The Battle of Singapore was a battle in the Pacific War between Japanese and British armies in 1942. It marked one of the high points of the war for Japan, and ultimately demonstrated the weaknesses of Britain's military in the Pacific. The events that led to the Battle of Singapore can be traced back to the 1930s.
Japan invaded Manchuria during the 1930s. The beginning of the war with China was a prelude to the Pacific War that followed in the 1940s. The Japanese left the League of Nations, and then the US also began an economic blockade with Japan.
War with Japan in the Pacific seemed increasingly likely. By the early 1940s the impact of the US blockade began to be felt by Japan. For Japan, war seemed the best option for breaking this blockade and establishing an empire in the Pacific providing further economic resources
To establish an empire, Japan's army highlighted weakly defended European colonies as a primary target. For further encouragement the European naval presence in the Pacific was not one that matched the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN). However, the US Pacific Fleet was one that the Japanese felt would be essential to defeat if they were to establish an expanded empire in the Pacific.
In this respect the IJN established a plan for an airstrike at Pearl Harbor. An effective airstrike at Pearl Harbor would remove the US Pacific Fleet stationed there, leaving the Pacific open for Japanese advances. To do this, aircraft carriers headed to Pearl Harbor; and with an element of surprise their bombers bombed the harbor on December 7, 1941. During the raid, the US fleet lost a number of battleships and hundreds of aircraft.
After the airstrike, a declaration of war was given not only by the USA, but by the British. Although pre-occupied in Europe, with notable military bases such as at Singapore the British could provide some military support in the Pacific. The British Malaya Command had almost 100,000 troops stationed at Singapore.
After Pearl Harbor, Japan advanced on a number of European colonies. As territory fell to Japan, Malaya became the next target in early 1942. As Japanese troops landed in Malaya, the port of Singapore was a notable target that would consolidate the newly gained territory. The British and Commonwealth troops blew up the bridge between Malaya and Singapore as they retreated.
The battle began as Japan's soldiers advanced towards Singapore. However, before Japan's army invaded, the air force had already dealt with the RAF and Royal Navy at Singapore. During the Malay Campaign Japanese aircraft had bombed and sank the Royal Navy ships HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales. In addition to this, RAF airfields had also been bombed by the Japanese, which removed any potential air support that Percival and his ground troops in Singapore could have received.
Further to this, the Japanese advanced into Singapore from both the northeast and northwest. Although Japan made a first landing in the northeast, this was more of a trick and the main Japanese advance actually emerged in the northwest of Singapore. There artillery and aircraft supported Japan's troops as they broke through the Australian defenders in the northwest.
Japan's troops advanced southwards and after the Battle of Bukit Timah began calling for a general British surrender. At Bukit Timah tank support arrived for the Japanese troops once engineers had fixed the bridge, and the Commonwealth troops retreated further. However, as the call for surrender was at first rejected by Percival the Battle of Singapore continued.
The Japanese continued their southward advance toward the Pasir Panjang Ridge. Here Australian troops reinforced the Malay Regiment that defended Panjang. However, the advance could not be halted, and the Malay Regiment began to retreat.
As the last of the British soldiers retreated, Japanese troops surrounded them. With water supplies for his army increasingly limited, Percival surrendered to the Japanese army. The Japanese army captured a large number of British and Commonwealth troops.
Britain’s defeat at the Battle of Singapore shattered any myths surrounding Japan's army. Before the battle, the Japanese army was not rated especially highly, but at Singapore they had defeated a larger British and Commonwealth army. The British spread their troops too widely to take advantage of their numerical superiority. A lack of tanks and air support for the British and Commonwealth soldiers also played a part in their defeat at the Battle of Singapore.
After the battle about 60,000 British and Commonwealth troops surrendered to the Japan. It was among Britain’s largest defeats in the war, and the U.K. would not be extensively involved in the Pacific War hereafter. Only in Burma and with further military operations at sea could Britain provide more extensive military support in the Pacific.
In comparison, Japan's losses during the battle amounted to 1,000 to 2,000 soldiers. It was a great victory for the Japanese Empire. A relatively small Japanese army of a few divisions had taken Singapore, a supposed British ‘stronghold.'
Buoyed by the victory at Singapore, the Japanese Empire further expanded after the battle. During the Dutch East Indies Campaign, the Allied armies were further defeated at the Battle of Java. The ABDA (Australia, British, Dutch and America) naval fleet was also defeated by the IJN, ensuring the Japanese occupation of Indonesia.
Elsewhere, Japan also made further advances in the Philippines. It was there that Japan's army defeated General MacArthur as the Philippines fell to the empire. MacArthur retreated to Australia, and vowed to return to the Philippines at some stage. This promise was kept as MacArthur and the US Army landed at Leyte in 1944 and defeated the Japanese army stationed there during the campaign that followed.
Such victories ensured the expansion of the Japanese Empire. However, despite this Japan had not won a victory. Two naval battles in 1942 began to cast doubts in Japan and greatly encourage the Allies. The first of these battles was at Coral Sea, one of the first to rely on aircraft carriers, where the IJN withdrew from Port Moresby.
After the Battle of Coral Sea, the American and IJN aircraft carrier naval fleets met around Midway. It was here that the IJN planned to trap and wipe out the American aircraft carriers to pave the way for an invasion of Midway. In fact, quite the opposite happened during the battle as three US aircraft carriers sank four Japanese carriers along with hundreds of supported aircraft.
With this defeat, the clouds were gathering over the Japanese Empire. The war continued for a few years after the Battle of Midway, but the Japanese could not repeat the victories that they had during the months of 1942. By 1945, little was left of the Japanese Empire as the Allies advanced into the home islands. Singapore remained under Japanese occupation until Japan surrendered in 1945, and it was re-occupied by Britain after the war.