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Battle of Singapore


The Battle of Singapore, also known as the Fall of Singapore, was fought in the South-East Asian theatre of World War II when the Empire of Japan invaded the British stronghold of Singaporeīnicknamed the "Gibraltar of the East". Singapore was the major British military base in South-East Asia and was the key to British imperial interwar defence planning for South-East Asia and the South-West Pacific. The fighting in Singapore lasted from 8 to 15 February 1942, after the two months during which Japanese forces had advanced down the Malayan Peninsula.

The Japanese 25th Army invaded from Indochina, moving into northern Malaya and Thailand by amphibious assault on 8 December 1941. This was virtually simultaneous with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor which precipitated the United States entry into the war. Thailand initially resisted, but soon had to yield. The Japanese then proceeded overland across the ThaiĖMalayan border to attack Malaya. At this time, the Japanese began bombing strategic sites in Singapore.

Although more Allied units-including some from the Australian 8th Division-joined the campaign, the Japanese prevented the Allied forces from regrouping. They also overran cities and advanced toward Singapore. The city was an anchor for the operations of the American-British-Dutch-Australian Command (ABDACOM), the first Allied joint command of the Second World War. Singapore controlled the main shipping channel between the Indian and the Pacific Oceans. An effective ambush was carried out by the Australian 2/30th Battalion on the main road at the Gemenceh River near Gemas on 14 January, causing heavy Japanese casualties.

Percival gave Major-General Gordon Bennett's two brigades from the Australian 8th Division responsibility for the western side of Singapore, including the prime invasion points in the northwest of the island. This was mostly mangrove swamp and jungle, broken by rivers and creeks. In the heart of the "Western Area" was RAF Tengah, Singapore's largest airfield at the time. The Australian 22nd Brigade, under Brigadier Harold Taylor, was assigned a 10 mi (16 km) wide sector in the west, and the 27th Brigade, under Brigadier Duncan Maxwell, had responsibility for a 4,000 yd (3,700 m) zone just west of the Causeway. The infantry positions were reinforced by the recently arrived Australian 2/4th Machine-Gun Battalion. Also under Bennett's command was the 44th Indian Infantry Brigade.

Yamashita had just over 30,000 men from three divisions: the Imperial Guards Division under Lieutenant-General Takuma Nishimura, the 5th Division under Lieutenant-General Takuro Matsui and the 18th Division under Lieutenant-General Renya Mutaguchi. Also in support was a light tank brigade. In comparison, following the withdrawal, Percival had about 85,000 men at his disposal, although 15,000 were administrative personnel, while large numbers were semi-trained British, Indian and Australian reinforcements that had only recently arrived. Meanwhile, of those forces that had seen action during the previous fighting, the majority were under-strength and under-equipped.

Shortly before 20:30 on 8 February, the first wave of Japanese troops from the 5th and 18th Divisions began crossing the Johor Strait. The main weight of the Japanese force, representing a total of about 13,000 men across 16 assault battalions, with five in reserve, was focused on assaulting Taylor's Australian 22nd Brigade, which totalled just three battalions. The assault would be concentrated on the 2/18th and 2/20th Battalions; with each division allocated 150 barges and collapsible boats, the Japanese could move approximately 4,000 men across the strait at any one time. In total, 13,000 Japanese troops landed throughout the first night; they were followed by another 10,000 after first light. Against this the defenders numbered just 3,000 men and lacked any significant reserve.

Air battles went on for the rest of the day, and by nightfall it was clear that with the few aircraft Percival had left, Kallang could no longer be used as a base. With his assent, the remaining flyable Hurricanes were withdrawn to Sumatra. A squadron of Hurricane fighters took to the skies on 9 February, but was then withdrawn to the Netherlands East Indies and after that no Allied aircraft were seen again over Singapore; the Japanese had achieved complete air supremacy. That evening, three Fairmile motor launches attacked and sunk several Japanese landing craft in the Johor Strait around its western channel on the evening of 9 February. Later, on the evening of 10 February, General Archibald Wavell, commander of American-British-Dutch-Australian Command, ordered the transfer of all remaining Allied air force personnel to the Dutch East Indies. By this time, Kallang Airfield was so pitted with bomb craters that it was no longer usable.

Missouri Civil War Museum