Battle of Singapore (Fall of Singapore) | World War II

Battle of Singapore (Fall of Singapore) | World War II

Overview

The Battle of Singapore, also identified as the Fall of Singapore, took place during the Pacific War's Southeast Asian theatre, when Japan's Empire overtook the British stronghold of Singapore, dubbed the "Gibraltar of the East," with action lasting from February 8 to 15, 1942. Singapore was the most important British military station and economic port in Southeast Asia during the interwar period, and it was crucial to British defence planning in the region. Singapore was captured by the Japanese, which resulted in the most significant British surrender in history. In the two months preceding the fight, General Tomoyuki Yamashita led around 30,000 troops along the Malayan Peninsula in the Malayan Campaign. The British regarded the jungle terrain as impassable and had minimal defences. As a result, the Japanese sped down the Peninsula, specialists in jungle warfare. Although many battalions were under-strength and most units lacked experience, Arthur Percival led 85,000 British troops. Despite this, they had a considerable numerical and geographic advantage on Singapore's island. The British demolished the city's causeway in the run-up to the fight, forcing the Japanese to embark on a naval crossing. The island was so essential to Winston Churchill that he ordered Percival to fight to the death.

The Japanese established a beachhead on February 8 due to superior Japanese leadership and numerous British failures. The Japanese targeted the weakest area of the defences because Percival had grossly misallocated troops on the island. In addition, Percival failed to reinforce the defences in time, allowing the Japanese to create a beachhead. The British are plagued by communication and leadership shortcomings. There were few entrenchments or reserves near the beachhead due to poor war strategy. During the week, the Japanese grabbed control of more and more of the island, putting a strain on the British supplies. By the 15th of February, nearly a million inhabitants in the city had evacuated to the 1% of the island that was still under Commonwealth control. The civilian water supply had been pounded nonstop by Japanese air assaults by that time, and it was likely to fail within days.

Unbeknownst to the British, the Japanese had depleted their supply by the 15th of February, with only hours of shells remaining. General Yamashita was concerned that Percival would realize the Japanese numerical disadvantage and engage in costly house-to-house combat. Yamashita requested unconditional surrender in a bluff. Percival defied orders and surrendered on the afternoon of February 15th. Around 80,000 British, Indian, and Australian men were taken prisoner of war in Singapore, adding to the 50,000 taken by the Japanese during the previous Malayan Campaign. Several individuals would die as a result of forced labour. About 40,000 soldiers, primarily Indians, fought alongside the Japanese in the Indian National Army. Winston Churchill was stunned, describing it as the "biggest disaster" in British military history. It shattered public trust in the British army and gave the Japanese much-needed resources and strategic advantage. The city would remain under Japanese control until the war's end.

Background

The Outbreak of War

In reaction to Japan's wars in China and annexation of French Indochina, the Allies imposed a trade embargo on the country in 1940 and 1941. In July 1940, the basic plan for capturing Singapore was devised. Intelligence obtained between late 1940 and early 1941 did not change this strategy but instead supported it in the eyes of Japanese decision-makers. The German raider Atlantis captured the British steamship Automedon in the Indian Ocean on November 11, 1940, carrying files for British commander in the Far East, Air Marshal Sir Robert Brooke-Popham. The papers contained a lot of information about the Singapore base's flaws. The Germans gave the Japanese copies of the documents in December 1940. The Japanese had cracked the British Army's codes. In January 1941, the Imperial Army's Second Department (intelligence-gathering arm) interpreted and read a message from Singapore to London complaining in great detail about the weak state of "Fortress Singapore," a statement so forthright in its admission of weakness that the Japanese initially suspected it was a British plot, believing that no officer would be so honest in admitting weaknesses to his superiors. However, the Japanese only accepted the message as legitimate after cross-checking it with the Automedon papers.

Due to its military actions in China and industrial usage, Japan's oil supplies quickly decreased. As a result, the Japanese began planning to go to war in the second half of 1941 to seize crucial resources if peaceful efforts to purchase them failed. The planners devised a comprehensive strategy that included simultaneous strikes on the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and the United States. Landings in Malaya and Hong Kong would be part of a more extensive march south to seize Singapore, connected to Malaya by the Johor–Singapore Causeway, and then an invasion of the Dutch East Indies' oil-rich Borneo and Java. In addition, the American naval fleet at Pearl Harbor would be targeted, as would landings in the Philippines and raids on Guam, Wake Island, and the Gilbert Islands. Following these attacks, the Japanese planned to consolidate the captured territory's defences by establishing a solid perimeter spanning Malaya, the Dutch East Indies, New Guinea and New Britain, the Bismarck Archipelago, and the Marshall and Gilbert Islands and crossing Malaya, New Guinea, the Dutch East Indies, and New Britain, the Bismarck Archipelago, and the Marshall and Gilbert Islands. This cordon would be utilized to thwart Allied efforts to reclaim lost territory and demoralize their fighting spirit.

