Alor Star

Alor Star (100.365E 6.12N) was the administrative center of Kedah, a rice growing region in Malaya. The British build an excellent all-weather airfield here that proved of great value to Japan following its capture, particularly since no demolitions took place, even of munitions, before the British withdrawal.

When war broke out, the airfield based 62 Squadron with 18 Blenheims. The headquarters of 11 Indian Division was located at Jitra (100.421E 6.266N), a village eight miles (13 km) to the north-northeast on the road to Singora.

Battle of Jitra. The British correctly anticipated that, in the event of war with Japan, the Japanese would land around Singora in southern Thailand and advance through a gap in the mountainous spine of the Kra Peninsula towards Jitra. The British plan was to preemptively advance into Thailand and occupy Singora against the Japanese  (Operation MATADOR). However, this violation of Thailand's neutrality was judged politically unacceptable and the plan was never put into operation. Instead, 11 Indian Division, which had formed up on the Thai border in anticipation of MATADOR, was ordered to fall back to Jitra and take up defensive positions. These were not scheduled to be completed before February 1942 and the division fell into chaos.

The Japanese advance, spearheaded by 11 and 14 Regiments supported by light tanks, routed the British covering force, 1/14 Punjab, at Changlun (100.430E 6.431N). The 2/1 Gurkhas at Asun (100.338E 6.322N) were caught up in the retreat, and the British lost their antitank guns when they were overrun by the Japanese tanks while the British gunners were sheltering from the rain. To cap it all off, the bridge at Manggoi (100.349E 6.347N?) was demolished before the British forces could cross. The British had lost the equivalent of an entire brigade in their first contact with the Japanese.

The Japanese immediately moved on the main positions around Jitra. These were not well positioned for mutual support, and the British commander, Murray-Lyon, had already dissipated most of his reserve in piecemeal commitments. A British counterattack temporarily halted the Japanese, but when one of his brigadiers recommended falling back to a defense line anchored by the Sungei Jitra and Sungei Bata rivers, Murray-Lyon chose instead to retreat back to Alor Star, where there were no prepared positions. Contact was broken with the Japanese on 12 December, but not all units got the word, and the retreat disintegrated into chaos. Large quantities of supplies were abandoned to the Japanese, and the British never really recovered their balance thereafter.

Rail connections

Sungei Patani

Hat Yai


Thompson (2005)

Willmott (1982)

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