Battle of Opium Hill

The battle of Opium Hill took place on 14 February 1942 during the Japanese invasion of Singapore.1 Part of the wider battle for Pasir Panjang, the battle of Opium Hill is remembered for the heroic last stand of 2nd Lieutenant Adnan Saidi and the soldiers from C Company of the Malay Regiment’s 1st Battalion, against the 18th Division of the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA).Today, a WWII interpretive centre named Reflections at Bukit Chandu stands near the battle site to commemorate the heroism of the Malay Regiment.3


Background
Opium Hill, or Bukit Chandu in Malay, stands on Pasir Panjang Ridge (now Kent Ridge) and derives its name from the opium-processing factory located at the foot of the hill.4 During the closing stages of the Battle of Singapore, the entire ridge formed part of the western end of the final British defence perimeter around Singapore.5 The ridge also protected the Alexandra area, where the British Military Hospital (now Alexandra Hospital) and vital British ammunition depots were located.6

The Malay Regiment, with 1,400 men in its 1st and 2nd Battalions, was responsible for defending the Pasir Panjang Ridge.7 The 2nd Battalion defended the area between Ayer Rajah Road and the Gap (South Buona Vista Road),8 with A and C Companies of 1st Battalion guarding its left flank along the length of Reformatory Road.9 The 2nd Loyal Regiment, a British formation, was deployed to guard the 2nd Battalion’s right flank.10


Battle of Pasir Panjang 

On the morning of 13 February, the battle for Pasir Panjang commenced with an intense Japanese aerial and artillery bombardment of the Malay Regiment’s positions, inflicting heavy casualties and disrupting telephone communications.11 The 1st Battalion’s A Company was decimated by accurate Japanese artillery fire and was forced to withdraw from its advance positions.12 In the afternoon, the Japanese 18th Division, supported by mortars, tanks and aircraft,13 attacked the 2nd Battalion at Point 270 on Buona Vista Hill along the Pasir Panjang Ridge.14 Critically short of ammunition, the 2nd Battalion was forced to yield Point 270 and retreated through the Gap.15 The loss of Point 270 gave the IJA control over the western side of the ridge, exposing the right flank of C Company at Pasir Panjang Village to Japanese enfilade fire.16

Despite being outnumbered and outflanked, C Company held the Pasir Panjang Village crossroads against Japanese attacks, strengthened by the remaining soldiers of A Company and two Bren carriers of the Loyal Regiment.17 Unable to advance, the Japanese set fire to the nearby undergrowth and set up a mortar position to bombard the Malay Regiment defenders.18 Private Yaacob bin Bidin of C Company crawled through the burning undergrowth to eliminate this Japanese mortar team with his light machine gun.19 Private Yaacob survived the war and was later awarded the Military Medal by the British for his bravery.20

The battles on 13 February exacted a severe toll on the 1st Battalion, with four officers reported killed and eight wounded along with a “considerable” number of casualties from other ranks.21 The much-depleted 2nd Battalion became a brigade reserve and moved to Alexandra Brickworks, taking no further part in the battle.22

By midnight on 13 February, the 1st Battalion withdrew to reconsolidate its defence.23 C Company left Pasir Panjang Village to take up a new defensive position at Opium Hill on the Pasir Panjang Ridge.24 To its left, B Company was deployed to cover the approaches to Buona Vista Village, while D Company held the Labrador area on the right flank of C Company.25 C and D Companies were separated by a drain of burning oil that flowed from the nearby Normanton Oil Depot,26 whose storage tanks had been set ablaze on 10 February 1942 by enemy action.27


Last stand on Opium Hill
The Japanese bombarded Malay Regiment positions on the morning of 14 February. Supported by their tanks, the Japanese then launched a simultaneous attack along Buona Vista Road and Pasir Panjang Road in the afternoon.28 Lieutenant A. G. Mackenzie of B Company received the Military Cross for single-handedly eliminating a Japanese infantry gun crew, after coming to the rescue of a damaged Bren Carrier.29 From its vantage point on the ridge, C Company assisted the 2nd Loyal Regiment in driving off a separate Japanese attack with enfilade fire.30 Unfortunately, the Japanese troops overran B Company’s position, forcing the company to withdraw to the beach and join D Company at Labrador.31 This isolated C Company in between the Japanese troops on its left and the burning oil on its right.32

