Contents - Hirohito's War
8 Fall of Singapore: Churchill’s Sacrificial Pawn
[January 1942–February 1942]
The Strategic Logic of Singapore (p 243) Plans for the Defense of Singapore (p 245) Air Battles over Singapore (p 247) The Attack on Singapore: Yamashita’s Bluff (p 250) Surrender and Humiliation (p 253) Consequences of the Fall of Singapore (p 255) The Fall of Singapore and Malaya in Retrospect (p 257)
The Strategic Logic of Singapore: Before World War I, Britain had seen Japan as one of its closest allies; the country had watched its back in the Far East against the rising threat of Germany imperialism. This attitude began to change in 1915 when Japan gobbled up Germany’s Shantung Concession and made clear in the process its future intentions toward China. A further shift in British sentiment came following the Washington Naval Agreement  when America not only forced a 5:5:3 capital ship ratio on Britain and Japan but also forced them to give up their long established alliance.
The Washington Naval Agreement caused change in Japan as well. A slighted Japanese military and naval elite, believing that the Anglo-Saxons had ‘ganged up’ against them, now became increasingly anglophobe. Similarly British geopolitical analysts at the Foreign Office began to view Japan as the biggest threat to its Empire. In the past, threats to its Asian Empire came mainly from other European powers. They could be dealt with in Europe. Japan presented a non-European threat that would have to be dealt with in Asia. Thus on 16 June 1921 the British cabinet formally agreed that a naval base should be built in Singapore. The Australians had pressed for Sydney but the case for Singapore, which was several thousand miles closer to Britain, was hard to rebuff. Thereafter Singapore became more than an important naval base; in effect Singapore became the symbol of British power in Asia and the fulcrum of its vast Empire. Although Singapore was built into a first class fleet naval base, Britain was no longer economically capable of supporting two fleets. Furthermore the Washington Naval Treaty  effectively prevented Britain from having two full fleets. America had a similar problem with having to support both the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets. By contrast Japan’s naval interests were focused in the Pacific alone. Thus Britain and her Far Eastern colonies were left with vague assurances that in case of an outbreak of war in Asia, the ‘Main Fleet’ would be dispatched to Singapore. With the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939 Britain’s commitment to send the main fleet to Asia was inevitably watered down. By 1941, the over-stretch of Britain’s fleet in the Atlantic, North Sea, and the Mediterranean meant that the ability to send any force to Asia had all but evaporated.
Even more importantly advances in aircraft technology in the interwar years had completely undermined Singapore’s original raison d’être. By 1937, an assessment by Major-General William Dobbie and his chief of staff, Brigadier Arthur Percival (later Lieutenant-General Percival) correctly concluded that any Japanese attack would