Overlord'S Blog: A Right Maur-ling
The Malayan campaign started on the opening of hostilities in December 1941. This long battle started with a Japanese invasion at one end, and ended with the surrender of Singapore at the other end of the peninsula two months later. However the Japanese didn't have it all their own way. In Mid January 1942 with the Japanese forces crashing down the length of the country the Commonwealth defenders decided to try a large scale ambush. The province of Maur was chosen for this plan, and as it turned out it was the last major battle of the Malayan campaign.
On the 14th of January at the Gemencheh bridge a large force of Australian Infantry was well dug alongside the road, in with artillery support. As the Japanese column approached the company of Australians let the advance guard pass their positions and cross over the bridge. Then as the main column crossed the bridge the Australians detonated their explosives, shredding the head of the column. This was the signal to pour fire into the column. Caught utterly unaware the Japanese column started taking heavy casualties.
However their advanced guard upon hearing the firing dismounted from their bicycles, and by a stroke of luck found the telephone wire that ran between the Australians and their supporting artillery, so the gunners played no part in the battle. Japanese artillery began to land on the column, further raising the damage done. After the Japanese withdrew, the Australians broke contact and retreated.
Elsewhere along the river the Japanese managed to flank the dug in Indian forces, defending the river bank by dragging several barges further along the river and crossing unopposed. With their flank gone the Indians were forced to retreat.
By the 17th of January an Australian force was in position blocking the Japanese advance. This force consisted of a battalion of Australian infantry and two anti-tank guns. It was further reinforced by three war correspondents. Which is where all the photographs in this piece come from.
The leader of the anti-tank guns was greeted by the battalion commander, and bluntly told:
"I have orders from the General that I should be accompanied by a troop of anti-tank guns, but as far as I am concerned, you’re not wanted. I don’t want you to interfere with us in any way. I don’t expect the Japanese to use tanks, so for my part you can go home."
However the platoon leader ignored his orders and set up his anti-tank guns covering the road. The first was about 400 yards from a bend in the road, the other was 400 yards further back. After dark both sides tried probing attacks; a Commonwealth armoured car was sent forward, but encountered an enemy machine gun, a short while later a Japanese patrol was repulsed by the Australians. Then the Japanese put in a much larger night attack with quite a large amount of mortar fire in support. After some frantic fighting, some of it close quarters the Japanese were forced to retreat.
However in the dark after the attack a truck bringing rations up to the front line drove through the front without realising it. It ran straight into a Japanese machine gun and was quickly knocked out.
The next morning, the Australians stood too at 0530, at 0600 was first light. Then at 0645 the Japanese launched a major attack, lead this time by tanks. The commander of the lead gun held his fire until the tanks were almost on them, then let fly. His armour piercing shell flew flat and slammed into the side of the lead tank, and immediately the gun swivelled on its turntable to hit the second one. However the gun was a 2 pounder, and the targets were Type 95 Ha-Go's. The two pounder was a phenomenal gun, possibly one of the best of the early war period. The rounds just knifed straight through, although they blew some shrapnel out the other sides of the tanks and killed some Japanese infantry. Seeing this the gun commander ordered HE rounds to be loaded. The two tanks which had been hit continued forward, penetrating the Australian front line. The second gun opened fire and knocked both tanks out. Then Indian sappers climbed on the first three tanks, and pried open the hatches and dropped grenades inside. This might seem like overkill, however Japanese rules and regulations made it clear that tank crew could not abandon their tank in the face of the enemy and they had to keep fighting it as long as they were able to do so*.
Meanwhile at the first gun position the two pounder kept a steady stream of HE rounds pouring into the next three tanks. At such short range and against such light armour the HE rounds acted like an APHE round, punching through the armour before detonating inside. The gun commander was hit by enemy return fire in the hip after immobilising an enemy tank, but he remained at his station and the tanks were quickly knocked out.
Later on another three tanks tried to charge along the road, but met the same fate as the first five. At this point the Australians dropped several large trees onto the road to block any more tank assaults. Later on more Japanese infantry assaults were carried out, but all were repulsed.
With the situation in hand, the war reporters drew lots and then one of their number advanced forward to take the pictures you see in this article. While this was going on on the battalion commander returned to his headquarters to file his report. As a mode of transport he was riding pillion on a dispatch riders motorcycle. On his way back they were ambushed by Japanese infantry. Wounded just a few hundred yards short of the battalion he fell from the motorcycle. The dispatch rider gunned his engine and roared into camp.
The battalion sent out a Carrier to find and rescue their commander. As he lay there wounded the battalion commander asked to see the anti-tank troop commander, the one whom he had dismissed earlier.
"I’m so sorry that I acted as I did. Only for your persistence in defying my orders and positioning your guns where you did, there would have been wholesale slaughter”
The battalion commander died shortly afterwards of his injuries. The attack by the Japanese had been a holding attack, while that battle was raging they had infiltrated around the flank through thick jungle. With the Australian's position now cut off they had little chance, although they fought for several more days they were cut off. The survivors broke up into small detachments and filtered through the Japanese line before linking up with the main British force as they retreated further south.
Australian War Memorial via http://www.andrewwarland.com.au