Battle of Singapore part 04



 JapaneseMarchSgpCity  Singapore map 1942  Kranji War Memorial Inscription

Note: JapaneseMarchSgpCity // Singapore map 1942 // Kranji War Memorial Inscription

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Second day

Main article: Battle of Kranji

Believing that further landings would occur in the northeast, Percival did not reinforce the 22nd Brigade until the morning of 9 February; when he did, the forces dispatched consisted of two half-strength battalions from the 12th Indian Infantry Brigade. These units reached Bennett around midday, and, shortly afterwards, Percival allocated the composite 6th/15th Indian Infantry Brigade to reinforce Bennett's force on one hour's notice to move from their position around the Singapore racecourse. Throughout the day, the 44th Indian Infantry Brigade, still holding its position on the coast, began to feel pressure on its exposed flank, and after discussions between Percival and Bennett, it was decided that they would have to be pulled back east to maintain the southern part of the Allied line. Bennett decided to form a secondary defensive line, known as the "Kranji-Jurong Switch Line", oriented to the west, and positioned between the two rivers, with its centre around Bulim, east of Tengah Airfield—which subsequently came under Japanese control—and just north of Jurong.

To the north, Maxwell's Australian 27th Brigade, had not been engaged during the initial Japanese assaults on the first day. Possessing only two battalions, the 2/26th and 2/30th, following the loss of the 2/29th Battalion to the 22nd Brigade, Maxwell sought to reorganise his force to deal with the threat posed to their western flank. Late on 9 February, the Imperial Guards began assaulting the positions held by the 27th Brigade, concentrating on those held by the 2/26th Battalion. During the initial assault, the Japanese suffered severe casualties from Australian mortars and machine guns, and from burning oil which had been sluiced into the water following the demolition of several oil tanks by the defending Australians. Some of the Guards reached the shore and maintained a tenuous beachhead; nevertheless, at the height of the assault, it is reported that the Guards commander, Nishimura, requested permission to cancel the attack due to the heavy casualties his troops had suffered from the fire. This request was denied by the Japanese commander, Yamashita, who ordered them to press on.

Command and control problems caused further cracks in the Allied defence. Maxwell was aware that the 22nd Brigade was under increasing pressure, but was unable to contact Taylor and was wary of encirclement. As parties of Japanese troops began to infiltrate the brigade's position from the west, exploiting the gap formed by the Kranji River, the 2/26th Battalion was forced to withdraw to a position east of the Bukit Timah Road; this move subsequently precipitated a sympathetic move by the 2/30th away from the causeway. The authority for this withdrawal would later be the subject of debate, with Bennett later stating that he had not given Maxwell authorisation to do so. Regardless, the end result was that the Allies lost control of the beaches adjoining the west side of the causeway. In doing so, the high ground overlooking the causeway was given up, and the left flank of the 11th Indian Division exposed. In addition, it provided the Japanese with a firm foothold, giving them the opportunity to "build up their force unopposed".

Japanese breakthrough

The opening at Kranji made it possible for Imperial Guards armoured units to land there unopposed, after which they were able to begin ferrying across their artillery and armour. After finding his left flank exposed by the 27th Brigade's withdrawal, the commander of the 11th Indian Infantry Division, Key, dispatched his reserve brigade, the 8th, to retake the high ground to the south of the Causeway. Throughout the 10th, further fighting took place around along the Jurong Line, as orders were formulated to establish a secondary defensive line to the west of the Reformatory Road with troops not then employed in the Jurong Line; misinterpretation of these orders resulted in Taylor, the commander of the 22nd Brigade, prematurely withdrawing his troops to the east, where they were joined by a 200-strong ad hoc battalion of Australian reinforcements, known as 'X' Battalion. The Jurong Line eventually collapsed, though, after the 12th Indian Brigade was withdrawn by its commander, Brigadier Archie Paris, to the road junction near Bukit Panjang, after he lost contact with the 27th Brigade on his right; the commander of the 44th Indian Brigade, Ballantine, commanding the extreme left of the line, also misinterpreted the orders in the same manner that Taylor had and withdrew.

On the evening of 10 February, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, cabled Wavell, saying:

I think you ought to realise the way we view the situation in Singapore. It was reported to Cabinet by the CIGS [Chief of the Imperial General Staff, General Alan Brooke] that Percival has over 100,000 [sic] men, of whom 33,000 are British and 17,000 Australian. It is doubtful whether the Japanese have as many in the whole Malay Peninsula ... In these circumstances the defenders must greatly outnumber Japanese forces who have crossed the straits, and in a well-contested battle they should destroy them. There must at this stage be no thought of saving the troops or sparing the population. The battle must be fought to the bitter end at all costs. The 18th Division has a chance to make its name in history. Commanders and senior officers should die with their troops. The honour of the British Empire and of the British Army is at stake. I rely on you to show no mercy to weakness in any form. With the Russians fighting as they are and the Americans so stubborn at Luzon, the whole reputation of our country and our race is involved. It is expected that every unit will be brought into close contact with the enemy and fight it out ..

