Chapter XVIII – THE SINGAPORE FORTRESS

THE Island of Singapore is oblong in shape with a maximum length from east to west of 27 miles and a maximum width from north to south of 13 miles. It is separated from the mainland of Malaya by the Straits of Johore across which the only permanent communication is the Causeway with a length of 1,100 yards. The Straits west of the Causeway, which are the narrower, vary in width from 600 to 2,000 yards. They are navigable at high water for small medium-draught vessels though the channel is narrow and tortuous. East of the Causeway the Straits are wider, varying in width from 1,100 to about 5,000 yards, and are navigable for the biggest vessels afloat as far as the Naval Base. In the middle of these Straits at their widest point lies Pulau Ubin, with a length of 4J miles and a width of ij miles. To the east of that island is the mouth of the River Johore, which gives access at Kota Tingghi to the main Johore Bahru-Mersing road. Cover¬ing the mouth of this river is the island of Tekong. A few miles east of Tekong lies Pengerang Hill at the southern tip of the Johore mainland. Immediately south of Singapore Island and separated from it by the waters of Keppel harbour lie the islands of Blakang Mati and Pulau Brani. The former was a military reserve. Three miles farther south-west lies Pulau Bukum, where was situated the Asiatic Petroleum Company’s main reserves of naval fuel, petrol, and lubricating oils.

The town of Singapore is situated in the south of the island and extends for some six miles along the water front with a depth of about one and a half miles. Immediately north of it is an extensive residential area covering several square miles of country. The docks area is situated in the western part of the town. The population of Singapore Town in peace-time was in the neighbourhood of 550,000, but by the end of January 1942 it was probably nearer a million.

Main roads radiate from Singapore Town in all directions. The principal is that known as the Bukit Timah road which, crossing to the mainland by the Causeway, becomes the main road to the north. The only hill features of importance lie in the western part of the island. The principal are the Bukit Timah group of hills which lie just north of the village of that name, Bukit Mandai, some three miles north of Bukit Timah, and the Pasir Panjang Ridge, four miles in length, which runs from Pasir Panjang village on the south coast to the western outskirts of Singapore Town.

Apart from the built-up areas, Singapore Island like the rest of Malaya is thickly covered by rubber and other plantations while on the northern and western coasts there are extensive mangrove swamps. These swamps had of recent years, owing to extensive irrigation works, lost much of their value as a military obstacle.

In the centre of the island lie the important MacRitchie, Peirce, and Seletar reservoirs, and the municipal catchment area, a large jungle area traversed only by a few tracks. To the north the Naval Base reservation covers a large tract of country.

Visibility is everywhere restricted. Even from the hill features referred to above, little detail can be seen of ground objects.

The general organization of the defences of Singapore Island before the outbreak of war with Japan has already been outlined in Chapter VII. Naturally these defences had been laid out primarily to repel an attack from seaward, for which purpose they were reasonably strong, even allowing for the fact that the infantry defences were weak, that there were few mobile troops, and that there were no tanks. But as the Japanese advanced southwards down the peninsula, it became evident that the anti-ship guns must be prepared to engage targets on the land front of Singapore. That was not such an easy matter to arrange. Firstly, only a proportion of the guns could be made available for this task as some were ruled out either from lack of range or from limited arcs of fire. Secondly, the heavy guns had only very little high explosive ammunition. They could of course, and in fact did, fire their ordinary armour-piercing shells, but the effect of these against land targets is limited because they bury themselves deep in the ground before exploding. Thirdly, observation of fire was difficult as the topography was highly unfavourable to ground observation while air observation was out of the question in view of the local superiority of the Japanese Air Force. Nevertheless, an improvised but workable counter-bombardment organization was built up and fields of fire were cleared. A large proportion of the officers and men of the fixed defences were regular soldiers, many of whom had been for some years at Singapore. They looked with great pride and even affection on these defences in the building up of which they had taken great personal interest. It was a bitter blow to them that they were never to be tested against enemy ships, but they set to work with a will to prepare for their new role.

The construction of permanent beach defences had been started in 1936 when I was on the staff of Malaya Command. We had not at that time had very much experience of this sort of thing and we gave up a great deal of time to the consideration of the problem and to testing out different theories. The defences were only constructed to cover part of the southern coastline of the island of Singapore, including Blakang Mati and Pulau Brani, but even so they extended for about twenty miles and there were at that time only about half a dozen battalions available to man them. As time went on they were developed and additions made in the form of timber tank obstacles, land mines, barbed wire, and finally timber scaffolding. This latter obstacle was only constructed late in 1941 to the design of the tubular scaffolding which had been erected off many parts of the coasts of Great Britain when invasion threatened. It could only be erected at low tide and much of the work, therefore, had to be done at night. It was put up entirely by military labour.

