Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Battle of Muar

By mid-January the Japanese had reached the southern Malayan state of Johore where, on 14 January, they encountered troops from the Australian 8th Division, commanded by Major-General Gordon Bennett, for the first time in the campaign. During engagements with the Australians, the Japanese experienced their first major tactical setback, due to the stubborn resistance put up by the Australians at Gemas. The battle, centred around the Gemensah Bridge, proved costly for the Japanese, who suffered up to 600 casualties but the bridge itself, which had been demolished during the fighting, was repaired within six hours.

As the Japanese attempted to outflank the Australians to the west of Gemas, one of the bloodiest battles of the campaign began on January 15 on the peninsula's West coast near the Muar River. Bennett allocated the weak 45th Indian Brigade (a new and half trained formation) to defend the river's South bank but the unit was outflanked by Japanese units landing from the sea and the Brigade was effectively destroyed with its commander, Brigadier H. C. Duncan, and all three of his battalion commanders killed. Two Australian infantry battalions, which had been sent to support the 45th Brigade, were also outflanked and their retreat cut off, with one of the Australian battalion commanders killed in the fighting around the town of Bakri, south-east of Muar. During the fighting at Bakri Australian anti-tank gunners had destroyed nine Japanese tanks, slowing the Japanese advance long enough for the surviving elements of the five battalions to attempt an escape from the Muar area.
Led by Australian Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Anderson, the surviving Indian and Australian troops, formed Muar Force and fought a desperate four day withdrawal, to allow remnants of the Commonwealth troops withdrawing from northern Malaya to avoid being cut off and to push past the Japanese to safety. When Muar Force reached the bridge at Parit Sulong and found it to be firmly in enemy hands, Anderson, with mounting numbers of dead and wounded, ordered "every man for himself". Those that could took to the jungles, swamps and rubber plantations in search of their division headquarters at Yong Peng. The wounded were left to the mercy of the Japanese and all but two out of 135 were tortured and killed in the Parit Sulong Massacre. Anderson was awarded a Victoria Cross for his fighting withdrawal. The Battle of Muar cost the allies an estimated 3000 casualties including one brigadier and four battalion commanders.

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