Japanese Pillboxes at Luk Keng [????- ] | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

Japanese Pillboxes at Luk Keng [????- ]

Current condition: 

A trench system with over 10 pillboxes built by the Japanese

Photos that show this place


There is a map and photos of this network starting on page 47 of the book "War Relics in the Green".

Author: Ko Tim-Keung
Publisher: Cosmos
ISBN: 962 993 295 4.

Phil wrote:

I found this website with some photos supposedly from the bunkers at Luk Keng. Actually there is a bit of everything on there, for Messrs B and Tall too if you look around.

Luk Keng Bunker

And Craig replied:

phil, yeah those are the right pillbox's. I dug up some old photos from when I went up there last year. The Insides of the pillbox's are in good shape, but the whole place is overgrown with bush.

Luk Keng
Luk Keng












The first thing you come across as you walk up the hill is the trench. The Trench is about 4ft deep and circles the top of the hill, amd leads to most of the pillbox's.

Jap Pillbox
Japanese P/B Window
Japanese P/B
Jap P/B

Japanese P/B
One photo shows the tops of the bunkers are very overgrown but with a 6ft drop off the top which is very difficult to see....much to my girlfriends misfortune when she plunged down it, how she did not seriously injure herself I don't know. Just bruised and battered.
Luk Keng Trench

You can also just make out the Zig-Zag trench badly overgrown.

After seeing Craig's photos, I've been wanting to see this place for myself. Last weekend I went up there with a friend to take a look around. I'll add to Craig's warning about the trenches - the place is very overgrown, and the trench can be hard to see. In some places it's quite shallow, at others there are sharp drops of over 6 feet. Take a walking stick with you to poke at the ground ahead of you, so you can feel a trench before you fall into it!

We used two books: 'A Travel of Hong Kong Mainland Ruins' (see Route 19, photos 41-60)  to get there, then 'War Relics in the Green' for its map of the layout of the pillboxes. That map shows 12 pillboxes and a command post, and the text mentions a well.

We'll label the northern pillbox (at appx 1 o'clock from the Trig point on the map) as #1, then move clockwise from there.

Pillbox #1

This was the first pillbox we saw when we reached the top. At first it confused us, as we couldn't find any way in. We came back again at the end, and this time noticed what looked like a concrete wall leading away from the left exterior of the pillbox. We'd also worked out that, if in doubt, the best bet was to get in the trench and follow it along til we reached an entrance.

When we found the entrance, it was quite a way from the pillbox roof we'd been standing on. When we went inside, all became clear - it is actually two pillboxes joined together by a short tunnel. The construction of the tunnel and the pillboxes are quite different, eg the floor of the tunnel is earth, while in the pillboxes it is concrete, and there's a distinct join between the tunnel and the pillboxes. Were they built at different times, or by different people, or the war ended before the tunnel was finished, or ... ?

Here's the view inside:

Pillbox #2

The map showed this one was a little way down the hill from #1. It took a lot of staring to find it! Can you see it?

Luk Keng pillboxes - PB02

In the centre of the photo you should see a long stem of grass and seeds. Just to the right of the stem is a greyish square - that's the roof of the pillbox.

It's an unusual design, apparently meant to hold just one person. Here's the view of the front, showing the concrete lip over the front, and the small loophole.

Luk Keng pillboxes - PB02

Looking down over the back of the roof, you can see the entrance. It is only about half-height, so you have to crouch to get in.

Luk Keng pillboxes - PB02

Here's the view in through the door, looking at the front wall and loophole.  It's basically a concrete box, around 3 - 4 foot square.

Luk Keng pillboxes - PB02

Looking back out again, you can see the entrance is very close to the hillside. 

Luk Keng pillboxes - PB02

Perhaps this gives a better idea of just how tight the entrance is!

Luk Keng pillboxes - PB02

I'll put up some more photos later, but already there are questions about how the place would have been used.

The larger pillboxes don't have mounts for machine guns like the British pillboxes do. And the small one-man pillboxes seem strange too. There is no covered path to and from them. So if there is anyone shooting at this hill, then once you are inside the small pillbox, you can't get out or receive any supplies.

So was it meant as a major defensive post against an attack from the allies? Or was it more of a police post used to defend the area against guerillas? Or ... ?

Tim Ko, writing in War Relics in the Green, says:

Judging from the situation, apparently the whole system was intended against the offensive operations of the Allied forces should any attempt be made to enter Hong Kong from northeast side of the New Territories.

