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on 5 December 2013
A fine book of one of the most impressive feats of the latest world war, an event that, besides marking the weakness of the foundations of the British Empire, started a process of awareness amongst Asian people that brought to independence and self government after Indochina wars.
After the fall of the city of the lion and even if the war was won, Great Britain and France had to come to terms with a completely different situation, one where all the assumptions that were at the basis of their colonial power, were no longer accepted and led to the dismemberment of their old empires. It is very ironic that this process was started by a war of aggression from Japan that at the end just wished to replace the old powers and proceed to a ruthless exploitation of other Asian countries, considered as inhabited by sub-humans.
The book provides a convincing and well documented picture of the state of unpreparedness and the general underestimation of the strength and willingness of Japanese armed forces that was prevalent in the colony and that played a great role in setting wholly inadequate defences in front of General Yamashita's troops. This underestimation was a trait that continued all along ww2 bordering into open racism but at the end of the day stereotyping was widespread in those years. When it combined itself with arrogance, it brought to unprecedented disasters like the sinking of two British battleships on December, 10 1941.
There is a remarkable change of pace in the book between the pre war situation, where the description of stylish colonial life is vividly rendered and the subsequent grittiness of the Malayan campaign and the siege of Singapore. The passage from the golden days of colonial rule to the horrors of war is perfectly expressed.
One aspect that I found not wholly convincing is the description of fighting as usually one sided, with Empire troops always heroically confronting much superior Japanese troops and inflicting grievous losses to them, but at the end of the day the body count tells a different story and Empire troops had twice the amount of casualties of General Yamashita's troops.
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on 27 August 2017
I had never read really read about this military disaster before, only the facts and figures given in history books and found this account fascinating, informative and gripping, page by page inexorably leading to the inevitable.
The feeling that Singapore was left to fend for itself, or even sacrificed pervades, by then with no naval or air support and Britain concentrating on Europe, the author puts forward all aspects of the matter.
The outmoded and outdated tactical thinking of the generals and commanders is matched by the attitude of arrogance, racism and vast underestimation of the Japanese, the photograph of British commanders in tin hats and shorts and carrying flags to the surrender signing just about typifies this.
Recommended reading if you've never read an in depth account of this before, and even if you have.
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on 2 May 2017
excellent book well written enjoyed it.
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VINE VOICEon 22 July 2010
Having just finished this book I must say it's a very good read on the subject.

The author successfully debunks myths that surround the whole sorry campaign. Such as seaward facing guns not being able to be fired north or the myth that Australian troops ran away (this was new to me by the way). But unfortunately, the author propagates other myths such as the Johor bridge being `blown up', it was more a temporary crater that the Japanese very quickly repaired!

Ultimately it was the British leadership from Churchill down that lead to capitulation of over 100000 allied troops. It's such a shame as had certain errors not been made and had better leaders been in place, the allies could have completely held the Japanese and reversed their early set backs. The Japanese were very near the end of their tether when the allies surrendered!

I'm now moving onto Singapore Burning by Colin Smith. Though the best book I've ever read on the subject is The Naked Island by Russell Braddon, who the author quotes in this Battle for Singapore. Very well worth a read!
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on 18 June 2011
Just a quick couple of points to add to what the other reviewers have said:

1) Thompson does (no doubt unintentionally) propagate some myths (e.g. that the allied Buffaloes had no chance whatsoever against the Japanese A6M Zeroes) but he debunks many more.

2) There is not enough from the Japanese point of view, next to nothing from the point of view of the Indian troops and Dutch military. The Malay/Singapore (non-British) civilians are also not as well covered. For these reasons alone I would give it 4.5 stars if that were possible, but given what Thompson has achieved I'm giving it 5 stars.

3) Where Thompson does allocate blame I feel he has done so in a fair manner, indeed on the last page of the narrative he describes Percival as the "scapegoat of Singapore".

4) As Thompson points out Hurricanes were used in the defence of Malaya and Singapore.

5) The failure to give fighter cover to Force Z was indeed due to communications failures and misunderstandings between the Naval and Air commanders, but the key issue was that the Navy didn't signal for help until about 2 hours after they knew they had been observed by Japanese aircraft and an hour after they were first attacked. Thompson says that had the fighters been called for earlier "it is highly unlikely they could have saved either ship", and yet he himself points out the initial attack was by a formation of unescorted bombers. Even a small fighter force could have broken up this initial attack and forced a rethink by the Japanese commanders.

