ON IO December the Far East War Council was formed at Singapore. Its composition was as follows:
Chairman: The Rt. Hon. A. Duff Cooper, Cabinet representative in the Far East.
Members: The Governor and High Commissioner Malaya; the Commander-in-Chief Far East; the Commander-in-Chief Eastern Fleet; the General Officer Commanding Malaya; the Air Officer Commanding Far East; Mr. Bowden, representing Australia, and later Sir George Sansom, as being responsible for propaganda and Press control.
Secretary: Major Robertson, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders (staff officer to the Cabinet representative in the Far East).
In addition to the above, Maj.-Gen. Gordon Bennett, commanding the A.I.F., was told that he was at liberty to attend meetings if and when he wished to do so, so that when matters affecting the Australian troops were under discussion they would be properly represented.
In January, after the departure from Singapore of Mr. Duff Cooper and Sir George Sansom, the Governor and High Com-missioner became chairman, Mr. Scott took Sir George Sansom’s place, and Mr. Dawson became secretary. Later Brigadier Simson, as Director-General of Civil Defence, joined the Council.
The Council met at Sime Road at 9 a.m. daily and the meetings usually lasted about two hours. As the operations in the Far East developed, the discussions in the Council tended to concentrate somewhat naturally on what was happening in Malaya and in Borneo. Hong Kong was fighting an isolated battle and really nothing much could be done to help the garrison there. The responsibility for the defence of Burma was, on 15 December, transferred from the Commander-in-Chief Far East to the Commander-in-Chief India. So in effect there was little left but the Malaya and Borneo theatres. It has been suggested that the composition of the Council tended to concentrate interest too much on what was happening in these theatres at the expense of the wider issues. Personally I do not hold that view. I feel that if the composition of the Council had been more limited and its discussions confined to the bigger issues, there would have to have been other meetings on a lower level and some of the mem¬bers would of necessity have had to attend both. When things were moving so fast it was difficult enough to find time even for the one meeting. I do think, though, that it might have been better if the meetings had been held a little later in the mornings, as was done with the War Cabinet meetings in London, so that the Service commanders could have had more time to discuss with their staffs and, when necessary, with each other matters scheduled for discussion at the Council meetings.
The plan for the defence of the Jitra position in north Kedah was to hold it with two brigades forward, the 15th Indian Brigade on the right and the 6th Indian Brigade on the left. Of the two forward battalions of the 15th Brigade the 2 fg Jats extended from the hills on the right flank of the position to a point exclusive of the main road. On their left were the 1st Leicesters, whose front included both the main and Perlis roads. West of the latter they linked up with the 2nd East Surreys, the right battalion of the 6th Brigade whose front included the wooded Pisang salient forward of the Alor Changlih canal. On their left the 2/16 Punjab Regiment was responsible for the whole front from the railway to the sea. It had permanent positions on the railway and coast only and patrolled the several miles of padi and marsh which intervened. The remaining battalion of the 15th Brigade, the 1/14 Punjab Regiment, had the role of delaying the enemy between the frontier and Asun and of occupying an outpost position at Asun, subsequently coming into brigade reserve. The outpost position of the 6th Brigade at Kampong Imam on the Perlis road was to be held by the reserve battalion, the 1 /8 Punjab Regiment less the two companies which, as we have already seen, had been sent forward into Thailand to make contact with and delay the enemy. The 28th Indian Brigade less one battalion was to come into divisional reserve on arrival in the Alor Star area. Its detached battalion had the role of lines of communication and paratroop protection between Alor Star and Sungei Patani. The divisional artillery consisted of 155th Field Regiment of two batteries each of eight 4-5-inch howitzers, the 22nd Mountain Regiment, less one battery in Kelantan, armed with an assortment of weapons, the 80th Anti-Tank Regiment, less one battery in Kelantan, with thirty-six 2-pounders, the 16th Light A.A. Battery with sixteen Bofors and, on its way up, the 137th Field Regiment with twenty-four 25-pounders. Of the other divisional troops the 3rd Cavalry was in Penang with a squadron at Sungei Patani. This unfortunate regiment, “mechanized” in the phrase of one of our politicians “in the sense that it had been deprived of its horses” was, on paper, the divisional reconnaissance regi¬ment with an imposing array of armoured vehicles. Of these it actually had none and, if it had had them, it would not have been able to drive them. It consisted of three squadrons of dismounted men, many of them recruits, sent from India with little training and no vehicles and equipped in Malaya with a few unarmoured trucks. Its fighting vehicles were scheduled to arrive later. It was totally unfit for its role of divisional reconnaissance unit.