Upon learning of the Jurong Line's collapse, Wavell, in the early afternoon of 10 February, ordered Percival to launch a counterattack to retake it. This order was subsequently passed on to Bennett, who allocated the ad hoc Australian 'X' Battalion to the task. Percival made plans of his own for the counterattack, detailing a three-phased operation that involved the majority of the 22nd Brigade, and he subsequently passed this on to Bennett, who began implementing the plan, but forgot to call 'X' Battalion back. 'X' Battalion, consisting of poorly trained and equipped replacements, subsequently advanced to an assembly area near Bukit Timah. In the early hours of 11 February, the Japanese, who had concentrated significant forces around the Tengah airfield and on the Jurong Road, began further offensive operations: the 5th Division aimed its advance towards Bukit Panjang, while the 18th struck out towards Bukit Timah. There, they fell upon 'X' Battalion which had camped in its assembly area waiting to launch its own attack, and in the ensuing fight two thirds of the battalion was killed or wounded. After brushing aside elements of the 6th/15th Indian Brigade, the Japanese again began attacking the Australian 22nd Brigade around the Reformatory Road.

Later on 11 February, with Japanese supplies running low Yamashita attempted to bluff Percival, calling on him to "give up this meaningless and desperate resistance". By this stage, the fighting strength of the 22nd Brigade—which had borne the brunt of the Japanese attacks—had been reduced to a few hundred men, and the Japanese had captured the Bukit Timah area, including the Allies' main food and fuel supply depots. Nevertheless, Wavell subsequently told Percival that the ground forces were to fight on to the end, and that there should not be a general surrender in Singapore. With the vital water supply of the reservoirs in the centre of the island threatened, the Australian 27th Brigade was later ordered to recapture Bukit Panjang as a preliminary move in retaking Bukit Timah. The effort was beaten back by fierce resistance from Imperial Guards troops and the 27th was subsequently split in half either side of the Bukit Timah Road with elements spread as far as the Pierce Reservoir.

My attack on Singapore was a bluff – a bluff that worked. I had 30,000 men and was outnumbered more than three to one. I knew that if I had to fight for long for Singapore, I would be beaten. That is why the surrender had to be at once. I was very frightened all the time that the British would discover our numerical weakness and lack of supplies and force me into disastrous street fighting.

Tomoyuki Yamashita

The next day, as the situation worsened for the Allies, they sought to consolidate their defences and subsequently during the night of 12/13 February the order was given for a 28-mile (45 km) perimeter to be established around Singapore City at the eastern end of the island. This was achieved by moving the defending forces from the beaches along the northern shore and from around Changi, with the British 18th Division being tasked to maintain control of the vital reservoirs and effecting a link up with Simmons' forces Southern Area forces. The withdrawing troops received harassing attacks all the way back. Elsewhere, the 22nd Brigade continued to hold a position west of the Holland Road until late in the evening when it was pulled back to Holland Village.

On 13 February, Japanese engineers re-established the road over the causeway, and more tanks were pushed across. With the Allies still losing ground, senior officers advised Percival to surrender in the interests of minimising civilian casualties. Percival refused, but unsuccessfully sought authority from Wavell for greater discretion as to when resistance might cease. Elsewhere, the Japanese captured the water reservoirs that supplied the town, although they did not cut-off the supply. That same day, military police executed Captain Patrick Heenan for espionage. An Air Liaison Officer with the British Indian Army, Heenan had been recruited by Japanese military intelligence, and he had used a radio to assist them in targeting Allied airfields in northern Malaya. He had been arrested on 10 December and court-martialled in January. Heenan was shot at Keppel Harbour, on the southern side of Singapore, and his body was thrown into the sea.

The Australians occupied a perimeter of their own to the north-west around Tanglin Barracks, in which they maintained an all round defensive posture as a precaution to Japanese penetration of the larger perimeter elsewhere. To their right, the British 18th Division, the Indian 11th Division and the 2nd Malaya Brigade held the perimeter from the edge of the Farrar Road east to Kallang, while to their left, the 44th Indian Brigade and the 1st Malaya Brigade held the perimeter from Buona Vista to Pasir Panjang. For the most part, there was limited fighting around the perimeter, except around Pasir Panjang Ridge, just 1 mile (1.6 km) from Singapore Harbour, where the 1st Malaya Brigade—which consisted of a Malayan infantry battalion, two British infantry battalions and a force of Royal Engineers—fought a stubborn defensive action during the Battle of Pasir Panjang. The Japanese largely avoided attacking the Australian perimeter at this time, but elsewhere, in the northern area, throughout the day the British 53rd Brigade was pushed back by a Japanese assault up the Thompson Road, and had to re-establish itself to the north of Braddell Road in the evening, joining the 18th Division's other two brigades—the 54th and 55th—in the line. They dug-in and throughout the night fierce fighting raged on the northern front.

The following day, the remaining Allied units fought on. Civilian casualties mounted as one million people crowded into the 3-mile (4.8 km) area still held by the Allies and bombing and artillery fire increased. Civilian authorities began to fear that the water supply would give out. At this time, Percival was advised that large amounts of water were being lost due to damaged pipes and that the water supply was on the verge of collapse.

