The Japanese Invasion of Malaya
The Japanese Invasion of Malaya, or Battle of Kota Bharu, began just after midnight on 8 December 1941 (local time) before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Kota Bharu, capital of the Kelantan Province, situated on the north-east coast of Malaysia, was, in 1941, the base of operations for the Royal Air Force in Northern Malaya with an airstrip at Kota Bharu and two more at Gong Kedah and Machang.
Preparations for Invading Northern Malaya
Main article: Operation Krohcol
The Japanese plan for the invasion involved landing troops from the 5th Division on the east coast of Thailand at Patani and Singora and troops from the 18th Division on the north-east coast of Malaya at Kota Bharu. The forces in Thailand were to push through to the west coast and invade Malaya from its north western province of Kedah, whilst their eastern forces would attack down the east coast and into the interior of Malaya from Kota Bharu.
The British plan for defending against an attack from Thailand into northwestern Malaya consisted of a pre-emptive strike into southern Thailand, known as Operation Krohcol, in order to take strategically vital positions and delay the enemy attack. The British plan for the defence of the east coast of Malaya consisted of fixed beach defences defended by the Indian 9th Infantry Division along the northern stretch of coastline and the Australian 8th Division defending the southern stretch of coastline.
Nickname: The Tiger of Malaya
Place of birth: K?chi prefecture, Japan
Place of death: Los Baños, Laguna, Philippines
Allegiance: Empire of Japan
Service/branch: Imperial Japanese Army
Years of service: 1905–1945
Commands held: IJA 4th Division, IJA 25th Army, IJA 1st Army, IJA 14th Area Army
Battles/wars: Second Sino-Japanese War, Pacific WarThe Japanese attack force for the invasion of Malaya, from Lieutenant General Tomoyuki Yamashita’s 25th Army, had sailed from Samah Harbour on Hainan Island on 4 December 1941. Additional ships carrying more troops joined the convoy from Saigon in southern Vietnam, French Indochina. The invasion force was spotted on both December 6 and 7 December by a Lockheed Hudson aircraft and then by a PBY Catalina sea plane, which was shot down while trying to shadow the fleet. Flying Officer Bedell, commanding the Catalina, and his crew became the first Allied casualties in the war with Japan.
Landings at Kota Bharu
Place of birth: Mendlesham, Suffolk, England
Place of death AF Halton, Buckinghamshire, England
Allegiance: United Kingdom
Service/branch: Royal Air Force
Years of service: c. 1898 to 1937, 1939 to 1942
Rank: Air Chief Marshal
Commands held: Iraq Command, Air Defence of Great Britain, British Far East Command
Battles/wars: South African War, World War I, World War II
Awards: Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order, Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath, Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George, Distinguished Service Order, Air Force Cross, Mention in DespatchesAir Marshal Sir Robert Brooke-Popham, commanding officer of the British Forces in the Far East, fearing that the Japanese Fleet was trying to provoke a British attack and thus provide an excuse to go to war, hesitated to launch Operation Matador on 7 December. Matador was the British plan to destroy the invasion force before or during the landing. He decided to delay the operation, at least for the night. Shortly after midnight on December 7 / 8 December, Indian soldiers patrolling the beaches at Kota Bharu spotted three large shadows: the transport ships IJN Awazisan Maru, IJN Ayatosan Maru, and IJN Sakura Maru, dropping anchor approximately 3 km off the coast. The ships were carrying approximately 5,200 troops of the Takumi Detachment (Major-General Hiroshi Takumi, aboard IJN Awazisan Maru). Most of these troops were veterans of the war in China.
The Japanese invasion force consisted of units from the 18th Division, the assault troops came from the 56th Infantry Regiment (Colonel Yoshio Nasu, aboard Sakura Maru), supported by one mountain artillery battery of the 18th Mountain Artillery Regiment (Lieutenant Colonel Katsutoshi Takasu), the 12th Engineer Regiment (Lieutenant Colonel Ichie Fujii), the 18th Division Signal Unit, one company of the 12th Transport Regiment, one company of the 18th Division Medical Unit and No. 2 Field Hospital of the 18th Division Medical Unit. They were escorted by a powerful escort fleet (Kota Bharu Invasion Force) under the command of Rear-Admiral Shintaro Hashimoto, consisting of light cruiser Sendai, destroyers Ayanami, Isonami, Shikinami, and Uranami, minesweepers No. 2 and No. 3, and Subchaser No. 9..
The invasion began with a bombardment at around 12:30 a.m. local time on 8 December. (The Japanese carrier planes flying towards Pearl Harbor were about 20 minutes away; the attack there started at 02:48 a.m. local time, although it is usually referred to as the 7 December attack as it occurred in the morning of 7 December US time). The loading of landing craft began almost as soon as the transports dropped anchor. Rough seas and strong winds hampered the operation and a number of smaller craft capsized. Several Japanese soldiers drowned. Despite these difficulties, by 12:45 AM the first wave of landing craft was heading for the beach in four lines.
The defending force was the 8th Indian Infantry Brigade (Brigadier B. W. Key) of Indian 9th Infantry Division (Major General A. E. Barstow), supported by four 3.7 in (94 mm) howitzers of 21st Mountain Battery (Major J. B. Soper). The 3/17th Bn, Dogra Regiment, under the command of Lt.Col.G.A.Preston, had responsibility for the 10 miles (16 km) stretch of coast which was the chosen landing site. The British fortified the narrow beaches and islands with land mines, barbed wire, and pillboxes. They were supported by the 73rd Field Battery of the 5th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, deployed adjacent to the nearby airfield. The area defended by the 3/17th Dogras consisted of the narrow beaches of Badang and Sabak at Kota Bharu. The beaches were split by two estuarys that led to the mouth of the Pengkalan Chapa River through a maze of creeks, lagoons and swampy islands, behind which was the Kota Bharu airfield and the main road inland.
