British Forces Overseas Hong Kong

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British Forces Overseas Hong Kong comprised the elements of the British Army, Royal Navy (including Royal Marines) and Royal Air Force. Much of the British military left Hong Kong prior to the handover in 1997. The present article focuses mainly on the British garrison in Hong Kong in the post Second World War era. For more information concerning the British garrison during the Second World War see the Battle of Hong Kong.

Overview[edit]

Most of the members of the British Forces in Hong Kong were from Britain but there were locally enlisted personnel (LEP) who served as regular British Forces members in the Hong Kong Squadron of the Royal Navy as well as in the Hong Kong Military Service Corps.

The Royal Hong Kong Regiment a military unit forming part of the Hong Kong Government, was trained and organised along the lines of the British Territorial Army and supported by British Army regular personnel holding key positions. These British Army personnel, for their duration of service to the Royal Hong Kong Regiment, were seconded to the Hong Kong Government. In the post-WWII era, the majority of the regiment's members were local citizens of Chinese descent.

Before, during and shortly after the Second World War, there was normally a division of land forces maintained in Hong Kong. For most of the post-war period, however, the army garrison has been reduced to a brigade of three to four infantry battalions with support and training elements.

Responsibilities[edit]

Before 1 July 1997, the British government had the political commitment to safeguard the territory against external and internal threats. The greatest test was in 1941, when Japanese forces invaded Hong Kong.

Internal Security was the responsibility of the Hong Kong Government, in particular the Royal Hong Kong Police. It is supported by British Forces in Hong Kong should it be called upon to do so. During the Hong Kong 1967 riots, in which 51 people were killed, the British garrison supported the Royal Hong Kong Police in quelling the disturbance. Until 1995, the safety of much of the Sino-Hong Kong border was the responsibility of the British forces and as such contributed greatly to the interdiction of illegal immigrants (II). As the preparation of the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997, that responsibility was passed on to the Hong Kong Police.

The Royal Navy played a significant role in the support of the Royal Hong Kong Police in anti smuggling operation in Hong Kong waters, especially in the heyday of seaborne smuggling during the mid-1980s to mid-1990s.

Search and Rescue (SAR) was provided by all branches of the British Forces in Hong Kong may be called upon for aid to civil defence as well as search and rescue operations in times of emergency.

Prior to 1990–1991, British Forces (British Army) was responsible for patrolling and enforcing border control between Hong Kong and China. This role was passed on the Hong Kong Police Force years before the handover in 1997.

Command structure[edit]

The Governor of Hong Kong, being a representative of the British sovereign, was the Commander-in-Chief of the British Forces in the colony. The Governor was advised by the Commander British Forces in Hong Kong (CBF) on all military actions. During the 1980s and 1990s, the CBF was normally a career Major General or Lieutenant General from the British Army. Until 1966, the CBF was an ex-officio member of the Legislative Council.[1]

Throughout the years of British rule in Hong Kong, a variety of British Army units spent various durations of time in the colony as resident units. In latter stages of the post-war period, British army units were sent to Hong Kong on a rotational basis for a period of three years. The following list contains resident units only and those which stayed in Hong Kong for short durations for re-supply or acclimatisation during the Korean War, Opium War, Boxer Rebellion and the Malayan Emergency are not included in the list.

British Army[edit]

Major units of the British Army in Hong Kong included:

Royal Armoured Corps/Cavalry[edit]

Foot Guards/Line Infantry[edit]

Royal Artillery[edit]

