Saturday, 28 July 2012

The Battle of Pasir Panjang Ridge and the fall of Singapore

There has been a lot of media interest in the fall of Singapore in 1942 since the BBC aired their new series on the topic.

The Malay mortar crew on display at Bukit Chandu
The two day battle for Pasir Panjang Ridge was very briefly covered in the context that the defenders' stubborn resistance led to the subsequent Japanese revenge massacre of 200 patients and staff at the Alexandra Hospital (many of the patients were bayoneted in their beds).  In 'Merdeka' Alick hears the story of Sergeant Hisyam of the Malay Regiment, a survivor of the battle - Sergeant Hisyam is a fictional character,  but what actually did happen at Pasir Panjang Ridge? 

The following extracts are taken from Wikipedia:

The first clash between the Malay Regiment and Japanese soldiers occurred on 13 February 1942 at around 1400 hrs when the Japanese 18th Division attacked the south-western coast along the Pasir Panjang Ridge and across Ayer Rajah Road. That morning, the Japanese 56th Infantry Regiment, with considerable artillery support, attacked. 'B' Company of 1st Battalion, Malay Regiment, defending their position on the ridge came under heavy fire from Japanese troops supported by artillery and tanks and were forced to retreat to the rear. However, before their withdrawal was complete, the Japanese broke through 'B'Company's position and encircled the entire company. When their ammunition ran out, 'B' Company troops fought savagely in hand-to-hand combat using bayonets. Captain Yazid Ahmad of the Federated Malay States Volunteer Force, on secondment to the Malay Regiment, took over 'B' Company due to mounting officer casualties and led them in a heroic and glorious last stand eclipsing the later achievements of 2nd Lieutenant Adnan Saidi, which have been largely exaggerated. Captain Yazid died where he stood at the head of his men. A few soldiers from 'B' Company managed to break out from the encirclement while other survivors were captured and became prisoners-of-war. The destruction of 'B' Company led to the night withdrawal of both the 44th Indian and 1st Malaya Brigade to the general line running from Mount Echo (at the junction of Ayer Rajah and Depot Road) to Buona Vista.

On 14 February, the Japanese launched a further heavy attack at 0830 hours, supported by intense mortar and artillery fire, on the front held by the 1st Malaya infantry Brigade. 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 flank where the defenders were forced 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 Malaya Infantry Brigade withdrew at 1430 hours. At this point, the Malay Regiment's C Company were ordered to move to a new defence position, Pt. 226 at Bukit Chandu (Opium Hill).

Second Lieutenant Adnan Saidi and his men of 7 Platoon, C Company of the 1st Bn Malay Regiment made their well-known final stand against the Japanese attack on Opium Hill.  Adnan Saidi's bravery was exemplified in the battle where he was killed along with many of his Malay Regiment soldiers in the last defensive battle at Pasir Panjang. His motto "Biar Putih Tulang Jangan Putih Mata" is still remembered. The translation loosely means, "it is better to die fighting than to live crying in regret till the eyes becomes blind." In other words, "Death Before Dishonour".

Had the Japanese gained control of Opium Hill and the ridge that overlooked the north of the island, it would have given them direct passage to the Alexandra area where the British army had its main ammunition and supply depots, a military hospital and other key installations.

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As a result of the courageous defence the Japanese took heavy casualties at a time when some of them believed that they had already won.  They took their revenge later the same day at the Alexandra Military Hospital massacre.  The following day, 15th February 1942, Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival surrendered the island to General Tomoyuki Yamashita. Singapore had fallen.

Today Kent Ridge Park stands as a testimonial to the courage and sacrifice of the spirited defenders of Pasir Panjang Ridge – an enduring symbol of the defence of Singapore.

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