During the afternoon and evening of the eighth, the 6th and 15th Indian Brigades moved into the Jitra position and set to work to complete the defences. There was much to be done. Some of the wire and some anti-tank mines, which had been kept ready for MATADOR, had to be put out. Posts which had become water¬logged and fallen in had to be cleared, as also had fields of fire where they had become overgrown. To make matters worse the rain, which started again on the eighth, continued almost without ceasing up to the twelfth, the day of the Japanese attack. The effect of the rain on the demolitions, all of which were charged on the eighth, must also be taken into consideration when the story of their failure is told.
On the Singora road there was no contact during the ninth, the enemy apparently being held up by the demolitions carried out by our covering force, or it may be that he was waiting till more of his troops and equipment could be landed. Early on that day our air force attacked targets in the Singora area but, owing to total lack of fighter support, several aircraft were lost and little was effected. The enemy air force also was very active. Alor Star aerodrome was again heavily bombed during the morning and it was so obviously untenable that its evacuation was ordered by the Air Officer Commanding. The sound of the explosions and the sight of the burning buildings had a great psychological effect on the troops of the nth Indian Division who had been told that their task was to secure this aerodrome for the use of our air force.
A bogy which first raised its head on this day and continued to do so later on was the paratroop and air-borne landing threat. Lines of communication protection troops were kept constantly on the move tracking down reported paratroops, none of whom actually existed. Some of these scares may have been caused by fifth columnists; many were undoubtedly caused by well-meaning but ignorant people who mistook the puffs of bursting A. A. shells for opening parachutes. Such is one of the handicaps of fighting with inexperienced troops in a country whose people are unaccustomed to war.
Contact with the enemy was re-established on the Singora road shortly after midnight on IO-II December, and our covering troops, who were in a poor tactical position, withdrew behind a stream immediately south of the Changlun cross-roads. To conform with this movement our covering troops on the left flank withdrew from the State of Perlis to a position about Kodiang. It would have been most unwise from a strategical point of view to have left troops in that State, but this withdrawal provided the first instance, of which there were many afterwards, of our inability to provide for a native State the protection which we had guaranteed it by treaty. In such a loose confederation it was perhaps natural that the native rulers should be thinking first and foremost of the security of their own States, and our inability to ensure this did nothing to strengthen the ties between them and the British administration.
The Jitra position was not yet ready, so on the tenth Murray Lyon instructed Garrett, the commander of the 15th Indian Brigade, that he must hold the enemy north of Asun, a swampy defile three miles north of the Jitra position, at least until the morning of the eleventh. Garrett asked for another battalion and was given the 2/1 Gurkha Rifles, less one company, from the 28th Indian Brigade. This latter battalion took over the defence of the Asun position releasing the whole of the 1/14 Punjab Regiment for operations in the forward area.
At about 8 a.m. on the eleventh the 1/14 Punjab Regiment was attacked in the Changlun position. For a time all went well but by about midday enemy troops, who had worked round the right flank, had succeeded in establishing themselves in the centre of the battalion’s position. Mortar bombs fell about battalion head¬quarters and Garrett, who was there at the time, was wounded in the head but insisted on carrying on. The role of the battalion was to delay but not to become involved, so it was decided to withdraw behind the next good anti-tank obstacle at Asun. Murray Lyon, however, wanted more time to complete the Jitra defences and appears to have instructed the covering force not to withdraw behind the Asun obstacle until compelled to do so. A temporary position was therefore selected about two miles in front of Asun and subordinate commanders were sent back to reconnoitre it. By 4.30 p.m. the withdrawal was well under way. It was pouring with rain and visibility was poor, when straight down the road came the blitz. Out of the mist and rain, blazing indiscriminately ahead and to both sides with cannon and machine-guns, came twelve medium tanks. Behind them were light tanks and charging infantry. Before the men of the covering force, few of whom had ever seen a tank before, had recovered from their bewilderment the tanks had passed through them and were approaching the bridge in front of the Asun outpost position. The sapper in charge of the demolition pressed the exploder but it failed. It was not until the leading tank was almost on the bridge that it was hit by a bullet from an anti-tank rifle and brought to a standstill. The road was blocked and other tanks were knocked out. The blitz had been temporarily stopped but at heavy cost. The 1 /14 Punjab Regiment had been completely overrun. Some of them made their way back but many were never seen again. Some guns were lost and the brigadier himself was cut off and did not rejoin till the following day.
