The battles in Malaya and Singapore

The battles in Malaya and Singapore

The Battle of Malaya, which began on December 8, 1941, immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor, brought to the world's consciousness that the Japanese army, which was widely underestimated by the Western powers, was a first-class fighting force led by experienced and skilled commanders. The British, like many countries, believed that Singapore was the strongest naval base in the world and could not be conquered - at least from the sea. The Japanese, on the other hand, believed that it was possible to conquer Malaya and Singapore in a hundred days and assigned this mission to the 25th Army under Lt. Gen. General Yamashita, which consisted of four divisions. In fact, the Japanese needed only 3 divisions and seventy days to carry this out.

The Japanese regarded Singapore as a strategic objective not only economically due to its being a key to the oil in the Dutch East Indian islands (Indonesa) but also psychologically as the main symbol of Western European colonialism in Asia, and therefore its capture would ensure Japan's image as the protector of Asian nations against Western imperialism an image that Japan had been creating since the turn of the century with its victory over Russia (in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904- 1905). Thus, the force chosen for the mission had special qualities, composed of officers and soldiers carefully selected from the Japanese Army and trained in jungle fighting in French Indochina and Hainan Island. The 25th Army was composed of 62,200 soldiers,183 guns (artillery) and 228 tanks. The Army also received direct assistance to the 3rd Air Division, which consisted of 168 fighter planes, 81 light bombers, 99 heavy bombers and 45 reconnaissance planes.

The southern invasion fleet, which included the 22nd Air Fleet, with 158 aircraft, defended the convoys of the invasion ships.

The British Far East forces were under the command of Air Marshal Robert Brooke-Popham, while Lt.General Percival was appointed Commander of the forces in Malaya and Singapore. With the outbreak of the fighting, his forces were composed of the 3rd Corps which included the two Indian divisions- the 9th and 11th Divisions, the 8th Australian Division, the Singapore Fortress Forces, and a reserve brigade with a total strength of 88,600 troops. These forces were supported by 158 RAF Far East planes.

Negotiations conducted by the Japanese with Thailand prior to December and its seizure of Indochina in 1941 allowed the Japanese to begin the invasion from relatively close bases to Malaya.

On December 6, the British discovered the convoys of the approaching Japanese fleet the Gulf of Siam and on the morning of the seventh (before the attack on Pearl Harbor), the Japanese Air Force's fighters shot down a British Catalina patrol plane, on an air patrol mission above their forces. All this was not sufficient for the British to understand that the invasion was under way and to take the necessary steps to attack it. At 080100 the first Japanese landings began at the ports of Singora and Patani in Thailand and Kota Bharu in Malaya.

The British, hoping to intercept any further Japanese landings, sent their Far Eastern Fleet, which included the battleships “Prince of Wales” and “Repulse”, commanded by Admiral Tom Phillips to the north. The British Navy operated without coordination with the Air Force and came within the range of Japanese bombers and fighter planes that had already been deployed in the landing grounds in the Malay Peninsula. Without air cover, the British fleet became an easy target for the Japanese Air Force, which sank its two main ships on December 10 (among those killed was Admiral Phillips).

The main Japanese force continued rapidly southwards along the western half of the peninsula and along the only possible axis of movement. The Japanese forces speedily outflanked the British forces whenever possible,-- through short outflanking movements by sea with folding boats, and on land with 18,000 bicycles that allowed them rapid movement through the jungle paths to the British rear. The city of Penang fell on December 18th, Kuala Lumpur on January 11th, (after waging the main defensive battle in which the British were defeated in the middle of the peninsula) and Malacca on January 15th. The Japanese captured Johor Bharu on January 31, when the last British force withdrew to the fortress of Singapore after blowing up the bridge to the mainland and creating a gap of 50 meters.

Singapore suffered daily Japanese bombardments from mid-January 1942. Refugees fleeing from Malaya doubled Singapore's population of 550,000. More and more British air, sea, and land forces were brought to Singapore during January, but most lacked proper training, or were newly arrived troops from Australia, India and the Middle East. The Chinese residents of Singapore, who were heard rumors about the brutal treatment by the Japanese of some of the Chinese populations in Malaya, formed a self-defense committee, enlisted in a special force, the Dal Force, which joined the British forces defending Singapore.

Between February 1 and 8, 1942, the two armies stood on both sides of the Johor Straits when the Japanese increased their bombardments of the city, especially the airfields and the port, and prepared their attack.

The Japanese attack was launched by about 30,000 troops against 70,000 British and at the extreme edge of their supply lines. However, their inter-arm combination was so successful that when they landed their forces on the night of February 8, they managed to surprise the defenders by quickly capturing Tengah airfield and bringing in two divisions to shore. In four days, they repaired the bridge to the mainland and on February 11 they occupied the high point of the island at Bukit-Timah. The British retreated to their last line of defense around the city, which was also breached on February 13th, and the entire city came under direct line of fire of the Japanese guns. Japanese firepower caused 2,000 casualties per day among a population of over one million. Soon the municipal services ceased to function and Governor Thomas asked London for permission to surrender. This request was also conveyed through military channels from General Percival to General Wavell, commander of the forces in Southeast Asia.

Churchill gave his approval on February 14th and on February 15th Singapore surrendered.

The British commander of Malaya did not succeed in any way to halt the Japanese and was thoroughly defeated- from the point of view of command and control, the undermining of its forces and the quality of the fighting. In contrast to the British, who failed to carry out a single combined operation, the Japanese coordination of air and land forces achieved decisive concentration of effort in the face of British weakness. The Japanese victory was based on suitable intelligence preparation, surprise, manoeuvrability, daring, and inter –Arm and inter-Service coordination.