A word should be said here about land mines in Malaya. As corrosion sets in very quickly in that humid climate nobody quite knew for how long they would remain “live” after being put out. On the other hand, once you have put them out you cannot safely take them up again because they may at any moment explode. The result of this is that, if you lay your minefields and nothing happens, the mines may be “dead” by the time you want to use them. In fact, you have to judge your time very carefully if you want to get full value from them.

In the western part of the island the Rivers Kranji and Jurong both rise in the central group of hills and flow respectively north and south. Between the sources of these two rivers is only a comparatively narrow neck of land, which was the natural place for a switch line to oppose a landing on the western shores of the island. Here the ground had been cleared though no actual defences were constructed until after the outbreak of the war with Japan.

The fact that no defences had been constructed on the north and west coasts of the island in pre-war days, and only limited defences even after the war started, has been the subject of much critical comment even in the highest quarters. It has been imputed to a lack of foresight on the part of successive general officers commanding. Such criticism is most unjust. In the first place, general officers commanding had no authority to construct defences when or where they liked. The defences of Singapore were built up in accordance with a War Office plan, though of course recommendations of the local commander always received consideration. Then there was the question of the object of the defences. It was quite definitely the protection of the Naval Base —not the defence of Singapore Island. Now a very ordinary principle of warfare is that you site your defence in advance of the object to be protected; the distance in advance depends upon the range of the enemy’s weapons and increases as that range becomes greater. The Naval Base itself lies on the north shore of Singapore Island, and it would have been sheer folly to have sited the defences also on the shores of that island allowing the enemy to bomb, shell, and machine-gun the Naval Base at will. It would have been very nice no doubt to have had defences there in addition to those up-country, but finance prohibited that. As has already been stated, the expenditure on the defences in Malaya was always strictly controlled from home, and such money as was made available, apart from the defences on the south coast of the fortress, was of course spent, and quite rightly so, on defence works on the mainland. Even for these works there was never sufficient money available.

When the Japanese started their advance down the Peninsula it soon became apparent that we might be driven back to Johore or even to Singapore. As early as 23 December the question of the defence of the north shore of Singapore Island received my attention and on that day I instructed Keith Simmons, the commander of the Singapore fortress, to start making reconnaissances for defensive positions. That was work which necessarily took a few days as there was a great deal to be done besides the actual siting of the defended localities. Gun positions, O.P.s, assembly positions for reserves and sites for headquarters had to be selected and arcs of fire laid out. As the fortress staff already had its hands pretty full, some special officers were made available for this work. It was intended to start the actual construction of the defences about the beginning of January, but then labour difficulties intervened. There were no troops available and from the beginning of January onwards civil labour failed to an increasing extent as the bombing became heavier. Even the air force, which had priority for this labour for work on the aerodromes and new air strips, seldom got enough and there was none available for our defence works. Sometimes even I had to make available men from our reinforcement camps for work on the aerodromes.
Air Vice-Marshal Maltby in his official report has written:
I wish to pay tribute to the help which the R.A.F. received from the army in Malaya. Despite its own acute needs and great shortages it gave ungrudging help—in defence of aerodromes at cost to its vulnerable points, in working parties and native labour to repair aerodromes at cost to the construction of military defences, in maintaining signals communications and in many other ways.

That is a fine and generous tribute which reflects vividly the spirit of co-operation which existed at the time between our two Services. And it explains why there were not more material defences on the shores of Singapore Island when our weary troops fell back there. But that is not to say that no work had been done. In fact, a very great deal had been done. Sites for forward defended localities and for reserves had been selected. Artillery observation posts and gun positions had been reconnoitred and selected. Locations of formation headquarters had been fixed and communications arranged. Machine-gun positions had been constructed. Oil obstacles and depth charges had been placed in creeks which appeared to be likely landing-places. Spare searchlights had been collected and made available. Anti-tank obstacles had been constructed. The lay-out of the defences was very much complicated by the fact that the northern and western shores of the island are heavily intersected with creeks and mangrove swamps. The general plan of defence was to cover the approaches with defended localities and to hold mobile reserves ready for counter-attack.

