22 Nov 1941 (X-16)
Groups of gunmetal grey ships gather in Hitokappu Bay in the Kurile Islands, the northern most group of the islands that make up Japan. Far away from population centres and any prying eyes, a fleet gathers in secret. Each of them flies the naval ensign of the Imperial Japanese Navy, a Rising Sun, offset to the lanyard side.
9 destroyers (DD), the fast, manoeuvrable ships with notoriously short legs (range) built to escort their larger cousins guard a pair each of heavy cruisers (CA) and battleships (BB). 7 of them of the new Kagero-class, the largest and most modern class of destroyers the IJN had at that point in time. The CAs Tone and Chikuma are representative of the workhorses of any naval fleet, fast enough to put themselves into and out of harm’s way, armored and heavily armed enough to see off all but the heaviest warships, the CAs are armed with main batteries sporting 8 x 20cm guns. The battleships Hiei and Kirishima, are even more well protected and more heavily armed with 8 x 35.6cm guns, they represent the modern day first rate ships of the line.
Impressive as this collection of ships was, they were subservient to the real power of this fleet. 6 ships, each with a full-length flat deck built to launch and land aircraft were the centrepiece. Their names would soon go down in history. Just 38 years after the Wright Brothers’ first flight and 23 years after HMS Argus became the first ship to launch and recover aircraft, the 6 aircraft carriers of the 1st Air Fleet (also known at various times as Kido Butai or Mobile Force) were the world’s largest aircraft carrier group. From the decks of these 6 aircraft carriers (CV) flew nearly 400 combat aircraft. A mixture of fighters, torpedo/level bombers and dive bombers that fought as one cohesive unit, it’s size and strength would not be surpassed until 1944, when the US Navy’s Fast Carrier Task Groups came to dominate the Pacific.
In one of the ironies of war, the IJN’s air arm had depended heavily on the Royal Navy in its formative years. Royal Navy pilots had not only trained their IJN counterparts but had also provided technical know how when it came to the design and operation of naval aircraft and aircraft carriers. The lessons the IJN had absorbed in the 1920s and honed over China in the 1930s would soon be put into practice against a modern naval power.
The carriers were named Akagi, Kaga, Hiryu, Soryu, Shokaku and Zuikaku. The first two were originally to have been built as a battlecruiser and battleship respectively but were completed as CVs due to restrictions imposed by the Washington Naval Treaty. Their names would reflect this, battlecruisers were named after mountains, thus Akagi, named for a volcano in the Kanto region. Kaga as a battleship was named after a province. Their relatively slower top speeds as compared to their counterparts would also reflect their heritage.
The second pair, Soryu and Hiryu, were sister ships, built from the ground up as CVs and fairly new, completed in 1937 and 1939 respectively. Carriers would have some form of flying creature in their name. Thus, Hiryu (Flying Dragon) and Soryu (Blue Dragon). Together these 4 ships made up Carrier Divisions 1 (Akagi and Kaga) and 2 (Soryu and Hiryu). Their crews and aircrew were the varsity of the IJN’s naval air arm, having trained and operated together for years.
The last pair, Shokaku (Flying Crane) and Zuikaku (Auspicious Crane) formed Carrier Division 5 and were only commissioned just a few months ago, in August and September 1941 respectively. They were large, modern and had the endurance to complete their upcoming mission without refuelling, unlike the Soryu and Hiryu. Their aircrews, like the ship crew were fresh and unblooded. Their first combat mission would also be their shakedown cruise.
Nov 1941 Hitokappu Bay. Photograph taken from the deck of Akagi, From left to right, Kaga nearest and directly astern, Shokaku and Zuikaku are furthest from camera. Hiryu and Soryu closer to camera.
Nov 1941 Hitokappu Bay. Akagi.
23 Nov 1941 Hitokappu Bay. From left to right, Kirishima, a merchantman converted to a fleet oiler, Kaga and Hiei (partially covered by Kaga)
So I'm scheduled to guide a bunch of Aussie kids who will be visiting Singapore next year to mark the 78th anniversary of the Fall of Singapore as well as commermorate Anzac Day. In the lead up to that I'd thought I'd dig up some #otd type posts which I did a couple of years back on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the Fall of Singapore so as to provide some context to the the campaign and since I'm posting in a private group there might as well copy and paste here for those interested.
We begin with an event that happened 78 years ago, posts will where possible include time stamps (local unless otherwise stated).
19 November 1941, 280km SW of Carnavon, WA, 1925hrs (UTC+8)
HMAS Sydney, one of 3 modified Leander-class light cruisers operated by RAN, disappears over the horizon from Kormoran, the German merchant raider that has for the past hour traded shots with her at point-blank range. It is the last time that any human will see her afloat.
