Section VI. – The Defence Plan
18. It cannot be too strongly stressed that the object of the defence was the protection of the Naval base, and later of the Air Bases also, at Singapore.
19. The Initial Plan of Defence - When in 1921 it was decided to build a Naval Base at Singapore, it was considered that the security of that base depended ultimately on the ability of the British Fleet to control sea communications in the approaches to Singapore. This it would doubtless have been able to do as soon as it had been concentrated in the Far East. For success, therefore, the Japanese would have had to depend on a “coup-de-main” attack direct on to the island of Singapore. At that time the range of military aircraft was limited and it was considered that the only area suitable for the operation of shore-based aircraft against Singapore was a strip of land in the vicinity of Mersing on the East coast of Johore. Further, the long sea voyage from Japanese territory would both have limited the size of the expedition and greatly prejudiced the chances of obtaining surprise. It was against this type of attack that the defences were initially laid out. The problem was one mainly of the defence of Singapore Island and the adjoining waters. For this a comparatively small garrison only was required.
20. The Influence of Air Power - The rapid development of Air Power greatly affected the problem of defence. Singapore became exposed to attack by carrier-borne and shore-based aircraft operating from much greater distances than had previously had been considered possible. Similarly our own defence aircraft were able to reconnoitre and strike at the enemy at a much greater distance from our own shores.
In May, 1932, the Sub-Committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence, after considering the relative merits of the gun and of aircraft for the defence of fortress, laid down.
(a) Coast defences should be organised on the basis of co-operation between the three Defence Services, the gun retaining its place as the main deterrent against naval attack.
(b) The first stage of the plan of defence for the Naval Base at Singapore, modified in the light of the latest developments in coast artillery, should be proceeded with. . . . The second stage should await a further recommendation by the Committee of Imperial Defence.
(c) The Royal Air Force should continue to co-operate in the defence of’ Singapore with such forces as might from time to time be considered desirable. Such co-operation should extend to all branches of the defence, including AA. Defence (Fighters) and offensive operations against aircraft carriers, capital ships and other forms of attack by sea and air.
In April, 1933, as a result of Japan’s withdrawal from the League of Nations, the Cabinet decided that immediate steps should be taken to increase the defences of Singapore.
As a result of these decisions the question of the location of aerodromes arose. At that time the only Royal Air Force aerodrome was at Seletar on Singapore island. The construction of two further aerodromes on Singapore Island was immediately taken in hand. Further, in order to obtain the greatest possible value from the range of aircraft, it was urged that new aerodromes should be constructed on the east coast, an area which it had up till then been the policy to leave as undeveloped as possible, consistent with civil requirements so as to present the enemy with difficult transportation problems should he land on that coast. It was obvious from the start that these aerodromes, if constructed on the east coast, would present the Army with fresh commitments for their defence - commitments which the existing garrison would be quite unable to meet. The danger of constructing aerodromes in an area where the defence forces might not be strong enough to prevent them falling into the hands of .the enemy was also obvious. The Army urged that the policy of the development of air facilities on the east coast, with all the military difficulties which it involved, should only be accepted if a guarantee could be given that, in the event of an attack on Malaya sufficient modern aircraft would be available to operate from those aerodromes. To ensure this, it was felt that here should in any case be a strong Air Force cadre permanently established in the Far East, and that it was unsafe to rely on the mobility of aircraft to concentrate adequate strength there from other parts of the Empire when danger threatened. On the other hand, the siting of the aerodromes was complicated by the fact that the aircraft at that time available in Malaya had a very limited range, and also by the fact that weather conditions sometimes made it difficult to fly over the central mountain range, so that it was undesirable to rely on aircraft based on the west coast for operations off the east coast. The result of this was that, when war with Japan broke out, three aerodromes had been constructed in the State of Kelantan and a further one at Kuantan. and a landing ground at Rahang in Eastern Johore. Although these were strategically well placed for air operations, they were quite inadequately defended either by land or air forces.
In 1936 it was decided to fortify the Island of Penang, though the approved scale of equipment was not immediately available.
21. The Influence of World Politics - In 1937, the defence policy was still based on the fundamental assumption that the British fleet would sail from Home waters immediately on the outbreak of war with Japan and would arrive at Singapore within a maximum of 70 days. It was further assumed that the arrival of the fleet in the Far East would automatically put an end to airy danger of the capture of Singapore. It followed from these assumptions that the defence plan only had to provide against such types of operations as the Japanese might hope to complete successfully within 70 days and that the role of the garrison was confined to holding out for that period.
In November 1937, having, as G.S.O.I. Malaya, made a careful study of the problem of defence of Singapore, I prepared on the instructions of the General Officer Commanding (Major-General, now Liet.-General Sir W.G.S. Dobbie) an appreciation and plan for an attack on that place from the point of view of the Japanese. In this appreciation it was pointed out:
(a) that, as a result of the the political situation in Europe, it was unlikely that the British fleet would be able to reach Singapore in 70 days,
(b) that in consequence, a more deliberate form of attack could be undertaken.
The plan recommended consisted of preliminary operations to seize the aerodromes in South Thailand and in Kelantan, the Island of Penang and the navel and air facilities in Borneo, followed by the main operation to capture Singapore itself. From this appreciation deductions were made as to the main points in the defence plan which required attention. These deductions stressed the probability of the Japanese making use of the territory in South Thailand, the increased importance of the defence of North Malaya and of Jahore, the urgent need for the strengthening of our Air Forces and Local Naval craft, and for more infantry, and the unsatisfactory situation as regards food stocks. A copy of the deductions made is attached as Appendix A to this Dispatch. The Appreciation and deductions were forwarded by the G.O.C. to the War Office.
In May. 1938, General Dobbie in another appreciation of the defence problem wrote:
“It is an attack from the northward that I regard as the greatest potential danger to the fortress. Such attack could be carried out during the period of the north-east monsoon. The jungle is not in most places impassable by infantry.”
