Japanese Occupation; 75 years after

Febuary 8th 1942, 2300H; the Japanese begun an artillery bombardment of Singapore that started the invasion.

On 15 Febuary, 1942;  the British surrendered to the Japanese. This marked the start of the Japanese Occupation of Singapore that officially ended on 12 September 1945.

A chronological order of the sequence of events leading to the Fall as follows. Taken from http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/articles/SIP_2013-07-19_113523.html)

  • 8 Dec 1941: Japanese troops land at Singora, Patani and Kota Bharu; bombing of Singapore begins
  • 10 Dec 1941: Japanese sink the battleship HMS Prince of Wales and battlecruiser HMS Repulse off the coast of Kuantan, Malaya
  • 31 Jan 1942: Last Allied troops cross the Causeway into Singapore
  • 8 Feb 1942: First Japanese troops land in Singapore
  • 11 Feb 1942: Japanese troops capture Bukit Timah
  • 13–14 Feb 1942: Battle of Pasir Panjang Ridge
  • 14–15 Feb 1942: Massacre at Alexandra Military Hospital
  • 15 Feb 1942: British surrender to the Japanese at Ford Factory in Bukit Timah
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British Surrender from web

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British Surrender from web

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Japanese Surrender from web
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Japanese Surrender from web

What this post will not be about –

  • This post does not address the ineffectual British defense under the equally useless Arthur Percival whose name itself already tarnished 2 great British legends. Leadership cannot be blamed when it did not exist
  • It will not touch on Sook Ching, Double Tenth, Seicho slavery corps; or other atrocities committed by the Japanese
  • It will not mention the shabby treatment of Dalforce  members after the war by the Brits

This year 2017, marks 75 years since the Japanese Occupation. In Singapore, there are a few permanent exhibitions in Singapore featuring this dark period.

Battle Box Singapore  – Former underground command bunker beneath Fort Canning. This is now a museum that featured the last days of the Battle of Singapore before the Brits capitulated.

National Museum of Singapore – The Singapore History Gallery (japanese occupation) and Surviving Syonan Exhibit

Surrender Chamber at Sentosa – Mockup with wax figures that shows both the British and Japanese Surrender in Singapore. This is temporarily closed for upgrading.

Reflections at Bukit Chandu – features the Battle of Pasir Panjang where the Malay Regiment fought against the Japanese

Fort Siloso – Last surviving British fort in Singapore, at Sentosa

The Former Ford Factory – Surviving the Japanese Occupation

For our JKMP, Darkside and I have visited 4 except for the BattleBox and Surrender Chambers. All pictures taken by myself or Darkside, unless stated otherwise.

The Former Ford Factory  – Surviving the Japanese Occupation

This is a small exhibit taking up one wing of the Ford Factory.  The exhibition revolves around pictures, posters, documents, recorded oral history etc that were collected by this department. The Invasion and Occupation are presented in snippets through the objects shown, historical facts not related to the displayed object are not given. The objects themselves are somewhat standalone and as such there is a lack of coherence and order in the presentation. You get bite sized morsels that does not make up a complete dish.

On the other hand, take into consideration the fact that this exhibition is curated by the National Archive. This is an agency whose mission is to act as the keeper of records of national or historical significance, in various medium or format. Hence, records are being presented in this exhibition,  and not History in its entirety.

There is no admission charged for citizens, tourists will need to pay a few bucks. The location of the Factory is out in the sticks and its a pain getting there. But as I have never visited before, making the effort once is still ok.

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Preserved campaign map
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Artist rendition – British Surrender
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Magazine article on Brewster Buffaloes  in Singapore

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Yes.  They have been purveying Le Fumier for ages,  even 75 years ago

National Museum – Singapore History Gallery ( Japanese Occupation section) , Surviving Syonan Exhibit

The Singapore History Gallery tells the story of Singapore from its days as a fishing village to the present day.

