Singapore, an island south of the Malay peninsula, was acquired by the East India Company in 1819. It was decided in 1938 to build the Changi Naval Base on the island. Despite the fears of a Japanese invasion the base was only defended by a small force of Allied soldiers.

On 7th December the Japanese Army began arriving at Kota Bharu. This was just a diversionary force and the the main landings in the Malay peninsula did not take place until the next day at Singora and Patani on the north-east coast. Under the command of General Tomoyuki Yamashita, the Japanese 18th Division, made rapid progress as they forced Allied troops to retreat south.

The British Army in Malaya did not have any tanks whereas the Japanese had over two hundred. The Japanese Air Force were also able to carry out a series of air attacks on Allied positions. Unsuccessful attempts were made to halt the advance of General Tomoyuki Yamashita at Perak River, Kampar and the Muar River.

On 25th January 1942, General Arthur Percival gave orders for a general retreat across the Johore Strait to the island of Singapore. The island was difficult to defend and on 8th February, 13,000 Japanese troops landed on the northwest corner of the island. The next day another 17,000 arrived in the west. Percival, moved his soldiers to the southern tip of the island but on 15th February he admitted defeat and surrendered his 138,000 soldiers to the Japanese.

It was Britain's most humiliating defeat of the war. Percival and his troops remained prisoners of the Japanese until just before the end of the Second World War.

Primary Sources

(1) George Orwell, BBC radio broadcast (20th December 1941)

With the fall of Singapore, the war in the Far East enters into its second phase. It is evident that the Japanese now have two main objectives: one is to cut the Burma Road, in hopes of thus knocking China out of the war, and the other is to widen the sphere of Japanese control in the Western Pacific, to such an extent that the Allies shall have no air or naval bases within attacking distance of Japan. In order to achieve this plan completely, the Japanese would have to control the whole of the East Indies, the whole of Burma, Northern Australia and probably New Zealand and Hawaii. Could they control all these areas, they would have eliminated the danger of British or American counter-attack for the time being, though even then their safety would depend on keeping Russia out of the war. They are not likely to attain the whole even of these objectives, but they may go some way towards it, and it is clear that their first step must be the conquest of Rangoon and of the big seaports of Java. The battle in Burma is already raging, and the attack on Java is obviously imminent.

We cannot say yet how the battle in Burma will end. The Japanese have advanced, but not very rapidly, and the British have been reinforced both with aeroplanes and with Chinese troops. The supply difficulties which decided the issue in Malaya are less acute in the Burma area. If Rangoon should fall, that is an end not actually of the Burma Road, but of the present route by which supplies can reach the Burma Road from India or from Britain. The capture of Rangoon by the Japanese would not end the campaign in Burma because in this case the direction of the Japanese advance must be northward, and there is no question of the Allied army being driven into the sea.