Attack of Malaya

On 8 December 1941, the Japanese 25th Army launched an amphibious attack from Indochina into northern Malaya and Thailand. It occurred almost simultaneously with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which prompted the US to enter the war. Thailand held out for around 5 to 8 hours against landings on its soil until signing a cessation of hostilities and a Treaty of Friendship with Japan, then declared war on the United Kingdom and the United States. The Japanese then crossed the Thai–Malayan border to attack Malaya. The Japanese began bombing Singapore at this time.

The British Indian Army's III Corps fought back against the 25th Army in northern Malaya. Even though Commonwealth forces in Malaya and Singapore outnumbered the 25th Army, they did not seize the initiative with their points while Japanese leaders concentrated theirs. Close air support, coordination, armour, tactics, and experience were all the Japanese were better. The British military thought the Japanese forces were weaker and described the Malayan jungles as "impassable." Still, the Japanese could use it to their advantage to outflank hurriedly erect defensive lines on numerous occasions. Before the Battle of Singapore, the 8th Australian Division and the 45th Indian Brigade saw the most resistance at the Battle of Muar. The British forces who remained in Singapore were primarily garrison personnel.

The Commonwealth forces in Malaya and Singapore had just 164 first-line aircraft at the outset of the battle, and the only fighter-type was the antiquated Brewster 339E Buffalo. One Royal New Zealand Air Force, two Royal Australian Air Force, and two Royal Air Force (RAF) units flew the Buffaloes. Two significant flaws were a slow ascent rate and a fuel system that needed the pilot to hand pump fuel if airborne above 6,000 feet. In Malaya, Borneo, and Singapore, the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force was more numerous and more educated than the second-hand collection of unskilled pilots and inferior Commonwealth equipment. The superiority of Japanese fighters over Commonwealth fighters aided the Japanese in gaining air superiority. Despite being outmanned and outclassed, the Buffalos managed to put up a fight, with RAAF pilots alone shooting down at least 20 Japanese planes before the few survivors were withdrawn.

On the 8th of December, Force Z, which included the battleship HMS Prince of Wales, the battlecruiser HMS Repulse, and four destroyers, moved north from Singapore to counter projected Japanese landings along the Malayan coast. On 10 December, Japanese land-based aircraft discovered and sunk the two capital ships, leaving the Malayan Peninsula's east coast exposed and allowing the Japanese to continue their amphibious operations. Indian battalions defending the coast were swiftly isolated, cornered, and compelled to surrender by Japanese forces. Nevertheless, despite their numerical disadvantage, they pushed along the Malayan Peninsula, overwhelming the defences. The Japanese also deployed bicycle infantry and light tanks, moving quickly through the jungle. The Commonwealth had no tanks and only a few armoured vehicles because they believed the terrain made them unfeasible, putting them at a significant disadvantage. Even though more Commonwealth units joined the campaign, including some from the 8th Australian division, the Japanese stopped them from reuniting.

The Japanese conquered cities and proceeded toward Singapore, which served as a base for the American-British-Dutch-Australian Command (ABDACOM), the first Allied unified command of WWII. In addition, the critical maritime waterway connecting the Indian and Pacific Oceans was controlled by Singapore. On 14 January, the 2/30th Australian Battalion launched an ambush on the significant road near Gemas, near the Gemenceh River, resulting in many Japanese casualties.

The 2/19th Australian Battalion, the Australian 2/29th Battalion, and the 45th Indian Brigade (Lieutenant Colonel Charles Anderson) pushed through Japanese positions at Bakri from 18 to 22 January before running out of ammunition near Parit Sulong. The survivors were forced to leave approximately 110 Australian and 40 Indian injured behind, who was eventually assaulted, tortured, and murdered by Japanese troops during the Parit Sulong Massacre. Only about 500 men from these regiments were able to escape. Anderson was bestowed the Victoria Cross for his headship during the combat withdrawal. On 25 January, a determined counter-attack by the 5/11th Sikh Regiment (Lieutenant-Colonel John Parkin) in the area of Niyor, near Kluang, and an ambush by the 2/18th Australian battalion around the Nithsdale Estate on 26/27 January bought valuable time, allowing the East force, founded on the 22nd Australian Brigade to withdraw from eastern Johor (formerly Johore). The last Commonwealth forces crossed the causeway connecting Johor and Singapore on January 31st, and engineers blew it up.

Prelude

Commonwealth forces faced a variety of suppressed and openly disruptive debates among their senior commanders in the weeks leading up to the invasion, as well as pressure from Australian Prime Minister John Curtin. The garrison was commanded by Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival, who had 85,000 soldiers, or slightly over four divisions on paper. Fifteen thousand men were employed in supply, administrative, or other non-combatant tasks out of this total. The remainder of the army consisted of both front-line and second-line soldiers. There were 49 infantry battalions allocated to airport defence: 21 Indian, 13 British, six Australian, four Indian States Forces, three Straits Settlements Volunteer Force, and two Malayan. There were also two British machine-gun battalions, an Australian machine-gun battalion, and a British reconnaissance unit. The recently arriving 18th Infantry Division (Major-General Merton Beckwith-Smith) was fully staffed but lacking experience and training.

