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Hong Kong 1941–45

Hong Kong 1941–45 Book Review

By David L. Veres

Date of Review October 2014 Title Hong Kong 1941–45
Author Benjamin Lai Publisher Osprey Publishing
Published 2014 ISBN 9781782002680
Format 96 pages, softbound MSRP (USD) $21.95


Beginning with simultaneous attacks on Hawaii, Malaya and the Philippines in Dec 1941, Imperial Japan enjoyed six months of stunning victories over the United States, British Commonwealth, and Netherlands East Indies.

Among Japan's principal peripheral targets was Hong Kong.  Now Osprey recounts the city's ordeal of conquest and occupation in the 263rd installment of its popular "Campaign" series.

Subtitled "First Strike in the Pacific War", Hong Kong 1941–45 follows the publisher's proven prescription.

After an illuminating introduction with chronology, author Benjamin Lai recaps opposing leadership and forces – including British civilian and Nationalist Chinese participants.  Defenders suffered from leadership, discipline, readiness, equipment and disease problems.  Troop levels and training remained insufficient, too.  Canadian reinforcements, for instance, were actually classified as "C-class" – "deemed as unfit for foreign service".

Japan, by contrast, enjoyed comparatively muscular resources – in personnel, armor, aircraft and warships.  With an extensive network of "moles and sleeper agents", Japanese intelligence also proved superior.  "The Japanese planted spies everywhere," Lai notes, "the garrison tailor and barber were also both spies!"

Four pages of orders of battle substantiate British weakness.  Even before World War II, Britain had effectively deemed Hong Kong indefensible.  And with a focus on denying attackers harbor assets – and simply slowing their progress with delaying actions until relief arrived – its defense plans, Lai shows, essentially reflected that reality.

Preparation, supply and staffing of the so-called "Gin Drinkers Line", for instance – what Lai dubs "mini-Maginot" fortifications – remains a prime example.  And the hideously sorry state of Commonwealth airpower assets further confirm Britain's poor defensive posture.

Japan struck with speed and ferocity, quickly overwhelming defenders.  Just 18 days after fighting began, the colony entered nearly four years of brutal occupation.

But conquest spawned resistance.  Chinese Communists and the British Army Aid Group successfully engineered the escape of numerous military and civilian personnel from Japanese captivity.  They also rescued downed American pilots.  And they attacked Japanese occupiers and collaborators.

Concerns?  Some.

That's "Imperial Japanese Army Air Force" – not "Imperial Japanese Air Force".  Additionally, Lai lists Japanese personalities, surname first.  A nomenclature note would enormously aid novitiates more familiar with the Western sequence.

The author also employs explanatory annotations – but no attributive ones.  So you don't know whence, for instance, Lai retrieved Maj Gen Christopher Maltby's page 43 assessment of Shing Mun Redoubt's loss.  You don't know the source of the author's intriguing notes on Fifth Columnist actions during the Japanese invasion.  And you don't know the reference for gripping accounts of older HKVDC volunteers, all over age 55, who single-handedly blunted the IJA's 230th Regiment.

Still, Lai competently captures the savagery of Honk Kong fighting.  "Aftermath" and "Battlefield Today" sections conclude contents.  An abbreviations list, military symbols chart, selected bibliography and index helpfully augment the account.  And photos, extended captions and battle maps admirably illustrate actions.  Unfortunately, Giuseppe Rava's action paintings lack the finesse and impact of, say, Osprey artist Steve Noon's typically stunning work.


My sincere thanks to Osprey Publishing for this review sample!