Cpt.George Duffy - What strikes me about the mention of these three ships in relation to the fall of Singapore is how late they arrived, how close were the Japanese, and how stupid it was to disembark the plus or minus 15,000 troops they carried. Not only were 15,000 soldiers lost for the balance of the war, but 1/3 of them would die as prisoners. Just from those ships, never mind the British troopers sent to Singapore!
Fingers continued to be pointed, here in the 'States, concerning culpability for the Pearl Harbor attack. Has Britain or Australia or New Zealand ever criticized or prosecuted its military leaders for needlessly sacrificing so many men in the defense of such indefensible islands as Singapore and Timor?
No rancor intended, and I must make clear many of my British and Australian friends in the Indies POW camps, 50+ years ago, your fathers and grandfathers, wondered themselves why they had been put in such impossible positions.
The interesting part, from my point of view, is how it seems to have been my destiny to have become a Japanese POW although we escaped from Manila in December 1941 and returned to the U. S.
Robin - There was an international conference in Singapore in February to mark the 60th anniversary of the fall of the city, a conference where historians asked the very questions Capt. Duffy asked.
It will probably be a while before the academic papers are published, but ABC News (Australian Broadcasting) was there and produced a full edition documentary on its Four Corners show (equivalent of US_Frontline UK_Panorama Canada_fifth estate)
They also produced an excellent website
with interviews, video, transcript of the show and some of the academic papers (in the Viewpoint section)
Janet - Yes Robin, My father considered they had all been "Slung In to save face" on the part of Winston Churchill and the war time government, however he wasn't really bitter he just said " well what ealse could they do to save their faces".
Ron - >George, Churchill made some corkers and Singapore was one of his biggest.
He was learning how to play war games and our fathers suffered their whole lives because of a blunder.
Up till this time we were believed to be 'Great' Britain nothing could stop us, the Japs would easily be pushed a side, they were no match for our superior troops. What a mistake, the Japs revealed how future wars would be fought, using guerrilla tactics. They had done their homework and used the way we approached and planned a battle to their own advantage, forcing us to withdraw by getting behind our lines, till we had no where else to go.
Another Dunkirk was called for, but we were too far from home.
Mountbatten had my fathers undying admiration, but he never did put Churchill on a pedestal.
Churchill was undoubtingly a brilliant speaker and leader, and was later to prove he did learn from mistakes, but what a mistake, it effected so many lives, then and now.
John Green MBE (ex Guardsman) told me this true story about Churchill, while on duty at Chequers.
Churchill liked the odd glass and at a dinner party he had one too many.
A lady guest said "Why Mr Churchill, you are drunk"
Churchill replied " Lady you are ugly, but I'll be sober in the morning"
Keith - > Robin, George, and the rest of our unique band of brothers and sisters:
Wow Robin, that is some site, and having read a couple of articles, may open up some very old wounds between nations that should be friends. I have only had a quick flick through as it will take time to read fully, but the Kinvig papers seems at first glance to present a balance argument.
To answer George, there was going to be, or should have been a Royal Commission to fully explore the reasons for the Fall of Singapore. It has never happened, and this is to my knowledge the only major defeat never fully explored by our Government, from 1942 to the present day. The files in our Public Records Office, although now open for public view, were originally to have remained sealed until 2042.
From my simplistic viewpoint, it appears that the powers that be in successive governments have been happy to let blame be apportioned and figures pointed in public, whilst remaining for the most part silent, or at least that is how my father saw it.
The Allied Commanders for most part underestimated their enemy, as I regret George did your country's commanders to a point. The Flying Tigers had been fighting the Japs for years in China, and sending back reports of their aircraft capabilities, and yet to all, the Zero came as a shock.
As my father often said, we were beaten in Malaya by a bloody push bike, the Japs used them to travel through the jungle, and the tanks were another shock.
