Harman Patil (Editor)

British Forces Overseas Hong Kong

Updated on
Share on FacebookTweet on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Reddit
British Forces Overseas Hong Kong

Similar  Hong Kong Garrison, Royal Hong Kong Auxiliary, British Armed Forces, People's Liberation Army, Triarii

British Forces Overseas Hong Kong comprised the elements of the British Army, Royal Navy (including Royal Marines) and Royal Air Force. Much of the British military left Hong Kong prior to the handover in 1997. The present article focuses mainly on the British garrison in Hong Kong in the post Second World War era. For more information concerning the British garrison during the Second World War see the Battle of Hong Kong.



Most of the members of the British Forces in Hong Kong were from Britain but there were locally enlisted personnel (LEP) who served as regular British Forces members in the Hong Kong Squadron of the Royal Navy as well as in the Hong Kong Military Service Corps.

The Royal Hong Kong Regiment a military unit forming part of the Hong Kong Government, was trained and organised along the lines of the British Territorial Army and supported by British Army regular personnel holding key positions. These British Army personnel, for their duration of service to the Royal Hong Kong Regiment, were seconded to the Hong Kong Government. In the post-WWII era, the majority of the regiment's members were local citizens of Chinese descent.

Before, during and shortly after the Second World War, there was normally a division of land forces maintained in Hong Kong. For most of the post-war period, however, the army garrison was reduced to a brigade of three or four infantry battalions with support and training elements.


Before 1 July 1997, the British government had the political commitment to safeguard the territory against external and internal threats. The greatest test was in 1941, when Japanese forces invaded Hong Kong, leading to the 44-month-long Japanese occupation of Hong Kong.

Internal Security was the responsibility of the Hong Kong Government, in particular the Royal Hong Kong Police. It was supported by British Forces in Hong Kong should it be called upon to do so. During the Hong Kong 1967 riots, in which 51 people were killed, the British garrison supported the Royal Hong Kong Police in quelling the disturbance. Until 1995, the safety of much of the Sino-Hong Kong border was the responsibility of the British forces and as such contributed greatly to the interdiction of illegal immigrants (II). As the preparation of the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997, that responsibility was passed on to the Hong Kong Police.

The Royal Navy played a significant role in the support of the Royal Hong Kong Police in anti smuggling operation in Hong Kong waters, especially in the heyday of seaborne smuggling during the mid-1980s to mid-1990s.

Search and Rescue (SAR) was provided by all branches of the British Forces in Hong Kong may be called upon for aid to civil defence as well as search and rescue operations in times of emergency.

Prior to 1990–1991, British Forces (British Army) was responsible for patrolling and enforcing border control between Hong Kong and China. This role was passed on the Hong Kong Police Force years before the handover in 1997.

Command structure

The Governor of Hong Kong, being a representative of the British sovereign, was the Commander-in-Chief of the British Forces in the colony. The Governor was advised by the Commander British Forces in Hong Kong (CBF) on all military actions. During the 1980s and 1990s, the CBF was normally a career Major General or Lieutenant General from the British Army. Until 1966, the CBF was an ex-officio member of the Legislative Council.

Throughout the years of British rule in Hong Kong, a variety of British Army units spent various durations of time in the colony as resident units. In latter stages of the post-war period, British army units were sent to Hong Kong on a rotational basis for a period of three years. The following list contains resident units only and those which stayed in Hong Kong for short durations for re-supply or acclimatisation during the Korean War, Opium War, Boxer Rebellion and the Malayan Emergency are not included in the list.

