To honour those who served their country

“In this their finest hour”

 3rd Kings Own Hussars

3rd Kings Own Hussars


The 3rd Hussars was brigaded with the 4th Hussars in the 1st Armoured Brigade in 1939. After the fall of France, the 3rd Hussars was shipped to North Africa and assigned to the 7th Armoured Brigade. The regiment served in the North African Campaign. In 1941, B Squadron was sent to Singapore as reinforcements, but with the fall of Singapore, it was diverted to Java where, after a brief fight, it was ordered to surrender and the men spent the rest of the war as Prisoners of War. The remainder of the regiment fought in the Battle of El Alamein, where all but four tanks were destroyed in the first days of the action.

After the campaign in North Africa, the 3rd Hussars next saw action in the Italian Campaign, serving through 1944 and 1945.

Fifty four members of B Squadron died as prisoners of the Japanese Army. The few survivors returned to the regiment in 1945 after the war ended.


The AWM monographs - The 'Black Force (Java)'

Brief Diary of ‘B’ Squadron 3rd Hussars

14th February, 1942 - 9th March, 1942

by the C/O of ‘B’ Squadron, 3rd Hussars,

Major P. William-Powlett, M.C.

February,14th -

After laying at anchor outside Oosthaven during the night 13th/14th Colonel Stevens (Movements) came onboard at 0700hrs. He told us that the squadron was to move to Palembang as soon as possible. The tanks were to go by rail and the transport by road. At about 1100hrs we tied up alongside the quay, as soon as I disembarked Colonel Stevens told me that the Japanese parachutists had landed at P1 (aerodrome 12-miles north of Palembang) at 0900hrs and that he wanted us to start for Palembang that night. I told him that it was impossible, since batteries had to be charged, machine guns de-greased, belts loaded, petrol tanks filled, transport reloaded and organised, etc., but that we would be ready by 1800hrs on the 15th. Unloading commenced immediately, the tanks direct on to the ‘flats’ on the railway. There were no stevedores – 3rd Hussars did all the unloading.

Appreciation of the situation as follows;

    1. The Japanese parachutists landing was only the prelude to a more serious attack.

    2. The only troops available in that area were:

      (a) Two batteries of heavy AA (6th Rgt)

      (b) One battery light AA (35th Rgt)

      (c) About two companies of Dutch troops. These were divided between P1 and P2 (aerodrome 20 miles south of Palembang).

    3. Consequently Palembang was almost certain to fall before we could reach it, say on the evening of the 16th at the most optimistic, probably on the evening of the 17th.

    4. Therefore our most useful roll would be to assist the two battalions Australians due to disembark on the evening 15th in holding south-east Sumatra.

    5. In any case our advance to Palambang could now only be made partially by rail, therefore our arrival at Palembang would not be until February 18th. Colonel Stevens agreed with me and he sent the information as guardedly as possible to GHQ by the only available means, which was the public wireless telephone. The reply from GHQ was that we were to move to Palembang as previously ordered.

February,15th -

Captain Lancaster started by train to P2 at dawn to contact a General Staff Officer, who was expected to be arriving there by air from GHQ. Unloading was completed at 0200hrs. Battery charging commenced immediately the first battery charging vehicle was landed and continued all night. About midday news came that the situation at Palembang had deteriorated and that the Japanese forces had advanced up the river. No fresh instructions came from GHQ. Later Brigadier Steel arrived from Palembang and took over command from Colonel Stevens. He confirmed Colonel Stevens’ and my appreciation of the situation and decided to concentrate the available forces in consolidating southern Sumatra. He ordered me to take the tanks off the ‘flats’ and to reconnoitre a position about 25-miles north of Oosthaven, where a branch road from the east coast and a probable landing place for more Japanese troops joined the main road. I was to send a patrol down this road to cover an important bridge until such times as it might be necessary to blow it up. I sent Lieut.Chadwick and eight men in trucks to picket this road junction for the night. The squadron was ready for action at 1700hrs. I had organised it into five troops. Information came that Palembang was being evacuated and that P2 was to be held at all costs.

