Header image courtesy of @toyotravelhk (via Instagram)
It’s easy to forget that beneath the shiny veneer of Hong Kong’s towering skyscrapers and modern glass-and-steel edifices, the beginning of the city’s societal and economic existence was built on colonial foundations and inextricably linked to military affairs. After the British arrived on our shores in 1841, military fortifications were constructed to bolster the colony’s defences, and further proliferated throughout the Second World War.
While many of these wartime structures have long been destroyed or faded into obscurity over time, the ones that remain now stand as important heritage assets that represent Hong Kong’s wartime history. For a window into the past, venture into the covert corners of Hong Kong and uncover the stories behind these interesting wartime relics!
A sombre reminder of the infamous Battle of Hong Kong, the Gin Drinkers Line was one of the most prominent British fortifications built to defend against Japanese invasion during the Second World War. Stretching 18 kilometres across the New Territories from Gin Drinkers Bay (present-day Kwai Chung) to Port Shelter, the colonial defensive line was modelled after the Maginot Line in France—albeit a completely unsuccessful one.
As the garrisons were poorly stationed and under-trained, the line and Kowloon were forsaken by British troops a mere two days after the initial attack by Japanese advance scouts. Yet, having taken multiple blows during its short-lived struggle, the Gin Drinkers Line is nonetheless regarded as a site of great historical significance.
Nowadays, a string of ditches, pillboxes, and bunkers can still be found along the Kowloon hills, with the most intact remnants concentrated at the Shing Mun Redoubt, the former headquarters of the defence line. Apart from an artillery observation station and pillboxes, you’ll also find an extensive network of underground tunnels named after famous streets and places in London, such as Regent Street, Oxford Street, and Shaftesbury Avenue. You can explore the area on foot with the Shing Mun War Relics Trail, running from Pineapple Dam to MacLehose Trail Section 6.
Walking along the historic Wong Nai Chung Gap Trail, it’s jarring to think that this peaceful gorge was once the scene of a gruesome bloodbath amidst one of the darkest epochs of Hong Kong’s history. The Battle of Wong Nai Chung Gap on 19 December 1941 holds the unfortunate record for the largest number of casualties in a single day during the 17-day Battle of Hong Kong, with a total of 600 deaths from both Japanese and British military forces. Now, the ruins of old bunkers, ammunition depots, and pillboxes are left to tell the dire tale.
Occupying a prime geographical location between the north and south of Hong Kong Island, Wong Nai Chung Gap was considered a central point of road communication on Hong Kong Island. Controlling the land meant victory or defeat. When Wong Nai Chung Gap fell into Japanese hands by the dawn of 19 December 1941, the Commonwealth forces were split into two, crucially leading to the downfall of Hong Kong Island.
Many relics of the battle can now be found along the Wong Nai Chung Gap Trail, complete with 10 stations and information boards walking you through significant moments of the battle as they unfolded on that ill-fated day.
Click here to read our full guide on how to hike the Wong Nai Chung Gap Trail.
With a name like Devil’s Peak, you know there has to be something ominous lurking in its depths. Lying on the southeastern end of Kowloon, Devil’s Peak has been garrisoned from as far back as the Ming dynasty, when it was occupied by local pirates to control the nautical passage of Lei Yue Mun leading into Victoria Harbour.
In the early twentieth century, defences around the area were further strengthened by British troops to protect the colony against threats from European rivalries. Although now disused and partially engulfed by vegetation, you can still find remnants of the former batteries hiding within the lush green terrains.
Strewn across the hillside of Devil’s Peak are four main clusters of military structures, namely the Pottinger Battery, the Observation Post, the Gough Battery, and the Devil’s Peak Redoubt, with the latter two being the most intact. The hauntingly photogenic Gough Battery features two gun pits, some crumbling buildings, and underground magazines, while Devil Peak’s Redoubt intrigues with its commanding circular firing wall and fitted loopholes that provide glimpses of Victoria Harbour. Adding to the mystique and ambience of the place, the Tseung Kwan O Chinese Permanent Cemetery emerges as a dramatic backdrop to the sweeping view from the peak’s summit.
