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Japan Continues Attacking Borneo Philippines Pacific War

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On December 7, 1941, the war had reached the Pacific to the surprise of the Allied nations, drastically changing the course of history forever. After its first week, smoke darkened the horizons of Pearl Harbor, hundreds of British soldiers laid dead on the battlefields of Malaya and Hong Kong, the Philippines and Wake Island had tasted their first blood, and Guam and the Gilbert Islands had already fallen into Japanese hands. The situation looked grim for the Allies, and this week would do nothing but confirm that the Rising Sun was really on the rise. So today, we are going to cover the continuation of the Japanese expansion across the Pacific and the start of the Battle of Borneo. If you are interested in learning more about the World Wars, you have to check out the Battlefields of the World Wars series on the sponsors of today’s article MagellanTV, which is our most loyal partner and the Documentary platform of choice of the Kings and Generals team.

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The Dutch, meanwhile, had seen their homeland invaded and occupied by Nazi Germany back in May of 1940. Queen Wilhelmina and the Dutch government had managed to escape to London by May 13, where they established a government-in-exile, but despite this, they were now unable to defend their colonial possessions in the East. There, the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army of Lieutenant-General Hein ter Poorten tried to modernize as fast as possible in view of a possible Japanese invasion. By December of 1941, the army had grown to 85000 personnel, albeit inadequately equipped and poorly trained. Ter Poorten also counted with a sizable air force, although the 389 aircraft they had were old and decisively outclassed by superior Japanese planes.

In the Kalimantan area of the Borneo , the Dutch had two important western airfields that were unknown to the Japanese, from which they could conduct air operations against the enemy. They also counted with strong garrisons in all major cities of Dutch Borneo, although they would not see fighting this week. The ones that would see fighting would be the defenders in British Borneo. This area was not only important for the Japanese to act as a stepping stone for the invasion of the Dutch East Indies, but it also had valuable oilfields in Miri and Serai, which made them huge objectives. Marshal Brooke-Popham had assigned the 2nd Battalion of the 15th Punjab Regiment to defend the cities of Kuching and Miri , while the local rulers of Sarawak organized a paramilitary force, the Sarawak Rangers, defending the rest of the province.

These forces were then grouped into the Sarawak Force, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Lane. The Japanese plan consisted of an initial attack against Miri and Serai with the objective of securing their oilfields, followed by a main amphibious assault against Kuching and the nearby airfields. This operation would be carried out by the Kawaguchi Detachment, mainly composed by the 35th Brigade of the 124th Infantry Regiment, under the command of Major-General Kawaguchi Kiyotake. They would also be escorted and supported by a small fleet under Rear-Admiral Kurita Takeo, consisting of three cruisers, six destroyers, and 746 SNLF marines. On December 13, the Kawaguchi Detachment left Cam Rahn Bay in ten transport ships, heading to the British Borneo.

The following day saw the Japanese pressing on the heels of the Indian defenders at Gurun, while in Wake Island, Japanese bombardments in the last two days left only one Wildcat operational. Major Putnam would then start working straight away to repair as many of his planes as possible, with the first repaired Wildcat successfully made operational later that evening. December 15 saw the first major fighting of the week, with the Japanese first assault against Hong Kong Island. After a heavy bombardment and repeated British refusals to surrender, General Sakai ordered a night assault in improvised rafts, but this first attempt would be repelled by machine-gun fire while the Japanese attempted to cross the harbor. Meanwhile in Johnstone and Palmyra, after the first attack by a submarine returning from Pearl Harbor that luckily didn’t do so much damage, a new attack was launched by Japanese submarines that caused serious damage to a powerhouse.

And back in Malaya, the 5th Division finally attacked down the road and managed to penetrate deep into the 6th Brigade’s defenses. This prompted General Murray-Lyon to order a complete withdrawal south of the Muda River, then continuing some 30 miles south to establish defensive positions on the Krian River , which didn’t sit well with General Percival’s objective of reducing the air threat on Singapore, as he needed to hold the Japanese as far north as possible to keep their air forces out of range; and yet, he could not prevent his generals from retreating in the face of superior firepower. On the next day, two detachments of the 56th Division completed preparations to conduct amphibious invasions on Davao and the Sulu Islands, intending to secure a southern airfield on the Philippines and to prepare further attacks on Borneo from Jolo. The detachments were under the general command of Major-General Sakaguchi Shizuo, and they would depart Palau en route to Davao later that day. Meanwhile, in Borneo, the main body of the Kawaguchi Detachment successfully landed on Miri and Serai in the early hours of December 16.

They were met with little resistance and could thus occupy their oilfields and airfields with ease. SNLF marines also landed on the coast near Lutong and managed to occupy its important oil refinery. Immediately, the Japanese would start working on restoring the captured oilfields , while Kawaguchi prepared his forces for their main assault on Kuching, which we’ll cover next week. The following day, however, Dutch reconnaissance from Singkawang learned about the Japanese invasion and then launched an air attack over Miri, although it was unsuccessful. On December 17, the Japanese were also hit by the Chungpu earthquake, which caused considerable damage in Taiwan.

