The commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Malayan Campaign and the Fall of Singapore will be one of the key events of DVA’s Century of Service commemoration program in 2017.
The Japanese invasion of Malaya began with landings on the north-eastern coast of Malaya, at Kota Bharu, at 1:45 am on 8 December 1941. Soon after, Japanese troops also landed at Patani and Singora on the south-eastern coast of Thailand. The Kota Bharu landings developed into a drive down the eastern side of the Malay Peninsula, while the troops in Thailand advanced down the western side. Australian forces fought a number of key battles in defence of Malaya but ultimately the Australian, British and Indian troops were unable to hold the Japanese advance and withdrew to Singapore Island on 31 January 1942.
On the morning of 8 February 1942, the Japanese opened a massive artillery bombardment on Singapore, followed that evening by landings across the Johore Strait. The next morning a second wave of Japanese troops made the crossing from the mainland and by the evening of 10 February the western part of the island was lost. Soon Japanese troops had taken many of Singapore’s key facilities including all but one airfield and the island’s water reservoirs.
After Japan entered the Second World War the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) quickly became involved in efforts to meet the new threat. HMAS Vampire was involved in escorting HM Ships Prince of Wales and Repulse and her crew rescued more than 200 British sailors when both ships were sunk near Singapore in December 1941. Australian ships were then engaged in bringing reinforcements to Singapore and were often attacked by Japanese aircraft. During the final days of Allied resistance on the island, the RAN carried out patrol and evacuation duties before going on to participate in the naval defence of the Netherlands East Indies.
As fighting continued, the water supply began to run out and with dwindling stocks of ammunition, almost no petrol and a civilian population suffering terrible casualties, the senior British commander, General Percival, ordered his troops to cease hostilities.
All Allied troops were ordered to lay down their arms at 8:30pm on 15 February 1942. Some 15,000 Australians were now prisoners of war and around 1,800 had been killed or were listed as missing in action.
Those captured at the Fall of Singapore were held as prisoners, firstly at Changi and, as the war continued, in locations across Southeast and East Asia, including Japan. By the end of the war some 8,000 Australian prisoners of the Japanese, including those captured in places other than Singapore, had died in captivity.