Saturday, 22 March 2008
The fire and death on 'Opium Hill'
Note: I saw a reference to this article in Fortress Singapore - The Battlefield Guide. Having found the original article in the microfilm archives at the National Library, I made a copy. However, the quality of the reproduction is poor. So, I have transcribed the text of this article for posterity.
The Straits Times, p 6
Monday, 13 February 1967
Tomorrow the Malay Regiment commemorates the 25th anniversary of its
gallant defence of the western salient in the Battle of Singapore.
From war despatches and memories of the few who survived this brutal engagement. This story is told by Haji Mubin Sheppard.
The fire and death on 'Opium Hill'
Lt. General A. F. Percival's long awaited despatch on the Operations of Malaya Command from Dec. 8, 1941 to Feb. 15, 1942. was published in the Second Supplement of the London Gazette of Friday Feb. 20, 1948.
The despatch covered 100 pages of print and gave a detailed account of the campaign which ended with the surrender of Singapore to Lt. General Yamashita.
Two sections of the Despatch made special commendatory references to the Malay Regiment, and are quoted below:
"Section LIV. Events of Feb 13 1942: The main Japanese offensive during Feb 13 developed along Pasir Panjang Ridge on the left of our position [Labrador Fire Command]. Here the Japanese 18th Division, which had fought in the Mersing area and later taken part in the initial attack against Singapore island, came into action.
"After two hours of heavy shelling and mortaring, it attacked the Malay Regiment which was holding this feature. The latter fought magnificently, but suffered heavy casualties, and by the afternoon the enemy had reached the Gap, a dominating position where Buona Vista Road crosses the ride..."
Section LV: Events of Feb 14, 1942: During the day the Japanese renewed their attacks. Their main thrust was again made against the western front of the southern area.
"Here heavy fighting at close quarters went on throughout the day, in which the Loyals and the Malay Regiment especially distinguished themselves.
"By the end of the day our troops had been driven back by the weight of the enemy attack to the line Alexandra -- Gillman Barracks -- Keppel Golf Course."
The Battle of Opium Hill is one of the examples of heavy fighting at close quarters, to which General Percival referred, and tomorrow is its 25th anniversary.
In this battle, 'C' Company, 1st Battalion, the Malay Regiment, though depleted by casualties on the previous day and heavily outnumbered, stubbornly held a low hill at the eastern edge of Pasir Panjang Ridge, near the Government Opium Factory, throughout the day.
The hill was only captured when all the officers except one had been killed and the majority of the men had either been killed or wounded.
The Japanese had succeeded in landing about 13,000 shock troops on the north west shore of Singapore island on the night of Feb. 8. They quickly doubled their strength the next day, although they were prevented from repairing the 70-foot gap in the Johore Causeway by artillery fire.
Japanese light artillery and over 150 light and medium tanks were ferried across the narrow straits in landing craft to assist the offensive.
The Japanese Air Force was in complete control of the air.
The initial Japanese assault was directed at Tengah Air Base and was continued along the western side of the island.
Their rapid advance inland made it necessary for the Malay Regiment, which consisted of two battalions, the second of which was only formed on Dec. 1 1941, and was very much under strength, to take up new positions facing inland.
They had originally been alloted the South Western sector of the Coastal Defence, in the event of a sea-borne attack. They now defended the line of Ayer Raja Road and later the Pasir Panjang ridge which ran almost due east to west, separating Ayer Rajah Road and Pasir Panjang (Coast) Road.
The ridge had no prepared positions and the officers and men lay in the open along low scrub, day and night.
Friday, Feb. 13, 1942 opened with aerial bombing and a heavy mortar artillery barrage. Artillery fire continued throughout the day. The whole sky was clouded with smoke from the burning Normanton oil depot, which lay a short distance to the north of the ridge. Many patches of dry undergrowth also caught fire.
The first battalion headquarters at the Gap received a direct hit, which seriously wounded the Adjustant Capt. Wort, and three other officers.
Another direct hit wrecked the signal H.Q. of the 1st. Batallion. To maintain contact with his companies, Lt. Col. Andre, the Commanding officer and his second in command Major Denaro, made frequent personal visits to the forward troops.
Part of Mataguchi's 18th. Division made a frontal attackon the Ridge during the afternoon, and eventually gained control of the central feature, -- point 270. They then turned west to Pasir Panjang Village, which was defended by 'C' Company, 1st. Bn.
C. Coy was supplemented by remnants of 'A' Company, 1st. Bn. which had been shattered earlier in the day and by two Bren carriers of the Loyal Regiment.
