Percival & Singapore

Discussion in 'Military History and Militaria' started by jonwilly, Aug 11, 2009.

Welcome to the Army Rumour Service, ARRSE

The UK's largest and busiest UNofficial military website.

The heart of the site is the forum area, including:

  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.
    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. Ref the bold - Your own opinion or can this be supported by third party evidence?

  4. 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. 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.

  6. 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. 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