IN LATE 1944 as the Allied forces, spearheaded by British Commonwealth troops, were launching a major offensive against Japanese-occupied Burma, an equally significant military plan aimed at retaking Malaya and Singapore by force was simultaneously being drawn up by the Allied Southeast Asia Command (SEAC).1
Codenamed Operation Zipper, the original plan was to begin with an attack on Phuket Island where two forward airbases would be established to enable the Royal Air Force to regain air superiority over Malayan airspace. This would then be followed by an amphibious assault on the western coast of Malaya by 100,000 infantry troops to capture and secure beachheads at Port Dickson, Negeri Sembilan and Morib Beach, Selangor.
Subsequently, troops that landed on these two secured beachheads would form two separate thrusts in two different campaigns – Operation Broadsword northwards to Penang and Operation Mailfist southwards to Singapore – which would commence on September 9, 1945, and end with the liberation of Singapore by March 1946.2
By late 1944, Operation Zipper was already being prepared. To ensure a swift takeover of Malaya, a deception plan codenamed Operation Slippery was launched on October 1944. Malayan agents of the British Special Operations Executive, [Tun] Ibrahim Ismail and two colleagues, were parachuted onto the eastern coast of Japanese-held Terengganu; and as part of their deceptive plan, were captured by Japanese soldiers and held as prisoners of war.
During their month-long interrogation, Ibrahim and his colleagues convincingly deceived the Japanese into believing that the Allied invasion would take place at Kra Isthmus in Thailand, 650 miles north of the planned landing site in Malaya.3 Allied bombers also began dropping propaganda leaflets across the country, predicting the eventual demise of the Japanese in Malaya and the abolition of its “banana” currency.4
As it turned out, Japan’s surrender on August 15, 1945 came rather suddenly, following the US atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki which made redundant the large-scale offensive. As a result, Operation Zipper’s task became that of accepting the Japanese surrender and restoring British rule in Malaya and Singapore.
The British under Vice Admiral Harold Walker issued an ultimatum for the Japanese officers in Penang to sign the formal surrender documents: “Be onboard tomorrow morning to sign.”
The campaign to liberate Penang was renamed Operation Jurist and the recapture of Singapore was called Operation Tiderace.
Tasked to the Royal Navy’s Task Force 11 and Royal Marine Commandos 3rd Brigade, Operation Jurist, carried out before Operation Tiderace, was intended to put Japanese intentions to the test as it was uncertain that the Japanese stationed on the Peninsula would surrender peacefully.
Before the commencement of Operation Jurist, the Japanese Seventh Area Army in charge of the defence in Malaya had about 11,000 men in Penang and Kedah; 7,500 men stationed at Port Swettenham and KL; and 34,500 in Singapore and Mersing. By then, the naval port facilities in George Town, formerly used by the Axis u-boats, the German Gruppe Monsun and the Italian Regia Marina, had been heavily bombarded by Allied bombers. Additionally, the Penang Straits was also mined by Allied B29 sorties to obstruct Japanese supplies from reaching Penang.5
Operation Jurist Begins
On August 27, 1945, Task Force 11 and the entire 3rd Brigade of the Royal Marine finally arrived off the coast of Penang Island a day after departing from the Nicobar Islands.
Commander Sakai, Lieutenant Commander Yamagushi and a civillian translator boarding HMS Nelson from their wooden vessel using a rope ladder.
The huge naval detachment led by the battleship HMS Nelson consisted of two escort carriers, the HMS Attacker and HMS Hunter; one light cruiser, the HMS Ceylon; three destroyers, the HMS Paladin, HMS Petard and HMS Volage; as well as three other infantry landing ships commanded by Vice Admiral Harold Walker of HMS Nelson. The fleet was met by a small fishing boat with several Japanese officers onboard carrying a white flag. To discuss surrender details were Commander Sakai, a midranking Japanese naval officer, Lieutenant Commander Yamagushi and a civilian translator.
Over the next three days, more senior Japanese officers came onboard and provided details of their forces stationed in Penang, the location of minefields and, more importantly, the practicalities of the handover in Penang.6
As with other Japanese-occupied territories, Emperor Hirohito’s announcement of surrender came as a shock to the Japanese officers; many refused to surrender and vowed to fight to the end. One such officer was General Seishiro Itagaki of the Seventh Area Army, who initially ordered his units to resist the Allied forces. However, following the call by F ield Marshall Count Hisaichi Terauchi, commander of the Imperial Japanese Southern Expeditionary Army, for all Japanese forces to lay down their arms, General Itagaki and others with him grudgingly complied.
The Surrender of Penang
On September 2, the British under Vice Admiral Harold Walker issued an ultimatum for the Japanese officers in Penang to sign the formal surrender documents onboard HMS Nelson by the next morning or the island would be recaptured by force: “Be onboard tomorrow morning to sign.”