At 2100hrs I returned from reconnoitring the position in torrential rain and I was ordered to prepare to re-embark, since Sumatra was to be evacuated. I immediately told the naval control officers to contact S.S.Hermion instantly, as I had heard the Captain say he meant to leave these dangerous waters for Christmas Island as soon as he was able. I was told that as the Hermion had received no permission from him to leave the harbour, and that the ship would be there ready to embark the squadron. About midnight it was discovered that the Hermion had departed. Colonel Stevens told me he would arrange for the Silver Larch to carry the squadron. He thought the available space was sufficient and the derricks sufficiently powerful. She was to be alongside at 1000hrs February 16th. Various rumours now started coming in that the Japanese had landed at various points on the coast near by. Meanwhile Captain Lancaster had rejoined.

February,16th -

At 1000hrs the quay was vacant but there was no sign of movement from s.s. Silver Larch out in the harbour. The Dutch Harbour Master was unhelpful and would do nothing. He eventually disappeared with his staff.

At 1100hrs I procured a boat and boarded the Silver Larch. The captain told me he had received no orders, that he was short of fresh water; one boiler was completely empty, (he had been demanding water for three days) and one engine was in need of repair. Nevertheless he would have steam up and be alongside at 1600hrs. The available space looked sufficient. It would be difficult to speak too highly of the behaviour, kindness and helpfulness of the captain and officers of the Silver Larch throughout the following operation.

At 1600hrs the quay was still occupied by a large auxiliary cruiser. Nevertheless the Silver Larch came in and waited in the immediate vicinity. At about 1700hrs by a masterly piece of manourvering the captain brought the Silver Larch alongside without the aid of tugs or even a small boat to carry the line ashore. Loading commenced immediately that the derricks were prepared. It was discovered that the derricks would not carry the heavy R.A.O.C. vehicles. These were left behind and destroyed. Lieut Williamson left for Batavia on a tug towing a lighter which carried eight tanks and two trucks. These arrived without incident. And 80% of the transport, but only about 25% of the ordnance vehicles were loaded. We were told that anything not loaded by 0200hrs was to left behind. All available space for vehicles was filled, but we should have been able to carry more R.A.O.C. stores had we been allowed more time. (It was discovered that by mischance all the spare bogey wheels were left behind.) Loading eventually ceased at about 0330hrs and we sailed at 0400hrs. It was an O.C. ship. Brigadier Steel and his staff were on board. The ship was crowded with A/A gunners, R.A.S.C. troops, ourselves and other personnel.

February,17th -

S.S. Silver Larch left Oosthaven at about 0400hrs. The captain wished to disembark as many troops as possible at the first opportunity, so we put in at Merak at about 1000hrs all except forty 3rd Hussars under command Captain Lancaster, who remained on board to unload tanks. Disembarked into smaller K.P.M. steamer whose shallow draft permitted her to go alongside the jetty, a meal for all the men was arranged immediately on this ship. Owing to the number of other ships waiting to unload, we were unable to go alongside that day, so we slept on board and disembarked next morning.

February, 18th -

Entrained at Merak, after a crowded but interesting journey during which we were refreshed with fruit, coffee and soup by kind Dutch women, we arrived at Batavia about midday. No Transport Officer met us. I ordered the squadron not to move until I found out where we were to be accommodated. I contacted a newly appointed T.O. who took me to Movement Control. There I learned I was to come under the Dutch and telephoned the Dutch Divisional HQ in Batavia. In due course a Dutch Staff Officer called for me in his car and we went back to the station to find the squadron had moved. Since we were to be accommodated for the night in the Bicycle Barracks, first we went in search there. We finally found the squadron at Moester Corneelius Barracks. Another Dutch officer had apparently called at this station and had ordered the squadron into trucks which arrived. After much delay I collected the squadron intact, less the tank party at the Bicycle Barracks, where they were well fed and housed.

