My first big air raid
My brother and I had the misfortune to be caught up in the very first air raid which the Americans launched against Hong Kong. I was five at the time, and my brother was seven. We had gone to visit a Russian family called the Smirnoffs, whose daughters were all older than us.

They lived in Kowloon a few blocks away from Nathan Road. Their home was an entire flat on the top floor of a three storey block of flats. This block consisted of two sections of three stories each, joined by a party wall, with two entrances side-by-side. Our friends lived on the left-hand section of the block.

We were sitting in their dining room, idly chatting with the girls. Then, far in the distance, we began to hear explosions… quiet, rumbling ones at first, but steadily getting louder and louder. Suddenly there was an almighty crash close by and the girls quickly jumped to their feet, and, without saying a word, they started running down the stairs towards the front entrance.

My brother and I watched in amazement as the girls disappeared from view. We remained frozen on the sofa. Then another explosion erupted nearby and the whole flat shook. Plaster and dust rained down on us. My brother jumped up, grabbed my hand and pulled me towards the stairwell. We ran down as fast as our tiny legs could carry us.

When we arrived on the ground floor there was a noisy argument going on about the front door. Some wanted to shut the door to save us from the debris flying around outside. Others were afraid that shutting the door could cause us to die from concussion caused by the bomb blasts. The doors remained open, for better or for worse.

Across the street I saw an old Japanese woman opening the door of her house. There was a whistling sound, she looked up at the sky and quickly shut the door. The bomb hit the house and I saw the roof collapsing. Suddenly her house was just a pile of rubble.

Minutes later, we heard that hideous whistling sound again but this time, instead of an explosion, there were just four muffled thumps. We all wondered what that meant. It was only days later that we discovered that an American bomb had gone through the roof of the adjoining flats, and had then crashed through the third, second and first floors, landing without exploding onto the ground floor. The unexploded bomb lay just a few feet away from us on the other side of a thin dividing wall. My guardian angel must have been working overtime on that day.

When there appeared to be a lull in the bombing, my brother and I decided to make a dash for home. For some silly reason we thought it would be safer for us to run rather than stay with our friends. Perhaps we had had enough of the arguments in favour of closing or opening that front door.

We had just made it to the first corner when something horrific stopped us in our tracks. A motor car was burning in the street and the driver had got out. He was covered in flames and he must have been in agony, but I can't remember him screaming. All I can recall is that he was lurching silently towards us. My brother and I were like two timid mice hypnotised by a cobra. We couldn't move as he came closer and closer. Then he collapsed about 6 feet away from us and we were instantly released from his spell. We turned the corner and started running as fast as we could towards Nathan Road.

Halfway down the street, a Chinese woman jumped out of a doorway and grabbed the two of us by the collar, and quickly dragged us into the safety of her building. I turned around and saw a Japanese officer, his samurai sword slapping on his thigh, running down that same street. An American plane must have been strafing the street because the officer's stomach seemed to erupt in a mass of red. He had been hit several times in the back.

We waited there for several more minutes until the sounds of the aeroplanes and the bombs slowly faded away. When we arrived home we discovered that the area near our house had hardly been touched by the bombs. The district where the Smirnoff girls lived had been the epicenter of the attack. They and their parents were obliged to live elsewhere for a few days while the unexploded bomb was safely removed.

I have no idea where the American planes had come from so early in the Pacific War since it would have been dangerous waters for a carrier task force. Perhaps they were a squadron of the Flying Tigers. The air raid came as a huge shock to the Japanese. I had mixed feelings about it because I wanted the Americans to win the war but I wasn't too happy to have their bombs dropped all around me.

Our family came through the war intact, though not without considerable hardship. During that first air raid, a family my parents knew well were walking along Nathan Road in Kowloon when they received a direct hit from an American bomb. The mother, the father and the two children died instantly. A huge hole in the road was all that served as a memorial to them.

Postscript. I recently came across a comprehensive list of American air raids on Hong Kong during World War 2. I am pasting the details below of that first air raid on Kowloon, when my brother, the Smirnoff girls and I found ourselves in the thick of it.
25 Oct 1942, WW2 Air Raids over Hong Kong & South China

OBJECTIVE: Bomb targets in Kowloon and draw Japanese fighter pilots into a dogfight on terms favorable to American fighter pilots. This is the first American air strike on Hong Kong during the Second World War.

TIME OVER TARGET: ~1:30 p.m.

AMERICAN UNITS AND AIRCRAFT: Seven P-40Es from the 75th and 76th Fighter Squadrons (23rd Fighter Group), and a dozen B-25s from the 11th and 22nd Bomb Squadrons (341st Medium Bomb Group). All aircraft are from the China Air Task Force (CATF) commanded by General Claire Chennault. Col. Robert L. Scott, famed ace and author of God Is My Copilot, leads the American fighter planes. According to some sources, Warrant Officer Benjamin A. Proulx of the HKRNVR flies in the lead B-25 during this mission and points out the locations of POW camps to avoid an accidental bombing of Allied prisoners. However, the B-25 crew manifests for the raid make no mention of Proulx, who had escaped from North Point POW camp in January 1942. Multiple Canadian newspaper reports indicate that Proulx returned to Canada several months before the raid in July 1942. Some sources also state that Col. Merian C. Cooper flew on this raid, but the crew manifests do not list him among the airmen aboard the twelve B-25s. Cooper apparently played an important role in planning the first raids on Hong Kong, but did not fly on the actual missions.