He further stated that defence positions were being reconnoitred on the general line Jahore, River-Kota, Tinggi – Kulai – Pulai River. Subsequently defences were constructed on the west bank of the river north and south of Kota Tinggi.
22. Development of the Defence Plan – Up to the summer of 1939, the defence policy continued to be based on the assumption that the British Fleet would sail from Home waters immediately on the outbreak of war with Japan whatever the situation in Europe might be. It was then, however, officially recognised that this might not be possible. The “Period before Relief” was increased from 70 to 180 days and authority given for reserves to be built up on that scale. In August 1939, the 12th Indian Infantry Brigade Group, which had been held in readiness for this purpose, was in view of the threatening political situation, dispatched from India to Malaya.
23. In April, 1940, the G.O.C. (Lt.-Gen. Sir Lionel Bond) submitted a new appreciation in the light of the new situation and especially of the increase of the period before relief from 70 to 180 days. In this he pointed out that the Japanese could now afford to establish their base at a much greater distance from Singapore and possibly in South Thailand. He considered therefore that the northern frontier might have to be held a considerable force for several months. He estimated that the forces now required for the defence of Malaya were in the order of 40 battalions (say 4 divisions) with 3 machine gun battalions and 2 tank regiments. He realised that it would be impossible at that time to provide this force, and suggested, as an alternative, that:
“The Royal Air Force could and should be made absolutely responsible, if not for the detection and destruction of a Japanese expedition before it landed, at least for ensuring that no base can be maintained and no line of communication can be operated within striking distance of our aerodromes.”
If this was done, he estimated that the land forces then required would be in the nature of 25 battalions with supporting arms, which should include 3 anti-tank batteries and one company of armoured cars or tanks.
It was at this time that the problem, which had hitherto remained one of the defence of Singapore Island and a portion of Jahore, developed, as had appeared inevitable as early as 1937, into one of the defence of the whole of Malaya. The G.O.C. asked for official conformation of this. The problem was further complicated by the collapse of France in June, 1940, the immediate result of which was that Malaya was exposed to a greatly increased scale of attack.
24. In. August, 1940, the Chiefs of Staff, in their Far East Appreciation, officially recognised that both the fundamental assumptions of the C.I.D. 1937. Appreciation bad broken down because it was now impossible to send the fleet to the Far East, and the Japanese advance southward, the development of communications and of aerodromes in Thailand, and the increased range of aircraft, had all contributed to the development of the overland threat to Malaya. The necessity for holding the whole of Malaya, with reliance primarily on Air Power, was now recognised. It was laid down that the role of the land forces was to be:
(a) The close defence of the naval and air bases
(b) Internal security
(c) To deal with any enemy land force which might succeed in gaining a footing despite the action of the Air Force. Until the necessary air force be made up for as far as possible by the provision of additional land forces. It was estimated that a minimum of 336 1st Line aircraft would be required for the defence of Malaya and British Borneo, and for trade protection in the north east half of the Indian Ocean. It was laid down that the aim, should be to complete this programme by the end of 1941. It was considered that, when this target was reached, the total land garrison required would be the, equivalent of 6 brigades with ancillary troops. Meanwhile approximately three divisions would be necessary. It is to be noted that this appreciation was made before the entry of the Japanese into Indo-China. The Commanders in Singapore were instructed to make a tactical appreciation based on the Chiefs of Staff strategical appreciation.
25. In September, 1940, the Japanese occupied the northern portion of Indo-China, thereby greatly increasing the threat to Singapore. In fact, the whole conception of the defence problem had again been changed because a Japanese invading force, instead of having to be transported all the way from Japan, could now be concentrated and prepared within close striking distance of Malay.
26. The tactical appreciation asked for was prepared by the Commander-in-Chief, China, General Officer Commanding, Malaya, and Air Officer Commanding Far East.
It was reviewed and endorsed by the Singapore Defence Conference held in October, 1940, attended by representatives of Australia, New Zealand, India and Burma, and by one American observer. It was estimated that 566 1st Line aircraft would be required and that, when this target was reached, the strength of the land forces should be 26 battalions with supporting artillery services, etc. The Army estimate was accepted by the Chiefs of Staff who, however, declined to increase the previously approved air scale. The general situation and war plans were further discussed at staff conversations with officers from the Dutch East Indies on 25th-29th November, 1940. at a conference with Dutch and Australian representatives and United States observers in February, 1941 (“A.D.A. Conference”), and at a full conference with American and Dutch (as well as Dominion) representatives in April, 1941 (“A.D.B. Conference”).
27. Further reinforcements now began to arrive in Malaya. In August. 1940, two British battalions arrived from Shanghai on the evacuation of the latter place and in October and November, 1940, the 6 and 8 Indian Infantry Brigades, both of the 11 Indian Division (Major-General Murray Lyon) reached Malaya. In February, 1941, the first contingent of the Australian Imperial Force arrived. It consisted of the Headquarters and Services of the 8 Australian Division (Major-General Gordon Bennett) with the 22 Australian Infantry Brigade Group. In March, 1941, the 15 Indian Infantry Brigade and the 1st Echelon of the 9 Indian Division (Major-General Barstow) arrived from India and one Field Regiment from the U.K. in April by the 22 Indian Infantry Brigade also of the 9 Indian Division. In May the 1st Echelon of Headquarters 3 Indian Corps (Lt.-Gen. Sir Lewis Heath) arrived and was located at Kuala Lumpur. It took over the 9 and 11 Indian Divisions the Penang Fortress and the F.M.S. Volunteers. Some readjustment of formations in the two Indian Divisions had previously been made.
