Chapter XVII – OPERATIONS IN CENTRAL AND EAST JOHORE

WE were now back on a ninety-mile front on the general line of the one and only lateral road which runs from Mersing on the east coast via Jemaluang, Kluang, and Ayer Hitam to Batu Pahat on the west coast. Behind us there was no prepared position upon which to fall back, for the pre-war project to construct defences from Kota Tingghi to the west coast had, as we have seen, made little progress, largely for financial reasons. Nor was the country generally very suitable for anything in the nature of a protracted defence. The main body of the 18th British Division had not yet arrived and it would be at least another fortnight before it could be deployed on the mainland. But some other reinforcements had arrived. These included the 44th Indian Infantry Brigade (Brigadier Ballantine), a sister brigade to the 45th which had fought at Muar. It was equally raw and only semi-trained. I dared not send it into action at once on the mainland, so I decided to retain it on Singapore Island in the hope that it would get a chance of some training and also be able to work on the defences. We found it accommodation in the south-western part of the island. The reinforcements also included 7,000 Indian troops. They also were extremely raw and untrained. To make matters worse there were very few non-commissioned officers among them and that was what we most needed now in the Indian units. After discussing the matter with Heath, I decided that it would be unwise and even dangerous to draft more than a proportion of these men to the units. The balance were retained in the reinforcement camps. From Australia came a machine-gun battalion and 2,000 reinforcements. Many of the latter had only been in the army for a few weeks. Excellent material they were but not soldiers as yet. I have no wish to blame the authorities either in India or in Australia for sending these untrained men. After all they had no better to send at that time. But I make these factual statements so that the public may understand from this concrete case what in fact are some of the fruits of our failure to prepare for war. Let it not be forgotten also that these untrained men were included in all estimates of the strength of the garrison of Singapore Island.

From the middle of January, i.e. as soon as they could escort their bombers with fighters, the Japanese Air Force carried out daylight attacks on targets in the Singapore area on a scale of two or three attacks daily by formations of twenty-seven or more bombers. They were mostly directed against our aerodromes, but some against the Naval Base and later the docks area. The air defences of Singapore, both active and passive, were now thoroughly tested and within their limits worked satisfactorily. They were, of course, seriously handicapped by the contraction, and eventually by the total loss of, the warning system. They were handicapped also by the fact that the Japanese aircraft usually flew at heights of over 20,000 feet which rendered our 3-inch A.A. guns quite ineffective. But the co-ordination of the guns and the fighters under a senior air force officer worked smoothly, though the appointment of an air defence commander, having under him all the means of air defence, would probably have been better. For a few days there were some great aerial battles as our Hurricanes went into action but these died down as the Japanese Air Force again asserted its superiority. Matters were made very much worse than they otherwise would have been, both on the aerodromes, at the Naval Base, and later at the docks, by the disappearance of civil labour as soon as the bombing started.

The air directive issued from the headquarters of the South- West Pacific Command is of interest. It laid down that the protection of convoys should take precedence over all other tasks, but that all available air effort should be directed against expeditions threatening the east coast of Malaya or endeavouring to pass south of Singapore. Further, it stressed the importance of slowing up the Japanese advance on land by attacking Singora and by intervening in the land battle, and of reducing the scale of the Japanese air attack. That directive, in view of the extreme weakness of our air force at that time, suggests a failure to appreciate the realities of the situation. For instance, the attacks on Singora were seldom made by more than half a dozen machines and it is idle to suppose that this could have any material effect on the rate of the Japanese advance.

It was still my intention to deploy the 18th British Division on the mainland if I could, as this was the only way of achieving our object of protecting the Naval Base. We were up against much the same problem as had arisen in Central Malaya, i.e. the defence of the string of aerodromes and landing-grounds at Kahang, Kluang, and Batu Pahat, with a view to preventing the Japanese doubling the scale of their air attacks on the Singapore area and on the reinforcement convoys as they came in. The one lateral road which connects these places was an important factor in the problem.

