The fall of Singapore
Thursday 13 February, 2020
Singapore. 1942-02-15. British troops surrender to the Japanese in the city area, after the unconditional surrender of all British Forces following the successful invasion of Malaya and Singapore Island by the Japanese 25th Army.
February 15th marks anniversary of the Fall of Singapore – one of the darkest days in Australia’s wartime history.
Having advanced from the Malayan Peninsular into Singapore, a week of heavy fighting and casualties resulted in the British command surrendering to Japanese forces on 15 February, 1942.
Despite Singapore being nicknamed the “Gibraltar of the East”, its fall, including the capture of over 15,000 Australians amongst the 130,000 troops taken by the Japanese, remains the largest surrender of British-led military personnel in history.
The fighting in Malaya and Singapore resulted in the deaths of 1,789 Australians. A further 7,000 died in captivity with the remaining POWs pressed into service in the notorious Japanese ‘work parties’ – forced labour used throughout the Japanese empire during World War II.
Over 22,000 Australians became prisoners of the Japanese in South-East Asia. Approximately 21,000 were from the Army, 354 from the Navy; and 373 were Air Force personnel. The Army prisoners were largely from Australia’s 8th Division, captured when Singapore fell.
Sir Winston Churchill described the fall of Singapore as “the worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history.” It is regarded by many as the beginning of the end of the British Empire.
The Island of Singapore endured three and half years of Japanese occupation, which included a massacre of the Chinese population. The numbers of this massacre are estimated to have been in the vicinity of 70,000 people. Singapore remained under Japanese occupation until soon after Japan surrendered in August, 1945.
Australians realised that the fall of Singapore meant the very real possibility of a Japanese invasion of the Australia mainland. On 16 February 1942 the Australian Prime Minister, the Hon John Curtin MP, said “The fall of Singapore can only be described as Australia’s Dunkirk…The fall of Dunkirk initiated the Battle for Britain. The fall of Singapore opens the Battle for Australia…It is now work or fight as we have never worked or fought before…”
The fall of Singapore marked the beginning of the most precarious time Australia had ever experienced. On 19 February, 1942, 242 Japanese attack aircraft and bombers carried out pattern bombing of Darwin Harbour and the surrounding areas. At least 243 Allied service personnel and civilians were killed.
British and Australian prisoners of war captured by the Japanese at the fall of Singapore and transported to Korea in the prison ship Fukkai Maru, march through the streets of Fusan, Korea. Source: https://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/history/conflicts/australias-war-19391945/resources/australian-prisoners-war-19401945/dixie
Australia had been directly attacked by an external enemy for the first time in its history. Despite managing to avoid invasion and the ultimate defeat of Japan, Australia, and our understanding of our place in the world, would never be the same again.
Beckett, I., 50 things you should know about the Second World War, Sydney 2015