Japanese invasion of Malaya

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Japanese Invasion of Malaya
Part of the Battle of Malaya, Second World War
Bachok Beach.jpg
Bachok Beach, Kota Bharu, July 1941, possibly one of the Japanese landing points.
Date8 December 1941
Result Japanese victory

Flag of the United Kingdom.svg British Empire:

Flag of Australia (converted).svg  Australia

Flag of New Zealand.svg  New Zealand
Merchant flag of Japan (1870).svg  Japan
Commanders and leaders
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Arthur Percival [1]
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Lewis Heath
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Arthur Barstow
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Billy Key
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Arthur Cumming
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg C.W.H.Pulford
War flag of the Imperial Japanese Army (1868-1945).svg Tomoyuki Yamashita
War flag of the Imperial Japanese Army (1868-1945).svg Hiroshi Takumi
War flag of the Imperial Japanese Army (1868-1945).svg Renya Mutaguchi
Naval Ensign of Japan.svg Shintarō Hashimoto [2]
Units involved

British India:
III Indian Corps
9th Indian Division
11th Indian Division
No. 27 Squadron RAF [3]
No. 36 Squadron RAF [3]
No. 62 Squadron RAF [3]
No. 205 Squadron RAF
No. 1 Squadron RAAF [4]
No. 8 Squadron RAAF [5]
No. 21 Squadron RAAF [6]
No. 453 Squadron RAAF [7]
New Zealand:


No. 488 Squadron RNZAF
Twenty-Fifth Army:
5th Division
18th Division
Imperial Japanese Navy
N/A 1 light cruiser
4 destroyers
2 minesweepers
1 submarine chaser
3 troopships [8]
5,300 infantry
Casualties and losses
68 killed
360 wounded
37 missing [9]
3 troopships damaged [8]
320 killed
538 wounded [9] [10]

The Japanese Invasion of Malaya began just after midnight on 8 December 1941 (local time) before the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was the first major battle of the Pacific War, [11] and was fought between ground forces of the British Indian Army and the Empire of Japan.

British Malaya Former set of states on Malay Peninsula

The term "British Malaya" loosely describes a set of states on the Malay Peninsula and the island of Singapore that were brought under British control between the 18th and the 20th centuries. Unlike the term "British India", which excludes the Indian princely states, British Malaya is often used to refer to the Malay States under indirect British rule as well as the Straits Settlements that were under the sovereignty of the British Crown.

Attack on Pearl Harbor Surprise attack by the Imperial Japanese Navy on the U.S. Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor in Hawaii

The attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprise military strike by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service upon the United States against the naval base at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii on Sunday morning, December 7, 1941. The attack led to the United States' formal entry into World War II the next day. The Japanese military leadership referred to the attack as the Hawaii Operation and Operation AI, and as Operation Z during its planning.

Pacific War theatre of war in the Second World War

The Pacific War, sometimes called the Asia–Pacific War, was the theater of World War II that was fought in the Pacific and Asia. It was fought over a vast area that included the Pacific Ocean and islands, the South West Pacific, South-East Asia, and in China.

Kota Bharu, capital of Kelantan State on Malaysia's northeast coast, was, in 1941, the Royal Air Force's (RAF) and Royal Australian Air Force's (RAAF) base of operations in Northern Malaya. There was an airstrip at Kota Bharu and two more at Gong Kedak and Machang. Japanese losses were significant because of sporadic Australian air attacks, [12] Indian coastal defences, and artillery fire. [13]

Kota Bharu State Capital in Kelantan, Malaysia

Kota Bharu is a city in Malaysia that serves as the state capital and royal seat of Kelantan. It is also the name of the territory (jajahan) or district 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 near the mouth of the Kelantan River at 6°8′N102°15′E. The northeastern Malaysian city is close to the Thailand border.

Kelantan State of Malaysia

Kelantan is a state of Malaysia. The capital and royal seat is Kota Bharu. The honorific of the state is Darul Naim. Kelantan is positioned in the north-east of Peninsular Malaysia. It is bordered by Narathiwat Province of Thailand to the north, Terengganu to the south-east, Perak to the west and Pahang to the south. To the north-east of Kelantan is the South China Sea.

Royal Air Force Aerial warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces

The Royal Air Force (RAF) is the United Kingdom's aerial warfare force. Formed towards the end of the First World War on 1 April 1918, it is the oldest independent air force in the world. Following victory over the Central Powers in 1918 the RAF emerged as, at the time, the largest air force in the world. Since its formation, the RAF has taken a significant role in British military history. In particular, it played a large part in the Second World War where it fought its most famous campaign, the Battle of Britain.


