Invasion of Malaya: Singapore's fall to Japanese army
Ignominious British surrender ends fallacy of white manís supremacy
Sunday marks the 87th anniversary of the fall of Singapore during World War 2. SAGER AHMAD takes a look at the events all those years ago in the third part of this series
IT was late afternoon, Feb 15, 1942, when Lt-Gen Arthur Percival and his staff took that lonely walk to the Ford factory in Singapore, carrying the Union Jack and a white flag.
The commander of British forces in Malaya must have felt dejected that the island, touted as the bastion which would hold out against the invading Japanese forces, had fallen.
At the factory, Percival surrendered to Lt-Gen Tomoyuki Yamashita, ending the invasion of Malaya which had begun just over two months earlier in Kota Baru.
Chye Kooi Loong, a historian from Kampar, Perak, and the author of The British Battalion in the Malayan Campaign 1941-42, said the British lost the fight "simply because of internal factors".
Among these factors were disunity, inter-service rivalry, a lack of urgency, an obsolete working culture, unsuitable diet, and miscommunication between the troops (many of whom were young men from India) and their British officers.
He said the inter-service rivalry was "well publicised" where the army and the navy ganged together and the air force was left alone.
Citing one example, Chye said when the two Royal Navy battleships, HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse asked for air support from Singapore while being attacked by Japanese bombers in the South China Sea on Dec 10, 1941, fighter planes only arrived at the scene 20 minutes after they were sunk.
The surrender of Singapore led to more than three years of suffering for Allied prisoners of war and Malayans in general under the hard rule of the Japanese. According to Chye, however, the fall of British forces did have one good effect. He said the surrender marked the end of an era where most Asians looked up to the "white man" as infallible gods, the "Tuan Besar" and "Mem Sahib".
It dawned on those who thought so that they were also humans, capable of making mistakes, bleeding and dying.
"Although the Japanese did not keep their promise of 'liberating the Asians from the yoke of the colonialist masters', they showed us how to look after ourselves. This eventually paved the way for independence."
Chye met with Maj-Gen B.S. Key, the former commander of the 8th Indian Brigade defending Kelantan, in England in the 1980s. He recalled that the general was still puzzled as to who had given the order to retreat and why the British lost the battle for Malaya.
"When the order was given all men stopped fighting and did the unthinkable -- cut the telephone lines and destroyed their supplies. It was like giving a walkover to the Japanese and the whole eastern seaboard was left undefended.
"The Japanese reigned supreme, had three airfields for themselves -- Pengkalan Chepa, Machang and Gong Kedak -- and used them to attack other targets," said Chye.
He said the Japanese were determined and prepared, had light uniforms, rubber shoes, silk maps and bicycles and could live off the land and navigate accurately with information from their spies who had lived and worked among the people for years.