The British planning for the Japanese invasion of Malaya

Jul 2018
497
Hong Kong
#1
Let's discuss and criticize about the British strategic plan for the defense of Malaya-Singapore before the Japanese invasion began on 8th December 1941.

What is the most ideal strategic plan for the British army in your viewpoint ? Do you think Arthur Percival make a proper move for his disposition of troops and strategic planning according to intelligence he had acquainted? Here offers the three possible strategy for discussion :

A. Insisting on carrying out Operation Matador, regardless of violating the Thai neutrality by seizing the strategic port of Singora and Patani to deny the Japanese army's landing ground at the very beginning, then deploying the main force to hold the coastline spanning across Singora-Patani-Kota Bharu and preserving some reserve force in northern or central Malaya to counter any Japanese reinforcement from sea in attempt of outmanuever by circumvent the frontal line.

B. Just like what Arthur Percival did. Abandoning Operation Matador to prevent the political problem. Spread out the troops to defend the vast shoreline and borderline at the northern Malaya, focusing on the defense of five airports in the region to ensure the limited air control over the region of Northern Malaya.

C. Construct the multiple-line extensive field fortification covering the entire diameter of the Malayan Peninsula in the Southern Malaya, by exploiting the relatively shorter length of overland diameter of 60-100 km, composed of barber wires, trenches, pillboxes, observation posts, massive amount of anti-air guns, anti-tank guns ; deploying the main air force in the airports behind this line and at Singapore. Simultaneously, arrange a small force to conduct the delaying action at the Northern Malaya (demolishing bridges and airports when retreat) to slow down the Japanese advance and offensive and exact some toll upon them before retreating into the main defense line. The main purpose of this fortification strategy is to stalling time for allowing more British reinforcement to arrive and consume the Japanese resource in logistics. (although the Japanese held the naval and the air domination in the region, the logistical pressure was still very prodigious for them considering the long maritime distance in replenishing the frontline troops by ships)

The option C was inspired by the Duke of Wellington's Line of Torres Vadres ! Though I seriously doubt would that fantasy work in the age of World War Two, just for imagination and brainstorm anyway.

Virtually, it's very difficult for the British to hold out Malaya and Singapore, considering the staggering disparity of army quality and fighting spirit between the British and the Japanese, and the undisputed naval and air superiority of the Imperial Japanese army. And certainly there would be no sufficient reinforcement could be sent to the Far East with the Nazi Germany rampaging at the doorstep of the British homeland and its Mediterranean possessions. Perhaps the fall of the British imperial colonies in the East is just the matter of time. The only hope is the logistical breakdown of the Japanese army, but that General Yamashita Tomoyuki is very shrewd and bold, the most formidable type among all opponents, a dangerous enemy could not be underestimated.

So what do you think ? Is there any possibility for the British commonwealth army to successfully hold Malaya-Singapore against the Japanese army ? Do you have any other idea except the aforementioned three plans ? What do you think about the option A, B and C above ?
 
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Feb 2016
4,346
Japan
#2
Holding Malaya would have been impossible. They could have held on to Singapore though.

To successfully defend Malaya the army would need to have sacrificed some divisions from Africa/Europe or Hime Defence.... all of which were higher priority.

I don’t think ABC will work.... you don’t have the numbers, your men arent trained for jungle warfare (2nd battalion Argyle Sutherland Highlanders excepted), have low morale and know they are “on their own” .....
 
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Poly

Ad Honorem
Apr 2011
6,693
Georgia, USA
#3
Holding Malaya would have been impossible. They could have held on to Singapore though.

To successfully defend Malaya the army would need to have sacrificed some divisions from Africa/Europe or Hime Defence.... all of which were higher priority.

....


I've read that the critical shortage in defending Singapore and Malaya was lack of aircraft.

Manpower wasn't really the problem. Supplies and airpower was.


The Japanese army that took Malaya wasn't that big. It could have been defeated had more air power been available.



Of course had the British not tried to halt the invasion of Greece (never going to be possible) then the Desert War would have been over by 1941.
 
Feb 2016
4,346
Japan
#4
I've read that the critical shortage in defending Singapore and Malaya was lack of aircraft.

Manpower wasn't really the problem. Supplies and airpower was.


The Japanese army that took Malaya wasn't that big. It could have been defeated had more air power been available.



Of course had the British not tried to halt the invasion of Greece (never going to be possible) then the Desert War would have been over by 1941.
There were lots of problems.
RAF were short of aircraft.
The RN pre war estimates were that the garrison would need to hold out for 42 days while they assembled a fleet and could send ships and troops to relieve them. This was expanded to 100 plus days then they expressed doubts that they’d be able to spare enough ships.

Jungle training had been non existent despite several reports saying an enemy COULD attack through the jungle and the troops needed training in it. But there was no effort to attempt this. Lt Col Ian Stewart of the Argyles trained his battalion in it on his own initiative. The Argyles acquired the nickname “jungle beasts”...
 

Poly

Ad Honorem
Apr 2011
6,693
Georgia, USA
#5
...jungle training had been non existent despite several reports saying an enemy COULD attack through the jungle and the troops needed training in it. But there was no effort to attempt this. Lt Col Ian Stewart of the Argyles trained his battalion in it on his own initiative. The Argyles acquired the nickname “jungle beasts”...