Overall this is a very readable, informative account which brilliantly balances a high level view with personal recollections of those involved. Recommended.
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VINE VOICEon 13 October 2006
Peter Thomson is angry. Even after more the passage of more than 60 years, in reading his prose, you still feel angry yourself at the tales of incompetence, bungling and petty wrangling that marked Britain's disastrous exit from the Malayan peninsula and Singapore at the hands of the much more competent Japanese.

Through extensive eyewitness accounts, interwoven seamlessly with his narrative, Thomson's passions at times fairly burns off the pages.

An ultimately depressing tale it is too - despite the heroism of many individuals. In a few short weeks, a much smaller Japanese army out-thought, out-flanked, out-marched and out-fought British, Indian, Australian and other troops. Yamashita's 25th Army seemingly easily conquered Malaya and Singapore - Britain's supposed invincible fortress in the Far East.

The book starts slightly slowly with an extensive run-through the characters - civilian and military - who will play a role in the coming debacle, but it is when the action gets going and the Japanese invade that Thomson is at his best.

It is hard to believe the endless blunders on the British side, even though the lack of resources that Britain was able to spare for Singapore ultimately doomed the island. The Far East came a poor third in strategic terms for the hard-pressed British after defence of the UK itself, and supplying the army in North Africa.

There were not any first-rate fighter aircraft in the region - Spitfires or Hurricanes - which could stand up to the Japanese Zeros.

There were no tanks at all anywhere, and not enough anti-tank weapons to blunt the Japanese tank assaults which caused so many problems for the British troops.

But these seem to pale when set against the multitude of high level blunders.

There was never a properly unified military/civilian command.

Too often the generals, admirals and air commanders were squabbling with each other.

When the Navy's Force Z sailed out (and got sunk by the Japanese air force) there was no air cover provided.

The commander of the British land forces, General Percival was woefully ill-equipped to impose his will on his sub-ordinates, and must fully share the blame for not using the labour resources available to fortify the northern approaches to Singapore in Johore state in southern Malaya. He famously said "defences are bad for morale". Possible, but poor generalship is much worse for morale...

Still, it wasn't just Percival that shares the blame. The Australian senior commander, Bennett, was of equally dubious worth. The civilian Governor, Thomas, was also somebody who should have been removed from office at an early stage.

Yet we can at least dispense with one myth - the guns of Singapore COULD fire landward as well as seaward (though they probably didn't have enough high explosive).

In the end the British deserved to lose. The could have made a much better fist of it, though with the resources at hand at the start of the campaign in December 1941, they might well still have lost.

However in losing they left the Malays, Chinese, Indians - as well as the captured Europeans to the brutality of Japanese occupation.

If there is one minor quibble, it is that we don't learn enough about the Japanese army's fight. Quite clearly Peter Thomson has wanted to tell the tale from the British side of things, but it would have been nice to have a bit more from the Japanese side.

Despite this, this is a book well worth reading.
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on 21 October 2016
Highly readable, informative and authoritative. If you read only one book about this disastrous campaign then I'd suggest that this is the one.
The political background to the outbreak of war is well described and the accounts of the subsequent military actions are excellent, well supported with appropriate maps. The ill-effects of the general complacency about the fighting capabilities of the Japanese, plus the personality differences/clashes in the British High Command are covered in detail -quite rightly as they seemed to have doomed the defence from the start.
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on 18 November 2013
I much enjoyed this exposé of the loss of Singapore and, the more so, the part that this played in the destruction of the long-cherished idea that occidental man was superior to the oriental. Sadly, countless lives were lost in puncturing this particular ego which, in this modern age, seems so axiomatic.
The author has done a splendid job of weaving the military scenario into a well-described geo-political context. It is an excellent background for understanding the post-WWll political machinations of the region.
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on 6 February 2014
I was born in Singapore in November 1941, a few week before the Japanese army took over the island. My mother with me, a babe in arms and my six year old sister, was evacuated to Perth in Australia on one of the last ships to escape with civilian evacuees. My father spent the war in a Japabese prisoner of war camp in Singapore. This book tells the story of the disastrous British defeat very well. It is a good read and should fascinate even people who have no knowledge of the island state.
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on 14 June 2014
An excellent account of a period in our history which should never be forgotten. A fiasco which was brought about be having "Yesterday's Men" in charge. Those funny little men who 'could not see in the dark' certainly taught our ill-equiped, ill-trained forces a lesson. I have waited 72 years to find out what an AC2 billeted in my home was drafted into just at the wrong time. They should all have been drafted out until they had an equal chance.
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