The Hongkong Guerillas
I put these two documents together in Chapter 16, "The Hongkong Guerillas", in Volume III of my BAAG Series.The Holmes paper is from the BAAG papers in the Australian War Memorial and the shorter paper that follows is from my father's private papers in my possession (I usually refer to them as Ride Private Papers). Together they gave a good picture of the communist guerillas, known by the BAAG as the 'Reds'.
By: Major D.R. Holmes, BAAG
12th July 1944.
Subject: THE NEW TERRITORIES OF HONGKONG
AND THE COASTAL WATERS AND SEABOARD
OF MIRS BAY AND BIAS BAY
That part of China which marches with the New Territories of Hongkong has enjoyed no settled or strong government since long before the fall of the Tsing dynasty. It is famous for its robbers and pirates, and law and order have been maintained, in so far as they have been maintained at all, rather by the strong local clans than by the Kuomintang, to which the area owes no strong traditional allegiance. Side by side with these turbulent districts are the New Territories of Hongkong which form a marked contrast: here the peasants, accustomed since the lease of the Territories to strong government and a high standard of law and order, have grown soft and forgotten their former traditions of independence and self-sufficiency.
About the time of the fall of Canton at the end of 1938, a guerrilla unit was formed, nominally under the Central Govt., to assist in carrying on a war of resistance against the Japanese in the Canton-Kowloon railway area and in the East River area. This unit, which was under the command of an ex-seaman, Tsang Shang ( ) and was financed mainly by contributions from Chinese immigrants in Malaya, broke away from its nominal Kuomingtang allegiance soon after its formation and declared its Communist sympathies. Tsang Shang’s skilful recruitment policy and sympathetic treatment of the peasants have enabled the unit to survive and expand until the present time, in spite of active and almost continuous military operations carried out against him by the Kuomingtang forces in the area. It is generally accepted that Tsang’s unit, which is now called the Kwangtung People’s Resistance-Against-Japan Guerillas Unit ( ) was, from its inception, sponsored by the main body of the Chinese Communist Party and that financial and other support was and is available to it from that source. This unit formed the strongest and most aggressive Chinese military formation near Hongkong during the months just prior to the outbreak of the Pacific War, and it is understood that at that time negotiations – which bore no fruit – were carried on through the medium of the Chinese Admiral Chan Chak – now Sir Chan Chak K.B.E. – and details of them are thought to be known to Mr. F.W. Kendall. At that time the area of Tsang Shang’s influence was confined to that stretch of the Canton-Kowloon railway which lies between Shumchun and Sheklung. The seaboard of Mirs Bay and Bias Bay were controlled – if they were controlled at all – by so-called “guerrillas” recruited by the Central Govt., from the robbers and pirates, and unsympathetic to the Communists.
It is the writer’s opinion that the primary policy of these Communist guerrillas is, and always has been, to consolidate and strengthen their own military and political position in the area: though genuinely sincere in their anxiety to resist the Japanese, they maintain that the defeat of the Japanese can only be brought about through the growth of the Chinese Communist Party. Any temporary success which they might win against the Japanese at the cost of weakening the steady growth of their Party forces would be regarded as a Pyrrhic victory.
The Communist forces were not seen during the siege of Hongkong, but shortly after the fall of the Colony (25th December, 1941), they began to move into the New Territories. At first they were seen both in the Eastern and Western areas of the New Territories, but later they concentrated in the peninsula which lies to the East of Saikung, which they still control to-day. The Japanese made no attempt to police the New Territories until some time after the Communists had occupied this area, and when they did turn their attention to it, all their attempts to dislodge the Reds were unsuccessful. The Reds enlisted the sympathy of the peasants NOT by Communist propaganda but by protecting the villages from bandits, several hundred of whom were liquidated with conspicuous ruthlessness and competence; the villages would otherwise have been defenceless against these bandits. (Ideological training is reserved for the young). The writer is convinced that the expansion of Tsang Shang’s unit into British territory was planned in some detail before the Japanese attack on the Colony. The leader of the New Territories Section of the Reds was – and still is, as far as is known – Tsoi Kwok Leung ( ). All that is known of his background is that he was formerly connected with several minor Chinese industrial enterprises in Hongkong and Amoy, and that he is consumptive.
In (say) May 1942, then, the Reds firmly controlled their new sphere of influence, the Saikung peninsula, in addition to their old area – the Canton-Kowloon railway area south of Sheklung. In addition their troops were moving fairly freely in the desolate mountainous area of Ng Tung Shan and the coastal range which runs East from Ng Tung Shan. At that time their patrols had already been seen in Shayuchung. The seaboard of Mirs Bay and Bias Bay were, however, controlled by the Kuomingtang–backed bandits who have already been referred to. The nearest Chungking regular troops were in Tamshui. (One regiment of 187 Div. Div. HQ at Waichow). It will be seen that the Reds’ strategic position was very weak: open to attack – and indeed, from time to time attacked – from all sides both by Japanese and by Chungking troops, they were able to survive by genuine guerrilla tactics. But their economic position was strong as they were able to control 90% of the trade between Hongkong and Free China. At that time this trade was very considerable in volume and value, and the Reds greatly strengthened their financial position by taxing this trade. They still control these trade routes and they still levy these taxes, but the volume of trade is now much smaller.
