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Far East 1930 - 1947:

Indian Formations

The Indian Army provided most of the infantry units that were deployed in Malaya, plus two infantry battalions deployed in Hong Kong and the one battalion sent to Borneo.

In 1937, there was only one Indian infantry battalion which was stationed at Penang. The British forces slowly grew as the threat of Japanese aggression became greater. The first formation to arrive in the country was the 12 Indian Infantry Brigade, which arrived in August 1939.

This brigade was part of the 4 Indian Infantry Division (The Deccan District) and was designated for overseas deployment as part of Force ‘Heron’. It comprised one British and two Indian Regular Army battalions.

The next formations to arrive in Malaya were the 6 Indian Infantry Brigade and 8 Indian Infantry Brigade which landed in Malaya in October and November 1940. They came under command of the 11 Indian Infantry Division that formed in Malaya in October 1940. These two brigades both comprised three Regular Indian Army battalions, but were short of artillery support.

In March and April 1941, another division was sent from India to Malaya, this formation being the 9 Indian Infantry Division, comprising the 15 and 22 Indian Infantry Brigades. This formation also comprised units from the pre-war Regular Indian Army, but again was short of artillery. On arrival in Malaya, the brigades were redistributed between the two divisions. The 6 and 15 Brigades came under command of the 11 Division, with the 8 and 22 Brigades under command of the 9 Division. This was probably done to balance out the experience of the formations. Two British Army battalions (2 East Surrey’s and 1 Leicestershires) joined the 11 Division, one being allocated to each brigade.

With two divisions now stationed in Malaya, a corps, headquarters was required, so the III Indian Corps was formed in May 1941. The 28 Indian Infantry Brigade arrived in August 1941 to act as corps reserve.

The Japanese invaded on 8 December 1941. The 9 Indian Infantry Division fought the Japanese on the Malayan beaches, before being forced to withdraw. The 11 Indian Infantry Division was caught by the indecision over whether to invade Thailand or defend northern Malaya (Operation Matador), and then then outflanked by the Japanese. The main battles were at Jitra between 8 and 12 December 1941, after which the 11 Division was forced to retreat. The next battle at Kampar between 30 December 1941 and 2 January 1942 saw the 11 Division hold the frontal advance, but again the division was outflanked and forced to retreat. At the battle of the Slim River (6 – 8 January 1942) the 12 Brigade was destroyed, and both that brigade and the 11 Division were sent back to rest and refit.

Following the battle of the Muar River (14 – 22 January 1942), the 9 Division ceased to exist, and the newly arrived 45 Indian Infantry Brigade was destroyed. This formation had only recently been raised, comprising many recruits, and it was ill-trained and poorly equipped.

The 44 Indian Infantry Brigade was also sent to Singapore, arriving in time to join the 8 Australian Division in the final battle for Singapore Island. The final surrender of British forces on 15 February 1942 saw about 40,000 Indian soldiers being taken into captivity.

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