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The EK1

The Japanese landings at Kota Bharu

The Japanese invasion of Malaya

Seventy minutes before they attacked the USA fleet in Pearl Harbour, Hawaii, the Japanese declared war on Britain and its Empire by attacking the north-east coast of Malaya at Kota Bharu in Kelantan State; the time was 0030 hours on 8th December 1941.   Concurrently the Japanese invaded neutral Thailand, landing on beaches at Singora and Patani that allowed them to quickly cross the Kra Isthmus and invade Malaya down its west coastline.  The east coast landings were a diversion from the west coast invasion thrust but the fighting at Kota Bharu was the toughest that the Japanese had to face in Malaya.

Several good Indian Army units fought well at or near Kota Bharu, and some less well prepared Indian State Forces units (supplied by Princely States) experienced difficulties in combat.  In both cases the sepoys were recruited from similar environments but on the whole standards of discipline, training, organisation and leadership were maintained at a higher level in the Indian Army.  The sepoys should not be faulted but those responsible for the preparation and training of Indian State Forces for modern warfare probably themselves had little or no idea of the realities – but the same could be said for many senior figures in the Indian and British Armies.

This article is being written after a visit to the main battlefield locations near Kota Bharu, and comments gleaned from the oral history of villagers who witnessed the fighting are included; some of these comments may appear unpalatable or inaccurate but germs of truth may be hidden amongst them.   Readers can interpret them according to their own personal knowledge, instincts and beliefs.

Above: Kota Bharu beach defences

The defence of Kota Bharu

The High Command in Malaya in 1941 had decreed that the role of the Army was to protect airfields so that the Royal Air Force and Royal Australian Air Force squadrons in Malaya could win any confrontation with a hostile belligerent.  Japan was an assumed enemy but the quality of both Japanese planes and pilots was openly denigrated by senior British military figures; British air power was going to keep Malaya safe and secure.

The formation tasked with the protection of the airfields in and near Kota Bharu was the 8th Indian Infantry Brigade Group commanded by Brigadier B.W. Key DSO MC.  The Brigade Order of Battle and deployment on 7th December 1941 was:

·         Brigade HQ and Signal Section. (In Kota Bahru town.)
·         Employment Platoon. (With Brigade HQ.)
·         73 Field Battery, Royal Artillery (from 5th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery). (Brigade Reserve at Chongdong.)
·         272 Anti-tank Battery, Royal Artillery (from 80 Anti-Tank Regiment). (Brigade Reserve at Gong Kedah.)
·         21 Mountain Battery (less one section). (Supported units on the beaches from Kota Bharu Airfield.)
·         9 Battery (Heavy Anti-Aircraft) Hong Kong and Singapore Regiment, Royal Artillery. (At Kota Bharu airfield.)
·         19 Field Company, Royal Bombay Sappers and Miners. (In Kota Bahru town.)
·         2/10th Baluch Regiment. (Defended southern beaches.)
·         2/12th Frontier Force Regiment. (One company defended northern beaches to border, the remainder Brigade Reserve.)
·         1/13th Frontier Force Rifles. (Brigade Reserve at Peringat with patrol base at Repek.)
·         3/17th Dogra Regiment. (Defended central beaches.)
·         “A” Company Malaya Regiment. (Secured Kuala Krai railhead.)
·         1st Hyderabad Infantry, Indian State Forces. (One platoon manning two Naval Anti-Aircraft guns at Gong Kedah Airfield, remainder at Kota Bharu Airfield.)
·         Mysore Infantry, Indian State Forces. (Two companies at Gong Kedah Airfield, remainder at Machang Airfield.)
·         Two Machine Gun Platoons, 4 Pahang Volunteers. (One platoon at Gong Kedah Airfield, one platoon with 3/17th Dogras.)
·         One Company Kelantan Volunteers. (In Kota Bharu town.)
·         15 Indian Field Ambulance. (In Kota Bharu town.)
·         8th Indian Infantry Brigade Transport Company, Royal Indian Army Service Corps. (Moving to and from the Kuala Krai railhead.)
·         43 Reserve Motor Transport Company (Malaya). (With Brigade HQ.)
·         One Labour Platoon. (With Brigade HQ.)

