Battle of Pasir Panjang
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The Battle of Pasir Panjang, which took place between 13 and 15 February 1942, was part of the final stage of the Empire of Japan's invasion of Singapore during World War II. The battle was initiated upon the advancement of elite Imperial Japanese Army forces towards Pasir Panjang at Pasir Panjang Ridge on 13 February.
13,000 Japanese troops had made an amphibious landing in the northwest part of Singapore near Sarimbun (see Battle of Sarimbun Beach), and had started to advance south towards Pasir Panjang. They had already captured Tengah Airfield en route. The 13,000 soldiers constituted a significant part of the total strength of 36,000 Japanese troops deployed in the invasion of Singapore.
The 1st Malaya Infantry Brigade, comprising the British 2nd Loyal Regiment under Lieutenant Colonel Mordaunt Elrington, the 1st Malaya Regiment commanded by Lieutenant Colonel J. R. G. Andre, consisting of less than three sections of the Mortar Platoon, Anti-Aircraft Platoon with the Bren Gun Carrier Platoon under Captain R. R. C. Carter held in reserve. They were tasked with defending the approach to Pasir Panjang ridge, known as The Gap. The 44th Indian Brigade were on their right flank.
The first battle between the Malay Regiment and Japanese soldiers occurred on 13 February at around 2.00pm. The Japanese 18th Division started to attack the southwestern coast along Pasir Panjang Ridge and astride Ayer Rajah Road. The Japanese 56th Infantry Regiment under Colonel Yoshio Nasu, supported by a considerable force of artillery, attacked the ridge during the morning.
One of the units defending the line was B Company of the Malay Regiment. Under heavy fire from the Japanese, who were supported by artillery and tanks, B Company was forced to retreat to the rear. However, before the retreat could be completed, the Japanese succeeded in breaking through B Company's position. In the battle, the troops fought hand-to-hand combat using bayonets against the Japanese. A few from B Company managed to save themselves while others were captured as prisoners-of-war. This penetration led to the withdrawal after dark, of both the 44th Indian and 1st Malay Brigade, to the general line at Mount Echo (junction of Ayer Rajah and Depot Road, around present-day Buona Vista).
On 14 February, Eve of Chinese New Year, the Japanese again launched a heavy attack at 8.30am, supported by intense mortar and artillery fire, on the front held by the 1st Malay Brigade. The defenders beat off this and a number of other attacks. The fighting included bitter hand-to-hand combat, and losses from both sides were heavy. At 4.00pm an attack supported by tanks eventually succeeded in penetrating the left, and the defenders on this flank were forced back to a line from the junction of the Ayer Rajah and Depot Road through the Brick Works and along the canal to Bukit Chermin. Owing to the failure of units on both its flanks to hold their ground, the 1st Malay Brigade withdrew at 2.30pm. It was at this point that C Company of the Malay Regiment received instructions to move to a new defence position, Bukit Chandu.
Bukit Chandu (means "Opium Hill" in Malay) was named after an opium-processing factory located at the foot of the hill. This was also where C Company of the Malay Regiment made their final stand against the Japanese attack. Bukit Chandu was a key defence position for two important reasons. It was situated on high ground overlooking the island to the north; and secondly, if the Japanese gained control of the ridge, it gave them direct passage to the Alexandra area. The British army had its main ammunition and supply depots, military hospital and other key installations located in Alexandra.
C Company's position was separated from D Company by a big canal. Oil was burning in the canal, which flowed from Normanton Depot. The burning oil prevented C Company soldiers from retreating further south. The company was under the command of Lieutenant Adnan Saidi. He encouraged the men to defend Bukit Chandu down to the last soldier, and was killed, together with many of his Malay Regiment soldiers in the last defensive battle at Pasir Panjang.
The Japanese pressed their attack on Bukit Chandu in the afternoon, but under the guise of a deception. They sent a group of soldiers, dressed in Punjabi uniforms, passing themselves off as Indian soldiers in the British army. C Company saw through this trick as they knew that soldiers of the British army usually marched in a line of three whereas the disguised soldiers were in a line of four. When they reached the Malay Regiment's defensive line, C Company's squad opened fire, killing several men. Those who survived escaped downhill.
Two hours later, the Japanese launched an all-out banzai charge in great numbers. The attack overwhelmed the Malay Regiment and the defence line eventually crumbled apart and shattered. Despite being greatly outnumbered and short of ammunition (with only a few hand grenades left and not much rifle and machine-gun ammunition) and much-needed combat supplies (such as medication and bandages), the Malay Regiment continued to resist the Japanese. Both sides engaged in fierce hand-to-hand combat as well as using bayonets. Adnan was seriously wounded but refused to retreat or surrender and instead encouraged his men to fight to the end.
Soon after, Pasir Panjang fell under Japanese control, and Adnan, wounded and unable to fight, was captured. Instead of taking him prisoner, the Japanese continuously kicked, punched and beat him before tying him to a tree and stabbing him to death with their bayonets (some sources claim that Adnan was brutally beaten up before being thrown into a tied-up gunny sack, which was then stabbed repeatedly by his Japanese captors, while others indicate that they stabbed him to death before hanging him upside down from a tree).
During the entire Malayan Campaign, but mostly on 12, 13, 14 and 15 February 1942 in Singapore, the Malay Regiment suffered a total of 159 killed. Six of them were British officers, seven Malay officers, 146 other ranks and a large but unspecified number wounded. About 600 surviving Malay Regiment soldiers reassembled in the Keppel Golf Link area. Here, they were separated from their British officers. They later joined prisoners-of-war from the British Indian Army battalions at the Farrer Park concentration area. It remains unclear as to how many casualties the Japanese suffered.
|“||The Malay Regiment showed what esprit de corps and discipline can achieve. Garrisons of posts held their ground and many of them were wiped out almost to a man.||”|
|— Lieutenant General Arthur Percival., |
The battle of Pasir Panjang had little strategic significance. From a purely military operational perspective, the Battle of Pasir Panjang could not change the outcome of the fate of Singapore and it was a matter of time before the British would surrender to the Japanese 25th Army. The Allied units stationed there were simply tasked with defending the approach to the ridge, but instead had to resist the main invasion force. Opium Hill itself is situated on high ground overlooking the island to the north, and it controlled the direct passage to the Alexandra area where the British army had its main ammunition and supply depots, military hospital and other key installations. The fall of Opium Hill allowed Japan access to the Alexandra area, indirectly contributing to the Alexandra Hospital massacre.
Adnan Saidi is described by many Singaporeans and Malaysians today as a hero for his actions on Bukit Chandu—he encouraged his men not to surrender and instead fight to the death. In Singaporean and Malaysian school textbooks, he is also credited as the soldier who noticed the error in the marching style of the Japanese soldiers disguised as Indian troops.
Fighting continued after his death and the subsequent British signing of surrender of Singapore to the Empire of Japan at 6:10pm on 15 February 1942, Chinese New Year, in the area around Alexandra Hospital, Tanjong Pagar and Pulau Belakang Mati (Sentosa) where some of the Malay Regiments re-grouped.
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