Account of "Tomforce" counter attack Wednesday 11 February 1942, on Singapore Island


Supplied by Ross Wood


I believe you will find this account accurate. As accurate, as possible in the situation, in a very confused and conflicting situation.

Our research, deals with the movement to and employment on Singapore Island of 23 Indian Army Light Tanks of The 100th Independent Light Tank Squadron 29 January-15 February 1942, and the employment of some on the lower slopes of The Swiss Rifle Club Hill on that black smoke filled afternoon of Wednesday 11 February 1942.


This was the first movement by the Indian Armoured Corps into battle during World War II on Wednesday 11 February 1942.

Our research has extended into the Members of the Unit, the types of Indian pattern Vickers Light Tanks they had, the convoys BM10 and BM11 and the ships that brought these Light Tanks to Singapore, their initial repair and the employment on Singapore Island, what happened on the night 10-11 February 1942 along Woodlands Road that led up to their movement to the Mac Ritchie Reservoir, the "Tomforce" counter attack and their movement to the Swiss Hill where they engaged and held elements of The 5th Imperial Japanese Infantry Division until elements of The 4th Battalion of The Suffolk Regiment arrived to steady the position for the remainder of that night.

This is a very obscure subject. In our research, we have found much information is confusing and conflicting- During interviewing many former members of Malaya Command, both in The U.K. and Australia, we're told, "there were no "British" tanks on Singapore. Then it usually gets around to "there were no British tanks were I was on Singapore". Occasionally, yes I saw an Indian Tank.


We have considerable generous assistance from many sources, in The U.K., India, Singapore and Australia, including Governments, and former members of Malaya Command, The Merchant Navy and The Admiralty in the U.K., India, Singapore, and Australia, and I hope you and The FEPOW Community in the U.K. will find this account of the events of 11 February 1942, in and around Bukit Timah Village of interest.

This account is taken directly from my notes:


The Road Block

MOON OVER MALAYA P226, using as one of its two primary reference sources, Major Angus Rose's 1944 publication WHO DIES FIGHTING indicates;

Following the Japanese smashing the Argyll's second roadblock, and at this, and with Colonel Stewart's approval Major Angus MacDonald (of the Argylls) the 12 Brigade Major, sped 2 miles in his little Fiat car under the railway bridge, and past the Ford Factory and the fire station to prepare a 3rd roadblock in Bukit Timah Village. MacDonald was fired on by the leading Japanese tank as he drove the last vehicle in to complete the roadblock. This tank had pursued him down the road, but was knocked out at about midnight. The roadblock supported by two anti-tank guns held and prevented the Japanese tanks ploughing on into Singapore City that very night.

However too late, as by 19:00hrs enemy reconnaissance groups were already in the village.

WAR DIARY 2/15th Field Regiment AWM 52 4/2/15: indicates:


 "G" Troop moved about 800 yards north along Farrer Road into a further position


They then moved to RV at Bukit Timah Village at 19.00hrs. Enemy recce groups were found in occupation of the village.......

Plus, The 4th Anti-Tank Regiment records at; 04.00hrs 11 February 1942. Forward gun engaged enemy tank, which stopped firing. This is the only firing recorded by 4th Anti-Tank Regiment in Bukit Timah Village that night. I cannot find any record of any other Malaya Command anti-tank regiment in Bukit Timah that night.

I have discussed this with Mr. Jonathan Moffatt, one of the co-authors of MOON OVER MALAYA.


Brigadier Paris dispatched Major Angus MacDonald (his Brigade Major) to find 4th Anti-Tank Regiment in Bukit Timah and set up a roadblock. This account also indicates Major MacDonald sped off in his little Fiat, however in this account he reached the Australian anti-tank gunners 300 yards south of Bukit Timah Village.


Major Frazer 8th Division Western Area making a liaison trip to 12 Brigade after 02.00hrs Wednesday 11 February 1942, came across two of the brigade staff officers, who were seeking to discover the whereabouts of its battalions. With their concurrence Frazer decided to establish a roadblock 300 yards south of Bukit Timah village, and employed three artillery tractors (Marmon-Herrington 3 ton Australian artillery tractors) and men of the 4th Australian Anti-Tank Regiment.

