Onime No Kyo
…considerable loss. Despite this setback, the majority of the Vestal II ships arrived intact. Even the battered Glasgow made her slow and pained way into Singapore harbor towards dusk the next day. By that time, all of the merchantmen were being busily unloaded by harbor workers and levies from the combat units, service and garrison forces and gangs of civilian volunteers. The sight of the much-needed supplies flowing ashore buoyed spirits wonderfully.
The private diary of Major Howard Gill of the 1st Hyderabads illustrates the mood prevalent among the defenders in those days.
The men and I spent the day unloading the Elysia, filled to the gunnels with ammunition and mechanical sundries. Everyone worked enthusiastically, the few remaining officers and myself cheerfully pitching in with the men. I had not seen such spirit since the days before Sembawang and the energy displayed by all ranks portends great things from the unit, which I have hitherto privately thought beaten and destroyed, with the men being sustained only by the force of discipline and routine. I am so happy to have been proven wrong.
The cargo of the Vestal II convoy was quickly distributed among the defending units. Some of the most valuable commodities were spare parts and gasoline which enabled the engineers to return their earthmoving equipment to working order and the building of the new defensive line, held by an apparent miracle of heroism by the 9th Indian Division around the Reservoir, proceeded with a wholly new pace.
CHAPTER 17: New Hope, New Sacrifices
After the departure of the Vestal II fleet, events stepped up their pace. What had once been considered the fevered dreams of minds on the brink of collapse from exhaustion and inevitability was turning into a very real, tangible thing.
The levels of activity on the various landing strips and airfields within the defensive perimeter rose to height not seen even before the commencement of hostilities, and the multicultural melting pot of Singapore acquired a few more strange accents, these hailing from far parts such as Alabama and Boston, which belonged to the pilots of the American fighters and bombers now stationed on the island. Their olive drab painted raptors, adorned with shark and tiger heads, were now daily seen wheeling over the city where once only the “meatballs” of the Japanese aircraft could be expected.
Only a little over a week after Vestal II departed Singapore, the defenders were, once again, treated to a marvelous sight. Approaching the island under a veritable cloud of fighters, both Hurricanes from Sumatra and the island’s own P-40s, was the Vestal III convoy, loaded with supplies. This was followed 2 days later by the Vestal IV troop convoy. The reception these ships received were much different from their predecessors although it was not for lack of zeal or hospitality but because of a renewed assault by the Japanese besiegers.
The next Japanese attack on the Singapore defenses was launched on July 12th. It was an unbearably hot day with temperatures soaring well into the high 90s. Despite the best intentions of harbor command, most ships were not able to take their places at the cargo wharfs before a general alarm was sounded.
The enthusiastic pilots of the 76th Squadron excitedly reported enemy troops moving towards the positions of the Australian 27th Brigade in the Bukit Batok area just west of the Reservoir. In response, both the Loyals and the Dogras were moved to supporting positions and ordered to occupy the as of yet unfinished second line of defenses and the few remaining tanks of the 3rd Cavalry were likewise shuffled west from their laager at Novena.
For several hours nothing at all happened. Additional air sweeps sent dumbfounded reports of complete lack of activity by the enemy. The men, sweltering in their trenches and bunkers, slowly slid from the razor’s edge of anticipation into depths of anticlimax and bewilderment as the sun began to set.
It was, perhaps, due to this disjointed state of fear and relaxation that the assault came as a complete surprise. It originated just where it was expected. Hundreds of artillery shells suddenly unleashed themselves on the Australian positions. Right behind the barrage came ranks of brown-clad Japanese infantry. Maxwell’s Australians reacted very well. The artillery barrage, fierce but short, expended itself of their well-prepared positions without causing much damage and the infantry assault was stopped and driven to ground several hundred yards away from the defenses. The Japanese, seemingly ignominiously, retreated after firing a desultory rifle “salute” in the general direction of the Australian trenches.
It was at this point that the real storm broke. Well to the east of the 27th, in the Serangoon area, events were unfolding which would put the entire fate of the defense in jeopardy. The area was held by the Straits Settlements Volunteers on the right flank of the 11th Indian Division. The Volunteers’ right flank was, in turn, anchored by the 9th Indian Division in the Bedok area.