During the attack on B Company, some Japanese troops, disguised as Punjabi soldiers, attempted to infiltrate C Company’s position on Opium Hill in the early afternoon.33 This ruse was uncovered by 2nd Lieutenant Adnan Saidi and 2nd Lieutenant Abbas bin Abdul Manan, who noticed the troops were marching in columns of four instead of the usual three, as was the norm for the British military.34 C Company then opened fire at close range, killing and wounding around 22 Japanese soldiers and forcing the rest to retreat.35

Two hours after this failed infiltration attempt, the Japanese troops launched a direct attack on Opium Hill in superior numbers, supported by their aircraft and artillery.36 C Company Commander Captain H. R. Rix gave orders to defend the position, fighting fearlessly and inspiring his troops.37 The C Company soldiers, led by their officers, engaged in hand-to-hand combat until they were killed by Japanese troops.38 Adnan, a company officer in the 7th Platoon, fought on despite being mortally wounded and encouraged his men to continue fighting.39 Rix died fighting, with his body found after the battle among 12 other deceased Malay Regiment soldiers.40 In another platoon, Lieutenant Stephen led a bayonet charge to drive off the attacking Japanese after many of his men were killed or wounded, sacrificing himself in the attempt.41 The heroic actions of Rix and Adnan earned them mentions in despatches after the war.42

As the Japanese overran Opium Hill, Abbas and the remainder of his platoon attempted to fight their way out.43 Finding their retreat cut off by the burning drain, Abbas and his remaining soldiers could only jump across the 20-foot gap, losing two men who fell into the flames.44 Abbas became the only officer from C Company to survive the battle of Opium Hill, returning to his battalion headquarters that evening with three men.45

After capturing Opium Hill, the Japanese troops massacred the surviving soldiers of C Company.46 Adnan was taken captive by the Japanese, who shot and repeatedly bayonetted him to death.47 His body was hung upside down from a tree, where the Japanese refused to let work parties cut his body down for burial.48 Other C Company members like Corporal Din and Private Wan Ngah survived the massacre and escaped after dark.49

Aftermath
After taking Pasir Panjang Ridge, Japanese forces advanced into the Alexandra area. With the Alexandra Ammunition Magazine on the frontlines, British troops could not easily access the desperately needed ammunition.50 In an event later known as the Alexandra Hospital massacre, Japanese troops killed 50 defenceless patients and medical staff at the British Military Hospital. Around 200 survivors were then rounded up and massacred behind a nurse’s residence across Ayer Rajah Road.51

At dusk, D Company successfully ambushed Japanese troops marching down Pasir Panjang Road near the Alexandra Brickworks area.52 This would be the Malay Regiment’s last combat before the British surrender on 15 February 1942.53

Commemoration
After the war, in 1947, the Department of Public Relations of the Malay Peninsular published The Malay Regiment 1933–1947 that chronicles the heroic deeds of the Malay Regiment.54 In 1995, a war memorial plaque in Kent Ridge Park was unveiled to commemorate the battle of Pasir Panjang and the Malay Regiment.55 A concrete pillbox on Pasir Panjang Road was also marked in 1998.56

In 1992, members of the local Malay community suggested preserving the pre-war bungalow at 31-K Pepys Road on Opium Hill as a museum.57 At the cost of S$4.8 million, the bungalow was developed as Reflections at Bukit Chandu to commemorate the battle of Opium Hill and the heroism of the Malay Regiment.58 Reflections at Bukit Chandu was officially opened on 15 February 2002, coinciding with the 70th anniversary of the fall of Singapore. Since 2018, the centre has undergone a revamp and is slated to reopen in mid-2021.59

