When the Japanese reached the foreshore of the channel between Johor and Singapore, the commander of their forces, Lt. Gen. Yamashita established his headquarters in Johore at the Istana Hijau, the Green Palace of the Sultan.
Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar Al-Masyhur ibni Abu Bakar GCMG, GBE, (17 September 1873 – 8 May 1959) was the 22nd Sultan of Johor and one of the richest men in the world during his reign.
He was an Anglophile but was also friendly to the Japanese. An old friend was Tokugawa Yoshichika whose family were the actual and military leaders of Japan until 1868. Tokugawa Yoshichika accompanied Lt. Gen. Yamashita on his conquest of Malaya and Singapore).
Lt. Gen. Yamashita personally decided to use the palace tower as his front observation post against protest of his staff due to the the risks involved as it was so exposed. He issued his first order on taking Johore to the army: ” I, this whole day, pushing forward the command post to the heights of the Johore Imperial palace, will observe directly the strenuous efforts of every divisional commanders”.
The notorious Col. Tsuji Masanobu, Yamashita’s Chief of Staff, considered it a moral boosting communication and wrote in his book “Japan’s Greatest Victory, Britain’s Greatest Defeat”:
” at the eastern end of the building (Palace) there was five story observation tower, with a narrow spiral iron ladder leading to the top, where there was a four and a half mat room (just over 9 square metres)
” it was in easy range of enemy artillery, and at times even machine gun bullets came flying past, for enemy line were not more than two kilometres distant. From the palace the naval port of Seletar lay beneath one’s eyes, and Tengah aerodrome appeared as if it could be grasped in the hand. It was on our infantry front line and it was also our forward artillery observation post.”
A superb observation post
The staff spent a week there preparing the advance on the island. Australians and British defenders could see movement and flashing of field glass reflections – it was commonly believed that the British command had agreed with the Sultan not to bombard his palace (the great anglophile had given money to the survivors of HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales prior to the Japanese take over of mainland Malaya ).
Why was it not destroyed?
The Japanese did say that stray shells and bullets hit the tower and the immaculate grounds, but there was no direct bombardment. According to Tsuji ( who was notoriously loose in use of truth) when the British surrendered and were asked why they did not shell the structure, the reply was:
” It was not thought that under any circumstances such a distinct building would be used as Army Headquarters”.
Whatever the explanation, it was within artillery range of the island’s defenders and should have been destroyed.
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