Battle of Muar

Battle of Muar
Part of Battle of Malaya (Pacific War)

Japanese Ha-Go tanks destroyed by Sergeant Charles Parsons and his anti-tank gun crew near Bakri.
Date14 January - 22 January 1942
LocationMuar, British Malaya
ResultJapanese Pyrrhic Victory, Disbandment of 45th Indian Brigade
Australian 8th Division
Indian 9th Division
45th Indian Brigade
53rd Infantry Brigade
Twenty-Fifth Army:
Imperial Guards
5th Division
Arthur Percival
Gordon Bennett
Herbert Duncan 
Charles Anderson
Frederick Galleghan
Takuma Nishimura
45th Indian Brigade:
4000 Infantry
60 aircraft
8000 Infantry
400 aircraft
45th Indian Brigade:
3100 killed (including 200 PoWs)
Imperial Guards Division:
700 killed
More than 200 Australian and Indian POWs were rounded up and shot. Their bodies were burnt to destroy evidence. (See Parit Sulong massacre)

The Battle of Muar was the last major battle of the Malayan campaign. It took place from 14 January to 22 January around Gemensah Bridge and on the Muar River. Allied soldiers, under the command of Major General Gordon Bennett, inflicted severe losses on Japanese forces. Members of the Australian 8th Division killed more than 700 personnel from the Japanese Imperial Guards Division, in an ambush at the bridge.

This is the first engagement between Australian and Japanese forces in the Battle of Malaya. The 53rd Infantry Brigade of the 18th Division was also the first and only British brigade to fight the Japanese in Malaya.


The ambush was ordered by the head of Malaya Command, Lieutenant General Arthur Percival's own instructions; he strongly felt that ambush was the way to fight the Japanese.[1] A multinational force under Bennett, codenamed Westforce, was assigned to defend Muar.

Westforce took up positions, covering the front from the mountains to the shore of the Malacca Straits. There were two main areas, and both of these were sub-divided into sectors, which were themselves widely separated and linked with each other chiefly by rather tenuous signal communications.

The first area was around the central trunk road and the railway beyond Segamat. The three subordinate sectors were:
  • (a) Astride both road and railway near Gemas. Here, the 8th Indian Brigade made up the holding force.
  • (b) Further forward along the same road, laid the 27th Australian Brigade. They were charged with a counter-offensive role, and had already prepared an advanced ambush for the enemy several miles ahead.
  • (c) Leftwards was the 22nd Indian Brigade tasked with guarding the approaches to Segamat from Malacca, which skirt either side of Mount Ophir.
Enlarge picture
Sgt Charles Parsons and his gun crew with their 2 pounder gun. The crew later destroyed six Japanese tanks from this position.

The second area was that which covered the West Coast and the roads which run along it to Johore Straits. This had two sectors, actually more in line with one another than those of the first area, but even less effectively in touch. The defence of this area was assigned to the 45th Indian Brigade, reinforced by a single battery of field artillery. It included a seaport of Muar, and stretched some 30 miles up into the jungle towards Segamat, along the winding course of the Muar River, with its deep-wooded, creeper-covered banks. Under orders from General Benett, two of the battalions were disposed along the river line, which they thus divided between them, while the third went into active reserve near the coast.

A company of the 2/30th Australian Battalion entrenched and concealed themselves on one side of the Gemensah Bridge, spanning a stream, as part of the ambush. The bridge itself had been mined with explosives, and a battery of field artillery sited on higher ground behind the infantry whence it could command the enemy approach to the bridge. This battalion, which would score the most kills, was under Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Galleghan, nicknamed Black Jack.

The Ambush

Enlarge picture
Gemensah Bridge (middle distance) in 1945.
The ambush occurred at about 4 o'clock in the afternoon of 14th January, when the advance guard of the enemy approached-mounted on bicycles. They flowed across the bridge, into the ambush area, and beyond it. Then came the main Japanese column, several hundred strong, also cycling, and followed by tanks and engineer trucks. At this point, the bridge went up with a blast, and timber, bicycles and bodies hurtled through the air, while from the ambush lane and the anti-tank traps further on there poured a devastating fire, mowing the procession down like grass by the roadside.

