Monday, June 29, 2009

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

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