Paid Advertisement
Historynet/feed historynet feedback facebook link Weider History Group RSS feed Weider Subscriptions Historynet Home page

What If Singapore Had Not Fallen?

By Mark Grimsley 
Originally published on HistoryNet.com. Published Online: December 01, 2010 
Print Friendly
17 comments FONT +  FONT -

At the start of World War II, Singapore had symbolized the British Empire's presence in Southeast Asia for nearly a century. When its garrison surrendered to the Japanese on February 15, 1942, Prime Minister Winston Churchill called it the worst disaster in his country's military history. Everything that could go wrong had gone wrong. The British had pre-positioned a grossly inadequate number of aircraft and warships. Japanese bombers had sunk the only two capital ships defending Singapore—the battleship Prince of Wales and battle cruiser Repulse—when those vessels tried to contest the Japanese landings along the Thailand-Malaya frontier. The British defense of Malaya was a marvel of incompetence. Lieutenant General Tomoyuki Yamashita completely outgeneraled Lieutenant General Arthur Percival. With a force of only 70,000 he managed to kill or capture over 138,000 British, Indian, Australian, and Malayan troops.

Such details imply that with better generalship Singapore could have escaped capture. In fact, most students of the campaign believe that even in the best circumstances, a successful defense was improbable. The naval base that gave Singapore its strategic significance was located on the northern end of Singapore Island, well protected against attack by enemy warships but nearly bereft of protection against a land assault. While it is a myth that the island's coastal batteries could fire only out to sea, they were supplied mostly with armor-piercing shells of limited use against ground forces.

Subscribe Today

Subscribe to World War II magazine

As early as 1937, the British general staff had concluded that a Japanese land attack was feasible and could capture Singapore in two months' time. Little was done about this, however. Many of the British, Indian, and Australian forces eventually deployed to block a Japanese advance were inadequately trained. Furthermore, the Royal Air Force constructed air fields in the northernmost part of the colony for the 178 war planes assigned to defend Malaya, which forced the British army to defend them and left it with a long, vulnerable seaward flank.

Nor did the British revisit their naval strategy for Singapore. The naval base held few warships. Instead it was intended to receive and supply a British battle fleet that would be dispatched to Singapore if an emergency arose. With the outbreak of war in Europe, however, the Royal Navy had its hands full in the Atlantic. And with the fall of France, it had to defend the Mediterranean as well. Sending a substantial battle fleet was therefore out of the question. Sending only the Prince of Wales and Repulse was a pathetic bluff.

Logically, the British might have cut their losses by stationing only a token force at Singapore, similar to the 10,000 troops sacrificed at Hong Kong. But Singapore's status as a jewel of the British Empire, and its mythic characterization as the "Gibraltar of the East," practically forced Churchill to make a major bid to hold it—not enough, as matters turned out, to do so successfully, but enough to swell the number of forces lost and make the disaster even worse than it would otherwise have been.

It is impossible to imagine a single twist of fate that could have saved Singapore. But what if a combination of events had turned in Britain's favor? Suppose the British defense had been better conducted. Suppose the carrier Indomitable, which had been assigned to join the Prince of Wales and Repulse, had not run aground. Suppose instead that it had arrived on station and that its aircraft had fended off the swarms of enemy bombers and allowed the two capital ships to contest the Japanese landings.

Suppose that Yamashita, whose audacity earned him the sobriquet the "Tiger of Malaya," had shown greater caution. Suppose that, when the Japanese finally landed on Singapore Island, Percival had counterattacked (as he planned to do until dissuaded by subordinates)—an attack, we now know, that would likely have defeated Yamashita's troops, which had badly outstripped their supply lines. And suppose that the Japanese high command then did not reinforce Yamashita enough to make another try.

This is a mighty string of suppositions. But if, by whatever wizardry, Singapore managed to elude capture, what then? Would that have substantially altered the war in the Pacific?

In fact, the principal positive result would have been humanitarian. The Japanese could not have sent most of Singapore's defenders to labor on the infamous Burma-Thailand Railroad, where 16,000 of them died. Nor could the Japanese have terrorized the population of Singapore and murdered as many as 50,000 of its Chinese residents.

From a strategic standpoint, however, it is unlikely that Britain's retention of Singapore would have redounded to the Allies' advantage. The denial of Singapore to the enemy would not have been a serious problem for the Japanese. Although historically the Japanese navy did use Singapore as a port, the need to combat the United States meant that its major bases were the Home Islands, Rabaul, and Truk.

As a naval asset, Singapore was of dubious value. British First Sea Lord Dudley Pound had declared in August 1940, "There is no object in sending a fleet to Singapore unless it is strong enough to fight the Japanese fleet." Days before the outbreak of the Pacific War, British Admiral Tom Phillips and his American counterpart, Admiral Thomas C. Hart, concurred that Singapore held no potential for offensive operations. Pound considered Trincomalee, Ceylon, superior to Singapore as a base from which to protect the Indian Ocean—and historically Trincomalee proved effective for that mission.

From an army standpoint, Singapore was no better as a springboard for offensive operations. The Japanese could easily block any attempt to move north along the Malayan peninsula. True, heavy bombers based on Singapore could have struck targets across a wide swath of Japanese-occupied territory in Southeast Asia. But, and here is the key problem, any resources dispatched to Singapore, whether aerial, naval, or army, would have come at the expense of theaters where they were more urgently needed.

And yet, even if Great Britain had staved off the 1941–42 invasion attempt, for reasons of imperial prestige it could never have abandoned Singapore. Instead, it would have been condemned to an endless effort to keep the island resupplied and reinforced. The vital Atlantic and Mediterranean theaters would have suffered. Offensives elsewhere might have been delayed or might have failed outright. Even if it remained in British hands, Singapore, the renowned "Jewel of the East," would have proven only an overpriced bauble.


17 Responses to “What If Singapore Had Not Fallen?”


  1. 1
    baldknobber says:

    Mark: An interesting what-if. I have often wondered – what if the Brits had not shifted forces to Greece, but finished off the Italians in Libya instead. Could this have freed up forces, especially air and armored units, that could have successfully defeated the Japanese on the ground in Malaya? Could a few Matildas and Valentines, supported by some Spitfires and Hurricanes, have bolstered the defense of Malaya?

  2. 2
  3. 3
    P.J. Moore says:

    I strongly disagree with the premise because it ignores several aspects of that conflict. 1st, if the Brits had held out, it would have cost the Japs in men, materiel, and time, as well as a good port/base. Percival's relatively quick surrender freed up those resources for the Japanese to deply elsewhere with no trade off for the British. Worse, surrendered British resources were subsequently used against the Allies.
    2nd, the Japanese lost all potential respect for their Western enemies after what they viewed as cowardice on a grand scale by Percival, especially since he significantly outnumbered the Japs. This likely emboldened them to fight harder and hold out longer in subsequent engagements against the Allies, costing more lives.
    3rd, I guarantee that most of the men he surrendered would rather have died fighting than being abused to death slowly and watching their comrades die by the same inhumane hands. I realize that hindsight is 20-20 but the Japs had a pre-existing reputation for ruithlessness and barbarity, so Percival could not reasonably have expected decent treatment for the men he surrendered to Japanese 'mercies.' Also, the effect on Allied morale and the propaganda value of these actions are indeed strategic considerations, and not merely "humanitarian" as posed by the author, Mr. Grimsley.

  4. 4
    ac says:

    white men are cowards, esp when they dont feel a sense of belonging to Spore. History repeats itsself – Vietnam, Afganistan, and now Iraq. Nobody will hold you ground if you dont feel you belong, not when one has to put your life on the line

    • 4.1
      Charles Xavier says:

      Ar, your comment is laughable as it is stupid. If White Men are cowards, how was it that they were able to enslave and rule over much of Africa, America and the Far East?

      If you look at history, armies led by White Men have done nothing but dominate non Whites.

      • 4.1.1
        percevale says:

        It's called "technological advantage" and it happens every time when you play Civilisation sending a Musketman or Rifleman against a spearman or warrior.

    • 4.2
      J says:

      This is an example of racism

    • 4.3
      Boomer says:

      Really? Actually if you do your history in Vietnam, Afganistan, and now Iraq the military won and is winning the military engagements. Politics is a whole diferent topic.

  5. 5
    Mike H. says:

    Coming back to the origional topic, even with a few dozen Spitfires, and up-gunned armor; the Brits would not have been able to hold against the Japanese. Yamashita and his troops had been fighting for a long time before the campaign for Malaya & Singapore, against a colonial force that was a parade-ground delight…not a combat-ready one, by any definition. The Spitfire, while a fine fighter in Europe, was no match in dogfighting with the Mitsubishi A6M-5 type "Zero"…Few, if any, could. It was light, fast, nimble, could turn on a dime and give you nine cents change. Weaknesses? No armor, self-sealing fuel tanks…the list goes on, but our side didn't know that in 1941. Consequently, when Spitfires went up against Zeros, they got shot down…until later, when they changed tactics. but, in 1941, Singapore was doomed from the start.

    • 5.1
      Boomer says:

      Actually the Japanese armor was very poor. Even the Brittish tanks that were sub par against German armor could have made a huge difference if deployed in numbers against the Japanese. Combined with a little more air power there could have been a real different out come if they could have slowed the advance and launched a counter attack with armor.

  6. 6
    Bill says:

    The importance of Singapore was that Britain could use it as a base to deny Japan the oil of Borneo and the Dutch East Indies. Without oil, the Japanese war effort was ultimately doomed.

  7. 7
    Stephen Round says:

    The Zero was a match for the Hurricane using standard RAF 100 octane fuel but it was no match for any mark of Spitfire from the original Mk 1 to the Mk 25.

    The fundamental problem with the Zero was that it could not take advantage of 120 – 150 octane avgas fuel because it was unavailable to Japan while the Spitfire always could. This was due to the original pioneering work of Sir Harry Ricardo the high octane fuel engineering wizard who had worked on the invention and production of high octane fuels for aircraft since before the First World War.

    The same problem was encountered by the Focke Wulf 190 and the Me109 the Axis had no facilities to produce high octane fuel in sufficient quantities The Axis eventually started using water/methanol 50/50 to boost their engine perfomance for short periods during combat conditions.

    The reason why the Aircraft Industries used sleeve valve engines for later aircraft than the 1600 hp Merlin engined Spitfire was that a sleee valve engine could use a higher compression ratio without needing high octane fuels.

    For instance the 24 cylinder water cooled short stroke sleeve valve 5 valves per cylinder Napier Sabre 1V produced 3500 hp while not being much larger or heavier than the Merlin, it's small size and power to weight ratio was not remotely approached by any other piston engine aircraft engine in the World – not even today! It was producing 5000 hp on the test bed at the wars end.

  8. 8
    Stephen Round says:

    Who is not a human being …. who thinks he or she is something else and does not belong to our Human Race we can breed with one another and we have been doing so since before the beginning of human history?

    Face it – brothers – there is only one race and that is The Human Race anyone who presumes the very existence of different races is a racist themselves. Whats more anyone who suggests that racism exists mistakes race for the clash of radically different cultures or ideologies. Race was once a word that disguised cultural comflicts now it precipitates them and the cure has become worse than the disease.

    Any physical differences we are presumed upon to imagine to be significant inferiorities or superiorities between ourselves – or between our different cultures – are clearly traceable as being culturally motivated prejudices bourne of socio/economic competition

  9. 9
    Eric C Johnson says:

    An excellent choice for an “Alternative History” discussion, and in general, an accurate presentation of a consensus among historians regarding the Malaya Campaign. There is a minority view, which if I may present, that takes issue with three key points. The first is: “From a strategic standpoint, however, it is unlikely that Britain's retention of Singapore would have redounded to the Allies' advantage” which implies that Singapore was worthy of a token defense at best. This begs the question as to whether the poor generalship and ill-trained troops would have had better success elsewhere, now that the conquest of Malaya has been reduced from seventy days to perhaps two weeks. Would they have successfully defended Java or Burma against an accelerated assault at the end of December 1941? Nor does it take into account conceding the vast mineral wealth of Malaya to Japan without a fight. Holding Singapore is key to denying Japan those resources. In this context, Singapore, the renowned “Jewel of the East,” would hardly have proven only an overpriced bauble.

    The second assumption subject to intellectual challenge is: “In fact, most students of the campaign believe that even in the best circumstances, a successful defense was improbable.” In accelerating his campaign from 100 days to only 70, LTG Yamashita stretched his logistical support past the breaking point. On 15 February 1942, the day he bluffed LTG Percival into surrendering, Yamashita’s forces in contact had less than a single day’s allocation of ammunition – indeed any counterattack or any single 24-hour delay in the previous 70 days – and the initial attack (9-15 February 1942) on Singapore Island would have failed. Additionally, Yamashita’s troops were sustained on captured fuel, rice and other foodstuffs, medical supplies and engineering materials throughout the campaign. Logistically, Yamashita and his staff were utterly reckless, while Percival calculated only sanity would prevail within his enemy’s mind. Denial of captured supplies would have injected a great deal of improbability into the Japanese victory.

    The third statement in question is: “Days before the outbreak of the Pacific War, British Admiral Tom Phillips and his American counterpart, Admiral Thomas C. Hart, concurred that Singapore held no potential for offensive operations.” This is completely truthful in describing ADM Hart’s attitude on 5-6 December 1941 when he met with VA Phillips. But this was not Hart’s attitude the previous August when he struggled in vain to secure approval from Washington to establish joint planning and naval exercises with the British and Dutch Navies. At that time, Singapore was viewed as far better an option than Subic Bay or Cavite as a major repair base for the Asiatic Fleet.

    The problem with a successful defense of Malaya in December 1941 is that by that time the Japanese held the initiative on the strategic, operational and tactical levels. The Japanese would always firmly hold both the strategic initiative (choosing time and manner in which hostilities and major campaigns are initiated); and the operational initiative (fitting Malaya into a larger campaign to conquer Southeast Asia). There were, however, several actions that Far East Command could have exercised that could have wrestled the tactical initiative away from the Japanese, without altering other historical events (such as removing Force Z’s fatal sortie; HMS Indomitable’s grounding in the West Indies; or LTG Yamashita’s intestinal fortitude from calculations). The absence of a RN Battle Fleet and the inadequate RAF commitment led to an increase of the garrison to 90,000 men, a total of 31 maneuver battalions’ worth of troops by November 1941. (The remaining 48,000 troops lost were primarily reinforcements. Not included in these tallies are five battalions of Indian States Forces on static airfield defense duties.) Yet to cover all potential Japanese military options, a total of 48 maneuver battalions were required. In short, while many units were poorly led or ill-trained, a number of British Commonwealth units fought in stellar manner, but were then outflanked by the Japanese who found weak points, unprotected avenues of approach, or conducted amphibious landings.

    The responsibility for this situation rests squarely with alternating moods of inattention, indifference, stupidity, and willful blindness in London. The Japanese seized control of the operational and tactical initiative in July 1941 with the occupation of southern French Indochina. This should have provoked a significant response in London, directing Far East Command to prepare for outbreak of hostilities at short notice, and ordering the local colonial authorities to cooperate. The reason this action was not taken was two-fold. Colonial officials believed defensive military preparations were bad for civilian and native morale. They argued that mobilization of local territorial forces; the Federated Malay States Volunteer Force (FMSVF) and Straits Settlements Volunteer Force (SSVF) would damage the local economy by removing key personnel and skilled labor from civilian activities. This was not a minor consideration – Malaya’s exports to the United States were a rare source of American dollars at a time when Britain was bankrupt and wholly dependent on American welfare in the form of Lend-Lease – but it remains a prime example of an unimaginative and atrophied bureaucracy that richly deserved its own destruction. Therefore, a decision by London to override these economic considerations is the only way for Malaya to be successfully defended. In this moment of peril Malaya required full application of her own resources, especially its abundant manpower.

    The first contribution from Malaya is the expansion of its single infantry battalion, the Malay Regiment (Regt). Since its formation in March 1933, it has built up to six line companies and is approximately 400 soldiers over strength, with an additional complement of about 200 soldiers in regimental positions and on depot duties. In August 1941 (instead of waiting until after the outbreak of war), the Malay Regt is split; forming a second battalion and expanding its depot training structure to include a junior staff officers’ course, officer candidate, non-commissioned officer (NCO), specialist courses, and expanding greatly the existing standard British/Indian Army eight week basic soldier training course for new recruits. These courses will now serve the SSVF as well as Malay units. By November both battalions of the Malay Regt will be up to strength, and their martial prowess should not be dismissed. Two Victoria Crosses were won by Malay soldiers during the campaign.

    The two northern-most territorial battalions – 3/SSVF on Penang and 1/FMSVF at Grik are also called up at this time; followed in September by the two armoured car squadrons and two light artillery batteries. In October, the two brigade HQ and 1/SSVF and 3/FMSVF in Singapore/Johore are mobilized; in November, 2/SSVF in Singapore and 4/FMSVF at Kuantan; and at the beginning of December, 4/SSVF at Malacca and 2/FMSVF at Kuala Lumpur. Also in December, 5/SSVF – the famous “Dalforce” is organized under LTC John Dalley. Comprised of two groups, the Communist Singapore Overseas Chinese Anti-Japanese Volunteer Army and the Nationalist Overseas Chinese Guard Force and not in British uniforms, the Dalforce soldiers already had considerable experience fighting one another and Japanese civilians in Malaya since the early 1930s.

    This mobilization will force many senior British leaders to choose between their civilian posts and the social prestige they enjoyed as an officer in the Territorials. Many will choose to leave the military. For the FMSVF this is not much of a problem, as its officer corps was largely filled by local Malay royal or other prominent families unable to rise beyond the rank of captain for as long as 15 years due to these British veterans of World War I blocking the promotion paths. There were additional officers in the FMSVF Reserve previously unable to secure a position ready to refill the junior vacancies. It is more difficult for the SSVF, which is to a considerable degree more Chinese and Indian than Malay in composition. Here the loss of senior officers is more acutely felt, and SSVF Brigade (Bde) HQ will not be considered more than a static HQ on the outbreak of war.

    Both 1/ and 2/SSVF were each overstrength by some 400 officers, NCOs and other ranks; 3/SSVF by about 80 troops; but 4/SSVF was short by about 150. 1/FMSVF was about 70 men overstrength, 4/FMSVF about 110 short, but the other two units were at establishment strength. The SSVF battalions will be left on beach defense duties at Singapore, Malacca and Penang, while the FMSVF units will often serve in the field further north. Staggering the call-ups by monthly intervals gives the Malayan civilian economy some time to adjust, and allows most units a period of training (one to four months) prior to hostilities that the historical recall of Territorials en-mass on 8 December 1941 did not permit. The mobilization did have the expected effect of forcing wages up among skilled laborers who were not enlisted.

    The second source of troops is Hong Kong. During the First World War, the security of the colony was entrusted to the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps (HKVDC); and this will be done again, although the 2/Royal Scots will be left behind to provide additional backbone. The seven line companies of the HKVDC are divided into two battalions, one at Kowloon and the other on Hong Kong Island. Additional companies are recruited from Chinese converts to Christianity and Portuguese from Macao, but the force is only large enough and sufficiently trained for internal security – there is no hope of defeating an all-out Japanese assault. An invaluable machine gun (MG) battalion, the 1/Middlesex Regt, two Indian Army battalions, the regular Hong Kong Infantry Bde HQ and China Command HQ are transferred to Malaya by early September. In late November, a Canadian brigade of two battalions under the command of BG J.K Lawson will also arrive in Malaya instead of being sacrificed at Hong Kong.

    The battalions described; one British MG, two Canadian, two Indian, one Malay, five SSVF and four FMSVF raise the number available from the historical 31 to 46, and allows sufficient forces for Percival’s Malaya Command to execute its assigned wartime missions. These additional forces do require a considerable reorganization to integrate them into existing formations and redeployment to locations where they would be most effective. This changes could adequately contest Japanese possession of the initiative on a tactical level.

    The Singapore Fortress Division (Div) under MG F K Simmons will still require two brigades for beach defenses and for internal security duties on the island as required. 1 and 2 Malaya Brigades can be relieved of this responsibility and replaced by the SSVF and Canadian Brigades. Another MG battalion, 2/Loyal Regt from 1 Malaya Bde remains on Fortress duties and transferred to SSVF Bde to “stiffen” it, while Dalforce is placed under the Canadians to continue its training. Also assigned to this command are the two battalions (5/14 Punjab and 3/SSVF) located at Penang Fortress and 4/SSVF at Malacca.

    The offensive capability of Malaya Command is assigned to MG Gordon Bennett, already dual-hatted as commander of Second Australian Imperial Force and 8 Australian Division. Bennett is directed to execute Operation Matador, an offensive move into Thailand to seize vital beaches near Singora and Pattani once the Japanese have violated Thai neutrality. Bennett’s own 8 Australian Division is moved from Johore to Northwest Malaya near Jitra to execute one prong of this attack. 12 Indian Bde (one British, two Indian battalions), formerly the Command reserve and perhaps the best brigade in Malaya will lose one of its Indian battalions (5/2 Punjab) and pick up 1/FMSVF as a replacement at Grik. Designated “Krohcol”, and under the command of an excellent officer, BG Archibald C M Paris, this brigade is ordered to capture a most narrow section of road known as “the Ledge” some 20 miles inside Thailand and then advance another 70 miles to reach Pattani. The third part of Matador is allocated to 2 Malaya Bde which will lose its MG battalion (1/Manchester Regt) and pick up 1/Malay to join 2/Gordon Highlanders (GH) Regt and 2/17 Dogras. To add punch to the attack, 12 Lanchesters of the Armoured Car Squadron (ACS) of and a half Field Regiment of 18 Pounder (Pdr) howitzers from the SSVF were assigned. The brigade will position itself at Kota Bharu in northeast Malaya and advance along the coast highway until it meets 12 Indian Bde at Pattani. This will satisfy MG Bennett’s outsized ego by giving him an offensive mission suited to his temperament, and the corps-level responsibilities Bennett felt he deserved.

    Defensive responsibilities remain assigned to III Indian Corps which has been under the command of LTG Lewis Heath since its creation in July 1941. On the east side of Malaya is 9 Indian Div, with 8 Indian Bde (four Indian battalions) at Kota Bharu; 22 Indian Bde (now with co-located with two battalions – 5/11 Sikhs and 4/FMSVF) at Kuantan; and FMSVF Bde in Johore with 2/18 Royal Garhwal Rifles at Mersing and 3/FMSVF at Endau. As noted 1/Manchester is transferred from 2 Malaya Bde to 9 Indian Div. Minus one company split between 22 Indian and FMSVF Brigades, the Manchesters bolster the beach bunkers and pillboxes at Kota Bharu. Relieved of its orders to provide one battalion for Operation Matador under the historical scenario, 8 Indian Bde is able to devote all of its resources, training and commander’s attention to defending against amphibious landings.

    11 Indian Div is also relieved of its historical schizophrenic orders to simultaneously establish prepared defenses in depth at Jitra and to execute Operation Matador (in two vastly separated locations at Jitra and Krohcol). Its two British and five Indian battalions in 6 and 15 Indian Brigades are assigned a rather wide frontage at Jitra. Without a need to worry about civilian morale, LTG Heath is able to compensate for the frontage by giving the Malaya Command Chief Engineer, BG Ivan Simson, a green light in the four months prior to the outbreak of war to set concrete positions for artillery, anti-tank guns and command posts. Detached from Hong Kong Bde, 1/Middlesex is also assigned to Jitra – now both Indian Divisions have their missing heavy machine gun battalions available. 11 Indian Division is required only to conduct a static World War I-style trench defense, something closer to its actual capabilities than the missions imposed historically. 28 Indian (Gurkha) Bde (three battalions) is positioned nearby as a counterattack force.

    MG Christopher Maltby, GOC of China Command reorganizes his command into a field force designated 1 Malaya Div. Hong Kong Bde, having lost its British battalion, is assigned 2/FMSVF as a replacement. Once the Canadians arrive, Maltby obtains control from Singapore Fortress of 1 Malaya Bde (2/Malay and 5/2 Punjab – two battalions only); and 3 Indian Cavalry which is not assigned to 11 Indian Division’s Matador mission and is able to continue its training uninterrupted. 1 Malaya Div effectively replaces 12 Indian Bde as the III Indian Corps Reserve.

