Why Was Britain Defeated in Malaya?

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Barry Graham
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Post by Barry Graham » 08 Jun 2005 02:37

Simon Gunson said:-

My father was at Singapore just before it fell as a crewmember on either the MS Royal Tiger or Peisander. My records of which ship are confused. He was aboard Peisander in April 1942 when she was torpedoed in the Atlantic.

In any regard he was there at the time in question. He always said people blamed the fact that big harbour defence guns pointed to sea and not inland. He also said that this was not the real reason however. He said the real reason Singapore fell was that the Australians pulled their troops out of prepared defensive positions north of Singapore and shipped their troops back to Australia for the defence of their homeland, abandoning British and Indian troops. My father's ship was one of those which evacuated Australian troops from Singapore. He always felt that the British were betrayed and abandoned by the Australians.

I always think the views of those who were there are most telling.


I am curious to know which Australian troops were pulled out of Malayan defensive positions and sent back to Australia.

The 6th, 7th and 9th Divisions that had been fighting in North Africa and the Middle East
were eventually withdrawn to Australia at the request of the Australian Government.
Churchill wanted to divert some of these troops to Malaya but this was rejected by the Australian government and the convoy turned and headed for Australia en route - perhaps this is what your father referred to.
But they never actually reached Malaya.

The bulk of the 8th Division were originally to go to the Middle East but were diverted to Malaya early in 1941 where they were captured at the fall of Singapore.
Gordon Bennett and some odds and sods of his headquarters company escaped after the decision to surrender had been made - but that's another story.

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Peter H
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Post by Peter H » 08 Jun 2005 07:46

The 22nd & 27th Brigades of the Australian 8th Division all became Pows at Singapore--15,000 men.

The unlucky 23rd Brigade(Ambon,Timor,Rabual ) suffered an even worse fate suffering massacres at the Tol plantation,and the Laha airstrip:

Tol Plantaion

On the 23rd January 1942, the Japanese invaded Rabaul on the island of New Britain and quickly defeated the small Australian Garrison - Lark Force

About 160 of the Australian soldiers who surrendered were massacred in February at Tol Plantation

On 22nd June 1942, the Japanese ordered 845 POWs and 208 civilian internees to board the Japanese ship, Montevideo Maru, for transport to Japan. The ship bore no markings to indicate that it carried POWs. The POWs were members of the 2/22 Battalion AIF, New Guinea Rifles, an Anti-Tank Battery, an Anti-Aircraft Battery, Coastal Defence Battery, a RAAF group and a detachment of the 2/20 Field Ambulance. (Uniquely, the members of the 2/22 Battalion Band were all members of Salvation Army Bands).

On 1st July 1942 an American submarine, the USS Sturgeon, attacked and sank the Montevideo Maru unaware that more than 1000 POWs were locked in its holds. There were no survivors. No indication of its sinking, or of the tragic loss of life was given by the Japanese Government.

The sinking of the Montevideo Maru is the largest maritime disaster in Australian History


http://www.jje.info/lostlives/places/mmmballarat.html

Laha Airstrip

http://www.geocities.com/dutcheastindie ... sacre.html

http://www.awm.gov.au/atwar/remembering ... script.htm


The 7th division was supposed to have landed at Rangoon on its way back from the Middle East.Churchill was told no.Later in compensation the 6th Division garrisoned Ceylon up to July 1942.

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Brian Ross
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Post by Brian Ross » 08 Jun 2005 09:24

Barry Graham wrote:Simon Gunson said:-

My father was at Singapore just before it fell as a crewmember on either the MS Royal Tiger or Peisander. My records of which ship are confused. He was aboard Peisander in April 1942 when she was torpedoed in the Atlantic.

In any regard he was there at the time in question. He always said people blamed the fact that big harbour defence guns pointed to sea and not inland. He also said that this was not the real reason however. He said the real reason Singapore fell was that the Australians pulled their troops out of prepared defensive positions north of Singapore and shipped their troops back to Australia for the defence of their homeland, abandoning British and Indian troops. My father's ship was one of those which evacuated Australian troops from Singapore. He always felt that the British were betrayed and abandoned by the Australians.

I always think the views of those who were there are most telling.


I am curious to know which Australian troops were pulled out of Malayan defensive positions and sent back to Australia.

