by Nickii Wantakan Arcado
A summarized timeline of the Japanese Malayan Campaign, beginning from the Attack on Pearl Harbor to the Fall of Malaya.
December 7-8, 1941: The Japanese attack Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Simultaneously, Japanese troops in Southeast Asia land in Patani (Thailand), Singora (now known as Songkla, Thailand), and Kota Bharu (Malaysia).
December 10, 1941: The Imperial Japanese Navy sunk Great Britain’s Royal Navy’s Renown-class battlecruiser, the HMS Repulse, as well as their King George V-class battleship, the HMS Prince of Wales. After hearing news of the naval bombing conducted by the Japanese in the U.S., Great Britain dispatches Force Z (the squadron of the two HMS battleships including accompanying destroyers) to attempt to intercept Japanese forces in the north.
The naval engagement occurred off the east coast of Malaya near the city of Kuantan. The demise of both ships made history as the first capital ships to have been sunk solely by the air force in the open sea, highlighting the United Kingdom’s failure to protect Force Z from air power and the country’s underestimation of Japan’s growing air power. With the northern territory free from Allied forces, this allowed the Japanese army to successfully land their troops along the beaches of northern Malaya. While they were met with Allied ground troops, Japan’s overwhelming numbers forced Allied groups to retreat.
December 12-13, 1941: The Jitra Line, the first line of resistance for Allied forces, falls. The importance of the Jitra Line that it held one of the major Allied air bases in Southeast Asia. Situated in the town of Alor Star, the base was essential in allowing the Allies to launch air strikes, fighters, and bombers against the stationed Japanese troops. However, after 15 hours of deadly combat, the defensive line is broken and Arthur Percival, the Lieutenant-General of the Malay Command, orders all aircraft in Malaya to retreat to British defense in Singapore.
The Malayan campaign was planned and lead by Masanobu Tsuji (辻 政信), the Colonel of the Malayan sector. Under his instruction, Japanese troops were trained how to fight in tropical climates by using Hainan Island in China as their main training ground. Reconnaissance or other administrative work were assigned to soldiers who would eventually take part in the Malayan campaign, familiarizing them with the Malan landscape prior to sending them off to battle.
To the Japanese, occupying Malaya was beneficial on three fronts; the first reason was straightforward—the need for raw materials to support the country’s war efforts and grow its war industrial complex. As economic sanctions were imposed on the country by the U.S. prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japan was experiencing the financial hardships of frozen assets and funds as well as the ban on U.S. petroleum and other metal imports. Second, capturing Malaya was necessary in order to capture Singapore, which at the time, had been known as the last, strongest British defense within the Asia-Pacific region. Finally, capturing Malaya would allow Japan to become closer to their goal of creating a Greater East Asian Co-prosperity Sphere, with Japan as the God-Tiered leader.
December 19, 1941: Japanese forces capture the Malaysian state of Penang. After a heavy bombing in George Town, the capital city Penang, Japan successfully eliminated Britain’s Royal Air Force and Australia’s Royal Air Force previously stationed. An estimated 2,000 people were either injured or killed. The Island was Tojo-to, after the Japanese Prime Minister at the time, and was used as an Axis submarine base.
January 5-8, 1942: Battle of Slim River occurs, with Japanese military tanks wiping out both British and Indian forces. The battle begins with there occupation of the Japanese Army along with the railway bridge and the major road near the city of Trolak. An unusual attack launched at night under the direction of Major Shimada (島田豊作) utilized 7 Type 97 medium tanks and 3 Type 95 Ha-Go Light Tanks to completely breaking defensive forces meant to guard Slim River. This was unusual in the sense that tanks rarely attacked at night due to its extremely low visibility factor.
While Gurkha troops (Nepalese, Indian forces) held their own despite being outnumbered, they were eventually defeated by the Imperial power. Out of the 5,000 Indian Brigades, only 1,173 men survived. In addition, while Japanese forces casualties range between 17 killed and 60 wounded, British numbers are much hired with 500 killed. Over 3,000 POWs were captured after the conclusion of the battle. Losing Slim River meant that the Allied forces had lost Central Malaysia.
January 11, 1942: Kuala Lumpur is captured by Japanese forces. The advancement of the Imperial forces into the Kuala Lumpur was quick, as they traveled lightly and utilized bicycles to navigate around the jungle terrain. With Allied forces had retreated to the city of Johor, Japan easily captured the Malayan state of Selangor and took over the capital city.
January 16, 1942: The Battle of Muar occurs. Despite the Allied troops’ lack of both air and tank support, they were able to hold off the advancement of Japanese forces for a little over a week, destroying a company of tanks as well as a battalion of troops. By the time fighting took place near Parit Sulong, the Allies, a majority being Australian forces, were again overpowered by the Japanese Blitzkrieg. Troops rushed to retreat, halving behind wounded soldiers that would later be massacred by the Japanese.
January 31, 1942: The fall of Malaya. Last Allied troops cross the Causeway into Singapore, surrendering Malaya to Japanese forces. After observing years and months of battle between the combined Allied forces against the Imperial Army, General Percival realized the Allied power’s inability to hold onto Johor and approved the withdrawal of troops into Singapore.
Ho, Stephanie. “Malayan Campaign.” National Library Board Singapore, 19 July 2013, eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/articles/SIP_2013-07-19_162143.html.
Wigmore, Lionel. The Japanese Thrust. Vol. 4. Australian War Memorial, 1957.
Tsuji, Masanobu. Japan's Greatest Victory/Britain's Greatest Defeat. Da Capo Press, 1997.
Tsuji, Masanobu, and H. V. Howe. Singapore, 1941-1942: the Japanese version of the Malayan campaign of World War II. Oxford University Press, 1988.
Chen, C. Peter. “Invasion of Malaya and Singapore.” WW2DB, World War II Database, ww2db.com/battle_spec.php?battle_id=47.