The block was no sooner established when Japanese mortar fire began to fall south of it.

Frazer was the senior officer in the immediate area and he organized the gunners to cover the block and form a perimeter. He then moved back 300 yards and found two troops of British howitzers without orders, so he told them to fire on any tank over open sights.

"B" Company 2/29th Battalion with Major Bowring was on the western side of Bukit Timah Road at Bukit Panjang, north of The Argyll's position, waited until nearly midnight before moving off, there being no contact with 12th Brigade. They made their way down the western side of Bukit Timah Road, past the village and took up a position near the Racecourse guarding guns of The 2/15th Field Regiment.

The 5th Field Regiment to the east of the Racecourse continued to fire on targets to the west of Bukit Timah Village, however I am unable to find any indication that they fired on the immediate danger of the Japanese tanks and infantry moving down the trunk road or in Bukit Timah Village.

With the Japanese in Bukit Timah Village they were able to cut off The 6/15th Indian Brigade and the Australian units to the west.

Around 03:00hrs The 18th Japanese Division savagely attacked X Battalion, which suffered very heavy casualties. Merritt Force withdrew at 05:45hrs and came under enemy fire. The force became divided and only remnants got back to the Australian lines. The British Battalion and Saggers men withdrew.

The 2/9th Jats went forward on original instructions and became isolated, only to surrender in their position following the general surrender on Sunday 15 February 1942.

However in Bukit Timah Village.

WAR DIARY 4th Anti-Tank Regiment AWM 52 4/4/4: indicates for 16 Battery

10 Feb. 1942



Battery to support counter attack by 6/15th Indian Brigade and 12th Indian Brigade


"A" Troop guns sited along Jurong Road "B" and "C" Troops unable to make contact with HQ 12th Indian Brigade, as enemy broke through village Bukit Panjang

11 Feb.1942


01 30hrs

All guns sited in depth along Bukit Timah Road


Forward gun engaged enemy tank which stopped firing. One gun hit by shell and put out of action.


 "A" Troop under command forced out of Bukit Timah Village by enemy pressure. All 4 guns lost as enemy had placed roadblock in Bukit Timah Village



15 Battery



BHQ established with 22nd Brigade HQ on Holland Road near Buona Vista Village

What personnel and equipment that remained now joined 15 Battery along Holland Road.

Shortly after 05:00hrs The 18th Japanese Division heavily attacked The Australian 22nd Brigade HQ, some machine gunners of The 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion and what remained of The 2/18th Infantry Battalion at Wai Soon Gardens.

Fierce hand to hand fighting raged between the Japanese and Australians along Reformatory Road to the west of Bukit Timah Road. Finally in a savage charge by H.Q. members across Reformatory Road at the point of the bayonet the Australians routed the Japanese, and threw back their attacks with heavy losses to both sides.

By now The 2/4th C.C.S. had with authority left the Swiss Hill, shortly followed by The 2/9th and 2/10th Field Ambulances. The 5th Field Regiment had left from its position east of the Racecourse and The 2/15th Field Regiment had left the Racecourse at 06:00hrs.

As the sun rose over that smoky Asian morning so long ago, of Wednesday 11 February 1942, with the blazing Bukit Timah oil tanks covering the whole area in thick dark smoke, the Malaya Command front line to the immediate west of Bukit Timah Road was held with 22nd Australian Infantry Brigade H.Q., the remnants of The 2/18th Infantry Battalion, two platoons of machine gunners of The 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion, The 2/10 Field Company, what remained of Saggers men, plus the remnants of the anti-tank gunners of 15 and 16 Batteries 4th Anti-Tank Regiment.

However with the rapid advance down the trunk road by the advancing Japanese, with the exception of the withdrawing remnants of The 2/29th along the Pipe-line, and the withdrawing remnants of The 2/26th to the east of the Pipe-line and to the north of the Swiss Hill, plus the remnants of The 2nd Argylls across the Golf Course, nothing defended the area Mac Ritchie Reservoir in the east to the Swiss Hill in the west.