The enemy tanks had for the time being been halted in front of the Asun position, but the 2/1 Gurkha Rifles were soon being hard pressed by infantry. By 6.30 p.m., the tanks had come on again and were engaging battalion headquarters. Shortly after-wards the battalion commander decided to withdraw all his three companies, but communications had been broken and the order did not reach many of the forward troops. They continued to fight where they were until they were overwhelmed. Thus this battalion also became, for the time being, a total loss and a severe blow, of which the news did not filter back to divisional head¬quarters or to any of the troops on the Jitra position for several hours, had already been dealt to the 1 ith Indian Division.
It was not the only disaster on this luckless day. On the Perlis road, as may often happen with inexperienced troops, a demolition was exploded prematurely behind the covering and outpost troops. For various reasons it was not repaired in time, and all the trans¬port, guns, and carriers of the covering and outpost troops and seven anti-tank guns in the main Jitra position were lost.
Withdrawals are admitted to be among the most difficult opera¬tions of war even for seasoned troops, and the above incidents, which have been described in some detail, serve to illustrate the great difficulty of conducting them successfully with inexperienced troops. They had a profound influence on the battle of Jitra.
But this was not all that Murray Lyon had to think about. The situation of Krohcol was now such as to cause him great anxiety. Opposition from the Thais continued throughout the morning and early afternoon of the ninth until our leading troops were approaching the village of Betong when it suddenly ceased. Here the column stopped for the night. At dawn the following morning the 2/3 Australian Reserve M.T. Company, a tough and cheerful lot of men, most of whom had had experience in the First World War, arrived to embus the 3/16 Punjab Regiment and take it forward to the Ledge. When about four miles short of its objective, however, the advanced guard came under fire, this time from Japanese troops. It continued to advance for one and a half miles and then was held up. The Japanese force landed at Patani had, with the help of the Thais, won the race for the Ledge. An encounter battle developed in which there was heavy fighting with considerable casualties on both sides, but again the issue was decided by Japanese tanks. The 3/16 Punjab Regiment fought splendidly on this day as it did also the following day, meeting repeated Japanese attacks with the utmost steadiness, but it had lost most of one company in a Japanese tank attack and by the evening of the eleventh its casualties had passed the 200 mark. In the meantime, however, the 10th Mountain Battery and the 5/14 Punjab Regiment less one company had arrived at Kroh and had been ordered to take up a position about ten miles north of Betong. Moorhead estimated that he was opposed by four enemy battalions and reported accordingly to Murray Lyon, under whose orders he then was. It was the night after the disastrous affair at Asun, and Murray Lyon in reply sent a personal message to the effect that the object of Krohcol must now be to ensure the safety of the whole division by preventing the enemy from debouching on to the lines of communication about Sungei Patani. Moorhead was given full permission to withdraw as necessary to the Kroh position where his stand must be final.
At sea a great disaster had befallen us. On the eighth, Admiral Phillips, with a view to helping us to repel the inyasion, had decided to take action with his two capital ships against the Japanese forces in the Gulf of Thailand. He was put into direct touch with the Air Officer Commanding Far East with regard to the air co-operation required and asked for three things:
(a) Reconnaissance one hundred miles to the north of the force from daylight Tuesday, 9 December.
(b) Reconnaissance to Singora and beyond ten miles from the coast starting at first light on 10 December, and
(c) Fighter protection off Singora at daylight on 10 December.
The Air Officer Commanding replied that he could provide the first, hoped to be able to provide the second, but could not provide the third. The doubt about the second was that the reconnaissance would have to be provided by Blenheim IV’s based on Kuantan aerodrome, and it was uncertain whether this aerodrome would be out of action or not. The reason why the third requirement could not be provided was mainly that the northern aerodromes were either untenable or else had been badly damaged by bombing. This meant that fighters would have had to operate from aerodromes at considerable distance from Singora and, owing to the short endurance of the Buffalo, they would have been able to remain only a very short time over that area before having to return to refuel. There was a shortage of fighter aircraft and it was therefore impossible to guarantee continuous fighter protection.