The orders for the further conduct of the operations were given out at conferences held at Yong Peng on 21 January and at Rengam on 23 January. Briefly, they were to the effect that, after the withdrawal from Yong Peng, all troops in Johore, except those in the extreme south which formed part of the defences of Singapore, would come under the 3rd Indian Corps. These troops were to be grouped into three separate commands. Firstly, there were those on the east coast, to be known as Eastforce, whose role was to hold Jemaluang and Kahang with detachments forward in the Mersing area. These came under Brigadier Taylor, the commander of the 22nd Australian Brigade which was already in this area. Secondly, there was Westforce under Gordon Bennett which consisted of the remainder of the A.I.F. and the 9th Indian Division and which was responsible for the defence of Kluang and Ayer Hitam. In fact, it became responsible for the defence of the two lines of advance via the railway and the main trunk road which passed through these two places respectively. Thirdly, there was the nth Indian Division under Key, whose role was to hold the Batu Pahat area and operate on the west coast road. The 53rd British Brigade Group, as soon as it could be released by Westforce, was to join this division.

It will be seen that the defences were in fact concentrated round four areas, i.e. the Jemaluang-Mersing area, the Kluang area, the Ayer Hitam area and the Batu Pahat area. These areas were to a large extent inter-dependent because, if the enemy succeeded in capturing any of them, he would be in a position to move against the flanks of the adjoining ones. The weakness lay in the fact that in some areas, especially between Ayer Hitam and Batu Pahat, there were secondary lines of advance along which Japanese mobile troops (and they were all pretty mobile) could move against our communications.

It was for reasons indicated above that I laid down that the general line Jemaluang-KIuang-Ayer Hitam-Batu Pahat would be held and that there would be no withdrawal from this line without my personal permission. I am doubtful even now whether this decision to keep the final authority in my own hands was a wise one, though it was made after talking the matter over with Heath. In favour of it was the fact that there were many considerations involved which could not be known to the local commander in Johore. Against it it could be argued that things were moving so rapidly that only those in close touch with the situation could be in a position to make the necessary quick decisions.

As Batu Pahat proved to be the decisive area in our long line of defence it will be best to take the operations in that area first. Batu Pahat itself was a district centre and small coastal port of the same type as Muar. The town lies some seven miles from the coast on the south bank of an estuary which was crossed by a power-driven road ferry. Roads radiate from the town north-westwards to Muar, northwards to Bukit Payong, and thence to Yong Peng, eastwards to Ayer Hitam, twenty miles away, and south-eastwards along the coast to Pontian Kechil and thence to Johore Bahru, passing on the way through the fishing villages of Senggarang, Rengit, and Benut. Batu Pahat itself is dominated by the jungle-covered Bukit Banang, which lies to the south of the town. Before the war, many rubber estates and iron ore mines in this district were owned by the Japanese who had spread their influence far and wide. When their forces arrived here, therefore, they were on well-known and prepared ground. In fact, one of the former residents returned as a colonel commanding troops.

Batu Pahat had first been garrisoned on 15 January by troops of the 1 xth Indian Division and it was, as we have seen, on the following day that the leading Japanese troops landed near the lighthouse. After a skirmish they disappeared on to the jungle- covered slopes of Bukit Banang. Here they remained, defying the attempts of our rather inexperienced troops to expel them, raiding our gun positions and communications, and being supplied by air when they ran short of food and ammunition.

The strategical importance of the Batu Pahat area was obvious, and immediate steps had to be taken to strengthen the garrison. The headquarters of the 6th/i5th Indian Brigade (Brigadier Challen) was moved there and by the evening of the nineteenth the garrison consisted of two British battalions, a company of the Malay Regiment, a weak field battery of four guns only, a heavy anti-aircraft battery and some administrative units. The landing- ground, which lies a few miles south of Batu Pahat, had already been denied. The task allotted to the force commander was to hold the town and to keep open the road to Ayer Hitam, being assisted in this latter task by troops from Ayer Hitam itself.

Contact was first made with Japanese troops on the Batu Pahat- Ayer Hitam road on the evening of the twenty-first at the same time, it will be remembered, as the Muar force was making its final stand at Parit Sulong. In point of fact, the enemy narrowly missed making a good bag, for the corps and divisional commanders, after a visit to the Batu Pahat garrison, had passed along this road only a short time before. In fact, the operations had now become so fluid that there was always a chance of meeting enemy troops on the road anywhere near the front line. During the next thirty-six hours there was a series of encounters on this road until it was finally closed by the Japanese on the morning of the twenty-third. It afterwards transpired that the Japanese during this time were passing strong forces across this road to strike against the communications of our Batu Pahat force.

