The Campaign of Malaya 1942
Lt. General Sir Louis E. Heath
Severe tension with Japan from time of several connections Washington Naval Conference 5/35 ratio of Capital ships, but also laid down that Britain should have no base in striking distance of Japan – at mercy of Japan.
Japan embarked on aggression and chose a time when her victims were elsewhere – five years Japan had remained quiet, but had produced very fast Mercantile Fleet 1934 – broke the Washington treaty, 1936 expanded Navy and built 43,000 tonners.
Early in 1938 A.O.C. Far East told to submit plans for the defence of Malaya by the R.A.F. - Military Forces small consisting of 7 Volunteer Bns, 3 Regular Bns., in Singapore and one Indian Bn in Taiping. The A.O.C. Planned without reference to, and contrary to the wishes of the Army Authoritiesm ridiculous situations of aerodrome requiring dispersion of troops, Kota Bahru and Quantan very near sea.
R.A.F. Idea war could be won by independent action. They promised 40% destruction of enemy shipping, actually destroyed one eighy-ieth – number of planes in Malay about 200 – 1/3rd obsolete (Wildebeestes), Wirraways and Swordfish.
Military reinforcements began to arrive in Aug., 1939. One Brigade from India – Aug., 1940 troops began to evacuate Shangai and 11th Ind. Div., with only two Brigades and 3rd Indian Corps., was established. These troops were empowered as follows:- 9th Division responsible for the N.E. Malaya – in the Kota Bahru Area was the 8th Bde., of 3 Bns., responsible for the frontage of 80 miles of river bank – later this Bde., received on Bn., at the expence of the Bde., at Quantan. Quantan front long and on coast and river.
There was danger of enemy approaching overland from North. 11th Div., was in Kedah. Defence Scheme was to seize Singapore and Patane, and it was assumed we should have air superiority. Position 30 miles inside Thailand had been selected as a defence position with the alternative of holding Jitra line in Kedah.
This latter position was 2 sm in depth and situated in padi, rubber and jungle country. It was admittedly very extended for manning by only
two Bds. 3rd Corps., was responsible for N. of Johore. “Necklace” of dromes in Johore, in Johore Aust. Div., at Mersing and Endau. The Fortress of Singapore was defended by two Bdes., and Penang by a Bn., of Volunteers and a Bn., of Punjabi's.
19th July 1941 Japs went into Indo-China and embarked on a programme of drome construction and modernising existing ones. Considered that 6 months was necessary for Japs to establish themselves there. The Navy and R.A.F. advised that no Army would attempt a landing on N.E. Coast of Malaya during the N.E. monsoons which blew until March. When the Japanese entered Indo-China position was reversed – R.A.F., stated at least 300 first class aircraft were required.
Army requested 3rd Indian Corps., to be brought up to 9 Bdes., (in lieu of the existing 4). The force in Johore to 3 Bds., Singapore to have 3 Bdes. At Malaya Command reserve of 1 Div., 1 Div., Recce., unit and a Regt. Of medium tanks (not to exceed 14 tons).
The Army did not receive reinforcements and the Arty., for the 9th and 11th Divs., arrived late in Nov., 1941. There was no Naval force other than a few escort vessels.
Sir Robert Brooke Popham took over for East Command but it was not an Executive Command – Burma was in a more parlous state than Malaya. General Wavell at what he found in Burma which he considered more important from Empire Defence point of view and desired to get the country back in his command in India. Gen. Wavell said that he had been given many babies to handle but never quadruplets. R.A.F., had replied on receiving assistance from D.A.F. U.S.A., had said that Pacific Fleet was not to be emboiled in Malayan Waters – Dutch realised they stood of fell by us.
At the end of Nov. 1941 tension with the Japs., had become acute and on Dec., 1st the Vol., were mobilized. On that day our recce of 6 Kites went out to Cambodia – this was rather a thin recce. On the 6th Dec., the recce spotted a convoy and other ships S.E. Cambodia. The destination of these ships was unknown but it was hoped that it would be Thailand. Next day 2 Catalinas went out to shadow the convoy and these never returned.
From 5th the 11th Div., was at 4 hours notice to occupy Singapore – the British Government laid down that entry into Thailand was only to be made (A) If Thailand requested it or (B) If the neutrality of Thailand was violated by the Japs.
These conditions necessitated that we should wait until 8th Dec., when the Japs struck Kelantan.
The first shots were exchanged at Kota Bahru at 3 A.M. The Japs landed that at Singapore and Patani in Thailand. It was too late to put our original plan into operation and the 11th Div., was ordered to occupy Jitra position.
