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Thread: Could Britain have won Malaya?

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    Default Could Britain have won Malaya?

    My recollection is that there were two significant aspects (for which I can't find references but which I'm trying to reconstruct) which might have altered the result in Malaya in 1941-42.

    1. Churchill diverted forces originally destined for Malaya to North Africa, allowing Auchinleck to launch Operation Crusader in mid-November 1941 but thereby locking Commonwealth troops in to North Africa during the Japanese assault on Malaya.

    2. There was a substantial RAF reserve kept in Britain following the Battle of Britain a year earlier which could have been sent to Malaya, thus providing more modern aircraft capable of fighting the Japanese aircraft, and more of them than the second rate aircraft actually used in Malaya by the British.

    I'm trying to work out whether I'm suffering from brain fade here or whether Britain could really have sent useful forces which might have altered the result in Malaya.

    Anyone have any more detailed info on what could have gone to Malaya?

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    Moon Over Malaya: Jonathon Moffat and Audrey Holme McCormic.

    Offers an excellent description of the fighting withdrawal of the only British units in-situ that were jungle warfare trained. they had some successes, but they were up against overwhelming numbers. The other British units were pretty much afraid of the Ulu and had a greater fear of being out-flanked.

    Under the circumstances, as described in this book and others, I don't see how Britian could have held. They might have held Singapore, but then it would have become an isolated garrison under siege?

    The Stirling Observer September 1999

    Last week saw the publication of the very unusual book on the history of the 2nd Battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in Malay during the second World War .
    Why unusual? Well most such books are either written for the academic and can be totally unreadable or so low-key that they are almost useless. The volume bridges the gap completely. It to so full of well research information that it will instantly become a standard history of this campaign.

    At the same time the authors have talked with survivors throughout the world and brought to life the horrific experiences of the Argylls and of the Royal Marines - the Plymouth Argylls - who fought alongside our local Battalion against overwhelming numbers of better equipped Japanese.

    It covers the disastrous battle on the Slim River where nearly 400 Argylls out of a compliment of 576 were either killed or captured. The remnants of the Battalion fought a fierce rearguard action down the Malayan peninsula and were the last to cross the causeway onto the doomed Singapore island .

    it describes the massacre of 323 occupants of Alexandra hospital. It describes the various escapes and of the horror of life as a prisoner of war of the Japanese.

    It is not, however, all doom and gloom. There are various incidents of the irrepressible humor of the Jocks. To myself personally some of the most poignant passages are the descriptions of life after Malay as those men try to rebuild their lives, with, in many cases, little or no help from the British government.

    "Moon over Malaya" is named after a song composed by the Argylls. Jonathan Moffatt and Audrey McCormick's story is of the up most bravery and sheer determination of the 2nd Battalion "The Thin Red Line" of our local regiment.

    It comes at an appropriate time as 1999 sees the 200th anniversary of the founding of the 93rd which became the 2nd Battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. As many of these soldiers fade away it is also appropriate to knowledge once again how much we owe them. They certainly lived up to them motto of " Sans Peur"- with out fear.

    In all, one of the best military histories published in recent years and certainly one which is taking pride of place on my own bookshelves.

    Bob McCutcheon

    http://britains-smallwars.com/MOM/index.html

    The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders

    "The Thin Red Line"
    Balaklava
    1854

    In 1854 they went to the Crimea. On the 24th October they routed the Russian Cavalry charge at Balaklava earning themselves the nickname of "The Thin Red Line".
    Last edited by 32Bravo; 05-09-2007 at 01:19 PM.


    "Although God cannot alter the past, Historians can"


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    Quote Originally Posted by Rising Sun* View Post
    My recollection is that there were two significant aspects (for which I can't find references but which I'm trying to reconstruct) which might have altered the result in Malaya in 1941-42.

    1. Churchill diverted forces originally destined for Malaya to North Africa, allowing Auchinleck to launch Operation Crusader in mid-November 1941 but thereby locking Commonwealth troops in to North Africa during the Japanese assault on Malaya.

    2. There was a substantial RAF reserve kept in Britain following the Battle of Britain a year earlier which could have been sent to Malaya, thus providing more modern aircraft capable of fighting the Japanese aircraft, and more of them than the second rate aircraft actually used in Malaya by the British.

    I'm trying to work out whether I'm suffering from brain fade here or whether Britain could really have sent useful forces which might have altered the result in Malaya.

