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Japanese Invasion of Malaya/Singapore
1941-1945

The Japanese invasion of Malaya and Singapore was swift and decisive putting the British rulers into a light previously never seen. The Japanese had already subjected the Chinese to invasion and many atrocities, Malaya's and Singapore's population were constituted from a large number of Chinese. Britain was already in dispute with Japan. This is the story of the invasion.

December 8th, 1941

On 8th December 1941 Japanese troopships dropped anchor at Signora, Thailand (Siam). After a short defensive action the Thais stopped fighting and, realising that they were not in a position to resist, allied themselves with the Japanese. At the same time Patani was also taken. Prior to this action transport ships had also anchored off Kota Bahru, Malaya at midnight on the 7th December.

On the 8th December 1941 the Japanese Army stormed ashore at Kota Bahru. The British defence was heavy and the Japanese death toll high but wave after wave streamed ashore until the onslaught was too much and they broke through the lines. From the shores of Kota Bahru they went inland heading for Kota Bahru airfield which they secured forcing the British to retreat. At the same time the Japanese started an aerial bombardment of Singapore, Hong Kong and Pearl Harbour. This was the opening of the war with the Japanese.

December 9th, 1941

By 9th December 1941 the airfields at Sunei Patani, Butterworth and Alor Star were in Japanese hands.

December 10th, 1941

On 10th December 1941 the HMS Price of Wales and HMS Repulse were off the east coast of Malaya heading towards a reported Japanese landing at Kuantan. As they proceeded they were intercepted by Japanese aircraft which attacked in wave after wave until the two ships were sunk. The British Naval presence was wiped out.

The Japanese troops who had been landed at Kota Bahru divided into two detachments. One marched down the east coast heading for Kuantan, the other south to the Perak River.

December 11th, 1941

On 11th December 1941 Penang became the target of the Japanese bombers.

December 12th, 1941

On 12th December 1941 Jitra was taken closely followed by Alor Star the same day. The British troops were forced to retreat south.

December 16th, 1941

On 16th December 1941 the British evacuated Penang leaving it to the mercy of the advancing Japanese who eventually occupied it on 16th December 1941.

December 19th, 1941 - January 31st, 1942

The onward march south saw Ipoh taken on 26th December. A stand was made against the Japanese at Kampar lasting 3 days and nights between 30th December 1941 and 2nd January 1942 before the British Army withdrew. On 7th January 1942 the two Indian Brigades of the British Army were overrun at Slim River leaving the Japanese with a straight run through to Kuala Lumpur, the Malayan capital. By the 9th January the British situation was extreme and General Wavell (Commanding) decided to withdraw the entire British Army to north Johore leaving Kuala Lumpur free for occupation which the Japanese did on the 13th January.

The British line of defence established in North Johore ran from Muar in the west to Segamat and then to Mersing in the east. The 45th Brigade were allocated the western section between Muar and Segamat. The Australian forces were concentrated in the centre and advanced north from Segamat to Gemas at which point they engaged the advancing Japanese forces on 14th January 1942. On the 15th January the Japanese 15th Division arrived, the main force, and the Australians were forced to retreat back to Segamat. The Japanese then pressed westwards towards the 45th Indian Brigade who, as inexperienced and untried troops, buckled easily at Muar. The 19th Battalion and the 29th were sent to the west, the 19th engaging the Japanese on 17th January 1942 south of Muar. The fighting continued on the 18th and, despite the efforts of the 19th and 29th, the Johore Line collapsed. The Allied Forces were forced to retire across the Causeway to Singapore. By the 31st January 1942 the whole of Malaya was controlled by the Japanese, only Singapore was in British hands.

February 1st-15th , 1942

From 1st January 1942 the Japanese had had air supremacy and had been constantly bombing Singapore. The Evacuation of civilians was underway, one of the ships being the 'Felix Russell'. It sailed on the 6th February and docked in Bombay, India, on the 22nd February. Other ships were not so lucky like the 'Empress of Asia' which was sunk en-route.

The British 18th division and the 11th Indian Division had retreated to Singapore in stages, fighting then retreating. In the process their numbers had been severely depleted. They were amalgamated with other units and positioned in the Northern Area along the coast of the north-east. Japanese gun emplacements were hidden in the jungle facing over the Straits of Johore. These could be moved, on newly constructed roads within the jungle, and, with maps they had made of the enemy positions, could be quickly moved to cover the most effective areas. Simultaneously the aerial bombardment continued setting fire to the oil installations which they feared would be used to turn the Straits of Johore into a sea of fire.

On the 7th February 1942 the Japanese started their assault of Singapore landing on the islet of Puala Ubin from where they were able to concentrate heavy fire on Changi. To the north-west the Australian forces were bombarded. On 8th February the Japanese invaded from the north-west and hand-to-hand fighting took place. By the morning of 10th February they had secured a foot hold on the main island of Singapore. To the south-west the Malay Regiment, ill equipped but fighting with spirit, was overrun by the full force of the Japanese 18th Division. Outnumbered, and with less fire power, the Malay's fought hard with the whole Regiment being virtually wiped out. The Japanese then moved inland to their next objective, Tengah Airfield. As the battle for the airfield took place a new Japanese offensive started with the pounding of the coast from the mouth of the Kranji to the Singapore causeway. From Tengah Airfield the Japanese headed south and on 10th February 1942 Bukit Timah came under attack eventually falling on the 11th. The Allied Forces were forced to retreat into Singapore City where they were unmercilessly bombarded by the Japanese. On 15th February the Japanese converged on the city. The Allies stubbornly defending but finding themselves more and more at the mercy of the Japanese. Eventually the order was given for the Allied Forces to surrender, an unconditional surrender. At 6:10p.m. 15th February 1942 General Percival signed the surrender.

Japanese Invasion 1941-1942

The Aftermath

Here began one of the cruellest occupations on modern times. A systematic purge of the Chinese population with a possible 50,000 losing their lives. Allied officers summarily executed by beheading, prisoners forced to work on the Burma Railway (Death Railway) in inhuman conditions many, many Allied soldiers dying from disease, starvation and overwork. The population of Malaya and Singapore being subjugated to a rule of terror not seen before, civilians beheaded as warnings, men and women tortured, food scarce. A resistance movement built up, mainly of Chinese origin and various movements worked throughout the continent to overthrow the invaders. Some of these stories can be found here.

Japanese Defeat

The Allied forces did not set foot on Malayan soil again until then 3rd September 1945 when a force was landed at Penang. Admiral Lord Mountbatten accepted the Japanese surrender 12th September 1945 in Singapore, unconditionally. During the period of time between the fall and retaking of Malaya and Singapore many Allied Forces taken prisoner of war died. Some from wounds received, many from diseases like beri-beri, malaria, diphtheria, dysentery and cholera. Many were shipped north to Thailand to work on construction of the Burma Railroad. Under-nourished and maltreated they perished. Some were sent to Japan and of these many perished when the freighters they were being transported on were sunk by American submarines. There are many memorials throughout Malaysia and Singapore to the men who died. Some of these can be found here - Kranji and Taiping. For those whose bodies were never found there is a memorial that stands in Kranji War Cemetery, the Singapore Memorial.

The Japanese Surrender Document can be seen to the right - click on it, or the link here, to see a larger version (345k).

Japanese Surrender Document

Last updated: 15 August, 2008

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