Ahad 15 Februari 1942 — Pihak British/Bersekutu di bawah pimpinan Lieutenant General Arthur Percival secara rasmi menyerah kalah kepada tentera Jepun di bawah pimpinan Lieutenant General Tomoyuki Yamashita.
Ahad 15 Februari 2015 = 73 tahun kemudian…..berapa ramai ‘pencinta sejarah’ @ ‘history lovers’ yang ingat tarikh itu, tarikh di mana berkuburnya mistik Kekebalan dan Ketuanan Inggeris?
Tahun 1968, Noel Barber menghasilkan sebuah buku berkaitan bencana yang pernah menimpa Malaya dan Singapura. Tragedi itu bukan sahaja telah menghancurkan buat selamanya mistik “Ketuanan Inggeris” malah ianya juga turut meleburkan sebuah empayar. “Synopsis” buku tersebut yang saya sunting dan muat-naik di bawah ini pernah diterbitkan oleh majalah Readers Digest keluaran Julai 1968.
Kiri: Buku “The Fall of Singapore”. Kanan: Readers Digest terbitan Julai 1968
Siege of Singapore
On the night of January 30 – 31, some 30,000 exhausted troops of the Commonwealth forces retreated to Singapore, crossing the huge concrete causeway that linked the island to the Malayan peninsula. The causeway, 70 feet wide, and more than 1000 yards long, had been dynamited at 8:15 on Wednesday morning. This was the moment when the battle of Malaya ended and the siege of Singapore began.
By the end of the first week of the siege, the city was slowly running down. At least 200 people a day were killed, and there was mounting evidence of an uglier mood on the island – particularly among the troops. They seemed to wander in bewildered knots all over Singapore as though there was no one to direct them.
Royal Navy Base Evacuated
Then came the worst shocks of all. For days the sky had been darkened by the writhing plumes of smoke from two huge fires at the naval base. At first people believe that the Japanese had scored lucky hits on the oil dumps there, but then a rumor spread that the fires had actually been started by the British. It seemed unbelievable, but the rumor was suddenly confirmed at an off-the-record press conference. Not only had the oil dumps been set on fire deliberately, the entire naval base had been evacuated by the Royal Navy!
This was Britain’s great symbol of naval dominance of the Pacific, a base with 22 square miles of deep sea anchorage, barracks to house 12,000 workers, and a self contained town with cinemas, churches and 17 football fields. It had been built for only one reason – for just such a moment of destiny as Britain now faced. Nothing in the story of Singapore’s defeat can match in grim irony the fact that when the moment of destiny arrived, the base was abandoned. Worse, it had been abandoned before the troops had crossed the causeway.
Real Admiral Spooner, it turned out, under instructions from the Admiralty to get his skilled personnel away, had sent most of them to Ceylon, leaving only a few to give technical advice to the army unit which would carry out an elaborate scorched-earth scheme. George Hammonds recalls the desolate scene that greeted the first troops when they arrived at the once-thriving nerve center: deserted barracks, half cleaned belts and buckles lay on unmade beds. There were unfinished meals in the mess hall, flies buzzed over the garbage, then swarmed away as rats came out.
Shortly after ten on the night of February 8, the black sky was lighted by two rockets, one red and one blue, bursting far to the north. These were Japanese signals, announcing a successful landing on the island.
The attack was made on the northwest shore, exactly the area west of the causeway that Brigadier Simson had wanted to defend. But General Percival had been obsessed with a conviction that the Japanese would assault the northeast beaches, and that was where he had deployed his main forces. There was only a single Australian division to oppose the landings in the northwest.
The first assault wave, comprising 4000 combat veterans bloodied in China, crossed the straits in complete darkness. The British defenders had set up brilliant search lights to illuminate the waters, but no instructions ever reached the searchlight or artillery crews. Although the Australians opened a withering fire on the first two waves of boats, the Japanese soon overwhelmed the defenses of the entire front.
Before the Aussies knew what was happening, they were fighting with bayonets against an enemy that seemed to surround them. Men cursed and stumbled into each other in the dark. Many of the Japanese had compasses tied to their wrists.
By the morning of the 9th, the Japanese had secured a firm foothold on the island.
To the Bitter End
On February 10, Wavell flew in for the last visit to Singapore. Everywhere the fronts were shrinking and immediately, over the head of Percival, he ordered a desperate counter attack. It failed completely. Wavell was probably influenced by an extraordinary cable he had just received from the Prime Minister. The words were uncompromising. “The battle must be fought to the bitter end. With the Russians fighting as they are and the Americans so stubborn at Luzon, the whole reputation of our country and race is involved.”
On the same day, The Malaya Tribune was closed; and on February 12 a government paper appeared filled with the meaningless phrases that Singaporeans had come to know so well, “Enemy pressure slackened during the night. It is hoped to stabilize our position.”
The true story could be read in the streets of the city. Now every road in the heart of Singapore was jammed with streams of Chinese and Indian civilians heading out of the city, rushing towards the east of the island – anywhere, so long as it was away from the Japanese. Enemy tanks had captured the strategic village of Bukit Timah and soon hand-to-hand fighting flared up in places whose very names were evocative of the good old days – the racecourse, and the greens of the Singapore Golf Club.
