THE Western Area held by the A.I.F. was a particularly difficult one. Much of the coast-line is covered with mangrove swamps which had been partially drained and did not therefore provide any very formidable obstacle. In the extreme west there are a number of short, but very steep, valleys. In the north the broad, but also very short, Kranji River provides a natural boundary between defensive sectors. Gordon Bennett had naturally selected this as an inter-brigade boundary, allotting the sector to the right of it to his own 27th Brigade and that to the left of it as far as the Sungei Berih to his 22nd Brigade, the one which had been engaged on the east coast of Johore and which, except for the battalion which had taken part in the Muar fighting, was probably the freshest of all the formations which had fought on the mainland. The south-western part of the island was held by the 44th Indian Brigade.
At first sight it might appear that the 27th Brigade had an easy task compared to the others, but it was responsible for the defence of the all-important Causeway and one of its battalions was under Headquarters A.I.F. in area reserve. The break in the Causeway itself had not proved quite so effective as we had hoped. It was all right at high tide, but at low water it was fordable for men on foot though not for vehicles. The Japanese made great efforts to repair it and provided some good targets for our artillery. Later, after they had got a footing on the island, they did manage to effect some temporary repairs.
It is with the front held by the 22nd Australian Brigade that we will now deal, for it was against that front that the main weight of the Japanese attack was directed. The defence problem was not an easy one. Between the headwaters of the Rivers Kranji and Berih is a comparatively narrow neck of land in which lies Ama Keng village. That in many ways would have been the easiest line to hold, but to do this would have sacrificed the great advantage which the defender of a coast-line always has of being able to hit the enemy when he is most vulnerable, i.e. when he is landing from his boats. That is why I had laid down a forward policy for the defence with a view to stopping the enemy landing or, if he did land, to throwing him out again quickly. In the sector we are discussing this involved, owing to the convex shape of the coast-line, a front of 15,000 yards for the brigade—or an average of nearly three miles for each of the three battalions. Before the war we used to reckon on a battalion holding four or five hundred yards of front. Of course, those ideas soon went by the board, but still three miles for a battalion, even with a water obstacle in front of it, is a pretty formidable proposition. I have never seen the orders issued by the commander of this brigade, but it seems that he felt anxious about the extent of his front, as I know Gordon Bennett did too, for I understand that an order was issued later on to the effect that the forward troops, if overrun, were to fight their way back successively to company and battalion perimeter positions.
The 2/20 Battalion A.I.F. with a company of Dalforce attached was on the right on a very wide front, the 2/18 Battalion in the centre, and the 2/19 Battalion on the left. Both these last two had rather narrower frontages than the first. The 2/19 Battalion, it will be remembered, was the battalion which had suffered so heavily at Muar. It had since absorbed a large number of reinforcements but had had little time really to settle down again. There was a machine-gun company distributed along the front and the brigade was supported by Australian artillery.
As had happened all the way down the peninsula, military operations were complicated by the presence everywhere of large numbers of civilians. The Government had already evacuated civilians from parts of the south coast and now we had to clear a strip along the north and west coasts, so all the rest of the Island was becoming very congested. Besides creating complications when actual fighting was going on, this made the work of fifth columnists comparatively simple. It is even reported that a Japanese captain did a complete reconnaissance of our positions before the attack took place.
Shelling started on the front of the A.I.F. at about 10 a.m. on 8 February, headquarters and communications receiving special attention, but for some reason the reaction to this and to the patrol reports which had been received that morning does not seem to have been very quick. It may have been that the restrictions which had been placed on harassing fire had a crippling effect, though these had not been intended to cover a special case of this sort. Whatever the reason, full advantage was not taken of the opportunity to strafe the enemy’s concentrations.