British Army

Major units of the British Army in Hong Kong included:

  • 26th Gurkha Brigade (1948–1950)
  • 51st Infantry Brigade (disbanded 1976)
  • 48th Gurkha Infantry Brigade (1957–1976; renamed Gurkha Field Force 1976–97; returned to old title 1987-ca.1992)
  • Royal Armoured Corps/Cavalry

  • C Squadron The Royal Scots Greys 2nd Dragoons.19-09-1962-to- not known.
  • The First, Royal Tank Regiment (1957–60)(C Sqn 1974–76)
  • 4th Hussars (1950)
  • 7th Hussars (1956)
  • 16th/5th Lancers (A Sqn 1953–64) (C Sqn 1973–75)
  • 14th/20th King's Hussars (1970–73)
  • 17th/21st Lancers (1960–63)
  • B Squadron, The Life Guards (1967)
  • Foot Guards/Line Infantry

  • 1st Battalion The Northamptonshire Regiment (1955–1957)
  • 1st Battalion Royal Northumberland Fusiliers (1958–1961)
  • 1st Battalion Queen's Royal Surrey Regiment (1962–1964)
  • 1st Battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers (1969–72)
  • 2nd Battalion, Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders (1908–09)
  • 2nd Battalion, Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry (1914)
  • 1st Battalion, Middlesex Regiment (1917–18)
  • 1st Battalion, East Surrey Regiment (1923–26)
  • 2nd Battalion, Scots Guards (1926–28)
  • 1st Battalion, South Wales Borderers (1930–34)(1963–66)
  • 1st Battalion, Middlesex Regiment (1937–41)
  • 1st Battalion, Wiltshire Regiment (1950–52)
  • 1st Battalion Queen's Own Buffs (1965–1967 )
  • 1st Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers (1967–69)
  • 1st Battalion, Irish Guards (1970–72)
  • 1st Battalion, Royal Hampshire Regiment (1972–75)
  • 1st Battalion, Light Infantry (1975–77)
  • 1st Battalion, Royal Green Jackets (1977–80)
  • 2nd Battalion, King's Own Scottish Borderers (1926-1930)
  • 1st Battalion, Scots Guards (1982–84)
  • 1st Battalion Cheshire Regiment (1984–1986)
  • 1st Battalion, Coldstream Guards (1986–88)
  • 1st Battalion, Duke of Edinburgh's Royal Regiment (Berkshire & Wiltshire) (1988–90)
  • 1st Battalion, Royal Regiment of Wales (1990–93)
  • 1st Battalion, Queen's Own Highlanders (Seaforth and Camerons) (1980–81)
  • 1st Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders (1937–38)
  • 2nd Battalion, Royal Scots (The Royal Regiment) (1938–41)
  • 1st Battalion, Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) (1993–94; 1997)
  • 1st Battalion, Staffordshire Regiment (1996)
  • 1st Battalion, Royal Lincolnshire Regiment (1932–36)
  • 1st Battalion, King's Shropshire Light Infantry
  • 1st Battalion, Duke of Wellington's Regiment (West Riding) (1968–70)
  • 1st Battalion, The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders (Princess Louise's) (1949–50; 1951–52; 1979)
  • 1st Battalion, 2nd King Edward VII's Own Gurkha Rifles (1971–75; 77–79; 81–85; 87–89; 91–92)
  • 2nd Battalion, 2nd King Edward VII's Own Gurkha Rifles (1953–57; 57–62; 66–68; 72–75; 77–81; 83–85; 87–91)
  • 1st Battalion, 6th Queen Elizabeth's Own Gurkha Rifles (1956–57; 65–73; 75–77; 79–83; 85–87; 89–93)
  • 2nd Battalion, 6th Queen Elizabeth's Own Gurkha Rifles (1948–50; 62–63; 1969 amalgamated with the 1st Bn.)
  • 1st Battalion, 7th Duke of Edinburgh's Own Gurkha Rifles (1959–62; 73–77; 83–87; 89–91; 93–94)
  • 2nd Battalion, 7th Duke of Edinburgh's Own Gurkha Rifles (1954–57; 62–63; 62–70; disbanded in Hong Kong in 1987)
  • 1st Battalion, 10th Princess Mary's Own Gurkha Rifles (1957–60; 69–73; 75–79; 81–83; 85–89; 91–93)
  • 2nd Battalion, 10th Princess Mary's Own Gurkha Rifles (1948–50; 1962; amalgamated with 1st Bn. in 1968)
  • 1st Battalion, The Royal Gurkha Rifles (1994–96)
  • 1st Battalion The Welch Regiment (1966–1968)
  • 1st Battalion The Green Howards (1956–1959)
  • 28th Regiment late 1870s
  • 74th Highlanders 1878
  • 1st Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers ( 1881-1883)
  • Others