To my knowledge, commanders have been criticized, but not prosecuted. Major General Gordon Bennett, the Australian Commander who escaped from Singapore after the surrender without the consent of Percival (so it is said) had questions asked in the Australian Parliament about his conduct, but that is as much as I know. I believe he never commanded troops in the field again, but again this has only been gathered from documents, I have seen nothing official.
The problem is this in now in hindsight, and as I go on reading books and records, am starting to realise how many un-truths and myths have been spread to cloud the water even further.
I will try to give some examples, but I must please stress, I am not trying to upset anyone here, just answer questions. I quoted the Australian commanders case, as this is almost the only one I know, it is not meant to imply anything, or upset any of our Australian cousins that may view this note.
What did not help, and remains an upset to this day, is that Australia supplied troops to fight in other campaigns, on the understanding Singapore would not fall. Prime Minister Curtin, and Prime Minister Churchill had more than a small falling out over that one.
One last thing, in answer to the arrival of the 18th Division, 10 days before the fall, my father often said what was the point in sacrificing those men so late in the day, straight down the gangplank, straight into the cage. What a waste.
Tony - I have been greatly 'enjoying' the recent flurry of emails on FEPOW (enjoying isn't quite the right word, as more than one has brought tears to my eyes) but when it comes to Churchill it is worth reading his own version of events in his 'History of the Second World War'. Nobody could call this an objective work, but at least it makes clear all the enormous problems he had on his plate at that time. Could I have done better overall? No siree. His decisions killed a lot of people, but at least they saved the world. No small achievement.
Anyway, to get to the point: On a trip to see the Commandos (one of his favourite units) training in Scotland, he watched them disembarking from Landing Craft. They all carried Sten Guns with condoms stretched over the muzzle to keep the sea water out. When he asked the troops, after the exercise, what they wanted, they told him that they needed condoms 10-12 inches long so that they could cover the breech mechanism as well.
This was a difficult decision for Churchill as raw rubber was a prime commodity and (with the fall of Singapore) had become even rarer. He finally agreed, on condition that each was stamped: "British Army. MEDIUM Size."
With greatest respect
Ron - >Tony, Brilliant, Churchill was a very witty man.
I for one could not lose lives to gain an advantage, but somebody has to, hard but unfortunately true, it takes a certain type of man to be able to do that.
I can not speak in public and admire good speakers, Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Ghandi, men who believed in themselves, I admire. I have also listened to Hitler, I did not understand a word, but what a speaker. This proves that it is not always the content but technique in speaking.
At the time we needed a leader with the ability to lead and Churchill was there. Although not appreciating what he did to our fathers, I do appreciate we needed him.
Janet - Speaking of your admiration of Ghandi, I share it too and the most wonderfull quote I ever heard was when he arrived n England after the war to discuss India's Independance he was asked by a waiting media reprter " Mr Ghandi what do you think of civilization here in England "
He replied in a split second " Oh, I think it WOULD be a very good idea "!!
What a very asute man.
Jean - >Ron, the comment that Churchill made was to Bessie Braddock and, I believe that it was made at a sitting of parliament and therefore the humiliation was very public.
Ron - Stand corrected, I was quoting a member of the Coldstream Guards and I don’t argue with them.
Janet - Keith the quote from your Dad about being beaten by push bikes has just made me chuckle.
My Dad always said the Japanese beat us on foot and on cycles, I didn't really take it too seriously, although he did always say in Singapore there was a dead Jap still on his bike along side a thick hedge of shrubs, he had had the top of his head shot away poor man, albeit a Japanese one, he was still some mothers son I have to keep reminding myself.
And from a totally selfish view point, I'm just glad it wasn't my Dad , I dare say one day I will be required to attone for my sinfull thoughts, I just can't help it !
Robin - Unfortunately, Ron, (and here I am boiling down a two-day conference, some of which is on the ABC website) Churchill had very little to do with it.