In the afternoon the bombardment increased and it reached its height after dark. The roar of the guns and the crash of bursting shells reminded one forcibly of the bombardments of the First World War. It was obvious that the Japanese had brought up a lot more guns for this attack and that they had plenty of ammunition. Many of the forward defences were flattened and most of the telephone lines were cut. The first attack on the front of the 2/20 Battalion came in at about 10.45 P-m- and very soon the whole front from the right of that battalion to the right of the 2/19 Battalion was engaged, while other craft attempted to enter the mouth of the River Berih but were driven off. The first flights were brought across the Straits in special armoured landing-craft. Successive flights came in more vulnerable types of craft. There seemed to be large numbers of the special landing-craft, as many as forty to fifty appearing on the front of one of the forward companies. Each landing-craft carried forty men. They were engaged by our defences and a furious battle raged on the beaches, our machine-guns firing incessantly until they had no ammunition left. Many of the leading landing-craft were sunk or driven off, but others came on, and the Japanese got a footing ashore at many points. I believe that was solely due to the weakness of our defences which resulted from the extended fronts, aggravated by the fact that, again for reasons unknown, our artillery defensive fire was slow in coming down. That may have been due to the cutting of the telephone lines by bombardment or to the fact that it is not easy to see light signals in that wooded country. On the other hand, it seems that there was a strange and unfortunate reluctance to use the wireless. It appears also that our beach searchlights were never exposed. Some of them may have been destroyed by bombardment. In any case, this failure was not too serious for in one area at least a burning Japanese barge loaded with crackers supplied the necessary illumination. No, the chief reason why the Japanese got ashore was because we were too thin on the ground.
The strongest enemy attack was directed from the west up the banks of the River Murai with Ama Keng village as its objective.
In this area a wedge was driven between the 2/18 and 2/19 Battalions.
At about midnight the commanders of the three battalions, in accordance with the orders outlined above, ordered their forward troops to withdraw into battalion perimeters. The 2/20 Battalion on the right concentrated in the Namazie Estate, but the 2/18 Battalion was too closely engaged by the enemy and only a small proportion of them reached their perimeter at Ama Keng village. A similar fate befell the 2/19 Battalion on the left. Finally, when the commander of the 2/20 Battalion ordered a withdrawal to Ama Keng village, where he hoped to join up with the 2/18 Battalion, he found it occupied by the enemy.
These tactical movements at night in thick country and in the middle of a battle which in many places was being fought at close quarters were undoubtedly too difficult. In such circumstances the only way to fight the battle is for the advanced posts to hold on and for reserves to counter-attack up to them if the opportunity arises. The result in this case was much confusion and disorganization, groups of men becoming detached and lost in the close country. Those are conditions which produce stragglers and that there were stragglers in this case cannot be denied. In fact, a great deal has already been written about the stragglers in Singapore Town—some of it true, some much exaggerated. Let us see what the true picture was. These men were not long- service soldiers and discipline was not deep-rooted. They had volunteered for service and had been sent to Malaya to defend the Naval Base. They knew that the Naval Base was no longer of any use and they knew also that Australia, their homeland, was being threatened. Some of them belonged to units which, after heavy casualties on the mainland, had had no time to regain their full fighting efficiency. They had fought well throughout a long night against heavy odds and were exhausted. Later in the week the 22nd Australian Brigade again distinguished itself by its dogged fighting. That is the true picture. Let it be judged on its merits. And let it not be supposed that there are no stragglers in other battles. Not all men are heroes, though the readers of military histories who have no practical experience may get that impression. I remember on one occasion in the retreat of March 1918 being sent with a party of men to clear stragglers out of a village. In that village we found men of twenty-one different units. Even our military regulations admit that there will be battle stragglers in the instructions they contain for the organization of stragglers’ posts.
I have said that the 22nd Australian Brigade fought against heavy odds in this battle. That may surprise some of my readers who have read reports of an almost unopposed landing by a handful of Japanese. Fortunately we have now got evidence of the strength of the Japanese attack and of the methods they employed. It appears that the initial attack was carried out by two divisions—the 18th (transferred from the east coast) on the right and the 5th on the left. During the night 8-9 February, 13,000 troops were landed on the island and another 10,000 landed shortly after dawn. Later the Guards Division joined in the attack. In reserve in the Kluang area of Johore were two divisions and it is probable, though not certain, that there was yet another division in reserve. So altogether the Japanese appear to have had five, or probably six, divisions available for this attack on the island.
For some time we were at a loss to know how the Japanese had conveyed their landing-craft to the Johore Straits, as it did not seem possible that they could have been brought round by sea without our knowledge. We now know that they were brought overland by road from Pontian Kechil on the west coast of Johore.