    Royal Engineers

  • 50 Field Engineer Regiment, Royal Engineers
  • 67, 68, 69 & 70 Squadron Queen's Gurkha Engineers
  • Royal Signals

  • 17th Gurkha Signal Regiment
  • 246, 247 & 248 Squadron Queen's Gurkha Signals
  • 252 Squadron, Royal Signals
  • 253 Squadron, Royal Signals
  • 27 Signal Regiment Royal Signals
  • Other

  • 18 Field Ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps
  • 27th Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment
  • 28 & 31 Squadron Gurkha Transport Regiment
  • 29 & 56 Squadron, Royal Corps of Transport
  • 50 Hong Kong Workshop, Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (Shamshuipo)
  • 75 Army Education Centre, 28 Army Education Centre, Victoria Army Education Centre Royal Army Education Corps
  • No. 660 Squadron AAC, Army Air Corps, Shek Kong (1978–94)
  • 22nd Fortress Company (Royal Engineers)
  • British Army Aid Group
  • Chinese Torpedo Whalers
  • Government House Guard (C Company)
  • Defence Animal Support Unit, Royal Army Veterinary Corps
  • Hong Kong Information Team
  • Hong Kong Military Service Corps
  • Hong Kong Provost Company, Royal Military Police
  • Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Force (No.2 Company of the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps) 1854–1995
  • Royal Electrical (27th Heavy Anti-aircraft Regiment)
  • Mechanical Engineers (27th Heavy Anti-aircraft Regiment)
  • Training Depot, Brigade of Gurkhas (Sek Kong 1971–94)
  • Army Fire Service
  • Installations

    A list of British Army installations in Hong Kong:

  • Stanley Fort (Hong Kong Island) 1841 – later served as Stanley Prison and WWII Japanese War Prison
  • Gin Drinker's Line 1930s
  • Flagstaff House 1978 – former British Forces HQ and known as Headquarters House 1846–1932 and built for Major General George Charles D'Aguilar; now known as Museum of Teaware
  • North Barracks 1840s–1887 – to the RN 1887–1959 and Hong Kong Government 1959–
  • (Queen) Victoria Barracks 1846–1979 – parade grounds now site of Pacific Place, JW Marriott Hotel, Shangrila Hotel and Hong Kong Park; the Barracks was converted to The Visual Arts Centre (Hong Kong Museum of Art)
  • Murray Barracks 1846–1982 – named for British Army Major-General Sir George Murray; the officers' quarters was moved from Central to Stanley, now known as Murray House
  • Murray Battery
  • Lyemun Barracks or Lei Yue Mun Barracks 1840s – coast defence and now Museum of Coastal Defence and Lei Yue Mun Park and Holiday Village
  • Wellington Barracks 1840s–1946 – to the RN as HMS Tamar 1946-1960s (demolished and replaced with HMS Tamar/Prince of Wales Building, now the Chinese People's Liberation Army Forces Hong Kong Building)
  • Perowne Barracks (Tuen Mun) – named for British Army Major General Lancelot Perowne and once used by Tuen Mun Immigration Service Training School, now used by Crossroads International
  • Osborn Barracks (Kowloon) 1945 – named for Winnipeg Grenadiers John Robert Osborn VC of Canada who died in defending Hong Kong in 1941
  • Kohima Camp (Tai Po Tsai) – became the site of The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
  • Sham Shui Po Barracks – has been WWII Japanese War Prison, Vietnamese Refugee Camp and now housing estates, commercial centre and government offices.
  • Saiwan Barracks 1844 – used for a short duration and abandoned for Lyemun Barracks
  • Gun Club Hill Barracks - now PLA barracks
  • Cassino Lines - likely named for Battle of Monte Cassino from World War II
  • Lo Wu Observation Post, Sha Tau Kok Observation Post, Sandy Ridge Observation Post and Tai O Observation Post.
  • Royal Navy / Royal Marines

    The Royal Navy and Royal Marines was stationed in Hong Kong right from the beginning of the establishment of Hong Kong as a British Colony. For the most part, the Royal Naval base was located in Hong Kong Island at HMS Tamar. The Prince of Wales Building was added later in the 1970s. Before the handover, the naval base was moved to Stonecutters Island next to the Government docks.

