12th-18th December.

115. By the 12th December enemy pressure on the Kedah front was becoming very severe. The Kroh forces were being forced backwards over the frontier, while our right in Northern Kedah was also driven back, necessitating the 6th Indian Infantry Brigade withdrawing on the left to conform and hold a line River Bukit (north of Alor Star) to Penang. Penang was the subject of daily air attacks at this period. Two days of heavy fighting then saw our forces pushed back twenty miles south of Alor Star, the 11th Division taking up a position in the Gurun area. Some of the infantry units in this division reported losses up to 50 per cent., but this included missing, many of whom rejoined later.

The immediate preoccupation on our part at this moment was to co-ordinate the movement of the 11th Division with that of Krohcol. Unless this was done there was serious danger of the Japanese cutting off one of the two forces. Krohcol was now back in Kedah just east of Baling and under the command of the 12th Indian Infantry Brigade, which had been sent up from the south as reinforcements. But onthe 16th December the enemy drove in between the Kroh forces and the 11th Division, and counter-attacks by two- battalions of the 28th Indian Brigade proved unavailing to restore contact. It was now that the lack of adequate reserves to relieve troops who had been fighting continuously for a week began to be felt. The enemy were pressing home their attacks in spite of heavy losses. Troops from Penang were sent up as reinforcements, while the 6th and 15th Indian Infantry Brigades had been so weakened in the fighting that they were ordered to re-form into one composite Brigade.

The Japanese were now employing Kota Bharu aerodrome, reconnaissance revealing some forty of their fighters on the ground. To attack Kota GBharu, Singora and Patani aerodromes with the object of reducing the scale of Japanese air effort was part of our general air policy at this period, but our bomber effort was painfully limited by our lack of aircraft. Apart from deficiency of adequate A.A. weapons, the defence of our aerodromes was handicapped by lack of adequate warning in the North. (See para. 54 above.) These formed two causes of our heavy losses of aircraft on the .ground. The retention of our main fighter strength for the defence of Singapore (see para. 142 below) was a contributory cause and also reacted directly on our bombing effort, since it was impracticable to provide fighter escorts.

Two Buffaloes had been specially fitted for photographic reconnaissance. To allow, of extra petrol being carried, and at the same time to reduce weight, all guns were taken out. Even then the Buffaloes were inferior in performance to the Japanese Zero fighters. The pilots of these specially fitted aircraft carried out useful work under very difficult conditions. From the start of hostilities the Dutch submarines -had been very active. On the 12th December one of them reported sinking four enemy troopships at Patani Roads.

116. The difficulty of combating the Japanese attacks on our aerodromes resulted on the 16th and 17th December in the evacuation and demolition of Butterworth, Taiping and Kuantan aerodromes, and our aircraft were forced further South. Ipoh, too, was now being bombed, and the aerodrome petrol dump was hit.

On land, the enemy, having advanced in Kelantan (as far as the Sungei Nal) and in Kedah, was now also attacking detachments of our troops in Perak round about the Grik area. The 3rd Indian Corps was accordingly authorised to withdraw behind the line of the Perak River to protect the communications of our forces North of Kuala Kangsar. The 11th Indian Division began withdrawing from the line of the River Muda Southwards behind River Krian, linking up with the 28th Indian Infantry Brigade and protected all the time on the right flank by the 12th Indian Infantry Brigade. During this period the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders made counter-attacks with gallantry and skill. This withdrawal was carried out successfully, the enemy being repulsed with loss at his first attempt to cross the river.

Inter-Allied Conference, 18th December.

117. On the 18th December a conference of inter-Allied representatives took place at Singapore, in accordance with proposals made by President Roosevelt. Owing to the time factor, China was not represented. Results of the conference were telegraphed to England. The main conclusions were as follows:—

    (a) The importance of Singapore to the war in the Far East, and to the world war, could not be exaggerated;

    (b) The immediate plan was to dispose our combined forces then available in the Far East so as to—

      (i) Keep the enemy as far North in Malaya as possible and hold him in the Philippines; and

      (ii) Prevent the enemy acquiring territory, and particularly aerodromes, which would threaten the arrival of reinforcements;

    (c) Our urgent and immediate need was for reinforcements, which must be on a scale not only to meet the present scale of attack, but also that likely to be put in the field against us;

    (d) It was recommended that the United States convoy at present directed to Brisbane should proceed to Sourabaya, where aircraft would be assembled and flown on to destination;

    (e) It was desirable that the Chinese should be asked to maintain the maximum pressure on the Japanese in order to contain as many divisions as possible, and subsequently to provide bases for long-distance bombing attacks on Japan.

