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Against all odds: a strategic analysis of the fall of Hong Kong, 1941

Cristina Ciocirlan (Department of Business, Elizabethtown College, Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, USA)
Ed Chung (Department of Business, Elizabethtown College, Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, USA)
Carolan McLarney (Faculty of Management, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada)

Management Decision

ISSN: 0025-1747

Article publication date: 28 June 2011




The paper seeks to build on a model from extant literature which utilized a similar historical analysis approach in a study of strategic decision making. Using the (unsuccessful) defence of Hong Kong in World War II as the historical case, the paper seeks first to apply Chung and McLarney's model in the analysis, and then extend the model so as to better handle the unique sequence of events that took place in 1941.


The paper employs a historical case event in an analysis of competitive strategies. The first section provides a descriptive historical account of the battle of Hong Kong. The second section describes the decision‐making model, while the third section applies the model to explain three sets of decisions: the decision to defend the colony, decisions made during the battle and the decision to surrender. The fourth section draws implications for strategic decision making in organizations, while the last section presents conclusions.


Organization theorists seem to be fascinated with planning and strategy formulation, at the expense of strategy implementation. While designing organizational strategy is often more glamorous than execution, it is the execution of strategy that ultimately determines an organization's competitive advantage. Clearly, the strategy of the Allied Forces in Hong Kong was not hard to figure out (Mintzberg). However, there is growing research on how lower organizational levels have a tremendous contribution in fundamentally changing, formulating organizational strategy and sometimes even obstructing strategy formulated at the top. The decision to defend Hong Kong in the face of the Japanese invasion, decisions made during the battle and the decision to surrender were all major, critical decisions, especially susceptible to such biases as overconfidence, problem framing, availability heuristics and confirming‐evidence. Overconfidence is particularly dangerous.


The study not only modifies and extends the model, but also contributes to the literature by augmenting the validity of previous case research.



Ciocirlan, C., Chung, E. and McLarney, C. (2011), "Against all odds: a strategic analysis of the fall of Hong Kong, 1941", Management Decision, Vol. 49 No. 6, pp. 984-1000.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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