Above: Japanese artist's impression of landing at Kota Bharu

The beach defences were sound with concrete pillboxes for machine gun teams that were supported by fire trenches and protected by well-constructed wire and minefield obstacles.  But the lengths of beach to be defended by individual battalions meant that the defences were undermanned and under-gunned and an enemy breakthrough was unlikely to be easily halted.  Another weakness was the lack of booms across the several creeks that ran into the sea; the absence of booms was attributed to an absence of steel wire to construct them but also to a need for local fishermen to be able to freely use the creeks.  Some dummy pillboxes were constructed where gaps in the beach defences occurred.  The beaches were sandy and open with mangroves inland but the tidal creeks were deep and muddy, inhibiting lateral movement.

Four ancient 18-pounder artillery pieces were recovered from their ceremonial duties in Kelantan, they were reconditioned and deployed on the Dogras’ and Baluchis’ beaches as direct fire weapons.  The gunners made a thorough survey of the beaches and deployed forward observation parties.  Morale amongst the beach defenders was high.

Air support was to come from Kota Bharu Airfield where No. 1 (Royal Australian Air Force) Squadron was operating eleven Lockheed Hudsons and three Brewster Buffaloes.  At Gong Kedah Airfield when required would be a squadron of nine Vildebeeste Torpedo Bombers, however the torpedoes needed their targets to be in deep water, not off shallow sandy beaches.

 Action on the beaches

Despite the prevailing Monsoon creating heavy seas three Japanese troop ships supported by a cruiser commenced disembarking 5,500 assault troops of the Takumi Detachment onto the beaches nearest to Kota Bharu Airfield at 0030 hours 8th December 1941.  The beach defenders were the Dogras and one of their reconditioned 18-pounder guns soon made hits on Japanese ships and landing craft.  The machine gun fire-teams in the pillboxes operated efficiently and used moonlight for observation to keep the attackers on the seaward side of the wire obstacles.  But an initial enemy group placed a concealed light on the beach near the mouth of the Penkalon River and some landing craft used this to locate and navigate up the river and into creeks to attack the pillboxes and supporting trenches from the rear.

On the beaches Japanese infantrymen frantically used helmets to burrow underneath the substantial wire obstacles.  Heavy Japanese naval gunfire hit target areas creating cordite fumes within some pillboxes that made the defenders don respirators (gas masks), which restricted communication and vision; the defenders were convinced that the Japanese were using gas shells, and it is possible that on some beaches they were.

By 0100 hours the attackers had captured Nos. 13 and 14 pillboxes.  ‘A’ Company Commander, Captain Nawin Chandra, was killed in action on Badang Beach whilst fighting from No. 14 pillbox.  For the bravery that Subadar Narayan Singh displayed during the fighting he was awarded the Indian Order of Merit, 2nd Class – the first Dogra gallantry award of the Malaya campaign.  Sadly the citation has been lost.

Another Indian Order of Merit, 2nd Class, was awarded for the gunnery on Badang Beach performed by Havildar Dille Ram, 3/17th Dogras.  Dille Ram was the battalion gunnery instructor who had trained sepoys in the use of the 18-pounder guns, and he had towed targets behind a launch to simulate enemy craft whilst his trainees fired at them.  During the fighting his gun on Badang beach hit both enemy shipping and Japanese troops ashore.  His citation was lost but here is a description of his gunnery skill written by a Dogra officer:

At one stage 400 or 500 Japs got ashore on a tongue of land on the Badang side of the creek which divided it from the next beach.  They were hemmed in by the sea on one side, by a lagoon on the other and by the creek at the end.  Dille Ram turned his gun round to fire along the line of the wire, inflicting extremely heavy casualties on them concentrated in a confined space.

It seems likely that Dille Ram’s gun sank the all important ship with the tanks and the guns.  Our bombers sank a destroyer about 5am and also hit one of the transports causing some fires.  Dille Ram’s claim to have sunk the ship was discounted at the time but later in the campaign, about two thirds of the way down Malaya by which time we had lost all our regular officers, I shared a slit trench for part of a night with Dille Ram and he was very put out by the Airforce claim to have destroyed the ship.  I asked him how he could be sure when his gun was only sighted up to 2,000 yards.  He explained that he had bracketed (fired behind and in front of) the ship with shells to determine the necessary elevation setting on the gun.  He also explained that he had left the cap covers on the shells to achieve a minor armour piercing effect.

