Asia 1939-1945: Singapore

Why was the fall of Singapore such a shock?

Extract from a report on the fall of Singapore 1942

Catalogue ref: WO 208/1529

Extract from a report on the fall of Singapore, 1942; WO 208/1529

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What is this source?

This is an extract from an official British government report on the fall of Singapore in February 1942.

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There were many reports from different officers in different services that were sent to the government. This report was published some time after the fall and probably tried to make use of the other reports.


What’s the background to this source?

WW2 broke out in Europe in 1939. In the Far East war broke out on December 7th 1941 when Japanese forces destroyed the US fleet at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Japan had already built up forces in Indochina and Thailand and surprised the British forces by attacking Malaya (part of the British Empire) in December 1941. Although the Allied forces outnumbered the Japanese, they were less experienced and less well equipped. The British also did not expect to attack Singapore by advancing 600 miles through difficult territory in Malaya. By February 1942 the Japanese were attacking the heavily fortified naval base of Singapore and it surrendered on February 15th 1942.

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The defenders outnumbered the attackers at Singapore. However, the Japanese were better trained and equipped. They were especially strong in terms of aircraft. Defenders were constantly attacked from the air. One of the deciding factors in the surrender was the heavy civilian casualties suffered from bombing by aircraft. A related factor was that Singapore's anti-aircraft defences ran out of ammunition.


It’s worth knowing that...

Soon after the fall of Singapore the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill asked the Australian Prime Minister to support him in opposing calls for a full public enquiry into the disaster at Singapore.

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Many of the reports submitted by British officers after Singapore heavily criticised the Australian troops. However, most reports claimed that the real problem was very poor leadership by the British army and naval forces.


How will you use this source?

  1. What conclusions, on the part of the British, turned out to be wrong?
  2. Does the report suggest that the commanders were to blame for these errors in judgement?
  3. Does the report criticise anyone else?
  4. How do the notes and sources help you to find out why the fall of Singapore was such a shock?

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