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  • Last week, the Japanese had commenced their most important operation: the capture of the

  • Dutch East Indies and the important resources that it harboured; yet this week, they would

  • also start a new operation for the invasion of the island of New Britain, further trying

  • to interrupt the lines of communication between Australia and the US.

  • And as the invaders continue their advance across Borneo and the Celebes, a major breakthrough

  • is achieved at Malaya and the Philippines.

  • Join us, as we delve into this critical point of the Pacific War.

  • Since the start of the war, Tokyo had acknowledged that the British presence in the island of

  • New Britain was a huge threat to one of their most important naval bases in the Pacific:

  • the Truk Atoll.

  • In response, they planned Operation R, an invasion of Rabaul in New Britain and Kavieng

  • in New Ireland.

  • The South Seas Detachment of General Horii was earmarked to carry out Operation R after

  • the occupation of Guam, supported by the main strength of Admiral Inoue's 4th Fleet.

  • Due to the rapid progress across all theaters of the Pacific, back on January 4, the Japanese

  • had started to bombard Rabaul, the old capital of the Australian-controlled Territory of

  • New Guinea, in preparation for a naval invasion.

  • Ten days later, the South Seas Detachment departed Truk escorted by the 4th Fleet's

  • main units . In Rabaul, the Australians had a garrison of around 1400 soldiers, mainly

  • from the 23rd Brigade, under the command of Colonel John Scanlan; while an independent

  • company of 130 soldiers was also sent to Kavieng for the protection of the island of New Ireland.

  • On January 20, the 4th Fleet including Carriers Akagi and Kaga sent over 100 aircraft which

  • attacked Rabaul in multiple waves.

  • 8 Wirraways attacked with 3 being shutdown, 2 crash landing and another damaged.

  • The following day, Australian Catalina flying boat discovered the invasion fleet just off

  • Kavieng and sent a warning to headquarters before being shot down.

  • In response, Australian soldiers quickly took up positions and their aircraft was hastily

  • evacuated to Lae . But before continuing with the invasion of Rabaul, we turn to Burma,

  • where the first major Japanese operations were also taking place.

  • At the start of the war, the 143rd Regiment of the 55th Division accomplished the first

  • attacks against British Burma during the invasion of Thailand.

  • Upon reaching the Kra river, which marked the Thai border, the Japanese soldiers had

  • quickly occupied Victoria Point on December 14 of 1941.

  • The British forces at Burma, under Lieutenant-General Thomas Hutton, then tried to delay the Japanese

  • by blowing up bridges connecting to Thailand, but they could not stop the Japanese from

  • launching probing raids on southern Tenasserim.

  • At the same time, Commander-in-Chief, India, Sir Archibald Wavell was negotiating with

  • Chinese leader Chiang Kai-Shek to aid them on the defense of the Burma Road, the last

  • Chinese lifeline, as the British only counted with the 46th and 16th Indian Brigades and

  • the 1st Burma Division for the defense of their Burmese colony.

  • In early January, Hutton had placed the 2nd Burma Brigade and the 46th Indian Brigade

  • at Tenasserim itself, with their headquarters at the city of Moulmein.

  • The British plan consisted on keeping the Japanese forces as far away as possible from

  • the port of Rangoon, through which most aid flowed towards the Burma Road and China.

  • In turn, Brigadier John Smyth thought that Tenasseirim was practically indefensible and

  • that they should retreat behind the Sittang River to establish more solid defensive positions,

  • something that Hutton strongly opposed.

  • This was to be a mistake, as on December 22, the 55th Division of Lieutenant-General Iida

  • Shojiro had assembled at Bangkok to prepare the invasion of Tenasserim.

  • They would commence their advance on Moulmein on January 20 of 1942, heading from Rahaeng

  • towards the Kawkareik Pass.

  • By January 18, the 143rd Regiment would also manage to overcome the steep jungle-covered

  • Tenasserim Range, then attacking Tavoy and overwhelming the 6th and 3rd Burma Rifles.