It must be admitted that the Japanese feat in mounting this attack in the space of about a week was a very fine military performance. No doubt many of the plans were thought out and laid in advance, but even so their completion and implementation in that short time would have done credit to the staff of any first- class military power. The fighting of their troops also was of a very high order. The landing operations were conducted with the greatest determination in spite of what must have been very heavy losses. Some of the Japanese soldiers, I have been told, swam the Straits carrying their rifles and ammunition with them. Each man was equipped with a wrist compass and, as soon as they had landed, they went straight off without any delay to their objective. In an operation of this sort the Japanese soldier is at his best— quite fearless and filled with determination, come what may, to reach the point to which he has been ordered to go. I cannot help thinking of a discussion which took place shortly before the war as to whether the art of swimming should be included in the training of the British soldier. The war surely must have dispelled any doubts which existed on that point. I wonder how many valuable lives we lost during the war because men could not swim. The numbers must have run into many thousands.
It was some time before the full significance of what was happening reached the headquarters in rear. Owing to the destruction of communications reports were slow in coming in and, as so often happens, the first reports were optimistic. At my headquarters, which were still at Sime Road where I now slept in my office, it was not until the early hours of the morning that we could be certain that this was in fact the main attack and that it was not going to be followed by another attack elsewhere. I had learnt in exercises we had held in England not to commit your reserve until you are quite certain you are dealing with the real thing. That was why it was not till 8.30 a.m. that I ordered the 12th Indian Brigade, the only Command Reserve, to move forward to the Bukit Panjang—Keat Hong village area, where it was to come under Gordon Bennett’s command. It had already been given a warning order shortly after midnight to prepare for this move. The so-called 12th Brigade at this time consisted only of two very weak battalions—the Argylls, 400 strong, of whom 150 were marines, and the 4/19 Hyderabads, 440 strong, of which a large number were newly arrived reinforcements. That was typical of the state of many of our battalions.
Before this Gordon Bennett had moved forward his own reserve—and he had done all he could to create reserves from his reinforcement depot and elsewhere—and plans had been made to launch a counter-attack to recapture Ama Keng village. But the Japanese had anticipated this move and by 8 a.m. were already attacking Tengah aerodrome, held by troops of the Jind Infantry, one of the best of the Indian State Forces units. By the time the 12th Brigade arrived the problem was to stabilize the front and it was put into position in the right section of the Kranji-Jurong line.
At 11 a.m., with a view to creating a new reserve which I could call upon if necessary, I ordered Heath to put his own reserve, the 6th/15th Brigade, at one hour’s notice and not to commit it without reference to me.
About midday there was a lull in the fighting and I went forward to see Gordon Bennett. His headquarters were just west of Bukit Timah village in some estate buildings, where they came in for a good deal of shelling and bombing. Accommodation was cramped and altogether it was not a very healthy spot. We discussed the conduct of the battle. We decided that his 27th Brigade should continue to hold the Causeway sector and that with his 22nd Brigade and the reinforcements which had been sent up he should try to stabilize the front on the Kranji-Jurong position. Then there was the question of what orders should be given to the 44th Indian Brigade. Ballantine was still holding his extended positions round the coast but had sent some of his reserves to look after his right flank. His only line of communication along the Jurong road was now directly threatened and obviously it was no use the brigade staying where it was. I thought at first that it might be used to counter-attack the enemy’s right flank, but it was extended over such a wide area that it would have taken a long time to concentrate it for such an attack. So eventually we decided that it should be ordered to fall back on to the left of the Kranji-Jurong position. Finally, I said I would move up the 6th/i5th Indian Brigade immediately to a rendezvous on the Bukit Timah road with its head near the race-course and place it under Gordon Bennett’s orders. In making this decision I was influenced by the paramount necessity of preventing the enemy reaching the important food and petrol dumps east of Bukit Timah village, the loss of which would seriously weaken our ability to resist.
Upon return to my headquarters, I and my staff worked upon a plan to meet the eventuality that the enemy’s advance down the Bukit Timah road might force us to withdraw our troops from the other parts of Singapore Island. The plan in outline was to hold a perimeter which would include the Kallang aerodrome, the MacRitchie and Peirce reservoirs and the Bukit Timah depots area. Heath and Keith Simmons came to my headquarters and were given this plan verbally on the evening of 9 February. It was issued in writing as a secret and personal instruction to senior commanders and staff officers shortly after midnight, so that responsible senior officers might know my intentions in case the situation developed too rapidly for further orders to be issued.