Earlier at 1655hrs
HMAS Sydney had been returning to Fremantle after escorting a troopship that was headed to Singapore. She sights a lone merchantman at around 1655hrs, heading north. She will close to investigate.
Sydney will have closed to within 1,300m, her guns and torpedo tubes trained on the merchantman which had yet to identify herself.
The captain commanding the Kormoran, Theodore Detmars, gives orders to drop her disguise and reveal her heretofore hidden armament. Both ships have engaged each other at distance where they could not possibly miss.
Both ships fire nearly simultaneously but with very different results. Sydney's salvo will either miss or go through the thin sides of Kormoran. Kormoran's return fire will destroy Sydney's bridge and director tower (the part of the ship that directs the fire of the ships main guns) very early on in the engagement, severely reducing the effectiveness of Sydney's return fire. The range is so close that secondary armaments on both ships would be brought to bear on the other.
Kormoran will fire at least 10 salvos and 1 torpedo into the side of Sydney, wrecking the latter's upper superstructure. Kormoran's fire is so accurate that 5 mins after the engagement began, Sydney would slow and turn south, mortally wounded. Kormoran would not escape unscathed, Sydney's X Turret will land hits on her engine room, crippling her.
Both ships now 10km apart and heavily damaged, Sydney limps away from Kormoran, which is dead in the water.
Sydney disappears from the view of Kormoran. Detmars orders the crew to scuttle and abandon Kormoran.
The glow from the burning Sydney can still be observed by the crew of Kormoran, this glow will disappear shortly before midnight.
HMAS Sydney will sink shortly before midnight of 20 November 1941, all 645 of her crew lost with her. It will be the largest loss of life in the history of the RAN, accounting for 35% of all RAN personnel killed in the Second World War.
Kormoran will sink shortly after Sydney, 82 of her crew killed in action, the other 317 survived to be captured as POWs. They will be the only eyewitnesses to what happened.
The wrecks of both ships would be discovered in March 2008, just days apart. First Kormoran then Sydney. A study of the wrecks will corroborate the accounts of the engagement given by the German survivors of Kormoran https://www.defence.gov.au/…/FinalR…/Report/Chapter%2012.pdf
For more information on the loss of Sydney
Don't wait until everything is just right. It will never be perfect. There will always be challenges, obstacles and less than perfect conditions. So what. Get started now. With each step you take, you will grow stronger and stronger, more and more skilled, more and more self-confident and more and more successful.
- Mark Victor Hansen
So I guess I should really stop waiting to get started. Website is going to be messy for a while and some parts won't make sense while I am adding and changing on the fly so bear with me eh?
Updates for the site have been long in coming and for that I apologise. Work has been busy and I am currently in the midst of tweeting events of 75 years ago as they happen. Will be tweeting all the way till 15 Feb 2017 so do follow me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sgbattletours
I also have Google map up of locations and events during the Malaya-Singapore campaign which you can find at https://drive.google.com/open?id=1Hnlpa-DlviN54Jf1RmMzXcvFuvc&usp=sharing
It is my belief that in order to fully understand the fall of Singapore we need to appreciate its place in the larger setting of WW2. Hence the need to sometimes highlight what was going on elsewhere in the world.
7 Nov 1941 (X-31)
Operation Typhoon, the German offensive to capture Moscow had been in full swing for over a month, but had recently stalled at the beginning of November due to general fatigue and shortages of both men and machines as well as logistical difficulties. The German Army had temporarily suspended offensive operations in preparation for a final push into the centre of Moscow.
On this day, the 24th anniversary of the October Revolution, under a blanket of snow that fell continuously from the skies, Josef Stalin addressed thousands of men and their machines of war on Red Square, exhorting them to throw back the invaders of the Rodina that were at the very gates of Moscow, barely 60km away from the city centre. The names and memory of Alexander Nevsky and Mikhail Kutuzov were among those Russian heroes of lore invoked in Stalin's speech to fire up the soldiers.
The men on parade that day would literally march out after the parade straight to the sound of the guns, straight to the front lines where many would not return from.
From the opening shots of Operation Barbarossa right through to the bitter end in the fight for Berlin, the Russian Front would be responsible for occupying the bulk of the Wehrmacht. Churchill knew and understood that to keep the Soviet Union in the fight was to keep Great Britain alive. Tanks and planes that were earmarked for the Middle and Far East were instead sent up north by the arctic convoys for delivery to the USSR via the northern ports of Murmansk and Archangel. It has been argued by some that had some of these material been sent to their original destinations the fate of Singapore might have been very different from what is recorded in history.
