31 December 2011
|Lt. Gen. Percival leading the surrender party at Singapore|
Part One Part Two Part Three
The British, it is often said, maintain a stiff upper lip in even the worse circumstances. These gentlemen certainly look like they're doing so.
That must have been utterly hard considering what had just happened - and what would happen.
One of the best ways to understand why British Empire had all these outposts in far-flung obscure places is to plot some of them on a map. Gibraltar, Malta, Cyprus, Suez, Aden, Diego Garcia, Singapore, Hong Kong. As you can see, they all provide coverage of key trade routes to China and India.
Singapore, today a very prosperous limited democracy, covers a key route between the Indian Ocean to the west and the South China Sea to the east. It's one of the world's busiest ports and its strategic value from a purely geographical point is obvious. Therefore, the British invested large amounts in its naval defences, believing that it would be impenetrable from a seaborne invasion. Nobody, from the lowest ranking officer up to Churchill himself (who said in The Second World War that someone, himself included, should have seen it coming), thought that the Japanese would attack from the north, as surely the Malayan jungle was impenetrable.
Of course it wasn't.
On 1 February 1942, the Japanese reached the shore opposite Singapore after riding their bicycles through the Malayan jungle. The British were again woefully unprepared - they hadn't even implemented rationing - but still had superior numbers.
The first Japanese move was a feint attack by Yamashita's badly depleted forces (he was, in fact, outnumbered three to one) on 5 February against the island of Pulau Ubin to the north-east of Singapore island - a move that led Percival to move his key ammunition stores to the east. The Japanese then attacked from the northwest on 8 February. Australian forces from the 22nd Brigade fought off the initial landing attempts, but eventually succumbed to Japan's superior artillery and air support - the limited Allied fighter force did not last long against greater Imperial Japanese numbers. Percival believed that further landings would came from the north-east and so did not reinforce them - the Brigade were routed on 10 February.
Percival (told by Churchill to fight to the end) also started destroying docks and fuel dumps - while this stopped the Japanese from getting them, the effect on morale was highly negative, but worse was to come. A million people, mostly civilians crowded into the increasingly small area that the Allies controlled and food and water began to run out. Boats trying to leave were strafed by Japanese fighters, who now dominated the sky.
Percival was urged to surrender by his senior officers on the 13th but decided to fight on while he still had water, although he did ask for authority to surrender from London - which he eventually got.
14 February would see the Japanese commit another bloody massacre, killing 321 people in the Alexandra Barracks Hospital, usually by bayoneting them. Only five people were known to have survived. When Yamashita had about this, he had the soldiers responsible executed. This was just one of the atrocities committed.
The following day, Percival's forces were running out of ammunition and only had enough for two more days of fighting - although he didn't know the Japanese weren't much better on this front. At 1400 local time, deciding not to risk any further civilian casualties, he surrendered his forces unconditionally to Yamashita. 80,000 Allied soldiers became POWs, where most would spend four years in horrific conditions - many would never return. Thousands of Indian soldiers would switch sides and fight alongside the Japanese - but most of that army stayed loyal.
It was the biggest capitulation in British history. Part by bluff, part by superior fire power, Singapore had been taken by a numerically smaller force. The Australians were now worried about their own territory and rightly so - the Japanese seemed unstoppable.
But they weren't. As we shall see in the next post, Japan was to suffer two massive reverses in the following months.
28 December 2011
I've now reached the rank of Lance Corporal 1 Star and am only a thousand or so points away from Lance Corporal 2 Star - I'll probably hit the rank in my next play session and get a shiny new weapon for all the infantry classes.
Got a gripe about jets - I know that people hogging them was a problem in BF2, but they've been tweaked badly here. A new jet player finds himself with a gun only aircraft with no IR flares. It's very hard to even get the initial points for those. Once a player gets IR flares, he's near indestructible to ground fire - any Igla/Stinger launch takes a long while to lock before inevitably missing. Add infinite cannon ammo to that and you've got a serious problem in conquest. Where is this mobile AA anyway?
27 December 2011
The Magical Trees of Androzani (Review: 'Doctor Who' 33.X, "The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe")
|Japanese troops advance through Kuala Lumpur|
Part of the Japanese work in South-East Asia had already been done for them - the fall of France allowed for them to use the colonial territories of Vichy France as a staging area i.e. French Indochina (Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos). From there, it was a short sail across of the Gulf of Thailand to the British colonial possession of Malaya.
