I have just finished reading A Gathering Darkness" by Haruo Tohmatsu and H. P. Willmott. It is about the political and economic events which precipitated the Japanese slide into WW II. In one of the last chapters, on pages 126-127, the following passage appears;

"The final debacle [of the Singapore surrender] was far worse than anything that was ever admitted officially. The British government's postwar refusal to conduct a full public inquiry into the disaster was tacit admission of this fact.....all sorts of stories abound of what allegedly happened, and there is no way of fully ascertaining the truth. It has been estimated, for example, that probably three quarters of the Australian division in the line on Singapore had deserted by the time that the Japanese moved across the Strait. Allegedly, British marines and bluejackets from a light cruiser stormed a ship at Batavia that had been seized by Australian deserters at Singapore and forced to sail for Java; the word was that the Australians were afforded summary execution."

On page 139 of the Notes section, the authors supply additional details. The ship allegedly commandeered at Singapore by the Australian deserters was the Empire Star. The light cruiser was the British HMS Durban, Captain Peter Cazalet commanding, and the date on which the Empire Star was stormed was either February 13 or 14 and this took place at Batavia. The author's claim that the ship's logs involved were deliberately falsified (although the Durban's log does note the dispatch of an armed landing party), and that the fate of the deserters is in dispute. There is reference to two books that mention the episode; Singapore's Dunkirk by Geoffrey Brooke (pages 183-184) and Singapore, The Pregnable Fortress by Peter Elphick (pages 455-456).

I have read extensively of the events in the early part of the Pacific war, but have never heard these charges. I note that they are heavily qualified with words like "allegedly" and "probably". Can anyone shed any more light on this incident or even verify that it likely took place? And what was the eventual fate of the deserters?