    This more realistic approach to defending the Far East will also affect deployment of naval and air force assets in unusual ways. Singapore Naval Dockyard was able to complete all commitments during the first two years of its existence, refitting an aircraft carrier, a half-dozen cruisers, and flotillas of destroyers, submarines and sloops. It also converted the liner RMS Queen Elizabeth into a troopship between November 1940 and February 1941. The performance of the Dockyard then deteriorated as skilled labor and machine tools were moved to Bombay, Massawa and Suez to repair ships damaged in the Mediterranean. While refits continued, the repairs to HMS Warspite, Liverpool and Orion were now beyond the capabilities of its remaining labor force, and had to be transferred to U.S. Navy Yards on the West Coast. Refits performed after mid-1941 were not only of a lower complexity, but also not always to high standards of quality.

    The partial evacuation of Hong Kong will be mirrored on the naval side by closing the Royal Naval Dockyard there and the transfer of its personnel, tools and equipment to Singapore. This will only partially restore the lost capabilities of Singapore. It is enough for ADM Hart to successfully plead with his superiors in August 1941 to transfer his only destroyer tender (USS Black Hawk) and one of his submarine tenders (USS Canopus) to Singapore, and to conduct all refits lasting more than 14 days in Singapore where a sudden outbreak of war would not leave them trapped. This would speed necessary work on his cruisers, oilers and tenders, which were too large to drydock at Cavite. Hart was forced to drydock them at Subic Bay, but send any shipboard components requiring machine tools or difficult repairs via barge to Cavite. As the prospect of war increased, the little used floating drydock at Subic Bay would likely be towed to Singapore in September or October 1941. Hart’s repair parties are enough to bring Singapore to a standard never previously achieved, especially in welding capabilities. USN personnel would be able to repair HMS Mauritius, Ilex, Nubian and Rover adding a light cruiser, two destroyers and a submarine to the Allied naval order of battle. An elderly Dutch light cruiser, HMS Sumatra can also be restored to service as a training ship before the outbreak of war.

    There was one minor blessing for the RAF from the presence of the USN base in Singapore. The small seaplane tender USS Heron had several mechanics with years of experience with the Wright Cyclone engines of the RAF Buffalo fighters. They were able to train the inexperienced RAF and RAAF mechanics, and greatly improve serviceability rates. Their ship was also able to make significant modifications and repairs to the engines, which solved the fuel starvation problems frequently encountered in sharp maneuvers at medium and high altitudes.

    It is also very probable that ADM Hart will move the bulk of 4th U.S. Marine Regt to Singapore. The British removal of most of Hong Kong’s garrison makes any Marine presence in China nonsensical; Hart should have no difficulty transferring 154 Marines of the North China Marine Force to Singapore in September 1941. As Subic Bay is closed, another 310 Marines from Olongapo Barracks are transferred. Finally, the 772 Marine and 32 US Navy medical and signal personnel from the Regimental HQ and two understrength battalions of 4th U.S. Marine Regt are transferred from Shanghai to Singapore arriving by 6 December 1941. After absorbing Marines already there, the two battalions are still short one company, and the regiment is missing its third battalion. The personnel for that third battalion were assigned anti-aircraft and security duties at Cavite, and it is doubtful Hart will also move them.

    Although a bit more unlikely, there is also a possibility of air reinforcement from a valuable source. COL Claire Chennault and Curtiss Aircraft Corporation’s first choice for the organization of the American Volunteer Group (AVG) was Singapore, not Burma. Singapore already had a thriving American business community, and Ford Motor Company had established an assembly plant – infamous as the location of Percival’s surrender to Yamashita. The British Colonial authorities in Malaya vetoed this proposal, again fearing a Curtiss presence would disrupt the labor market and believing it would be a provocative act. This concern for Japanese sensibilities also led to the AVG being forced to construct facilities from scratch at Toungoo, Burma instead of using existing (and empty) RAF facilities. If Malaya is mobilizing to defend itself against Japanese invasion, and Hong Kong has been partially evacuated in expectation of such attack; there is little that can been seen as provocative in an AVG presence.

    The 25th IJA Army plan was to hit the Commonwealth defenders from several axis of advance, to throw them off-balance initially, and then relentlessly pummel each unit encountered to prevent them from regaining the initiative. Great care was taken to conduct a complete topographical reconnaissance of the entire Kra Peninsula. Landing beaches, airfield sites, railroads, roads and trails were carefully surveyed to support the selected IJA tank, infantry and artillery units. Engineering assets and material were preplanned to build, improve or replace bridges as required. Landing barges were designed for transshipment across the Kra Peninsula to the Strait of Malacca to permit flanking amphibious landings on either coast of the peninsula. The training of troops superbly prepared them for operating conditions in Malaya, inculcating a special sense of flexibility with regard to a fluid tactical situation. This flexibility did not extend to the point of permitting junior officers to modify the core mission assigned to them. Indeed, the code of honor embodied in Bushido dictated that glorious failure was preferable to halting an operation once success was no longer probable to absorbing lessons learned, and then make another attempt later.

    There was one major flaw in Tsuji’s planning. It was all predicated on the assumption that success would achieved at each stage of the operation, and therefore follow-on movements would never require major revision. The possibility that any of the early missions may not succeed was never taken into consideration. For example, rations were not included under the assumption that early capture of rice-rich regions in northwest Malaya would occur. More seriously, Japanese intelligence efforts were compromised by a lack of cooperation among and rivalry within various branches of the Japanese military. A well placed IJAAF spy, RAF Captain Patrick Heenan, provided excellent information on airfields and aircraft deployments; but also implementation of Operation Matador which the IJAAF never passed to 25th IJA Army. Fuji Tatsuki, editor of the Singapore Times reported far beyond the limits of British military censors to the Foreign Ministry regarding mobilization of the SSVF and FMSVF, the arrival of reinforcements, the establishment of the USN presence, and Chennault’s training mission. Very little was passed by the Foreign Ministry to either the IJA or IJN.

    How might a Japanese attack play out in any such Alternative History scenario as described above?

    Kota Bharu and Operation Matador

    The first shells to land in Malaya were fired at 0040 on 8 December 1941 when an 18 Pdr from 16 Defence Regiment/Hong Kong-Singapore Royal Artillery (HKSRA) opened fire on landing barges clearly visible in the moonlight. It was 75 minutes prior to the first bomb dropping on Pearl Harbor. Return fire from the heavy cruiser IMS Chokai was directed at two known 6-inch gun emplacements of the HKSRA, which the IJN mistook for the source of the shelling, and an ineffective exchange resulted. The four-mile Badang Beach was manned by 1/13 Frontier Force Rifles (FFR) which was slightly above normal strength at 840 men, backed by two platoons of D/1/Manchester (MG), and a half battery of eight 2 Pdr from A/80 A/T Regt Royal Artillery (RA). Due to exceptional recruiting in Kashmir, 3/17 Dogra Regiment had been increased in strength to over 1300 and six companies. New personnel intended for 2/17 Dogras were assigned to 3/17 Dogras to give the green soldiers a defensive mission until accustomed to Malayan conditions and soldiering in a line battalion. Consequently, 3/17 Dogras were assigned six of the ten miles of Sabak Beach where landing conditions were most favorable, with the full company of B/1/Manchester (MG), and the other half battery of eight 2 Pdr from A/80 A/T Regt RA. The remainder of Sabak Beach belonged to 2/10 Baluch Regiment and other beaches further south near Gong Fed were covered by 2/12 FFR. Each was reinforced by a half battery of B/80 A/T Regt RA and two platoons, respectively from A/1/Manchester and the two left over platoons from A and D Companies. Two batteries of 88 (2 West Lancashire) Field Regt Royal Artillery [88 (2 WL) FR RA] could range all of Badang and Sabak Beaches, but the third battery was located well to the south in support of 2/12 FFR.

    By 0100, I Battalion/56th Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) Regt reinforced with a strong detachment of 12th IJA Engineer Battalion (Eng Bn), was completely committed, and a message was flashed from BG Berthold Wells Key to via 9 Indian Div to LTG Heath reporting that the landings were in strength. Percival ordered 2 Malaya Bde under BG F. H. Fraser withdrawn from Operation Matador and assigned to 9 Indian Div at 0430. By then Japanese assault was already beginning to go awry. Expecting no more than two companies each covering Badang and Sabak beaches, MG Takumi Hiroshi was astounded by the ferocity of return fire cutting apart leading scouting parties before they were ashore. 88 (2WL) FR RA’s 25 Pdr howitzers were firing at predetermined points. A/80 A/T Regt RA gunners, although limited to solid shot, were hitting landing barges, occasionally piercing motors or holing them below the waterline, as well as causing casualties within. Pillboxes were too few in number, but minefields, additional riflemen, and a full two battalions’ full complement of 3-inch mortars enhanced the slaughter on the beaches; leaving well over 500 IJA killed and nearly 300 wounded by dawn. IJA amphibious doctrine was to avoid strong enemy defenses, and MG Takumi paused while alternative sites were sought. At 0420 hrs, this option also became untenable.

    The Hudson II bombers of No 1 RAAF Squadron were haphazardly launched with 100 pound bombs on the under wing racks from Kota Bharu Airfield, with orders to land at Machang Airfield some 20 miles further away from the landing beaches. As one flew over the IJA cargo ships, it released its bombs, one of which skipped into the port side of the Awajisan Maru, while another fell through an open hatch and exploded against her keel. The flip side of this coin of fortune was the ship had only four feet of water under her bottom, none of the ammunition on board exploded, and much of her equipment could be salvaged without difficulty. Since the Awajisan Maru was carrying the entire portion of transport, medical and signal units assigned to Kota Bharu, her lack of mobility meant there was now no substitute for Badang and Sabak Beaches.

    Despite their losses, portions of I/56th IJA Regt reconnoitered a section of Kuala Pa’Amat Bay (which splits Sabak Beach) where vision was obstructed by groves of trees; mines had not yet been emplaced; and outside the attention of inexperienced Dogras platoons fully fixated on fighting in other sectors. About 400 troops of the first wave assembled here before 0600 hrs, when landing barges brought the first elements of II/56th IJA Regt. To make space, veteran Japanese troops infiltrated through outposts and launched a near silent bayonet and sword attack on the nearest Dogras squads, and the Indian troops began to fall back in disarray that eventually affected the right flank companies. As the decimated I/56th IJA Regt held the shoulder open, II/56th IJA Regt pushed into the breach, the advance guard flanking left to prevent 2/10 Baluchs and the heavy Vickers machineguns of A/1/Manchester from laying enfilading fire on the main body of IJA troops. As forward observation posts were destroyed, the British howitzers lost their effectiveness.

    The main body of II/56th IJA Regt landed from 0900 on, and they found an inexplicable stroke of luck – deserters from Kota Bharu Airfield’s defenders. Unknown to anyone in Malaya Command, 1/Hyderabad Infantry Indian States Forces (ISF) was deeply infected with anti-British Indian Nationalist propaganda. Observing the panicked evacuation of RAF personnel to Machang or Gong Kedah Airfields after the IJA landings, dozens mutinied and murdered their officers between 0730 and 0750 hrs. Most of the battalion’s soldiers huddled indecisively afterwards, and only a few joined fleeing ground crews to warn 8 Indian Bde HQ. It was mutineers who met the advancing IJA troops, and led them through empty trench lines and pillboxes to seize the control tower and hangers. The Indian Nationalists found themselves rewarded for their service to the Emperor with brutality. Disarmed and prodded at bayonet point, they were used as bearers to carry ammunition from the beach and IJA wounded back to the landing craft.

    Nevertheless, there are two sides to every stroke of luck; MG Takumi now found protecting the airfield (a key objective) and the narrow path from it to the beach required all the troops he had ashore. Moreover, once II/56th IJA Regt was ashore, priority was to resupplying ammunition from the Awajisan Maru for crew-served weapons, the four 76mm regimental guns, company mortars and individual riflemen, small unit equipment, shifting in early afternoon to headquarters, medical, and signal personnel, and then the 12th IJA Eng Bn from other ships. By evening, ammunition was again running low; it would be well after dark when III/56th IJA Regt would begin coming ashore, and early morning before the arrival of the guns of I/18th IJA Artillery Regt. By then ammunition would again be running perilously low. In addition to delays resulting from lost landing craft, 88 (2WL) FR RA managed to again disrupt the landings several times with accurate indirect fire. In turn, Imperial Japanese Army Air Force (IJAAF) planes bombed Kota Bharu twice, losing two planes to the detachment of No 243 Sqn operating from there.

    This passed the initiative to BG Key. Throughout the morning, 3/17 Dogras thinned the beach positions to form a skirmish line that kept in contact with the IJA. Half of 1/13 FFR were also pulled off Badang Beach to extend that line to the northern edge of the airfield. At the opposite end, LTC Alfred Cumming led 2/FFR into position with great skill, pressing close enough to kill five IJA infantrymen with his Webley revolver, and receive two bayonet wounds in return. After meeting lead elements of 1/Malay Regt from 2 Malaya Bde, LTC Cumming guided them to the southern perimeter of the airfield, and they were firmly linked in with 2/12 FFR by late afternoon. For his actions, LTC Cumming would receive the first Victoria Cross of the Malayan Campaign. After dark, the arrival of 5/2 Punjab allowed 1/Malay to shorten its frontage by half. After leaving A and D companies of the Gordons and 21 Mountain Battery/Indian Army (Mtn Bty/IA) to guard the Thai border, the rest of 2/GH and FR/SSVF (-) made contact with the IJA just after dawn on 9 December.

    Conferring overnight, BG Key and BG Fraser agreed on a simple plan of attack; 8 Ind Bde would hold the IJA flanks while 2 Malaya Bde recaptured the airfield and drove northward towards Kuala Pa’Amat Bay. Originally set to begin at dawn, the late arrival of 2/GH (-) and low stockpiles of artillery shells co-located with guns caused it to be postponed until 0900. The Japanese put up fierce resistance, but less than an hour into the engagement the transports were ordered to withdraw, a sortie by Force Z was now confirmed by the IJN. MG Takumi was stunned; too much ammunition and supplies had not yet been off-loaded; nevertheless, the decision could not be questioned. IJA tactics were abruptly modified; ammunition conserved by emphasizing stealth, quick violent ambushes, and ample cover from captured defensive works and buildings. Commonwealth troops reacted to several sharp reverses by working methodically; upon lifting of artillery prep fires, the .5-inch Vickers and .303 BESA machine guns of the elderly Lanchester armoured cars were used to pin down a sector until infantry had closed in.

    By late afternoon, the airfield was reclaimed, and the attack halted. Both BG Key and Fraser were comfortable with set-piece linear attacks, but knew their troops were ill-prepared for night operations. The IJA had no such inhibitions and at 0200 launched a banzai charge into 3/17 Dogras and 1/13 FFR that inflicted heavy casualties and broke through to the Kelantan River, isolating 1/13 FFR and 3/17 Dogras for nine hours. By mid-morning of 10 December, however, 2/GH (rejoined by its D Company when no attack from Thailand materialized) re-established contact and at the other end of this encirclement, 1/Malay and 2/10 Baluchs linked up at Kuala Pa’Amat Bay at 1715. When IJA resistance ceased the next day, 23rd IJA Bde had lost 3005 troops, including MG Takumi (another 855 wounded were evacuated); and the 56th IJA Regt for all intents and purposes no longer existed. 8 Indian Bde lost 429 KIA and 686 WIA; 2 Malaya Bde another 191 KIA and 479 WIA. Some 620 of the 795 1/Hyderabad Infantry (ISF) troops were recovered by 8 Indian Bde; eventually 22 were executed by court-martial and 131 more returned to India in chains. The remainder of the unit was withdrawn to Singapore to see what could be salvaged.

    Kota Bharu was a critical victory. The IJA expected to meet only two battalions, and was historically able to overcome four, despite the early retreat of their transport ships. Eight battalions, however, is too much for the Japanese to destroy, and the extra troops included 1/Malay Regt, a unit unafraid to meet the Japanese soldier in the forests and swamps that predominate in their native land. The IJA quickly lost the tactical initiative to the defenders. The failure at Kota Bharu had implications beyond the loss of one-fourth of 25th IJA Army’s initial combat strength. No aura of invincibility attached itself to the invaders, nor any sense of inevitable victory. The British would not be continuously kept off-balance by assaults from several flanks as planned by Yamashita’s staff. IJAAF aircraft scheduled to use airfields there remained in Indochina; yet important as this battle was, without RAF aircraft the airfields themselves were useful only in the denial of their services to the enemy. At the end of a 400-mile supply line the British lacked the logistical means of sustaining any attack from Kota Bharu into Thailand. Moreover, half of these troops were tied up defending beaches against a second landing, the other half against an attack overland from Patani. 9 Indian Div had effectively been immobilized.

    At the border city of Kroh, lead elements of 12 Indian Bde were also prepared to move out, crossing the Thai border posts at 0630 after short delay in receiving signals, and some sporadic resistance from the Thais that the Jocks of 2/Argyll and Southerland Highlanders (2/A&SH) bypassed. BG Paris was the only senior British commander in Malaya to attempt to master jungle warfare, and was greatly aided by LTC Ian Stewart, commander of 2/A&SH and to a lesser degree, by LTC E L Wilson-Haffenden, commander of 4/19 Hyderabads and LTC E O Shebbeare of 1/FMSVF. BG Paris unsuccessfully sought the transfer of LTC Anderson’s 2/19 Australian Infantry Battalion (AIB) to his command. This would have placed three of the five battalions trained and psychologically prepared for jungle warfare in 12 Indian Bde; but MG Bennett violently opposed it, and Canberra supported him. BG Paris was also opposed by LTC Charles Deakin of 5/2 Punjab, who like most other senior officers in Malaya dismissed LTC Stewart as a “crank”, and roundly criticized his decision to convert 2/A&SH from a MG Battalion to straight infantry in order to better maneuver in jungle terrain. BG Paris is actually relieved when Deakin’s unit is transferred to 1 Malaya Bde.

    By nightfall on 8 December, the remainder of the brigade reached the strategic terrain known as the “Ledge”, where deep gorges permitted only a narrow roadway and several bridges to span fast flowing rivers fed by waterfalls. Throughout the night, 1/FMSVF troops fluent in native dialects brought reports of “many Japanese” and “many airplanes” at Patani and Singora. Aware the IJA was ashore at Kota Bharu (and unaware of the outcome) and unable to communicate with MG Bennett, BG Paris decided to attempt to hold the Ledge, and deployed 2/A&SH reinforced by A/4/19 Hyderabads and 1/1/FMSVF in good position on the northern approach by mid-morning on 9 December. The remainder of the 4/19 Hyderabads and 2/1/FMSVF were split in three company-sized blocking positions along the Ledge proper. Having lost the race to Patani, and with a 200 mile logistical train, BG Paris resolved to keep the IJA in Thailand; and failing that, thoroughly demolish the road and bridge network.

    As at Kota Bharu, the IJA was ill-prepared for encountering the unexpected presence of large numbers of Commonwealth troops at the Ledge. The 42nd IJA Regt Advance Guard numbering nearly 300 troops moved out smartly from Patani, but took 23 hours of cycling to cover the 65 miles from their beaches to the Ledge. Their arrival in the early afternoon of 9 December gave 2/A&SH a half day to prepare fighting positions, set out aiming stakes, and conduct a quick rehearsal of anticipated actions. By the time forward elements of 1/1/FMSVF reported the IJA approach, a shallow L-shaped ambush was laid across the terrain. Once engaged, there was no hesitation on the part of 42nd IJA Regt Advance Guard. Storming forward into the hail of bullets and mortar shells, only a handful survived. While the captured bicycles were viewed with admiration, a number of brightly coloured panels were spread throughout the dead, the purpose of which was not understood by the Scotsmen.

    The panels were visible to IJAAF Mitsubishi Ki-15 Babs and Ki-30 Ann reconnaissance aircraft, and roughly delineated the 2/A&H positions. The Ando Detachment staff (built around the 42nd IJA Regt commanded by COL Ando Tadao) quickly devised an excellent plan of attack, postponed until the late afternoon of 11 December to allow II/42nd IJA Regt into concentrated attack positions backed by 70mm battalion and 76mm regimental guns. 52 sorties of Kawasaki Ki-48 Lily medium bombers (800 kg of bombs) and 22 sorties from Mitsubishi Ki-51 Sonia light bombers (200kg) operating at extreme range from Cochin China initiated the attack, which stunned and disoriented the defenders, and caused half to withdraw with the wounded to secondary positions. BG Paris had not been allocated artillery and AA units. Followed by quick artillery prep, the assault by some 1100 IJA troops convinced LTC Stewart the position could not be held. Contact with scouting patrols of 1/1/FMSVF was lost, but the Malay troops were able to fight their way back into the Ledge in good order. C/2/A&SH fought a rear guard action which inflicted three score IJA casualties, but the IJA attack was slowed mostly by the terrain unable to support large numbers. By nightfall, LTC Stewart’s troops had passed through B/4/19 Hyderabads; and the first bridge and the surrounding sharp mountain cliffs were destroyed by massive detonations.

    II/42nd IJA Regt attempted to infiltrate through the high mountain and deep river passes, but were engaged throughout 12 December by patrols from 2/1/FMSVF. The next day, D/2/A&SH and B/4/19 Hyderabads were pounded by IJA artillery, and in a bloody frontal assault II/42nd IJA Regt pushed their way forward. For two days, a battle familiar to veterans of Guadalcanal or New Guinea unfolded, as vast amounts of ammunition were expended against shadows. As the IJA approached the second bridge it was blown just before they could reach it. By this time II/42nd IJA Regt had been reduced to half of its original strength of 1275. Four more days were required for IJA engineers and forced labor from local Thais to construct a temporary bridge over the first gorge and two steep goat trails on either end. Only then could I/42nd IJA Regt assumed the vanguard position on 19 December.

    By this time, both armies needed troops in this sector elsewhere. Newly arrived III/42nd IJA Regt was diverted to the Thai border near Kota Bharu, and the decimated II/42nd IJA Regt to relieve troops guarding key positions around Singora and Pattani. I/42nd IJA Regt also lost troops to reform 42nd IJA Regt Advance Guard. 12 Indian Bde was also needed in Western Malaya, and the remaining bridges and narrow stretches of roadway were systemically demolished. On 22 December, BG Paris’ British and Indian troops retreated back across the border, boarding trucks that would take them to rest and refit at the city of Ipoh. Defending now their home provinces, and having observed the ruthlessness of the IJA, 1/FMSVF saw an increase in cohesion and resilience despite its casualties, as it remained behind as a covering force in the Kroh Sector. Unlike Kota Bharu, the IJA had defeated the British, Indian and Malay defenders; but still failed to rout and throw them off-balance.

    As noted above, the Japanese retained the strategic and operational initiative, and this is enough to defeat MG Bennett and the main effort of Operation Matador. 5th IJA Cavalry Regt and lead elements of 9th Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) Bde transport and logistical units landed at Singora even before bombs fell on Pearl Harbor. It would have been wiser for 8 Australian Div to remain in Malaya and assume a defensive position, but Bennett and his staff were confident their troops could easily drive the invaders into the Gulf of Siam. Prior to the outbreak of war, civilian Japanese companies established airfields and supplies at two airfields near Singora and Pattani; and reconnaissance aircraft of the IJAAF quickly became operational there to provide an ability to track the Australian advance, and allowed them to draw close as the IJA completed off-loading supplies and vehicles.

    No 223 Group suffered grievously from IJAAF bombing raids from the first day of the war. Eleven of the 18 Blenheim I light bombers of No 62 RAF Sqn based at Alor Star were destroyed on the ground on 8 December 1941 as they attempted to take off for a raid on Singora. The next day, the remaining seven were ordered to complete the mission, but again were interrupted by an IJAAF air raid. Only Captain Arthur Stewart Scarf was able to complete the mission, but his plane was shot apart by Ki-27 fighters. For his gallantry, Captain Scarf was awarded the campaign’s second VC. The next day, Captain Patrick Heenan, assigned as a liaison officer from the 16 Punjabi Regt was arrested as a Japanese spy after being caught coordinating these raids from 3rd IJAAF Div.

