Harbour from mountain road.

Thu, 12/20/2018 - 05:04

This photograph is a bit of a puzzle.  I have no reason to suppose that it was not taken by Jack in 1945/6, because all the other photographs were taken on his camera and there are no commercial ones - probably not even available at that time.  However, notice the two very old naval ships, especially the one moored alongside at the Royal Naval dockyard (was it called H.M.S. Tamar in 1945?) and the other three-funneled one in mid harbour.   Did the British or Australians really have such ancient ships in their fleets in 1945?  I can definitely see 8 warships in that part of the harbour, one at the top right being an aircraft carrier. It would seem more likely that such a large number of warships would be there after the war, rather than immediatley before it, when the garrison was being reduced.  Wan Chai was heavily built up, which also suggests an early post war date.  The China Fleet Club and the Missions to Seamen buildings stand out prominently on the Wan Chai waterfront, but the latter has an incomplete look about it, or was it more badly damaged in the fightiung than the China Fleet Club?  It's a pity that the bush or tree on the bottom left obscures some ot the picture.  Again, that suggests that the photograph was not a commercial one!

All speculation!  Please see the following comment by Klaus.

Date picture taken


Hi Andrew,

I doubt that the photo is from 1945. Compare to this one dated 1945:

1945 Wanchai
1945 Wanchai, by David

So this is quite likely pre-war.

Regards, Klaus

Hi Klaus,

Thanks for the confirmation.  In connection with another photograph in Jack’s gallery, Moddsey suggested that commercial photographs from pre-war days were often bought by servicemen in 1945.   Not sure whether there might be more, but I don’t think any 367 members were in HK as early as Jack. Andrew

Not au fait with HMS vessels in Hong Kong waters at the time. But the carrier could be the Eagle. I think the vessels in the photo are from the late 1930s. Perhaps other knowledgeable contributors can comment on the identification of the vessels.

Update: Except for the position of the carrier, a similar scene below. The photo is dated to 1938.

1938 Victoria Harbour
1938 Victoria Harbour, by Moddsey

I think the Jack Cubitt and Moddsey photos were both taken on the same day. Which I will stick my neck out and say is either 12 Sep 1938 or 19 Sep 1938.

Firstly the vessel in the upper right is in the same space in both photos. I believe it is the carrier HMS Eagle. She was a modified merchant ship and so would not look like what we think carriers should look like. You can just make out her flight deck in the first one, but by the time the second was taken she had swung so that you an only see an acute bow angle.  If you agree it is the Eagle in both pics then the photo was taken on 12 Sep. That is because she left for Singapore that day.

In both pictures Colony Class cruiser HMS Dorsetshire was at No 6 Buoy having shifted from being alongside Eagle at No 1 Buoy on their arrival a few days earlier.

However, I have a problem in deciding which ship was alongside North Arm. Three Colony Class cruisers were based in HK at that time. HMS Kent arrived back in HK on 12 Sep and berthed alongside ready to resume duties from HMS Cumberland as Flagship of the Cruiser Squadron. HMS Kent then went off on manoeuvres and HMS Cumberland was alongside by 19 Sep.

Now comes the confusing part. Both pics show 5 identical destroyers moored at three buoys. They were the USS Whipple, Paul Jones, Alden, Parrot and John D Edwards. If I read correctly they arrived in HK on 19 Sep, by which time the Eagle had already left. They were to return to Manila on 28 Sep.

So what date would you pick?

Now here's a twist in the tale. The Colony Class cruisers underwent upgrading from 1937 onwards. An aircraft hanger was added at that time. Both pics clearly show those hangers. However, if I  read Wikipedia correctly, Kent did NOT get a hanger upgrade. Therefore the cruiser alongside must be the Cumberland. 

Not confused?

Comments welcomed.


PS. My sources have been the SCMP and Wikipdia. On my request my Library had taken out a trial subscription for the SCMP Archive until 22 February. I am trying to make to most use of the time available. Many thanks to those who alerted me to its availability through Proquest.



An excellent piece of research, John. It's amazing that if one is able to delve into the old SCMP archive one is able to ferret out so much precise detail.  It's also remarkable that the photographer in 1938 took two almost identical photographs. Then, film was expensive and even in the late 1940s, I had to make every frame count. How digital technology has changed things!  Maybe, the photographer righlty realised how significant that image was and took the extra photograph in case the first wasn't good enough. Regards, Andrew

Thanks. But now I still have to find out exactly when the photo was taken. Eagle sailed for Singapore on 12 Sep, but I can't find any Singapore newspapers confirming her arrival there. The American destroyers were supposed to have arrived on the 19th but I can't find any other SCMP  references to them apart from that statement. That they did arrive is shown in the photos. I can only conclude that Eagle sailed the day they arrived. 19th Sep? Possible

Re photography in the 40s. I got my first Ansco Rediflex box camera about 1953 but my schoolboy pocket money didn't allow for too many rolls of Ilford film. I learnt to DPE, but even then it was just too expensive for me. All those lovely ships I could have snapped every day!

