Could the British have sent enough aircraft to Singapore to make a difference?

Discussion in 'WW2 General' started by freebird, Jul 23, 2010.

  1. freebird

    freebird Active Member

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    #1 freebird, Jul 23, 2010
    Last edited: Jul 25, 2010
    Since I've been reading about the Malaya campaign, it seems that the british may had enough troops, they were just short of aircraft and perhaps a few dozen tanks. (and competent leadership :confused: )

    Could they have sent enough aircraft pilots there within 6 weeks or so?

    What would be the best strategy to counter the Japanese advantages in the air?

    Positions on 7 dec 1941:

    2 regiments of the Japanese 18th division (23rd 56th regiments) attack at the Malaysian airfield/port of Kota Baharu.
    3 regiments of the Japanese 5th division land at Singora Patani, Thailand. Two columns attack down the Singora-Jitra and the Patani-Kroh roads.

    7 Dec 1941 the British in Malaya have 2 Indian divisions (9th 11th), the Australian 8th division and about 2 mixed brigades in Singapore itself.

    The Indian 11th division has the 6th brigade defending the road leading to Jitra, while the 15th defends the road through Kroh. the 28th brigade is in reserve at Ipoh. The Indian 9th division has the 8th brigade + a battalion of the 22nd defending Kota Baharu, while the remaining 2 battlaions of 22 brigade defend Kuantan. The Indian 12th Brigade is in army reserve.

    Two brigades of the Australian 8th division (22nd 27th brigades) are defending Johore, the third is in Singapore



    Questions:
    1.) Aircraft: Aircraft: What aircraft could they send to Singapore within a month or so?
    2.) RAF Leadership Was there an effective leader that could sort out the mess in Malaya?
     

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  2. michaelmaltby

    michaelmaltby Well-Known Member

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  3. Colin1

    Colin1 Active Member

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    British command and control in the theatre was appalling.
    Terence Kelly alludes to this in his book Spitfires and Hurricanes at War . Aircraft lacked any form of early warning, leading to needless losses, one such example being the destruction of 4 new-in-theatre Spitfire IXs, taken out halfway along their take-off run by Japanese fighters that they didn't know were there.

    I don't read up on ground offensives but I've no reason to believe the situation was any better there.

    More aircraft into a FUBAR like that would likely only be reflected in more losses.
     
  4. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    Singapore could have been held in my opinion, but it would have required fundamental changes in priorities that would probably lead to massive defeats in other theatres.

    Drawing a ridiculously long bow, if the North African campaign could have been brought to a conclusion, by not allowing the e Greek situation to distract them, the British would have had substantial forces to divert to the theatre before the war. Something like 1500 aircraft, perhaps fifty warships, including 3 or 4 carriers, and perhaps 5 or so divs. Some of these resources would have to go to India or Burma, but substantial amounts of battle hardened troops and aircraft would have been available. Under those circumstances the whole equation changes. But the chances of that happening are very slender in my opinion. There was a bigger chance these forces would be used in the USSR than them going to the far East.....
     
  5. buffnut453

    buffnut453 Well-Known Member

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    #5 buffnut453, Jul 24, 2010
    Last edited: Jul 24, 2010
    Actually, the British didn't have sufficient ground forces to defend the Malay peninsula. One major shortfall was tanks - they had none. The Japanese made most effective use of their tanks to storm British infantry positions. Coupled with this issue was the poor quality of most of the Indian units in Malaya. The rapid expansion of the Indian Army in 1940 led to the "milking" of units - taking experienced officers, SNCOs and JNCOs from one unit and using them as a nucleus around which to build new units. Many of the Indian Army units were not well trained from a tactical perspective. One can only imagine the horror these soldiers endured when attacked by Japanese tanks, a weapon few, if any, of the Indian soliders had seen before and against which they had no defence.

    More aircraft would undoubtedly have helped. The 4 squadrons of fighters in all of Malaya and Singapore simply had too many tasks to do any of them successfully: air defence of airfields and Singapore, army cooperation (tactical reconnaissance and strafing), bomber escort, air defence over convoys etc etc. Colin1 is right that lack of early warning was pivotal, as was the absence of a ground control system for directing fighters - the commanding officers of 2 of the Kallang Buffalo squadrons had to split their time between the units they were supposed to be leading and running the operations room in Air HQ. Coupled to the control issue was the inability of the command to get radios working in the fighter aircraft due to the lack of the right "crystals". Provision of ground defence for airfields in the form of AAA guns was also desperately required - in Burma, the British took to using peasant carts and positioning them to look like AAA as a deterrent which patently didn't put off the Japanese at all!

