Pearl Harbour Day in Hong Kong – Japanese attack on Kai Tak airport, December 1941

HF: Please note I have added a comment attached to this article by Peter Cundall at the bottom.

Gregory Crouch has kindly given permission for extracts from his article, Pearl Harbor Day in Hong Kong: “Those planes are Japanese!”, to be posted on our website. Gregory’s full article is linked below.

GC: Sunday, December 7, 1941, “a date which will live in infamy…”

Kai Tak Kai Tak airport, pre-war, showing the main hangar and a flying boat tied up at the Pan Am pontoon. Gregory Crouch

Kai Tak airport, pre-war, showing the main hangar and a flying boat tied up at the Pan Am pontoon. (Which looks to me like one of Pan Am’s three M-130s.) (Shirley Wilke Mosley collection)

A few minutes before 8:00 a.m., Chen Teh-tsan, T.T. Chen, a member of CNAC’s Hong Kong ground staff , was unloading the busload of Pan Am passengers he’d escorted to Kai Tak from the Peninsula Hotel, the sumptuous lobby of which the airlines used in lieu of a bona-fida passenger terminal. Suddenly, a noise. Everyone stopped. Airplane engines droned in the distance, growing louder.

“Look!” A passenger pointed to a gaggle of aircraft bearing down from the north at medium altitude.

“They’re British,” someone dismissed.

Chen had been in Chungking a few weeks before. He squinted at the formation. “No!” Those planes are Japanese!”

Pandemonium erupted. The passengers scattered. At a dead run, four of them followed Chen across the street and leapt into a dry drainage culvert with a bunch of blue-coveralled airport coolies. Maintenance Chief Soldinski sprinted to his car and raced for home. The crew of the Pan Am clipper took shelter in the sturdy dock house and yelled for Captain Ralph, who was still in the plane…

The formation broke into parts and descended to attack altitude. Twelve single-engine Ki-36 bombers bent toward Kai Tak, escorted by nine single engine, fixed-undercarriage Nakajima Ki-27 “Nate” pursuit planes…

The bombers cruised in level at 500 feet, their radial engine roar changing tone as they passed overhead. Black cylinders swished and fluttered earthward and boomed in rapid-fire succession among the parked airplanes. Hot shrapnel ripped bloated fuel tanks. Flaming geysers of aviation fuel gushed from torn fuselages. Massive secondary detonations annihilated the airplanes.

The attack ended as abruptly as it started. The Japanese droned into the distance and vanished about three minutes after they’d been sighted. In front of the hangar, the mangled remains of eight airplanes raged aflame under roiling palls of oily black smoke – three Curtiss Condors, the three Eurasia planes, and CNAC’s two DC-2s. Another greasy smudge jetted skyward from the ruins of the Pan Am clipper. The Royal Air Force’s contingent of pathetic biplanes – three Vildebeast torpedo bombers and two Walrus Amphibians – burned at the other end of the field.

Kai Tak Gregory Crouch One of the DC-2s destroyed by the attack

One of the DC-2s destroyed by the attack

Peter Cundall left the following comment on 3rd December 2020 which I thought I would include in the article: “The date was 8 December 1941. Pearl Harbour in Hawaii was bombed from 07.55am 7 December but because of international dateline, Hong Kong was attacked early on the morning (8am but the Japanese troops advanced from about 4am) of 8 December. The war began at 4 hours after the Pearl Harbour Attack, the details of which would have been unknown at the time.”

This article was first posted on 6th December 2015.

Source: Pearl Harbor Day in Hong Kong: “Those planes are Japanese!” Gregory Crouch’s article

Related Indhhk articles:

  1. Kai Tak airport – 1925 to 1945, a brief history
  2. Kai Tak airport – BAAG reports 1942-1944, plus other landing strips
  3. Kai Tak airport – Japanese Extension of, BAAG reports, 1942-1944
  4. Kai Tak airport – World War Two, BAAG maps, sketches and plans
  5. Dragages Hong Kong – first HK projects, Kai Tak runway extension and Shek Pik reservoir
  6. First commercial airliner shot down by hostile air action – out of Kai Tak, 1938
  7. Replacing Kai Tak airport post WW2 – three articles about Ping Shan/Deep Bay
  8. Netherlands Harbour Works Company – dredging HK harbour / reclamation at Kai Tak 1927
  9. Lard Factories in HK – nauseating stench RAF Kai Tak 1920s
  10. Kai Tak Factory Building, San Po Kong, fire, November 2017
  11. Flying boats before Kai Tak runway opened – SCMP article
  12. To Kwa Wan “Concrete Factory” during WW2 – Japanese expansion of Kai Tak airport

Our Index contains many articles about Hong Kong during the Japanese occupation. Please look under World War Two.

5 Comments

  • tkj ho

    Dec 8, 1941 8am in HK was Dec 7, 1941 7pm in Hawaii, So HK was bombed 11 hours after Pearl Harbour.

  • Peter Cundall

    My time zone converter states otherwise:. 8am 7 Dec Hawaii Time equates to 2am 8 December HK time. This is without taking into account daylight saving, The 4 hours I refer to above is the above comment is the actual time difference (not timezone) between the first attacks at Pearl Harbour .0755 but earlier if you include the USS Ward attack on a Japanese midget sub, and the initial attack on Hong Kong.

    • tkj ho

      Hi Peter,
      Sorry,
      my time zones were not properly set. Your setting was right. But 2am to 8am should be 6 hours instead of 4.

  • Peter Cundall

    Daylight saving probably accounts for the two hour difference. The key point though is that the attack on the US while it occurred slightly earlier was not a full day earlier because of the International timezone. So the British were not caught napping and were on a war footing with invasion expected.. This did not mean civilian life was not proceeding as normal against this backdrop, hence the loss of the Pan Am Clipper as related above.

  • tkj ho

    This is an excerpt from the article “”December 1941: Hong Kong’s Christmas Tragedy” in Zolimacitymag in Dec 7, 2017 – “Hong Kong was a lost cause – but the soldiers fought anyway. When Japanese forces launched a surprise invasion of the territory on December 8, 1941, just six hours after they bombed Pearl Harbor, British leaders already knew Hong Kong was indefensible. And yet 14,564 troops spent the next two weeks trying to hold back twice as many Japanese soldiers, first at the Gin Drinkers’ Line, then at Devil’s Peak, then at Quarry Bay, and then finally at Stanley.”

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