A TRAGIC FAILURE OF STRATEGY
When Malaya and Singapore capitulated 80 years ago, no one foresaw what would happen to its defenders.
NEW year 1942 in Malaya would be the last for many allied servicemen and women, if they managed to last that long after Japan’s invasion began on December 8. Others would perish as prisoners while those who survived would not celebrate traditionally with their families until December 1945.
Just as family decorations are retrieved from the dark recesses of cupboards, dusted off and given their annual airing, each of the 80 Christmases since 1941 has presented an opportunity to bring out the myths, half-truths and lies about that ill-fated campaign.
None of those responsible for planning the defence remain to defend themselves.
There are few surviving veterans.
Yet the myths remain as strong as ever, starting with myth one, Singapore’s coastal guns.
As Singapore was assessed as most vulnerable from sea approaches, defences were concentrated on sea approaches. The Sentosa Island guns were, like those at Kissing Point, seawards-facing naval weapons with a low trajectory and not engineered to engage through 360 degrees.
In any event Japan did not invade from the sea, but through the less defended Malaya Peninsular, in three phases.
Defending land approaches requires more mobile firepower.
After amphibious landings in the north, the Japanese turned south towards Singapore where, until striking Australia’s 8th Division in Johore, the battle was primarily between opposing artillery, in which Japan held matériel superiority.
The defence of Johore Baru was a series of hard-fought ambushes until the allies withdrew across the Causeway to make a final stand in Singapore.
With insufficient troops and artillery support it was always going to be difficult and so it proved when Japanese General Yamashita bluffed his British opponent General Percival about cutting water supplies to the already suffering civilian population.
Myth two alleges Churchill was prepared to abandon Singapore and by extension Australia to concentrate on defeating Hitler in Europe. Britain received moral and matériel US support in Europe, however Churchill also gambled on the US defending its Pacific interests, which it did after Pearl Harbor.
Bad tactical decisions cost two critical ships, the Prince of Wales and the Repulse for lack of air cover, but the allies faced numerically superior, well equipped and experienced Japanese forces.
The allies were not fully prepared for war on any front and the outcome was almost a foregone conclusion.
Except for the POWs.
If their fate had been foreseen, many may have been more determined to fight on.