Challen realized the danger, and on the evening of the twenty- third, being unable to communicate with higher authority owing to a breakdown in W.T. communications, began to withdraw to Senggarang but later, communications having been restored, he was instructed to make a further effort to hold Batu Pahat with the aid of a fresh battalion which was due to arrive the following morning. It is quite likely that Challen’s decision was the right one—at least as far as his own force was concerned, though he was not in a position to appreciate the full effect of a withdrawal on the general strategy. It was a case where personal contact would have been invaluable but ground communications were so precarious that that was hardly possible. The very uncertain W.T. was inadequate to give commanders behind the true picture of the situation.

Throughout the twenty-fourth fighting continued in the town, where the British battalion and the 2nd Cambridgeshires fought stubbornly, but most of these troops had now been on the move for several days without sleep. On the morning of the twenty- fifth the enemy attacked again with fresh troops, released no doubt from the Muar front, and at midday Challen reported that he doubted his ability to hold the town much longer. The situation was reported to me by telephone and I arranged to attend a conference which Heath was summoning at rear head-quarters Westforce at 3 p.m. that day. As other portions of the front were involved and as our ability to continue fighting much longer in Johore was at stake, I felt that a full discussion with my subordinate commanders was desirable before definitely authorizing a withdrawal from any part of the front.

On the east coast we still held Mersing though our forward detachments had been in contact with enemy troops moving down the coast from Kuantan and had had to withdraw from Endau. On the twenty-first also our air reconnaissance had reported an enemy convoy of warships and transports off the coast of Trengganu moving south. In the Kluang area the 5/1 x Sikhs had fought a highly successful action in the course of which they killed some hundreds of the enemy. This was an example of what could be done by a well-trained battalion splendidly led by its commanding officer, Lt.-Col. Parkin. The vital Kluang area, including the aerodrome, was in danger of falling into the hands of the enemy, and the 5/11 Sikhs were ordered to make a flanking march and attack the enemy from the west as part of a general brigade counter-attack. The counter-attack did not come off and the battalion, after establishing contact with the enemy, was ordered to withdraw. Parkin decided that the only way to disengage without heavy losses was to attack the enemy first, which he did with such success that the Japanese fled in confusion before the Sikh bayonets. In thirty hours the battalion marched over thirty miles and fought this successful action.

Rear headquarters Westforce was situated in a rubber plantation at the twenty-first milestone on the main trunk road. It was here that the commanders’ conference took place at 3.15 p.m.— a little late as I .had been held up by congestion on the road. Key told us of the critical situation at Batu Pahat and of the efforts he was making to relieve the force there by pushing forward the 53rd Brigade. He strongly advocated an immediate withdrawal from Batu Pahat. We all agreed that there was no other possible course and he went off at once to his headquarters to send the necessary orders. We had to face the fact that this would involve the loss of the area Ayer Hitam-Kluang with the advantages which it would confer on the enemy. These would include a good aerodrome within sixty miles of Singapore, the control of the lateral road to the east coast, and the loss to us of the chain of observer stations which were already at the minimum distance to give warning to Singapore and for which no possible alternative existed. It was with a heavy heart, therefore, that I ordered the withdrawal of Westforce from Kluang and Ayer Hitam that night, instructing Heath who, it will be recollected, was responsible for all operations in Johore, to continue the withdrawal on subsequent nights in accordance with the development of the situation and to co-ordinate the movements of the columns on the east and west coasts with those of Westforce. The real danger, of course, now was on the west coast flank as I no longer had any reserves with which to meet a break-through either by land or from the sea.

The 53rd Brigade occupied Benut and Rengit without opposition and its forward detachment reached Senggarang, a village thirteen miles from Batu Pahat, but the rear of this detachment was attacked as it approached the village. In fact, the Japanese detachments, which had been moving south across the Batu Pahat-Ayer Hitam road, were now beginning to close in on the coast road which from now on was never free of road blocks. We have had full accounts of the march of these Japanese columns from prisoners who were forced to accompany them. As typical of any similar movements they are of interest. The Japanese moved chiefly by tracks, their only transport being bicycles. They carried with them on the man several days’ supply of rice and commandeered other food from villages. They drank water from the streams and ditches. Their ammunition and other necessary stores were carried by impressed civilians. Medical stores were almost non-existent. The wounded and sick were just left—to die or to recover. They marched long distances each day. When resting their protective precautions were very sketchy. The road blocks seem to have consisted generally of about a company equipped with mortars, light automatics, and rifles.

