LITTLE SAI WAN
RAAF Unit, Hong Kong
Extract from letter by Sqn Ldr (Retired) Merv Collins
Most Australians would be unaware that a RAAF unit operated continuously in Hong Kong for some 35 years from October 1949 to January 1985 -
From about 1950, the unit variously was titled No 1 (B) Squadron Detachment A (1 Sqn was based in Singapore), Base Squadron Butterworth Detachment A and, from November 1976, RAAF Unit Hong Kong. In Hong Kong itself most members were attached to 367 Signals Unit (RAF) based initially at Kai Tak on the mainland and, from 1951, at Little Sai Wan on the uninhabited remote part of the island.
Until about 1957 members travelled to Hong Kong via Singapore in Service aircraft -
Numbers of the RAAF unit ranged from 6-
Personnel were unaccompanied in the early years with postings of about 12 months but families were permitted in 1957 with tours of duty extended to about 2 and a half years. Because of shortages of Sigint personnel at the parent unit in Australia many men did three and more tours of duty. Over this very long period, the unit helped provide DSB/DSD with timely intelligence on China's intentions, troop and aircraft positions and movements, and the locations and capabilities of radar and other electronic facilities. Such information would have been of particular value to the Australian Government during the Korean War, the Cold War and the many periods of international tensions arising from the long term bombardment of some Taiwan islands by the Chinese Army.
For much of this time, the British Crown Colony of Hong Kong was under threat of Chinese incursion, and civil riots and disturbances, mainly between Chinese Communists and Nationalists, were common resulting in many deaths and injuries and unsettling speculation as to China's plans.
Unit personnel were vulnerable during unrest as they worked day and night shifts around the clock in many remote areas of the colony including Little Sai Wan and a mountain top station at Tai Mo Shan in the New Territories. Some also were very close to the border at Ping Shan in radio direction finding huts in rice fields -
Married personnel suffered extra stress with worries about wives and children during the many typhoons which caused heavy loss of life and infrastructure damage with subsequent extreme water shortages and most insanitary conditions. Riots and disturbances also were a major concern.
The writer served twice in Hong Kong: 1953-
Major riots and civil disturbances were also common and some RAAF NCOs, including the writer, were trained in riot control and seconded to riot control squads commanded by British Army officers.
Some of those who served in Hong Kong at the time have also told me that. in the 1963 riots, curfews were declared and children escorted to and from school by armed guards.
Also in 1961-
Service in Hong Kong, despite its superficial attractiveness, was no less stressful and subject to hostile actions than many other 'Operational Conditions' areas which have qualified for the full range of VEA benefits and Awards such as the AASM/ASM. Certainly no other group of servicemen can lay claim to such lengthy periods of overseas service.
The RAAF 'listening post' in Hong Kong would have yielded invaluable intelligence throughout its years of service, significantly enhancing Australia's understanding of China's strategy, tactics and intentions over a very long period.
RAAF UNlT HONG KONG
First entry in diary March 1964.
Last entry in Unit History Record January 1985
Trust the Truth – motto
RAAF Unit Hong Kong began as Detachment 'A' of Base Squadron Butterworth, with a staff of 79. The first diary entry was recorded in March 1964 when a mumps epidemic was raging amongst Unit members and their dependants. In May, there was an outbreak of cholera in the colony, and members were reminded to keep their inoculations up to date.
Sport played a big part in the lives of Unit members, and during September success was achieved in hockey, golf and ten pin bowling. In 1964, 20 orphans from the Mu Kuang orphanage at Kowloon attended the children's Christmas treat al Little Sai Wan. During February 1965, members participated in squash, darts and tennis tournaments.
12 June 1966 was an historic day for the colony when 17 inches of rain fell in 24 hours, 4 1/2, inches of which fell in one hour, causing enormous damage and the loss of 63 lives. Most RAAF families were cut off temporarily by landslides, but suffered no injuries. Unit efficiency was affected for six days.
During May 1967 civil disturbances and riots rocked the colony, but the only disruption to Unit members and their families was the cancellation of the high school transport for five days, as the vehicle's 219 route took it along the edge of several trouble spots. The disruptions continued throughout the following months, resulting in delays of the receipt of members' personal effects. Fruit and vegetable supplies from the mainland were cut off, doubling the cost of local supplies on the market.
Water restrictions were imposed, with supplies only available for four hours every second day. The RAAF hirings in North Point were on the fringe of one of the main trouble areas during the civil disturbances in July 1967, but fortunately members and their families were not caught up in any incidents. The Commander British Forces placed Macau out of bounds to all service personnel. During August 1967, minor civil disturbances continued, with many bombs, both real and fake, being placed and exploded indiscriminately throughout the colony. Two tropical storms within l0 days of each other slightly relieved the water supply situation.
During October and November, bomb explosions resulted in the deaths of and injuries to military and police personnel. The Unit was fortunate in being only slightly inconvenienced by minor traffic hold-
The colony was declared a cholera infected area from 6 to 26 July 1969, when the disease was detected in Kowloon.
During April 1971, members of the Unit celebrated the Golden Jubilee of the RAAF by attending a ball at the Hong Kong Hyatt Hotel and a cocktail party and dinner dance at the Hong Kong Hilton.
During the months of June, July and August 1971, the colony was lashed by three typhoons-
From 17 to 19 June 1972, Hong Kong had the heaviest rainfall for 86 years, when between 30 and 40 inches fell. Typhoon 'Dot' passed 220 within 10 miles of the colony on 17 July 1973.
At the other extreme, in September 1974, water restrictions were put into force from 2200 to 0600 each day until typhoons 'Carmen' and 'Elaine' brought welcome rains during October.
The detachment became known as RAAF Unit Hong Kong as of November 1976. On its second anniversary in November 1978, the Unit became eligible for the award of a unit badge, and a design was submitted.
The first step in a major re-
The last entry in the Unit History Record was recorded in January 1985, when staff consisted of nine RAAF, seven Army and three RAN personnel.
March 1964 -
April 1965 -
17 July 1967 -
19 January 1970 -
14 December 1971-
14 December 1973 -
24 December 1975 -
27 January 1978 -
24 January 1980 -
21 July 1982 -
June 1984 -