    RN Squadrons in Hong Kong:

  • China Squadron 1844–1941, 1945–1992
  • Far East Fleet / Hong Kong Squadron 1969–1971
  • Dragon Squadron 1971–1992
  • No 3 Royal Marines Raiding Squadron ?-1988
  • 3 Raiding Squadron Royal Marines
  • Hong Kong Royal Naval Volunteer Reserves 1967–1996 – merge with RNR 1971
  • British Regular – Garrison and Fleet
  • Local Enlisted Personnel 1905–1996
  • Side Girls Party 1933–1997
  • 120th Minesweeping Squadron 1958–1966 – transfer to Singapore
  • 6th Mine Countermeasure Squadron 1969–1997
  • 6th Patrol Craft Squadron 1970–1997
  • Operations and Training Base 1934–1997
  • 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines
  • 47 Royal Marines
  • British Pacific Fleet 1840s–1948 – to Singapore as Far East Station
  • Hong Kon Flotilla 1840s–1941, 1948–1992
  • China Station – 4th Submarine Flotilla, Yangtse Flotilla, West River Flotilla, 8th Destroyer Flotilla
  • 5th Cruiser Squadron
  • 1st Escort Flotilla
  • 4th Frigate Flotilla ?-1952
  • Frigate Squadron 1952–1976
  • Light Cruiser Squadron
  • A list of naval facilities used or built by the RN in Hong Kong:

  • Prince of Wales Building 1978–1997 – known as Central Barracks of the PLA
  • Lamont and Hope Drydocks
  • Aberdeen Docks – destroyed
  • Dry Dock 1902–1959
  • Taikoo Dockyard – Hong Kong United Dockyards
  • Royal Navy Dockyards, Admiralty 1859–1902
  • Royal Navy Dockyards 1902–1959 – Kowloon Dockyard not part of Hung Hom area.
  • RN Coal storage yard, Stonecutters Island 1861–1959
  • RN Coal storage yard and Kowloon Naval Dockyards 1901–1959
  • Sai Wan Barracks 1844–1846
  • Wellington Barracks 1946–1978 – as HMS Tamar (demolished)
  • North Barracks 1850s–1856, 1887–1959 – from the Army and to HK Government 1959
  • Victoria Barracks
  • Redoubt and Lei Yue Mun Fortifications 1885–1887
  • Lei Yue Mun Fort 1887–1987
  • Reverse, Central, West and Pass Batteries 1880s
  • Brennan Torpedo station 1890 – Lei Yue Mun
  • Royal Naval Hospital, Wan Chai – demolished, now replaced by Ruttonjee Hospital
  • Seaman's Hospital 1843–1873 – replaced by Royal Naval Hospital
  • RMS Queen Mary 1945–1946 – as a hospital
  • War Memorial Hospital (Matilda) 1946–1959
  • British Military Hospital 1959–1995
  • Island Group Practice 1995–1997 – replace BMH
  • HMS Charolotte and HMS Victor Emmanuel – Receiving Ships
  • Tidal Basin 1902–1959
  • Boat Basin 1902–1959
  • HM Victualling Yards 1859–1946
  • A list of facilities used or built by the RN in Hong Kong:

  • Lamont and Hope Drydocks
  • Aberdeen Docks
  • Royal Naval Hospital, Wan Chai – now Ruttonjee Sanatorium
  • Seaman's Hospital 1843–1873 – replaced by Royal Naval Hospital
  • HMS Princess Charlotte and HMS Victor Emmanuel – Receiving Ships
  • HMS Tamar – Receiving ship 1897–1941
  • HMS Nabcatcher – Kai Tak 1945–1946
  • HMS Flycatcher – Kai Tak 1947
  • HMS Minden 1841-mid-1840s – hospital ship
  • HMS Alligator 1840s–1865 – hospital ship
  • HMS Melville 1860s–1873 – hospital ship (East Indies Sqdn)
  • Royal Air Force

    The Royal Air Force was the smallest contingent of the British Forces and was stationed in both Kai Tak Airport as well as the airfield in the New Territories known as Sek Kong.