    Anyone have any more detailed info on what could have gone to Malaya?
    From a purely British point of view, I would imagine that after the scare of Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain, there would have been a great reluctance to send what defences there were out of area. Particularly as in November 1941 hostilities with the Japanese had yet to begin. Singapore was considered impregnable, from the sea, and the jungles of Malaya were also considered impregnable. Added to that was the arrogance of the British colonial psyche which could not envisage the Japanese, or any other oriental, being clever enough to defeat them.

    Churchill did, eventually, give in to pressure from the Austrsalian government to release troops (both British and Australian) for Singapore, and they arrived just in time to be put 'in the bag' by the Japanese. This was a part of the on going problem of failure in the Western Desert.

    Even after the outbreak of hostilities with Japan, the Far East was considered a lesser priority than Europe and, thus, equipment was slow in arriving. For example: Slim required parachutes to supply the embattled troops in Burma. He knew he would have a heck of a long wait for chutes from Britian, as Burma was a low priority. So, he decided to have chutes made in India. He toyed with the idea of having paper chutes manufactured, but it would have taken too long to research and develop the texture of paper required, so he resorted to chutes made from Jute. These were of a lesser quality than silk, but only cost about £1 each to produce, as opposed to £20 for a silk one. They were less effective than silk chutes, but as they were only to be used for dropping supplies, they would suffice. They became known as 'Parajutes' - no duff!

    I expect you know all of this and I have no sources for you other than 'Defeat into Victory' where Slim explains about the chutes/jutes.


    "Although God cannot alter the past, Historians can"


    Samuel Butler


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    George,

    Thanks for the references, but I’m familiar with those details.

    The best account of the Malaya operation, in my view, is by the man who planned it and accompanied the forward elements, Col Masanobu Tsuji in “Singapore: The Japanese Version“.

    I started this thread because I’m trying to dig up alternative availability and disposition of forces which I’ve come across before but can’t find now, to see if Britain could have done better in Malaya.

    Quote Originally Posted by George Eller View Post
    No disrepect George, but this is an example of why I find Wiki is so unreliable and or misleading as a historical source. It says

    “In 1937 Major-General William Dobbie Officer Commanding Malaya (1935 - 1939), looked at Malaya's defences, he reported that during the monsoon season from October to March landings could be made by an enemy on the east coast and bases could be established in Siam (Thailand). He predicted that landings could be made at Songkhla and Pattani in Siam, and Kota Bharu in Malaya. He recommended large reinforcements to be sent immediately. His predictions turned out to be correct but his recommendations were ignored.”

    So far as it goes, it’s accurate in saying that Dobbie submitted the report. The actual assessment was done by none other that Brigadier Arthur Percival, who in due course as a general would be forced to surrender to the Japanese early in 1942 after being unable to fight successfully a campaign he had predicted five years earlier that the Japanese would wage and win, unless Britain improved its defences. Which Britain did not do.

    So poor old Arthur Percival goes down as the man who lost Malaya, when he might have been the hero who kept it if his sound, soldierly, and prescient assessment had been accepted by idiots like Churchill who still had an arrogant European contempt for the Japanese until they were soundly defeated by them.

    Poor old Arthur Percival is remembered forever as the sad figure with the white flag surrendering to the haughty Japanese, and blamed for losing Malaya and Singapore. He was a better soldier and better strategist and better able to appreciate the situation if Japan attacked Malay than the terminally arrogant Churchill ever was. And he was denied the means to do it by Churchill.

    Churchill had more to do with losing Malaya and Singapore than any other single man, as he did with Greece. But Churchill remains in history as the defiant British bulldog while the poor bloody soldiers who gave him sound military advice, which he ignored and by so doing duly caused the predicted losses, are most unfairly regarded as deficient and blamed for the losses.

    I'm starting to ramble.

    Here endeth one of my occasional anti-Churchill sermons.

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    Quote Originally Posted by 32Bravo View Post
    Give me good food with a fine wine & a bad girl!.
    Presumably this hopeful (or forlorn) appeal flows on from the failure of "Ill met by moonlight" to attract the right sheilas?

    Or, apparently, even one sheila?

    It's not for me to presume to tell you how best to dangle your tumescent bait in over-fished waters, but could I suggest that you're more likely to find that bad girls don't come with fine wine, and vice versa. If you want a bad girl, ditch the wine and offer beer and chip butties on a throbbing Triumph bike (or Triumph Stag, if you want to get really overheated).

