Friday, July 31, 2009

Force 136

Force 136 was a British-led underground resistance group that operated in Malaya during World War II. There were about 50 members in the group which performed acts of sabotage and espionage against the Japanese.

The Oriental Mission of SOE attempted to set up "stay-behind" and resistance organisations from August 1941, but their plans were opposed by the British colonial governor, Sir Shenton Thomas. They were able to begin serious efforts only in January 1942, after the Japanese Invasion of Malaya had already begun.

An irregular warfare school, STS 101, was set up by the explorer and mountaineer Freddie Spencer Chapman. Chapman himself led the first reconnaissances and attacks behind Japanese line. Although the school's graduates mounted a few operations against the Japanese lines of communication, they were cut off from the other Allied forces by the fall of Singapore. An attempt was made by the Oriental Mission to set up an HQ in Sumatra but this island too was overrun by the Japanese.

[edit]Malayan Communist Party

Before the Japanese attacked Malaya, a potential resistance organisation already existed in the form of the Malayan Communist Party. This party's members were mainly from the Chinese community and implacably anti-Japanese. Just before the fall of Singapore, the party's Secretary General, Lai Teck, was told by the British authorities that his party should disperse into the forests, a decision already made by the party's members.

In isolation, the Communists formed the Malayan Peoples' Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA). Their first arms and equipment were either donated by STS 101 before they were overrun, or recovered from abandoned depots. The MPAJA formed rigidly-disciplined camps and units in the forest, supplied with food by networks of contacts among displaced Chinese labourers and "squatters" on marginal land. Chapman had remained in Malaya after Singapore fell, but had no radio or means of contacting Allied forces elsewhere. Nevertheless, the MPAJA still regarded Chapman as the official British authority, and Chin Peng was appointed liaison with Chapman.

Singaporean World War II hero Lim Bo Seng had returned to Malaya from Calcutta in 1942, and recruited some agents who had made their way to India by 1943. Force 136 attempted to regain contact with Chapman in Operation Gustavus, by infiltrating parties which included Lim Bo Seng and former STS 101 members John Davis and Richard Broome by sea into the area near Pangkor Island. Their radio was unable to contact Force 136 HQ and the MPAJA contacts on Pangkor Island were betrayed to the Japanese.

The radio brought in by Gustavus was finally made to work in February 1945. Chapman was able to visit the Force HQ in Kandy and report. By this time, Force 136 had substantial resources, and in the few months before the end of the war, they were able to send 2,000 weapons to the MPAJA and no less than 300 liaison personnel. About half of these were British who had worked or lived in Malaya before the war, the others were Chinese who had made their own way to India or who had been taken there by Force 136 for training. With these resources, the MPAJA was built up to become a substantial guerilla army with about 7000 fighters. However, Japan surrendered before it had a chance to stage a major uprising.

In isolation in jungle camps for several years, the MCP and MPAJA had purged themselves of many members suspected of treachery or espionage, which contributed to their post-war hard-line attitude leading in turn to the Malayan Emergency.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Local Heroine Sybil Kathigasu

I remember years ago preparing for my history test there was a little mention of a freedom fighter in Malaya by the name of Sybil Kathigasu, whose heroic exploits against the Japanese army in Malaya were documented in her memoir, No Dram of Mercy. There is not even a whisper of her and her sacrifices nor was she officially given any recognition by the powers-that-be. This is despite the fact that she played a great role in providing healthcare to the terrorised local community during Japanese rule. She remains an icon of bravery and courage, and her only literary work was what is left today.

Sybil Kathigasu (1900-1948), a Eurasian Malayan, was the wife of Dr AC Kathigasu who operated a clinic at No 141, Brewster Road in Ipoh. Days before Japanese troops occupied Ipoh on Dec 26, 1941, the family escaped to the nearby town Papan. Japan began to land troops on Peninsular Malaya on Dec 8, 1941 at the Sabak Beach in Kota Baru, Kelantan. While staying at a shop house at No 74, Main Road, Papan, the British loyalist Sybil Kathigasu secretly kept shortwave radio sets and clandestinely listened to BBC broadcasts to be kept informed of the situation around the world, especially in Britain and Europe. Those acts were considered criminal and highly subversive by the military administration of Japan in Malaya.

Later, she also secretly supplied medicines, medical services and information to the underground communists and guerilla forces of the 5th Independent Regiment of the Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA) fighting against the occupation in nearby hills and jungles. Sybil Kathigasu and her husband were eventually arrested in 1943, severely tortured and ‘convicted’. They were jailed until the liberation of Ipoh by communist partisans in August 1945.

