Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Indian Nationalist Army - Another thorn on the British Empire

Japan, as well as South East Asia was a major refuge for Indian nationalists living in exile before the start of World War II who formed strong proponents of militant nationalism and also influenced Japanese policy significantly. Although Japanese intentions and policies with regards to India were far from concrete at the start of the war, Japan had sent intelligence missions, notably under Major I Fujiwara, into South Asia even before the start of the World War II to garner support from the Malayan Sultans, overseas Chinese, the Burmese resistance and the Indian movement. These missions were successful establishing contacts with Indian nationalists in exile in Thailand and Malaya, supporting the establishment and organisation of the Indian Independence League.

At the outbreak of World War II in South East Asia, 70,000 Indian troops were stationed in Malaya. After the start of the war, Japan's spectacular Malayan Campaign had brought under her control considerable numbers of Indian Prisoners of War, notably nearly 55,000 after the Fall of Singapore. The conditions of service within the British Indian Army as well as the conditions in Malaya had fed dissension among these troops. From these troops, the First Indian National Army was formed under Mohan Singh and received considerable Japanese aid and support. It was formally proclaimed in September 1942 and declared the subordinate military wing of the Indian Independence League in June that year. The unit was dissolved in December 1942 and Mohan Singh was arrested and exiled to Pulau Ubin after apprehensions of Japanese motives with regards to the INA led to disagreements, distrust and subsequently open hostility between Capt. Mohan Singh and INA leadership on one hand, and the leagues leadership, most notable Rash Behari Bose and the Japanese military command on the other. A large number of the initial volunteers chose to revert to Prisoner of War Status and large number of these were subsequently sent to work in the Death Railway or in New Guinea. From the end of December 1942 to February Rash Behari Bose struggled to hold the INA together.

Although there are slight variations in estimates, the INA is considered to have comprised about 40,000 troops when it was disbanded. The following is an estimate attributed to Lt. Colonel G.D. Anderson of British intelligence:

There were 45,000 Indian troops from Malaya captured and assembled in Singapore when the Japanese captured it. Of these, about 5,000 refused to join the INA. The INA at this time had 40,000 recruits. The Japanese were prepared to arm 16,000. When the "first INA" collapsed, about 4,000 withdrew. The Second INA, commanded by Subhash Chandra Bose, started with 12,000 troops. Further recruitment of ex-Indian army personnel added about 8,000-10,000. About 18,000 Indian civilians enlisted during this time. In 1945, at the end of the INA, it consisted of about 40,000 soldiers.


Monday, June 29, 2009

Major General Gordon Bennett AIF

A great controversy emerged in the last few days of the Battle of Singapore surrounding Maj. Gen. Gordon Bennett.

Below are some excerpts about the controversy:

When World War II broke out in 1939, although only 52, Bennett was passed over for command of the AIF, the position going to General Thomas Blamey. The Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Brudenell White seems to have been opposed to Bennett being given an active command. A. B. Lodge, Bennett's biographer in the Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB) comments: "Because of his temperament, he was considered unsuitable for a semi-diplomatic command, and one that involved subordination to British generals. Bennett was as scathing of British officers as he was of Australian regulars."

Bennett was instead given a command in the Volunteer Defence Corps, the Australian version of the Home Guard. But General White's death in theCanberra air disaster of 1940 ended the obstruction of Bennett's career, and Bennett was appointed commander of the newly formed 8th Division, which was posted to Malaya in February 1941. Relations between Bennett and his superiors were not good. Lodge comments: "Bennett's dealings with British senior officers, especially with the general officer commanding, Malaya, Lieutenant General A. E. Percival, were devoid of harmony."

In December 1941 the Japanese invasion of Malaya began. Along with the rest of the Allied forces, Bennett's division was soon forced to withdraw toSingapore. On 8 February 1942 the Japanese landed in Singapore, and on 15 February Percival surrendered to the Japanese.

Bennett decided that it was his duty to escape from Singapore rather than surrender. He handed over command of the 8th Division to Brigadier Cecil Callaghan. With a few junior officers and some local Europeans, Bennett commandeered a sampan at gunpoint and crossed the Strait of Malacca to the east coast of Sumatra, where they transferred to a launch in which they sailed up the Jambi River. They then proceeded on foot to Padang, on the west coast of Sumatra. From there Bennett flew to Java and then to Australia, arriving in Melbourne on 2 March 1942.

