Why Was Britain Defeated in Malaya?

Discussions on WW2 in the Pacific and the Sino-Japanese War.
User avatar
David C. Clarke
Member
Posts: 11368
Joined: 10 Mar 2002 17:17
Location: U.S. of A.

Why Was Britain Defeated in Malaya?

Post by David C. Clarke » 11 May 2005 00:36

Hi Folks, in your opinion, what were the primary factors in Britain's defeat in Malaya in 1941-42?

Best,
~Akira
Last edited by David C. Clarke on 14 May 2005 04:47, edited 1 time in total.

varjag
Financial supporter
Posts: 4431
Joined: 01 May 2002 01:44
Location: Australia

Re: Why Was Britain Defeated in Malaysia?

Post by varjag » 11 May 2005 12:35

David C. Clarke wrote:Hi Folks, in your opinion, what were the primary factors in Britain's defeat in Malaysia in 1941-42?

Best,
~Akira

Could the different mindsets between General Percival of 'pink gins' and General Yamashita's of sacrifical success - have something to do with it?

User avatar
Peter H
Member
Posts: 28628
Joined: 30 Dec 2002 13:18
Location: Australia

Post by Peter H » 11 May 2005 13:36

Underestimating the enemy:

"We were told that the Japanese were small,wore glasses,had buck teeth,were unable to see in the dark,were poor soldiers and had aircraft that fell out of the sky if they went too fast.None of this was true:the Japanese were superbly equipped and trained".


Captain Butterworth 2/16th Punjabs quoted in Command in Disaster: Townshend at Kut, Percival at Singapore,article by Robin Neillands.

Australian troops were surprised to later see nearly 6 foot tall Japanese Guardsmen in action against them.

However this on the Guard as well:

http://www.avalanchepress.com/MalayaImperialGuard.php

...the Imperial Guard was simply not very good. In part the Guard suffers in comparison to the two regular divisions, 5th and 18th, which received intense physical and military training before the campaign that brought them to peak effectiveness. The Guard did not go through the same tough school. Recruiting policies also made it a weaker force: The Guard selected its rank and file based on their height, not experience or ability. This made a Guard unit much taller than the average Japanese battalion, but height is not an indicator of physical strength or fitness — and in the nutritional background of the 1930s, possibly even indicates less stamina than a man of average stature.


However Western views of Japanese military prowness were somewhat tempered by some realities---the Japanese could not achieve outright victory in China,a quagmire of sorts,and they did not perform well against the Soviets in the border clashes of 1938 and 1939.

User avatar
David C. Clarke
Member
Posts: 11368
Joined: 10 Mar 2002 17:17
Location: U.S. of A.

Post by David C. Clarke » 11 May 2005 23:53

This campaign fascinates me--although I can't find the reference books I thought I had. My understanding is that the Japanese were outnumbered in this fight and the campaign revolved around a series of British attempts to block the road network and other means of access to the Southern part of Malaysia and the ultimate goal, Singapore.

In the event, they were singularly unsuccesfull. I've always thought this was due to innovative tactics on the part of the Japanese, not to any huge variance in the fighting sklls of the common soldier on either side.

I am still uncertain how much weight to give the Generalship of either side, simply because I don't want to fall into that old trap of believing that the defeated generals were incompetant or the winning generals were exceptionally skilled.

Also, I am unsure about the relative air strenght of both sides and its impact on the campaign.

So, I have a lot of questions and I'm hoping to gain insight from this Thread.

Best Regards,
~Akira

User avatar
Harri
Member
Posts: 4214
Joined: 24 Jun 2002 11:46
Location: Suomi - Finland

Post by Harri » 12 May 2005 00:10

I think Royal Navy and Air Force were too weak in that area and had also secondary equipment. The best equipment were kept or sent elsewhere. The spirit of troops wasn't either the best possible due to happenings in Europe and North Africa while Japanese had been victorious in many places. The co-operation of British arms was probably also rather weak which is why HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales were lost. They should have need air protection or perhaps one or two aircraft carriers with them. Hard to believe that the same men had fought with Bismark and Prinz Eugen earlier.

British didn't expect so rapid Japanese advance and I think many British thought jungle would be an effective natural barrier for the Japanese, which it actually wasn't. There were many expectations which all failed one by one.

User avatar
David C. Clarke
Member
Posts: 11368
Joined: 10 Mar 2002 17:17
Location: U.S. of A.

Post by David C. Clarke » 12 May 2005 00:23

Hi Harri, if I recall correctly, the British had intended to send an aircraft carrier with Force Z, but the carrier ran aground (I think in the West Indies) and wasn't available. Churchill believed that the stationing of two batleships in the Singapore area would make the Japanese cautious. (I don't think he quite caught what they were up against should Japan decide to invade.)

