Was the Battle for Singapore the Day the British Empire Died

By 海人 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=59602486

Was the Battle for Singapore the Day the British Empire Died

A shocking defeat.

Percival was undoubtedly influenced in his decision by Japanese atrocities at the Alexandria Hospital on February 14, when the wounded and staff were massacred in cold blood. These were the “Butchers of Nanking,” well known for their brutality. Percival was a humane man, and he had to consider Singapore’s vast civilian population in a prolonged resistance.

Later, while summing up the campaign, Percival felt defeat was due to British inferiority in the air and a lack of tanks. However, Yamashita felt racial disunity between British, Chinese, Malays, Indians, and Australians was an important factor.

It is an interesting question to ask how long the British would have needed to fight to turn the tables; Wavell thought the Japanese could be fought to a standstill. But Yamashita could call on resources from China and Manchuria, whereas British reinforcements were limited.

Perhaps Wavell was right; a more aggressive commander might have succeeded. General Stanley Kirby later wrote that he felt the catastrophe rested with more men than just Percival. “One can sum up by saying that those responsible for the conduct of the land campaign in Malaya committed every conceivable blunder. Wavell, Percival, Heath, and [Gordon-] Bennett had all made serious errors of judgement regarding the enemy and the best ways of dealing with him. From the beginning, Wavell, as he later admitted, had underestimated the Japanese soldier just as he overrated Percival’s chances of beating him.”

Instead, in 70 days at the cost of 3,500 dead the Japanese defeated the British and led nearly 100,000 troops into captivity, smashing forever the British Empire in the East. Thousands of British, Indian, and Australian prisoners died in captivity.

Originally Published January 17, 2019.

This article originally appeared on the Warfare History Network.

Image: Wikimedia