The Australian air attack on the Japanese ships

No. 1 (RAAF) Squadron took off from its waterlogged airfield just behind the beaches and used the moonlight to deliver several successful bomb and machine gun attacks on the Japanese ships.  One troop ship was hit seriously and caught fire and was abandoned, and another and the cruiser, which retired, were damaged.  One pilot, Flight Lieutenant Oscar Nathan Diamond, was later awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Two Hudsons were shot down and others became unserviceable due to damage caused by Japanese weapons.   The remaining planes kept flying, not needing to be refuelled when they returned to base, but just being re-armed.  These air strikes were a serious concern to the Japanese and the two troop ships that could move sailed back into the ocean.  The enemy riposte was to deliver a large air attack on Kota Bharu Airfield the following morning which prevented use of the runway; in the afternoon the surviving British planes were ordered to fly to safer airfields further south.


The tide of battle had by then turned in the enemy’s favour and further landings were made on the captured beaches.  Brigadier Key ordered counter-attacks and ‘B’ Company 2/12th Frontier Force Regiment advanced on Sabak Beach, relieving No. 12 pillbox which had been isolated by the enemy.  Further attempts to advance and re-take No. 13 pillbox were halted by the Japanese 250 yards short of the objective; meanwhile more Japanese troops and heavy weapons were being landed. 

The Dogras’ Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel G.A. Preston, had accompanied the counter-attack but he was wounded and had to be evacuated. Major Oliver Brian Masters North took over command of 3/17th Dogras and exercised calm and skilful control for the remainder of the battle, resulting in him being awarded the Military Cross (citation lost).

The counter-attack could not regain momentum and later in the day ‘B’ Company was ordered to withdraw, but by then the enemy had worked himself around the sepoys’ inland flank, causing casualties as the Company retired.  More sepoys were lost when they drowned trying to swim the Gali River; originally this had been crossed by using a small boat but the Japanese sank the boat with gunfire.  For the leadership that he showed throughout the Day, ‘B’ Company Commander, Subedar Mohammed Ali Khan, was awarded the Indian Order of Merit, 2nd Class, but unfortunately the citation has been lost.

‘A’ Company 2/12th Frontier Force Regiment moved across to Smugglers Island to clear it of enemy, but with only half that task completed the Company Commander, Captain K.C. Medappa, was killed by fire from a boat heavily camouflaged with branches.  Subadar Siri Chand took over command and with his two platoons held his half of the island for the following few hours, but Japanese fire prevented forward movement.

Lieutenant Colonel C. Gilbert, commanding 1/12th Frontier Force Rifles, was then tasked with counter-attacking Badang Beach, west of Sabak.  The sepoys had to debus a mile from the objective as roads were flooded, preventing the use of carriers.  Colonel Gilbert advanced from the west whilst Lieutenant Colonel A.E. Cumming MC, commanding 2/12th Frontier Force Regiment, advanced with some of his men from the east.   But impassable terrain in the form of creeks prevented the two units from ever meeting.  Gilbert prepared to attack a captured pillbox and sent his Adjutant in a local boat to order forward more men; the Japanese captured the boat and killed the Adjutant, Captain Paul Brian Gell.  Colonel Gilbert halted his mission at last light and during the next day marched back to Chondong where the front line then was.

After failing in its counter-attack role, primarily because of the terrain to be crossed, 2/12th Frontier Force Regiment moved back in torrential rain to hold a line near the Airfield to stop Japanese infiltration from Sabak Beach.  Lieutenant Colonel Cumming had his life saved by Captain B.I. Richardson of the Dogras who tommy-gunned a group of Japanese whilst Jemadar Khushi Ram of the Dogras extricated Colonel Cumming and his party.  Captain Bernard Ian Richardson was killed in action during this incident.

The Dogra platoon of ‘C’ Company patrolled forward using a boat but on its return journey an enemy aircraft saw the boat and sank it.  The patrol commander, Jemadar Parmodh Singh, spent up until midnight getting his men back through the mangrove swamps to a pontoon bridge.