The Japanese invasion plan involved landing troops from the 5th Division at Pattani and Songkhla on Thailand's east coast, and troops from the 18th Division at Kota Bharu Malaya's northeast coast. The forces in Thailand were to push through to the west coast and invade Malaya from the northwestern province of Kedah, while the eastern forces would attack down the east coast and into the interior of Malaya from Kota Bharu.

5th Division (Imperial Japanese Army) division of the Imperial Japanese Army

The 5th Division was an infantry division of the Imperial Japanese Army. Its call-sign was the Carp Division. The 5th Division was formed in Hiroshima in January 1871 as the Hiroshima Garrison, one of six regional commands created in the fledgling Imperial Japanese Army, and was destroyed in the battle of Okinawa in June 1945. Its personnel were drafted from Hiroshima, Yamaguchi and Shimane.

Songkhla City in Thailand

Songkhla, also known as Singgora or Singora, is a city in Songkhla Province of southern Thailand, near the border with Malaysia. As of 2006 it had a population of 75,048. Songkhla lies 968 km (601 mi) south of Bangkok.

Thailand Constitutional monarchy in Southeast Asia

Thailand, officially the Kingdom of Thailand and formerly known as Siam, is a country at the centre of the Southeast Asian Indochinese peninsula composed of 76 provinces. At 513,120 km2 (198,120 sq mi) and over 68 million people, Thailand is the world's 50th largest country by total area and the 21st-most-populous country. The capital and largest city is Bangkok, a special administrative area. Thailand is bordered to the north by Myanmar and Laos, to the east by Laos and Cambodia, to the south by the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia, and to the west by the Andaman Sea and the southern extremity of Myanmar. Its maritime boundaries include Vietnam in the Gulf of Thailand to the southeast, and Indonesia and India on the Andaman Sea to the southwest. Although nominally a constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy, the most recent coup in 2014 established a de facto military dictatorship.

The British plan for defending against an attack from Thailand into northwestern Malaya was a pre-emptive strike into southern Thailand, known as Operation Krohcol, 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 by the Indian 9th Infantry Division along the northern stretch of coastline and two thirds of the Australian 8th Division defending the southern stretch of coastline. (The other third was on Ambon, [14] West Timor, [15] and at Rabaul [16] )

Operation Krohcol

Operation Krohcol, or the Battle for The Ledge, was a British operation in December 1941 to invade southern Thailand following the Japanese invasion of Malaya and of Thailand during World War II. It was authorised by Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival as a "mini Matador" after Operation Matador, a pre-emptive strike into Thailand which had been opposed by the British government and was not carried out. Due to delays in authorisation by Percival and in the forwarding of his order, the need to reorganise the troops for Krohcol instead of Matador, and resistance from Thai policemen the Krohcol column did not reach the Ledge in time.

Battle of Ambon

The Battle of Ambon occurred on the island of Ambon in the Dutch East Indies, during World War II. Japan invaded and conquered the island in a few days, facing Dutch, American and Australian forces. The chaotic and sometimes bloody fighting was followed by a series of major Japanese war crimes.

Battle of Rabaul (1942) battle

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, with the Japanese invasion force quickly overwhelming the small Australian garrison, the majority of which was either killed or captured. Hostilities on the neighbouring island of New Ireland are also usually considered to be part of the same battle. Rabaul was significant because of its proximity to the Japanese territory of the Caroline Islands, site of a major Imperial Japanese Navy base on Truk.

The Japanese attack force was drawn from Lieutenant General Tomoyuki Yamashita's 25th Army. It sailed from Samah Harbour on Hainan Island on 4 December 1941. Additional ships carrying more troops joined the convoy from Saigon in southern Vietnam, French Indochina. An RAAF reconnaissance Lockheed Hudson discovered the Japanese convoy. Admiral Sir Thomas Phillips, the British naval commander, Far East ordered the battlecruiser HMS Repulse to cancel its trip to Darwin, Australia, and return to Singapore as quickly as possible. [17] The invasion force was spotted again on 7 December by a Catalina flying boat of No. 205 Squadron RAF. The aircraft was shot down by five Nakajima Ki-27 fighters before it could radio its report to air headquarters in Singapore. [18] Flying Officer Patrick Bedell, commanding the Catalina, and his seven crew members became the first Allied casualties in the war with Japan. [17]

Tomoyuki Yamashita general in the Imperial Japanese Army

Tomoyuki Yamashita was a Japanese general of the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II. Yamashita led Japanese forces during the invasion of Malaya and Battle of Singapore, with his accomplishment of conquering Malaya and Singapore in 70 days earning him the sobriquet The Tiger of Malaya and led to the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, calling the ignominious fall of Singapore to Japan the "worst disaster" and "largest capitulation" in British military history. Yamashita was assigned to defend the Philippines from the advancing Allied forces later in the war, and while unable to stop the Allied advance, he was able to hold on to part of Luzon until after the formal Surrender of Japan in August 1945.