The 6th, 7th and 9th Divisions that had been fighting in North Africa and the Middle East
were eventually withdrawn to Australia at the request of the Australian Government.
Churchill wanted to divert some of these troops to Malaya but this was rejected by the Australian government and the convoy turned and headed for Australia en route - perhaps this is what your father referred to.
But they never actually reached Malaya.

The bulk of the 8th Division were originally to go to the Middle East but were diverted to Malaya early in 1941 where they were captured at the fall of Singapore.
Gordon Bennett and some odds and sods of his headquarters company escaped after the decision to surrender had been made - but that's another story.


Actually, Churchill attempted to order parts of the 7 Division to Burma, not Malaya. Their original destination had been initially Malaya and then became the NEI. However after departing Colombo, Churchill ordered their diversion to Burma, in the middle of the night and then failed to inform Canberra until the next morning, hoping to present Canberra with a fait a compli but Curtin and Evatt were adament that they should return. Even if they had reached Burma they would have been wasted, more than likely going "into the bag" along with the other defenders. The disaster on the Sittang, where the bridges across the river were blown prematurely, trapping a large proportion of the force defending Burma had already occurred and from that point onwards, it was all downhill for the British.

The Australian units were not combat loaded and were travelling in different ships to their heavy weapons and their vehicles. They were not trained for or equipped for, Jungle warfare. As it was, the ships were forced to return to Colombo for refuelling and in the meantime the Australian government decided that concentrating them in Australia, rather than wasting them in the NEI where they would be operating without sufficient aircover would simply be a repeat of Malaya and ordered them to sail directly to Australia. As it was, one brigade did reach Java and ended up forming the bulk of "Black Force" under Brigadier Black, being lost to the Japanese, in exactly the manner that was feared. The bulk of the initially the 7 Division, followed by 6 Division, arrived in Sydney in April 1942. This fortutiously made them available just in time to be used in New Guinea where they defeated the Japanese. 9 Division did not leave the Middle East until early 1943, after the battle of El Alamein which they played a key role in.

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Steen Ammentorp
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Post by Steen Ammentorp » 08 Jun 2005 09:52

"Black Force" under Brigadier Black


A small correction. The name of the brigadier were Blackburn. Arthur Seaforth Blackburn.

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Peter H
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Post by Peter H » 08 Jun 2005 10:17

Black Force:

http://www.geocities.com/dutcheastindies/java.html

The Australians, under Lieutenant-Colonel Arthur S. Blackburn, had been landed from the transport ship Orcades and were being retrained for the guarding of airfields until a final decision was taken about the defence of Java. These two Australian fighting battalions, 2/3 Machine-Gun - 710 men and 2/2 Pioneer Battalions - 937 men, accompanied by the following AIF units with approximate strengths, 2/6 Field Company HQ and one platoon of guards - 43 men, 105th General Transport Company - 206 men, 2/3 Reserve Motor Transport Company - 471 men, 2/2 Casualty Clearing Station - 93 men, Stragglers - 165 men, Details - 73 prisoners, formed an ad hoc composite mobile brigade. Under command of the now promoted Brigadier A. Blackburn, a gallant and enterprising officer who had served on Gallipoli in the ranks, won a VC as a subaltern at Pozieres 1916 and between wars commanded a MG battalion plus led the 2/3MG Battalion in the Syria campaign with the 2/2 Pioneers as support against the Vichy French, and for operations "Blackforce" would be directly under Lieutenant General Hein Ter Poorten, Dutch Commander-in-Chief.


More on Blackburn here:

http://www.diggerhistory.info/pages-vc/blackburn-vc.htm

176 Australian deserters at Singapore forced themselves on the Empire Star on the 11th February 1942 and arrived in Java.Blackburn absorbed them into his command,however unreliable they could have been.

One of the 1900 untrained Australian replacements that arrived in Singapore after the fall of Malaya:

http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/specials ... rnford.htm

The AIF 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion,from Western Australia, also arrived in Singapore in late January 1942.

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Barry Graham
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Post by Barry Graham » 08 Jun 2005 12:38

Thank you Brian and Peter for your more detailed explanations.

My contention is that no A.I.F. units were withdrawn from defensive positions in Malaya for the defence of Australia.

