The Fall Of Singapore 15th February 1942

Discussion in 'War Against Japan' started by spidge, Jun 23, 2005.

  1. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    I am no expert on The Fall of Singapore except I have read the excellent book 'Did Singapore Have to Fall? Churchill and the impregnable fortress' by Karl Hack and Kevin Blackburn. Published in 2004. There is a free PDF copy here: Did Singapore Have to Fall?: Churchill and the Impregnable Fortress - PDF Free Download

    For those interested in defences (fortifications and artillery) there is a Pen & Sword book (pub. 2016) 'The Fatal Fortress, the Guns and Fortifications of Singapore 1819-1956, by William Clements. Here is a review: The Fatal Fortress, the Guns & Fortifications of Singapore 1819-1956 | FIRE Reviews and this seller:

    I have read another book on the policy decisions before 1939, but it has vanished from the bookshelves.

    There may be another thread on the treachery of a few officers; various accounts have appeared in recent years. The name of a NZ officer comes to the fore in a search: Captain Patrick Stanley Vaughan Heenan and a RN officer William Forbes-Sempill. I have added this as one author is widely respected: The Fall of Singapore – The Great Betrayal – BBC2
  2. BFBSM

    BFBSM Very Senior Member

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  3. timuk

    timuk Well-Known Member

    Report by General Wavell (June 1942) on Operations in Malaya and Singapore can be read here:
    Wavell Report
    Report by Lt General Percival (Feb 1948) on Malaya Command can be read here:
    Malaya Command

    As to errors made and hindsight is a marvellous thing. I already knew about the withdrawal (mentioned above) from the area in 1939 of the 4th Submarine Flotilla (around 15 submarines) specifically stationed on the China Station for the defence of the area. However I have recently read that a large quantity of Matilda tanks were destined for Singapore but on Churchill's orders were then given to Russia in July 1940 when Hitler ordered Barbarossa. Are there any facts to support this claim?

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  4. hap

    hap New Member

    A Delicate Mission: The Washington Diaries of R.G. Casey, 1940-1942
    casey was ambassador to the USA, served in churchills war cabinet and went on to be 16th governor general of Australia. he talks at length in this book about Churchill stripping the pacific theatre to supply Stalin, in order to keep him on side.
    The USA entering the war after Pearl Harbor and how Churchill convinced Roosevelt that 'Europe First' was the best policy.
    churchill was no strategist, just a politician running out of options with the merchant fleet committed to north atlantic convoys and arctic runs of equipment to murmansk and archangel. supplying the far east for a prolonged war would have been an almost impossible task.
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  5. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    The UK-based military affairs website 'The Wavell Room' has published today this article 'How the “Gibraltar of the East” fell: A Historical Analysis of the Singapore Strategy up to WWII' by Andy Wong: How the "Gibraltar of the East" fell: A Historical Analysis of the Singapore Strategy up to WWII. - Wavell Room

    It is awhile since I looked into the issues, so am uncertain if it contains anything new. Of interest via Twitter have been two responses via Engaging Strategy:
  6. AG HART

    AG HART Member

    The facts about the aircraft carrier HMS Indomitable have become blurred over the years. It is true that she had been selected for service at Singapore as part of Force Z, and it is true that she ran aground in the West Indies. However it is NOT true that she would have been present with Force Z on 10th December 1941 if she had not run aground. HMS Indomitable was not en-route to Singapore when she was damaged, she had just arrived in the West Indies to begin 3 weeks work up training and was scheduled to dock at Gibraltar on 20th November 1941, to refuel, and take on stores and provisions prior to her move to the Far East (source, Bombers Vs Battleships). Even if she only took 3 days or so before setting off, we are talking 24th November for a sailing date. The route was via the Cape and into the Indian Ocean, it would be impossible for Indomitable to reach Singapore in time. The fact is that HMS Indomitable was always going to be a late arrival with Force Z, she would probably get there in time for Christmas.

