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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

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]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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