The Order of Battle for the 8th Division units involved in Malaya and Singapore can be found at the 2/30th Battalion web site.
http://230battalion.org.au/Pages/History/War/OrderofBattle/OrderOfBattleMain.htm

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Post by Michael Tapner » 08 Jun 2005 14:40

Regarding the withdrawal of Australian troops from Malaya:
2,000 Australians were withdrawn from Malaya. The majority of these were injured personnel and air crew.
The largest single unit to be withdrawn was the 2/3rd reserve MT company (a group of ~500 Australians). This unit was shipped to Java in late January - where it served with 'Blackforce'. The withdrawal of this unit was however entirely authorised as with the retreat to Singapore and the destruction of the Indian brigades, there was an excess of Motor Transport companies.
For those not in the know, the 2/3 MT Company had actually been in combat against the Japanese, as they, and a battalion of Indians (3/16 Punjab) that crossed the border into Thailand on the road to Patani. While on this road they were engaged by Thai troops for 24 hours before meeting the Japanese, just 5 km short of their intended defensive positions.
No AIF combat units were withdrawn from Malaya for the defense ofthe homeland.

As regards the RAAF, the 21st squadron (Buffalo) were withdrawn after the loss or handing over of their few surving airt units. The squadron was not reformed until September 43. 453 squadron was withdrawn early February, after the loss of its aircraft. Members of the squadron formed the basis of the 76th squadron (P40E's flying over Milne Bay Aug 42). The Huson squadrons suffered the same fate - withdrawn without aircraft and reformed 18 months later with home built beauforts.

Of the RAN, they were either withdrawn or sunk. Ships on station in Singapore as at Dec 7 41 were the 2 destroyers Vampire and Vendetta (major overhaul), the auxilliary cruisers Manoora and Kanimbla and the Group 21 Corvettes.


As regards the actual Australian unit that gave up its defensive position, I believe that the original comment was directed at the actions of the 2/26th battalion on the 25-26th January. This unit was in an excellent and prepared defensive position. However an analysis of the tactical situation shows the Australian 27th brigade at Ayer Hitam (~ 60 miles NW of Singapore) was defending the main road to Singapore. The 8th and 22nd Indian Brigades were to the North, while the depleted 15th Indian brigade was concentrated on the coast 15 miles to the south. The Japanese patrols had detected this huge 15 mile gap. The Guards division, then advancing by the coast route, set up a small screening force and moved to put 2 regiments through the gap. Australian patrols detected that the Japanese were aware of the strong point being held by the 27th brigade and that 1 of the regiments of the Japanese 5th division was also attempting to move through this 15 mile gap, while deploying only a small screening force in front of the strong point. Now strong points are all well and good IF the flanks are held and the enemy has to attack them. In this instance, there was no flank (just a 15 mile gap) and the Japanese were content NOT to attack the strong point.
How did the Australian command react when thir patrols indicated what was happening? They redeployed the 26th battalion to head off the Japanese forces. In a sense this worked - but at considerable cost. The Japanese forces met a foe they did not expect to be there. While the Australians were defending in less than an ideal situation, with battalion losses amounting to 500 men in this action. Of note is that the move to the south well may have saved the survivors, as the Japanese drive through the exposed flank had succeeded in cutting the Australians off, despite the combat. They had to fight tjheir way to the coast and catch boats back to Singapore. Had they remained in their excellent defensive positions, exactly the same fate that befell the Indian, Malayan and British units in Northern Malaya would have happened to the Australians. They would have been cut off all to easily and annihated.

The 53rd British Brigade was scheduled to fill this gap, and had been rushed to the front as fast as they got off the ships, however at the time of the offensive by the Japanese, they were still 30 miles short of their objective.

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Singapore falls!

