Section XXXIV: — The Withdrawal to North Johore, 9th-I4th January, 1942.
299. Orders for the Withdrawal and Defence of Johore.—On the 9th January, in accordance with instructions received from the Supreme Commander, South West Pacific, I issued out line orders for the withdrawal to Johore, and the defence of that State. The main points of these orders were as under:—
(a) Commander A.I.F. to concentrate one Brigade Group, A.I.F., in the Segamat area as soon as possible.
(b) 45 Indian Brigade Group to come under command of A.I.F. Malaya immediately.
(c) 3 Indian Corps to withdraw from present positions into Johore covered by maximum possible demolitions. Withdrawal to be earned out by rail and by M.T. as ordered by Corps Commander.
(d) Withdrawal to be covered by rearguards on the demolitions.
(e) On entering Johore 9 Indian Division to come under command of A.I.F.
(e) 3 Indian Corps, less 9 Indian Division, to take over operational responsibility for South Johore up to and inclusive of the line Endau—G. Beremban -Kluang—Batu Pahat on a date to be fixed later.
A copy of Malaya Command Operation Instruction No. 33 is attached as Appendix "E" to this Despatch.
300. To the best of my belief these orders were in accordance with the instructions received from the Supreme Commander, South-West Pacific. He has since stated that he directed that the Australian Brigade Group in the Mersing area should be moved as soon as possible to join the remainder of the A.I.F. I have no record or recollection of such instructions, though it was my intention, if opportunity offered at a later date, to relieve this brigade group by a newly arrived formation.
The Supreme Commander, South-West Pacific has also stated that he directed that the 9 Indian Division should be employed in the southern portion (i.e. Muar Sector) of the position to be occupied. I have equally no record or recollection of this instruction.
301. At 1100 hours. 10th January, I held a conference at Segamat. It was attended by the Commanders 3 Indian Corps and A.I.F with their staff officers and staff officers of Headquarters, Malaya Command. At this conference the orders already issued on the 9th January were supplemented as under: -
(a) The troops in Johore would be re organised into two forces, the one under Maj.-Gen. Gordon Bennett to be known as Westforce, and the other under Lt.-Gen. Sir Lewis Heath to be known as 3 Indian Corps. This did not include troops under command Singapore Fortress or directly under Head quarters, Malaya Command.
(b) The composition of Westforce to be as under: —
9 Indian Division.
A.I.F. less 22 Australian Brigade Group.
45 Indian Brigade Group.
2 Battalion The Loyal Regt. less one company (from Singapore Fortress).
Artillery, Engineer and Administrative units not included in formations. The Indian Pioneer Battalion.
The task of Westforce was to hold the North-West portion of Johore, the main line of resistance to be on the general line Batu Anam—Muar. There was to be no withdrawal behind the line Segamat—Muar without my permission.
(c) The composition of 3 Indian Corps to be as under: —
11 Indian Division.
22 Australian Brigade Group with attached troops, which included 2/17 Dogra Battalion from Singapore Fortress, to be known as Eastforce (Brigadier Taylor).
3 Corps Troops, which included Artillery, Engineer and Administrative units.
The task of 3 Indian Corps was the defence of Johore south of and inclusive of the line Endau—G. Beremban—Kluang—Batu Pahat except the Pengerang area, for which Singapore Fortress was responsible.
(d) The 11 Indian Division, less 12 Indian Infantry Brigade, to be accommodated in areas where it could be rested and reorganised. The 12 Indian Infantry Brigade to be withdrawn direct to Singapore.
302. After the conference we reconnoitred in detail the positions to be occupied. I approved a plan for a major ambush on the road west of Gemas.
303. On the morning of 12th January, after a visit to troops of 9 and 11 Indian Divisions, I held a co-ordinating conference at which the Commanders A.I.F. and 9 Indian Division were present. At this conference the tactics to be adopted were discussed and I approved the following plan:-
(a) Segamat area.—The crossings over the Rivers Muar and Segamat, which were vital to the defence, to be held strongly against all forms of ground and air attacks.
West of River Muar localities to be held as focal points with striking forces available on the flanks to attack the enemy when he tried to move round them.
An ambush force to be located west of Gemas.
(b) Coastal area.—On the west coast flank the 45 Indian Brigade Group to cover the main coast road at Muar south of the river with detachments and patrols watching the river and exits south from it over the front Kg. Lenga to Muar.
(c) Anti-Tank Defence.—Forward field guns to be used for anti-tank and anti-personnel roles. The necessity for a physical obstacle, to be covered by fire, wherever it was intended to stop tanks was stressed.