In 2014, two veterans of the battle of Pasir Panjang, Corporal Mohammad Haji Eunos and Private Ujang Mormin, visited Reflections at Bukit Chandu on their first trip to Singapore since the end of World War II.60 When Ujang Mormin passed away from COVID-19 in February 2021, he was the last living Malay Regiment veteran who had fought at the battle of Pasir Panjang.61



Authors
Nor-Afidah A Rahman, Nureza Ahmad & Alec Soong



References
1. Dol Ramli, “History of the Malay Regiment 1933–1942,” Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 38, no. 1 (207) (1965): 235. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.5 JMBRAS-[HYT])
2. Brian P. Farrell, The Defence and Fall of Singapore 1940–1942 (Singapore: Monsoon, 2015), 426. (Call no.: RSING 940.5425957 FAR-[WAR]); Hamzah Muzaini and Brenda S. A. Yeoh, “War Landscapes as ‘Battlefields’ of Collective Memories: Reading the Reflections at Bukit Chandu, Singapore,” Cultural Geographies 12, no. 3 (July 2005): 348. (From JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website)
3. Muzaini and Yeoh, “War Landscapes,” 348–49.
4.  Mubin Sheppard, The Malay Regiment 1933–1947 (Kuala Lumpur: Department of Public Relations, 1947), 18. (Call no.: RCLOS 355.31 SHE-[RFL]); “Preparing Opium For Smokers,” Straits Times, 5 May 1930, 15; Fascinating Processes Inspected,” Malaya Tribune, 3 May 1930, 9. (From NewspaperSG).
5. Farrell, The Defence and Fall of Singapore, 423, 425.
6. Ramli, “History of the Malay Regiment,” 237.
7. Ramli, “History of the Malay Regiment,” 228; Farrell, The Defence and Fall of Singapore, 424.
8. Ramli, “History of the Malay Regiment,” 232–33.)
9. Sheppard, The Malay Regiment, 15.
10. Ramli, “History of the Malay Regiment,” 232.
11. Ramli, “History of the Malay Regiment,” 233; Sheppard, The Malay Regiment, 16.
12. Sheppard, The Malay Regiment, 15.
13. Ramli, “History of the Malay Regiment,” 235.
14. Ramli, “History of the Malay Regiment,” 235.
15. Farrell, The Defence and Fall of Singapore, 425.
16. Farrell, The Defence and Fall of Singapore, 425
17. Ramli, “History of the Malay Regiment,” 236.
18. Ramli, “History of the Malay Regiment,” 236.
19. Sheppard, The Malay Regiment, 16.
20. Sheppard, The Malay Regiment, 16.
21. Sheppard, The Malay Regiment, 16.
22. Ramli, “History of the Malay Regiment,” 236–37.
23. Ramli, “History of the Malay Regiment,” 236.
24. Sheppard, The Malay Regiment, 16.
25. Sheppard, The Malay Regiment, 16.
26. Sheppard, The Malay Regiment, 17.
27. Ramli, “History of the Malay Regiment,” 238.
28. Ramli, “History of the Malay Regiment,” 237–38.
29. Ramli, “History of the Malay Regiment,” 238.
30. Sheppard, The Malay Regiment, 17.
31. Ramli, “History of the Malay Regiment,” 238.
32. Sheppard, The Malay Regiment, 17.
33. Sheppard, The Malay Regiment, 18.
34. Ramli, “History of the Malay Regiment,” 239.
35. Ramli, “History of the Malay Regiment,” 239.
36. Ramli, “History of the Malay Regiment,” 239.
37. Sheppard, The Malay Regiment, 18.
38. Sheppard, The Malay Regiment, 18.
39. Sheppard, The Malay Regiment, 18.
40. Ramli, “History of the Malay Regiment,” 239.
41. Sheppard, The Malay Regiment, 18.
42. Sheppard, The Malay Regiment, 51–52; “No. 37671,” London Gazette (Supplement), 30 July 1946, 3921, accessed 16 March 2021.