The controversy over Bennett's actions became public in 1945, when the war ended and Percival was released from Japanese captivity. Percival, who had never got on with Bennett, accused him of relinquishing his command without permission. Blamey convened a court of enquiry under Major General V. P. H. Stanke, which found that Bennett was not justified in handing over his command, or in leaving Singapore.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Bennett_(Australian_soldier)

Controversy surrounding the AIF - The Deserters

Most books written about the campaign have referred to there being deserters in Singapore, and most authors have agreed that the majority of them were from the AIF. The British War Correspondent, O D Gallagher, was one of the first to touch on this subject. Writing in 1942, and therefore still subject to censorship regulations, he only hinted at the problem when he said, "The end came quickly. The behaviour of a large number of Australian troops were peculiar." Gallagher, who was in Singapore but escaped before the end, was an eyewitness to much that went on. Major Colin Ingles, a Malayan Public Works Department officer serving with the Indian Engineers, wrote much more openly in his diary which was privately published in 1945. For Friday 13th February 1942 he wrote, after commenting that no one could understand why the Japanese were being so successful on the island, ". . . The Australians may have something to do with it, as more and more of them seem to be roaming about town, armed with loaded Tommy-guns and rifles, very drunk for the most part, and with neither officers nor discipline." A Chinese Singapore resident writing in 1946 went even further. His account was based on interviews with local citizens, and included reports of rape:

It was alleged that even before the entry of the Japanese troops, rape had already been committed by stray patrols of retreating Australian and Indian soldiers. They were somehow separated from the main bodies, being temporarily isolated by the sudden forced retreats . . . Bewildered, confused, and without proper leadership, discipline among them went to pieces. Unfortunate women here and there fell victims to these disorganised troops, who at the time of the outrages were soaked with strong drink.

Dr Cecily Williams, a much-loved and respected long-time resident of Singapore who worked at the Tan Tock Seng Hospital, has been quoted in many accounts. She had this to say:

During the last week everything became more and more harassing and disintegrated. When I drove about, the town was full of evacuating and deserting soldiers, most of them Australians looking utterly disorganised and defeated. They had mostly thrown off their equipment, they were looting the shops or sitting in rows with their boots off down near the quays; they were pushing women and children out of the way to get behind buildings when bombs were falling nearby; they were crowding females and children off the boats that were getting away. Many of them must have been killed by the Japanese on the islands off Singapore. It was a terrible show.

All the above references are from non-Australian sources, but there are also several Australian witnesses. After commenting that the Australians had too few men guarding too much frontage, Captain David James of Australian Military Intelligence recorded:

By 0800 hours 9th February, hundreds of bedraggled Aussies were streaming down Bukit Timah Road on the way to the city. The Military Police (UK and AIF) attempted to check them but they were in no mood for homilies from "Red Caps". Some paused long enough to accept a cigarette, light it and say, "Chum, to hell with Malaya and Singapore. Navy let us down, air force let us down. If the bungs (natives) won't fight for their bloody country, why pick on me?"

Another Australian, T Hall, writing in 1985, quotes an officer of the Royal Australian Navy who was in Singapore on special duty. The officer recalled the lack of discipline, the looting, the defeatism that was everywhere apparent:

And the Australians were always the worst. The best when they were good, the worst when they were bad. There was one group of Australians that had been getting a terrible pasting and the Japanese were coming across everyday and machine-gunning them from the air. One day they just threw down their weapons and said they were not going to fight any more...[their] senior officer...almost pleading with them...but to no avail. I reported what had happened, but I think the whole thing was hushed up afterwards.

That episode was indeed hushed up; and for over sixty years so was the much wider situation of which that episode was but a small part.

More info:

Wavell Report - This report, Elphick states that "for the fall of Singapore itself, the Australians are held responsible". (PDF Format)

Captain Patrick Heenan - Japanese Spy

Captain Patrick Heenan. A name we didn't hear about in the history books. After much research, he is probably the most high profile spy in the invasion of Malaya. Surprisingly no one has made a movie about his exploits in the downfall of the entire British Empire in the Far East.

In 1935, Heenan was commissioned into the British Army, with the service number 547AI. His address at this time was recorded as Cheam, Surrey, England. He was put on the Indian Army's Unattached List, and was sent to India. After six months' training with a British regiment, Heenan was not accepted by any Indian Army regiments. He had to do an additional six months with another British regiment before being accepted by the 16th Punjab Regiment. He reportedly performed well in a skirmish on the North-West Frontier, but was later transferred to the Indian Army Service Corps. According to Elphick, this was a device commonly used to get unsatisfactory officers away from prestigious frontline regiments. However, Heenan later returned to the 16th Punjabs, but to a different battalion.