During the evening of 9 February, the Japanese artillery concentrated on the front held by the 27th Australian Brigade. At about 7.30 p.m. the enemy attacked on a front between the 10
Causeway and the River Kranji. Again a large number of his landing-craft were knocked out by artillery and machine-gun fire, but again he succeeded in getting a footing.
On this same night a naval force of three fast armed patrol vessels was sent into the western channel of the Johore Straits with the object of sinking the enemy’s landing-craft and disrupting his communications. It was a bold move as they were exposed to small arms fire from both sides as they went up the Straits. They penetrated nearly to the Causeway and sank a few landing-craft, but could not stay for long in such an exposed and perilous position.
At midnight our line stretched from the Causeway, which we still held, to the Kranji-Jurong switch line and thence along the Jurong River, where the Malay Regiment, except for detachments which had fought up-country, came into action for the first time. But there was a gap between the 27th Australian Brigade and the Kranji-Jurong line, and a further withdrawal carried out after midnight left the important hill features overlooking the Cause¬way undefended. This was the key to the northern defences and should have been held at all costs until evacuation was ordered in accordance with the general plan. To protect its own flank the nth Indian Division had to recapture this position later in the day.
In confused fighting like this, unit and formation commanders must be well forward with their troops if they are to have any hope of controlling the battle. It is an art which is taught and practised in peace training, but many war-time commanders are undoubtedly handicapped from lack of experience when it comes to controlling a quickly moving battle. It happened in Malaya and I have no doubt it happened in other theatres.
The 6th/i5th Brigade, as soon as it had reached its rendezvous on the Bukit Timah road, was moved forward to occupy a position in the Kranji-Jurong line just north of the Jurong road. It had a tedious march against the stream of traffic and did not reach its new positions until 4.30 a.m. Meanwhile, the 22nd Australian Brigade, which was still in the Bulim area a little in front of the Kranji-Jurong line, was ordered to fall back at 6 a.m. to a position on the right of the 6th/i5th Brigade. Again something went wrong; there seems to have been loss of contact and a mistaken order. At any rate the brigade concentrated too far back leaving a gap in the Kranji-Jurong line of which the enemy were quick to take advantage. A strong attack drove our troops back on both flanks and penetrated into the gap.
That morning Wavell visited Singapore for the last time, having come by air from Java. We went straight up to see Gordon Bennett and found him at a new headquarters off the Holland road south-east of Bukit Timah village. The Japanese also had apparently found him there, for no sooner had we arrived than a bombing attack developed and the unedifying spectacle was seen of three general officers going to ground under tables or any other cover that was available. There was a good deal of debris and a few casualties outside, but the party of V.I.P.s escaped untouched though I lost both my car and my field glasses.
Gordon Bennett was not quite so confident as he had been up-country. He had always been very certain that his Australians would never let the Japanese through and the penetration of his defences had upset him. As always, we were fighting this battle in the dark, and I do not think any of us realized at that time the strength of the enemy’s attack. The information at A.I.F. head¬quarters as to what was happening in the Causeway sector was very meagre. It was not till we reached the headquarters of the nth Indian Division later on that we found out the true state of affairs. The fact of the matter was that the communications of the 27th Australian Brigade now ran back through the nth Indian Division’s area and not through the A.I.F. area. I later had to put that brigade temporarily under nth Indian Division.
As a result of this visit I ordered Heath to withdraw three more battalions from the 18th British Division and to send them to the Bukit Timah road to come under Gordon Bennett’s orders. Regrettable as it was, these battalions had to be drawn from different brigades. There was no other alternative as there was no time for reliefs to take place. The force was commanded by Lt.-Col. Thomas and was known as Tomforce.
After we left A.I.F. headquarters we passed an undisciplined- looking mob of Indians moving along the road. They were carrying rifles and moving in no sort of formation. Their clothing was almost black. I must confess I felt more than a bit ashamed of them and it was quite obvious what the Supreme Commander thought. Only recently have I learnt the truth. This was the administrative staff of a reinforcement camp on the move. The quartermaster had some rifles in store and, good quartermaster as he was, had determined that they must be taken. So, having no transport, he had given one to each man to carry. The blackened clothing came from burning oil. That is another point— and a big one. Burning oil sends up billowing smoke full of black particles. These particles, when they come down, cover the ground and blacken everything with which they come into contact. Many of our troops looked more like miners emerging from a shift in the pits than fighting soldiers. It is difficult to keep one’s self-respect in these conditions, especially when things are not going too well. Another example of the difficulties of combining scorched earth and battle fighting.