43. Sheppard, The Malay Regiment, 18.
44. Sheppard, The Malay Regiment, 18.
45. Sheppard, The Malay Regiment, 18.
46. Sheppard, The Malay Regiment, 18.
47. Ramli, “History of the Malay Regiment,” 239.
48. Ramli, “History of the Malay Regiment,” 239.
49. The Malays Fought As Well As The Best Empire TroopsStraits Times, 6 May 1947, 8. (From NewspaperSG); Ramli, “History of the Malay Regiment,” 239.
50. Farrell, The Defence and Fall of Singapore, 428–29.
51. Farrell, The Defence and Fall of Singapore, 427.
52. Ramli, “History of the Malay Regiment,” 240.
53. Ramli, “History of the Malay Regiment,” 240.
54. Sheppard, The Malay Regiment.
55. “Kent Ridge Honours Those Who Died in WWII,” Straits Times, 11 June 1995, 3; “WWII Plaque Holds Special Significance For 2 Retired Army Men,” Straits Times, 11 June 1995, 23; “Marking of WWII Sites to Serve as Reminder,” Straits Times, 9 June 1995, 29. (From NewspaperSG).
56. “WWII Machine-Gun Pillbox Marked,” Straits Times, 15 February 1998, 25. (From NewspaperSG)
57. “WWII Bungalow as Museum?” Straits Times, 1 March 1992, 2; Yohanna Abdullah, “Make Bungalow at WWII Battleground a Museum,” Straits Times, 1 March 1992, 16; Abdul Rahman b. Mohd Said, “War Museum Must Be a Collective Effort,” Straits Times, 12 March 1992, 28; Chan Kwee Sung, “Saluting the War Heroes,” Straits Times, 8 February 2002, 16. (From NewspaperSG); Donna Brunero, “Archives and Heritage in Singapore: The Development of ‘Reflections at Bukit Chandu’, a World War II Interpretive Centre,” International Journal of Heritage Studies 12, no. 5 (2006): 431. https://doi.org/10.1080/13527250600821613
58. Chan, “Saluting the War Heroes,” 16; Brunero, “Archives and Heritage in Singapore,” 431–32.
59. Derek Wong, “Reflections at Bukit Chandu to Be Revamped,” Straits Times, 31 August 2018, accessed 14 March 2021.
60. Melody Zaccheus, “Veterans Relive Battle of Pasir Panjang,” Straits Times, 7 March 2014, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
61. “Ujang Mormin, Who Fought in Historic Battle of Pasir Panjang, Dies After Contracting COVID-19,” Channel News Asia, 11 February 2021, accessed 10 May 2021; “Private Ujang Mormin, Last Survivor of Battle of Pasir Panjang during WWII, Dies Due to Covid-19,” Straits Times, 10 February 2021, accessed 10 May 2021.




Further resources
Kevin Blackburn and Karl Hack, War Memory and the Making of Modern Malaysia and Singapore (Singapore: NUS Press, 2012). (Call no. RSING 940.53595 BLA-[WAR]).

Frank Owen, The Fall of Singapore (London: Penguin Books, 2001), 192–203. (Call no. RSING 940.5425 OWE-[WAR])

Proud Day for Malay Regiment,” Straits Times, 13 February 1957, 7. (From NewspaperSG)

Remember S’pore, Malay Regt. Told,” Straits Times, 14 February 1952, 4. (From NewspaperSG)

Alan Warren, Singapore 1942: Britain’s Greatest Defeat (Singapore: Talisman, 2002), 255–61. (Call no. RSING 940.5425 WAR-[WAR])



The information in this article is valid as at 
March 2021 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

 

Subject
History>>Asia>>Southeast Asia>>Singapore
1942-1945 Japanese occupation
Battles--Singapore
Singapore--History--Japanese occupation, 1942-1945
Battle of Opium Hill, Singapore, 1942
Events>>Historical Periods>>World War II and Japanese Occupation (1939-1945)