70th Anniversay Of the Fall of Singapore - 15 Feb 1942

Discussion in 'WW2 General' started by parsifal, Feb 14, 2012.

  1. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    Today is the 70th anniversary of the fall of Singapore. Probably no other single event of WWII acted to alter the nature of the world in the post war era more than this. It marked the end of Colonialism really, the birth of asian nationalism and the road that has lled to the emergence of Japan, India and China as the worlds new economic powerhouses. It has had an impact on the two states that make up China, and for Australia, the realization that Britiain no longer had the strength to protect us from other great powers. IMO, it is the date that marks the beginning of the decline of Europe as the worlds centre stage......

    More immediately, the fall of singapore saw more than 800000 allied soldiers pass into captivity (according to one source i have read, though i find that figure somewhat unbelievable) and enter 4 years of sheer hell. For the native and ethnic Chinese in malaya and singapore it marked the begnning of a brutal occupation by the japanese.

    We should not let this day pass without a thought of those events all those years ago. A lot of men suffered and died for our future.
     
  2. proton45

    proton45 Member

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    Thanks...I always appreciate a topic that provides "food for thought". Reading this has set me on a course of on-line research into the subject.
     
  3. mikewint

    mikewint Well-Known Member

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    Excellent posting, as always Parsifal. My take is that this was another instance of westeners looking down on the asian races and taking them as a big joke and as such were taken totally by surprise. The Aussies had been fighting in Malaya since 14 Jan, had taken 700 casualties with hundreds of casualties. Singapore island had never been envisioned as a defensive position and as such the troops evacuated there found no defenses. Only one trained reinforcement unit could be sent and other units were untrained and ill equipted.
    By 14 Feb the Japanese had the reservours and pumping stations. Constant bombing and shelling continued until 15 Feb when Lt. Gen. Percival made the decision to surrender.
    I would agree that 800,000 is very high even including civilians. Something like 100,000 troups and several hundred civilians would be much closer as official evacuations had started in late Jan and had continued right up to the last moment. Most notably Gen. Bennett and two of his staff escaped the night of the surrender in spite of his orders for all Australian troops to remain at their posts.
     
  4. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    Bennett escaped because he believed he had information on Japanese fighting methods that could be of use in Australia. He was castigated as a coward instead. I think the charge of cowardice was very unfair to be honest. Compare that to Macs evacuation. Mac also did not want to leave his troops....at least he says that, but was ordered to do so. Bennett was not ordered to escape, but his orderes to remain were also not as specific as has been portrayed.

    Bennett's escape was initially regarded as praiseworthy. Prime Minister John Curtin issued a statement that read:

    "I desire to inform the nation that we are proud to pay tribute to the efficiency, gallantry and devotion of our forces throughout the struggle. We have expressed to Major General Bennett our confidence in him. His leadership and conduct were in complete conformity with his duty to the men under his command and to his country. He remained with his men until the end, completed all formalities in connection with the surrender, and then took the opportunity and risk of escaping".

    In April 1942 he was promoted to lieutenant general and given command of III Corps in Perth. In 1942 this was an important post, but by 1943, as the possibility of a Japanese invasion of Australia faded, it became a backwater. Bennett was told by Blamey that he would not be given another active command, and he transferred to the Reserve of Officers in May 1944. He soon published his account of the Malayan campaign, Why Singapore Fell, which was critical of Percival and other British officers. Blamey unsuccessfully tried to prevent the book's publication.

    The controversy over Bennett's actions became public in 1945, when the war ended and Percival was released from Japanese captivity. Percival, who had never got on with Bennett, accused him of relinquishing his command without permission. Blamey convened a court of enquiry under Major General V. P. H. Stanke, which found that Bennett was not justified in handing over his command, or in leaving Singapore. Veterans of the 8th Division, who were generally loyal to Bennett, protested against this finding.

    In November 1945, Prime Minister Ben Chifley appointed a Royal Commission under Justice George Ligertwood. The Commission concluded that Bennett had disobeyed Percival's order to surrender.

    While never questioning Bennett's personal courage, Ligertwood concluded that his action had been unjustified. Bennett's stated reason for leaving Singapore was that he had learned how to defeat the Japanese (but had been let down by British and Indian troops) and he was obliged to communicate his knowledge to military authorities.

