Malayan Campaign

To meet a possible threat from Japan, Australian personnel, in the form of three RAAF squadrons had been based in Malaya and Singapore since 1940. They were followed in 1941 by an additional RAAF Squadron and the Australian 8th Division and supporting units. On 8 December 1941 the Japanese invaded the Malayan peninsula, marking the beginning of the Malayan Campaign.

31 January 2020

Battle of Gemas

The Battle of Gemas was the first major Australian battle of the Campaign. Lasting two days from 14 - 15 January 1942, the battle was one of few successes for the Allied forces. A company of Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Galleghan’s 2/30th Battalion, mounted an ambush which cut down hundreds of Japanese soldiers riding bicycles through a cutting and over a bridge on the Gemencheh Creek.

Their plan was to withdraw after the ambush and let the main battalion group at Gemas fight the main battle. As the ambush party withdrew, they found themselves encircled by fast-moving Japanese troops but most managed to get through. The battle for Gemas raged that night and the next day. By the afternoon of 15 January, having withstood continuing Japanese attacks, the Australians decided to withdraw before further Japanese pressure could be brought to bear.

Battle of Muar River

One the major battles of the campaign was the Battle of Muar River, which the British Commander in Malaya, Lieutenant-General Arthur

Percival, called ‘one of the epics of the Malayan campaign’. During heavy fighting in the Muar River area, the Australians were cut off when Japanese forces occupied Parit Sulong to the south. Unable to break through strong Japanese defences, the Australians, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Charles Anderson of the 2/19th Battalion were compelled to destroy their guns and vehicles and make for Allied lines. The survivors eventually reached Yong Peng but the wounded had to be left behind. For his leadership during this battle Anderson was awarded the Victoria Cross.

Parit Sulong massacre

The wounded at Parit Sulong – some 150 Australian and Indian troops, were estimated to have been captured by the Japanese – were kicked, beaten with rifle butts and menaced with bayonets before being crammed into a small shed and then moved to another. They were given neither medical attention nor water.

At sunset the wounded prisoners were roped or wired together in groups and led away. A survivor reported that they were then machine-gunned or doused in petrol and incinerated. Only three men are known to have survived the massacre, including Lieutenant Ben Hackney, who managed to free himself and crawl away to safety. The massacre has been called ‘one of the worst atrocities’ of the campaign.

Of those who had escaped from Parit Sulong, only 130 men of the 2/29th Battalion, 271 of the 2/19th Battalion and 98 of the 65th Battery of the 2/15th Field Regiment reached Yong Peng.

Fast Facts

Australians who served

  • More than 20,000 Australians served in the Malayan Campaign and the Battle for Singapore

Major units

  • 8th Division AIF
  • No 1, 8, 21 and 453 Squadrons RAAF


  • More than 1800 Australians died during Malayan Campaign and the Battle for Singapore
  • More than 1400 Australians were wounded
  • More than 15,000 Australians became Prisoners of War at the Fall of Singapore

Specific medals

  • Lieutenant Colonel Charles Anderson was awarded the first Victoria Cross to an Australian during the war in the Pacific for his role in the Battle or Muar River


  • More than 4,400 Commonwealth and Allied soldiers are buried at Kranji War Cemetery
  • More than 850 remain unidentified in unmarked graves.
  • More than 2,500 Australian soldiers are buried at Kranji, or remembered on the Singapore Memorial to the Missing

More information