    No 27 Sqn also lost six planes on the ground, and was immediately withdrawn to Kallang to defend Singapore against expected night raids such as those that targeted Force Z. The other fighter unit, No 21 RAAF Sqn managed to survive the first two days, but four Buffalo fighters were lost on the 10th of December to free-wheeling Ki-27 pilots. By this time, the squadron was reduced to flying two plane CAP missions over Sungei Patani, while other planes were maintained and refueled. Although IJAAF bombers had to remain in Indochina, airfields at Singora and Pattani were able to support fighter and reconnaissance planes that completed the essential missions of preventing Allied aircraft from operating over southern Thailand and keeping 25th IJA Army apprised of Commonwealth ground movements.

    The lead Australian unit, 2/29 AIB was reinforced by a section of eight 75mm guns from 2/4 Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Australian artillery (2/4 AT RAA) and with motor transport bivouacked on the border overnight. LTC Samuel A F Pond received orders to advance at 0430, about five hours after IJA transports arrived at Singora, and 20 minutes after two battalions of 41st IJA Regt began landing at that port. 2/29 AIB troops were quickly “lorried up”, crossing the border without incident, and pulled into the medium sized town of Hat Yai (43 miles from the border and 19 miles from Singora, six hours later. Excited Thai authorities promptly informed the Australian troops the IJA was less than five miles away in the nearby of hamlet of U Taphao, where the Bangkok to Singapore (via Kota Bharu) and Singora to Singapore (via Kuala Lumpur) rail lines crossed. To be on the safe side, other Thai officials informed the IJA of the Australian presence.

    LTC Pond found his wireless useless to communicate in the monsoon weather, but able to contact MG Bennett directly at Sungei Patani by telephone. Bennett, thinking nothing of bypassing BG Duncan S Maxwell, commander of 27 Australian Bde, ordered Pond to form a light skirmish line, and await the arrival of LTC Jack Galleghan’s 2/30 AIB by rail in a few hours. A competent officer who had worked tirelessly to improve his subordinates while in Malaya; LTC Galleghan presented a sharp contrast to LTC Pond, who took command only a few weeks earlier when LTC John C Robertson was appointed to Bennett’s Matador planning staff. Pond’s troops took up positions without any sense of either urgency or discipline – a number of soldiers “refused their labour” according to witnesses in later courts-martial testimony. Pond failed to supervise his subordinates, positions were not dug in, platoon commanders failed to coordinate with adjacent units, and in between complaints, soldiers napped by their rifles. The Japanese were not to be taken seriously.

    The IJA troops, a company of the 5th IJA Cavalry Regt, began observing the 2/29 AIB about 1250 hrs, and once reinforced by a second company, devised a hasty attack plan. The IJA veterans were astounded when a few Diggers, formerly merchant seamen in civilian life, approached and with a smattering of Japanese phrases sought an unofficial truce. They were instantly cut down by sword and bayonet, other unwary troops nearby soon fell to fusillades of rifle fire. Between 1420 and 1445, the intensity of the IJA attack caused 2/29 AIB to disintegrate as a cohesive unit. Hat Yai was seized with little effort, and LTC Pond went into captivity with 120 of his troops.

    About a half hour later, 2/30 AIB reached a crossing between the rail line and the all-weather Singora-Jitra Roadway and found the 75mm gun section of 2/4 AT RAA and a rear guard of 2/29 AIB. Due to wireless problems, they never received orders to move forward to Hat Yai. LTC Galleghan ordered a section of four Bren carriers off-loaded from the last flat car of his troop train to conduct a seven-mile road reconnaissance to Hat Yai. His battalion formed hasty defensive positions and off-loaded the train, which would be sent back for the next troop movement. Within a few minutes the Bren carriers reported contact with the fleeing elements of Pond’s command. Unable to contact BG Maxwell, Galleghan decided on his own to stand and fight. He ordered his battalion to use the berm of the rail line as a defensive position, and split the eight 75mm guns into two sections, for direct and indirect fire each.

    By 1600, the first fleeing soldiers of 2/29 AIB passed through their sister battalion, and efforts were de by the rear guard of 2/29 AIB to sort them by platoon and company. Without communications, LTC Galleghan wrote a quick report and sent it with some wounded in a 2/4 AT RAA lorry. At 1620, 5th IJA Cavalry Regt, now reinforced by eleven Type 95 Ha-Go tankettes, appeared in echelons at oblique angle to the 2/30 AIB defensive positions, accompanied by bicycle mounted troops. Throughout the advance, IJA troops treated the retreating Australians without consistency: some were shot on sight; others disarmed and instructed to walk back to Hat Yai; those who had thrown weapons and equipment away were often ignored as they trudged towards Malaya. Most Diggers who fled into the tree line were not pursued. The IJA cavalrymen were not encumbered by prisoners as they advanced.

    In the context of the poor performance of 2/29 AIB, it is not surprising the 5th IJA Cavalry Regt, was unprepared for LTC Galleghan’s ambush. The first echelon came into view, and could observe only fleeing Australians, and continued without pause. The second echelon appeared just as the 75mm guns opened fire, and soon faced Vickers machine gun fire and mortars as well. As the 5th IJA Cavalry Regt was cut apart, the late arriving third echelon also advanced, unaware the sounds of battle were not favorable. By darkness, all eleven Ha-Go had been knocked out; their one-man turrets made it impossible for their commanders to simultaneously give commands to the drivers, observe targets, as well as load and fire the 37mm low-velocity gun. Scouting parties from 2/30 AIB counted 270 IJA dead; which LTC Galleghen sent in a report that reached 27 Australian Bde HQ.

    Throughout the night, 2/29 AIB stragglers filtered in. Eventually, 417 of 845 listed on the battalion’s rolls were recovered. However, a complete breakdown in Commonwealth command and control was already set in motion. LTC Galleghan’s first report reached 11 Indian Div HQ, which passed it to LTG Heath at III Indian Corps at 2215. Heath immediately ordered Bennett, who was unaware of the disaster at Hat Yai to withdraw from Thailand. Bennett rejected Heath’s assertion of command authority. At midnight, Bennett received Galleghan’s second report of the successful ambush, and protested to Percival that 2/26 AIB and the remainder of 27 Australian Bde should continue to move forward. While protesting, Bennett was unaware the few trucks he intended to use for that purpose had been diverted to recover 2/29 AIB, and resupply Galleghan with ammunition.

    By 0200, Heath received reports that several junior officers from 2/29 AIB had turned a half-dozen soldiers into the 11 Indian Div MP Platoon on charges of mutiny, cowardice in the face of the enemy, and disobedience to orders. Heath was also aware of the disaster the IJAAF had inflicted on No 223 Group, and the loss of air cover in Northern Malaya. Bennett successfully argued that as Matador commander, he was independent of Heath, and this left Heath incensed. Heath then appealed to Percival, who waited to determine that Operation Matador had in fact failed until BG Paris reported his advance had halted at the Ledge at mid-day on 9 December. He ordered a seething MG Bennett to withdraw into III Indian Corps.

    When dawn of the 9th broke, LTC Galleghan’s initial assessment of his position and situation was good. Overnight, some of his mechanically minded troops had salvaged two Ha-Go, and scoured others for ammunition. IJA troops were observed on the far tree line but did not appear threatening. As the morning wore on, incoming reports became worrisome. No additional troops were en route to reinforce him. His nearest support base was 47 miles away at Jitra. Vehicles moving after dawn reported IJA troops up to 15 miles in his rear, dispassionately observing the Diggers without engaging in skirmishes. Obviously they had infiltrated past 2/30 AIB during the night, and it could be presumed the IJA was aware of LTC Galleghan’s isolation. At 0915, he ordered his reserve company to begin marching back to Malaya, followed by his three other companies at 20 minute intervals, the 2/4 AT RAA and 2/29 AIB troops split between the second and third echelons. The odd numbered echelons followed the rail line; the even numbered one the road. At 0950, several sections of the rail line were blown up on Galleghan’s orders. The Ha-Go and Bren carriers covered the retreat, and enough lorries permitted most supplies to be withdrawn.

    2/30 AIB was within an hour of destruction. The two battalions (a third was held in IJA Southern Army Reserve) of 41st IJA Regt were arriving in attack positions when the retreat began. While regimental guns were positioned, and a final reconnaissance prepared, the demolitions set by the Australian sappers revealed their intention to withdraw. The advance guard began a hasty pursuit, and at 1030, a message was received that the sortie of Force Z had compelled transports to cease off-loading troops and supplies. The 41st IJA Regt’s Commander, COL Okabe, ordered the pursuit to continue along the highway, despite any hope of resupply or promise of transport vehicles. 2/30 AIB remained a few miles ahead of the IJA already fatigued from a night’s march until 1540, when the rear-guard stopped to demolish another section of road bridges. They were rushed by the 41st IJA Regt Advance Guard which was unsupported, and thrown back with the aid of captured Japanese 37mm guns in the two tankettes. After 35 minutes of fighting, the veteran IJA troops regrouped and forced the position. Both Ha-Go were recaptured and the Australian rear-guard escaped primarily because the Japanese expended much of their ammunition.

    At 1610, the trucks belatedly sent to pull the battalion back found half the expected troops were along the rail line several miles way. They had been spotted by IJAAF Ki-30 aircraft and mercilessly strafed; evacuating the wounded slowed the remainder down and reduced their number. Overnight, a trail was found connecting the highway to the rail line, and eventually the 2/30 AIB reassembled at Changlun, about ten miles north of Jitra. 41st IJA Regt was forced to spend four days constructing temporary bridges (mostly with conscripted Thai labor), and to await a resumption of landings once Force Z was turned back. During this lull, it lost 420 of its best soldiers to reconstitute 5th IJA Cavalry Regt.

    Defense of Western Malaya

    In the four additional days’ time resulting from the delay on Japanese plans inflicted by Force Z and Operation Matador, LTG Heath, MG Murray-Lyon and MG Bennett sought to plan a series of delaying actions until Malaya could be adequately reinforced. Instead of command clarity, these plans brought a series of compromises that nearly led to annihilation of the Commonwealth forces in Western Malaya. The first delaying position, at Changlun, had not been previously contemplated, but the success of 2/30 AIB against the IJA and that unit’s arrival there on 10 December led to a decision almost by default. LTC Galleghan sent scathing reports regarding lack of support from BG Maxwell, while officers of 2/29 AIB simultaneously completed the spiral of recriminations and attempted to bring order to its chaotic state. 2/30 AIB wasn’t really wanted back at 8 Australian Div just yet.

    2/16 Punjab from 6 Indian Bde, and 1/14 Punjab from 15 Indian Bde were ordered to Changlun to reinforce the Australians. LTC Henry D Moorehead of the 3/16 Punjab was designated commander as the senior battalion commander within 11 Ind Div, but could not bring his own battalion. Although the force was of brigade strength, no staff was created, there were none to spare from existing units, and LTC Moorehead was unfamiliar with any of the commanders and troops under his command. There was also no artillery support available other than the 75mm A/T guns still attached to the Australians. All entrenchments were constructed by the units themselves in monsoonal weather. Finally, while the principle of establishing delaying positions may have been sound, at ten miles Changlun was simply too far away from Jitra to be anything more than an excessive risk.

    The positions at Jitra had been considerably strengthened since August, and Heath gave BG Simson, Malaya Command Chief Engineer a green light to emplace anti-tank and anti-personnel mines. Heath also ordered 28 Indian (Gurkha) Bde from III Ind Corps’ Reserve to 11 Indian Div control; 6 Indian Bde covered the left flank, and 15 Indian Bde the center, and 28 Indian (Gurkha) Bde the right. None of the brigades had an adequate reserve, but were backed by a regiment’s worth of artillery, a battery of anti-tank and a company of machine gun support from divisional units. It was a textbook divisional static defense that all British and Indian Army officers were well-versed in.

    8 Australian Div was set in at Gurun, an important road and rail junction 25 miles south of Jitra. With five infantry battalions, one of which was ineffective, there was little chance Gurun could be held by the Australians alone. They were reinforced by a second artillery unit, 2/10 FR RAA, which had finished re-equipping with 25 Pdrs and was released from III Ind Corps Reserve. It was agreed that if Jitra was breached, the most intact brigade of 11 Indian Div would pass to Bennett’s division. BG Simson’s engineers also began to survey positions behind the Muda River, just south of Sungei Patani for a fourth defensive line.

    Landings at Singora resumed at first light on the 12th, and the IJA wasted little time pushing 5th IJA Cavalry Regiment, the two battalions of 41st IJA Regiment, and the 1st IJA Tank Regt towards Changlun. The 11th IJA Regt, originally scheduled to begin landing on 13 December, arrived three days later, delayed by the sortie of Force Z. By the morning of the 14th, enough munitions were off-loaded to allow the 12th IJAAF Air Bde to move to Singora and Patani Airfields. The 3rd and 10th IJAAF Air Brigades are still in French Indochina. Previously, IJAAF aircraft were limited to fighter and reconnaissance aircraft using the fuel sent by “commercial” Japanese companies just prior to the outbreak of war, but now bombing could begin in earnest, especially with the lessening of the monsoon rains between the 14th and 19th of December.

    A perfectly synchronized attack on positions at Changlun commenced at mid-day on 15 December 1941. More than sixty aircraft flew attack sorties, and all but one 75mm gun of 2/4 AT RAA were destroyed. Troops were dispersed, demoralized and command disrupted. 5th IJA Cavalry Regt struck the 1/14 Punjab positions along the main road, its Ha-Go tankettes generating enough surprise that they were not engaged by Boyes anti-tank rifles. As the day closed the IJA continued to overrun individual position, and the battalion broke in panic, abandoning mortars and Bren carriers, and leaving the flanks of its sister battalions exposed. 2/30 AIB was never engaged, and steadily marched back to Jitra along plantation side roads under the cover of darkness. Exhausted by the previous week’s fighting, they were sent on to Gurun.

    2/16 Punjab was forced to withdraw as well, and fight its way through four ambushes set by IJA troops already positioned in its rear. At 0300 on the 16th, 2/1 Gurkha Rifles (GR) was ordered forward to cover the retreat of the Changlun Force into the Jitra line. The Gurkhas marched in route rather than tactical formation in the expectation of being guided by friendly troops. Instead they encountered 5th IJA Cavalry Regt which easily annihilated nearly three companies. In 90 minutes, 355 troops were killed or wounded (and abandoned to captivity). 2/16 Punjab was able to execute a passage of lines at 15 Indian Bde’s sector and return to its parent unit, having lost 84 killed or missing, and recovered only 27 of its wounded. About 220 of 1/14 Punjab filtered in of 649 committed. Reunited with its rear detachment, the battalion was sent to Penang, fit only for guard duties.

    The victory at Changlun, the elimination of the equivalent of two battalions was accomplished with a loss of fewer than 50 IJA casualties, and no Type 95s lost. The 41st IJA Regt was disappointed the engagement ended before it could arrive. This regiment was weakened as each battalion was forced to detach a company to forage for rice – Tsuji’s planning did not include wasting shipping space on food. Tsuji was prescient, later massive quantities of civilian food supplies were captured as the British never contemplated either evacuating or destroying them.

    Elements of 5th IJA Cavalry Regt reached the Jitra Line in the early afternoon of the 16th, after a full morning of air attacks. No Allied fighters challenged the IJAAF. Despite these raids, against which the 40mm Bofors guns of A Battery, 35 (Light) AA Regt, RA had little effect, the clear weather that afternoon played to the advantage of the defenders. Royal Artillery, always king in the British and Commonwealth Armies gave the IJA recon elements a good pasting. Pressing in regardless of casualties, its nine Ha-Go were quickly dispatched by 2 Pdr guns of 80 AT Regt RA. Bicycle mounted troops fell victim to the heavy Vickers of 1/Middlesex (MG) whose fields of fire were cleared and set with aiming stakes and reference points. For the second time in a week, 5th IJA Cavalry Regt was reduced to cadres spread all across the defensive line. The sacrifice was not without purpose, these troops continued to infiltrate, and overnight II/41st IJA Regt positioned its 900 troops along the 6 Indian Bde front, while I/41st IJA Regt prepared its attacks against 15 Indian and 28 Indian (Gurkha) Bde.

    An hour after dawn, air attacks and feints commenced, but the IJA minimized its exposure to the artillery barrages fired in response. At 0815, II/41st IJA Regt assaulted 6 Indian Bde, where 2/16 Punjab had just resumed its previous position on the left flank. Consequently, the 2/East Surreys were still adjusting positions to a shorter frontage when heavy and accurate bombing commenced. Reinforced by 15 Type 97 Chi-Ha tanks from 1st IJA Tank Regt (22 had broken down or were delayed en-route from Singora) the IJA attack fell upon the British troops and the neighboring 1/8 Punjab. The Punjabi held firm, with support from two Breda A/T guns from 22 Mtn Bty/IA. Four Chi-Ha tanks were destroyed, and over 100 IJA infantry massacred. The momentum of the IJA thrust eventually took Punjabi fire directly into the flanking East Surreys, and 3.7-inch mountain guns also wreaked havoc when their shelling fell short – the East Surreys lost over half its officers (25 total) and 279 other ranks. A detachment of Chi-Ha broke through, overran four 6-inch guns and dispersed BG William Lay’s 6 Indian Bde staff. The East Surreys, like all British battalions was intended to “stiffen” native troops, but had broken in chaos by noon.

    Despite having nine battalions on the Jitra Line, MG Murray-Lyon had held none in reserve to counterattack in the event of such a breakthrough. In fairness, the Jitra position was too long for a single division, and his troops lacked adequate training to rely on a mobile defense. However, his decisions compounded rather than compensated. At 1330, instead of ordering the lightly committed 15 and 28 Indian (Gurkha) Brigades to counterattack or reposition to reestablish the left flank, Murray-Lyon ordered a general withdrawal without notifying Heath. The right flank Indian brigades were stunned – I/41st IJA Regt lost a third of its strength against the seam of 1/Leicesters and 2/2 GR without gaining a yard. Two under strength IJA battalions and a tank squadron routed an entire division, and for the time being justified Yamashita’s faith in the racial superiority of the Japanese soldier. Weeks’ worth of engineering preparation and a stockpile of 13% of all artillery ammunition in Malaya were lost as well as rations and medical supplies. Undefended, the Alor Star airfields were overrun on 17 December, a number of vital RAF ground staff were killed or captured, and fuel stocks were not destroyed. 1/Bahawalpur Infantry, caught by surprise, suffered significant casualties until the airfield defence mission was abandoned, but thereafter performed to expectations as it withdrew.

    With the IJA too few in number and too distracted capturing key objectives to closely pursue, 11 Indian Div managed to withdraw in good order. Contact with the IJA was broken completely on 18 December, and the next day 28 Indian (Gurkha) Bde was transferred to 8 Australian Div at Gurun. This did little for MG Bennett’s attitude. He still complained that Gurun was indefensible while waging an ultimately successful fight to have Australian troops from 2/29 AIB court-martialed by Australian authorities, not Malaya Command. Heath wished to relieve both Bennett and Murray-Lyon to send a message that commanders must be willing to fight, but was overruled by Percival. Percival correctly viewed Gurun as eventually vulnerable once 12 Indian Bde retreated from the Ledge and the Baling Road was opened to IJA advance into the rear of both Gurun and Muda River. Heath, in exasperation, ordered pioneer troops and civilian labour withdrawn from Gurun to improve defenses at Sungei Patani and Taiping. The two brigades of 11 Indian Div arrived at Sungei Patani on 20 December, and again began to prepare positions.

    To keep the momentum of his attack going, LTG Matsui Takuro reorganized his 5th IJA Div for a second time. 11th IJA Regt lost most of its advanced guard to rebuild the twice decimated 5th IJA Cavalry Regt but the other battalions remained largely intact as they took over the position as vanguard of the attack from 41st IJA Regt. I/41st IJA Regt advanced only as far as Alor Star, to be rejoined by the troops previously assigned to foraging duties, and brought to full strength by levies from II/41st IJA Regt. This unit, much reduced in strength was then assigned rear-echelon security duties. I/41st IJA Regt is ordered to assault Penang as soon as collapsible landing craft are transported from Singora. Despite LTG Matsui’s best efforts, and the obstacles resulting from COL Tsuji’s insistence that logistical support be captured by troops as they fought, LTG Yamashita would later bitterly criticize Matsui for allowing Commonwealth troops to retreat. The complaint that the IJA had to fight the same units over and over again may have been true, but the blame did not rest with Matsui.

    Gurun proved a tougher fight than Jitra, although settled just as quickly. A healthy respect for casualty rates had been impressed upon 5th IJA Cavalry Regt and its movements were less reckless and more deliberate. Contact was regained on 22 December with the aid of 10th IJAAF Air Bde Ki-30 Ann light bombers now operating from Alor Star. Throughout the day the IJA probes brought steady artillery fire, which the Ki-30s attempted to suppress. Overnight, with the monsoon receding, 26 Type 97 medium tanks from 1st IJA Tank Regt spearheaded an attack by I and III/11th IJA Regt against the center-left of the Gurun Line; II/11th IJA Regt detailed two companies to make a feint against 28 Indian (Gurkha) Bde; while the remainder remained in reserve to exploit any breakthrough. 1st IJA Tank Regt suffered heavily from unimaginative IJA tank tactics; 2/4 A/T RAA and 2/15 FR RAA combined to destroy 14 Chi-Has and disable five more; and III/11th IJA Regt suffered nearly 300 casualties expending itself against 2/18 and 2/19 AIB. I/11th IJA Regt did better, forcing 2/26 AIB back to secondary positions with few casualties.

    The initial rush having failed by mid-day on 23 December, Matsui brought to bear the 5th IJA Artillery Regt for the first time emplacing 12 105mm howitzers and 12 of 24 75mm mountain guns overnight. His plan was to soften the Gurun Line on the 23rd with heavy air attacks from the 12th and 10th IJAAF Air Bde. The 6th IJA Tank Regt was to arrive from Singora on the 23rd, and a second all-out assault would commence on Christmas Day. It was not to be. The decision by BG Paris to withdraw 12 Indian Bde from Thailand, and that his position at Kroh could not hold out long had filtered through to III Indian Corps. Heath notified Bennett, who demanded permission to withdraw from Gurun. Percival granted it on the 24th, but insisted one brigade of 8 Australian Div remain at Sungei Patani for up to two weeks before rejoining the division at Taiping.

    This order to withdraw below the Muda River was a shock. None of the brigadiers, none of the battalion commanders, none of the staff, nor a majority of line troops in 8 Australian Div felt beaten. It was commonly bruited to only have occurred in the mind of their divisional commander. LTG Heath felt something had to be done to inspire confidence in command. On 23 December, BG Paris was appointed to succeed MG Murray-Lyon in command of 11 Indian Div. LTC Stewart was appointed in his stead at 12 Indian Bde.

    Sounds of vehicles withdrawing overnight were mistaken by the IJA for the arrival of reinforcements. The air bombardment went off as scheduled, a prep barrage fired, and elements of 5th IJA Cavalry Regt probed forward on Christmas Day to find empty positions and discarded ration boxes. The indefatigable BG Ivan Simson and his engineers conducted a systemic destruction of bridges behind the withdrawing forces, although one mistimed explosion forced 2/20 AIB to abandon all of its motor equipment. 5th IJA Div trundled southward to the next British defensive position, as IJA engineers once again conscripted local labor to rebuild what Simson destroyed.

    Although yet another defeat, the Battle of the Muda River was a significant event in the Malayan Campaign. It represented a transition from Percival’s strategy of ‘live to fight another day” to Heath’s determination to die in place if necessary to provide Singapore the strategic depth necessary to be resupplied. Force Z was able to successfully influence events on land. It was also the first series of engagements in which Chennault’s pilots attempted to gain air superiority over the IJAAF.

    The diversion of the AVG from Burma to Malaya was not without controversy. As Burma was a part of Malaya Command, it was proper for LTG Percival to exercise this authority. The Chinese were opposed, and the China Aircraft Manufacturing Corporation (CAMCO) set up as a cover for the AVG was already in Rangoon. Percival’s logic was acceptable to Claire Chennault; Malaya offered completed airfields, while a new and primitive one would have to be carved out of the Burma jungle; and the Tomahawk IIB was already in RAF service, and if painted with British roundels and tail stripes could be assembled and flown openly. Percival was still hoping for deterrence, an additional 100 aircraft in Malaya might affect IJAAF planning. This would also temporarily make ADM Hart more comfortable with RAF defences. For Chennault, Malaya would allow quicker training and even after ferry flights via Alor Star, Victoria Point, Tavoy, Rangoon and Mandalay, planes would still arrive in Kunming, China sooner.