    That is assuming she would actually arrive in Singapore? I believe that had HMS Indomitable not run aground and had arrived at Gibraltar as planned on 20th November 1941 her orders to sail to Singapore would have been cancelled, why? A week earlier on 13th November 1941, HMS Ark Royal, the only modern Aircraft Carrier in the Mediterranean Fleet was torpedoed and sunk by a U Boat. So we have the Royal Navy without an Aircraft Carrier in a major war zone, and the latest and newest carrier in the Navy turns up a week later on it's way to still calm and peaceful Singapore and is allowed to proceed as planned? I don't think so, I have no doubt she would have been ordered to join the Mediterranean Fleet and Singapore would have to wait until another carrier was available.
    Last edited: May 8, 2022
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  7. BFBSM

    BFBSM Very Senior Member


    I have conducted a little search through the books I have available, and found the following.

    In The Second World War Volume III: The Grand Alliance by Winston Churchill, on page 364 (The Reprint Society 1954 Edition), he quotes from a message dated 4 September 1941, in response to a message from Stalin dated the same date which requested a 'monthly minimum of aid amounting to 400 aircraft and 500 tanks (of small or medium size). [p.363]:

    David Fletcher in British Battle Tanks: British-Made Tanks of World War II (Osprey, 2017), on page 31 states:

    I have been unable to find a direct mention of not sending tanks to Singapore, but to Russia instead, but it is highly plausible that some of those destined for the Far East were sent to Russia under Churchill's order quoted above.
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  8. timuk

    timuk Well-Known Member

    As yet I have been unable to find the reference for my previous statement, however a couple of weeks ago I came across the following: ttps://
    "Particularly important for the Soviets in late 1941 were British-supplied tanks and aircraft. American contributions of the time were far fewer. In fact, for a brief period during December 1941, the relative importance of British aid increased well beyond levels planned by the Allies as a result of American reaction to the outbreak of war with Japan; some American equipment destined for the Soviet Union was actually unloaded from merchant vessels and provided to American forces instead."
    "According to Biriukov’s service diary, the first 20 British tanks arrived at the Soviet tank training school in Kazan on October 28, 1941, at which point a further 120 tanks were unloaded at the port of Archangel in northern Russia. Courses on the British tanks for Soviet crews started during November as the first tanks, with British assistance, were being assembled from their in-transit states and undergoing testing by Soviet specialists."
    Further, in Singapore, there had been a huge increase in RAF personnel (Admin, ground crew etc) in anticipation of a build-up but few additional aircraft. By most accounts due to a shortage. However from the above link we also have:
    "Lend-Lease aircraft deliveries were also of significance during the Battle of Moscow. While Soviet pilots praised the maneuverability of the homegrown I-153 Chaika and I-16 Ishak fighters—still in use in significant numbers in late 1941—both types were certainly obsolete and inferior in almost all regards to the British-supplied Hurricane."

  9. AG HART

    AG HART Member

    Tanks need crews and I have never come across anything, anywhere, that suggests, indicates or states any British Armoured Regiment was told it was going to Singapore in 1940/41. This of course does not include 7th Armoured Brigade who were ordered to Singapore once hostilities commenced.
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  10. AG HART

    AG HART Member

    Force Z needed surprise on it's side to be able to deal with the Japanese Invasion. Even before the float planes spotted the British, The Japanese had already confirmed that Force Z had left Singapore and was at sea, the transports (most of which had been unloaded) were scattered and ordered north into the Gulf of Siam out of danger and not back towards Indo China on a route where they might expect the British to suddenly appear. There were therefore no transports for Force Z to sink even if it did continue to Singora or Kota Bharu. The "nearly" encounter between Force Z and Japanese cruisers on the night of the 9th was not as close as is made out, they were in the region of 25 miles apart, not 5 miles as is often stated, and detailed analysis by someone on another site suggests that only one cruiser was present in the area the flare was dropped, not a flotilla. We now know that the sighting reports from the 3 float planes did not reach Saigon, but Admiral Phillips of course did not know this. With surprise lost he made the right choice in aborting the mission. HMS Indomitable is a red herring because as previously stated, she was never going to be at Singapore in that time period.
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  11. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    A new commentary by a USN officer on an obscure - to me - website, id'd via a Twitter recommendation. A "taster" from the conclusion:
    Link: Defeated in Peacetime: The Fall of British Singapore, 1942
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  12. Richelieu

    Richelieu Well-Known Member

    An optimistic assessment from November 1939.