The Batu Pahat force withdrew during the night 25-26 January and reached Senggarang at dawn. I had hoped that this brigade would have been able to brush aside opposition and continue its fight down the coast. But it was not to be. Finding its passage blocked south of Senggarang it deployed its leading battalion and attacked but made no headway. Other attacks were put in later in the day, some of them led in person by Lt.-Col. Thome, the gallant commanding officer of the 2nd Cambridgeshire, but without success. This was just another case of the troops being too tired for effective action. In the meantime, the divisional commander had organized a column of armoured cars and Bren gun carriers at Benut to go forward and relieve the Batu Pahat force. But the Japanese were already in control of the road. The column was ambushed and only one officer got through. He reported the situation to Challen who in the evening decided that there was no possibility of reaching Benut with his guns and vehicles by the following morning, as he had been ordered to do. He gave orders for units to make their way to Benut by foot after destroying all wheeled vehicles. The wounded were left behind in charge of R.A.M.C. personnel and of Padre Duck¬worth, better known as the cox of the Cambridge boat, all of whom subsequently worked untiringly and with great devotion. The Japanese did not molest the wounded.

Benut is thirty-one miles from Batu Pahat and the task of reaching it thirty-six hours after leaving that place was, if viewed in the light of the existing conditions, clearly beyond the powers of a force which had already been fighting for several days. The better course would have been to order it to move to Senggarang as a first step and then to have seen how the situation developed.

One part of the Batu Pahat force moved east of the road and reached Benut. The remainder, totalling some 2,000 officers and men, were evacuated by sea by the Royal Navy during the four succeeding nights—an operation of great difficulty on account of the shallowness of the water inshore. Its successful accomplishment reflected the greatest credit on those responsible for it.

North of Ayer Hitam the enemy had made contact again on the twenty-fifth but were well held by the 2nd Loyals. On the night 25-26 January, Westforce fell back south of the line Kluang-Ayer Hitam, and this important area passed to the enemy. The 2nd Gordons, sent forward from garrison duty at Singapore, relieved the 2nd Loyals and had their baptism of fire.

About this time the east coast of Johore came at last into the limelight. The original defence plan here had been based on the assumption that the Mersing area would be attacked from the sea, and both the 12th Indian Brigade, which originally had the responsibility for its defence, and subsequently the 22nd Australian Brigade, one of the best-trained formations in jungle fighting in Malaya, had put in an immense amount of work in the construction of the defences. These, when war broke out, were among the strongest of any part of Malaya. But, like those at Kuantan, fate decreed that they should never be tested, for the attack again developed by land from the north, where contact was first made in the State of Pahang on 14 January. The following day our air photographic reconnaissance, which the two pilots, Flight-Lieut. Phillips and Sergeant Wareham, kept up day after day with what seemed to be charmed lives, reported the arrival of a large convoy at Singora, and it seemed that our expectation of a seaborne attack on the coast of Johore was about to be fulfilled. That this expectation was justified is now apparent, for we have learnt from Japanese sources that this convoy brought two fresh divisions to Singora which it had been the intention of their high command to launch against the east coast of Johore. For some reason, however, the plan was changed and they were eventually sent by land to the Kluang area.

The land threat from the north and the withdrawal of a battalion from the 22nd Australian Brigade to help in the Muar operations necessitated a reorientation of the Mersing defence plan—to the great disappointment of the Australians who were prepared to fight to the last there. The new defence centred round Jemaluang with Mersing held only as an outpost. Moreover, we had had to withdraw our advanced troops from Endau, a likely landing-place twenty miles north of Mersing.

Between the eighteenth and the twenty-third, there were several small encounters north of the Mersing River which ended in our favour. The next two days passed uneventfully. The reason for this became apparent early on the twenty-sixth, when our air reconnaissance reported two transports and many small craft, escorted by two cruisers and twelve destroyers, closing the shore at Endau. Our lack of air striking strength was again pitifully evident and cost us dear. Air headquarters put all that they could muster into two attacks on this convoy, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, delivered mostly by the ancient Vildebeestes escorted in the morning by Buffaloes and in the afternoon by Hurricanes. The enemy kept a constant screen of scores of navy “O” fighters, operating from Kuantan, over the convoy and some desperate fighting took place. Only about half a dozen of the Vildebeestes survived the two raids, but the most tragic aspect of the loss was the throwing away of highly trained torpedo-bomber crews condemned to fight in aircraft which should long ago have been on the scrap-heap. On the credit side a minimum of thirteen fighters were destroyed and both transports were hit—but the landing was not prevented; in fact, it was probably well under way before the attacks took place. Our air striking force in Malaya, even such as it was, had now vanished for good.