Heavy casualties continued to mount for the ambushed Japanese column. However, some of the enemy who passed through the ambush area discovered the field telephone cable hidden in the patchy undergrowth of the jungle's edge which ran back to the gun positions, and promptly cut it. So the friendly artillery received no signal, and never came into play at all.

Soon after, Japanese artillery began to rain down on the Australian battalion. The Japanese column, cluttered with their own dying and wounded men, were also being bombarded by their own shells, which added to the rising death toll (Any soldier of Nippon who could no longer march or fight expected no more regard from the Imperial Army than was given by them to an enemy casualty or prisoner-of-war). The Australian ambush party, having done a substantial slaughter, duly fell back in several groups that same evening and by next day had rejoined their battalion in the position near Gemas. They lost 8 men and suffered 80 wounded.

Battle of Muar

Enlarge picture
The Muar Ferry Crossing, where the 45th Indian Brigade was disposed along 24 miles of river front with detachments forward of the river, to cover the main coast road at Muar against the advance of the Japanese Guards Division.
Enlarge picture
One of the Japanese Ha-Go tanks halted by Australian anti-tank fire on the Muar-Parit Sulong road, with its crew killed.
On the morning of 15th January, Japanese aircraft arrived and began dive-bombing the Australians, and also the town of Gemas itself. By 10 a.m. enemy infantry had clashed with the defence lines, and as the day wore on they were supported by an increasing number of tanks. Japanese sappers had wasted no time, either, in repairing the wrecked Gemensah Bridge.

The Australians continued to repel assaults, throwing one of them into chaos by a resolute counter-attack. But Japanese reinforcements were now steadily rolling in. As night fell, Lt. Col. Galleghan withdrew his battalion along the Gemas-Segamat road. They have already inflicted upon the enemy extremely disproportionate losses. The withdrawal was in no way harassed by the enemy, and for the next day or so quiet settled over the Segamat area.

On the night of that same day, the Japanese captured a number of barges moored on the southern bank of the Muar river and towed them overstream to flank both the town of Muar and the garrison's only reserve battalion. Packed barges and junks were making their way across the river mouth, meeting no resistance except a subsequent brush with an Indian patrol, which retired after a brief exchange of shots. The patrol never alerted headquarters that the Japanese were on the South bank. As day broke, the outflanking force surprised a company of the 7/6th Rajputana Rifles, and routed them. By noon, they were attacking from upstream both Muar Town and the garrison's line of communications with its only reserve battalion, which was located near Bakri, on the main road south from Muar.

At Muar itself, a Japanese attempt to land and seize the harbour were repulsed by Australian artillery, firing at packed barges and junks as they tried to make their way across the river mouth. By late afternoon the Japanese, who had already made the crossing higher up, stormed into Muar Town and captured the garrison headquarters, killing all the officers inside.

By nightfall of 16th January, Muar Town and Harbour had passed into the hands of the enemy. The remnants of the garrison retreated down the coast several miles as far as Parit Jawa. Enemy ambushes were soon deployed to repel any allied counter-attack, while at the same time continuing their relentless charge towards Bakri, Parit Sulong and Batu Pahat.

Siege of Bakri

Enlarge picture
Sgt. Parsons' anti-tank gunners firing on Japanese Ha-Go tanks at Point-blank range on the Muar-Parit Sulong road. One of them is already destroyed and five more would suffer the same fate.
On 17th January, the inexperienced 45th Indian Brigade, with the Australian 2/19th and 2/29th Battalions serving as reinforcements, were dispatched to re-capture Muar. They rallied around Bakri and organised a rough perimeter defence of it. Their commander, Herbert Duncan, planned a trident advance from it upon Muar; up the main road between the towns, from the jungle island, and along the coast road. The attack went wrong before it could be launched. The brigade ran into one of the Japanese ambushes, and the counter-offensive was cancelled. The next day, General Nishimura ordered his own three-spear attack on Bakri, and by dawn the Japanese were in action on the main road, nearly surrounding the brigade.

