Why Was Britain Defeated in Malaya?

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daveshoup2MD
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Re: Why Was Britain Defeated in Malaya?

Post by daveshoup2MD » 10 Jan 2022 08:17

Fatboy Coxy wrote:
10 Jan 2022 08:01
Sorry daveshoup2MD, giving up on defending Malaya/Singapore is quite unacceptable to the British, whats committed before the fighting starts has to stay there. I grant you there is a very good argument for not sending the 18th Division, but the Australians were already there. There is a big difference between what the Philippines are to the USA and Malaya is to Britain. No, you'll have to provide me with a better strategy than that please :)
The 8th Division arrived in Malaya after the Japanese took control of French Indochina, however, which is the point: before the Japanese took over FIC, the British could hold Malaya with what they had in place. Afterwards, absent the equivalent of the 8th Army and Desert Air Force (both of which had other engagements at the time), they couldn't hold Malaya. Dying gallantly may be gallant, but it is also dying; and reinforcing failure remains failure.

Have the 9th and 11th divisions dig in on the north side of the Johore Strait, have the fortress troops hold the island, and fight it out for as long as possible; given that it was all of 70 days (more or less) from start to finish historically, it's not like a "defend in Johore" strategy is likely to have ended in surrender particularly sooner than the campaign the British fought, historically.

There's a "too little, too late" pattern, unfortunately, that the British (and Canadians) repeated in 1941-42 in Hong Kong, Malaya-Singapore, and Burma, and the Australians with the piecemeal defenses of Ambon, Timor, and Rabaul.

One can argue the same pattern took place in Norway, Greece, Crete, Cyrenaica, and the Dodecanese at various points in 1940-43, as well, of course.

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Re: Why Was Britain Defeated in Malaya?

Post by Fatboy Coxy » 10 Jan 2022 12:02

No sorry daveshoup2MD, your making a strategy up purely from hindsight, no one could have foreseen such a shambolic failure as what happened in Malaya. You cant use such a strategy in that situation, that is purely one you would use playing a game. I've just made you Brooke-Popham, you have the troops as was historical, including the Australians, you have to defend the colony of Malaya, a big US dollar earner thanks to its rubber and tin exports, and the major naval port at Singapore. Not expecting miracles from you, but how different would you defend with what you have, to how they tried historically?
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Re: Why Was Britain Defeated in Malaya?

Post by EwenS » 10 Jan 2022 13:16

daveshound2MD the Japanese occupation of FIC was not a single step process. There are 2 distinct steps some 10 months apart.

1. From June 1940 the Japanese took advantage of the French collapse to press their case for closing supply routes to China from the port of Haiphong in the north. That led to the Japanese occupying the northern Tonkin region in Sept 1940.

2. The southern part of FIC was not occupied until late July 1941, in preparation for the Japanese strike south into Thailand, Malaya and the DEI.

It is over 700 miles from Hanoi, in the northern Tonkin region, to Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) in the south around which the Japanese built airfields for their next move south. So the Malayan defence problem changes significantly on the second move not the first. That is just over 4 months before Pearl Harbor. In the Middle East the British are planning Operation Crusader for mid Nov and building up army and Air Force strength for that. The threat of invasion is still being felt in Britain so restricting troops that can be released. And anyway it takes 2 months to ship anything from Britain to the Far East plus the time to organise the shipping, men and material.

One Brigade of the 8th Australian Div was sent to Malaya in Feb 1941 and a second in Aug 1941. Its third brigade went to places like Rabaul, Timor and Ambon from April 1941, being removed totally from Div control in Oct. so it was at only partial strength.

Here is a link to the British Staff Appreciation signed off in London in Aug 1940 (before any of FIC was occupied) and sent to the Govts in Australia and New Zealand. A copy of this ended up in Japanese hands in Dec 1940 following the sinking of the SS Automedon by the German raider Atlantis. Boyd in “The Royal Navy in Eastern Waters” calls it a reasonable summation of Britain’s position in Malaya and believes it’s falling into Japanese hands had no real effect on Japanese planning. Despite all the subsequent events in the Middle East in 1941 this Far East Appraisal was never updated in light of Japanese moves into southern Indochina despite the Middle East strategy being updated in mid 1941. This was a mistake since the one affected the other.
http://filestore.nationalarchives.gov.u ... 302-33.pdf

Edit:- In mid-1941 Britain decided that the Middle East had a greater priority than the Far East. Why? It was feared that unless there was strength there the German invasion of Russia might result in a Russian collapse and a German drive down through the Caucasus into the Middle East or that Turkey might enter the war on the German side leading to the same result. At that time the Iraq/Iran oilfields and especially the Abadan refinery were critical to Britain’s war in the Eastern Med and the Far East and remained so until 1945.