The Japanese were not rated as good jungle fighters either.

They were just more motivated - Singapore was a dumping ground for units and commanders who weren't too good.
 
Feb 2016
4,346
Japan
#6
The Japanese were not rated as good jungle fighters either.

They were just more motivated - Singapore was a dumping ground for units and commanders who weren't too good.
They were not particularly good jungle fighters. But the fact that they came through the jungle convinced the low morale Brits and Indians that they must be. And since they had no training they were convinced they were outclassed. Notable 2/Argyles had a better mind set and were more successful.
 
Jan 2015
3,289
Front Lines of the Pig War
#7
Holding Malaya would have been impossible. They could have held on to Singapore though.
You have that exactly backwards, Malaya was definitely defensible, but once it falls Singapore is likely doomed.


To successfully defend Malaya the army would need to have sacrificed some divisions from Africa/Europe or Hime Defence.... all of which were higher priority.
Nope, they could have easily supplied what was needed, without subtracting any divisions from Europe/Africa
 
Dec 2011
3,556
#8
You have that exactly backwards, Malaya was definitely defensible, but once it falls Singapore is likely doomed.




Nope, they could have easily supplied what was needed, without subtracting any divisions from Europe/Africa
Agree with the first, with Malaya gone how could it have survived? I don't buy the latter, Percival himself says they couldn't properly defend Malaya because the supplies they needed were diverted to the desert and Russia (but accepts this was right).
 
Mar 2015
1,405
Yorkshire
#9
They were not particularly good jungle fighters. But the fact that they came through the jungle convinced the low morale Brits and Indians that they must be. And since they had no training they were convinced they were outclassed. Notable 2/Argyles had a better mind set and were more successful.
Stewart was definitely right and trained the Argyles well (he had been a tank man in WW1 and understood modern warfare).

However the fact the Japanese were prepared to use the jungle to turning the flank a number of times is much over emphasised.

There were many times when they used their tanks (pathetically weak though they were) to smash through the centre of the Allied defence line).

Malaya command did not possess a single tank. Although the British tanks were proving inferior to Rommel's in North Africa, this was not the case vis a vis Japanese tanks and modest number deployed in Malaya would have created havoc.

It should be noted that plenty of British tanks (and Hurricanes) were available - it is just that some 500 tanks and 400 fighter aircraft had been dispatched to Stalin, who dismissed the Hurricane as hopeless and not liked by his airmen and of course squandered the British tanks in ill prepared actions.

If take look at the map, then Malaya has to defended as whole and this is perfectly feasible at the neck of the Ismus but requires occupation of part of Thailand and Matador to be activated well before any Japanese landings.

Do this and have a decent number of modern aircraft and tanks and its going to be difficult for the Japanese. However without them and, even if the troops in Malaya had the training and motivation of the Argyles, Malaya is doomed.
 
Jul 2018
497
Hong Kong
#10
Do this and have a decent number of modern aircraft and tanks and its going to be difficult for the Japanese. However without them and, even if the troops in Malaya had the training and motivation of the Argyles, Malaya is doomed.
The shortage of modern aircraft and the nonexistence of tanks were not the only great problems. The British garrison in Malaya also suffered the below fatal weaknesses :

1. There was a shortage of fully trained and experienced aircrew.

2. There was no similar early-warning radars set up to defend the airfields in northern and central Malaya where the majority of the aircraft were based (all six radars were situated in southern Malaya...what a squander !), meant that it's almost impossible to conduct any efficient counter-operation against the Japanese air raid when the airports come under surprise attack.

3. The unreliability and disloyalty of most of the Indian units — they were poorly trained recruits mobilized in the 1940 expansion of the Indian army. In one occasion, 30 Japanese tanks rumbled down a single road and smashed every defense they encountered. Despite possessing abundant anti-tank guns, mines, and artillery, two Indian brigades had been smashed with five battalions completely destroyed or dispersed, and two remaining battalions retreated and suffered heavy losses ! This dramatic action only lasted 6 hours ! The Central Malaya was lost because of such crushing defeat ! Much worst, many Indian troops, amounted 20,000 in total, simply switched sides and defected to Japanese invaders. The Japanese propaganda about "liberation" effectively cajoled many Indians to join his side. In comparison, their Australian comrades were much tougher and stronger, yet inadequate in number.

4. The intensive ethnic tension prevented the unity between the British, the Indian, the Chinese and the Malaysian, greatly hindered the British army's military operation. On the other hand, the Japanese invasion became easier thanks for some local's help (eg. providing intelligence and material support).

5. Almost non-existent naval support after the sinking of Prince of Wales and Repulse, enabled the Japanese army to landi on any shore of Malaya to outflank the British army as he please. It was almost impossible for the British to set up any well-secured fortified line on land with their vast flank under the threat of being outmanuevered at any moment.

Surprisingly, the British army on the ground was actually better equipped with stronger firepower in comparison than their Japanese enemies (except having no tank), whether in rifles, machine-guns or artillery. Large number of anti-tank guns could inflict devastating havoc upon the enemies if properly used with sufficient experienced gun crews and officers. Unfortunately, those weak Indian units ruined much of their value.
 
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