The 6th Norfolk Battalion of the 53rd British Brigade, who were assigned to defend a ridge about 5 miles West of Yong Peng, feared they would be captured or annihilated in this now practically-encircled area. Early in the afternoon of 19th January, a Japanese raiding force attacked and drove them off the ridge. The British retired up through the thick jungle to the summit of the northern ridge. The Norfolks were unable to inform headquarters of their position as they had no wireless.

At dawn the next morning, the 3/16th Punjabis were ordered to recapture the ridge. By the time they reached it, they came under friendly fire from the Norfolks, who had mistaken them for the enemy. After losses on both sides, it was somehow sorted out. But before a proper defence could be organised, the Japanse had arrived and they drove both the British and Indian troops off the hill.
The young Indian recruits were helpless. They did not even know how to take cover, and there were not enough officers to control them. I say this in no spirit of disparagement. It was the penalty of years of unpreparedness for war coming out in all its stark nakedness. — Lieutenant General Arthur Percival[2]
Meanwhile, General Duncan was killed when he led a bayonet counter-charge, and with him dead, Colonel Charles Anderson assumed command of the 45th Brigade. Early in the morning of 20th January, they began their march out from Bakri towards Yong Peng. Within a mile or so, they were held by enemy road barriers. Several efforts to break through failed, until a bayonet charge led by Colonel Anderson was successful.

More road blocks laid ahead for the Indian brigade. By sunset, after a struggle which had raged on throughout all the hours of daylight, the column had covered a distance of only about three miles. Lt. Col. Anderson warned that there was to be no rest that night, and ordered the march to go on. The brigade had now reached the edge of some more open country and passage was easier, though the column was laden with wounded.

Battle of Parit Sulong Bridge

Enlarge picture
The Parit Sulong Bridge in 1963. A memorial plaque commemorating fallen Allies was erected there on that same year.
Scouts later reported after midnight that the bridge of Parit Sulong was in Japanese hands. The guards which were placed there by the 6th Norfolks, being cut off from all contact with them since the Japanese raiding force drove the battlion from the defile a few miles further on, had left their post and set off along the river bank to Batu Pahat.

Colonel Anderson's men made an attempt to dislodge the Japanese from the Parit Sulong bridge on 21st January, but were repulsed by tanks, aircraft and artillery. The brigade was forced into an area measuring only about a quarter-of-a-mile of roadway. Fighting raged all day, and casualties were getting very severe.

At dusk, with the dead and dying piling up, Anderson sent two ambulances filled with the most dangerously wounded men to the bridge under a flag of truce, asking that they be allowed to pass through to the British lines beyond. The Japanese rejected, and instead demanded that the Indian brigade surrender. They then ordered that the ambulances were to remain on the approach to the bridge to act as a road block, and they would be fired on if they attempted to move. After dark, an officer and a driver, both of whom were themselves wounded, slipped the brakes of the ambulances, and let them run quietly backwards down the slope from the bridge. Amid the roar of gunfire, they started the engines and drove them back to the brigade.

Next morning, two RAF planes arrived from Singapore and dropped both medical supplies and food rations on the trapped 45th Brigade. But from the skies, too, came a massive bombardment by Japanese aircraft, tanks and field artillery of the shrinking British foothold.

Anderson's forces again attacked the bridge that same morning, but once again failed. He finally ordered a retreat at 9 a.m., but not before destroying all guns, vehicles and equipment. Wounded allied soldiers who could not walk were to be abandoned to the care of voluntary attendants. Anderson also ordered remnants of the 45th Indian Brigade, who were nearly annihilated, to escape through the jungle to Yong Peng. Eventually, about 500 Australians and 400 Indians survived, out of an original brigade strength of more than 4,000.

Japanese War Crimes

This article is part of
the History of Malaysia series.