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Re: Why Was Britain Defeated in Malaya?

Post by daveshoup2MD » 11 Jan 2022 04:41

Fatboy Coxy wrote:
10 Jan 2022 12:02
No sorry daveshoup2MD, your making a strategy up purely from hindsight, no one could have foreseen such a shambolic failure as what happened in Malaya. You cant use such a strategy in that situation, that is purely one you would use playing a game. I've just made you Brooke-Popham, you have the troops as was historical, including the Australians, you have to defend the colony of Malaya, a big US dollar earner thanks to its rubber and tin exports, and the major naval port at Singapore. Not expecting miracles from you, but how different would you defend with what you have, to how they tried historically?
The Americans made a point of not sending two U.S. army infantry divisions from the US to Luzon in 1941; that makes it quite clear it wasn't hindsight. They also didn't send two capital ships to Manila in the same period, for that matter. The US made the tough choice to write off the PI because there were not enough forces available to hold it; not until 1944, at any rate.

The 9th and 11th Indian divisions dig in in Johore, the 8th Australian division goes to Papua, the 18th British division lands in Ceylon, and the 44th and 45th Indian brigades go to Burma with the 17th Division. Singapore falls at M+60, perhaps, rather than M+70, but with only six infantry brigades in the surrender, rather than 13. Burma probably still falls, but possibly the retreat is not as much of a failure as it was historically; Force A has a couple of fast capital ships to escort the fleet carriers; Papua never becomes a target (or if it does, Milne Bay and Imita Ridge are not as closely run as they were historically), and because the 18th Division is not thrown away, the 70th Division stays in the MTO.

Those all seem like desirable ends for the Allied cause in 1942.

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Re: Why Was Britain Defeated in Malaya?

Post by daveshoup2MD » 11 Jan 2022 04:45

EwenS wrote:
10 Jan 2022 13:16
daveshound2MD the Japanese occupation of FIC was not a single step process. There are 2 distinct steps some 10 months apart.

1. From June 1940 the Japanese took advantage of the French collapse to press their case for closing supply routes to China from the port of Haiphong in the north. That led to the Japanese occupying the northern Tonkin region in Sept 1940.

2. The southern part of FIC was not occupied until late July 1941, in preparation for the Japanese strike south into Thailand, Malaya and the DEI.

It is over 700 miles from Hanoi, in the northern Tonkin region, to Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) in the south around which the Japanese built airfields for their next move south. So the Malayan defence problem changes significantly on the second move not the first. That is just over 4 months before Pearl Harbor. In the Middle East the British are planning Operation Crusader for mid Nov and building up army and Air Force strength for that. The threat of invasion is still being felt in Britain so restricting troops that can be released. And anyway it takes 2 months to ship anything from Britain to the Far East plus the time to organise the shipping, men and material.

One Brigade of the 8th Australian Div was sent to Malaya in Feb 1941 and a second in Aug 1941. Its third brigade went to places like Rabaul, Timor and Ambon from April 1941, being removed totally from Div control in Oct. so it was at only partial strength.

Here is a link to the British Staff Appreciation signed off in London in Aug 1940 (before any of FIC was occupied) and sent to the Govts in Australia and New Zealand. A copy of this ended up in Japanese hands in Dec 1940 following the sinking of the SS Automedon by the German raider Atlantis. Boyd in “The Royal Navy in Eastern Waters” calls it a reasonable summation of Britain’s position in Malaya and believes it’s falling into Japanese hands had no real effect on Japanese planning. Despite all the subsequent events in the Middle East in 1941 this Far East Appraisal was never updated in light of Japanese moves into southern Indochina despite the Middle East strategy being updated in mid 1941. This was a mistake since the one affected the other.
http://filestore.nationalarchives.gov.u ... 302-33.pdf

Edit:- In mid-1941 Britain decided that the Middle East had a greater priority than the Far East. Why? It was feared that unless there was strength there the German invasion of Russia might result in a Russian collapse and a German drive down through the Caucasus into the Middle East or that Turkey might enter the war on the German side leading to the same result. At that time the Iraq/Iran oilfields and especially the Abadan refinery were critical to Britain’s war in the Eastern Med and the Far East and remained so until 1945.
Once the Japanese were in French Indochina, they were in French Indochina; being a little bit occupied is like being a little bit pregnant - either you are or you're not.

