The following was delivered to those who attended the Fall of Singapore Service, held at Kings Park 14 February 2021
FALL OF SINGAPORE – 15 February 1942
In 1942, Singapore’s 70 mile coastline – 26 miles West to East, 14 miles north to south was densely covered with rubber and other plantations, endless secondary jungle and few major roads; coastline and waterways were surrounded by wide expanses of mangrove swamps and two large rivers including the broad reaches of Kranji River, dividing the north. Reservoirs supplemented by water piped from Malaya were the highest points. The largest of three airfields, Tengah, was in the northwest.
As Allied troops (British, Indian & Australian) were retreating down the Malay Peninsula, the 2/4th MGB arrived Singapore 25th January, part of a 2,000 strong detachment for the 8th Division. This was the only day without a Japanese daily bombing raid. They were trucked through Singapore north to Woodlands, east of the Causeway.
Please, close your eyes and follow their journey –
It was now a sobering time. Gone was the excitement and high jinx onboard ‘Aquitania’. Each man silent with his own thoughts and fear. They were now amongst bombing, destruction, death and war.
Unfamiliar, strange and new smells, never seen before foods and spices, new vegetation, flowers and trees. Various buildings from British architecture to locally constructed simple homes, tropical heat and humidity during both day and night. Chinese, Malay, Indian, dress, language and cultures and of course the governing British with their luxurious lives. The sounds at night were vastly different to home.
Troops everywhere began working on coastal defenses as Singapore had failed to do so. ‘A’ and ‘B’ Company’s working around Kranji’s defenses. Japanese planes freely attacked every day – Allied planes no longer existed.
The raw recruits of E Company immediately went into training under Command of Capt. Archie Thomas, ‘A’ Company 2 i/c – most having enlisted Oct, Nov, and Dec 1941.
The Special Reserve Battalion (Major Bert Saggers from ‘A’ Company was appointed CO on 6th Feb) was formed with Australian Army Service Corps (AASC) who also arrived on Aquitania and were organised into two Companys, ‘A’ and ‘B’ each 184 men strong. The 3rd Company comprised 88 men from 2/4th Reinforcements ‘E’ Company (originally led by Lt. Harry de Moullin). They had 11 sub-machine guns. ‘A’ & ‘B’ Company’s had none. 30% of the men did not have bayonets. Total strength of 456 men.
Friday 30 January the 2/4th began moving out from Woodlands to their battle areas.
The 2/4th would never fight as a Battalion.
08.30 on 31 January, the Causeway was blown.
2/4th machine gunners would support two war-weary Australian Brigades, with 100s of recently arrived inexperienced troops. They were to protect 9½ miles of the northwest and western coastline including the broad reaches of Kranji River dividing the north. They were hopelessly undermanned.
Convinced the attack would come from the northeast, Lt Gen Arthur Percival positioned the largest number of defending troops there.
The defensive line in the northwest sector stretched from the Causeway to Sungei Berih a frontage of 3 miles, including the village of Ama Keng and Tengah Airfield.
On 7th February the newly formed ‘D’ Company 16 Platoon under command of Sergeants Ron Arbery and Des Colevas was appointed to southern most point of 2/19th Btn area. It was a long trek through more swamps to reach a hill on the coast (large enough to be held by a Company!) 16 Platoon was positioned on the exposed northern headland of Tanjong Point with a section of 2 guns sited at the waters edge and another gun, 400 yards further east covering a wide expanse of the 4000-yard coastline.
Lt Eric Wankey’s 13 Platoon D Company took up position on NW Corner. Southwards Lt Tomkins commanded 14 Platoon and Lt John Meiklejohn 15 Platoon.
The men huddled and slept in slit trenches in the daytime or protected themselves in nearby shelters from incessant Japanese air attacks and spotter planes, working at night preparing their gun pits. Eating their favourite bully beef and entertaining mosquitos!
Australian troops stood out like beacons in their desert coloured uniforms against the green jungle.
Frontline troops could see across the Straits. The Japanese garrison was growing daily, large numbers of troops huddling around fires at night, small floating Japanese craft came as close as 300 yards.
‘C’ Company, led by Maj Colin Cameron, supported allied forces on the west /southwest coast. 10 Platoon commanded by Lt. Blue Wilson, 11 Platoon by Lt Kevin Boyle and 12 Platoon by Lt Mick Wedge.
Adjacent to the Causeway, central north was 2/4th’s ‘A’ and ‘B’ Companies.
The 2½ mile shoreline between Kranji River and Johore–Singapore Causeway was primarily mangrove swamps and tropical forest intersected by streams, inlets and many Kranji estuaries.
The Commonwealth Forces numbered 70 – 85,000 (largely administrative and not battle trained). Japan had 35 – 50,000 battle- experienced soldiers, an air force and tanks.