    Bennetts belief that he had something important to convey proved illusory, he proved no more proficient than other commanders in Malaya and his tactics were just as outdated. In my opinion he had escaped mostly because he etained a cherished dream to lead the Australian army, a consuming aspiration which had been sharpened by not being given an early command. His prejudice against regular officers and his ambition clouded his professional judgement at the most important point in his career. When his most cherished goals were in tatters, he convinced himself that blame for his failure lay with others. Bennet became an increaasingly bitter and resentful officer as the war progressed.

    In 1948, LtCol Fry (an eminent military lawyer) published the opinion based on The Royal Commissioner. He based his report on an interpretation of international law, and did not discuss General Bennett's action from the standpoint of Australian military law, which placed him under no inflexible obligation to remain on Singapore Island.

    Bennett had mad many enemiess during his career, and whilst he had an overinflated view of his own importance, there is strong evidence to support the notion that he had been stitched up in his indictment. Two men stand out as his enemies....blamey and percival.
     
  5. buffnut453

    buffnut453 Well-Known Member

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    #5 buffnut453, Feb 15, 2012
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2012
    There is a fundamental problem with Bennett's defence that Percival's orders were unclear. Selected officers were directly ordered to evacuate because their experience was deemed important - it wasn't left up to individual commanders to decide whether or not their knowledge was needed elsewhere. Examples of officers ordered to evacuate include Brig Paris and Brig Stewart, the latter being (arguably) the most successful British tactical commander during the Malayan Campaign - at least he trained his troops for jungle combat and determined suitable tactics to fight for, but not on, the roads. Contrast Bennett's actions with those of Paris and Stewart, neither of whom were willing to leave their men without a direct order from Percival, indeed even when ordered they still argued to stay with their men. Whatever Bennett's motives and intentions, as a commander his first duty was to his men until specifically ordered to do otherwise and in that regard, IMHO, he failed.
     
  6. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    I dont condone bennetts actions, however in a technical sense, percival had no authority over bennett after the surrender. Percivals command dissolved with the surrender of his army. Once his army command had dissolved, he 9percival0 had no jurisdiction in the Australian Army. as the most senior Australian officer on the spot, Bennett was no longer bound by Percivals instructions. at least thats how he saw it.

    Its a different situation for the british officers in Malaya, even the empire troops (the indians and the malays). For these guys, the ranking oficer remained Percival, but for Bennett, a member of an independant, separate army, percival gave up his right to issue orders once the command was dissolved, and that technically happened at the moment of surrender.
     
  7. buffnut453

    buffnut453 Well-Known Member

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    This has nothing to do with Percival's orders. Per my last post, Stewart had more experience fighting the Japanese and was, on balance, more successful. However, he did not want to leave his men. In my view, he was a far better leader than Bennett. My gripe is that Bennett's prime responsibility was to the men under his command. Bennett abandoned his men in their hour of need and for that he deserves to be castigated. It was a leadership failure and a poor decision on his part, irrespective of his motives.
     
  8. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    The position you are adopting does line up with the post war findings of the royal commission and the book written about the issue. However your post number 5 suggests bennett was disobeying orders, which is technically incorrect, since the man who gave those orders in the first instance did not give specific orders to Bennett, and in the second instance after he had surrendered had no authority to do so. In the australaian military code, Bennett had done no wrong, which is why initially he was hailed as a hero by Curtin. it was only with the fullness of time was it realized that perhaps his motives were not as noble as Bennett claimed after his arrival back in Australia. What is not as clear is whether this post war souring of the view on Bennett was more the result of bad blood between Bennett on the one had and Blamey and Percival on the other, or whether Bennett was indeed a man deserving of censure. Certainly his abandonment of his men is pretty poor, and certainly his claim that he had something usefu to take back to australia doesnt seem to wash, however there is also a good argument that he was fitted up in the post war wash up by his enemies rather than anything he actually did.

    I remain unsure about Bennett. He is an enigma to me. I dont know how much of the post war censuring that received was actualy deserved.
     
