Percival & Singapore

#1
I once said on this board that I considered General Percival the worst British Commander of WW II.
Some folks defended Percival and I have done some research into him and his Command.
Percival was held in high esteem by Sir John Dill, later CIGS, who as Director of Military Operation, sent Col Percival out to study the situation in Malaya and Singapore in 1936, when Dill started to appreciate the forthcoming trouble.
Percival made his report and was eventually promoted to command a Division
of the BEF.
According to Leadership in Battle, By Brigadier Sir Jack Smyth VC, the role of British land forces in Malaya was, Close defence of the Naval base Singapore, Internal security and finally the defeat of any enemy land forces which might gain a footing on the Malaya mainland, in that order.
It had been estimated that 336 first line where required for defence of Malaya/Singers and this should have been completed by end of 1941.
In October 40 the 336 figure of first class a/c was upgraded to 556.
By this last date the Navy had accepted that it would not have much to spare in capital ships for the Far East.
There where only 140 second rate aircraft available for defence when Percival took over.
Percival was Commander land Forces, the C in C Far East being Air Chief Marshal Brooke Popham and Percival was under his orders.
Percival requested 17 extra Infantry Battalions and 2 Tank regiments in addition to the extra a/c that had been recommended.
I understand these forces existed in UK.

Last night we had on the local TV Nation Geographic channel The Generals.
A British made series and it held Percival as the ultimate berk.
Two British general officers, Sir Julian Thompson and Lt Gen Irwin defended the protagonist's side, Yamishata and Percival but neither mention anything of the pre war Defence Plan.
The Prog is made for US TV audience in my opinion and I will go further and say that so much of the US antipathy to the Old British Empire, which they helped dismantle, stems from the pathetic defence of the Philippines and successful escape of MacArthur.
john
Far too long a post.
 
#2
The only reason that Percival was not court martialed was because it would have meant the Americans would have had to do the same to Gen Wainwright, who surrendered at Batan, this would have caused great embarressment to McArther who had left Wainwright in the crap

There's a very good book "The Generals" can't remember the author, about the leaders on both sides in the Far East war
 
#3
tropper66 said:
The only reason that Percival was not court martialed was because it would have meant the Americans would have had to do the same to Gen Wainwright, who surrendered at Batan, this would have caused great embarressment to McArther who had left Wainwright in the crap

There's a very good book "The Generals" can't remember the author, about the leaders on both sides in the Far East war
Ref the bold - Your own opinion or can this be supported by third party evidence?

lancslad
 
#4
lancslad said:
tropper66 said:
The only reason that Percival was not court martialed was because it would have meant the Americans would have had to do the same to Gen Wainwright, who surrendered at Batan, this would have caused great embarressment to McArther who had left Wainwright in the crap

There's a very good book "The Generals" can't remember the author, about the leaders on both sides in the Far East war
Ref the bold - Your own opinion or can this be supported by third party evidence?

lancslad
Its in McArther,s memoirs he insisted that both generals be at the signing of the surrender to try to make up to Wainwright , In all his performance in the Phillipines was rubbish, he had the most powerfull airforce in the area and could have bombed Japan without much trouble in the first week of the war, instead he allowed the Japanese Navy to destroy his aircraft on the ground on the ground by the second week it was all over, not that the British did any better in Malaya
 
#5
tropper66 said:
lancslad said:
tropper66 said:
The only reason that Percival was not court martialed was because it would have meant the Americans would have had to do the same to Gen Wainwright, who surrendered at Batan, this would have caused great embarressment to McArther who had left Wainwright in the crap

There's a very good book "The Generals" can't remember the author, about the leaders on both sides in the Far East war
Ref the bold - Your own opinion or can this be supported by third party evidence?

lancslad
Its in McArther,s memoirs he insisted that both generals be at the signing of the surrender to try to make up to Wainwright , In all his performance in the Phillipines was rubbish, he had the most powerfull airforce in the area and could have bombed Japan without much trouble in the first week of the war, instead he allowed the Japanese Navy to destroy his aircraft on the ground on the ground by the second week it was all over, not that the British did any better in Malaya
Ta & I'd argue you're fairly spot on ref Malaya (bit in bold) although I'd add the Aussies & the Indians to the pot.