The enemy convoy was also attacked the following night by two of our destroyers, one of which after a gallant action was itself sunk.

The new enemy troops lost no time, for no sooner had they landed at Endau than they started marching south and in the evening crossed the river west of Mersing. A little farther south the Australians had laid an ambush for them. Two companies of their 2/18 Battalion were in position astride the road with a company forward on either flank ready to attack the enemy column as soon as it entered the box. The supporting artillery was also in position ready to fire on the road. Into this trap the leading Japanese battalion marched at midnight. The result was not quite so devastating as it had been at Gemas, partly owing to the confusion which generally attends night fighting, but still the enemy were dealt a severe blow which slowed up their advance and enabled Eastforce to fall back in accordance with the general plan. Over 300 Japanese graves have since been counted in this area while our losses were less than 100.

It was now the morning of 27 January and the full significance of the dispersal of the Batu Pahat force and the opening of the west coast road to the enemy was apparent. Although provisional arrangements had been made for a withdrawal to the island and an outline plan issued, I still hoped even up to this late hour that it might be possible to avoid putting it into effect, especially as the 18th British Division was on the point of arriving. I had been given discretion by the Supreme Commander South-West Pacific to withdraw to the island if I considered it advisable, and I now decided that I could no longer risk the loss of the whole of our forces on the mainland by delaying further. I therefore approved a plan which was being worked out by 3rd Indian Corps for the withdrawal.

Many people have wondered why we did not hold a bridgehead in South Johore covering the Causeway. The possibility of doing this had been made the subject of a special study, but I had decided against it for what seemed to me very cogent reasons. Firstly, there had not been sufficient time to prepare defences and, without proper defences, the position was too extensive for the forces we had available. Secondly, it would have been extremely risky to have occupied a position in South Johore with only a single channel of communication behind us and that the very vulnerable one of the Causeway. Lastly—and this was the determining factor—our flanks would have been in the air, especially as we no longer controlled the sea approaches, and it would have been possible for the enemy to have landed a force behind us direct on to the shores of Singapore Island. For these reasons it seemed to me far better to concentrate on the defence of the island itself, making use of the water obstacle provided by the Straits of Johore.

The plan envisaged a coordinated withdrawal by night on all four routes with a final withdrawal to the island on the night 30-31 January. To avoid congestion at the bridgehead, this final withdrawal through the Johore Bahru area was to be carried out rapidly in M.T. For the immediate ground defence of the Causeway an outer and inner bridgehead were organized. The passage of so large a force over the Causeway in the course of a single night naturally gave us cause for some anxiety, for if the enemy had succeeded in blocking the Causeway by air attack there would almost certainly have been great confusion. To reduce this danger as far as we could, careful plans were made for the anti-aircraft defence of the Causeway and for the conveyance of troops, but not vehicles, by water craft as an alternative to the Causeway.

Apart from some skirmishes near Benut on the west coast road and later in the neighbourhood of the Gunong Pulai reservoirs, one of the main sources of Singapore’s water supply, most of the fighting during the four days’ withdrawal developed on the front of Westforce, where the Japanese followed up quickly and aggressively. The problem here was complicated by the fact that on the railway front, along which the 9th Indian Division was retiring, there was a gap of twenty miles between Rengam and Kulai in which no through road followed the railway line, though there were many estate roads east of the railway extending as far south as the village of Layang Layang. That meant that no wheels could accompany the column over this stretch of the railway; they all had to proceed south by the main road.

On the main road front the Japanese pressure was continuous, strongly supported by their air force which, as always, had undisputed control. That is not a good tonic for tired and harassed troops. Where were the Hurricanes, they asked, which were going to sweep the air, and what were the chances, as they had been told, that even though we had been driven off our northern airfields we had only to hold on for a few weeks before our air force would stage a come-back from aerodromes in Sumatra? To say that intelligent troops were becoming despondent as to the answer is far from implying that they were less determined to fight on. In fact, during this retreat some of the fighting on the main road by both Australian and British troops was of a very high standard. Enemy attacks were met by counter-attack which many times ended in a bayonet charge, while their tree-top snipers were hunted out and shot down. Our troops were getting used to this strange type of warfare. But, as always, it was the threat to the communications which dominated the situation.