    Another major shortfall was photographic reconnaissance. The Japanese had been undertaking PR missions over northern Malaya for some time prior to the conflict. The RAF in Singapore had no aircraft capable of undertaking a reciprocal mission until 2 Buffalos were locally converted for the role, but even then the tasking was rather unimaginitive. Indeed, AHQ Far East displayed a marked lack of imagination in the employment of their limited air assets. They seem to have been stuck in the 1930s in their tactical usage of aircraft - bombers were to be used to attack shipping and airfields while fighters were only useful for strafing troops on the roads. Only 2 attempts at strafing airfields with fighters were attempted, both in January 1942 and both dismal failures owing to the lack of leadership by the squadron commander tasked with the mission. This lack of tactical agility is in stark contrast to the forces defending Burma which did undertake a number of successful strafing missions, both by the AVG and RAF fighters, against Japanese-held airfields in Thailand.

    The key to Singapore's survival was the success of Operation MATADOR - the occupation by British troops of forward areas in Thailand. The key location was Singora (or Songkhla as it was sometimes referred to). Denial of this major port would have considerably slowed the Japanese offensive, buying time for British reinforcements to arrive in the theater and deploy effectively rather than being committed piecemeal into the fighting.

    Sorry for the long post but I hope it's of interest and generates further discussion.

    Cheers,
    B

    P.S. Don't know where Colin1 gets the reference for Spits as they didn't start appearing in Burma until 1943 (Singapore fell on 15 Feb 42)
     
  6. syscom3

    syscom3 Pacific Historian

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    There was also serious questions about the leadership of the generals, admirals and politicians charged with defending the empire.

    They acted and thought along prewar colonial attitudes. The commonwealth troops were in a good part, defeated from the top.
     
  7. buffnut453

    buffnut453 Well-Known Member

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    The key challenge in defending the British Empire was that it was impractically large. It was hugely vulnerable to any revisionist force/power that could concentrate military force in one area. This is precisely what the Japanese were able to achieve.

    I agree many of the British military and civilian leadership had their heads in the sand. The only Army unit that was reasonably trained for the type of fighting undertaken during the Malayan Campaign were the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. Their CO was thought of as being slightly mad by his peers in Singapore but his approach was proved correct in battle.

    There were also tremendous communication problems between the various military leaders in Singapore, a situation not helped by Brooke-Popham being CINC-FE but only in charge of Army and RAF personnel: the RN retained their own CINC. The problem came to a head with the planning for Force Z's sortie up the eastern Malay coast when Adm Phillips misunderstood the statement that the RAF could not provide permanent air cover over northern Malaya and took that to mean he had no air support at all for his mission.

    So many mistakes, so many missed opportunities....
     
  8. Colin1

    Colin1 Active Member

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    You are indeed correct
    the Spitfire incident took place in Burma, not Singapore - my apologies.
     
  9. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

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    I agree. Fix the leadership issues and Malaya can hold without reinforcements. The same applies to American defense of the Philippines. If you fail to fix the leadership then you are just throwing additional units away.
     
  10. Glider

    Glider Well-Known Member

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    If the question was Could the British have sent enough aircraft to Singapore to have control of the air. The simple awnser is yes the RAF had over a dozen squadrons of Spit V's achieving nothing in the South East of England.

    Do I believe these resources would have been wasted with the leadership that was in place, Yes
     
  11. syscom3

    syscom3 Pacific Historian

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    Having the airplanes in place is one thing. Keeping them supplied is another.

    They might have made things interesting for Japanese for a bit. But in the end, they too would have perished, if just from attrition.
     
  12. buffnut453

    buffnut453 Well-Known Member

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    Part of the leadership problem in Malaya/Singapore was decision paralysis. Percival thought he was up against at least 5 Japanese divisions so all along he fought a defensive campaign with no attempt to concentrate British forces and deal a telling blow to the Japanese. On the air side, as already noted, there just weren't enough aircraft to defend the area and, afer the atrocious losses in the first few days of the campaign which were largely due to the lack of early warning, the priority became air defence for reinforcement convoys and not squandering aircraft unnecessarily.

