The Battle of Jitra might not be familiar to many, but it was significant in the history of Kedah as it was the beginning of the British WWII defeat in Malaya as it fought desperately against the invading Japanese army.
The battle – Dec 11-13,1941 – also became the starting point for the Japanese military operations in Malaya under Lieutenant General Tomoyuki Yamashita from Dec 11,1941, until the fall of Singapore to Japan on Feb 15,1942.
Director of the Management Museum in Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM) Dr Mohd Kasri Saidon said Jitra was the main town that the British had to defend at that time, following its strategic location which is situated about 10km south from the Kepala Batas Airport in Alor Setar.
“Before the battle, the British had realised Japan’s intention to conquer Malaya, and had made preparations, including building a fortress and placing military assets around Changlun, Asun and Nongka in Kubang Pasu,” he said recently.
Mohd Kasri said, however, the British didn’t expect the Japanese to launch an attack during the monsoon season.
The fortress that they had built was rendered useless after the area was flooded.
“The British had Gurkhas among their ranks and also mobilised troops from Australia, and India. But the more experienced and skilled Japanese army, which had just finished the war in Indo-China, had the edge.
“This was a big battle in Jitra, it was the first point of British defeat in the East, ” he said.
It was reported that the British war strategy unit, led by Major General David Murray-Lyon, would have been able to survive for three months, but it only lasted for three days in Jitra when they were overrun by the Japanese.
Mohd Kasri added that the climax of the battle was when the British themselves blew up the oil storage area in the Kepala Batas Airport so that Japan would not be able to use the oil depot and the airport.
“Following the blast, the British army were in retreat mode. This gave the Japanese army the opportunity to enter Alor Setar, ” he explained. – Bernama