World War Two – BAAG, Mateys and Allied attempts to disrupt HK Dockyards

Lawrence Tsui: The dockyards that I remember reading in the BAAG papers were the Naval Dockyard, Kowloon Dockyard, Taikoo Dockyard as well as other smaller ones, the names of which I need to research my notes to identify.  There were also ship repair yards mentioned in intelligence reports. These were intelligence intended to help Allied Aerial Bombings in the later half of the War. The following is from memory without researching notes taken during my reading of the BAAG papers:

In Sept 1942, Agent Nelson Ma Nai-kwong (No.71 later Code Name NITRAM) was sent to HK tasked to induce Mateys at various dockyards to abandon their posts and escape to Free China. Ma had good connections because he was a former clerk of the Naval Dockyard, Torpedo Technology Section before the War. He must have approached not only the Naval Dockyard since he had four Chinese sub-agents working for him, presumably, each going to a different dockyard.


British Army Aid Group BAAG: Hong Kong Resistance 1942-1945, Edwin Ride, OUP 1981

Out of some 4000 dock-workers, there were still some 2000-odd in positions after the Japanese Occupation.  He had to stir up anti-Japanese sentiments; entice the Mateys by promising better compensation in Free China and India; as well as create fear of the potentiality of Allied bombing.  At this time, systematic Allied bombing operations had not yet begun, probably pending adequate intelligence for targeting. He did a good job.  By Nov 1942, he got more than 50 Mateys to escape to Free China; over 700 resigned. The Japanese had to start recruiting workers for the docks. The operation was aborted in November 1942; Ma was re-tasked to work as NITRAM in Macao (incidentally, in the team of ‘PL’  who was Y.C. Liang, post-war principal shareholder of the Hong Kong & Shanghai Hotel Group as well as operator of the Macao ferries & hydrofoil company flying the British ensign).  Nelson Ma was awarded the British Empire Medal for his war services.

The Mateys at Wai Chow and later sent to Kweilin became quite a burden for the BAAG. They brought along their families and all had to be taken care of, not just as other HK Refugees in light of how they came out of HK.  Since they were not former military personnel like ex-members of the HKVDF or locally-enlisted Chinese Servicemen, who were formed into the China Unit and kept in barracks, these Mateys were ill-discipline for military units like the BAAG.  Yet the few sent to India were found not satisfactory by the Indians (docks or relevant engineering factories).  The BAAG was stuck with the remaining recruits which took a while to resolve.

 I could not recall now if the Mateys were sent to Indian docks or relevant engineering set-ups.  They were sent not because they were specialists but because they were extracted from HK in the cause of undermining the Japanese occupation. I don’t know if I should say it, Chinese and Indians did not get along well. The Indian reception point did not welcome them.

The Japanese were using HK as a trans-shipment port as well as for ship repairs.  It was to ensure the operation of the North-South Maritime Supply Route bringing raw materials from SE Asia to its Core Region which was Japan, Korea and Manchuria.  Hence, in the later part of the War, BAAG intelligence focused a lot on shipping into & out of HK, as well as bombing targets of dockyards and ship repair workshops.  Allied bombings as well as submarine operations were so successful that by 1944, enemy shipping route was so severely disrupted that some ships were reluctant to leave HK harbour.  Many came in reportedly severely damaged by attacks.  It prompted the Japanese to stage operation ICHIGO in the autumn of 1944 to open a land corridor from Hankow through Guangdong to Indo-china and Hainan Island to sustain its N-S supply line.

This article was first posted on 23rd January 2014.

Further information:

  1. For general information about the Elizabeth Ride collection, her father Sir Lindsay Ride, and the British Army Aid group during WW2 a very useful introduction is through
  2. The BAAG papers are kept at the  Hong Kong Heritage Project

Our Index contains many articles showing BAAG reports during the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong in World War Two and others concerning that period.

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