The British penchant for reinforcing in the middle of failure notwithstanding, sending any reinforcements in 1941 was a fool's errand; the British, Australian, and Indian troops - and ships, and aircraft - sent to Malaya in 1941 all could have been much more gainfully employed elsewhere, if only to fight again another day.

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Re: Why Was Britain Defeated in Malaya?

Post by Fatboy Coxy » 13 Jan 2022 08:49

daveshoup2MD wrote:
11 Jan 2022 04:41
Fatboy Coxy wrote:
10 Jan 2022 12:02
No sorry daveshoup2MD, your making a strategy up purely from hindsight, no one could have foreseen such a shambolic failure as what happened in Malaya. You cant use such a strategy in that situation, that is purely one you would use playing a game. I've just made you Brooke-Popham, you have the troops as was historical, including the Australians, you have to defend the colony of Malaya, a big US dollar earner thanks to its rubber and tin exports, and the major naval port at Singapore. Not expecting miracles from you, but how different would you defend with what you have, to how they tried historically?
The Americans made a point of not sending two U.S. army infantry divisions from the US to Luzon in 1941; that makes it quite clear it wasn't hindsight. They also didn't send two capital ships to Manila in the same period, for that matter. The US made the tough choice to write off the PI because there were not enough forces available to hold it; not until 1944, at any rate.

The 9th and 11th Indian divisions dig in in Johore, the 8th Australian division goes to Papua, the 18th British division lands in Ceylon, and the 44th and 45th Indian brigades go to Burma with the 17th Division. Singapore falls at M+60, perhaps, rather than M+70, but with only six infantry brigades in the surrender, rather than 13. Burma probably still falls, but possibly the retreat is not as much of a failure as it was historically; Force A has a couple of fast capital ships to escort the fleet carriers; Papua never becomes a target (or if it does, Milne Bay and Imita Ridge are not as closely run as they were historically), and because the 18th Division is not thrown away, the 70th Division stays in the MTO.

Those all seem like desirable ends for the Allied cause in 1942.
No sorry daveshoup2MD, your just being clever after the fact, playing war games.

Yes you can argue about the reinforcements sent after the fighting started, the throwing away of the 18th division, possibly a political sup to the Australians, by Churchill, and the commitment of the 44th and 45th Indian Bdes which were totally unfit for combat.

You can argue that the Indian 9th and 11th divisions try to hold in Johore, which Wavell wanted them to do, but only after the fighting has started and they have retreated to there.

You can't just surrender most of Malaya just because the Japanese have occupied French Indo-China, you don't know how things will play out, maybe the Japanese will be brought to the negotiating table by the Americans, the economic blockade, especially the oil embargo hurt them badly. The Australian 8th Div will have to remain and you, as Brooke-Popham, have to come up with a strategy to defend a real jewel in the crown of the British Empire. :)
Regards
Fatboy Coxy

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aghart
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Re: Why Was Britain Defeated in Malaya?

Post by aghart » 13 Jan 2022 13:58

Completion of the Kon Tiggi defence line and a strategy of defending Johore and keeping the Naval base out of artillery range would have been good. This is what was planned up until Dobbie left. However, once the RAF airfields start to get built in Malaya it all changes. As Fatboy Coxy says, the poor defensive performance of the British Empire forces could not be anticipated, had the ledge been taken and the road destroyed and the Slim river debacle avoided, just two disasters that could and should have been avoided, then the Japanese advance is markedly slowed. 7th Armd Bde, 18th Division, 6th or/and 7th Australian Divisions arrive and deploy on the mainland. All possible, to write Malaya and Singapore off because the Japanese have moved into Indo China is unthinkable.

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Re: Why Was Britain Defeated in Malaya?

Post by daveshoup2MD » 13 Jan 2022 19:29

Fatboy Coxy wrote:
13 Jan 2022 08:49
No sorry daveshoup2MD, your just being clever after the fact, playing war games.

Yes you can argue about the reinforcements sent after the fighting started, the throwing away of the 18th division, possibly a political sup to the Australians, by Churchill, and the commitment of the 44th and 45th Indian Bdes which were totally unfit for combat.

You can argue that the Indian 9th and 11th divisions try to hold in Johore, which Wavell wanted them to do, but only after the fighting has started and they have retreated to there.

You can't just surrender most of Malaya just because the Japanese have occupied French Indo-China, you don't know how things will play out, maybe the Japanese will be brought to the negotiating table by the Americans, the economic blockade, especially the oil embargo hurt them badly. The Australian 8th Div will have to remain and you, as Brooke-Popham, have to come up with a strategy to defend a real jewel in the crown of the British Empire. :)
Not reinforcing an enclave that is otherwise completely exposed to the enemy is not a game, it is pretty standard practice, as witness the American position on the PI and Guam from 1919 onwards, and, for that matter, the British position on the Channel Islands and British Somaliland in 1940 - and the later in a theater where the British actually had maritime supremacy.