Prehistoric Malaysia (60,000–2,000 BCE)
Gangga Negara (2nd–11th century CE)
Langkasuka (2nd–14th century)
Pan Pan (3rd–5th century)
Srivijaya (3rd–14th century)
Kedah Sultanate (1136–present)
Malacca Sultanate (1402–1511)
Portuguese Malacca (1511 - 1641)
Dutch Malacca (1641 - 1824)
Sulu Sultanate (1450–1899)
Johor Sultanate (1528–current)
Jementah Civil War (1879)
White Rajahs (1841–1946)
British Malaya (1874–1946)
Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824
Burney Treaty (1826)
Straits Settlements (1826–1946)
Larut War (1861–1874)
Klang War (1867–1874)
Pangkor Treaty of 1874
Federated Malay States (1895–1946)
Unfederated Malay States (19th century–1946)
Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909
Battle of Penang (1914)
North Borneo (1882–1963)
Mat Salleh Rebellion (1896–1900)
World War II (1941–1945)
Battle of Malaya (1941–42)
Parit Sulong Massacre (1942)
Battle of Muar (1942)
Battle of Singapore (1942)
Syburi (1942–1945)
Battle of North Borneo (1945)
Sandakan Death Marches (1945)
Malayan Union (1946–1948)
Federation of Malaya (1948–1963)
Malayan Emergency (1948–1960)
Circumstances prior to the Emergency(1945-1948)
Bukit Kepong Incident (1950)
Independence Day (1957)
Federation of Malaysia (1963–present)
Operation Coldstore (1963)
Indonesia-Malaysia confrontation (1962–1966)
Brunei Revolt (1962–1966)
Singapore in Malaysia (1963–1965)
1964 Race Riots (1964)
Communist Insurgency War (1967-1989)
May 13 Incident (1969)
New Economic Policy (1971–1990)
Operation Lalang (1987)
1988 Malaysian constitutional crisis (1987–88)
Asian financial crisis (1997–98)
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Further information: Parit Sulong massacre
For the wounded who were left behind, the Japanese, after treating them with bestial savagery, massacred in cold blood all except a handful who feigned death and, later, crawled away to escape. A captured Australian ambulance column were not even spared. With kicks, clouts and curses, blows from rifle butts and bayonet jabs, their captors crammed them all into a couple of small rooms in a coolie hutment at Parit Sulong village on the Muar highway. The wounded lay piled upon one another's bodies on the floor. They were denied drinking water by the Japanese, who mocked them by bringing bucketfuls of it as far as the doorway-and then pouring it out upon the ground.

The prisoners were soon promptly trussed up into small groups with rope or wire, pushed into a roadside scrub at the point of a bayonet, and machine-gunned. Petrol was then flung over the bodies of the shot prisoners, some of whom were still alive, and then set alight to remove any evidence of war crimes committed by the Japanese. One of the victims, Lieutenant Ben Hackney, of the 2/29th Australian Battalion, along with 2 other prisoners, survived to witness the horror. They stayed hidden for 36 days and nights before being caught by the Japanese again, and savagely beaten up. Hackney survived the war and provided information regarding the massacre.

About 200 Australian and Indian troops who surrendered at Parit Sulong were secretly rounded up and beheaded. General Takuma Nishimura was believed to have carried out these orders. (The sworn evidence of two sepoy survivors were confirmed by the post-war discovery of the remains. The War Crimes Court, in 1950, sentenced Nishimura to death for it).


Shortage of signal equipment and transport were to blame for the Allies slow movement. During the week, the Japanese were able to operate 250 bombers and 150 fighters from airfields in Malaya and South Siam. Allied aircraft available were probably two or three dozen bombers and about as many fighters. General Percival blamed the 45th Indian Brigade, who were handed the most important tasks despite their lack of training and experience prior to the war.
This Brigade had never been fit for employment in a theatre of war. It was not that there was anything wrong with the raw material, but simply it was raw. — Lieutenant General Arthur Percival[3]
One vitally important thing was achieved by the Indian Brigade's resistance in nearly a week of night-and-day battle. While they fought on from Muar Harbour to Parit Sulong bridge, holding up the Japanese Imperial Guards strongly backed by air and tank support, the three brigades of Westforce in the Segamat area were enabled to withdraw safely down the central trunk road to Labis, and thence towards the key crossways at Yong Peng.

