Admiral Philips still convinced that the Fleet’s guns could ward off an air attack and satisfied that if he remained more than 200 miles from the coast of Indo-China he would be beyond range of Japanese aircraft, Phillips went ahead. According to one officer, Phillips told the assembled meeting: ‘I feel we have got to do something.’ Another recalled: ‘Admiral Phillips summed up in words something like this – “We can stay in Singapore. We can sail away to the East – Australia. Or we can go out and fight. Gentlemen, we sail at five o’clock.”’
The Prince of Wales and Repulse, escorted by the destroyers Express, Electra, Vampire (RAN) and Tenedos, cleared the dockyard boom at 1735 that evening and slowly increased speed to a steady 17 knots. Now identified by the code-name Force Z the squadron was headed by the flagship with the Repulse following 4 cables astern, and the ruddy glow of a spectacular tropical sunset painted a lurid backcloth above the port horizon as the ships altered course north-eastwards.
As the Japanese war machine was embarked for the Malay peninsula on 4 December in an armada of twenty-seven transport ships, its commander, Yamashita Tomoyuki, penned a poem:
On the day the sun shines with the moon
The arrow leaves the bow
It carries my spirit towards the enemy
With me are a hundred million souls
My people of the East
On this day when the moon shines
And the sun both shine.
Yamashita was the son of a country physician, but groomed by his father to be a career soldier from an early age. He had risen fast. He was an imposing physical presence; when on a peacetime posting to Korea he had taken up calligraphy and used the nom de plume ‘Daisen’, or ‘Giant Cedar’. He was a political general in whom many had seen a rival to Tojo, a man with whom, in his early career, Yamashita had been close. They became estranged when radical, reformist young officers of the ‘Imperial Way’ clique looked to Yamashita for leadership. When some of them were involved in a failed coup d’état in February 1936, Yamashita had interceded for them by insisting that an imperial representative should witness their suicides. This impertinence incurred the wrath of the emperor. In many ways, Yamashita saw his subsequent career as an act of expiation for this transgression. Thereafter, even on campaign, he would always place his desk to face the imperial palace in Tokyo. He fought in North China and was entrusted with a mission to Nazi Germany in June 1941, where Hitler and Goring had briefed him on Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union. On his return from Europe, he was posted by Tojo out of sight to Manchukuo, but such were his abilities that he was suddenly recalled to Tokyo when the government took the decision to go to war with the West. Only on 8 November 1941 was he given command of the 25th Army: three divisions of 60,000 men. On joining his command at its great muster in Hainan island, Yamashita announced he would be in Singapore by New Year’s Day.
There was hard calculation behind Yamashita’s optimism. Japanese planners were by now well briefed on British weaknesses. In November 1940, a British ship, SS Automedon, had been sunk in the Indian Ocean by a German raider. It was carrying to Singapore the pessimistic defence appreciations of the Imperial General Staff and, with them, a clear indication that Britain was unable adequately to reinforce Malaya. This golden trove of documents had been passed on to Tokyo. But Yamashita also knew that, should he fail, his career would be at an end. His officers were experienced, but most were unknown to him. Many key commanders, such as the sinister planning chief Masanobu Tsuji, were closely identified with his rival Tojo. The men of two of his divisions, the 5th and 18th, were hardened veterans of the war in China. They were supported by the elite Imperial Guard. Yamashita’s first order in assuming command in the field was ‘no looting, no rape, no arson’. To Yamashita, the war was not only one of liberation of subject peoples of Asia, but a sacred task undertaken beneath the full gaze of world opinion. On board the ship, each soldier was given a copy of Masanobu Tsuji’s booklet: Read This Alone and the War Can Be Won. It described war in ‘a world of everlasting summer’: the jungle and mangrove terrain, the food and hygiene, even etiquette in a mosque and local toilet habits (‘the left hand is regarded as unclean’). Soldiers were ordered to ‘show compassion to those who have no guilt’. But, ominously, they were also warned of the ‘Overseas Chinese’: they were extortionists and beyond the pale of any appeal to ‘Asian brotherhood’.