6 Nov 1941 (X-32)
In one of those twists of fate that consigns a person into relative obscurity while ensuring another's place in the pages of history, Lt-General Iida Shijiro, General Officer Commanding of the Japanese 25th Army since it's inception in July 1941, relinquishes his post and takes command of 15th Army, Replacing him would be a general who would soon need no introduction. Lt-General Yamashita Tomoyuki
Both the 25th and 15th Armies were under the Southern Expeditionary Army, an army group tasked to the attack and occupation of Allied territories across South East Asia and as far as the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific.
2 years after Europe was set aflame, war had finally reached the shores of the Pacific.
June 1941. War had already been raging in Europe for nearly 2 years. From Norway in the north to France in the west and through to Poland in the east, most of the European continent had fallen under the German jackboot. The UK had survived the worst of the Battle of Britain but was too weak to be any sort of threat to Hitler on mainland Europe. On the eastern borders of the Third Reich lay the Baltic States and the huge expanse of Russia.
1941 had brought German attention onto the Mediterranean front with Italy attempting a land grab in North Africa and Greece but through a mixture of their own incompetence and spirited British response the Italians were making a hash of things. Hitler sent a relatively small but well equipped and well led expeditionary force to bail his erstwhile Allies out of trouble, this force and its first commander would eventually come to be one of the most recognisable names in World War 2. Named Deutsches Afrikakorps it initially comprised just 1 division, the 5th Light. The DAK's commander was a newly promoted Generalleutnant named Erwin Rommel.
By May 1941, the Germans had reversed the gains of the British led Commonwealth forces, taking Yugoslavia and Greece and making plans to take Egypt and with it, control of the Suez Canal itself. However events were in motion to eclipse everything that the Third Reich had accomplished so far.
On 22 June 1941, at around 0300hrs local time, (to date still) the largest invasion force in history, comprising nearly 3,300,000 German troops, along with half a million troops from minor Axis powers like Romania, Finland and Hungary stepped off the line and crossed the border into Soviet-occupied Poland. Hitler had opened a new front in his war against Europe.
Operation Barbarossa would go on to be the largest military operation in history. The initial numbers on either side were already staggering.
Germany Soviet Union
3,800,000 men 2,900,000 men
3,350 tanks 11,000 tanks
2,770 aircraft 9,000 aircraft
On paper the Soviet Union looked able to put up a fight but the officer corps had been thoroughly gutted by Stalin's Great Purge of the late 1930s and the men and material were of indifferent quality for the most part. This would result in the Soviet army being outfought and outclassed in the initial stages of the campaign, losing great numbers of men and material as they were pushed back, flanked and encircled. Key cities like Minsk, Smolensk and Kiev would fall in the coming months, each time the Germans would bag upwards of 300,000 Soviet troops caught in giant encirclements.
It was not all smooth sailing though, the Germans never managed to capture the port of Murmansk in the far north, it would be there after running the gauntlet of commerce raiders, long range bombers and U-Boats that the Allied reinforcement convoys bearing their cargoes of Lend Lease material would unload. Neither would Leningrad fall but it would pay heavily, under siege for nearly two and a half years.
Still, it was a near run thing. The Wehrmacht, fighting both the rasputitsa, where roads were turned into mud by the autumn rains and at the tail end of an ever lengthening supply line would come within sight of the spires of the Krelim just in time to be halted by a lack of supplies and lack of general preparedness for winter, stalling and being beaten back by a counteroffensive led by Soviet divisions literally marching through the streets of Moscow on the way to the front. Thus would come to pass the first of the great punch and counter punches that would come to characterize the Eastern Front.
German troops on the move in the early stages of Barbarossa. The tank is a Panzerkampfwagen I or Pzkfw I or Panzer I for short. Panzerkampfwagen is German for armored combat verhicle. The Panzer I was armed with twin 7.92mm machine guns and like it's slightly more dangerous brethren the Panzer II was the mainstay of the German Panzer Divisions well into 1941. The early panzers were actually more flimsy than their Allied and Soviet counterparts but it was the doctrine which governed their use which gave the Wehrmacht the edge over their opponents. The horses pictured behind the tank and the men walking are indicative of the way the bulk of the German Army moved around. The stereotypical image of the dash and panache of the panzer divisions was more the exception than the norm, right up to the end of WW2.