February, 19th -

After calling at Divisional Headquarters I was introduced to Captain (later Major) Wessel, Commander of 2nd Cavalry Squadron under whose command I came. He was competent and understanding commander. We went together to the docks to find Captain Lancaster busy unloading the tanks and Lieut.Williamson with his party already ashore.

Thence Captain Wessel took us to Villa Nouva, 15- miles north of Batavia, where we were to be accommodated. I took Captain Bentley-Taylor there and arranged transport. He moved the dismounted portion of the squadron during the afternoon.

Feeding was arranged on the Dutch system. I drew cash from the Dutch Q. Officer and Captain Bentley-Taylor arranged the purchase of meat and vegetables with the assistance of Dutch Lieutenant Joaly de Yong, who was extremely able and helpful at all times.

On my return to the docks too see how unloading was going on I found that all work had been suspended, since the captain of the Silver Larch had just received orders to leave port immediately from this naval control office. I went immediately with Captain Lancaster to the Senior British Naval Officer and had the order cancelled.

February, 20th -

Disembarkation of the tanks was completed and the squadron and R.A.O.C. attached installed at Villa Nuova. This movement was completed by 1800hrs.

I had further interviews at Divisional Headquarters and had the situation and Dutch intention explained by General Schilling. The 3rd Hussars were to form a third company of a mechanised regiment to be commanded by Major Wessel. The other two companies being composed of :

    1. Mechanised Infantry in Blitzbuggies and trucks.

    2. Dutch armoured cars.

February, 21s t -

The day was spent in maintenance and organisation of transport and tanks, belt filling, battery charging, wireless tests, etc. The preliminary tests with wireless were extremely unsatisfactory. One mile was the maximum that could be relied upon. Longer distances by key or speech were very uncertain.

February, 22nd -

A Dutch tank officer from Bandoeng came and took officers and NCOs (sargeants) on reconnaissance both morning and afternoon. The terrain was light jungle and paddy fields. The country could not have been more unsuitable for light tanks. The roads and a few of the main tracks between paddy fields were the only passage for tanks. With the prospect of no wireless intercommunication and grossly unsuitable country I found it difficult to forsee any useful role for the squadron other than reconnaissance and advance and rearguard action. The Dutch seemed to expect us to act as Infantry Tanks through dense jungle and over paddy fields.

February, 23rd -

    a.m. Further wireless experiments.

    p.m. Reconnaissance again with Dutch Lieutenant.

February, 24th -

Major Graeme arrived from Bandoeng (General Staff) to see that we were okay. It seemed wise for me to go up to Bandoeng GHQ with him to obtain imprest money and to see General Playfair. At 2000hrs he called for me in his car and we arrived at GHQ sometime after midnight. The squadron practiced driving in the jungle, getting through it was easier than expected, but visibility was usually 10 yards.

February, 25th -

Interviews with General Playfair and General Wavell. I was told nothing of the general plan though I gathered we were to be left behind. I collected imprest money and caught a midday train to Batavia where I interviewed Major Wessel.

February, 26th -

At 1800hrs I was summoned to a conference with Brigadier-General Blackburn and told I was now transferred to ‘Blackforce’ which consisted of two battalions of Australians, plus one company, plus some R.A.S.C. One battalion composed of Pioneers, the other of Machine-Gunners. The men were issued with rifles and Bren guns. They also collected a number of Bren-Gun Carriers.

Considering their complete lack of training as infantry and of practice with rifles, during the ensuing action they disported themselves gallantly and with effect. Organisation was extremely hurried and R.A.S.C. facilities sketchy. All my second and third line ammunition, which in lieu of other orders, I had moved from the docks to Villa Nouva and was left behind in the move to Buitensorg.

NOTE: The 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion had fought as infantry in four or five actions against Vichy French in Syria.