Malaya was an area rich in natural resources that the Japanese Empire needed - rubber and tin, as well as serving to put Borneo, Java and Sumatra, with plenty of oil within their reach. Hit by embargoes from the US, the UK and the Netherlands (the latter controlling Indonesia) for their earlier actions in China, the behemoth needed all of this just to sustain its economy. Add to that further "strength-in-depth" against air attack and the attraction was obvious
Just after midnight on 8 December 1941 (in fact seventy minutes before the Pearl Harbor attack commenced), the Japanese invasion force, hidden by bad weather and in one case shooting a Catalina that had spotted them before it could report their position, landed in Thailand and Malaya. British aircraft tried their best to stop them, but to no avail, although the Japanese did take heavy casualties at Kota Bharu.
The words "to no avail" crop up a lot in this narrative. Again, the British were woefully under prepared for jungle warfare - in fact many thought the Malayan jungle an impenetrable barrier. The Japanese weren't much better, but at least they had a good idea. Bicycles. They could carry far more than a regular foot soldier could and so the Imperial forces "requestioned" them from the local civilians and retailers. As for the British - their troops were undertrained, their aircraft e.g. Brewster Buffaloes were obsolescent and some units lacked proper communications.
Not only that, some of the responses were poor. Singapore was hit by an air raid on 8 December and a blackout still wasn't ordered. Facilities were not properly destroyed when abandoned - the British failed to destroy the radio facility on Penang when they evacuated it on the 13th, so the Japanese got it intact four days later and used it to taunt the Singaporeans, asking "How do you like our bombing?". The troops then looted Penang and massacred the ethnically Chinese residents - a move that went too far even for the Japanese, who eventually executed three soldiers over it. General Wavell, in charge of the local area for the British, kept overruling tactical commander Lt. Gen Percival, but never removed him - a half-measure that just wrecked morale.
On 11 January 1942, the Japanese took Kuala Lumpur with limited difficulty and headed down the island towards Singapore despite the British blowing bridges as they went - that great British fortress was in sight. The British had suffered two divisions worth of casualties - the Japanese only five thousand men. The local civilians of course had it far worse - the precise numbers killed during the invasion and subsequent occupation is unknown due to the destruction of records, but was likely between twenty and fifty thousand.
Malaya was one massive defeat for the British - but worse was to follow.
26 December 2011
St. Stephen was the first of many Christian martyrs, stoned to death on the orders of the Sanhedrin for "blasphemy" with the backing of Saul (see Acts 6 and 7), who would shortly after change sides in a dramatic manner and later become another Christian martyr himself.
Christians are still becoming martyrs today in many countries, or having to worship in secret. Whether it's in yesterday's bombings in Nigeria or detention in prison camps in North Korea, people still pay the ultimate price for following Jesus.
We have it so easy in the West.
All the best at this festive season to those who cannot wish each other Merry Christmas openly.
24 December 2011
19 December 2011
|US and Filipino troops surrendering at Bataan|
Barely ten hours after the strike at Pearl Harbor, Japanese forces attacked the Philippines. While the defeat of American and Filipino forces, so far away from reinforcement and home in the former case, was inevitable, it certainly wasn't easy for the Japanese.
For the Allied POWs afterwards, it was horrific.
The Philippines consists of 7,107 islands in the Western Pacific, forming the eastern edge of the South China Sea and a valuable springboard for any force going from China to Indonesia and Malaysia. When I think of the islands and their people (who are currently dealing with a horrific typhoon), I think of the large number of merchant mariners that hail from the country and also of au pairs - the Philippines is a country that a lot of people leave to get work and then send money back to. I also think of Imelda Marcos and her shoes.
Of course, much of this was in the future. When war broke out, the Philippine Islands, as they were then, were an American-ruled autonomous territory, having been gained from Spain in 1898 in a war perhaps best remembered for William Randolph Hearst's sensationalising and "yellow journalism". A Commonwealth at this point, the islands were heading for independence, which was going to get rather delayed.
Certainly there had been an idea that an attack on the islands was possible in the light of US sanctions on Japan. Certainly far more possible than an attack on the United States proper at Oahu. Douglas MacArthur was called out of retirement, given $10m and 100 B-17s, then got told to prepare for an attack. He parked his bombers on the northern part of the islands, where US politicians believed they would deter Japanese aggression and allow an attack on Tokyo if required, recovering to Soviet airbases around Vladivostok.
Not a smart move, that one. Even less smart was the delay in moving the B-17s out of Japanese attack range so the bomber pilots could have a party. As they were recovering, the Japanese attack arrived and took out half of MacArthur's air force on the ground. Bad hangover doesn't quite cut it.
On the same day, the Japanese landed at three sites (Lingayen, Lamon Bay and Mindanao), taking airbases to support their drive south. The American response, which should have been a delaying action and arguably guerilla warfare, basically started off by putting inexperienced Filipino troops on the beaches against combat-hardened (in China) Japanese. Naturally, they got routed.
The advance was quick. On Boxing Day, the capital Manila was declared an open city, not that it stopped Japanese bombing and the city fell on 2 January 1942.