Post by danielburgess » 12 Jun 2005 10:41

Hi,
this is my first post in this forum. There were several reasons why Singapore fell, first in my humble opinion was that our guns were awaiting a naval assault from the south of Singapore since most of the gun emplacements were at Labrador, Changi, Fort Siloso in Sentosa, etc.
Another would have been Peceival's mindset. I guess we all just under-estimated the Japanese. Took them about a week to cycle down from Ipoh.
The Japanese were great with getting across obstacles, and the British and commonwealth troops over-looked that, they blew up the causeway that linked the Peninsula Malaya with Singapore, but Japanese forces were able to out flank Woodland's town by swimming across and landing in Kranji. There were rumours about one landing that was foiled by pouring oil into the water around kranji and setting it alight when they were swimming across. But it was a matter of time before Japanese army engineers were able to fill the gap in the causeway.
As for aerial supermacy, we had several air fields, one in Paya Lebar, Seletar, and I think there was a couple of smaller ones around the North. There was also remnants of 201 squadron up in Sembawang. But those were mainly Short Sunderlands. Most fighters were made up of obsolete Brewster Buffaloes.
Japanese troops were also battle-hardened, seasoned combat personal, and I guess that helped alot.
And from my views, the local population was not really ready for combat duties, although there was a local malay regiment that fought bravely in Bukit Timah and Pasir Panjang, but most local civilians were scared to fight as small pockets of resistance were quickly annihilated along with the Kampongs they suspected the fighters were from.
It was during the occupation that many atrocities were carried out, all males from 18-50 were gathered for screening, those who failed and were suspected of anti-japanese activities were brought to beaches in punggol, changi, sentosa, and gunned down.

P.S. I am currently living and working in Singapore, so just don't hesitate to ask anything...

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Peter H
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Post by Peter H » 12 Jun 2005 14:54

Welcome to the forum Daniel.

Percival's HQ estimated by January 1942 that 5-6 Japanese divisions were in action in Malaya,when in reality the number was half of this.Pyschologically with inflated estimates like this the battle of Singapore was lost before it even happened.

Some unpleasant trivia on the Malaya/Singapore campaign:

-Lady Phillips,the wife of Tom Phillips,lost both her husband and her son in campaign.Her son,Lieutenant John Brownrigg,stepson of the Admiral,was among those killed at the Alexandra hospital massacre.

-Wavell left Singapore on the 10th February 1942:that night he fell from a sea wall onto rocks while boarding a seaplane.He broke two small bones in his back.

-both Rear Admiral Spooner and Air Vice-Marshall Pulford were evacuated together on the 14th February:they were shipwrecked on a malarial island and both subsequently died.

-the former Yangtze river steamer HMS Li Wo,under Lieutenant Wilkinson rammed a Japanese transport near Java:Wilkinson was awarded a posthumous VC.

http://members.dodo.net.au/~mervynw/li%20wo.htm

Regards,
Peter

danielburgess
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singapore falls...

Post by danielburgess » 13 Jun 2005 11:05

Thanks alot...

-Lady Phillips,the wife of Tom Phillips,lost both her husband and her son in campaign.Her son,Lieutenant John Brownrigg,stepson of the Admiral,was among those killed at the Alexandra hospital massacre.

The Alexandra hospital massacre was one of the well known local atrocities carried out, and till today, the hospital is still in use, and occasionally the ghost stories of that place come up, just down the road, there was a cross road being defended by a local Malay regiment, and if I am not wrong, they captured a Malay Lieutenant, placed him in a gunny sack, hung him from a tree and continously bayoneted it.
Not really sure if these stories are true, but my fellow colleagues and I exchange such stories at work.

Anyway, if you guys ever pay a visit to Singapore, you have to visit the Kranji War Memorial, although not as spectacular as the one in Kachanburi, Thailand, it is still a place to pay respects to the fallen, Lest We Forget...

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Post by Smileshire » 13 Jul 2005 13:39

I doubt the accuracy of the source:

http://www.powtaiwan.org/singapore.html

Without reading many threads in this discussion i wondered why you would doubt the link? The author michael Hurst has an MBE from the Queen.

Taiwan POW Camps Memorial Society

Director - Michael Hurst, M.B.E.

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Peter H
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Post by Peter H » 13 Jul 2005 13:55

Hurst's figures cannot be supported by any postwar analysis,in fact they appear to be much like the incorrect figures Percival's Intelligence section were quoting to partly justify their pull back to Singapore("we are facing 5 Japanese Divisions") :

A detailed breakdown of Japanese forces in Malaya on December 7, 1941 reveals that - the 25th Army under General Yamashita and Count Terrauchi had 83,000 men, the 15th Army commanded by General Lida had 55,000 men, the 26th Infantry Division led by General Mataguchi had 28,000 men, the Imperial Guards under General Nishimura had 38,000 men and they were re-inforced by 50,000 Korean soldiers. In addition, the Japanese forces had one armoured division with 500 tanks, two regiments of artillery, 500 aircraft with 80 in reserve, ten destroyers, two aircraft carriers, five submarines plus other support vessels. In total the Japanese had more that 265,000 men plus the 50,000 Korean conscripts - totalling more than 300,000 trained soldiers.


