Japanese Planes Attack Kuantan Ferry, Malaya (Dec 1941)

Kuantan Ferry

Kuantan, Malaya – Ferry Under Attack – Dec 1941

This watercolour of Allied troops and equipment under attack while crossing the Kuantan River in Malaya is interesting in that it is painted from the point of view of the Japanese pilot. The action took place on 30th and 31st December 1941, with ground forces also attacking. Following the successful crossing the ferry was destroyed by the Allies. The aircraft appear to be Nakajima Ki27s (Allied codename ‘Nate’).Originally designed in the mid 1930s as a fighter, the Nate was used in the dive bombing role in Malaya. It also saw service in Burma, the Dutch East Indies and the Philippines. It was armed with two machine guns and carried 4 small 25kg bombs.

Another example of Des’ ability to think and to paint ‘out side of the square’.

The Kuantan area was very isolated. As already stated, it was over 100 miles, through desolate jungle country, from Jerantut on the east coast railway, and it was 160 miles from the Headquarters of the 9 Indian Division at Raub. These are big distances when there are no aircraft available for inter communication. Its military importance lay solely in the R.A.F. aerodrome, 9 miles inland from the town and on the other side of the Kuantan River.

Since the 9th December 1941 when the aerodrome had been evacuated, Japanese aircraft had been daily active over the Kuantan area, reconnoitring, bombing and machine-gunning, but little damage had been done. It appears that the enemy had intended to make landings on the coast of Trengganu but had been pre vented from doing so by his losses, especially of landing craft, in the Kelantan operations.

Between the 20th and 24th December our long distance patrols were in contact with Japanese troops moving southward in M.T. on the coast of Trengganu. On the 27th the enemy were engaged by our artillery near the Trengganu /Pahang frontier.

It was now apparent that the threat against the Kuantan area was developing from the North, though it might still be accompanied by a sea-borne landing. It will be recollected that we had by that time had heavy losses of material on the west coast and that our reserves had been depleted. We could not afford to have further heavy losses. The situation at Kuantan was particularly hazardous owing to most of the material being east of the River Kuantan which was crossed only by a single ferry. In consequence of this and of the situation which was developing on the left flank instructions were issued to the Commander Kuantan Force that he should concentrate the bulk of his force, material and transport, west of the River Kuantan, holding the area east of the river with light mobile forces only.

This readjustment of the position was going on when, on the morning of the 30th December the Japanese advanced via the Jabor Valley in greater strength than they had previously shown. They were engaged by our artillery and small arms fire and confused fighting continued throughout the day. The ferry, which had been split into two working halves, was bombed during the day and one half only remained in action.

By the morning of the 31st December the enemy were attacking the ferry, but a bridgehead was maintained during the day. During the night 31st December/1st January the rearguard was withdrawn across the river and the ferry destroyed. At that time, however, the River Kuantan was fordable in its upper reaches, a most unusual occurrence at that time of year. This seriously weakened the defense.

Source: http://www.britain-at-war.org.uk/WW2/London_Gazette/Malaya_Command/html/p2s32.htm

Quoting: A. E. Percival, Lieutenant-General, General Officer Commanding, Malaya. 1942.

Aircraft: Nakajima Ki.27 ‘Nate’ (possibly a Aichi D3A Type 99 ‘Val’)

‘Originally designed in the mid 1930s as a fighter., the Nate was used in the dive bombing role in Malaya. It also saw service in Burma, the Dutch East Indies and the Philippines. It was armed with two machine guns and carried small 25kg bombs.’

Source: httpwww.fortsiloso.com thanks to Peter Stubbs and Graham Bettany

“Thanks to their control of the skies, the Japanese were able to project the battlefront beyond their foremost troops, strafing and bombing the roads to harass and delay troop movements. The Japanese planes frequently caught civilians, exposed and defenceless on the roads, and strafed them mercilessly with machine – gun fire, ‘like a lawnmower cutting down grass’.”

“Located in Malaysia’s mid east coast, Kuantan was the closest base from which aircraft might fly in support of the British ships. Like Koata Bahru, it was an exposed outpost, built as part of the RAF’s plans to assume primary responsibility for the defence of Malaya. In such a remote location, it was fiendishly difficult to prepare as an operational base.”

Source: The Long Raod To Changi, Ewer Peter, 2013, pg 109 & 163

“In all of Malaya, of all types – Tiger Moths, antiquated bombers, inferior fighters – there were only 141 aircraft, none of them, by Japanese standards, first line.”
(General Percival’s Report on the Malayan Campaign)
Source: The Naked Island by Russell Braddon; 1955 edition Pan Books Ltd, Pg 285

‘We weren’t exactly told that our aircraft in Malaya and Singapore were obsolescent, inadequate and no match for the Japs, but it became obvious very soon. And while those responsible for that state of affairs are, no doubt, smugly drawing retirement pensions, we are stuck with the consequences of their unbelievable incompetence. We take this very personally; we do not accept that it was unavoidable but are in fact convinced that it need not have happened. There was too much complacent political fooling around and refusal to look at facts, too much wishful thinking instead of determined resolve in the years before the war. And too much irresolution and plain disastrous strategy after it began.’
Source: One Fourteenth of an Elephant, by Ian Denys Peek, 2005, Pg 426

Extracts from One Fourteenth of an Elephant by Ian Denys Peek reprinted by permission of Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Ltd. Copyright © Ian Denys Peek 2003