Twenty-Fifth Army (Japan)

The Japanese 25th Army was an army of the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II, noted for its role in the Malayan Campaign and the Battle of Singapore.

Vietnam Country in Southeast Asia

Vietnam, officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, is the easternmost country on the Indochina Peninsula. With an estimated 94.6 million inhabitants as of 2016, it is the 15th most populous country in the world. Vietnam is bordered by China to the north, Laos and Cambodia to the west, part of Thailand to the southwest, and the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia across the South China Sea to the east and southeast. Its capital city has been Hanoi since the reunification of North and South Vietnam in 1976, while its most populous city is Ho Chi Minh City.

Prior to the invasion the Japanese had recruited a small number of disaffected Malays into a "Fifth column" organization called the "Tortoise Society". The Malayan police were aware of the society's existence and had arrested a number of its leaders just prior to the Japanese landings. At Kota Bharu members of the society provided assistance to the invasion army and acted as guides. [19]

Fifth column group of people who undermine a larger group

A fifth column is any group of people who undermine a larger group from within, usually in favour of an enemy group or nation. The activities of a fifth column can be overt or clandestine. Forces gathered in secret can mobilize openly to assist an external attack. This term is also extended to organised actions by military personnel. Clandestine fifth column activities can involve acts of sabotage, disinformation, or espionage executed within defense lines by secret sympathizers with an external force.

Landings at Kota Bharu

A decoy Lockheed Hudson at Kota Bharu Airfield, c. 1941. Hudson decoy.jpg
A decoy Lockheed Hudson at Kota Bharu Airfield, c. 1941.

Air Marshal Sir Robert Brooke-Popham, 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, [20] hesitated to launch Operation Matador 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 7/8 December, Indian soldiers patrolling the beaches at Kota Bharu spotted three large shadows: the transport ships Awazisan Maru, Ayatosan Maru , and Sakura Maru , dropping anchor approximately 3  km (1.6  nmi ; 1.9  mi ) 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. [17]

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 fleet (Kota Bharu Invasion Force) under the command of Rear-Admiral Shintaro Hashimoto, consisting of the light cruiser Sendai, destroyers Ayanami, Isonami, Shikinami, and Uranami, minesweepers No. 2 and No. 3, and submarine chaser No. 9. [17]

The invasion began with a bombardment at around 00:30 local time on 8 December. (The Japanese carrier planes flying toward Pearl Harbor were about 50 minutes away; the attack on Pearl started at 01:18 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. [12] Several Japanese soldiers drowned. Despite these difficulties, by 00:45 the first wave of landing craft was heading for the beach in four lines. [17]

Mitsubishi A6M Zeros of 22nd Air Flotilla at RAF Kota Bharu after its capture from Allied forces, c. 1942. Jzikb.jpg
Mitsubishi A6M Zeros of 22nd Air Flotilla at RAF Kota Bharu after its capture from Allied forces, c. 1942.

The defending force was the 8th Indian Infantry Brigade (Brigadier B. W. Key) of Indian 9th Infantry Division (Major General A. E. Barstow), supported by four 3.7 inch Mountain Howitzers of the 21st Mountain Battery (IA) (Major J. B. Soper). The 3/17th Bn, Dogra Regiment, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel G.A. Preston, [21] had responsibility for the 10 mi (16 km) stretch of coast which was the chosen landing site. The British fortified the narrow beaches and islands with land mines, barbed wire, and pillboxes. They were supported by the 73rd Field Battery of the 5th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, deployed adjacent to the nearby airfield. [22] 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 estuaries that led to the mouth of the Pengkalan Chepa River through a maze of creeks, lagoons and swampy islands, behind which was the Kota Bharu airfield and the main road inland. [23]

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. [23] 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. [24] 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. [21] Brigadier Key brought forward his reserves; the 2/12th Frontier Force Regiment and the 1/13th Frontier Force Rifles to support the Dogras. At 10:30, 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. [23]

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. [23]

Air attacks

Lockheed Hudson aircraft of No. 1 Squadron under assembly at RAAF Station Richmond. The Hudson in the right foreground was flown by Flt Lt John Lockwood, who led the first Allied attack against the Japanese. He and his wingmen heavily damaged the Japanese freighter, Awazisan Maru, causing its abandonment. RAAF Hudson.jpg
Lockheed Hudson aircraft of No. 1 Squadron under assembly at RAAF Station Richmond. The Hudson in the right foreground was flown by Flt Lt John Lockwood, who led the first Allied attack against the Japanese. He and his wingmen heavily damaged the Japanese freighter, Awazisan Maru, causing its abandonment.