    An extra 5 squadrons of Spitfires might have made all the difference in the world if they could have gained some measure of air superiority over the IJAAF, freeing the Buffalos to undertake Army co-op tasks at which they performed very well. See Tsuji for comments about the effectiveness of RAF strafing runs by "Hurricanes" although the protagonists were actually Buffalos of 21/453 Sqn. However, the lack of early warning and the Spitfire's relatively short range would both have remained key hindrances to success of the Spit in Malaya.
     
  13. buffnut453

    buffnut453 Well-Known Member

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    Not sure it's quite that simple. As noted previously, most of the "British" troops were actually unseasoned Indian units which could barely do the basics - drill and fire a rifle. I still think it would have been difficult to hold Malaya without additional, more experienced ground forces. That said, more dynamic leadership might have recognised that the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders were onto something and applied their training approach to all Army formations within the command. However, even that would not have solved all the issues. Malaya, being a peninsula, is very hard to defend because ultimately the flanks are open to the sea, enabling the Japanese to land forces behind the British front line and cause chaos. The only true way to save Singapore was to stop the Japanese landing in force at Singora.
     
  14. freebird

    freebird Active Member

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    #14 freebird, Jul 24, 2010
    Last edited: Jul 24, 2010
    First off, yes it would work wonders if the British had not had the greek fiasco.
    But suppose we take as a starting point the last week of November, 1941.
    Could the British have made adequate preparations with what they had on hand or could ship there in time?


    Let's take these ideas one by one.

    1.) Aircraft: Aircraft: What aircraft could they send to Singapore within a month or so?
    It was agreed by before the war that Malaya should have ~28 squadrons (336 aircraft), but by the beginning of december there are 16 squadrons, (9 RAF, 5 RAAF, 2 NZ) with 158 aircraft in service, probably at least 1/3 of them obsolete crap.

    The problem is shipping aircraft from the UK takes way too much time.
    Where could they get aircraft?

    1.) Canada - In 1941 Canada makes Hurricanes (CC F Thunder Bay), Hampdens Bolingbrokes (Fairchild), and the Harvard (a Texan). There is also the training program, which should be able to supply some pilots, although not as experienced as desired.
    It would be far easier to ship them across the pacific than to send them all the way around the cape.
    Were the 50 Hurricanes that arrived in Jan '42 shipped from the UK?

    2.) Australia The problem is that there is a limited supply of aircraft, which have to be brought in from the UK. Are the Aussies building Beaufighters in 1941?
    My source give only 165 RAAF aircraft in Dec 1941, including trainers those in the Solomons (excluding Malaya)

    Would the Wirraways/Harvards have been any use against the Japanese?
    Could Australia afford to send aircraft or pilots to malaya?

    Middle East/ India the only other way to get aircraft would be from ME or India command. Could the ME afford to lose any fighters?
    I can't seem to find if there were any Hurri or Buffalo fighter squadrons in India/Persia that could be sent tp Malaya as a stopgap measure. Does anyone have this info?
     
  15. buffnut453

    buffnut453 Well-Known Member

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    Freebird,

    The only Buffalo squadron not engaged in the defence of Malaya and Singapore was 67 Sqn which was based at Mingaladon, Burma. 805 Sqn FAA had a few in North Africa but they were ex-Belgian airframes and hence differed slightly from the RAF Buffalos in the Far East.

    Australia had only just started manufacture of Beauforts - the Beaufighter would not arrive for some time.

    Wirraways were used in Malaya - 6 of them were retained and converted for use as ad hoc "dive bombers".

    Probably the best way to get additional aircraft to the Far East would be the redeployment of Spitfire or Hurricane units from the UK or other theatres. Resupply might have been problemmatic but sending twice as many aircraft as were needed by a squadron would provide a starting point for war reserves.

    Cheers,
    Mark
     
  16. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

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    That cuts both ways. Japan did not have all that many aircraft during December 1941. Nothing at all like what Germany had to face from 1943 onward in places like Tunisia, Sicily and Salerno. Furthermore airpower is inheritly less effective in the jungle. Well trained and led British troops could have simply shrugged off the Japanese air raids just as German soldiers did.
     
  17. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    Australia was not manufacturing Beaus until much later in the war. DAP rolled out its first Beaforts just prior to the outbreak of hostilities. It had substantial orders with the US, but only some Hudsons (and of course the Buffalo) had been delivered by the outbreak of hostilities.

