Lessons from the fall of Singapore, 19421
The guns were pointing the wrong way
Published: 4 March 2010 (GMT+10)
The British in 1942 did not expect the Japanese to invade Singapore because they reckoned that the Malayan jungle protected them from an attack from the north. If an attack came they were sure it would be by sea—so the big guns were all pointing south. It was inconceivable to British military planners that the island could be attacked any other way—least of all, through the jungle and mangrove swamps of the Malay Peninsula.
But this was exactly the route the Japanese took. On the fateful day of February 15th 1942 the Japanese army came across the straits of Johor, having travelled down the 900 km (550 miles) of the Malay Peninsula in 55 days. More unexpectedly, most of them (apart from a few transported in trucks) had been issued with bicycles! They were able to move quickly down the paved roads constructed by the British. At the same time, they were able to outflank the Allied Forces, who were heavily defending the major routes on these roads, by riding through tracks in rubber estates, enabling surprise from the rear. Their bicycles also enabled the Japanese to move faster than the withdrawing Allied troops, and thus they were often able to successfully cut off their retreat.2
They came with 65,000 troops, considerably less than the 90,000 British, Indian and Australian forces forming the Singapore garrison. But the Japanese, under Lt General Yamashita, routed this unsuspecting and unprepared force, which had been thought to be invincible, in the worst British military defeat in history. The results of losing the major British military base in South East Asia were catastrophic, and three years of terrible suffering ensued for the tens of thousands taken captive. Many either languished in pitiful conditions in Singapore’s notorious Changi prison, or were forced to horrendous hard labour on the infamous Burma Railway. Many were murdered, and large numbers died from overwork, starvation or disease.
Why be reminded of this?
Because this is a powerful illustration of the church today, which is in a very similar position over the creation/evolution issue. We have given way on crucial areas of doctrine and allowed a false view of Genesis to govern our theology. We are then surprised that we have no resistance to the blatant secularism that comes in the wake of such compromise, as many disbelieve in a message which is not consistent with the foundations of the Faith.
The garrison at Singapore fell because it was unprepared and its big guns were facing the wrong way (To be precise, most could and did turn around, but were loaded with armour-piercing shells designed to penetrate warships, not high-explosive shells that would have caused more casualties against the unexpected land invaders. So it was the same sort of unpreparedness.). Equally, many of the “big guns” in the church refuse to see the danger it is facing. The Lord cannot honour a church which disbelieves its own book, the Bible. We have to maintain the foundations if we are going to attempt to reach the current generation for Christ. The Gospel is inseparably connected with the Creation and the Fall. As this well-known quote puts it:
“If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest expression every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.”3
Christian—we are in a battle; let us not forget this. There are certainly other fronts. This is not the only one. But we are living with our eyes closed if we do not realize that this is one of the major fronts to fight in the Christian cause today. We are in a surreal world if we do not realize that the enemy is coming in like a flood through false evolutionary sophistry and ensnaring thousands of the next generation to unbelief through this matter—while many in the church’s “garrison” still deny that there is even a threat.
- This article was inspired by a newsletter item by Dr Andy McIntosh (who checked the article’s contents) prepared after he had visited the Singapore WW2 museum in August 2009. Return to text.
- The Swift Japanese Assault, Reflections at Bukit Chandu, National Archives of Singapore, accessed 7 September 2009. Return to text.
- This well-known “battle” quote has been attributed to the great reformer Martin Luther for decades, including by Francis Schaeffer. But though Luther said many similar things, this quote did not actually come from Luther but from a 19th century novel about Luther and the Reformation. See Wieland, C., Where the battle rages—a case of misattribution, 4 February 2010. Return to text.
Singapore Governor, Sir Shenton Thomas and his Confidential Assistant noted in their recollections that “the course of Japan’s plans and campaign was predicted with great accuracy by Malaya’a Defence Secretary in whom Thomas had placed great confidence”. But a new Army Commander in Chief, whist admitting that he “had a brain” did not like him and the army contingent on the defence committee wanted him sacked. He verbally attacked Charles (Archie) Vlieland in a final meeting which saw the influential ‘civilian’ removed.
Henry Robert Moore Brooke-Popham, WW1 flyer but with no combat experience and governor general of Kenya in 1937 is described in the Pacific War Encyclopedia as “called out of retirement when the European war broke out ... the bottom of everyone's priority list ... elderly and prone to falling asleep during meetings” and that “he badly underestimated the Japanese, refusing to believe they would form an intelligent fighting force”, and spoke of “various sub-human specimens dressed in dirty grey uniform, which I was informed were Japanese soldiers”. (He) was relieved on 27 December 1941 and thereafter played no significant role in the war”.
The Services had complained that it was ‘difficult to deal with the Civilian Authorities’ in Malaysia (no doubt, largely, because they disagreed with the hopelessly incorrect conclusions drawn by them). One wonders whether it would have been different had the Governor stood up against the army contingent and followed the views of their Defence Secretary.
Having a will to fight is also needed. Here’s a quote revealing a lack of fight in some in the 2World War in the far east, while others were fighting out of their skins. ‘The troops that I came into contact with, and they were the forward units and their Commanders, were gutless. That is the only word I can find for them. They were all disinterested [sic], indisciplined, untrained in many cases. In all they were gutless. For example, I cannot do better than tell you again of the fellow, the British corporal, who said, ‘Don’t shoot sir, they’ll only shoot back.’ May CMI inspire an organized fight-back similar to Gen. Wingate and his legendary Chindits.
There is a great book (historical fiction novel) on this very subject: A Town Called Alice by Nevil Shute which puts the historical setting of Japanese invasion into a great story.