The historians in Singapore (I was at the conference) traced the problems with "Fortress Singapore" back to the 1920s,when the Washington naval conference set limits for warships. Britain was broke after WWI and couldn't afford a big Pacific Fleet, so the Singapore strategy was based on the idea of a one enemy war....the Brit Home Fleet would leave UK waters and go to Singapore to fight up the China coast to a second fortress at Hong Kong .... (assuming wrongly there would be no threat in Europe)...and that the Americans would be able to project their power from Pearl Harbour.
The budget cuts after the 1929 crash reduced the amounts spent on Singapore...although the media at the time touted Fortress Singapore.
Recent declassified documents (in a paper not on the ABC website) show a massive failure of Western intelligence combined with Japanese deception with hid the full strength of Japanese air power. (Not to mention racial stereotyping the Japs can't fly) No one in the war planning offices expected 1)the Axis 2) Pearl Harbour. And then even before Pearl Harbour Britain and the Americans decided that Europe would be the priority....
There were some blunders to be sure (and they are on the website) and one was the idea that the troops sent there could hold the Japanese...
but the seeds of defeat were sown 20 years earlier.
Ron - I agree Churchill had little to do with the defence reports before the war and the apathy of the generals fighting the war but the question was "Why was the 18th Division landed at such a late date" To this I believe Churchill did have a say.
I have enclosed an article I wrote a few years ago on the British preparations before the invasion of Malaya and followed it with a message from Churchill to Wavell on the 10th February 1942 and Wavell's reply.
"In 1921 the Committee of Imperial Defence recommended that a British naval base should be built in Singapore. On 16th June that year the cabinet approved plans for it be built on the northern side of Singapore five miles from the Malayan Causeway. The defences would be towards the sea as it was thought the Malayan jungle could not be penetrated by enemy forces. Ten years passed before any further major work was carried out and then disagreement among the armed forces led to compromises, heavy gun batteries were then installed, to protect Singapore from the sea, the air cover would be sorted out later. By 1935 with Germany showing her hand and Japan attacking China, the RAF got their way and airfields were at last built in north Malaya, at Kota Bhara and Kuantan, these were to detect any movement of troops by land or sea, which could cause a problem to Singapore. No agreement was reached between the army and air force as to protect these bases, the distance from Singapore was too great and the terrain caused slow movement of troops, so defending these bases would prove impossible.
Singapore could now be protected from the sea and observation of the north could be carried out, but the 1,000 miles of Malayan coast was unprotected.
In 1937 Major-General W.G.S.Dobbie was asked to look at Malaya's defences, he reported that during the monsoon season from October to March landings could be made by an enemy on the east coast and bases could be established in Siam. He predicted that landings could be made at Sinora and Patani in Siam, and Kota Bharu in Malaya. He pushed for large reinforcements to be sent immediately. His findings turned out to be correct but they were ignored.
Early in 1939 Britain was more aware of Germany who was expanding its territory and Italy, as Britain thought Japan would attack Russia first.
Britain was too complacent about the Far East thinking the world strife would pass it by, how wrong could she be.
In October 1940 Britain selected Air-Marshal Sir Robert Brooke-Popham as commander-in-chief of the Far East, his job was to unify the forces in defence, but he was given no more resources. Brooke-Popham had been Kenya's governor so the Far East and its problems were new to him. He saw there was conflict between the forces and tried to make them see the army needed the air force for air cover and the air force needed the army to secure the air fields. He found that out of 336 aircraft only 48 were available, he was promised they would all be available by the end of 1940 but he had his doubts and informed the Chiefs of Staff about the situation.
Winston Churchill did not feel that expanding the defences of the Far East at the beginning of 1941 was important and wrote to the Chiefs of Staff:
'The political situation in the Far East does not seem to require, and the strength of the Air Force by no means permits, the maintenance of such large forces in the Far East at this time.'
