Japanese Invasion of Malaya

Japanese Invasion of Malaya

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The Japanese Invasion of Malaya, or Battle of Kota Bharu, began just after midnight on 8 December 1941 (local time) before the attack on Pearl Harbor
Attack on Pearl Harbor
The attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprise military strike conducted by the Imperial Japanese Navy against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on the morning of December 7, 1941...

. It is the first major battle of the Pacific War
Pacific War
The Pacific War, also sometimes called the Asia-Pacific War refers broadly to the parts of World War II that took place in the Pacific Ocean, its islands, and in East Asia, then called the Far East...

, and was fought between ground forces of the British Indian Army
British Indian Army
The British Indian Army, officially simply the Indian Army, was the principal army of the British Raj in India before the partition of India in 1947...

 and the Empire of Japan
Empire of Japan
The Empire of Japan is the name of the state of Japan that existed from the Meiji Restoration on 3 January 1868 to the enactment of the post-World War II Constitution of...

.

Kota Bharu
Kota Bharu
Kota Bharu is a city in Malaysia, is the state capital and Royal City of Kelantan. It is also the name of the territory in which Kota Bharu City is situated. The name means 'new city' or 'new castle/fort' in Malay. Kota Bharu is situated in the northeastern part of Peninsular Malaysia, and lies...

, capital of the Kelantan
Kelantan
Kelantan is a state of Malaysia. The capital and royal seat is Kota Bharu. The Arabic honorific of the state is Darul Naim, ....

 Province, situated on the north-east coast of Malaysia, was, in 1941, the base of operations for the Royal Air Force
Royal Air Force
The Royal Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Formed on 1 April 1918, it is the oldest independent air force in the world...

 (RAF) and Royal Australian Air Force
Royal Australian Air Force
The Royal Australian Air Force is the air force branch of the Australian Defence Force. The RAAF was formed in March 1921. It continues the traditions of the Australian Flying Corps , which was formed on 22 October 1912. The RAAF has taken part in many of the 20th century's major conflicts...

 (RAAF) in Northern Malaya with an airstrip at Kota Bharu and two more at Gong Kedah and Machang. Japanese losses were significant as a result of sporadic Australian air attacks, Indian coastal defence
Coastal defence and fortification
Coastal defence , Coastal defense and Coastal fortification are measures taken to provide protection against attack by military and naval forces at or near the shoreline...

s and artillery fire.

Preparations


The Japanese plan for the invasion involved landing troops from the 5th Division
5th Division (Imperial Japanese Army)
The was an infantry division in the Imperial Japanese Army. Its call-sign was the .-History:The 5th Division was formed in Hiroshima in January 1871 as the , one of six regional commands created in the fledgling Imperial Japanese Army. The Hiroshima Garrison had responsibility for western region...

 on the east coast of Thailand
Thailand
Thailand , officially the Kingdom of Thailand , formerly known as Siam , is a country located at the centre of the Indochina peninsula and Southeast Asia. It is bordered to the north by Burma and Laos, to the east by Laos and Cambodia, to the south by the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia, and to the...

 at Pattani
Pattani (town)
Pattani is a town in the far south of Thailand, near the boundary to Malaysia. It is the capital of the Pattani Province. The city has a population of 43,631...

 and Songkhla
Songkhla
Songkhla is a city in the Songkhla Province of southern Thailand, near the border with Malaysia. As of 2006 it had a population of 75,048...

 and troops from the 18th Division
18th Division (Imperial Japanese Army)
was an infantry division in the Imperial Japanese Army. Its call sign was the .-History:The 18th Division was formed in Kurume, Kyūshū on 13 November 1907, together with the 17th Division, as part of the post Russo-Japanese War expansion of the standing Japanese military...

 on the north-east coast of Malaya at Kota Bharu. The forces in Thailand were to push through to the west coast and invade Malaya from its north western province of Kedah
Kedah
Kedah is a state of Malaysia, located in the northwestern part of Peninsular Malaysia. The state covers a total area of over 9,000 km², and it consists of the mainland and Langkawi. The mainland has a relatively flat terrain, which is used to grow rice...

, whilst their eastern forces would attack down the east coast and into the interior of Malaya from Kota Bharu.

The British plan for defending against an attack from Thailand into northwestern Malaya consisted of a pre-emptive strike into southern Thailand, known as Operation Krohcol
Operation Krohcol
Operation Krohcol, or the Battle for The Ledge, was a British operation in December 1941 to move into southern Thailand following the Japanese invasion of Malaya and of Thailand during World War II...

