top of page

Brief Context & History of the Gin Drinkers Line

The Gin Drinkers Line(GDL) was built as part of a trend in fortification leading up to the Second World War. Wary of the rise of Fascism in Italy and Germany, the French built fortifications along their Eastern border, known as the Maginot Line. Nearby European nations followed suit, building defensive structures along national borders and throughout their colonies (Lowry ,61). The purpose of these lines as military tacticians learned from the First World War, were not meant to hold and repel an attack, but were made to absorb the enemy’s attack capabilities, inflict casualties, and be abandoned for fortifications further inland, thereby forcing the advancing armies to be subjected to situations favorable to the defenders, and lose momentum as they stretched their supply lines in a war of attrition. …the different systems for fortifying the national perimeter are only switches in the war’s movement; they serve not so much to keep the enemy from penetrating into the country as to slow down that inevitable penetration…so as to put a dangerless end to the lethargy of the military animal (Virillio, 23). It is thought that Hong Kong’s defenses may have been the only pillbox defenses built by the British to have seen action in World War Two.

Locations of the pillboxes& structures that made up the Gin Drinkers Line

This is an unknown coastal pillbox, likely near Stanley, but note the design and shape as they were usually similar if not exact replicas.

This is an unknown coastal pillbox, likely near Stanley, but note the design and shape as they were usually similar if not exact replicas.

The GDL, later nicknamed the “Maginot Line of the East”, was discussed as a potential strategy up to 20 years before it was built. The idea was not a “line” per se, but four battalion-sized localities, a number of pillboxes connected by paths across Kowloon that would be taken up by a number of battalions ( Kwong, Tsoi, 107). Construction began in 1935 and by 1938 the Gin Drinkers Line was near completion. The pillboxes of the Shing Mun Redoubt, like all on the GDL, had walls of reinforced concrete one meter thick and were camouflaged to resemble local farmhouses. The unpredictable undulation of tunnels that connected the pillboxes was designed to be difficult to traverse, forcing a person inside to walk up and down and zig zag back and forth while constantly adjusting to varying heights and widths, to make chasing and shooting with longer weapons as difficult as possible (Lai, 38). The tunnels were also named after London streets so that English soldiers could have an immediate familiarity with their layout. Lacking this familiarity, the British designers assumed that any invading force could easily become lost and disorientated.

Road signs to confuse the enemy and familiarize the English soldiers, as in real life and in game.

However, in 1938 the British suspended the GDL project, due to unforeseen technological changes in contemporary warfare, and the large number of soldiers needed to operate this defensive complex. More controversially, by 1940 the British War Command no longer considered Hong Kong an important post to defend, stating that “from a purely military point of view, Hong Kong remains an undesirable commitment.” However, to legitimise British rule in many other parts of Asia, Britain had little choice but to retain Hong Kong as a symbol of Empire. After 1937, Hong Kong also became the symbol of the British determination to contain Japan, and a subtle indicator of British support for Chinese resistance (Kwong, Tsoi, 115). When Canada committed two Battalions to Hong Kong in 1941, General Maltby decided to suddenly reconfigure the defences of Hong Kong, and reoccupied the GDL, but with only half the number of soldiers it was designed for.

On the 8th of December, Japanese troops simultaneously landed in Malaya, while Japanese carriers attacked Pearl Harbor, and advances were made into the Shanghai International Settlement, the Philippines, and the Dutch East Indies; and at 2.21am on the 9th of December, Japan’s 23rd Army and the 2CF were ordered to invade Hong Kong. Within two days they reached the Shing Mun Redoubt. Although the GDL was eventually meant to be eventually abandoned, it was also intended to delay the invading force for a matter of weeks. Instead, within only a few hours, the GDL was overtaken by the Japanese. This rapid defeat set the tone for the Battle of Hong Kong and the eventual surrender of Hong Kong to the Japanese on the 25th of December.

Shrapnel damage in the observation post of the Shing Mun Redoubt.

In 2011, a team from Hong Kong University, led by Professor Lawrence W.C. Lai of the Department of Architecture, conducted an investigation to assess the accuracy of the reports made by both British and Japanese soldiers about the fighting at the Shing Mun Redoubt. Their report, including the detailed geographic surveying of the site by KELand Surveying, has made a strong case for the preservation of the tunnels and bunkers of the Gin Drinkers Line as a heritage site. They also generously helped our project by sharing their surveying data and historical research with us. Below are two videos (Cantonese and English respectively) featuring them discussing and sharing their research.

Works cited:

Kwong, Chi Man, and Yiu Lun Tsoi. Eastern Fortress: A Military History of Hong Kong, 1840-1970. Hong Kong: Hong Kong UP, 2014. Print.

Lai, Lawrence W.C., and Stephen N.G. Davies. "Decoding the Enigma of the Fall of the Shing Mun Redoubt Using Line of Sight Analysis." Surveying & Built Enviornment (2011): n. pag. Web.

Lowry, Bernard. "The Gin Drinkers Line: Its Place in the History of Twentieth Century Fortifications." Surveying & Built Enviornment (2011): n. pag. Web.

Virilio, Paul. Bunker Archeology. New York (NY): Princeton Architectural, 2009. Print.

bottom of page