Events of 11 February 1942

By 11 February 1942, from Changi, on the island's east coast three 15 inch guns of the Johore Battery had managed to turn their mighty guns 180 degrees to fire on targets in the Bukit Timah area, well within their 21 mile range. Between Bukit Panjang and Bukit Timah Village many of these large 2,000 pound armour piercing shells landed, a number amongst Japanese troops.

In the early morning light Lt. Iven Mackay led 3 Bren Gun Carriers of The 2/18th Australian Infantry Battalion Carrier Platoon, up Reformatory Road, and engaged the Japanese with grenades and light machine gun fire in the area of Bukit Timah village, hence south to Holland Road, and back to Battalion H.Q..

Reference: "AUSTRALIA IN THE WAR 1939-45 ARMY Vol IV THE JAPANESE THRUST", page 350.

Lieutenant General A.E. Percival G.O.C. Malaya Command now realized this major gap existed and moved to correct it.

At 04.30hrs that morning Lt. Colonel L.C. Thomas CB CBE DSO MC Northumberland Fusiliers, commander of "Tomforce", was ordered by Western Area to advance up Bukit Timah Road, re-possess Bukit Timah Village and move on Bukit Panjang.

By this time the Bukit Timah area was defended by both The 18th and 5th Imperial Japanese Infantry Divisions, each with two regiments forward. Them supported by mortar, artillery, and tanks.

Major Frazer, who was still in the area, met the C.O. of The 18th Division Reconnaissance Battalion (Until recently The 5th Battalion of The Loyal Regiment) in response to an urgent request from the Australian anti-tank gunners in the perimeter position covering the roadblock 300 yards south of Bukit Timah Village and he arranged for a detachment of The 18th Reconnaissance Battalion to go to their assistance. This detachment appears to be the H.Q. Company of The Reconnaissance Battalion.

At this point, the wounded Lt. Colonel Pond C.O. 2/29th Battalion arrived with part of the battalion, plus Captain Bowring arrived with "B" Company following the departure of The 2/15th Field Regiment guns from the Racecourse.

Bowring was taken to Lt. Colonel Thomas, who explained what was going to happen and advised Bowring that he required his men, because of their experience for the attack.

To assist "Tomforce" was The 7th Mobile Reconnaissance Corps, which comprised 58 Australians who "knew Singapore", and were to act as guides for the newly arrived British Officers of The 18th British Infantry Division. I have spoken with a former member of The 2/29th Battalion, who was a former member of The 7th Mobile Reconnaissance Force.

Armoured Carrier

An Armoured Carrier Wheeled Indian Pattern MKII in Australian use in Malaya/Singapore AWM Negative No. 011723

I have included this photograph, as it shows the type of vehicle employed that day by The 18th Reconnaissance Battalion, however it is the only photograph we can find of an Armoured Carrier Wheeled Indian Pattern in Malaya/Singapore 1941-1942. The photograph was probably taken about January 1942.

War Office File: WO106/2581 indicates 18th Reconnaissance Battalion received 30 Armoured Carriers 4 Wheel Indian pattern MK II to replace equipment lost when H.M.T. Empress of Asia was lost on 5 February 1942.


On a 2,000 yard front at 08.30hrs "Tomforce" crossed their start line.

The 18th Reconnaissance Battalion commenced its counter attack in 10 Armoured Carriers 4 Wheeled Indian Pattern attacking astride the trunk road up towards Bukit Timah Village, Some of the carriers actually succeeded in entering the village. However, several were put out of action by either tank or anti-tank gun fire. Their commander, Lieutenant J.M.Wyse was killed and the remaining carriers withdrew.

"C" Company {Captain Holt) on the right, "B" Company (Captain Spencer) on the left got to the railway line where they were stopped by very heavy fire from 18th Division Japanese troops in the trees behind the railway station.

While "A" Company (Captain Dutton) carried out a left flanking movement, but again heavy fire prevented forward movement and few crossed the railway line. The heavy fire forced them to retire.

This new British attack was met by very heavy aerial attack. Mostly the standard 27 Japanese aircraft formation attack. Twin engined medium IJN Nell and Betty Bombers are believed to have been diverted from targets in the harbour to bomb the advancing “Tomforce" counter attack.

