Wavell took over the command while the Japanese were bursting through our defences at the Slim River, there was now no natural obstacle left to stop their advance. The Australians led by Gordon Bennett had been defending Jahore and had not seen action yet, his troops were untrained when they arrived in Malaya but he had not wasted the time and trained them in jungle warfare. Wavell ordered Bennett into new positions at the Muar River allowing Heath’s III Corps to fall back through the lines from Kuala Lumpur. The disadvantage was that the Japanese would have no opposition from Kuala Lumpur to Muar, but he could see the 11th Division were now not in any condition to carry on.

Having given his orders he then returned to Singapore to inspect the defences and found there were non, when Percival was asked in no uncertain terms why, Percival answer was that to work on defences would have lowered the morale. Not very amused by this, Wavell ordered Percival to start them immediately.

Duff Cooper told Wavell that as he was no longer needed in Singapore and would like to leave his request was granted. The Colonial Secretary Stanley Jones was sacked but Sir Shenton Thomas stayed on.

Everything was not perfect in the Japanese command, Yamashita was now mentally tired and having problems with his generals, he was getting very depressed he wrote:

‘I can’t rely on communications with Terauchi and Southern Army, or on air support from them. It is bad that Japan has no one in High places that can be relied upon. Most men abuse their power.

I dislike the selfishness of men in power. They have no conscience and their only aim is to grab even more power.

These men pressed into national service are seldom any good in a crisis. Both civilian and military officers abuse their powers. I shall have to watch them.’

The military officers he referred to was his old enemy Tojo and the Control Faction.

Yamishita said of Nishimura commander of the Imperial Guards Division:

‘He has wasted a week by disobeying orders.

On 8th January Yamashita wrote:

‘The battalion commanders and troops lack fighting spirit. They’ve no idea how to crush an enemy.’

This was referring to the 11th Division that kept getting away and retreating. The capture of Kuala Lumpur came at the right time, it was filled with supplies and the soldiers took everything they wanted. Yamashita knew the Muar was the last obstacle to Singapore and he now prepared for the final onslaught. He sent the Imperial Guards to the coast of Malacca to outflank the enemy defences while the 5th Division would keep the defenders busy on front. He also ordered the last units of the 18th Division at Singora to be sent to the front. The 55th Regiment was ordered to take Endau on the east coast, this was an all out push to end resistance and destroy the 11th Division.

On the 13th January the 18th Division arrived at Singapore, these included battalions of the Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Norfolk regiments and crates containing fifty-one Hurricans.

Japanese_tank_destroyedBennett got into action quickly by setting an ambush for the advancing Japanese near Gemas, which caused the Japanese infantry many casualties. The Japanese replied with a bomb raid on Gemas but again Bennett ambushed some tanks knocking them out. On the 15th the RAF used Brewster Buffalo’s to join in the attack on the advancing Japanese troops and stopped them reaching Gemas.

Matsui was not used to being stopped and quickly sent his 9th Infantry and 21st Brigade on a wide sweep to outflank the Australians. Nishimura’s Imperial Guard was now pressing along the coast towards Muar, Yamashita had left the attack to Nishimuras discretion. The Imperial Guard came across Brigadier Duncan’s 11th Indian Troops, they had not seen action before and were trying to cover too large a front. After crossing the Muar River in small craft on the 15th January they quickly dispersed the troops before entering Muar. When Bennett heard about Muar he quickly sent some troops to help, he did not know how big the opposing forces were. Nishimura planned to trap the Indian and Australian troops between the Sunsei Muar and the Sungei Bat Pahat. Bakri was attacked by the 5th Guards, while the 4th Guards moved further along the coast road and crossed the Sungei Bat Pahat north of the town. They now held the road to Bukit Pelandok and attacked the Indian and Australian troops on the 18th January, these troops were completely outnumbered and had to fall back to avoid being destroyed.

Percival now realised the Japanese plan and set up two forces the Westforce under Heath on the coast and the Eastforce under Bennett. The Japanese were pushing hard down the coast and Percival was worried about Eastforce being cut off so he ordered a retreat.