Japan commenced their heavy artillery and bombing campaign 7th February on the west coast.
8th February – About 10.00 am, following a lull of a few hours, the Japanese opened a massive artillery bombardment on Singapore intensifying as the day progressed, concentrating on the northwest where ‘D’ Company were dug in on the coastline. Just after midday Lance Sgt Joe Pearce with 13 Platoon received a direct hit on their trench. Pt Bobby Pratt was killed. Pearce and Section Commander Cpl Bill Patterson were wounded and evacuated.
The Bombardment reaches a crescendo about 7pm.
Forward Australians report sounds of craft on the water. There are 4,000 Japanese in the first assault. They are repelled – wave after wave of enemy arrive.
Further along Singapore’s coast the Japanese successfully secure beachheads and drive frontline Australians into retreat.
There is a complete breakdown of communications between forward troops and rear HQ when strategic Japanese bombardments destroyed telegraph and telephone communications at HQs.
The Japanese overrun the Australians and 2/4th engages in hand-to-hand combat, soon outnumbered and surrounded. Some have used all their ammunition. They withdraw in platoons, ones and twos, groups, some wounded and a large number with shell shock. ‘D’ Company ordered to withdraw to their Company HQ – arrive to find HQ no longer there.
Singapore’s hastily constructed coastal defenses have been breached; there were no reserves, no aircraft and no tanks.
Japanese troops land north of Berih River – their target is Tengah Airfield.
From this time onwards, the Australians undertake a series of withdrawals, misread commands, pursued from the northwest and west coasts all the way to Singapore.
9th February – Frontline soldiers are still in retreat from the previous night’s invasion. Those left behind enemy lines include wounded. The fortunate survive to return to their Battalion in later days, some reached Sumatra and many died.
‘D’ Company’s loss was great at 20%, but could have been higher.
New Divisions of Japanese forces now approach Kranji headlands attacking infantry and artillery. Allied positions are dive-bombed and machine-gunned. (A Coy, 2/4th)
Towards evening Japanese artillery fire intensified.
By 1800 hours forward area telephone cables had been cut & defences near Kranji Pier destroyed. At 2030 hrs Japanese landings had commenced – assaulting the pier area with additional troops landing in mangrove swamps along the entire front.
10th February – At 0430, the Australians managed to dispose of 2,000,000 gallons of fuel being stored nearby.
Soon after the Japanese Imperial Guard troops move up the Kranji River. By dawn large numbers of enemy are on Kranji peninsula.
The enemy has a series of real setbacks, troops are lost in endless tributaries, and others stuck on mud banks drown when high tides return and others burn to death in flaming oil from nearby demolished fuel tanks. Australian machine gunners and mortars tear at the Japanese.
Japanese Commander Nishimura panics and requests HQ to call off his attack! Japanese High Command tells him to ‘do his duty’.
About 30 minutes later the Japanese can’t believe their luck!
Through a misunderstanding of orders the allied 27th Brigade begins a withdrawal.
The Australians are moving back down Woodlands Road. In retreat the 27tth Brigade being pursued by the Japanese, abandon vital Woodlands high ground – overlooking the Causeway – key to northern defences.
During the morning battle rages all around Tengah airfield. The defenders are pounded with artillery, warplanes and then Japanese ground forces. Taylor orders a withdrawal to Jurong road.
Allied troops, 44th Indian Brigade including ‘C’ Company, are ordered to withdraw from their south west location eastwards fearing they would be isolated behind Japanese lines.
Kranji – Holland Line is held – BUT Brigadier Harold Taylor misreads instructions from Lt Gen Gordon Bennett and withdraws. This costly error ensures a series of withdrawals from the northern section.
Saggers, who was reporting to HQ, is left stranded. It is late by the time he returns, he decides the Battalion is to stay the night and leave early next morning. There were a few Japanese night patrols about.
At the southern end of Kranji-Jurong Road forward patrols of the Indian brigade clash with Japanese troops – suddenly the Indians are in full retreat, their officers unable to control them. Finally located 3km away – it is now too late.
The vital Kranji-Jurong Line has fallen to the Japanese.
Japanese tanks floated across the Straits make their debut as dusk arrives. They prevent any counter attack of the critical Kranji-Jurong Line.
The tanks head east towards Singapore city where they stop to await arrival of supporting artillery and ammunition.
By the evening of 10th the western part of the island is lost.
Japan has taken many key facilities including all but one-airfield and water reservoirs.
11th February – During Sagger’s battalions withdrawal Lt Jimmy Till’s platoon was separated. Till and others are KIA. Survivors hide in the scrub. Those found are shot.
Pt Wally Holding was one of the survivors. With a small group they remained hidden, until evening when they could identify the Southern Cross to guide them south. On Friday 13th Holding and group come across a roadblock manned by Malay volunteers who drive them to Singapore. Searching for the 2/4th they find Lt Don Lees 9 Platoon.
