World War Two – BAAG analysis of ships in Hong Kong during the Japanese Occupation

HF: Peter Cundall has been researching British Army Aid Group (BAAG) reports from World War Two and compiling a list of ships which were noted as being in Hong Kong during the Japanese Occupation. Peter has been carrying out this research for many months and below you will find his finished lists linked in both PDF and Excel format. I am extremely grateful to Peter for his hard work and perseverance with this project and would like to thank him very much for all his effort.

Peter notes: I would appreciate it if you can credit me as author of the sections from Columns E to M inclusive and Elizabeth Ride/BAAG as creators of columns B-D. Anyone who has a query is welcome to write to me at pcundall@combinedfleet.com

Peter has written the following Preface which if you not familiar with BAAG Reports you may find useful.

Preface

The British Army Aid Group (BAAG) was established from March 6 1942 by M.I. 9 within the British Govt through its Military Mission in China to aid escaped POWs and gather intelligence. A key element of the latter was shipping intelligence. BAAG’s Chinese agents were based in dockyards and other key establishments around Hong Kong and this enabled them to gather intelligence that was conveyed to BAAG headquarters- initially Kukong then Kweilin and lastly Kunming. In the earlier days this was via an Advanced Headquarters at Waichow. The unit was commanded by Lt Col Lindsay Ride.

Regular intelligence summaries were prepared and forwarded to Allied HQs in China and India to assist Allied offensive operations. Until April 1943 these were called Weichow Intelligence Summaries (WIS) and were produced at the rate of about 2 a month. From May 1943 the bulletins came from Kweilin and were known Kweilin Weekly Intelligence Summaries (KWIZ) and these continued until the last one in late February 1945 when the unit moved to Kunming. Bulletins ceased at this point with the unit being afforded a low priority by the US forces who controlled air transport.

Although all KWIZ reports from the period from July 1943 to early September 1944 are missing the rest are available and the shipping references have already been extracted and put on Elizabeth Ride (Lindsay Ride’s daughter) website  https://www.elizabethridearchive.com/ . The spreadsheet produced seeks to identify the ships seen by the Chinese agents by matching the name characters against similarly named Japanese ships known or believed to have been in Hong Kong at the time.

Because the Chinese agents operated in fear of their lives it is probable that many committed names to memory, which made their identification often suspect. It can also be presumed that the Japanese usually painted over ships names so identification would have been tentative based on discerning overpainted welded names, or references on board the ship in cargo manifests etc. Some of the errors appear to have related to use of dialects- Cantonese and Hokien. It is interesting to note that many ship names were suffixed Shima 島 that was probably intended to denote 艘 or in pinyin which is used to denote a ship.

There is also some evidence that the Japanese, aware Chinese agents were operating, deliberately fed them misinformation. Warships in particular, were rarely correctly identified and several warships names relayed related to ships already sunk, but where the Allies might be unaware of the sinking. A good example was the battleship Mutsu陸奥 stated in KWIZ  #80 falsely to be the Flagship of the Commander in Chief,  China Fleet . This ship had been lost as a result of an accidental magazine explosion while in the Inland Sea 8/6/43, something the Japanese would assume the Allies were unaware of.

Added to the above, there are also numerous discrepancies with descriptions with agents frequently over reporting (and sometimes under reporting) the size of ships.

While specific ship identification then was poor, overall the BAAG agents performed a very valuable role as they advised on ship numbers, ship types and cargoes (inwards and outwards) and material shortages generally very accurately as well as current conditions within Hong Kong. Damage from airraids was also reported although because of the delays in reporting this would not have been as useful. The Allies would not have been able to rely on BAAG information alone but combined with radio intercepts, a key reason for the success against the Japanese at sea, and air reconnaissance the information would have allowed a more complete picture of conditions to emerge.  For these reasons alone the brave contributions of the BAAG agents deserve recognition.

P E Cundall

12 July 2021

Sources:

BAAG Reports Ship Identities.PDF

BAAG Reports Ship Identities.XLSX

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 http://gwulo.com/node/13968
  2. The BAAG papers are kept at the  Hong Kong Heritage Project https://www.hongkongheritage.org/Pages/FindingAids/LibraryCollection/Elizabeth_M_Ride_Collection.aspx

Our Index contains several examples of BAAG Naval Section Intelligence Summaries, other BAAG material plus many articles about Hong Kong during the Second World War. Please search under World War Two in the Index.

This article was first posted on 22nd July 2021.

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