The Volunteers’ outposts, stationed in a long-suffering copse of trees already known as the Highlander Grove were quickly overwhelmed by an onslaught of the enemy from the direction of Houang. Having little artillery of their own, the Volunteers had to depend on the neighboring divisions for support. Unfortunately for Major MacFie and his troops, the movement of the Japanese was so sudden and deliberate that by the time his headquarters was able to raise either of the divisions or the Indian gunners set up north of Kalang, the front ranks of the Japanese were already upon his defenses, and although the artillery did open a rapid and steady fire on the area of the Grove, it was of no direct assistance to the Volunteers, now desperately fighting off the waves of Japanese attackers. For the part of the artillery, they were loath to fire indiscriminately for fear of causing friendly casualties and no longer had effective observers in the area, the SSVF’s own having been overrun in the initial assault. Instead, they doggedly pounded the enemy’s perceived routes of reinforcement which did, eventually, pay dividends to the defense as a whole, although it was too late to save the Volunteers.
Just prior to the battle, the Volunteers numbered just under 1500 men of all ranks after the losses they had sustained in previous engagements but somewhat offset by the amalgamation of the remnants of the separate 3rd SSFV battalion after its disbandment. Neither its armored car nor its carrier platoon had any vehicles, the former having been stripped to help reconstitute the 3rd Cavalry and the latter having lost most of their hardware in the retreat from Seletar, and now fought as infantry. The 2nd battalion was split between outposts and unit reserve of two short companies. The 1st and 4th battalions were the main force holding the line.
In a remarkably short span of time, the entire front of the Volunteers, as well as the rightmost units of the 11th Division were deeply engaged by the enemy. Although the initial headlong rush was largely stopped by a hail of lead from the Volunteers and driven to ground, the triumph was only temporary. Subjected to heavy and accurate rifle, machinegun and mortar fire the unit was constantly taking losses. A group of Japanese of indeterminate size had even penetrated the lines of the 4th battalion and set up a constant fire from a small defile east of the Lebar Road and caused constant concern throughout the battle until engaged, and killed to a man by a spirited change by the ad hoc group of the East Surreys toward the closing stages.
The Japanese made repeated fearless charges at the Allied positions, sometimes in groups of 20 or 30, occasionally as many as 200 and more. After almost 30 minutes of fierce engagement, MacFie was forced to commit one of his reserve companies to forestall the collapse of the 4th battalion line as a result of one such charge. A group of Japanese soldiers, numbering by some accounts approximately 150 men, by other accounts as high as 400, changed a bunker held by a Vickers section and a squad of infantry under the command of Lt. Marlin. Seeing a sizable group of enemy grenade and then enter the trenches some 50 yards north of the bunker, Lt. Marlin assembled a group of 15 Volunteers and led them in a bayonet charge down the trench. The charge completely overwhelmed a group of the enemy numbering some 50-60 men and having accounted for about 20-25 enemy soldiers dead, caused the rest to leave the trench and retreat towards their own lines. Other Japanese were, unfortunately, already advancing towards the bunker down the trench from the north. Lt. Marlin and his men made a desperate stand but were unable to hold. Finally for the heroic lieutenant, a grenade explosion nearly tore off his right leg, and critically wounded several of his men. The survivors of the group performed a fighting retreat back to the bunker. When last seen, Lt. Marlin was very much conscious, sitting with his back propped against the side of the trench, screaming obscenities at the Japanese soldier who was then driving his bayonet through the Lieutenant’s body.
Back at the bunker, Sgt. Woolsey, in command of the Vickers, had dismounted one of his, now red-hot, guns from the bunker embrasure and was firing it down the trench. It would not have been enough, however, if the reserve company had not at that moment come up the gently sloping rise of the small hill, which the bunker commanded, and taken the enemy, completely absorbed with the bunker and its occupants, in the flank. Of the enemy force, only some dozen soldiers were seen to retreat towards their own lines. The infantry squad and the Vickers sections, however, was bled white and no longer presented a viable defensive of the unit. Most of the group’s surviving members had been wounded to some degree. The relieving company commander, Lt. Wallace, was thus forced to leave a strong detachment of his force in place and with the rest moved north along the trench.