    The Tomahawk IIB was essentially a P-40B with a drop tank added and without reflector gun sights, radios or wing guns. To augment the two Browning .50 calibre guns in the nose, four Chinese supplied Browning .30 calibre, Vickers .303 or Russian 7.62 mm guns would be fitted in the wings after arrival in China, which would bring them closer to P-40C standards. The 100 pursuit aircraft, the first of 99 AVG pilots and ten instructors for Chinese Air Force Cadets, and 191 mechanics and ground staff arrived in Singapore in late July, and Tengah Airfield was devoted to their use as they began flying and crashing their aerial mounts. Although 21 Tomahawks were destroyed or damaged in training, only one pilot was killed. Orders for spare parts were placed, and the first arrived to repair damaged planes along with three Curtiss-Wright CW-21 Demon fighters in November, 1941. It was also decided to immediately fit four Vickers .303 as the wing guns.

    By the end of that month, 62 pilots were accepted by Chennault, another 20 would be by the end of the year, and 16 who washed out were assigned to staff positions, or if prior USN/USMC, returned to their service at the USN Singapore Base. 1 Sqn/AVG, the “Adam and Eves” with 20 fighters, and four CAMCO Douglas DC-2s carrying ground crews, air warning personnel, and supplies left for China on 29 November to arrive in Kunming on 4 December. Chennault reluctantly did not accompany them to ensure completion of AVG pilot training. 2/AVG “Panda Bears” and 3/AVG “Hell’s Angels” were still at Tengah. Chennault’s 62 fighters nearly double the 64 operational Buffalo fighters comprising Malaya’s main air defense, and greatly narrow the odds when facing the 35 early model Ki-43 Oscar and 147 Ki-27 Nate fighters operated by the IJAAF in support of the Malayan invasion force.

    At first, Chennault’s influence was mixed. One of Chennault’s top priorities was to create an air warning network, and key English-speaking Chinese were brought from Kunming to Malaya for training, and some expatriate Chinese recruited to join the AVG. The RAF viewed this with amusement, although Chennault’s network later did compare favorably with the two RAF radar sets. Chennault’s aerial tactics were met with open, official RAF scorn, except from the senior RAAF commander, Group Captain (GC) John P. J. “Black Jack” McCauley. In sharp contrast to the complacency found in RAF command and social circles, GC McCauley worked tirelessly to professionalize RAAF training, establish camouflage and dispersal habits at airfields, formalize planning procedures, and discipline his young pilots. In contrast to MG Bennett, GC McCauley did not appeal to Canberra on trivial matters, and was otherwise a loyal subordinate. GC McCauley ordered No (Number) 453 RAAF Sqn and No 21 RAAF Sqn to train along similar lines as Chennault’s pilots.

    Less than a week after arriving, Force Z had failed in its mission of deterring a Japanese attack on Malaya. The decision to sortie was largely a result of a bombing raid on Singapore that would go disastrously for the Imperial Japanese Naval Air Force (IJNAF). The 22nd IJNAF Air Flotilla actually hoped to catch Force Z in port with an air raid scheduled to coincide with the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The raid was risky, nearly 1400 miles round trip, with attendant navigational difficulties. The northeast monsoon conspired against the 22nd IJNAF Air Flotilla, just over half the planned number, 54 Mitsubishi G3M Nell bombers got airborne, and only 17 from the Mihoro Air Corps reached Singapore due to miserable flying weather. One plane from Genzan Air Corps was lost en-route due to mechanical failure.
    The incoming engine noise was reported ay Chennault’s warning system at 0305 hrs, and ten minutes later were detected on radar with altitude and bearing. Chennault had preached himself hoarse reciting incidents where the Japanese had caught Chinese planes on the ground, mostly due to sloppy or careless defensive measures, but occasionally at dawn, or at night. 40 P-40C of 2/AVG (Panda Bears) and 3/AVG (Hell’s Angels) took off immediately, more to get them out of danger than to intercept, although there was hope of catching them after daybreak on the Malay coast heading home. Three CW-21s and 19 more P-40C flown by pilots not yet cleared for combat loitered to the northwest. GC McCauley imitated Chennault, and No 453 RAAF went aloft south of Keppel Harbor. Gradually the RNZAF and then the RAF followed suit, until every flyable plane was in the air. All would land after sunrise, had the raid been launched a few hours earlier, a night landing by poorly trained pilots might not have been risked.
    The bombs dropped were ineffective, although in the city center not yet blacked out by wartime restrictions, and 200 (mostly Chinese) civilians were killed. The only military targets hit were Tengah and Kallang Airfields, but no aircraft were destroyed and there were few casualties. Anti-aircraft gunners failed to hit any planes. At 0405 hrs, a section of seven Nells ran into No 453 RAAF Sqn while regrouping. Sqn Ldr Tim Vigors, a Battle of Britain veteran had flown night sorties before, and in several passes was able to adjust his fire and brought one Nell down. His novice pilots had more difficulty calculating range from intermittent engine sparks; 15 pilots shared in one more kill at a cost of one of their own to the lethal fire of the rear 20mm gun, but the other five Nells burned so much fuel that returning to Saigon was out of the question. They landed at Singora, still controlled by the Thais until elements of 5th IJA Cavalry Regt reached the airfield, and one Nell was written off as too damaged to fly again.
    Forty minutes later, the Panda Bears vectored by radar shot down one of the retreating assailants and damaged one more. The final losses for Mihoro Air Corps occurred at 0505 hrs when Tex Hill, a section leader with the Hell’s Angels spotted the glistening reflection of morning sunbeams on ten Nells from Mihoro Air Corps which unloaded their bombs after failing to find Singapore. Three were shot down, another crashed before reaching home, and four of the remaining six were unfit to fly until after several days’ repairs.
    The raid had three main effects. The IJNAF lost eighteen planes unable later to take part in the crucial battle against Force Z on 10 December, ironically one more plane was shot down than actually bombed a target. It would never again commit unescorted bombers around Malaya where fighter opposition was expected. Chennault’s tactics gained credibility among RAF officers. Finally, unaware that the IJNAF had no intention of launching a follow-up strike against Singapore, VA Phillips resolved to not be caught in port. On the open sea, Phillips was still convinced a battleship’s speed, maneuverability, armor plate and AA fire could defeat any air attack except coordinated torpedo planes. Moreover, psychologically the RN commanders could not remain idle while the Army and RAF were engaged in battle.
    The next combat over Singapore was on 15 December 1941, when a flight of ten Ki-21 “Sally” bombers from 7th IJAAF Air Bde, escorted by a dozen Ki-43 Oscars operating out of Singora for the first time, conducted a raid. 3/AVG and No 453 RAAF Sqn failed to make contact, but using the height advantage Chennault trained them to use, 2/AVG’s 19 pilots scored eight Ki-43 kills for the loss of one P-40. The speed of the Tomahawk’s dive negated the IJAAF skill in deflection gunnery and the rugged construction of the plane kept 7.7mm bullets from being lethal. No 488 RNZAF Sqn notched a single Oscar downed, but the 17 pilots concentrated on the bombers, destroying eight for the loss of four of their own and one pilot. Despite COL Chennault’s pleas for continuing to concentrate air power, No 224 Air Group could not be indifferent to the slaughter of No 223 Air Group and the lack of air cover over Jitra. No 453 RAAF was sent to Butterworth on 23 December, but three of 18 Buffalo were lost in a monsoon storm en-route. Within an hour of arrival, after finishing refueling, nine Ki-51 Sonia from 3rd IJAAF Air Bde attacked. They were repulsed by the Australians’ new tactics with a loss of five bombers.

    There was no time to train the novice pilots, and employing them in combat was tantamount to murder. Experience was bearing truth to the value of Chennault’s tactics. The Ki-27 with two 7.7mm machine guns was inferior in firepower to both Tomahawks (two .50 cal and four .303 cal) and the Buffalo (four .50 cal). It was also 40-50 mph slower in level flight, could not dive as well, and too lightly built to absorb much damage. It was however far more maneuverable, could climb more rapidly, and had a higher ceiling. The biggest advantage was the training of its pilots; most significantly in deflection gunnery; that is, shooting at a plane from all angles of approach. If allowed the opportunity during a mixed dogfight, IJAAF pilots were quite capable of putting a burst in and around the cockpit. Dead or wounded Allied pilots often guided an otherwise undamaged plane into the jungle below. USAAF pilot training concentrated on pursuit from an aircraft’s rear and did not include deflection gunnery. While the USN at Pensacola Naval Air Station and the Empire Aerial Training Scheme (EATS) did, RAF pilots from EATS were rushed to combat in Malaya before completing aerial gunnery against towed targets. Their only way to survive was to laboriously climb to altitude and make diving passes on bombers and running from the slower Ki-27s.

    After moving a portion of his air warning network forward, 3/AVG joined the RAAF at Butterworth. While the Australians defended the airfield the Tomahawks patrolled the front line, and the IJA for the first time had to deal with contested air space. No 34 RAF Sqn with 18 Blenheim IV was sent to Ipoh for ground attack missions; but coordination with fighter escort failed and the obsolete bombers did not achieve any results.

    On the ground, 5th IJA Div took five days to overcome BG Simson’s demolitions after passing through the evacuated Gurun Line, to regain contact at the Muda River Line in the cool early morning hours of 30 December 1941. The day was spent with the predictable pattern of probes by scouts from the 5th IJA Cavalry Regt while tankettes waited for the completion of replacement bridges by IJA engineers. On the 31st, II/11th IJA Regt arrived, followed by a reconstituted 11th IJA Regt Advance Guard and I/11th IJA Regt the next day. No potential crossing sites across the Muda River were found and considerable 18-Pdr and 4.5-inch artillery, mortar, and small arms fire was received from 22 Australian and 6 Indian Bde and their supporting 155 FR RA.

    The 42nd IJA Regt Advance Guard and I/42nd IJA Regt were both back through Patani and Singora to western Malaya and crossed the Muda River 30 miles further north, where the Baling Road leads east to Kroh and Grik. They then turned south until they reached where its current flow changes from southerly to a westerly direction. 28 (G) Ind Bde and 15 Ind Bde held the eastern flank here, and engaged the 42nd IJA Regt Advance Guard when contact was made on New Year’s Day. Buying time with patrols and skirmishes, LTG Matsui realized that this avenue of approach offered the greatest likelihood of success; the 11th IJA Regt Advance Guard and I/11th IJA Regt were withdrawn to where the rebuilt Baling Road Bridge crossed the Muda to the 42nd IJA Regt sector. 5th IJA Artillery Regt, III/11th /IJA Regt, and 6th IJA Tank Regt were diverted as well. The II/11th IJA Regt was left behind to make demonstrations and feints towards a river crossing against 6 Indian Bde, and the depleted 1st IJA Tank Regt moved in that direction to make it convincing.

    These delays allowed 3/AVG to influence the battle. A dawn patrol of four Tomahawks flew over the Muda River on 4 January too late to intercept morning raids by 3rd IJAAF Air Bde and flew north in search of aircraft. They found the hapless III/11th /IJA Regt in a non-tactical road march; conditioned after years of service in China, the IJA commander was oblivious to the dangers of enemy aircraft. The Tomahawks strafed without pity, destroying 13 vehicles, killing or wounding nearly 220 IJA infantrymen. This brought the newly arrived Nakajima Ki-43 Oscar fighters out, but chastened by earlier losses, 10th IJAAF Air Bde at Alor Star determined fighter sweeps would precede any bombing raids on Ipoh. Meanwhile, 5th IJA Artillery Regt fired its first 105mm shells towards 15 Ind Bde. Outranged, the British 25-Pdr of 137 FR RA could not respond, and No 34 Sqn was assigned the counter-artillery mission.

    Six Blenheim IV and six Tomahawks flew the attack mission at dawn the next morning, and found a trio of Oscars awaiting their arrival. Others were vectored by IJAAF ground personnel; a total of 15 Ki-43s were engaged and two lost, but five P-40Bs fell to the persistent IJAAF pilots. One AVG pilot baling out was machine-gunned in his chute. The inexperienced Blenheim crews, virtually ignored by the Japanese, returned unscathed after dispersing the gun crews, but failing to place a bomb close enough to destroy any howitzers. The third day another six Tomahawks flew alone at altitude and got the jump on the Oscars, nailing two and scuttling back to Ipoh without loss. The Oscar was vastly superior in speed and rate of climb than its ancestor the Nate, which permitted it to overtake the Buffalo and Tomahawk in most combat conditions. Unfortunately, like its predecessor, it was also inadequately armed with two 7.7mm Type 89 machineguns. With its speed, the Ki-43 was able in escort missions to avoid diving attacks by the P-40s and concentrate on the Buffalos attempting to flame their bomber charges. However, the engine often seized during violent maneuvering – a reoccurring problem for the first two months of combat for the new fighter.

    Nevertheless, 5th IJA Div was able to launch its attack on the Muda River Line mid-morning on 6 January, and a half-dozen Buffalo sorties the next day would not stop it. No 4 RAF AACU employed its spotter aircraft in strength for the first time, and despite losing three Swordfish and two Shark biplanes, kept BG Paris aware of the threat developing on his right flank, and 2/19 AIB was moved into position as a flank reserve. Two hours before the attack, the IJAAF launched 126 bombing sorties undisturbed by the morning’s raid by No 34 Sqn. Reluctantly accepting that bomber escort missions were now fatal, No 224 Group sent No 34 Sqn back to Seletar. An IJA artillery barrage took over 20 minutes prior to the attack, and 1/Leicester and 3/16 Punjab had not yet recovered when the armored vehicles of 6th IJA Tank Regt and 1270 crack infantry of I/11th IJA Regt ploughed into their positions. Tied closely to the IJA infantry, the tanks did not break through, and 2-Pdr A/T gun positions were signaled to Ki-30 and Ki-51 orbiting overhead as a sign of healthy respect. Both 1/Leicester and 3/16 Punjab fell back to secondary positions, but the 2/9 Jats on the extreme right sent its reserve company into the flank of the IJA attack and halted the momentum by nightfall. Vickers gunners of C/1 Middlesex were in position to assist the Jats, despite excellent use of I/11th IJA Regt 70mm guns against the Vickers gun crews. The IJA infantry were able to reassert the initiative by infiltrating at night, and 2/9 Jats withdrew at 0140 to avoid losing contact with the rest of 15 Indian Bde.

    On 8 January, the 800 troops of III/11th IJA Regt expanded the salient to include 2/9 and 2/2 Gurkhas on the left flank of 3/16 Punjabis. IJAAF bombers were again put to excellent use, and 137 FR RA lost seven guns whose locations were identified the previous day. III/42nd IJA Regt was also committed against the valiant Jats, which after performing well was forced to fall back to final defensive positions. With the fourth battalion of 15 Indian Bde (1/14 Punjab) non-combat effective since the Changlun fight, 2/19 AIB was committed, but suffered significant dispersion from strafing IJAAF planes and was unable to gain an advantageous position. Grimly, the 11 Indian Div hung on into the night, saved only by the fact LTG Matsui was also down to his last three intact battalions, and must use them cautiously. That afternoon, another six Tomahawks flew the second sweep of the day, and found the skies full of IJAAF planes, the Ki-43 now encountered in numbers. Scoring no kills, the AVG pilots were lucky to return to Ipoh with bullet riddled planes, and Butterworth was evacuated.

    Closely monitoring BG Paris’ conduct of the battle, LTG Heath began to realize that eleven days (29 December through 8 January) was as much time as 11 Indian Div could hope to delay. In both 15 Indian and 28 (G) Indian Brigades casualties were heavy. Once darkness had fallen, Paris was ordered to move his artillery, 22 Australian Bde and 28 (G) Indian Bde to the Taiping Line while 6 Indian Bde and what was left of the 15 Indian Bde covered the withdrawal. The break was made cleanly on the left; II/11th IJA Regt could not cross the Muda. Once ordered to withdraw, discipline in the Leicesters broke. 2/2 Gurkhas, 2/19 AIB and 1/8 Punjab (6 Ind Bde) were forced to remain behind to ensure the IJA did not envelop the remainder of the division’s support units. Each was engaged in further platoon-sized skirmishes. To cover the retreat, 3/Indian Cavalry was committed to action.

    As morning broke, 6th IJA Tank Regt found its accompanying infantry no help when the 15mm or .5-inch machine guns from the fast and maneuverable Marmon-Herringtons of 3/Indian Cavalry moved into screen. At long-range, the thin armor plate of Chi-Ha and Ha-Go was inadequate, and the IJA backed off after the first few vehicles were hit. Once buttoned up by machine gun fire, the Japanese were blinded to the eight 2-Pdr A/T guns of the cavalry. The extra month’s training before commitment to combat made all the difference for 3/Indian Cavalry. By 1015, the IJA encountered the first of BG Simson’s planned demolitions, and 3/Indian Cavalry was able to disengage without loss; despite the fact that a design flaw in the 2 Pdr A/T gun required the time-consuming removal and replacement of its wheels each time it was positioned to fire and then moved. For the rest of 11 Indian Div (with the exception of 2/2 Gurkhas, transferred to 27 Australian Bde), another demoralizing defeat was only mitigated when moved as soon as transport became available all the way to Johore for lengthy rest, reorganization and additional training.

    Eastern Malaya – Second Kota Bharu and Kuantan

    LTG Matsui had won an economical victory. By combining careful scouting with detailed planning, using stealth and infiltration when appropriate and masked by terrain and foliage, and shifting to tank guns, regimental artillery, and air support; less than 3800 IJA infantry were able to root out over 14,900 Commonwealth from prepared defensive positions. His losses, including those to strafing attacks were 219 killed and 368 wounded from 11th /IJA Regt; 56 killed and 101 wounded from 42nd IJA Regt; 49 killed and 77 wounded from 5th IJA Cavalry Regt. 14 Chi-Ha and 19 Ha-Go were destroyed rendering the 6th IJA Tank Regt below half strength. The losses to 11th /IJA Regt since landing in Thailand were made up by the arrival of replacements, and the addition of 21st IJA Regt doubled Matsui’s combat strength. Muda River, which had the potential to halt the main effort of 25th IJA Army, was instead breached.

    15 Indian Bde alone suffered far worse. 2/9 Jats alone lost 487 casualties and had only two unwounded officers; C/1 Middlesex was virtually wiped out; and overall brigade casualties were 392 killed and 720 wounded. 28 (G) Indian Bde suffered 95 killed and 192 wounded; Australians 43 killed and 106 wounded. The total of some 900 IJA lost to over 1500 of Heath’s troops was again sobering and dispiriting to some. The first month of combat, spanning from the first landings at Kota Bharu to Muda River, over 4,000 Commonwealth troops had been killed, captured, died of wounds or missing, and another 3,700 wounded. This represented a higher ratio than normal, and the fact that a number of units abandoned wounded to the advancing IJA severely impacted morale. It was little comfort that the first wounded from Operation Matador began returning to units from hospitals as Muda River came to a close.

    Earlier, on 14 December, BG Dwight D Eisenhower became chief of the Far East and Pacific Section of the U.S. Army War Plans Department. That day in an interview with U.S. Army Chief of Staff George C Marshall, Eisenhower stated: “The people of China, of the Philippines, of the Dutch East Indies will be watching us. They may excuse failure, but they will not excuse abandonment. Their friendship is important to us.” Marshall agreed, and American reinforcements were considered. Ten days later, Marshall used this decision to bludgeon the British into accepting the principle of a single supreme commander. Informing Churchill U.S. reinforcements could be sent to Singapore instead of Australia or Java, Marshall (backed by Roosevelt) demanded in return appointment of Field Marshal (FM) Archibald Wavell as supreme commander in Southeast Asia. The British were not fooled, Wavell would likely fail, ensuring the blow would fall on the back of British prestige. More important to Churchill, the precedent is set for an American supreme commander in Europe later. Nevertheless, Churchill could not avoid acceptance, intending to undermine it later when a commander in Europe is chosen. Over the next few days, the American-British-Dutch-Australian (ABDA) Command was hashed out, and Wavell was notified of his appointment on 30 December 1941.
    FM Wavell immediately had to make a critical decision to abandon much of eastern Malaya defended at such a brutal cost on the first few days of the war. Wavell could not afford to devote eight battalions with the main Japanese attack clearly materializing on the opposite side of the peninsula. The 4th Imperial Guards (IG) IJA Regt would depart from Bangkok on 21 December, except III/4th IG IJA Regt left behind on occupation duties. LTG Nishimura Takuma, commander of the IG IJA Div was bitterly despised by Yamashita, who was loath now to be dependent on him and his troops. The two battalions of 4th IG IJA Regt arrived on schedule by rail at Singora on 23 December, and after one days’ rest and the supply of additional equipment, continued by rail until the positions of III/42nd IJA Regt were reached and a relief in place conducted. III/41st IJA Regt returned via the same trains to control of the regiment at Alor Star, where replacements from Japan would permit detachment of a cadre for the reconstitution of the rest of the regiment.

    III/42nd IJA Regt had maintained steady contact, but never engaged in close combat with 2/GH, 2/17 Dogras, C/1/Manchester (MG), and 21 Mountain Bty /IA positioned in steadily improved trench lines north of the Kota Bharu rail junction. Casualties on both sides were light. The third battalion of 2 Malaya Bde, 1/Malay was in reserve at the rail junction, training replacements received from 10/Malay two weeks previously. The 4th IG IJA Regt Advance Guard, anxious to disprove Yamashita’s vocal opinion towards them, began probing forward positions of BG Fraser’s command in the early hours of 28 December. After an hour and a half of occasional small arms fire, the Japanese troops were met with deadly artillery fire from 21 Mountain Bty /IA, but stiff discipline kept them in position as they ascertained that rifle-toting sections from the Kelantan Volunteer Force, dismissed at inconsequential local militia by the static-minded III/42nd Regt were in fact using telephone lines in plain sight to call back coordinates to the well-emplaced 3.7-inch mountain guns.
    The 4th IG IJA Regt Advance Guard turned on the locally recruited territorials, slaughtering them without mercy and pillaging several local villages to instill a sense of terror. Indian artillery lost responsiveness, and the line IG IJA battalions and regimental guns were brought up. Skirmishing between the 4th IG IJA Regt Advance Guard and 2 Malaya Bde continued for three days, and on the morning of 3 January 1942, the IJA assaulted the defenders high ground with organic artillery support. BG Fraser and BG Key had already requested permission to withdraw, which MG Bartow readily approved; but Percival was reluctant to allow the IJAAF airfields within range of Singapore. FM Wavell, visiting Malaya on his first stop as ABDA commander, quickly gave his approval on New Year’s Day.
    Wavell’s approval of Key’s request was forced by landings on 31 December by two battalions of 55th IJA Regt at Sabak Beach, site of the slaughter of its sister regiment earlier in the month. There was a major change in IJA tactics, instead rushing inland to capture objectives, the beaches would be cleared and flanks held, prior to moving on to the city. The landings would be made after sunrise, allowing IJNAF planes to bomb and strafe the defenders, and heavy cruisers IMS Atago and Chokai time to bombard the beaches. Supplies would be carefully built up to sustain the regiment. With their ranks thinned by previous casualties, 8 Indian Bde fell back to maintain cohesion; port facilities and all three airfields had been long since evacuated and destroyed once the local RAF/RAAF aircraft were annihilated. The brigade faced off against the 55th IJA Regt on the outskirts of Kota Bharu, but only to allow the overworked Malaya Railway system to embark artillery and support units.

    1/13 FFR, the first battalion to pull out was returned to 22 Indian Bde at Kuantan for additional beach defense duty. It was followed by 3/17 Dogras and 2/12 FFR, with 2/10 Baluchs covering as rear guard. The successful withdrawal of 8 Indian Bde permitted 2 Malaya Bde to disengage on the afternoon of 3 January as the IJA finally massed its strength in infantry, artillery and air support. Down to about 500 effectives in both 2/GH and 2/17 Dogras, and with the supporting MG company and supporting Lanchester armored cars attritted as well; BG Fraser pulled them out before they could be pinned. The IJA infantry rushed forward through empty positions, and exuberantly assuming a rout were unready for heavy rifle fire from 1/Malay Regt in prepared secondary positions. A now battered 4th IG IJA Regt Advance Guard was again moved forward for a night reconnaissance, which the Malays thwarted by combinations of heavy fire to deceive and a quiet withdrawal of all but C/1/Malays.