It seems Japan was fighting even nature itself at this point. At the same time, with the Japanese fiercely pressing on and defeating the Indian defenders, General Percival finally decided to order a general withdrawal south of the Perak River, trying to hold on to northern Malaya as much as he could. Although he realized that the two Indian divisions were heavily outgunned, he could not send the 8th Australian Division away from Johor in fear of a possible Japanese naval invasion that would jeopardize his entire defense of Singapore. Instead, the 9th Indian Division was ordered to defend the Kuantan airfield and Murray-Lyon’s eastern flank, while the battered 11th Indian Division saw two of its brigades reorganize into one and reinforced the 12th Brigade. The withdrawal also meant the abandonment of Penang Island, one of the main British settlements in Malaya.

But before it got abandoned, the British would evacuate all of its European population, leaving the local inhabitants to the mercy of the Japanese, something that would come back to haunt them after the end of the war. In the meantime, despite some fierce aerial bombardment in the last two days, the defenders at Wake Island successfully managed to recuperate another of its Wildcats. And at Hong Kong, the Japanese saw that they were now ready for their main assault on the island. In the last days, they had constructed enough boats for the crossing and they had destroyed half of the pillboxes between North Point and the Lyemun Straits, leaving a pall of dense black smoke over the area that gave them the perfect cover for an attack. Even better, General Maltby expected them to attack again across the Victoria Harbor, so the area was lightly defended.

General Sakai then planned to conduct a two-pronged amphibious assault, with two regiments embarking from the Kai-Tak Airport towards the Taikoo Docks and with another one crossing the Lyemun Straits into Saiwan. At night on December 18, the crossing commenced, getting halfway undetected and successfully completing the crossing a few hours later. Early in the morning of December 19, the Japanese 38th Division had already overrun the depleted Rajput defenders, taking several major key points along the coast. In response, Maltby established a new defensive line at Leighton Hill and tried to reinforce the center of the island as fast as he could, but it was already too late, with the Japanese surrounding the Wongneichong Gap after a few hours of fighting. There, the British defenders resisted fiercely, but their attempt to escape failed, and they were cut down by machine-gun fire across the Gap.

Maltby quickly rushed his troops to counterattack, but the operation was very badly planned and executed, although the British defenders would incredibly manage to get close to Wongneichong. Yet despite their best efforts, the superior firepower of the Japanese forced them to retreat in the end. With the fall of the Wongneichong Gap, the center of the island was firmly under the control of the Japanese, and they would spend the next day consolidating their control over the area before launching their main attack against Victoria City. The situation looked dire for Maltby, and he could only try to reorganize his depleted and dispersed forces to mount a limited defense of the colonial capital. Don’t forget to check out our article on the Battle of Hong Kong if you want a more in-depth look at the events of the battle; we know you’ll not be disappointed.

Meanwhile, in Miri, the invaders were subjected to two more Dutch air attacks in the last two days, which would fail to inflict heavy damage on the Japanese, although one of the Dutch flying boats would successfully manage to sink the destroyer Shinonome, killing its 228 crew. And on the last day of the week, the American defenders in Wake would learn of great news, as a PBY landed in the lagoon and told them that a relief expedition was already on its way. Back on December 10, Admiral Kimmel had created Task Force 14 under the command of Rear-Admiral Frank Fletcher, consisting of three heavy cruisers, eight destroyers, the carrier Saratoga, the VMF-221 squadron, and 210 marines from the 4th Defense Battalion. They would depart Pearl Harbor on December 15, heading as fast as they could to reinforce the defenders at Wake. Kimmel had also created Task Force 11 under Rear-Admiral Wilson Brown, consisting of the carrier Lexington, three heavy cruisers, and nine destroyers, with the task of striking Japanese bases thought to exist at Jaluit and with the objective of diverting Japanese forces away from Task Force 14.

With help finally on its way, morale on Wake Island was very high. But unbeknownst to them, due to his failure to defend Pearl Harbor, Admiral Kimmel was relieved of his command of the Pacific Fleet on December 17, being temporarily replaced by Vice-Admiral William Pye. Pye had his reservations about the relief expedition, but he still allowed it to continue for the moment, although on December 21, he would finally decide to recall both task forces back to Pearl Harbor. This week would also end with a terrible outcome for the American defenders in the Philippines. On Davao, the Sakaguchi and Miura Detachments finally landed under the cover of night.

The city defenders, consisting of a single regiment of the Philippine 101st Division, were completely taken by surprise, yet they offered as much resistance as they could. With the Miura Detachment suffering many casualties, General Sakaguchi was forced to order forward some of his forces reserved for the attack on the Sulu Islands. Together, these forces would storm and take the city by midday, and a final attack would be then carried out against the remaining Filipino defenders behind the Davao River, finally forcing them to retreat northwestwards. Upon reaching Davao, the Japanese soldiers would be cheered by the sizable Japanese population of the city, liberating them from the warehouses in which they had been detained at the start of the war. While the battered Miura Detachment stayed to garrison Davao and continued the liberation of Japanese inhabitants, the Sakaguchi Detachment would prepare to continue on towards Jolo on the Sulu Islands and then to Tarakan in Dutch Borneo.

Thus, this week ends with another Japanese victory, and next week we’ll see them achieve tremendous successes as they continue their expansion across the Pacific, so make sure you are pin itd and have pressed the bell button to see the next article in the series. Please, consider liking, commenting, and sharing - it helps immensely. Our articles would be impossible without our kind patrons and website website members, whose ranks you can join via the links in the description to know our schedule, get early access to our articles, access our discord, and much more. This is the Kings and Generals website, and we will catch you on the next one..

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