Though outnumbered and almost isolated, they stubbornly held their positions. The Japanese finally withdrew late at night.
During this engagement, Private Ya'acob bin Bidin of 'C' Coy. and another Malay soldier stalked an enemy mortar position, from which the company had suffered a number of casualties. After crawling through burning undergrowth they silenced the mortar with their Bren gun.
Pte. Ya'acob was later awarded the Military Medal.
At midnight, 'C' Coy. was extricated from their isolated position by ten Bren carriers and were alloted a new area of defence on a low feature near the eastern edge of Pasir Panjang Ridge -- Point 226. This has become known as Opium Hill because of its proximity to the Government opium factory.
It is with this background of unrelieved pressure and mounting casualties that 'C' Company's gallantry can be fully appreciated.
Capt. H.R. Rix, 'C' Company Commander, held a commission in the Peral Bn. of the F.M.S. Volunteer Force and had joined the Malay Regiment in August 1941.
He arranged his four platoons in the darkness, to provide all round defence. He had taken over the command of one platoon, after the death in action of its commander. He sited this with Company headquarters, facing north west.
Lieut. Adnan bin Saidi and his platoon faced due north. Lieut. Stephen faced south west, and Lieut. Abbas bin Abdul Manan and his platoon faced south east.
There were no trenches and no protection of any kind. The company had a Bofors anti-tank gun, a 2-inch mortar, Lewis guns, hand grenades and rifles, but the Bren gun which Pte. Ya'acob had used so effectively the previous day had been put out of action.
No one had any sleep that night. The only food or water which was available was the hard biscuit and the contents of the water-bottles which each man carried.
The Japanese began to advance along the ridge soon after first light on Feb. 14, but they were soon made aware of the presence of 'C' Coy on point 226.
An enemy barrage of artillery and mortar fire followed, which further depleted the defenders' number, but failed to affect their morale.
Capt. Rix visited his other platoons at intervals, and his personal bravery helped to sustain the determination to resist the enemy. Second Lieut. Nordin, operating the Bofors anti-tank gun prevented an advance by Japanese light tanks along the coast road. The enemy decided to attack on foot.
The assault on Opium Hill began early in the afternoon. It opened with a ruse. A detachment of Japanese were dressed up as Punjabi troops and advanced in close order, pretending to be friends, in front of the northern sector. Lieut Adnan quickly decided that there could be no genuine Punjabi stragglers in that area and he personally operated a Lewis Gun, which in one long burst, killed or wounded more than 20 of the enemy.
The remainder fled. Describing the incident to Lieut. Abbas soon afterwards, Lieut. Adnan said, 'After that, I shall not mind if I die here.'
An interval followed, during which the Japanese prepared for an all round attack in overwhelming strength. When it came, the enemy advanced along the ridge from the west, and up the slopes 'crawling like monkeys'.
They were held back for a time with Lewis gun fire and grenades, but the three western platoons were finally overrun by sheer weight of numbers.
Captain Rix was shot and his body was later found with the bodies of 12 Malay soldiers who had died fighting beside him.
Lieut. Adnan was shot in hand to hand fighting and then bayonetted. His body was hung up by the Japanese from a nearby tree. No one was allowed to cut it down. Six other ranks, including Corporal Din who was captured in the final assault, were tied up and bayonetted.
The other five died, but Corporal Din, though badly injured, succeeded in crawling away after dark.
At the eastern edge of the ridge, 2 Lieut. Abbas (now Brigadier) and his platoon fought until only about half a dozen men survived uninjured.
He then, led them in a desperate attempt to withdraw to Battalion H.Q.
Burning oil, from Normanton Oil Depot which flowed down a wide drain running past his flank, had served as a partial shield from the Japanese attack, but it now presented a fiery obstacle in the line of his withdrawal.
Japanese bullets left the men no option but to jump. Four of the exhausted soldiers failed to clear the drain. Two men fell into the flaming oil and were burnt to death. Two others, though they had reached the edge had to be pulled out by Lieut. Abbas and another soldier and wer unable to continue owing to burns.
Lieut. Abbas and three of his men eventually reached Col. Andre's H.Q. on a low hill near Alexandra Brickworks, after dark and reported the action in which 'C' Company had been virtually wiped out.
Many regiments include the names of famous engagements in which they played a prominent part in the list of their Battle Honours.
The Battle of Pasir Panjang Ridge, which culminated in the Battle of Opium Hill, on Feb. 13 and Feb. 14 1942 deserves to be held in honoured memory for all time in the archives of the Malay Regiment and in the history of the nation.