She was then flown to Britain for medical treatment. There, she began to write
No Dram of Mercy and was awarded George Metal in Buckingham Palace by the King of the United Kingdom. As a result of the injury sustained during her incarceration, Sybil Kathigasu passed away in 1948 in Britain but, to fulfill her last wish as a Malayan, her body was flown back to Ipoh and buried at the Catholic cemetery besides the St. Michael Church.

Besides detailing her own clandestine activities in Papan and torture in Ipoh, Sybil Kathigasu also outlined the socio-cultural landscape and wartime atmosphere in the Ipoh-centered Kinta Valley during the 1940s.
She also vividly recorded the pre-occupation bombing in early and mid-December 1941 as well as the liberation of Ipoh in August 1945. Last year, the Chinese translation of
No Dram of Mercy was launched in Kuala Lumpur and Ipoh where a memorial service was also held in her honour. 2005 was the 60th anniversary of the end of the Pacific War and the liberation of Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore.

Local Hero Lim Bo Seng

Lim Bo Seng, despite his privileged background and success as a businessman, was staunchly anti-Japanese even before the war came to Malaya. An active contributor of the China Relief Fund, he was later the Director of the Labour Service Department in the newly formed Singapore Chinese Mobilisation Council. Certain to be a target of reprisals for the Japanese, he was compelled to flee Singapore just before it capitulated. He managed to reach Sumatra where he then made his way to Colombo and finally to Calcutta in India. There, he met a British officer, Basil Goodfellow, who persuaded him to join the British efforts in setting up a joint China-Britain espionage network in Malaya. He then proceeded on to Nationalist China to recruit overseas Malayan Chinese for this task. This resistance network came to be known as Force 136.

He was held in high regard by the British and other members of Force 136 for his patriotism, leadership and organisational abilities. After receiving training from the British in India, the men of Force 136 were inserted into Malaya via submarine in batches. Appointed leader of the Malayan Chinese section, he personally arrived in Malaya in November 1943 to co-ordinate the efforts. He was one of the five signatories in the Bukit Bidor Agreement signed on 1st Jan 1944 where the British and the Malayan Communist Party agreed to work together and support each other against the Japanese.

Tragedy was to strike when he was stopped at a checkpoint at Gopeng and arrested. He had earlier ignored warnings and pleas from his comrades about the danger of his mission, which was to revamp the entire intelligence network and solicit funds from his wealthy friends. Brought to Batu Gajah Prison, he was subjected to continuous interrogations and torture by the infamous Kempeitai. Lim Bo Seng was already weak in health, having just gone for a haemorrhoids operation in India before arriving in Malaya. To make matters worse, he suffered from dysentery. Finally, on 29th June 1944, he succumbed under the immense suffering and passed away.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Convent Light Street Penang

The Penang Convent Light Street school was used to a POW internment camp during the war. On April 22,1943 U.S.S. GRENADIER SS210 was sunk by an airplane off the coast of Sumatra. Survivors were taken POW and taken to Penang and the convent Light Street held in cognito for about 3 or so months while being interragated by the Japs. During the captivity, the prisoners scratched their names on the walls of the buildings.

USS Grenadier (SS-210), a Tambor-class submarine, was the first ship of the United States Navy to be named for the grenadier fish, relatives of cod that are very common in bathyal and abyssal habitats.

Her keel was laid down by Portsmouth Navy Yard in Kittery, Maine, in April 1940. She was launched on 29 November 1940 sponsored by Mrs. Walter S. Anderson, wife of the Director of Naval Intelligence and commissioned on 1 May 1941 with Lieutenant Commander Allen R. Joyce in command.

The submarine departed Australia on 20 March on her last war patrol and headed for the Strait of Malacca, gateway between the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Patrolling along the Malay and Thai coasts, Grenadier claimed a small freighter off the island of Phuket on 6 April. She remained in the area and late in the night of 20 April sighted two merchantmen and closed in for the attack. Running on the surface at dawn 21 April, Grenadier spotted, and was simultaneously spotted by, a Japanese plane. As the sub crash dived, her skipper, Commander John A. Fitzgerald commented "we ought to be safe now, as we are between 120 and 130 feet (40 m)." Just then, bombs rocked Grenadier and heeled her over 15 to 20 degrees. Power and lights failed completely and the fatally wounded ship settled to the bottom at 267 feet (81 m). She tried to make repairs while a fierce fire blazed in the maneuvering room.

