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The Fall of Fortress Singapore

1 Feb 1942-15 Feb 1942

1 February
  • Percival makes an address to the people of Singapore from the British Malaya Broadcasting Corporation studios at Caldecott Hill.
  • Percival moves his headquarters to the Sine Road Military Camp.
  • A reinforcement convoy, MS1, arrives in Singapore with HMAS Hobart as part of the escort.
2 February
  • Bennett inspects his shoreline defence positions. He plans to stop the Japanese on the beaches.
  • Japanese aircraft make several strikes on the Royal Navy storage tanks at Sembawang. Bombing raids take place at Janjong Pager Railway Station area.
  • Two United States transport ships are escorted by HMAS Vampire through the Sundra Strait.
3 February
  • A military conference takes place at the new headquarters of the Australian Military Commander at Hillview Estate.
  • The governor of Singapore accompanies Percival to the Keppel Harbour area to inspect the damage from the Japanese bombing.
  • HMAS Vendetta, under repair and immobilised in Singapore dockyard, commences a long voyage home to Australia under tow by the destroyer HMS Stongbow.
4 February
  • Instillations at Tengah, Seletar and Sembawang come under heavy Japanese artillery fire.
  • Intelligence reports indicate that the Japanese have taken up observation posts at the government office buildings in the centre of Johore Bahru and at the tower of the Sultan's Palace.
  • HMAS Hobart and HMS Tenedos take survivors from SS Norah Moller damaged beyond repair by Japanese bombing in Banka Strait.
5 February
  • Japanese guns open fire on Australian positions in the northern sector of the island of Singapore.
  • The city of Singapore is bombarded by long range artillery fire.
  • The remaining troops of the British 18th Division arrive in Singapore.
  • The Empress of Asia is sunk by Japanese dive bombers as she enters the Straits of Singapore.
  • At Sembawang the Royal Australian Air Force is unable to operate due to heavy shelling.
  • All aircraft are withdrawn to Paleonbang in Sumatra.
  • HMAS Vampire departs Batavia escorting three merchant ships to Colombo.
  • HMAS Yarra picks up 1800 survivors from Empress of Asia.
6 February
  • Japanese Artillery fires intensifies along the north-eastern front.
  • At the Australian frontline, intelligence gathering patrols cross the Straits in small boats.
7 February
  • Bennett inspects the medical facilities of the 2/10th Australian General Hospital at Manor House and the 2/13th in the chapel at St Patrick's school in Siglap.
  • Japanese artillery strikes the 2/10th Hospital.
  • At the north-west sector, Australian intelligence units return with details of Japanese gun placements.
  • The Japanese invasion of Singapore begins.
8 February
  • Singapore is under continuous attack as Japanese aircraft attack the military headquarters. The bombardment destroys telegraph and telephone lines.
  • The main Japanese attack continues throughout the day.
  • Communication problems exist between forward and rear command posts.
  • Troops from the 5th and 18th Divisions are seen along the plantation roads. They board motor launches and landing craft on the Skudia, Danga and Malayu rivers and move towards the Singapore shoreline.
  • An Australian observation post on the Lim Chu Kang Road reports sounds of approaching motor craft. Several Japanese barges are sunk by the Australians. Japanese craft move through the defence lines. The Australians are forced to withdraw.
  • To the west, Japanese forces drive back the frontline of defence.
  • North of the Berih River, Japanese troops are seen moving towards the Tengah Airfield.
  • HMAS Hobart joins the escort of the Emu through the Sundra Strait.
  • HMAS Hobart joins the escort of the Emu through the Sundra Strait.
9 February
  • At Bennett's headquarters on the Bukit Timah Village frontline information is obscure as communication lines are cut.
  • Bennett orders the Australian 2/29th Battalion to the north-west sector.
  • At the Australian 22nd Brigade headquarters, Brigadier Taylor plans a counter-attack.
  • The Japanese reach Ama Keng Village. Brigadier Taylor moves his headquarters and cancels the counter-attack.
  • The air battle begins, six Japanese aircraft and one Hurricane are lost in the fight. After two more sorties the Hurricanes are sent back to Sumatra.
  • The 12th Indian Brigade arrives at Keat Hang Road.
  • Percival and Bennett meet to plan their strategy.
  • Brigadier Taylor orders a withdrawal from the Jurang Line.
  • The Japanese take Tengah airfield.
10 February
  • At Kranji, Australian machine gunners of the 27th Brigade stop an assault by the Japanese Imperial Guards.
  • The Australian Forces are ordered to retreat from the Kranji area.
  • Wavell flies back to Java.
11 February
12 February
  • Bennett promotes Varley to Brigadier and issues orders that the new commander is in permanent charge.
13 February
  • Intelligence reports confirm that the Japanese commander has moved his headquarters to the Ford Motor Factory on the Bukit Timah Road.
  • Percival receives a signal from Wavell. He meets with his commanders and orders that the fighting must continue.
  • The Governor and Lady Thomas move to the Singapore Club.
  • HMAS Toowoomba rescues 42 survivors from the bombed merchant ship Merula.
14 February
15 February
  • Percival, in his bunker at Fort Canning, is briefed on the battle situation.
  • At 0930 hours, Percival summons his commanders. They have two options. One is to counter attack to take back the MacRichie Reservoir and the food at Bukit Timah. The second choice is to surrender. The first option is rejected and Percival decides to surrender.
  • A white flag is hoisted on top of the broadcasting station at Caldecott Hill.
  • A delegation is sent to the Japanese. The Japanese commander states that he will only talk to Percival.
  • Percival leaves to sign the surrender documents.
  • At 1715 hours, Percival and his staff arrive at the Ford Motor Factory. The surrender documents are signed.

