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Singapore Burning: Heroism and Surrender in World War II [Hardcover]

Colin Smith
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)

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Book Description

28 April 2005
Churchill called it 'the worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history.' This description of the fall of Singapore on 15 February 1942, after Lt-Gen Percival's surrender led to over 100,000 British, Australian and Indian troops falling into the hands of the Japanese, was no wartime exaggeration. The Japanese had promised that there would be no Dunkirk in Singapore and that was so - no one was spared and its fall led to imprisonment, torture and death for thousands of allied men and women. In this extraordinary book, using much new material from British, Australian, Indian and Japanese sources, Colin Smith has woven together the full and terrifying story of the fall of Singapore and its aftermath. Here, alongside cowardice and incompetence, are forgotten acts of enormous heroism; treachery yet heart-rending loyalty; Japanese compassion as well as brutality from the bravest and most capricious enemy the British ever had to face.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 628 pages
  • Publisher: Viking; First edition (28 April 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670913413
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670913411
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 16.4 x 6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 413,094 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

"Colin Smith, veteran war correspondent, has built an impressive reputation as a military historian," noted Sir Max Hastings in his review of 'England's Last War Against France'.The author, whose award winning journalism for The Observer took him from Saigon to Sarajevo, writes a similar narrative history as Hastings and Antony Beevor though his subject matter can be less familiar.In 'Singapore Burning' he concentrates on the hard fought retreat down the Malay Peninsula that preceded the fall of Singapore itself. His account of Britain's forgotten war within a war against Pétain's Vichy French covers all its land, sea and air campaigns. Praised by a wide range of reviewers, his books includes the Palestine novels 'Spies of Jerusalem', 'Let Us Do Evil' and 'Collateral Damage'. His most recent work is a revision of Andrew Borowiec's 'Warsaw Boy' for Viking Penguin.

Product Description


"A meticulopus account of the advance on Singapore... an excellent opportunity to revisit these hard
questions." -- Sydney Morning Herald, August 27, 2005

"He has a sharp eye for the telling anecdote...incidents well known to Australians... are fresh in the telling." -- Book Talk, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, August 20, 2005

"a magisterial account...Colin Smith knows how it feels to be a soldier and his story is unforgettably well told"
Neal Ascherson -- The Observer, 12 June,2005

'Smith succeeds brilliantly in weaving hundreds of individual stories into a coherent whole' -- Sunday Times

'Smith tells the story vividly . . . a fine history of what now seems primarily a particularly poignant and horrifying human tragedy' -- Literary Review

...beautifully told, shrewd and fair in its judgments and on occasions wryly funny...the definitie book on this extraordinary drama -- Daily Telegraph May 21,2005

About the Author

Colin Smith is an author and award-winning journalist. He covered many wars for the Observer and served terms as its Defence, Middle East, Asia and Washington correspondent. His previous books include The Last Crusade and (with John Bierman) Alamein: War Without Hate.

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Colin Smith has produced an excellent, extremely readable account of what Churchill described as ' the worst disaster and largest capitulation in British History'. Always interesting, beautifully written, with, at its core, a compelling narrative based on individual, first-hand accounts of the impact on 'ordinary' (though many are most extra-ordinary) people, this book is hard to put down.
As regards the behaviour of the Japanese, once again we are left struggling to understand how an enemy, often courageous in the extreme, could also display such heartless cruelty towards those captured. In the Author's own words, 'perhaps even the Japanese do not know the answer to this'.
Although the book does contain a significant amount of 'behind the scenes' detail related both to contemporary political machinations and to military strategy, the account is never boring, and is always enlivened by frequent reference to the relevance of such data to subsequent events in Singapore. This is, in essence, the compelling story of a unique period in our Colonial history, and of the individual men and women involved. The tale is all the more remarkable when one considers that these events took place a mere 63 years ago. A superb read.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars SINGAPORE - THE HUMAN FACE OF DEFEAT 24 July 2005
This is so much more than military history. Smith has established a style of bringing individual players to life - brave and cowardly, brilliant and incompetent, or just plain ordinary - while driving forward his plot remorselessly. You know how it is going to end, but you are desperate to know what is going to happen to the individuals whom Smith has brought to life so vividly. Some of these people are fascinating: the Australian sheep-farmers who turned their weekend soldiering into military competence and bravery; the Indian professionals who had their loyalty so severely tested by the Japanese; the Japanese officers at the pinnacle of their careers; the dour Scottish sergeant-major who led his soldiers out of danger; several women who show their courage in different ways - and so on.
Smith takes an analytical and challenging look at the sheer awfulness of what happened, and it makes sobering reading. Our strategic assumptions were wrong, and we assembled the wrong force, giving them the wrong orders. A bad hand can be played well, yet, with some honourable exceptions, we failed to do even that. You read with equal fascination the story of the officer who stems the tide with his inspired leadership and the story of the officer who made the culpable decision to withdraw when there was no need to.
It is an achievement to turn a well-documented defeat into a page-turner, and Smith has achieved this in spades.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive and Comprehendable 26 April 2011
I grew up in Singapore. The history of the campaign has been largely misunderstood by many there, largely due to post-war myths, bias, perhaps even apathy. Yet, for history buffs, this part of World War II history cannot and should not be relegated to the sidelines. Mr Smith does a remarkable job of removing the fiction from fact, while recreating the tapestry of Colonial times in order to set the backdrop. Very readable; this book details both the amazing yet tragic defense of Singapore, as well as the tenacity of the Japanese invaders. This is a must read not only for history buffs, but also for Singaporeans - especially students - lest their history be forgotten.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Singapore, 1956 12 July 2010
I went to Singapore as a 9 year old with my parents (Father with 25 Company RASC). Both father and mother were keen amateur historians and set about tracing the lines of fighting on the islands and later, down Malaya from Kuala Lumpur south. There was still plenty of evidence to see. So the names I learned, from Muar to Parit Sulong and the barbarity dished out were reinforced by Colin Smiths book.

