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  • Since the start of the Pacific War, we've been following one of the major theaters of

  • the Japanese offensive: the Malayan Campaign.

  • Two weeks ago, the campaign came to its near-end with the final retreat of the Allied soldiers

  • towards the British fortress of Singapore.

  • The Malayan Peninsula had been invaded back on December 8, and the defense of the colony

  • had shown a total lack of readiness on the side of the British government.

  • Suffering defeat after defeat and making a critical string of blunders, the Allied forces

  • had rapidly been conceding territory; and only after two months since the invaders first

  • landed at Kota Bharu, they had been thrown back to the island settlement, which had been

  • transformed into a fortress.

  • But the British would see that their belief that Singapore was an impregnable fortress

  • was as much a lie as their idea that they could intimidate the Japanese by employing

  • a small naval force in the Pacific.

  • Now, the campaign is finally coming to its end, as the Japanese prepare to execute one

  • of their most important operations of the war.

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  • Back on the morning of January 31, the last of the Allied units, the 2nd Battalion of

  • the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, had crossed the Causeway bridge into Singapore

  • with its two pipers playing a lament for an empire on which the sun was setting.

  • From this moment onwards, the colony that had been at the great commercial crossroads

  • of the British Empire had but a fortnight to live.

  • General Percival faced two challenges to defend Singapore: the first was to contest and defeat

  • any Japanese invasion of the island's north coast, while the second was to protect the

  • vital central portion of the island, where most of the population and key infrastructure

  • of Singapore was located.

  • In an effort to strengthen the western and eastern ends of this vital ground, two defensive

  • lines were envisaged to allow for a quick switch of forces between east and west and

  • to make possible a rapid shortening of the front . These lines had been surveyed and

  • drawn on a map, but were completely unprepared; and the northern shore of the island had a

  • similar story.

  • There were no plans for the defense of this critical front, so Percival quickly developed

  • a plan: to defend the coast with posts prepared for prolonged resistance.

  • If the posts were surrounded, they were to hang on and wait for relief by a counter-attacking

  • force, even though the defenders didn't have sufficient men or material to stage any

  • counterattacks.

  • With this plan in mind, Percival organised the defense of Singapore in four areas , with

  • the Southern Area of Major-General Keith Simmons under the protection of the 1st and 2nd Malaya

  • Brigades, the Straits Settlements Volunteer Force and the fortress garrison troops; the

  • Northern Area defended by the British 18th Division under Major General Merton Beckwith

  • Smith, which was at full strength, but lacked experience and appropriate training, and the

  • 11th Indian Division, under the overall command of Lieutenant-General Lewis Heath, who had

  • previously overseen the two Indian divisions during the Malayan campaign; the Western Area

  • , manned by the 8th Australian Division of General Bennett and the semi-trained 44th

  • Indian Brigade; and a Reserve Area where Brigadier Paris had the undermanned 12th and 15th Indian

  • Brigades.

  • As we can see, Percival chose to appoint more forces to the Northern Area, believing that

  • the main Japanese attack was going to come over here, although the invaders had other

  • plans.

  • Identifying a significant flaw in the Australian sector , where the depleted defenders were

  • hopelessly dispersed, General Yamashita prepared the highly-trained and well-led 5th and 18th

  • Divisions to cross the Johor Strait on the western side, where it was at its narrowest

  • and therefore could diminish the chances of suffering heavy casualties.

  • Meanwhile, he also deployed the Imperial Guards Division to the east of the causeway at the

  • Tebrau River, where it was to stage a feint followed by a secondary attack.

  • This plan was very ingenious, because, as the Imperial Guards occupied the island of

  • Pulau Ubin and concentrated artillery fire over the east coast positions, Percival's

  • conviction that the Japanese were going to invade the Northern Area would be fortified.

  • On February 4, the Japanese began artillery barrages upon Singapore Island, with their

  • aerial superiority allowing them to have excellent knowledge of the Allied positions.

  • On the other side, the British had to send small reconnaissance patrols on February 6

  • to cross the Johor Straits and gather intelligence on the Japanese positions.

  • The patrols successfully reported large concentrations of enemy troops facing the Western Area, but

  • saw only a few landing craft on the Malayu River; this caused Percival to discard the

  • gathered intelligence as insignificant, with the Malaya Command still believing that the

  • main attack of the invaders was coming towards the Northern Area.

  • Finally on February 8, the Japanese launched a heavy barrage of the Australian positions;

  • the invasion of Singapore was just mere hours away.

  • Shortly before night, the Japanese forces started the crossing of the Strait of Johor

  • in 300 vessels , aiming to land between Cape Buloh and Cape Murai and capture the Tengah

  • airfield with haste.

  • On the northwest coast, Brigadier Harold Taylor of the Australian 22nd Brigade had deployed

  • his three battalions across a front approximately 14.6km wide; he didn't have sufficient men

  • to cover every piece of ground, he had recurring communication problems and his water obstacles

  • were almost non-existent.

  • As a result, his position was very vulnerable.