After a brief visit to headquarters 3rd Indian Corps we went on to headquarters nth Indian Division, north of Nee Soon village. Key was well forward with his troops and in close touch with the situation, but a bit anxious about his left flank. The junction of the Mandai and Bukit Timah roads was clearly the key to the situation here, and I sent a personal instruction to the 27th Australian Brigade to try to push forward and get control of it again.
Then back again to the headquarters A.I.F., which we reached at about 2.30 p.m. There we heard of the unsatisfactory situation in front of Bukit Timah village, though there was no very clear picture of the positions occupied by our own troops. In fact, some of them were far from where they were thought to be, as will be seen later. Bukit Timah was vital to the defence—partly because it is an important road junction, partly because there is direct observation from the hills north-west of the village as far as Singapore Town itself, and partly because of the important dumps and depots which lay to the east of it. So I told Gordon Bennett to stage a counter-attack to re-establish the Kranji- Jurong line. Orders for this were issued without delay. The counter-attack was to be made in three stages. The first was to secure by 6 p.m. the same evening the Bukit Panjang and Bukit Gombok features. These two hills lie a little west of the main road north of Bukit Timah village and parts of them were already held, so very little advance was necessary. The second and third stages, which were to take place on the morning and afternoon of the following day respectively, aimed at re-establishing the Kranji-Jurong line. As events turned out, this counter-attack was still-born for the enemy attacked first and during the night penetrated deep into our position.
We got back to Command Headquarters at about 4 p.m. There I was given two very disturbing reports. The first was that the enemy were approaching Bukit Timah village. My B.G.S. told me that it had come from a brigade major and that he had every reason to think it was true. The significance of this was that the large reserve petrol depot was only 500 yards east of the village and must not at any price be allowed to fall into the enemy’s hands. The responsibility for ordering its destruction rested with me and now I gave orders for destruction to take place. It was set on fire at 6 p.m. and burnt furiously for two or three days.
The other piece of news was even more disconcerting. It came from Keith Simmons who said that the 44th Indian Brigade had passed through his front and was now at Pasir Panjang village on the south coast four miles from where it was supposed to be. I could hardly believe this, so I went forward again to head-quarters A.I.F. to find out what was happening. Later I went to the Reformatory Road, where at dusk I met the brigade marching back to its position. It had been collected by its officers and was now marching in good order, though of course everyone was pretty tired. I later learnt that one of the battalion commanders had asked for and been given by the brigade commander per¬mission to move his battalion a short distance for tactical reasons. That was quite a normal procedure but, while moving, the battalion had been attacked from the ground and from the air and the movement had continued. It had become infectious and other battalions had joined in and it was not till they reached the sea that their officers had been able to regain control. It was one of the strangest things I have ever experienced. It was not fear. It was just the result of putting raw and semi-trained troops, lacking in experienced junior leaders, into a modern battle. It is not fair either to the troops themselves or to the commanders deputed to lead them.
On the way back I experienced some of the difficulties of sorting out traffic blocks at night when the drivers speak many different languages. Our military police were pretty efficient, but I did not envy them their job. It was 9 p.m. before I got back to my house. There I said good-bye to General Wavell. He left at midnight by flying-boat but in the black-out fell down some steps when embarking and sustained injuries which forced him to lie up for some days on his return to Java. Before leaving he issued orders to the effect that Singapore must be held to the last. I have felt since that he took away with him a false idea of the weight of attack which had been thrown against us, for the simple reason that, fighting blind as we were, none of us at that time had fully appreciated it ourselves.
Our last fighters left Singapore on this day. Kallang aerodrome was now so full of bomb craters that it was seldom usable. This gallant squadron had done great work, battling all the time against tremendous odds.
Shortly after 8 p.m. the Japanese launched a strong attack from the west against Bukit Panjang village and now for the first time tanks made their appearance on the island. Astride the Bukit Timah road south of Bukit Panjang village the 12th Indian Brigade, or what remained of it, was in position. Members of the brigade staff, going forward to find out what was happening, found themselves face to face with Japanese tanks. There was great confusion as friend and foe became inextricably mixed and the tanks were only stopped a short distance in front of Bukit Timah village. The 12th Brigade, decimated after its gallant efforts, ceased to exist as a formation, though parties of Argylls formed themselves into guerrilla bands and went on fighting.