From the 8th Australian division Major-General Gordon Bennett's two brigades were given command of the western side of Singapore, including the island's most essential attack locations in the northwest. It was essentially a mangrove swamp and vegetation, with rivers and creeks interspersed. RAF Tengah, Singapore's prime airfield at the time, was located in the heart of the "Western Area." Brigadier Harold Taylor of the Australian 22nd Brigade was in charge of a 10 mile (16 km) broad sector in the west, while Brigadier Duncan Maxwell of the 27th Brigade was in a 4,000 yard (3,700 m) zone directly west of the causeway. The infantry positions were reinforced by the Australian 2/4th Machine-Gun Battalion, which had just arrived. The 44th Indian Infantry Brigade was also under Bennett's command.

The north-eastern part, known as the "Northern Area," was given to the III Indian Corps (Lieutenant-General Sir Lewis Heath), which included the 11th Indian Infantry Division under Major-General Berthold Key with reinforcements from the 8th Indian Brigade and the 18th Infantry Division. The naval base at Sembawang was included in this. Major-General Frank Simmons commanded the "Southern Area," which included the southeast's key urban regions. The Straits Settlements Volunteer Force Brigade and the 1st Malaya Infantry Brigade were among his forces, with the Indian 12th Infantry Brigade serving as a reserve.

Japanese artillery began shelling Commonwealth soldiers on 3 February, and airstrikes on Singapore increased over the next five days. The artillery and air bombardment intensified, interrupting communications between Commonwealth units and their commanders and jeopardizing island defence preparations. Japanese commander-in-chief General Tomoyuki Yamashita and his staff learned about Commonwealth positions by aerial surveillance, scouts, spies, and observation from high ground across the straits such as at Istana Bukit Serene, the Sultan of Johor's palace. As a result, Yamashita and his officers set up shop at Istana Bukit Serene and the Sultan Ibrahim Building, the Johor state headquarters, to plot the assault of Singapore.

Yamashita was sure that the British Army would not attack Istana Bukit Serene since it belonged to the Sultan of Johor, despite advice from his best military personnel that it was an easy target. Despite being sighted by Australian artillery, their commanding general, Bennett, declined permission to engage the palace, confirming Yamashita's prediction.

It is a frequent fallacy that Singapore's renowned BL 15-inch Mk I naval guns were ineffectual against the Japanese because they were constructed to face south and could not be turned around to face north to protect the port against naval attacks. Most cannons could be rotated and fired upon the invading forces. The cannons, which consisted of one battery of three 15 in (380 mm) guns and one artillery of two 15 in (380 mm) guns, were primarily equipped with armour-piercing shells (AP) and a few high explosive (HE) shells. AP shells were meant to pierce the hulls of heavily armed warships, but they were ineffectual against infantry objectives. Military analysts later assessed that if the guns had been adequately stocked with HE rounds, the Japanese invaders would have suffered numerous fatalities, but this would not have been enough to prevent the invasion. Percival guessed mistakenly that the Japanese would land forces on the north-east side of Singapore, dismissing warnings that an attack from the northwest was more plausible where the Straits of Johor were the thinnest and a series of river mouths provided cover for the launching of watercraft. The deliberate movement of enemy soldiers in this region to deceive the British aided this. As a result, a significant amount of defence equipment and resources were misallocated to the northeast sector, where the most complete and fresh formation—the 18th Infantry Division—was deployed. In contrast, the 8th Australian Division sector had no serious fixed defensive works or obstacles, with only two brigades.

To make matters worse, Percival had ordered the Australians to defend forward to cover the waterway; however, this meant they would be committed to any battle right away, restricting their flexibility and diminishing their defensive depth. The two Australian brigades were thus given a frontage of over 18 kilometres (11 miles), divided by the Kranji River. The Imperial Guards Division, led by Lieutenant-General Takuma Nishimura, the 5th division, led by Lieutenant-General Takuro Matsui, and the Japanese 18th division, led by Lieutenant-General Renya Mutaguchi, totalled little over 30,000 soldiers.

A light tank brigade was also present to assist. Percival had roughly 85,000 soldiers at his disposal following the withdrawal. However, 15,000 were administrative personnel, and a considerable number were semi-trained British, Indian, and Australian reinforcements who had only recently arrived. Meanwhile, most of the forces that had seen action in earlier battles were under-strength and under-equipped.

Patrols from the Australian 22nd Brigade were despatched across the strait to Johor at night in the days running up to the Japanese onslaught to gather intelligence. On February 6, three small patrols were dispatched; one was identified and withdrawn when its leader was murdered, and their boat sank, while the other two made it ashore. They discovered enormous troops over a day but could not identify any landing boats. The Australians urged that these positions be shelled to disrupt the Japanese preparations. Still, Malaya Command dismissed the patrol reports as inconsequential, believing that the actual assault would occur in the north-eastern sector, not the northwest.