Alexandra Hospital massacre

On 14 February, the Japanese renewed their assault on the western part of the Southern Area's defences, around the same area that the 1st Malayan Brigade had fought desperately to hold the previous day. At about 13:00, the Japanese broke through and they advanced towards the Alexandra Barracks Hospital. A British lieutenant—acting as an envoy with a white flag—approached the Japanese forces but was killed with a bayonet. After the Japanese troops entered the hospital they killed up to 50 soldiers, including some undergoing surgery. Doctors and nurses were also killed. The next day about 200 male staff members and patients who had been assembled and bound the previous day, many of them walking wounded, were ordered to walk about 400 m (440 yd) to an industrial area. Those who fell on the way were bayoneted. The men were forced into a series of small, badly-ventilated rooms where they were held overnight without water. Some died during the night as a result of their treatment. The remainder were bayoneted the following morning. Several survivors were identified after the war, with some having survived by pretending to be dead. One survivor, Private Arthur Haines from the Wiltshire Regiment, wrote a four-page account of the massacre that was sold by his daughter by private auction in 2008.

Fall of Singapore

By the morning of 15 February, the Japanese had broken through the last line of defence; the Allies were running out of food and ammunition. The anti-aircraft guns had also run out of ammunition and were unable to disrupt Japanese air attacks, which were causing heavy casualties in the city centre. Little work had been done to build air raid shelters and looting and desertion by Allied troops further added to the chaos in this area. At 09:30, Percival held a conference at Fort Canning with his senior commanders. He proposed two options: either launch an immediate counter-attack to regain the reservoirs and the military food depots in the Bukit Timah region, or surrender. After heated argument and recrimination, all present agreed that no counterattack was possible. Percival opted for surrender. Post war analyses has shown, though, that had Percival opted for a counterattack at that time, it might have been successful. The Japanese were at the limit of their supply line, and their artillery had just a few hours of ammunition left.

A deputation was selected to go to the Japanese headquarters. It consisted of a senior staff officer, the colonial secretary and an interpreter. They set off in a motor car bearing a Union Jack and a white flag of truce toward the enemy lines to discuss a cessation of hostilities. They returned with orders that Percival himself proceed with staff officers to the Ford Motor Factory, where Yamashita would lay down the terms of surrender. A further requirement was that the Japanese Rising Sun Flag be hoisted over the tallest building in Singapore, the Cathay Building. Percival formally surrendered shortly after 17:15. Earlier that day Percival had issued orders to destroy all secret and technical equipment, ciphers, codes, secret documents and heavy guns.

Under the terms of the surrender hostilities were to cease at 20:30 that evening, all military forces in Singapore were to surrender unconditionally, all Allied forces would remain in position and disarm themselves within an hour, and the British were allowed to maintain a force of 1,000 armed men to prevent looting until relieved by the Japanese. In addition, Yamashita also accepted full responsibility for the lives of the civilians in the city.

In the days following the surrender, Bennett caused controversy when he decided to escape. After receiving news of the surrender, Bennett handed command of the 8th Division to the divisional artillery commander, Brigadier Cecil Callaghan, and—along with some of his staff officers—commandeered a small boat. They eventually made their way back to Australia, meanwhile between 15,000 and 20,000 Australian soldiers are reported to have been captured. Bennett blamed Percival and the Indian troops for the defeat, but Callaghan reluctantly stated that Australian units had been affected by the desertion of many men towards the end of the battle. Indeed, the Kappe Report compiled by Colonels J.H. Thyer and C.H. Kappe, concedes that only two-thirds at most, of the available Australian troops manned the final perimeter. Regardless, many British units were reported to have been similarly affected.

In analysing the campaign, Clifford Kinvig, a senior lecturer at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and others, point the finger of blame at the commander of the 27th Brigade, Brigadier Duncan Maxwell, for his defeatist attitude and not properly defending the sector between the Causeway and the Kranji River. Elphick also claims that Australians made up the majority of stragglers. Meanwhile, according to one source Taylor cracked under the pressure. Thompson argues, however, that the 22nd Brigade was "so heavily outnumbered that defeat was inevitable", while Costello states that Percival's insistence on concentrating the 22nd Brigade's strength at the water's edge had been a serious mistake. Yamashita, the Japanese commander, laid the blame on the British "...underestimating Japanese military capabilities", and Percival's hesitancy in reinforcing the Australians on the western side of the island.

A classified wartime report by Wavell released in 1992 blamed the Australians for the loss of Singapore. Yet according to John Coates the report "lacked substance", as whilst there had undoubtedly been ill-discipline in the final stages of the campaign—particularly among the poorly trained British, Indian and Australian reinforcements that were hurriedly dispatched as the crisis worsened—the Australian 8th Division had fought well and had gained the respect of the Japanese. Indeed, at Gemas, Bakri and Jemaluang "they achieved the few outstanding tactical successes" of the campaign in Malaya, and although the Australians made up just 13 percent of the British Empire's ground forces, they sustained 73 percent of its battle deaths. Coates argues that the real reason for the fall of Singapore was the failure of the British strategy, to which Australian policy-makers had contributed in their acquiescence, and the overall lack of military resources allocated to the fighting in Malaya.

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