    Attached Files:

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  13. Fatboy Coxy

    Fatboy Coxy Junior Member

    I don't think it was necessarily optimistic, Britain and France v Germany, keeping the German fleet bottled up in the North Sea, whats to worry about?

    As for Italy coming into the war, well between the British and French fleets in the Med, you wouldn't fancy the Italians chances.

    The idea that France would fall would have been seen as some idiotic rambling, the Maginot will make any advance into France exceedingly difficult and costly..
  14. Ewen Scott

    Ewen Scott Well-Known Member

    And this is the realistic Chiefs of Staff Appreciation of Aug 1940 circulated to HQ in the Far East, Australia, New Zealand, Germany and Japan (the last two when the raider Atlantis captured a copy when the SS Automedon was sunk, not that it seems to have affected Japanese plans). This represents the change of British policy for the defence of Singapore that was prepared in 1937, based on sending a fleet east within 3-6 months of the outbreak of war, to one based around defence by the Army and RAF in Malaya.

    This document was not updated prior to 7/8 Dec 1941, despite everything that occurred in both the Far East and the Middle East, and the decision in mid-1941 that the defence of the Middle East should take priority over the Far East.
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  15. Richelieu

    Richelieu Well-Known Member

    N.B. Optimistic just means hopeful and confident about the future which I think was a fair description of that memorandum.
  16. Fatboy Coxy

    Fatboy Coxy Junior Member

    I think realistic would have been a better summary of what was felt, its easy to tinge this with what we know now.
  17. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake All over the place....

    The Japanese were experienced soldiers, pitted against newly raised Indian and Australian troops

    Percival . was one of the brightest officers of his generation. He could have been a contender for CIGS. He had carried out an appraisal of the defence of Singapore in the 1930s which is why he was brought in to defend it in 1941.

    Churchill gambled that the Japanese would be deterred from acting against the British Empire in Asia and failed.

    There was. The conclusions of Percival's study were that aerial superiority was key, which is why Air Marshal Brooke Popham was in appointed Commander-in-Chief Far East Command.

    It had been. Singapore only became important after 1919 as a way to reassure the Australians and New Zealand Governments that the British were serious about Imperial security. It was to be a base for a naval force to deter Japanese agression, but by 1941 there were too many threats and not enough ships
    Singapore strategy - Wikipedia

    Arguably for good logistic reasons. However, had the RAF focused on what they could do rather than what they would like to do, they would have spent 1941 sending some of the hundreds of aircraft lost "leaning into France" to the far east. In 1940 the British demonstrated that they could build an integrated air defence system that could stop the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain. They/we failed to to the same to protect the important colonial possessions. Had the Dowding System been in place in Singapore and Malaya the Japanese would have failed to defeat force Z or establish air superiority over Malaya. The RAF lost 400 fighters over France in 1940. 100 Spitfires based in Malaya with experienced pilots would have made a big difference - not least to the survival of Force Z.
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2022
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  18. Richelieu

    Richelieu Well-Known Member

    We are in danger of getting into a senseless debate about semantics. Saying that a document is optimistic does not require hindsight nor is it synonymous with calling it unrealistic.

    In this case, the authors’ professed confidence that no attack would materialise upon Singapore within the 1-2 year timeframe envisaged proved correct despite the factors that you raised.
  19. Fatboy Coxy

    Fatboy Coxy Junior Member

    Yes, point taken

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