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Wednesday February 15, 2017
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Sir William Hudson Memorial Centre
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Cooma Ex-Services Club
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SATURDAY FEBRUARY 25
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30’s, 40’s & 50’s MUSIC
MILITARY AND MODERN MUSIC
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The fall of Singapore, 15 February
Today, February 15, marks the 75th anniversary
of the Fall of Singapore, in what is considered the
worst defeat of the British-led allied forces in the
Second World War.
Singapore, an island at the southern end of the
Malay Peninsula, was considered a vital part of the
British Empire and supposedly impregnable as a
fortress. The British saw it as the “Gibraltar in the
The surrender of Singapore demonstrated to
the world that the Japanese Army was a force
to be reckoned with though the defeat also
ushered in three years of appalling treatment for
the Commonwealth POW’s who were caught in
Improvements to Singapore as a British military
base had only been completed at great cost in
1938. Singapore epitomised what the British
Empire was all about – a strategically vital military
base that protected Britain’s other Commonwealth
possessions in the Far East.
Once the Japanese expanded throughout the
region after Pearl Harbour (December 1941),
many in Britain felt that Singapore would become
an obvious target for the Japanese. However,
the British military command in Singapore was
confident that the power they could call on there
would make any Japanese attack useless.
The surrender of Singapore was one of the
largest and most dramatic reverses suffered by
British forces in the war, or indeed in modern
British history, with 130,000 personnel becoming
prisoners of the Japanese, included in this total
were 15,000 Australians.
By January 31, 1942, all British Empire forces
had withdrawn from the Malay peninsula onto
On February 8, the Japanese landed in the north-
west of the island and within six days they were on
the outskirts of Singapore city, which was also now
under constant air attack.
Many of the troops had been shocked at the
apparent lack of defences on the island.
The men were battle-weary and the Australians
had lost nearly 700 men fighting in Malaya since
January 14, with hundreds of others sick or
Only one trained reinforcement unit, the 2/4th
Machine Gun Battalion, arrived from Australia.
Other last-minute reinforcements sent were
untrained and ill-equipped for battle.
The Japanese had prepared for the invasion of
Singapore with a heavy bombardment. They began
their amphibious landings on the north-west of the
island, where the Strait of Johore is narrowest.
This area was held by the Australian 22nd
Infantry Brigade but late on the night of February 8
the Japanese made their way through undefended
Twenty-four hours later a second Japanese
landing force struck between the Causeway and
the mouth of the Kranji River, an area held by the
Australian 27th Infantry Brigade. By the morning of
February 10 there were Japanese troops on most
of north-west Singapore.
The Australian, British and Indian troops tried to
hold the Japanese at various defensive lines but
after two days many of their dreadfully depleted
battalions had to be reorganised into composite
units. A counter-attack on February 10-11 failed
and on February 12 General H Gordon Bennett,
the Australian commander, began moving his near-
exhausted 8th Division AIF units into a perimeter
just a few kilometres out of the city.
By the next day the Japanese were within five
kilometres of the Singapore waterfront. The entire
city was now within range of Japanese artillery.
Official evacuations from Singapore had begun
in late January and continued until almost the last
moment. RAAF squadrons had been evacuated
before the Japanese invaded the island and the
remaining RAN warships were ordered to leave.
Some merchant ships also got away carrying
evacuees from the path of the Japanese.
The warships’ main operational tasks were
escort duties, and the fleet based in Singapore
included the destroyer HMAS Vampire and the
sloop HMAS Yarra, which arrived late in January,
along with several corvettes.
The corvettes in the 21st Minesweeping Flotilla
swept the sea lanes and conducted anti-submarine
patrols. HMA Ships Toowoomba, Wollongong
and Ballarat reinforced the original four corvettes,
HMA Ships Bendigo, Burnie, Goulburn and
The last 65 Australian Army nurses stationed
in Singapore were ordered to board the Vyner
Brooke, which sailed on February 12. Their
colleagues, who had sailed in the Empire Star the
previous day, reached Australia, but only 24 of the
nurses who sailed in the Vyner Brooke survived to
return to Australia in 1945 after the war had ended
By February 14 the Japanese had captured
Singapore’s reservoirs and pumping stations. The
bombing, fighting and heavy shelling continued;
many of the troops, separated from their units,
wandered around aimlessly and the hospitals were
crowded and overflowing.
Some troops were deserting and others
had become separated from their units. Hard
fighting continued but on February 15 Lieutenant
General Arthur Percival, the British commander
in Singapore, called for a ceasefire and made
the difficult decision to surrender. He signed the
surrender document that evening at the Ford
Factory on Bukit Timah Road. After days of
desperate fighting, all British Empire troops were to
lay down their arms at 8.30 that night.
Pictured, smoke from a fire on naval base at
Singapore island spreads clouds over the city.
Photo from AWM.
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