Far East 1930 - 1947
This section includes the pre-war British colonies of Malaya and Hong Kong, and the British troops stationed in China. It also includes the British troops deployed in Borneo and Java in 1941 and 1942.
Penang was first colonised by the British as a trading post in 1771. Singapore was gained by treaty in 1824. After 1914, the country was a combination of the four British Straits Settlements (Singapore, Malacca, Dinding and Penang), the Federated Malay States, and the unfederated Malay states of Perlis, Kedah, Kelantan, Terengganu and Jahore.
Malaya Command was an independent command, which was a Major General’s appointment. In 1930, just two infantry battalions were stationed in Malaya, one British and one Indian. By 1937, this had increased to three British and one Indian battalions. Reinforcement of Malaya started in September 1939 with the arrival of the 12 Indian Infantry Brigade.
The 11 Indian Infantry Division was formed in Malaya in October 1940 and the 9 Indian Infantry Division arrived from India in March and April 1941. The 28 Indian Infantry Brigade was sent in August 1941 to act as Corps Reserve for the III Indian Corps which had been formed in Malaya in May 1941.
The 8 Australian Infantry Division arrived in Malaya between February and August 1941, but it only comprised two brigades, the third brigade being diverted to the Northern Territories.
No more units arrived before the Japanese invasion of Malaya and southern Thailand on the 8 December 1941. The main battles of the campaign were at Jitra (8 – 12 December 1941), Kampar (30 December 1941 – 2 January 1942), Slim River (6 – 8 January 1942) and Gemas and Muar River (14 – 22 January 1942). During the latter battle, some of the recent reinforcements, namely the 44 and 45 Indian Infantry Brigades and British 18 Infantry Division, which arrived during January 1942, were deployed straight into the conflict. Despite this, the British forces retreated onto Singapore Island. The colony was invaded on 7 February with the final surrender of British forces on 15 February 1942.
British Troops in China
China Command was an independent command responsible for the British possessions of Hong Kong and Kowloon, and the British concessions in the Chinese cities of Shanghai and Tientsin. The command was a Major General’s appointment. There was usually two British and one Indian Army battalions stationed in Hong Kong and Kowloon, two British battalions in Shanghai and one in Tientsin.
The two British concessions in China were abandoned in December 1939 (Tientsin) and August 1940 (Shanghai). The colony of Hong Kong was seen as isolated and difficult to reinforce in the event of war with Japan. In the event, one Indian battalion was sent to reinforce the colony in early 1940, and two Canadian battalions arrived in November 1941. This allowed the creation of a second infantry brigade in Hong Kong.
The Japanese invaded on 8 December 1941, and despite some heroic resistence, the Governor decided to surrender the colony at 15.15 on 25 December 1941. 1,045 British and Canadian Officers, other ranks and Indian other ranks were killed, and 1,068 reported missing. the rest faced the next five years in captivity.
British Troops in Borneo and Java
In early 1941, an Indian Infantry battalion (the 2 Bn 15 Punjab Regiment) was sent to British Borneo, and in early 1942, a British anti-aircraft brigade and other supporting arms and services were sent to Java and Sumatra. All were captured following the Japanese invasion of Borneo and the Netherland East Indies.