I wish to pay tribute to the help which the R.A.F. received from the army in Malaya. Despite its own acute needs and great shortages it gave ungrudging help—in defence of aerodromes at cost to its vulnerable points, in working parties and native labour to repair aerodromes at cost to the construction of military defences, in maintaining signals communications and in many other ways.That is a fine and generous tribute which reflects vividly the spirit of co-operation which existed at the time between our two Services. And it explains why there were not more material defences on the shores of Singapore Island when our weary troops fell back there. But that is not to say that no work had been done. In fact, a very great deal had been done. Sites for forward defended localities and for reserves had been selected. Artillery observation posts and gun positions had been reconnoitred and selected. Locations of formation headquarters had been fixed and communications arranged. Machine-gun positions had been constructed. Oil obstacles and depth charges had been placed in creeks which appeared to be likely landing-places. Spare search¬lights had been collected and made available. Anti-tank obstacles had been constructed. The lay-out of the defences was very much complicated by the fact that the northern and western shores of the island are heavily intersected with creeks and mangrove swamps. The general plan of defence was to cover the approaches with defended localities and to hold mobile reserves ready for counter-attack.

The anti-aircraft defences had been sited in accordance with a plan which was designed eventually to cover the Naval Base, Keppel harbour, and Seletar and Tengah aerodromes, but the lay-out was not scheduled to be completed earlier than the middle of 1942. Some of the guns and searchlights had been sited in Johore, but these had all been withdrawn on to Singapore Island towards the end of January. Some units had been sent to Sumatra for the defence of the aerodromes there. There remained for the defence of the Singapore fortress area four heavy anti-aircraft regiments less one battery, two light anti-aircraft regiments less one battery, and one searchlight regiment.

As regards air defence, a decision had been made to withdraw all aircraft from Malaya before the end of January, but at my urgent request one squadron of fighters was left on Singapore Island. I made this request as much for reasons of morale as for anything else. We had already had experience of the effect on morale of the complete absence of any air support and I felt that, if this situation continued during the fighting for the island, there might be a complete break in morale among the civil population and possibly also among some of the troops. There was only one aerodrome now which was not under observed artillery fire and that was the civil airport at Kallang, so it was on this aerodrome that the fighter squadron was based. It consisted chiefly of Hurricanes which formed part of a reinforcement of forty-eight machines which had just been flown off an aircraft carrier west of Java. These Hurricanes were of the latest type and did some splendid work before those which were left were forced to leave Singapore on 10 February. The aircraft which had gone to Sumatra had their own troubles and we did not see any of them again, but that is another story.

On 29 January the main body of the 18th British Division arrived. It excluded, of course, the 53rd Brigade Group which had already been in action in Malaya and some other units which were coming in a later convoy due to arrive the following week. The division was commanded by Maj.-Gen. M. Beckwith-Smith, a Guards officer who had commanded the 1st Guards Brigade at the beginning of the war. An excellent officer beloved by all ranks in his division. His death from diphtheria in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp was a great shock to all his friends. In order to give this division, if possible, a chance of getting acclimatized I decided to hold it initially in Command Reserve. Some people hold the view that this division should never have been sent to Malaya at that late hour—that it was just a waste of valuable man-power and material. I do not agree with that view.

It was certainly very bad luck on the men of the division that they should be thrown into the melting-pot to spend so many years in captivity and to suffer such grievous losses, but, when the decision was made to send the division to Malaya, the intention was still to hold Singapore for as long as possible and it was right that every effort should be made to strengthen its defences. It was just the luck of war.

In the same convoy as this division arrived a light tank squadron from India. They were the only tanks ever to reach Malaya on our side. The tanks themselves, I fancy, had been collected from various training establishments and the squadron hastily formed. When they reached Singapore, some of them had to be put straight into ordnance workshops before they were fit to take the road. Some never did take the road.

An armoured brigade was due to arrive in the Far East early in March. When asked for my views on the destination of this brigade I recommended that the destination of one Cruiser regiment at least should be left in abeyance until nearer the time of arrival, as I felt that it might prove extremely valuable but that it was too early as yet to say whether it would be possible to bring it to Singapore.

The administrative situation when we fell back to the island did not, as a whole, give cause for any great anxiety, though there were shortages in one or two important commodities such as field-gun and light anti-aircraft ammunition. The military dumps and depots had been widely dispersed in accordance with the prewar policy to avoid excessive loss from air attack. The weakness now was that many of them, and especially the main ones, were in the centre of the island, where they were more exposed to capture by the enemy than if they had been in the town area. For instance, the main military food supply depot was just east of Bukit Timah village while a large dump of food back-loaded from the mainland was on the race-course. This was not an ideal arrangement, but the fact of the matter was that the Singapore Town area had become so congested with the influx of refugees from the mainland that there was little spare room in it. Similarly there were two large petrol depots near the race-course, so that the Bukit Timah area had become of very great tactical importance. On the other hand, most of the civil government’s food reserves, both for Europeans and Asiatics, were in the Singapore Town area.