The Reds had a vigorous policy towards the “cushion” of bandit-guerrillas which the Central Govt. had placed between their regular troops and the Occupied areas. Some of them were intimidated into taking orders from the Reds while still paying nominal allegiance to the Central Govt. Some were seduced and openly joined the Reds; some again, proving difficult to deal with, were disarmed by the Reds and liquidated in a series of interesting guerrilla sorties, at least one of which was seaborne. Leung Wing Yuen, ( ), the powerful ex-bandit who controlled the Taiping Peninsula at the time of the fall of Hongkong, and who had been “recognised” as a “guerrilla” by the Central Govt., as a reward for his services to the Chan Chak escape party, was wise enough to apply for a transfer after his first brush with the Reds in about October 1942, and was never heard of again in that area. By the end of 1942 the Reds had a working understanding with every armed group on the seaboard of Mirs Bay, and they controlled the waters of Mirs Bay, partly through manning their own junks with armed parties, but more particularly by employing on a cash basis independent pirate and smuggler elements whose livelihood had been much affected by the fall of Hongkong. The most important figure amongst these was Lau Pui ( ) who will be mentioned later.
It should be stressed that throughout the period described above open warfare was being carried on between the Central Govt troops based at Waichow and the Reds. The fighting was only periodical, but it is true to say that every operation undertaken by the Chinese 187 Div. during its year of garrison duty was directed against the Reds. There has never in this area been any pretence, as in the North West, that there is a truce in being between the Communist and Kuomintang forces. In the Canton-Kowloon railway area, the Central Govt. troops had held their own but, as has been said, the Reds had gained ground on the coast.
Early in 1943, 187 Div was relieved by 9 Indep Bde, a miserable formation which had already twice lost Waichow to the Japanese during previous spells of garrison duty. From that date to the present a policy of more vigorous expansion was pursued by the Reds. On the Canton-Kowloon railway and in the area west of the railway they were able to expand their influence almost unchecked until in November 1943, the Japanese suddenly seized the whole stretch of the railway Shumchun-Sheklung, completing their railway L. of C. Kowloon-Canton. The Japanese put in only a skeleton garrison on this railway and the result of this occupation was to facilitate Red expansion, especially West of the railway where the Reds were no longer subject to periodical attacks from the Central Govt troops!
Meanwhile the Reds had taken stronger action against what remained of the Central Govt’s “bandit cushion” on the coastline of Mirs Bay and Bias Bay. By December 1943, Central Govt forces dared not approach the coast in smaller numbers than 1 Bn. at any point from Yim Tin to Fokai Pt. In effect, the whole coast line with which this paper is concerned had passed under Red control. It must, however, be remembered that the forces with which the Reds held – and still hold – this area are essentially mobile forces of the classical guerrilla type. They have no bases, and a Central Govt. column, if it is strong enough, can penetrate to any depth into the Red sphere of influence in any direction without encountering solid resistance. But its L. of C. and flanks will be harried, especially at night, and the forward troops may suffer from crude mines and booby traps.
Finally in February 1944, the Reds announced that Lau Pui had joined the Communist forces. This young man, backed by the Reds, had shown some ability in organising the worst elements of Mirs and Bias Bay into some semblance of a disciplined unit, and had gained fairly large quantities of arms and ammunition in successful operations against Central Govt “guerrillas”. Even in this area – probably the “toughest” in South China – the type of man operating under Lau Pui is outstandingly undesirable. It was known before that the Reds had a fairly close understanding with Lau Pui’s pirates, but the addition of this force represents a substantial increase in Red strength provided Lau Pui and his men will submit to Red discipline. The Reds have considerable experience of recruiting bandits and pirates and it is considered unlikely that Lau will give them much trouble. As a result of the “merger”, the whole of the Taipang Peninsula – i.e. the area separating Mirs Bay from Bias Bay comes under Red control.
