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Hong Kong



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 - almost certainly the longest period of overseas service by any unit in the history of the Australian Defence Force. Because of the Top Secret' nature of its signals intelligence operations the unit remained virtually anonymous throughout with its value or merit unrecognised by official mention, award or veterans'entitlements.

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 - many spending considerable time in Singapore awaiting onmovement.

Numbers of the RAAF unit ranged from 6-10 men in the first few years to 70 plus from about 1957 into the late 1970s, and much smaller numbers thereafter. Most members were provided by the parent unit, 3 Telecommunication Unit, Pearce WA, many after specialist intelligence training at Defence Signals Bureau (now Defence Signals Division). DSB/DSD was the operational tasking authority throughout and the unit addressed all operational Sigint matters to them and not to RAAF authorities - hence the sanitised and incomplete record of unit achievements in the RAAF 'Concise' histories. This probably explains the lack of recognition by the RAAF of unit personnel or their endeavours.

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 - and living under very primitive field conditions for over 30 years at Sek Kong with British Anny/Ghurka units.

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: 1953-54, and 1959-1962 as the Officer Commanding. Here are some recollections. During the Korean War, the Chinese Navy were especially aggressive to Hong Kong-Macau shipping and British patrol boats - with at least two Alerts in Hong Kong in 1953 for intelligence personnel to prepare for imminent evacuation.

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.

In 1960-62 two very powerful typhoons, 'Wanda' and 'Alice' hit the colony with extremely numerous casualties and infrastructure damage: 27 ocean going vessels were driven ashore - one even cut the Hong Kong-China rail line! Fortunately, RAAF family units suffered only minor damage, mainly smashed windows and flooding of units - and very apprehensive women and children!

Also in 1961-1962 the border area was flooded for long periods with many thousands of Chinese 'refugees' massed along the border and attempting to cross into Hong Kong. The massive influx threatened to overwhelm the Colony's capacity to cope and many media reports and editorials speculated whether this was a deliberate ploy by the Chinese Government to provide an excuse for Chinese intervention. In any event, the colony's military forces and Sigint units were on high alert for possible incursions. RAAF operators in the New Territories were specially vulnerable.

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.


First entry in diary March 1964.
Re-named RAAF Unit Hong Kong November 1976
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-ups due to bomb dispersal activities. The civil unrest continued with minor left wing activity until the middle of 1968. In June of that year, much damage was caused and many lives lost through large rock falls and landslides after very heavy rains. The operational commitment of the station was disrupted for a few days until clearance of the road was carried out.

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- ‘Freda', 'Lucy' and ' Rose'.  During typhoon 'Rose', winds reached 150 miles per hour, and the city was blacked out, with interruptions to the power supply for the next three days while repairs were effected. Thirty-four ocean going vessels were blown aground at various points around the harbour. A Macau-Hong Kong passenger ferry capsised with the loss of 88 lives.

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-organisation of the Unit came into effect on 13 May 1982, when 25 members and their dependants left for Australia.

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 - Squadron Leader M.J. Tate
April 1965 - Squadron Leader F.K. Carrick
17 July 1967 - Squadron Leader A.R. Baxter
19 January 1970 - Squadron Leader A.R. Bishop  
14 December 1971- Squadron Leader G.A. Perske

14 December 1973 - Squadron Leader J.V. Rossiter

24 December 1975 - Squadron Leader F.E. Bolton
27 January 1978 - - Squadron Leader J.I. Gavey
24 January 1980 - Squadron Leader R.A. Hiern
21 July 1982 - Squadron Leader R.M. Baxter
June 1984 - Squadron Leader R.W. Schroder



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