Above: Sabak Beach

A Distinguished Service Order for the Dogras

Lieutenant Colonel George Allan Preston was later appointed to the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) with this citation:

The 3/17 Dogra Regiment were on the defence of the coast covering the aerodrome at Kota Bharu in Kelantan.  The enemy attack came in on this front and suffered very heavy casualties due to the staunchness of the Dogras who were holding the position on the beach.  It was due to the fine leadership and quick grasp on the situation by Lieutenant Colonel Preston that the enemy were prevented from extending his preliminary successes on Sabang beach.  Lieutenant Colonel Preston himself led forward troops for the counter attack. 

When the attack was held up Lieutenant Colonel Preston went forward to ensure that the objective was captured and in doing so was wounded.  In spite of this he remained in position to encourage his troops until he was forced to the Regimental Aid Post.  He rejoined his Battalion a fortnight later and continued to show fine powers of leadership and spirit which was reflected throughout the unit.  He was again wounded and cut-off in January but was not captured by the enemy until approximately 15th April, some three months later

 Oral History from local villagers

Many Dogra defenders still held their isolated positions in the afternoon of the 8th December and for the next day or two, but when their ammunition was expended, or they realised that the Japanese controlled the area, they attempted to surrender.  These points have been passed down by word of mouth amongst the local villagers:

§  The Japanese refused to accept some prisoners and entered some pillboxes and bayoneted the defenders to death.  The villagers could hear the sepoys screaming.

§  Villagers were sent into the pillboxes to clear up the mess, and the blood on the floors was ankle-deep.

§  One dead sepoy was chained to his machine gun.

§  Some sepoys attempted to escape by swimming across the creeks but nearby villagers conspired to drown the sepoys in the creeks to avoid Japanese retribution for them helping the British.

21 Mountain Battery during the beach fighting

The Battery had observation posts (OPs) on Sabak and Badang beaches but access was difficult due to pounding Monsoon rain and flooded muddy creeks.  The OP on Badang Beach reported that the first shot of the Malaya campaign was fired by an 18-pounder gun manned by 3/17th Dogras.  Both OPs requested and received fire missions, Badang Beach claiming hits on the enemy troopship which caught fire.  Lieutenant Tombs on Sabak OP fired a box barrage around his location as he saw the Japanese capturing pillboxes and getting behind him.  Later in the morning 2nd Lieutenant Elliott replaced Lieutenant Tombs in the Sabak OP.

In the Badang OP Jemadar Gurmuk Singh soon had his telephone wire cut, making him redundant for gunnery but as enemy troops approached he led a pillbox fire team and gave fire control orders for the Dogra mortars.  He personally killed three Japanese with a Bren gun as they attacked his post.  Through infantry communication channels he was ordered to withdraw and he got his team and the vehicle back to the Battery.

2nd Lieutenant Elliott carried on in Sabak OP and was of use to the 2/12th Frontier Force counter-attack.  Meanwhile back at the gun line ammunition nearly ran out before 8 Transport Company delivered a resupply from the Kuala Krai railhead.  21 Mountain Battery’s comment on the British Army 73 Field Battery, Royal Artillery, (eight 4.5-inch howitzers) was:

“Their OP joined Elliott at SABAK, but their wireless never worked, nor did they ever succeed in laying a line.”

But the situation changed when 21 Mountain Battery, because of enemy sniping, moved back to join 73 Field Battery in Montgomery camp.  Elliott was then able to shoot both batteries using a Brigade signals cable that was already laid.  At around 2200 hours 21 Mountain Battery was ordered back to Chondong.  2nd Lieutenant Elliott joined a few hours later with all his equipment; his truck had been captured but his driver, Lance Naik Sadhu Singh, escaped and later rejoined the battery.

Meanwhile the Japanese were not without their own problems, and at one time they had to cease advancing because of heavy casualties both from drowning in rough seas and from British fire.  They had to reorganise two very depleted brigades into one before the advance could be continued.