Myths about Fortress Singapore 

  • The guns could only face the ocean, they could not be fired towards Malaya.
    • Not so. The naval guns installed could manage full traverse and fire towards Malaya. Unfortunately there was little use in so doing. They were NAVAL guns with ammunition for firing at ships at sea over very long distances i.e. flat trajectory. That is totally different from firing at a bunch of infantry soldiers on pushbikes. As anti personnel weapons they were useless, regardless of which way they pointed.
      • The guns of Changi still covered the sea approaches to the now deserted naval base, but as the Japanese forced their way south towards Singapore in the weeks that followed there dawned the bitter realization that these guns could not fire effectively in the direction from which the attack would now surely come. Writing to Mr Churchill on 16th January, General Wavell was obliged to say that ‘although the fortress cannon of heaviest nature had all-round traverse, their flat trajectory made them unsuitable for counter battery work.’ He could certainly not guarantee to dominate enemy siege batteries with them. A further point which soon emerged was that most of the ammunition for these guns was of the armour piercing variety, quite unsuitable for the bombardment of ground forces. From Changi History
  • The island could have been defended as Tobruk was if only the "cowardly" British had not surrendered
    • Untrue and unfair. Tobruk was a totally different proposition. It was filled with mainly service personnel, had its' own water supply, had a reasonable chance of food and ammo resupply by sea and had a large allied army building up on land behind it to relieve the beleaguered garrison, given time. Singapore had none of that. It had a huge civilian population to worry about, no chance of resupply, no water,  no friendly army to its rear and therefore no chance of surviving for any more than a few days with unnecessary &  massive loss of life.


