XI: 2. Operations Malay Tiger, RY: The Malaysian Peninsula, British Borneo, and the Ocean Islands July - September 1942
Call Kenny Loggins, you're in the DANGER ZONE...
- Dec 5, 2008
The Sun Also Rises
2. Operations Malay Tiger, RY: The Malaysian Peninsula, British Borneo, and the Ocean Islands
July - September 1942
As objectives for the planned expansion of the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere were debated, one expected target was always high on the list: Singapore. Aside from Hong Kong, Singapore was the central hub of the British colonies, the stepping stone on the way from India to Australia. Particularly well sited in the area of the Malacca Straits, Singapore was known as the “Gibraltar of the East,” a phrase that was ironic as no effort was made in making the defense of the city or the Malayan peninsula a priority. Interbellum planning--made irrelevant with the destruction of the Royal Navy--had been that any attack would be preceded by a long period of escalating tensions, which would give the Royal Navy enough time to sail a powerful squadron to Singapore. Another assumption--and this one even more fanciful given the political climate--was that the Americans would be on hand to provide assistance. Any efforts by commanders in the area of operations to expand forces available to their commands largely fell on deaf ears. Indeed, only after the declaration of war came did any forces receive orders to go to the Asian theater of operations, and that order only went to the British Army’s 1 Airborne Division, which had the dubious honor of conducting the world’s longest airlift from bases in England to Singapore.
A soldier of the Malay Brigade, obviously perturbed about
being photographed. His weapon, a Lewis gun, shows how
the British Army failed to really prepare their distant stations.
Japanese planning was, as ever, elaborately (some might say overly) complex. One naval task force was detailed to conduct landings at Kota Bharu with two Special Naval Landing Force divisions, just south of the border between Thailand and the Malay peninsula; another was slated for Johore Bharu with one division and XI Corps Headquarters. While no air forces were dedicated to this mission, no appreciable enemy air power was expected, either. Escorting these forces was an ancient surface action group built around the Ise- and Fuso-class battleships of Battleship Divisions 4 and 5, the two “youngest” of the Yahagi-class light cruisers of Cruiser Division 5, as well as two light cruisers from Cruiser Division 6, Naka and Kitikami. Five destroyers from Destroyer Squadron 18 (made up of the Shiratsuyu-class) were also brought along. Two groups of submarines (approximately twelve, though accounts differ) of a fourth-generation of IJN submarine class were tasked with cutting the supply lines from Britain, though their success was less than stellar. Facing this force, were perhaps nine thousand troops in Singapore of varying quality, as well as command forces for the area of operations. An Indian infantry division was available in Kuching, but with no naval or aviation assets available to conduct a sealift, they were unable to mass to effect the inevitable conclusion. Just after the declaration of war, London did order a group of naval bombers to deploy to Kuching, though the unit did not arrive in time and was later diverted[*].
The comparison of the Orders of Battle on the eve of
Operation Malay Tiger, which encapsulated the invasion
of not only the Malay Peninsula, but also British Borneo,
Nauru and the Ocean Islands.
A mere four days after the declaration of war, on 15 July, the two landings began in earnest at Kota and Johore Bharu. With no real opposition, the Japanese forces were ashore rapidly and began moving towards their objectives, which for the landings at Kota Bharu was the major city of Kuala Lumpur and for the forces at Johore Bharu, Singapore. Unfortunately, the commander of the SNLF division at the latter landing site became indecisive, believing he did not have the forces to assault the garrison and thus wasting nearly ten days in waiting for the other two divisions to come down through the peninsula before finally launching his own attack on 25 July. This was bloodily repulsed, as reconnaissance by the defending forces had detected where the assembly areas of the amphibious forces were, and calling in nearly every available HE round from the islands 15” guns. Japanese intelligence had also failed to note that the British had flown in an entire airborne division, and so despite nearly equally bad losses, the British remained in control of the field when the attack was finally called off on 3 August. It would be almost a month of waiting until the rest of XI Corps was brought in, for the final assault on Singapore to be successfully concluded and all resistance ceased on 4 September; much of the Singapore Command’s units surrendered, while the 1 Airborne Division withdrew to Rangoon in what was the longest and largest air evacuation ever, at least until the German evacuation of Arkhangelsk in June, 1943.
LTC Frederick Royden Chalmers, CMG, DSO, who was promoted to
Lieutenant in both the Boer War and the Great War, survived Gallipoli
and the Western Front with his command of the 27th Battalion only to
be in Nauru during the Japanese occupation of the island. OTL: he was
beheaded after an air raid on the island, and the man who ordered the
execution was hung by the Australians for war crimes.
While those operations were underway, landings were also executed against other British Pacific holdings, specifically Nauru and Ocean Island. These islands were largely worthless--aside from some phosphate mining on Nauru, they were geographically isolated--but the Japanese high command deemed the islands to be important as a way to establish a defensive position against any attempt to invade Japanese territories. As the Japanese arrived on 15 July, the island's chief administrator, a retired Australian Lieutenant Colonel veteran of the Boer and First World Wars Frederick Royden Chalmers, stormed up and down the beach hurling insults at the Japanese as they shelled several presumed defensive positions, but no armed resistance to the invasion occurred.[**]
On 30 July, two SNLF divisions were landed in Miri, in British Borneo, and on 31 August, another division was landed in Sibu. The two divisions in Miri rapidly overcame the effective resistance of the 6. Indian Division, and the entire division surrendered mostly intact on 5 August. It had only taken a month and a half, but the Japanese were now in complete control of much of the British Pacific holdings and the Japanese turned their full attention to Australian and New Zealand territory, but more importantly, to the efforts of a service scrambling to prove their worth: the Royal Navy.
[*]: The AI did dispatch No.16 RN Coastal Command naval bomber wing to Kuching. No idea why. I don’t recall it actually doing anything.
[**]: This actually happened when German auxiliary cruisers shelled the island in December 1940; with no auxiliary cruisers in the Kriegsmarine, I altered his enemy a bit...
History might not repeat itself, but it rhymes in the weirdest ways.Reading about the fall of Hong Kong gave me flash forwards to 2020. A chilling time for democracy.
Nice update Wraith!
I do try my best to keep things... relatively... out of the space-time continuum but with the uncanny valley feeling of certainly could have happened.This AAR truly is a masterclass in the art of breaking butterflies upon the wheel.