Late on the afternoon of Monday, 8 December, the battleship Prince of Wales and the battle cruiser Repulse, escorted by four destroyers, left Singapore. It is more than likely that their departure was announced by a pro-Japanese wireless set which throughout the campaign transmitted messages from the Singapore-Johore area but which defied vigorous and repeated efforts to locate it. In any case, on the evening of 9 December the British fleet, when steaming northwards off the east coast of Malaya, appears to have been located by a Japanese reconnaissance aircraft and by a Japanese submarine. A Japanese air striking force, which was being held in readiness in south Indo-China for this purpose, set off for a night attack on the fleet but ran into thick weather and was forced to return to its base. The Commander- in-Chief Eastern Fleet, however, realized that his movements had been seen and that the element of surprise had been lost. He decided to abandon the project of entering the Gulf of Thai¬land and to return to Singapore. Then intervened one of those chances of fate which so often influence great events. Early on the night 9-10 December beach defence posts in the Kuantan sector had reported hostile ships closing the shore. Fire was opened and spread along the front. No landings actually took place, but there is evidence to show that there was either an attempt to land or a feint. Reports of these happenings which were sent back by wireless were transmitted to the Eastern Fleet and the Commander-in-Chief, spoiling for a fight, decided to clear up the situation before returning to Singapore. Reconnaissance aircraft were flown off and the fleet closed the shore. But the Japanese were not idle. At dawn they sent off more reconnaissance aircraft which, at about 10.15 a.m., located the British fleet for the second time. Off went the air striking force again and at about 11.15 a.m. it attacked the Prince of Wales and Repulse when about sixty miles off Kuantan. Torpedo-bomber attacks succeeded high-level attacks with startling rapidity. The great ships were turned this way and that to meet the attacks but they could not be turned quickly enough so rapidly were the attacks delivered and before long both ships had been dealt mortal blows. By 1.20 p.m., both ships had been sunk. Fighter aircraft from Singapore answered the S.O.S. call immediately but could only arrive in time to see the ships go down and to protect the destroyers as they picked up the survivors. Fortunately two thousand one hundred and eighty- five of the ships’ crews were saved, though many of them were badly burned and most of them were suffering from shock. But the Commander-in-Chief Eastern Fleet, Tom Phillips, was lost, as also was John Leach, of the Prince of Wales. Bill Tennant of the Repulse went down with his ship but had the good fortune to be picked up by a destroyer.
The news of this disaster spread rapidly through Malaya. There is no denying that its moral effect was great, as few people, even in the Services, knew that the fleet had put to sea. Only a week before, the arrival of these splendid ships had been heralded with great rejoicing, and now they had gone. It hardly seemed possible. But when the first effects had worn off dismay gave place, at least among the British, to a grim determination to avenge them. Anyway, we knew now what we were up against.
Professional and amateur naval strategists may argue for many years to come whether Admiral Phillips was right to accept the risks he did and whether he got all the air support that could have been given him. Perhaps the latter question is easier to answer than the former. I can say without hesitation that he did. Pulford had been a naval officer himself. He knew what the navy wanted, told them what they might expect, and left no stone unturned to do everything possible to help them. I was constantly with him during those days and I know this to be true. As regards the first question, let us realize that the ships had been sent out to the Far East as a threat to the Japanese in the hope of deterring them from entering the war. The threat failed, partly because by the time they arrived the Japanese were already irrevocably committed to war. The Commander-in-Chief then found himself in the invidious position of having an unbalanced fleet—two capital ships with very little to protect them. It was no good keeping the ships inactive at the Singapore base where they would have been subject to constant air attack. Perhaps, taking the long view, the best course would have been to join up with other Allied naval forces. Certainly the presence of these ships in the battles round Java would have been invaluable. But who at that time could have foreseen the events of the next few months? The immediate problem was to hold Malaya and neighbouring allied territories, and it was in an endeavour to help to solve this problem that Tom Phillips led out his fleet. He gallantly “marched to the sound of the guns”, as we say in the army, and in doing so he followed the great traditions of his Service. Undoubtedly he accepted great risks, but “nothing risked nothing gained”, so let us pay tribute to a very gallant effort which failed more from the inherent weakness in the composition of our fleet and from the brilliance of the enemy’s attack than from any fault in planning.
In the sphere of naval operations, some slight compensation came from the success of a flotilla of Dutch submarines which, quickly coming to our assistance in accordance with a pre-war plan, sank four Japanese ships in the waters off Patani and another two off Kota Bharu.