  • 25 Field Regiment (1947–55)
  • 14 Field Regiment (1949–51; 52–56; 60–62)
  • 23 Field Regiment (1949–52)
  • 34 Light Anti-Air Regiment (1949–52; 61–63)
  • 27 Anti-Tank Battery (1949–58)
  • 58 Medium Regiment (1949–52)
  • 27 Heavy Anti-Air Regiment (1949–57)
  • 173 Locating Battery (1950–57)
  • 15 Observation Battery (1950–51)
  • 32 Regiment (1951–52; 58–61)
  • 45 Field Regiment (1951–53; 58–61)
  • 72 Light Anti-Air Regiment 1952–55)
  • 20 Field Regiment (1952–55)
  • 42 Field Regiment (1952–56)
  • 15 Medium Regiment (1955–57)
  • 74 Light Anti-Air Regiment (1955–58)
  • 19 Field Regiment (1956–57)
  • 49 Field Regiment (1957–61)
  • 5 Field Regiment (1958–61)
  • 4 Field Regiment (1961–64)
  • 49 Light Regiment (1964–1966)
  • 18 Light Regiment (1966–69)
  • 25 Light Regiment (1969–71)
  • 47 Light Regiment (1971–73)
  • 3 Light Regiment Royal Horse Artillery (1973–75)
  • 20 Light Regiment (1975–76)

Others[edit]

Installations[edit]

A list of British Army installations in Hong Kong:

Royal Navy / Royal Marines[edit]

The Royal Navy and Royal Marines was stationed in Hong Kong right from the beginning of the establishment of Hong Kong as a British Colony. For the most part, the Royal Naval base was located in Hong Kong Island at HMS Tamar. The Prince of Wales Building was added later in the 1970s. Before the handover, the naval base was moved to Stonecutters Island next to the Government docks.

RN Squadrons in Hong Kong:

A list of naval facilities used or built by the RN in Hong Kong:

  • Lamont and Hope Drydocks
  • Aberdeen Docks – destroyed
  • Dry Dock 1902–1959
  • Taikoo Dockyard – Hong Kong United Dockyards
  • Royal Navy Dockyards, Admiralty 1859–1902
  • Royal Navy Dockyards 1902–1959 – Kowloon Dockyard not part of Hung Hom area.
  • RN Coal storage yard, Stonecutters Island 1861–1959
  • RN Coal storage yard and Kowloon Naval Dockyards 1901–1959
  • Sai Wan Barracks 1844–1846
  • Wellington Barracks 1946–1978 – as HMS Tamar (demolished)
  • North Barracks 1850s–1856, 1887–1959 – from the Army and to HK Government 1959
  • Victoria Barracks
  • Redoubt and Lei Yue Mun Fortifications 1885–1887
  • Lei Yue Mun Fort 1887–1987
  • Reverse, Central, West and Pass Batteries 1880s
  • Brennan Torpedo station 1890 – Lei Yue Mun
  • Royal Naval Hospital, Wan Chai – demolished, now replaced by Ruttonjee Hospital
  • Seaman's Hospital 1843–1873 – replaced by Royal Naval Hospital
  • RMS Queen Mary 1945–1946 – as a hospital
  • War Memorial Hospital (Matilda) 1946–1959
  • British Military Hospital 1959–1995
  • Island Group Practice 1995–1997 – replace BMH
  • HMS Charolotte and HMS Victor Emmanuel – Receiving Ships
  • Tidal Basin 1902–1959
  • Boat Basin 1902–1959
  • HM Victualling Yards 1859–1946

A list of facilities used or built by the RN in Hong Kong:

  • Lamont and Hope Drydocks
  • Aberdeen Docks
  • Royal Naval Hospital, Wan Chai – now Ruttonjee Sanatorium
  • Seaman's Hospital 1843–1873 – replaced by Royal Naval Hospital
  • HMS Princess Charlotte and HMS Victor Emmanuel – Receiving Ships
  • HMS Tamar – Receiving ship 1897–1941
  • HMS Nabcatcher – Kai Tak 1945–1946
  • HMS Flycatcher – Kai Tak 1947
  • HMS Minden 1841-mid-1840s – hospital ship
  • HMS Alligator 1840s–1865 – hospital ship
  • HMS Melville 1860s–1873 – hospital ship (East Indies Sqdn)

Royal Air Force[edit]

Base of RAF in Kai Tak (1945)
A Royal Hong Kong Auxiliary Air Force Aerospatiale Dauphin helicopter leaving its hangar during a Search and Rescue exercise in 1982.
The survivors of a simulated aircraft crash are hoisted aboard a Royal Air Force Westland Wessex HC Mk 2 helicopter from No. 28 (AC) Squadron in 1983.

