Guest blog: Kwong Chi Man on the Battle of Hong Kong spatial history platform

Dr. Kwong Chi Man is an associate professor in the history department of Hong Kong Baptist University. He specializes in the military and naval history of modern East Asia, particularly from the Sino-Japanese War (1894–95) to the 1970s. He has published Eastern Fortress: A Military History of Hong Kong, 1840–1970 (coauthored, Hong Kong Book Prize 2019) and War and Geopolitics in Interwar Manchuria. His works can also be found in Modern Asian StudiesWar in History, and Journal of Military History. In this post Dr Kwong introduces the newly launched Battle of Hong Kong platform, whose development he has directed.

The Battle of Hong Kong (8-25 December 1941) was one of the first battles of the Pacific War and was the most significant military engagement between two regular armed forces that took place in Hong Kong in its modern history. The Japanese forces of around 35,000 strong faced a garrison of 13,500 consisting of British, Indian, Canadian, and local troops. In eighteen days, the two forces fought in the New Territories, Kowloon, and Hong Kong Island. The garrison suffered 3,445 casualties (KIA, WIA, and MIA) and the attacking force 2,218. Around 4,000 civilians were killed and wounded. Hong Kong then entered a period of Japanese rule that lasted for three years and eight months.

The spatial history project “Hong Kong 1941” uses geographic information systems (GIS) to build an interactive web map about the Battle of Hong Kong and a database of British military installations in Hong Kong during the Second World War. It offers an easy-to-use historical database for educators, tourists, and conservation professionals. I have been Principal Investigator of the project, working since 2011 with my research team, studying the Hong Kong battle since 2011, collecting first-hand data from the United Kingdom, the United States, Japan, Australia, and other places. The interactive web map of the Battle of Hong Kong can be accessed here.

There have been numerous studies on the Battle of Hong Kong in 1941; in recent years, more primary sources are available in the form of the memoirs of those who had experienced it. However, it has been a challenge for researchers to show the spatial and temporal dimensions of the battle and their relationship with the events, the people’s experience, and the war ruins that still exist in Hong Kong. The spatial history project “Hong Kong 1941” tries to tackle such challenge and aims to bridge the gaps that existed between the British and Japanese accounts to offer a more clear view of the battle and to show the diverse experiences o the combatants and the civilians during the eighteen days of fighting. It also serves as a platform where stories often overlooked by war narratives are exhibited in conjunction with the major events.

The web map contains the following layers of data:

  1. Unit disposition: the map divides the Battle of Hong Kong campaign into 51 “time-steps”, each showing the positions and status of the units on both sides. The data granularity is down to platoon/squad/individual artillery pieces.
  2. The location of various military structures: including coastal defence batteries, anti-aircraft batteries, pillboxes, headquarters, shelters, medical posts, communication lines, demolition points, pre-arranged artillery targets, etc. The data granularity is up to individual buildings (such as individual pillboxes).
  3. Faces of War: the stories of those who had experienced the battle.
  4. Objects of War: objects and artefacts related to the battle, such as weapons, vehicles, military aircraft, vessels, personal equipment, and others.
  5. Images of War: photos taken during the period.
  6. Units: information about the units on both sides participating in the battle.
  7. A list of Hong Kong combatants: personal information on 1,600 Hong Kong residents from different ethnic groups and backgrounds who participated in the battle.

This is an on-going project and the research team will issue regular seasonal updates and irregular hotfixes. The mobile version, which will be fitted for screens of the mobile devices, will be available in weeks. We welcome any feedback (please contact our Facebook page, our Instagram, or email us) and would like to invite the viewers to share with us original historical materials and stories.

Contact details for the Battle of Hong Kong platform: