Page 10 – 11 / 1941 – 42
Left Hand Page
Precis of lecture given by Lt. Gen. Sir Lewis Heath
KEDAH. Three Brigades were dispersed in this area. An A/TANK position was under preparation in the JITRA area, north of ALOR STAR, but difficulty in securing labour prevented it from being as complete and as efficient as it should have been. It had been dictated by Whitehall that MALAYA’s function in the war effort was to produce 100 [unknown] Tin and Rubber and thus become a dollar factory. Practically all labour was used for this purpose and the countries [sp] defence suffered in consequence.
CENTRE REGION: The centre region of the PENINSULA, volunteer Battalion of somewhat doubtful fighting efficiency, as 80% of the personnel were untried MALAY’S [sp] employed on aerodromes defence, the guarding of internees, and general L. of C. duties.
[Unknown] & MERSING: Two Battalions of the 8th. Australian Division were allotted for these two parts. ENDAU was rather slightly held, but MERSING was the beat defended coastal position on the PENINSULA.
FORTRESS TROOPS: Consisted of two BRIGADES. All troops were in position by the end of NOVEMBER. Corps H.Q. being situated at KUALA LUMPUR. Early in DECEMBER it became obvious that a JAPANESE attack on MALAYA was imminent. Condensation trails of hostile planes began to appear all over our aerodromes as far south as IPOH, where part of a JAPANESE camera was picked up. Our fighters did not succeed in picking up any of these planes.
(a) THE LANDING AT KOTA BHARU
The first warning of hostile movement was by one recce plane, which early in the afternoon of DEC. 6th. 1941. sighted a hostile convoy of some 41 transports with a strong naval escort just south of southern INDO-CHINA in THAILAND, steaming due wast – a course which would have brought them to SINGGORAH in THAILAND. Unfortunately weather conditions were not too good, and the aeroplane lost touch with the enemy. The next day some Catalina flying boats were sent out from SINGAPORE but they never returned. Information was then received of another convoy of similar strength proceeding on approximately the same course 24 hours behind the first.
Had it been definitely known that the convoys were proceeding to THAILAND, the government might have induced to allow our troops in the North West sector (11 INDIAN DIV.) to go forward to SINGGORAH before the enemy arrived. The uncertain information available did not, however, justify the invasion of THAI. neutrality, a course which might have had a very adverse affect on AMERICAN opinion. At one time it had been hoped that the THAI’S would have been our ally, but with the JAPANESE occupation of INDO-CHINA, such hopes disappeared. The THAI’S simply could not afford to be our friends.
In the early hours of Monday 8th. Dec. 1941. the first act of JAPANESE aggression took place when hostile bombers flew over SINGAPORE and dropped bombs on Raffles Square and on the Chinese quarter, causing many casualties. Although blackouts had been practised for some time, at the time of the raid all the lights of SINGAPORE were blazing.
At the same time the JAPANESE attacked KOTA BHARU the very N.E. tip of the PENINSULA, and landed forces at PATANI & SINGGORAH in THAILAND. All communications were cut off between THAILAND and MALAYA, but it was eventually learned that after two hours resistance the ‘Land of the FREE’ had capitulated to the enemy.
At the time of the KOTA BHARU landing the N.E. monsoon was blowing and our naval authorities were quite certain before the event that it would prove impossible to effect a landing under such conditions. The JAPS. are, however accustomed to overcome even greater difficulties in their high powered boats, and what might have been impossible and beyond the capabilities of our normal shops boats, were certainly within theirs. They were assisted in their landing by a certain CHINESE Smuggler, who guided them into a creek between two beaches with a lantern. This Smuggler was known to the military authorities, but their efforts to have him arrested were resisted by the civil police on the grounds of insufficient evidence.
Prior to the attack out AIR FORCE H.Q. would not admit the possibility of an invading force attempting to land without the support of shore-based aircraft. THEY therefore expected the enemy to consolidate their position at PATANI & SINGGORAH before attacking KOTA BHARU. The enemy did in fact attack all three places at the same time, probably with the assistance of aircraft carriers. AIR H.Q. had also estimated that even with the obsolete aircraft at their disposal they would be able to knock out 40 of any hostile convoy approaching the coast of MALAYA or S. THAILAND.
If this had been achieved the enemy would have been reduced by 75%. Evets proved that our air expert had been to [sp] optimistic; actually we did not destroy more one fortieth of the enemy’s convoy.
