Sunday, November 18, 2007

Battle for Bukit Timah in context

Bukit Timah Village 1912

Bukit Timah Railway station 1910


Bukit Timah is home to Singapore's highest hill at 163.63 m. Composed mainly of granite, the hill was once an active quarrying site in the mid-1900s. One abandoned quarry has been developed as a park. Hindhede Nature Park is now a popular spot to enjoy the quarry’s scenic beauty and have some fun with the more adventurous play equipment.

In the early 1800s, Bukit Timah was reportedly never visited as the terrain was declared too tough, except for the Chinese gambier farmers who squatted around the hill. In 1882, the Government of the Straits Settlement, alarmed by the rate of deforestation, commissioned Nathaniel Cantley to prepare a report on the forests. Cantley, then Superintendent of the Singapore Botanic Gardens, recommended that several forest reserves be created over the next few years. Bukit Timah was one of the first forest reserves established in 1883. All the reserves except Bukit Timah were worked for timber. When these reserves were later deleted in 1937, the protection of Bukit Timah’s flora and fauna was retained. In 1951, Bukit Timah received further protection under the Nature Reserves Ordinance. The narrow ridge connecting the sources of the Jurong and the Kranji Rivers was a natural defence line protecting the north-west approach to the city. The Allied troops were to defend this line strongly against the invading Japanese.

The Battle for Bukit Timah represented Lieutenant General Percival's final defence of the southern portion of Singapore. This last defence perimeter included the town, the Kallang aerodrome, the reservoirs and the supply depots in Bukit Timah.
Percival had to decide what to do if the Japanese broke through to Bukit Timah, at a meeting with Heath and Simmons (Commanding Southern Area) at midnight on the 9th February, told them a parameter defines of Singapore City would be put into operation.

However, Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival's secret orders to withdraw to the last defence line around the city, only if necessary, were misunderstood by the defending Allied troops. Brigadier Maxwell and Brigadier Taylor thought these orders were to be carried out immediately and withdrew from their strong positions on the Kranji to Jurong Line. The 44th Indian Infantry Brigade, the 12th Indian Infantry Brigade and the 22nd Australian Brigade, reinforced after their withdrawal from Sarimbun Beach in the north-west, abandoned the Jurong-Kranji Line on 10th February 1942.

This gave the Japanese a clear run towards Singapore City with only Bukit Timah in its way.At night, the Japanese troops from the 5th and 18th Divisions, supported by armor, attacked troops of the 12th and 15th Indian Brigades, the 22nd Australian Brigade, The Special Reserve Battalion, Tomforce, Merrett's Force, the Argylls, Jind State Infantry and 'X' Battalion. (formed from the disbanded administrative service). The Allied forces had re-grouped to defend the critical junctions at Choa Chu Kang, Jurong and Clementi Roads, leading to Bukit Timah Road. By the 11th February, the Japanese had repaired the causeway, this enabled the Japanese to speed up the attack by getting more tanks and troops onto Singapore Island and the road from the causeway ran directly to Bukit Timah.

British forces made many attempts to stop the Japanese advance around the critical junctions of the Chua Chu Kang Road, Jurong Road and Reformatory Road (around Clementi Road) with Bukit Timah Road. Some of the forces involved were the Special Reserves Battalion. Tomforce, Merrett force, The Argylls, the Jind State Infantry, Dalforce and the X Battalion.

The Malaya Command defending Kranji were pushed back by sheer numbers and with a lack of communication confusion and panic set in. The 27th Australian Brigade, 8th and 12th Indian Brigades tried to counterattack but could not stop the Japanese advances from the west and north. By the afternoon Japanese tanks began to arrive and quickly scattered the Indian troops on the hills at Bukit Timah leaving the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders to defend the supply dumps at Bukit Timah. A road block was quickly thrown up and they knocked out the leading tank. At 1600 hours, Percival ordered the fuel depots east of Bukit Timah to be destroyed as the numbers of tanks and troops were increasing. A company of British and Special Reserve troops, numbering 1,500 men, engaged the Japanese on the Jurong Road at about 1930 hours and counterattacked, fierce hand to hand fighting developed, the Japanese were forced back and the British commander Brigadier Coates then realised they had been cut off. Coates then divided his troops into three columns (British, Australian and Indian) and headed south. They were caught in the open while crossing Sleepy Valley and suffered very heavy casualties, only 400 men reached the 22nd Australian defensive lines. By 2230 hours the Japanese were pushing the defences back to the east of the main road, this then gave the Japanese control of the major road junction in the centre of the Island, cutting off any communication between north and south.

By dawn of 11th February 1942, the Japanese troops reported to their commander Lieutenant-General Tomoyuki Yamashita that they had seized Bukit Timah. The road to the city was open.

The Japanese built man-made caves in the jungle hills of Bukit Timah to store supplies and ammunition. These caves are still standing today. Bukit Timah, which dominates the arterial Bukit Timah and Dunearn Roads leading to the city, was a strategically important point for both the Allied troops and the Japanese.

Bukit Timah Road was said that on 15 February 1942, Lieutenant-General Arthur E Percival walked to Bukit Timah with a white flag to meet General Yamashita.

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