Any viable alternative for Malaya/Singapore

Discussions on alternate history, including events up to 20 years before today. Hosted by Terry Duncan.
User avatar
Andy H
Forum Staff
Posts: 15326
Joined: 12 Mar 2002 20:51
Location: UK and USA

Any viable alternative for Malaya/Singapore

Post by Andy H » 07 Jul 2004 05:58

In response to this thread
http://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic.php?t=53750

Paul3747 wrote the following:
How about Lieutenant General Percival, British Commander of Singapore in 1942. His incompetence led to, amongst others, 15,000 Australians becoming POW's ... 7,000 of whom died in captivity
Given what we know about this campaign, did the British have a viable alternative to the outcome of the campaign once it was underway?

Would a "better" British commander have made a difference and would the Allied casualty rate be actually higher?

The thread below has some info on this campaign
http://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic.php?t=45015

Andy H

User avatar
Tim Smith
Member
Posts: 6177
Joined: 19 Aug 2002 12:15
Location: UK

Post by Tim Smith » 07 Jul 2004 12:44

General Percival apparently refused to fortify the land approaches to Singapore, although he had ample time and resources to do so in the first three months of the Pacific War.

This was on the grounds that seeing the army fortifying so close to the city would demoralise the civilian population, as it would imply that the rest of Malaya would be lost to the Japanese.

Had the fortifications been built, Singapore could have been a fortress in truth as well as in name, and cost far more Japanese lives to take, also holding out for an extra couple of months. British casualties would be higher also, but better to die fighting than in captivity.

alf
Member
Posts: 1343
Joined: 09 Oct 2003 10:45
Location: Australia

Post by alf » 12 Jul 2004 04:40

Norman Dixon's A Psychology of Military Incompentence goes into some depth on Percival and his inability to face reality or prepare for all contingencies. In fairness, he has not been alone, history is littered with the aftermath of gross incompetency.

User avatar
Kurt_Steiner
Member
Posts: 3979
Joined: 14 Feb 2004 13:52
Location: Barcelona, Catalunya

Post by Kurt_Steiner » 12 Jul 2004 17:20

Replacing Percival by some capable general would have helped? Someone who knew the theatre of war, of course.

Perhaps shortening the defensive line into something more useful (a Batu - Mersing Line, for instance).

However, I think that, after the loss of the Royal Navy ships , Malaysia was doomed. The British could have made the Japanese advance slower, but not defeat them.

Best regards

User avatar
Andy H
Forum Staff
Posts: 15326
Joined: 12 Mar 2002 20:51
Location: UK and USA

Post by Andy H » 13 Jul 2004 05:45

The British did have a defensive line, but the Japanese landed in its rear at the beginning of the war in Malaya.

Tim wrote:
General Percival apparently refused to fortify the land approaches to Singapore, although he had ample time and resources to do so in the first three months of the Pacific War.


Hi Tim
Were these proposed fortifications in any depth and would they have held out for so long, given the experiences of the Americans on the Phillipines?

Also with the Japanese having complete mastery of the air and sea would not the civilian suffering have been greater?

Andy H

User avatar
Kurt_Steiner
Member
Posts: 3979
Joined: 14 Feb 2004 13:52
Location: Barcelona, Catalunya

Post by Kurt_Steiner » 20 Jul 2004 17:22

Perhaps a defensive line was doomed in the mobile WW2. Perhaps the two armies fighthing in Malaysia belonged to two different strategic schools.

User avatar
Lkefct
Member
Posts: 1294
Joined: 24 Jun 2004 22:15
Location: Frederick MD

Post by Lkefct » 28 Jul 2004 16:17

Sorry that this thread has kind of lost momentum. I am not terribly well informed about the malaysian campaign, but here is a shot.

I have to disagree that defense in depth is not a agreeable method. On the East front, and Africa which are really almost the tacticians playgrounds, that defense in depth is really considered the only method of conducting a defense, but the distances involved and troops avalible mean that usually only a crust defense is involved. Given that Malaysia is covered in junlges and mts, then the idea of defending in depth proabbaly is more suitible, since it would make it more difficult for the attacker to concentrate. Also, a lack of artillery and particuarly heavy artilery by the japanese would make taking any fortifications, whatever their construction, rather difficult. The Phillipines was not a defense in depth, but rather a single defensive line, with no depth and few reserves.