Seeing that they could not procrastinate further, the Japanese delegation led by the Imperial Japanese Navy Rear Admiral Jisaku Uozomi and the Japanese Governor of Penang Lieutenant General Shinohara Seiichiro boarded HMS Nelson later that evening. At 9.15pm, the documents were signed, officially ending the Japanese occupation of Penang. Shortly after, Rear Admiral Uozomi reportedly fainted and was rushed to the nearest hospital.7
At 8am on September 3, a detachment of the Royal Marines led by Lieutenant Tuck landed at Weld Quay where the Japanese officers and troops gathered to prepare the grounds for the formal handover of Penang.8 The Union Jack was raised before the troops marched towards the Eastern & Oriental Hotel accompanied by a local band where representatives of Penang’s various communities had gathered.
Ironically, it was at this hotel that the entire British community had gathered to be evacuated from the island on the night of December 16, 1941 in the face of advancing Japanese troops from the north.
Following the ceremony, the Royal Marines headed towards the junction between Northam and Transfer Roads before securing the Runnymede Hotel, the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company and the Penang Club where they discovered a Japanese machine gun position but encountered no resistance. Once George Town was secured, a detachment was deployed to secure other key installations such as the waterworks at Claremont Bungalow in Penang Hill, the Bayan Lepas airfield and the Gelugor sea-plane base. By evening, the British had largely taken control of the island and taken back the local police force command.9
The arrival of more senior Japanese military officers onboard HMS Nelson to discuss surrender details.
Disarmed Japanese troops pushing their non-military equipment to the jetty.
The Royal Marines watch on as the Japanese load their gear onto the barges before being ferried off to the mainland.
A Royal Marine watches as disbanded Japanese troops proceed to their barges departing for the mainland on September 4, 1945.
The next day, in a public demonstration to humiliate the Japanese forces and to restore British dignity, Japanese soldiers, now prisoners of war, were paraded on the streets of George Town where the people had gathered joyously in large numbers. They were made to march towards the Esplanade where they surrendered their weapons before being ferried off to the mainland.
Hunger riots and lootings broke out in some parts of Penang, but these were swiftly managed by the British. The British destroyer HMS Volage remained off Penang Island to function as a radio ship until shore facilities were established over the next four weeks, while the entire Task Force 11 proceeded towards Singapore under Operation Tiderace on September 9, leaving Penang’s administration to the RAF Regiment.
A victory parade was held at the Town Hall in Penang on September 6, 1945, with 600 members of the British Armed Forces marching past Vice Admiral Walker. The SEAC Supreme Commander and second cousin of Queen Elizabeth II , Lord Louis Mountbatten visited Penang and toured Gelugor and the docks before proceeding to Singapore.
On September 12, following the handover of Singapore the week before, the formal surrender of all units of the Imperial Japanese Army in Southeast Asia took place in Singapore’s City Hall.10
1 Supplement to The London Gazette (pp. 2129) (1951, April 19). Retrieved from https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/39202/ supplement/2129
2 Bayly, C. A., Harper, N.T. (2007). The Fall of Syonan. Forgotten Wars: Freedom and Revolution in Southeast Asia (pp. 49 – pp. 50). Harvard University Press.
3 Obituary: Tun Ibrahim Ismail. (2011, January 26). Retrieved from https:// www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/military-obituaries/special-forcesobituaries/ 8284728/Tun-Ibrahim-Ismail.html. Ibrahim managed to survive the war and was released following the Japanese capitulation. To reward his contribution, he was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire in November 1946.
4 Bayly, C. A., Harper, N.T. (2007). 1945 Interregnum. Forgotten Wars: Freedom and Revolution in Southeast Asia (pp. 48). Harvard University Press
5 Barber, A. (2010) Operation Jurist – The British Return, Penang at War (pp. 114). AB&A
6 Arkib Negara British Military Administration Records
7 Operation Jurist and the End of the War, BBC - WWII People’s War: An Archive of World War Two Memories (2005, May 24). Retrieved from https://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/25/a4109825. shtml
8 Arkib Negara British Military Administration Records
9 Barber, A. (2010) Operation Jurist – The British Return, Penang at War (pp. 116). AB&A
10 The Real Japanese Surrender, The Straits Times (2005, September 4). Retrieved from https://wayback.archive-it.org/all/20080119210334/http:// staff.science.nus.edu.sg/~sivasothi/blog/pdf/jap_surrender-st04sep2005. pdf
Enzo Sim is a Mass Communications graduate who has an unwavering passion towards International Relations, history and regional affairs of Southeast Asia. His passion has brought him to different Southeast Asian capitals to explore the diverse cultural intricacies within the region.