However, he also mentions that 'Information on this defence line is scant", so I think that's his informed guess. Does anyone know any more about its history, and intended purpose?

More photos to follow...

Number 3 is the easiest to spot. Here's the view from #1, looking up towards the top of the hill. The ventilation shaft for #3 is clearly visible.


Luk Keng pillboxes - PB03

Here's the view on the roof


Luk Keng pillboxes - PB03

And looking in through the door. There's a short passageway with an alcove on the right, and the pillbox at the end.


Luk Keng pillboxes - PB03

Here's the view inside the pillbox. You can see that it is octagon-shaped, with loopholes in five of the walls.

Looking up in the ceiling, here's the bottom of the ventilation shaft. They didn't repeat the errors of the ventilation shafts in the tunnels at Shing Mun Redoubt - the shaft is too small for a person to get through, and metal bars prevent grenades from being dropped in. (On the other hand, none of the pillboxes show any sign of doors being fitted!)


Luk Keng pillboxes - PB03

Looking back out to the doorway, with the alcove in sight. Was it used for storage? Or sleeping?


Luk Keng pillboxes - PB03

Number 4 is on the same level as #3, and a little further south. It wasn't so easy to find, and there's a steep drop to the entrance, so be careful:

Luk Keng pillboxes - PB04

The layout was similar, from the entrance turn left:

Luk Keng pillboxes - PB04

Then there's a short corridor with the storage (?) area on the right.

Luk Keng pillboxes - PB04

Then at the end is the pillbox itself. It's a hexagon shape this time with just two loopholes, one on the left and one on the right.

Luk Keng pillboxes - PB03

It has a round ventilation shaft, again with a metal grill built in.

Luk Keng pillboxes - PB04

At several of the pillbxes you can see signs of the wooden shuttering that was used when they were pouing the concrete walls. Here are some of the pieces of wood left in this pillbox:

Luk Keng pillboxes - PB04

Luk Keng pillboxes - PB04

Further south along the hilltop is pillbox #5. The basic layout is the same; a corridor in, with a small area off to one side:

Luk Keng pillboxes - PB05
Luk Keng pillboxes - PB05

This pillbox is square shapes. We've also seen an octagon and a hexagon, so they didn't seem to follow any standard pattern.

The view directly in front of the pillbox covers a lot of the valley below.

Luk Keng pillboxes - PB05

However there is no loophole in the front of the pillbox, just one in the right wall, and one in the left. It's as though they were more concerned about firing at people climbing up the hill, than at people in the valley below.

A little way down the slope is another of the one-man pillboxes. This stands quite clear, giving a better view of the shape and layout. Otherwise it is the same as #2 described above.

Luk Keng pillboxes - PB06

After you climb back up to #5, you're at the edge of the flattish top of the hill. A ridge drops slowly towards the south, first heading towards 7 o clock, then turning towards 5 o clock. On either side of that turn in the ridge are pillboxes 7 and 8.

Thery aren't that easy to see. One suggestion is to look for changes in the vegetation, as that can show where there is thin soil over the concrete roof.

We found the eastern pillbox first, #7. It's another of the square, one-man pillboxes. The entrance is even tighter to get into, so we passed on this one:

Luk Keng pillboxes - PB07

Here's the single loophole.

Luk Keng pillboxes - PB07

Looking closer and part of the original wooden shuttering is still in place. Was it meant to be left there, or did the war come to an end before the  construction of these pillboxes was finished?

Luk Keng pillboxes - PB07

Crossing over to the other side of the ridge, and eventually we found the site of #8.

Luk Keng pillboxes - PB08

Another one-man pillbox, though well and truly buried. Were all these one-man pillboxes originally buried in earth, and for some the earth has been washed away? Or did they originally stand clear like #2, then over time they've been buried by sliding earth and rocks?

Next we looked for #9. In theory it's at about the same height as #6, but on the Western side of the ridge. We couldn't find any sign of it though, so I guess it is another one-man pillbox that has been buried.

It looks like you fella's had a great day out in Luk Keng....
I've been up there and I'm still envious.

As much as I hate to see the country side being ruined, I have often wondered what lays under the shrubs and often the best way is to visit after a hill fire. Some times you only see something after you have fallen over it in the bush. The Photos of Luk Keng in Tim Ko book "Ruins in the Green" look like they were taken shortly after a fire as most of the hilltop is visible. I now try to visit places after such a fire to see if they reveal any secrets. I went up Tai Mo Shan last week and there has recently been a fire, however the day I went up, it was foggy and I saw nothing.

