Adnan Saidi: The Last Defender of Malaya

Portrait of Lieutenant Adnan Saidi
Portrait of Lieutenant Adnan Saidi || image via

Adnan Saidi: The Story of a humble beginning

Lieutenant Adnan Saidi or Leftenan Adnan Saidi was born in Kajang, Selangor in 1915 under the full name of Adnan Bin Saidi. He’s widely known as a Malayan military officer of the 1st infantry brigade who fought the Japanese invasion of Singapore.

Lieutenant Adnan also widely known to be born of Minangkabau descent. Before joining the military, he worked as a trainee teacher. Finally, at the age of 18, he made a life-changing decision where he switched careers to join a military career.

In 1933, the British Empire created a new unit known as the Malay regiment. This new unit was intended for young Malay men to provide employment opportunities. During their training, Adnan proved to be the regiment’s outstanding enlisted. As a result of his hard work, he became a company officer and also selected to march in a parade in London, following the ascension of King George VI’s ascension.

Japanese Empire invasion of Malaya

In 1941, Lieutenant Adnan moved to Singapore along with his family members. However, the Japanese Empire started to move its army to the Malay Peninsula and Singapore. With more rapid air raids, Lieutenant Adnan decided to move his wife and children back to their hometown in Kajang.

Japanese Bicycle Infantry in the Malayan Campaign
The Japanese bicycle infantry moving swiftly throughout the Malay Peninsula || Image via Economy History of Malaya

Finally on 8th December 1941, only 1 day after the infamous attack on Pearl Harbour, the Japanese armies officially invade Malaya. In the early morning, the Japanese bombers attacked Singapore and killed more than 60 civilians.

Only a few hours after the air raid on Singapore, the Japanese 25th Army and 5th Division moved into West Malaysia. Initially, the Indian Army III corps and several British battalions resisted these invaders. However, the Japanese held an advantage in numbers, armor vehicles, experience, tactics, and also coordination. On the other hand, the British had no tanks or armored vehicles which put them at a disadvantage.

The Japanese quickly isolated the British defenders, surround their positions and force them to surrender. For the rest of the campaign, the Japanese armies marched down the Malay Peninsula rapidly with their bicycle infantry and light tanks. These units allow a swift movement of their units through the Malayan jungle and hard terrain.

In only 2 months, all the major cities like Penang, Kuala Lumpur, and Malacca fell under Japanese control. On 31st January 1942, the Allied forces completed their retreat to their last stronghold of Singapore. Nearly 50,000 Allied troops were either captured or killed during the Malayan campaign.

Lieutenant Adnan’s Participation during Malayan Campaign

The Imperial Japanese Forces marched through the city of Singapore || Image via Australian Strategic Policy Institute

Finally, on the 8th of February 1942, the Japanese forces launched their final offense to the last British stronghold of Singapore. Singapore holds a very important value for the British since it considers to be a British military base and economic port in South East Asia.

During the attack, the British high command commanded Lieutenant Adnan’s regiment to defend the Pasir Panjang ridge. This area considered to be the most important area due to its strategic location, high terrain, and key military installations for the British armed forces.

Battle Of Pasir Panjang

The famous battle of Pasir Panjang involves the 1st Malaya Brigade and 44th Indian Brigade. The British high command ordered these units to defend the Pasir Panjang area from 14,000 battle-hardened Japanese forces.

On 13 February 1942, the Japanese forces under Colonel Yoshio Nasu launched their attack along the ridge. Under the support of the artillery, the Japanese bombarded the ridge. On the defender side, Lieutenant Adnan leads his company to defend the fort. Repeatedly the Japanese open fire and charge their positions, but Lieutenant Adnan and his men successfully repel their attacks and keep the attackers at bay.

Adnan Saidi’s Famous Last Stand at Bukit Chandu

The Battle and Fall of Singapore, considered by many to be the worst disaster in British military history || Image via ThePast

By early midnight on 14th February 1942, Lieutenant Adnan Saidi was instructed to retreat and regroup at Bukit Chandu or Opium Hill. In only a few hours, Adnan set up a defense perimeter with sandbags and small foxholes for their defense.

In the early afternoon, the Malay regiment spotted a group of Japanese armies wearing a turban trying to approach their position. These Japanese troops disguised themselves as the Sikh member of the British Indian army. Without hesitation, Adnan ordered his troops to open fire and killed 22 Japanese soldiers. This shootout leads to their momentary retreat.

It only took 2 hours for the Japanese to regroup and form up to launch a new attack. This time, thousands of Japanese troops came and swarmed the Bukit Chandu area. Under heavy shelling and shootout, the Malay regiment was able to hold its position well.

However, their defense did not last long. When the bullets ran out, Lieutenant Adnan ordered his troop to use bayonets and sharp weapons to defend their position. The Malay regiment stormed out from their position and charge down the attacking forces. At the end of the battle, Lieutenant Adnan and his regiment killed 800 Japanese troops.

What happened to Lieutenant Adnan?

Most of Adnan’s regiment were killed during their hand-to-hand combat. From the British side, 146 men lost their lives including Lieutenant Adnan himself. One of the Malay regiment’s members, Corporal Yakoob escaped the battle and report the battle to the British high command. He also told the story of Lieutenant Adnan during the fierce battle.

During his try to escape, Corporal Yakoob hides under the bodies of the dead and pretends to be dead. While hiding, he witnessed the Japanese forces find Lieutenant Adnan alive in an injured condition. He was dragged and they covered his head with a sack.

Then, the Japanese troops hung him upside down from a cherry tree. They repeatedly stabbed Adnan’s body with bayonets. Every time they stabbed the body with a bayonet, Lieutenant Adnan shouted the takbir “Allahu Akbar” until his death. At the end of the torture, the Japanese slit his head and keep his body hanging.

Lieutenant Adnan’s Legacy

Later, his remains are buried at the Kranji war memorial. Even after his death, his legacy remains in Malaysia and Singapore. Both Malaysia and Singapore considered Adnan as their national hero due to his valiant and courageous action in the battle of Bukit Panjang. Both nations also include his figure in the school history books.

In Singapore, former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew commissioned a war memorial for Adnan Saidi and his Malay Brigade at Kent Ridge Park, Singapore. In addition to that, Singapore converted a colonial-era bungalow into a world war II interpretive center to remember the services of these men.

On the other hand, Malaysia created a movie called “Leftenan Adnan” in 2000. Additionally, Malaysia also ordered a new “FNSS ACV-15” infantry fighting vehicle originating from Turkey. To honor Adnan’s legacy, the Malaysian military changed the name of this vehicle to “ACV 300 Adnan”.

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