    Luck was against the IJA on the ground on 4 January. 55th IJA Regt, having achieved its objectives of the airfields, port and city proper was now preparing for further amphibious operations on the east coast of Malaya. 4th IG IJA Regt concentrated its two battalions for the attack on 1/Malay but found only C/1/Malay. C Company, under the command of LT Adnan Saidi was designated as covering force and concentrated on a hill contiguous to the rail line; commonly used for opium trading prior to British annexation of Kelantan in 1907. As the 4th IG IJA Regt moved in under the cover of predawn darkness, LT Saidi found his unit surrounded, and an epic battle commenced. With little food or water, and ammunition eventually exhausted, C/1/Malay held for 48 hours and inflicted more than 300 casualties before being forced to surrender. LT Saidi was summarily executed. Inexplicably (and perhaps mistaken for local Kelantan Volunteer Force), the seventy other surviving Malay troops were sternly lectured regarding their inferiority to the Japanese soldier, the benefits of the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere, stripped of their weapons and uniforms, and sent home. Most walked down the rail line to rejoin their unit. Their description of LT Saidi’s leadership in the Battle of Opium Hill was a tremendous boost to regimental pride, and was rewarded with the third VC of the campaign.

    This allowed a clean break between 2 Malaya Bde and a now depleted 4th IG IJA Regt; but BG Fraser overestimated the prowess of his troops. The next defensive position was selected at the town of Kuala Krai, where the railroad crossed the Kelantan River, but was manned only by 2/17 Dogras. Intended only for a delay, Fraser anticipated a successful ambush, and then a thorough destruction of the trestle. The main defense was further back at the town of Bertram, where mountainous terrain made any Japanese attempts to flank or envelop utterly hopeless. Here 2/10 Baluchs (exchanged for 2/GH after its rearguard mission) and 1/Malays were posted. Advancing down the rail line, the ubiquitous 4th IG IJA Regt Advance Guard caught poor discipline among the Dogra outposts, and patiently reconnoitered while the rest of the regiment caught up on 9 January 1942. After executing a stealthy bayonet attack on the Royal Engineers tasked with blowing the bridge, a violent assault from unexpectedly close assault positions put the Dogras into utter panic. Once informed, Fraser promptly blew the bridges at Bertram. The Dogras later straggled in in terror, crossing the river with the aid of friendly Malay villagers. The sector settled into stalemate for two weeks.

    5th IG IJA Regt and the bulk of IG IJA Div main support troops arrived in Kota Bharu by rail between 10 and 13 January; but 3rd IG IJA Regt not until the 31st. The heavy equipment had to remain until the rail line was put back into operation. 5th IG IJA Regt had to march to Bertram, where the 4th IG IJA Regt was sorely depleted by casualties and withdrawn to Kota Bharu for reconstitution – food supplies were not sufficient to keep an ineffective unit on the line. Four IJN destroyers transported III/55th IJA Regt to Kuala Trengganu, 120 miles southeast of Kota Bharu on 12 January. A week later, a seaplane base site was surveyed by IJN engineers. Preparations continue for additional landings by 18th IJA Div further down the Malay coast. Stymied at Bertram, the IJA optioned for another attempt at an end run.

    A convoy escorted by the IJN carried the 114th IJA Regt, the battalion-sized 22nd IJA Cavalry Regt, II/18th IJA Artillery Regt and the 96th IJA Airfield Construction Bn to Kuantan, arriving on 23 January. 10th IJAAF Air Bde softened up the defenses without opposition, there were only enough Allied planes for Singapore and Western Malaya. They destroyed both six-inch guns of the 20th Coast Battery/HKSA. Absorbing the lessons of First Kota Bharu, the 114th IJA Regt Advance Guard conducted a thorough reconnaissance, and once ascertaining the locations of 22 Indian Bde, directed began landings just beyond heavy machine gun range. BG George W A Painter had positioned 1/13 FFR on the north side of the Kuantan River, the regionally recruited 4/FMSVF on the south side, and 5/11 Sikh as a reserve and counterattack force. Once landings were confirmed, the RAF began demolition work and evacuating its personnel by road. This placed the airfield defense unit – 1/Mysore Infantry (ISF) under Painter’s command.

    BG Painter was under no illusions he could hold once the Japanese exposed their intent to outflank his established defenses. He had no artillery support, and realized that a pitched battle for Kuantan would allow the Japanese to pin and then destroy his brigade. His hope to deny the IJA free access into the hinterland lay in the 5/11 Sikh under the command of LTC John H D Parkin which had garrisoned the Kuantan area since arriving in Malaya in March 1941. 5/11 Sikh was the best battalion left in Malaya that had not yet been committed to combat. Other than its commander, a GSO1, and a handful of NCOs, the battalion had all other British personnel replaced by Indian officers and other ranks, and would have had an Indian commander by the spring of 1942. Moreover, LTC Parkin agreed with BG Paris and LTC Stewart with regard to jungle training. Considered trailblazers, 5/11 Sikh’s officers were anxious to prove themselves and their training. A small cadre detached that week to train the 192 newly arrived replacements in jungle training in Johore were bitterly disappointed at missing its combat debut. The Sikhs morale was high; and Painter positioned them 17 miles west of Kuantan in an ideal position to ambush from heavy jungle cover.

    The 1/Mysore and 4/FMSVF were ordered to evacuate up the highway to the key rail/road junction of Jerantut in the highlands, but the company of 4/FMSVF recruited in Kuantan refused to leave. Although some abandoned their uniforms, most were aware of Japanese brutality elsewhere in Malaya, and savagely fought to herd their families to safety. The Mysore did not leave until the last of the RAF had, and proved to be equal to the best units in the area with regard to rifle marksmanship. The IJA was held off from well prepared pill-boxes with excellent cleared fields of fire as the RAF evacuated and three disabled Blenheim I bombers of No 60 Sqn were destroyed. Once pressed the ISF withdrew after losing 39 casualties (less than a quarter of the number they inflicted) on III/114th IJA Regt. Having slogged through heavy surf and off-loaded supply barges, the IJA was too exhausted to pursue. 1/13 FFR however suffered the most. Although it had successfully maneuvered against IJA units at Kota Bharu, it had taken significant casualties among its leaders since that time, and the 192 reinforcements received diluted the espirit de corps. Two companies were enfiladed by the amphibious tanks of 22nd IJA Cavalry Regt and shot apart before contact was broken, and the heavy machine guns and the Bren carriers were lost when a bridge was prematurely blown.

    To the surprise of both BG Painter and LTC Parkin, the IJA spent nearly two days consolidating their Kuantan positions and off-loading transports before moving in. During this time, BG Fraser was ordered to pull out of Bertram, and retreat another 140 miles to Kuala Lipis. Fraser’s move was made in relative ease by rail, and the ten days the 5th IG IJA Regt Advance Guard spent seeking fording points on the Kelantan River was wasted. Thorough demolitions, as always under the vigilant BG Simson left the IJA engineers struggling to allow the advance to resume. Simson then simply allowed topography and terrain do the dirty work of defense. The 5th IG IJA Regt Advance Guard did not reach Kuala Lipis until 2 February, and the rest of the regiment in strength until four days later. Kuala Lipis and Jerantut, while not far apart, were too far to be mutually supporting. Both had to be held, or the way would be open to reach both the Straits of Malacca and to force the last stretch into Johore. The first would imperil the new defensive line at Taiping, the latter would threaten Singapore.

    When the partially motorized 114th IJA Regt Advance Guard began to move west on the morning of 25 January, it was done with the arrogant assumption the British were utterly routed. The passed through A and C Companies of the Sikhs on the edge of an open clearing, followed in 20 minutes by the lead elements of I/114th IJA Regt. The battalions were being shuttled forward by the regimental truck company. A few minutes after passing the first echelon (which attached stalkers to follow the trail party of the Advance Guard), the second echelon opened fire within a well-prepared kill zone. The initial reaction was to send runners back for I Battalion to hasten while the ambushers were pinned. This led to a double-time rush into a mortar barrage and merciless rifle and Bren gun fire which made a shambles of the trucks and their packed human cargo. After 15 minutes, A and C Companies broke contact and moved along the highway and prepared side trails to the Advance Guard. Now surrounded, and with I/114th IJA Regt moving only cautiously on foot past their 215 casualties, the work of decimating the Advance Guard was completed. Only 68 of 273 IJA soldiers survived, and only 26 were unwounded. The Sikhs with only 54 casualties withdrew with deliberate speed, taking nine usable vehicles and – as usual, blowing bridges over the Kuantan River. Now chastened, a dozen of the IJA survivors turned the tables on stalking, and found that with the monsoon over, the river was no great obstacle.

    BG Painter had the good sense to use local labor to evacuate food supplies around Meran, the first sizeable town 60 miles west of Kuantan, and just over halfway between it and Jerantut. It got local civilians out of the way. LTC Parkin then set B/5/11 Sikh four miles from Meran as a covering force, and ensured contact by wireless was maintained. He was reinforced by one platoon of 4/FMSVF native to the area as scouts, and one company of 1/Mysore to strengthen the center of the U-shaped ambush on the center of the highway. MG Barstow, the commander of 9 Indian Div met with BG Painter, and on 27 January received permission from FM Wavell to exchange the shattered 1/13 FFR for the best battalion in 45 Indian Bde, the 7/6 Rajputana Rifles to prepare defenses around Jerantut. The next day, against the advice and judgment of his staff, MG Barstow insisted on seeing the Meran position himself as Parkin settled his battalion in. His staff car was spotted by one of the survivors of the Advance Guard survivors who positioned himself the riddle it with gunfire as it returned. MG Barstow was killed, and the IJA soldier never found.

    Advancing more slowly on foot, with flankers posted, I/114th IJA Regt did not reach Meran until 31 January. It was not ambushed. II/114th IJA Regt arrived on 2 February, escorting II/18th IJA Artillery Regt. For two weeks, a battle familiar to veterans of Guadalcanal or New Guinea unfolded, as vast amounts of ammunition were expended against shadows; and as many casualties were inflicted by nature as by the enemy. Elements of the IJNAF 21st Air Flotilla, at last freed from responsibilities elsewhere would arrive at Kuantan in early February to support future landings on Sumatra.

    Reinforcements and Reckoning

    The promised American reinforcements begin to arrive. After some indecision, a convoy escorted by USS Pensacola originally intended tor the Philippines is split up. 26th U.S. Field Artillery (FA) Bde leaves 2/131st and 1/148th US Field Artillery Regiments in Australia. Equipped with M1897 75mm guns they were sent without ammunition, since there was plenty in the Philippines. Equipped with brand-new M1 105mm howitzers, and carrying a 12-month peacetime ammunition supply are the two battalions of the 147th US Field Artillery Regiment (12 guns each). The 26th U.S. FA Bde was assigned to 1 Malaya Div. The Pensacola Convoy also brought 18 P-40E Kittyhawk fighters and 52 A-24 dive-bombers, 2,000 500-lb bombs, 3,000 30-lb bombs, 340 motor vehicles, 9,000 barrels of aviation fuel, 500,000 rounds of .50 caliber ammunition, and over 3900 M1 rifles with 1.3 million rounds of ammunition. The convoy arrived in Singapore on 31 December 1941.

    Close behind (3 January 1942) was a convoy escorted by HMS Exeter containing 45 Indian Bde (7/6 Rajputana Rifles, 4/9 Jats and 5/18 Royal Garhwal Rifles) and 23 geriatric 1920s’ vintage Vickers Light Mk II and Mk IV tanks of 100 Indian Independent Tank Company. RAF No 226 Group also arrived with 51 crated Hawker Hurricane IIA and 48 pilots evenly split between No 232 and No 258 Sqn. The brigade was intended for the Middle East, and at a poor state of training above the platoon and company levels. In particular, machine gun and mortar sections for all but the Rajputana Rifles were assigned only days before sailing from India. 45 Indian Bde replaced the Canadian Bde on Singapore Island’s beach defenses. The Winnipeg Grenadiers had served from July 1940 until August 1941 as a MG Battalion on Jamaica before shipping to Asia as an infantry unit with about 110 extra soldiers as a hedge against attrition. While on Singapore, it promptly shifted back into the MG role and was provided with guns discarded by 2/A&SH. The Winnipeg Grenadiers (MG) became the missing MG Battalion in 1 Malaya Div. This reduced the Canadian Bde to two units, the Royal Rifles of Canada (ten officers and about 200 soldiers overstrength, which allowed an extra line company) and 5/SSVF (Dalforce). To fill the brigade back up, ADM Hart assented to assigning the 4th U.S. Marine Regt to the Canadian Bde. The Marines have re-equipped with the M1 Garands from the Pensacola Convoy.

    On 13 January, 53 Bde from 18 (Eastern) Div arrives in Singapore. Also intended for the Middle East, 53 Bde consists of 5/, 6/ and 7/Royal Norfolk Regt, and 135 FR, RA (16 25-Pdr, 8 4.5-inch). Initially this brigade replaces 1 Malaya Div as Command Reserve in Johore. Nine days later, 44 Indian Bde (6/1 Punjab, 7/8 Punjab and 6/14 Punjab) arrived in Singapore, and was found to be even more unfit than 45 Indian Bde, both in training and with brigade staff in place only a few months. Also in the convoy were 7,000 replacements for British and Indian units – 5632 for infantry units and 1368 artillery, mechanical, signal, ordinance, engineer, medical and other support troops. 27 Hurricane IIB and 24 pilots from No 242 Sqn/226 Group arrived as well.

    The standard procedure of providing replacements for a regimental system with infantry battalions spread all over the world was a draft of four officers, four sergeants, four corporals and 180 privates. The officers were generally freshly commissioned leftenants, although occasionally a recalled Territorial or a more senior one returning from convalescence may be included. The NCOs were also freshly promoted and being sent to serve away from their former peers. The privates were usually culled from Holding or Young Soldiers battalions in Great Britain, although at times drafts were taken straight from the training depot, re-enlistments of former soldiers or those released from hospital. Once sent to forward depots in the Middle East or India, these standard drafts of 192 total British soldiers of all ranks were often posted on secondary or guard duties, and seldom had opportunities for additional training. Standards inevitably declined in wartime, with the sole outstanding exception of Indian Army Viceroy Commission junior officers and NCOs who were generally long-serving pre-war soldiers and spoke the native languages fluently.
    On 15 January 1942, Malaya made another contribution to its own defense. The overstrength 1/ and 2/SSVF shed their excess soldiers and formed 6/SSVF within the SSVF Bde. Mobilized just over 100 days, 1/SSVF kept its best personnel and transferred to 1 Malaya Bde. 2/SSVF also kept its best soldiers, and with many new officers, NCOs and specialists fresh from Malay Regt training schools established the previous autumn, 6/SSVF is starting at a most basic level of efficiency.
    Finally on 24 January, 1,900 Australian replacements – 1,388 infantry and 512 artillery, mechanical, signal, medical and other support troops; plus 2/4 Australian MG Battalion and 2/13 FR, RAA (24 18-Pdr) pulled into Singapore. Unlike British replacements the Australians depended solely on numbers available and transport limitations. FM Wavell used his authority as ABDA Commander to send 2/Loyal Regt to 8 Australian Div and hold 2/4 Australian MG Battalion in SSVF Bde until acclimated to Malayan conditions. Having served in Malaya for well over three years, the Loyals had put in a spell at nearby Ipoh, and exercised several times near the Taiping Line. HMS Indomitable loaded 48 Hurricane IIA/B – 15 from No 605 Sqn, 33 from No 261 Sqn/226 Group in Port Sudan and raced across the Indian Ocean to a point west of Sumatra. The planes were then flown from HMS Indomitable (16 on 27 January, 32 on 28 January 1942) to Padang in western Sumatra. Here, away from IJAAF fighter pilots, a cadre of Chennault’s RAF, RAAF and RNZAF disciples began training them against Japanese tactics.

    Of the 46 infantry battalions in Malaya on the outbreak of the war, 2/17 Dogras suffered 75% casualties, 2/1 GR – 63% and 1/14 Punjab – 61%. Three additional battalions suffered 50% or more, two 40% or more, and six at least 30% for a total of 14 rendered combat ineffective. Four battalions suffered 20% or more in their combat debut, five at least 10%, but eleven suffered less than 10% in their baptism of fire. Another 12 battalions had seen no action, and nine battalions arriving as reinforcements meant most of the units which suffered 20% or greater casualties were not committed on the Taiping Line.

    Nevertheless, despite losses inflicted upon Malaya’s defenders, Yamashita had made it only 130 miles into western Malaya and 155 miles into eastern Malaya. With about 360 miles to go to reach Singapore, Yamashita was in grave danger of not accomplishing his mission in the 100 days planned – much less ahead of schedule. With each delay, the possibility that Heath could stave off total defeat was slowly increasing. LTG Yamashita and COL Tsuji had several days to contemplate the progress of the Malayan Campaign after the Battle of Muda River ended on 10 January 1942. The reasons they had fallen behind schedule were clear. First, the presence of Chennault and his airmen kept the IJAAF at air parity, instead of securing air superiority. With the Americans on Luzon holding out longer than expected, 5th IJAAF Air Division is unable to move to Southeast Asia as quickly as hoped. Of the 3rd IJAAF Air Division, the significant losses suffered by the 10th and 12th IJAAF Air Bde were being replaced, and neither flew offensive missions between 10 and 25 January 1942. Despite the skill of the IJAAF aviators, the majority of their fighters were still Ki-27 Nates; and any pilots lost flying them were irreplaceable. From the perspective of the IJAAF, Japan should not have delayed until December 1941 to go to war.

    Another significant factor is the fact that the IJA and IJN are fighting common enemies, but in fact two completely separate wars. The Japanese Prime Minister had no authority over either his War or Navy Minister, and the resignation of either would bring down his cabinet. Once Yamashita’s troops were deposited on the Kra Peninsula, and Force Z neutralized, the 22nd IJNAF Air Flotilla and surface ships move eastward to Borneo and Sulu Archipelago to support operations to capture oil fields ringing the Celebes Sea. Japan went to war to secure its oil supplies, and the IJN felt this acutely. Since the IJAAF did not train its aviators to attack shipping, and IJN submarine captains viewed merchant targets as unworthy of attack, Allied reinforcements flowed into Singapore’s capacious harbor with few losses.

    Shortfalls in Japanese logistics were second only to the failure to seize command of the air in delaying 25th IJA Army. Japan was already short nearly 4 million tons of merchant shipping before the war began, and it was not always possible to impose reasons of imperative military necessity over the delivery of raw materials to Japan’s factories. While Yamashita’s logisticians would have preferred delivery of men and material to Singora, Patani or Kota Bharu, sometimes the ships delivered them to Bangkok, Saigon or Haiphong based on cargoes of critically needed raw materials to be picked up at those ports. Cargo ships were often used instead of transports. Soldiers slept on mats on decks exposed to weather, or on hammocks hung from makeshift scaffolding in cargo holds with poor sanitation. Finally, 25th IJA Army had to compete with other headquarters. When an urgent request for replacements depot divisions was made in late December 1941, four battalions for 5th IJA Div, three for 18th IJA Div and one for IG IJA Div were sent to Hong Kong – where the ships carrying them were ordered to pick up 38th IJA Div for the invasion of Java. From Hong Kong it was a piecemeal voyage by junk, coastal steamer, and occasional passing warship to Haiphong, where they boarded trains for the long run to Malaya. They would straggle in from early to late February in disorganized fashion. Until the invasion of Java was complete in early March 1942, dedicated transport is unavailable. The only bright spot from the high casualties is that reserve ammunition allocations were not depleted as quickly.

    Thirdly, the mobilization of Malayan troops, reinforcement by battalions from Hong Kong and prompt diversion of Middle East reinforcements bought precious time for the Allied defenders. If the British had remained in a state of complacency, these Japanese weaknesses would not have mattered. However, one by one initial successes were not falling into place. Failure to capture the airfields at Kota Bharu will leave several IJAAF squadrons operating at extreme range from Cambodia, allowing Chennault to reassert the initiative in the air. Similarly, 5th IJA Div did not expecting to meet large numbers of Commonwealth troops well inside the Thai border. The time bought was well used to construct field fortifications such as the Taiping Line. Breaching it would require a methodical approach, which in turn, bought still more time for LTG Heath.

    Dismounted troops of 5th IJA Cavalry Regt. were able to keep touch for two days as 15 and 28 (G) Indian Bdes withdrew 41 miles from Muda River toward Taiping. As more controlled demolitions of road and rail were carried out, contact was broken on the night of the 11-12 January 1942. The 5th IJA Cavalry Regt did not regain contact until the 15th. The lead elements of 11th IJA Regt arrived on the 18 January; the 42nd IJA Regt plus the half-strength 6th IJA Tank Regt four days after that. 21st IJA Regt, the remainder of the 6th IJA Tank Regt, and 14th IJA Tank Regt joined the attack force on the 23rd, 26th and 28th of January respectively. IJA artillery support arrived only incrementally after 23 January 1942.

    The Turning Point – The Taiping Line

    The British retreated to a new defensive position, the Taiping Line. Before the war, this position was considered by far the best for defending Malaya, but since that would entail conceding the rich rice and mineral provinces to the Japanese without a fight, Jitra was chosen instead. LTG Heath took personal command of the Taiping Line. The Allied Forces were emplaced along a slanting 17-mile front, eight miles north of Taiping to six miles north of Port Weld; dropping in elevation from 3300 feet to sea level. 8 Australian Div held seven miles on the right flank, 1 Malaya Div six miles in the left center, and the independent 12 Indian Bde remaining frontage on the coast.

    On the high ground was placed the weakest unit, the casualty-ridden 27 Australian Bde. On the far right was 2/2 GR, positioned there as the most physically fit for the terrain; and from interwar soldiering in India, some of its officers and NCOs were familiar with counter-infiltration tactics used against marauders and warring tribesmen. It was also hoped their six weeks’ previous experience with the IJA would leaven them. In the center was 2/19 AIB, transferred from 22 Australian Bde. LTC Anderson hoped his training in jungle warfare would at last be married up with a front of broken, forested terrain. Good cooperation with the Gurkhas might yield opportunities for spoiling attacks from this flank. On the far left 2/30 AIB, backed by D/2/Loyals is tied in with 22 Australian Bde’s 2/26 AIB, the familiar unit exchanged for 2/19 AIB.

    Here the terrain opens up into terraced rice fields and small villages in close proximity. The Singora to Singapore Railroad has moved inland from the coast to make the climb in elevation and reach Taiping, Ipoh and Kuala Lumpur. Here is one opportunity for the Japanese to break through and turn the Commonwealth defenses wide open, and 2/18 and 2/20 AIB, solid if not flamboyant units are firmly positioned among the terraces; backed by the remainder of the divisional machine gun battalion. Also concentrated here are both 2/10 and 2/15 FR RAA (with 25 pdrs), and what is left of 2/4 AT RAA. In divisional reserve is 28 (G) Indian Bde, with 2/9 GR in good condition, but both 2/26 AIB and 2/1 GR are still absorbing replacements totaling about half their duty rosters. In the case of the latter, this brought its strength to only two-thirds of wartime establishment. The very green troops of 2/13 FR RAA (24 18-Pdrs) still wobbly from the voyage and travel up from Singapore’s piers are also positioned with 28 (G) Indian Bde.

    In 1 Malaya Division Sector, MG Maltby positioned 2/FMSVF and 2/14 Punjab from east to west under Hong Kong Bde, covering two miles. The 5/7 Rajputs were in brigade reserve, but also prepared on order to cover the adjacent 1 Malaya Bde sector. They were augmented by two platoons of machine guns from excess Winnipeg Grenadiers, and the eight 18pdrs from FR/FMSVF. It was hoped the mixture of tough terrain and poor egress routes leading south would mitigate against a Japanese attack in this sector. In the center was 1 Malaya Bde, with 5/2 Punjab and 1/SSVF in a two mile sector, but two platoons of B/Winnipeg Grenadiers woven into the line, and the rest with 2/Malay Regt in reserve. 122 FR RA with two dozen 25-pdrs is devoted to this sector, which also has a height advantage over IJA movements into the left flank. 1/SSVF is placed in defensive positions requiring little more than the beach defense mission previously trained on in Singapore.