Battle

Japanese Landings

The Japanese onslaught was delayed for more than a week after the causeway was blown up. The Australians were exposed to a heavy artillery barrage before the primary attack. Yamashita's heavy guns fired 88,000 shells (200 rounds per gun) around the straits over 15 hours, beginning at 23:00 on February 8, 1942, severing telephone cables and isolating forward forces. The British possessed the capability to engage the Australians in counter-battery fire, which would have resulted in losses and disorganization among the Japanese assault soldiers. Despite its ferocity surpassing anything the Allies had experienced thus far in the campaign, the Australian bombardment was not seen as a prelude to attack—Malaya Command believed it would last several days and then shift its focus to the north-east; no order was passed to the Commonwealth artillery units to bombard possible Japanese assembly areas.

The first upsurge of Japanese troops from the 5th and 18th Divisions began crossing the Johor Strait shortly before 20:30 on February 8. The Japanese assaulted the 22nd Australian Brigade with a force of around 13,000 soldiers from 16 assault battalions and five reserve battalions. The 2/18th and 2/20th Battalions were on the receiving end of the assault. Each Japanese division was equipped with 150 barges and foldable boats to hoist 4,000 people. 13,000 Japanese forces landed during the first night, followed by another 10,000 at first light. The Australians had small power of only 3,000 men and no considerable reserve.

From the 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion, Machine gunners stationed amid the rifle companies, began fire as the landing boats approached the Australian positions. A British battalion had set spotlights on the beaches to illuminate an invading force on the water, but the bombing had damaged many, and no order had been given to switching on the others. The initial wave targeted the 2/18th and 2/20th Battalions and one company from the 2/19th Battalion, stationed along the Buloh River. Intensive fighting raged on the 2/19th Battalion's right flank for an hour until its positions were overwhelmed. The Japanese then proceeded inland, hidden by the night and forest. The company from the 2/19th battalion's resistance pushed the successive waves of Japanese boats to land towards the mouth of the Murai River, resulting in a gap between the 2/19th and 2/18th companies. The Japanese then launched two coordinated attacks against the 2/18th, which were met with massed fire before sheer numbers defeated the Australians. Urgent requests for fire assistance were made, and the 2/15th Field Regiment fired nearly 4,800 rounds throughout the night.

The Japanese were able to scatter into the thicket, surround and crush pockets of Australian resistance, or bypass them, exploiting holes in the thinly distributed Commonwealth lines due to the many rivers and creeks in the area terrain and the darkness. The two Japanese divisions launched star shells at midnight to signal their commander that they had gained their initial objectives, solidly established by 01:00. The three Australian battalions that had been involved required to reorganize over two hours, marching east from the shore towards the island's centre, which was primarily completed in good order. The 2/20th was able to concentrate three of its four companies around the Namazie Estate, though one was left behind; the 2/18th was only able to focus half of its strength at Ama Keng; and the 2/19th was able to move three of its four companies back, leaving a fourth to defend Tengah airfield. The Australians were driven farther back in the early hours of 9 February, through the 2/18th being enforced out of Ama Keng and the 2/20th being enforced to pull back to Bulim, west of Bukit Panjong. Bypassed elements attempted to break free and return to the Tengah airport to rejoin their forces, but they were met with heavy losses. Bennett tried to reinforce the 22nd Brigade by relocating the 2/29th battalion from the 27th Brigade area to Tengah. Still, the Japanese launched another attack on the airfield before recapturing Ama Keng, forcing the 2/29th to go on the defensive. The Australians suffered many losses in the first battle, with the 2/20th losing 334 men killed and 214 wounded.

Air Operations

During the invasion of Malaya, the air campaign for Singapore began. Singapore was bombed for the first time on December 8, 1941, by long-range Japanese aircraft based in Japanese-occupied Indochina, such as the Mitsubishi G3M2 "Nell" and the Mitsubishi G4M1 "Betty." The city centre, Sembawang Naval Base, and northern airfields were all hit by bombers. There were false alarms and sporadic hit-and-run strikes on remote military stations like the Naval Base throughout December, but no raids on Singapore City. The condition had worsened to the fact where one British soldier stood in the middle of a road, firing his Vickers machine gun at any passing aircraft. The second raid on the city was on December 29/30, and nightly raids continued for over a week, with daylight raids beginning on January 12, 1942. As the Japanese force pushed towards Singapore Island, the frequency and intensity of the day and night raids intensified, resulting in thousands of civilian deaths until the British surrendered.