Finally the conference considered that the situation, though serious, need not give rise to undue pessimism provided the necessary reinforcements were supplied in the available time, but time was the essential feature.


118. From the 8th December, 1941, onwards many requests for reinforcements had been made from General Headquarters, Far East. The time factor meant that reinforcements had to come from the Middle East, India and convoys already at sea rather than from the United Kingdom. Complicated quadrangular references between 'Malaya, India, the Middle East and London were hence entailed, but Commander-in-Chief, India, was most helpful in appreciating the need for diversion to Malaya of forces originally intended for his own command. A sub-committee of the Inter-Allied Conference, having considered all the previous requests for reinforcements, agreed on the following immediate requirements for Malaya to stabilise the situation:—


      4 Fighter Squadrons;

      4 Bomber Squadrons;

      1 Photographic Flight?

      1 Transport Flight; and

      Reserves at 100 per cent, for fighters and 50 per cent, for bombers, plus aircraft to complete existing squadrons and their reserves.


      1 Brigade Group;

      1 Division;

      Reinforcements for 9th and 11th Divisions;

      3 Light A.A. Regiments;

      2 Heavy A.A. Regiments;

      1 Anti-Tank Regiment;

      50 Light tanks;

      350 Anti-tank rifles;

      Bofors ammunition; and 500 Tommy guns and ammunition;

      Further large forces would be required later hi view of probable Japanese reinforcements.

By the 27th December the following had been definitely promised:—


      51 Hurricanes. (One fighter squadron ex convoy W.S. 12.Z with 18 additional pilots);

      24 Blenheims. (One squadron from Middle East) ;

      52 Hudsons (from United Kingdom);

While measures were in hand aiming at the release of a further 3 fighter squadrons from the Middle East, and for 80 4-engined United States bombers. ex Convoy W.S. I2.Z.


    2 Infantry Brigade Groups

    Reinforcements for 9th-11th Divisions


    ex India







    85th Anti-Tank Regiment complete

    6th Heavy A.A Regiment (16 guns)

    32nd Light A.A Regiment (24 guns)


    Ex Convoy WS 12Z










    Light tank squadron (17 Light tanks and reserves) ex India;


    53rd Infantry Brigade (18th Division) guns and transport of which were to follow after arrival of personnel;


    1 Machine Gun Battalion and reinforcements for the A.I.F. Brigades ex Australia;




    Provision of further tanks was under discussion, while General Headquarters, Far East, was also pressing strongly for the complete 18th Division.




Five Blenheims from the Middle East and four Hudsons from Australia arrived in Singapore on the 23rd December, 1941.

19th-25th December.

119. In accordance with instructions from London, a scorched earth policy was ordered at this period instead of the denial scheme referred to in para. 65 above.

The general situation on land by the 19th-21st December was that our troops were trying to keep the enemy West of the River Perak, while at the same time preventing him advancing further South than the River Krian. To this end the nth Indian Division, which it was considered essential to maintain as a fighting formation, was holding a line along the River Kuran with the 28th Indian Infantry Brigade, and also protecting Kuala Kangsar with the 12th Indian Infantry Brigade, a detachment of which was also further North along the Grik road. The Division as a whole was suffering from exhaustion, damaged feet and loss of equipment. The 6th and 15th Indian Infantry Brigades were now re-formed at Ipoh as the composite 15th Infantry Brigade, while a composite battalion of the 2nd/16th and 3rd/16th from these two Brigades was in Corps Reserve. The Kelantan forces, 8th Indian Infantry Brigade, 8th Indian Division, had suffered about a hundred casualties in each battalion, and were now along the railway at Manik Orai. Of elements not thus far engaged in the main operations, the 22nd Indian Infantry Brigade (9th Indian Division) was at Kuantan, while the Australian 22nd and 27th Brigades were responsible for Johore, and the 1st and 2nd Malay Infantry Brigades for Singapore Fortress. None of these last four Brigades could be despatched North to relieve the hardl-pressed nth Indian Division, for the reasons given below. (See para. 138 below.)