The armada soon ran into cloud. As it broke, around 3 p.m. on 6 December, 300 miles out from the coast of Malaya, the pilot of an Australian Hudson flying out of Kota Bahru sighted the ships. The message was radioed back to British commanders. Both Heath in Kuala Lumpur and Percival, en route from there to Singapore, expected Brooke-Popham to launch Operation Matador. He did not do so. He felt he had insufficient evidence of Japan’s hostile intent. Although Ultra intercepts made it clear that Japan was planning a strike against both Thailand and Malaya, they also left open the possibility that a feint was underway to provoke a British breach of Thai sovereignty, which – as Crosby in Bangkok kept impressing upon Brooke-Popham – might have disastrous diplomatic consequences. Further aircraft were scrambled, and a Catalina flying-boat approaching the fleet on the morning of 7 December was shot down by a Japanese naval Zero. The Japanese task force fanned out towards its landing sites along the coast. Still Brooke-Popham hesitated, to the fury of his subordinates. Proof positive of hostile intent came only with a sighting of warships and transports off Patani and Kota Bahru on the evening of 7 December. By this time Matador became, as it has remained, an academic exercise: it was never launched. Percival declared that it was now ‘unsound’ as it was too late to deny the Japanese the key landing grounds in Thailand. By 1.35 a.m. on 8 December Japanese landings had begun at Kota Bahru. It was the first land battle of the great Asian war: the attack on Pearl Harbor was still several hours away. The battle for Kota Bahru centred on its aerodrome; the Japanese rained fire on its defences. In one day sixty Allied planes in northern Malaya were put out of action. There was a shocked mood of paralysis in the town. As British officials gathered in the residency on the night of 8 December, there was ‘an eerie quietness’ in the air. ‘There was absolutely nothing to do,’ one recalled. It was never intended to defend Kota Bahru. The British commander took the view that once the European women and children were evacuated and the Sultan of Kelantan and his wives had withdrawn to his private residence inland, there was nothing there to defend. The Indian garrison fought back to the railhead at Kuala Krai. In the chaos of the retreat, the 1st Hyderabads who guarded the aerodrome killed their British senior officer. After the aerodrome fell, largely intact, the remaining civilians were ordered out. They told their Malay colleagues to stay at their posts and hope for the best. Kota Bahru would set a pattern to be repeated across the entire peninsula.
Shenton Thomas’s initial reaction to the landings would later haunt his memory: ‘I suppose you’ll shove the little men off’, he is said to have commented. The British had been blinded by racial assumptions: that the Japanese were small, myopic and with a level of military achievement below that even of the Italians. But Allied commanders were soon to concede that the Japanese were far tougher than their own troops. Many of the men of the 18th Division were hardy Kyushu coalminers. Wavell himself called them ‘an army of highly trained gangsters’. Most of the British soldiers had not seen combat before. Their steel helmets and respirators were superfluous; the Japanese went to war in shorts, a light shirt and plimsolls. This was inelegent but effective. The assumption that the Japanese could not tolerate jungle conditions was an irrelevance. ‘Malaya had the best roads in the British Empire’, wrote one engineer shortly afterwards, ‘with the possible exception of Great Britain.’ The Japanese hurtled down them, bypassing British prepared positions. Each Japanese division had been issued with 6,000 bicycles. Years of Japanese imports had left a profusion of spare parts in the towns and villages of Malaya. The ‘bicycle Blitzkrieg’ was strikingly effective; Allied troops mistook the sound of it for the rumble of tanks. One Japanese officer noted that those who had made the long journey down the peninsula, often cycling twenty hours a day, afterwards ‘had a lot of trouble in walking’.
Shenton Thomas had assumed, as did most of Malaya, that a British counterblow would come swiftly. One potential response was a rapid response from the Royal Navy. Yet on 8 December Admiral Phillips was in Manila, and there was no agreement in London as to Force Z’s role. Phillips initially planned to make for Darwin and then, in a symbolic gesture of Anglo-Saxon solidarity, to support the remnants of the US Pacific Fleet. Given the failure to repel the landings in the northeast of the peninsula, Phillips steamed north, leaving Singapore on the late afternoon of 8 December, to engage and destroy the Japanese landing flotilla. It was a bold, risky undertaking. Phillips demanded air cover off the Malayan coast at daylight on 10 December. He was told as he sailed that ‘Fighter protection on Wednesday 10th will not be possible’. Phillips had to rely on surprise. But late on 8 December he was sighted by Japanese aircraft, and decided to turn back to Singapore. He had almost come within sight of the Japanese strike force. Then, just before midnight, came reports of further Japanese landings at Kuantan. Force Z turned to meet them. Phillips did not ask for air cover, probably because he believed none was available, and that he was out of range of Japanese strike aircraft. He also believed in maintaining radio silence at sea. In the event, the Air Force did not know where he was. Neither, initially, did the Japanese. From Indo-China thirty bombers and fifty torpedo bombers had been despatched early on 10 December to find Force Z; they had flown far to the south, and, low on fuel, were returning home, when, just after 11 a.m., the cloud broke and the ships were sighted and attacked. Repulse and Prince of Wales were sunk. Phillips went down with his flagship and 840 men. Fighters had been scrambled from Singapore on the news of the attack. They arrived in time to see the destroyers picking up survivors. The sea lanes to Ceylon, India and Darwin lay open and unprotected.