I know what you mean - eg a previously indistinct hillside suddenly becomes a row of neat terraces.

As we came away from Luk Keng we thought it would be well worth another visit if there was ever another hill fire. Given the graveyards at the base of the hill, I wouldn't be surprised if they happen from time to time.

The map shows the last three pillboxes along the north-west edge of the hill, and grouped quite closely together. We only found two of them, so I guess the third is another one-man pillbox that is very overgrown.

Here's the first of the two. We only found it by following the path of the trench - it was invisible from above. Itis hexagon shaped, with three loopholes:

Luk Keng pillboxes - PB10-12

Luk Keng pillboxes - PB10-12

Here's the view looking down from above the entrance, showing why it was so hard to spot. (And yet another reminder of the potential for falls).

Luk Keng pillboxes - PB10-12

The other pillbox was another of the one-man designs, with the slight difference of having two loopholes.

Luk Keng pillboxes - PB10-12

Luk Keng pillboxes - PB10-12

Luk Keng pillboxes - PB10-12

The map in War Relics in the Green shows a Command Post, and the text mentions a well. Given that there are no records available, these labels may or may not be accurate descriptions of what's there.

First the 'Command Post'. It seems a fair guess about its use. It is set further back, so it doesn't have a pillbox's clear view out over the land below the hill. It is also larger in area than them, and a more regular shape.

Here's the view outside and in:

Luk Keng pillboxes - Command Post

Luk Keng pillboxes - Command Post

We noted that the border surrounding the loopholes was finished slightly differently from those in the pillboxes. Was this little artistic touch a sign that the inhabitants would be more senior, as you'd expect in a command post?


Luk Keng pillboxes - Command Post

Then the last item of note is described as the well. It is just to the west  of the trig point, and not very far from the command post. It is in it's own little clearing, that is linked to the trench that runs around the hilltop.

Luk Keng pillboxes - Well

Luk Keng pillboxes - Well

It doesn't look very drinkable! And is it a well?

The water-level you see is a few feet below ground-level, but remember that we're standing at the top of a hill. Unless the shaft is very deep (and it may be), it seems unlikely to be a well.

You can see a rung on the left of the opening. So was it a water tank instead? Or did the rungs descend down a deep well-shaft to meet the water table? Or was it a ladder down to a covered storage area, say a magazine?  It would be interesting to pump it out and see.

It's an interesting site. The trench is complete, and in many sections the sides of the trench are very sharp still, looking as though they have been dug just recently. The concrete structures are very simple, but the remnants of wood again give a connection to the people that built it over 60 years ago. Let's hope the remote location mean it stays in good condition.

Antiquities Bureau write up in application for grade II listing...

Historic Building Appraisal Luk Keng Pillboxes and Observation Posts, N.T.

 Located at the fringe of Pat Sin Leng Country Park in Luk Keng (鹿頸), this network of defence comprising pillboxes, observation posts and trenches was constructed during the period of Japanese Occupation (1941-1945). They stand on prominent hilltops which overlook Starling Inlet (Sha Tau Kok Hoi 沙 頭角海), giving them an excellent field of observation. It is believed that these structures were intended to strengthen border defense and against the offensive operations of Allied forces should any attempt be made to enter Hong Kong form the northeastern side of the New Territories. The path leading to the network is not well-defined and access to it is rather difficult. Information on the pillboxes and observation posts is scant, and the Japanese claimed that authentic records of Hong Kong’s defence during the war period were all lost. They merit further investigation; however, from the recollections of villages nearby it can be established that the pillboxes an observation posts were built during the period of Japanese Occupation and some local inhabitants were pressed to take part in the construction.

 The pillboxes and observations posts on the site are reinforced concrete structures built against slops and partially covered with earth and vegetation. All remain derelict and unused. The pillboxes features wing walls at the sides and have narrow cavities all around the perimeter walls for ventilation purpose. Some of the pillboxes have concrete roof vents. The architectural style can be classified as Utilitarian (Military).

 The pillboxes appear to be connected by communication trenches which allowed movement between positions. This allowed for the relocation of troops to threatened positions, ammunition re-supply, casualty evacuation, and covered withdrawal. Japanese manuals prescribed communication trenches to be 2 ft wide and 4 ft deep for one-way movement and 5 ft deep for two-way traffic. Communication trenches could be less than 2 ft deep and 18 in wide if connecting minor positions.