The section dealing with the Invasion and Occupation of Singapore starts with a video presentation on the Japanese campaign from China to South East Asia.

There is a life size mockup of the Type 96 Ha-Go tankette  that was used by the IJA in Burma and Malaya. This was a light weight, thin walled and pea shooter  gunned contraption. It reflected on the level of training of the Allied troops when sardine cans  were enough to rout them,

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Video presentation on the Japanese advance in Asia
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British Infantry equipment
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Low powered, small gunned and boiler plated; the Ha Go was the most numerous tankettes of the IJA

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Japanese troops cycled down Malaya, removing the need for motorized transport

In the next section, there is a comparison between the British and Japanese forces. The Brits had numerical superiority but were mostly untested troops with little training, more suitable for garrison duty than battle. The Japanese troops were hardened by fighting in the Sino-Japanese War.

The IJA enjoyed air supremacy given their higher quantities of effective aircraft , and the capabilities of their experienced pilots. The Commonwealth pilots flew inferior aircraft which could have performed better, had the pilots had more training and experience. The Commonwealth had a naval taskforce but deployed it without air cover.

The main feature for this part of the exhibition is a wall screening of the fighting and British surrender taken from archival footage.

Moving on the next part covered the Occupation Period, touching on the POWs etc

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In another part of the Museum, there is another exhibit – Surviving Syonan. This touches on how the daily lives of the people were affected under the Japanese.

Under the occupation, the Japanese sought to assimilate Malaya and Singapore into their Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, the Japanese created bloc to unite Asia against the West. But as history scholars and war-gamers know, this was to ensure resources and create hinterland for Japan.The occupation forces implemented changes to education, culture and even entertainment.

These however, did nothing to help alleviate the poor conditions that the people had to live under. Hunger, malnutrition and illness tormented the population. The Kempeitai’s campaign of suppression through fear added to the misery … and death count.

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Both galleries are dimly lite and it made taking pictures quite challenging, especially when tripods are not allowed and there are many other visitors.

If you need to pick one of these 2 to visit ,  go for National Museum. With its much larger scope and many other exhibits, it will be a much more interesting experience.

Reflections at Bukit Chandu

This is a exhibition that deals specifically with the Battle of Pasir Panjang, between the Malay Regiment and the invading Japanese. Bukit Chandu itself is where the the last fight took place and Reflections serves as a memorial of the Battle. The Hero of the battle was Lt Adnan who ;ed his troops against the japanese  until their positions were overran. Adnan was captured and executed.

The bungalow grounds has 2 items of interest on display. On the left, a life-sized sculpture of a Mortar crew of 3 manning  a mortar. The Ordnance 3 Inch mortar was the standard equipment of the British Army from the 30s to the 60s.

On the  right there is a light gun, next to a small pond.

The exhibition is in a few parts –

  • formation of the Malay Regiment – a short history of pictures and short notes
  • A video presentation on the events of the Invasion – this is the most informative presentation that I have seen so far
  • A multimedia presentation on the Battle of Pasir Panjang – a narrated short video of a live actor and CG, with the setup being more impressive than the presented material
  • 2nd floor, presentation on Lt Adnan. In Singapore, Lt Adnan is remembered with a plague in Kent Ridge Park and the Bt. Chandu exihibition. In Malaysia, a local version of the M113 based AIFV is named Adnan after him
  • 2nd floor, there is an equipment display consisting of firearms including another Mortar
  • 2nd floor, Animated video of the Battle – this is an animated depiction of the battle that was created together with Nanyang Polytechnic, shown in a small purpose build presentation room. I must say that it is rather well done. Here’s a link to the video on Youtube

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Not a cannon used in the Battle, I think this was a russo-japanese war relic that belonged to RAF 205 Sqn based at Seletar, given to them by the USAF for the squadron’s support in the Korean War.