A brilliant read and I'm reading it again, just to take it all in!

Peter Laidler
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Kampar air crash solved after 70 years! 18 Jun 2012
By natral
Sometime during 1962/63 I, as 12/13 yr old, was sat at the humble kitchen-diner meal table with my maternal grandfather [he was also my adoptive father and died in 1986 age 76yrs] and I spontaneously asked him this question on the almost never mentioned subject of his WW2 experiences as a 88th Field Regiment gunner and death railway pow, "Did you kill anybody in the war?". He replied with his accustomed humility, "I think I might have shot down a Jap plane with a Bren gun, son" ... end of conversation.

I've spent recent years researching his war, including reading 'Singapore Burning'. Imagine my delight on reading pages 306-307 of the report of 88th Field bringing down a Jap spotter-plane with Brens at Kampar!

I believe that each battery only had one Bren, so Colin Smith's book may have immortalised my relative's action in published print.

Singapore Burning is unique in the way that it constantly keeps an understanding of the 'big picture' of the progress of the battle for singapore in the reader's view; whilst soulfully bringing him, or her, close in touch with the human experiences of those living in the 'here and now' of events and actions. Not only thus, does this book break out from the herd to become the undisputed leader but also for two other reasons; (i) because the author's labour-of-love commitment to it glows from every page and, as I progressed through it, I sensed this book becoming as if friend that I could consult for the most reliable truths and likely causes and (ii) beause it is comprehensive and not limited to mostly focusing on one or two regiments.

Not least, Singapore Burning consigns to the bin once and for all any remaining question as to whether the british boots-on-the-ground had simply not tried hard enough!

Frankly, I am extremely grateful for this book's existence for all of the above reasons.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Yes, this is the definitive story.
A huge book, but I finished it in days. It is literally 'unputdownable'! The author manages to describe the chaos of the Allied retreat, and the astonishing speed of the Japanese... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Alastair
3.0 out of 5 stars hard work
very slow and hard work ,not my type of book ,not as good as other p o w books that i have read
Published 2 months ago by marie
4.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive Account of Events
Enjoyed reading this book a lot. I felt it provided a pretty comprehensive account of events on the British side of things. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Nico
5.0 out of 5 stars Almost Definitive - Wonderful History
Colin Smith has written a blockbuster of a book about a sadly neglected part of the Pacific War - The Singapore Malayan Campaign. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Rodney J. Szasz
5.0 out of 5 stars Singapore Burning
The book came quickly and very well packed.,
I am studying the Fall of Singapore and had not seen this book before. I am now well into it! It is just as I had hoped. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Mr. Edward J. Walker
5.0 out of 5 stars Extremely Thorough Coverage of the Campaign
I was extremely pleased with the thorough coverage of the Malaya Campaign that Colin Smith has included in this book. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Christian Singleton
5.0 out of 5 stars Up there with Hell in A Very Small Place
Hell in a Very Small Place - the seminal work on the battle of Dien Bien Phu - is considered a masterpiece of military history writing. I would put this as quite close to it. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Paul Lawrence
4.0 out of 5 stars An age of turmoil and agression.
An almost well written book which was let down by a couple of incorrect names of senior officers. Otherwise a good book covering a lot of suffering during a violent time.
Published 10 months ago by nick
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful and captivating
Prior to a holiday in the Far East to explore RAF bases that my Father served at during the war, this comprehensive overview of events in the peninsula is a very detailed and... Read more
Published 17 months ago by Mike C
5.0 out of 5 stars The game of luck and chance by which all great endeavours are decided
Besides being a fine and interesting read, I was once again struck by the fine margins, the few key decisions, forced and unforced errors together with generous helping of pure... Read more
Published on 5 Sep 2011 by Roberto 66
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