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    Quote Originally Posted by 32Bravo View Post
    From a purely British point of view, I would imagine that after the scare of Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain, there would have been a great reluctance to send what defences there were out of area.
    Undoubtedly. But forces were sent out from Britain to various places, not always with the most intelligent use. Churchill got the Commonwealth forces involved in Greece for obscure political reasons about supporting the Greeks and, as predicted by sound military advice, duly lost there. But for the Australian commander's, Gen Thomas Blamey's, excellent appreciation of the doomed campaign and identification of embarkation points for the defeated troops before the campaign even started the troops which saved Australia after Churchill also lost Malaya and Singapore would have been in the bag in Greece and Crete. Had Churchill appreciated in Greece and in Malaya / Singapore that air forces were crucial to naval and army successes, then he might, with luck and better leadership than he could ever have provided in the field, have won one or both campaigns. Certainly the enemy would not have had such an easy win with virtually unchallenged air superiority, while Winston in his Victorian / Edwardian fog thought that the world could still be controlled by battleships.


    Particularly as in November 1941 hostilities with the Japanese had yet to begin. Singapore was considered impregnable, from the sea, and the jungles of Malaya were also considered impregnable.
    Actually, no. Not by Brigadier Arthur Percival whose 1937 appreciation said just the opposite. His recommendation that the whole of Malaya should be defended was more or less accepted but not satisfactorily implemented, but nobody bothered to accept his concerns about the jungles not being a barrier to a Japanese advance from Thailand, which is pretty much what happened and resulted in Britain losing Malaya and Singapore. And, in some respects, the rest of its Empire as other colonial peoples saw that it was not, after all, the great nation which could protect everyone.

    Added to that was the arrogance of the British colonial psyche which could not envisage the Japanese, or any other oriental, being clever enough to defeat them.
    Definitely. It’s a simple example for which I don’t have the reference but I well remember an Australian soldier’s account of a lecture by a British officer in Malaya who spouted the usual stuff about Japanese being bespectacled craven idiots who couldn’t fight European troops (despite flogging Russia 35 years earlier and flogging China for all of the previous decade), then an Australian officer told them to disregard what they’d just been told because the Japanese could fight as well as anyone. But that Australian officer wasn’t necessarily in the majority of Australian or British Commonwealth officers in Malaya, many of whom were infected with the arrogance that Japanese planes were made of paper and bamboo (the Zero being one of the strongest designs of its era with its unitary wing spar) and flown by clumsy apes (such as Col Masanobu Tsuji who managed to fly, as a passenger, unchallenged over Malaya shortly before the invasion to establish critical information for the invasion) who represented the general military joke that Japan was. It was racial arrogance at its worst, and most harmful to those who believed it.

    Churchill did, eventually, give in to pressure from the Austrsalian government to release troops (both British and Australian) for Singapore, and they arrived just in time to be put 'in the bag' by the Japanese. This was a part of the on going problem of failure in the Western Desert.
    Not quite.

    The 6th and 7th AIF divisions returned to Australia from the Middle East, leaving the 9th AIF Division there, despite Churchill unilaterally diverting them to Burma en route to Australia but ultimately succumbing to Australian demands for them to return to Australia. This episode shows just what a military ****head Churchill was for, leaving aside any question about what the Australian troops might have done before being defeated in Burma, the troops were on one lot of ships while their equipment was on another lot of ships and not even tactically loaded. The best Churchill would have achieved would have been landing a lot of unarmed Australians unable to fight the Japanese about to capture them.

    Two brigades of the 8th AIF Division went to Malaya and fought and were captured there. The 8th Division never went anywhere overseas beforehand.

    The 6th and 7th AIF divisions were battle hardened in the Middle East and reinforced the Australian forces fighting the Japanese in the critical days in 1942.

    The 8th AIF Division elements in Malaya weren’t very well trained and had no battle experience apart from what they got fighting the Japanese in Malaya. To their credit, Col Tsuji, the Japanese officer who planned the Malayan campaign and who accompanied and urged the Japanese troops and officers fighting it said of the first time that the Japanese encountered the Australians that they fought with a courage and skill that the Japanese had not encountered before. Not that it mattered much in the end.


    Even after the outbreak of hostilities with Japan, the Far East was considered a lesser priority than Europe and, thus, equipment was slow in arriving.
    All part of the “Germany First” policy agreed by America and Britain, without bothering to consult or even inform the inconsequential Australia, which found out about it only by accident in May 1942 when it was the only remaining nation in the path of the Japanese advance but being reassured by Roosevelt and Churchill that it had nothing to fear from the Japanese. People I know who lived through that time have a rather less sanguine recollection of the risk from Japan.

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    Righto!

    I've found some of my sketchy notes but, alas, not the sources.

    The guts of these notes is that despite Germany attacking the USSR in mid-1941, the RAF remained concerned with home defence in Britain.

