Japanese dominance in the air was to be a crucial factor during their invasion of Malaya and Singapore. Troops on the ground would curse the absence of the RAF. There was nothing lacking in the commitment of the RAF pilots, many of whom died facing overwhelming numbers of Japanese fighters. Many of their stories will never be known.
It was only by chance that enough people survived the war for the actions of Squadron Leader Arthur Scarf to be remembered and recognised. He was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross only in June 1946. His citation states:
On 9th December, 1941, all available aircraft from the Royal Air Force Station, Butterworth, Malaya, were ordered to make a daylight attack on the advanced operational base of the Japanese Air Force at Singora, Thailand. From this base, the enemy fighter squadrons were supporting the landing operations.
The aircraft detailed for the sortie were on the point of taking off when the enemy made a combined dive-bombing and low level machine-gun attack on the airfield. All our aircraft were destroyed or damaged with the exception of the Blenheim piloted by Squadron Leader Scarf. This aircraft had become airborne a few seconds before the attack started. Squadron Leader Scarf circled the airfield and witnessed the disaster.
It would have been reasonable had he abandoned the projected operation which was intended to be a formation sortie. He decided, however, to press on to Singora in his single aircraft. Although he knew that this individual action could not inflict much material damage on the enemy, he, nevertheless, appreciated the moral effect which it would have on the remainder of the squadron, who were helplessly watching their aircraft burning on the ground.
Squadron Leader Scarf completed his attack successfully. The opposition over the target was severe and included attacks by a considerable number of enemy fighters. In the course of these encounters, Squadron Leader Scarf was mortally wounded.” The enemy continued to engage him in a running fight, which lasted until he had regained the Malayan border. Squadron Leader Scarf fought a brilliant evasive action in a valiant attempt to return to his base.
Although he displayed the utmost gallantry and determination, he was, owing to his wounds, unable to accomplish this.
He made a successful forced-landing at Alor Star without causing any injury to his crew. He was received into hospital as soon as possible, but died shortly after admission.
Squadron Leader Scarf displayed supreme heroism in the face of tremendous odds and his splendid example of self-sacrifice will long be remembered.
London Gazette 21 June 1946
More on Arthur Scarf and the stories about his reception in Alor Stor Hospital can be found at Far East Heroes.
The Bristol Blenheim was the principal daylight bomber at the start of the war. Their crews had made extraordinary sacrifices during the Battle of Britain, when invasion threatened England.