    No. 28 (AC) Squadron and the larger Royal Air Force infrastructure located to RAF Sek Kong in the late 1970s leaving Royal Air Force logistics elements to maintain operations at Kai Tak, e.g. RAF movers and suppliers remained to maintain the logistical link between RAF Hong Kong and the United Kingdom. The squadron flew up to 8 Westland Wessex HC Mk 2 helicopters from RAF Sek Kong. Tasks included support of the civil power, support of the British Forces and search and rescue.

    About 20 years later, RAF personnel returned from Sek Kong to Kai Tak, mounting operations from that airport in the months prior to the 1997 handover.

    In addition, the Hong Kong Government also maintained an "airforce". This airforce as per the land unit of RHKR (V), is an arm of the Hong Kong Government, supported by RAF personnel seconded to serve in the Hong Kong Auxiliary Air Force.

    Royal Hong Kong Auxiliary Air Force 1970–1993 – handed over to GFS

  • Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps – Air Arm 1930–1949
  • Hong Kong Auxiliary Air Force 1949–1970 – see RHKAAF
  • A list of RAF Units in Hong Kong:

  • No 205 Squadron (Maritime Reconnaissance) 1949–1958
  • No 209 Squadron (Maritime Patrol) 1946–1955
  • No 215 Squadron (Transport) 1945–1946
  • No 22 Squadron (Anti-shipping patrol), 1996–1997
  • No 45 Squadron (Bomber) 1965–1970
  • No 60 Squadron
  • No 681 Squadron (Photo Reconnaissance)
  • 114th (Hong Kong) RAF Squadron
  • 28 AC Squadron (Maritime Reconnaissance) – 1949–1955, 1957–1967, 1968–1978, 1978–1996 at RAF Sek Kong) – using Wessex HC2
  • ASF (Catering Squadron)
  • GEF (Ground Radio)
  • Medical Supply Squadron
  • No 847 Squadron FAA 1970 (RAF Kai Tak)
  • No 846 Squadron FAA 1963–1964 (RAF Kai Tak)
  • No 367 Wireless Unit
  • No 368 Wireless Unit
  • No 117 Signals Unit (Tai Mo Shan),w.e.f. January 1959 when it was relocated from Mount Davis (West end of Hong Kong Island)
  • No 444 Signals Unit (Stanley Fort), 1971 to 1977
  • Sources indicate that 444 Signals Unit (SU) formed officially within No 90 (Signals) Group, RAF Strike Command with effect from 16 August 1971, and was established as a lodger unit at Stanley Fort, Hong Kong. The primary role of 444 SU was to act as a ground station for the Skynet satellite communications system, responsibility for operating the Skynet system having been vested in the RAF in the late 1960s, under the Rationalisation of Inter Services Telecommunications (RISTACOM) agreement. It would appear that the equipment operated by 444 SU had been located previously at RAF Bahrain (HMS Jufair).

    On 1 May 1972, No 90 (Signals) Group was transferred from RAF Strike Command to RAF Maintenance Command and as a consequence 444 SU became a Maintenance Command unit on this date. On 31 August 1973, both 90 (Signals) Group and Maintenance Command were disbanded, to be replaced on the following day by the new RAF Support Command. All of the units and locations previously controlled by the disbanded formations were transferred to Support Command with effect from 1 September 1973 and 444 SU therefore became a Support Command unit. This was to prove short-lived, however, for on 1 November 1973, 444 SU and the unit responsible for maintaining the Skynet ground station at RAF Gan – 6 SU – were both transferred to the command of the Air Officer Commanding in Chief Near East Air Force (NEAF). At this time 444 SU and 6 SU formed part of the Defence Communications Network (DCN) and the DCN elements of both units came under the functional control of the Controller DCN, Ministry of Defence.