, in order to take strategically vital positions and delay the enemy attack. The British plan for the defence of the east coast of Malaya consisted of fixed beach defences defended by the Indian 9th Infantry Division
Indian 9th Infantry Division
The 9th Indian Infantry Division was an Indian division which formed part of Indian III Corps in the Malaya Command of the Indian Army during World War II during the Battle of Malaya. It was commanded by Major-General Barstow.-History:...

 along the northern stretch of coastline and two thirds of the Australian 8th Division
Australian 8th Division
The 8th Division of the Australian Army was formed to serve in World War II, as part of the Second Australian Imperial Force, who were in turn, part of the Allies of World War II. The 8th Division was raised from regular army units and new, all-volunteer infantry brigades, from July 1940 onwards...

 (the other third being on Ambon
Battle of Ambon
The Battle of Ambon occurred on the island of Ambon in the Dutch East Indies , on 30 January – 3 February 1942, during World War II. A Japanese invasion was resisted by Dutch and Australian forces...

, West Timor
Battle of Timor (1942-43)
The Battle of Timor occurred in Portuguese Timor and Dutch Timor during the Second World War. Japanese forces invaded the island on 20 February 1942 and were resisted by a small, under-equipped force of Allied military personnel—known as Sparrow Force—predominantly from Australia and the...

 and at Rabaul
Battle of Rabaul (1942)
The Battle of Rabaul, also known by the Japanese as Operation R, was fought on the island of New Britain in the Australian Territory of New Guinea, in January and February 1942. It was a strategically significant defeat of Allied forces by Japan in the Pacific campaign of World War II...

) defending the southern stretch of coastline.

The Japanese attack force for the invasion of Malaya, from Lieutenant General Tomoyuki Yamashita
Tomoyuki Yamashita
General was a general of the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II. He was most famous for conquering the British colonies of Malaya and Singapore, earning the nickname "The Tiger of Malaya".- Biography :...

's 25th Army, had sailed from Samah Harbour on Hainan Island on 4 December 1941. Additional ships carrying more troops joined the convoy from Saigon in southern Vietnam
Vietnam
Vietnam – sometimes spelled Viet Nam , officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam – is the easternmost country on the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. It is bordered by China to the north, Laos to the northwest, Cambodia to the southwest, and the South China Sea –...

, French Indochina
French Indochina
French Indochina was part of the French colonial empire in southeast Asia. A federation of the three Vietnamese regions, Tonkin , Annam , and Cochinchina , as well as Cambodia, was formed in 1887....

. An RAAF reconnaissance Lockheed Hudson
Lockheed Hudson
The Lockheed Hudson was an American-built light bomber and coastal reconnaissance aircraft built initially for the Royal Air Force shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War and primarily operated by the RAF thereafter...

 discovered the Japanese convoy. Admiral Sir Thomas Phillips, the British naval commander, Far East ordered HMS Repulse
HMS Repulse
Twelve ships of the Royal Navy have been named HMS Repulse.*Repulse was a 50-gun galleon also known as Due Repulse, launched in 1595 and in the records until 1645.*HMS Repulse was a 32-gun fifth-rate, originally the French ship Bellone...

 to cancel its trip to Darwin
Darwin, Northern Territory
Darwin is the capital city of the Northern Territory, Australia. Situated on the Timor Sea, Darwin has a population of 127,500, making it by far the largest and most populated city in the sparsely populated Northern Territory, but the least populous of all Australia's capital cities...

, Australia
Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

, and return to Singapore as quickly as possible. The invasion force was spotted again on December 7 by a by a PBY Catalina
PBY Catalina
The Consolidated PBY Catalina was an American flying boat of the 1930s and 1940s produced by Consolidated Aircraft. It was one of the most widely used multi-role aircraft of World War II. PBYs served with every branch of the United States Armed Forces and in the air forces and navies of many other...

 flying boat of No. 205 Squadron RAF
No. 205 Squadron RAF
No. 205 Squadron was a Royal Air Force unit formed on 1 April 1918. Prior to this it had existed as No. 5 Squadron of the Royal Naval Air Service. In 1929, it became the first RAF squadron to be permanently based in Singapore, taking as its motto Pertama di Malaya . No...

. The aircraft was shot down by five Nakajima Ki-27
Nakajima Ki-27
The was the main fighter aircraft used by the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force up until 1940. Its Allied nickname was "Nate", although it was called "Abdul" in the "China Burma India" theater by many post war sources; Allied Intelligence had reserved that name for the nonexistent Mitsubishi Navy...

 fighters before it could radio its report to air headquarters in Singapore. Flying Officer Patrick Bedell, commanding the Catalina, and his crew became the first Allied casualties in the war with Japan.