Oddly enough, after making the realistic decisions in 1940 in the face of Axis superiority in two different theaters, the British (and Australians and Canadians) did the exact opposite in 1941 when facing the Japanese threat - and repeatedly, of course, between Hong Kong, Ambon, Timor, and New Britain; Malaya was simply the largest and most costly mistake of many made by the British high command(s) when it came to underestimating the Japanese.

Last stands make for stirring propaganda, but they are idiotic strategies. Reinforcing - too little and too late - a position that is doomed is even more so. The point, after all, remains that: No dumb bastard ever won a war by going out and dying for his country. He won it by making some other dumb bastard die for his country.”

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Re: Why Was Britain Defeated in Malaya?

Post by daveshoup2MD » 13 Jan 2022 19:50

aghart wrote:
13 Jan 2022 13:58
Completion of the Kon Tiggi defence line and a strategy of defending Johore and keeping the Naval base out of artillery range would have been good. This is what was planned up until Dobbie left. However, once the RAF airfields start to get built in Malaya it all changes. As Fatboy Coxy says, the poor defensive performance of the British Empire forces could not be anticipated, had the ledge been taken and the road destroyed and the Slim river debacle avoided, just two disasters that could and should have been avoided, then the Japanese advance is markedly slowed. 7th Armd Bde, 18th Division, 6th or/and 7th Australian Divisions arrive and deploy on the mainland. All possible, to write Malaya and Singapore off because the Japanese have moved into Indo China is unthinkable.
If the British could get the equivalent of an field army (which six divisions - 9th Indian, 11th Indian, 6th, 7th, 8th Australian, 18th British, and 7th Armored brigade - basically amount to) and a tactical air force (where does that come from, by the way? and with what equipment and sustainment?) into Malaya before the balloon went up is one thing, even in the face of IJN maritime supremacy, the British might manage to hang on... of course, the Japanese can up the ante by moving elements of the 14th, 15th,and 16th armies (corps equivalents) and 5th Air Group to join the 25th Army and 3rd Air Group, as well as the 11th Air Fleet.

However, the devil is in the details, largely in terms of with what transport shipping and which operations that historically occurred in the Med in the first and second quarters of 1941 get suspended in order to make that happen.

Absent the above movements being completed by the autumn of 1941, it's all too little, too late, and Malaya remains a sack into which the British repeatedly sent assorted sowars, diggers, and Tommies, completely dominated by Japanese air power from French Indochina, and for no discernable point.

The correlation of forces is such that the Japanese - certainly in the 4th quarter of 1941 and first quarter of 1942 - could hit the targets they chose, and in the order they wished.

There's a pretty straightforward summary on page 62, here:

https://history.army.mil/books/wwii/mac ... p1/ch5.htm

The Japanese had four corps-equivalent headquarters, 10+ Army infantry divisions, various corps and army troops and naval landing forces, ~2,000 combat and support aircraft, almost the entire IJN (3rd largest navy in the world at the time, after all), and 3.9 million tons of shipping to move and sustain them all, as well as useful bases from French Indochina to Hainan and Taiwan to Micronesia; the Allies had very little that compared, and what was in the theater was scattered from Hawaii to Burma.

Absent much more significant reinforcements then were historically available in the summer of 1941, there's very little the Allies could do - individually - to change those realities.

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Re: Why Was Britain Defeated in Malaya?

Post by aghart » 15 Jan 2022 23:29

[/quote]
The British penchant for reinforcing in the middle of failure notwithstanding, sending any reinforcements in 1941 was a fool's errand; the British, Australian, and Indian troops - and ships, and aircraft - sent to Malaya in 1941 all could have been much more gainfully employed elsewhere, if only to fight again another day.
[/quote]

Especially if you had 80 years worth of hindsight!

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Re: Why Was Britain Defeated in Malaya?

Post by daveshoup2MD » 16 Jan 2022 05:12

aghart wrote:
15 Jan 2022 23:29
The British penchant for reinforcing in the middle of failure notwithstanding, sending any reinforcements in 1941 was a fool's errand; the British, Australian, and Indian troops - and ships, and aircraft - sent to Malaya in 1941 all could have been much more gainfully employed elsewhere, if only to fight again another day.
[/quote]

Especially if you had 80 years worth of hindsight!
[/quote]

Except that the British were sharp enough to understand they could not defend the Channel islands in 1940, however, so no hindsight was necessary there.
https://lordslibrary.parliament.uk/the- ... 20do%20so.

