Thoughts on the military and military activities of a diverse nature. Free-ranging and eclectic.

Friday, September 17, 2004

This is coolbert: Intelligence Failures II.

"Winston Churchill described the British defeat at Singapore in 1942 as the 'The greatest disaster ever to befall British arms'. On 15 February 1942, the British Imperial garrison of the . . . Bastion of Singapore, . . . Surrendered to a numerically smaller Japanese assault force. Some 130,000 well-equipped British, Australian and Indian officers and soldiers, with ample battle stocks, capitulated to just 35,000 hungry, exhausted Japanese front-line troops . . . In the brief but martial history of the British Empire, no greater military humiliation can be found. Only 9,000 of the total of 60,000 Japanese soldiers became casualties in the whole Malayan campaign. The British-led force lost 146,000, of which over 130,000 surrendered. . . We have to go back to the Athenian defeat at Syracuse in 415 b.c. to find comparison for the debacle at Singapore."

And this was mostly due to a massive intelligence failure on the part of the British. A failure that is massively compounded by the fact that the British, as I have said in a previous blog entry, were at war for over two years when fighting began with Japan. You would have thought that surely after fighting for over two years against a powerful enemy such as the Germans, the British would have been more than prepared for the onslaught of the Japanese at Singapore.

And this defeat as mentioned above does not even mention the sinking of the battleships Repulse and Prince of Wales just two days after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Sent out without air escort or protection, the two last allied capital warships in the Pacific theatre were "duck soup" for Japanese torpedo equipped float planes flying out of French Indo-China. The loss of these two battleships was said to be the worst mental blow that Churchill suffered during the entire war!!

The British military intelligence officer Hughes-Wilson attributes the intelligence effort at Singapore as having four fatal flaws. These were:

Underestimation of the enemy.

Fragmentation of effort.

Lack of resources.

No influence at the highest levels of command and control.

Underestimation of the military capabilities of the Japanese is regarded by Hughes-Wilson as being the single most horrendous intelligence flaw of the British in the Malayan campaign in 1941-42.

"in many ways this is surprising, given that Japan was a warrior nation with an impressive track record."

And recall, the Japanese had been at war with China full time for at least four years prior to the outbreak of World War Two in the Pacific. The Japanese had a A LOT of experience at this point.

"At the time it was genuinely believe that the Japanese were physically small, buck-toothed, had poor eyesight and incapable of fighting in the dark or operating sophisticated machinery."

Recall once again, the cartoon I mentioned in another blog, of a little bitty Japanese man holding a samurai sword, with the buck-teeth and squinty, slitted eyes and the big glasses.

Hughes-Wilson points to the use of light tanks in Malaya by the Japanese as just one example of British underestimation. The British did not have one tank period in Malaya, as tanks were supposed to be not capable of being used in the jungle. Of course, the Japanese had tanks, and used them effectively, much to the consternation of the British.

"Anyway Intelligence had assured successive British planners that there was absolutely no armored threat from the Japanese. Now here was a Japanese tank assault slicing straight through the British jungle defenses and heading straight for Johore and Singapore."

The Japanese had also developed new infantry tactics for use in the Jungle, tactics that the experienced Japanese infantry exploited.

"Once they were halted, the Japanese infantry deployed swiftly into the trees on either side, firing as they went and outflanking the dug-in positions blocking the track. By using these so-called 'fishbone' tactics, they consistently outflanked the bewildered and static imperial heavy infantry."

Japanese air power was also a decided shock to the British, who had deemed the Japanese to be inferior pilots and not worthy of respect in this important facet of modern warfare.

"Using tactics developed in four years of air raids on targets in China the Japanese aircrews knew their business."

"Another unpleasant surprise in the air, unforeseen by air intelligence, was the high-performance capability of Japanese aircraft . . . The crews of the outnumbered and obsolete Brewster Buffalo fighters of RAF Malaya swiftly learned that they were outclassed."

Fragmentation of intelligence effort was due to poor organization or lack of organization. Each intelligence agency looked after it's own affairs without regard to concerted action.

"The British approach to the management and co-ordination of intelligence in the Far East seems to have been remarkably fragmented."

The Far East Coordination Bureau [FECB] was supposed to be the organization that put together the total intelligence package on Japanese forces opposing the Malayan peninsula. It did not do this. It seems to have been more of a collection agency that operated for British Bletchley Park [BP], concerned with radio intercepts, and breaking and reading Japanese codes and ciphers.

The British did have a counter-intelligence effort in Malaya. But it was fragmented and did not work together. It this sense it must be remembered that counter-intelligence [CI] does also act as a producer of intelligence. Not only as an agency that prevents enemy intelligence from operating on your territory. By determining what the enemy is interested in, CI can give you an idea of what the enemy's intentions are. British CI in Malaya was supposed to have been a MI5 effort [British counter-intelligence is known as MI5]. But each local police department also had what was referred to as "special branch" [police political intelligence]. None of these CI agencies worked together and did not produce a joint product. In addition, the MI5 official in charge in Malaya was not well regarded and was felt to be more of a hindrance that an asset!!??

Resources for intelligence were also sorely lacking.

What intelligence agencies did exist were not heeded and had no real influence in the Colonial command structure. It seems there was real dissension among the Colonial administration and the military as to who was really in charge and what was to be done in the Malayan campaign.

What intelligence was gathered was not even listened to, or was ignored totally.

In this instance, the command structure of the Colonial administration in Malaya was primarily concerned with making as much money as possible for Britain, to support the war effort. And was doing so in this regard at the behest of Churchill. Malaya was, and is now, the world's largest producer of tin and natural rubber. Prior to December, 1941, these products were being sold at a premium and provided much needed money for the British war effort. Any considerations given by the colonial administration in Malaya always revolved around business and selling product. It was seen as being counter-productive to antagonize the Japanese in any way. That is why the comment was made so many times not to "PROVOKE" the Japanese.

The "white tuans" [lords in Malay, the ruling class] did just not seem to realize the peril they were in, and ignored intelligence to the "nth" degree, much to their later chagrin.



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