28. The Dispoition of Troops, May, 1941 – The disposition of the troops at the end of May, 1941, shortly after I took over the Command, was as under:-
(a) Northern Area:- 3 Indian Corps, distributed as under
- East Coast Sub-Area: 9 Indian Division (of two Brigade Groups only) less one Infantry battalion. In the Kelantan area was 8 Indian Infantry Brigade with attached troops (Brigadier Key) and in the Kuantan Area, 22 Indian Brigade (less on battalion) with attached troops (Brigadier Painter)
- Northern Sub-Area: 11 Indian Division (of two Brigade Groups only). Headquarters and 15 Brigade Group (Brigadier Garrett) were at Sungei Patani in South Kedah, the 6 Brigade Group (Brigadier Lay) less one Infantry battalion each in Perlis, Penang and at Kroh on the Thailand frontier in North Perak.
- Penang: The Penang Garrison (Brigadier Lyon) consisted of one Infantry Volunteer battalion, two 6-in. batteries with searchlights, some Royal Engineer and administration units. The remaining equipment for the Fixed Defences had not arrived and there was no Ant-Aircraft defences.
- Lines of Communication: Corps Reserve: In Corps Reserve was one Infantry battalion situated at Mantin Camp south of Kuala Lumpar.
- Federated Malay States Volunteer Force: This force. Which consisted of four Infantry battalions and some supporting units, was not yet mobilized. The Commander 3 Indian Corps was responsible for the whole of Malaya north of Jahore and Malacca and for the Island of Penang.
(b) Singapore Island and Eastern Jahore: The Singapore Fortress Troops (Major-General Keith Simmons) consisted of:-
- The Fixed Defences (Brigadier Curtis) which were divided into two Fire Commands, i.e. The Changi Fire Command which covered the approaches to Keppel Harbour and to the western channel of the Jahore Straits. In each Fire Command was one 15 in. and one 9.2 in. battery and a number of 6 in. batteries; also searchlights and smaller equipments.
- The Ani-Aircraft Defences (Brigadier Wildey). These Defences, which included both guns and searchlights, had been built up over a number of years under War Office direction. Most of the guns were of the static type but a few tractors were available. The defences had been sighted on Singapore island and in Southern Jahore to protect the Naval Base and other important installations in the Singapore Fortress area. There were three Anti-Aircraft Regiments, one Light Ant-Aircraft Regiment, and one Searchlight Regiment.
- Field Troops: There were three Infantry brigades, one Field Regiment and one Field Regiment and one Field Company, etc. The 1 Malaya Infantry Brigade (Brigadier Williams) of two battalions only and the 2 Malaya Infantry Brigade (Brigadier Fraser) were responsible for the defence of the beaches on the south coast of Singapore Island and at Penerang in Southern Jahore. The 12 Indian Brigade Group was responsible for the defence of the east coast of Jahore.
- Fortress Troops: There were also a number of fortress units, i.e. Fortress Companies, Royal Engineers, etc.
- Straits Settlement Volunteer Force (less the Penang Bn.): This Force, strength about a weak Brigade Group, was not yet mobilized. It was allotted a role in the defence of Singapore Town.
- Command Headquarters and base Units: In addition to the troops directly under his command, the Commander Singapore Fortress was responsible for the administration of the Command Headquarters and Base units located in the Singapore Island area.
(c) Malaya Command Reserve: The A.I.F. (8 Australian Division less two Infantry brigade groups) was in Command Reserve. It was located in the Malacca/Negri Sembilan area with Headquarters at Kaula Lumpur. It was to be prepared to operate anywhere in Malaya, and for this purpose officers of the S.I.F. were ordered to carry out reconnaissances of the areas where operations were most likely to take place.
(d) Borneo: One Infantry Battalion (less one company at Miri) with some Local Forces and administrative units attached, was stationed at Kuching in the State of Sarawak. Its task was to protect the aerodrome under construction there for the use of the Air Force and to deny it to the enemy.
(e) Christmas Island: There was a small coast artillery detachment at Christmas Island, whose task was to protect the phosphate deposits there.
(f) Indian Sate Forces Units: There were also in Malaya several State Forces units from the Indian States. They varied greatly in training, strength and efficiency. Being without transport and more suitable for a static role, they were employed principally on aerodrome defence, coming under the commanders of the area in which they were situated.
The above dispositions were in accordance with the role of the land forces as laid down in the Chiefs of Staff Appreciation of August, 1940, already referred to. The commanders of the various forces were given written instructions as to their role and the action to be taken in certain eventualities.
29. The Advance into Thailand.—.Before ,leaving London I discussed on broad lines a proposal which was then under consideration to advance into South Thailand if a favourable opportunity presented itself. Immediately after taking over command I was instructed by the C in C. Far East to give this matter my further detailed consideration.. It was also discussed on several occasions at conferences. The operation was known as MATADOR. I was informed that it could not be carried out without reference’ to London since MATADOR could only be put into effect if and when it became clear beyond all reasonable doubt that an enemy expedition was approaching the shores of Thailand. As time would then be the essence of the problem it appeared almost certain that, by the time permission had been asked for and obtain ed, the favourable opportunity would then have passed.
The military advantages of the occupation of South Thailand, or of part of it, were great. It would enable us to meet the enemy on the beaches instead of allowing him to land and establish himself unopposed, it would provide our Air Force with additional aerodromes and, by denying these aerodromes to the enemy, it would make it far more difficult for his Air Force to interfere with our sea communications in the Malacca Straits. It was a question however, whether it was a sound operation with the meagre resources available. No troops could be spared far the operation other than the 11 Indian Division, strengthened by some administrative units. The proposal to occupy the narrow neck of the Kra Isthmus was rejected as being too ambitious and the discussions centred round the occupation and denial to the enemy of the Port of Singora and the aerodromes at Singora and Patani.
The following factors, among others, had to be considered:
(a) The Thai Government had stated publicly that it would defend its territory against the invasion of any foreign troops. Therefore opposition, even if slight, was to be expected.