On the same night as the Kota Bahru landings, the first air raids struck Singapore. They hit the shopping arcades of Raffles Place, blew out the windows of the department stores and threw up the turf of the Padang. But Chinatown bore the worst of it: around sixty people were killed. There was no blackout. The head of air-raid precautions was at the cinema at the time. Lim Kean Siew, son of the Penang Straits Chinese notable Lim Cheng Ean, witnessed the event with his student friends from the elite Raffles College. Its Class of ’41 included men who would dominate the government and politics of Singapore and Malaya for two generations, including two future prime ministers and one future king. ‘The heavens have opened’, commented one student. ‘The heavens had indeed opened for us’, Lim Kean Siew wrote. ‘From a languid, lazy and lackadaisical world, we were catapulted into a world of somersaults and frenzy from which we would never recover.’ Like many of his friends, Lim left Singapore and headed up-country for Penang to be met on arrival with word of the sinking of Prince of Wales and Repulse. This event stunned Britain’s Asian empire more deeply than any of the worse news that was later to come. The relentless demonstration of Japanese technological prowess did more to break civilian and military resistance than any other factor. Few people knew the fleet had even put to sea. The kingpin of the China Relief Fund, Tan Kah Kee, was called at his millionaires’ club on the night of 12 December with the ‘terrible news. I could not sleep a wink all night… the enemy had already landed on mainland Malaya, and since the enemy bombers were this effective, it seemed unlikely that Singapore could be defended’. When he was told the next day that the British treasurer had removed government bonds worth $8 million from the Overseas Chinese Banking Corporation, ready for them to be burnt, he concluded that the British had no intention of defending the island.
The main thrust of the Japanese advance shifted to the west coast. The British default defence of the borderlands, Krohcol, failed, and Heath’s III Corps fell back into northern Malaya. Yamashita had ordered kiromomi sakusen, a ‘driving charge’. His 5th Division and Imperial Guards competed against each other in the advance. The first of a series of theoretical lines of defence for the British was at Jitra in Kedah. Tsuji commented later that it should have held out for three months, but it collapsed in fifteen hours when Japanese tanks threw its defenders into demoralized confusion. Yamashita celebrated this at his forward HQ in the state capital of Alor Star whilst his troops foraged for ‘Churchill supplies’ of abandoned tinned food and fuel for their vehicles. Yamashita had now captured four ‘Churchill aerodromes’. The tactical retreat and piecemeal British defence of the north created chaos within Heath’s forces. For the remainder of the campaign they were unable to fall back to properly prepared positions. He told Percival that the only practical recourse was to draw back further and form a more robust line of defence in Perak. Vast military stores were abandoned. Within a month of hostilities 3,000 vehicles were crammed into northern Malaya. But within another month they had changed direction. Their Asian drivers were the principal targets of Japanese war planes. In Perak planters were recalled from their soldiery to get their labourers to work on defence projects in the state; they too were attacked from the air. Many of them fled, as people began to abandon the towns of northern Malaya.
The moral collapse of British rule in Southeast Asia came not at Singapore, but at Penang. The retreat through Perak had left Britain’s oldest possession in Malaya stranded. It too was a fortress with a designated ‘fortress commander’. But the decision was taken not to defend it. This gave the Japanese assault when it came, on 9 and 10 December, a terrible surreal quality. For the first two days Japanese planes flew reconnaissance missions, unchallenged. To E. A. Davis, an employee of the Eastern Smelting Company working as a volunteer fireman, it was ‘just like an aeronautical display’. The whole of Georgetown turned out to watch. However, on Thursday 11 December the planes attacked with bombs and almost continuous machine-gun fire. The spectators were hit in their hundreds. ‘They watched with fascination’, wrote Lim Kean Siew, ‘not knowing what was coming as a shoal of fish would stay to watch in silence as a fisherman surrounds them with a net.’ A downtown market was a principal target. Parked handcarts with their handles pointing skywards had been mistaken for ack-ack guns.