I've read about the final battle of Prince of Wales and Repulse. The ships fought with the customary Brtish naval bravery, but again, they had no idea of the potential of Japanese land-based torpedo planes. The planes used were faster than anything the ships had trained against and their tactics were excellent.

But what really intrigues me is the land battles, which appear to have been waged pretty economically by the Japanese. This was one of the few times that Japanese tanks were used in an effective role with adequate tactics against a Western power.
I have a couple articles on Japanese armor use in Malaysia and they are fascinating.

Best Regards,
~Akira

Krasnaya Zvezda
Financial supporter
Posts: 1157
Joined: 27 Dec 2002 17:45
Location: Moscow

Re: Why Was Britain Defeated in Malaysia?

Post by Krasnaya Zvezda » 12 May 2005 00:28

David C. Clarke wrote:Hi Folks, in your opinion, what were the primary factors in Britain's defeat in Malaysia in 1941-42?

Best,
~Akira


SO you got me interested in this. Well, I think several reasons exists for this although I can only speculate. First, is the tactics Japan had at that time, that resembles very much how US millitary operations go now. Reliance on superior air force, quick attacks with breaking the enemy communication with superior air and naval force. Although at land they were outnumbered, the Japanese land soldier was very experienced (four years of experience in CHina) unlike the small Indian, Australian and British troops. Pacific was such a vast area that is extremely difficult to defend it even if you expect the attack, and nobody there really expected it. Therefore the stike came as a surprise . Usuall Japanese tactic was surprise and after the first surprise attack they would continue immediately the expansion. The area in the Pacific favored the attacker. If one can choose the place of its effort and prevent reinforcements of its enemy his success is guaranteed.

Specifically in the case of Malaysia as far as I remeber (and please correct me if I am wrong) the attack started on December 8, with landing of forces that I believe numerically overwelmed small Australian and Indian forces. Force Z sent from Singapore was destroyed with effective air strikes. There was nothing happening at sea till mid January. By the time allied created a join comman (again too much time to do that) Japanese made several landings each within the reach of aircrafs from previous landings. This tactics obviously takes couple of months to cover large areas, but the advantage is that with the presence of air support you can annihilate any attacks coming from the sea. This explains why Doorman failed repetidevly. Every offesnive he undertook was met by air strikes he could not do anything about it. And he could not know the movements on the other side. Even his rear base fell under air attacks.


So to summirize, very quick movements always supported with air force that is able to neutralize the sea attempts to twart Japanese movement, vastness of the area that makes defense difficult but favors the attacker to choose its place to attack, lack of allied command and unpreparedness, no air or intelligence support and reliance only on naval attacks against invisible enemy are probably the reason for this. All the best

User avatar
David C. Clarke
Member
Posts: 11368
Joined: 10 Mar 2002 17:17
Location: U.S. of A.

Post by David C. Clarke » 12 May 2005 00:35

Hey Ivan! GREAT to see you here!!!

Yes, it is very important to remember that Force Z was dispatched to the region before Pearl Harbor and before Japan and Great Britain were at war!

Karl Doorman had to have been one of the unluckiest Admirals to ever live. How anyone expected him to accomplish anything with what he had is simply incredible. I mean, what did they say to him--"Hey guy, take this collection of old ships that have never worked together before and whose crews don't speak the same language. Then go out and fight the entire Japanese Navy and their land-based airpower. And, oh yes, their airplanes are superior to anything you've ever seen........" 8O

I suppose national honor required a defense of some sort, but who really beleieved that Doorman's fleet could do anything other than die bravely?

Best,
~Akira

Krasnaya Zvezda
Financial supporter
Posts: 1157
Joined: 27 Dec 2002 17:45
Location: Moscow

Post by Krasnaya Zvezda » 12 May 2005 00:40

David C. Clarke wrote:Hey Ivan! GREAT to see you here!!!

Yes, it is very important to remember that Force Z was dispatched to the region before Pearl Harbor and before Japan and Great Britain were at war!

Karl Doorman had to have been one of the unluckiest Admirals to ever live. How anyone expected him to accomplish anything with what he had is simply incredible. I mean, what did they say to him--"Hey guy, take this collection of old ships that have never worked together before and whose crews don't speak the same language. Then go out and fight the entire Japanese Navy and their land-based airpower. And, oh yes, their airplanes are superior to anything you've ever seen........" 8O

I suppose national honor required a defense of some sort, but who really beleieved that Doorman's fleet could do anything other than die bravely?