During the 8th. Dec. the fighting was very fierce, at KOTA BHARU but at the end of the day the enemy was left in possession of two pill-boxes which gave them frontage of 3000 yards.
Right Hand Page
Precis of lecture given by Lt. Gen. Sir Lewis Heath
(d) THE CAMPAIGN IN THE AIR AND THE FALL OF PENANG.
After the capture of SINGGORH and PATANI, the enemy lost no time in establishing aerodromes. There [sp] aircraft were brought from INDO-CHINA and it is estimated that on the 9th. Dec. a day after the attack on KOTA BHARU they had at their disposal 100 planes. By the next day this figure had increased to 200. Their aircraft proved to be much superior in design and performance to our pre-war estimate.
The Brewster Buffalo and the Japanese 0.96. were not to be compared. A feature of some of their fighters, which surprised our experts, was the detachable “belly tank” which enabled their fighters to support their bombers over long ranges without being cumbersome in aerial combat. The usual Japanese tactics was to send over wings of bombers about 27 strong, supported by a similar number of fighters high above them. To oppose these modern formations, we could only spare flights of 3-5 fighters. It is hardly surprising that our fighters met with so little success.
After supporting this initial landing operation, the enemy apparently decided to concentrates all his attention in the air on the destruction of our aerodromes. The special bomb sight which he possessed enabled him to obtain extreme accuracy from great highs, and the dispersion of our aircraft on the field proved no effective measure. On the 9th Dec., the important aerodrome of ALOR STAR was attacked and both planes and buildings were so severely damaged that it had to be evacuated the same day. This procedure was then repeated at SUNGAI, PATANI, & BUTTERWORTH aerodromes. PENANG also received heavy attacks and all Government and civil installations there ceased to function. On the night of 16/17 Dec. PENANG was evacuated. 24 motor propelled launches and a large number of small craft were left behind. It will be seen that these boats play an important part in subsequent operations enabling the enemy to keep outflanking us on the west coast of the Peninsula.
(e) THE DEFENCE OF KAMPAR & TROLAK.
The position selected for the stand to be made after the withdrawal across the PERAK RIVER was at KAMPAR. This may be said to be the only natural position in the whole of MALAYA. Set astride the main road, it had one important weakness; a loop road which ran around the other side of the mountain to the main road again behind it. A gde. of GHURKAS was sent to block the loop road and be prepared for a counter stroke. The country was specially suited for the type of fighting in which they excel, but the troops were to [sp] weary for offensive operations.
For three days the enemy battered himself quite badly against our position at KAMPAR, and it seemed that at last he might be held. On the third day however, he commenced outflanking tactics by sea and landed at TELOK ANSON. It had been possible to allot only one Independent (Commando) Company for the defence of this area. The 12 Bgde. was thrown in but the position at KAMPAR was soon rendered untenable by this threat behind its left flank and KANPAR was soon evacuated. During the withdrawal, as elsewhere in the campaign, as much tin mining as possible was destroyed to prevent it being used by the enemy.
The next defensive position was selected at TROLEK north of SLIM River, where the main road and railway run together through thick jungle. This was not an ideal position but it had certain advantages. Corridors had been cut through the forest to make way for the boat and railway and the only effective way of holding the position was in great depth. There is no doubt that great strain was placed on the mans nerve for the jungle is not absolutely impenetrable, and there was a constant fear that the enemy was creeping round its flanks. However two successful abuses were affected on the 4th and 5th, of January.
Meanwhile displaying his usual engineering ability, the enemy succeeded in getting his tanks across the PERAK River (although this river is 800 yards wide, hostile tanks were drawing across it 24 hours after the bridges had been blown.) The enemy launched his main attack at 0400 hrs. in the morning of 6th. January. They first captured one of our advanced posts and cleared an A/TANK obstacle from the road. They then came down the road with 16 tanks blazing away with all their guns and mortars more for the moral effect than with the intention of causing casualties. Unfortunately, certain Battalions were changing over on relief at the time of the attack which accentuated the confusion. The tanks burst right through the leading Bgde. and on to the second Bgde. Not until daylight was the enemy held, when a 4.5 Howitzer laid out the leading tank at 200 yards, thus forming a road block.
As a result of this action of the two Bgdes. of the 11 Div. engaged one was practically wiped out and the other reduced to half strength. Only on[e] effective Bgde. Remained – the composite 6/15th. which was badly in need of time for rest and reorganization.
(f) THE CLOSING STAGES OF THE CAMPAIGN.