On the railway front disaster overtook the 9th Indian Division on 28 January. For some reason a wide gap developed between the 22nd Indian Brigade, which was forward, and the 8th Indian Brigade, which was supporting it. Into this gap enemy troops penetrated, moving round the eastern flank by estate roads, and they occupied Layang Layang. Barstow, unhappy about this gap and not knowing that the enemy was already between his two brigades, went forward by the railway with two staff officers to confer with Painter, the commander of the forward brigade. A little south of Layang Layang the party was fired on by Japanese at close range. Barstow threw himself down one side of the embankment, his staff officers down the other side. That is the last that was seen of Barstow. There can be little doubt that he was killed. The loss of this gallant and gifted officer was a severe blow and had its effect in a much wider circle than that of his own division.

The 22nd Indian Brigade, in an endeavour to rejoin its division, started to move through the jungle west of the railway aiming for Sedenak. Only one battalion of this brigade, the 5/11 Sikhs, was at anything approaching its proper strength. The others were mere skeletons after their heavy losses up-country. To start with things went well, the 5/11 Sikhs again distinguishing themselves in a brush with the Japanese, but soon the density of the jungle began to tell its tale. Moreover, there were with the column a number of stretcher cases which had to be carried by the troops. The average rate of advance did not exceed half a mile per hour, but the march was continued by day and by night. It is on such occasions as this, when a force is really up against it, that the value of true leadership comes out, especially among the regimental officers and N.C.O.s. Parkin, the C.O. of the Sikhs and a strong disciplinarian, was at his best. The value of British leadership, backed up by experienced Indian officers and N.C.O.s, was well demonstrated, as also was the weakness which results from the lack of experienced and trained junior leaders. On the twenty- ninth a member of an Indian medical detachment, which had been captured by the Japanese, joined the column. He was the bearer of a general invitation in writing from the Japanese to all Indian troops to abandon their British officers and be welcomed by their loving Asiatic brethren. As an earnest of the fraternal sentiments of the Japanese he had been warned that, if he failed to deliver the message, he would be beheaded. That was typical of the ruthless methods of those who preached “Asia for the Asiatics”. Needless to say, the invitation was refused.

Desperate efforts were made to locate this brigade both by ground and air reconnaissance. In particular Flight-Lieut. Dane, a resident of Malaya and member of the Malayan Volunteer Air Force, was untiring and quite fearless in the efforts he made. In fact, the whole of this Volunteer Air Force, flying a miscellaneous collection of light flying club aircraft, was at this time doing most gallant work. Operating from a temporary landing- ground on Singapore Island, these frail and defenceless aircraft were carrying out daily reconnaissance patrols and generally managing to get back.

Unfortunately we entirely failed to ascertain the brigade’s whereabouts though we postponed the final withdrawal as long as could safely be done. The best we could do was to arrange for survivors to be ferried across to the island by the Royal Navy. Ultimately about one hundred officers and men were saved in this way. Most of the rest became prisoners of the Japanese. It is of interest to record that for many of the Indian troops the turning-point in this grim struggle came when the wounded had to be left behind in the Tamil lines of a rubber plantation owing to the extreme exhaustion of the bearers. This action, which may often be necessary in modern war but is contrary to the teaching of the Indian frontier, seemed to undermine the determination of these men to continue the unequal struggle.

The final withdrawal across the Causeway on the night 30-31 January was carried out without incident and with little interference from the enemy’s air force. By about 6 a.m. on 31 January all troops, except those in the bridgeheads and those still missing, were back on Singapore Island. All were weary. Many had been fighting, and withdrawing to fight again, in an exhausting climate and cruel country for seven weeks on end in the face of a powerful enemy equipped with every advantage. The most remarkable thing perhaps is that so many of them were still full of fight after such an ordeal.

By 7 a.m. the last battalion of the outer bridgehead, the Gordons, was crossing the Causeway. Behind it came the inner bridgehead, the Argylls, headed by their pipes. At 8 a.m., Lt.-Col. Stewart stepped out of Johore on to the Causeway—the last to do so. The Causeway, which was solidly built, was seventy feet wide at the water line and wider below it. Its demolition presented certain technical difficulties. Nevertheless, a demolition charge had been successfully inserted in it by the Royal Navy and at 8.15 a.m. it was exploded. A moment later the water was racing through a seventy-foot gap. The operations on the mainland were at an end and the battle of Singapore had begun.

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