The Australians sent the 8th Australian Division but their commander Major-General Gordon Bennett later said these were untrained troops. Lieutenant-General A.E.Percival was now brought in as G.O.C in March 1941, he had seen action in the first world war as a private soldier and been decorated, he had also served in Malaya as Chief of Staff under Major-General W.G.S.Dobbie, his paper work and general administration was good but his leadership of men had not been put to the test. He found that although the northern airstrips of Malaya had plenty of fuel, they could not be used as the RAF did not have enough air craft or men to occupy or defend
them. Also work on defences were not being carried out as the army could not pay the coolie workforce more then the rubber plantations paid as this was said to be unfair competition, so Dobbie's proposals on defence were not being carried out. IN armed defence he found no tanks in Malaya or Singapore, when this was reported on the 29th September 1941, the feeling was still that Japan would not chance a war with Britain, Holland or the United States and Russia would still be her target.
Just lately documents released show the British command were well aware of Japanese movements prior to the invasion. Arthur Christie was part of the SOE (Special Operations Executive) group at Tanjong Balai and were sending messages back to Britain warning of the build up of Japanese Troops. Arthur Christie´s son Maurice has some 80 declassified signals sent by his fathers (Sergeant ISSACS wireless operator) group before the attack, this one is dated 27th Nov 1941.
Churchill decided to send the battleship, HMS Prince of Wales, battle cruiser Repulse and an aircraft carrier, Indomitable to the Far East as a deterrent to Japan, but the aircraft carrier had been damaged and could not sail, so the ships sailed with no air cover, this was called Z Force, they arrived at Singapore on 2nd December.
A plan against attack code named Matador was put into operation on the 5th December, the plan was, if an enemy attacked Siam, troops would rush to Singora and defend it against a sea borne attack., this job was given to Major-General Murray-Lyon's 11th Indian Division who also had to defend Jitra, this over stretched his resources and made it an impossible task.
Unknown to Britain this was the day after the Japanese attack convoy had sailed."
Churchill wrote to General Wavell on the 10th February 1942
'I think you ought to realise the way we view the situation in Singapore. It was reported to the cabinet by the C.I.G.S. that Percival has over 100,000 men, of whom 33,000 are British and 17,000 Australian. It is doubtful whether the Japanese have as many in the whole Malay Peninsula, namely, five divisions forward and a sixth coming up. In these circumstances the defenders must greatly outnumber Japanese forces who have crossed the straits, and in a well-constructed battle they should destroy them. There must at this stage be no thought of saving the troops or sparing the population. The battle must be fought to the bitter end at all costs. The 18th Division has a chance to make its name in history.
Commanders and senior officers should die with their troops. The honour of the British Empire and the British Army is at stake. I rely on you to show no mercy to weakness in any form. With the Russians fighting as they are and the Americans so stubborn at Luzon, the whole reputation of our country and our race is involved. It is expected that every unit will be brought into close contact with the enemy and fight it out. I feel sure these words express your own feeling, and only send them to you in order to share your burdens'
Wavell wrote back:
'Battle for Singapore is not going well. Japanese with their usual infiltration tactics are getting on much more rapidly than they should in the west of Island. Morale of some troops is not good and none is high as I should like to see. The chief troubles are a lack of sufficient training in some of the reinforcing troops and an inferiority complex which bold and skilful Japanese tactics and their command of the air have caused.
Everything possible is being done to produce more offensive spirit and optimistic outlook. But I cannot pretend that these efforts have been entirely successful up to date. I have given the most categorical orders that there is to be no thought of surrender and that all troops are to continue fighting to the end.'
Robin, I do beg to differ that Churchill did not have a say in the last days of Singapore, especially the sending of the 18th Division so late, but do agree the apathy before the war, helped Singapore's demise.
Keith - Singapore, and the seeds of defeat being sown 20 years before, how right you are. Singapore Naval Base was built to house a fleet in being, I have read of what is was to comprise of somewhere, so I will dig that out for all. However, the Coast Guns built to protect the fleet, were never completed on time, and delayed again and again by successive Governments.
Penang, or Fortress Penang was due to be completed in 1936, was actually completed in 1939, just before my dad was posted to Fort Cornwallis, and had no air defences.
