For Winston Churchill, it was ‘the worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history’. Before World War Two, Britain had spent the then vast sum of £60m turning the island of Singapore into a supposedly impregnable fortress at the end of the Malayan peninsula – at that time also a British colony.
On December 8, 1941, the Japanese landed at the northern end of the peninsula, and though they were heavily outnumbered, they fought their way down it remorselessly, until by the end of January 1942, they had conquered the whole peninsula without the British scoring a single significant victory.
Now the defenders blew up the causeway that linked Singapore to the mainland, but on February 8, the Japanese launched an invasion. Just as they had in Malaya, they outfought and outmanoeuvred the defending forces, using their air supremacy to deadly effect.
Just a week later, 85,000 British and British Empire forces surrendered to the 35,000 Japanese invaders. The Japanese had lost only 3,500 men in the conquest of Malaya and Singapore – then the greatest city in south-east Asia.