Posted by: Gregoryno6 | December 8, 2011

December 1941: Pearl Harbour in the east, Singapore in the west.

Seventy years ago today, the Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbour. It is right and proper to remember the losses inflicted on the United States that day.

But the Japanese strike was two pronged. As the aircraft carriers moved on Hawaii, the 25th Japanese Army was making landfall at Kota Bharu in northern Malaya.

The Japanese moved at lightning speed down the Malay Peninsula. The assembled forces of the British Empire – including many Australian troops – fell back again and again, until the final capitulation. General Yamashita demanded and received unconditional surrender in February 1942.

In one vital sense, however, the British were beaten before a single Japanese soldier invaded. Psychologically, they were unprepared for battle.

When the invasion began the Governor of Singapore was roused from his sleep. Advised of events over the phone, the Governor is alleged to have said:

“Well, I suppose you’ll shove the little men off.”

That sentence ought to be carved in stone somewhere, for the benefit of all of us. There’s a mortal danger in underestimating your enemy.

The Japanese troops had been seasoned in Manchuria. By contrast, a large part of the defending forces had no battle experience whatever. All of the heavy artillery on the island faced southward, out to sea – British commanders had dismissed entirely the possibility of an attack over land. Mental inertia prevented all but of few of the colonial contingent on Singapore from recognising the depth of the approaching threat. Social life continued as normal, almost up to the end.

The Japanese were brutal in their hunger for victory. Many of the soldiers they captured were put to death without ceremony. The British were not steeled for such a savage foe. History, after all, was on their side. The King’s navies had traversed the seas, reaching every corner of the globe. The flag had been planted in foreign soils far from home. The white man was the explorer and conqueror; the yellow man had been only one of his conquests.

Si vis pacem, para bellum. If you wish for peace, then be ready for war. This was the error that cost Britain her so-called impregnable fortress. They were defeated by their own complacency.

There is a very good article here, describing in detail the events of that period. NB: the fall of Singapore also had direct and immediate consequences for Australia. Four days after the capitulation, Japan launched its first air attack on Darwin.


  1. Hi,
    I’m glad you did the anniversary of this terrible time in Pear Harbour, and Singapore. Some of these events in History should never be forgotten.

    • The fall of Singapore was – in my opinion – a crucial event in the decline of the West. The Nazis and Soviet Russia were the focus of attention during the 1930s. Nobody really gave a damn about Japan invading Manchuria; in the thinking of the time, it was one lot of yellow men beating up on another lot of yellow men.
      Even though Australians got worked up about the Yellow Peril very few anticipated a military threat from Asia. When Japan struck, and struck so effectively, it was a blow to the collective consciousness. Just like September 11 2001, the world changed and could never be the same again.

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