As regards water, we were now dependent on the three reservoirs. The level in these was rather lower than usual owing to the abnormally dry season, but there was, with care, an adequate supply even for the greatly increased population of Singapore Island. The two pumping stations were working at full pressure, and up to the end of January breaks in the mains due to air bombardment had been successfully dealt with.

Hospital accommodation in this congested area was very short. The Alexandra Military Hospital, situated just west of Singapore Town, remained the main hospital for British troops, as did the Tyersall Park Hospital to the north of the town for Indian troops. But many more than these were now required and temporary hospitals were established in military and government buildings, in the large Cathay building, in schools and in clubs. On the civil side there was the large General Hospital and there were many other smaller hospitals. These hospitals were often handling over a thousand casualties a day amid shells, bombs, the firing of our own guns, and the general turmoil of battle. I cannot speak too highly of the work of the medical staffs, both military and civil.

On withdrawal to Singapore Island I naturally took over the duties of martial law administrator from the fortress commander, and the question arose as to what extent, if at all, I should take over responsibility for civil administration. In the old days, when fortresses were besieged, it was customary for the military commander to take complete control, but this was a very different problem, the like of which we have seldom before experienced in our history. Let me make it clear that the Governor was still in office as the King’s representative and responsible direct to the Colonial Office and that the various government departments were still functioning. It was suggested to me that I should take over control of some at least of these departments. That in my view would have been quite wrong. It might have been possible for a Supreme Commander Malaya, had there been one, to do so, but there were two reasons why I, as Army Commander, should not do so. The first was that the higher direction of these departments involved a knowledge of their organization and of personalities. Without this a change-over at this stage was likely to lead to at least temporary confusion rather than to any improvement. The second, and the most cogent one, was that both I and my staff were far too fully occupied with the direction of operations to take on this additional responsibility.

The fact of the matter was that Singapore was not a fortress in the accepted meaning of the word. The dictionary defines a fortress as a “fortified place” or “stronghold”. The so-called Singapore fortress was not a place. It was a large area of land and water with strong anti-ship defences, reasonably strong anti-aircraft defences, but weak land defences. It included a civil population of a million or more with its own administration. Before and during the war many exaggerated statements were made in public about the strength of the Singapore defences. I have little doubt that these statements misled both the public and many of the troops who came to defend Singapore. As a result, the shock of the loss of that place was all the greater.

It should be appreciated also that many of the troops who fell back on to Singapore Island had never before seen that place and equally had a false idea of its impregnability. They were disappointed not to find strong permanent defences ready to occupy —and they were very tired. The withdrawal of the air force and the evacuation of the Naval Base also had a bad moral effect, both on some of the troops and on certain sections of the civil population. The former knew that they had been sent to Singapore to defend the Naval Base and they began to wonder what they were now fighting for. The psychological effect of the evacuation of that base is no doubt difficult to realize except by those who experienced it, but it was great. The “Singapore Naval Base” had in fact come to be one of the corner-stones in the whole set-up of the British Commonwealth. Rumours were circulated that Singapore was not to be defended. It was to counter these that I made the following public announcement in the Press:

The battle of Malaya has come to an end and the battle of Singapore has started. For nearly two months our troops have fought an enemy on the mainland who has held the advantage of great air superiority and considerable freedom of movement by sea.
Our task has been both to impose losses on the enemy and to gain time to enable the forces of the Allies to be concentrated for this struggle in the Far East. To-day we stand beleaguered in our island fortress.
Our task is to hold this fortress until help can come—as assuredly it will come. This we are determined to do.
In carrying out this task we want the help of every man and woman in the fortress. There is work for all to do. Any enemy who sets foot in the fortress must be dealt with immediately. The enemy within our gates must be ruthlessly weeded out. There must be no more loose talk and rumour-mongering. Our duty is clear. With firm resolve and fixed determination we shall win through.