P-40 pilots: Col. Robert L. Scott, Major David “Tex” Hill, Capt. John F. Hampshire, 2nd Lt. Morton Sher, 1st Lt. Mortimer D. Marks, 1st Lt. Robert F. Mayer, 1st Lt. William “Bill” E. Miller

B-25 #06: Brigadier General Caleb V. Haynes, Major Dalene E. Bailey, Lt. Col. Herbert “Butch” Morgan, Tech Sgt. Norton G. Stubblefield, Sgt. Patrick N. Boudreaux

B-25 #63: 1st Lt. Elmer L. Tarbox, 2nd Lt. Mason O. Brown, 2nd Lt. Joseph F. Dockwiller, 2nd Lt. Charles H. Dearth, Corporal Karl H. May, Staff Sgt. Robert L. Propst

B-25 #18: 1st Lt. Joseph L. Skeldon, 2nd Lt. Winthrop P. Sears, 2nd Lt. Robert D. Hippert, Sgt. Robert W. Hawkins, Staff Sgt. Lawrence W. Bowen, Sgt. Joseph F. Soikowski

B-25 #92: 1st Lt. Wilmer E. McDowell, 2nd Lt. Wilson M. Thomas, 2nd Lt. Harry G. Locknane, 2nd Lt. Carl F. Gordon, Sgt. John O. Van Marter, Staff Sgt. George B. Crandall

B-25 #75: Major William E. Bayse, 1st Lt. Daniel E. Braswell, 1st Lt. Clayton J. Campbell, 2nd Lt. George A. Stout, Staff Sgt. Douglas V. Radney, Sgt. Robert T. Schafer

B-25 #40: 1st Lt. John C. Ruse, 1st Lt. Joe G. Sparks, 2nd Lt. Rowland G. Hill, 2nd Lt. Stephen C. Dennis, Sgt. James W. Broughton, Staff Sgt. Walter J. Carlson

B-25 #12: 1st Lt. Allen P. Forsyth, 2nd Lt. Albert G. Biggs, 1st Lt. Horace E. Crouch, Sgt. William H. Williams, Sgt. Roland Palagi

B-25 #70: 1st Lt. Lynn D. Blackwell, 2nd Lt. Charles F. Whiffen, 2nd Lt. William M. Ross, 2nd Lt. Guy P. Baird, Staff Sgt. Joe Edmonson, Pvt. Thomas E. Higgins

B-25 #20: Capt. Everett W. Holstrom, 2nd Lt. Lloyd J. Murphy, 2nd Lt. Charles J. Clarino, 2nd Lt. Robert E. Davis, Tech. Sgt. Adam R. Williams, Staff Sgt. Dail Ogen

B-25 #74: 1st Lt. Lucian N. Youngblood, 2nd Lt. James C. Routt, 2nd Lt. Charles J. Bethea, 2nd Lt. Thomas E. Drawhorn, Corporal Norman Parker, Corporal James M. Ayers

B-25 #03: 1st Lt. Howard C. Allers, 2nd Lt. Nicholas Marich, 2nd Lt. Murray L. Lewis, 2nd Lt. Joseph W. Cunningham, Sgt. Paul C. Webb, Sgt. James N. Young

B-25 #66: 1st Lt. Richard A. Knoblock, 1st Lt. Donald L. Thompson, 2nd Lt. Arvis R. Kirkland, Staff Sgt. Aden E. Jones, [no rank given] Arthur E. Dewalt, Private first class Kenneth C. Prothe

ORDNANCE EXPENDED: 500-pound bombs and 17-kg incendiary bombs, plus .50-caliber machine-gun rounds

RESULTS: Bomb damage is not significant from a military standpoint, though some Japanese military personnel are killed at Whitfield Barracks. Civilians are killed as bombs fall in vicinity of Jordan Road, Austin Road, Cameron Road, and Salisbury Road.

JAPANESE UNITS, AIRCRAFT, AND PILOTS: Ki-43s, most likely from the 33rd Sentai. Twin-engine Ki-45s from an unknown unit are also reported by American pilots.

AIRCRAFT LOSSES: One American B-25 (#03) is shot down by Japanese fighters and belly-lands near Canton. Four of the six crewmen (Allers, Lewis, Webb, and Young ) are taken prisoner by Japanese soldiers and become the first American airmen captured during a raid on Hong Kong. One P-40 is damaged and force lands in friendly territory. The Americans claim to shoot down as many as twenty Japanese fighters, but Japanese records do not indicate that any pilots were lost over Hong Kong on October 25, 1942.



Original mission reports and other documents in the Air Force Historical Research Agency archives at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama

God Is My Copilot, by Robert L. Scott

Way of a Fighter, by Claire Lee Chennault

Japanese Army Fighter Aces, 1931-45, by Ikuhiko Hata, Yasuho Izawa, and Christopher Shores

Information compiled by Steven K. Bailey, author of Bold Venture: The American Bombing of Japanese-Occupied Hong Kong, 1942-1945 (Potomac Books/University of Nebraska Press, 2019).