An English doctor, Oscar Fisher, recorded in his diary that the scene was like H. G. Wells’s War of the Worlds come to life. Refugees fled Georgetown to the suburbs and villages around Penang Hill. The centre of the metropolis had moved overnight. By evening of the first day traffic control, food distribution and policing were largely maintained by Asian and Eurasian ARP wardens and auxiliary firemen. The general hospital was overwhelmed by around 700 casualties: of these 126 died in the first twenty-four hours. There was no anesthetist available and amputations were carried out in the conditions of a nineteenth-century battlefield. There were fourteen operating tables being worked at once. ‘Everybody that could hold a knife was doing all sorts of operations’. The stench of gangrene was appalling. The full extent of the butchery was impossible to assess; it was two to three days before the fallen could be buried.35 Bodies still lay on the streets after the city’s capitulation. The resident commissioner estimated the number of dead and injured at 3,000; some 1,000 lay under the rubble. Army disposal units were overcome by the stench even wearing gas masks. Then came cholera and typhoid.
Japanese radio broadcasts taunted the British: ‘you English gentlemen: “How do you like our bombing? Isn’t it a better tonic than your whisky soda?”’ In the crisis, the politics of racial segregation within colonial society were taken to their brutish extreme. According to one British volunteer fireman who managed to escape, the resident commissioner of Penang, L. Forbes, forbade fire crews to take pumps past a line drawn along Penang Road, a commercial thoroughfare that divided the main area of European settlement from the Asian shophouses of Georgetown. Efforts were to be concentrated on residential property. The rest could burn. When the blazes later spread, he refused to have European homes destroyed as a firebreak. Firemen believed the Japanese planes were targeting them: of the 200 on duty, around sixty perished. The European evacuation was surreptitious and ignominious. The order to leave came quietly in the night on 16 December. Europeans gathered at the Eastern and Oriental Hotel, many of them under strict orders, disgusted at leaving their local staff and servants. Dr Fisher was told abruptly that it was ‘total war’ and he was needed elsewhere. Europeans crowded to the docks on every conceivable form of transport: six people to a rickshaw. At the quayside, the one senior Asian civil servant who had been served the order, the Chinese judge and Volunteer Force officer Lim Khoon Teik, was turned out of the boat, yet the fortress commander still managed to get his car on board. The quay was cordoned off by armed volunteers. Survivors from the Prince of Wales manned the ferries that evacuated the women. J. A. Quitzow, like many single women, had demanded to stay but was ordered out. The manner of the British withdrawal, she wrote a few weeks later, was ‘a thing which I am sure will never be forgotten or forgiven’.
There was no British officer to surrender the island to its new masters. It was M. Saravanamuttu, the Indian editor of the English language newspaper, the Straits Echo, who lowered the Union flag at Fort Cornwallis the next morning. Only one European stayed on the island, a doctor in the general hospital. The news of the surrender of the town was delivered to the Japanese by a Eurasian racehorse trainer, who cycled twenty-one miles to the command at Sungei Patani to tell them and to request that the bombing cease. Thus, over a century and a half of British rule came to an end.
The outrage at the desertion of Penang was inflamed by Duff Cooper’s statement, in a radio broadcast from Singapore on 22 December, that ‘the majority of the population had been evacuated’, and by accompanying images of Europeans disembarking from the ferries to tea and sympathy on the dockside at Singapore. Shenton Thomas had assured the Legislative Council of the Straits Settlements a few days earlier that there would be ‘no distinction of race’. But this was already contradicted by the military’s offer of free passages out for service wives. By the end of December the work of European women was on such a scale, with several hundreds in ‘essential war services’, that Thomas continued to resist the compulsory evacuation of married women without children and wondered if any compulsion should be placed on unmarried women to leave. And, as Percival too recognized, they worked side by side with Asian women. Duff Cooper and the governor were at loggerheads on the issue. The War Cabinet discussed it on the same day as Duff Cooper’s speech and Churchill affirmed the earlier principle of non-discrimination. ‘But’, the Cabinet noted, ‘this might not be so easy, since Chinese and Malayans would not be permitted to land in many countries.’ At this point only fifty Chinese and fifty Europeans had been given entry to the Commonwealth of ‘white’ Australia. Ceylon would only take 500 refugees and wanted preference given to the Ceylonese of Malaya. One solution was to take a token few non-European civilians out, land them in the Dutch East Indies and turn round the ships as quickly as possible. The application of this policy was left to the discretion of Duff Cooper. But he believed that it was scandalous to evacuate British troops first ‘and to leave the women and children to the tender mercies of a cruel Asiatic foe’.
