Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Bicycle BLITZKRIEG





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.

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