    The main combat power of 1 Malaya Div was concentrated on the left flank, where the Butterworth-Taiping Highway presented the IJA with its second opportunity for a quick breakthrough. In this two mile sector assigned to the Canadian Bde, Maltby and BG Lawson devised a rehearsed a kill zone for the attacking Japanese. 5/SSVF is placed forward of the lines – five to 25 miles, to act as a mobile guerilla force in the IJA rear. The Communists are ordered to remain west, and the Nationalists east of the Butterworth-Taiping Highway to avoid fratricide. The two battalions of the 4th U.S. Marine Regt hold the line across the highway, but at an angle towards the Royal Rifles of Canada one-third of a mile back from the main defensive line. The Royal Rifles of Canada thus form a shallow bowl, with three companies at the base, and one at each side reaching out towards the Marine battalions.

    Reinforcing this line are 100 Indian Independent Light Tank Sqn, whose five Vickers Light Tank Mk II carried Besa .303 machine guns and the 18 Mk IV were armed with the heavy Vickers .5-inch machine gun. These tanks were dug in behind thick walls of terraces and buildings. 16 of the 24 2-Pdr guns of 85 A/T Regt RA were in this sector – the remaining battery is still on duty at Singapore’s beaches. Also emplaced here were A/ and D/Winnipeg Grenadiers with the Marines and C Company with their fellow Canadians. On call were both battalions of 26th U.S. FA Bde and 3/Indian Cavalry now equipped and trained on its Marmon Herrington armoured cars (at last equipped with mountings, which had to be locally manufactured, for their 15mm Besa machine guns).

    Under LTG Heath’s direct control, and holding from the Canadian Bde to the Straits of Malacca is 12 Indian Bde under newly promoted COL Stewart. His 2/A&SH and 4/19 Hyderabads have received a month’s rest after the fighting on the Ledge. Added to his brigade is 1 Indian Independent Company, consisting of 25 carefully selected officers and 275 well-trained NCOs and other ranks. India Command’s equivalent of Commando units formed in Europe, the unit was conceived for special raids, ambushes, deep reconnaissance missions behind enemy lines. Well-trained for jungle warfare, the unit effused great confidence. Finally, for a small sector of open ground next to the Canadian Bde, the 1/Bahawalpur Infantry was emplaced. This brigade sector was intersected by inlets, sloughs and other marshy terrain intersected with plantation islands and connecting causeways. With triple canopy protection from aerial observation, COL Stewart’s troops have ready access into the flank and rear of the Butterworth-Taiping Highway approach.

    III Indian Corps Reserve was a bit thin with a battered 11 Indian Div rehabilitating 6 and 15 Indian Brigades a bit far back at Ipoh. BG Paris’ division did receive 8 Indian Bde when it was withdrawn from Kota Bharu – 3/17 Dogras was posted at Port Weld in the unlikely event of an amphibious end-run, and 2/GH and 2/12 FFR just south of Taiping guarding the road from Grik, and thus any attack into the rear of the British position. The Dogras lost over 500 of its men at Khota Bharu, but having started with 1300 was actually at normal strength. The heavy losses nevertheless left its confidence badly shaken, and it was considered less effective than the other two battalions in absorbing and training replacements.

    Excluding 11 Indian Div, Heath deployed a total of 30,745 troops on the Taiping Line of whom 18,185 were American, British, Australian, Canadian, Gurkha, Indian, Malay and Chinese infantry. The homogeneity of the 25th IJA Army was in sharp contrast. 5th IJA Div mustered 21,200 soldiers, with infantry comprising 13,785 soldiers. About 900 infantry are recent reinforcements sent from Japan in November 1941, and only now incorporated into units, with over half assigned to I/41st IJA Regt. Nor did LTG Matsui have access to all of his assigned infantry. Although III/41st IJA Regt has at last been released by IJA Southern Army Reserve, it has not yet arrived in Malaya. This unit, and the three battalions of the 21st IJA Regt are still at an assault strength of 1,275 troops, 350 more than normal for the anticipated additional casualties in initial amphibious landings. Additionally, I/41st IJA Regt is still dispersed around Alor Star. Its original mission to assault Penang has been repeatedly postponed due to Allied air and naval units operating freely over the Straits of Malacca. Now it is also assigned to watch the Baling Road approaches to ensure 1/FMSVF still holding Grik does not attempt an attack into the IJA rear. This removes 2,200 infantry from Matsui’s order of battle. Attacking an entrenched enemy 50% stronger in numbers is a daunting task.

    Matsui was well aware of the topography, and to a degree, the Allied dispositions on the Taiping Line. Initially, the 11th and 42nd IJA Advance Guard maintained contact in the areas of the highway and railway, but as 5th IJA Cavalry Regt reconstituted, the regimental troops probed the remainder of the line. This gave Matsui about ten days planning time for his attack. He positioned his weaker 9th IJA Bde on the rail line, with the 2,935-strong 11th IJA Regt in the lead, and the weaker 1420-man 41st IJA Regt and the 17 surviving tanks of 1st IJA Tank Regt are held back not only as brigade reserve, but positioned to act as such for the division as well. The main attack was weighted on the Butterworth-Taiping Highway.

    The 6th IJA Tank Regt (35 Chi-Ha and 19 Ha-Go) was mixed with the 3055 soldiers of the 42nd IJA Regt as the lead element of 21st IJA Bde. The second echelon was the 14th IJA Tank Regt (41 Ha-Go) supporting 4,175 troops of the 21st IJA Regt. The 2nd IJA Tank Regt begins off-loading at Singora on 29 January 1942. The 24 75mm mountain guns of 5th IJA Artillery Regt were evenly split between the two brigades, but all reinforcing artillery from 25th IJA Army were positioned behind 21st IJA Bde; 12 105mm howitzers of 21st IJA Artillery Regt and eight 150mm siege guns from 18th IJA Artillery Regt. Two Army-level 81mm mortar battalions, the 3rd and 5th were divided between the brigades, but 4th IJA Eng Bn was devoted to 21st IJA Bde. The Japanese were short of engineer assets, the 12th IJA Eng Bn had been largely destroyed at Kota Bharu, the 23rd was still heavily engaged restoring destroyed infrastructure and the 15th was only just arriving in Thailand.

    Nevertheless the IJA attack never got off on the right foot despite the careful preparations. Much of the trouble was in the air, the arrival in Singapore of 120 Hurricane fighters and completion of Chennault’s training by No 232 and 258 Squadrons allowed the shift of all three AVG units (15 Kittyhawks and 46 Tomahawks) to the Taiping Sector. They were paired with three squadrons of Buffalos, the combined No 21/453 Sqn RAAF with 19; No 243 Sqn RAF with 16; and one Netherlands East Indies Army Air Corps (Abbreviated to ML-KNIL in Dutch) unit: 2 Sqn, V Air Group (2-VLG V in Dutch) took 12 Buffalos to Malaya. There was a mixture of bombers as well – 11 Martin 166 (USAAF B-12) bombers of 1-VLG III; 10 Blenheim IV of No 34 Sqn and 18 Blenheim IV in No 62 Sqn; and 49 A-24 dive-bombers of the 91st Bombardment Group, USAAF. No 4 RAF Army-Air Cooperation Unit (AACU) with two Buffalo I with guns replaced by cameras, plus two Vildebeest II, eight Swordfish and six Shark torpedo planes (all ancient bi-planes) provided artillery spotting and observation duties

    Against this the best the 3rd IJAAF Div could muster were Ki-43 Ib fighters, a slightly improved version of the Oscar with better mechanical reliability, a fraction more speed, and one 7.7mm gun replaced by a Type 1 12.7mm for service trials. Unlike its Navy counterpart, the Mitsubishi Zero there was no 20mm cannon, and the armor plate and rugged construction of the P-40 made it difficult for the more experienced IJAAF pilots to score a kill. The most important improvement was the installation of a radio receiver in the cockpit; the pilot could now be vectored to locate targets. They replaced the Ki-27s in 59th IJA Air Regt of 3rd IJAAF Air Bde, and boosted the original number of fighters in that unit from 24 to 36. The brigade’s 75th and 90th Light Air Regiments flew (22 and 26 respectively) Ki-48 “Lily” twin-engine bombers; the 27th Light Air Regt operated 21 Ki-51 “Sonia” light bombers; and a brigade reconnaissance company flew three Ki-30 reconnaissance planes. The 3rd IJAAF Air Bde operated from Alor Star; as did the separate 81st IJAAF Reconnaissance Sqn with nine Ki-15 “Babs” and seven Ki-46 “Dinah” aircraft; and the 50th IJAAF Reconnaissance Company with three Ki-15 and two Ki-46.

    The 12th IJAAF Air Bde contained the 1st and 11th IJAAF Air Regiments. Both were fighter units, the former with 38 Nates from Alor Star and the latter with 35 from Butterworth. Being closer to the Taiping Line, the 11th IJAAF Air Regt saw the most combat and suffered the greatest losses. The brigade’s reconnaissance company flew four Ki-30 “Ann” reconnaissance planes from Alor Star. Although some distance away at Kota Bharu, the 10th IJAAF Air Bde consisted of the 31st IJAAF Light Air Regt (21 Ki-30 close support/reconnaissance); 64th Heavy IJAAF Air Regt (17 Ki-21 “Sally” heavy bombers); 77th IJAAF Air Regt (32 Ki-27); and the 70th IJAAF Reconnaissance Company with eight Babs. They were used when available primarily to attack airfields around Ipoh. The 7th IJAAF Bde and its three regiments of Sally heavy bombers were withdrawn to Bangkok in mid-January. They suffered heavy losses over Singapore against Chennault’s airmen and were now used to bomb Rangoon, Burma. They took the surviving 13 Oscars of the earlier Ki-43 Ia model because they were organic to the brigade. Chiang Kai-Shek had allowed 1/AVG’s Tomahawks to return to protect the Burma Road supply link to China. The “Adam and Eves” went into combat for the first time on 16 December, and by the beginning of January were escorting RAF Blenheim bombers in raids on Bangkok’s vital port. 7th IJAAF Bde responded by pounding RAF airfields.

    The odds in the air in close proximity to the Taiping Line were thus fairly even: 108 Allied fighters against 109 IJAAF; 39 twin-engine bombers against 48; 49 single-engine bombers against only 21; and 18 dedicated reconnaissance planes against seven for the Japanese. The absence of the 22nd IJNAF Air Flotilla, now breaking the Dutch barrier islands shielding Java was very much felt by the IJAAF pilots. The Allied aircraft were divided into three groups. 2/AVG “Panda Bears” and No 243 Sqn RAF teamed up to cover the Taiping Line and escort missions by the A-24s and No 4 ACCU in close support. 3/AVG “Hell’s Angels” and 2-VLG V escorted the multi-engine bombers, mostly in raids against IJA positions no further than Butterworth. 4/AVG “The Orphans” and the Australian pilots remained on CAP over home airfields, with occasional flights by aircraft in pairs to strafe reported IJA troop movements.

    Both sides sought to husband their air strength as long as possible during January. The Battle of Taiping opened with a first aerial clash on 28 January when LTG Heath sensed the attack was imminent and was prepared to sacrifice his husbanded air power to disrupt it. 41 A-24s were sent to hit tank, artillery 9exclusively the 150mm guns beyond Allied artillery range) and troop concentrations, and 20 fighter escorts accompanied them. It was a shock to the IJA commanders and staff, who never previously had suffered from Chinese control of the air. Ground dispositions were geared towards rapid mobility, and camouflage from the air an unknown necessity. The 500-lb bombs did tremendous damage both to equipment and to the ability to execute missions efficiently when the orders came. These raids continued for two more days, during which 11th IJAAF Air Regt suffered most of its losses. The IJAAF did develop compensatory tactics, including head on attacks that occasionally resulted in collisions, and waiting at low level for diving attacks to run their course and using superior rate of climb for position. This latter tactic seldom scored a kill, both the Brewster and Curtiss fighters could run in level flight, but this consumed so much fuel that they were forced home.

    The second major impediment was the commencement of guerilla raids by 5/SSVF – also on 28 January. Neither LTG Yamashita nor COL Tsuji made calculations in pre-war planning for extensive lines-of-communication protection, and at first IJA rear-echelon personnel were vulnerable. The IJA was, however, nothing if not flexible, and their use of signals very effective in mobilizing reaction forces. Over the next three days, nearly half of “Dalley’s Desperadoes” became casualties, about four times the number they inflicted. This was beside the point, the IJA soldiers were sidelined from their primary mission, became tired, disorganized, and in many cases well away from their intended locations.

    The third attempt by LTG Heath to disrupt LTG Matsui’s attack was to embark 1 Indian Independent Company in light cruisers HMS Durban and Dragon for a raid on the airfields at Alor Star. The cruisers could move freely on through the Straits of Malacca due to the difficulty of Japanese submarines to negate their high speed. The raid benefitted from audacity, but suffered from the lack of planning time, and from an overall desire to do something, anything, to offset IJA successes. Arriving undetected overnight on 28-29 January, one scout section was dropped off four miles from the airfield, and the remainder of the company along secluded shores a further six miles away. After receiving reports, a platoon was left to guard a base camp, and 240 troops moved into a concealed assembly area to await darkness on 29 January. The attack went in textbook fashion – only IJAAF ground crews provided local security, and only after normal duties were completed (and they were tired), they were caught unprepared and quickly decimated. The perpetually unlucky 3rd IJAAF Air Bde lost six aircraft destroyed and 23 aircraft damaged to grenades and small arms fire, 86 killed and 148 wounded. 1 Indian Independent Company lost 15 killed, 21 wounded and one missing.

    Hereafter, the lack of planning nearly proved fatal. Details carrying the wounded back to base camp did not vary their route, and the IJA was able to track down, and eliminate the unit’s ammunition resupply and radio link to Penang; capture the wounded, and force the remaining jungle fighters to flee. The main assault force had moved north en-mass along the rail line towards Jitra, hoping to set an ambush; rather than dispersing and forcing the IJA to diffuse its efforts. At mid-day, the first train encountered was attacked, but contained three companies of III/41st IJA Regt accustomed to fighting bandits and Communist guerillas in China. The ambush went awry, few IJA casualties inflicted, and the attackers scattered. Two sections were forced into rubber plantations, where motorized IJA units easily ran them to ground. Retreating towards the base camp, the bulk of the remainder then encountered the security force fleeing from the IJA at that location. Only with difficulty was capture evaded, the few IJA troops in the area happened to be in position to respond, but once contact was broken, the 1 Indian Independent Company was able to regroup and signal for evacuation on 4 February 1942. It had now lost 102 killed or captured, but recovered an additional 26 wounded.

    The raid nevertheless had four important effects. Open conflict again erupted between the IJAAF and Yamashita’s HQ; and Yamashita was forced to detail front-line combat troops on rear security missions. Both I/ and III/41st IJA Regt were permanently diverted from further offensive operations; III/41st IJA Regt became a static defense unit around Alor Star. Thirdly, 1 Indian Independent Company also learned important lessons prior to conducting future missions behind Japanese lines. Recruitment from other units of Malays, Chinese and Indians familiar with Perak and Wellesley Provinces was the first step. Finally, LTG Heath, who had championed these types of operations against the Italians in East Africa the previous year gained confidence in unconventional thinking as a counter to Japanese tactics.

    Prior to the raid on 29 January, 3rd IJAAF Air Bde flew its first all-out raids against the Taiping Line, augmented by 1st IJAAF Fighter Regt and followed by 10th IJAAF Air Bde due to a lull in operations at Kuantan. The aerial bombardment was not unendurable, nor the damage inflicted decisive, as the Allied fighters did their best to disrupt accuracy, and the light anti-aircraft regiments attached to 1 Malay and 8 Australian Divisions did their part. Once the bombing raids ended, IJA artillery opened up, and this sustainment of bombardment convinced LTG Heath that the main attack was imminent. This led to the fourth, and most successful effort by Heath and his staff to disrupt the IJA attack. The Japanese Army had not participated in fighting on the Western Front in World War I, nor had the Chinese effectively used artillery at any time. The concept of counterbattery fire was first introduced to the IJA on Bataan by the United States Army only a few weeks previously.

    By contrast, the British and Australian Field Regiments, and even the National Guardsmen of 26th U.S. FA Bde had trained for a generation on counterbattery fire in a set-piece World War I-style trench battle such as the Taiping Line. The careless camouflage had been a help, but the ancient and pitifully slow biplanes of No 4 ACCU had done their share of plotting positions. Now that the attack was underway, the IJA guns (with the exception of 150mm) now suffered a rain of accurate shelling. Casualties among IJA gunners unprotected by sandbags were horrific to begin with, but the practice of stacking ammunition close by for rapid use multiplied it further. By the morning of the 30th, less than a half-dozen guns were still in service. The only effective (and it was very effective) fire support for the IJA were the highly mobile 81mm mortars which outclassed British 2-inch and 3-inch mortars in every respect.

    Fifthly, Heath sent BG Paris’ 12 Indian Bde into attack overnight on 29-30 January. Guided into position by scouts rotated into concealed positions for the previous three weeks, Scottish Jocks and Hyderabads attacked from causeway roads into the flanks of IJA assembly areas while still under the cover of the early morning darkness. This forced the last-minute diversion of company-sized counterattack elements to re-secure the 21st IJA Bde flanks, including the 21st IJA Regt Advance Guard tasked with keeping contact with the 42nd IJA Regt. Paris’ troops complied, drawing the IJA as far as possible, and then later in the day using small boats to slip raiding parties behind these small units to keep them pinned in place.

    Nevertheless, the IJA attack did bring one sharp surprise in the small sector held by the 1/Bahawalpur Infantry. This most audacious and most dangerous attack was also the one undertaken with the least planning. Maj Shimada Hijame, commander of 1/6th IJA Tank Regt had available ten Type 97 Chi-Ha and three Type 95 Ha-Go tanks, reinforced by two platoons of infantry and 80 engineers from 42ndIJA Regt. Prior to dark, and after clearing a lane through minefields, COL Ando’s troops had wedged themselves undetected against the ISF infantry positions. Shimada begged Ando to permit his force to use those cleared lanes. Ando agreed, and after refueling his vehicles, Shimada moved forward at 0230 on 30 January with the assurance that a battalion-sized element of Ando’s regiment would follow. It was the first night tank attack in IJA history.

    The Indians were at first not alarmed by the noise of the IJA tanks – despite no previous encounters with IJA armor, an unwarranted assumption easily settled in (based solely on location) that the vehicle noise must be from 3/Indian Cavalry armoured cars in the Canadian Bde sector. It was not until two lead Type 97s rolled the minefield that the alarm was raised, and by then ISF infantrymen were only interested in remaining under cover. As other tanks and trotting IJA infantry maneuvered past their disabled running mates, the line was breached, but one soldier in 2/A&SH Bren carrier unable to fight with his own unit destroyed a Type 95 with a Boyes anti-tank rifle. Shimada, a half-mile inside the Indian lines continued to advance; unaware that COL Ando was caught off-guard by the speed of the action and had not yet stirred. His troops were later delayed by disciplined fire by the ISF – a most credible record for ISF troops often disdained by regulars. At 0420, MAJ Shimada located the main command post of the Canadian Bde. BG Lawton became the highest ranking Canadian officer killed in the Second World War. Command, however, passed seamlessly to COL Samuel Howard, 4th U.S. Marine Regt; his regiment in turn passed to his Executive Officer, COL William W Ashurst; formerly senior officer of the North China Marines.

    Although the alarm was thoroughly spread, it was not accompanied by accurate information. MAJ Shimada’s tanks and infantry simply disappeared. 3 Indian Cavalry and the reserve company of Royal Rifles of Canada were ordered towards the breech in the lines. The Canadians reinforced the ISF before COL Ando’s troops and the IJA engineers seeking to expand the gap in the minefields broke through and brought them under fire. At 0510, Shimada’s three lead tanks reached the crossroads of the Taiping-Port Weld Road where C/88 (2 WL) FR RA was positioned as a mobile reserve. Three 25-Pdr guns and their lorries were destroyed outright, three more abandoned by their crews, but one of the last two crews was able to unlimber and bring their gun into action in the direct fire mode. One medium and one light tank were destroyed, and the roadway was blocked. MAJ Shimada contemplated holding the junction, advancing towards either city, and then decided to continue deep into the Allied lines. He was unaware he was only a mile from Heath’s forward command post. Just after these orders were given, the gallant IJA officer was killed when his tank overturned attempting to maneuver in the dark past the disabled vehicles at the road junction.

    Command passed to LT Watanabe Sadanobu who had seven vehicles left. A side road was found, but a number of the now fatigued infantry riding them had by now been killed by small arms fire. Aware of this advance towards Ipoh, C/3 Indian Cavalry was vectored into the sector. At 0735, having shot up a Canadian Bde field kitchen, a communications center and a supply camp en-route, Watanabe made contact with the cavalry, and his entire command was destroyed by accurate 15mm heavy machine gun fire. It had covered 16 miles in just over five hours. LTG Heath’s gamble in positioning 1 Malaya Div without adequate reserves in depth to thicken the line had survived a close call. To the relief of the Dogras, they were not needed; the reserve B/2/A&SH was moved in as well as the Royal Rifles.

    The thickening of the line did pay off in the 4th U.S. Marine Regt sector. It allowed the 85 A/T Regt RA gunners to coolly engage the rest of 6th IJA Tank Regt as they slowly guided the Ando Detachment’s main assault. Again, the infancy of IJA tank tactics was on display, this was no blitzkrieg; but likely the only time in World War II where the enemy slavishly obeyed the infantry escort tactics taught by British Army throughout the interwar decades. The IJA Tank Regiment was reduced to a handful of vehicles by 1000 hours, and then 14th IJA Tank Regt was dealt with in similar fashion in the afternoon. Culturally, IJA commanders were unable to abandon a flawed plan, fall back regroup and return with superior efforts. Such an admission of imperfection was a badge of intense shame, it was far better to die nobly in an effort that a superior officer would then be blamed for, and likely commit seppuku. The accompanying infantry and engineers also suffered grievously against MG Maltby’s artillery.

    But it was the M1 Garand rifle which unintentionally enlightened the Japanese that the fight on the Taiping Line would be much tougher than expected. Accustomed to the five-round magazine of the Lee-Enfield .303 rifle, IJA infantry often counted shots fired before rushing defensive positions. As they closed the Marine positions, the charging IJA often exposed themselves while the M1 still had three remaining shots, dying by the scores in this unexpected burst. Nevertheless, in accordance with the plan, COL Ashurst ordered the Marines to fall back along covered approaches, and the weakened Ando Detachment pushed forward along the roadway into total annihilation by the guns of the Canadians and their supporting stationary tanks around noon.

    Without reports which doctrinally would have been passed by the 21st IJA Regt Advance Guard, and observing IJA flags on the forward most 1 Malaya Div positions, MG Sugiura Eikichi ordered the 21st IJA Regt to follow the 42nd into the “breach”; with his command party behind the lead battalion. MG Sugiura and his key staff crested the ridgeline and passed into a cauldron and were cut down by an unknown marine before he was fully aware of what was happening to his brigade. Only the accurate fire of 81mm mortars, called by the scouts of 42nd IJA Regt Advance Guard kept the Marines and Canadians cowed for any length of time. III/21st IJA Regt was stalled behind the dying remnants of COL Ando’s units, and thus clogged II/21st IJA Regt began shifting to the left flank into 5/2 Punjab and the flank company of 1/SSVF; harassed by 122 FR RA artillery the entire time. Despite this intrusion into the 2 Malaya Bde Sector, at about 1230 MG Maltby transferred 2/Malay Regt to the Canadian Bde to refill the positions of fallen American and Canadian troops, and allow consolidation. Thus stiffened, the first attempts by I/21st IJA Regt to succeed where their comrades had failed were repulsed. COL Harada Noriyoshi, the wounded commander of 21st IJA Regt did not realize he was in command in place of MG Sugiura until about 1515 hours, when he called off the disastrous attack.