Right: Omar Bin Senik. As a boy he watched the invasion

Chaos on Kota Bahru Airfield

Putting it mildly, things did not go well on Kota Bahru Airfield in the afternoon of 8th December, despite the heroic efforts of the pilots who had since been ordered to fly south.  To quote from the British Official History:

The airfield was bombed and machine-gunned at frequent intervals throughout the day with consequent casualties and damage to aircraft.  At about 4 p.m. a rumour began to spread on the airfield that enemy troops had broken through and reached the perimeter defences.  This was not in fact the case, but the passage of stray bullets probably gave credence to it and resulted in some unauthorized person giving instructions that the denial scheme was to be put into effect.  The airfield buildings were set on fire and the station staff began to evacuate the airfield.  A joint reconnaissance by the brigadier and the wing commander proved that the rumour was false, but the damage was done, and by 6.15 p.m. the station and squadron maintenance staff had left in transport for the railhead at Kuala Krai.  Although they had set fire to the operations room and to most of the stores, they had failed to destroy the stocks of bombs and petrol or to make the runways unfit for use. 

During the Japanese bombing raids a crowd of local Malays came to watch, as though it was a football match.  Army spectators of the air force withdrawal are unanimous in mentioning chaos, panic and lack of discipline, especially when the serviceable aircraft had been ordered to fly further south.  An air force Board of Inquiry held later did not endorse the word panic, but it failed to explain why the bombs, fuel and runways had not been destroyed.

There was no enemy ground attack on the location until later that evening when British units became intermingled in the dark; after heavy fighting the Japanese seized the airfield.  Before that 73 Field Battery had been given a target that its howitzers could not miss, as the battery was ordered to directly fire at the fuel tanks to destroy them and their contents. 

The Indian State Forces unit 1st Hyderabad was defending the airfield and it became unsettled because of the precipitous flight of the Australian Air Force ground crew, and some sepoys deserted their posts.  It has been alleged since by historians that the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Albert Hendrick, 3/17th Dogras attached to 1 Hyderabad, and his Adjutant were killed when they attempted to stop troops from retiring in disorder.  Colonel Hendrick was killed but how he died is not proven and he could have been killed accidentally by another unit in the darkness or deliberately by the Japanese.  His Adjutant was not killed and in Appendix 2 to this article is a citation for an award to that Adjutant and other Hyderabad officers for noteworthy behaviour whilst in captivity.

Three brave and courageous men of the Hyderabads received gallantry awards.  Lance Naik Zubiulla Khan was awarded a posthumous Indian Order of Merit, 2nd Class.  Subadar Major Shaikh Mohammed and Jemadar Shaikh Ahmed each received the Indian Distinguished Service Medal.  The citations for all three awards have been lost but as 1 Hyderabad was not committed to any further combat duties in Malaya we can confidently assume that the three awards were made for acts of gallantry at Kota Bharu Airfield.  

British withdrawals

When Kota Bharu Airfield was lost Brigadier Key issued orders for a series of withdrawals in an attempt to save as much as he could of his Brigade Group.  Many units were not only out of contact with Brigade HQ but also out of contact with sub units, but common sense dictated that the safest route lay to the south, and there the sepoys trekked throughout the rain-drenched night.  The Japanese followed hard on the heels of some units and fierce little fights sometimes developed. 

Because of the disorganisation and lack of effective communications strength returns from the infantry battalions tended to be very low, and for a time it was feared that the Brigade Group had been decimated, but over the next 48 hours hundreds more sepoys appeared and the fears of heavy losses were proved to be false.  What must be appreciated is the morale of the sepoys which remained high, and their sense of discipline which was retained, although many of them had lost their weapons and boots whilst floundering to survive in the muddy tidal creeks.  These men were from some of the best units in the Indian Army; they knew that and they did not let their regiments down.  As an illustration the Dogras first reported 400 men as casualties but over the next 3 or 4 days 200 of these trickled back to the unit.  Some Dogras in fact ‘went native’ and lived the war out disguised as members of local Malay communities.

Major G.J. Hawkins of 2/12th Frontier Force Regiment was awarded a Military Cross later in the campaign and the first paragraph of his citation reads:

Throughout the campaign this officer showed courage and powers of leadership of a high order.  On 9 December during the withdrawal from Kota Bharu aerodrome it was this officer’s efforts under heavy fire that resulted in the maintenance of communication with Brigade HQ.  Later, he commanded the rear party, and by his skill and coolness completed difficult operations with complete success.

The Indian Official History states:

12 and 13 December were field days for the Baluch Regiment, which with 2/12th Frontier Force Regiment acted as the rearguard in contact with the Japanese patrols.  The Baluch companies fought hard and inflicted severe losses on the Japanese while themselves suffering some losses.  The ground was appallingly bad after the rains and with a waist-deep canal to cross besides. 