Saggers leads the battalion out of the previous night’s position and were about to cross an area with little vegetation and a few small buildings at Sleepy Valley near Reformatory Rd. There were no signs of Japanese troops.
Suddenly and too late! They are caught in an ambush! Machine gun fire scatters the men in all directions.
Wounded are left behind – the lucky are assisted by mates. ‘E’ Company loses 40 men KIA including almost all officers “Lt de Moullin commander, Lt Charlie Odgers Company 2 i/c, Ptn Commanders Lt Harry Green, Lt Till, Lt Harry Mazza and Lt Vic Warhurst. These splendid officers were killed within seventy two hours.”
Sagger’s said “was in the main under-trained and under-equipped but it was not to be under-valued.”
The Naval Base defence line is now exposed as Allied troops retreat to Mandai Hills.
Meanwhile the Japanese had repaired the Causeway and are moving men and equipment across.
Lt-Colonel Michael Anketell, Commanding Officer of the 2/4th was ordered to equip all his machine gunners he could possibly muster (many were injured, others lost or whereabouts unknown, the remaining KIA.
During the day they had little respite from Japanese gun and mortar fire as well as enemy air attacks.
Progress is slowed by enemy air activity but allied troops including a mixed company of about 90 2/4th machine gunners from HQ and ‘Company manage to occupy Hill 200 at 1700 hours.
During the night they held the line.
12th February – By 0930 hours the 2/4th make up about half of the total Australian strength of 800 men who occupy Hill 200 under the command of Captain Oswald Mc Ewin.
By 1500 hours the Japanese had broken through the Indians taking Hill 150 and soon after Hill 130, providing them excellent cover.
Between 1700 and 2000 hours a great deal of action developed forward of 2/4th positions, the situation was becoming serious.
By 1800 hours heavy fire was being taken by the 2/4th’s position on Hill 200.
The situation was fast deteriorating.
Anketell was adamant they would not retreat and made up his mind to fight it out.
As was his habit he walked forward of the Battalion’s front lines to have a look, in this case Don Company’s position on Hill 200, leaving 2 i/c Major Charles Green with Capt. Cameron to organise a smaller, tighter perimeter. The scrub was fairly thick. There was lots of mortar, small arms fire with snipers very active.
About 2130 hours Lt-Col Anketell was badly wounded and carried back to their lines where Capt. Claude Anderson dressed the Colonel’s wounds and sent him back to Alexandra Hospital.
Meanwhile the battle to hold Hill 200 had only just begun.
Capt. Cameron sent out two patrols of 10 volunteers, the first under command of Lt Kevin Boyle to reconnoitre and silence light machine guns.
Sgt Harry Fuhrman took another patrol which also ran into trouble.
The Japanese continued exerting pressure pouring small arms fire into the rear.
What was already a critical situation was worsening.
The 2/4th had received no communication from Brigade for some hours. Major Alf Cough decided to report personally.
Brigadier Taylor had been hospitalised and replaced by Brigadier Varley.
Varley told Cough he had ordered a withdrawal of his men to Tanglin Hall two hours earlier.
The order had not been received nor had the withdrawing flanks notified 2/4th!
Cough returned by 2200 hours with orders for a quick disengagement and withdrawal. The 2/4th now completely surrounded had to mount a counter attack with bayonet to relieve the pressure before commencing the pull out. The first job was to evacuate 40-50 casualties.
The Australian artillery gave a protective screen of fire between 2/4th and the enemy – without it would have suffered higher casualties. It was difficult in pitch darkness and rough terrain to keep contact with all the men.
Success was achieved quickly and quietly with ‘D’ Company at the rear.
The whole attack at Hill 200 was a catastrophe.
HQ Company was decimated – CO Capt. McEwin, Platoon Commanders Lts. Frank Curnow and Lt Doug Royce and four Sgts Dick Fitzpatrick, Ben Hansen, Cecil. Phillips and Billy Innes and another 16 men were killed – 8 others were wounded.
Other Company deaths included Lt. Herbert Manning, Cpl Reg Tuffin, Pt Henry Cain and Pt Harry Radburn.
There were 100 2/4th casualties at Hill 200 – 50 KIA including Anketell and 4 officers.
With access to family correspondence we can now confirm Col Anketell was accidently shot by one of his men. He died at Alexander Hospital 13 February aged 51 years.
Japanese forces are approaching the city outskirts.
13th February – Yamashita moved his HQ to the bomb-damaged Ford Factory. He is seeking to capture Alexandra Barracks on Singapore’s south coast and orders the Imperial Guards to take MacRitchie Reservoir – enabling them to attack the northern city perimeter.