(b) All the main bridges on the road between the Thailand frontier and Haad ‘yai Junction were in process of reconstruction. Therefore time and material might be required for their repair.
(c) Large quantities of M.T. would be required to mechanize the road parties of the force and to keep it supplied.
(d) The psychological effect of offensive action would be considerable, but this had to be weighed against the possibilities of an encounter battle and the loss of prepared ground.
(e) An enemy landing would certainly be supported by tanks, of which we had none. It was noted also that during the period of the North-East Monsoon, i.e. October-March, the country on the east coast is wet, and therefore, less suited to tank action while on the west coast it is comparatively dry.
After careful examination of the problem, it was decided
(a) That, provided a favourable opportunity presented itself, the operation MATADOR would he put into effect during the period October-March.
(b) That it would take the form of (i) an advance by road and rail to capture Singora. and hold a defensive position north of Haadyai Junction, and (ii) an advance from Kroh to a defensive position, known as The Ledge position on the Krob-Patani road some 35-40 miles on the Thailand side of the frontier. The reason for this limited objective on the Kroh front was lack of resources, both operational and administrative.
(c)That at least 24 hours start was required before the anticipated time of a Japanese landing.
Detailed plans were worked out and preparations made for this operation. Maps were printed, money in Thai currency was made available and pamphlets for distribution to the Thai’s were drafted though, to preserve secrecy, the printing of them was deferred till the last minute.
By a special arrangement made by the C.-in-C. Far East, authority was obtained for a limited number of officers in plain clothes to carry out reconnaissances in South Thailand. In all 30 offices. including some of the most senior officers, were able to visit Thailand in this way. They frequently met Japanese officers who were presumably on a similar mission.
On the 5th December, 1941, I was informed by the, MATADOR could thenceforward be put into effect without reference to London
(a) if the C.-in-C. Far East had information that a Japanese expedition was advancing with the apparent intention of landing on the Kra lsthmus or
(b) if the Japanese violated any other part of Thailand.
30. The Northern Frontier.—One of the first problems to which I turned my attention was the defence of the Northern frontier. Excluding the Kelantan frontier, which will be referred to later, the Malaya-Thailand frontier was crossed by only two roads and one railway, but there were in addition a number of bush tracks. The main road from Alor Star in Kedah to Haad ‘yai in South Thailand and then to Singora crossed the frontier a few miles north of Changlun. A secondary road, running eastward through Province Wellesley and South Kedah, crossed the frontier at Kroh and then continued via Yala to Patani in South Thailand, an unbridged river being crossed by a ferry. The west coast railway, passing through Alor Star, crossed the frontier in the small state of Perlis and then forked at Haad’yai Junction, the main line continuing to Bangkok with a branch to Singora.
31. The C.-in-C. Far East having issued an order that the main road approaches from Thailand were to be put into a state of defence, the problem was studied by senior officers of 3 Indian Corps. The primary role of the troops in this area was to cover the aerodrome at Alor Star and those further south in Kedah and Province Wellesley. The position selected therefore had to he sufficiently north of the Alor Star aerodrome for this purpose. The frontier area itself was found to be unsuitable both for tactical reasons and because it was known to be very malarial. Ultimately a position was selected in front of the small village of Jitra, which lies at the junction of the main road with the branch road to Perlis some 18 miles south of the frontier. This position had, however, obvious disadvantages, chief of which was the weakness of the left flank in dry weather, for between it and the sea was a stretch of some open or semi-open country, intersected by small canals and ditches. The main defences were therefore. concentrated astride the two roads, reliance being placed on a skeleton pill-box defence combined with a maximum use of natural obstacles for the protection of the left flank. Plans were made to flood an area astride the railway, which seemed to be a probable line of enemy advance. On the main front anti-tank ditches were dug where there were no natural obstacles and defended localities were constructed, though later preparations and training for MATADOR interfered to some extent with the development of these defences.
32. On the Kroh-Patani road, intelligence reports pointed to the fact that the most suitable place for a defensive position was a locality known as “The Ledge “ some 30 -40 miles on the Thailand side of the frontier. Here the road had been cut out of a steep hillside and it seemed probable that it would be comparatively easy to block it by demolitions, though it was of course impossible to make any preparations in peace time. Another defensive position was prepared west of the frontier upon which to fall back in case at need.
Although no large bodies could cross the frontier by bush tracks in North Perak, it was nevertheless possible for small parties to do so. Such small parties, by guerilla activities against our communications could at least develop a nuisance value. In order to watch these tracks a special platoon of local men was formed and incorporated in the Perak Volunteer Battalion.
33. The East Coast.- Throughout the whole length of the east coast of Malaya there are numerous beaches very suitable for landing operations. For the greater part of the year the sea is comparatively calm off this coast The exception is the period of the north-east monsoon, it had, however, been determined, as a result of a staff ride held in 1937, that even during this monsoon landings were possible though it was thought they might be interfered with for two or three days at a time when the storms were at their height. In consequence, it was thought that the enemy would be unlikely to choose the period December-February if he could avoid it.
It has already been explained (see Sections I and VI) that there are large undeveloped areas in the eastern part of Malaya and that communications are scarce; also that the original policy had been to avoid, as far as possible, further development of these communications with a view to reducing military commitments in this part of. Malaya. By 1941, however, the Army had been obliged to undertake the defence of three areas on the east coast i.e. the Kelantan area, the Kuantan area and the East Johore area. The primary role of the Army in the first two of these, both of which were situated at the end of very long and vulnerable communications, was the defence of the aerodromes which had been constructed there. In both cases the forces which could be made available, were inadequate for their task.
