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15 October 2014
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Timeline - 1939-1945

Fact File : Invasion of British Borneo

15 December 1941 to 1 April 1942

Theatre: Pacific
Location: Borneo
Players: Allies: 2nd Battalion, 15th Punjab Regiment; Sarawak Rangers. Japan: 35th Infantry Brigade Headquarters under Maj-Gen Kawaguchi; 124th Infantry Regiment.
Outcome: British Borneo was captured by Japanese forces.

'The best I could do was to promise to send them a few anti-aircraft guns... not that I expected anti-aircraft guns to be of much practical value...' - Lieutenant General Arthur Percival, GOC Malaya Command, reporting on defences in British Borneo, 1941

British Borneo comprised North Borneo, Sarawak, Brunei and Labuan Island, all on the north coast of the jungle island of Borneo, which is now part of Indonesia. At the time of World War 2, the south of the island was part of the Netherlands East Indies.

Rich in oil and other raw materials, Borneo's location was also of great strategic importance in the south west Pacific, but neither the Dutch nor the British had the resources to defend it properly.

The most important target on the island was the airfield at Kuching in Sarawak, because it gave access to the Dutch airfield at Singkawang II, 95km (60 miles) away and only 550km (340 miles) from Singapore.

On 15 December 1941, the Japanese invasion convoy arrived at Miri and Seria and quickly secured the oilfields and airstrips located there. The main body of the invasion force left for Kuching a week later.

The Japanese arrived at Kuching on 24 December, by which time the British had destroyed the airfield. Despite fierce resistance, the Japanese made rapid progress and women, children and the wounded were evacuated to Dutch Borneo the next day. The defending forces followed soon afterwards and by 31 December most of the territory's defenders had arrived at the Dutch Singkawang II airfield.

Throughout January, Japanese units advanced into Dutch Borneo. There they attacked Singkawang II, eventually taking it despite fierce Punjabi resistance. The remaining Allied forces continued to fight until 1 April, when they were ordered to surrender.

The fact files in this timeline were commissioned by the BBC in June 2003 and September 2005. Find out more about the authors who wrote them.

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