Sheldrake wrote: ↑
23 Jan 2022 19:01
There is a sensible discussion of the Singapore Naval Base in Dan Todman's Britian's War
At the start of 1939, as conflict in Europe grew more imminent, a debate took place within Whitehall about whether to adapt British strategy. A war with three opponents – Germany, Italy and Japan – seemed as likely as ever. Everyone agreed that it would be beyond the Empire’s resources to fight all three at once. The answer seemed to be to despatch the weakest one first. In the event of such a war, therefore, the admirals wanted to concentrate their efforts initially on beating the Italians in the Mediterranean. This would mean abandoning the existing pledge to send a strong fleet to the newly opened base at Singapore. The question was whether to recognize this by changing the plans about how to defend the Empire. If Britain accepted that the Singapore strategy was now unachievable, it could plan instead to send out a ‘flying squadron’ of just two capital ships to the Far East. If these ships could avoid being brought to battle, they might just be enough to make things difficult for the Japanese until more forces became available. Such a drastic change of plan was, however, bound to lead to a confrontation with the Dominions. For that reason, the ‘flying squadron’ proposal was rejected. Instead, the British now dropped the Singapore strategy in practice, but retained it in principle. Todman, Daniel. Britain's War (pp. 172-173). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
As I have argued before, the British could reasonably assume that there would be no Op Sealion in the near future. There was a six month opportunity to reinforce Singapore with the aircraft needed to protect Malaya. Instead 400 fighters were shot down over France.
The point is, the interwar strategies notwithstanding, in the third and fourth quarter of 1941 and the first quarter of 1942, the British high command in London, and their local commanders in Asia, faced a very real
threat from the Japanese in China and French Indochina, as opposed to a paper
one in 1939-40.
Repeatedly, the British decided to reinforce exposed positions (Hong Kong and Malaya/Singapore), and then doubled down amidst failure in Burma. The Australians and Canadians supported these doomed deployments - and the Australians did the same in Ambon, Timor, and New Britain, of course. Unsurprisingly, the results were multiple defeats, and in all cases, with the losses increased because of the various too little, too late deployments.
As far as RAF reinforcement of Malaya in 1941, if those 400 fighters shot down could have a) been deployed, with aircrew and groundcrew; sustained, with avgas and the necessary supplies; and c) based somewhere where they could make a difference operationally, that could have been significant - although the Japanese still would have had four times as many combat aircraft in the theater.
And there's also the minor issue of getting a major RAF reinforcement to Malaya in time to make a difference; as it was, the single largest troop movement the British made to Malaya in 1941-42 required the USN to support it, so there's a key question - what
troops don't get sent from Britain to where
, historically, in 1941, to make your 400 fighters a useful asset in Malaya?
And, of course, the competing reality is the RAF in the Med/ME/SW Asia/etc. grew from ~300 aircraft in 1939 to five times as many by the end of 1941, including some `1,000 in the Desert Air Force alone...