RAF – post WW2 involvement in restoring Kowloon to some order, plus the KCR and work on the proposed Ping Shan airfield

Graham Wood has kindly sent the following newspaper article.

HF: I have retyped the article…

Homeward Bound Headline China Mail 28th March 1946 From Graham Wood

Homeward Bound Headline B China Mail 28th March 1946 From Graham Wood

The Wing, which comprised 90 per cent of “Shield” Force, was at sea bound for Okinawa and ultimately the Japanese mainland, with airfield construction as its primary objective on the invasion route to Tokyo, when news was suddenly received of the Japanese surrender.

At the time “Shield” Force was the largest body of troops nearest to Hong Kong and the Kowloon peninsula and was redirected here.

In its first months in Kowloon 5358 Wing was faced with a cleaning-up job that involved many a task far removed from its speciality of airfield construction. This included the maintenance of electric power, the servicing of all available transport, overhaul of an engine and rolling stock and an initial survey of the condition of the Kowloon-canton railway line and a complete road survey of all roads in the New Territories.

When en route to Okinawa in the troopship, the Empress of Australia, “Shield” Force received signal instructions to proceed to Hong Kong and take over the Kowloon Peninsula, reports as to conditions in Kowloon were vague.

Arrival in Empress

The Empress of Australia berthed at Kowloon Wharf on the morning of Sept. 4, 1945. A brief picture of the situation ashore was given to the officers and men and, by 3 p.m. 5358 Wing Headquarters and 5025 Airfield Construction Squadron, totalling some 650 personnel, were disembarking in full marching order.

Before three hours had elapsed, temporary billets had been found, and 5025 Squadron were establishing their first pickets and guards. At dawn on the following day, 5024 Squadron began disembarking, and later in the day 5026 Squadron followed. The remaining Squadron, No. 5207, came ashore the next day.

The total force comprised some 2,600 personnel. Each squadron was made responsible for an area of the peninsula. The first move was to take over from the Japanese strategic points, including district police stations. Law and order had to be maintained, and the difficult task undertaken of the suppression of looting.

The First 36 Hours 

The first 36 hours ashore taxed the resources of the Wing to the utmost, but the airmen, faced with a task entirely new to them, responding nobly and quickly, soon had the situation in hand. Billets had to be fixed, in most cases, in stripped buildings, rations were spasmodic in arriving, but strategic points were held and hastily summoned parties quelled innumerable outbursts of looting by day and night. Japanese in small and large numbers were rounded up and disarmed and altogether, it is estimated, some 2,600 personnel dealt with 18,000 of the enemy.

The disarming of the Japanese completed, the difficulties of the task yet ahead became all too apparent. Transport did not exist; electric power was unreliable and the supply limited; the streets were littered and stank with accumulated rubbish and filth. Something had to be done to begin the work of restoration, and at a time when the resources of personnel were strained to the upmost, tradesmen and others who could be ill-spared from their initial task were allocated to the first vital jobs of keeping the machinery of civic welfare running as smoothly as was possible under the circumstances.

Power Stations

Electric power was an obvious priority. A blackout of the Peninsula would undoubtedly then have meant wholesale looting and worse. A review of the power station revealed the immensity of the problem, but the Commander-in-chief had ordered that the supply be maintained at all costs, and work was begun by personnel of 53 E.U. (P) and 5751 M. & E. flight.

The primary difficulty was lack of fuel. Owing to the lack of coal, the Japanese had converted two boilers to wood burning, and their capacity was 240 tons a day. Only one generator out of six was working, and that had little or no maintenance in more than 3½ years working. Of the wood fuel required, 60 per cent came by lighter from Hong Kong, but the remaining 40 per cent had to be carried painfully, slowly by coolie labour using hand-trucks, from mainland dumps.

A further contingency that had to be reckoned with was that it was then the typhoon season, and a typhoon, or even a strong gale, could easily stop the lighter supply from Hong Kong. It was imperative, therefore, to establish a safe supply of wood until such times as coal became available. Pressing forward with the search for wood, a reconnaissance party in a recommissioned engine of the Kowloon-Canton Railway penetrated into the New Territories, then still occupied by armed Japanese. Fortunately, the enemy were quiescent, and large stocks of wood were discovered at Taipo and Fanling, 20 and 15 miles out.

High Speed

A fuel supply was thus assured and power maintained, but the margin was so close that on one occasion the power house was within 15 minutes of closing down completely when the utmost effort brought in supplies. Concurrently with this effort work was going on at high speed in the power house to repair the ravages of long ill use and lack of care. The four generating sets that the Japanese had left were overhauled and renovated  and prepared for service by Sept 20. While this work was in progress, the reconversion of two idle boilers from wood to coal was under way, it being known that a collier was outward bound from Australia for Hong Kong.