The Japanese were also using armour piercing ammunition in their rifles and light automatics, against which the thin walls of the Bren Gun Carriers afforded no protection.  At the end of the day on 13 December, the Baluch withdrew to Milestone 34.5 and very soon after was joined by 2/12th Frontier Force Regiment on the right of the road, while 3/17th Dogra and 1/13th Frontier Force Rifles went in reserve behind the brigade headquarters, with enough artillery for the forward battalions.  

Above: Site of the prematurely demolished bridge Machang

The action at Machang

The airfields at Machang, and Gong Kedah had been protected by two companies each of the Indian State Forces unit The Mysore Infantry.  Both airfields had been bombed by the Japanese and the Mysore sepoys had suffered at Machang, particularly when they believed that enemy smoke bombs were gas bombs.  The sepoys had lost their discipline and suffered 35 casualties from high-explosive bombs, which lowered their morale considerably.

Another problem at Machang had been another loss of discipline that led to a bridge over a river being blown prematurely whilst several hundred sepoys and their transport were on the wrong side of it.  19 Field Company, Royal Bombay Sappers and Miners, had to quickly construct a diversionary route that succeeded in getting the vehicles across the river.

One of the successful Baluch actions mentioned above occurred at Machang on 13th December.  Supported by 21st Mountain Battery ‘A’ and ‘D’ Companies of 2/10th Baluch attacked across paddy fields to seize enemy-held woods at Machang and claimed around 100 Japanese killed against their own losses of 18 sepoys killed, 38 wounded and 7 missing.  Lieutenant John Hooker Thiselton-Dyer, 10th Baluch Regiment (‘A’ Company Commander), was awarded a Military Cross (citation lost) for his bravery during the counter-attack.

Just after the Baluch attack had gone in an interesting incident occurred which is described in the History of 21st Mountain Battery:

While waiting to follow up this attack, Brigadier Key, the Commanding Officers of 2/12th Frontier Force Regiment and 2/10th Baluch, and the Battery Commander were fired at at 10 yards range by a Japanese concealed under a pile of brushwood.  None were hit.  The Japanese, however, was partially destroyed by bombs (grenades) and tommy guns and pistol fire, and was removed to SINGAPORE, where he survived to be one of our few prisoners.  

Above: Location of Baluch attack across paddy fields at Machang

British withdrawal from Kelantan

Brigadier Key had got his Brigade Group back together again and he made a clean break with the enemy and evacuated his men, guns and most of his military vehicles by rail from Kuala Krai.  British aviators were no longer using airfields in Kelantan so there was no need to keep the Brigade Group out on a limb.

Above: Sketch of deployment of 8 Indian Infantry Brigade in Kelantan

Some historians state that at this stage 1st Hyderabads was disarmed and in future used as military labour.  If they were disarmed it was probably not to deny the sepoys the chance to shoot other commanding officers, but a far more likely reason is that the Indian State Force units did not practise disciplined fire control; throughout the nights ISF sepoys on sentry duty could be heard firing at shadows, rustling palm leaves, domestic buffaloes and anything else that moved.  This constant firing kept the other troops in the vicinity awake most of the night.

Perhaps the last word should go to the brave and dedicated Japanese soldiers of the Takumi Detachment who lost many men by drowning during the landing operations.  But they persevered and built up their strength in the creeks and on the islands along the coast until they were strong enough to advance and take their prize – Kota Bharu Airfield, which the Japanese air force soon put to good use.  They then followed up the British withdrawal closely and were always looking for a fight.  They were deception troops, whose mission was to keep their enemy active on the east coast whilst the west coast invasion force sped south, and they succeeded in that mission.  Their losses were 3,500 men killed and many more wounded; they later erected memorials in the Kota Bharu area to commemorate their dead.

The Japanese considered that the Kota Bharu fighting was the toughest of the whole Malaya campaign.


My visit to the Kota Bharu battlefields was managed by local resident, military historian and battlefield guide Zafrani Arifin, and it would not have been successful without his invaluable local knowledge and assistance.  I strongly recommend him as a guide to anyone with military interests visiting the Kota Bharu area.  He can be contacted through Facebook where he is a prominent contributor to the Malaya Historical Group forum.  Well Done Zaf!

