Gen.Percivalof Singapore

Discussion in 'Military History and Militaria' started by jonwilly, Aug 22, 2007.

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  1. Some time ago we had a thread on ‘The Worst British Commander’ and I chipped in with General Percival of loss of Singapore notoriety.

    This last week I have been reading ‘ Leadership in War 1939-45 ’ by Brig Sir John Smyth, VC.
    Smyth’s book is an excellent read, for he was a contempory of all of the Senior British Generals of WW II and was obviously on the list of the Chosen Ones for High Command.

    Smyth,VC, is full of praise for Percival and rates him very high, as leader of troops in WW I, where he had commanded every formation from leading a platoon to commanding a Brigade.
    Then later as a staff officer in the in between years he was the choice of Sir John Dill (Director of Operations) and sent out to evaluate the military situation in Singapore. Percival’s recommendations where accepted, but There where neither the troops or equipment available to implement the recommendations.

    Have I and history misjudge this man ?

  2. John - I think the short answer is "yes".

    Brig Sir John Smyth VC also wrote an excellent book called "Percival and the tragedy of Singapore" which is very enlightening covering in particular the role Percival had pre 1941 in Malaya and the chaotic leadership in place in Asia when the Japanese attacked. Before reading this book I'd been of the view that Percival had been a complete and utter failure however the circumstances described in the book suggest he did the best with what he had available. My gut feeling is that he was the obvious scapegoat for the decisions and failings of the pre-war govt and military.

    The only issue that may jeopardise Smyth's impartiality is that he knew Percival after the war through their involvement in the Far East Prisoners of War Association - the book I refer to above has a photograph of Percival, Smyth (then a sitting MP I think) and Percival's son, James Percival who I believe is a retd. Brig at an FEPOW event.

  3. As a young soldier I read a book by Commandant Berry (Spelling Irish name) a leader in the Irish Republican Army during their War with Britian in early 20's.
    Berry or Barry or Bheary made a statement that when ever they captured Brit troops, they beat them up and then released them.
    Except for troops of the battalion commanded by Percival who they executed.
    I can't recall the name of the battalion, memory says a Home Counties Line Regt.
    Percival's troops where 'Said' by the Commandant, that they executed and tortured all IRA prisoners they took and the Commandant had sevear regards on the 'Mentality' of Percival who he next heard of as GOC Singapore.
    I have always accepted that the Brit Forces in the Far East where at the end of the supply line where manpower and equipment where concerned but despite this Percival never seems to have fully trained his troops. I once read that of all the battalions in the Far East only the Argllys where jungle trained.
    Smyth VC is high in his praise of Percival and was on very good terms with most who rose to the highest positions in WW II.
    I was loaned the book by a friend who as a young subaltern actually mined the Sittang bridge and has always maintained that Smyth was far too sick to have been in command of 17 Div at that battle.
  4. My impression, more from documentary & anecdote than heavy reading, is that Percival's biggest crime was that of prevarication.

    Draft plans had been made on various aspects of defence of the region and even the peninsular & city, but no-one was allowed to admit it was going to happen. As a result no senior commander got on with the job, and by the time the Japs took key locations it was too late for anything but desparately besieged position - a bizzarely overmanned at that.
  5. Perceval joined the British Army as a private soldier in 1914 in his late twenties. The fact that he rose to Lt-Col by 1918 speaks for itself.

    He was based in West Cork with the Essex Regiment from 1919 to 1921, where the main IRA leader was Tom Barry (formerly Sgt in Royal Artillery). Perceval and his troops were particularly hated by Barry's men, but Perceval was regarded as a particularly dangerous enemy to judge by the number of times Barry attempted to assassinate him. Perceval's "Notes on Guerrilla Warfare" written at this time still make interesting reading as does Barry's "Guerrilla Days in Ireland", if you don't expect an objective viewpoint from either.

    Normally Perceval would have been too old to attend staff college, but was allowed to do so apparently on the basis of his service in Ireland.

    There is some interesting material in "Barry's Flying Column" (1970) written by a former SOE agent, including a possibility that Perceval nominated himself for an OBE under dubious circumstances. There is also the possibility that he was responsible for the disaster at Crossbarry.

