Military History

This week in History | Week 3

By The Cove December 20, 2019

13 January to 19 January

14 January 1942: The Battle of Gemas

The Battle of Gemas was an action fought by Australian soldiers of the 2/30 Battalion, part of the 27th Brigade of the 8th Australian Division. Its aim was to slow the Japanese advance towards Singapore following the Japanese landings in Malaya at Kota Bahru on 07 December 1941. 

The 2/30th Battalion's commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Frederick "Black Jack" Galleghan, was ordered to mount an ambush on the main road, 11 kilometres west of Gemas in the hope of preventing the Japanese from advancing any further south. The ambush site was located at a point where a wooden bridge crossed the Sungei Gemencheh river, connecting Gemas with the larger neighbouring town of Tampin, and bringing traffic on the road into a long cutting through thick bushland. The 2/30th Battalion subsequently deployed one company in the ambush position 5 kilometres forward of the main body of the battalion.

Private John Korsch, C Coy, 2/30th Battalion, recorded how the companies of 2/30 Battalion drew lots for the staging of the ambush after the bridge was blown.

The Japanese had passed through Tampin and needed to cross the bridge to reach Gemas when, at 16:00 hours on 14 January 1942, "B" Company 2/30th Battalion under Captain Desmond Duffy, initiated the ambush. Duffy had deployed his troops atop the cuttings and below road level and maximised the effectiveness of his Bren machine guns by covering the approaches. As the Japanese passed through the engagement area in their hundreds—many of them on bicycles—the bridge was blown and the Australians opened fire with machine guns, rifles and grenades. However, faulty telephone lines back to the main battalion position prevented Duffy from being able to call in artillery fire on to the follow on Japanese forces and the forward company was subsequently forced to withdraw after a 20-minute engagement as the Japanese began to press their positions.

The battle following the ambush lasted another two days and included a further action during which the Australian anti-tank gunners from the 2/4th Anti-Tank Regiment destroyed six out of eight Japanese tanks. The fighting ended with the Australians withdrawing through Gemas to the Fort Rose Estate. 

It was a brilliant ambush and the first AIF attack against the Japanese. The 2/30th suffered 20 killed or missing believed dead and 58 wounded. The Japanese casualties were thought to be about 1,000. The battalion had fulfilled its task of acting "as a shock-absorber" and inflicting as many casualties as possible before falling back. On 5 March 1942, Duffy was gazetted a Military Cross for leadership during the action.

15 January 1944: Capture of Sio by the 9th Australian Division

The capture of Sio by the 9th Australian Division represented the final destruction of the Japanese 20th Division in the protracted Huon Peninsula campaign of 1943-1944.

16 January 1963: Lieutenant Colonel Oliver David Jackson takes command of 3 RAR

Brigadier Oliver David Jackson DSO, OBE joined the Australian Permanent Military Force as a regular officer in 1937 and saw action in the Second World War as a junior officer in North Africa, Syria and New Guniea.

Unusually, after the war he commanded all three original battalions of the Royal Australian Regiment: 1 RAR from June 1956 to March 1957 (in Korea), 3 RAR from January 1963 to April 1963, and 2 RAR from August 1963 to December 1964.

Jackson is best know for his service in Vietnam, including commanding the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam, establishing the Australian base at Nui Dat, and being appointed the first commander of the 1st Australian Task Force for which he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order.







18-22 January 1942: Lieutenant Colonel Charles Anderson, CO of the 2/19th Battalion, awarded the Victoria Cross

Lieutenant Colonel Charles Anderson is the highest ranked Australian to have ever been awarded the Victoria Cross.

Middle-aged, bespectacled, and a veteran of an earlier war, Anderson did not look like a Hollywood-style war hero. He had been born in South Africa and was awarded the Military Cross in the First World War before coming to Australia in 1934. Already an officer in the militia, he was appointed second-in-command of the 2/19th Battalion on its formation in 1940. The battalion was sent to Malaya and in August 1941 Anderson was appointed its commanding officer.

During the Japanese advance in January 1942, the 2/19th was ordered to the Bakri area in a futile attempt to help stop the enemy. Following heavy casualties, Anderson took command of the brigade and led it in a fighting withdrawal towards Parit Sulong village. Cut-off, surrounded, and without air support, Anderson personally led attacks against road-blocks and enemy positions during the ensuing four-day action that became one of the most desperate in Australian military history.

At Parit Sulong Anderson found his decimated force trapped with no hope of relief. Finally, he ordered that the vehicles and guns be destroyed and surviving troops form groups and try to make their own way southward. He was later distressed to learn that the Japanese had massacred the wounded who had been left behind. For his command and exploits he was awarded the Victoria Cross.

Anderson was taken into captivity on 15 February 1942, when the British forces in Singapore surrendered. He endured the misery and squalor of being a prisoner of war, commanding “Anderson force” on the Burma–Thailand Railway. Despite a high rate of death and illness, “he maintained a high level of morale among his men … all of whom would have followed him to hell and back”. After the war he returned to farming. In 1949 he was elected to parliament as Country Party member for Hume, New South Wales, and served three terms.




The Cove

The home of the Australian Profession of Arms.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.

Add new comment