RAF Sunderland Aircraft in Hong Kong | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

RAF Sunderland Aircraft in Hong Kong

No. 88 Squadron RAF based in Hong Kong operated Sunderlands up to 1954 and played an important role, particularly in reconnaisance and search and rescue. Due to cost-cutting, the Sunderlands were then transferred to Malaya and Singapore but paid frequent visits to Hong Kong. I think the last operational flight by a Sunderland to Hong Kong was in 1958 with the last flypast of 3 Sunderland aircraft being flown on 21 April 1958 over the Harbour and Kowloon for the Queen's Birthday Parade.


1940s Short Sunderland Flying Boat at Kowloon Bay
1940s Short Sunderland Flying Boat at Kowloon Bay, by ww2images

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The RAF website has a brief history of 88 Squadron. It has been formed and disbanded a total of four time over the years. We're interested in its third incarnation:

On 1 September 1946, No. 1430 Flight at Kai Tak, Hong Kong was redesignated No. 88 Squadron for transport duties with six Sutherlands. Courier services between bases in the Far East were operated until it was redesignated a general reconnaissance unit. In July 1950, the outbreak of the Korean war resulted in detachments being sent to Iwakuni in Japan for patrols off the Korean coast. In June 1951, these were taken over by other Squadrons as No. 88 moved to Seletar but were resumed in June 1952 and continued until 11 August 1954. On 1 October 1954, the Squadron was disbanded.

The Sunderland flying boats of 88 Squadron played an important part in “The Yangtze Incident” when the Royal Navy’s HMS Amethyst became trapped under ‘fire’ and disabled in the Yangtze starting in April 1948.

According to a now deceased friend who was with the RAF at Kai Tak at the time, an urgent weekend call went out for any airmen prepared to volunteer as Gunners aboard the Sunderlands tasked with taking a Doctor and medical supplies to the vessel.

The full story of the Yangtze Incident has been told in three or four books, many magazine articles and a movie.

The Sunderlands flew via Shanghai where BOAC/Hong Kong Airways had refuelling facilities and engineers stationed to service their own Short Sandringham/Plymouth flying boats that flew scheduled services to and from Hong Kong, Shanghai and Japan.

On their mission at the Amethyst, one of the Sunderlands suffered “battle damage” and had to be repaired at Shanghai by BOAC’s engineers before it could return safely to Hong Kong.

Later during the evacuation of Shanghai in 1949, 88 Squadron’s Sunderlands and BOAC/Hong Kong Airways flying boats were stripped of internal fittings and seating and with mattresses placed on the floors, as many evacuees as possible were transported to Hong Kong.

No “Fasten your seatbelts” on those flights!

Until fairly recently, the Amethyst Incident was commemorated by ‘Amethyst Block’ at the HMS TAMAR site. Although now a PLA building, large ‘Amethyst Block’ lettering remained on it long after the “1997 Handover.“ All plain to see from adjacent public roads, but the lettering has now been removed.

Seemingly little remembered these days, is that Hong Kong Governor Youde played a part in the Yangtze Incident when he was stationed in China in a junior diplomatic capacity. He is mentioned in the books on the "Incident."

RAF Short Sunderland "D" ML772
RAF Short Sunderland "D" ML772, by Moddsey