The above Red expansion in the Hongkong area has not been unnoticed by Chungking; and in February 1944, the Central Govt announced that stronger measures were to be taken. These were initiated at a fairly high level and in April a Major-General appeared in Waichow to direct – independently of the Waichow Garrison Commander – anti-Red operations. He brought with him a large staff and his budget was generous, but he did not bring any troops. The arrangement was that he could draw on Garrison troops as his operations required. Operations were, in fact, soon under way, but Central Govt casualties were high and no progress was made. Early in May it was rumoured that the Garrison establishment was to be increased in order that more troops should be available for purely anti-Red operations. If this has been carried out and if good troops are sent it may have considerable effect on the campaign: but it is not thought likely that Central Govt forces can now be moved south in view of recent Japanese operations in Hunan. We have seen how the Japanese occupation of Hongkong and later the loss of the Canton-Kowloon railway were turned by the Reds to their advantage and were indeed milestones of Red expansion. If the present Japanese offensive leads, as it must lead, to any considerable regrouping of Central Govt forces in Kwangtung, then it is considered highly probable that the Reds will turn this circumstance also to their own advantage. Underground penetration of the whole East River area by the Communists is known to be considerable and if, for example, all Central Govt forces were to withdraw from the East River, then the Reds would be likely to expand considerably, and in a short time, their sphere of influence.
The above is the background against which British military activity in the area has been staged. The first attempt to make use of the Reds in the New Territories was made by [Censor: retained under section 3(4)] who escaped early in 1942 from Stanley Internment Camp.
He was helped by the Reds and he attempted to enlist their help in engineering further escapes from the Camp. He succeeded at least in establishing cordial personal relations with the Reds, and it is thought that they genuinely tried to carry out the plans he put forward. The plans finally failed, however, chiefly through bad weather which interrupted all junk traffic, and were finally abandoned. In July 1942, an MI9 team [BAAG] arrived in Waichow, duly accredited to the local Central Govt Garrison Commander. It had, however, been known beforehand that no MI9 work would be likely to succeed without the co-operation of the Reds, who had already given considerable help to many European “Escapees” and authority had already been secured from the provincial Military Authorities to make contact with the Reds for MI9 purposes only. A party was sent into the New Territories at once (3 BOS and 2 Chinese civilians) and stayed with the Reds for 6 weeks. It was found impossible to carry out MI9 operations, and though some visual and photographic recce was carried out, the expedition was on the whole a failure. But the Reds showed themselves willing on the whole to co-operate in any work which would not be likely to draw enemy attention and reprisals. The writer was in command of this party and made many personal contacts with Red leaders, especially with Tsoi Kwok Leung. Pious hopes were expressed by both sides for future “co-operation”, and the relations when the party withdrew were good. Tsoi had asked whether it would be possible for his unit to be recognised and supplied by the British Govt.
From October 1942, to June 1943, relations were maintained from Waichow with the Reds in the New Territories (NOT with those in Chinese territory) by means of Chinese agents, and the Reds assisted in several MI9 operations and also in the routine collection of Intelligence material. It must be stressed that their co-operation was usually satisfactory provided they were not asked to do anything which would tend to draw Japanese attention to their activities: this proviso eliminates, of course, most forms of useful work. In effect, as has been said, their primary objective was, and is, to maintain and expand their strength in the area. Another important factor was their distrust of Chinese working for the British. The Reds would argue that the Central Govt would probably use British Organisations in order to infiltrate Kuomintang agents into Red Areas; as the British would not know anything of this, then a British guarantee of an agent’s bone fides could not always be considered valid. This security measure is not unreasonable from the Red’s point of view, but led to great difficulties in co-ordinating with them an expanding Intelligence network.
Meanwhile the Central Govt had not withdrawn their permission to maintain contact with the Reds, but there was considerable suspicion of the British activities and aims. The question came to a head over the proposal to establish a shipping O.P. in Lantau Island. This could only have been done through the Reds and in June 1943 the Central Govt authorities in Waichow were asked whether the British might supply to the Reds a quantity of small arms and ammunition for the local protection of the proposed O.P. Permission was refused and, further, the Chinese directed that all contact between the British in Waichow and the Reds must cease at once. Contact was accordingly broken off, and all efforts to have negotiations started at a higher level for the resumption of these valuable connections were unsuccessful. The position is still substantially the same at the time of writing, and although it has been possible to continue routine espionage it will be understood that special operations, either MI9 or other, cannot be attempted until this deadlock has been removed. But since this ban was imposed there has been one unsuccessful attempt to set up another shipping O.P., and the circumstances are of such interest that they are set out below in some detail.
India had been considerably disappointed by the failure of the Lantau O.P project as also had USAAF Intelligence in China. It was therefore proposed in the Autumn of 1943 to set up a coastwatching O.P on Tsat Neung Shan, the highest mountain in the Taipang Peninsula. In Sept. 1943 a party of 5 Chinese was despatched with a W/T set and all the necessary equipment. They established themselves in a remote village on the mountain side where, as the villagers over the whole peninsula had already been “sweetened” by several relief projects sponsored by the British Embassy, and as the Japanese very seldom visit the area, it was thought they would be able to carry on the work without difficulty. However, 7 days after their arrival a strong detachment of Lau Pui’s men raided the post and captured all the men and equipment. Direct negotiations with Lau Pui proved valueless and the Chinese authorities were persuaded to agree to negotiations through the New Territories Reds. In this way the men and some of the equipment were eventually recovered after three months negotiations.