    Around mid-1941 the RAF had a full fighter strength of 79 squadrons equipped with current fighters. The availability of current fighters is consistent with my memory that the problem in the Battle of Britain was not planes, of which there were many, but pilots, of whom there were few.

    The planes in Britain were used in sweeps through France and Belgium, which hardly did much to force Germany to surrender. One view is that this was just 'make work' and 'on the job training' rather than having any serious tactical or stratgegic value.

    About 30 squadrons were sent out of England in 1942, mostly to North Africa / Middle East.

    What would 30 squadrons of current British fighers have done in Malaya in late 1941 / early 1942. Or even just 10 squadrons?

    Could Britain have put in a decisive air element that would have supported the ground troops and, perhaps, saved Repulse and Prince of Wales?

    What air forces did Japan have available to counter such an injection of British air forces?

    Given that the whole Japanese effort was a fairly fine run thing, would an injection of substantial RAF forces have made a difference?

    If the RAF could have attacked the Japanese LOC with effect, would Japan have succeeded?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rising Sun* View Post
    Presumably this hopeful (or forlorn) appeal flows on from the failure of "Ill met by moonlight" to attract the right sheilas?

    Or, apparently, even one sheila?

    It's not for me to presume to tell you how best to dangle your tumescent bait in over-fished waters, but could I suggest that you're more likely to find that bad girls don't come with fine wine, and vice versa. If you want a bad girl, ditch the wine and offer beer and chip butties on a throbbing Triumph bike (or Triumph Stag, if you want to get really overheated).

    Ill met by moonlight - you should have seen her!!!...talk about a dark night in Wapping!

    Never had a problem attracting the right Sheilas, or Judies come to think of it. They all think I'm Bonzer!

    The latest closely fits the description of Juicy Lucy...young enough to be my daughter, but she doesn't care, so why should I????

    Don't tell my daughter though!

    By the way - the Stag is good for getting overheated, but the Boneval is good for getting her overheated!!!!
    Last edited by 32Bravo; 05-10-2007 at 05:31 PM.


    "Although God cannot alter the past, Historians can"


    Samuel Butler


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    Well, that proves me 100% correct in my response to Albet Speer, when repudiating his accusation that you are an Anglophile!


    "Although God cannot alter the past, Historians can"


    Samuel Butler


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    Quote Originally Posted by 32Bravo View Post
    Well, that proves me 100% correct in my response to Albet Speer, when repudiating his accusation that you are an Anglophile!
    It is entirely possible to be an Anglophile without loving Winston Churchill.

    Winston's mother was, after all, an American. Just like Uncle Albert.

    That makes him (Winston, not Uncle Albert) half English, and the rest unloveable!

    Anyway, WTF would Uncle Albert know about the deep seated animosities that Australians held towards Britain, which we released by consistentely thrashing the Poms in every sport that mattered to them. Except soccer, but it's a poofter wog game which we'll get around to in time, once we learn how to give a decent headbutt, or Liverpool Kiss**, when upset with the endless boredom of the round ball game.

    **This story has an apochryphal element to it, but a mate of mine assures me that a mate of his is a reliable source for this event. (Like this is a new basis for such stories!)

    Bloke A gets into a tussle with Bloke B.

    Bloke A decides to give Bloke B a Liverpool Kiss.

    Bloke A grabs Bloke B's tie and pulls Bloke B towards him as Bloke A drops the nut.

    Alas, Bloke A hits nothing as Bloke B is wearing a tie front with elastic around the collar, so he remains upright while Bloke A tries to nut the non-existent Bloke B.

    Bloke B responds poorly and people are hurt.

    P.S. I'm not an Anglophile. I've never seen even one angle I liked!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rising Sun* View Post
    Anyway, WTF would Uncle Albert know about the deep seated animosities that Australians held towards Britain, which we released by consistentely thrashing the Poms in every sport that mattered to them. Except soccer, but it's a poofter wog game which we'll get around to in time, once we learn how to give a decent headbutt, or Liverpool Kiss**, when upset with the endless boredom of the round ball game.

    I once had a similar experience with a chap from Livrpool. He was trying to give me a 'Glaswegian Kiss' but, sadly for him and happily for me, he muffed it and, therefore, got maced


    "Although God cannot alter the past, Historians can"


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    I have found one or two interesting writings which will serve to illustrate the thinking of the time:

    "I expected terrible forfeits in the East, but all this would be merely a passing phase....there was no doubt of the end."

    Winston Churchill in his History of the Second World War on hearing of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour and the entry of the USA into the war.

