Japan, eager to acquire raw materials and maintain economic self-sufficiency amidst various embargos, targeted key American, British and Dutch positions in the Far East in December 1941. Among the targets were Malaya and Singapore – Britain’s strategic military centre in the region and home to lucrative tin and rubber plantations. Although outnumbered, the Japanese advanced rapidly through dense jungle and monsoon rains, forcing the poorly-prepared British and Commonwealth forces to eventually retreat to Singapore on the southern coast. With little hope of reinforcement or escape, the fortified city was relentlessly bombarded and assaulted until 15th February 1942, when the largest surrender of British forces in history was negotiated.
The above picture depicts a scene from the fighting at Jitra in the north-west, which saw a single Japanese battalion and tank company scatter two Indian brigades in little more than a day. At 0600 hrs on 12th Dec, infantry of the 5th Reconnaissance Regiment and tanks of the 3rd Company, 1st Tank Regiment attacked east of the main road between the junction of the 1st Leicestershire and 2/9th Jats Battalions in heavy rain. A counter-attack was launched by the 1/8th Punjab Battalion, but was quickly repulsed, and at around midday the Japanese renewed their attack, overrunning a company of the 2/9th Jats and even reaching a reserve Gurkha battalion. Later in the day a hasty retreat was ordered for all units in Jitra, but not without much confusion, panic and a significant loss of manpower and equipment.
By Ibrahim Zamir