Yamashita was enraged by reports of indiscipline in the wake of the capture of Penang. He had offenders from the Kobaysahi Battalion court-martialled and executed. Their battalion and regimental commanders – who were still in the front line – were placed under close arrest for thirty days. The rumour of war created terror and disorder ahead of the Japanese vanguard. Horror stories reached Malaya from the fall of Hong Kong on Christmas Day 1941. There had been a horrendous slaughter of civilians, over 2,000, as drunken Japanese soldiers ran amok in the flush of victory. European nurses had been raped and killed. Their patients had been bayoneted. British propaganda had played not only on the impregnability of Malaya’s defences, but on Japanese atrocities in China, particularly against women. It had striking success. So much so that when the British ceased to have faith in their ability to defend their own womenfolk, colonial rule shed much of its threadbare legitimacy. The loyalty of key servants of the eastern Raj was severely shaken. In Singapore, Sikh policemen were read a statement by the inspector general of police to explain the abandonment of many of their colleagues in Penang; they were told to accept it as ‘the fortune of war’. Reading it to them, their immediate senior officer added his personal assurance that he would stick by them in Singapore. He was later to escape the island. Japanese propaganda played on these betrayals. ‘Malayan and Indian soldiers!’ it proclaimed, ‘Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and cooperate with the Nippon Army!’
The leader of the Indian Independence League in Bangkok, Pritam Singh, called on overseas Indians ‘to eliminate the Anglo-Saxon from the whole of Asia’. Major Fujiwara Iwaichi, another Japanese intelligence officer who saw himself in the T. E. Lawrence mould, flew down from Bangkok with Pritam Singh to establish a branch of the IIL at Alor Star in Kedah. Fujiwara approached a disaffected Sikh captain of the 1/14 Punjab named Mohan Singh, who had been stranded in the retreat and surrendered near Jitra on 15 December. Fujiwara was impressed by the authoritative bearing and sense of discipline of the Indian army officer. He was enlisted to control Indian stragglers in the north, and persuaded to organize them into a new fighting force. It was to be an Indian National Army. From the outset, Mohan Singh impressed on the Japanese that the soldiers were ‘a very strange mixture’ and were dispirited by the fighting. It would take time to build and prepare a force. At a meeting in Alor Star on New Year’s Eve, the Indian officers involved insisted they would not fight in Malaya, but only in India, and then on equal terms with the Japanese. The name of Subhas Chandra Bose, still in Berlin, was mentioned. ‘In most cases’, Mohan Singh wrote to Fujiwara, ‘people worship him like a god.’ Mohan Singh came south with the advance, to Ipoh, Kuala Lumpur and finally Singapore. The POWs who came forward were given white armbands with the letter ‘F’ on them, to show they worked for Fujiwara’s organization. There were only 229 of them, but they added to the atmosphere of rumour and the disillusionment of Indian troops. Mohan Singh had brought into being, by this simple act, one of the great legends of the war in the East and a healing balm for India’s sense of self-respect. In Berlin, Subhas Bose learned of it almost immediately.
As European society rolled back down the peninsula it became entirely detached from the society it governed. The fall of Malaya was not only a military failure but a complete collapse of British administration. Alien artefact that it was, the Malayan Raj was very dependent on its technocratic achievements for legitimacy. The scorched-earth policy destroyed much of this and had a devastating psychological effect on the people of Malaya. Some questioned the policy; Percival himself was very conscious of the dangers of destroying Asian businesses. Many Europeans mourned a life’s work gone up in smoke. In Pahang, the British hastened to abandon not only the port of Kuantan but also the great lode tin mine, the largest in the empire, and the Raub gold mine. Everywhere the story was similar. Officials spent the last days of rule burning their papers, settling wages and dumping stores of rice. All useable transport, tanks, guns, agricultural and engineering plant, and even domestic animals, then joined the stampede south. In Trengganu, with the river bridges blown up and rumours of further Japanese landings at Kuantan, Europeans found themselves stranded, with no order to evacuate. The only way out was over the central range to Kuala Lipis. Fourteen Europeans, including two women, made a 120-mile forced march through the forest to the railhead, accompanied by two Malay policemen. The two European residents on Langkawi island north of Penang only heard about the fall of the north in a Japanese proclamation setting out the new arrangements of government. They fled by sampan and were picked up hundreds of miles south near Port Swettenham. Elsewhere, others took to the jungle.