War of Extermination
But more insidiously the war that Hitler had unleashed on the Soviet Union was one of extermination. Nazi racial policy looked on the peoples of the east, the Slavs, the Roma and the Jews as untermensch, subhuman, unworthy of living. What began with the systematic murder of Polish intelligensia and Jews in German occupied Poland continued with the invasion of the Soviet Union. This was seen in the way Soviet prisoners of war were treated, little to nothing was done to ensure their continued survival once they had been captured by the Germans with many being worked or starved to death. It has been estimated that approximately 4,000,000 Soviet POWs would fall into the hands of the Germans in the course of World War 2. They had a 1 in 2 chance of being alive at the end of the war, this is in stark contrast to the figure of 3.5% for British and American POWs.
Einsatzgruppen, staffed by the SS, a paramilitary organization of the Nazi Party, would fan out in the wake of the advancing forces and round up any Jews or undesirables they found and execute them, it is estimated that between 1941 to 1945 approximately 2,000,000 people, of which 1,300,000 were Jews, were executed by these death squads.
This dramatic photograph shows executions of Jews by Einsatzgruppen near Ivangorod, Ukraine. The photo was mailed from the Eastern Front to Germany and intercepted at a Warsaw post office by a member of the Polish resistance collecting documentation on Nazi war crimes. The original German inscription on the back of the photograph reads, "Ukraine 1942, Jewish Action [operation], Ivangorod."
It was also from Nazi racial policy that places with names like Belzac, Treblinka and Auschwitz-Berkenau were selected for camp sites to implement Endlösung der Judenfrage, The Final Solution to the Jewish Question.
Extermination camps were different from the more numerous concentration and labour camps, the latter were built to house large numbers of undesirables or deviants as classified by the Nazi authorities. These camps were found in Germany as well as in territory occupied by Germany. Their occupants included but were not limited to communists, socialists, gypsies and homosexuals. The camps occupants were systematically mistreated, starved and worked to death but any deaths were incidental to the primary purpose of detention.
On the other hand, the extermination camps, all sited outside Germany's borders, mostly in Poland and the Baltic States, were built with only one purpose in mind.
Much has been written and continues to be written about the most critical theatre of World War 2. While the American and British led campaign against the Germans in Africa, the Mediterranean and Western Europe still hogs most of the limelight the contributions of the Soviet Union and its people in tying down the majority of the German armed forces in World War 2 cannot be discounted or ignored. By simply not surrendering Stalin mercilessly used the mountains of men he had at his disposal to throw at the Germans every opportunity he got, at first to hold the line and then as numbers of men and material built up, to begin the slow inexorable grinding towards Berlin itself. If the Soviet Union had collapsed it is conceivable that Germany would have secured on iron grip on the European continent that would have lasted decades.
But while the military history of the Eastern Front could fill volumes, effort must also be made to remember what happened behind the front lines for both share equal importance in the history of World War 2.
Collection of spectacles left behind by people brought to Auschwitz for extermination.
Photo creidt: Pawal Ulatowski/Reuters
Someone once said laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made. It's a good thing I don't make either then. I'd thought I'd show you a little of what goes into the preparation of a tour's commentary, this post is by no means structured, I'm just typing it up as I go along so I apologise in advance if I meander, and also for the inevitable spelling and grammatical errors.
The Australian 8th Division was an under-strength division when it deployed to Malaya. It had only 2 of its 3 allocated brigades, the 22nd and 27th. The 23rd was left behind in Australia and ultimately suffered the same fate as its sister brigades when its component battalions were deployed in the unsuccessful defence of Rabaul, Ambon and Timor where most of its strength was either killed or captured. The Division was assigned to the task of guarding the western half of the island after the British had withdrawn across the Causeway into Singapore at the end of January 1942. The 22nd was assigned to cover more than 10km of coastline from just west of present day Sungei Buloh Nature Reserve to the present Poyan Reservoir. It was on the 3 battalions of this brigade that 15 battalions from the IJA 5th and 18th Divisions fell on on the night/morning of 8/9th Feb 1942 signalling the start of the invasion of Singapore.
The 27th Brigade was assigned to cover around half of the frontage given to the 22nd, from the Causeway westwards to the east bank of the Kranji River, a little over 4km. This sector was not attacked on the night of the 8th but on the next night. Their opponents were the Imperial Guard Division and the numbers weren't so lopsided here as compared to the night before. It was also in this sector that the Imperial Guard would come in and suffer terrible casualties as oil which had either been deliberately released from an oil tank farm or from tanks damaged by bombing or shelling was set afire. The 27th Brigade gave a good account of itself and only withdrew because it's brigade commander was worried about his flank being exposed, but that's another story.
We start with a map pulled from the official history authored by Lionel Wigmore. The map shows the positions of 2 of the Brigades battalions, 2/26th and 2/30th. The third battalion, 2/29th was the divisional reserve. Most of 2/26th was concentrated along Kranji Road while 2/30th covered the Causeway and the area immediately south and west.