Bottom-line is that Malaya and Singapore were a complete balls-up from the perspective of all three services. Percival was the unlucky sod on the ground left to carry the can & to be honest his own image (he looked like Plug out of the Bash St Kids) and how he conducted himself post-war (he didn't rock the boat - just got involved with the FEPOWA) never helped his case. Basically he was an easy target when more worthwhile targets such as Brooke Popham and Wavell got off relatively scott free.

lancslad
 
#6
lancslad said:
tropper66 said:
lancslad said:
tropper66 said:
The only reason that Percival was not court martialed was because it would have meant the Americans would have had to do the same to Gen Wainwright, who surrendered at Batan, this would have caused great embarressment to McArther who had left Wainwright in the crap

There's a very good book "The Generals" can't remember the author, about the leaders on both sides in the Far East war
Ref the bold - Your own opinion or can this be supported by third party evidence?

lancslad
Its in McArther,s memoirs he insisted that both generals be at the signing of the surrender to try to make up to Wainwright , In all his performance in the Phillipines was rubbish, he had the most powerfull airforce in the area and could have bombed Japan without much trouble in the first week of the war, instead he allowed the Japanese Navy to destroy his aircraft on the ground on the ground by the second week it was all over, not that the British did any better in Malaya
Ta & I'd argue you're fairly spot on ref Malaya (bit in bold) although I'd add the Aussies & the Indians to the pot.

Bottom-line is that Malaya and Singapore were a complete balls-up from the perspective of all three services. Percival was the unlucky sod on the ground left to carry the can & to be honest his own image (he looked like Plug out of the Bash St Kids) and how he conducted himself post-war (he didn't rock the boat - just got involved with the FEPOWA) never helped his case. Basically he was an easy target when more worthwhile targets such as Brooke Popham and Wavell got off relatively scott free.

lancslad
I seem to remember that Michael Collins shot Percival in Ireland in the 20s and the bullet did not penertrate
 
#7
Percival was described thus: 'excellent Colonel, mediocre Brigadier, poor General', although, as has been described here, Brooke-Popham was the real villain of the piece (and got out of it in time). However, Percival was in charge of the land forces and, certainly in the training and deployment of the troops on the ground, should carry a great deal of the can.

Racial stereotypes (Japanese are short sighted little yellow men who don't like fighting at night) and wildly inaccurate assumptions about the Malayan terrain (only defend the roads because the surrounding countryside is impenetrable) played their part but the main reason why we lost was because the troops were badly led and trained.

The Japanese had nearly run out of ammunition when they crossed onto Singapore Island and bluffed Percival into surrendering. They could not believe how many allied soldiers they had captured, the defending force had outnumbered the Japanese by 3 to 1 (including a number of units that were landed only a day or so before the surrender) - a poor show indeed. This lack of fighting spirit certainly defined the contempt that the Japanese felt for those that they captured and might explain (but certainly not excuse) the subsequent treatment meted out to the POWs.

That said, Percival certainly did not lack courage - he won the DSO, MC and Croix de Guerre in the Great War (and a subsequent DSO in Russia) but had been, unfortunately, promoted well above his abilities.
 
#8
Percival had writen an appreciation of thedefence of Malaya and Singore in 1937 and this was the reason he was sent there, but the people he had to work, Sir Shenton Thomas the Governor of Singapore who had been put out be this report was to have a strained relesionship with Percival. And the other members of the War Council in Singapore Brooke-Popham,Pulford,Layton,and Bowden all seemed to be living in cloud cuckoo land
 
#9
mnairb said:
Percival was described thus: 'excellent Colonel, mediocre Brigadier, poor General', although, as has been described here, Brooke-Popham was the real villain of the piece (and got out of it in time). However, Percival was in charge of the land forces and, certainly in the training and deployment of the troops on the ground, should carry a great deal of the can.

