• Kyla Kelly

Briefed: The Japanese occupation of Malaysia

Updated: Jul 22, 2020


  • Malaya (also known as the British Malaya) was used to describe a set of states on the Malay Peninsula and the island Singapore. Malaya was controlled by the British for the majority of the time between the 18th and 19th century.

  • One prominent factor that sparked Japan's interest in Malaya was that it was extremely rich in natural resources. By 1939, Malaya had 40% of the world’s rubber and 60% of the world’s tin. Adding to this, the majority of Malaya’s rubber and tin supply would go to the United States who was Japan's rival.

  • Japan required a large oil supply for their military and industrial capacities. Malaya could provide a staging point for Japan to further invade the oil rich islands of Borneo, Java, and Sumatra.

  • Malaya was also part of Japan's "Outline Plan for the Execution of the Empire's National Policy". This plan was to expand Japan’s outer perimeters wide enough so that their enemies could not carry out air attacks against the home islands.

  • The tipping point occurred in 1941 when the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands imposed embargoes on supplying oil and war materials to Japan. Because of this, Japan decided to take military action against US, British and Dutch territories in SouthEast Asia (Malaya).

Description of Event

  • The Japanese occupation of Malaya, which took place during World War II, lasted for three and a half years.

  • On 8 December 1941, simultaneously with the Pearl Harbor Attack, Japan’s army forces arrived at Kota Bharu on the border of Malaya and Thailand. As the soldiers advanced down the east and west coasts of Malaya, they seized British strongholds and captured many prisoners.

  • The terrain in Malaya was very rainy with dirt roads and thick jungles. To move quickly the Japanese soldiers traveled and invaded on bicycles. Through this, the Imperial Japanese Army steamrolled the Allied forces until they withdrew to Singapore.

  • The War ended after Japan’s invasion in Singapore February, 1942. Many gruesome atrocities occurred during this time. On February 14th, Japanese soldiers penetrated the Alexandra Hospital, killing over 300 doctors, nurses, and patients. Further, Japanese soldiers emasculated captured British soldiers and hung them in trees where Allied patrols would find them. After these horrors, the British finally surrendered.

  • In the Japanese Invasion at Malaya, all Allied troops present in the peninsula, numbered at over 138,000, were killed or captured. Many of the captured would endure a four-year long brutal captivity as forced labor in Indo-China.

Timeline of Events

  • December 7, 1941: Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor

  • December 8, 1941: Japanese divisions land at Kota Bahru

  • December 10, 1941: Japanese sink Britain’s two main warships: the Prince of Wales and Repulse

  • January 15, 1942: General Percival ordered the remaining 30,000 Allied troops in Malaya to retreat to Singapore

  • January 17, 1942: The British blew up the causeway linking Singapore to Malaysia in an attempt to stop the Japanese.

  • February 8, 1942: The Japanese and in the northwest of Singapore

  • February 15, 1942: The British surrender to the Japanese at the Ford Motor Factory

What now? (Impacts)

  • The social impact of the Japanese occupation of Malaya, led to a more distant relationship between local races. Japanese military gave a different treatment to the Malays, Indians and Chinese.

  • The economic impact was severe during the Japanese occupation. The Malayan economy was dependent on the rubber exports. Rubber production eventually reduced due to the war.

  • In 1945 the Japanese surrendered and the Malayan Union was formed as a unified government over the peninsula.

  • Now, the Malayan peninsula has been split into the far southeastern portion of Myanmar (Burma), the southwestern section of Thailand, Peninsular (or West) Malaysia, and Singapore.

Open ended question:

What are some aspects in present day Malaya that you think might have been affected by the Japanese occupation?

Tell us what you think in the comments.


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