120. Heavy enemy air attack was now falling on Ipoh aerodrome, and our own fighters were driven further South to Kuala Lumpur (Selangor). Attacks on our road and rail communications were becoming an increasing feature of the Japanese air operations. Reconnaissance revealed that the enemy was now making use of Sungei Patani aerodrome, where thirty fighters were discovered. Our aircraft were making night and dawn attacks on enemy aerodromes, and were very valuable for reconnaissance; reconnaissances were regularly being made—

    (a) 350 miles N.N.E. of Singapore;

    (b) along the East coast of Malaya;

    (c) over the Rhio Archipelago; and

    (d) to the Miri and Kuching areas—from Sinkawang; in addition to those over the fighting area.

By the 21st-22nd December Kuala Lumpur was coming in for heavy air attack, though little damage was at first inflicted. Against an attack by Ju. 87’s on the 21st December the Buffaloes were more successful, causing the Japanese bombers to break formation in disorder, but to deal with the Zero fighters it was apparent that only the speedy arrival of Hurricane reinforcements, while we still held sufficient air bases, could turn the tide.

The land situation in the next few days (21st-23rd December) witnessed further advances by the enemy in all areas. Pressure along the Grik road was heavy, in spite of severe losses inflicted during a successful clash on the night of the 19th-20th December.

The Japanese floated troops down .the Perak River by night, and on the 22nd December the 12th Indian Infantry Brigade was forced back South of Kuala Kangsar. The 28th Indian Infantry Brigade was also pressed in the same direction, small detachments only being left North of Kuala Kangsar and West of the Perak River. Bridges were destroyed as the troops retired. While this was taking place on the Perak front, the Kelantan withdrawal was also continuing, the 8th Indian Infantry Brigade retiring South of Kuala Krai along the railroad. A problem similar to that of Krohcol and the 11h Division referred to above (see para. 115) now arose in regard to 8th Indian Infantry Brigade and the main body of III Corps in Perak, and, to a lesser degree, in regard to the force at Kuantan and the 8th Indian Infantry Brigade, lit was therefore decided to withdraw this 8th Brigade much further South into Central Malaya, and it took-up completely new positions in the Kuala Lipis-Raub area. A small party known as " Macforce " was left with an armoured train at Dabong to withdraw down the railway, demolishing it as they went. The Kuantan force was ordered to prepare to withdraw Westwards at short notice. On the 23rd December all our fighters on the mainland were withdrawn to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Port Swettenham being kept as advanced landing grounds. The enemy was also occupying various points down the East coast of Malaya, and had proceeded from Kuala Trengganu to Dungun. By the 25th December it would be true to say that something like one half of Malaya had passed from our control.

121. With the object of maintaining the morale of the civil population of Malaya I held a meeting on the 22nd December, attended by members of the Legislative Council, leading men of the different communities and the Press, the total number being about 120. The main points I stressed were that the available strength had proved inadequate; we had to remember that the aircraft, A.A. guns and tanks that might have come to Malaya were not being wasted, but were being used with great effect in Libya and Russia; that there was every reason for confidence that, now the requirements of the Far East had become pressing, those 'responsible were taking steps to ensure the despatch of adequate reinforcements of men and material; and that it was up to everyone to ensure that no effort was spared to hold up the enemy until the necessary forces arrived.

On the 22nd December, a telegram was sent to Mr. Duff Cooper to the effect that useless mouths were to be evacuated from Singapore without racial discrimination and on a voluntary basis so far as the general population were concerned.

The total number of British women and children evacuated from Malaya from the beginning of the war with Japan to the 3ist January, 1942, was as follows: —

    7,174 European;

    2,305 Indian; and

    1,250 Chinese.

According to a Japanese report, the number of British women and children left in Singapore at the time of capitulation was about 200.




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