The state of distribution lines was chaotic as a result of Japanese interference, and the re-establishment of transmission was another task undertaken. To cope with failures and faults at any time, a flying squad of M. & E. Flight personnel was established.

When the Wing came ashore transport of any kind in Kowloon was negligible. An immediate sweep was made throughout the Peninsula to collect all vehicles whether serviceable or not. Yeoman service was done into putting into and keeping in commission civilian vehicles driven to a standstill by the Japanese. Preparations were made simultaneously for a de-waterproofing service on the Wing’s own motor transport and plant, which had been 80 per cent waterproofed for a beach landing on Okinawa. So efficiently were plans laid that between Sept 10 and 30, 394 vehicles and 50 per cent of the plant was made available for use. The transport proved invaluable for not only were the needs of the Wing and other formations catered for in part, but assistance was given to the Civil Administration in such matters as rice distribution and the clearance of the filth and refuse from the streets.

Railway Restored

The Wing was responsible also for the overhaul of an engine and rolling stock and a preliminary survey of the condition of the Kowloon-Canton railway line. A small supply of coal was located and a regular daily service was instituted on Sept 11. This not only enabled fuel to be transported to the power house, but it also once again made transport available to the main supply sources for Kowloon of fresh vegetables. When Commando troops arrived at a later stage, the railway proved invaluable for transporting men and stores to their posts in the New Territories. Wing personnel in the railway workshops serviced originally two engines and 18 trucks.

A detachment of 5026 Squadron was rushed from the troopship to Kai Tak on Sept 5. There they found the buildings in a shocking state. Electric light and sanitary fittings had been wrecked, the sewage system was inoperative in come of the buildings sewage was actually floating on the floors. Personnel worked with a will and within three days the field was again operational. A detachment of 4857 Flight undertook the hazardous task of clearing the bomb dumps and magazines of Japanese bombs, pryotechnics and ammunition.

R.A.F. Hospital

Another top-line job on landing was to prepare suitable facilities for hospital and medical services. The Central British School was selected as the site for the establishment of 80 Mobile Field Hospital. The building was vermin-infested, there was the usual story of wantonly wrecked sanitary and domestic fittings and altogether, a man-sized job faced the detachment despatched to make the place habitable. The work was well done and in three days 80 M.F.H. were able to take in patients and offer hospital services.

A score pf other tasks essential to the eventual well being of the Peninsula were undertaken as time and the drain on personnel permitted. A complete road survey was made of all the roads in the New Territories, and arrangements were made for removal by bulldozers and blasting of road blocks and landslides. At the time the Japanese were still in control in the New Territories. The preliminary survey was also made for the proposed Ping Shan Airfield project, the four members of the surveying party being the first Europeans to penetrate into the Ping Shan area since the Japanese occupation.

Many problems were presented by the works services called for. The biggest was the lack of tradesmen’s tools in the earlier days due to the fact that work was called for before the requisite equipment had been secured from the freight ships. Tradesmen found themselves, in consequence, working with antiquated Chinese tools, discarded enemy equipment and even penknives.

Air Chief Marshall Sir Keith Park accompanied by W.A.D Brooks, Air Commanding Hong Kong, experiencing a Caterpillar bulldozer demonstration at the Ping Shan site

Ping Shan Airfield

With the greater part of their task accomplished in the Peninsula, the Wing commenced on preparatory work for the laying-out of the Ping Shan Airfield. Initial preparations have now been completed and access roads and a connecting light railway built to the quarry that is now producing 15,000 tons of broken granite monthly.

The Wing has also been working at Kai Tak, putting down  new concrete hard stonings and erecting a hutted camp. Since the end of December, it has started training Chinese for skilled tasks in construction work. To date, 280 plant operators have completed a course, 270 drivers have gone through the R.A.F. lorry driving and maintenance course and 100 fitters through a Diesel-conversion course.

A job recently completed was the rebuilding for heavier motor traffic of the 10 mile road from Tsun Wan to Taimoshan Peak. A job yet to be completed is the clearing of the hill outcrop at Taiwashan in the Ping Shan Valley where 230,000 tons of rock are to be cleared away by blasting.

Since its arrival in September, the strength of the Wing, with personnel going Home on demobilisation, has fallen to about 1,500. With nearly 1,000 going with a week and a transfer of some 200 to other units, 5358 Wing is to continue with its strength reduced to about 300.

Source: The China Mail 28th March 1946

This article was first posted on 20th December 2022.

Related Indhhk articles:

  1. Ping Shan – proposed airport for Hong Kong
  2. Ping Shan Airport – Statement of Air Officer Commanding Hong Kong, 1945
  3. Replacing Kai Tak airport post WW2 – three articles about Ping Shan/Deep Bay
  4. Lam Tei Quarry – Ping Shan Airport , RAF Technical Magazine Report, May 1946
  5. Ping Shan airfield – further information

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