    The RAAF had accepted the appraisal that the Buffalo was sufficient to deal with the Japanese fighters. The intell being received was attrocious, and the assessments were coloured by white supremacist claptrap. The Buffalo was not deployed in sufficient numbers, though it was not that heavily outnumbered anyway. There have been raging debates about that, but I remain totally unconvinced about how badly the RAF was outnumbered. it was outnumbered, but not hopelessly so. The odds wereprobably longer over Britain in 1940, just to put it into perspective.

    What was missing was numbers, AND quality. And there were no local sources of supply, and no real overseas sources for aircraft supply. Even more telling however, was the lack of experience (though ther were some very notable exceptions to that, such as some of the Australian squadrons) , this applied to both the air and ground forces being committed. Australian formations were better trained than the Indians, but they cracked too when faced with the battlehardened Japanese formations (both air and ground). The conduct of the air battle is more obscure, but no better handled at a staff level than the ground war

    Whats needed was a wholsesale transfer of forces from another theatre. Since shipping was in short supply, these formations would have to come from the only active theatre then in play....the med. A wholsesale redeployment to the far east probably means abandonment of Malta, and probably Tobruk, and the transfer of at least 200 aircraft with seasoned crews. If the ANZAC formations are withdrawn, there are probably 5 divs (6, 7 9 Aus, 2 NZ and 18 Br Divs) and the approximately eight RAAF squadrons deployed into that theatre (along with the NZ air assets as well). The air formations had fought with distinction in the Levant and over the western desert, were thoroughly trained and tested, and flying aircraft better than the equipment in the far east (tomahawks for the most part). The capabilities of the 9th Aus and 2 NZ could have matched anything the Japanese had thrown at them in Malaya, and the 7th was to prove its mettle at Kokoda. The 6th had been defeated at crete, but its experiences there would still be useful in the malayan context (the similarities in the type of battle are striking to be honest)
     
  18. Colin1

    Colin1 Active Member

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    I don't think manufacture and supply was the principal problem

    As per the piece I submitted in Polls: A6M2 vs Hurricane II

    http://www.ww2aircraft.net/forum/polls/hurricane-mk-iic-vs-a6m2-zero-18853-3.html#post696640

    the problem lay with how the aerial assets were implemented once in-theatre. There was never an instance where even most of the Hurricane contingent was serviceable, the best that could be achieved was around a dozen, although frequently less.

    There was no attempt to withold the Hurricanes from action until a sizeable force of serviceable aircraft could be built up. Consequently, a coherent plan for a properly planned defence could not be devised. Aircraft that were serviceable were often damaged staging through refuelling strips that were gouged by heavier aircraft. Knee-jerk command decisions simply put aircraft into the air as soon as they were flyable, and finally, early warning for the incoming raids was non-existent.

    Small, ineffectual (wrt the sizes of the formations that they invariably faced) pockets of fighters were almost always flown off too late against an enemy who was waiting for them.
     
  19. Wildcat

    Wildcat Well-Known Member

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    The RAAF was in no way capable of supplying more aircraft and aircrew to Malaya, in fact at the outbreak of hostilities in the Pacific, Australia did not possess one dedicated fighter squadron to defend the Australian mainland. The RAAF's most capable aircraft in this period would have been the Hudson, even then we didn't have enough and they were spread thin all over the place - 2 sqn's at Malaya/Singapore, 2 sqn's in the NEI's and a single flight at Rabaul. All these units took severe losses at the hands of Japanese fighters. The Wirraway was outclassed as a fighter - just look at what happened to 24 sqn at Rabaul. Even in large numbers, Wirraways simply wouldn't survive in Malaya against Japanese air superiority.
    As Parsifal mentioned, Beauforts were just beginning to come off the production lines at DAP, in fact the handful that were sent to Singapore were quickly rejected as not combat ready and were sent back to Australia. Off the top of my head one or two of these aircraft stayed to be used in the unarmed reconnaissance role.
     
  20. freebird

    freebird Active Member

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    That's what I figured.
    Did they have enough pilots?
    Could they send 40 - 60 pilots, assuming that aircraft could be found?

    Well according to British doctrine, the Med was more important than the CBI, so assume that you can't strip out the assets without replacement. :(

    Agreed.
    OK, question 2 first. :confused:
    2.) RAF Leadership

    It should have been obvious in the fall of '41 that war was coming to Malaya, and that the RAF command there was woefully inadequate.
    So, in the second half of November, who would you send to replace Brook-Popham?
    I would think Keith Park, but he's needed in Malta.
    Perhaps the best candidate would be Hugh Dowding, who in 1941 is in the US on an RAF mission.
     
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