  • The Japanese soldiers would next continue their advance on Mergui, where the 2nd Burma

  • Rifles were promptly evacuated before engaging the enemy.

  • The occupation of Mergui also saw some Burmese nationalist proclaim the creation of the Burma

  • Independence Army , which would go on to accompany Japanese forces in this campaign.

  • On January 22, the first clashes occurred at Kawkareik between the 16th Indian Brigade

  • of the 17th Indian Division and forward units of the 55th Division.

  • The Indian defenders managed to hold to this position with great tenacity, but they would

  • be eventually outflanked and forced to retreat after two days of resistance.

  • Between January 23 and 29, the Japanese would make a determined effort to establish air

  • superiority over Tenasserim and Rangoon; and on the night of January 30, their main attack

  • on Moulmein would begin as Japanese forces engaged the remainder of the 2nd Burma Brigade

  • to the south and east of the city.

  • The invaders quickly managed to force a position on the left of a ridge and then continued

  • to increase their pressure over the defenders throughout the next day, This position was

  • almost impossible to defend and the brigade was getting squeezed until Smyth finally ordered

  • the retreat by the end of January 31.

  • The way to Rangoon was now open, but we'll have to wait some time to cover the main attack

  • on Burma.

  • Meanwhile, in Malaya, the situation was critical for the British defenders.

  • On the coast, the Japanese had taken the town of Muar, annihilating the 45th Indian Brigade

  • and opening a hole on Westforce's defenses; while to the north, the Australians had been

  • pushed out of Gemas after losing much equipment.

  • On January 17, the retreating Allied units that managed to escape from Muar regrouped

  • at Bakri and established a defensive perimeter around it.

  • General Percival ordered them to recapture Muar, but the remaining Indian soldiers fell

  • into a Japanese ambush, suffering heavy casualties and then deciding to call off the counterattack

  • . The next day, General Nishimura of the Imperial Guards Division started a three-pronged assault

  • against the Allied positions, thus commencing the siege of Bakri.

  • Yet the spearhead of the attack, composed of Type 95 Ha-Go tanks, advanced without infantry

  • support and was wiped out by Australian gunners . Despite their valiant resistance, employing

  • an excellent tactic of moving one section at a time to enfilade the enemy positions;

  • by January 19, Bakri had been surrounded by the Japanese invaders, who then started a

  • concentrated shelling of the area.

  • At the same time, the 5th Division had been applying heavy pressure to Australian forces

  • to the north, forcing them to retreat to Segamat by January 20.

  • Seeing the rapid progress of the Japanese on the coast, they would continue to retreat

  • towards the town of Kluang, which they would reach on January 24.

  • In the meantime, a single Indian company was holding off an entire Japanese division, while

  • the rest of the Allied forces started to retreat towards Parit Sulong on January 20.

  • Isolated, this company was cut off from the Allied retreat, getting almost completely

  • annihilated by the enemy forces.

  • Yet Westforce's retreat was also cut off by the Japanese, who managed to establish

  • roadblocks 2 km or so from Bakri.

  • Several failed assaults were executed to break through until a bayonet charge led by Lieutenant-Colonel

  • Charles Anderson managed to break through the Japanese roadblock.

  • Under heavy Japanese pressure, Anderson would then go on to lead the Allied forces on their

  • withdrawal to Parit Sulong.

  • They arrived at the Parit Sulong bridge on January 22, but the bridge was already under

  • Japanese hands, so Anderson would have to fight his way through it.

  • Heroically, the Allied forces resisted tank attacks at their rear while launching continuous

  • assaults against the bridge.

  • Yet Anderson's efforts would be unsuccessful, and so, he would decide to retreat northeast

  • towards Yong Peng by January 23, leaving behind substantial amounts of equipment and all their

  • wounded men.

  • These wounded men would be subjected to the same Japanese retaliations that the latter

  • had shown elsewhere during the war.

