On 8 December 1941, Japanese units began to invade northern Malaya and southern Thailand, with the ultimate aim of taking the important British base at Singapore. Commonwealth forces were ill-equipped to prevent the advance and Japanese troops moved swiftly through Malaya by land, through the jungle, and by seaborne landings. On 11 January 1942, Kuala Lumpur fell to the Japanese. By the end of the month, Commonwealth forces had withdrawn to Singapore.

The British colony of Singapore was a strategically vital base for command of the sea and was intended to support the defence of India and Australia. Although it was intended to be a fortress, its fixed defences had been constructed mainly to guard against attack from the sea. By January 1942, many of those protecting the island had taken part in the demoralising retreat across Malaya. Several units were under strength or inadequately trained, with limited equipment and air cover.

Civilian Defences Forces combat the fires caused by the Japanese bombing raid, Singapore. C. Feb 1942.
Civilian Defences Forces combat the fires caused by the Japanese bombing raid, Singapore. C. Feb 1942. AWM 011601

After a few days of fighting, on 15 February 1942, the garrison surrendered and thousands of Australian, British and Indian troops were taken captive.

British command on their way to surrender Singapore to the Japanese, 15 February 1942
British command on their way to surrender Singapore to the Japanese, 15 February 1942. IWM (HU 2781)

The loss of Singapore sent shockwaves across the British Empire. Japanese forces had advanced around 600 miles in only 54 days, with fewer than 50,000 casualties. British, Australian, Indian and other Commonwealth forces suffered more than 138,000 casualties, of whom more than 130,000 were prisoners of war.

related Cemeteries & Memorials

Kranji War Cemetery contains the graves and memorials to nearly 4,530 Commonwealth servicemen and women of the Second World War, of whom more than 860 remain unidentified. Also commemorated in the cemetery are more than 40 non-war and foreign national graves, and 64 servicemen of the First World War.

At the centre of the cemetery stands the Singapore Memorial which bears the names of more than 24,300 servicemen and women of the Second World War who died in Southeast Asia and who have no known grave. Also within the cemetery is the Singapore Cremation Memorial which bears the names of nearly 790 servicemen of the Indian Army and locally raised forces, whose remains where committed to the flames in accordance with their faith.