By sundown the Allied forces and a million civilians were trapped, in a perimeter that had shrunk to two and a half miles, along the edge of the city.
On Friday the 13th, administration virtually ceased to exist throughout Singapore. Water from broken mains gushed in streets littered with uncollected corpses. The air reeked with smells of decay, burning flesh, smoke and cordite. Japanese planes cruised at will above the main roads, and the shelling from distant guns never stopped.
For two days the heroic 1st Malaya brigade had been holding a vital ridge at Pasir Panjang west of the city, but on Friday afternoon a wave of Japanese troops pushed through and made straight for a large military hospital at Alexandra.
While the Japanese were breaking the line at Pasir Panjang, there was pandemonium at the dock. The evacuation committee had decided to send away some 1200 skilled persons who would be useful to the war effort elsewhere. The plan called for them to leave that night in scores of small boats. Passes for the evacuation, which included civilian as well as military personnel, were distributed early, and by 3.30 p.m. an enormous crowd had gathered at the docks.
From the start there were arguments over the passes. Tempers flared in the heat, and the armed military police watched nervously as the mob surged toward the gates that led to the boats.
Some men tore at the gates; others screamed abuse at the police. Fighting broke out, and police were ordered to fire a few rounds over the heads of the crowd.
Fortunately, Brigadier Simson arrived, and the panic subsided as he stood by the gates and checked the passes he had issued.
At 6:30 the boats were filled and the gates closed. Admiral Spooner, who had supervised the evacuation, was on board a small launch. So was Air Vice-Marshal Pulford, whose last words to Percival had been, “I suppose you and I will be blamed for this, but God knows we’ve done our best with what we’ve been given.”
This was Singapore’s version of “Dunkirk” – a flotilla of tiny ships including sampans, rowboats, junks, naval sloops, yachts and tourist launches. But unknown to any of the people on board the little fleet, Admiral Ozawa of the Japanese Imperial Navy was waiting in the narrow waters south of the island with two cruisers, a carrier and three destroyers. When the flotilla approached his ships, he attacked with all the force at his command.
Some of the smaller vessels were literally blown out of the water, and it is known that at least 40 ships were sunk. But no one has been able to calculate the total number of boats or lives that were lost, for other ships from an earlier evacuation were trapped at the same time, and there were also many civilians and deserters who had tried to leave on their own. The few who managed to escape were wrecked on the small islands that dot the archipelago. There, many died of starvation, thirst or tropical disease. Among these casualties were Admiral Spooner and Air Vice-Marshal Pulford, who died after two months of agonizing privations on a small malarial island off the coast of Sumatra.
Last Night of Freedom
Early Sunday morning General Percival received a cable from Wavell giving him the power to capitulate. At 9.30 am, he summoned the commanders for a conference that lasted barely 20 minutes. Wrote Gen. Gordon Bennet: “Silently and sadly we decided to surrender.”
Late that afternoon, General Percival and three staff officers drove up the Bukit Timah road. At the approach to the village they got out of the car, unfurled a white flag and the Union Jack and marched under enemy escort to the Japanese headquarters – the Ford Motor factory. Percival was seated at a table, and several minutes later General Yamashita entered.
Any hopes Percival might have entertained of getting conciliatory terms vanished immediately. Stubborn as a bulldog, Yamashita sat with his clenched right fist ready to pound the table. “The Japanese will consider nothing but unconditional surrender.” he announced.
Percival tried to protest, but Yamashita would not yield. “Are our terms acceptable or not?” he cried, thumping the table.
Bowing his head, Percival gave his consent. The surrender would take place at 8:30 that night, and the Japanese would take over the city on Monday morning.
At 8:30, an eerie silence fell across Singapore. The shelling, bombing and bark of guns were abruptly stilled. It was the silence of death – the death of a great city – broken only by the crackling flames and falling timbers of uncontrolled fires.
Soon after dawn on Monday, the first Japanese troops entered the city.
On the same day, the first batch of Europeans – 200 men and 300 women and children – were marched to some derelict houses in Katong, a few miles out of town. Sir Shenton Thomas, in newly pressed white ducks, led the way, his head high. He was sustained, he said afterward, by the sympathy of the Asians lining the route – weeping women, or men who rushed out with a handful of biscuits or a bottle of water. If the Japanese had hoped for scenes which would humiliate the whites, they were disappointed.
Early in March the men interned at Katong were moved to the Changi Jail. A week later the women and children followed, their number now swollen to 400 with latecomers.
The Magic Island
It was only faith and hope that sustained the prisoners for three and a half years. No one had the remotest chance of escaping from a speck in the ocean as escape-proof – and as evil – as Devil’s Island.
When freedom came on September 5, 1945, it was the sameness of Singapore that first astonished the internees. Somehow they had vaguely expected the Japanese to have left their own imprint on the great city and its people. Instead, they found things very much as they had left them.
The greatest debacle in the history of the British arms, in which thousands of men and women of all races and creeds died in a mythical fortress, destroyed forever the legend of the white man’s supremacy. And though it is true that the Allies returned to liberate the country, it was never quite the same again. The awe, the mystique surrounding the “tuan” had gone forever.