The Fall of Singapore
by Terry Stewart
Singapore, city of silk shirts, colonial grandeur, Singapore Slings at The Long Bar in Raffles Hotel, peanut shells, Change Alley, merchant shipping and the infamous Merlion, not to mention the best chicken satay anywhere in the world. Nowadays the city is a melting pot of cultures, a haven for ex-pats and a centre of tourism. However, there is a lot more to this ex-British colony than its culinary expertise, financial finesse and adventurous nautical history.
This tiny sovereign island nation was the scene of the largest surrender of British-led forces ever recorded in history. Singapore is a sovereign island nation, sandwiched between Malaysia and Indonesia in South-East Asia. At the time, it was considered by the British as their Gibraltar in the Far East, assumed to be just as impregnable and certainly as valuable as it’s European counterpart. Singapore was, and indeed remains, the gateway to the rest of Asia. If youraf control Singapore, then you control a huge proportion of the Far East.
When the Japanese did attack, it was indicative of their military prowess in the region at the time. Their soldiers were ruthless, brutal and fearless, and the attack happened with a speed and savagery that took the British forces completely by surprise. Encouraged not to take prisoners, simply to execute those in their path, the Japanese swept through Singapore with the force of a tsunami, leaving shock and destruction in their wake.
At the beginning of December 1941, on the same day that Japan was attacking Pearl Harbour half a world away, the Japanese simultaneously bombed the Royal Air Force bases to the north of Singapore on the Malay coast, thereby eliminating the Air Force’s ability to either retaliate or protect the occupying troops on the ground. Their tactics were shrewd and incredibly well thought out. Before a Japanese soldier set foot on Singaporean soil, Britain’s naval and aerial capabilities had both been destroyed. When the Navy responded by sending the battleship ‘Prince of Wales’ and the battle cruiser ‘Repulse’ at the head of a fleet of ships, both were torpedoed and sank into the tropical waters. This left Singapore defenseless to assaults from both air and sea. Britain and Singapore’s only hope was in the British Army and Commonwealth forces.
The British commander at the time, Lieutenant General Arthur Percival, had 90,000 men at his disposal. His forces consisted not only of British, but also Canadian, Indian and Australian forces. The fighting began in the north in Malaya. Here Percival’s troops were soon humiliated at the Battle of Jitra between the 11th and 12th December 1941. On January 31st 1942, overestimating the size of the enemy forces, the British retreated to Singapore, falling back over the causeway that separated it from the mainland. Meanwhile the Japanese swarmed south, some on stolen bicycles, through the jungle from Kota Bahru towards Singapore, which lay over 600 miles south.
By Ms. Terry Stewart, Freelance Writer.