  • On the right, the 2/20th Battalion was about to face the full strength of the Japanese

  • 5th Division ; while to the left, the 18th Division would split to assault the two remaining

  • Australian battalions: three Japanese battalions against the 2/18th Battalion and four Japanese

  • battalions against the 2/19th Battalion.

  • During the night, the Japanese soldiers continued their crossing of the straits . Upon detecting

  • their approach, the defenders waited until they were within 40 meters to rain upon them

  • a withering hail of machine-gun and artillery fire.

  • The vanguard of the invaders suffered enormous casualties as a result, but the Japanese barges

  • kept coming and they started to pinpoint gaps in the coastline where they could land virtually

  • unopposed.

  • Soon, great concentrations of enemy soldiers began to outflank the scattered Australian

  • machine gunners, forcing them to destroy their guns and retreat during the early hours of

  • February 9.

  • Although some units managed to withdraw in order, most did so in disarray, with many

  • getting completely cut off or fighting a series of hand-to-hand struggles to escape.

  • At the Murai River in particular, the Japanese moved down the river in strength and surrounded

  • the retreating defenders of the 2/19th with a series of roadblocks at their rear; while

  • on the northwest coast, the 2/20th's men were overwhelmed by the nine battalions of

  • the 5th Division, losing their commanding officer and suffering several ambushes that

  • inflicted heavy casualties upon the defenders.

  • From both of these battalions, only about a company each would manage to escape towards

  • the Tengah airfield.

  • Meanwhile, the 2/18th would successfully reach Ama Keng with half of its forces intact; yet

  • despite this, the 22nd Brigade had been effectively rendered combat ineffective.

  • With the invaders securing their position on the northwest coast of Singapore, Bennett

  • sent the reserve 2/29th Battalion to Tengah to support the defenders, while Percival also

  • prepared the 12th Indian Brigade to move to Keat Hong and occupy the Jurong Line for the

  • incoming Japanese attack.

  • In the meantime, the remnants of the 22nd Brigade sought to defend a line running east

  • of Tengah through the village of Bulim, trying to give time for their compatriots to get

  • to Jurong.

  • By nightfall, the Allied forces had completed their assembly at the Jurong Line, being further

  • reinforced by the 15th and 44th Indian Brigades.

  • But at the same time, after an increase of Japanese artillery fire, the Imperial Guards

  • Division started to cross the 1.1km-wide Kranji River at the Causeway Sector.

  • This time, the Australian machine gunners not only caused enormous losses on the invaders,

  • but they also managed to hold their ground.

  • Yet despite this, Brigadier Duncan Maxwell of the 27th Brigade decided to withdraw from

  • the critical Causeway Sector by midnight; it appears that he wanted the Malaya Command

  • to surrender to avoid a senseless slaughter.

  • Thus, after destroying their oil tanks, the defenders began to retreat to a perimeter

  • behind the Mandai Road and the Woodlands Road, allowing the Imperial Guards Division to safely

  • land without any further interference.

  • At this point, it would seem clear that the Japanese had completely concentrated at the

  • west of the island, but Percival would fail yet again to denude his other areas to adequately

  • reinforce the Jurong Line.

  • By the early morning of February 10, the Imperial Guards Division was still consolidating their

  • position at Kranji, and they were threatening the 11th Indian Division of General Key.

  • Immediately, Key sent the reserve 8th Indian Brigade to counterattack and recapture a position

  • just south of the former perimeter of the Australians.

  • This attack would fail, causing the death of many Indian defenders; and so, Percival

  • assigned the 27th Brigade under Key's command so he could use it to contain the Japanese

  • invaders.

  • Further south, the remnants of the 22nd Brigade finally abandoned Bulim to occupy the central

  • position of the Jurong Line, between the 12th and 44th Brigades.

  • In case this line fell to the enemy, Percival had also issued orders to take new positions

  • on an inner posn [point?].

  • Brigadier Taylor completely misread these orders upon receiving them, retreating towards

  • Reformatory Road while the Japanese started their attack on the 12th Brigade of Paris

  • . With the threat of getting outflanked by the Japanese to the north and west, Paris

  • then had no choice but to withdraw towards Bukit Pajang . This left a considerable hole

  • in the Jurong Line, and by midday, the invaders began to move down the road to attack the

  • southern end of the line.

  • In response, some Allied units undertook a limited withdrawal, causing a domino effect

  • that ended with both the 15th and 44th Brigades retreating eastwards . By afternoon, the Jurong

  • Line had been completely abandoned to the surprise of the Japanese, who hadn't even

  • engaged the defenders there . At the same time, General Wavell arrived at

  • Singapore and, after being informed of the British blunders, ordered the creation of

  • a fresh reserve , composed by three battalions of the yet-unused 18th Division, to help the

  • Allied units in their defense of the key Bukit Timah area.

  • He also ordered Bennett to launch a counterattack to regain the Jurong Line , using the 12th

  • Brigade to the right , the 15th Brigade in the center and