In the air the situation was not much better. The Japanese Air Force was already well established on the aerodromes in South Thailand. Indeed, photographs showed that there were at least a hundred aircraft massed on the Singora aerodrome—a wonderful target if we had had anything with which to attack them. There were also, of course, the long-range aircraft operating from the aerodromes in South Indo-China. The Japanese probably had at least 500 modern aircraft available at this time. Constant attacks were kept up on our small air force and its bases in North Malaya, in which we suffered heavy losses. The situation was made worse by our lack of fighter protection and of proper anti-aircraft ground defence. On the tenth the large aerodrome at Sungei Patani in South Kedah had to be evacuated and by the eleventh practically all the aerodromes in North Malaya had become untenable. On the tenth also the first of a series of heavy Japanese air attacks on Penang Island took place. It was carried out by seventy enemy bombers and Georgetown was the target. There were no anti-aircraft defences except small arms fire, for the guns destined for Penang had never arrived, and there were few shelters. The inhabitants thronged the streets to watch the attack, so novel did it all seem. The casualties from this raid ran into thousands. A large part of the population left Georgetown and moved to the hills in the centre of the island, but the A.R.P. and the medical and the nursing services stood firm. The small garrison, in addition to manning the defences, had to assist the civil administration by replacing the personnel of essential municipal services. They also had to help to remove and bury the corpses which were left putrefying in the streets. This experience was to be repeated in other places in Malaya.
On 9 and 10 December, twenty-two Glen Martin bombers and nine Buffalo fighters arrived from the Netherlands East Indies. We must never forget the promptitude with which the Dutch came to our help both on the sea and in the air. Later also they sent a land detachment specially trained in guerrilla fighting.
As a result of the enemy’s fighter superiority it was decided on 11 December that bombing, except in special circumstances, must be confined to the hours of darkness. It had also become clear that we could not hope to regain superiority without powerful reinforcements. The safe arrival of these reinforcements therefore became the first essential in our air strategy. In consequence it was laid down by the Commander-in-Chief that the primary task of our fighters would be the defence of the Singapore base and the protection of convoys bringing land and air reinforcements to Malaya. This meant that the Army would suffer greatly from the lack of air support in the fighting on the mainland—a situation which had to be accepted but which had a very big influence on the course of the operations.
On 10 December I issued the following Special Order of the Day:
In this hour of trial the General Officer Commanding calls upon all ranks Malaya Command for a determined and sustained effort to safeguard Malaya and the adjoining British territories. The eyes of the Empire are upon us. Our whole position in the Far East is at stake. The struggle may be long and grim but let us all resolve to stand fast come what may and to prove ourselves worthy of the great trust which has been placed in us.
We left the nth Indian Division on the eve of the battle of Jitra and rather disorganized as a result of the misfortunes which had befallen their covering and outpost troops. It had little respite, for shortly after midnight, 11-12 December, the Japanese launched their attack against the left forward company of the 2nd Jats east of the Singora road and before long the frontage of attack had been extended to cover the right forward company of the Jats and the right forward company of the Leicesters on their left. Fighting went on for the rest of the night and as so often happens in night battles, the fog of war descended upon the battle-field. Reports of enemy penetration reaching formation headquarters were almost invariably exaggerated if not entirely false. The situation was made worse by the excessive width of the defensive position which made it comparatively easy for enemy troops to infiltrate between posts. No doubt these reports and the dangerous situation which was developing on the Kroh front influenced Murray Lyon when, at about 8 a.m., he asked 3rd Indian Corps for permission to withdraw his division to the Gurun position thirty miles to the south. This position on the southern edge of the large rice-growing area of Kedah was one of the strongest natural positions in North Malaya. It had been reconnoitred and selected as a rearward defensive position but had not yet been put into a state of defence. Nor had a long thirty-mile withdrawal straight to this position ever been contemplated in our pre-war planning, for it would have prejudiced the defence of the aerodromes which it was our task to protect. When the request reached 3rd Corps headquarters, Heath was already on his way to Singapore to confer with me with regard to our east coast strategy, so the request was telephoned direct to my headquarters. Apart from the objections to the proposed plan from a tactical point of view I felt that such an early and long withdrawal must have a most demoralizing effect both on the troops and on the civil population. This view was endorsed by the Far East War Council, so I replied to the effect that, pending further orders, the battle must be fought out on the Jitra position. Actually at that time the Leicesters were still holding their positions as also were most of the Jats, though as regards the latter the true state of affairs was not known until long afterwards.
During the morning the Japanese infantry continued to attack our right flank in close formation, supported by the fire of their tanks, of which several were now immobilized. In spite of heavy losses they succeeded in effecting deep penetration. The situation was not improved by the fact that, as already related, Garrett, the commander of the 15th Indian Brigade holding that front, had himself been wounded and cut off the previous evening and did not rejoin till later in the day. As a temporary measure Carpendale, the commander of the 28th Indian Brigade in reserve, was ordered to command both brigades. Apart from the difficulty of the dual command he was handicapped by the fact that he was not fully au fait either with the terrain or with the defence scheme.