We'll be focusing on placing A Company, 2/30th Battalion. The War Diary of the 2/30th states that A Company was placed on high ground overlooking the approaches to the Causeway. It also states that "the area was exposed to heavy shelling and during daylight hours movement was kept to an absolute minimum with defensive preparations being completed by night".
Here's a map taken from the 2/30th Battalion War Diary placed side by side with a map of the area as it stands today. I wanted to overlay one on top of the other but the scale didn't sit right. As you can see A Company is sited right on the south side of the Causeway. If my memory on symbols hasn't failed me, within the company lines there are at least 4 machine guns, 2 sited to cover the Causeway with the other 2 facing east, at least 1 mortar as well as anti-tank guns . Note the oil tanks north of the railway track was well as Sungei Mandai and Woodlands Road on both maps.
Right click and "View Image" for a slightly larger picture. Sorry, trying to figure out the best way to upload larger images.
So we have A Company placed just south of the Causeway, next we have some pictures I pulled from the NAS (they have a great online presence showcasing their digitised archives) which originate from the Australian War Memorial. They are post war pictures of the Causeway (Sept 1945) and the description that accompanies the photograph states that this section of the Causeway was "held by the right flank of A Company, 2/30th Infantry Battalion" So this picture is basically looking towards Singapore and facing SSE. We can verify this by noting the train tracks running through the middle of the photograph. The train tracks would be on your left as you come in from north to south.
But what's really of note is the low ridge that can be seen in the background. If you take a drive along Admiralty Road West today you will find that the road traverses the base of the ridge for most of its length. The ridge is more densely covered by trees today so the outline isn't as well defined but it's still there. The elevation is most noticeable on the western end of the road near a Shell facility and a couple of point blocks of HDB flats. The lack of vegetation doesn't make it hard to imagine just how exposed to observation and artillery fire A Company was, by that same token it's also not hard to imagine the excellent fields of fire that the company would have commanded from their positions on that ridge.
Here's a shot of the other side of the Causeway, still facing south. The seawall facing westwards verifies the direction the photographer is facing. Note the road curving to the west after it reaches land again.
And here is an excellent shot of the area looking north just right after the Causeway connects to Singapore. The train tracks are visible just to the south side of the house. Note the fairly uncluttered skyline of Johore Bahru, with the imposing Johore state secretariat building (present day Sultan Ibrahim Building) about the only thing that really stands out. This building, together with the 5 storey tower at Istana Bukit Serene would come to be used by the Japanese as observation posts in the lead up to and during the initial stages of the invasion of Singapore.
So we've got maps and pictures that we can use to place A Company, 2/30th Battalion at the start of the invasion of Singapore and we can identify the general area of their positions in the context of the present day. One of the key elements to any historical tour, especially a battlefield tour is context. This is especially true in a place like Singapore where nothing ever stays the same for very long. If we can't be standing on the very ground where events took place then pictures and maps will have to do, but what would really work is if there is an opportunity to have both of these conditions be true. Understanding context, framing yesterdays events against this present moment in time, if done right, should go a long way to getting people to appreciate the realities of the time. At least that's my theory.
The fun part is for all those hours involved in gathering all the relevant material and poring through books and other sources I probably would have to compress everything to about 5 minutes worth of commentary, it's probably a good thing that I find this fun and stimulating. I hope that you have enjoyed reading this peek into the thought process (or what passes for it) involved in crafting my commentary. Please do share any thoughts you might have, I would love to hear them.
National Archives of Singapore
Australian War Memorial
The Japanese Thrust by Lionel Wigmore
Firstly, allow me to apologize for the unfinished state the website is in, I've never been one to wait for all the pieces to fall exactly into their places before doing anything which involves any significant amount of writing. I prefer to the planning on the fly, push out something and improve on the text as the body of work develops. It doesn't help that in this digital age it's too easy to do a little nip and tuck or erase everything and start over again so I'm afraid it's going to be a little messy around here until I settle on a look and feel that I like.
Please do have a look through the pages of this website, especially the About section to have an idea of what who I am and what this website hopes to achieve. I would love to hear from you if you have any suggestions which you think could improve the website or if you have any information on the Malaya-Singapore campaign you would like to share with the wider community. If you had relations who fought in this part of the world in World War 2 and would like help in either finding out more about where they fought or where they fell I would be more than happy to assist you in any queries you might have.
Do keep a lookout for more blog updates in the days ahead. Till then, please do leave a comment telling me where you're from and how you got to this page, would be nice to know which part of the world my webpage visitors come from.