In December, 51 Hawker Hurricane Mk II aircraft with 24 pilots were dispatched to Singapore, becoming the nucleus of five squadrons. They came on January 3, 1942, after the Buffalo squadrons had been completely stunned. No. 232 Squadron RAF was established, and No. 488 Squadron RNZAF, a Buffalo squadron, had converted to Hurricanes; 232 Squadron went into service on January 20th and destroyed three Nakajima Ki-43 "Oscars" for the loss of three Hurricanes. The Hurricanes, like the Buffalos, began to lose a lot of dogfights. Extra 48 Hurricanes arrived on the aircraft carrier HMS Indomitable from the 27th to the 30th of January. They were flown from an airport code-named P1 in Palembang, Sumatra, in the Dutch East Indies, by four squadrons of the No. 226 Group RAF, while a flight was kept in Singapore. Air raids destroyed many of the Hurricanes on the ground. Throughout the battle, the lack of an efficient air early warning system destined that many Commonwealth aircraft were missing in this method during Japanese raids on airfields.

Only 10 Hurricanes from 232 Squadron, based at RAF Kallang, remained to provide air cover for the Commonwealth forces on Singapore at the time of the invasion. Tengah, Seletar, and Sembawang airfields were all within range of Japanese fire in Johor Bahru. The surviving squadrons and aircraft had evacuated to strengthen the Dutch East Indies by January, leaving only RAF Kallang as an operating airport. Dogfights took place over Sarimbun Beach and adjacent western locations on February 9th. The final 10 Hurricanes were dispatched from Kallang Airfield to intercept a Japanese formation of 84 planes heading in from Johor to offer air cover for their invading force. For the loss of a Hurricane, the Hurricanes shot down six Japanese aircraft and damaged 14 others.

Air fights continued for the rest of the day, and by midnight, it was evident that Kallang could no lengthier be used as a base because of the few aircraft Percival had left. The remaining flyable Hurricanes were removed to Sumatra with his approval. On 9 February, a squadron of Hurricane fighters got to the sky but was quickly withdrawn to the Netherlands East Indies. No Commonwealth aircraft were seen over Singapore; the Japanese had gained air superiority. On the evening of February 9th, three Fairmile B motor launches assaulted and sank several Japanese landing craft in the Johor Strait's western channel. General Archibald Wavell, commander-in-chief of ABDA, ordered the transfer of all remaining Commonwealth air force personnel to the Dutch East Indies on the evening of February 10th. Kallang Airfield has become so scarred with bomb holes that it could no longer be used.

Second Day

Percival did not strengthen the 22nd Brigade till the morning of 9 February, transporting two half strength battalions from the 12th Indian Infantry Brigade, believing that more landings would come in the northeast. Percival assigned the composite 6th/15th Indian Infantry Brigade to reinforce the Australians as they moved from their position around the Singapore racecourse. The Indians arrived around noon. The 44th Indian Infantry Brigade, still stationed on the shore, began to suffer pressure on its exposed flank during the day. After negotiations between Percival and Bennett, it was decided that they would have to retreat eastwards to keep the Commonwealth line intact. Bennett chose to build a backup defensive line between the two rivers, known as the "Kranji-Jurong Switch Line," with its centre near Bulim, east of Tengah Airfield (which later fell under Japanese control) and just north of Jurong.

The 27th Australian Brigade, to the north, had not been involved in the Japanese assaults on the first day. Maxwell wanted to reorganize his army to meet with the threat posed to the western flank, having only the 2/26th and 2/30th battalions after the 2/29th Battalion was transferred to the 22nd Brigade. Late on 9 February, the Imperial Guards launched an assault on the 27th Brigade's fortifications, focusing on the 2/26th Battalion's. During the initial attack, the Japanese were struck by Australian mortars and machine guns, as well as flaming oil that had been sluiced into the river after the Australians demolished many oil tanks. Some of the Guards made it to the beach and established a shaky beachhead; at the height of the assault, the Guards commander, Nishimura, asked permission to call off the assault due to the numerous fatalities his forces had sustained from the fire, but Yamashita refused.

Communication issues further weakened the Commonwealth's defence. Maxwell knew that the 22nd Brigade was coming under growing strain, but he couldn't reach Taylor and was scared of being encircled. As Japanese troops infiltrated the Brigade's positions from the west, exploiting the Kranji River's gap, the 2/26th Battalion was forced to evacuate to a place east of the Bukit Timah Road, prompting the 2/30th to pull away from the causeway in response. Later, the authority for this withdrawal would be a point of contention, with Bennett claiming that he had not given Maxwell permission to do so. As a result, the Allies lost control of the beaches on the west side of the causeway and the high terrain commanding the causeway, and the 11th Indian Division's left flank was exposed. The Japanese were given a solid foundation to "build up their army uncontested."