The Japanese advance on the right flank was temporarily halted by a counter-attack launched by reinforcements drawn from the 6th Indian Brigade on the left, but early in the afternoon a wide gap had developed between our reserves facing the enemy on this .flank and the right of the Leicesters who were still holding their original positions. To fill this gap Carpendale ordered the Leicesters to withdraw and take up a new position south of Jitra facing both east and north. South of this position was the River Bata, unfordable and crossed only by the main road on an iron bridge. This bridge was the enemy’s immediate objective and late in the afternoon he succeeded in bringing it under close-range fire. It was our life-line and for a time there was much confusion on the road. The situation became so menacing that at about 7.30 p.m. Murray Lyon again asked for permission to withdraw. The request reached me while I was still in conference with Heath. After consultation we informed Murray Lyon that his task was now to fight for the security of North Kedah and suggested that the best tactics might be to hold up the enemy tanks on good natural obstacles and to dispose his forces to obtain considerable depth on the two parallel north-south roads which cross the rice-growing area thus obtaining greater scope for his artillery. He was also informed that reserves would be sent as soon as possible for operations in his divisional area.
The divisional orders for the withdrawal from Jitra were sent out at 9 p.m. The plan in outline was that the 28th Indian Brigade, reconstituted under Carpendale and with one battalion of the 15th Brigade under its command, should hold a position between Langgar and the south bank of the River Kedah at Alor Star. This meant a withdrawal of some ten miles. The 6th Indian Brigade was to occupy a position seven miles farther back at Simpang Empat. The remainder of the 15th Indian Brigade was to be in reserve. This withdrawal would have been difficult under the most favourable conditions. With the troops tired, units mixed as a result of the day’s fighting, communications broken and the night dark, it was inevitable that orders should be delayed and that in some cases they should not reach the addressees. This was what in fact occurred. Some units and sub- units withdrew without incident. Others, finding themselves unable to use the only road, had to make their way as best they could across country. On the left flank there were no roads so some parties reached the coast and, taking boats, rejoined farther south. Some again were still in position the following morning. The fact is that the withdrawal, necessary as it may have been, was too fast and too complicated for disorganized and exhausted troops, whose disorganization and exhaustion it only increased. On the day after the battle the strength of the 15 th Indian Brigade was only about 600 and it was temporarily unfit for further fighting. The 6th Indian Brigade, though still a fighting formation, had also had serious losses. In the 28th Indian Brigade one battalion had suffered severely but the other two had only had light casualties. Several guns had been lost, chiefly through becoming inextricably bogged in the deep mud or by being cut off on the wrong side of demolitions. A large number of vehicles were lost for similar reasons. The loss of Bren gun carriers and other war material had also been heavy. These were serious losses as there were few replacements in Malaya.
The nth Indian Division needed to be relieved, rested, and reorganized before it was called upon to fight again, but there were no troops available to relieve it. Nor for another four weeks was the division to be relieved—weeks during which it was constantly fighting, withdrawing, and standing to fight again, with scarcely a respite.
In the battle of Jitra, as elsewhere, the Japanese infantry showed themselves resourceful and masters of infiltration tactics. They attacked in the traditional Japanese manner without regard to loss. They showed a shrewd appreciation of the moral value of noise, especially when it could be produced by Chinese crackers or other methods in rear of our troops. For supporting fire they relied chiefly on the infantry gun and the mortar, though they also used stationary tanks as strong-points. It is, however, probably true to say that the battle of Jitra was half lost before it began. The necessity for covering the Alor Star aerodrome had forced us to take up a weak tactical position. The change from an anticipated offensive to a strategical defensive had, as has been stated, an adverse moral effect on the troops. The temporary loss of two battalions on the previous day had left serious gaps in the reserves on the right flank. In consequence, when the enemy broke into the defences, the reserves were not strong enough to prevent them getting control of the one vital artery of communications. Veteran troops would have found these conditions trying enough. They were in some cases too trying for the young and inexperienced troops of which the nth Indian Division was composed.
On 12 December I placed the Command Reserve, the 12th Indian Brigade Group, at the disposal of the commander of the 3rd Indian Corps for employment on the west coast. With exception of the 4/19 Hyderabad Regiment, which had to be withdrawn from Kelantan, the brigade group began to move forward immediately by road and by rail.