  • After being harshly mistreated, the 150 wounded men would be subsequently executed during

  • the Parit Sulong Massacre . This was to be the end of the Battle of Muar, and afterwards,

  • Westforce would establish positions on a line that extended from Mersing on the east coast,

  • through Kluang and then to Batu Pahat on the west coast, while preparing for a final retreat

  • towards Singapore.

  • Now, we turn to the Dutch East Indies, where the 16th Army and the 3rd Fleet were preparing

  • to resume their offensives in Borneo and the Celebes.

  • After conducting mopping-up operations in Tarakan and Manado, the Japanese forces prepared

  • to launch simultaneous attacks on Balikpapan and Kendari by the end of this week.

  • Reinforced by units from Jolo, the Sakaguchi Detachment departed Tarakan on January 21,

  • supported by Admiral Nishimura's fleet . Their plan was to have a battalion-sized unit secretly

  • ascend the Wain River in front of the city of Balikpapan to advance deep into the rear

  • of the city so that it could take control of its weak points in a swift surprise attack.

  • Meanwhile, the Dutch garrison in Balikpapan numbered some 1100 men, mainly from the 6th

  • Battalion, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Cornelis van den Hoogenband.

  • On January 18, alerted of an incoming Japanese attack, the Dutch commander ordered the destruction

  • of all oil installations in Balikpapan, trying to prevent their full employment by the enemy.

  • On January 22, the Japanese invasion fleet was sighted by an American PBY, so the Dutch

  • sent some Martin B-10 bombers and 12 F2A Brewster Buffaloes to escort to attack the convoy,

  • as well as some of their submarines.

  • Despite sinking the Nana Maru transport ship and damaging others while losing a single

  • B-10, they could not prevent the landings of the Sakaguchi Detachment by the early hours

  • of January 24.

  • Without meeting any resistance, the main force of the Sakaguchi Detachment quickly seized

  • the Dutch airfield and then continued on towards Balikpapan.

  • At the same time, an American task force sent by Admiral Hart was approaching the vicinity

  • of the Dutch city.

  • This task force, consisting of 4 destroyers under the command of Rear-Admiral William

  • Glassford and Commander Paul Talbot, launched a strong attack over 12 Japanese transport

  • ships, sinking four transports and damaging many more vessels . In return, two of the

  • American destroyers only suffered light damage before retreating back to the sea.

  • In the meantime, the surprise unit got to the mouth of the Wain River by early morning,

  • beginning their ascent up the river.

  • On the morning of January 25, these soldiers got to the rear of the city, while the main

  • force of the detachment reached the northern outskirts of Balikpapan.

  • The Dutch garrison had been taken completely by surprise, and by midday, the surprise unit

  • advanced into Batu Ampar and defeated Hoogenband's forces in battle.

  • They would then join with the rest of the detachment to enter into the city of Balikpapan

  • and capture the whole urban area.

  • Mopping-up operations began the next day, aimed against the town of Samarinda, while

  • a battalion-sized detachment under Lieutenant-Colonel Kume Motozo was created to seize the oilfields

  • at Sanga Sanga.

  • Simultaneous to the Battle of Balikpapan, Admiral Takagi's forces had left Bangka

  • on January 21, launching their attack on Kendari three days later.

  • With the landings of the Sasebo Force by early morning, the small Dutch garrison of 400 soldiers

  • was caught off guard and had to retreat to Mandongan after destroying as much of the

  • Kendari II airfield as possible.

  • Kendari and its airfield then fell by midday, while the Dutch forces retreated further back

  • to Tawanga on the Koneweha River, from where they would start to execute guerrilla warfare.

  • Due to intense rain making visibility poor, the next morning a happy accident happened

  • for the Allies, as the destroyer Hatsuharu collided with the cruiser Nagara.

  • The collision left them both with severe damage, so they had to sail back to Davao for repairs.