34. The State of Kelantan is divided into two parts by the Kelantan River which flows roughly South to North and reaches the sea near Kota Bharu. The river is wide and unbridged for road traffic which makes communication from one bank to the other difficult and slow. The railway crosses the river west of Machang and then running west of it crosses the frontier into Thailand a few miles from the coast. There are no road communications across the frontier though, as in Perak, the frontier is crossed by tracks and in the more mountainous sections, by rivers navigable by small craft.
There were three modern aerodromes in Kelantan – one at Kota Bharu completed and in use, one at Gong Kedah some 30 miles down the coast, serviceable and nearly completed, and one at Machang on the Krai-KoIa Bharu road under construction. All these were east of the Kelantan River,
The Commander of the Kelantan Force of one- brigade group, which had only begun to move into position at the end of 1940, was instructed that his primary task was to secure the aerodromes for the use of our Air Force and to deny them to the enemy. He was also instructed that in order to carry out his task he was to endeavour to prevent an enemy landing and that, for this purpose, pill-boxes were to be built and beach defences, both anti-personnel and anti-tank were to be constructed as far as resources would admit. He decided to keep his force east of the Kelantan River with the exception of small mobile detachments whose task was to watch the frontier and, in face of an enemy's advance in force, to fall back across the Kelantan River. Arrangements were made to destroy the railway bridges near the frontier. The bulk of the force was therefore concentrated about the aerodromes at Kota Bharu and Gong, Kedah, with beach defence troops on the most likely landing beaches. Reserves were held at Chondong and Peringat. Headquarters were in the Kota Bharu area in touch with the Sultan and British Adviser. Railhead was at Krai where the main reserves of supplies, stores, etc. were held. I approved these dispositions when I visited the area in company with the A.O.C. in July, 1941.
35. At Kuantan the small cantonment lies a mile or so from the sea in the bend of the Kuantan River. North of the river are some 12 miles of beach suitable for landing. South of the river mouth there are also good landing beaches but a tributary of the Kuantan River blocks the deployment from these beaches northwards. The road from Jerantut (100 miles distant) crosses the Kuantan River by a ferry west of the cantonment. The aerodrome was situated near this road some 7 miles west of the ferry.
The Commander of the Kuantan Force of one weak brigade group which had only moved into position in April, 1941, was instructed that his primary task was to secure the aerodrome for the use of our Air Force and to deny it to the enemy. The beaches were far too long to hold in strength, but if the enemy was allowed to land unopposed he could concentrate a large force for an attack on the aerodrome. Moreover , the slow ferry crossing of the Kuanton River was a source of great weakness. The plan, which I approved, was to deploy one battalion on the beaches, where material defences were constructed, and to hold one battalion for the defence of the river lines and of the aerodrome. I also authorised the construction of a swinging pontoon bridge across the river which, however, owing to difficulty in getting suitable material was not finished in time. Communication with Kuantan was by military wireless and by a civil land line. Both these channels of communication were subject to frequent interruption.
36. By far the greater part of the East Johore area is undeveloped forest. There are, however, two small towns of strategical importance, Mersing and Endau, situated about 20 miles apart. Mersing is 90 miles from Singapore and connected to it by a motor road. There are good landing beaches both north and south of the town but the water off-shore is shallow so that ocean-going steamers have to lie a long way out. Mersing is also connected to Kluang in the centre of Johore and thence to Batu Pahat on the west coast by a lateral road which branches from the Mersing - Singapore road at Jemaluang. Endau, a smaller town than Mersing, is connected to it by a motor road. It lies at the mouth of the Endau River on which at Bukit Langkap, some 20 miles from Endau, was situated an important Japanese owned iron ore mine.
From this mine large quantities of iron ore were shipped to Japan annually, being brought down river in a fleet of Japanese owned barges and loaded into Japanese steamers which lay north of the mouth of the Endau River. From the mine there was also water communication with the Jemaluang-Kluang road. The whole of this area was therefore well known to the Jap.
On the coast south of Mersing there are a number of water-ways in which a small force could be landed within striking distance of the Singapore road.
The Jemaluang road junction was clearly vital to the defence of this area. It was essential, therefore, that the main operations should take place in front of this junction. There were three contingencies to be provided for (a) an attempt by the enemy to land in the Endau area with the object of either moving on Mersing or via the Bukit Langkap iron ore mine to the Kluang road and the Kahang aerodrome situated close to it; (b) a landing in force in the Mersing area; (c) landings of small forces further south with a view to cutting communication with Singapore.
In May 1941, when I took over command, the responsibility for the defence of this area rested on the Commander, Singapore Fortress, who had allotted for this purpose the 12 Indian Brigade Group, one battalion group of which only was actually accommodated at Mersing. The general plan was to hold in force the Mersing area and the beaches to the south with a detachment at Endau and a reserve in a prepared position north of the Jemaluang road junction; other detachments watched the communications to Singapore. The beach defences in this area were more advanced than those further north. I approved this plan during a visit to the East Johore area in June 1941.
Some small minefields were laid off the East Johore coast by the Royal Navy but, owing to the limited supply of mines, it was not possible to lay them off other parts of the east coast.
In view of the possibility of enemy landings on the east coast detailed arrangements had been made with the civil authorities for the removal or destruction of all boats and other surface craft on this coast on receipt of specified code words.
37. Air Defence: - Prior to the outbreak of World War II, Air Defence in Malaya had been, for all practical purposes, limited to the anti-aircraft defence of selected areas on Singapore Island, though plans had also been made for the defence of Penang. With the extension of the defence problem, however, to embrace the whole of Malaya and the more imminent danger of active operations in the Far East, the plans for active air defence underwent rapid expansion, and passive air defence was organized.