Again, part of my understanding is that the Commonwealth troops are constantly making stands expecting the Japanese to do the conventional western set piece attacks, and are constantly disappointed when they are not attacking into the heart of the heavy weapons. The Japanese tactics are certainly heavily influenced by the infantry WWI Kaiserschlacht stormtrooper tactics. the Common welath troops siting and letting the Jaoaanese maintain the initiative seems to play right into that. In hindsight, we know that the Japanese commanders often had difficulty when faced with the same sort of unexpected attacks. That the Japanese used a few tanks and attacked with a great deal of speed, and maintained the momentum, quickly forced much of the heavy wepaons to be abandoned, giving the very decentralized Japanese troops a firepwoer advantage over the disorganzied British troops. A more active defense envolving counter attacks, liberal use of demolitions, and small unit actions might pay a useful benefit while Singapore is defended.

This would have th aditional benefit that some of the troops that where pulled out of the Malaysia where instrumental in wearing down the US forces in the Phillipines, after the forces initally detailed to do so had such heavy casualties influcted on them.

User avatar
Tim Smith
Member
Posts: 6177
Joined: 19 Aug 2002 12:15
Location: UK

Post by Tim Smith » 28 Jul 2004 16:58

The Japanese worked by constantly outflanking the British in Malaya, either by landing fresh troops by sea in the British rear, or by bypassing British strongpoints by going through supposedly impassable terrain.

But Singapore is an island just off the extreme south of the Malaya Peninsula, so once the British retreat there the Japanese can't outflank them anymore because there's nowhere left to go. So if the British had fortified the north coast of the island facing the Johor Strait, they would have created a fortress better than German-held Tsingtao in China in World War I, which I think took the British and Japanese over 2 months to capture back in 1914. Except that Singpore was far larger than Tsingtao, which only had 4,000 troops. The British had over 90,000 at Singapore!

Had the British fortified the island properly, they could have held out up to three months longer than historically, until 15 May 1942 instead of 15 Feb 1942.

User avatar
Kurt_Steiner
Member
Posts: 3979
Joined: 14 Feb 2004 13:52
Location: Barcelona, Catalunya

Post by Kurt_Steiner » 28 Jul 2004 17:24

From what I gather, Malaysia was doomed to defeat, wasn't it, gentlemen? Then, why not trying to evacuate this troops to safer places?

Perhaps the British had no way to do so, once the PoW and the Repulse were sunk and the IJN had more or less the supremacy of the seas in the theater.

Best regards

User avatar
Lkefct
Member
Posts: 1294
Joined: 24 Jun 2004 22:15
Location: Frederick MD

Post by Lkefct » 28 Jul 2004 19:39

I think it depends on what you mean by doomed? In terms of raw #'s, the odds are fairly even. Japans early offensives, they never have an overwehlming numerical superiority. They where frqnetly able to achieve tactical superiority, but attackers are frquently able to do that. Yes the Japanese also have total control of the air, but Japanese do not have a large body of tactical aircraft for ground support. It means that PoW and Repulse are doomed if they ventured into range, but ground units did not suffer greatly in terms of tactial air support. I am assuming that there is some interdiction, and ground straffing type of actions going on, but that is not a great material advantage. The Japanese have tanks, and there are few in the Allied side. But it is not like Japanese tanks are a huge, powerful battlefield dominating vehicle.

I think the biggest problem is that the japanese where highly underestimated. They where decent tacticians, and very aggressive. It helped them to overcome a great many of their faults by simply beating the British to the punch time after time. Not letting them get put in poor tactical situations, like frontal assaults, and using a good deal of manuver helped them a great deal, but again, a more aggressive, and determined opponenet could turn the tide on them, and perhaps turn the tables.

It is my understanding the Austrilians did rather well, but where not employed until too late, and by then other British divisions where depleted and demoralized.

Also, I seem to recall that the Japanese where close to the end of their own supplies. The commander was actually considering withdrawing if he had not taken Singapore if his inital assault had failed. Strong out fortifications, and a more prolonged defense down the pennisula might have gone a long way towards delaying or even repulsing the Japanese invasion. They would certainly have had to come back, as a British force in Malaya would be unacceptible if they intended to remain in Burma. But the majority of the Japanese army is tied down in garrison duty in china, so they do not have unlimited resources.

User avatar
Andy H
Forum Staff
Posts: 15326
Joined: 12 Mar 2002 20:51
Location: UK and USA

Post by Andy H » 28 Jul 2004 22:15

Tim wrote:
Had the British fortified the island properly, they could have held out up to three months longer than historically, until 15 May 1942 instead of 15 Feb 1942.
To what positive end?