The Americans and Filipinos eventually retreated down the Bataan peninsula on Luzon to Corregidor, fighting delaying actions along the way including the last cavalry charge in US history. They tried to hold out for a relief force which would not show up. They certainly fought valiantly, but to no avail. 9 April 1942 would see the largest surrender of US forces in history and another month of bloody fighting saw the rest of the islands taken.
For the Americans and Filipinos that surrendered, it was the start of hell on earth. 76,000 POWs were forced to march 60 miles in what became known as the Bataan Death March. Travelling in high humidity, with little food or water, those who collapsed were often killed by bayonets, shot or even driven over. Thousands died, viewed by the Japanese as not human just because they had surrendered. It was rightly judged a war crime.
Just one of many that Imperial Japan would commit in South-East Asia, as we shall see.
18 December 2011
The problem with sequels is that bigger is not necessarily better. It’s alas a problem that the second outing for Sarah Lund, the jumper-clad Danish detective has. The body count here (not counting [spoiler]) is seven in ten episodes, whereas the original had three in twenty. However, it does not stop The Killing II living up to its prequel.
So, it’s two years since the ending of the previous story. Sarah Lund has been basically sacked and sent off to do passport control at an obscure Danish port. Troels Hartmann, one assumes, is busy being Lord Mayor of Copenhagen, but we hear nothing of him.
When a lawyer is found murdered in Memorial Park in Copenhagen, the police initially suspect her husband – until a video apparently from Islamic extremists turns up on the internet. The only person who can solve the case (which says something about the Danish police if it does) is none other than Sarah Lund, especially when former Danish soldiers start being killed, half of a dog tag left by their body. Meanwhile, new Justice Minister Thomas Buch (who does some great comic relief at times, especially when drunk) tries to find out just what was going on with his predecessor and Afghanistan veteran Jens Peter Raben escapes from prison…
Basically, we’ve got a serial killer drama. I am starting to find serial killers more than a little clichéd and frequently find myself wishing that a moratorium on them in TV dramas would be implemented. I doubt that’ll happen though. A number of the old tropes get trotted out here – including the climax, where it was pretty obvious that [spoiler] was not actually [spoiler] (but it’ll sting in the morning). I spotted the Afghanistan connection nearly straight off and also that Sarah was right about [spoiler] (although I didn’t see she was wrong about [spoiler]).
The political ducking-and-diving as Buch discovers that something is rotten… no, that’s so bad a gag I’m not going to use it… is enjoyable and very twisty, particularly the very downbeat ending – like the first season, justice is not fully done. The main crime itself is well plotted and has plenty of neat twists and turns too. Mind you, the contraction from 20 episodes to ten and the ramping up of the body count means that we lose a lot of the family stuff that worked well in the previous season – it seems like the families of the victims get completely ignored. In a way, I actually wish it was a couple of episodes longer as it feels a little rushed at times.
All in all, though, The Killing II is a superb crime drama and I look forward to seeing the third and final season on BBC4 sometime next year (so pull your finger out, people).
One last question, where can I get the theme music from? It’s great.
PS The title is Danish for “There’s been a murder”. With the body count, things did get a bit Taggart at times.
The peaceful fall of the odious Warsaw Pact regimes was one of the 20th Century's best moments. Plus, anyone who rides around his palace on a scooter is certainly someone worth respecting.
Rest in Peace, Mr. Havel.
12 December 2011
10 December 2011
- You can get points for healings, revives, capturing flags and even having people spawn on you. Great when you have poor shooting skills.
- Rocket launchers are great fun - especially when you blast two enemy coming up the stairs (and kill yourself in the process, mind)
- One of the dogtag options ("Are those subtitles?") references the Mine comedy fan videos. Great tribute, DICE!
08 December 2011
When the Japanese launched that six-carrier strike on Oahu, it was only the first attack of a major offensive of the size and scope that even Hitler never tried to pull off.
The Japanese aim was to create a "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere" basically a massive empire with rich resources and plenty of small islands they could use as airbases. Those islands, places like Peleliu, Iwo Jima and Saipan would become household names, small rocks in the ocean that were worth little apart from their location.
In the six months that followed, Japan almost achieved its goal - it got to within bombing range of Northern Australia, was banging on the door of British-controlled India and even took some of the Aleutian Islands, the chain of islands running west from Alaska. Only one event really stopped them - the Battle of Midway.
The next four parts of this will explore the early defeats of the Allies - Philippines, Malaya and Burma, as well as rightly one of the most renowned carrier battles in history. It will also look at the crimes committed by Japan - for Pearl Harbor was but one day of infamy among almost a decade.
03 December 2011
- A review of The Killing II.
- A review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special, "The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe".
- After Pearl Harbor - a look back at the start of the Pacific War. This will be a five-part series, with one part devoted to Singapore.