It was here, north of Lt. Marlin’s bunker at the juncture of the 1st and 4th battalions, that the most dangerous situation was taking place. The two machinegun nests tasked with covering this area were grenanded and destroyed in the initial charge or shortly thereafter. Although a spirited counterattack had driven that initial penetration back, it left the line very thinly manned and in grave danger. Lt. Wallace’s arrival was, thus, extremely timely. The newly arrived force was able to contain several enemy charges albeit with great loss to themselves. The final reserve company was committed by MacFie to this area shortly thereafter, when a breathless and wounded runner from Wallace relayed the desperate state of affairs to the unit commander.
The fate of that company is one of those strange episodes in war, which is too strange for fiction. As the company was approaching the trenches at a run, necessarily bending low in deference to the many Japanese riflemen who has leaked through the allied lines and were now keeping up a steady fire into the rear of the position, it was met head-on by a large Japanese force which had several minutes earlier charged and gained the Volunteer trenches. Beset on both sides by Wallace’s men in the trenches and now from the third by the reserve company, the Japanese commander seems to have made a decision that would have made his mentors proud. The entire group of Japanese exited the trench and hurled themselves in a screaming banzai charge at the reserve company in the open. A portion of the latter immediately broke and ran, while its stouter component met the Japanese onslaught with their own bayonets. The situation dissolved into a wild melee of fighting, screaming, lunging men, the bleeding wounded and the lifeless corpses. The unfortunate Volunteer company ceased to exist. The remnants of the Japanese force continued on into the depth of the Allied position, the last of the number being cut down within grenade toss range of MacFie’s headquarters dugout.
This, however, was the last lunge the Japanese possessed. Having been largely stopped along the entire front, it could be said that the attack was over at this point. Despite the military realities, individual groups of Japanese and Volunteers continued their struggle along the many hotspots in the trenches and beyond. Relief forces comprised of a composite forces of the East Surreys and 2/1 and 2/2 Ghurkas from the south and 17th Dogras, Garwahls and Sikhs from the north, the former supported by the lead vehicles of the 3rd Cavalry were now approaching from the west and driving into the trenches and clearing out the determined pockets of Japanese penetration in the rear of the Volunteer positions. The artillery fire, which had been so sorely missed at the start of the battle, was by now telling on the Japanese reinforcements, making their organized deployment almost impossible and causing many casualties. In all, the guns of the 9th and 11th divisions and the 22nd Indians combined to fire more than 3 times the number of rounds the entire Singapore garrison possessed prior to the arrival of the first Vestal convoy.
The relieving forces attempted an abortive counterattack which was shortly stopped by concentrated Japanese fire. The fallen darkness had made any command level control by either side completely impossible at this point and the battered Japanese units retreated back towards Hougang, while the Allied troops returned to the Volunteer trenches in the gloom lit only by burning trees and brush.
The battle had lasted over 3 hours. In that time, the 11th division had lost almost 1000 men dead and wounded, the 9th had suffered just under 600 casualties and the 27th Australian Brigade had lost almost 50 men. The Cavalry lost 2 vehicles in the counterattack. The Volunteers, however, had ceased to exist as a combat unit. Although they had held the line, showed great bravery and elan and covered their names in glory, as they trudged back to the Allied rear, they numbered only some 150 infantry and had a single functioning Vickers machinegun. The attached AA section and 2 AT sections had been wiped out to a man.
The Japanese losses will never be known with any certainty, but even the most conservative estimates hover around the 12 thousand men figure. It is known that the gunners of the 11th Division had destroyed some dozen Japanese vehicles which had undertaken a flanking maneuver. A great, great many were killed or wounded by artillery fire. The Volunteer trenches themselves, however, presented a most horrific sight. The kill zones in front of them were littered with Japanese dead, in places 4 or 5 deep. Areas immediately in front of machinegun positions were liberally stacked with dead, wounded and dying. Trenches were in placed filled almost to the bloody parapets with bodies, many, in their rigor mortis, still locked in struggle.
Thus, yet another unit of the Singapore defense had written it’s name in blood in the annals of history. Yet another attack was beaten back. The defense of the city would continue.
CHAPTER 18: Fresh Faces
In the immediate aftermath of the battle, it was extremely difficult to tell…..
< Message edited by Onime No Kyo -- 6/29/2012 6:04:16 AM >
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