Landings at Kota Bharu



Air Marshal Sir Robert Brooke-Popham
Robert Brooke-Popham
Air Chief Marshal Sir Henry Robert Moore Brooke-Popham, GCVO, KCB, CMG, DSO, AFC, was a senior commander in the Royal Air Force. During World War I he served in the Royal Flying Corps as wing commander and senior staff officer...

, commanding officer of the British Forces in the Far East, fearing that the Japanese Fleet was trying to provoke a British attack and thus provide an excuse to go to war
Casus belli
is a Latin expression meaning the justification for acts of war. means "incident", "rupture" or indeed "case", while means bellic...

, hesitated to launch Operation Matador
Operation Matador
Operation Matador may refer to:*Operation Matador , a proposed plan to counter any Imperial Japanese perceived threat to British Malaya*Operation Matador , a Burma campaign operation during World War II...

 on 7 December. Matador was the British plan to destroy the invasion force before or during the landing. He decided to delay the operation, at least for the night. Shortly after midnight on December 7 / 8 December, Indian soldiers patrolling the beaches at Kota Bharu
Kota Bharu
Kota Bharu is a city in Malaysia, is the state capital and Royal City of Kelantan. It is also the name of the territory in which Kota Bharu City is situated. The name means 'new city' or 'new castle/fort' in Malay. Kota Bharu is situated in the northeastern part of Peninsular Malaysia, and lies...

 spotted three large shadows: the transport ships Awazisan Maru, Ayatosan Maru, and Sakura Maru, dropping anchor approximately 3 km off the coast. The ships were carrying approximately 5,200 troops of the Takumi Detachment (Major-General Hiroshi Takumi, aboard Awazisan Maru). Most of these troops were veterans of the war in China
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

.

The Japanese invasion force consisted of units from the 18th Division, the assault troops came from the 56th Infantry Regiment (Colonel Yoshio Nasu, aboard Sakura Maru), supported by one mountain artillery battery of the 18th Mountain Artillery Regiment (Lieutenant Colonel Katsutoshi Takasu), the 12th Engineer Regiment (Lieutenant Colonel Ichie Fujii), the 18th Division Signal Unit, one company of the 12th Transport Regiment, one company of the 18th Division Medical Unit and No. 2 Field Hospital of the 18th Division Medical Unit. They were escorted by a powerful escort fleet (Kota Bharu Invasion Force) under the command of Rear-Admiral Shintaro Hashimoto
Shintaro Hashimoto
-Web:- Firsthand account of the battle by a member of HMS Vigilant's crew.- Fairly detailed account of the battle...

, consisting of light cruiser Sendai
Japanese cruiser Sendai
was a Sendai-class light cruiser in the Imperial Japanese Navy. She was named after the Sendai River in southern Kyūshū.-Background:Sendai was the lead ship of the three vessels completed in her class of light cruisers, and like other vessels of her class, she was intended for use as the flagship...

, destroyers Ayanami
Japanese destroyer Ayanami
was the eleventh of twenty-four , built for the Imperial Japanese Navy following World War I. When introduced into services, these ships were the most powerful destroyers in the world...

, Isonami
Japanese destroyer Isonami
was the ninth of twenty-four destroyers, built for the Imperial Japanese Navy following World War I. When introduced into services, these ships were the most powerful destroyers in the world...

, Shikinami
Japanese destroyer Shikinami
was the 12th of 24 destroyers, built for the Imperial Japanese Navy following World War I. When introduced into service, these ships were the most powerful destroyers in the world...

, and Uranami
Japanese destroyer Uranami
was the tenth of twenty-four destroyers, built for the Imperial Japanese Navy following World War I. When introduced into service, these ships were the most powerful destroyers in the world...

, minesweepers No. 2 and No. 3, and Subchaser No. 9..

The invasion began with a bombardment at around 12:30 a.m. local time on 8 December. (The Japanese carrier planes flying towards Pearl Harbor
Attack on Pearl Harbor
The attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprise military strike conducted by the Imperial Japanese Navy against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on the morning of December 7, 1941...

 were about 50 minutes away; the attack on Pearl started at 01:18 a.m. local time, although it is usually referred to as the 7 December attack as it occurred in the morning of 7 December US time). The loading of landing craft began almost as soon as the transports dropped anchor. Rough seas and strong winds hampered the operation and a number of smaller craft capsized. Several Japanese soldiers drowned. Despite these difficulties, by 12:45 AM the first wave of landing craft was heading for the beach in four lines.

