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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cowardism and incompetence, balanced by heroism and loyalty.
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...
Published on 24 Aug 2005 by Mike Mac

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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well written but ultimately disappointing
There is no doubt that Smith writes very well indeed. In the end the book fails because Smith makes the Australians the scapegoats for the fall of Singapore. Smith goes out of his way to point the finger at them for deserting at the finish. There was only ever two brigades of the Australian 8th Division in Malaya and Singapore, the other brigade was elsewhere. The...
Published 1 day ago by Aussie Armchair General


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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cowardism and incompetence, balanced by heroism and loyalty., 24 Aug 2005
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This review is from: Singapore Burning: Heroism and Surrender in World War II (Hardcover)
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
By 
Hugh McLeod (Rotherfield, East Sussex United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Singapore Burning: Heroism and Surrender in World War II (Hardcover)
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
This review is from: Singapore Burning: Heroism and Surrender in World War II (Hardcover)
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
This review is from: Singapore Burning: Heroism and Surrender in World War II (Hardcover)
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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent in every way, 17 Sep 2009
Quite simply the best all-round account of the Malayan campaign I have read.

I have been interested in this subject for about 20 years, ever since I first visited the area, and have read widely on it, but this book still told me much that I didn't know. For example, I wasn't aware that the floating dock at Singapore's naval base was booty taken from Germany in 1918, nor that dozens of modifications had to be made to the RAF's Buffalo fighter aeroplanes to get them working at all.

The battle appears to have been largely unwinnable from Britain's point of view. Pre-war estimates were that nearly 350 aircraft would be needed to defend Malaya, and that was assuming the Japanese were operating from airfields no nearer than French IndoChina. The RAF actually had about a third of that number, the Japanese air units were operating out of Thailand, and the Royal Navy's relief fleet turned up without its crucial aircraft carrier because the latter had run aground en route. Percival never had a secure flank from the get-go until he reached Singapore, a city quite unsuited to a siege.

Fascinating, well written, much recommended.
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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
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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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Singapore Burning, 24 Feb 2011
I found the book immensely captivating from the first paragraph. Colin Smith combines a high level of scholaraship with an equally high level of writing. He presents the material in a coherent and inviting order, where organization of a complex socio-historical subject is at a premium. Vacillating between the day-to-day components of the fall of Singapore and the macro-context of the event in world history and its relationship to the European theatre is masterfully handled.

My interest in the fall of Singapore is both personal and professional. My Dad was a Prisoner of War captured in Singapore and I am now studying the period as a background to a novel that forms part of a doctoral thesis. The book has been a great help to me both in understanding some of the horrific things that my Dad experienced as well as giving me historical objectivity with relation to the military disaster.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Lively and Exciting Narrative, 20 Mar 2007
I read this book in conjunction with Brian P. Farrell's 'The Defence of Singapore', and I would recommend that others do the same. Colin Smith brings the personal and horrific reality of the war to life quite brilliantly, but Professor Farrell offers a more in-depth analysis of why things went so terribly wrong. And there are one or two minor technical errors in Mr Smith's work, such as reference to Japanese tank guns as cannon when they were not quick-firing weapons at all, and generally there is little attempt in either book to follow the Japanese in detail.

The most notable omission is the use of bicycles. Both books refer to them but neither points out their fundamental importance to this campaign - one as revolutionary as the use made of armour by the Germans. Japanese troops collected them from villages and plantations and rode them south, greatly increasing the army's mobility. Every company had a bicycle repair squad and as Colonel Tsuji Masanobu noted, `thanks to Britain's dear money spent on the excellent paved roads, and to the cheap Japanese bicycles, the assault on Malaya was easy'. However, this should not detract from the undoubted strengths of both books. Each is likely to appeal to a different readership, and certainly fans of Mr Smith's previous work will not be disappointed.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars welsh wizard, 31 Dec 2009
By 
Mr. John Miller (cardiff, u.k.) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
colin smiths military history reads, almost like a novel. i read it in a week , which is very quick for me. he starts with a precis of how the island developed & then shows how tentative efforts of the british leadership allowed their forces to be pushed all the way down the malayan peninsular &, finally, into the sea.
it's a harrowing tale. i certainly would nt equate the japanese of this book, to the people i found when visiting tokyo. it also hints at britain letting down the local people & a beginning of the end for empire. highly recommended.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Totally excellent!, 8 Mar 2006
By 
geoff "nfoe org uk" (calne, wiltshire United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Singapore Burning: Heroism and Surrender in World War II (Hardcover)
I use to live in Singapore, I am an avid military historian and I've been to almost every place mentioned in the book from the Army town of Aldershot (Uk), Fort Canning (Singapore), the village of Mersing (Malaysia) and the prison town of Freemantle (Australia). You bet I've walked around a fair share of the roads, bunkers, barracks and gun emplacements, wondering about the feelings and fears of these men caught up in history.
This book took me back to those places that I visited and brought them alive in a way I had originally failed to imagine.
Such a complicated subject so well written, it read like a novel and contained so many individual stories carefully woven into a hard to put down read.
I would have loved more information about the time of the occupation by the Japanese in Singapore- sadly much of this information is lost or hidden by the islands goverment. The paper placing by the mad Japanese execution selector, the burning of local people's land deeds and the massive boom in the islands population during this time are all depressing but ultimatley fascinating and undisclosed subjects.
Maybe a follow up? These stories obviously would have been outside of the original scope of the book but that aside I thought this book was simply brilliant and now I am left with a sense of emptiness after having finished it.
I'm also left with the feeling that I want to go back and retread these sites with new eyes.
Anyway thank you!
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Singapore Burning: Heroism and Surrender in World War II
Singapore Burning: Heroism and Surrender in World War II by Colin Smith (Hardcover - 28 April 2005)
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