 Parapets might be present, but more often than not the earth was removed for better concealment. The trenches might be roofed with palm fronds, tree branches, camouflage nets, planks, small logs, or sheet metal covered by a larger of earth, more for concealment than protection. Trenches were often laid out in a zigzag pattern with angular jogs, in curvy lines following terrain contour, or echeloned at right angles allowing one section of trench to cover another from the rear. The angles and curves in the trenches prevented the enemy from firing down a long length of trench and reduced the damage by an artillery, mortar or bomb hit. In loose and unstable soil revelting was required to shore up the side of the trench. This helped prevent the sides from collapsing.

 The use of concrete as a construction material for the pillboxes at Luk Keng is unusual. Field fortifications were usually constructed of local materials such as rocks, coral, tree trunks, etc., or improved using wooden boxes and steel oil drums filled with rocks and sand. Cement and steel bars used for reinforcement were reserved for command posts, communications centers, fuel and ammunition storage bunkers, bomb shelters, and critical support facilities. The cement used in the construction of these pillboxes was probably not shipped in but produced locally, and could well have come from the Green Island Company’s cement works at Hung Hom.

 No detailed survey has been made of the pillboxes so that the layout plans, the thickness of concrete, the positions of entrances and firing ports, etc. are not known. The quality of the construction seems to vary considerably not surprisingly if forced village labour was used to build the pillboxes. Some of the pillboxes have firing ports or embrasures with fancy decorative surrounds, and on other the joint lines left by the timber formwork or shuttering when the concrete was powred can clearly be seen on the face of the concrete. After World War II, many other items built by the occupying force such as the War Memorial Tower (忠靈塔, a Japanese memorial on the war dead) were demolished. As military structures built during the wartime, these pillboxes and observation posts are rare pieces of built heritage.

 The pillboxes and observation posts are derelict and abandoned, but they probably could be restored and local interest in them revived. They have group value with Wong Chun Yu Ancestral Hall in Luk Keng Wong Uk (鹿頸黃屋春 儒黃公祠) and Chan Ancestral Hall in Luk Keng Chan Uk (鹿頸陳屋祠堂). They are thematically related to the Maclntosh Forts (麥景陶碉堡) which served as observation posts of the police to strengthen border defense.

 As far as is known there are no plans to redevelop the site so that the question of adaptive re-use does not arise.

 The structures on the site have not yet been graded.



Next Thursday's talk (3rd Dec) organised by the RAS is about the East River Brigade. If you're going, please could you help ask the speaker a couple of questions? Unfortunately I can't attend as I'm off to the UK on Sunday for a couple of weeks.

I'm interested to hear what they know of the Luk Keng Pillboxes during WW2, and also the trenches around Ki Lun Shan (more on those later). Possible questions:

  • Did the guerillas have any contact with the Japanese at these two locations?
  • When were they built?
  • What was there function?
  • .... and anything else they can share!

The details of the talk are in the September newsletter.

Regards, David

Dear Sir,

I'm actually a descendant of the village and appreciate your pointing out of the antiquity, which is something that should be more publicised so that people know and can learn about the history. 

My uncle told me that during World War II, the Japanese were at the pillboxes while the Communists/rebels were discussing at the foot of the hill. 

It's great history. 

Thanks for your videos and sharing with us.  I hope to visit the pillboxes myself one day.


Dear KH,

You are the first person who has written in that has a family connection to the area, so I'm very pleased to hear from you. If you have a chance, please could you ask your relatives if they know when the pillboxes were built, and who built them? (eg were they built by the Japanese alone, or were local villagers employed, or prisoners of war, or ...)

It will be great if we can collect some more history of the area and make it public.

Regards, David

I looked at the pillboxes back in 2005 (if I remember correctly). What really caught my attention was how "new" the structures seemed to me. I was told that these were built by the Japanese so they are 60+ years old. I was skeptical, and I still am, for one reason - these boxes seemed to have been sited to defend an invasion from the Mainland, and I can't see why they would expect an invasion from that direction in those years. The British Forces, however, did, starting from 1949 and until 1997. Less well known but very similar structures were found on a peak called Lung Shan (Dragon Hill) near Lau Shui Heung Reservoir. They were also positioned, obviously, for opposing an enemy coming from the north-east. If these were built by the British Forces, so could those at Luk Keng. I heard some survey had been done by the University of HK on those pillboxes at Luk Keng and they were said to have been built by the Japanese. Trouble is - such an assertion was not backed up by evidence e.g. dating of the concrete structure (though I don't know whether that's technically feasible). Given the secrecy that is usually given to defence structures in British Hong Kong, I tend to believe the pillboxes were built by the British. I stand to be corrected, of course.