February, 27th -

General Schuberg, Brigadier Blackburn and Brigadier Major and myself went on reconnaissance to Buitensorg, west to Rangkasbitung along the river and back by the main road to Batavia. General Schilling pointed out prepared positions along the road to Batavia. These were well sited, but of very narrow frontage. There were a number of handy road blocks made of timber and propped up in such a way that by knocking one support away the block would fall into position. Each block I calculated would obstruct the road for about half an hour. The two main bridges on the main roads over the Tjioejoeng were to be blown up, but the very adequate bridge over the dam in the centre of the position was to be left intact. The excuse was the lack of explosive. It seemed to me that the Dutch considered the damage to natives’ crops would be too great to make the destruction worth while in view of their real intention. I suggested stationing two troops of tanks to block the dam temporarily General Schilling refused saying keep them for the real fighting on the Bandoeng plains.

February, 28th -

Moved from Villa Nuova to rendezvous eight kilometres west of Buitensorg. The R.A.O.C. machine lorry had to be evacuated and destroyed since it was unable to pass underneath the main road bridges. There was no other road possible.

March, 1st -

Conference with Brigadier Blackburn at Debbits Hotel in Buitensorg. Squadron was disposed in rubber plantation. I moved ‘B’ Squadron back to a position eight kilometres west of Buitensorg on the main road. All officers went on reconnaissance and had varying adventures.

March, 2nd -

Further reconnaissance Australians main defences at Llewilliang Bridge. Japanese were reported 50 miles west on main road and the Dutch company retreating from Tangarang blew Llewilliang Bridge before Australians could stop this, thus making impossible one of Brigadier Blackburn’s plans for a counter attack across the river. As far as we could gather they did not let down any road blocks. About midday I was called into Brigade Headquarters and given information that all the Dutch were retiring from that area and that ‘Blackforce’ could do as it pleased, stay and fight or accompany the Dutch to Bandoeng.

Brigadier Blackburn decided that there was no useful purpose to be earned in remaining in this area isolated and that ‘Blackforce’ was to retire to Bandoeng area, or possible to Soakaboani. The retreat was to be out of touch with the enemy. The 3rd Hussars were to move off at 1500hrs. I made the necessary arrangements. At 1445hrs, when we were standing to ready to move off, in tropical rain, the intelligence officer came to me cancelling the orders and telling me to stand by for further instructions. At 2000hrs I was summoned to a conference at Debbits Hotel. A fairly complicated plan of a counter attack against Japanese pivoting around Llewilliang Bridge was explained and orders given. A Dutch regiment was to co-operate, I gave the necessary orders.

Night of Mar ch, 2nd / 3rd -

At 0100hrs I was summoned to a conference at Debbits Hotel. Information was given to Brigadier Blackburn that all the Dutch had evacuated the neighbourhood, and that Blackforce again was to make its own arrangements. Orders for a withdrawal were given. The 3rd Hussars, one company of Australians and one section A.R.E.’s under command Major William-Powlett were to form rearguard. I had to contact the commanders of these forces, make all arrangements and pass the start line at 0600hrs. It was a night of torrential rain.

March, 3rd -

At 0545hrs I was giving orders to the commander of the Australian company, when the intelligence officer drove up in his car and cancelled the instructions. We were to revert to the plan of defending Llewilliang Bridge. The Australians, who were in their lorries ready to move off, returned to Llewilliang Bridge and manned positions. Almost at the same moment that Japanese advance guard reached the bridge, 3rd Hussars were in support of Australians, stretching back down the road. About midday 3rd Hussars were ordered to picket the road from Buitensorg running west, north of the river.

Squadron Headquarters moved to Dutch Barracks near the aerodrome at Semplak. I sent a patrol 10 miles west down the road. Australians asked me to send patrol 20-miles down the road; I asked them to use the armoured cars which were available. Major also asked me to patrol the Buitensorg - Batavia road by running tanks up and down it. I again requested armoured cars.