  9. buffnut453

    buffnut453 Well-Known Member

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    I'm not suggesting that Bennett disobeyed orders. I'm simply pointing out that personnel considered vital to continued prosecution of the war effort were ordered to evacuate before the fall of Singapore (ie before Percival's command was dissolved). For all his faults, Percival didn't run away and remained respected by many of his soldiers for so doing, as did so many other officers, both Australian and British. Bennett received no order to evacuate and yet he still abandoned his men. It's the latter issue that sticks in my throat - if you expect soldiers to lay down their lives in combat, the very least you can do is stand by them through other difficulties and challenges.
     
  10. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

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    Britain had three infantry divisions in Malaya plus fortress troops. They probably expected to defeat an invader long before he got within artillery range of Singapore Island.
     
  11. mikewint

    mikewint Well-Known Member

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    I tend to agree with Buffnut though I do not paint him (Bennett) as a coward and in his spot, knowing what Japanese capture meant I might be tempted to escape if I could. I recall a former president whose dad secured a nice easy posting for his son in the Texas air corps reserve. When that unit was going to be called up for Vietnam he very suddenly failed his flight physical
    As to MacA, he definitely had an overinflated opinion of himself. Surprised he didn't just walk to Australia.
    Dave, I've posted many times about the westerners low opinion of anyone asian. In my opinion it is the main reason the Japanese had so many early victorries in WWII
     
  12. buffnut453

    buffnut453 Well-Known Member

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    I'm certainly not painting Bennett as a coward. I'm simply observing that those personnel who were deemed vital for the continued war effort had already been ordered to evacuate prior to the surrender. We also need to remember that, in Feb 1942, nobody understood how poorly the Japanese would treat their PoWs (although we had some indications based on activities that were reported in China).

    Racial stereotyping is still (sadly) alive and well - one only has to look at the lambasting the CAD drawings of the GWH Devastator kit received - "It's just a copy of the Monogram kit" because, obviously, the Chinese are incapable of making a new-tool Devastator that's better than Monogram's ancient offering. Ok, this last bit was somewhat flippant...but only a little!

    I think the Western powers failed in 2 respects with their underestimation of Japan's military forces. Firstly, they refused to believe that Japanese equipment and training were any good, this coming in part because of the difficulties Japan had in subduing China. However, the other key underestimation was of Japan's willingness to try a long-odds gamble. Western leaders (military and political) simply could not believe that Japan would take on the US and Great Britain, across such a vast expanse of the globe, simultaneously. Japan's strategy in the first 3 months of the Pacific conflict required absolutely everything to work perfectly...and, for them, it did. However, they were perilously close to logistical collapse.

    We should also not let racial stereotyping detract from the fact that the Japanese conducted their early operations in a truly outstanding fashion - they were trained, disciplined, well-planned and very well executed. Had even moderate delays been imposed during the Malayan Campaign, the flaws in Japanese operational art might have been exposed earlier (eg tactical inflexibility and a willingness to throw soldiers into unwinnable tactical situations) but their luck held, and the pendulum swung towards the myth of the "invincible Japanese", which debilitated the Western powers whilst simultaneously infecting the Japanese with "victory disease".
     
  13. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

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    That doesn't explain why the three British Army infantry divisions on Malaya were so poorly trained.
     
  14. buffnut453

    buffnut453 Well-Known Member

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    In large part the Indian units were poorly trained because they were made up largely of new recruits, many of whom had never even seen a real rifle before arriving in Singapore. These units had been "milked" of experienced SNCOs and JNCOs to form new units as the Indian Army expanded rapidly, hence many units lacked the military cohesion which rests upon the abilities of the NCO cadre.

    In a wider context, there was a failure to grasp what was so clear to Stewart - that the focus for operations would be the domination of the road network in Malaya. The Japanese didn't advance through the jungle except when they encountered resistance, and then they worked their way around the defensive position to attack it both in the front and rear at the same time. When Japan gained total maritime supremacy from 10 Dec onwards, it left the British defenders of Malaya with constantly open coastal flanks.

    Finally, with fighting ongoing in other theatres, Malaya suffered from being a low priority for supplies. Tanks, although requested, were refused because Malaya lacked the open terrain where tanks were typically at their best. This mindset failed to recognize that tanks dominating the roads were a very powerful weapon. The shock impact of tanks on some of the Indian units must also be borne in mind. Many of the soldiers had never seen a tank, and so to be confronted with one in combat and with no anti-tank weapons available, it's hardly surprising that retreat turned into a rout. Without adequate anti-tank weapons, air power or sea power, Malaya was largely undefensible, although the British commanders should have made a better fist of it even with the sub-standard forces available.
     