In 1938-39, Heenan took a six-month "long leave" (an Indian Army tradition) in Japan.

During 1941, as fears of a Japanese invasion of Southeast Asia grew, Heenan's unit was sent to Malaya. He was transferred to an Indian Army air liaison unit and was sent to Singapore for training. Following the completion of air liaison training, Heenan was stationed at Alor Star, in Kedah, northern Malaya, in June 1941. It was in this area that most of the British RAF, Royal Australian Air Force and Royal New Zealand Air Force squadrons in Malaya were based.

Japanese forces invaded Thailand and Malaya on 8th December. Their air raids were assisted by radio transmissions made by Heenan. Among other espionage equipment, he reportedly had a morse code transmitter operated by an alphanumeric keyboard — similar to a Traeger Transceiver — which was disguised as a typewriter.

By 10th December, the Japanese had destroyed most of the Allied aircraft in northern Malaya. That same day, according to Elphick, Heenan was caught "almost in the act" and was arrested. Heenan was sent to Singapore, and was reportedly court-martialled in January 1942. He does not seem to have been formally sentenced, but the normal sentence for treason by British officers was death.

Heenan remained in custody at Singapore for several weeks. The Japanese gradually drove the Allies out of Malaya, and on 8 February they invaded Singapore Island. Within days, it became clear that the battle was being won by the Japanese. According to journalist and author Lynette Silver:

By February 13, Heenan had become very cocky, taunting his guards with the fact that he would soon be free and they would be prisoners. It appears that, goaded beyond endurance, the British military police took matters into their own hands. After cards were cut to decide who would have the honour of killing Heenan, it is alleged he was taken to the dockside, where a sergeant executed him with a single pistol shot to the back of the head. The body was then dumped in the harbour.

Military historian Brian P. Farrell believes that Heenan could not have done decisive damage to the Allies, but he probably cost No.62 Squadron some personnel and aircraft. Elphick suggests that the British Commonwealth air forces would have been defeated without Heenan's help: their aircraft in Malaya were inadequate compared to the Japanese, and; airfields in northern Malaya had been located in undefensible positions. Elphick added that Heenan "...must have passed on much helpful information pre-war and he pushed the rate of aircraft destruction along a bit after the war began." Elphick also says that word of Heenan's actions spread quickly among British Commonwealth officers and had a significant effect on morale.

By 1998, the families of other personnel listed on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission World War II memorial at Kranji War Cemetery, Singapore, were requesting the removal of Heenan's name. His date of death on the memorial, "February 15, 1944" was reportedly a standard date assigned to all Commonwealth personnel officially listed as missing during the Battle of Singapore.

For more reading, check out this book:

Odd Man Out: The Story of the Singapore Traitor

by Peter Elphick, Michael Smith

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Commonwealth Universal carriers

The Universal Carrier, also known as the Bren Gun Carrier and Scout Carrier, is a common name describing a family of light armoured tracked vehicles built by Vickers-Armstrong. Produced between 1934 and 1960, the vehicle was used widely by Allied forces during the Second World War. Universal Carriers were usually used for transporting personnel and equipment, mostly support weapons, or as machine gun platforms. With some 113,000 built in the United Kingdom and abroad, it was the most numerous armoured fighting vehicle in history.

The carrier put the driver and commander at the front sitting side-by-side; the driver to the right. The engine was in the centre of the vehicle with the final drive at the rear. The suspension was a mixture of the Vickers light tanks' andHorstmann springs. Directional control was through a (vertical) steering wheel. Small turns moved the front road wheel assembly warping the track so the vehicle drifted to that side. Further movement of the wheel braked the appropriate track to give a turn.

The hull in front of the commander's position jutted forward to give room for the Bren gun (or other armament) to fire through a simple slit. To either side of the engine were two areas in which passengers could ride or stores be carried.

Initially, there were several different types of Carrier that varied slightly in design according to their purpose: "Medium Machine Gun Carrier" (the Vickers machine gun), "Bren Gun Carrier", "Scout Carrier" and "Cavalry Carrier". Production of a single model would be preferred and the Universal design appeared in 1940; this would be the most widely produced of the Carriers. It differed from the previous models in having a rectangular body shape in rear section, with more space for crew.

Australian Local Pattern Universal Carriers - LP2 and 2A

As Australia was closely aligned with British military doctrine, the Army desired the introduction of a light armoured vehicle for reconnaissance and liaison work, broadly based upon the British Universal Carrier design, but modified to use local manufacturing techniques and available commercial parts.

