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A comprehensive look at the Malayan campaign of 1941/42,
This review is from: Singapore Burning: Heroism and Surrender in World War II (Paperback)
The fall of Singapore, that bastion of the far east, represented a massive defeat for the British. The author has done a superb job in blending together the aerial, naval and land battles of 1941/42 Malaya into a thoroughly readable account of the Malayan campaign. After setting the scene of pre-invasion Malaya (and not ignoring the lack of preparation and willpower in making Malaya as defensible as possible with the British emphasis on Europe and Africa theatres of operations), the focus initially is on the unenviable aircraft of the RAF and their initial skirmishes with the Japanese, and then shifts to Force Z as Admiral Phillip's battleships steam northwards from Singapore to their eventual sinking at the hands of Japanese torpedo bombers. Following the failure of the RAF and the Royal Navy in bringing the Japanese to account, the responsibility falls upon the soldiers to defend Malaya. Of course, events (and politics) conspire against the Allies, and the army has to withdraw down Malaya and into Singapore before the final humiliation of surrender.
What sets "Singapore Burning" apart from many other narratives of the Malayan campaign is the number of personal reminiscences of the campaign from the rank and file. This is not a top heavy strategic analysis of the campaign, but a muddy, sweaty and downright dangerous account of often squad or platoon level forays with the Japanese. The author interviewed many veterans, and consulted many sources both English and Japanese, in compiling the stories of the pilots, the sailors and the soldiers. Heroic and some not so heroic endeavours of combat, and sheer survival in many cases, from both sides are recounted. Of course, where necessary, the author steps back to provide the reader with the commander's perspective so the reader may have an appreciation of the larger scheme of things.
It is also noteworthy that effort is not spared in dealing with the Indian Army units, of which there were many participating in Malaya. Given the sheer number of nationalities involved (British, Indian, Malayan, Australian, Dutch and New Zealanders among others), the author would be forgiven for focusing on the British and Australian units which would provide the overwhelming majority of sources for the campaign. However, the stories of the Indian and Gurkha soldiers and their brave contributions are not overlooked. Additionally, Japanese viewpoints and heroics (and their atrocities) are integrally part of the overall discussion.
"Singapore Burning" includes a number of maps in the beginning pages of the book, which helps provide context for the campaign, particularly the land battles. There are also three inserts of black and white photography, which supplement the majority of the text nicely. "Singapore Burning" is thoroughly recommended for both serious and casual readers of military history.