No. 1 Squadron RAAF based at RAF Kota Bharu launched 10 Lockheed Hudson bombers to attack the Japanese transports, each loaded with four 250 lb (113 kg) bombs. In the 17 sorties flown, they lost two Hudsons shot down and three badly damaged. One Hudson, flown by Flight Lieutenant John Graham Leighton Jones, crashed into a fully laden landing craft after being hit while strafing the beachhead, killing some 60 Japanese soldiers on board. Only five Hudson bombers remained airworthy at the end of the battle. [26]

All three Japanese troopships were significantly damaged, but while the Ayatosan Maru and Sakura Maru were still able to sail, the Awazisan Maru was left burning and abandoned. [27] The attacks by No. 1 Squadron RAAF killed or wounded at least 110 of its crew. [27] The wreck later sunk on its own or was torpedoed by the Dutch submarine K XII on 12 December. [28]

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's 2/12th Frontier Force Regiment attempted to hold the airfield and put up a brilliant rearguard action. [29] Cumming would later receive the Victoria Cross during the fighting at Kuantan. Key asked for and was given permission to withdraw from Kota Bharu. [22]

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 an estimated 300 killed and 500 wounded.

See also


  1. L, Klemen (1999–2000). "Lieutenant-General Arthur Ernest Percival". Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941–1942. Archived from the original on 24 September 2011.
  2. L, Klemen (1999–2000). "Rear-Admiral Shintaro Hashimoto". Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941–1942.
  3. 1 2 3 Niehorster, Leo (2000). "Order of Battle-Royal Air Force-Far East Command-Norgroup". World War II Armed Forces.
  4. 1 Squadron RAAF, Australian War Memorial
  5. 8 Squadron RAAF, Australian War Memorial
  6. 21 Squadron RAAF, Australian War Memorial
  7. 453 Squadron RAAF, Australian War Memorial
  8. 1 2 Hackett, Bob; Kingsepp, Sander, "HIJMS SENDAI: Tabular Record of Movement", Imperial Japanese Navy Page, retrieved 4 January 2011
  9. 1 2 Alan Warren (2007), page 64
  10. Rahill, Siti, (Kyodo News) "Remembering the war's first battle", Japan Times , 10 December 2009, p. 3.
  11. Burton 2006, p. 91. "The first major battle of the Pacific War was under way more than two hours before Japan's carrier planes descended on Hawaii."
  12. 1 2 Dull, Paul S (2007). A battle history of the Imperial Japanese Navy, 1941–1945. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. p. 40. ISBN   978-1-59114-219-5 . Retrieved 2010-01-15.
  13. Nicholas Rowe, Alistair Irwin (21 September 2009). "Generals At War". Singapore. 60 minutes in. National Geographic Channel. Archived from the original on 26 September 2009.Missing or empty |series= (help)
  14. L, Klemen (1999–2000). "The Japanese Invasion of Ambon Island, January 1942". Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941–1942. Archived from the original on 26 September 2012.
  15. L, Klemen (1999–2000). "The Japanese Invasion of Dutch West Timor Island, February 1942". Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941–1942.
  16. L, Klemen (1999–2000). "The capture of Rabaul and Kavieng, January 1942". Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941–1942.
  17. 1 2 3 4 5 L, Klemen; Bert Kossen; Pierre-Emmanuel Bernaudin; Leo Niehorster; Akira Takizawa; Sean Carr; Jim Broshot; Nowfel Leulliot (1999–2000). "Seventy minutes before Pearl Harbor – The landing at Kota Bharu, Malaya, on December 7, 1941". Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941–1942.
  18. Alan Warren (2007), page 86
  19. Jap fifth column in Malaya was small, Allington Kennard, The Straits Times, 24 August 1947, Page 6
  20. Richards 1954, pp.16–17.
  21. 1 2 "Dogra Regiment". Globalsecurity.com. Retrieved 2009-05-23.
  22. 1 2 Jeffreys and Anderson p.35
  23. 1 2 3 4 Percival, Arthur (1946), "Chapter IX – The Battle For Kedah", Percival's Official Report to the British Government, FEPOW Community Site, retrieved 2009-05-23
  24. 1 2 Tsuji, Masanobu (1997). Japan's Greatest Victory, Britain's Worst Defeat. translator: Margaret E Lake. New York: De Capo Press. ISBN   1-873-37675-8.
  25. John Burton (2006), page 92
  26. John Burton (2006), page 96
  27. 1 2 John Burton (2006), page 95
  28. Dutch Submarines: The submarine KXII, Dutch Submarines, retrieved 4 January 2011
  29. Colin Smith

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