The first design, the Carrier, MG (Aust) No.1 or LP1, closely resembled the British Bren carrier. This carrier design was seriously flawed, however, displaying many faults - not least being serious engine overheating and brake wear. After approximately 160 of these vehicles had been built, the Army called for an improved design. This was the LP2 and 2A (the designation depends upon the type of rear axle assembly), incorporating improved steering, brakes, and other modifications. In all, by the time production ended in 1943, over 4,700 LP2 and 2A carriers had been built.

Australian-produced local pattern MG carriers saw service with the Australian Army both at home and abroad, seeing action in the Middle East (Syria, Palestine, Egypt), Malaya, New Guinea, and the islands of the south-west Pacific. Some soldiered on into the 1950s, and took part in the early stages of Australia's involvement of the Korean War.

Indian Armoured Carrier Wheeled (ACV-IP)

The Indians produced an Armoured Carrier Wheeled, Indian Pattern (ACV-IP) built by Tata Locomotives, and called it a 'Tatanagar'. At the outbreak of the World War II the United Kingdom was unable to meet the needs of the Commonwealth for armoured fighting vehicles. It led many Commonwealth countries to develop their own AFVs. As production of heavy armoured vehicles, such as tanks, required advanced industry which those countries lacked, most of the developed AFVs were armoured cars, often based on imported chassis.

In India a series of armoured vehicles was developed, known as Armoured Carrier, Wheeled, Indian Pattern or ACV-IP. These vehicles utilized Ford / GMC Canadian Military Pattern truck chassis imported from Canada. Armoured hulls were constructed mainly by Indian Railways (Tata). The armament typically consisted of Bren light machine gun, in some variants mounted in a small turret, and Boys anti-tank rifle. In production from 1940 until 1944, a total of 4,655 units were built.

The ACV-IP was used by Indian units in the Far East, Middle East, North African Campaign and Italian Campaign, typically in divisional reconnaissance regiments, as reconnaissance vehicle, personnel carrier, AA weapons carrier or Forward Observation Officer's vehicle.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Gurkha Rifles Regiment

Among the many forces that tried to defend Johore and Singapore from the Japanese in early 1942, none carried a fiercer reputation than the Gurkhas Rifles. During the course of the Second World War, Nepal provided a massive proportion of its population to the Allied war effort: over 200,000 men served under British command against the Axis, on battlefields all over the world. Forty-five infantry battalions saw combat, and Gurkhas also manned transport, garrison and parachute units. In addition, 10 Royal Nepalese Army battalions saw service, mostly on garrison duty in India but some fighting the Japanese in the 1944-45 Burma campaign.

Tiger of Malaya includes two Gurkha battalions, the 2nd Battalion, 9th Gurkha Rifles and the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Gurkha Rifles. There’s also a “replacement” Gurkha battalion, representing an amalgam of survivors of the three other Gurkha battalions lost during the fighting farther north in Malaya.

The Gurkhas who fought in Malaya represented part of a long history of steady service. Nepal embarked on a militaristic course in the 1760’s, as King Prithwi Narayan Shah of the city-state of Gorkha in western Nepal conquered all of the Himalayan foothill region on the south side of the mountain range from Kashmir to Bhutan. All Nepalese warriors became known as “Gorkhas,” (usually rendered “Gurkha” in English, though 19-century writers often used “Goorkha” as well) from the name of Prithwi Narayan Shah’s city and the Gorkhali language they spoke. They surged through the mountain passes to conquer Tibet and impose tribute on the much larger kingdom, and struck southward into the fertile north Indian plain. Nepalese raids into British-protected Indian kingdoms led to war between Britain and Nepal in 1814. Two indecisive campaigns led to the Treaty of Sugauli in 1816, by which the Nepalese agreed not to attack Indian territory, and to provide troops to the British East India Company in exchange for hefty subsidies. Soldiering would provide an economic outlet for the poverty-stricken mountain villagers for the next two centuries.

The British called on their new allies a year later for the Pindari War, and Gurkha regiments served the East India Company for the next 40 years, most notably in the two Sikh Wars in 1846 and 1848. But the Gurkhas’ real test came in 1857, when Gurkha troops stayed loyal to the Company while Hindu and Muslim units rose in revolt against the Raj. As with the rest of the Indian Army that arose from the rebellion’s aftermath, the Gurkha battalions greatly expanded for the First World War and saw service far outside their traditional theater of war.