Japanese Breakthrough

The opening at Kranji allowed Imperial Guards armoured battalions to land there undisturbed, allowing them to begin ferrying their artillery and armour across. The commander-in-chief of the 11th Indian Infantry Division, Key, moved the 8th Indian Infantry Brigade from reserve to recover the high ground to the south of the causeway after finding his left flank exposed due to the retreat of the 27th Brigade. Further fighting took place around the Jurong Line on 10 February, as instructions were framed to establish a secondary self-protective line to the west of the Reformatory Road, with militaries not then sent to the Jurong Line; misunderstanding of these orders caused Taylor, the commander of the 22nd Brigade, to prematurely withdraw his forces to the east, where they were combined by a 200-strong ad hoc battalion of Australian supports known as X Battalion. The Jurong Line eventually fell apart after the commander of the 12th Indian Brigade, Brigadier Archie Paris, lost contact with the 27th Brigade on his right and withdrew; the commander of the 44th Indian Brigade, Ballantine, commanding the line's extreme left, made the same mistake as Taylor and withdrew. Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister, cabled Wavell on February 10th.

I believe you should be aware of our perspective on the situation in Singapore. The CIGS reported to Cabinet that Percival has over 100,000 men, 33,000 British and 17,000 Australian. It's dubious that the Japanese have the same number throughout the Malay Peninsula. In these circumstances, the defenders must vastly outnumber the Japanese soldiers that have crossed the straits, and they must crush them in a well-fought fight. There must be no idea of saving the troops or sparing the populace at this point. At all costs, the struggle must be fought to the ultimate end. The 18th division has the potential to go down in history as a legendary unit. Senior officers and commanders should die alongside their troops. The British Empire's and British Army's honour are on the line. I trust you to show no pity for any weakness. With the Russians battling and the Americans being so obstinate on Luzon, our country's and race's reputations are on the line. Every unit should be pulled into close quarters with the enemy and battle it out. After learning of its fall, Wavell ordered Percival to mount a counter-attack to regain the Jurong Line in the early afternoon of 10 February.

Bennett received this order and assigned X Battalion to it. Percival devised his counter-attack strategy, laying out a three-phased operation involving most of the 22nd Brigade. He then passed on to Bennett, who began putting the process into action but forgot to call X Battalion back. The replacement battalion advanced to an assembly ground in Bukit Timah despite being poorly trained and equipped. The Japanese, who had concentrated considerable forces near the Tengah airfield and Jurong Road, launched further offensive operations on 11 February: the 5th division advanced into Bukit Panjang, while the 18th division advanced towards Bukit Timah. They struck X Unit, camped in its assembly area prepared to launch its counter-attack, killing or wounding two-thirds of the battalion. The Japanese attacked the 22nd Australian Brigade around the Reformatory Road after sweeping aside parts of the 6th/15th Indian Brigade. With Japanese supplies running low, Yamashita tried to deceive Percival on February 11th, urging him to "give up this futile and desperate resistance." The 22nd Brigade, which had taken the brunt of the Japanese attacks, had been decreased to a few hundred people, and the Japanese had taken control of the Bukit Timah district, including the garrison's essential food and fuel stores. Wavell assured Percival that the garrison would fight to the end and that a general surrender in Singapore was not an option. The 27th Australian Brigade was then instructed to recapture Bukit Panjang as a prelude to retaking Bukit Timah, with the essential water supply of the island's reservoirs threatened. The Imperial Guards repelled the counter-attack. The 27th Australian Brigade was divided in two on either side of the Bukit Timah Road, with sections extending as far as the Pierce Reservoir.

As the situation worsened the next day, the Commonwealth moved to shore up its defences; on the night of February 12/13, an order was given to build a 28-mile-long (45-kilometer-long) perimeter around Singapore City, on the island's eastern end. The defending forces were moved from the beaches along the northern shore and around Changi. The 18th Infantry Division was entrusted with maintaining control of the essential reservoirs and coordinating with Simmons' Southern Area forces. Back, harassing attacks were launched against the retreating troops. The 22nd Brigade, meanwhile, remained west of the Holland Road until late in the evening, when it was withdrawn to Holland Village. On the 13th of February, Japanese engineers repaired the causeway's road and pushed more tanks through. As the Commonwealth continued to lose territory, top officers advised Percival to surrender to reduce civilian losses. Percival refused but wanted to get authority from Wavell so that he might have more discretion over when the resistance would end. The Japanese took control of the town's water reservoirs but did not cut off the flow. Captain Patrick Heenan was executed for espionage on that day by military police. Heenan, a British Indian Army Air Liaison Officer, recruited Japanese military intelligence and used a radio to help them target Commonwealth airfields in northern Malaya. On December 10th, he was arrested, and in January, he was court-martialed. Heenan was shot and killed in Keppel Harbour on Singapore's southern coast, and his body was dumped into the water.

As a precaution, the Australians occupied a perimeter to the northwest of Tanglin Barracks, where they maintained an all-around defence. The 18th Division, 11th Indian Division, and 2nd Malaya Brigade defended the border from the Farrar Road east to Kallang. At the same time, the 44th Indian Brigade and 1st Malaya Brigade held the edge from Buona Vista to Pasir Panjang to their left. The 1st Malaya Brigade—a Malayan infantry battalion, two British infantry battalions, and a force of Royal Engineers—fought a challenging defensive engagement on Pasir Panjang Ridge, 1 mi (1.6 km) from Singapore Harbour, during the Battle of Pasir Panjang. The Japanese mostly avoided attacking the Australian perimeter. Still, a Japanese assault up the Thompson Road pushed the British 53rd Infantry Brigade back, forcing them to fall back north of Braddell Road in the evening, joining the rest of the 18th Infantry Division in the line. Nevertheless, they dug in, and furious fighting raged on the northern front all night.