    On 1 August 1975, administrative and engineering responsibility for all of the units comprising RAF Hong Kong, including 444 SU, were transferred from NEAF to RAF Strike Command – functional control of these units being retained by the Vice Chief of the Air Staff via Commander RAF Hong Kong. Subsequently, with the disbandment of HQ NEAF on 31 March 1976, control of RAF Hong Kong and its component units were transferred in total to Strike Command. On 28 March 1976, RAF Gan closed and 6 SU disbanded formally on the same date, the latter's satellite communications equipment being transferred to 444 SU.

    Official sources indicate that 444 SU disbanded at some point 'during the last quarter of 1977'

  • Composite Signals Unit
  • A list of RAF Stations in Hong Kong:

  • RAF North Point (Hong Kong)
  • RAF Little Sai Wan
  • RAF Mount Davis home of 117 Signals Unit relocated 1959 (without living accommodation) to RAF Tai Mo Shan
  • RAF Sha Tin – (no ICAO code) from 1949-1970s. Severely damaged by Typhoon Wanda in 1962. Demolished to make way for Sha Tin New Town.
  • RAF Sek Kong – (VHSK) served as Vietnamese Detention Centre 1980s
  • RAF Kai Tak – (VHKT) later as Kai Tak International Airport
  • A list of Royal Air Force operations facilities:

  • Tai Po Tsai
  • Cape Collinson
  • Batty's Belvedere
  • Kong Wei, RAF Sek Kong
  • Chung Hom Kok
  • Wang Fung Terrace, Tai Hang (Happy Valley)
  • Search and rescue operations conducted by the RAF and Royal Navy were later transferred to the Government Flying Service (GFS).

    Other facilities

  • British Military Hospital, Hong Kong
  • Medical centres at Victoria Barracks, Lyemun Barracks, Stanley Fort, Whitfield Barracks, Sham Shui Po, Choy Hung, MRS Sek Kong and Lo Wu.
  • British Forces Broadcasting Service
  • Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes (NAAFI)
  • Blackdown Barracks, Hong Kong (彩虹軍營) – near Kai Tak; now is Rhythm Garden (采頤花園), car park building, and Canossa Primary School.
  • Mount Austin Barracks – near Peak Tram terminus at Victoria Peak
  • Royal Hong Kong Regimental Headquarters near Happy Valley – demolished 1995
  • China Fleet Club

    Hong Kong became an important port of call for many naval ships passing through the Far East. Besides Lan Kwai Fong, Royal Navy sailors had their own entertainment facility called the China Fleet Club.

    A timeline of the China Fleet Club:

  • 1900–1903 local Hong Kong businessman and Royal Navy's China Fleet to raise funds for a Royal Naval Canteen at Naval Docks, Hong Kong
  • 1929 old canteen building demolished and replaced with new building
  • 1929–1934 Temporary CFC at Gloucester Road
  • 1933 cornerstone laid by Admiral Sir Howard Kelly, G.B.E., K.C.B., C.M.G., M.V.O., then Commander-in-Chief, China Station; new seven-storey China Fleet Club building called "The Old Blue"
  • 1941–1945 CFC serves as Japanese Naval HQ in Hong Kong during World War II
  • 1945 CFC re-occupied by RN
  • 1952 Coronation Annex added
  • 1982, 16 July The Final Demolition Party held in Club before move to Sun Hung Kai
  • 1982–1985 CFC relocated to temporary site at Sun Hung Kai Centre
  • 1985 25-storey Fleet House new home for CFC
  • 1986 Plans to relocate CFC to UK begins
  • 1989 Construction of China Fleet Country Club in Saltash begins
  • 1991 Construction of China Fleet Country Club in Saltash completed and opens in June
  • 1992 CFC in Hong Kong closes
  • References

    British Forces Overseas Hong Kong Wikipedia