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A much more informative presentation of the entire Invasion in one package

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Another 3″ mortar, plus a Bren gun, a Vickers .303 MG, Arisaka and Lee Enfield rifles

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This is the room where the animated video of the Battle is shown
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Lieutenant Adnan

Fort Siloso at Sentosa

This is the only surviving British fort in Singapore from the colonial days, today it is preserved. Don’t let your expectations get the better of you this is NOT a museum; its a tourist attraction and not a restoration in the historical and military sense

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Function and Operation of Fort Siloso – there are restored gun emplacements , tunnels, bunkers with mannequins and recorded narration to show visitors how the fort works

Guns – there are artillery pieces on display,  in the actual emplacements or pintle mounted on concrete supports. Not all the pieces are originally from Siloso, some of these were displayed or found in other parts of Singapore; and relocated to the fort. Including a few japanese shipborne guns repurposed as land arty. The majority are muzzle and breech loading guns from the 1800s, the newest are probably a pair of 25 pounders from WW2

Life of a soldier – a  barrack’s worth of tableauxs including a mockup of a troopship showing how soldiers lived back in the day. I don’t understand why the Victorian era was picked for this, won’t the pre-WWII period be more relevant?

There are also a multitude of ” pics and text” board exhibits with the following being most relevant to the topic at hand

  • Fall Of Singapore
  • Special Operations Force 136 – a fair bit of info on Lim Bo Seng
  • The Occupation Years
  • Tunnel B Complex POW Experience

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Enter a Funeral cortege returning Lim Bo Seng’s remains to Singapore

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To re-cap,

the places I have visited are as – The Singapore History and Surviving Syonan exhbits  @ The National Museum of Singapore, Surviving the Japanese Occupation @ The Ford Factory, Reflections at Bukit Chandu; and Fort Siloso.

A few thoughts on each

National Museum – the Fall of Singapore portion and Surviving Syonan exhibits are far from substantial, but having a type 95 tankette replica and the actual conference table from the Ford Factory surrender gives it attraction power

Ford Factory – as mentioned before, this is a display of archival material and not a historical exhibition.  As it is, I just consider it as a subset of what is at the National Museum. In my opinion, the potential of the Ford Factory as a heritage has not been tapped. But considering that factory floor behind has been sold off and occupied by a condo, there is very built up space to do more. Otherwise more can be done to make the Ford Factory as THE Monument on the Battle and Occupation of Singapore – from before to after, world wide. As it is, I wouldn’t bother to visit again.

Reflections on Bukit Chandu – something unique and different, this is a part battle monument for the Battle of Pasir Panjang and a regimental museum for the Malay Regiment. It has one of the best presentation on the Invasion of Singapore given in one sitting, and the animated feature on the battle is very well done. This is worthy of a visit, and the slight climb up Bukit Chandu is refreshing.

Fort Siloso – it has some information on the battle for Singapore of the pics and text blurb placards sort, mounted on the walls. The saving grace for me is the small room that is dedicated to what Force 136 did in Singapore and Malaya and Lim Bo Seng. The room next to this is on the Japanese Occupation. On this alone and it being the last surviving colonial fort, rates it a visit.

As an atraction, it is under-developed. There are a multitude of artillery pieces on display, these are victorian pieces that are barely more than painted barrels and mostly mounted on wooden or concrete mounts instead of something more authentic. There are recreated barrack scenes to show  how the soldiers lived  circa victorian 1880s – 1900s. BUT the Fort was occupied from the 1880s to 1942. Surely a display of replica arms, uniforms and personal equipment for that span of 50 odd years would not be difficult to get done?

Consider the fact that most if not all tourists would have no interest whatsoever in such an attraction,  It makes more sense to restore Siloso into a historical site and museum about the British military in Singapore, catering to paying special interest visitors. It might be a niche market, but its better then what it is today.

Suggested reading  on the Battle of Singapore – “Sinister Twilight” by Noel Barber, ” Singapore Burning” by Colin Smith, “The defence and fall of Singapore” by Brian Farrell. For life during the Occupation,  talk to folks in their 70s

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