The defending force was the 8th Indian Infantry Brigade (Brigadier B. W. Key
Berthold Wells Key
Major-General Berthold Wells 'Billy' Key CB, DSO, MC, ADC was a British Indian Army officer.- History :...

) of Indian 9th Infantry Division
Indian 9th Infantry Division
The 9th Indian Infantry Division was an Indian division which formed part of Indian III Corps in the Malaya Command of the Indian Army during World War II during the Battle of Malaya. It was commanded by Major-General Barstow.-History:...

 (Major General A. E. Barstow
Arthur Edward Barstow
Major-General Arthur Edward "Bustling Bill" Barstow CIE MC was an officer in the Indian Army and commanded the Indian 9th Infantry Division during the Battle of Malaya. He was killed by the Japanese on 28 January 1942 while trying to cross a demolished railway bridge near Layang Layang village...

), supported by four 3.7 inch Mountain Howitzer
3.7 inch Mountain Howitzer
The Ordnance QF 3.7 Inch Mountain Howitzer was an artillery weapon, used by British and Commonwealth armies in World War I and World War II, and between the wars.-History:...

s of the 21st Mountain Battery (IA) (Major J. B. Soper). The 3/17th Bn, Dogra Regiment
17th Dogra Regiment
The 17th Dogra Regiment was an infantry regiment of the British Indian Army. It was formed in 1922, after the Indian government decided to reform the army moving away from single battalion regiments to multi battalion regiments...

, under the command of Lt.Col.G.A.Preston, had responsibility for the 10 miles (16.1 km) stretch of coast which was the chosen landing site. The British fortified the narrow beaches and islands with land mine
Land mine
A land mine is usually a weight-triggered explosive device which is intended to damage a target—either human or inanimate—by means of a blast and/or fragment impact....

s, barbed wire
Barbed wire
Barbed wire, also known as barb wire , is a type of fencing wire constructed with sharp edges or points arranged at intervals along the strand. It is used to construct inexpensive fences and is used atop walls surrounding secured property...

, and pillboxes. They were supported by the 73rd Field Battery of the 5th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery
Royal Artillery
The Royal Regiment of Artillery, commonly referred to as the Royal Artillery , is the artillery arm of the British Army. Despite its name, it comprises a number of regiments.-History:...

, deployed adjacent to the nearby airfield. The area defended by the 3/17th Dogras consisted of the narrow beaches of Badang and Sabak at Kota Bharu. The beaches were split by two estuarys that led to the mouth of the Pengkalan Chapa River through a maze of creeks, lagoons and swampy islands, behind which was the Kota Bharu airfield and the main road inland.

The Dogras immediately opened intense fire on the invasion force with artillery and machine guns. By midnight the first waves of Japanese troops were heading toward the beach front in landing craft. Colonel Masanobu Tsuji wrote in his book about the Malaya Campaign:
The first and second waves of Japanese soldiers were pinned down by the intense fire from the Dogra's pillboxes and trenches but after vicious hand to hand fighting a breach was made in the defences on the south bank of the estuary. On the northern bank the Japanese were pinned down on an island where dawn found them trapped in the open. Allied aircraft from the nearby airfields began attacking the invasion fleet and the soldiers trapped on the island. Japanese casualties in the first and second waves were heavy. The Japanese managed to get off the beach only after the two pill box positions and supporting trenches were destroyed. Despite their heavy resistance the Dogras were forced to retreat to their defences in front of the airfield. Brigadier Key brought forward his reserves; the 2/12th Frontier Force Regiment
12th Frontier Force Regiment
The 12th Frontier Force Regiment was part of the British Indian Army. It was formed in 1922. It consisted of five regular battalions; numbered 1 to 5 and the 10th Battalion. During the Second World War a further ten battalions were raised. In 1945 the prenomial "12th" was dropped when the British...

 and the 1/13th Frontier Force Rifles
13th Frontier Force Rifles
The 13th Frontier Force Rifles was part of the British Indian Army, and after 1947, Pakistan Army. It was formed in 1922 by amalgamation of five existing regiments and consisted of five regular battalions.-History:...

 to support the Dogras. At 10.30am Key ordered an attempt to retake the lost beaches with the 2/12th Frontier Force Regiment attacking from the south and the 1/13th Frontier Force Rifles attacking from the north. The fighting on the beaches was heavy with both sides suffering more casualties. The British forces made some progress but were unable to close the breach. In the afternoon a second attack went in but failed again to close the breach.

