The Fall of Singapore

British soldiers push a car into the harbour at Singapore. This was part of the plan to destroy all property which would have proved useful to the Japanese.

Lieut. Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita, the Japanese Commander faces Lieut. Gen. A. E. Percival, British commander during the final meeting to arrange the surrender.

Early on the 15th Lieut. Gen. Percival received his final telegram from General Sir Archibald Wavell, Supreme Commander Far East:

So long as you are in position to inflict losses to enemy and your troops are physically capable of doing so you must fight on. Time gained and damage to enemy of vital importance at this crisis.

When you are fully satisfied that this is no longer possible I give you discretion to cease resistance.

Before doing so all arms, equipment, and transport of value to enemy must of course be rendered useless. Also just before final cessation of fighting opportunity should be given to any determined bodies of men or individuals to try and effect escape by any means possible. They must be armed.

Inform me of intentions. Whatever happens I thank you and all troops for your gallant efforts of last few days.

Earlier hopes that it might be possible for the British forces to hold out, expressed only days before, had been misplaced. Crucially the Japanese now controlled the water supply to the island of Singapore, together with their overwhelming superiority in the air and by sea, this meant that further resistance on land was only a futile delay of the inevitable.

The surrender did not go smoothly for everyone as Len Baynes, a soldier engaged in the defence was later to recall:

We seemed to wait in our trenches after the arrival of the cease-fire order for a very long time, without anything happening. An hour and a half after we received it, men dug in fifty yards away, in the centre of a lawn, decided to climb out of their trenches – a machine gun opened fire on them, and they all lay still around their position. I ran back to our RAP to try to borrow a Red Cross flag to take out over the lawn, and fetch in any wounded.

Dodging a hail of bullets from that same machine gun, I found our Medical Officer and explained my mission, but was told that since some of our men had fired on Japanese stretcher bearers, they had ceased to respect the Red Cross, and were firing indiscriminately at both stretcher bearers and ambulances. I was told to stay quietly with my men until further instructions were received. Again, it was later that we learned that Indian troops had fired on the Japanese from the windows of Robert’s Hospital, and this was responsible for the retribution.

It later transpired that the Japanese had brought up their veteran troops. As we had defended our ground so well, they thought we were a crack regiment under the direct command of General Wavell. These enemy companies acted more or less independently, and had few lines of communication. Their leaders had therefore not been able to inform them of the cease-fire, and as a result this was our worst period, as, without weapons, we were picked off one by one.

We had been told of soldiers’ bodies found with their hands tied together with barbed wire and riddled with bullets, and that they liked torturing their captives before disposing of them. We knew that the Chinese, whom they had been fighting for several years, did treat their prisoners this way. Our comrades out on the lawn had been shot down in cold blood. We did not discuss these things as we waited in silence, each kept his thoughts to himself.

Read more of this story on BBC People’s War.

Published by Pen & Sword in 2013:

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