At 6 a.m. on the eleventh, after a few hours’ sleep at Sime Road, I woke up to the sounds of machine-gun fire. Thinking it was probably only some anti-aircraft fire, I sent my A.D.C., Stonor of the Argylls, who had been untiring in his efforts to help me the whole campaign, out to investigate. He soon came back saying there appeared to be a battle going on beyond the end of the golf-course about a mile from where we were. I thought it was time to move. We had prepared an alternative headquarters on Thomson Road but there was no point in going there now, so I decided to join rear headquarters at Fort Canning. Accommodation there was very congested as Headquarters Southern Area and Anti-Aircraft Defences were also there. The General Staff went into the bomb-proof shelter which had been constructed before the war. It was never meant to hold as many bodies as this and the ventilating arrangements were inadequate. In consequence the general staff room became terribly hot and the staff worked under most unpleasant conditions. Air headquarters also moved to a new site in Singapore Town.
The enemy’s successful attack during the previous night had created several danger points. In the first place, a wide gap had developed between the MacRitchie Reservoir and the troops on the Bukit Timah road. To fill this I sent up a composite force from the reinforcement camps. It was reminiscent of March 1918 in France when every last man had to be put into the line. Secondly, a strong attack was launched shortly after dawn against the rear of the 6th/15th Indian Brigade from the direction of Bukit Timah village, forcing it to fall back south-eastwards except for one battalion, the Jats, which had never received the order cancelling the counter-attack planned the previous day. Then, Bukit Timah village itself had fallen into the enemy’s hands and a counter-attack by Tomforce, launched with the object of recapturing the village, was held up on the line of the railway. Later in the morning a strong enemy attack developed against the 22nd Australian Brigade, now reduced to a few hundred men only, which was in position a mile south of Bukit Timah village near the junction of the Reformatory and Ulu Pandan roads. Fierce fighting went on in this area throughout the day during which the brigade, which had incorporated the 2 /4 Machine-gun Battalion now fighting as infantry, held its ground most gallantly in face of infantry attacks supported by aerial bombing, artillery, mortar, and small arms fire.
Farther south the enemy reached the Buona Vista 15-inch battery which was destroyed as they swarmed round the guns.
During the morning I went up the Bukit Timah road to see Tomforce. It was a strange sensation. This great road, usually so full of traffic, was almost deserted. Japanese aircraft were floating about, unopposed except for our anti-aircraft fire, looking for targets. One felt terribly naked driving up that wide road in a lone motor-car. Why, I asked myself, does Britain, our improvident Britain, with all her great resources allow her sons to fight without any air support?
The three battalions of Tomforce were spread out on a wide front astride the Bukit Timah road. Commanders were finding the problem of control in this close country extremely difficult. The usual infiltration by enemy snipers was taking place and the tree snipers were there too. It was all very strange for these troops fresh from the English countryside. In the evening Thomas withdrew his force to a more concentrated position in the race-course area.
On the front of the nth Indian Division the Japanese penetrated between the 8th and 28th Brigades towards Nee Soon village. Here also the forward troops fell back to form a more concentrated defence of that vital area.
At midnight on 11-12 February the 3rd Indian Corps (northern area) took over command of all troops as far left as the Bukit Timah road inclusive. To fill the gap in the golf-course area and to protect the reservoirs a new composite force had been formed from the 18th British Division. It consisted of three infantry battalions, a battery of artillery, a weak squadron of light tanks and a detachment of mechanized cavalry. It was under command of Brigadier Massy Beresford, an able and energetic officer who quickly got a grip of the situation and produced order out of growing chaos. Once again I was impressed with the advantages which trained and experienced commanders enjoy when faced with problems in mobile warfare. Massy Beresford took Tom- force under his command and so became responsible for all the front from the Thomson Road to the Bukit Timah Road.
A painful incident on the eleventh was the destruction by fire of the Indian Base Hospital at Tyersall as a result of enemy action. The hospital was in a hutted camp which burnt so fiercely that few of the patients could be got out. There was a large number of casualties.
We had now lost all the food and petrol depots and dumps in the Bukit Timah area, in spite of our efforts to hold them. That was a serious blow, for we now had only about fourteen days’ military food supplies in the depots which remained under our control. As regards petrol, so little now remained that I had to issue an order that no further supplies, either army, air force, or civil, must be destroyed without my permission.