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Throughout much of World War II, British Malaya, North Borneo and Sarawak were under Japanese occupation.

The Japanese Empire commenced the Pacific War with the invasion of Kota Bahru in Kelantan on 8 December 1941 at 00:25[1], about 90 minutes before the Attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii at 07:48 on 7 December Hawaii time, or 01:48 on 8 December Malayan time. They then invaded the island of Borneo in mid December 1941, landing on the west coast near Miri in Sarawak;[2] invasion was completed by 23 January 1942 when they landed at Balikpapan in Dutch Borneo on the east coast.[3] During the occupation an estimated 100,000 people were killed.




Military response

During the occupation a guerilla resistance force battled the Japanese from the jungles of Malaya. Groups such as the Malayan People's Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA) and Force 136 were involved in the bulk of anti-Japanese resistance during the occupation.

Living conditions

Living conditions under the Japanese were brutal with frequent reprisals against the ethnic Chinese population by both the occupying Japanese army and the secret police (Kempeitai).


In November 1942, the Japanese army set a world record for marching endurance by covering 100 miles down the Malay Peninsula in 72 hours. It was so famous as a Japanese propaganda tool that the American magazine Reader's Digest happened to come across it, publishing an article about it that same month. One person who read it was Lieutenant Colonel Robert Sink, commander of the 506th Infantry Regiment.[4]

In response, Easy Company (which became famous in the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers) marched from Toccoa, Georgia to Atlanta on December 1, covering 118 miles in 75 hours. Proud of the company, Colonel Sink told the press, "Not a man fell out, but when they fell, they fell face forward."[4]

North Borneo

On January 1, 1942, the Japanese army invaded Labuan Island, one of the early actions in their campaign to capture Borneo. The sole Allied infantry unit on the whole island of Borneo was the Indian Army's 2nd Battalion, 15th Punjab Regiment, based in Kuching, Sarawak. For 10 weeks they resisted a Japanese independent brigade, known as the Kawaguchi Brigade, under Major-General Kiyotake Kawaguchi.

Following the Allied surrender, on May 16, 1942, Borneo was under Japanese rule. Under the Japanese occupation, it was divided into two divisions; the west coast including the interior and Kudat was named Sheikai Shiu and the east coast was called Tokai Shiu.

The occupation was resisted by guerilla groups. Among the rebellions were the Kinabalu Guerrillas led by Albert Kwok in the west and another led by Tun Datu Mustapha bin Datu Harun in the northern part. However, the Kinabalu Guerrillas movement ended with the mass killing of Kwok and its members in Petagas on January 21, 1944. See also Petagas War Memorial

During 1942-45, Japanese positions on Borneo were bombed by Allied air forces from the South West Pacific Area command, including devastating attacks on Sandakan, Jesselton and Labuan.

On June 10, 1945 the Australian 9th Division began landings at Brunei and at Labuan, preludes to a campaign to retake North Borneo.

The war in North Borneo ended with the official surrender of the Japanese 37th Army by Lieutenant General Baba Masao on Labuan on 10 September 1945.


Before the Japanese invasion, the Brooke family that ruled the Kingdom of Sarawak, fled for Australia.

See also


  1. ^ Dato' HL "Mike" Wrigglesworth, The Japanese Invasion of Kelantan in 1941
  2. ^ Ooi Keat Gin, Japanese Empire in the Tropics, 1998, 6-7
  3. ^ Wigmore, Lionel (1957) The Japanese Thrust Australia in the War 1939-1945 Series 1 (Army), Volume 4. Canberra: Australian War Memorial, page 179 (Online in PDF form at [1])
  4. ^ a b Ambrose, Stephen E. (September 2001). Band of Brothers. Pocket Books. ISBN 0-7434-2990-7.  


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