38. As regards the Anti-Aircraft Artillery, the defences of Singapore had been developed in accordance with the War Office plan of 1936 as amended and extended by the plan approved by the Chiefs of Staff Committee in 1940. They were laid out for the defence of the Naval Base and of other vulnerable installations, for which an order of priority was laid down. In May 1941 there were three Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiments, one Light Anti-Air craft Regiment and one Searchlight Regiment in the Singapore area. In the autumn of that year the Indian Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment arrival. A very large proportion of the men of this Regiment were still in the recruit stage and none of them had had any training on guns. When hostilities opened there were 60 Heavy Anti-Aircraft guns in the Singapore area out of the 104 which had been authorised. These consisted of two 4.5 in., thirty-eight 3.7 in. and twenty 3 in., the majority of which were static. Every effort had, however, been made to make as many as possible mobile and to train in mobile operations. Outside Singapore Island, authority had been received for the preparation of positions for the defence of Penang and of the aerodromes at Alor Star, Sungei Patani, Kota Bharu and Kuantan, but only those at Sungei Patani had been completed when hostilities opened. Temporary positions were, however, occupied by such 3 in. guns as could be made available for defence of the Alor Star and Kota Bharu aerodromes. One battery of the Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment from Singapore, on a mobile basis, was placed under orders of the Commander, 3 Indian Corps for expected operations in North Malaya and was located at Alor Star. There were no guns available for the defence of cities on the mainland such as Kuala Lumpur and Ipoh.
At the time of my arrival in Malaya the anti-aircraft artillery was under the orders of the Commander, Singapore Fortress. Having in view, however, the increase in the scale of anti-aircraft defence and its extension to other parts of Malaya, I decided to bring the anti-aircraft artillery directly under my own command, except for purposes of administration, and to reorganize it under the Commander, Anti-Aircraft Artillery, into two brigades, one for Singapore and one for North Malaya. This re-organization had not been completed when war broke out. Command of the Anti-Aircraft Artillery in North Malaya was delegated to the Commander, 3 Indian Corps.
39. In 1940 the Active Air Defence was strengthened by the arrival of fighter aircraft. A proportion of these was always retained at the Singapore bases for defence of the important objectives in that area, the remainder being allotted to the northern area, which appeared to be the most vulnerable to attack.
40. With the arrival in Malaya in the summer of 1941 of Group Captain Rice, who had had much experience in connection with the Air Defence of Great Britain, the task of building up a co-ordinated Air Defence scheme for Malaya was energetically pushed forward. The fighters allotted to the defence of the Singapore area were placed under the command of Group Captain Rice. This officer was also authorised, as regards the Singapore area, to co-ordinate the action of the fighters and the anti-aircraft artillery and, during hostile attacks, to issue orders direct to these two formations. A control station was established near the Kallang aerodrome.
41. As part of this Air Defence scheme an efficient Warning System was essential. An organization of civilian watchers had already been started. Efforts were now made to extend this organization and provide it with better equipment. There were two main difficulties. Firstly, there was the difficulty of finding suitable people in the less developed parts of Malaya to complete the chain of watchers. Secondly, and more important still, was the paucity of communications. The civil telephone system in Malaya consisted only of a few trunk lines, which followed the main arteries of communication, and local lines in the populated areas. This was quite inadequate for a really efficient Warning System, as it was impossible to allot separate lines for this purpose. A plan was worked out, in conjunction with the civil authorities, for the duplication of this system and for extensions where required. A start was made with the limited amount of cable available but only small progress had been made when war broke out. There were a few radar sets available but efforts to supplement the system with wireless communication met with only partial success owing to the unreliability of wireless in the difficult climatic conditions of Malaya. Nevertheless, in spite of these difficulties, an organization was built up which proved of great value during the subsequent operations, though it should be pointed out that it covered South Malaya and the Singapore area only, and that there was no adequate Warning System for North Malaya. The organization of Passive Air Defence will be explained later when dealing with Civil Defence.
42. Defence of Aerodromes:- As a result of experience in Europe, and especially in Crete, the C.-in-C. Far East laid down that the defence of aerodromes was to take, precedence, as regards A.A. weapons, over everything else except the defence of the Naval Base. A scale of Heavy and Light A.A. Guns for each aerodrome was laid down but, owing to lack of resources, it was never approached. Such guns as were available, however, were allotted for this purpose. In addition, small infantry garrisons, drawn from Malayan Volunteer units or Indian State Force units, were provided. There were also a few heavy armoured lorries specially constructed for this purpose. In no case, however, was the strength of the garrison really adequate for the defence of the aerodromes, the perimeters of which varied between 3 and 5 miles.
43. Borneo: - The large Island of Borneo, partly British and partly Dutch, was clearly of great strategical importance, lying as it did between the main routes linking Japan with Malaya and Sumatra on the one hand and Java and the Southern Areas on the other, and containing large supplies of oil and other raw materials. Unfortunately neither the British nor the Dutch were able to find adequate garrisons for this island.
The British portion of Borneo consisted of: -
British North Borneo: - a territory controlled by the British North Borneo Company, whose headquarters were in London. The Governor and officials of British North Borneo were in the employ of that Company. Labuan Island: - A British Colony administered by a Resident.
Brunei: - A British Protected State with its own Sultan.
Sarawak: - A Malay State which had for many years been governed by members of the Brooke family. In September 1941, however, the ruling Rajah made over much of his responsibility to a Council. He then left Sarawak for a holiday and was in Australia when hostilities broke out. His efforts to return to Sarawak were unsuccessful. There had for some time been a project to open up air facilities in British Borneo. Aerodrome sites had been selected and surveyed.
Ultimately, however, as there was no immediate prospect of British aeroplanes being available to use the aerodromes, the project was postponed except as regards an air landing ground at Kuching in Sarawak and a landing strip at Miri.
44. In British North Borneo there were several excellent natural harbours which were undefended. There was a small but efficient local Volunteer Force but, owing to lack of resources, it was not possible to provide any regular troops for the defence of this territory. The Governor of British North Borneo was therefore informed by the C.-in-C. Far East that his territory could not be defended and that the role of his local forces should be the maintenance of internal security.