Nevertheless, their losses were devastating, especially in officers, and were never able to rebuild in the last few weeks of the Malayan campaign. A fitting tribute, both to his own outstanding valour and also to the service and self-sacrifice of his men, was the award of the Victoria Cross to the last commander of the brigade, Lt. Col. Charles Anderson. The survivors were assigned to other Indian brigades in the division.

One criticism aimed at General Percival was his decision to deploy the 53rd British Infantry Brigade to the front line. The brigade had disembarked at Singapore on January 13, only three days earlier before being sent to the front, after nearly three months at sea in crowded troopships, travelling from England to the East coast of Africa, where they got no exercise whatsoever.

News of the slaughter at Gemensah Bridge were well received in Singapore. Despite the defeat, many civilians thought the action was the long awaited turning point and that the rout of the Japanese invasion force was not long in coming. The Japanese losses of 700 infantry was the biggest loss suffered in any single action. Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Galleghan, who commanded the Australians at the bridge, was awarded the Distinguished Service Order on March 15th, 1942, while a POW at Changi Prison.[1]

The bloody battle of Muar passed into history at noon, 22nd January. By this time it had dawned upon High Authority in London that the Battle of Singapore was now near at hand and that neither its duration was likely to be very long nor its outcome very happy for the allied cause.

On January 27th, Percival ordered a full withdrawal of all remaining Allied forces to the island of Singapore, ending the Battle of Malaya.


1. ^ Frank Owen, The Fall of Singapore, Penguin Books, 2001, ISBN 0-14-139133-2
2. ^ See his book.
3. ^ In his Despatches


  • Frank Owen, The Fall of Singapore, Penguin Books, 2001, ISBN 0-14-139133-2
  • Colin Smith (2006). Singapore Burning. England: Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-14-101036-6. 

See also

Battle of Malaya was a campaign fought by Allied and Japanese forces in Malaya, from December 8 1941 to January 31 1942 during the Second World War. The campaign was dominated by land battles between British Commonwealth army units, and the Imperial Japanese Army.
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Allies From 1937:

From 1941:
 United States
  • Philippines
 United Kingdom
  • Indian Empire
  • Dutch East Indies
 New Zealand

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Type 95 Ha-Go (also known as the Type 97 Ke-Go) was a Japanese light tank used in the Second World War. It was very slow for a light tank, however more than 2,000 were produced. It was used by the Japanese Army in China and the entire Pacific War.
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Bakri often Bukit Bakri is a town in Johor, Malaysia. It is located along Federal Route 24 in Muar district, just five kilometers east of Muar town. In 1991, it had a population of 10,000, which doubled by the time of 2000 census to 20,123.
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January 14 is the 1st day of the year (2nd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 0 days remaining.

It is celebrated as New Year's Day by those still following the Julian calendar.
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January 22 is the 1st day of the year (2nd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 0 days remaining.


  • 565 - Eutychius is deposed as Patriarch of Constantinople by John Scholasticus.

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19th century - 20th century - 21st century
1910s  1920s  1930s  - 1940s -  1950s  1960s  1970s
1939 1940 1941 - 1942 - 1943 1944 1945

Year 1942 (MCMXLII
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Districts of Johor Darul Ta'zim
Majlis Perbandaran Muar Majlis Daerah Tangkak