Best wishes



Hello John,

In the early 1950s, my father bought his first 35mm camera, a fairly basic Agfa Silette, but it had a good lens and when I went to Hong Kong in 1957 he encouraged me to set aside my old Vest Pocket Kodak camera of 1915 vintage and buy an Agfa Silette L.  It had a built in light meter which may or may not have helped with exposures.  However, the fastest Kodachrome slide film was 10 ASA, later uprated to 25 ASA. I cannot translate that into modern terminology but they were both SLOW!  You could only 'guarantee' good pictures when taken in fairly bright sunlight.  There were no processinhg facilities in Hong Kong and I sent all my films back to England.   So, I had to rely on my parents to tell me by post whether what I was doing was any good. Kodak did sell Ektachrome that could be processed in H.K. but the colour rendition (and it was later found its stability) was not so good and if I remember correctly it was a negative film and made prints. Short of cash, I went back to black and white film and learned how to do my own processing in the dark room at R.A.F. Little Sai Wan.  I had very mixed results developing the film as we could never get the tap water cool enough and had to resort to raiding the chilled water dispensers on the corridors behind our rooms.  How I now wish that I had simply taken the negatives down town and got them done professionally. Thank goodness we now have such cheap and excellent digital technology.  Andrew

If it helps, the following is noted:

HK Daily Press 13 September 1938

HMS Dorsetshire arrived in Hong Kong on 10 September joining HMS Eagle, HMS Adventure, HMS Kent and HMS Dainty which arrived in Hong Kong last week. The Eagle, Adventure and Dainty left port on 12 September for Singapore.

Sunday Herald 18 September 1938

HMS Cumberland arrived on 17 September joining the Kent and Dorsetshire in port. HMS Eagle and the depot ship, HMS Medway are all at Singapore.

As noted here Cumberland went into Whampoa dock upon its arrival on 17 September.

Update: I have amended the second photo to 1938 as the Standard-Vacuum Oil Company's super service station south of the China Fleet Club on Arsenal Street was opened on 2 February 1938. I note the service station does not appear in the 1945 photo.

Hi Klaus,Yes, that's the one.  It took some very good photographs - but even with the bult-in light meter you still had to input the optimum speed and aperture settings manually, so there was still a lot of skill (and perhaps luck) in getting things right.  Not like today!  I gave mine to a charity shop some years ago. Regards, Andrew

Unfortunately there are numerous errors in recognising many of the warships in the two images which may mean the dates are incorrect.

The 5 destroyers at buoys / anchor which purport to be American, denoted by USS, are in fact all British D class of the 8th Destroyer Flotilla which comprised all 9 of the class and there may be a sixth alongside.

The carrier Eagle is always instantly recognisable, she was the only British flat top with 2 funnels and was not an ex merchant but converted from the acquired Chilean battleship Almirante Cochrane.

All 5 Kent class Treaty cruisers saw extensive service in the East through the 1930's and were colloquially with the following 8" Treaty classes termed the County, not Colony, class. Kent was the only 1 which did not get the aircraft hangar due to weight issues. The 5 are Kent, Berwick, Cornwall, Cumberland and Suffolk.

Hope this helps clarify some detail to see if a more accurate time can be determined. I am unable to enlarge the images which would be useful.


Hi Culverin,

This conversatino got off to a bad start with my (wrongly) assuming that Jack took the photograph in 1945.  As Klaus and Moddsey pointed out, it must hve been one of the pre-war commercial ones purchased by Jack and other servicemen.  The exact date in the 1930s, when it was taken, depends on which of the fleet were in harbour on that day and I leave that to you and other more knowledgeable people to try to determine!

The 2 cruisers in the image are the Cumberland and Suffolk. Each had returned East after their reconstructions in Blighty with the large hangar for 2 aircraft clearly visible together with the cut down quarterdecks and bridge structure as built. Which of the pair is alongside or at a buoy in the harbour cannot be determined by the photo.

The carrier is Eagle, there are 6 D class destroyers of the 8th destroyer flotilla, 1 of the 1920/30's built river gunboats plus an RFA.

Note both cruisers and all destroyers are no longer in their China livery. It was a rapidly changing World.