45. In West Brunei and East Sarawak were situated the important Seria and Miri Oil Fields and the Lutong Refinery. It was the policy of the British Admiralty, in the event of war breaking out in the Far East, to do such damage to the wells and plant that they would be of no use to the enemy. This work was the responsibility of the Army, and for this purpose a demolition party with an infantry escort of about a company (partly Indian and partly British) was stationed there. There was also a 6 in. battery. A partial denial scheme was put into effect before hostilities broke out.
46. The town of Kuching, the capital of Sarawak, is situated some 8 miles from the coast and is approached only by waterways. The intervening country is mostly bush-covered or marshy. The town itself lies on both sides of the Bintawa River. The air landing ground is situated some 7 miles south of the town to which it is connected by a metalled road. The only land communication between Sarawak and Dutch West Borneo was a bush track unfit for wheeled transport.
The O.C. Troops Sarawak and Brunei (Lt.-Col. Lane) was instructed that his primary object was to secure the air landing ground for the use of our Air Force and to deny it to the enemy; also that if, owing to overwhelming forces, this object could no longer be attained, then he should act in the interests of the defence of West Borneo as a whole, his line of with-drawal being 'by the bush track into Dutch West Borneo. This defence problem was not an easy one. If the plan envisaged only the close defence of the landing ground, then the enemy would be free to move unopposed up the waterways where he would be most vulnerable. Moreover, the people of Kuching Town would be left entirely unprotected. On the other hand any attempt to defend Kuching itself would lead to great dispersion.
The O.C. Troops had at his disposal the 2/15 Punjab Regt. (less one weak company to Lutong), the Sarawak Rangers, some local volunteers trained chiefly for administrative duties and some regular administrative detachments. The Sarawak Rangers, which had previously been disbanded, had recently been reformed but owing to lack of weapons were only partially armed. There was no artillery, except some field guns manned by the infantry, and no engineers.
Under the defence scheme prepared by the O.C. Troops, the Sarawak Rangers were employed as scouts north of Kuching and detachments of regular troops were pushed forward to block the waterways. The remainder of the 2/15 Punjab Regt. was held in reserve at the landing ground, where defensive positions were under construction. I approved this plan during a visit to Kuching at the end of November 1941. I was informed at the same time that there were large Japanese plantations in the area immediately east of Kuching.
47. Review of Strength Required: - Shortly after taking over command I was instructed to review the Army strength required for the defence of Malaya. Before doing so I personally visited all the main defence areas and also arranged for a strategical examination of the defence problem by a joint staff committee. In the course of that examination I asked to be informed what damage the Air Force at its existing strength might be expected to inflict on a hostile sea-borne expedition before it reached the shores of Malaya. I based my estimate of the Army strength required on the figure given. In the event, unfortunately, the damage done fell far below this figure. I have no record to show, and I do not wish to infer, that this figure was given by the A.O.C.
I pointed out the serious deficiencies in the strength of the Air Force, the obsolescence of many of the aircraft, the weakness of our naval forces and the greatly increased threat from the Japanese occupation of Indo-China which had then been extended to the southern portions of that country.
On the 2nd August, 1941. I gave my estimate of the Army strength required in a telegram to the War Office. This estimate was not examined in detail by the C-in-C Far East but the despatch of the cable was approved by him as a definition of the target. Summarized, it asked for: —
48 Infantry Battalions.
4 Indian Reconnaissance Units.
9 Field Artillery Regiments.
4 Light Anti-Aircraft Regiments.
2 Tank Regiments.
3 Anti-Tank Regiments.
2 Mountain Artillery Regiments.
12 Field Companies.
with the necessary administrative units. This was exclusive of the Volunteers, the infantry anti-aircraft and tank units required for aerodrome defence, and also of the Anti-Aircraft units required for the defence of localities including the Naval Base. In a Tactical Appreciation forwarded by telegram in September 1941 two Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiments for the Field Force were asked for while the Anti-Aircraft Guns required for the defence of Singapore were estimated at 212 Heavy and 124 Light.
The main difference in the above estimate over those which had been submitted previously was that it made provision for a 3rd Corps Reserve in North Malaya of one complete Division and certain Corps Troops units, for a complete division instead of two brigade groups in the Kelantian-Trengganu-Pahang area, for two regular infantry battalions for Penang and for a brigade group instead of one battalion in Borneo.
This estimate was accepted by the Chiefs of Staff, but it was recognised that the target could not, in the existing circumstances, be fulfilled in the foreseeable future. A working target was subsequently approved by the War Office.
48. Further Re-inforcements:- On the I5th August 1941, the second contingent of the Australian Imperial Force arrived in Malaya. It consisted of the 27 Australian Infantry Brigade with attached troops. As the commander of this Brigade had been prevented on medical grounds from accompanying it, Lt.-Col. Maxwell was, on the recommendation of the Commander, A.I.F., appointed by the Australian authorities to command it. The Brigade Group had had the advantage of a period of training in Australia but had had no experience of bush warfare. It was accommodated temporarily on Singapore Island pending the completion of hutted accommodation in West Johore and Malacca.
In September the 28 Indian Infantry Brigade disembarked at Port Swettenham. It was composed of three Gurkha battalions which, like other Indian units, had lost a large proportion of their leaders and trained personnel under the expansion scheme. It joined the 3 Indian Corps and was accommodated in the Ipoh area, being earmarked for operations under 11 Indian Division.
In November-December 1941 two field regiments and one anti-tank regiment arrived from the U.K. and one field regiment and one reconnaissance regiment (3 Cavalry) from India. These were all placed under orders of 3 Indian Corps. The artillery regiments consisted of excellent material but were lacking in experience and had had no training in bush warfare. The Indian reconnaissance unit had only recently been mechanised and arrived without its armoured vehicles. It was so untrained that drivers had to be borrowed for some of the trucks which were issued to it.