Racial stereotypes (Japanese are short sighted little yellow men who don't like fighting at night) and wildly inaccurate assumptions about the Malayan terrain (only defend the roads because the surrounding countryside is impenetrable) played their part but the main reason why we lost was because the troops were badly led and trained.
Let's not forget that reinforcements were actually landing in the colony AFTER the surrender . Percival has recived his fair share of the blame . Others including Churchill himself probably haven't
 
#10
My dad who was there, was a bit pissed off with the Japs (understatement), a bit pissed off with whoever insisted on saying Singapore was an impregnable island fortress but who he really, really was pissed off with, was the scaley twat who got him posted there from India in March 1941.

His golf handicap suffered badly apparently.
 
#11
The Alanbrooke diaries show that just about every time Churchill stuck his oar in it led to a mega cockup, Norway,Greece,Crete, and the Prince of Wales,Repulse without air cover are all his handy work
 
#12
'The Alanbrooke diaries show that just about every time Churchill stuck his oar in it led to a mega cockup'

Alanbrooke used to say that Winston had 12 ideas every day of which only 2 were good ones and he didn't know which ones they were!

Alanbrooke was probably one of the most unsung British Generals of the war. He had the uneviable job of keeping Churchill off the backs of the Generals fighting the war - mostly he was successful. Churchill was certainly responsible for reinforcing Singapore long after all was lost. In particular, diverting an Australian division on its way back to Australia (where it would have been put to good use) into Singapore and into captivity.

However, as Churchill himself said 'History will treat me kindly - because I shall write it' - and he did.
 
#13
Echoes of the banking crisis: politicians have to be seen to be doing something, even if doing nothing might be a better option.
Perhaps it is relevant that Percival had no Brooke to fight the political battles while he got on and fought the Japs.
 
#14
To be fair to Churchill, it was inconceivable to anyone outside of Singapore that c. 90k very-well supplied troops would be unable to resist a siege by an inferior force for at least a few weeks or months.

Also to be fair to Churchill, he was a politician and had to stick with the higher political strategy - be it with an incurred military sacrifice. Another post in this forum criticises the Churchill's reinforcement of France after Dunkirk: the overwhelming priority at that point was to try and keep France in the war, and the cost of a Division or two was the grim but necessary price.

Keeping Singapore going had all sorts of major political and military ramifications: keeping the Dutch territories shielded (as a possible base for building an army around the Free Dutch forces displaced from Europe), keeping the direct Empire links open to Australia & NZ, stiffening the morale of the Indian Army and other vital Empire assets in the region, securing - along with US possessions - a baseline with which to evetually contain the Japanese.

It is interesting to speculate what might have happened if someone on the British staff in Singapore had had the balls to put a bullet in Percival and effect a change of command. One of the main problems for the defence was the panic and fear amongst some units - both experienced and experienced. Its not in the British tradition, but perhaps the summary execution of both deserters and inadequate commanders may have sufficiently rallied the defence to hold off the Japanese for a few weeks or months, by which time the Japanese main focus would have been elsewhere.
 
#15
Alanbrooke's nephew was my troop leader, and is still in the House of Lords, Lord Brookeborough
 
#16
Unfortunately, 4(T), although Percival took the rap, he was only part of the problem. A stronger commander would have sacked many of his senior commanders and replaced them with more able subordinates. However, let's face it, even post-war Singapore was always seen as a cushy posting, and it would have taken more than a few changes at the top to get the soldier's minds concentrated on beating the Japanese.

After Singapore fell, the British Army in Burma endured the longest retreat in it's history, back to the Indian border, so it wasn't solely a Malaya/Singapore problem. It then took nearly 3 years, under the leadership of Generals such as Slim, before the 14th Army was competant (and confident) enough to take on the Japanese on their own terms.

Interestingly, Slim also suffered from backstabbing and lack of support from other senior officers. General Leese tried to get him sacked on a number of occasions (but was sacked himself instead).
 