After 13 hours of sweating it out on the bottom Grenadier managed to surface after dark to clear the boat of smoke and inspect damage. The damage to her propulsion system was irreparable. Attempting to bring his ship close to shore so that the crew could scuttle her and escape into the jungle, Commander Fitzgerald even tried to jury-rig a sail. But the long night's work proved futile. As dawn broke, 22 April, Grenadier’s weary crew sighted two Japanese ships heading for them. As the skipper "didn't think it advisable to make a stationary dive in 280 feet of water without power," the crew began burning confidential documents prior to abandoning ship. A Japanese plane attacked the stricken submarine; but Grenadier, though dead in the water and to all appearances helpless, blazed away with machine guns. She hit the plane on its second pass. As the damaged plane veered off, its torpedo landed about 200 yards (200 m) from the boat and exploded.

Opening all vents, Grenadier’s crew abandoned ship and watched her sink to her final resting place. A Japanese merchantman picked up eight officers and 68 enlisted men and took them to Penang, Malay States, where they were questioned, beaten, and starved before being sent to other prison camps. They were then separated and transferred from camp to camp along the Malay Peninsula and finally to Japan. Throughout the war they suffered brutal, inhuman treatment, and their refusal to reveal military information both frustrated and angered their captors. First word that any had survived Grenadier reached Australia on 27 November 1943. Despite the brutal and sadistic treatment, all but four of Grenadier’s crew survived their two years in Japanese hands.

U boats and submarines all in Penang

I've been researching about Malaya during the war and there's just tons of stories that never quite made it into mainstream history books. Maybe it's too insignificant but to me this little stories are in fact quite interesting. Little did we know the Germans were planning to use Penang as their Far East base for the infamous u boats. So did the Japanese. Penang was turned into an Axis submarine base soon after defeating the British.

German records indicate that discussions for a German U-boat base in Malaya had begun as early as August 1942. The base was intended for the provision and support of U-boats operating in the Indian Ocean. The Germans did not have overseas bases and with few exceptions, were they able to use neutral ports. Setting up an Eastern base was no easy task and demanded considerable resources which could have been otherwise channeled for the Atlantic campaign. Why then was Germany interested in an Eastern base?

One of the reasons was due to necessity. Before the German invasion of Russia (Operation Barbarossa) commenced in June 1941, land and air transportation between Germany and Japan was possible. The two allies often seek to exchange knowledge and other raw materials. Germany needed rubber, metals such as copper and bismuth, and medicines such as quinine. On the reverse, Japan needed steel, mercury and optical glass. In addition, the two nations were interested in each other’s latest military hardware, including prototypes of the latest weapons and blueprints for research.

After the invasion of Russia, the only practical means of exchange was by sea. Initially, this was met by surface blockade-runners running to and from the Far East. But the British blitz in 1942 disrupted the flow of materials that by the end of 1942, it became clear that German supply lines were being threatened and the situation could not continue as it is. As a consequence, a proposal was put forth by Admiral Donitz on February 1943 to use submarines for transport purposes. In order to provision for U-boats traversing the Indian Ocean, an Eastern base was clearly required.

Another reason for German interest in an Eastern base seem to suggest that while the Atlantic campaign was going well for the Germans, U-boat operations gradually extended southwards, down the African coast and finally up to the Cape of Good Hope. In its quest for more fertile fields, it was only logical to further extend into the Indian Ocean, where it is believed that Allied ASW capabilities were not as sophisticated as those in the Atlantic. Finally, with the collapse of the Atlantic campaign in May 1943, U-boats needed to be on the offensive elsewhere and with that, U-boats were dispatched to their Far Eastern bases in mid 1943 to undertake offensive operations in the Indian Ocean. Planning however for these bases had already begun, as early as late 1942.

Finally, other indications suggest that the Japanese themselves had on several occasions requested for German U-boats to operate in the Indian Ocean. Donitz was unreceptive of the proposal and viewed it as an unnecessary diversion from the Atlantic campaign. But with the collapse of the Atlantic campaign in May of 1943, the approval was finally given.

The motivation for German interest in the Far East is likely due to a combination of factors – but one thing is absolutely clear. On February 20 1943, a strategic decision was made to send the first wave of submarines to the Far East. These were not German U-boats, but Italian transport submarines, codenamed Aquila and Merkator. Their mission was to ply to and from Asia, ferrying rubber and other scarce raw materials.

