The Battle for Hong Kong 1941-1945


The author has done more than edit the memories of John R Harris who was at the time of writing the sole survivor of the small band of prisoners who smuggled Top Secret information to the British spying operation in China during 1943. The author has interviewed more than 100 campaign veterans and internees. Hong Kong was always going to be difficult to defend against Japanese attack, being isolated and surrounded. The population, of all races, suffered under Japanese occupation. For Britain the main area of conflict was in Europe. For the public, the battles of the Far East were given little prominence and the British Army in India and Burma, which held the line against Japanese advance, was the Forgotten Army. It was an unfortunate necessity that Europe drew the best resources available and the priority was to defeat Germany first. That inevitably meant that the other theatres of conflict and potential conflict received the second rate equipment and were accorded lower priority. Malaysia, Indo China and China were largely abandoned to their fate. Japanese expansion was rapid and the Anglo American priority became containment and then a steady island-hopping campaign dominated by US Forces. Once Germany was defeated, all resources could be turned against Japan and preparations could be made for the political realities that would follow the Second World War. The result is that controversy has surrounded the events in Asia. There have been few accounts of what happened, few insights into the political thinking and the military management. Some will argue that the Japanese threat was not taken seriously enough. Others will argue that Britain should have withdrawn assets before a Japanese attack to avoid some of the unproductive losses. It was a complex situation for Churchill and his Government. Britain had to survive to stand any hope of defeating all its enemies and liberating lost territory. In 1940 it all came very close to British defeat in Europe. Military logic demanded that the British Isles be kept free of occupation, that the sea routes to the rest of the world be kept open to British ships, and that the Germans be prevented from joining up with the Japanese in India. At the same time, pride and morality demanded some attempt to protect the wider Empire with inadequate recourses.

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