The Commonwealth units that remained battled the next day. As a million people crammed into the 3 mi (4.8 km) region still held by the Commonwealth, bombing and artillery bombardment escalated, civilian casualties rose. In addition, Percival was informed that enormous amounts of water were being lost due to faulty pipelines and that the water supply was on the point of collapsing.

The Massacre at Alexandra Hospital

The Japanese resumed their assault on the western half of the Southern Region's defences on 14 February 1942, around the same area that the 1st Malayan Brigade had battled so valiantly to hold the day before. The Japanese broke through around 13:00 and pushed towards the Alexandra Barracks Hospital. A British lieutenant approached Japanese forces as an ambassador with a white flag but killed a bayonet. After entering the hospital, Japanese troops executed up to 50 men, including several receiving surgery. Doctors and nurses were among those who died. The next day, roughly 200 male staff members and patients, many of whom were walking wounded, were instructed to walk about 400 meters (440 yards) to an industrial location, where they had been assembled and bound the day before. Those that were killed in the process were bayoneted. The prisoners were crammed into a series of cramped, poorly ventilated rooms where they were confined without food or drink for the night. As a result of their therapy, some people perished in the middle of the night. The rest of the men were stabbed the following day. After the battle, several survivors were identified, with some surviving by appearing to be dead. Private Arthur Haines of the Wiltshire Regiment was one of the survivors, and his daughter sold a four-page account of the slaughter at a private auction in 2008.

Fall of Singapore

The Japanese continued to press on the Commonwealth perimeter during the night of 14/15 February, but the line was kept primarily intact. However, the military supply situation was fast deteriorating. The water system had been severely damaged, and supplies were in jeopardy; rations were running low; gasoline for military vehicles was nearly depleted; and there was slight ammunition left for the field artillery and anti-aircraft guns, which were incapable to stop Japanese air attacks that were causing many casualties in the city centre. In addition, there had been little effort put into constructing air raid shelters, and looting and desertion by Commonwealth forces contributed to the commotion. Percival attended a meeting with his senior officers at Fort Canning at 9:30 a.m. He recommended a quick counter-offensive to reclaim the reservoirs and military supply stockpiles in the Bukit Timah area or capitulation. After a complete and candid discussion, everyone present agreed that there was no way to counter-attack, and Percival chose to surrender. The post-war study has revealed that if Percival had counter-attacked, he could have won. However, the Japanese supply line had reached its limit, and their cannon had run out of ammo.

A delegation was chosen to proceed to the Japanese headquarters. The group comprised a senior staff officer, the colonial secretary, and an interpreter. They drove near the enemy lines in a car adorned with a Union Jack and a white truce flag to arrange a ceasefire. They returned with orders for Percival to go to the Ford Motor Factory with his staff officers, where Yamashita would spell out the terms of capitulation. Another demand was that the Japanese Rising Sun Flag be flown over Singapore's tallest Cathay Building structure. Shortly after 17:15, Percival formally surrendered. Percival had issued orders earlier that day to destroy all personal and technical equipment, as well as ciphers, codes, secret documents, and heavy weaponry.

According to the terms of the surrender, all military forces in Singapore were to surrender unconditionally at 20:30 that evening, all Commonwealth forces were to endure in place and deactivate themselves in an hour, and the British were permitted to keep a party of 1,000 armed men to stop looting until relieved by the Japanese. Yamashita also admitted to taking entire responsibility for the lives of the city's civilians. Nevertheless, Bennett sparked controversy after the capitulation when he decided to flee. Bennett surrendered leadership of the 8th Australian Division to Brigadier Cecil Callaghan, the divisional artillery commander, and confiscated a small boat with some of his staff officers after learning the surrender. According to reports, they eventually returned to Australia, capturing between 15,000 and 20,000 Australian soldiers. Bennett blamed the defeat on Percival and the Indian troops. At the same time, Callaghan reluctantly admitted that the Australian battalions were harmed by the departure of numerous men near the conclusion of the conflict. IN THE KAPPE REPORT, Colonels J.H. Thyer and C.H. Kappe concede that only two-thirds of the Australian troops managed the last perimeter. Many British regiments were said to have been affected in the same way.

Clifford Kinvig, a senior lecturer at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, criticised Brigadier Duncan Maxwell, the commander of the 27th Infantry Brigade, for his defeatist attitude and for failing to properly defend the region between the causeway and the Kranji River in his analysis of the operation.