Barely a month later, on March 28 1943, U-178 departed from France and enroute to the Indian Ocean, BdU sent a message that she was to sail to Malaya and set up a U-boat base there. After having replenished from a surface tanker in the Indian Ocean, the U-178 arrived in Penang at the Malayan Peninsula on August 1943. KK Wilhelm Dommes became the first commander of the German U-boat base in Asia.

Penang, was selected as the main U-boat base. A second base was established at Kobe, Japan, and a small repair base was located at Singapore, Jakarta and Surabaya.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Malaya's Japanese Gestapo

Years before the invasion,  Japanese secret agents were already stationed in Malaya carrying out subversion and providing intelligence information, troops and war materiel. These Japanese immigrants, or first generation descendants of Japanese born in Malaya, were considered doho, or compatriots by Japanese traditions and law. Their allegiance to the Emperor and Japan was assumed by Japan's leaders. The doho in Malaya included the Japanese Editor of a local journal, a Japanese diplomat (arrested for espionage), thousands of Japanese prostitutes, businessmen, dentists, photographers and barbers. The policy of this editor was to oppose the pro-England, pro-Southeast Asia policies of local newspapers and soften public opinion in Japan's favor. The prostitutes, passed on pillow talk, and the businessmen, dentists, photographers and barbers were all well-placed to collect intelligence, take photos and glean intelligence while hearing the chatter of their customers and social contacts.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Captured or copied military vehicles

Picture: Harley Davidson motorcycle, Bren gun, Universal carrier and Chevrolet Truck?

Whilst researching the Japanese Army's equipment I came across many photos and equipment which at 1st glance I thought they were captured allied equipment but at a closer look they are Japanese equipments. The Japanese concept of copying european designs came as early as they started their industrial revolution. From the Type 38 rifles (Mauser design) to their type 96 light machine gun (bren gun) you can almost see where the original forms came from. While the original designers took years to perfect their creations, the Japanese cleverly shortcut the whole process by copying what is already a very well tested design.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Despite transport scheduling problems and sighting of the invasion force by British reconnaissance aircraft while enroute to the landing area, the initial landing took place at 0215 (local time) 8 December 1941, one hour twenty minutes before the attack on Pearl Harbor. The landings were highly successful and largely unopposed, except at Kota Bahru where the expected stiff resistance was encountered. The British had previously anticipated the precise invasion landing points in a 1937 study done by the then-General Officer Commanding (GOC) of Malaya, Major General W.G.S. Dobbie. He theorized that a future assault would take place during the northeast monsoon season (October through March), when bad weather would limit the reconnaissance capabilities of the defenders. MATADOR, a defensive plan based on Dobbie’s work, was formulated but never executed because the British government did not want to violate Thai sovereignty without a prior declaration of war.

Within four days of their landing, 5th Division had advanced from Singora through the town of Jitra to capture the RAF airfield at Alor Star, nearly 100 miles away. Using flanking techniques developed by Yamashita’s staff, the 25th Army swept over town after town and airfield after airfield. There were numerous obstacles to the advance, such as the dense jungle, long supply lines, oppressive heat, and torrential rains, but the quickly over-run enemy positions provided tons of so-called “Churchill Stores:” food, ammunition, trucks, and fuel left by the retreating British. By 11 January 1942, the invasion force had captured Kuala Lumpur.

Influenced by the intense heat and impassable jungle, Japanese planners decided from the beginning to use bicycles rather than horses as a means of troop and light material transportation. This decision allowed the foot soldiers to travel farther, faster, and with less fatigue. Due to the vast number of rivers on the Malay peninsula, and the British propensity to destroy the more than 250 bridges they crossed during their retreat, bicycles allowed the infantry (to continue) their advance, wading across the rivers carrying their bicycles on their shoulders,or crossing on log bridges held up on the shoulders of engineers standing in the stream.

The British could not escape the troops on bicycles. They were overtaken, driven off the paved roads into the jungle, and forced to surrender. The constant pressure and relentless pursuit was psychologically devastating to the defenders; a true blitzkrieg—Japanese-style.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Lieutenant Thomas Wilkinson

Thomas Wilkinson VC (1 August, 1898 - 14 February 1942) of Widnes was an English recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealthforces.

He was 43 years old, and a temporary lieutenant in the Royal Naval Reserve during the Second World War when the following deed took place for which he was awarded the VC.