#17
[quote="tropper66]Its in McArther,s memoirs he insisted that both generals be at the signing of the surrender to try to make up to Wainwright , In all his performance in the Phillipines was rubbish, he had the most powerful airforce in the area and could have bombed Japan without much trouble in the first week of the war, instead he allowed the Japanese Navy to destroy his aircraft on the ground on the ground by the second week it was all over, not that the British did any better in Malaya[/quote]

Powerful no. You need to remember that both the IJN and IJA Air Forces were already battle hardened and FAR better trained than Allied pilots by the time they attacked in 1941.

The USAAF in the Far East was limited in the number of modern aircraft it had and wasn't particularly well led. The Air Force commander, Lewis Brereton, was not particularly well regarded and allowed himself to be over-ruled by MacArthur over the dispersal, and employment, of his aircraft, which resulted in large numbers of them being destroyed on the ground before they even got in to the fight.

The RAF did have some veterans of the Battle of Britain in theatre, and some more would arrive later, and they also had the benefit of Fighter Sector Controllers who also were experienced from the Battle of Britain. But they were limited by antiquated equipment and by poor leadership and poor doctrine at Command Level. The USAAF in the Far East had no combat experience at all and was relatively quickly neutralised by the Japanese.

On the other side, Japanese pilots had been flying and fighting since the mid 1930's against Chinese and American Voluteer Groups pilots and the equipment they had was much better than anything the Allies had in theatre. You only have to compare the Zero with the Brewster Buffalo used by the RAF and the P40 Tomahawk used by the USAAF to realise that the Japanese had the edge in most respects.

Even with the arrival of the Hurricane towards the end of the Malaya Campaign did the RAF have a halfway decent aircraft to take on the Zero. But there were too few of them, arriving too late, and flown by inadequately trained pilots to make a difference in the end.

The IJN had superb torpedo bombers as well which had trained specifically for the task of attacking and sinking Allied Capital ships. You only need to take a look at the defeat of Force Z (Prince of Wales and Repulse) to see how effective they were and how incredibly inept Allied Air Cover was.

And breathe :)
 
#18
Is this the same Lewis Brereton that ended up as a Lieutenant General commanding the First Allied Airborne Army post D-Day? Some men never let failure go to heads.
 
#19
"I'd only been there 2 weeks and ended up in the can. Years on that bloody railway and I'll never forgive them son. I was a nineteen year old virgin when I arrived and was still a virgin when I eventually got home nearly six years later. Bvstards."

Uncle Jack speaking in 1991 with his take on events.
 
#20
Good to have got a decent Debate going.
Dill was of the opinion that Percival would rise to be CIGS in later years and was 'Training' him for this position.
I am not happy with the Brit made TV program which is far too superficial despite two senior British Officers on the staff and IMO it is destine for an American audience.
From what I have read Percival had a bad deal with post his 'Expert' knowledge following his 36 inspection. If anyone will suggest a serious appraisal I will track it down and purchase.
Churchill comes in for far more serious study if it is true that the troops/formations where available in UK mid 41. By then Hitler had invaded Russian and the the invasion of France was way off.
I understand that Force Z was sunk by Bombers from Viet Nam using Ariel bombs and not torpedoes, I stand to be corrected.
Percival never had a answer to what Bill Slim, Fired on two occasions while Commander 14th Army, describes as the 'Hook', the jap method of engaging and then out flanking but then it took Slim some time to work out and implement a solution to this problem.
I mean no disrespect to the troops who fought and died but they where second rate untrained formations compared to the jap who where battle trained troops experienced in jungle warfare.
My father was to have been with the division 18th ? sent to Singapore but a deserter was captured and sent in his place as dad was last on the unit roll.
The TV prog had one rather nasty comment on Percival, being polite they said he did not look like a leader.
In our world he was a Chinless Wonder, slim to the point of being a 'Lat'. He certainly did not look a Leader of men.
john
 

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