On Singapore Island there was, of course, a vast amount of war material and there were enormous stocks of all sorts, both military and civil. The implementation of the scorched earth policy became an operation of major importance. Some time towards the end of January, the War Office had asked me to give a personal assurance that, if the worst came to the worst, nothing of military value would be left intact for the enemy on Singapore Island. That was a big problem, and after careful consideration I came to the conclusion that no guarantee could be given. Some of the equipment, such as coast defence guns, could in any case only be destroyed at the last minute and there would always be an element of uncertainty about that. Some installations were near hospitals and could not be demolished. The fact is that you cannot fight and destroy simultaneously with 100 per cent efficiency in both. So I replied to the effect that I would make all possible arrangements to ensure that, in case of necessity, the destruction of everything of military value should be carried out, but that I could not guarantee that this would in fact be done. Very careful plans were made. As far as the fighting services were concerned, the policy briefly was that the authority responsible for the dump, depot, or establishment concerned would be responsible for the preparation and execution of denial schemes. As regards the orders to put the schemes into effect, I reserved to myself the responsibility for giving the order if time permitted but, to provide against the contingency of this not being possible, I laid down that there must always be on the spot day and night sufficient personnel with a reliable commander who would in the last resort and failing any orders act on his own initiative to ensure that the policy of His Majesty’s Government was carried out.

The implementation of the policy as regards civil installations became the responsibility of the Director-General of Civil Defence. He was assisted by a small select staff drawn mostly from the Public Works Department. He had to deal with government departments and with private owners, both European and Asiatic. The complications of his task need no stressing. To avoid damage to morale much of the preparatory work had to be done in secret. The task in any case is an uncongenial one, for nobody likes having their property destroyed, especially when the prospects of compensation are still uncertain. It says much for the energy and loyalty of the Director-General of Civil Defence and his devoted band of helpers that so much scorched earth work was eventually done at Singapore. This included the destruction of very large quantities of liquor, to which there was naturally some opposition. The order for its destruction was delayed as long as possible and was only given in the interests of the civil population having in view the disastrous consequences which might have resulted had it fallen into the hands of the Japanese.

As speed was the essence of the Japanese plan it seemed certain that they would launch an attack against Singapore Island as early as possible in order to free troops and aircraft for operations elsewhere and in order to open sea communications to the Indian Ocean. It seemed equally certain that the main attack would come from the mainland as it had done at Hong Kong, but they were in a position to launch simultaneously with this a sea-borne and/or an air-borne attack. So we could not with safety neglect the defence of any part of Singapore. As regards the attack from the mainland, everything pointed to this developing from the west as the main communications down which the Japanese were advancing led to that part of the front. I thought it very likely that, combined with this, the Japanese would make a sea-borne attack via the Straits of Malacca, as they now clearly had plenty of their special landing-craft on that coast. There was also a possibility that the force which was advancing from Mersing would come down the Johore River to attack either Tekong Island or the Changi area.

The length of the coast-line of Singapore Island, Blakang Mati, and Pulau Brani is seventy-two miles. In addition to this there was the island of Tekong and the Pengerang defended area. The total strength of the garrison at the beginning of February was, as far as I can estimate, somewhere in the region of 85,000 men. That is not to say that there were 85,000 fighting men, for this number included the non-combatant corps, i.e. the Royal Army Medical Corps, the Pioneer and Labour Units, etc. It also included a large number of Base and administrative personnel, who had had little training in the use of weapons, and a number of men for whom no arms were available. It would probably not be far wrong to say that about 70,000 of the total number were armed and equipped, i.e. the equivalent of about four weak divisions with Command and Base troops. When all the “over-heads” are deducted, that is not a large number to defend a coast¬line of about eighty miles.

I organized the defences into five Commands, each coming directly under me. They were:

(i) The Northern Area, which extended from Changi exclusive on the right to the Causeway exclusive on the left. The 3rd Indian Corps (Lt.-Gen. Sir L. M. Heath) was responsible for this. I had originally intended that it would have its own two divisions only plus the 12th Indian Brigade but, as a result of the loss of the 22nd Indian Brigade on the mainland, it was found necessary to incorporate the remains of the 9th Indian Division in the nth Indian Division. I was forced therefore at the last minute to place the newly arrived 18th British Division under 3rd Indian Corps and to keep the 12th Indian Brigade as Command Reserve,
(ii) The Southern Area, which extended from Changi inclusive along the south coast to the River Jurong inclusive. It also included Pengerang, the islands of Tekong and Blakang Mati, Pulau Brani, and Pulau Bukum. It was commanded by Maj.-Gen. F. Keith Simmons. It comprised most of the original Singapore defences, including practically all the fixed defences. Under command were the 1st and 2nd Malaya Infantry Brigades and the Straits Settlements Volunteer Force,
(iii) The Western Area, which extended from the River Jurong round the west coast to the Causeway inclusive. This was the danger area and I had specially selected for it the Australian Imperial Force under command of Maj.-Gen. Gordon Bennett because I thought that, of the troops which had had experience of fighting on the main¬land, it was the freshest and the most likely to give a good account of itself. Under command I placed the recently arrived 44th Indian Infantry Brigade which, it will be recollected, was already in the south-western part of the island.
(iv)    The Anti-Aircraft Defences (Brigadier A. W. G. Wildey), which had been reorganized to meet the new situation, special attention being given to the docks area.
(v)    The Command Reserve, which now consisted only of the very weak 12th Indian Infantry Brigade (Brigadier Paris). It was my intention, as soon as the direction of the attack was known and this reserve was committed, to create a new reserve by withdrawing troops from parts of the front which were not threatened.

