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15 October 2014
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Timeline - 1939-1945

Fact File : Fall of Hong Kong

8 to 26 December 1941

Theatre: Pacific
Area: Kowloon Peninsula (China) and Hong Kong Island.
Players: Allies: Hong Kong Garrison (six battalions). Japan: 12 battalions.
Outcome: With overwhelming numbers and air cover, the Japanese forces advanced rapidly through the Kowloon Peninsula to capture Hong Kong Island within 18 days.

'Hong Kong should be regarded as an important though not vital outpost to be defended for as long as possible.' - Chiefs of Staff Defence Review 1937

Japanese soldiers raise their rifles in celebration after the fall of Hong Kong
Japanese soldiers raise their rifles in celebration after the fall of Hong Kong©
Only 650km from the Japanese air bases at Formosa but over 2,500km from Singapore, Hong Kong's position was perilous - especially since Japan already had more than a million men stationed in China as part of the Sino-Japanese war that had started in 1937.

Accepting its colony's fate, Britain had decided to withdraw its garrison of four battalions from Hong Kong in 1940, but the decision was never implemented. Instead, they accepted Canada's offer to send two more battalions to Hong Kong to reinforce the garrison in 1941.

The Japanese began their attack from the Chinese mainland early on 8 December 1941, taking maximum advantage of the confusion sowed by their attack on Pearl Harbor the previous day.

Massively outnumbered by Japanese troops, artillery and aircraft, by 9 December the Allied defenders had been forced back to the 'Gindrinkers Line' on the Kowloon Peninsula. The next day they were forced to retreat even further, to Hong Kong Island.

Early Japanese efforts to cross the straits to the island were beaten back, but on the night of 18 December the main Japanese invading force landed on the island's north eastern coast.

They advanced towards Deep Water Bay in the south, splitting the defending force. One part of the force surrendered on 25 December, the other followed the next day. The Japanese had successfully taken Hong Kong in under three weeks at the cost of around 3,000 casualties, and had taken about 12,000 prisoners.

The fact files in this timeline were commissioned by the BBC in June 2003 and September 2005. Find out more about the authors who wrote them.

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