The Dogras immediately opened intense fire on the invasion force with artillery and machine guns. By midnight the first waves of Japanese troops were heading toward the beach front in landing craft. Colonel Masanobu Tsuji wrote in his book about the Malaya Campaign:
“ The enemy pillboxes, which were well prepared, reacted violently with such heavy force that our men lying on the beach, half in and half out of the water could not raise their heads. ”
Nickname: The Wolf, The God of Operations
Place of birth: Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan
Allegiance: Empire of Japan
Service/branch: War flag of the Imperial Japanese Army.svg Imperial Japanese Army (IJA)
Years of service: 1924–1945
Rank: Rikugun Taisa (Colonel)
Battles/wars: World War II (Pacific War)The first and second waves of Japanese soldiers were pinned down by the intense fire from the Dogra’s pillboxes and trenches but after viscious hand to hand fighting a breach was made in the defences on the south bank of the estuary. On the northern bank the Japanese were pinned down on an island where dawn found them trapped in the open. Allied aircraft from the nearby airfields began attacking the invasion fleet and the soldiers trapped on the island. Japanese casualties in the first and second waves were heavy. The Japanese managed to get off the beach only after the two pill box positions and supporting trenches were destroyed. Despite their heavy resistance the Dogras were forced to retreat to their defences in front of the airfield. Brigadier Key brought forward his reserves; the 2/12th Frontier Force Regiment and the 1/13th Frontier Force Rifles to support the Dogras. At 10.30am Key ordered an attempt to retake the lost beaches with the 2/12th Frontier Force Regiment attacking from the south and the 1/13th Frontier Force Rifles attacking from the north. The fighting on the beaches was heavy with both sides suffering more casualties. The British forces made some progress but were unable to close the breach. In the afternoon a second attack went in but failed again to close the breach.
The airfield at Kota Bharu had been evacuated and by dusk on 8 December, with very low visibility, and Japanese troops now able to infiltrate between the British units and with possible threats of landings further south, Brigadier Key asked for permission from Major-General Barstow (9th Division commander) and Lieutenant General Heath (III Corps commander) to withdraw if it became necessary.
No. 1 Sqaudron, Royal Australian Air Force based at Kota Bharu airfield launched Hudson bombers to attack the Japanese transports sinking the IJN Awazisan Maru, although in the seventeen sorties flown they lost two Hudsons shot down and three badly damaged. One crippled Hudson is reported to have crashed into a fully laden landing craft. All the transports were damaged in these attacks. Despite the strong defence, Takumi had three full infantry battalions ashore by mid morning of the 8th December. Counter attacks launched by Brigadier Key failed and the Japanese took Kota Bharu town on the 9th, after fierce fighting during the night, threatening the airfield, Lt.Col. Arthur Cumming’s 2/12th Frontier Force Regiment attempted to hold the airfield and put up a brilliant rear guard action. Cumming would later receive the Victoria Cross during the fighting at Kuantan. Key asked for and was given permission to withdraw from Kota Bharu.
The Japanese claim that the landings at Kota Bharu were some of the most violent of the whole Malayan Campaign. It is estimated that they suffered about over 300 killed and 500 wounded.
Despite transport scheduling problems and sighting of the invasion force by British reconnaissance aircraft while enroute to the landing area, the initial landing took place at 0215 (local time) 8 December 1941, one hour twenty minutes before the attack on Pearl Harbor. The landings were highly successful and largely unopposed, except at Kota Bahru where the expected stiff resistance was encountered. The British had previously anticipated the precise invasion landing points in a 1937 study done by the then-General Officer Commanding (GOC) of Malaya, Major General W.G.S. Dobbie.
He theorized that a future assault would take place during the northeast monsoon season (October through March), when bad weather would limit the reconnaissance capabilities of the defenders. MATADOR, a defensive plan based on Dobbie’s work, was formulated but never executed because the British government did not want to violate Thai sovereignty without a prior declaration of war.
Within four days of their landing, 5th Division had advanced from Singora through the town of Jitra to capture the RAF airfield at Alor Star, nearly 100 miles away. Using flanking techniques developed by Yamashita’s staff, the 25th Army swept over town after town and airfield after airfield. There were numerous obstacles to the advance, such as the dense jungle, long supply lines, oppressive heat, and torrential rains, but the quickly over-run enemy positions provided tons of so-called “Churchill Stores:” food, ammunition, trucks, and fuel left by the retreating British. By 11 January 1942, the invasion force had captured Kuala Lumpur.
Influenced by the intense heat and impassable jungle, Japanese planners decided from the beginning to use bicycles rather than horses as a means of troop and light material transportation. This decision allowed the foot soldiers to travel farther, faster, and with less fatigue. Due to the vast number of rivers on the Malay peninsula, and the British propensity to destroy the more than 250 bridges they crossed during their retreat, bicycles allowed the infantry (to continue) their advance, wading across the rivers carrying their bicycles on their shoulders,or crossing on log bridges held up on the shoulders of engineers standing in the stream. The British could not escape the troops on bicycles. They were overtaken, driven off the paved roads into the jungle, and forced to surrender. The constant pressure and relentless pursuit was psychologically devastating to the defenders; a true blitzkrieg—Japanese-style.
Malayan Campaign: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malayan_Campaign
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