With this info those who can access H K shipping movements can now establish an accurate date hopefully.

HMS Cumberland left Hong Kong for Home this morning. HK Telegraph 26 September 1938 refers.

Photo probably taken between February and September 1938

Looking at this photo of the Hong Kong Bowling Alleys, the signage of the establishment does not appear to be present at the front entrance of the premises. To narrow the date range down, the original photo may well be beween February to June 1938.


OK as I am in lockdown for a second time in less than three months here is my re-evaluation of the pictures submitted by Andrew and Moddsey. The Moddsey photo gives more clues as it shows the basin, which helps, but also confuses when trying to match ships with "Warships in port" which did not always come out daily.   At the risk of being caught out again, here is my take of the scenario.

I can't find any direct comparison of the photos with any Hong Kong newspaper writeup. That is not surprising as the naval scene was forever changing in those days. It seemed that a never-ending game of chess was being played out every mnorning. Ships were moved off a berth, to a buoy, and then to another buoy for reasons simply to confuse the Japanese spys reporting on naval movements around that time.

The submarine depot ship Medway is out of the picture at No 1 buoy to the right of HMS Eagle at No 2 buoy. At No 3 buoy to the left is the RFA Pearleaf. RFAs are never mentioned in their own right. They don't appear on either the commercial ship list or the warship list of ships in port. I presume they normally berth at the Man-o-war anchorage off Yaumati or the dangerous goods anchorage off Stonecutters.

Now my first dilemna. I believe the cruiser at No 6 is the Dorsetshire. At No 5, off picture to the right should be Suffolk. That would leave Cumberland at North Arm. But, she was reported to be on her way to Amoy in company of the destroyer Dainty. That is possible after the photo was taken as Dainty would have been one of the six destroyers in the photo. Which berth exactly is unknown as Daring and Diamond were together at No 12, while Delight was supposedly on the West Wall, Duncan on the North Arm while Duchess was at the Oil Fuel Jetty. (No idea where that is).

Here is where is gets really tricky!  HMS Enterprise suddenly pops up as being alongside North Arm a few days later! She had not shown up on any fleet movements before that mention, nor ever again. What was that all about? An attempt to confuse the Japanese? Afterall she also had three funnels, except that the third was split away from the first two. She also had planes so an untrained observer could be confused.  

Three further observations - the white vessel between the two pairs of destroyers was probably the West River gunboat Robin which then reverted back to the East Wall. The large tug then there in the pitcure could have been the sea going rescue tug St Breock, which together with the RFA Francol, tucked away between the Duncan and Cumberland on North Arm, and RFA Pearleaf, accompanied the rest of the fleet that sailed away for Weihaiwei after this picture was taken.

It would have been logical for Cumberland to be alongside, rather than being at a buoy, as she was flying the Flag of CinC China Station.

Finally one caveat. I cannot make out what ship is in the dock. The submarines Regulus, Rover and Regent had been there for some time, yet it looks like a rather large surface vessel is in there too. And another one across the entrance?

One other observation - not many merchant ships in the picture.

Take care - and stay safe



Congratulations John, your mention of the cruiser Enterprise calling at HK clinches the date to within 2 weeks in 1938.

Prior to my previous post i had noted the bow of a 3rd cruiser in Moddseys image and there she is, the Enterprise, across the entrance to the dry dock outboard of another D class destroyer. As you say, Enterprise and sister Emerald had the 3 funnels but unlike the Counties the 3rd aft one was detached much further back and clear as day in the image.

Enterprise departed Singapore for HK 23 May and returned 18 June, say 3 days each way gives us 26 May - 15 June. This could be considerably less, the pair were the fastest cruisers to ever serve in the RN. She had been sent East from Blighty to do a single trooping trip, straight out and back.

 Agree that Cumberland is probably alongside the North arm as flag, if so then the 2nd County at No 6 buoy is absolutely the Suffolk, these were the only reconstructed Counties with hangars which had their quartedecks reduced. If Dorsetshire is in HK she is not in either image.

I have some other observations but will say adieu for now Gents.

Regards. Sean. Culverin

The Enterprise arrived at Hong Kong on 27 May and left Hong Kong for Singapore on 14 June 1938.

The following were the plans of the China Squadron's summer cruise to Wei Hai Wei:

a) HMS Medway and submarines and HMS Cumberland to leave on 30 May;

b) Destroyer Flotilla on 1 June:

c) HMS Dorsetshire on 3 June and

d) HMS Eagle on 4 June.

Source: HK Daily Press dated 30 and 31 May 1938

Likely the original photo was taken between 27 and 30 May.