  15. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    With regard to japans opening offensive, it is worth noting that they were under-estimated mostly because no other nation in the world at that time had the C&C capabilities, the aircrew training or indeed the audacity to carry out a simultaneous offensive that stretched across more than 30% of the globes surface. It was a remarkable achievement by any standard.

    With regard to the effort in Malaya, there needs also to be an appreciation of Japanese capability and inititiative versus the lack thereof displayed in the allied forces. As buffnut points out, the battle turned out to be, strategically a battle for roads, but in a tactical sense it was a failure by the british to come to terms with japanese hooking tactics, and their ability to move through the jungle quickly and in substantial force that unhinged the british defences. The british remained unable to cope with this Japanese capability throughout the burma campaign into 1943. the Australians were the first to come to terms with it, and eventually to develop effective countermeasures, but that was months away, (and drew nothing from the experiences in Malaya i might add). The Americans solved the Japanese outflanking capabilities, by simply refusing to get into such fights in the first place....their 'wither on the vine" strategies were based on capture of point targets where flanks were never presented

    But in Malaya, the allies never came to terms with the outflanking abilities of the japanese army. The British Army in particular concentrated too much on protecting their logistics tails, and this is an unnaffordable luxury in the jungle.

    The British (and Australians) were outnumbered, outfought and outmanouvered by the Japanese in Malaya. Credit should be given where credit is deserved and a spade should be named for what it is....and we were given a licking in Malaya by an enemy we despised and believed to be inferior.....
     
  16. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

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    That isn't true.
     
  17. Vassili Zaitzev

    Vassili Zaitzev Well-Known Member

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    #17 Vassili Zaitzev, Feb 16, 2012
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2012
    Man, I should've been the one to post this, it's my thesis for crying out loud! :) Thanks for the thread Parsifal, and I apologize, but Davebender is right. The British had at least 30,000 more troops than the Japanese, though the number varies between sources.
     
  18. buffnut453

    buffnut453 Well-Known Member

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    Correct, the Japanese were outnumbered by the Commonwealth forces. However, the Japanese had the luxury available to any attacking force of being able to select the location and timing of their assaults and hence concentrate forces where and when they were needed. Conversely, Percival was faced with 2 real options: try to defend everywhere and risk being defeated piecemeal, or concentrate forces to meet the expected main thrust but at the risk of your entire force being flanked and annihilated. Percival selected the less dramatic option of seeking to defend everywhere but the results were entirely predictable. The only other option available to Percival was to go on the offensive but, frankly, his forces weren't up to it.

    I disagree with Parsifal - an effective counter to Japanese jungle tactics was developed in Malaya by Stewart's Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. Those tactics were, for lots of rather pathetic reasons, not adopted across Far East Command. The tactics also suffered from the lack of anti-tank weapons which resulted in the defences being filleted by the rapidly-advancing Japanese armoured spear-tip. The basic premise of Stewart's tactics - hold the position and provide defence-in-depth to absorb enemy advances - was ultimately the same tactic that was used successfully in Burma (but it took a long time to figure it out, and to provide the necessary logistics to make it work in that theatre).
     
  19. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    Yes, total numbers is not the way to measure battlefield numbers, because it fails to acknowledge mobility and tactical contyrol advantages. as the germans in barbarossa demonstrated, though they were outnumbered by several to one on the eastern front strategically, they seldom attacked at odds less than 6:1 or more at the points of breakthrough. Part of the german battle technique was to use mobility to concentrate effort at the point of impact, as well as the flexibility in their command system. This was used in a very similar way by the japanese, so that where the numbers counted, the japanerse were seldom attacking at odds of less than 3:1.

    That was one of the big weaknesses of Allied tactical deployments in many battles, not just malaya. Prime example of its use was Eisenhowers broad front strategy in normandy....attack everywhere in moderate but not decisive strength.....for an army with advantage, the safest strategy, but never able to achieve decisive breakthrough. the only exception to this, in Normandy, was the Cobra breakout.
     
  20. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

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    For light infantry operations such as Malaya and Norway that amounts to proper training. The Japanese and German armies had it. The British Army did not, at least not during 1939 to 1942.
     
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