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Singapore & Malaya: 1942-1945

The Japanese campaign in the Pacific opened on the Malayan Peninsula, attacked a few hours before Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941. In early 1942, the Japanese advanced to seize Singapore and the northern approaches to Australia, including Rangoon, Burma. The United States and Britain had every intention of countering the Japanese but could not muster the troops or transport to intervene. The Japanese were operating over relatively short distances, consolidating territory. For the defenders, Singapore and Rangoon were half a world away from their home countries.

Map of South Asia, 1942
South Asia, 1942.

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The Japanese Capture of Singapore

After the capture of Kuala Lumpur (situated midway along the west coast of the Malayan Peninsula) on 11 January 1942, new Japanese landings in the rear of British positions and continued Japanese pressure all along the front, quickly overcame successive attempts to hold a line across the peninsula in Johore Province. By the end of January the main body of the defending troops had been evacuated to Singapore and the causeway from the mainland was blown up. A week later, on 7 February, the Japanese, strongly supported by planes and artillery, established a beachhead on the island and on 15 February the British garrison surrendered, forced to do so by Japanese capture of the water supply. About 76,000 British Commonwealth soldiers were interned as POWs until the end of the war.

Prime Minister Churchill called the loss of Singapore "the worst disaster and greatest capitulation of British history." The supposedly impregnable fortress, with its huge naval facilities and strategically important airfields, fell into the hands of the Japanese almost intact, after a swift and well executed campaign. The British commander, Lt Gen. A.E. Percival, refused to take the Japanese seriously, making one blunder after another as the Japanese came down the Malayan Peninsula, until surrender was inevitable. British military prestige never recovered.

The Japanese Commander was Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita, later known as the "Tiger of Malaya," for his daring and flexibility on the battlefield, resulting in the quick capture of the Malayan Peninsula and Singapore. By 1944 he was the Commander of the Japanese Fourteenth Army Group, defending the Philippine Islands against U.S. attack. He surrendered in the Philippines at war's end and was tried for war crimes within his command, convicted and executed.

Japanese Attack the Malay Barrier

The Allies tried to halt the Japanese at the Malay Barrier, the mountainous chain of islands stretching from Malaya through the Netherlands East Indies to New Guinea. But the fall of Singapore on 15 February 1942, and the loss of Rangoon and the island of Java on 8 March, shattered the Malay Barrier leaving Australia and New Zealand virtually undefended. But Allied sea power rebounded from the low point of early 1942 and the naval victory in the Coral Sea 7-8 May 1942 finally stopped the Japanese advance.

With the surrender of Java, Americans (including a battalion of the U.S. Army 131st Field Artillery, the "Lost Battalion", and survivors of the sinking of the cruiser USS Houston (CA-30)) were taken prisoner, transferred to the mainland, and most forced to work building the Burma-Thai Railway. They were released in 1945 with the liberation of POW camps in Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand. Only a fraction of the men were located, hundreds of others perished.

Singapore & Malaya Occupied for the Remainder of WW II

Although the Allies did eventually engage the Japanese on the ground in Burma, the Japanese retained their grip on much of southeastern Asia for the remainder of the war. Japanese bases, strong points and captured cities were bombed but nothing decisive was attempted. The formal capitulation of all Japanese armed forces in southeastern Asia finally took place at Singapore on 12 September 1945.

Recommended Book about Malaya & Singapore in World War II

Find More Information on the Internet

There are many fine websites that have additional information on this topic, too many to list here and too many to keep up with as they come and go. Use this Google web search form to get an up to date report of what's out there.

For good results, try entering this: ww ii singapore OR malaya. Then click the Search button.

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