Monday, August 10, 2009

Lt Sadanobu Watanabe

Was watching the “General Wars” on Satelitte TV last night. The episode was on The Battle of Singapore. General Yamashita vs General A.Percival. It was pretty interesting. New footage of the British Army were shown. Couple of facts were debated. Amongst the interesting trivials were, British Infantry carried an average of 18 kilos of kit vs Japanese infantry’s 32 kilos. The Japanese’s use of bicycle made that possible. Yamashita’s looted the British supplies of food and ammunition made his invasion of Malaya quicker.

In the programme, there was a section on the Battle of Slim river. A tank commander Lt Sadanobu Watanabe was highlighted how he single handedly broke through the road blocks set up by the Allied forces. On one of the bridges, Watanabe in true bushido style, personally jumped out of his tank and severed the demolition wires with his sabre before the British could destroy them. He continued to secure another 5 bridges in that battle.

Below are excerpts from the battle:

The 28th Brigade Positions

Before reaching the 28th Gurkha Brigade Shimada’s tanks were offered a perfect target in the form of Lt. Col. Cyril Stokes’ 5/14th Punjabis, who were in marching order (long columns of units following each other) on either side of the road to Trolak. Stokes’ Punjabis were heading up to reinforce Stewart’s brigade. Commanding Shimada’s three leading tanks was Lt. Sadanobu Watanabe, who lead his tanks straight through Stokes’ Punjabis, machine guns firing at the perfect target offered by the lined up soldiers. Lt.Col.Stokes was mortally wounded and his battalion suffered heavy casualties before Watanabe’s tanks carried on toward the road bridge (5/14th Punjabis mustered 146 officers and soldiers by 8 January ). By 8:00 a.m. the leading Japanese tanks were within Selby’s brigade H.Q. area. The 28th Brigade were completely unaware of what had happened to Stewart’s entire brigade and the Japanese tore through them faster, scattering both the 2/2nd and 2/9th Gurkhas, which were spread around Selby’s brigade H.Q. Although they suffered heavy casualties many of the soldiers from these two battalions made it across the rail bridge before the main Japanese force got to their position.

Like the Punjabi’s, the last battalion of Selby’s brigade, the 2/1st Gurkhas under Lt. Col. Jack Fulton, were on the march either side of the road as the Japanese tanks reached them. This time though, the marching column of Gurkha’s were facing away from the approaching Japanese and Watanabe’s tanks caught them from behind, the death toll was even higher than that of the Punjabis. One officer and twenty-seven other ranks answered roll call the next day. Fulton, wounded in the stomach and taken prisoner, would die in captivity two months later. Shimada’s tanks had by now broken through both brigades and were into the rear area of the 11th Indian Division, heading for the two bridges. Leaving the rail bridge for Shimada and the main Japanese force, Lt Watanabe headed toward the more important road bridge six miles away. In this attack Watanabe broke through the artillery, medical, and other support units in front of the road bridge. Two British artillery colonels were surprised and killed while driving on the road in this lightning attack. Upon reaching the road bridge at 8.30 a.m. Watanabe found it defended by a battery of Bofors anti-aircraft guns from the Singapore and Hong Kong Artillery Regiment. Although two of the guns managed to lower their barrels quickly enough to fire on the tanks, the rounds did not damage the tanks’ armor and the gunners fled. Watanabe himself cut the wires to the demolition charges on the bridge with his sword. It was still only early morning and the Japanese attack had managed to scatter the entire 11th Indian Division, leaving most of its survivors attempting to escape across the Slim River.

In the last part of this 16-mile Blitzkrieg-like attack Watanabe, now in control of the road bridge, sent a force of three tanks under the command of Ensign Toichero Sato to explore the other side of the river. Sato travelled three miles before encountering more British artillery, in the form of two 4.5 inch Howitzers from the 155th Field Artillery Regiment, RA. Sato’s tank opened fire on the first gun, turning it over and blocking the road. The gunners from the second gun managed to lower their barrels in time to fire on the tanks at point blank range. Sato’s tank was hit and destroyed, killing him, and forcing the other two tanks in his force to retreat back to the road bridge.

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