The Royal Air Force was the smallest contingent of the British Forces and was stationed in both Kai Tak Airport as well as the airfield in the New Territories known as Sek Kong.

No. 28 (AC) Squadron and the larger Royal Air Force infrastructure located to RAF Sek Kong in the late 1970s leaving Royal Air Force logistics elements to maintain operations at Kai Tak, e.g. RAF movers and suppliers remained to maintain the logistical link between RAF Hong Kong and the United Kingdom. The squadron flew up to 8 Westland Wessex HC Mk 2 helicopters from RAF Sek Kong. Tasks included support of the civil power, support of the British Forces and search and rescue.

About 20 years later, RAF personnel returned from Sek Kong to Kai Tak, mounting operations from that airport in the months prior to the 1997 handover.

In addition, the Hong Kong Government also maintained an "airforce". This airforce as per the land unit of RHKR (V), is an arm of the Hong Kong Government, supported by RAF personnel seconded to serve in the Hong Kong Auxiliary Air Force.

Royal Hong Kong Auxiliary Air Force 1970–1993 – handed over to GFS

  • Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps – Air Arm 1930–1949
  • Hong Kong Auxiliary Air Force 1949–1970 – see RHKAAF

A list of RAF Units in Hong Kong:

  • No 205 Squadron (Maritime Reconnaissance) 1949–1958
  • No 209 Squadron (Maritime Patrol) 1946–1955
  • No 215 Squadron (Transport) 1945–1946
  • No 22 Squadron (Anti-shipping patrol), 1996–1997
  • No 45 Squadron (Bomber) 1965–1970
  • No 60 Squadron
  • No 681 Squadron (Photo Reconnaissance)
  • 114th (Hong Kong) RAF Squadron
  • 28 AC Squadron (Maritime Reconnaissance) – 1949–1955, 1957–1967, 1968–1978, 1978–1996 at RAF Sek Kong) – using Wessex HC2
  • ASF (Catering Squadron)
  • GEF (Ground Radio)
  • Medical Supply Squadron
  • No 847 Squadron FAA 1970 (RAF Kai Tak)
  • No 846 Squadron FAA 1963–1964 (RAF Kai Tak)
  • No 367 Wireless Unit
  • No 368 Wireless Unit
  • No 117 Signals Unit (Tai Mo Shan),w.e.f. January 1959 when it was relocated from Mount Davis (West end of Hong Kong Island)
  • No 444 Signals Unit (Stanley Fort), 1971 to 1977

Sources indicate that 444 Signals Unit (SU) formed officially within No 90 (Signals) Group, RAF Strike Command with effect from 16 August 1971, and was established as a lodger unit at Stanley Fort, Hong Kong. The primary role of 444 SU was to act as a ground station for the Skynet satellite communications system, responsibility for operating the Skynet system having been vested in the RAF in the late 1960s, under the Rationalisation of Inter Services Telecommunications (RISTACOM) agreement. It would appear that the equipment operated by 444 SU had been located previously at RAF Bahrain (HMS Jufair).

On 1 May 1972, No 90 (Signals) Group was transferred from RAF Strike Command to RAF Maintenance Command and as a consequence 444 SU became a Maintenance Command unit on this date. On 31 August 1973, both 90 (Signals) Group and Maintenance Command were disbanded, to be replaced on the following day by the new RAF Support Command. All of the units and locations previously controlled by the disbanded formations were transferred to Support Command with effect from 1 September 1973 and 444 SU therefore became a Support Command unit. This was to prove short-lived, however, for on 1 November 1973, 444 SU and the unit responsible for maintaining the Skynet ground station at RAF Gan – 6 SU – were both transferred to the command of the Air Officer Commanding in Chief Near East Air Force (NEAF). At this time 444 SU and 6 SU formed part of the Defence Communications Network (DCN) and the DCN elements of both units came under the functional control of the Controller DCN, Ministry of Defence.

