306 Mr V. G. Bowden, Official Representative in Singapore, to Dr H. V. Evatt, Minister for External Affairs

Cablegram 81 SINGAPORE, 26 January 1942, 10.41 p.m.


With reference to my recent War Council telegrams. I transmit the following personal views and comments for what they may be worth.

1. It is now over seven weeks since the Japanese campaign in Malaya was started, and although from the outset there has been a cry for immediate and powerful reinforcements and reports of promises of a maximum effort by the Imperial Government, reinforcements so far received have in practical value been little more than gestures. (I would refer on the one hand to my telegram 66 of December 20th, para. 7, my 73 Dec. 23rd para. (2), and my 86, para. (8), and on the other to my tel. 66, Jan. 22nd para. 12 and 13, my 69, para. (6), and my 80, para. (4). [1] I cannot help feeling that the Imperial Government must have been fully conscious of the inadequacy of the land and air reinforcements they were sending and this coupled with the fact that the Singapore garrison has now been reduced to one regular battalion and the Malaya regiment and volunteers leads me seriously to the question whether from the outset of this campaign it really was the firm intention to hold Singapore.

2. In the course of an informal discussion at the close of War Council Meeting today I took the opportunity of sounding views of Service Chiefs and the Governor [2] in this connection. A rapid collapse of British defence appearing probable, I asked Rear Admiral of Malaya [3] at what stage of developments he would demolish the naval base. He replied he would have to begin as soon as Japanese reached Straits of Johore. I replied 'My deduction from that is that Singapore will not be held, for with the naval base and all natural resources of Malaya gone, Singapore will have nothing more than sentimental value'. Rear Admiral of Malaya concurred, the General Officer Commanding Malaya [4] said nothing;

only the Governor naturally maintained that Singapore would be held and said he would cable the Imperial Government for their confirmation of this intention.

3. I do not know what communications have passed between the Commonwealth Government and the Imperial Government on the subject of Singapore but if the Imperial Government has given any undertaking that the Island would be held I venture to suggest with all due reserve that it be invited to state what plans it has prepared for achieving this.

4. From remarks of the General Officer Commanding Malaya at the War Council it appears likely that Singapore Island will be in a state of siege within a week. What I then anticipate is that the Japanese air force will concentrate on putting our fighter defence out of action by rendering our air-fields useless following which they would concentrate on our land defences, port facilities and essential services and ultimately make a combined attack from land and air and possibly from the sea.

5. While I believe Singapore's defences (including anti-aircraft) to be strong, I cannot see that under the circumstances described its fall could be prevented unless provision could be made for:-

(a) Substantial and effective reinforcement of fighter aircraft with all necessary ground crews for servicing.

(b) Concentrated bombing of Japanese aerodromes on the peninsula.

(c) Some powerful form of diversion such as landing in force somewhere up the peninsula to cut Japanese line of communication which is now highly extended (such as operation, however, would need sustained air support).

I confess to feeling serious doubts as to the possibility of carrying such developments into effect in the time that may be available.

6. While I feel diffidence in attempting to assess military qualities I confess that my experience of the present General Officer Commanding Malaya on the War Council has led me to question his suitability for such a command. He appeared for instance to have no answer to Japanese infiltration tactics but to retreat, and I do not remember his ever proposing any counter- offensive action. Other incidents have suggested lack of decision.

If Singapore is to be held I feel that high qualities of leadership, resource and determination will be necessary and I cannot feel confident that these will be found in the present General Officer Commanding Malaya.


1 The second, fourth and fifth cablegrams mentioned here are published as Documents 217, 293 and 297. For the others see AA:A3830, 1941, 3554; A3830, 1941, 3667 (dated 28 December);and A3830, 1942, 433 (dated 26 January).

2 Sir Shenton Thomas.

3 Rear-Admiral E. J. Spooner.

4 Lt Gen A. E. Percival.

[AA:A981, WAR 42]