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Assault and retreat

Singapore Island

On 8 February, just one month after the initial Japanese attack into northern Malaya, the Japanese assaulted Singapore Island. On 15 February, after an uncoordinated defence, Singapore surrendered. In just 70 days, three Japanese divisions had defeated a field force of comparable size and taken 130,000 Allied prisoners. 

Retreat from Burma

The British humiliation in the Far East was over, but even before the fall of Singapore, the Japanese had turned their attention to Burma. The dismal story of British and Imperial military failure in Malaya was repeated. On 7 March Rangoon was evacuated and the remaining British forces in Burma began a long retreat through roadless jungle to India. In mid May 1942 the rearguard crossed into Assam. The retreat was over.

At sea, in April 1942 a raid by a large Japanese aircraft carrier force prompted the Royal Navy to move back from Ceylon to the east coast of Africa, losing an aircraft carrier in the process. The Eastern Fleet that was being built up to replace the destroyed Force Z was too old and weak to contest control of the eastern Indian Ocean with a vigorous and highly efficient Imperial Japanese Navy.

American offensive

The summer of 1942 was the high water point of Japanese advances in the Far East.  At Midway the Japanese navy suffered a serious defeat and the American offensive began in the Solomon Islands - the start of an island-hopping campaign that would carry them to within striking distance of the Japanese home islands.

Scarce resources for British Army

For the British, after the humiliation of Malaya, the destruction of the Navy's Force Z, and the retreat from Burma, all chances for a counter attack rested with the Army in India. The Royal Navy's new Eastern fleet was far too weak to attack the Japanese Navy and had no amphibious shipping to launch a seaborne invasion, severely limiting options. Resources for an attack by the army in India were scarce. Furthermore, operations could only be undertaken in the dry season - from about May through to November each year the monsoon made large-scale movement all but impossible. Despite these setbacks, 1943 would see the first British counter-offensive.