Japanese Advance: December 1941 - March 1942
[The Argus, 9 January 1942]
Landing first on the north-east coast of Malaya on 8 December 1941, Japanese troops took just 70 days to crush the British Empire forces in Malaya and Singapore, which was surrendered on 15 February 1942. The Japanese had already captured Rabaul, the capital of the Australian-controlled territory of New Guinea, on 23 January 1942, and early in February Australian and Dutch forces surrendered the island of Ambon in the Netherlands East Indies (modern Indonesia).
At midnight on 19-20 December 1941 the Japanese attacked the island of Timor. Australian and Dutch troops resisted the invasion but on 23 February more than 1000 men were forced to surrender. The Australian 2/2nd Independent Company, together with some men from the 2/40th Battalion and supporting troops, remained and fought a guerrilla campaign against the Japanese in Portuguese East Timor until the end of 1942.
In late February, the island of Java, seen by the Allies as vital to the war, was the scene of sea battles against the Japanese. On 28 February-1 March 1942, HMAS Perth was lost during the Battle of the Sunda Strait and during a brief land campaign on Java about 3,000 Australian soldiers were taken prisoner.
[Oil over pencil on hardboard, 123x93cm AWM ART 24500]
By the end of March 1942, the Japanese had conquered Malaya, the Netherlands East Indies, most of the islands to the north and east of Papua New Guinea, and occupied the main coastal centres of Lae and Madang on the New Guinea mainland.
On 3 February 1942 Japanese aircraft attacked Port Moresby. Months of air battles above the town ensued. In May, in the Battle of the Coral Sea, a Japanese invasion fleet headed for Port Moresby but turned back in the face of an Australian-led naval group in the Jombard Passage and an unsuccessful air battle with an American aircraft carrier task force in the Coral Sea. Later, in August-September, the Japanese attempted to take Port Moresby by land over the Kokoda Track and by putting troops ashore at Milne Bay, being repulsed on both fronts.
The first real contact between Australian and Japanese troops was during the evening of 14-15 January 1942 at a wooden bridge west of Gemas in