1930s Kowloon Wharves

Mon, 09/22/2014 - 19:42

Received via email:

The three circular oil tanks of the Admiralty Oil Depot can be seen in the top left corner of the photo. The photo is dated as belonging to the 1930s but could well have been taken from a later period.

With reference to the 1930s Jordan Rd Reclamation, the 1931 Public Works Annual Report mentions that 'the reclamation under construction in connection with the vehicular ferry berth on the south side of Jordan Rd is upwards of two acres in extent and abuts on the western boundary the Admiralty Oil Depot.'

An interesting observation from Arthur Ball's 1945 flickr set is the conspicuous absence of the oil depot. Being a strategic target, this was most likely due to Japanese bombing in December 1941.

Date picture taken


The 1945 RAF aerial photo of Kowloon shows three circles at the site of the depot, but there are no shadows so the tanks were definitely gone. Maybe as a result of bombing by the Japanese, or later bombing by the Americans? Or maybe just shipped back to Japan for their scrap metal value?

The 1947 8-inch map of Kowloon shows four smaller circles on the site of the Admiralty oil depot shown above, and the 1954 aerial photo shows even more circles, this time with shadows. So it looks as though the depot was rebuilt after the end of the war.


PS Here 'Admiralty' refers to the Royal Navy, not to the district on Hong Kong island. From Wikipedia: "The Admiralty was formerly the authority in the United Kingdom responsible for the command of the Royal Navy."

So where we're talking about the Admiralty Oil Depot, it's just another way of saying the British Navy's Oil Depot - which as you note was near to the breakwater enclosing the Navy's dock area.

And of course the Admiralty MTR station on Hong Kong island gets its name by association with the British Navy's use of land around that area.

In Maltby's Despatch para. 105, 'At about midnight a cable was received from the War Office emphasising the need to destroy all oil installations. This was carried out by artillery fire on the next day (22nd)...the Shell tanks at Tai Kok Tsui (next to Cosmopolitan Dock), and the R.N tanks a mile to the South thereof, were all set well alight,...'

Could the tanks be the 'R.N. tanks' destroyed by the garrison? Any comment?

Good find. Yes, the 'R.N Tanks' mentioned above should be the same ones you see in the picture. The Guns & Gunners of Hong Kong describes it as:

Orders were issued by HQRA to units to shell and destroy the following installations: Texaco Oil Depot, Taikok Tsui and Kowloon Naval Oil Tanks. These worders were carried out during the morning. One big installation of the Socony Company at Lai Chi Kok was ordered to be left intact due to theproximity of a hospital.

A Google search for "Kowloon Naval Oil Tanks" turned up a couple more references:

A Communiqué Issued from Hong Kong at 3:00 PM December 24:
"Minor patrol encounters ended in our favour. Our position on Mount Cameron is being maintained. Naval oil fuel tanks in enemy hands at Kowloon have been set ablaze and are still burning." [ref]

The second suggests that the fires started earlier: 

The sights of huge columns of heavy, thick, black smoke billowing up from familiar landmarks, such as the Kowloon Wharfs and Godowns, the China Provident Godowns and the Socony, the Texaco or the Shell Oil Installations, left so deep an impression in my mind, that even now, almost half a century after the event, I could still vividly visualize the sights every now and then by simply closing my eyes.

The first such sight presented itself, when the No.3 Godown of Kowloon Wharfs and Godowns at Tsimshatsui, on being hit, caught fire. The next such sight came to the scene when the Socony Oil Installations at Lai Chi Kok was hit and caught fire. Then it was the turn of the Texaco Oil Installations at Tsun Wan.

In the 2nd week, it was the turn of Shell Oil Installations at Causeway Bay, followed by the Hongkong Electric Power Plant next door, and then the China Provident Godowns further north. The fire at the Shell Oil Installation at Causeway Bay preceded shortly, the Japanese Landing at North Point.

Fighting such huge fires were not a task for a small potato in the AFS, like me. The Godowns and the Oil Installations had their own fire fighting equipments and the necessary experienced manpowers to deal with their own problems. The Regular Fire Brigade would render such support as practicable or necessary. I for one needed only to watch, and from a safe distance away. In point of fact, there was nothing much any one can do, when one of the Oil Tanks at an Oil Installation caught fire ! All that one could do was just wait patiently until all the oil had burnt itself out; but unfortunately, it took days. Even a Godown fire took days to burn itself out. [ref]