February 16, 1942 – English Service of Radio Tokyo – English Service of China Radio, Chungking – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
February 16, 1942 – The actual end of fighting took place the day before, on the 15th. The Empire of Japan captured the British stronghold of Singapore—nicknamed the “Gibraltar of the East”— with fighting in Singapore lasting from 8 to 15 February 1942. Singapore was the foremost British military base and economic port in South–East Asia and under the Singapore strategy was important to British interwar defense planning for the region. The capture of Singapore resulted in the largest British surrender in history.
Prior to the battle, Japanese General Tomoyuki Yamashita had already advanced south with about 30,000 men down the Malayan Peninsula in the Malayan campaign. The British erroneously considered the jungle terrain impassable, leading to a swift Japanese invasion as defenses were inadequate. The British Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival commanded 85,000 British troops at Singapore, although many units were under-strength and most units lacked experience. The British enjoyed a significant numerical and positional advantage on the island but much of its water was drawn from reservoirs on the mainland. To impede the Japanese, the British destroyed the causeway which led into the city, forcing the Japanese into an opposed crossing of the Johore Strait. Singapore was considered so important that Prime Minister Winston Churchill ordered Percival to fight to the last man.
By 15 February, about a million civilians in the city had fled into the remaining area held by the Commonwealth, 1 per cent of the island. Japanese aircraft had continuously bombed the civilian water supply which was expected to fail within days. The Japanese were also almost at the end of their supplies and Yamashita wanted to avoid costly house-to-house fighting.
Yamashita demanded an unconditional surrender as a ruse and that afternoon, Percival ignored his orders and capitulated. About 80,000 British, Indian, Australian and local troops became prisoners of war, joining the 50,000 taken in Malaya. Many died of neglect, abuse or forced labour. About 40,000 mostly conscripted Indian soldiers joined the Indian National Army and fought with the Japanese in Burma. Churchill called it the “worst disaster” in British military history. It greatly decreased confidence in the British Army and provided the Japanese with an important strategic position until the end of the war. With the Sinking of Prince of Wales and Repulse two months prior, the fall of Singapore and other defeats in 1942 severely undermined British prestige and eventually contributed to the end of its colonial rule in the region and beyond after the war.
Since we so often hear American news broadcasts or BBC reports of the situation in Singapore, listening to the account from Radio Tokyo sheds a different light indeed. Cutting through the static and otherwise marginal reception, Radio Tokyo gives a verbatim account of the surrender as it took place. Aside from Japanese press cameras, it would be impossible to imagine an actual recording could have existed. This comes close.
Also as part of this broadcast, as it was an otherwise regular feature during this period, the announcer reads “letters” from American POW’s, being held in Kobe, giving names and addresses and reading the letters aloud asking those who hear the broadcast relay the messages to anyone who may know the families of the prisoners.
Another side of this war, from 80 years ago from Radio Tokyo and begins with a short clip from China Radio, Chungking from around February 13.
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