Surely by surviving for another 3months would have caused huge strain on the British logistic chain in trying to support the fortress, and to what end, other than defeat. Evacuation would only be possible for a minority, given the Japanesse overwhelming air & naval superiority.

Though Percival has recieved criticism, one shouldn't forget the rather woeful dispalys of certain divisional commanders. Both the Australian commanders-Bennett & Maxwell were total failures by all accounts, along with the British commanders Murray-Lyon, Barstow & Lang, who all lost important battles at Jitra, Layang Layang & the Slim River respectively.

Andy H

User avatar
Kurt_Steiner
Member
Posts: 3979
Joined: 14 Feb 2004 13:52
Location: Barcelona, Catalunya

Post by Kurt_Steiner » 03 Aug 2004 16:55

Andy wrote:
To what positive end?
Mmmmh... to save the honour of the Army, of the Empire....?

Could the garrison do anything different but fight to the last man?

Remember Hong Kong!
Surely by surviving for another 3months would have caused huge strain on the British logistic chain in trying to support the fortress, and to what end, other than defeat. Evacuation would only be possible for a minority, given the Japanesse overwhelming air & naval superiority.
Yes, imagine the party that the Japanese planes and ships would have sinking the Allied ships. Something like the defeat in Java?

Best regards

User avatar
Tim Smith
Member
Posts: 6177
Joined: 19 Aug 2002 12:15
Location: UK

Post by Tim Smith » 03 Aug 2004 20:29

No, I mean with proper fortifications Singapore could probably hold out an extra 3 months without any further supplies at all, beyond what they received historically. Look at how long the US Army on Bataan and Corregidor held out without resupply. Yes, the garrison and civilian population would be on the brink of starvation by May, but so what? The Japanese would starve them anyway.

Speaking of the Phillippines, the extra troops the Japanese called for to conquer Bataan and Corregidor came from Malaya, after the fall of Singapore. Delay the fall of Singapore, the Japanese would have very few reserves to send to the Phillippines, and the Phillippines would hold out an extra month or two.

User avatar
Lkefct
Member
Posts: 1294
Joined: 24 Jun 2004 22:15
Location: Frederick MD

Post by Lkefct » 04 Aug 2004 01:07

I think one thing that is often missed about the Japanese advances in late 1941 to 1942 is that the 3 big pushes, at least 2 are made with a bare equality of #'s. the Japanese often gained local superiority in numbers, but a couple of local defeats, and get their troops beaten up a little, and suddenly a huge rapid advance is not the slam dunk that it was. Also, the Japanese, while they have tanks as part of their advance (and a key part at that) they are not a mechanized force. They can't move that much faster then the British force opposite them. Strike one blow, delay them, and then you can turn the tide, and overwelhm the Japanese for a change. At the very least, infantry armies have a way of getting slaughtered if they cannot maintain the momentum of their advance.

I was also under the impression that the Japanese attackers were themselves running out of supplies, and on the verge of retreat if their inital assualt had not worked. Defenses might have been enough to turn back the entire attacking force, and at least stalemate the situation.

The Phillipines was not a defeat in the sense that the US/Fillopino army was defeated as much as the seige had finally forced the defenders to their physical brekaing point. All the Japanese had to do was hold on, and the US forces would have eventually collapsed. As far as Japanese reserves go, I don't think they really have any. Most of their armies are tried up in China, and they are spread thin at that. Also, they have an enemy to the North, tying down the army even further.

Jon G.
Member
Posts: 6647
Joined: 17 Feb 2004 01:12
Location: Europe

Post by Jon G. » 04 Aug 2004 03:46

As far as I know, the Japanese actually deliberately slimmed their forces for the Malayan campaign. Two more divisions were avialable, but their commander decided that only 5 could be kept supplied and advancing at once.

The Commonwealth forces were outsmarted time and again by Japanese flanking attacks made through jungle terrain that had hitherto been considered 'impassable' Percival must take some blame for that, but I don't think any CW commander would have handled it otherwise, save perhaps for Orde Wingate, but he was much too junior in rank at the time and probably too much of an ecccentric to be put in overall command anyway.

Maybe it also accounts for something that the Japanese army presumably had many veterans of the Kwantung Army - tough and resilient fighters who were well-versed in jungle warfare from the Japanese training camps on Formosa, and also being able to get by on very little. Bicycles were apparently the key piece of equipment in the Japanese logistics chain during this campaign.

Singapore was practically isolated from the sea when the British lost the Repulse and the Prince of Wales - and once the Japanese had made it to the strait to Singapore, the city was doomed, for the fresh water supplies had fallen into Japanese hands.

Return to “What if”