The Battle of Pasir Panjang initiated upon the advancement of elite Imperial Japanese Army forces towards Pasir Panjang at Pasir Panjang Ridge, on February 13, 1942, during World War II in the Battle of Singapore. 13,000 Japanese troops had made an amphibious landing in the northwest part of Singapore, near Sarimbun, advancing south towards Pasir Panjang. They had already captured Tengah Airfield en route. The 13,000 attacking Pasir Panjang comprised a significant part of the total strength of 36,000 Japanese troops attacking Singapore as a whole.
Great Britain's presence in Singapore began in the early nineteenth century, when the British East India Company ruled. Great Britain had an interest in controlling the Malay archipelago for its key importance of protecting trade to China. European colonial powers had their way in Southeast Asia until Japan became a Pacific Imperial power. Japan was awoken to Western military might when Admiral Commodore Perry forced the nation to sign a treaty of trade in the 1850s. That spawned an upheaval in Japan between the factions that wanted to continue Japan along traditional lines and those who advocated modernizing along western lines. In 1868, the pro-modernization forces succeeded in installing the Meiji emperor during the Meiji Restoration. From that time, Japan dedicated itself to modernization of government, military, education, and society.
Japan imitated not only the West's technology and society and determined to become the colonial power of the Pacific. Japan noticed that the western powers used their might to carve out colonial empires throughout Africa, the Middle East, India, Southeast Asia, and China. They became determined to create the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, a Japanese empire that spread over the islands of the Pacific, Southeast Asia, Korea, and China. Immediately after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, they attacked the Malay Peninsula. Japan completely conquered the Malay Peninsula by the end of January 1942, poised to launch the Battle of Singapore. The Battle of Pasir Panjang took place in the context of the greater Battle of Singapore. Japan won the Battle of Pasir Panjang, as well as the Battle of Singapore. The courage displayed by the Singapore troops, especially Adnan bin Saidi's force on Bukit Chandu, became a source of national pride for Singaporeans.
The 1st Malay Brigade (together with the British 2nd Loyal Regiment), commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel J.R.G. Andre, consisted of less than three sections of the Mortar Platoon and the Anti-Aircraft Platoon, with the Bren Gun Carrier Platoon under Captain R.R.C. Carter held in reserve. They received orders to defend the approach to Pasir Panjang ridge, known as "The Gap." The 44th Indian Brigade positioned on their right flank.
A Malay platoon, consisting of forty two infantry, commanded by 2nd Lieutenant Adnan bin Saidi, took part in the defenses of Bukit Chandu. He and his men would take the brunt of the Japanese assault.
The first battle between the Malay Regiment and Japanese soldiers occurred on February 13, at around 1400 hours. The Japanese 18th Division started to attack the South-Western coast along the Pasir Panjang ridge and astride Ayer Raja Road. The Japanese 56th Infantry Regiment, supported by a considerable force of artillery, attacked the ridge during the morning.
B Company of the Malay Regiment numbered among the units defending the line. Under heavy fire from the Japanese troops supported by artillery and tanks, B Company moved to the rear. But before that could be completed, the Japanese army succeeded in breaking through B Company's position. In the battle, the troops fought hand-to-hand combat using bayonets against the Japanese. A few from B Company managed to save themselves while the Japanese caught others as prisoners-of-war. That penetration led to the withdrawal, after dark, of both 44th Indian and 1st Malay Brigade to the general line Mount Echo (junction of Raja and Depot Road) Buona Vista.
On February 14, the Japanese again launched a heavy attack at 8:30 a.m., supported by intense mortar and artillery fire, on the front held by the 1st Malay Brigade. The defenders held off that and a number of other attacks. The fighting included bitter hand-to-hand combat, with heavy losses on both sides. At 1600 hours, an attack supported by tanks eventually succeeded in penetrating the left, and the defenders on that flank fell back to a line from the junction of the Ayer Rajah and Depot Road through the Brick Works and along the canal to Bukit Chermin. Owing to the failure of units on both its flanks to hold their ground, the 1st Malay brigade withdrew at 2:30 p.m. At that point, C Company of the Malay Regiment received instructions to move to a new defense position, Opium Hill.
Opium Hill or Bukit Chandu, in Malay, had been named after an opium-processing factory located at the foot of the hill. At that place, C Company of the Malay Regiment made their final stand against the Japanese attack. Opium Hill constituted a key defensive position for two important reasons. Situated on high ground, the vantage point overlooked the island to the north; and secondly, if the Japanese gained control of the ridge, it gave them direct passage to the Alexandra area. The British army had its main ammunition and supply depots, military hospital, and other key installations located in the Alexandra area.
A big canal separated C Company's position from D Company. Oil burned in the canal, which flowed from Normanton Depot. The burning oil prevented C Company soldiers from retreating further south. Captain H.R. Rix, a British officer, commanded the company. He encouraged the men to defend Opium Hill down to the last soldier, and died together with many of his Malay Regiment soldiers in the last defense battle at Pasir Panjang.
Japanese troops pressed their attack on Opium Hill in the afternoon under the guise of a deception. They sent a group of soldiers, dressed in Punjabi uniforms, passing themselves off as Indian soldiers in the British army. C Company saw through that trick, as they knew that soldiers of the British army usually marched in a line of three whereas the Japanese disguised soldiers marched in a line of four. When they reached the Malay Regiment's defense line, C Company's squad opened fire, killing at least twenty men. Those who survived escaped downhill.
Two hours later, the Japanese launched an all-out banzai attack in great numbers. The attack overwhelmed the allies, and the defense line finally shattered. Greatly outnumbered and short of ammunition and supplies, they continued to resist the Japanese. The troops used all kinds of arms, such as grenades, small arms, and bayonets. Soldiers engaged in fierce hand-to-hand combat using bayonets. Yet, they stood their ground, frustrating the Japanese. Adnan suffered serious wounds, but he refused to retreat or surrender, instead encouraging his men to fight to the end.
After a bloody battle, Pasir Panjang finally fell to the Japanese. They captured Adnan bin Saidi, wounded and unable to fight. Instead of taking him prisoner, the Japanese continuously kicked, punched, and beat the lieutenant. They then tied him to a cherry tree, bayoneting him to death.
For the entire Malayan Campaign, but largely on February 12, 13, and 14, 1942, in Singapore, the Malay Regiment suffered a total of 159 killed. Six had been British officers, seven Malay officers, 146 other ranks and a large but unspecified number wounded. About 600 surviving Malay Regiment soldiers reassembled in the Keppel Golf Link area. Here, separated from the British officers, they later joined POWs from the Indian Battalions at the Farrer Park concentration area. The number of Japanese casualties remains unknown today, but Singapore history books claim the Japanese suffered heavy casualties.
The Malay Regiment . . . showed what esprit de corps and discipline can achieve. Garrisons of posts held their ground and many of them were wiped out almost to a man (Lieutenant General Arthur Percival).
The battle of Pasir Panjang had little strategic significance. The allied units posted there actually had been in reserve, but instead had to withstand the main Japanese invasion force, and received no reinforcements whatsoever.
Many Singaporeans and Malaysians today describe Adnan bin Saidi as a hero for his actions on Bukit Chandu—he encouraged his men to fight to the death without surrendering. Their school history books credit him as the soldier who caught the disguised Indian troops' marching ploy. Some people today believe that Bukit Chandu has Paranormal activity, claiming they could hear Malay soldiers repeatedly shouting, "Fight on!" On February 15, 1942, General Arthur Percival surrendered, ending the Battle of Singapore.
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