Vickers machine gun in Malaya

A demonstration of British troops' preparedness for jungle warfare in Malaya. Men of the Manchester Regiment with a Vickers water cooled machine gun.The reliable Vickers gun dated from the First World War but was used until after 1945.

In military circles the probability of the Japanese extending their aggression in the Far East was well understood. In Thailand British officers were posing as tourists to reconnoiter the region – and were staying in the same hotels as Japanese officers doing exactly the same thing. At least some of the British army in Malaya were becoming familiar with the terrain – as Cecil Brown, a CBS journalist, discovered when he went out on patrol with them for a day:

‘We have the advantage,’ Colonel Moorehead said, ‘of knowing all this territory well. That’s a very great advantage. We are sure the Japs don’t know it because it was only mapped three months ago, and none of these maps has fallen into Japanese hands as yet.

Hunched over, I follow behind the corporal along the meager, cluttered, soggy path tunneled through the jungle bordering the frontier between Malaya and Thailand, territory only recently mapped.

It is twilight in here. An inextricable mass and jumble of palms, gum trees, bamboo, teak and intertwined vines and creepers shut out the midday sun and deny the sky itself.

Every now and then the corporal, grunting and muttering softly, swings his sharp-edged parang to slice a creeper vine yearning for a neck to choke. At every step our feet sink above the ankles into rotted branches and the muck of the jungle floor.

Colonel Moorehead is too far ahead. Now we can no longer even hear him thrashing his way over fallen trees or slapping away at the aerial vines blocking his path.

Dank and steaming – those are the cliches to describe the jungle. In this hodge-podge of nature gone slightly mad, where the British and Japanese will one day fight, it is dank and steaming, all right – nearly asphyxiating. Hardly a whisper of air, and there’s the musty smell of wet places and the piercing scents of decaying matter, animal and vegetable. The sweat pours off our faces and streams down the middle of our backs as though we’re in a downpour.

It is the frightening feeling of inability to find the next breath that’s most alarming in here. That, and the hidden things poised to leap and bite, or claw and gore.

Cecil Brown’s account was published in 1942, when he knew that the very jungle he had toured had been the site of the first contact between the British and Japanese armies later in 1941. See Cecil Brown: Suez to Singapore

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Aug

27

1941

Coastal Command aircraft captures U-Boat

U 570 photographed from one of the circling aircraft as the Anti Submarine Warfare trawler approaches her.

At 1050 the captain decided to surface again and brought the U-Boat up from a depth of approximately 90 ft. What happened next can only be attributed to the lack of training of the Commander. Rahmlow entirely forgot to make any observation for hostile aircraft before exposing his ship. It so happened that a Hudson aircraft “S” belonging to 269 Squadron, and piloted by Squadron-Leader Thompson, was almost immediately overhead. “U 570” perceived her danger too late and, while she was attempting to crash dive, the aircraft dropped a stick of four 250 lb. depth charges, at an angle of 30° to the U-Boat’s track.

Aug

26

1941

Attack on a Ju 88 over the Irish Sea

A Junkers Ju 88 bomber in flight, pictured over North Africa later in 1941.

The moment of action came. He was to port of me. A rapid turn in that direction, followed by a steep diving turn to starboard and I found myself in a dead straight vertical dive upon the Boche. The speed became incredible. The swastikas grew bigger and bigger in my sights. I opened fire. I just had time to avoid a collision.

Aug

25

1941

The Spitsbergen Raid

The radio mast at Spitsbergen being blown up by Royal Engineers - false weather reports sent while the raid was under way kept German reconnaissance planes away.

Spitzbergen was being occupied. I listened uncomprehendingly to my English-speaking countrymen who were now chatting with the newcomers. I watched, wondering, until Marie suddenly said that she was hungry. We went back home. Then an excited friend told me “The Canadians have come to take us away. They are going to free our beloved Norway.”

Aug

24

1941

Churchill – the power of the English speaking peoples

U.S marines had arrived on Iceland to relieve British troops of garrison duties during July 1941.

Would it be presumptuous for me to say that it symbolizes something even more majestic, namely, the marshalling of the good forces of the world against the evil forces which are now so formidable and triumphant and which have cast their cruel spell over the whole of Europe and a large part of Asia?

Aug

23

1941

Night fighter interception over the North Sea

Bristol Beaufighter in flight

As we came out of the turn, the pressure eased, and I could see that we had the other aircraft cold. John’s handling of the Beaufighter had clinched that.Oosing head-on at nearly seven miles a minute on a dark, hazy night with no moon and no horizon, he had started to wheel a heavy and rather unstable aircraft around when only a mile away, and yet he had pulled out of that turn little more than that distance behind.

Aug

22

1941

Reprisals against Russian POWs

Soviet commissars in the Russian army were invariably shot soon after capture - but all Russian prisoners of war faced a terrible existence.

It so happened that we had taken very many prisoners during those fatal days, and so the lives of 4,000 men fell forfeit. They scarcely looked up when our interpreter told them in a cold voice of their fate. They lined up eight at a time at the side ofa large anti-tank ditch. As the first volley crashed, eight men were hurled forward into the depths of the ditch, as if hit by a giant fist. Already the next row was lining up.

Aug

21

1941

Deportation of Foreign Jews from Paris

The German registration programme was conducted with the assistance of the French authorities from the Vichy regime.

They were shipped off to the notorious ‘internment camp’ at Drancy in the French suburbs from where they would soon be shipped off to concentration camps in the East. The general conditions in Drancy were appalling – with disease, overcrowding, malnutrition and lack of medical care contributing to a high death rate even before people were put on the cattle wagons.

Aug

20

1941

Massacre of the children of Byelaya Tserkov

Field Marshal von Reichenau with Hitler in Russia during Barbarossa.

The children were brought along in a tractor. I had nothing to do with this technical procedure. The Ukrainians were standing around trembling. The children were taken down from the tractor. They were lined up along the top of the grave and shot so that they fell into it.

Aug

19

1941

Tobruk patrol caught out in the open

Australian troops return from a patrol outside the Tobruk perimeter, August 1941.

Our shells fell close to them, but on they came, and soon I had to tell the artillery to stop firing as the shells were beginning to land close to our mound. The two Aussie privates were itching to open fire, and I had a difficult time restraining them. Then the enemy party split up into four groups and surrounded the mound.