304. Commanders: - At the request of the Commander 3 Indian Corps I appointed Brigadier Key to command the 11 Indian Divi sion in place of Major-General Paris. The reason for this was that we considered that an Indian Army Officer was now required to pull together and re-establish confidence in what remained of the 11 Indian Division. Brigadier Lay, who had now returned to duty, was appointed to command the 8 Indian Infantry Brigade and Col. Challen took over command of the 6/15 Indian Infantry Brigade in lieu of Brigadier Moorhead.
305. The Withdrawal of 3 Indian Corps.—At 0600 hrs., 9th January, the 1/14 Punjab Regiment on the right of the Batang Berjuntai position was suddenly attacked and suffered considerable losses. In the afternoon the 6/15 Brigade Group fell back to the Batu Arang area. On the West Coast road our troops after some skirmishing fell back to a position about three miles north of Klang. On the main road the 28 Brigade Group occupied a position at Serendah without being pressed.
306. For the withdrawal of 3 Indian Corps there were in the West Coast area two main roads available, i.e., the main trunk road Kuala Lumpur - Seremban - Tampin - Gemas -Segamat, and the coastal road Klang-Morib-Port Dickson -Malacca. The 9 Indian Division had the tortuous and little-used road Bentong - Durian Tipus, thence either via Kuala Pilah or Bahau to join the main trunk road two miles south of Tampin.
In the States of Selangor and Negri Sembilan and the Settlement of Malacca through which the withdrawal was to take place the roads are much more numerous than they are in the States of Perak and Pahang. The beaches also are sandy and more suitable for landings. These facilities conferred on the enemy greater freedom of action and made our task more difficult.
307. The plan was for the 11 Indian Division and L. of C. Troops to occupy two delaying positions during the withdrawal, the one covering Seremban and Port Dickson and the other covering Tampin and Malacca. The existence of the lateral road Kuala Pilah - Seremban and the convergence of the two divisional routes at Tampin made it necessary that the 9 Division should be clear of Kuala Pilah and Tampin respectively before the first and second delay ing positions were vacated by the 11 Division.
308. Soon after dawn on the 10th January the enemy attacked the 28 Brigade Group at Serendah and adopting his usual tactics, quickly enveloped both flanks. Some fierce fighting went on during the day, our troops gradually falling back to Sungei Choh Village, which they found already in possession of an enemy force which had come from the West. They managed to force their way through, how ever, though suffering severe losses, and late in the afternoon embussed for Tampin leaving behind a party to cover the engineers working on road demolitions.
The 6/15 Brigade Group, which had been withdrawn the previous night from the Batu Arang. area, followed the 28Brigade Group through Kuala Lumpur. The last bridge in the Federal Capital was blown at 0430 hrs. 11th January and the Brigade, leaving a small force to cover further demolitions, moved to the Labu area west of Seremban.
309. The 12 Indian Infantry Brigade, now only some 600-700 strong, was already in position guarding the Mantin (Setul) Pass, a narrow hilly defile a few miles north of Seremban. A battalion of the newly arrived 45 Indian Infantry Brigade had also been sent forward with requisitioned transport (it's own having not yet arrived) to the Sepang area.
310. On the coastal road Port Swettenham was evacuated on the afternoon on the 10th January and the big bridge at Klang was rather ineffectively blown at 2030 hrs. that night. After some local engagements with the enemy, all troops were withdrawn during the night 10th/11th January to positions covering Port Dickson.
311. During the 11th and 12th January there was no contact on the front, though the Japanese aircraft were active on both days reconnoitring and bombing. On the night I2th/13th January the 6/15 Brigade withdrew to the Alor Gajah area and the remnants of the 12 Brigade entrained at Gemas for Singa pore. On the coast road the L. of C. troops fell back to a position covering Malacca. The 9 Indian Division moved in conformity.
312. On the evening of the 13th January, the final stage of the long withdrawal started. As there is only a ferry crossing over the broad river at Muar, all wheeled transport had to pass through Segamat which thus became a bad bottleneck. By the I4th January, however, all troops of 3 Indian Corps were clear and the command of the forward area passed to the Comdr. Westforce. The Commander 3 Indian Corps assumed responsibility for South Johore at 2000 hrs. I4th January.
313. During the withdrawal demolitions were carried out on all roads. In particular gaps were blown in all bridges over what might constitute an anti-tank obstacle.
314. On completion of the withdrawal the formations of 3 Indian Corps were disposed as under: —
Headquarters 3 Indian Corps, Johore Bahru.
Headquarters 11 Indian Division, Rengam.
6/15 Indian Infantry Brigade and 11 Divisional Artillery, Kluang.
28 Indian Infantry Brigade, Pontian Kechil.
3 Indian Cavalry, Independent Company and one Company Malay Regiment, Batu Pahat.
315. On the I3th January the Supreme Commander South West Pacific visited Malaya. At Segamat he discussed the defence dispositions with the Commander Westforce.