    Chapman:

    "To foster resistance movements in the Far East brings one up against many problems not encountered in Europe. The native populations are a hotch-potch of various racial, religious, and poltical elements, and among them include the colonies of three major European Powers. What patriotic or ideological driving force could such countries have to help them to resist an invader? Again, no European can live for a day in an Asiatic country without being recognised as a white man. Therefore, unless a safe area among a friendly people can be found, a European must be perpetually in hiding, with obvious bad effects on his health and morale; and if he operates at night or in disguise the strain will be even greater. There is also the porblem of language: few Englishmen can speak Siamese, Chinese, Karen or even Malay, like a native.

    Then there are almost insuperable geographical difficulties. A country like Burma or Sumatra has, in its mountainous or swampy jungles, an infinite number of hiding-places where guerrillas can go to ground; but life is very precarious and unhealthy in such places even for a native, much more so for a white man. Food is hard to get; distances are vast, and communications difficult. It may take a month's hard travelling, even for a fit party, to cover a distance of a hundred miles on the map. So vast are the distances that there may be no possibility of suppying the guerillas with arms and other equipment, or of the the interchange of agents: Malaya, for example, until the arrival of the new Liberator bomber in 1944, was out of range of any available plane flying from any base in India or Ceylon except the old Catalina seaplane, which is far too slow and vulnerable for modern warfare. And the west coast of Malaya is so shelving as to be almost inaccessible to submarines....."



    I'm going to continue this on word before posting further, in case it becomes too large.
    Last edited by 32Bravo; 05-10-2007 at 03:08 PM.


    "Although God cannot alter the past, Historians can"


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    Default Continued from above.

    “….In 1941 the High Command in Malaya were not in the least interested in guerrilla warfare in any of its forms. At that time the war in Europe had set no example of a successful resistance movement, and there were too many at Far Eastern Headquarters who still thought in terms of the last war. The idea of stay-behind parties consisting of Europeans and Asiatics seemed an extravagant and impracticable notion; the defence of Malaya was considered to be a purely military undertaking and to be already well under control through the proper channels’…..

    …it was only three months before Pearl Harbour and the air-raid on Singapore that I arrived in Malaya. In Australia the impression I had gathered was that the outbreak of war with Japan was only a matter of months, but that Australia at least was in no way ready to defend herself. In Malaya the impression was just the opposite. From the Press and conversation with people who should have known, one gathered that the Japanese was economically incapable of declaring war, but that, if she did, the British and American Pacific Fleets would prevent her reaching Malay, and in any case the defence of the Peninsula, especially Singapore, was impregnable.

    Entering Singapore produced a comfortable feeling of security. Uniforms of all kinds were to be seen everywhere. Aeroplanes droned incessantly overhead, and at night the sky was streaked with pale beams of searchlights. There was the great Naval base, which had cost £60,000,000 and taken nearly twenty years to build. By day and night one heard firing practice from the fifteen-inch guns which defended the island. The ‘whiskey-swilling planter’ is a myth: the planters were all in the Volunteers, whose eight battalions had not been mobilised, as their officers were considered to be more valuable where they were – on the estates and mines….

    …the Japs had marched into southern Indo-China in the summer of 1941. thus bringing their advanced base a thousand miles nearer to Malaya, but it was assumed the Siamese would be willing and able to withstand the increasing, Japanese pressure!….

    ...The possibility of having to fight in the ‘impenetrable’ jungle – as seen on either side of roads by Staff Officers – seems hardly to have been taken seriously. No specialised jungle technique or equipment had been evolved, and of all the troops stationed in Malaya only the 2nd Battalion of the Argylls had had any serious training in jungle warfare. Nor had the natives of the country been in any way prepared to expect or resist invasion. There was no united front!...”


    Source: Frederick Spencer Chapman - The Jungle is Neutral.
    Last edited by 32Bravo; 05-10-2007 at 02:36 PM.


    "Although God cannot alter the past, Historians can"


    Samuel Butler


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    Okay. The two capital ships that were sent to intercept the Japanese landing force were sunk by aircraft.

    So, presumably, what you are suggesting is a carrier task force to intercept them? Were there Britsh carriers available at this point in the war, or were they already commited to convoy escort duties in the Med. and the like?... or, are saying that land-based aircraft could have been used to intercept the fleet at sea?

    Given the scenario where a carrier force was despatched, or ground based aircraft made available, could not the Japanese have simply changed their invasion route and come overland via Indo-China and Thailand?
    Last edited by 32Bravo; 05-13-2007 at 07:46 AM.


    "Although God cannot alter the past, Historians can"


    Samuel Butler


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