Best,
~Akira


Very true. Doorman was unlucky really. What a job. There you go, poor planning is another reason. What really is the question now with hindsights, what could have been done to defend it properly? Most likely do what Japanese did, strike directly at the main Japanese bases, Japan itself, with superior air force, and naval force. As a matter of fact, this is how allies probably started turning the tide. I do not know, I will have to read more about it. All the best Dave.

User avatar
David C. Clarke
Member
Posts: 11368
Joined: 10 Mar 2002 17:17
Location: U.S. of A.

Post by David C. Clarke » 12 May 2005 00:49

Hi Ivan, I have to read more myself, particularly about the early stages of the war and the war in China. But really, it is good to see you here and I truly hope that you and Harri will stop by more often and enjoy this section! :D :D :D :D

Very Best Regards,
~Akira

User avatar
Andy H
Forum Staff
Posts: 15127
Joined: 12 Mar 2002 20:51
Location: UK and USA

Post by Andy H » 12 May 2005 01:18

Hi David

You will find some excellent information in the following threads.

From the What If area

viewtopic.php?t=51265

viewtopic.php?t=54069

From the Pacific War area

viewtopic.php?t=45015

Also the best book I've read on the campiagn in Malaya is 'Singapore 1942' by Alan Warren

Regards

Andy H

User avatar
David C. Clarke
Member
Posts: 11368
Joined: 10 Mar 2002 17:17
Location: U.S. of A.

Post by David C. Clarke » 12 May 2005 01:54

Thanks Andy, especially for the book tip! I have to replenish my library on Malaysia!

Best,
~Akira

User avatar
John W
Financial supporter
Posts: 9088
Joined: 03 Jan 2003 07:12
Location: United States of America

Post by John W » 12 May 2005 05:38

Akira-san (and others)

Don't know much about Mayalya but I can't recommend a better book to get started than Noel Barber's Sinister Twilight: The Fall of Singapore

From what I can remember (I read this book many years ago), Barber claims that Singapore (and I reckon Maya as well) wasn't the "impregnable fortress" that people thought it was. He also touches on the "air of complecency" that seems to have pervaded much of Singapore - right upto the eve of the Japanese attack. The final moments of the departing British are heart-wrenching (I suppose only surpased by the agony that was Corregidor).

regards,

User avatar
Andy H
Forum Staff
Posts: 15127
Joined: 12 Mar 2002 20:51
Location: UK and USA

Post by Andy H » 12 May 2005 12:56

From what I can remember (I read this book many years ago), Barber claims that Singapore (and I reckon Maya as well) wasn't the "impregnable fortress" that people thought it was


Hi John

It seems that this is one of those legends that when you actually read about it only existed through the popular media and the people who took it at face value.

Those in the know knew of its weakness's. Also one must not under-estimate the implications the Fasll of France had on the strategic posistion of Singapore

Andy H

Michael Tapner
Member
Posts: 82
Joined: 24 May 2004 01:06
Location: Sydney, Australia

Post by Michael Tapner » 12 May 2005 15:33

In no particular order here is why the Brits lost in Malaya / Singapore:

#1 Training / Equipment. The main Japanese units had been trained, equipped and above all prepared for the jungle fighting.
With the exception of the Australian brigades and a solitary British battalion, no attempts were made by the Allied forces to master or equip for jungle warfare. Indian formations particularly were low on regular equipment.

#2 Air Superiority. Slight edge in quality to the Japanese, but a vast numerical superiority (about 500 aircraft to ~ 150). The Japanese lost large numbers of aircraft in the campaign. But a 1:1 loss rate was inadequate for the Allies.

#3 Lack of air cover meant that the Allied army had to defend everywhere - ports, airfields, the width of the peninsula. The Japanese could then focus their attack at one point. The Japanese used this concentration of force to great advantage throughout the campaign. Consider that in the first 6 weeks of the campaign the Japanese took out 1 Indian brigade after another, 1 at a time. They did this with 3 divisions and a tank brigade. It was also the way they crossed into Singapore. The attack focused on 1 sector, with all units crossing into Singapore at that point.

#4 Belief. It has been pointed out already that high command had convinced the Allied soldiery prior to combat that the Japanese were deficient in just about everything. They found out that they weren't only in combat.

#5 Lethargy of Allied command. They had the plans to do things before the campaign but could not implement these plans - and often it was not for a want of time.

Something else to consider is that while the Japanese may have been numerically inferior, they were superior in terms of the type of troops. The Japanese had 10 regiments of infantry between the 3 main divisions plus 4 regiments of tanks and other assorted assets. The Allied forces at the start of the campaign consisted of 3 divisions, each of 2 brigades plus a string of line of communication troops

Return to “WW2 in the Pacific & Asia”