Forgotten Air War of Malaya


by Goh K. Loon

When I was a small kid, I always playing with my friends near a jungle behind my house in Kota Bharu. I remember seeing some twisted metal with rivets on the ground. After many years I returned to the scene and was told by the old villagers nearby that the metal was a plane falling from the sky in Japanese occupation period. Then they told me there was another plane falling in flames and crashed near Kelantan river but I was told it was happened a few years after the war started. I felt so confused because most of the air battle of World War 2 In Malaya was fought only at the beginning of the. I drove to the village they mentioned and managed to find a witness (a Tok Imam), who confirmed that a few years after the war started, one day there was a Japanese twin engines plane falling from the sky trailing flames and black smokes. The pilot tried to ditch on Kelantan River but he hit a coconut tree and the plane exploded. The Japanese soldiers then came and took the bodies of two aircrews and cleared the wreckages.

I started to do my research on the air war at the latter  (later) part of World War 2 in Malaya and find out that I totally missed out ‘The Forgotten Air War Of Malaya’.

After the beginning of the World War 2 in December 1941, The Japanese fought the Allied from Malaya to Singapore with fighter and bomber like Oscar, Zero, Tojo, Betty, Nell, Sonia and the greatest success was the sinking of HMS Prince Of Wales and HMS Repulse in Kuantan water solely with the use of airpower on 10 Dec 1941. After the Japanese wining the air superiority in Malaya, they were flying at will to attack any target in Malaya and Singapore. The pilots and aircrews were best trained and they even created a ‘bomber alley’ between Singapore to Sumatra to sink many ships, which evacuated the refugees from Singapore.

The air activities slowed down after Singapore surrendered. The routine air activities were limited to patrolling and others minor air operations. The Strait of Malacca was actually a graveyard for Allied submarines because their air-search radar was blocked by the hills of Sumatra and Titiwangsa range. In one patrol, the USS Grenadier was badly damaged by few Japanese planes and the submarine have to be scuttled and the crews were taken Prisoner OF War in Light Street Convent, Penang.

I met up with some great local historians like Mr. Sager and Mr. Ahamd Shaharom and we worked to put back some missing puzzle of our Malaya history. Then I found out that even the famous Boeing B-29 bomber had come to bomb some targets in Malaya (including Singapore) in 1944 and 1945.

In 1998, an American visited Malaysia with his father diary and he contacted one of our team members Mr Sager Ahmad and told that his father bailed out from a B-29 bomber in Negeri Sembilan during World War 2. Mr. Sager met the son of the aircrew from the famous B-29 bomber ‘Postville Express’ which crashed in Rembau and they visited the crash site together. Mr.Shaharom later took some pictures to put it in our website, Malaya Historical Group (MHG).

The Story of B-29 "Postville Express" 42-24704
Detailed history of this B-29 bomber

The mission which B-29 bombers carried out in Malaya and Singapore are as follows:

Other Aerial Missions
Beside the B-29 air war, most of the aircraft flew into Malaya were on secret agent dropping or clandestine mission,air-drop Force 136 commandos into the jungle of Malaya to pave the way for an effective guerilla counter-attack on the Japanese occupying forces and also on aerial recon’s missions. The aircraft used were B-24 Liberator or PB4Y Privateer becayse of their long-range capability. One known RCAF B-24 with ‘SNAKE’ word stenciled on its fuselage crashed in Kuala Pilah, Negeri Sembilan after dropping agent -one Tuan Pena. (Tan Sri Sir Claude Harry Fenner, a member of Force 136, who later became the country's first Inspector-General of Police.) Another B-24 was shot down by Japanese fighters from Alor Setar and crashed near Siam border while on a clandestine mission. Villagers and guerillas rescued the survivors and some brave Thai pilots smuggled them to Allied hands using Japanese bombers! Another B-24 bomber, which was on a supply-dropping mission, was lost near Kuala Nerang, Kedah. In June 1945, two PB4Y flew to Singapore on recon mission and were fired on by anti-aircraft fire and nearly a dozen of Japanese fighters. One fighter managed to score a hit on the No 3 engine of one of the PB4Y causing the engine to burst into flames and lose altitude. The PB4Y was forced to ditch on the sea and no news were heard from the crews ever since. Mr. Shaharom managed to find the answer to the twin engines fighter crashed near the Kelantan River, which I mentioned earlier. It was a Ki-46 Dinah fighter, which climbed from Kota Bharu airfield to intercept a PB4Y Privateer, but the Privateer gunners damaged the Dinah and the Japanese pilot headed it back to Kota Bharu and crashed. Few months before the war ended, the British also send out a Grumman Hellcat fighter from a carrier to Kuala Lumpur on a recon mission but the Hellcat was missing 10 miles from Port Klang with the pilot.

End of the War
When the Japanese surrendered, some British B-24 and two-crews mosquito bombers flew over Malaya cities to access the situation and dropping leaflets. One mosquito bomber developed engine problems and force landed on Japanese held Sungai Besi aerodrome. The Japanese soldiers in the aerodrome provided help and supports to the aircrews until another mosquito bomber searching for the missing plane arrived. The four mosquito crews were surprised when the Japanese soldiers in the base tried to surrender themselves to them!

This is the ‘Forgotten Air War Of Malaya’ I knew so far. I hope my team members and I can completely putting all the missing puzzles of the Malaya War History so that our younger generations can learn and appreciate the contribution and scarifies of the forgotten warriors, which contribute to the peace and happiness we enjoyed nowadays.



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Ki-43 of the 77th Sentai
serving in Malaya

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Fighter presented
to children

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Malaya children
with Japanese flags

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Shaharom Ahamd, MHG

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B-29 Postville Express

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PB4Y over Malaya

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Painting of B-24 attacking Malaya

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