The Singapore Coast Guns were eventually installed, behind schedule. The fleet would of course need supplies, including Ammunition, so when the 15inch guns that could, and did turn and fire on Jahore needed high explosive shells for land targets instead of the armoured piercing ones, one would have thought the magazine at the dockyard would be well provisioned. One 15inch shell was all they found, armoured piercing at that.
I am exchanging e-mails with a Doctor at one of the Singapore Universities on the Coast Guns and to an extent the fall of Singapore. There were however 6 15inch guns at Singapore, one was at the dockyard, but never installed. It was destroyed before the surrender.
So much for the fleet being stationed at Singapore.
Anyone interested in this subject should have a read of Bloody Shambles, Volume 1, it covers the air war in the Far East up to the fall of Singapore, but also touches on other matters, and gives a good insight to the thinking (or not) of the commanders at that time.
I am not going down the Churchill road at this time, it is still a sore point it seems, and I want to get my facts straight.
I live in the Midlands now, and this little story may give an idea of the decisions the man had to make. It is taken from a book, Bodyguard of Lies, and concerns the Midlands.
The German codes had been broken (Emigma), and it was known a huge raid was going to be mounted, on Derby (Rolls Royce engines), Castle Bromwich (Spitfire production) and Coventry, and here I am unsure of the connection, possibly armoured vehicles. The thinking was that all three could be defended, but Churchill pointed out that to do that would give a clear signal to the Luftwaffe that the codes had been broken. However to defend two of the targets in depth, and one lightly, would appear at least normal due to the level of importance of each target. History shows Coventry paid the price, although these facts were not released at the time.
The book title, comes from a Churchill quote, which was:
"In time of war, the truth is so precious, she must always be accompanied by a bodyguard of lies".
Well, that's all for now from Ice station Atherstone, I have to go and feed the penguins. You lucky people in the equatorial south, and New Zealand, get the factor 82 out! Only kidding, it not a bad day, a little overcast and not too cold. Got to keep Janet on her toes.
Ron - The following is a report by Lieut.-General Sir Henry Pownall
MEMORANDUM BY LIEUT.-GENERAL SIR HENRY POWNALL
In 1921 it was decided to build a naval base at Singapore, and all subsequent defence arrangements hinged on its protection against attack by sea, air, or land. The base itself was to be located on the north shore of Singapore Island, facing out on to the Johore Strait, which was the naval anchorage.
At that time, and for many years to come, it was considered that the security of the base depended ultimately on the ability of the British Fleet to control the sea approaches to Singapore. As soon as it arrived it would deal with any Japanese sea forces in the vicinity and cut the communications of any land or air forces that might have installed themselves in the neighbourhood. It was the duty of the land and air forces of the garrison to hold off the enemy forces until the British came. This period, "the period before relief", was first estimated at seventy days, it being assumed that the enemy forces started from Japan, since at the time Japan had not begun to expand into China and beyond. With such a relatively short time available to them before the arrival of our Fleet, the most likely form of Japanese attack was held to be a coup de main direct on the island. Defences were planned accordingly and only a comparatively small garrison was needed.
The international situation in the nineteen-twenties did not necessitate costly outlay on modernising the defences, and it was not until 1933, after Japan had withdrawn from the League of Nations, that the Cabinet decided to take active steps.
By now developments in air-power greatly affected the defence problem. Singapore was exposed to carrier-borne attacks and to shore-based aircraft from ever-increasing ranges. Our own aircraft, too, could reconnoitre and strike further afield. Hitherto the only R.A.F. aerodrome had been on Singapore Island. Two more aerodromes were constructed there, and work began on others on the east coast, eventually as far north as the frontier of Siam. This was a new commitment for the Army. Not only had the Army to protect these aerodromes for our own use, but it also had to ensure that the enemy was denied the use of them for launching attacks on the naval base. In this connection there was friction between the authorities, due to a tendency to site airfields from the point of view of operational flying and with little regard to their ground defence. In any case, it was obviously not only wasteful but positively dangerous to make new airfields unless there was a reasonable certainty of a strong and efficient Air Force to use them and to co-operate in the defence as a whole.