The Reds maintained that Lau Pui was not under their control (it will be remembered that they did not officially acknowledge his connection with them until Feb. 1944) and that the O.P could only have been set up by prior negotiations between Lau Pui and the British, carried on through the Reds. They could, they said, have used their influence with Lau Pui in order to secure his co-operation in setting up the O.P, just as they had in fact used their influence to secure the release of the men and equipment! The following is considered to be the most convincing account of what really happened: when the British broke off relations with the Reds in June 1943, the Reds must have realised that this was due to Chungking pressure. They therefore took the view that the British were not prepared to oppose Chungking’s wishes (it is possible, though not probable, that they even thought British Organisations might be likely to spy on Red activities on behalf of the Kuomintang); when therefore, they heard that the British had sent an armed party into an area which was more accessible to Red that to Central Govt forces, they determined to show that the British could not have it both ways: if the British proposed to operate in Red territory, then they must be taught that they could only do so by prior arrangement with the Reds.
Central Govt permission to contact the Reds expired with the release of the men and equipment and the present position is that no contact is permitted or carried on.
Since the above incident, only one further development need be recorded: on 11th Feb Lieut. Kerr, P40 pilot of the Chinese-American Wing 14 AAF, was shot down over Hongkong and landed by parachute about one mile north of Kai Tak a/d in Kowloon. Through his own courage and resource, and through the very able help given him by the Reds, he evaded capture and reached Waichow six weeks later. Kerr was given by the Reds a very full account of the whole history of their associations with the British; he saw Tsang Shang in person (as far as is known he is the first European to have seen him) and when he emerged he carried with him offers from the Reds to the Americans of co-operation in rescue work, Intelligence and Sabotage. These offers were embodied in a letter written in English, addressed to Gen. Chennault (14 AAF) and signed by Tsang Shang. This letter was read by the writer when Kerr passed through Waichow. It is assumed that all the messages given to Kerr were passed on to the American authorities. As far as is known Kerr himself was sent to India as soon as he rejoined his unit.
There has not been time to include in this brief report any account of Red methods, disposition, organisation etc., nor is it possible to include lists of the useful personal contacts which had been established amongst the Reds and amongst the villagers in Red-controlled territory. This memorandum has been written primarily to show that British contact with the Communists in South China already has a background and history, which, it is suggested, should not be ignored if and when future contacts are planned.
D.R. Holmes, Major (M.O.1 (S.P.))
12 July, 1944
NOTES ON ORGANISATION IN THE REDS
(Written by unknown BAAG author)
The following is a short note on the organization of the Red Guerillas as we knew it in Eastern Kwangtung and the New Territories. Their area was divided into sub-areas each under a sub-area head; for instance, the New Territories was a sub-area. Under the sub-area head came three officers – the military commander, the political officer and the liaison officer. Of these, the first two were regulars and they were responsible for the training of potential recruits who would eventually join up in either the local protection units of each village or become regular guerillas. The political officer and the liaison officer were responsible for recruiting, training classes for children and able-bodied adults, and for propaganda.
The regular troops were divided into units called Toi, the largest being a Tai Toi composed of several Chung Toi which in turn were composed of several Siu Toi. The Commanding Officer of each of these units was known as Cheung; Gong Soi was Chung Toi Cheung of the unit based in Saikung.
The procedure adopted by the Reds in moving into a new district is somewhat as follows: on arrival they would interview the village elders and inform them of their plans and their method of government. The political officer would begin his instruction of the children and able bodied adults by taking over the teaching in the village and by propaganda. The teacher would be paid jointly by the villagers and the Reds. The villagers would be told how much of each crop they would have to contribute towards the Reds and how much money. They usually ran the villages very well and we were very struck by their discipline, especially in the early stages in order to win their confidence and their support. As a result of their propaganda and teaching in the schools, certain of the able-bodied men would be chosen to become regular guerillas and then they would be sent away for training. The rest of the adults who were unable to leave the area would be grafted into a local protection unit in the village and given further training in their duties, the children were similarly graded and the better ones were Siu Gwai (Small Devils) and the others Gau Tung (Runners). On the arrival of either the Japanese or the Central Government Forces in the area, the Regulars and the local Protection Units would disappear leaving only the women, the old men and the innocent Siu Gwai and Gau Tung. The former would act as spies, collecting all intelligence of any value from the village as previously instructed and passing it by means of Gau Tung to the Commander wherever he may have moved to. Each Unit would obtain its funds from three sources – voluntary contributions, trade and protection fees.