Myths about treatment of POW's

  • The prisoners were herded into a prison.
    • Not so. They were herded into a prison camp, made up of British Army barracks set in thousands of acres of rubber plantations, market gardens and the like. For quite a while there was not even any barbed wire. When barbed wire was introduced the Aussies went outside it on a regular, almost nightly, basis without any problems. Attempting to escape FROM THE ISLAND was punishable, slipping out for a bit of scrounging was 'blind eye' stuff.
      • It was not difficult to find one's way out of the camp, and some of the more intrepid prisoners would forage among the old British Army dumps and sell their finds at black market prices. There were plenty of local traders only too willing to indulge in illicit enterprises and the black market rapidly became a thriving concern. Changi contained a great many ‘saleable’ commodities, but on occasion the desire for food would override common sense, as for example when precious M & B tablets from the hospital were being traded for bully beef or when men went out to sell the clothes they wore in exchange for food. from Changi History
      • And then there were other 'creative' ways of finding things for the concert party. As men went out to work they would try and find things they thought the concert party might need. Over the years musical instruments, including a piano and drum kit, clothes and a sewing machine found their way to the concert party. Although it was forbidden to bring these things into the camp, if the POW's managed to smuggle them in they would be allowed to keep them. from the ABC website about Changi
  • The prisoners were regularly beaten.
    • Reports of people who were there and other reliable sources indicate that source of many of the beatings was actually the Sikhs who had gone over to the Japanese and were used as guards. It is recorded that the Japanese stopped the abuses fairly quickly.
      • Then again there were the guards. Most were Sikhs who had succumbed to Japanese pressure and had gone over to the enemy. These Sikhs, who were regarded as traitors by the prisoners, took advantage of their position to make increasingly absurd demands on the prisoners and eventually even the Japanese realised that they were going too far. Consequently in November 1942 the Japanese tried to remove the causes of the trouble by ordering the Indians to recognize all forms of salutation, not to enter the prisoner-of-war area except when on duty, and not to strike the prisoners who failed to salute. Forbidden to use violence, the Sikhs now resorted to forcing the escorting officers to strike the prisoners, and they also took any opportunity to drill alleged offenders and to make them stand to attention for long periods.    from Changi History
  • The prisoners were deliberately starved.
    • False. The prisoners were undernourished, badly. Not deliberately. However there are several things to be taken into account here;
      • they were placed on Japanese ration scales which consisted mainly of rice. OK for the Japanese, unfamiliar and unwelcome to Australians who were used to a meat ration that was twice what even the British Army got.
      • ration scales were reduced even for the Japanese as resupply from outside Malaya/Singapore became more difficult as the war progressed. It is probably true to say that the British, Australian and US navies had more to do with starving the prisoners than any deliberate decision by the Japanese 
      • it must be remembered that at the same time Japanese front line troops were dying of starvation in New Guinea (and turning cannibal if eye witness accounts are to be believed) because of the same reason, no resupply possible by sea.
        • Imagine an Australian guard at the Cowra POW Camp, guarding Japanese, being told "we intend to feed the prisoners better than our own troops". His understandable reaction would be "Not while I'm around, Mate". Are the Japanese prison guards any different?  Editor.
        • After the first fortnight, during which British army rations were issued, prisoners had to make do with the Japanese ration scales, which consisted mainly of rice, and it was only gradually that the cooks devised means of making it palatable. Apart from rice, a little tea, sugar and salt were issued, together with the occasional ration of meat or fish. The Japanese refused to allow Red Cross relief parcels to be distributed, so any supplementing of the meagre rations depended on the ingenuity of the prisoners themselves. The rubber plantations that lay between Selarang and the Gaol were gradually cut down and camp gardens appeared in their place. These gardens grew such fresh vegetables as sweet potatoes, Chinese cabbage and tapioca, and they remained a most valuable source of food right until the end of the war. from Changi History


