Hong Kong Pillboxes

The defence plan of the early 1930’s was for a defensive line across the Kowloon Peninsular, known as the Inner Line (or later as the Gindrinkers Line), and fixed machine gun posts, backed up by mobile reserves for the southern beaches of the Island.

In 1935, construction started on a series of PB’s along the Inner Line, all being machine gun positions with from one to three loopholes. Most were placed on hillsides, overlooking passes through the hills. Access to them was often through tunnels, of varying lengths, some up to 150 yards long. Tunnels and PB’s were emplaced on the cut and cover principle. There were a few which stood on open ground, and were painted to look like Chinese houses. All were reinforced concrete walls and roof, three feet thick, but came in a variety of frontal shapes and sizes, the logic of which so far escapes me. Loopholes were protected by two outward opening hinged metal shutters. Air-shafts projected from the roof, with airflow directed into the PB through internal ducts within the back wall.

Because of a defence review in 1938, the plan to defend across the peninsular lost favour, and the whole line, including the approximately 90 PB’s, was abandoned. The new plan was to retreat to, and defend, the Island.

To this end, all the potential landing places from west to east through south, were to get PB’s. For support, more PB’s were to be built across the ridge line behind what is now Central, to defend the main gaps which gave access north/south. These became known as “the Line of Gaps” PB’s. No PB’s were built along the north side because it would have disrupted the merchants doing business.

The Island PB’s differed in several ways to those on the peninsular. They were generally smaller, constructed of reinforced concrete only one foot thick, and had the Commanders Turret on the roof. Air circulation was from a vertical airshaft outside the rear wall through concrete ducts externally across the roof, and into the PB through holes in the roof. They were all built as M/G PB’s, loophole numbers varying from two to four to suit the locality, and the loopholes similarly protected by the same type of shutter. Access was directly into the PB, except in the case of the third PB at Wong Nai Chung Gap. Camouflage was generally stones/rocks rendered to the external surface to break up the outlines.

Associated with the Beach PB’s was a Lyon Light Shelter. If you are not conversant with them, they were a small searchlight powered by there own power pack/generator, and used to illuminate attackers from the sea at night. The shelter was a small concrete housing usually built above, behind and to the side of the PB, although there were a small number that were built on the roof of the PB, where the terrain was very flat. They had an opening front, protected by a number of hinged metal shutters which open out in a petal shape, when the light was to be used. They were manned by personnel from the PB, and controlled by the PB Commander through a speaking tube between PB and LL. The combination of the two was referred to as a Beach Defence Unit.

The 1938 plan was hurriedly revised in 1941. The Inner Line was restored to delay any advance from the New Territories/China, and land was resumed along the north of the Island for more PB’s, including many in the built up areas (Wan Chai, Central etc). The final number built is still in question, but appears to be around 80, with 17 along the gaps. Many of those on the north side were picked-off by a concentrated artillery attack before the landings on the Island.

A dozen or so of the Beach PB’s, and 13 of the Gap PB’s remain, in varying condition. The list below is of those accessible without restriction with limited time and transport. I can give you the rest if you want to make a concentrated effort. A couple I haven’t listed are in restricted access localities, and some, like PB 22 and 29 will be hard work. The bus No’s shown are those that will get you near – but not to in some cases – the PB.

I did most of my searching in days before GPS became available, so the figures shown are grid references, using the Hong Kong Island Countyside Series of Maps. They are put out by the Gov. Map Department, and are available at reasonable cost from their offices, which are few and far between depending on where you stay, or from most large bookshops.

PB 17 021078 246186 Bus 6, 6X, 66, 260
PB 21 021156 245968 6X, 66
PB 22 021202 245924 6X, 66
PB 29 021328 246068 14
PB 30 021380 246128 14

Aberdeen 1 020760 246406 Bus ?
2 020820 246410 ?
Kennedy Town 020430 246584 ?
Pok Fu Lam 020472 246500 ?
Stanley 021254 246030 6, 260
Tytam 1 021436 246396 9, 14
2 021452 246386 9, 14
WNC Gap 3 021062 246402 6
Wan Chai Gap 020814 246498 ?

I used live and work in HK, although I live in Australia now. Finding PB’s was a hobby for many years.

Depending on your enthusiasm, and transport, I would suggest visiting these Pillboxes in Hong Kong:

Location Number 1

The third Wong Nai Chung Pillbox.

Use the same bus and stop as if doing the WWII trail, but head for the opposite side of the road i.e. the HQ which is the final station on the trail and the service station. Follow the road uphill and where it curves right to go to Aberdeen (Deepwater Bay Road). Almost immediately on your right in DWB Road is a street going off to the right (Black’s Link). Follow this until you find a concrete drain going up the hillside on the right (not far). Climb up the drain and just beyond the top you will see/find an arched tunnel entrance. This is the entrance to the PB. It is in excellent condition, but with any rain, there may be water on the floor, and you may need a torch in the tunnel. It is a three loophole, Vickers M/G type, with the partial remains of the metal mounts below the loopholes (rare). Externally, the stone covering adheres in places, and there are a few bullet/shrapnel marks, particularly on the commanders turret.

This is the only known PB on the Island with an entry tunnel, which is common on the mainland ones. It is also in the best condition of those remaining.

Location Number 2

The Wan Chai Gap and Aberdeen Reservoir Pillboxes

This will take some time to achieve, but you get three at one go.

Starting from near the Police Museum at Wan Chai Gap, walk downhill along Aberdeen Reservoir Road. (There is a map in the playground below the museum). Roughly 200m down, there is a well defined path heading off to the left (Lady Clementi’s Ride).

Follow this path, and you will find a PB in a sharp bend of the path about 150 – 200 m on the left. This PB is sealed, but in good condition externally.

Continue for approx. 1Km. The next PB is on the left of the track at a barbecue site, just before high tension power lines can be seen overhead. If you get to pass under the lines, you have gone too far.

This is a 4 loophole type, similar to those at WNC/Jardines Lookout and is also sealed. The commanders turret and the vertical airshaft have been “scalped”.

Continue along the same path, skirting the edge of the reservoir until you get to the Upper Reservoir wall. Go across the wall and on the left at the end, behind a small rise, is another 4 Loophole PB. Again, this is sealed, but generally intact.

Continue from here along the same road to a junction. This is the same road you started on. Turn right to return to Wan Chai Gap, left to Aberdeen. Plenty of buses go from Aberdeen. I don’t recommend doing this walk in the reverse direction, as it is all uphill.

Location Number 3

An easier one to get to. Transport to Repulse Bay.

Go from the main road down to the next road level via the steps near the bus stops. From the steps, turn right and follow the road until another small road goes left. Follow that road a short distance behind a construction site. Immediately past the site, PB 17 is on the left (you will be overlooking it). It is sealed, and partly buried at the back and side, but is a pretty standard beach PB. Three loopholes, commanders turret intact, but the airshaft and some ducting on the roof is missing.

Finally

On the Island, there are 13 out of 17 remaining of the “Gaps” Pillboxes, and 12 out of 70+ of the Beach PB’s.

On the mainland, there are the remains of 50 out of 90+, of which only 3 are relatively intact, the remainder being piles of concrete debris. They are scattered across the hills, as part of the Gin Drinkers Line, which was the main defence line against the Japanese, and with the exception of those of the Shing Mun Redoubt are fairly difficult to access. If you have a vehicle, and a day, the Redoubt with its 4 PBs, Observation Post and linking tunnels is probably worth visiting.

By Rob Weir

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