Part III

THE HIGH TIDE OF WAR

17Japan’s Hundred Days

    HONG KONG

    THE PHILIPPINES

    MALAYA

    BORNEO

    BURMA

    THE NETHERLANDS EAST INDIES

18 The Storm in India

19 Four Loose Threads

    JIMMY DOOLITTLE’S AIR RAID AND ITS AFTERMATH

    INDIAN OCEAN EXCURSIONS LIMITED

    THE CORAL SEA

    THE BATTLE OF MIDWAY

20 Mac Arthur and Nimitz in the Pacific

CHAPTER 17

Japan’s Hundred Days

HONG KONG

JAPAN, following its brilliant start in the new theatres of war, had the limelight in the times which succeeded. For the next three months it held the initiative in many different sectors. It concentrated on dealing with its new enemies, especially the United States and Britain, and it enjoyed a dashing period of cheaply won triumphs, rolling up the long established positions and colonial territories of the Western Powers in Asia. Its record was of almost unbroken success in the first hundred days of this war. This was to be a bitter recollection in Japan when its record ceased to be one of uninterrupted conquest, and the country faced the experience of endless decline.

Its first conquests were the remaining outposts of the western empires and of the United States in China. In some places, the defenders escaped into the interior or were evacuated by sea. Others were not so lucky. At news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese demanded surrender of the British gunboat HMS Peterel at Shanghai. The British refused, and as the Japanese launch drew away Japanese troops along the Bund opened fire with small arms and artillery. The attack was soon over. The British ship caught fire and sank; its dead and dying crew were swept downstream in the retreating tide. A few survivors were rescued. The only remaining enemy warship, an American gunboat riding at anchor in the roadstead, lowered its colours and quietly surrendered without a fight. It was the end of an era.

Hong Kong fell almost immediately. A very small offshore island of China, useful for trade and for political action, Hong Kong had never been seriously prepared by the British for standing a prolonged siege, even in recent years when the situation looked threatening. It was ringed by Japan’s armies and its fleet; it was without a hinterland of more than a few miles; its water supply was easily vulnerable; it was too far from a British base for there to be any possibility of reinforcing it. It never had a chance to survive, it was not expected to do so and it was surprising that it held out for as long as thirteen days.

The main feature of its siege was the confusion among the population, which was overwhelmingly Chinese. Many, though loyal inhabitants of the colony, had dual nationality with China, or else were moved by strong Chinese sentiments. These had for the most part been loyal to the Chungking Government, and its most active and enterprising members, who in consequence had become marked men to Japan, succeeded in escaping to mainland China; as also did the Chinese politicians who, because they found it safer to operate beyond reach of the Kuomintang, resided in Hong Kong. Many civilians in Hong Kong responded to the call for at least a token resistance. The Japanese, in the use of their political warfare techniques, attempted to set off the Scots in the garrison against the English. Pamphlets were dropped which were full of Scottish sentiment, invoked the memories of Loch Lomond, and inquired whether the Scots were willing to be sacrificed in an English quarrel.

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The siege was ended on 19 December when the guns were silenced. There was heartening drama at the finish when some of the spirited young men of the colony, together with a one-legged Chinese admiral who gave a foretaste of the astonishing toughness which the Chinese today display, but did so seldom at that period, got clean through the blockading Japanese, and escaped up country to Chungking. Politically the forfeiture of Hong Kong was a blow to the British; but strategically it was inevitable. It had been foreseen and, privately, had been regarded by successive British governments as a foregone conclusion.

A serious loss at Hong Kong was of several of the Far Eastern experts which the British Army possessed at the start of the war. The number of these was appallingly scanty: the army authorities had caused surprisingly few of its officers to learn Chinese and Japanese at a time when trouble was evidently brewing in this part of the world. Of Chinese-speaking officers, many had been posted in Hong Kong, since naturally it was desired to employ them where their talents could be most immediately used. Apparently nobody foresaw that they would pass, after a few days, into captivity. The Army, for example in India, would be crying out bitterly against the famine of China experts, for the interrogation of prisoners, the reading of documents, or for the countless ways in which expertise in language is required in warfare.

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