Newly liberated Australian prisoners of war, Singapore, August 1945

IWM HU 69972 


  • The prisoners were worked to death.
    • Untrue. For a long time boredom was a big worry for the allied officers looking to the interests of their men and trying to keep them occupied. Work parties were sent out but they were not 'slave labour'. When work started on the airport construction work became harder but that was as much a problem of poor nourishment as overwork. Changi was not like the Death Railway.
  • The Japanese refused to allow Red Cross parcels to be distributed.
    • Here the question has to be asked "What Red Cross parcels"? I have heard a thousand times that the distribution was not allowed. I have never seen or heard any evidence that Red Cross parcels were available. (If you have such evidence please share it with me)
  • The prisoners were forced to live in overcrowded conditions.
    • Yes they were, particularly by Australian standards; by Asian standards untrue. 
      • Even in the 1960's and 70's when I served with the Australian Army in Malaya there were huge differences. At Terendak we bunked 8 men to a room, the British Army in the same barracks, 16 to a room, the Malaysian Army, same barracks, 20 to a room. That was peacetime and the soldiers were not POWs. It has a lot to do with national expectations and standards. Editor.
  • The prisoners were regularly executed.
    • Not so. Some executions did take place but it was not the norm and it was usually for attempting to escape which by Japanese and German rules can be punishable by death.
  • The prisoners were treated like animals.
    • Even the POWs themselves do not make this claim about Changi. They were allowed a Concert Party that gave regular performances (and travelled to other areas to perform), a "University" and other time filling recreational activities.
    • Within the divisional areas, however, the Japanese were hardly ever to be seen, a phenomenon which Russell Braddon noted with gratitude when he arrived from Kuala Lumpur in November 1942. In contrast with the privations he had suffered in Kuala Lumpur and the suffering he and countless others were to endure later in Thailand, Changi camp in 1942 seemed to him to be the 'Phoney Captivity'. His views were typical of those expressed by many other men who had been taken prisoner in Malaya or the Dutch East Indies and were brought to Changi during that year; its acres of grass and trees and its well spaced, well appointed buildings seemed to savour of another world, as did the welcome they received from the older inhabitants, who greeted them most warmly and gave them all their essential needs. from Changi History
  • The Japanese were seen as Asian 'liberators' by the local population, helping to throw off the yoke of colonialism. They actually helped the Japanese.
    • Totally false. The local population was mainly Chinese. China had been at war with Japan for several years. The Japanese were particularly brutal in that campaign and the local Chinese knew that. In fact, in the first few months over 50,000 Chinese locals were slaughtered by the Japanese and the remainder were forced to raise $50 MILLION to be give to the Japanese government.
As stated elsewhere none of the above is an attempt to justify Japanese actions. I feel however that if we are to castigate a race for their treatment of our soldiers we should do so from a firm base of truth. Making accusations based on myth weakens our case.


Australian prisoners of war. Second World War. Prisoners of the Japanese

Over 22,000 Australians became prisoners of war of the Japanese in south-east Asia . The wave of Japanese victories ending with the capture of the Netherlands East Indies in March 1942 left in its wake a mass of Allied prisoners of war, including many Australians. Most of the Australians (14,972) were captured in Singapore ; other principal Australian prisoner-of-war groups were captured in Java (2,736); Timor (1,137); Ambon (1,075); and New Britain (1,049).

At the end of the war Australian prisoners of war were widely distributed: 5,549 on Singapore Island and in Johore (Malaya); 4,830 in Burma and Thailand; 265 in French-Indo China; 385 on Java; 243 on Sumatra; 100 on Ambon; 2 on Macassar; 7 on Bali; 150 at Kuching (British North Borneo); 2,700 distributed between Japan, Korea, and Manchuria; and 200 on Hainan Island.

Dates when various prisoner-of-war forces left Changi Singapore , and their destinations
Force Date departure from Changi Destination

A Force

15 May 1942


B Force

8 July 1942


C Force

28 Nov 1942


D Force

14-18 March 1942


E Force

29 May 1943


F Force

April 1942


G Force

26 April 1943


H Force

May 1943


J Force

16 May 1943


K Force

June 1943


L Force

23 August 1943


Senior Officers’ Party

16 August 1942

Japan via Formosa and Korea

Senior Working Party

16 August 1942

Takeo (Formosa) and Seoul (Korea)

AIF units were split up between various forces and work parties. The prisoners of war reading list contains battalion unit histories which cover this topic.

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