At Kota Bahru the beaches were held by 2 Bns amd one Coy., from another Bn., in pill-boxes one thousand yards apart. Streams divided the beaches into 5m sections. The Japs made a perfect landing on the beach where a creek led up to the drome and it appeared they were guided by lights by a Chinaman. 3 hours after dawn the two pill-boxes had been captured – unfortunately our Arty., had not arrived in Kelantan. All we had were a few 18 pounders and a Mountain Battery. One ship was set on fire, It appears that the Japs landed on a small island off shore and took their ships away. Next day their troops came in and took the drome. A remarkable feature of the the attack was the high degree of air support. Our own planes had not entered fore(?) shore base bombers protected by fighters from Indo-China.
The Jap fighters were fitted with extra tanks which could be discarded immediately before combat.
Kota Bahru drome was evacuated by R.A.F., in the afternoon of 8th Dec.
We had very few kites in Gong Kedak while the 3td drome in that area was not in use. By Dec. 11th the Japs had two of those dromes so it was useless to deny them the third. The 8th Bde., was withdrawn from Kelantan and got away with nearly all it's vehicles and stores.
The Kedah Front
At 13.30 hrs the order was given to advance across the Thai frontier. One of our scouts was shot at 15.00 hrs. and resistance was offered by about 50 gendarmes armed with L.M.G. By 19.00 hours we only advanced 5 kiles. Next day resistances hardened but later it ceased and white flags were in evidence near Betong. At Kilo 33 Japanese were encountered and at K.37 a column of Japs medium tanks were met. Our troops let the tanks go through and attacked the M.J. Our troops engaged (one Coy.) only 8 men returned.
The Thai resistance obviously had Japs leadership. It was noticed that the Jap advance from Singapore had been very rapid indeed. On Dec. 13th Kerian (?) position was manned but it did not check the road to Grick. (?) One Coy., of Argylls was sent up to the Grick(?) Road and later backed up by the F.M.S. U.F. Armd bars. (??)
The other Bde. Of 11th Div. Advanced on the 8th Dec. - it met 35 Jap vehicles and tanks but in the action which followed only succeeded in delaying the enemy 20 hrs. Here a tactical error was made by our force, some troops being too advanced. Then on the 11th a bridge demolition failed. The Japs put in an attack of 16 tanks backed up by Infantry which had a demoralising effect on our tired troops.
The Battle of Jitra commenced on Dec. 12th. Here the Japs displayed great thoroughness – they attacked on our right where our wire was not completed. The Jitra position was not wired before the outbreak of war so as not to indicate the defence position to enemy agents, since the Mily., Authorities of all Japs subjects to be moved from the Area had been turned down by the Civil Authorities.
In this battle the fatal mistake of withdrawing certain troops. Behind the Jitra Line there was a secondary defence line at Gurun and this was occupied on the afternoon 13/14th. We had not calculated the skill of the Japs Engineers – they got tanks across a gap only 4 hours after a bridge had been blown up, another bridge demolition having failed while a third exploded prematurely, cutting off guns, Eqpt., etc.
The Gurun line was attacked on Dec. 15th by a party of Japs who had infiltrated 6th Bde and Brig. Say was the only survivor. The reserve Bde. Was brought up on Dec. 9th??? As regards the Jap attack from the air, they had 4 dromes in S. Thailand which had been improved in late Nov., and early Dec.
Attacks were generally made by 27 bombers escorted by at least one wave 27 fighters above them.
Alor Setar was raided on 8th and 9th and evacuated on the latter date.
At Sungai Petani 9 Buffaloes and 6 Blenheims were left derelict. The Japs concentrated attacks on 'dromes'. They raided Penang on Dec. 10-16th and it was decided to evacuate Penang.
The evacuation was carried out on the night of 16/17th Dec. It now appears that 24 motor T.......... (?) and moter driver craft were left at Penang in working order.
On Dec. 16th, 11th Div. Took up a position on the Kerian River on the same day the Japs took Grick, and came down the road towards Kuala Kangsar and also down the Perak River on rafts. The bridges on the Perak Rd. had been demolished, as the roads running paralell with the Perak Rd was on the N. Bank we retired across the river by Christmas.
Recce parties were sent back looking for positions and a line at Kampar decided on. The line, in the speakers opinion, was the strongest in the country, but it had its weaknesses.
The Kampar line was held by 2 Bdes and they had two days preparation before they had a brush with the enemy – the Leicesters and Surreys. Surreys fought very well.
We were strategically on the wrong foot all the time. On Jan 4th the Kampar line was out flanked by sea while Bidor was threatened.
Between Trolak and Slim R., a defensive position was taken up where the road and railway ran between two corridors cut through the jungle. On Jan. 5th the enemy were sucessfully ambushed twice by Argylls. At 14.00 hours on Jan. 6th caught on Bn. Moving up and another moving back and split both of them in two.
The morale of the tank blitz was severe.
Up to Jan 6th 1942
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