After Raffles founded Singapore in 1819, the british set up a port at the mouth of the Singapore River. Many people came to trade and the port grew. Many also set up homes in Singapore. They were busy making a living and were content to leave work of the ruling island to the British. As the population and trade grew, the British government built more defences to protect the island.
Gun positions were built from as early as 1819. Large guns were placed along the coasts to defend the island from attacks from the sea. Later, the British also built military airfields for use by the British Royal Air Force (RAF).
By the 1920s, Japan had become a powerful country. It had a strong fleet of warships. Some government officials in Britian were worried about Japan's growing power.
The Beginning of the War
By the 1920s, Japan had become a powerful country. It wanted to expand its territories by taking land from its neighbouring countries. In the early 1930s, Japan took over Manchuria, which was ruled by China. In 1937, Japan invaded China. Many Chinese in Singapore regarded China as their homeland. They became angry when they heard about the Japanese invasion. Some refused to buy Japanese goods or go to Japanese shops, doctors or barbers. Many gave money to help China in the war against Japan. Some even went back to China to help in the war against Japan.
By 1938, the naval base in Singapore was almost completed.The British felt that Singapore was strong enough to defend itself against any enemies. In fact, the British announced that Singapore, with its gun positions, military airfields and naval base, was so strong that it would not be defeated. The people in Singapore believed that Britain was able to defend the island. They did not do much to prepare for the war.
After Japan attacked China in 1937, war broke out in many countriesin Asia, Europe and North Africa. This war became known as World War 2.
In 1939, when Germany invaded Poland, World War 2 started in Europe. Soon, Britain and France joined Poland in the war against Germany. The war quickly spread to many countries in Europe and North Africa.
Actual fighting took place on the continents of Europe, Asia and Africa during World War 2. Although fighting did not take place in North America and Australlia, their soldiers fought in World War 2.
War in Malaya
Many Japanese soldiers landed on the east coast of southern Tailand and northern Malaya. From there, they spilt in two groups and moved swifty southwards down the Malay Peninsula.
On 10 December 1941, the Japanese sank two British warships, the Prince of Wales and the Repulse, off the coast of Kuantan. As a result, there were no British ships left to protect the coasts of Malaya and prevent the Japanese from landing on the coasts. The loss of the two warships also affected the fighting spirit of the British troops.
At Jitra in Kedah, the Japanese used tanks to move quickly. the British thought that tanks could not be used in the jungles of Malaya and did not have any tanks there. As a result, many british soldiers were killed and the rest were forced to retreat.
By mid-december 1941, the Japanese had captured Penang and Kuala Lumpur. They seized small boats from Penang and used them to sail to the land on the coasts of Malaya.
On 31 January 1942, Johor Bahru was captured by the Japanese. the British troops retreated to Singapore. On reaching to Singapore, they blew up the Causeway that linked the island to Malaya so that it would delay the advance of the Japanese troops into Singapore.
War in Singapore
By the end of January 1942, Johor Bahru had fallen to the Japanese. The British soldiers retreated to Singapore and destroyed the Causeway. This was to slow down the Japanese crossing into Singapore. The Japanese quickly repaired the Causeway and came into Singapore on 9 February 1942. War had arrived. To defeat the British, the Japanese attacked and captured important area in Singapore.
It was 11 February 1942. The Japanese attacked Bukit Timah. The Japanese knew that Bukit Timah was an important place where the British soldiers kept their food, bullets and machine parts. Together, the British troops and the Chinese Volunteers fought bravely against the Japanese to defend the area. Many people were killed in both sides. In the end the British lost the battle.
War did not just occur on the main island of Singapore. Fort Siloso at Sentosa was attacked by the Japanese. The British soldiers there succeeded in sinking one of the Japanese ships on 12 February 1942.Three days later, the British surrendered to the Japanese. They destroyed the remainding guns on the island. They did not want the Japanese to use the guns against them.
On 13 February 1942, a battle between the British and the Japanese took place in Pasir Panjang. The Japanese attacked the British military stores there. The British troops, together with the Malay soldiers led by Lieutenant Adan bin Saidi, fought bravely against the Japanese. These brave soldiers held on to Pasir Pajang untill many were injured or killed. Finally, Pasir Pajang fell to the Japanese.
Surrender of the British
By 15 February 1942, the Japanese had taken control of three reservoirs and three military airfields in Singapore. The British held only a small area in the city. At Fort Canning, General Percival, who was the leader of the British forces in Singapore, discussed with his commanders whether the British should continue the fight against the Japanese. Most areas of the town had no water. The British had little petrol and few bullets left. The soldiers defending Singapore were also tried out. The British wanted to prevent more people from being killed. Hence, they decided to surrender.
After the British surrender, General Yamashita chose Bukit Timah as the site for a memorial to the dead Japanese soldiers. A 40-feet high cylindrical wooden pylon with a brass top was built by the Allied prisoners of war
Under the Japanese rule
The Japanese renamed Singapore `Syonan-to' meaning "the Light of the South". They ruled Singapore for three and a half years. This period is called the Japanese Occupation. It was a very bad time for Singapore.
The Japanese caught and put all the British and Australlian soldiers in prison. They also imprisoned others who had worked for the government. The prisons were flithy and unhygienic. The prisoners were made to do labour and were not given enough food to eat. Many of them fell ill and died. Suffering was everywhere. Many people lost their homes in the bombings. The Japanese took food and other supplies in the warehouses to feed themselves. So there was little food or medication for the people. Very often they only have tapioca to eat.