Elphick further asserts that the majority of stragglers were Australians. Taylor, according to another source, cracked under strain. Costello claims that Percival's insistence on concentrating the 22nd Australian Brigade near the water's edge was a significant blunder. At the same time, Thompson argues that the 22nd Australian Brigade was "so strongly outnumbered that defeat was unavoidable." The Japanese commander, Yamashita, blamed the British for "underestimating Japanese military capabilities" and Percival's reluctance to reinforce the Australians on the island's western side. Finally, Wavell accused the Australians of the loss of Singapore in a confidential wartime study revealed in 1992. While there had undoubtedly been ill-discipline in the campaign's final stages—particularly among the poorly trained British, Indian, and Australian reinforcements dispatched hurriedly as the crisis worsened—the 8th Australian division had fought well and gained the respect of the Japanese, according to John Coates. Although the Australians accounted for just 13% of the British Empire's ground forces, they lost 73 per cent of its battle losses at Gemas, Bakri, and Jemaluang, "they secured the few outstanding tactical wins" of the campaign in Malaya. The failure of the Singapore Strategy, to which Australian policymakers had contributed by their concession, and the inadequacy of military resources allotted to the combat in Malaya, according to Coates, were the actual reasons for Singapore's fall.

Aftermath

Analysis

The Japanese had travelled 650 miles (1,050 kilometres) from Singora, Thailand, to Singapore's southern coast, averaging 9 miles (14 kilometres) each day. While praising Japan's quick run of wins, Adolf Hitler is said to have had mixed feelings over Singapore's collapse, considering it as a loss for the "white race" but ultimately in Germany's military interests. Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop was reportedly forbidden by Hitler from releasing a congratulatory communique. The forfeiture of Singapore to the Japanese was dubbed "the biggest calamity and largest surrender in British antiquity" by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Lord Moran, Churchill's physician, wrote: "The Prime Minister was taken aback by the fall of Singapore on February 15. How did 100,000 men (half of whom were of our ethnicity) raise their hands in front of a smaller number of Japanese? Despite his mind's ongoing preparation for the fortress's fall, the fortress's surrender startled him. It was a source of embarrassment for him. It left an indelible mark on his psyche. He stopped drying himself and gloomily studied the floor one evening, months later, while sitting in his bathroom shrouded in a towel. 'I cannot get over Singapore,' he whispered sadly."

Casualties

In addition to losses suffered during the earlier fighting in Malaya, about 85,000 British Indian and Commonwealth troops were captured. Around 5,000 men were killed or wounded, most of whom were Australians. During the battle in Singapore, 1,714 Japanese were killed, and 3,378 were injured. Total Commonwealth casualties were 8,708 killed or wounded and 130,000 captured during the 70-day campaign in Malaya and Singapore (38,496 British troops, 18,490 Australian troops, 1,789 dead and 1,306 wounded, 67,340 Indian and 14,382 local volunteer troops), compared to 9,824 Japanese casualties.

Subsequent Events

After the British surrendered, the Japanese occupied Singapore. The victory was enthusiastically announced in Japanese newspapers as settling the war's overall status. The term of the city was altered to Syonan-to. The Japanese wanted vengeance on the Chinese and exterminated everybody with anti-Japanese feelings. Because of the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Japanese authorities were suspicious of the Chinese and massacred hundreds of them in the Sook Ching massacre. Other Singaporean ethnic groups, such as Malays and Indians, were not spared. Over the following 3.5 years, residents faced severe suffering due to Japanese control. Many British and Australian soldiers who were taken prisoner in Singapore's Changi Prison stayed in captivity, and many perished there. Thousands more were transferred by sea to other parts of Asia, including Japan, to work on projects like the Siam–Burma Death Railway and the Sandakan airbase in North Borneo as forced labour. Many people died on board the ships.

Rash Behari Bose, an Indian revolutionary, founded the pro-independence Indian National Army (INA) with the Japanese, who were very influential in enlisting Indian POWs. Around 30,000 Indians in Singapore joined the INA in February 1942, with roughly 7,000 fighting Commonwealth forces in the Burma Campaign and the northeast Indian areas of Kohima and Imphal; others became POW camp guards at Changi. As forced labour, an unknown number of people were sent to Japanese-occupied regions in the South Pacific. Many were subjected to similar hardships and brutality as other Japanese prisoners of war. Approximately 6,000 people lived until they were rescued by Australian and US forces in 1943–1945, as the Pacific War shifted in the Allies' favour. Operation Jaywick (1943) and Operation Rimau (1944) were commando operations against Japanese vessels in Singapore Harbour, with various degrees of success. In 1945, British forces planned to reconquer Singapore as part of Operation Mailfist, but the war ended before carrying it out. Following Japan's surrender in September, the island was re-occupied by British, Indian, and Australian soldiers in Operation Tiderace. Yamashita was convicted for war crimes in the United States by a military commission, but not for crimes perpetrated by his forces in Malaya or Singapore. On February 23, 1946, he was found guilty and executed in the Philippines.

Last updated: 2022-January-10
Tags: History World War II
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