By this time the industrial heartland of Perak and Selangor was no sanctuary. The casualties from air-raids on up-country towns were heavy; the first raid on Taiping claimed around sixty civilian lives. There was no alert and, again, the market and its surroundings were targeted. The army insisted on a curfew, with a shoot-on-sight policy, just as people began to take to the roads, especially along the coasts where more Japanese landings were expected. The British Resident in Perak was himself shot at as he evacuated, because there were several Malays in his car, who at this stage were all seen as suspect fifth columnists or looters. On 22 December the hotels and golf-courses of the Cameron Highlands were abandoned. The manager of the Cameron Highlands Hotel, Felix Inggold, described morosely to his client the Rajah of Sarawak how hé destroyed his Christmas stock of liquor, all $14,000 worth. As the British pulled out an emotional appeal was made to the Asian members of the local defence force to show their loyalty by remaining with their units. ‘After lengthy discussions amongst themselves, they settled the matter by resigning as a body’. This was repeated elsewhere. Communities had to take responsibility for their own defence. For Ho Thean Fook, a young primary school teacher in Papan in Perak, the first sign of the British rout came with the arrival of a Chinese propaganda theatre troupe from the mining centre of Ipoh. A young actor announced to the townspeople: ‘the British are treating their empire as property and handling the whole thing as if it were a business transaction’. The civic-minded had already taken basic services into their own hands. They had the presence of mind to lay on a tea party for the vanguard of the Imperial Army. As Japanese troops rolled in they demanded women. But in this, too, the townspeople were prepared: all the young women were in hiding. One local recognized the Japanese interpreter as the owner of a photography shop in nearby Ipoh.
On 20 December Port Swettenham was bombed, and on 26 December Klang and Kuala Lumpur. In Klang, Japanese planes came in low over the rubber estates and machine-gunned everything they saw. It was, the British ARP warden, wrote, ‘Klang’s Waterloo, for from that day it ceased to exist as an organised community’. The bombing had lasted less than a minute. Businesses closed, the streets cleared. In Kuala Lumpur, government buildings were demolished and the local watering place, the Spotted Dog, was hit. Kuala Lumpur was the scene of some of the most drastic scorched earth, with the destruction of railway stock and the great marshalling yards at Sentul. British soldiers resented the hard labour this involved. One subaltern saw a sign affixed to an army truck: ‘We are the wogs’. As many as 51 million cigarettes, $50,000 worth of whisky and 800 tons of meat in Cold Storage’s stockroom were destroyed. There was general looting, less for profit than for food from shuttered provision stores. On the night of 9 January the final clearance occurred. The general hospital was abandoned by the military, who had occupied it, and its patients consigned to the care of Asian doctors. Bangsar power station was blown up and the police disbanded. The residency was cleared in five cars and three lorries. The stokers for the trains south from Kuala Lumpur were again recruited from survivors of the Prince of Wales. The government veterinary officer at Banting, on the coast, with Tamil labour drove 2,300 head of government Bali cattle nearly fifty miles down the coast; this stampede was eventually to arrive in Singapore. It was estimated that three-quarters of the Asian population had left the town. One European, the medical officer of the leper settlement at Sungei Buloh, refused to leave. The patients were left with a little food and with 60,000 hoons of opium; 2,000 sufferers of a population of 3,000 were to die within two years. They were also to become a centre of support for guerrilla resistance to the Japanese.
For the Japanese, the principal obstacle on the road to Kuala Lumpur was a ‘rocky bastion’ at Kampar, a 4,000-feet high crag some ten miles south of the mining centre of Ipoh, which was evacuated by 26 December. The last to leave here were the Chinese and Eurasian girls who had manned the telephone exchanges for the military. The position was caught by a dramatic Japanese flank attack, using a flotilla of forty motor boats brought overland from the beachhead at Singora in Thailand and reassembled at the mouth of the Perak river. There were no Royal Navy ships to intercept them. Faced with the landings of Imperial Guards, the British were forced to fall back from Kampar to the Slim river, where Japanese medium tanks cut through the battered and exhausted troops of 11th Indian Division and all but broke it as a fighting force. There were few anti-tank rifles; key bridges were not blown up; stranded units fell into the hands of the Japanese. The road to Kuala Lumpur was open. The first Japanese troops entered the capital of what had been the Federated Malay States on the evening of 11 January. Lieutenant-Colonel Tsuji was among them: ‘This metropolis’, he recorded, ‘presented a dignified and imposing modern appearance.’ Passing through streets lined with Chinese shophouses, ‘We felt as though we had entered the crossroads of the central province of China.’