There was no 26th Infantry division nor a Japanese Armoured Division in Malaya.Neither did '50,000 Korean soldiers' tag along as a separate force.The Japanese 15th Army actually advanced into Burma,

The Southern Expeditionary Army Group may have numbered 300,000 men but it had been allocated a diverse range of targets--- the Philippines,the Dutch East Indies,Burma,Malaya and Singapore.

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Re: Why Was Britain Defeated in Malaya?

Post by Graeme Sydney » 18 Jul 2005 13:11

David C. Clarke wrote:Hi Folks, in your opinion, what were the primary factors in Britain's defeat in Malaya in 1941-42?

Best,
~Akira


Malaya/Singapore was lost between 1919 and 1939 and not between 1939 and Dec '41.

After the shooting match started, the Brits were never going to win (or at least the Japs had to fumble the ball in a major major way). The most they could have done was to effect a good delaying defence and await reinforcements. Given the perilous Grand Strategy situation that GB found herself, and the extraordinary distances from their main base for weapons and reinforcements (GB more than India), this probably wasn't going to happen, would be untimely, inadequate or ineffective.

The Japs had Strategic, Operational and Tactical surprise (but not geo-political - the whole campaign was accurately predicted (included the fall of Singapore) in several Australian military studies starting with Gen Monash 1920 - and therefore I persume British).

The Japs retained the initative throughout. They gained and maintained air and naval supremacy throughout. They were always able to concentrate superior forces at the critical points.

Most of the factors listed in this thread are true but weren't decisive factors. The overriding Operational consideration was that the Brits had to defend all the penisular because the Japs had the intiative through out. E.G. the Australians were held in the south in Jahor by the threat of amphibious landings. The Japs had the Air and Naval supremacy and the resources to threaten a landing.

There is no doubt that the Brits generally, and Percival in particular, were 'asleep at the wheel' especially per '39 and, worst still, pre Dec '41 - they didn't have a clue what the japs had or were capable of or were likely to deploy. Despite some excellent officers and units, and many heroic efforts, the accumaltive effect was a mediocre British military performance. (Why was Percival honoured by his participation at the surrender ceremony???? Quaint Anglo - American sentimentality?) I must admit that I think that Percival was a sound operational commander although lacked leadership.

Conversely Yamashita/Japan over achieved.

The 1919-39 years were wasted for many reasons - mostly political reasons. War wariness after the 'War to end all wars' lead to strong anti-war feelings and anti-war politics during the '20's. The military voice wasn't listened to nor heeded. And then there was the Great Depression and the recovery. The same reasons that had Britain scrambling in 39-40 effected the Empires Asian preparations in 1941 - but carried out with no urgency and less competance.

Fortress Singapore (and British asian military/naval might in general) was a figment of the political imagination prepetrated and maintained by politicians to protect them from making some hard nose political choices. The victor writes the history. They got lucky.

Cheers, Graeme.

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Post by Achtung Panzer! » 05 Sep 2005 19:35

10 reasons the war in Malaya was lost

1) The British in Malaya had a incompetent general in Perceival
2) Air Superiority was lost to the Japanese in the early days of the invasion
3) Siam going over to the Axis and allowing the landing of Jap troops on Siamnese soil
4) Japanese had tanks for Jungle warfare while the British had none
5) The Japanese troops were lean and in battle conditions in contrast, British troops were pampered and they were equipped like Christmas Tree
6) The shock of the sinking of the Repulse and Prince of Wales
7) The complete misunderstanding of Japanese war tatics that led to the battle guns being pointed towards the sea when the invasion force came
from the north by land
8) Churchill gave up on Singapore after mainland Malaya was lost,proving that Singapore was indefensible when mainland Malaya was lost
9) The early lost of water supplies for the British troops in Singapore in the early days of the invasion of Singapore
10) The lack of emphasis on the Far-East front by the British Government.

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Post by Steen Ammentorp » 05 Sep 2005 19:57

Achtung Panzer! wrote:1) The British in Malaya had a incompetent general in Perceival


While fully agreing that Percival was the wrong man for the Malaya command I have never seen any evidence that he was incompetent. Please elaborate.

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