49. Re-adjustment of the Defence Plan:- On arrival of the 2nd Contingent of the A.I.F. I decided to make certain alterations in the Plan of Defence. I ordered the A.I.F. to take over responsibility for Johore and Malacca and brought into Command Reserve for operational purposes the 12 Indian Brigade Group, leaving it under the Commander Singapore Fortress for training and administration. My reasons for this step were as under: —
(a) I considered the dual task imposed upon the Commander Singapore Fortress of defending both Singapore Fortress and East Johore to be unsound as he might well be attacked simultaneously in both areas. Similarly some of the Fortress troops had alternative roles in the two areas.
(b) I was anxious to give the 22 Australian Brigade Group, which had now had six months' training in Malaya, a role which involved responsibility.
(c)There was a greater probability under the new arrangement that the A.I.F. would be able to operate as a formation under its own commanders instead of being split up. The advantages of this need no explanation.
In this connection I had enquired on taking over command whether there were any special instructions with regard to the status and the handling of the A.I.F. I had been informed that there were none.
The responsibility for the defence of Johore and Malacca passed to the Commander A.I.F. at 1200 hrs. on the 29th August, 1941.
In September the Kelantan garrison was strengthened by the addition of the infantry battalion which had previously been held in 3 Corps Reserve, an Indian State Forces battalion from the South for aerodrome defence, and some supporting units.
50. Dispositions on Outbreak of War with Japan: - As a result of the above changes the disposition of troops in the Malaya Command (Lt.-Gen. A. E. Percival) on the outbreak of war with Japan was as under:
(a) Northern Area.—3 Indian Corps (Lt.-Gen. Sir Lewis Heath). Responsible for the defence of that part of Malaya which lies north of Johore and Malice, including the Island of Penning, and for the conduct of Operation MATADOR should it be decided to put it into effect.
9 Indian Division of two Brigade Groups, East Coast Area.
11 Indian Division, Northern Sub Area.
Lines of Communication Area.
The Federated Malay States Volunteer Force and, for operational purposes, the Penning and Province Wesley battalion of the Straits Settlements Volunteer Force.
(b) Johore and Malacca.—The C.I.F. ((Maj.-Gen. Gorton Bonnet). Responsible for the defence of the States of Johore and Malice except the Pengerang area of Johore.
The C.I.F. of two Brigade Groups.
The Johore Military Forces.
The Johore Volunteer Forces.
The Johore Volunteer Engineers (an European unit).
(c) The Singapore Fortress.—(Maj.-Gen. F. Keith Simians). Responsible for the defence of Singapore and adjoining islands and of the Pengerang area in South Johore.
The Fixed Defences of two Fire Commands.
Field troops of two Infantry Brigades etc. to man the beach defences.
Fortress units i.e. Fortress Companies Royal Engineers etc.
The Straits Settlements Volunteer Force (Less for operational purposes the Penning and Province Wesley battalion).
The 12 Indian Infantry Brigade Group (for braining and administration only).
Command Headquarters, Base and other units (for administration only).
(d) The Antiaircraft Defences (Brig. W. G. Wildly). Responsible, in CO- operation with other arms, for the defence of selected targets in the Singapore area against hostile air attack.
Four Heavy Antiaircraft Regiments.
One Light Antiaircraft Regiment (less one battery under 3 Indian Corps).
One Searchlight Regiment.
((e)The Command Reserve.—(Brig. A. C. Paris). To be prepared to operate anywhere in Malaya. Under Singapore Fortress for training and administration.
Thailand, this Brigade Group would immediately be moved North and placed under his orders. The Commanders 3 Indian Corps and C.I.F. were instructed that, in the event of this Infantry Brigade Group being committed to operations, they must be prepared to replace it with another infantry brigade group if called upon to do so.
(i) Couching ((Sarawak) Detachment: - (Lt.-Col. C. W. Lane). Responsible for the defence of the Couching air landing ground.
(ii) Mire Detachment.—Responsible for the denial, in case of necessity, of the Mire and Seri Oil fields and of the Luton Refinery, to prevent them falling in a serviceable condition into the hands of the enemy.
(iii) British North Borneo, Lacuna Island, Brunei.—In these States no regular military forces were maintained, though in British North Borneo there was a small Volunteer Force. The Senior Civil Officials were responsible for internal security.
(g) Christmas Island.
(h) Command Troops—
Base and Other Administrative Units. Command Troops units and a number of Base and other units, for the maintenance of all troops in the Malaya Command, were located in the Singapore area and elsewhere in Malaya.
The Order of Battle of Malaya Command on the 8th Dec. 1941, is given in detail in Appendix B attached to this Despatch.
The Plan for the Defence of Malaya was contained in the Malaya Defence Scheme, which was supplemented as necessary by special instructions for the conduct of the defence in the various areas. In view of the wide area covered by the Malaya Command and the possibility of operations developing simultaneously in different parts of that area I considered it advisable to decentralise responsibility for the control of operations as far as possible. Every effort, therefore, was made to ensure that the Defence Scheme and pre-war Instructions should be as comprehensive as possible, so that subordinate formation commanders would be in a position to conduct operations with only such supplementary and amending orders and instructions from higher authority as the development of the situation might demand.
51. Special Operations.
(a) Early in 1941 an Independent Company, with a strength of about 300 partly British and partly Indian, was formed. It was accommodated first at Canteen and then in Kodak, and was trained under Headquarters Malaya Command in amphibious operations and for special operations in enemy territory.
(b) In the summer of 1941 a Branch of the Ministry of Economic Warfare was started in Singapore. It suffered from an excess of secrecy and from a lack of knowledge on the part of the gentlemen advising as to how to set about the work. Thus valuable time was lost. Later, however, some very useful work was done by this organization.