Battle of Gemas

The Battle of Gemas—part of the wider Battle of Muar—during the invasion of Malaya in the Pacific Campaign of the Second World War.

The action occurred on 14 January 1942 at the Gemencheh Bridge near Gemas and saw more than 700 troops of the Japanese Imperial Guards Division killed during a fierce ambush initiated by Australian soldiers from 2/30th Battalion, 8th Division, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Frederick "Black Jack" Galleghan. Galleghan had been ordered to mount an ambush on the main road, 11 kilometres (6.8 mi) west of Gemas in the hope of preventing the Japanese from advancing any further south. The ambush site was located at a point were 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 (3.1 mi) forward of the main body of the battalion.

The Japanese had passed through Tampin and needed to cross the bridge to reach Gemas and at 16.00 on 14 January 1942, "B" Company 2/30th Battalion under Captain Desmond Duffy, initiated the ambush. 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. Faulty telephone lines back to the main battalion position prevented Duffy from being able to call in artillery fire onto follow on Japanese forces however, and the forward company was subsequently forced to withdraw. The battle following the ambush, and a further action closer to Gemas during which the Australian anti-tank gunners destroyed six out of eight Japanese tanks, lasted another two days. The fighting ended with the Australians withdrawing through Gemas to the Fort Rose Estate. Total Japanese casualties numbered over 1,000 killed and wounded, while the Australians lost 81 killed, wounded or missing.

Despite the tactical victory at Gemas, as well as strong stands later at Bakri, the 22nd Australian Brigade’s ambush north of Jemaluang and the fighting withdrawal from Muar, the Japanese advance down the Malay Peninsula was only temporarily slowed. Indeed by 31 January 1942 the last Allied troops had been withdrawn to Singapore Island, and the Causeway cratered. Singapore fell to the Japanese on 14 February.

A company of the 2/30th Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Frederick Galleghan, mounted an ambush which cut down hundreds of Japanese soldiers riding bicycles through a cutting and over a bridge on the Sungei Gemencheh river. Their plan was to withdraw and let the main battalion group at Gemas fight the main battle. As the ambush party withdrew, they found themselves encircled by Japanese patrols but most managed to get through. The battle for Gemas raged that night and next day and on the afternoon of 15 January the Japanese called in aircraft and tanks and the Australians withdrew.