    In the north. MG Kawamura Saburo, commander of the 9th IJA Bde avoided a needless decimation of the 11th IJA Regt. It was an act of Geko-Kujo, or “principled insubordination”, forgivable on a case-by-case basis. Although ordered to slug through on the rail line to obtain a rapid breakthrough, MG Kawamura placed only the Advance Guard with its vehicles and I/11th IJA Regt on that axis as a feint or diversion. II/11th IJA Regt was assigned to flank to the east, and III/11th IJA Regt to the west with the solitary II/41st IJA Regt in reserve. The thicker foliage covered his troop movements better than MG Sugiura’s sector. His attacks also preceded dawn, by an hour. LTC Anderson’s 2/19 AIB soon engaged the II/11th IJA Regt but the skill of this elite regiment in this engagement was admirable. Two companies remained in place to engage, but not closely, COL Anderson’s troops, while the remainder of the battalion silently worked its way through a ravine covered by a platoon of A/2/30 AIB on the flank quietly dispatched by bayonet. This was a remarkable feat in daylight. 2/30 AIB – solid as LTC Galleghan’s performance in Thailand and Northern Malaya attested, nevertheless was sufficiently preoccupied by I/11th IJA Regt and the Advance Guard to allow the infiltration. The lesson was that adjacent units required equal training at the seams. On Kawamura’s right, III/11th IJA Regt found open terrain leading into 2/29 AIB and 2/20 AIB and their supporting Australian artillery uninviting.

    Two movements in complete ignorance of each other brought the combat in the Australian zone to a quick head on the afternoon of 29 January. Kawamura ordered II/41st IJA Regt to follow the path of the infiltrators, while 2/2 GR simultaneously sent a reinforced company forward to flank the IJA facing 2/19 AIB. Within the space of 90 minutes or so the Gurkhas discovered the weakness of the IJA engaged, and reported to LTC Anderson, who then ordered his own troops forward. This caught the II/41st IJA Regt moving through the gap in the lines and alerted LTC Galleghan to the danger as well. As the battle flared, II/11th IJA Regt (-) moved deeper into the brigade rear.

    After being delayed by rough terrain, they reached the 4000 foot high Maxwell’s Hill overlooking Taiping by 1700. A small police post on top of Maxwell’s Hill managed to delay the weary IJA troops for a half hour until it was realized how small its number were; and the chagrined IJA platoons drove them off. Nearby was Caulfield’s Hill, about two miles east of Maxwell Hill, and at 4458 feet, somewhat higher. Caulfield’s Hill was the location of the provincial government house and office, and well-linked by road, and 27 Australian Bde HQ. From intelligence gathered from captured police. The IJA moved towards it in the dark. BG Maxwell and the 27 Australian Bde staff were protected by a company from the still-rebuilding 2/26 AIB, but the IJA night attack still unnerved him. Frantic signals for help were received by MG Bennett, who directed 28 (G) Indian Bde to send 2/9 GR to both relieve and act as a counter to further infiltration; but also by BG Harold B Taylor of 22 Australian Bde who took command of the 27th sector, and organized a sharp counterattack on the morning of 30 January that drove the 41st IJA Regt back, and aided in the locating and annihilation of the remaining IJA infiltrators over the next few days.

    By dawn on 30 January, LTG Mutsui realized the 5th IJA Reconnaissance Regt and the 11th IJA Regt were the only intact units he had left. The cavalry was still spread out along the entire Taiping Line to guard against spoiling or counterattacks. II/21st IJA Regt was his only a battalion-sized element, its two other shattered sister battalions were well under half strength. The entire 42nd IJA Regt and II/11th IJA Regt were in similar condition. The 5th IJA Div was destroyed as a combat effective unit. Matsui pulled back a dozen miles to defensive positions not subject to flanking attacks by 12 Indian Bde. LTG Heath did not pursue, he recognized his troops were capable of a defense, but not yet ready to go on the attack.

    Force Z

    There are several possibilities regarding the fate of Force Z under this scenario. The author views two as less likely, and therefore will not be fully explored. The first is that VADM Phillips sorties exactly as he did and the historical fate results. The second is that London, now awakened fully to its responsibilities for the defense of Malaya, views Force Z as a strategic asset and imposes its own orders to maintain its effectiveness. This could mean using Force Z to fortify the Australian Government, the mother country’s symbol of commitment to her Commonwealth. Force Z could be used to ensure convoys are properly escorted instead of left to the protection offered by situational Japanese negligence. It is also possible that if safely husbanded into mid-February, Force Z will attempt to control the Java Sea approaches to the Netherlands East Indies, and then at that time inevitably succumb to the IJNAF. Shock delayed may not be shock denied.

    PM Churchill did consider recalling Force Z, and sending the two capital ships to Pearl Harbor to give American carriers proper surface escorts. After sleeping on the idea, Churchill awoke to the news it was too late. Had Force Z been recalled the night before, it is doubtful the acerbically Anglophobic ADM Earnest King would have appreciated the magnanimity of Churchill’s gesture. To get the British ships out of Pearl, ADM King would likely have sent USS Washington in March 1942 to the Pacific Fleet instead of Scapa Flow to counter KMS Tirpitz in Norway. This would “allow” the RN to counter KMS Tirpitz with their own battleship HMS Prince of Wales. Spending the war in the North Sea would doubtless be better than under the South China Sea. A more probable scenario, taking into considerations the effects of ADM Hart’s efforts, the consolidation of RN light units at Singapore, and the original intentions of VADM Phillips can be devised. It is presented below.

    HMS Mauritius, Ilex and HMAS Vampire were assigned to Force Z on 4 December 1941. The next day, HMS Repulse, and HMAS Vampire departed for a tour of Australian ports designed to reassure the newly elected PM John Curtin of Britain’s reliability and intention to secure her Commonwealth offspring; but the two vessels were recalled after a few hours. Shortly before their return to Singapore on the afternoon of 6 December, a garbled message was received from a Hudson I of No 1 RAAF Sqn reporting attacks by fighter aircraft in the Gulf of Siam. No nationality was reported, the Hudson did not return, and no postwar IJAAF or IJNAF reports mention the incident. Two elderly destroyers formerly based at Hong Kong strengthened patrols of the eastern sea approaches to Malaya, partly in the event a German raider attempted to mine the Straits of Malacca; but also to look out for the IJN.

    Two hours after dusk on 6 December, HMS Thracian was on patrol near the Anamba Islands about 100 miles due north of Singapore when a dark grey silhouette was spotted; later a second vessel, also a completely darkened merchant ship came into view. Both were unable to spot the low freeboard, guns and superstructure of the elderly destroyer. Cdr Peers flashed recognition signals, to which both responded by increasing their speed and leading HMS Thracian towards Indochina. Somewhat surprised, Peers showed his searchlight on their sterns, hoping to catch a nameplate. The unmistakable deck load of mines and launching rails was clearly visible in the light. Peers fired warning shots, and both identified themselves as IMS Nagasa and Tatsumiya Maru, on a training cruise. Peers pursued until midnight, broke radio silence to report the presence of hostile Japanese minelayers, and then returned to the location where they were first sighted. Minesweepers HMAS Bendigo and Maryborough were dispatched to determine the scale of the minefield, which was designed by the IJN to deny Force Z easy access to Malay landing beaches.

    After sufficient light was in the sky, HMS Thracian trolled at low speed with extra lookouts posted. After an hour, a bobbing mine was spotted, then several more. At 0720, Peers confirmed the laying of an IJN minefield had been disrupted the night before. Later that Sunday afternoon, a Catalina from 205 RAF Sqn sent to search for the missing Hudson also failed to return – postwar records documented she was shot down by Zero fighters after finding the Kota Bharu invasion force; but her radio reports were lost in the monsoon weather. The American war warnings of late November, two missing aircraft, and HMS Thracian’s thwarting of a restrictive minefield were enough.

    Less than a week after arriving, Force Z had failed in its mission of deterring a Japanese attack on Malaya. The decision to sortie was largely a result of a bombing raid on Singapore repulsed with losses to the Mihoro Air Corps as noted above. Unaware that the IJNAF had no intention of launching a follow-up strike against Singapore, VA Phillips resolved to not be caught in port. On the open sea, Phillips was still convinced a battleship’s speed, maneuverability, armor plate and AA fire could defeat any air attack except coordinated torpedo planes. Moreover, psychologically the RN commanders could not remain idle while the Army and RAF were engaged in battle.

    Although labeled a ‘Battleship Admiral”, Phillips specifically requested fighter cover, but was informed by the RAF that no fighter squadrons were trained to fly and navigate over water. After Force Z departed, 453 RAAF Sqn was tasked to fly cover, but this order was rescinded. Nevertheless, GC “Black Jack” McCauley mentioned this tasking to Chennault, who knew a number of his AVG pilots were former USN/USMC veterans very much capable of providing air cover. From his three squadrons, thirteen Tomahawks were sent temporarily to Kuantan Airfield. This information was not passed to Phillips’ Chief of Staff, RA Arthur F E Palliser in Singapore, who therefore did not pass it to Force Z.

    Force Z sortied in two columns, HMS Electra, Ilex, Mauritius, Prince of Wales to port and HMS Express, HMAS Vampire and HMS Repulse to starboard. Three four-pipers, USS Pope, Pillsbury, and John D Ford covered the flanks of the capital ships, and acted as rearguard. They were last minute additions to Force Z, and valued by Phillips for their heavy torpedo armament of 12 tubes; ASW screening was left to RN vessels. Phillips was unaware that the USN vessels had sonar installed in 1940-41, and Hart had drilled them in realistic ASW conditions. Departing at 1710 hrs, Phillips was not forced to take his historical track, HMAS Bendigo and Maryborough had cleared the path through the Anambas. The cover of darkness may have had the benefit of shielding Force Z’s departure from IJNAF reconnaissance flights, but was in fact driven by additional time needed to prepare HMS Repulse and her escort after the aborted cruise to Australia. 75 miles east of Singapore, Force Z turned northwards and at 0830 the morning of 9 December was spotted by submarine IMS I 58 about 60 miles southeast of Kuantan.

    I 58 was in no position to attack, and would not have, until a contact report was sent to and answer received by Southern Fleet HQ aboard IMS Kashii at Cam Ranh Bay. By then I 58 could only trail until Force Z disappeared from sight. Heavy monsoonal rains over Cochin China prevented any land-based bombers from taking off. It was this signal that disrupted landings from Singora to Kota Bharu, and caused VA Kondo to move his battleships into a position to engage Force Z. Although they would be flying at extreme range and have less than an hour over his ships, Kondo requested a pair of Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighters over his fleet at all times. Eight fighters were used to provide coverage from 1300 to 1700.

    The move was prescient; an RAAF Hudson I spotted Kondo’s force at 1445 hrs, but was shot down. The radio report of single engine fighters was interpreted by Phillips as indicative of an aircraft carrier present. At 1505, a Nakajima E8N floatplane from IMS Chokai was spotted on radar by HMS Repulse, ten minutes later Force Z was reported, and the floatplanes remained overhead until dusk. Phillips responded by launching one Supermarine Walrus amphibian from HMS Repulse and Mauritius. Both were shot down before making any reports. By 1530, Phillips knew from RAF sources that the Kota Bharu transports had been withdrawn, but he continued on while maintaining total radio silence. The Army and RAF would not fight alone.

    At 1650, IMS Chokai and destroyer IMS Sagiri passed their Kota Bharu transports behind a screening line of four heavy cruisers (IMS Kumano, Suzuya, Mogami and Mikuma) under the command of RA Kurita Takeo. VA Kondo’s force was still too far away and it fell to IMS Sendai and 3rd IJN DF to guard the wallowing transports until he arrived. Five heavy cruisers were decidedly under armored against British 14-inch and 15-inch shells, and Ozawa fell back on classical IJN doctrinal thought. The engagement would be fought at night, Type 93 24-inch torpedoes used at ranges exceeding 32,000 yards to attrit Force Z, and the damaged remnants then given a coup de grace by Kurita later. His maneuvering space was severely constricted by the slow speed of the transports, the limitations of patchy monsoonal weather on the IJN’s Mk I human eyeball and the relentless closing of Force Z at 26 kts. To increase the odds, a night attack by 22nd Air Flotilla was requested, and planes began taking off at 1605. The IJNAF bombers were never able to form up and navigate accurately in the appalling weather over their airfields.

    Consequently, it was 22nd Air Flotilla which gave Phillips the tactical advantage. A three plane reconnaissance element excitedly reported Force Z found at 1850, and to ensure contact was not lost, LT Takedo Hachiro dropped a flare. To their astonishment, VA Ozawa and the crew of IMS Chokai were bathed in light. Frantically, Ozawa radioed in the clear that IMS Chokai was Takedo’s target, but the plane continued to drop flares. Finally, Ozawa radioed 22nd Air Flotilla to recall the attack, and Saigon contacted Takedo and all other flight leaders on the correct frequency. Distraught, Takedo remained on the scene until 2000, and saw the result. The other IJNAF steered clear of the coordinates given by Takedo and consequently arrived exhausted back at home fields about midnight.

    HMS Electra spotted the dropping of the flare, thought to be about five miles away, and reported by blinker to HMS Mauritius, but could not spot any ships. HMS Mauritius surged out of the bad weather, and with higher masts and lookouts observed IMS Chokai frantically turning and reported the same to the flagship. Remarkably, the IJN radio chatter and the presence of ships so close were not heard on any British radio or radar system. Phillips prudently ordered a 90-degree turn to starboard until the tactical picture developed except HMS Mauritius which would close and fire four-inch starshells to add illumination to the IJN’s own flares. Just as the turn was completed at 1859, the Type 284 radar aboard HMS Repulse picked up a solid contact at only 7,000 yards off his starboard bow. After receiving discretion from Phillips via blinker, CAPT Tennant opened fire. Prewar, HMS Repulse had alternated with HMS Barham and Warspite as Fleet gunnery champion, and CAPT Tennant had kept those skills sharply honed. Previously. CAPT Tennant commanded HMS Renown during her April 1940 engagement with KMS Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, where he first gained an appreciation for the potential of radar in conditions of poor visibility.

    The hapless target was IMS Mogami the furthest west of Kurita’s scouting line, and spread at roughly ten mile intervals, none of Kurita’s other ships were in position to support. CAPT Tennant opened fire at 1905 after tracking course and speed to obtain a solid firing solution. To his horror, LT Takedo could clearly see the broadsides of HMS Repulse in the distance, and sent frantic signals to redirect 22nd Air Flotilla; but the Flotilla staff did not dare disobey Ozawa. For Ozawa’s part, IMS Mogami, and if necessary his own flagship would be sacrificed to keep Force Z at bay. The possibility of confused attacks by IJNAF on friendly ships, especially vulnerable transports was too great.

    Phillips also had to make the difficult decision to split Force Z and take 90-degrees to port to bring HMS Prince of Wales towards IMS Chokai. On her first salvo at 1911, HMS Prince of Wales continued to suffer hard luck as mechanical defects shut down three guns in “A” turret. Immediately afterwards a starshell from IMS Mauritius revealed IMS Sagiri positioning herself for a close-range torpedo attack, and Phillips turned again 80-degrees to port to thwart any firing solution, while HMS Mauritius attempted to smother the destroyer with six-inch fire. Reprieved, IMS Chokai worked out a torpedo attack and opened fire with her eight-inch guns on HMS Mauritius. The flagship retuned fire with her after turret and straddled HMS Chokai, temporarily loosening the seal on a propeller shaft. At 1926, Ozawa and his trailing destroyer poured on steam and the RN ships could not keep up. After a half hour, Ozawa repositioned himself again between Force Z and IMS Sendai’s destroyers, but Phillips optioned to rejoin HMS Repulse. No ships had been hit.

    At 1912, two 15-inch shells from HMS Repulse’s fourth salvo struck IMS Mogami with devastating effect. The first glanced off the barbette of “A” turret before exploding forty feet from her bow; the combination of the explosion and IMS Mogami’s speed tearing the bow off at that point. The second hit tore through her aircraft deck igniting gasoline, but her damage control officer ordered the torpedoes one deck below jettisoned. Two salvoes later at 1916 a shell hit “Y” turret – demolishing – but failing to detonate it. HMS Repulse’s salvo at 1919 missed, but one minute later a second ship at 14,200 yards appeared on the screen and CAT Tennant ordered attention shifted to her.

    The second ship was IMS Mikuma, responding the situation reports from Ozawa’s flagship. Gun flashes from HMS Repulse were used to send eight torpedoes towards the RN and she was reloading tubes. After spending ten minutes at full speed closing range, HMS Repulse was remarkably close, if just astern of her with the first salvo at 1932. Using both Types 273 and 284 to acquire a proper solution a second salvo scored a single hit on her second salvo. The hit doomed the cruiser. Exploding in a boiler room directly beneath the torpedo room it not only cut her speed in half, but ignited a severe fire in the oxygen tanks for the Type 93 torpedoes, which began to explode, wrecking every deck amidships to her keel. It was too late, one of her first salvo of torpedoes struck USS Pope on the starboard side at 1938. It blew a hole through both after boiler rooms, and allowed uncontrolled flooding that caused her to hog severely. HMAS Vampire flashed a minefield report and Tennant immediately assumed the flare observed a half hour earlier had been a deliberate trick to lure Force Z into the minefield. HMAS Vampire gingerly remained behind to look for survivors, but found none and abandoned the attempt after an hour.

    CAPT Tennant was unwilling to give up on his distant target, and his gun crews had hit IMS Mikuma at 1937 on the bridge rendering her armament impotent. Reducing his speed to ten knots to remain both in range and a stable, stately platform for his gunners, three more hits were scored on the blazing target. One on the forecastle passed through without exploding but opened the bow to flooding. Another on the bridge ignited the ammunition for an adjacent five-inch gun mount and devastated damage control parties. The third hit “B” turret, ignited dozens of shells and again severely cracked her keel. Convinced neither ship could survive, Tennant signaled to rejoin Phillips at 1956. Incredibly, IMS Mogami did crawl back to Japan, but IMS Mikuma capsized the next day.

    Exultation reigned aboard all of Force Z’s ships, except HMAS Vampire. Had he known of the danger, Phillips would have raced back towards Singapore, and requested air cover. Instead he maintained radio silence, dropped his speed to 20 kts to conserve his destroyers’ fuel, and to remain in position in the event another opportunity to attack arose. At 0500 the next morning, the weather was clear over Saigon’s airfields, and 22nd Air Flotilla took to the air to exact revenge. All told, due to losses to Chennault’s tactics, only 77 instead of 94 planes could be launched.

    Unit Aircraft Armament Launch Time
    4/Genzan Air Corps 9 G3M Nell 2 x 55 kg Bombs (Recce) 0500
    1/Genzan Air Corps 9 G3M Nell 1 x 150 kg Torpedo 0625
    2/Genzan Air Corps 8 G3M Nell 1 x 150 kg Torpedo 0625
    3/Genzan Air Corps 9 G3M Nell 1 x 500 kg Bomb 0625
    1/Kanoya Air Corps 9 G4M Betty 1 x 500 kg Bomb 0644
    2/Kanoya Air Corps 8 G4M Betty 1 x 204 kg Torpedo 0644
    3/Kanoya Air Corps 9 G4M Betty 1 x 204 kg Torpedo 0644
    2/Mihoro Air Group 8 G3M Nell 1 x 500 kg Bomb 0650
    1/Mihoro Air Group 8 G3M Nell 2 x 250 kg Bombs 0800

    Conditions were not idyllic over Force Z when first sighted at 1015, but the professional skill of IJNAF pilots overcame strong winds. The extra anti-aircraft guns aboard HMS Mauritius did little, the poor quality of the RN High Angle Control System directors made them unsuitable for aircraft that flew twice as fast as the RN’s own aircraft – this had long ago been proven in the Mediterranean. More valuable were the smoke screens laid by the four-pipers. Luck, both good and bad, would play itself out over Force Z. The first attack, at 1045 by 3/Genzan Air Corps came in from astern where HMAS Vampire was now stationed. Making a colossal error in ship recognition, all nine bombs dropped by the IJNAF aviators failed to strike this nimble veteran of Luftwaffe attacks during her service in the Mediterranean.

    Approaching from the south 20 minutes later, 1/Mihoro Air Group quickly identified the massive control top of HMS Repulse as symbolic of a capital ship, and lined up in tight three aircraft “V” formations. Capt Tennant handled his ship with aplomb, and only one of the 16 bombs hit – plunging through the starboard hanger to burst in the Royal Marine (RM) mess, causing no casualties and only a minor fire. VA Phillips initially held tight control over individual ship movements; recognizing this as a mistake, he now allowed each ship captain wide latitude. At 1130, three IJNAF squadrons which had flown too far towards Kota Bharu before receiving the recce report arrived simultaneously. Although 2/Kanoya Air Corps lined up a textbook anvil attack, Capt Tennant’s skill evaded all torpedoes, with one passing on each side of his ship less than 100 feet from her hull and only three minutes apart.

    The next squadron, the 1/Genzan Air Corps was real trouble, and forever demolished any myth of battleship invulnerability so cherished by true battleship admirals. CAPT Leach had less luck than Tennant, dodging seven of eight torpedoes. The deadly fish struck on the port side aft, breaking through the armour belt and flooding B Engine Room. The shaft was bent at an odd angle and continued to spin for a few seconds more, gouging the thin bottom plating and permitting Y Engine Room to slowly flood; while at the other end the loosened shaft mountings allowed water into B Boiler Room. Shock damage shut down the diesel dynamos, leaving X Engine and Y Boiler Rooms in the dark. Without power, both rudders went limp. 2/Genzan Air Corps flew past their sister squadron to attack HMS Repulse, but again Capt Tennant’s skill held. The old girl hiked up her 25-year-old skirts and reached 27.5 kts; and he was now nearly ten miles ahead of the flagship.

    VA Phillips at last broke radio silence requesting destroyers from the Singapore Local Flotilla and powerful tugs, and reporting his position. The AVG Tomahawks now took off. It was in the next lull, of 50 minutes that HMS Mauritius was of most value. Coming alongside the wallowing flagship, she passed slave cables to supply power to the dynamo room, and allow 25 minutes of light while the diesel generators were restarted. As power was restored, the flooding of B and Y Boiler Rooms was staunched and control regained over the rudders. By 1215, HMS Prince of Wales was able to get under way at 14 kts, and redundant power cables were laid out. Only five minutes later, she received her second hit, from 2/Mihoro Air Group on her catapult directly above X Boiler Room, which suffered heavy casualties. With power still on, steam was re-routed from A Boiler Room, and she was able to maintain speed.

    The last two squadrons went after HMS Repulse, but due to a malfunction, LT Iki Hiroshi dropped his bomb well short, and all other bombardiers followed their leader’s example; leaving 1/Kanoya Air Corps scoreless. 3/Kanoya Air Corps executed perhaps the most skillful attack of all. Three aircraft flew towards each side simultaneously, and the third group approached unseen from astern. Neither of the first two groups launched, and Capt Tennant now fully exposed his starboard side to the third section which scored a hit that punctured beneath the bulge and flooded X Boiler Room. Under attack again by the first two sections, Tennant ensured his wounded side was not struck again, and took a portside bulge hit that contaminated fuel tanks, but actually compensated for the flooding of X Boiler Room. Speed dropped to 24kts, and she had no margin for serious flooding left.

    Fortunately for Phillips, the IJNAF did not have 17 additional torpedo bombers to throw at the two crippled ships. They had fallen to the guns of Tomahawks and Buffalos over Singapore. The AVG pilots from Kuantan arrived after the last bombers had left, and promptly shot down a Nell left behind to shadow Force Z. Later that day, two Jake floatplanes, one each from IMS Kumano and Suzuya were shot down, and at dusk a Dave floatplane from, IMS Yura. No IJN submarines were vectored to the crippled capital ships. A bitter lesson on RAF-RN cooperation and timely, clear communications was learned.

    Force Z staggered into Singapore Naval Base, the exultation over the sinking of “two” cruisers now completely forgotten. HMS Repulse arrived at 0830 on 11 December, and was nudged into King George V Dock. Her bulges would be left flooded, but USN welders put enough plates on to seal X Boiler Room, and she was deemed seaworthy enough to reach the UK. HMS Prince of Wales arrived at 1900 on 12 December, both ships having been covered during their return by the AVG. Dry-docked two days later, she had the damaged shaft cut out and plates welded over the 130-foot gouge in her hull.

    HMS Repulse steamed alone to Cape Town, relying on speed and scarcity of enemy submarines in the Indian Ocean. Her wounds reexamined by divers, she then set sail under escort to Freetown, Gibraltar and arrived at Cammell-Laird on 20 February 1942. Her hull was thoroughly repaired, boilers and machinery overhauled, top weight reduced and an efficient anti-aircraft battery installed. Her refit, completed in August 1942, delayed an overhaul for HMS Rodney. HMS Repulse never returned to the Far East, but escorted aircraft carriers in Home and Mediterranean waters. In turn, HMS Rodney was repaired at Devonport from August 1942 until June 1943 in place of the torpedoed HMS Resolution, which as odd man out, never went to sea again.