At Parit Sulong the 45th Brigade had been cut off by the Guards and things looked very bleak with no food or medical supplies until on the 22nd two aircraft succeeded in dropping supplies. As there was no hope of support or evacuation, the wounded were left with volunteers and the commanding officer Lietenant-Colonel Anderson gave the order for the men to fall back in groups as best as they could, 500 Australians and 400 Indians managed to find their way through the Japanese lines, but the troops that surrendered were massacred in cold blood by the Imperial Guards.

bridge_blownBridges were blown as the troops crossed them in an effort to slow up the Japanese advance.

To enable the troops left to retreat safely to Yong Peng the 53rd Infantry Brigade, consisting of 5th and 6th Norfolks, 2nd Cambridgeshires, 135 Field Regiment RA and supporting units were put into action in Jahore, within three days of landing at Singapore, they had received no jungle training and had not seen any action before.

The 6th Norfolks headed for Yong Peng and were dropped off nine miles north on the road with Bukit Belah to the North and Bukit Pelandok to the south. The Japanese attacked two days later and quickly took control of a hill held by C Company, D Company held on under heavy pressure. During that night they could hear the fire from a Japanese attack on a convoy of ambulances passing near them on the on the Parat Sulong road. At dawn on the 20th January D Company found they had been cut off, the 3/16th Punjab Regiment attacked Bukit Belah trying to relieve D Company but were badly cut up in their effort, Colonel H.D.Moorhead who had led the Punjabis throughout Malaya was killed and D Company was finally overrun. By the 23rd January the position could no longer be held and the Norfolks were told to withdraw as Japanese tanks were coming down the road towards Yong Peng, This force was later to be scattered under the pressure and speed of the Japanese advance and many had to make their own way back towards Singapore.

Matsui’s troops had now reached Labis and he stuck to the coast road heading for Batu Pahat where the 2nd Battalion of the Cambridgeshire Regiment and the 5th Battalion of the Royal Norfolk Regiment were waiting, they held held up the Japanese advance for over a week, then had to fight their way back to Singapore as they were cut off.

By now Percival had ordered yet another retreat towards Singapore to a line running from Kluang to Ayer Hitam, only twenty square miles of Malaya was now left. Communications was now breaking down and many troops did not get any orders, this left a very untidy situation with many troops isolated.

The Japanese hit the villages and towns with bombs and the civilians were hard hit over 2,100 casualties in Singapore alone. Bennett kept ambushing the Japanese and was still causing them problems even at this late stage, he even had the Japanese 40th Infantry withdrawing until Yamashita sent in more troops.

On 26th Percival sent a message to Wavell:

‘Consider general situation becoming grave. With our depleted strength it is difficult to withstand enemy ground pressure combined with continuous and practically unopposed air activity. We are fighting all the way but may be driven back into the Island within a week.’

That evening he wrote:

‘Very critical situation has developed. The enemy has cut off and overrun majority of forces on west coast. Unless we can stop him it will be difficult to get our own columns on other roads back in time especially as they are both being pressed. In any case it looks as if we should not be able to hold Jahore for more than three or four days. We are going to be a bit thin in the Island unless we get all remaining troops back.’

On 28th January Percival and Heath met and found that Eastforce and Westforce had no reserves left, trying to hold South Malaya was now pointless as the remaining troops would be destroyed. The evacuation to Singapore would began at once to be completed before the end of January.

The troops started falling back over the causeway joining Malaya to Singapore, Yamashita was trying to cut off their retreat, so they had to move fast. The Argylls were one of the last to retreat, they tried to make the most of a desperate situation by having a piper play them onto Singapore Island.

The only allied troops left in Malaya were either lost, captured or killed in action.


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Siege of Singapore



[Malaya] [Cause] [Japs Prepare] [British Prepare] [Malaya Attack] [Attack] [Z Force] [Jitra] [Penang] [Long Retreat] [South Malaya] [Singapore] [Chronology]

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