Click here to read our full guide on hiking Devil’s Peak and Gough Battery.
Perched on a 307-metre hill in Lung Fu Shan Country Park, Pinewood Battery lays claim to the highest coastal defence fortification in Hong Kong. Originally built as a gun battery in 1905, Pinewood Battery was used as an anti-aircraft defence system in the Battle of Hong Kong, helping to counter air raids on Hong Kong Island after the Japanese troops seized Kowloon. Despite fighting a valiant battle, the Pinewood Battery ultimately could not hold on as the British soldiers there were vastly outnumbered. After suffering from repeated shelling on 15 December 1941, it became untenable and the stationed troops were ordered to retreat.
Since the Pinewood Battery’s retirement, a short heritage trail and picnic zone have been constructed in the area, allowing visitors to revisit a savage yet an impactful slice of local history. Weaving through the hiking trail are the ruins of century-old war shelters, gun platforms, secret bunkers, and forts—many of which are now tangled with plants and vines. Along the path, you’ll also find a handful of interpretative panels explaining the battery’s scarred past.
Click here to read our full guide on how to hike the Pinewood Battery Heritage Trail.
Without a designated trail, the Cape Collinson Battery may be a bit tricky to access, but if you can get past the mild inconvenience of climbing over a railing and navigating an unmarked path, then you will be privy to the sublime sight of historical World War Two relics juxtaposed against majestic ocean vistas.
Standing guard over Hong Kong’s far eastern coastline, the Cape Collinson Battery—consisting of the north and south searchlight batteries—was constructed in 1938, to be operated by the 36th Coast Battery and 8th Coast Regiment Royal Artillery. During the Battle of Hong Kong, the battery was ordered to be demolished before the presiding regiment evacuated to Stanley, so as to prevent the artillery from falling into the hands of the enemy.
Now, despite lying in derelict condition, the batteries have become iconic photo spots. The view from the inside of the battery is reminiscent of something from a post-apocalyptic movie, showing the glittering blue waters of Tathong Channel aesthetically framed by rocky rubble.
Click here to read our full guide on how to hike to Cape Collinson Battery.
The British had eyed Mount Davis as a strategic military stronghold since the early 1900s, proceeding to develop Mount Davis Battery in 1911. Home to the Western Fire Command Headquarters, the battery originally housed five large naval guns, but two of them were relocated to the defence point in Stanley in the mid-1930s, leaving the remaining three to protect the northwestern corner of Hong Kong Island when the Second World War broke out.
Alas, coming under intense bombing by Japanese forces in December of 1941, the British troops recognised the lost cause and destroyed all the armament of the battery shortly before surrendering. Today, the battery is listed as a Grade II heritage building, with its gun placements, bomb shelters, and other dilapidated structures preserved to give intrepid visitors a sense of stepping back in time and imagining what military life was like back in the day.
From firing up a barbecue and lounging on a beach to hiking the famous Devil’s Claw, a day spent at Chung Hom Kok could see you enjoying a wide array of recreational opportunities, but it’s definitely worth squeezing time to check out the Chung Hum Kok Battery. Perched at the very tip of this secluded southern headland on Hong Kong Island, the Chung Hom Kok Battery was constructed in the late 1930s as part of the British Army’s coastal defence network, with two cannons originally installed on-site.
Caught in the thick of the action during the Battle of Hong Kong, much of the battery was destroyed and abandoned by British soldiers when the threat of Japanese domination grew too grave. However, one gun emplacement and two searchlight platforms have managed to stay relatively intact through it all. With the site now converted into the Chung Hom Kok Park, a few concrete tables and chairs have been added inside the white, hemispherical fort of the gun emplacement to allow visitors to sit down and soak up the historical atmosphere.