Sketch by Jack Chalker

Japanese Invade

The day and night of the 7/8th December, the Japanese fleet landed its 25th Army - 70,000 men and 211 tanks under Lt General Tomoyuki Yamashita - at three ports: Singora and Pattani in Siam and at Kota Bharu just inside Malaya.

Japanese_landings

Japanese Landings

 

British and Commonwealth forces numbered 88,000 - 19,000 British, 15,000 Australians, 37,000 Indians and 17,000 Malays. They had no tanks and little air support. Their most effective heavy weapon was the 25 pounder gun, the classic British artillery piece which had a range of up to seven miles and was highly accurate. Lt Hartley would have supervised the calibration of his 25-pounders before action.

Map-Landings02

The Japanese landings at the neutral ports of Singora and Pattani were unopposed. The landing at Kota Bharu, just inside Malaya, was fiercely resisted by Indian forces and cost the Japanese 3000 men. There is a popular misconception that the Pacific War began with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, the event which President Roosevelt said would "live for ever in the annals of infamy". In fact, the Japanese infamously attacked British territory - which Malaya then was - first. The Japanese went ashore at Sabak-Badang Beach at Kora Bharu in Malaya on 8th December at 0215 Tokyo time, one hour and ten minutes before they attacked Pearl Harbour.

In Malaya, Japanese commander General Yamashita's first objective was RAF Kota Bharu and the airfields at Singora and Pattani in Siam. The Japanese Air Force and Navy had more than 560 modern aircraft. The RAF which had been very complacent about the quality of Japanese aircraft and training, had 170 aircraft including obsolete Vickers Vildebeest torpedo-bomber biplanes designed in 1928.

Scarf-Arthur-2

Sq Leader A.S.K. Scarfe

Japanese bombers struck Singapore on 8th December, together with the RAF airfields in Malaya, including Alar Star and Butterworth. bomber base near Penang.

A squadron of Bristol Blenheims took off to bomb the Japanese landings at Singora, All the Blenheims except one were shot down.

 The surviving aircraft, flown by Sqn Ldr A.S.K. Scarfe, returned to base, refuelled and renewed the attack, Scarfe, though now mortally wounded, again got the aircraft and his crew safely back to RAF Alor Star. He was awarded a posthumous VC. His grave is very near that of Lt Hartley in Taiping cemetery.

On the same day that the Japanese bombed Singapore (8th December) Brooke-Popham ordered the battleship HMS Prince of Wales and the battle cruiser HMS Repulse to sea, escorted by four destroyers, to attack the invasion fleet. But it had already landed the Japanese 25th Army.

The command muddle was to go from bad to worse.

The two great British ships were recalled on 10th December, but they had been spotted by a Japanese reconnaissance aircraft and were attacked by 52 Japanese torpedo aircraft and 34 bombers from Saigon, the an action which lasted an hour and a half, and for the loss of just two aircraft, the Japanese sank the two British capital ships.

Prince_Wales_hit

Prince of Wales

Hit by Japanese torpedoes

It was the world's first decisive demonstration of air power's supremacy over sea power, and one of Britain's worst ever naval disasters. Churchill later said: "In all the war I never received a more direct shock".

A Japanese pilot signalled to the four escorting British destroyers that they could pick up survivors. The destroyers rescued 2,000 of the 3,000 officers and ratings on board Prince of Wales and Repulse.

The two Royal Navy capital ships had no air cover because RAF Kota Bharu had been captured and the only fighters available were obsolete Royal Australian Air Force Buffalos and a few Hurricanes based in Singapore. In any case, air assistance was requested too late by Admiral Phillips. He gallantly went down with the Prince of Wales. The two ships lie on the bottom of the South China Sea off Kuantan.

Lt Hartley probably heard the dreadful news as he was setting up position and calibrating his 25-pounders at Jitra. On "Action Alert" since 11th December, he would already have known that the Japanese had landed and were on the road to Jitra. He would also have been aware of increasing Japanese air activity.

 

 

Next Chapter

Kajang to Jitra

 

 

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[2nd Lt. R. Hartley] [Orders to Sail] [Journey up Malaya] [Japanese Invade] [Kajang to Jitra] [Slim River] [Retreat to Tebong] [Aftermath] [Regiment History] [Map of Malaya]

 

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