An epic Battle takes place behind Pasir Panjang fishing village. Following 48 hours of fierce fighting Alexander garrison is virtually wiped out.
Percival calls a crisis conference with senior area commanders.
They unanimously oppose his intention of counter attack.
Percival overrules – and orders the fight to go on.
He does agree to contact Wavell in Java who orders
‘The battle is to continue in the wider interests of the war against Japan’.
Percival’s final perimeter encircles the city. The 2/4th are mostly at Buona Vista and a little further north.
14th February – Yamashita thrusts along the south coast through Pasir Panjang towards Alexandra Barracks.
The Imperial Guards supported by tanks swarm out of MacRitchie Reservoir area to battle the British positioned along the city’s northern perimeter.
There are one million people within a radius of 3 miles. Heavy shellfire from artillery 5000 yards from the sea front add to the trauma of constant bombing and machine gunning. Devastation is everywhere. Food deliveries and water supplies had broken down. Traumatized families wander the streets.
Percival is informed water failure is imminent.
He contacts Wavell in Java who responds:
‘No mercy must be shown to weakness in any shape or form. Commanding and senior officers must lead their troops and if necessary, die with them.’
Those present did not agree. Bennett certainly did not agree. The Australian Commanding Officer was already planning his escape. He had no wish to be taken POW of Japan.
At 2pm Japanese troops arrive at Alexander Hospital overflowing with wounded. Throughout the afternoon and night up to 200 die in an appalling massacre of unarmed and mostly wounded people.
15th February – The Japanese continue their push. Casualty numbers climb.
Tragically a number of 2/4th ‘C’ Company deaths occur at Buona Vista on this last day.
Japanese troops have broken through north of the city and troops defending the south are retreating.
Percival convenes another meeting offering two options: Counter attack – Or – Capitulation.
All present ruled out counter attacks. Percival tells his generals “Then we will surrender”.
Percival, two British staff officers and an interpreter arrive at the Ford factory at 5.15pm.
Percival’ s Malayan Campaign commenced 8 December 1941 & ended 2 months, 8 days later at 8.30pm 15 February 1942.
15,000 8th Division troops were captured. Approximately1800 Australians KIA or MIA. 130,000 Allied personnel were taken POWS.
Below: Right General Yamashita
General Gordon Bennett, General Officer Commanding AIF, Malaya 1941-1942. He escaped from Singapore just hours after Percival signed the Allied Surrender.
General Wavell, Commander-in-Chief of ABDACOM (American-British-Dutch-Australian Command).
The following is the Roll of Honour that was read out at the 14th February 2021 service.
Roll of Honour
Commemorating the casualties of ‘A’ and ‘B’ Company of the 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion during the battle for Singapore February 1942
|Lieutenant Herbert John Manning||WX8484||DI/I||27yrs
|Private Joseph Borrow||WX8712||DI/I||25yrs|
|Private John Allen Brooker||WX9288||KIA||24yrs|
|Private Henry David Cain||WX1786||KIA||21yrs|
|Private Gordon Dagley Clifton||WX16436||KIA||26yrs|
|Private Albert Barnett Facey||WX4915||KIA||23yrs|
|Lance Corp. Glen Alvan Gorman||WX12575||KIA||36yrs|
|Private Eric Francis Osborne||WX16279||KIA||19yrs|
|Private Harold Radburn||WX15829||KIA||22yrs|
|Private Leslie Robert Rayner||WX9357||DI/I||24yrs|
|Private Harold Allan Davis||WX16420||DI/I||23yrs|
|Private Richard Charles Reed||WX8503||DI/I||23yrs|
|Private Jack Oliver Street||WX9178||KIA||30yrs|
|Private Donald Elias Sutherland||WX15967||KIA||20yrs|
|Corporal Reginald George Tuffin||WX8491||KIA||31yrs|
|Corporal Hugh Robert Fawcus||WX4945||DI/I||40yrs|
|Lance Corp. George G Mongan||WX8973||DI/I||37yrs|
|Private Raymond F Carruthers 8 Platoon||WX7325||KIA||22yrs|
|Private Donald A Day 8 Platoon||WX7240||DI/I||28yrs|
|Sergeant David Holm||WX8986||DI/I||24yrs|
|Sergeant Richard H Sandilands 8 Platoon||WX8809||KIA||28yrs|
|Private Robert Leighton Smith 8 Platoon||WX8736||KIA||33yrs|
|Private John Bowe Stubbs||WX9332||KIA||23yrs|
|* Died injuries/illness | * Killed in action|
‘B’ Coy 8th Platoon men – Sgt Sandilands (28) Day (28) Carruthers (22) and Robert Smith (33) were KIA 11 Feb 1942 during a withdrawal West Mandai Road.
|PTE Facey||PTE Stubbs||PTE Rayner||PTE Brooker|