Friday, November 15, 2019

World War Two battles at Bukit Batok

Recently, I was invited to lead a heritage tour for a group of Australians. They had one thing in common. All of them had a relative who either fought or died in Singapore during World War Two. They wanted to follow in detail the footsteps that their grandfathers or grand-uncles had taken during the war here. And remarkably, each of their relative had fought at Bukit Batok, then known as West Bukit Timah.
Without going into too much details, here in brief is what had happened at the battle for Bukit Batok.

(Photo source: Australian War Memorial)
On 8th February 1942, the Imperial Japanese Army invaded Singapore by landing at the beaches at Lim Chu Kang.

The following day, 9th Feb 1942, the British forces tried to set up a blockade at the Bulim area. This was called the Kranji-Jurong Line. The strategy was to prevent the invaders from going past the area between the Kranji and Jurong Rivers.

The planned blockade failed even before the opposing Japanese forces had reached this frontline.
Of the four groups sent to form the blockade, two withdrew far from the battle line, while another two units retreated back to the base of Bukit Batok hill to face the oncoming Japanese army there.

These latter two units were the 15th Indian Brigade and the Special Reserve Battalion.
The 15th Indian Brigade comprised the Jat Regiment, the British Regiment, the Punjab Regiment and the Leicestershire Regiment. Each regiment was deployed to defend the front-line which was basically along Jurong Road.
A further two expeditionary forces called X Battalion and Merret's Force were also sent to assist the 15th Brigade in defending Jurong Road. X Battalion was dug in to defend Hill 138, which was the Jurong I Trigonometry Station, just south of the 9th milestone Jurong Road. Merret's Force was unable to locate their planned defence position at Jurong Road but took up a new position south of X Battalion.

Just before midnight of 10th February 1942, the Japanese army confronted the defending British Forces along Jurong Road, and thus, the battle of Bukit Batok began.
First along the line was X Battalion that was caught off guard. They lost 280 men out of their force of 400, killed in battle that night. This was followed by the almost total decimation of Merret's Force at Toh Guan, losing a further 120 soldiers.
Skirmishes continued along Jurong Road with the Special Reserve Battalion who managed to hold off a few forward thrusts by the Japanese till morning.

By daybreak, the Brigade Commander, knowing that he was almost surrounded, decided that their forces would retreat south to Reformatory Road where their allies were. They began their retreat by going through the farmland and rubber estate south of Jurong Road. At a rubber estate called Sleepy Valley, the retreating British forces were ambushed by the Japanese soldiers.
You can follow the story of this ambush here at this link.

You may not be able to understand a battlefield map but here is an account of the battle at Bukit Batok from a Japanese perspective and how the Imperial Japanese Army moved through the region. Further to the Japanese map, I have included some illustrations below to explain the battle that took place at Bukit Batok on the night of 10th Feb 1942.

Extract from a Japanese map showing the battle at Bukit Batok.

This is the same area of Bukit Batok as mentioned in the Japanese map above.
The snaking 'white line' running across the picture is Jurong Road.
(click on the pictures for a detailed view)

Here I have superimposed the roads that are found today running through Bukit Batok New Town.
Please take the MRT Station for your reference to the 'blank' photo above.
(Click the picture for detailed view)
These were the areas that were defended by the British forces on 10th Feb 1942.
The area on the left from Jurong Road to Jurong River was the southern part of the "Kranji-Jurong Line"
This was defended by the 44th Indian Brigade which withdrew to Pasir Panjang before the battle.

The area on the right is at the base of Bukit Batok Hill (today called Hillview and Bukit Batok East)
This was where the 15th Indian Brigade, the Special Reserve Battalion and X Battalion
were entrenched to defend Jurong Road
The red arrows shows the movement of the invading Japanese forces through Bukit Batok.
(click on the picture for a detailed view)

This is the entire battlefield today as seen from the high-rise block at Skyline II.
The road in the foreground, Bukit Batok East Ave 6,  would approximate the former Jurong Road.

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