Left: Japanese War Memorial Machang


Further actions of 3/17th Dogra Regiment

3/17th Dogras were moved to the west coast of Malaya and deployed in the defence of Kuala Lumpur.  As Colonel Preston’s DSO citation intimates the Battalion was involved in heavy fighting near Serendah, and two companies and Battalion HQ were cut off and lost.  The Indian Official History states:

The other battalions arrived and opened attacks upon the Japanese, but had to fall back when faced with the danger of getting trapped themselves.  . . . but 3/17 Dogra Regiment was badly caught in the Japanese net.  Its ‘D’ Company entered the heart of the village which was full of the Japanese.  From houses, from behind walls and hedges, from the trees and from the drains, they opened up a fusillade and decimated this company.  Even ‘B’ Company was gone and the battalion took shelter in the wilderness.

Only the carrier platoon got away, and the following citations to the Carrier Platoon Commander and to a Havildar may be of interest:

  1.   Military Cross to Captain Angus Frederic Ward.

  On Jan 10th 1942, at SERENDAH, when in command of the Carrier Platoon he covered the rear of the Battalion while they attacked the village of SIMPANG CHOH where the Japanese had cut the line of withdrawal, and subsequently under fierce fire succeeded in leading the carrier platoon through the midst of the enemy lines.

By so doing he was able to rally the remnants of the Bn and take command till the end of the campaign. Throughout this period he showed exceptional powers of leadership for a junior officer and it was his example which enabled the Battalion to continue fighting as such.

  2.    Military Medal to No. 6198 Havildar RATTAN SINGH, 3/17th Dogra Regiment.

Havildar RATTAN SINGH was not captured by the Japanese until 4 months after the capitulation of Malaya, remaining during this time stoically by the side of his Commanding Officer, attempting to evade capture.

Eventually he was shipped to NEW GUINEA and in September 44 during a move from RAWAN to MAPRIK he and 27 Indian Other Ranks escaped, the Havildar, who possessed a compass, acting as leader.

All went comparatively well, though the journey was extremely hard and it was difficult to feed the party on roots and berries in the jungle, until a fortnight later they entered an apparently abandoned Japanese Camp.  Here they were suddenly challenged by a Japanese Captain and his Batman, but Havildar RATTAN SINGH called on 4 Indian Other Ranks to seize them and he himself beheaded them both with a “dah”.  He then led the party on and after another hard two days they were recovered by an American Patrol.

Havildar RATTAN SINGH showed remarkable qualities of leadership and steadfastness both during the actual escape and all through the extremely hazardous journey they undertook, and to date his is the only authenticated record of an Indian prisoner of war recovered from South West Pacific Area who has taken extreme measures against the Japanese to facilitate escape.  For his courage, powers of leadership and devotion to duty it is considered that he should be awarded the Military Medal.  

Above: A creek obstacle

APPENDIX 2. Awards made to 1st Hyderabad Regiment (Indian State Forces)

As well as the Indian Order of Merit, 2nd Class, posthumously awarded to Lance Naik Zubiulla Khan and the two Indian Distinguished Service Medals awarded to Subedar Major Shaik Mohammed and Jemadar Shaikh Ahmed, three 1st Hyderabad officers received awards for gallant and distinguished conduct whilst prisoners of war following the British surrender in Singapore.  Their citations are shown below.

1.    2nd Lieutenant BADRUL GHANI received a Military Cross (upgraded from the suggestion of a Mention in Despatches):

2nd Lieutenant Badrul Ghani was captured at the fall of Singapore.  At the end of April he was detailed to take charge of a fatigue party required by the Japanese to go to Happy Valley to clear bomb debris.  On arrival at the station they were paraded in the ticket office and while waiting for orders Lieutenant Badrul Ghani strolled calmly through the next room where two Japanese soldiers were sitting and still wearing uniform, made his way back to Singapore unchallenged.  Once there he procured a fez, shirt, coat and disposed of his uniform in the town drain.

