On the night of 7/8 December 1941, Japanese units began to invade northern Malaya and southern Thailand, with the ultimate aim of taking the important British base at Singapore. Commonwealth forces were ill-equipped to prevent the advance, and Japanese troops swiftly moved through Malaya by land, through the jungle, and by seaborne landings. On 11 January 1942, Kuala Lumpur fell to the Japanese. By the end of the month, Commonwealth forces had withdrawn to Singapore.
The British colony of Singapore was a strategically vital base for command of the sea, and was intended to support the defence of India and Australia. Although it was intended to be a fortress, its fixed defences had been constructed mainly to guard against attack from the sea. By January 1942, many of those protecting the island had taken part in the demoralising retreat across Malaya. Several units were under strength or inadequately trained, with limited equipment and air cover.
After a few days of fighting, the garrison surrendered on 15 February 1942, and thousands of Australian, British and Indian troops were taken captive.
Japanese forces had advanced around 600 miles in only 54 days, with fewer than 50,000 casualties. British, Australian, Indian and other Commonwealth forces suffered over 138,000 casualties, of whom more than 130,000 were prisoners of war.
Some 24,000 of those who lost their lives in the region and have no known grave, many of whom died while in captivity, are commemorated by name on the CWGC Singapore Memorial. It stands in CWGC Kranji War Cemetery, where 4,500 service personnel are buried or commemorated.
As part of the commemorations for the 75th Anniversary of The Battle of Singapore, there will be an event at CWGC Kranji War Cemetery and Singapore Memorial which is open to the public. It will take place at 4.30pm on Wednesday, February 15.
Read and download the new CWGC Kranji War Cemetery Leaflet to help plan your journey to this site.
10 December 2016 marks the 75th Anniversary of the loss of the British battleship HMS Prince of Wales and the battlecruiser HMS Repulse.
In late 1941, tensions with Japan were growing in the Far East and the British sent a force of powerful warships which they hoped would deter further Japanese aggression. On 2 December, the new battleship Prince of Wales and the veteran battlecruiser Repulse arrived at Singapore.
These two ships formed the nucleus of a fleet based in Singapore, designated ‘Force Z’. Five days later, on 7 December, the Japanese launched surprise attacks throughout the Far East and Pacific against British, Commonwealth, American and Dutch colonies.
On 8 December, a Japanese invasion fleet was sighted en-route to British Malaya and Force Z set out to intercept.
At 10:15 am on 10 December, having narrowly missed the Japanese convoy, Force Z was spotted by Japanese scouts, and bombers converged on the British fleet. The aircraft attacked in waves and the British ships desperately manoeuvred to avoid bomb and torpedo attacks.
After dodging many torpedoes, the Repulse was hit several times and rolled over. The Prince of Wales had also been badly damaged, and the order was given to abandon ship. At 13:20 she too rolled over and sank.
The British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill said of the loss of these ships that,
‘In all the war, I never received a more direct shock...There were no British or American ships in the Indian Ocean or the Pacific except the American survivors of Pearl Harbor, who were hastening back to California. Over all this vast expanse of waters Japan was supreme, and we everywhere were weak and naked.’
Of over 2,900 crew, some 840 were lost: 500 from the Repulse and 320 from the Prince of Wales. The majority of these men have no known grave but the sea. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission commemorates them by name on the three great Naval Memorials in the United Kingdom. The majority are commemorated on the CWGC Plymouth Naval Memorial.