Likewise, also in 1940, the British withdrew the garrisons from Shanghai and North China (the 2nd Bn. The East Surrey Regiment and 1st Bn. The Seaforth Highlanders). Ironically, the Highlanders were forced to surrender in Malaya; the East Surreys went to India and survived. No hindsight, simply a realistic appreciation of the military situation.
https://www.britishmilitaryhistory.co.u ... ops-china/

The same year, the British evacuated British Somaliland after it's defense became militarily untenable; because of that decision, four British, Indian, and African infantry battalions lived to fight again another day. Again, no hindsight necessary.
https://comandosupremo.com/british-somaliland/

Strategy is formed by a realistic understanding of the correlation of forces in a given theater. That realism was present in 1940 in Britain; it was not, interestingly enough, in 1941.

Why that is so is a question worth considering.

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Re: Why Was Britain Defeated in Malaya?

Post by Sheldrake » 16 Jan 2022 12:07

daveshoup2MD wrote:
16 Jan 2022 05:12

Strategy is formed by a realistic understanding of the correlation of forces in a given theater. That realism was present in 1940 in Britain; it was not, interestingly enough, in 1941.

Why that is so is a question worth considering.
The fall of Singapore was a shock and surprise to many. A substantial British force was defeated by a Japanese army half its size.
In February 2012 Mungo Melvin gave a talk on the comparison between the sieges of Sevastapol and Singapore.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_ ... 80%931942)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fall_of_Singapore
It is a far comparison. Had Singapore held put for as long as Sevastapol is an interesting ATL.
There was a perception at the time, and afterwards, that the British had not gone the extra mile to fight for this key site. There is also a feeling that everyone would have fought harder and longer had they known how brutally the Japanese would treat prisoners and the brutal rule they would bring to their new subjects in the South East Asia Co-prosperity sphere.

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Re: Why Was Britain Defeated in Malaya?

Post by daveshoup2MD » 16 Jan 2022 20:28

Sheldrake wrote:
16 Jan 2022 12:07
daveshoup2MD wrote:
16 Jan 2022 05:12

Strategy is formed by a realistic understanding of the correlation of forces in a given theater. That realism was present in 1940 in Britain; it was not, interestingly enough, in 1941.

Why that is so is a question worth considering.
The fall of Singapore was a shock and surprise to many. A substantial British force was defeated by a Japanese army half its size.
In February 2012 Mungo Melvin gave a talk on the comparison between the sieges of Sevastapol and Singapore.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_ ... 80%931942)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fall_of_Singapore
It is a far comparison. Had Singapore held put for as long as Sevastapol is an interesting ATL.
There was a perception at the time, and afterwards, that the British had not gone the extra mile to fight for this key site. There is also a feeling that everyone would have fought harder and longer had they known how brutally the Japanese would treat prisoners and the brutal rule they would bring to their new subjects in the South East Asia Co-prosperity sphere.
That's an interesting comparison; but setting aside the forces involved in each and the supply lines, the strategic differences between Sevastopol and Singapore, of course, should figure into it as well. I can see the British fighting to the death for Southampton or Portsmouth or what have you; Singapore hardly compared to any city in the UK, much less Sevastopol.

Absent a fight to the death for a strategic point of the same significance, however, reinforcing doomed outposts in a theater that is not of any true strategic significance, as the British (and Australians, and Canadians) did repeatedly in 1941-42 makes no sense.

Given the British repeatedly withdrew from exposed outposts in 1940, again, it's interesting why the same decisions were not made in 1941. As a fairly well-regarded strategist said: "He who defends everything, defends nothing."

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Re: Why Was Britain Defeated in Malaya?

Post by Attrition » 16 Jan 2022 22:02

How long would the populaion of Singapore lasted once the water from the mainland was cut off?

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Re: Why Was Britain Defeated in Malaya?

Post by Sheldrake » 16 Jan 2022 22:54

Attrition wrote:
16 Jan 2022 22:02
How long would the populaion of Singapore lasted once the water from the mainland was cut off?
The destruction of the city's water reserves was the trigger for the garrison's surrender. I am not sure where the water that filled the reservoir came from.
Currently Singapore's water is sourced from a mixture of local catchment, recycling, desalination and importation https://www.pub.gov.sg/watersupply/singaporewaterstory. There is a calculation to be done to see how much water could be collected or recycled on an isolated Singapore Island and what this would have meant for the besieged population.

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