The 1st Battalion of The 5th Sherwood Foresters (Lt. Colonel Harold Lilly) and the members of The 2/29th Battalion advanced up the left side of Bukit Timah Road, and in savage fighting got within 400 yards of Bukit Timah Village, where they were stopped by heavy fire. There is a report that indicates The 1/5th Sherwood Foresters got to Milestone 8 on Jurong Road.

At 10.30hrs Lt. Colonel Pond and the members of 2/29th were forced back some distance by heavy fire from east of the railway line. Then at midday, they were joined by Bowring with "B" Company 2/29th. The situation got no better, and as well as the heavy fire, enemy troops were now bypassing them, and like the Reconnaissance Battalion, both The 1/5th Sherwood Foresters and the remnants 2/29th were forced to retire.

Pond withdrew after dark, the Australians skirmishing with Japanese along the way. Pond and his H.Q. withdrew to Bennett's H.Q. at dawn 12 February 1942.

From his observation post on the heights of Bukit Timah Hill, Lt. Colonel Tsuji Masanobu, Chief Operations Officer 25th Japanese Army watched the "British" infantry advancing with fixed bayonets in extended line up Bukit Timah Road.

The 4th Battalion of The Royal Norfolk Regiment, who had arrived in buses the previous night 10 February 1942, commenced their attack with a 3" mortar barrage on the enemy. They then swung east, jumped the Pipe-line and moved on Bukit Timah Hill. Here they encountered heavy Japanese resistance from The 5th Division. The 4th Norfolks attacked with carriers and 2" mortars and gained high ground up Bukit Timah Hill, at point 255 the Bukit Timah Rifle Range, and point 275, behind the Japanese in the village.

Soon however they themselves were threatened by Japanese troops higher up Bukit Timah Hill, plus were subjected to aerial and artillery attack. Early in the afternoon Lt. Colonel Lionel Thomas fearing they would be cut off, and ordered their withdrawal to an area just south of the Racecourse.

All "Tomforce" counter-attacking groups were back behind their start line by 20:00rs 11 February 1942. What remained of the British units were in positions just south of the Racecourse.

There is no reference I can locate that the anti-tank battery of The 85th Anti-Tank Regiment, as part of Tomforce" took part in this engagement.

During this attack The 4th Battalion of The Royal Norfolk Regiment employed its Bren Gun Carriers, and War Office Signal WO 193/892 of 15 December 1941, indicates that H.M.T. (His Majesty's Transport) Empire Star left The United Kingdom with 14 tracked carriers (Bren Gun Carriers) of The 4th Battalion of The Royal Norfolk Regiment. I would like to know whether the Bren Gun Carriers employed by the 4th Norfolks came from the Empire Star, or whether they drew new Bren Gun Carriers from a Central Park at YCK Vehicle Park after the arrival at Singapore.

H.M.T. Empire Star unloaded its cargo on the night of 6 February 1942.







AWM52 8/3/29      

The War Diary of The 2/29th Infantry Battalion  

January-February 1942

AWM 52 4/4/4

The War Diary 4th Anti-Tank Regiment

January-February 1942

AWM52 4/2/15

The War Diary of The 2/15th Field Regiment

January-February 1942

File: WO106/2581

Emergency reinforcements for the Far East


WO File: CAB 106/70

The 18th British Division


War Office File: WO 172/90

The War Diary of The 4th Battalion of The Suffolk Regiment

Malaya Jan.- Feb. 1942

Lt. General A.E. Percival's Despatch of 25 April 1946:,Section Lll "Events of 11th February 1942" Para 526.


HISTORY OF THE SUFFOLK REGIMENT 1928-1947 4th and 5th Battalions




With the information available to me, I feel this is as accurate an account of the "Tomforce" counter attack of Wednesday 11 February 1942, and I hope you find it of interest and that it may be of assistance to some member of the FEPOW Community.

The Australian War Diaries are quite specific, and The War Diary of The 4th Battalion of The Suffolk Regiment was full of very detailed information, which was supported by former members of the battalion, and for me very helpful.

The battle for Singapore was lost a long time before this happened. This just happened to be the last real organized Malaya Command land warfare of the World War II Malayan Campaign.

Ross Wood

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