For a week he remained hidden in a mosque, trying to discover a means of crossing to the mainland.  Eventually he contacted an Indian Baker who arranged with a Chinese fisherman to take him over, and he landed safely about May 5th, 42.  Lieutenant Badrul Ghani’s father had been a doctor and he himself had picked up enough medical knowledge to get himself taken on as an assistant, and by this means managed to accumulate sufficient funds to continue his journey three months later.  He had by then grown a beard and was living under an assumed name.  He took with him a large stock of medicine which proved extremely useful later on when a train he was travelling on was searched by the Japanese and he was able to convince them that he was a Doctor. 

He travelled by train as far as PENANG and was then taken on as far as MOULEIN in a rice boat – expenses paid by a grateful patient.  From Moulein he again went by train, this time to OKKYIN, Mandalay, by sampan to SAGAING and so to RAHIMNAGAR, the whole journey having taken nine months to complete.  It is considered that for the courage and determination of Lieutenant Badrul Ghani displayed in achieving his escape and reaching his goal at the end of his very long and difficult journey he should be awarded a Mention in Despatches


Left: British pillbox Machang Airfield

1.   Lieutenant Colonel SYED MOHAMMED ISHAQ was appointed to be a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE).  

15 Feb 42 – 1 May 43  SINGAPORE  

The surrender at SINGAPORE brought fresh troubles as the enemy handed over all Indian prisoners of war to a Captain MOHAN SINGH, 1/14th Punjab Regiment.  However Lieutenant Colonel SYED MOHD ISHAQ at every possible occasion exerted his influence not only over the men of his own Battalion, 1 HYDERABAD INFANTRY, but on all others of the Indian Army and Indian State Forces whom he came in contact to prevent them joining the Indian National Army.  It was chiefly due to his influence that not a single Officer or Other Rank of 1 HYDERABAD INFANTRY joined the Indian National Army but remained true to KING & COUNTRY.  This brought added hardship to him and his men but there was no wavering.

  He was put in command of SALITAR camp, the non-volunteer camp.  The other two, NEESOON and BIDA DARI were the seat of the rebel Indian National Army Organization.  Personnel of the HONG KONG AND SINGAPORE ROYAL ARTILLERY in SALITAR Camp, who refused to join the Indian National Army were marched off to a special CONCENTRATION Camp and put under pressure.  Some even being shot.  However they refused to listen to anyone except Lieutenant Colonel SYED MOHD ISHAQ.  When the question arose of transferring them to TENGA AERODROME Camp, they refused to go until they were told that the 1 HYDERABAD INFANTRY were also being transferred there.  

The 1 HYDERABAD INFANTRY were then left out of the orbit of the Indian National Army’s efforts as also others in the TENGA AERODROME Camp.  In fact non-volunteers of the Indian Army were continually trying to get to TENGA for this reason.  

Lieutenant Colonel SYED MOHD ISHAQ risked everything in keeping his own Battalion and others loyal to the CROWN, an outstanding example of courage and devotion to duty.

  2.   Captain DOUGLAS ROBERT MUNRO, believed to be the Adjutant of 1st Hyderabad, also was appointed to be a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE).

1 Mar 42 -30 Apr 42.  TAIPING  MALAYA

Captain D.R. MUNRO continually openly lectured to Indian Army personnel against the Indian National Army culminating in SEPOY SULTAN SINGH, 5/14th PUNJAB REGIMENT and LANCE NAIK RANSI RAM, 3/17th DOGRA REGIMENT reporting Captain D.R. MUNRO to CAPTAIN MOHAN SINGH and CAPTAIN HABIB UR RAHMAN of the Indian National Army who handed him over to the Japanese for punishment because of interference with the Indian National Army.  The Japs sentenced him to death with the option of joining the Indian National Army but he preferred death.  On the intervention of certain King’s Commissioned Officers in the camp his sentence was commuted to 3 months Rigorous Imprisonment with the option of joining the Indian National Army.  He still refused and underwent the imprisonment in the convict prison TAIPING.  Part of the sentence was commuted, the actual period of imprisonment being from 2 May 42 – 16 Jul 42 was undergone in the condemned cells adjoining the hanging room in the convict prison TAIPING, MALAYA.

During the period of imprisonment in these cells this officer was humiliated and amongst other things was made to remove human manure in buckets that would be accumulated daily.

But he still refused to join the Indian National Army.

It would be impossible to describe the horrible torture mental and physical, but even so loyalty meant more than life to this gallant officer.  


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