A native of Widnes, Lancashire, Wilkinson was a Lieutenant (Temp.) in the Royal Naval Reserve, serving as captain of the 1000-ton patrol vessel HMS Li Wo, a former Yangtze River passenger steamer, in the days leading up to the fall of Singapore to the Japanese. From his citation: “On 14th February, 1942, HMS Li Wo . . . was on passage [in the Malayan Straits, Java Sea] from Singapore to Batavia. Her company consisted of eighty-four officers and men, mainly survivors from HM ships and Army and Air Force units. Her armament was one 4-inch gun (with 13 practice shells) and two machine-guns. Since leaving Singapore she had beaten off four air attacks and had suffered considerable damage. Late in the afternoon she sighted two enemy convoys, the larger being escorted by Japanese fleet units, including a heavy cruiser and some destroyers. Lieutenant Wilkinson, with the unanimous backing of his mixed company, decided to engage the convoy and to fight to the last, inflicting what damage he could. He knew that his ship faced certain destruction. In the action that followed the machine-guns were used effectively, and a volunteer gun-crew fought the 4-inch gun to such purpose that they hit and set on fire a Japanese transport. After a little more than an hour, HMS Li Wo was critically damaged and was sinking. Lieutenant Wilkinson decided to ram the damaged transport. It is known that this ship burned throughout the night and was probably sunk. Having ordered his ship to be abandoned, Lieutenant Wilkinson himself went down with her. Lieutenant Wilkinson's valour was equaled only by the skill with which he fought his ship. The Victoria cross is bestowed upon him posthumously in recognition of the heroism and self-sacrifice displayed not only by himself but by all who fought and died with him.” Wilkinson’s name is listed on the Liverpool Naval Memorial; his V.C. medal is on display at the Imperial War Museum, London. (bio by: Paul F. Wilson)

Brigadier Arthur Edward Cumming

Another VC recipient. Pretty much unreported. Brigadier Arthur Edward Cumming VC OBE MC (18 June 1896 - 10 April 1971) was a recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.

Cumming was 45 years old, and a lieutenant colonel in the 2/12th Frontier Force Regiment, Indian Army, Commander during the Second World War when the following deed took place for which he was awarded the VC (currently displayed at the National Army Museum).

On 3 January 1942 near Kuantan, Malaya, the Japanese made a furious attack on the battalion and a strong enemy force penetrated the position. Lieutenant Colonel Cumming, with a small party of men, immediately led a counter-attack and although all his men became casualties and he, himself, had two bayonet wounds in the stomach he managed to restore the situation sufficiently for the major portion of the battalion and its vehicles to be withdrawn. Later he drove in a carrier, under very heavy fire, collecting isolated detachments of his men and was again wounded. His gallant actions helped the brigade to withdraw safely. He later achieved the rank of brigadier.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Japanese Snipers

I was always intrigued by the sinister Japanese snipers. They wrecked havoc on the US marines during the assaut on Iwo Jima. So far i haven't read much about their role in the Malaya campaign.

During the early part of the Sino-Japanese War, the Japanese annoyed with German trained Chinese snipers decided to develop snipers for themselves. The first Japanese sniper rifle was developed in 1937. 'The Japanese were equipped with a number of different rifles, the earliest, a 6.5mm Type 38, dating back to 1905. Under the guidance of Colonel Namio Tatsumi, the 6.5mm Type 97 and 7.7mm Type 99 rifles were developed, being equipped with 2.5x or 4x power telescopic sights. One advantage of the smaller 6.5mm cartridge was that there was almost no smoke from the discharge, and the sound of the rifle-a distinctive high-pitched "crack"-made it very difficult to locate.

Training in camouflage, fieldcraft and other such techniques were common to normal Japanese infantry, so a Japanese sniper was specially trained only in shooting and given a sniper rifle. The Japanese did develop some unique sniper-related items, like tree-climbing spikes, for use by their snipers. Snipers were trained together with normal riflemen in an infantry unit. Usually, there was one sniper in one rifle platoon. Sometimes, snipers were gathered and formed a sniper team.

During the Malaya campaign, the Japanese used snipers who would take down British, Australian, and Indian troops while dressing in local native attire to disappear into the population after attacks. This was a trick learned from the Chinese. Some of the Japanese "snipers" faced by Allied troops were actually just marksmen asked to harrass the Allied troops more than men specifically trained as snipers.