In 1937 the general position was again fully reviewed, and an assessment made of defence requirements based on two main assumptions:
- that any threat to our interests would be seaborne;
- that we should be able to send to the Far East within threemonths a fleet of sufficient strength to protect the Dominions and India and give cover to our communications in the Indian Ocean.
In essence there was little change between the view taken in 1937 and that of 1921, but in 1939 the "period before relief" was raised to one hundred and eighty days, authority was given for reserves to be accumulated on the extended scale, and a reinforcing infantry brigade was sent from India.
The consequences of the first year of the war completely altered the outlook. Principal among these were the Japanese advance into Southern China and Hainan; the situation in Indo-China resulting from the French collapse; the increased range of aircraft; above all, the necessity for retaining in European waters a fleet of sufficient strength to match both the German and Italian Fleets, so making it impossible for us to send to the Far East an adequate naval force should the need for it arise.
In August 1940 the Chiefs of Staff reviewed the position. Their main conclusions were:
Until Germany and Italy were defeated, or drastically reduced in naval strength, we were faced with the problem of defending our Far Eastern interests without an adequate fleet. Our object must be to limit the extent of inevitable damage, and at least to retain a footing from which we could eventually retrieve the position when stronger forces became available,
It was no longer sufficient to concentrate upon the defence of Singapore Island; it was now necessary to hold the whole of Malaya. This involved an increase in the existing army and air forces.
In the absence of a fleet our policy should be to rely primarily on air-power. The necessary air forces could not be provided for some time; until then substantial additional land forces were needed.
Our naval building programmes have never allowed for a war in which we alone fought Germany, Italy, and Japan. The best hope of being able to supply naval forces in the Far East lay in the possibility of early and successful action against Italian naval forces in the Mediterranean.
In August 1940 the air force in Malaya numbered eighty-four first-line aircraft. The Chiefs of Staff considered, subject to the views of local commanders, that 336 first-line aircraft were required in the Far East (including fifty-four aircraft for trade protection in the Indian Ocean) to meet the new responsibilities placed upon the Royal Air Force.
A conference assembled at Singapore in October 1940 recommended that the figure of 336 should be raised to 582. The Air Ministry considered this far beyond the bounds of practical possibility; the Chiefs of Staff agreed that 582 was an ideal, but considered that 336 should give a fair degree of security.
On December 7, 1941, the strength of the R.A.F. in Malaya was 158
aircraft (of which twenty-four were obsolete Wildebeestes). Authorised reserves for this first-line strength were 157; actual reserves held were eighty-eight.
In August 1940 the Army garrison in Malaya, apart from coast defence, A.A., and auxiliary troops, consisted of nine battalions and one mountain artillery brigade.*
The Chiefs of Staff further recommended that when the Royal Air Force had reached the figure they advised (336) the minimum garrison should be six brigades (eighteen battalions), with ancillary troops. In January 1941, on the advice of G.O.C. Malaya, this was raised by the Chiefs of Staff to twenty-six battalions. But until the Air Force was able adequately to undertake its responsibilities they considered the garrison should be increased by the equivalent of three divisions; total garrison would thus be nine plus twenty-seven equals thirty-six battalions, with ancillary troops.
In August 1941 General Percival put forward a new proposal in which the battalion strength amounted to forty-eight. This was accepted by the Chiefs of Staff, but it was recognised that it could not be met in the foreseeable future.
On December 7, 1941, the Army strength in Malaya (apart from coast defence and A.A.) was:
- 32 battalions, 7 field artillery regiments,
- 1 mountain artillery regiment,
- 2 anti-tank artillery regiments.
The above numbered 76,300 men (there were no tank units).
Although the War Office, but not General Percival's, target was thus nearly achieved, some of the troops recently arrived from India were raw and their fighting quality was low. Three of the artillery regiments arrived less than a month before the outbreak of hostilities, and had had little opportunity to train with other arms in the peculiarities of jungle warfare.