufficient resources to make a credible assault. Instead, the Japanese launched a series of further attacks on the 11th resulting in the complete disintegration of the defence line and orders were given to withdraw all units to Hong Kong Island . The withdrawal was completed by 13th December, 1941 with minimal losses mainly due to the inactivity of the Japanese forces. However, a young Canadian soldier, John Grey was captured when he became separated and was subsequently executed by the Japanese making him the first Canadian soldier to die in combat during the war.

British forces that retreated to Hong Kong Island but were swiftly defeated and on 24th December the Governor finally surrendered to the Japanese. Britain lost around 1,500 troops during the fighting for Hong Kong , while a shocking number of one-in-four of the survivors subsequently died during their brutal years in captivity. Imperial Japanese Force casualties were predictably far smaller with less than 700 killed and 1,500 wounded.

The Shing Mun Redoubt is the equivalent of Grade II listed and still virtually intact, although some of the tunnels are now flooded and silted up.

2. The Explore
Given we just about always stay in Tsuen Wan when we visit HK I can’t believe I didn’t realise this place was so close by. I visited it twice. Firstly, under my own steam and secondly with my brother-in-law. On both days the weather was absolutely terrible. It makes for an interesting explore. The tunnels themselves are fairly clear and home to bats, geckos and frogs.

Although signs say “Do not enter” no effort has been made to prevent entry making it pretty easy to walk round the whole complex and walk through parts of the tunnels, although some are partially flooded. The Command Post is easy to locate as it sits just next to the MacLehose Trail although some of the other positions are harder to locate due of the undergrowth.

Hence it is an enjoyable explore. That said it is easy to get a bit lost! Even with a photo of this map below:

48615301098_cd13b28e76_b.jpg Shing Mun revist 01 by HughieDW, on Flickr

I think I managed to cover most of the tunnels but only managed to visit one of the four pillboxes (PB400). If you do find yourself in HK, I can definitely recommend going to look at this place but take plenty of water, some strong boots and a good torch.

3. The Pictures

Walking on the trail the first thing you come to is this long trench to pillbox No. 401:

48615764527_126fca2637_b.jpg img2376 by HughieDW, on Flickr

One of its air vents:

48615269668_d07e5e0d85_b.jpg img2374 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Also, just off the trail is the dual entrance to the Regent Street and Shaftesbury Avenue tunnels:

48452055702_a2b530afb5_b.jpg 20190803_125459 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48615612846_2ef1ea029c_b.jpg img2378 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48615611556_41c282aeae_b.jpg img2385 by HughieDW, on Flickr

One of the many internal signposts:

48615263923_6a547b0a9e_b.jpg img2389 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48615759762_240f0473f4_b.jpg img2394 by HughieDW, on Flickr

At the top of the hill is the Command Post:

48615261458_43bcdd1766_b.jpg img2400 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48451876656_1bc454c4d6_b.jpg 20190803_124051 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Wall hooks in the command post:

48615262343_510669b30c_b.jpg img2398 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Some general wandering around the tunnel complex shots:

48615300828_5c3c41eb0f_b.jpg Shing Mun revist 02 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48615300048_129b4c904b_b.jpg Shing Mun revist 03 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48615795387_f261c3cbfc_b.jpg Shing Mun revist 04 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48451797201_3be46350a5_b.jpg 20190803_122930 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48451843436_150542544d_b.jpg 20190803_123152 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Charing Cross was pretty wet:

48452008302_22c7f9676a_b.jpg 20190803_123601 by HughieDW, on Flickr

More “street signage”:

48615793052_5b58331d36_b.jpg Shing Mun revist 08 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Strand Hotel eh?

48451922097_1990c96132_b.jpg 20190803_122435 by HughieDW, on Flickr

The entrance to Oxford Street was a bit watery!

48615794852_3dc9efc02f_b.jpg Shing Mun revist 05 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Piccadilly line:

48451959862_bcf4377b1d_b.jpg 20190803_123050 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Haymarket this way:

48451780301_65370d8016_b.jpg 20190803_122845 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Looking out from a very wet Pill-Box No.400:

48615644316_22f43ae2b8_b.jpg Shing Mun revist 07 by HughieDW, on Flickr

My brother-in-law feeling the heat!

48615792837_c8176d0759_b.jpg Shing Mun revist 09 by HughieDW, on Flickr