    He apparently did sterling work as a staff officer throughout the inter war years, but it can be fairly said that his leadership at Singapore was uninspired. After the Japanese had overrun the peninsula, he is claimed to have refused to order the construction of beach defences on the grounds of damaging morale, and he eventually surrendered Singapore to a numerically inferior force.

    Another story emerged sometime after the war, that of a well-placed traitor in the garrison who was summarily executed by the Military Police just before the fall...
  6. I've lived in Singapore now for over 3 years and explored the island quite a bit. Given the distance between the island and the mainland I suspect beach defences would have had as much value as a lighthouse in the middle of the Sahara :D Put it another way, the Japanese had air & naval superiority in the region and a comparison is trying to defend the Isle of Wight if Hitler had control of the south coast, there was no RAF and no RN... :wink:

    Re the "numerically inferior force" - since when did nos. count? The Japanese always inflate the nos of UK & Commonwealth forces by including both teeth & tail units and reduce their nos by just counting teeth units since it maintains their PR position as "supermen". From the texts I've read a fair proportion of the "fighting troops" in S'pore at the time were garrison/admin types, some shagged out formations who'd been conducting a fighting retreat for about 8 weeks and a couple of newly arrived divisions whose squaddies had about 6-12 weeks in uniform (check out Russell Braddon's "Naked Island" for details).

    One factor that I've noticed since I've been here which could have helped is if they'd stockpiled HE for the coastal artillery including the 15" guns at Buona Vista - most of the guns contrary to "common knowledge" were fully traversable and didn't just face to sea but the daft buggers only had AP rounds which aren't ideal against troops and tanks :D

    Now this is interesting - do you have any more details?

  7. Tom Barry allegedly sent a "up yours you cnut" telegram to Perceval on the fall of Singapore! You couldn't really blame him in the circs though...
  8. There's a good chapter on Percival in Dixon's On the Psychology of Military Incompetence. The author, Norman F Dixon MBE PhD DSc late RE, is a bit of an old-fashioned Freudian psycholoanalyst which can be weird at times; but he makes some good points about all the commanders he studies.

    The questions he asks about the fall of Singapore are:

    For the answers, you'll have to read the book.
  9. Don't know if this is related to your General, but in our Mess we have an old digger who was posted to Singapore as a member of an Artillery unit and he told me everyone was ready to do some damage to the slopey eyed ones but for some reason they all ended up in a PoW camp for the duration of the war. Well pissed off is he when he relates his yarns and he always suffers from exposure to dust to the eyes... so do we when we hear his yarns... There was a certain Oz General that fled the theartre and left his own to the nips... umm... Bennet I think was his name, but I am more than likely wrong. So whoever fecked up needs a right slapping cause it was a travesty to the might of the Brit/Aus forces on the ground.
  10. Gordon Bennett.

    (And yes, that was his real name)
  11. You're correct, Maj Gen Gordon Bennett was the one that scarpered - didn't do him much good in the long run...

  12. Before the Japs invaded there were only 6 Brit inf bns in Malaya. At least a couple had only been there a few months having come from China (and I don't mean HK).

    The 18 (E Anglian) Div ( 3 bdes) was on its way to the Mid East and was stopping over in Durban (which all convoys did) when the Japs invaded. They (and some other units) were diverted to Singapore. This Div was a second line Territorial Div (out of 54 Div) that was embodied on the outbreak of war and like other 2nd line TA divs did not join the BEF. 8 of its bns joined the div when it was embodied, the ninth in Nov 1939. I think its true to say that it comprised anything but 18 year olds with a few weeks training, it was probably in quite good order since it was on its way the ME. However, it definately did not have any training in SEA conditions. In the event I think only one of its bdes went into action in Malaya.
  13. One of the reasons we lost Singapore was that we assumed that the Japanese couldn't fly at night and that they were afraid of the jungle. We assumed that they were racially inferior, and that disrespect for the enemy helped the enemy win.

    So far on this thread we have "slopey-eyed ones" "nips" and "japs".

    Not that I have any fondness for the people who treated our soldiers worse than animals for so many years, and a Far East veteran can call the Japanese what he likes; but as a matter of self-respect we could probably do without the cute names here.
  14. Bore off you holier than thou wazzock....
  15. Wazzock wazzock wazzock wazzock