A couple of points supporting their construction by the Japanese:

  • KH Chan in an earlier commentwrites: "I'm actually a descendant of the village and appreciate your pointing out of the antiquity, which is something that should be more publicised so that people know and can learn about the history.

    My uncle told me that during World War II, the Japanese were at the pillboxes while the Communists/rebels were discussing at the foot of the hill."

  • Similarly Ko Tim-Keung writing in his book War Relics in the Green says "However, from the recollections of the nearby villagers, it can be established that the network was built during the Japanese occupation period. Some local villagers were compelled to take part during the construction."

To confuse things, Ko also writes that "It is most likely that the line had been used by the British Army at some time after the war."

One solution could be to see if there are any aerial photos of the area taken in the late 1940s. That would narrow down the date when the pillboxes first appeared.

Regards, David

Hi David,

Many thanks for your post. I appreciate. The last time I was there I also heard from some locals that their father was forced to construct those pillboxes. And people say so according to their father's (not their) recollections. My father (long deceased) told me he was forced by the occupying Japanese forces in Hong Kong to do some manual work. He said so when he was still in his 40s. Yet he was unable to tell me WHAT work he actually did! I very much wish to believe the pillboxes were indeed built for the Japanese but to me things just don't add up:

1. why would the Japanese foresee an invasion from the north-east when they also controlled the part of China across the HK-China border? They started their invasion of Hong Kong from there, didn't they? The Japanese planes that wiped out the RAF at Kai Tak also took off from Guangzhou, you see.

2. considering battle field condtions at that time in HK, it doesn't make sense that the Japanese would build such elaborate permanent structures. They did not seem to have built any similar structures else where in HK. Why Luk Keng alone? However, the Brits did build a lot of similar structures back then, and for good reasons---to deal with an invasion from the north.

I think a British serviceman who served before the Japanese invasion may be able to give us an answer. I'll keep me fingers crossed. You never know. I managed to bump into an Aussie last year when I was on a boat trip. He flew a Lancaster bomber during WWII!

During many years spent researching the Pillboxes of Hong Kong, I corresponded with an ex Army Officer, who was based in HK between 1950 and 1954. At some point, I sent him some photo's I had taken at Luk Keng, and he replied that one of his tasks had been the destruction of Japanese PB's, at the request of the HK Police. The ones in question were in the Closed Frontier Area, from near Sha Tau Kok towards Robin's Nest. There were also two others that he knew of, one near what is now HK Gold Coast, the other near Brother's Point. Photo's of those at the frontier showed PB's very similar to those at Luk Keng. They also showed the result of the destruction of the first, which was subsequently used as a training exercise for squad leaders. The paperwork showed a floorplan and dimensions, virtually identical to those at Luk Keng. Unfortunately, I no longer have the photo's or the contact to back my story, however I have no doubt the Luk Keng PB's were of Japanese origin.

Co-incidentally, perhaps, a Staff Study carried out by the British Army in June 1945, looking at the possible recapture of HK, concluded that Starling Inlet would be the preferred landing area in the NT.

Hi keieichsee, the Japanese garrison troops had another enemy -- the guerrillas.  The East River Column (Communist) was quite active in eastern New Territories during the Japanese occupation.  There is a memorial to fallen guerrilla fighters in Wu Kau Tang (烏蛟騰) that was originally built in 1951 and rebuilt at a new location in 2010.  Also, there likely were pro-Nationalist (Kuo Min Tang) guerrillas as well as bandits in the area.

Many thanks to Rob and C for replying. Now everything falls into place.  A few years back when I was looking down from that hill top I could imagine the amount of mortar and machine gun fire that could be poured down from there. What I had in mind was a post-1949 invasion from the north. The presence of anti-Japanese guerrilas in northeastern New Territories back then did not even cross my mind.  I am now a convert.

There seemed to be a hillfire starting from the graveyard at the bottom of the southern slope. When I was up there this Tuesday under the scorching sun, most of the pillboxes and trenches were easy to spot, though I gave up some of them besides 2 further downhill that I didn't learn of back then. 

I only learnt from the map.gov.hk that there are the exact locations of the 12 of them in the large scale map yesterday frown

I was exhausted under the midday heat although there were gusts every now and then. Since the pillboxes looked alike, we decided to visit those easy to access. My pals also squeezed into the tiny one which holds only one person at a time.

The interior of those we entered were all in good condition, just like someone has given them renovation or sweeping regularly. I also came across informal notices on the wall by the entrance reminding visitors to be considerate.

20200507_152608.jpg, by H.Lo