The airfield at Kota Bharu had been evacuated and by dusk on 8 December, with very low visibility, and Japanese troops were now able to infiltrate between the British units and with possible threats of landings further south, Brigadier Key asked for permission from Major-General Barstow (9th Division commander) and Lieutenant General Heath (III Corps commander) to withdraw if it became necessary.

Air attacks



No. 1 Squadron RAAF
Royal Australian Air Force
The Royal Australian Air Force is the air force branch of the Australian Defence Force. The RAAF was formed in March 1921. It continues the traditions of the Australian Flying Corps , which was formed on 22 October 1912. The RAAF has taken part in many of the 20th century's major conflicts...

 based at RAF Kota Bharu launched ten Hudson bombers to attack the Japanese transports, each loaded with four 250 pound bombs. In the seventeen sorties flown they lost two Hudsons shot down and three badly damaged. One Hudson, flown by Flight Lieutenant
Flight Lieutenant
Flight lieutenant is a junior commissioned rank in the Royal Air Force and the air forces of many Commonwealth countries. It ranks above flying officer and immediately below squadron leader. The name of the rank is the complete phrase; it is never shortened to "lieutenant"...

 John Leighton-Jones, crashed into a fully laden landing craft after being hit while strafing the beachhead, killing some 60 Japanese soldiers onboard. All three Japanese troopships were significantly damaged, and while the Ayatosan Maru and Sakura Maru were still able to sail, the Awazisan Maru was left burning and abandoned. The wreck later sunk or was torpedo
Torpedo
The modern torpedo is a self-propelled missile weapon with an explosive warhead, launched above or below the water surface, propelled underwater towards a target, and designed to detonate either on contact with it or in proximity to it.The term torpedo was originally employed for...

ed by the Dutch submarine K-XII on 12 December.

Despite the strong defence, Takumi had three full infantry battalions ashore by mid morning of 8 December. Counter attacks launched by Brigadier Key failed and the Japanese took Kota Bharu town on the 9th. After fierce fighting during the night, threatening the airfield, Lt Col Arthur Cumming
Arthur Edward Cumming
Brigadier Arthur Edward Cumming VC OBE MC was a Scottish recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces....

's 2/12th Frontier Force Regiment attempted to hold the airfield and put up a brilliant rearguard action. Cumming would later receive the Victoria Cross
Victoria Cross
The Victoria Cross is the highest military decoration awarded for valour "in the face of the enemy" to members of the armed forces of various Commonwealth countries, and previous British Empire territories....

 during the fighting at Kuantan
Kuantan
Kuantan is the state capital of Pahang, the 3rd largest state in Malaysia. It is situated near the mouth of the Kuantan River and faces the South China Sea. If one measures the distance along the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia, it is located roughly halfway between Singapore and Kota Bharu...

. Key asked for and was given permission to withdraw from Kota Bharu.

The Japanese claim that the landings at Kota Bharu were some of the most violent of the whole Malayan Campaign. It is estimated that they suffered about over 300 killed and 500 wounded.

See also

  • Battle of Malaya
    Battle of Malaya
    The Malayan Campaign was a campaign fought by Allied and Japanese forces in Malaya, from 8 December 1941 – 31 January 1942 during the Second World War. The campaign was dominated by land battles between British Commonwealth army units, and the Imperial Japanese Army...

  • Operation Krohcol
    Operation Krohcol
    Operation Krohcol, or the Battle for The Ledge, was a British operation in December 1941 to move into southern Thailand following the Japanese invasion of Malaya and of Thailand during World War II...

  • Operation Matador (1941)
    Operation Matador (1941)
    Operation Matador was a plan of the British Malaya Command to move forces into position to counter a Japanese amphibious attack on Malaya.In 1937 Major-General William Dobbie Officer Commanding Malaya , looked at Malaya's defences, he reported that during the monsoon season from October to March...

  • Malaya Command - Order of Battle
    Malaya Command
    The Malaya Command was a command of British Commonwealth forces formed in the 1920s for the coordination of the defences of Malaya and Singapore.-History:...

  • Japanese Order of Battle, Malayan Campaign
    Japanese Order of Battle, Malayan Campaign
    The Japanese Imperial Army landed the 25th Army under the command of General Tomoyuki Yamashita on the east coasts of Malaya and Thailand on the night of 7 December 1941.-History:...


Further reading