Pulau Ubin presented a difficult problem in this new orientation. I would like to have held it in strength, both on account of the observation which it afforded and to prevent the enemy concentrating for an attack behind it. But it would have taken a lot of troops and we could not afford to hold it and the Changi area behind it. So I decided to occupy Pulau Ubin with fighting patrols only and to use the observation from it for as long as we could.

To make use of all possible resources I took two other steps. Firstly, I organized the personnel of all combatant administrative units to defend their own establishments. Secondly, I arranged to expand rapidly a force of Chinese Irregulars which had been operating on the mainland under the command of Lt.-Col. J. D. Dalley of the Federated Malay States Police Force. This force was recruited from all classes of Chinese—college boys and rick¬shaw pullers, loyalists and communists, old and young. Later it became the centre of the resistance movement in Malaya and did much to help British troops marooned in that country. The members of Dalforce, as it was called, were exceedingly tough, and in spite of their lack of training would, I have no doubt, have made excellent fighters had we been able to arm and equip them properly. As it was, the effort, though most praiseworthy, came too late to have any real effect on the course of events.

The basis of the defence was that the enemy must be prevented from landing or, if he succeeded in landing, that he must be stopped near the beaches and destroyed or driven out by counterattack. I laid special emphasis on the offensive spirit as will be seen from the following extract from an instruction issued to all formation commanders on 3 February:

All ranks must be imbued with the spirit of the attack. It is no good waiting for the Japanese to attack first. The endeavour of every soldier must be to locate the enemy and, having located him, to close with him.

On the morning of 5 February we suffered a serious blow when the transport Empress of Asia, well known to many travellers in Far Eastern waters, was sunk by Japanese aircraft off the south-west coast of Singapore Island. She was one of a small convoy of four ships—the last to reach Singapore—which was bringing the remaining units of the 18th British Division and some other troops and transport. As usual, the final approach to Singapore had been made under cover of darkness, but the Empress of Asia, whose speed was less than that of the other ships, had dropped behind and was attacked by aircraft when passing the Sembilan Islands, only a few miles from Keppel harbour. She received several direct hits from dive-bombers, fire broke out, and she soon began to sink. All troops had to take to the water. Some acts of great gallantry were performed, especially by members of the hospital staff. Rescues were quickly effected by the Royal Navy. The loss of life fortunately was small, but nearly all weapons and equipment on board were lost and the ship became a total wreck. I met the survivors on the quay. Splendid men but no weapons. What a tragedy! But it was the only ship that was sunk of those bringing reinforcements, so we were really very lucky.

The first week of February was very tense. There was so much to be done and so little time to do it in. Most of the work on the defences had to be done at night as all the northern and western coast-lines were under direct enemy observation. It was a curious sensation looking across the Straits at the Japanese occupied coast-line of Johore and it reminded me forcibly of the First World War. The artillery on both sides was active though, owing to shortage of 25-pounder ammunition, I had to put restrictions on ordinary harassing fire programmes. The Japanese produced one battery with a specially long range of about 24,000 yards, which shelled the Government House area from about Johore Bahru. That surprised everybody. The Japanese Air Force directed its attacks mainly against the Singapore docks and the Kallang aerodrome. As usual, most of the civil labour at the docks disappeared and we had to do most of our own loading and unloading. Our own fighter squadron was almost continuously in the air during this week and did some splendid work, both material and moral.

I had laid great stress on the necessity for active patrolling across the Straits to find out what the enemy was doing. Early on the morning of 8 February two of the A.I.F. patrols returned after being in enemy territory for over twenty-four hours and reported that on the seventh large enemy reinforcements had arrived in the rubber plantations opposite the western shores of Singapore Island.

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