District office location Muar (Bandar Maharani)
District officer n/a
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British Malaya loosely described a set of states on the Malay Peninsula that were colonized by the British from the 18th and the 19th until the 20th century. Before the formation of Malayan Union in 1946, the colonies were not placed under a single unified administration.
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A Pyrrhic victory is a victory with devastating cost to the victor. The phrase is an allusion to King Pyrrhus of Epirus, whose army suffered irreplaceable casualties when he defeated the Romans during the Pyrrhic War at Heraclea in 280 BC and Asculum in 279 BC.
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Indian 17th Infantry Division was a formation of the British Indian Army raised during World War II. It had the distinction of being continually in combat during the three-year long Burma Campaign (except for brief periods of refit).
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The 8th Division of the Australian Army was formed to serve in World War II, as part of the Second Australian Imperial Force, who were in turn, part of the Allies of World War II.
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The 9th Indian Infantry Division was an Indian division which formed part of Indian III Corps in the Malaya Command of the British Indian Army during the Battle of Malaya. It was commanded by Major-General Barstow.
..... Click the link for more information.
Indian 17th Infantry Division was a formation of the British Indian Army raised during World War II. It had the distinction of being continually in combat during the three-year long Burma Campaign (except for brief periods of refit).
..... Click the link for more information.
18th (East Anglian) Infantry Division was a Division of the British Army in World War II, a duplicate of the 54th (East Anglian) Division using mostly units with connections to East Anglia .
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The Japanese Twenty-Fifth Army was the Japanese force that invaded and conquered the British colony of Malaya in late 1941 and early 1942. The army was under the command of General Yamashita, and the campaign culminated in the worst defeat in the history of the British
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The Japanese Imperial Guard (近衛師団 Konoe Shidan
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5th Infantry Division (歩兵第五師団 Hohei daigo shidan
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Arthur Ernest Percival, CB, DSO*, OBE, MC, OStJ, DL, (26 December 1887 – 31 January 1966) was a British Army officer and World War I veteran. He built a successful military career during the interwar period but is most noted for his involvement in World War II, when he
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Henry Gordon Bennett CB, CMG, DSO (April 16, 1887 – August 1, 1962), Australian soldier, served in both World War I and World War II. Despite highly decorated achievements during World War I, including at Gallipoli, Bennett is best remembered for his role in the Fall of
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Brigadier General Herbert Cecil Duncan (19 August 1895 - 16 January 1942) commanded the 45th Indian Infantry Brigade during the Battle of Malaya. Duncan was killed whilst mounting a counter-attack on the Japanese during the retreat from the Muar River (see Battle of Muar). Brig.
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Killed in action (or KIA) is a casualty classification generally used by militaries to describe the deaths of their own forces by other hostile forces or by "friendly fire" during combat.
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Charles Groves Wright Anderson, VC, MC (12 February 1897 – 11 November 1988) was a South African-born, Australian recipient of the Victoria Cross and member of the Australian House of Representatives.
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Takuma Nishimura (1899–1951) was a soldier of the Empire of Japan. He rose to the rank of Lieutenant General and commanded Japanese forces in the invasion of French Indochina, in 1940. He also commanded the Imperial Guard Division during the Malayan and Singapore campaigns.
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POW is a three-letter acronym and may refer to:
  • Prisoner of War, a combatant who is imprisoned by an enemy power during or immediately after an armed conflict
  • Polish Military Organisation, the Polish Military Organisation active before and during World War I

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On January 23, 1942, the Parit Sulong Massacre was committed against Allied soldiers by members of the Imperial Guards Division of the Imperial Japanese Army. A few days earlier, the Allied troops had ambushed the Japanese near Gemas and blown up a bridge there.
..... Click the link for more information.
Battle of Malaya was a campaign fought by Allied and Japanese forces in Malaya, from December 8 1941 to January 31 1942 during the Second World War. The campaign was dominated by land battles between British Commonwealth army units, and the Imperial Japanese Army.
..... Click the link for more information.
January 14 is the 1st day of the year (2nd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 0 days remaining.

It is celebrated as New Year's Day by those still following the Julian calendar.
..... Click the link for more information.
January 22 is the 1st day of the year (2nd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 0 days remaining.


  • 565 - Eutychius is deposed as Patriarch of Constantinople by John Scholasticus.

..... Click the link for more information.
Gemas is a small town in Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia, just near the Negeri Sembilan-Johor state border. The town is located approximately 165 km from the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur. It is the meeting place of Malaysian west and east coast rail lines operated by Malayan Railways.
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