Second World War - Malaya, Singapore & Dutch East Indies
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The British-owned peninsula of Malaya was a prize target for the Japanese when they launched their unheralded lightning strikes across the Far East on 8 December 1941. Not only for its rubber plantations and other raw materials, and for the access its possession would offer the Japanese westward through Burma into India, but also for the great island fortress of Singapore at its southern tip. 'Impregnable' Singapore was the ultimate symbol of British imperial power, and to capture it would inflict a hammer-blow to Allied prestige - not to mention gaining command of the Strait of Malacca and the entrance to the Java Sea.

The island chain that comprised the Dutch East Indies, stretched across the Java Sea to the south and east of Malaya, also offered a harvest of natural resources, poorly defended and ripe for the plucking.

The Japanese landed at Kota Baharu in northern Malaya on 8 December 1941. Two days later their air force sank the 35,000-ton battleship Prince of Wales, flagship of the British Eastern Fleet, and her companion battlecruiser Repulse, in the Gulf of Siam - a huge blow to confidence all round the British Commonwealth. By the beginning of 1942 the defenders of Malaya were forced back onto the island of Singapore, and on 8 February the Japanese launched their decisive assault against the fortress. Once they had captured the city's reservoirs, the end was certain. Singapore surrendered on 15 February 1942, and around 130,000 Allied troops went into captivity. The Indian contingent of the Allied force alone lost 67,450 men. The Japanese had sustained 10,000 casualties in effecting this stunning victory.

The attackers did not turn their attention to the Dutch East Indies until 11 January 1942. They landed on Celebes and on Tarakan island off Borneo, and raced west through the Moluccas, Timor and Bali to Java and Sumatra, stopping on each island for as long as it took to establish a garrison and construct an airfield. They were in Java by 28 February. On 9 March the Dutch forces surrendered, and the Dutch East Indies passed under Japanese control.

For the defeated troops more than three years' captivity followed; years of great hardship in Singapore's Changi prison camp and in the other camps which the Japanese ran with such careless indifference to the hunger, sickness and suffering of the inmates. An estimated 300,000 slave labourers died while constructing the notorious jungle railway from Siam to Burma; among them were some 12,000 Allied prisoners-of-war. Untold millions suffered throughout the Far East until August 1945 brought the Japanese surrender and liberation.
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East AfricaMalaya, Singapore &
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