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Monday, February 6, 2012

News - WWII aircraft seekers in Malaysia

I recently read this article about a group which hunts down WWII aircraft wrecks in Malaysia ( http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/featurenews/view/1181266/1/.html).  Their efforts are to be applauded.

(Very) Brief History
Courtesy of www.worldatlas.com
Before WWI the Malaya Kingdom (now Malaysia) provided the world with 60% of its Tin and 40% of its rubber.  Most of these resources went to the United States, although it was a British controlled colony.  Malaya is also strategically positioned between oil rich Borneo, Java and Sumatra.  All three of these resources were critical to Japan's growing economy...and its war efforts.

It was important enough to be included in Japan's "Outline Plan for the Execution of the Empire's National Policy" framework.  On December 8th, 1941, the same time of the Pearl Harbor attacks in the United States (it was Dec 7th in US: having to cross the international date line), Imperial Japanese forces invaded Malaya and captured the working airfield there.  In response, the British sent the battleships Prince of Wales and Repulse.  The British aircraft carrier Indomitable was undergoing repairs, so the battleships had no fighter protection.  Alerted of the oncoming ships by the submarine I-58, the battleships were met by over 1000 aircraft.

The outcome is obvious in hindsight: both battleships were disabled and sunk by the aircraft within 3 hours of the engagement.  The combined loss of life for the British ships was 800 men, while the Japanese lost 3 aircraft
Aftermath
This defeat removed the last of the British large ships from the Pacific.  Over the course of the war many aircraft were downed in and around Malaya.  Although approximately 15-20 sites are known, the dense foliage prevents easy access and identification.  There are probably many more machines and pilots who were downed in Malaya to be discovered.

Sources

The Pacific Campaign: The US-Japanese Naval War 1941-1945, Dan van der Vat, 1991

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