March, 4th -

Headquarters Barracks. Dutch patrol at fork roads with American guns in support. 2nd Lieutenant Dallas’ troop was sent to support Australians left flank. Two Japanese tanks had been destroyed on bridge but the Japanese were working around flanks.

p.m. Orders came that all troops were retiring from Batavia - Buitensorg area to Bandoeng. ‘Blackforce’, less 3rd Hussars and one company Australians, were to move at 1600hrs. Rearguard under command Major William-Powlett was to take up position west of Buitensorg and retire 1200hrs March 5th.

March, 5th -

Australian company disposed in position west of Buitensorg. Tanks in support with one troop of tanks (Lieut. Fros) three miles further west on road. First contact with Japanese 1030hrs. As no releaving force had come I sent liaison officer (Lieut. Bramfoot) to General Schilling suggesting that we stayed until 1330hrs. At 1130hrs a Dutch lorried regiment came up. At 1245hrs they were still in their lorries. I started moving the Australians out of position at 1300hrs and informed the Dutch that unless they occupied the line it would be left undefended. The Dutch infantry then moved into position.

The Japanese, although surrounding the tank troop on the road made no impression on it and did not pass it. At 1320hrs the colonel of the Dutch regiment came and asked me to leave some tanks behind, if I could, although he realised my orders were to withdraw to ‘Blackforce’; also that General Schilling knew nothing of his request. In view of Brigadier Blackburn’s orders and the unconvincing appearance of the Dutch troops I did not feel justified in acceding to his request and continued the withdrawal, which was completed at 1335hrs.

Soekabosing was reached without incident at about 2000hrs.

March, 6th -

After about four hours rest and tank maintenance the withdrawal to Bandoeng was continued. The mechanist staff worked magnificently, yet one tank had to be left behind and rendered unserviceable. Bandoeng was reached about 1200hrs. I went immediately to a conference with Brigadier Blackburn, and dispatched squadron under guidance of Lieut. Bramfoot to harbour in a rubber plantation, east of Bandoeng. At the conference it was evident that the Dutch were on the point of capitulation. Plans for further withdrawal to the mountains to the south were discussed.

March, 7th -

‘B’ Squadron harboured in rubber plantation. All possible lorries were made available for carrying food from dumps near Bandoeng southward. At another conference further withdrawal plans were discussed. It was learned that General Sitwell now intended to collect all British forces in the area chosen by Brigadier Blackburn - Leles. Towards evening the Australians set fire to a big food dump in a cordon immediately north of the squadron harbour.

At 1800hrs we were informed that the Dutch had capitulated at midday and that the Japanese had entered Bandoeng in the early afternoon. Orders came to move at 2000hrs to Leles area.

March, 8th -

On the road to Garoet another day of conflicting orders. I was officially rearguard, but I had orders not to fire my guns. At about 1400hrs I had orders to destroy my tanks, but in face of other conflicting orders I sent Lieut. Bramfoot to obtain this order in writing from General Sitwell. When I received the order in writing I destroyed the tanks by extracting and destroying the vital parts of the guns and engines and rolling the tanks over a steep deep embankment into a river. The squadron collected at ‘The Grand Hotel’ Tiscorocpan, where ‘B’ Squadron had been taken by Captain Bentley-Taylor.

I paraded the squadron, informed them of the situation; explained the difficulties of escape and advised the saner course.

At 1900hrs I attended a conference at General Sitwell’s headquarters. He explained that he had been given orders by the Dutch General under whose orders he came to lay down arms. He expressed anxiety as to the attitude of the natives; his belief in the impossibility of escape from the island; his anxiety about having destroyed our weapons, etc.

On my return to the squadron I found that a few men had already taken some vehicles and departed under the cover of darkness. I called a conference of officers and senior NCO’s and passed General Sitwell’s view of the impossibility and foolishness of escape. However, all the officers and most of the men wished to make the attempt. The officers drew lots as to which one was to stay to look after the men who remained.

March, 10th -

During the night 60% of the squadron started to walk home! At 0500hrs I also started with Captain Lancaster.

My Thanks to Brian Green for supplying this document

The death roll of the 54 of ‘B’ squadron is at:-

‘B’ Squadron Death Roll






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