Gemas (102.615E 2.578N) was the location of the key rail junction in southern Malaya, where the line from Kota Baharu met the main line along the southwest coast of the peninsula. Because of its obvious importance, Bennett deployed the bulk of his force around Gemas with the intention of ambushing the advancing Japanese. Only the green 45 Indian Brigade was place to cover the coastal plain to the west.

The ambush was centered around Gemencheh Bridge, which elements of the Japanese 5 Division reached at 1602 on 13 January 1942. The British were astonished to discover that the Japanese spearhead consisted of large numbers of infantry on bicycles rather than tanks. The local commander permitted a large number of infantry to cross the bridge, hoping the tanks would appear, but discovered that his telephone wires had been cut. He chose to detonate the bridge, the signal for the ambush, and the British inflicted severe casualties on the Japanese infantry. However, the inability to call in artillery fire on the massed Japanese made the ambush less successful than it could have been.

The forward Allied elements that had carried out the ambush had to fight their way back through surviving Japanese, and, with no artillery fire on the bridge site, the Japanese had the bridge repaired within six hours. By the morning of 15 January, the Japanese had brought forward their armor, which then stumbled into a pair of carefully sited Australian antitank guns, which destroyed a tank and another vehicle (described by the gunners as an "armored carrier", though Japan produced no such vehicle during the war.) The remaining Japanese tanks withdrew.

During the two days of fighting, the Australians lost 17 killed, 55 wounded, and nine missing while claiming around a thousand Japanese killed and eight or nine tanks destroyed. The Japanese casualties were probably badly overestimated.

Foiled at Gemas, the Japanese simply shifted their main effort to Imperial Guards Division along the coast, which cut off and all but annihilated 45 Indian Brigade, unhinged the Allied line, and ultimately led to the loss of southern Malaya.

Battle of Muar. 45 Indian Brigade had been positioned behind the Muar River, but the deployments were faulty. Bennett instructed his commanders to cover a larger frontage than was actually necessary, and he ordered each battalion to place two companies north of the river to ambush the brigade -- leaving them no retreat across the river, which had no bridges and could not be forded. Two companies were annihilated by 4 Guards Regiment on 15 January 1942 before the Allies knew what was happening, and later that day Japanese forces began landing behind the Allied line. The next morning, 5 Guards Regiment crossed the river upstream of Muar town (102.493E 2.067N) and cut off the brigade. Bennett was slow to react, refusing to believe that a sizable force of Japanese were involved, and Australian reinforcements were few and slow to arrive. In fact, the Japanese landed at least 5000 men and 12 tanks during the night. The Australians formed a square perimeter around Bakri (102.637E 2.040N) that was the scene of furious night fighting. Australian gunners again claimed several tanks, but the Australians could not restore the position, and some 80% of 45 Indian Brigade were lost. The brigade commander himself was badly shaken by a Japanese bomb dropped by an aircraft had had followed a line of staff cars to his headquarters, then killed leading a counterattack. Also killed were all three battalion commanders and their executive officers and two of the three battalion adjutants.

The troops of Imperial Guards Division followed up their victory with a massacre of Indian captives. The Parit Sulong massacre took the lives of some 133 prisoners, while two others escaped to tell the tale. One had survived eight bayonetings by playing dead.

Bennett finally ordered his forces to retreat behind the Segamat River, after launching a furious tirade against the British in front of his staff. Staff officers later concluded that Bennett was attempting to create the impression that the retreat had been ordered from above rather than at his own discretion.

Rail Connections


Kota Baharu



Thompson (2005)

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