The Journal of Military History 67.2 (2003) 601-602
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Sixty Years On: The Fall of Singapore Revisited. Edited by Brian Farrell and Sandy Hunter. Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, 2002. ISBN 981-210-202-7. Maps. Photographs. Notes. Appendix. Index. Pp. xvi, 359. $39.00.
The fall of the "impregnable fortress" of Singapore in February 1942, barely two months after the start of World War II in the Pacific, came as a tremendous shock to an incredulous world. Winston Churchill called it the "worst disaster" in British military history and for more than half a century since that fateful event historians, participants, and others have been trying to describe, analyze, and explain exactly why and how it occurred.
In February 2002, the National University of Singapore hosted a conference of scholars and veterans from a dozen nations to discuss and reflect on the controversial issues surrounding Singapore's fall. Fifteen of the twenty-two papers presented at the conference are included in this volume. They constitute a selective examination of many of the pertinent aspects, with stimulating and insightful reappraisals. That all of the original papers could not be included is frustrating, but brief summaries in the appendix offer some indication of the content and thrust of the missing essays. Useful separate commentaries are provided by the editors.
The volume opens with excellent papers by Malcolm Murfett, Peter Dennis, and Greg Kennedy on British and Australian planning for Singapore's defense and on attempts to include the United States in a larger strategic context. They conclude, not surprisingly, that given the demands on British resources and the combination of enemies that nation faced, the fall of Singapore [End Page 601] was inevitable, barring a major, but unlikely, American contribution to her defense. John Ferris's essay describing erroneous British perceptions of Japanese airpower is also important, as is Raymond Callahan's thoughtful and balanced appraisal of Churchill's role and postwar self-portrait.
Among other essays, Akashi Yoji's portrait of General Yamashita has new material on the general's relations with the emperor, but is weakened by minor errors and the author's failure to temper his praise of Yamashita by at least mentioning the overwhelming superiority in air and seapower and tanks he enjoyed. Japanese atrocities are discussed by Sibylla Jane Flower, with fresh information about the torture of prisoners for intelligence purposes. Clifford Kinvig provides a balanced and long overdue defense of General Percival, and Alan Warren contributes a persuasive reassessment of the behavior of Indian troops in Malaya.
These and other papers included in Sixty Years On do not pretend to cover all aspects and controversies of the Malaya-Singapore campaign, but those on which they do offer thoughts are well presented and definitely worthy of study.
Stanley L. Falk