    HMS Prince of Wales departed soon after, on 27 December 1941. Escorted by HMS Exeter, Dauntless, Danae, Electra, HMAS Vampire, Vendetta, HNLMS Java and Kortanaer through the Sunda Straits, only HMS Dauntless and the two Australian vessels accompanied her after that point. This was a great risk, as HMS Vendetta was also a cripple, undocked a week prior after sufficient hull repairs were made for sea-keeping, but still in dire need of full refit. After stopping in Fremantle and Sydney for examination of her hull by divers, HMS Prince of Wales proceeded on.

    Dry-docks capable of handling a modern battleship were under construction at both Sydney and Durban, but neither is yet finished. She passed the Panama Canal and arrived at Philadelphia Navy Yard on 12 April 1942, where detailed plans of her engine spaces and damage reports had been already been received. Her damaged turbine was rebuilt, additional diesel generators installed, and because time was available, her prow raised 12 feet and the for’castle sloped from “A” turret to the prow to improve sea-keeping and avoid water damage to this forward quadruple 14-inch turret. Repairs completed in January 1943, she then underwent an extra month’s refit at Devonport to install British radar. Eight months later HMS Prince of Wales returned to the Indian Ocean.

    What would be the effects of this Alternative History scenario on the outcome of the Second World War?

    Once stalled at the Taiping Line, the Japanese offensive in Malaya will never get underway again. On 4 February 1942 the remainder of 18 (Eastern) Div disembarked at Singapore with no losses due to the presence of Hurricanes patrolling overhead. In sequence, 53, 54 and 55 Brigades and division support replaced 22 Australian, 28 (G) Indian and 27 Australian Brigades on the Taiping Line. 28 (G) Indian Bde was returned to Johore to refit, with 8 Australian Division’s organic assets replaced 11 Indian Div in positions around Ipoh. 11 Indian Div sent 6 Indian Bde by road to relieve 1 Malaya Bde at Kuala Lipis, while 15 Indian Bde remained nearby as a counterattack force; 22 Indian Bde was transferred from 9 Indian Div and paired with 8 Indian Bde as its relief. Without a commander until BG Keys was selected in late February, 9 Indian Div withdrew with 1 Malaya Bde into Johore to reconstitute.

    The successful conclusion to the Battle of Taiping led PM Curtin to be persuaded to divert I Australian Corps and 7 Australian Div from its intended destination of Java to Malaya. (Historically, only 2/2 Australian MG Bn and 2/2 Australian Pioneer BN made it to Java.) The arrival of LTG John Lavarack and his staff allowed FM Wavell to split western and eastern Malaya: I Australian Corps took over the 8 Australian Div, 1 Malaya Div and 12 Indian Bde. III Indian Corps kept the remaining units. FM Wavell knew and respected LTG Heath from his service in the Middle East under Wavell, and desired to promote him to Malaya Command. It was easy to explain to LTG Percival that Wavell had been away from Delhi too long, and needed a competent deputy there since India Command was still Wavell’s responsibility. To replace Heath as III Indian Corps Commander, one of Heath’s former brigade commanders, MG William Slim was selected. Slim, who was commander of 10 Indian Div in Iraq had originally been selected to replace the slain MG Barstow, but did not arrive until the beginning of March by which time Wavell viewed him as a potential corps commander for either Burma or Malaya. By mid-March, an excellent command group of Wavell, Heath, Lavarack and Slim is in place, and the garrison numbers well over 150,000 whose competence in fighting the IJA is steadily improving.

    There would likely be a change of command on the Japanese side as well. LTG Yamashita has not become the “Tiger of Malaya” and COL Tsuji is not the “God of Operations”. Both men were wildly unpopular among senior officers in the Japanese Army, and both are exiled to Manchukuo for their failure. (As a historical note – this was Yamashita’s reward for success!) LTG Iida Shojiro and his 15th IJA Army, is given responsibility for Malaya as well as Burma. 33rd IJA Div is moved from central Thailand to Malaya by late February and then 5th IJA Div is rebuilt. Without Singapore, IJA troops in Burma cannot be supplied by sea, and without 33rd IJA Div, the 55th IJA Div cannot reach Rangoon. The 55th IJA Div has already been stripped of one of its three regiments for operations against Guam and Rabaul, and the other two regiments have lost one battalion for Thai occupation duties. It is doubtful the remaining four IJA battalions can prevail against even a weak 1 Burma Div (13 Indian, 1 and 2 Burma Brigades), the separate 16 Indian Bde, and reinforcing 17 Indian Div with 46 Indian, 48 (G) Indian and 63 Indian Brigades; plus Chinese troops.

    There were also substantial Allied naval and air reinforcements. A convoy escorted by USS Phoenix, which departed San Francisco on 12 January and arrived in Melbourne on 2 February 1942 is ordered on to Padang as soon as refueled. A total of 93 P-40E Kittyhawks were carried, and none are foolishly off-loaded only to be reloaded onto USS Langley and SS Sea Witch. To ensure enough pilots and mechanics, those personnel are evacuated from the Philippines by B-17, PBY Catalina or submarines once patrols are completed. Married up at Chennault’s tactical school, they ensure replacements are in the pipeline for AVG pilots as they become casualties or combat-weary. 40 crated Hurricane IIA/B fighters arrived with 18 (Eastern) Div, and another 27 crated Hurricane IIA on 1 March, new machines are available for Dutch pilots as well. After a second ferry run, 48 Hurricane IIA/B (33 from No 30 Sqn, 15 more to be assigned to reforming No 243 Sqn) are flown from HMS Indomitable to new airfields at Medan, Sumatra on 9 March 1942 to continue a defense in depth. The scale of Allied reinforcement is best measured against the total of 182 fighters the 3rd IJAAF Air Division could assemble on 8 December 1941. After returning to Port Sudan, HMS Indomitable will re-embark her full air group, and return to fleet duties.

    In addition to fighters, the RAF sent two bomber units, No 84 Sqn with 16 Blenheim IV and No 211 Sqn with 12 Blenheim IV. Both served extensively in the Western Desert before arriving at Padang, Sumatra on 23 January 1942. The 825-mile flight from Calcutta to Port Blair and 1125-miles from Port Blair were difficult both navigationally and operationally, and two planes from No 84 Sqn were lost. After six weeks the two squadrons moved to Sembawang Airfield on Singapore Island. No 36 and No 100 squadrons have completed conversion to modern Australian Bristol Beaufort torpedo bombers.

    USS Phoenix joins USS Houston in the Asiatic Fleet, which is combined with the Dutch Squadron and assigned only missions in the eastern Java Sea. HMS Exeter, Mauritius, Jupiter, Nubian, Isis, Ilex, Electra, Express, Encounter and HMAS Perth, Hobart and Vampire are retained in the approaches to Singapore. Thus the two squadrons are not run ragged from one end of Java to the other wearing machinery and men out needlessly. The operational navy yard at Singapore is able to speed USS Boise and Marblehead back to the United States for extensive repairs to battle damage. Destroyers USS Whipple, Edsall, Stewart, Barker, Bulmer and HNLMS Kortanaer, Witte de With, Banckert, submarines HNLMS K-VIII, K-XI, K-XIII and K-XVIII would be returned to combat after full, rather than temporary and incomplete repair to battle or accidental damage.

    Some of the same ships that carried 18 (Eastern) Div to Singapore embarked 44 Indian Bde. FM Wavell was under pressure to aid the Dutch, and 6/14 Punjab was sent to Telukbetung across the Sunda Strait from Java while the remainder of the brigade took positions around Palembang. Only a few days later, on 14 February, 360 men of the 2/Yokosuka Special Naval Landing Force (SNLF), trained as paratroopers landed on 14 February 1942. Another company was dropped in after the first wave’s aircraft returned to Borneo. The Punjabi infantry did little against them, but their presence allowed dispersed Dutch forces to concentrate beforehand, thus permitting the destruction of the paratroopers. This success did not prevent the 230th IJA Regt from attempting to force its way up the Moesi River to relieve the airborne, but the failure of the 2/Yokosuka SNLF to eliminate 75mm gun positions on the river forced an early and costly disembarkation and overland march by the 230th IJA Regt. They were subject to Allied bombing and strafing attacks en-route, as IJNAF planes at Kuantan had no airfields at Palembang to fly to. This delayed the capture of Palembang from the 17th until the 21st of February, and the capture of the last refinery and airfields from 20 February until the last day of the month.

    The badly routed Dutch and Indian troops began a long retreat towards Padang, joined by a dispirited if still intact 6/14 Punjab. The IJA also took a battering, and for logistical reasons could not pursue. The 182nd U.S. Infantry Regt, diverted from New Caledonia arrives at Padang on 12 March 1942, followed by the 32nd U.S. Infantry Division (minus the 128th U.S. Infantry Regt, diverted to New Caledonia) on 20 May 1942. The IJA is forced to keep a substantial force on occupation duties so only 38th IJA Div is able to press on to Sumatra. By holding northern Sumatra, the reinforcement pipeline to Singapore is kept open. Sumatra will be as costly to the U.S. Army as the New Guinea Campaign in casualties from both battle and disease, but it will be viewed as the major path to liberating the Philippines in 1942.

    Although the Japanese conquest of Java and the Philippines could not be prevented, it is probable with IMS Mogami and Mikuma subtracted from the IJN order of battle, and several Allied ships added that Japanese losses would have been heavier, and in all likelihood, all British and Australian ships plus USS Phoenix, Stewart and HNLMS Witte de With, Banckert would have survived and light cruiser IMS Jinstu, destroyers Minegumo, Oshio and Asashio would have been lost. After a delay in late spring 1942 absorbing the damage and shipping losses of an IJN carrier raid into the Indian Ocean, the true danger of leaving Singapore in Allied hands becomes apparent when USAAF bomb groups of B-17s and B-24s arrive via India in June-August 1942 to begin paralyzing raids on Japanese oil refineries in the East Indies that the IJAAF fighter contingent cannot defeat. Short patrols by submarines wreak havoc on Japanese shipping in the area. In the meantime, the IJN has moved eastwards to combat an aggressive U.S. Pacific Fleet – it had no strategic alternative.

    In Europe, the greatest advantage of holding Malaya is the strengthening of the British positions against General-Oberst Erwin Rommel in the Western Desert. Two well-trained and battle-tested formations, 70 Div and 7 Armoured Bde are not hastily rushed to India and Burma in a panic. Both remain a part of Eighth British Army, and this will affect the FM Claude Auchinleck’s strategy in the spring of 1942. The establishment of Tobruk as a major supply center, interrupted by the previous year’s siege, will now continue, and instead of deciding Tobruk could not withstand another siege, its fortifications are fully maintained. Royal Engineering-Mechanical Establishment (REME) units continue to move from Egypt to Tobruk. These REME units conduct major repairs or overhauls to tanks, and perhaps 120 are restored to service without the time-consuming process of Scammell tank transporters hauling them hundreds of miles to Egypt. A similar number of armoured cars and hundreds of trucks are salvaged as well. Other vehicles are given adequate maintenance, thus bringing 1 Armoured Div, 1 (Army) and 32 (Army) Tank Brigades to full strength again without raiding vehicles from 10 Armoured Div training in Palestine. 7 Armoured Bde adds over 100 Stuart tanks to 7 Armoured Div.

    Thus at Gazala, Rommel is attacking a Commonwealth force 75% stronger in armored vehicles instead of only 25%; and 25% stronger in infantry and artillery instead of an equal size. Additionally, although not yet fully trained, 10 Armoured Div is moved to the Halfaya Pass to join 5 Indian Div in Eighth British Army reserve. However lethargic British commanders may be, it is now doubtful that Rommel will prevail, much less capture the vast quantities of supplies he used to push on to El Alamein. At this point, a second major effect of holding Malaya comes into play: no need to divert 5 Div and 29 Independent Bde to occupy Madagascar. Instead, these two units move into the eastern Mediterranean and execute the mission they spent most of 1941 training for. About the same time Rommel opens the Battle of Gazala, the British launch an amphibious operation from Palestine with air support from Cyprus against the island of Rhodes as a stepping stone to recapturing Greece. Churchill was certain that a return to the Aegean would bring Turkey into the war and open a supply route to the Russians via the Turkish Straits. The effect on Rommel is to divert a portion of his Luftwaffe support to Greece, further minimizing his chances in the Western Desert. Axis defeat at Gazala reduces losses to Malta convoys originating from Suez, as their air cover remains operational in airfields around Tobruk.

    Another probable side benefit from holding Malaya is an earlier, albeit smaller scale execution of Operation Torch. Torch originated from President Roosevelt’s fear that the Japanese use of Vichy French Indochina to attack American would be replicated by the Germans or (to a lesser degree) Italians in the French West Indies and French West Africa to threaten American interests in Latin America. It was opposed by General Marshall, as a sideshow from opening a Second Front in France, and endorsed by the British for that very reason.

    Launched on 16 June 1942 to seize positions from Northern Morocco south to Dakar utilizing Combat Command B of 1st U.S. Armored Div, 1st and 34th U.S. Infantry Divisions, 2nd U.S. Cavalry Div (with only 9th and 10th U.S. Cavalry Regiments – the remainder remained at Ft Riley KS as cadre for 9th U.S. Armored Div), and the French speaking 156th U.S. Infantry Regt from the Louisiana National Guard. The entire invasion, including USAAF aircraft and temporarily naval assets, is commanded by LTG Dwight D Eisenhower, with MG George Patton’s I U.S. Armored Corps as ground force. Once control of Vichy French bases on the Atlantic Coast is obtained, Patton’s troops will advance rapidly into Algeria against opposition strong enough to secure political and military honor, but insufficient to exceed the level of resistance given the Japanese in French Indochina or to provoke an American declaration of war.

    In July and August 1942, LTG Eisenhower is reinforced by MG Lloyd Friedenhall’s II U.S. Corps HQ, 1st U.S. Armored Div (to which CCB is returned) and 3rd U.S. Infantry Div; and in keeping with a principle of leavening new troops with inexperienced, 34th U.S. Infantry Div is transferred from Patton. I U.S. Armored Corps is fleshed out again with 2nd U.S. Armored and 9th U.S. Infantry Divisions from the United States. 2nd U.S. Cavalry Div, 156th U.S. Infantry Regt, and an increasing contingent of troops rallying to General Charles De Gaulle are left on occupation duties. (GEN Henri Giraud has barely escaped from German captivity, and has not yet made contact with Americans – DE Gaulle has no rivals.) The U.S. horse cavalry is considered especially well-suited to guarding the frontier between French and Spanish Morocco.

    Pressed between Auchinleck advancing from Gazala with X British Armored and XXX British Corps and the Americans pressing from the west, Rommel and his Italian allies have little choice but to give up Libya to maintain a foothold in Tunis. Although German veterans will administer a bloody nose or two to the American troops, Patton will quickly take Tunis – certainly no later than September. Hitler will not divert attention from Stalingrad to save either Rommel or Rommel’s reputation. The odds are that Hitler will order southern France occupied as soon as Vichy indifference is ascertained; and since North Africa is devoid of the hated British, there is a good chance Vichy will order its fleet to escape instead of being scuttled in Toulon.

    At this point, the acceleration of Allied victory in Europe can be laid out. Held back from Torch, LTG Bernard Montgomery’s First British Army (V and IX British Corps, 1st Free French Div) executes Operation Brimstone in September 1942, the successive invasion and occupation of both Sardinia and Corsica. FM Auchinleck follows up with an invasion of Sicily in November 1942 with XIII (reinforced with 5 Div and 29 Independent Bde) and XXX British Corps; II U.S. Corps is attached to Eighth British Army as well. By late October 1942, Eisenhower, Montgomery and Patton are in London, planning the Cross-Channel invasion under the overall command of GEN Marshall, which in all likelihood will take place in May 1943 – unlike 1944, all of 1943 was blessed with excellent weather.

    LTG Eisenhower is given 12th Army Group with Seventh, Fifth, First, Third and Ninth U.S Armies in succession under the command of Patton, LTG Mark Clark, LTG Courtney Hodges, LTG Alexander Patch, and William Simpson respectively. 21st Army Group under Montgomery contains Second (LTG Miles Dempsey), Fourth (LTG Bernard Paget) British and First Canadian (LTG Andrew McNaughton) Armies. Southern France will be the target of a small First Free French Army in July 1943. Given they have no respite in 1943 to rebuild the Wehrmacht after catastrophic losses on the Russian Front, there is little the Germans can do to stem this breakout from Normandy; much less aid Italy when Auchinleck’s troops land between Anzio and La Spezia in September 1943 and quickly seize Rome. This allowed the Italian Government to maintain cohesion after surrendering, and a majority of Italian occupation troops in the Balkans followed their government over to the Allied side. For the British merchant marine, the end to the U-boat menace from French bases in 1943 instead of 1944 translates into perhaps a half-million tons of shipping and as many as 80,000 seamen surviving the war. The Western Allies will beat the Russians to Berlin by mid-1944.

    Returning to the Pacific Theater, the first priority for British reinforcements was to keep the Burma Road to China open: 2 Div and the first units of the second wave of Indian Army expansion (14, 7, 19 and 23 Indian Divisions, 50 Indian Tank Bde) are devoted to that purpose. The British objective is to cross the Kra Peninsula and reach the Gulf of Siam. Although unsuccessful in 1942 while these troops were schooled by the Japanese not only in jungle warfare, but also logistics and medicine; this was achieved in early 1943 and land links to IJA troops in Malaya are cut. Even before this time, enough IJA troops were drawn to the Burma Front that I Australian Corps was able to liberate northwest Malaya by the end of 1942, to clear the entire country by mid-1943, and link up with troops from Burma before the end of the year. In Sumatra, Allied troops did not arrive in sufficient numbers (20, 25 and 26 Indian Divisions) until the late spring of 1943 to clear the island by the end of the year.

    In the Solomon Islands the Japanese were unable to garrison as many islands, nor their bastion of Rabaul as strongly allowing American and Australian troops to work more rapidly to the Admiralty Islands, the staging post for MacArthur’s return to the Philippine Island of Mindanao in January 1944. The U.S. Navy made its Pacific thrusts from Tarawa through the Marshall and Mariana Islands between November 1943 and July 1944, and deposited the first veterans of Europe on Taiwan the following November. The British made the jump from Malaya to Borneo in April of 1944. Japanese industry has ground to a halt, but its militaristic fanaticism continued through the Iwo Jima and Okinawa landings until the final dropping of the atomic bombs.

    Nothing in history is inevitable. These changes posited by the author in the Second World War bring even greater ones in the post-war world. While the position of the United States may be unchanged, those of the Soviet Union (weaker), Great Britain, France, Nationalist China and the Netherlands (all much stronger) are all vastly different. While President Roosevelt may exit the scene much sooner than historical after his poor health is fully exposed at the July 1944 Potsdam Conference, Churchill may last longer; until perhaps 1946 when his opposition to social reform will doom this last political relic of the Victorian Age. But none of this analysis argues for the dismissal of Singapore as an overvalued bauble, or viewing its successful defense as immaterial to events elsewhere. The loss of Singapore in February 1942 was every bit as catastrophic to an aging British Empire as its worst critics have alleged; and a successful defense would both prolong and renew the faith deposited by its Commonwealth citizens in that Empire as an institution capable of rejuvenating itself.

  10. 10
    lapin-rouge says:

    Hah – 13 minor responses (including some really petty rascism) and then a short novel !

    I've been to Sinpapore several times – it feels much bigger on the ground than on a map, simply because one cannot see any distance due to the jungle (urban nowadays). This would have really confused and demoralised unfamiliar officers. Communication with troops dispersed for defence would have been sporadic at best – whereas the Jap attacking forces were concentrated with no comms probs.

    My other concern – which remains unanswered – is that (in the event Singpaore successful defence) would SP have become an allied 'Verdun' attacked by the IJP in order to bleed the empire dry? – remember that the japanese had excellent airbases in Vietnamand potential local Naval superiority. Would Churchill have supported another Verdun?

  11. 11
    Eric C Johnson says:

    Good question about the potential for Singapore as a Pacific Verdun. Unlike the French city, Singapore never was a fortress, except perhaps in terms of expenditure. Mr. XXX ‘s observational skills served him well – Singapore Island is too big to be a fortress, and the naval base is fully exposed, unless defended far enough away to protect it from air and artillery attack. The Japanese possess enough first class airfields, but aircraft is a different question altogether.

    When the decision to go to war was made in August 1941, both the IJAAF and IJNAF made a conscious decision not to lower stringent pilot training standards to replace anticipate combat losses; but instead to rely on a smaller number of truly elite fliers. This decision was not reversed until April 1942. Thus the 3rd IJAAF Division mustered 182 fighter pilots at the start of the war, but never returned to that number again until early 1944. It is doubtful the IJAAF could sustain a “Verdun in the Air”.

    Nor are IJA troops available. The Japanese regarded the Russians as their most formidable threat, the Chinese were second, the British (and ANZACs) were third, the Americans fourth and the Dutch fifth. Indians, Malays and Filipinos were not even taken into consideration. It was not until 1944 that these priorities were revised, and troops shifted from Manchuria and China to fight in the Pacific and Burma. Also, as the superb British historian Ned Willmont pointed out in “Empires in the Balance”, the Sino-Japanese War required just under 9,000,000 tons of shipping per year, but the Japanese merchant marine could provide slightly more than 5,000,000 tons. The Japanese solution to this insurmountable logistical problem was to expand the war throughout Southeast Asia and eastward into the Central and South Pacific. Ultimately, most of the resources seized were never transported to Japan. Moreover, the lack of proper troop transports meant most Japanese soldiers sailed in cargo holds of unsanitary cargo ships. Wastage from disease and exposure was high, and Japanese reinforcements were always too late, too few, and in too poor of physical condition to counter allied counteroffensives.

    Assuming troops from Manchuria and China were made available, the answer to the inquiry as to whether Singapore could become a strategic Verdun rests upon the question of how would they be transported to Malaya when the Japanese Army is short well over 50% of its shipping requirements?

    As a side note, it is often forgotten that the Japanese Navy and Japanese Army fought two wars completely uncoordinated with each other. The Japanese Army devoted only three regiments to fighting the full weight of the American and Australians prior to the Guadalcanal Campaign when a fourth regiment and a divisional headquarters was begrudgingly provided. With the exception of a carrier raid in April 1942, the Japanese Navy was similarly negligent of the Indian Ocean. The interservice rivalry was so intense that the Japanese Army was forced to build its own merchant aircraft carriers to transport army aircraft to Rabaul and Java. This is because the Japanese Navy Minister and the Japanese Army Minister were not subordinate to the Prime Minister. The Emperor was not involved in policy, and there was no single entity able to force a strategic consensus in Japan.

    Hardly a recipe for victory.

  12. 12
    Eric C Johnson says:

    Sincere apologies to Mr. Lapin-Rouge !!!!!

    I placed Mr. XXX as a place holder as a wrote my comment on a word document and then failed a basic editing task !!!! I feel like an idiot. Just call me Mr. ZZZ in return and we are even !!



Leave a Reply

Human Verification: In order to verify that you are a human and not a spam bot, please enter the answer into the following box below based on the instructions contained in the graphic.


Related Articles


History Net Images Spacer
Paid Advertisement
Paid Advertisement
History Net Daily Activities
History net Spacer
History net Spacer
Historynet Spacer
HISTORYNET READERS' POLL

Which of these wars resulted in the most surprising underdog upset?

View Results | See previous polls

Loading ... Loading ...
History net Spacer
STAY CONNECTED WITH US
RSS Feed Daily Email Update
History net Spacer
Paid Advertisement History net Spacer
Paid Advertisement

Paid Advertisement
What is HistoryNet?

The HistoryNet.com is brought to you by Weider History, the world's largest publisher of history magazines. HistoryNet.com contains daily features, photo galleries and over 5,000 articles originally published in our various magazines.

If you are interested in a specific history subject, try searching our archives, you are bound to find something to pique your interest.

From Our Magazines
Weider History

Weider History Network:  HistoryNet | Armchair General | Achtung Panzer! | StreamHistory.com
Today in History | Ask Mr. History | Picture of the Day | Daily History Quiz | Contact Us

Copyright © 2014 Weider History. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.
Advertise With Us | Subscription Help | Privacy Policy