On 1 August 1975, administrative and engineering responsibility for all of the units comprising RAF Hong Kong, including 444 SU, were transferred from NEAF to RAF Strike Command – functional control of these units being retained by the Vice Chief of the Air Staff via Commander RAF Hong Kong. Subsequently, with the disbandment of HQ NEAF on 31 March 1976, control of RAF Hong Kong and its component units were transferred in total to Strike Command. On 28 March 1976, RAF Gan closed and 6 SU disbanded formally on the same date, the latter's satellite communications equipment being transferred to 444 SU.

Official sources indicate that 444 SU disbanded at some point 'during the last quarter of 1977'

  • Composite Signals Unit

A list of RAF Stations in Hong Kong:

A list of Royal Air Force operations facilities:

  • Tai Po Tsai
  • Cape Collinson
  • Batty's Belvedere
  • Kong Wei, RAF Sek Kong
  • Chung Hom Kok
  • Wang Fung Terrace, Tai Hang (Happy Valley)

Search and rescue operations conducted by the RAF and Royal Navy were later transferred to the Government Flying Service (GFS).

Other facilities[edit]

China Fleet Club[edit]

Hong Kong became an important port of call for many naval ships passing through the Far East. Besides Lan Kwai Fong, Royal Navy sailors had their own entertainment facility called the China Fleet Club.[citation needed]

A timeline of the China Fleet Club:

  • 1900–1903 local Hong Kong businessman and Royal Navy's China Fleet to raise funds for a Royal Naval Canteen at Naval Docks, Hong Kong
  • 1929 old canteen building demolished and replaced with new building
  • 1929–1934 Temporary CFC at Gloucester Road
  • 1933 cornerstone laid by Admiral Sir Howard Kelly, G.B.E., K.C.B., C.M.G., M.V.O., then Commander-in-Chief, China Station;[3] new seven-storey China Fleet Club building called "The Old Blue"
  • 1941–1945 CFC serves as Japanese Naval HQ in Hong Kong during World War II
  • 1945 CFC re-occupied by RN
  • 1952 Coronation Annex added
  • 1982, 16 July The Final Demolition Party held in Club before move to Sun Hung Kai
  • 1982–1985 CFC relocated to temporary site at Sun Hung Kai Centre
  • 1985 25-storey Fleet House new home for CFC
  • 1986 Plans to relocate CFC to UK begins
  • 1989 Construction of China Fleet Country Club in Saltash begins
  • 1991 Construction of China Fleet Country Club in Saltash completed and opens in June
  • 1992 CFC in Hong Kong closes

References and sources[edit]

References
Sources
  • Alderson, G.L.D. History of Royal Air Force Kai Tak. Hong Kong: Royal Air Force Kai Tak, 1972.
  • Bruce, Philip. Second to None. Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1991.
  • Gregorian, Raffi. The British Army, the Gurkhas and Cold War strategy in the Far East, 1947-1954. New York : Palgrave, 2002.
  • Ko, Tim-keung, et al. ed. Serving Hong Kong: The Hong Kong Volunteers. Hong Kong: Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence, 2004.
  • Melson, P.J. White Ensign Red Dragon: The History of the Royal Navy in Hong Kong 1841–1997. Hong Kong: Edinburgh Financial Publishing, 1997.
  • Oxley, D.H. Victoria Barracks, 1842–1979. Hong Kong: British Forces Hong Kong, 1979.
  • Richardson, Sam S. The Royal Marines and Hong Kong, 1840–1997. Portsmouth: Royal Marines Historical Society, 1997.
  • Rollo, Denis. The Guns & Gunners of Hong Kong. Hong Kong: The Gunners' Roll of Hong Kong, 1991.

Further reading[edit]

  • Harland, Kathleen (1985). The Royal Navy in Hong Kong Since 1841. Liskeard, England: Maritime Books. ISBN 9780907771197. 

External links[edit]