Gurkha units were trained and equipped along the same lines as Indian Army battalions, with one key additional weapon: the kukri. A kukri is a curved blade of excellent-quality steel, the traditional weapon of the Gurkha. The blade is very thick, and thus very heavy, imparting great force to a blow. They are worn as a set, with two small knives shaped just like the large one, kept in small sheathes on either side of the kukri’s scabbard. Both tip and edge are honed to razor sharpness, and the Gurkha uses it to both slash in a sideways motion, and to stab upwards under a taller enemy’s guard — and most enemies are much taller than the Gurkha.

All five battalions posted to Malaya in late 1941 were long-service units. But their first clash with the Japanese proved disastrous. Second Battalion, 1st Gurkha Rifles came forward on 10 December 1941 to protect the bridge at Asun near the Thai border from advancing Japanese columns. A Japanese tank-infantry force fell on them by surprise and crushed the battalion, with about 3/4 of its men lost. The remnants fell back along with 28th Indian Brigade, and continued to fight at reduced strength. But on 7 January they were overrun by Japanese tanks near Ipoh in northern Malaya and this time the unit was shattered. Among the survivors was Naik (lance corporal) Nakam Gurung, who along with 58 other Gurkhas led by Subedar Major Lalbahadur Gurung began cutting their way south through the jungle toward Singapore.

Malayan villagers helped the Nepalese with food and information, and they made good progress. But after about three weeks, Gurung came down with malaria. The Subedar Major (no relation) left the 12-year veteran in the wilds with a three-month supply of food and the firm belief that the Japanese would surely surrender before the rations ran out. The Naik recovered from malaria, yet the Japanese did not go away.

For the next seven years, Gurung remained in the jungle. Friendly Chinese villagers brought him food, and he trapped wild pigs and grew his own crops. Finally in 1949, a Gurkha patrol from the 1st Battalion, 10th Gurkha Rifles found him while pursuing communist rebels. He was awarded back pay, a pension, and medical treatment for seven years’ worth of terrible dietary deficiencies.

The Battle of the Slim River in early January destroyed two more of III Indian Corps’ Gurkha battalions. The two remaining battalions, 2/2nd Gurkha Rifles and 2/9th Gurkha Rifles, covered the British retreat and put up fierce resistance at Serendah in Johore, where they engaged in hand-to-hand fighting with troops of the Japanese 18th “Chrysanthemum” Infantry Division. Both battalions made it onto Singapore Island, and fought the Japanese aspart of 28th Brigade. Together with a Scottish unit, 2/2nd was the last Allied unit to lay down its arms.

Most Indian soldiers captured by the Japanese in Malaya and at Singapore joined the Japanese-sponsored Indian National Army which fought against the Allies in Burma. Gurkhas were also recruited; none joined the INA, remaining loyal to their oaths, and they suffered terribly in captivity as a result.

To reward this loyalty, the British government agreed to extend the £10,000 in compensation given to former British prisoners of the Japanese to Gurkhas as well — 68 years after the war’s end. Gurkha veterans are required to present written proof of their captivity to receive the award; most of the handful still alive are illiterate and few managed to claim the cash until Veronica O’Neal, the elderly widow of a 2/2nd British officer, found a roster hidden from the Japanese by her husband.

Singapore Burning: Heroism and Surrender in World War II

This is so much more than military history. Smith has established a style of bringing individual players to life - brave and cowardly, brilliant and incompetent, or just plain ordinary - while driving forward his plot remorselessly. You know how it is going to end, but you are desperate to know what is going to happen to the individuals whom Smith has brought to life so vividly. Some of these people are fascinating: the Australian sheep-farmers who turned their weekend soldiering into military competence and bravery; the Indian professionals who had their loyalty so severely tested by the Japanese; the Japanese officers at the pinnacle of their careers; the dour Scottish sergeant-major who led his soldiers out of danger; several women who show their courage in different ways - and so on.

Smith takes an analytical and challenging look at the sheer awfulness of what happened, and it makes sobering reading. Our strategic assumptions were wrong, and we assembled the wrong force, giving them the wrong orders. A bad hand can be played well, yet, with some honourable exceptions, we failed to do even that. You read with equal fascination the story of the officer who stems the tide with his inspired leadership and the story of the officer who made the culpable decision to withdraw when there was no need to.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

No Lost Battalion

The 2/29th Battalion AIF arrived in Singapore on the 15th of August 1941 and in 1942 went into battle against the Japanese. Now sixty eight years on members of the Battalion agree to talk about their experience telling of their enlistment, training, battle, captivity, imprisonment enslavement, survival and homecoming.