Section LIV: — Events of the 13th February, 1942.
548. The main Japanese offensive during the 13th February developed along the Pasir Panjang Ridge on the left of our position. Here the Japanese 18 Division, which had fought in the Mersing area and later taken part in the initial attack against Singapore Island, came into action. After two hours of heavy shelling and mortaring it attacked the Malay Regiment which was holding this feature. The latter fought magnificently but suffered heavy casualties and by the afternoon the enemy had reached The Gap, a dominating position where the Buona Vista Road crosses the ridge. Further north the enemy also gained a local success. After dark our forward troops fell back under orders to positions covering the important Alexandra area in which was situated the Main Ordnance Depot, the Alexandra Ammunition Magazine, the Military Hospital and other installations.
549. In the Tyersall—Tanglin area the Commander A.I.F. (Western Area) had organized an all-round perimeter defence into which most of the units of the A.I.F., including all surplus personnel of administrative units, had been drawn. There was only minor activity on this front during the day.
550. On the Northern Area front the 53 Brigade Group fell back under pressure during the day along the Thomson road, and by the evening had taken up the position allotted to it north of Braddell road and cast of Thomson road. Here it reverted to the command of the 18 British Division which now had its three brigades in line, 53rd on the right, 55th in the centre and 54th on the left. The Division was now on a five mile front and there had been much mixing of units as a result of the piece meal way in which they had necessarily been withdrawn from the beach defences.
On the right of the 18 British Division was the 11 Indian Division holding a position astride the Serangoon road south of Paya Lebar and with its right in touch with the Southern Area eastern defences which included the Kallang aerodrome where some pre-war defences had been constructed.
551. Southern Area still held the beach de fences in the Singapore Town area, and also Pulau Brani and Pulau Bukum, Blakang Mati, Tekong and the Pengerang Area. I gave orders for the infantry battalion on Tekong Island, which had not been engaged, to be withdrawn during the night 13th-14th February for employment on Singapore Island.
552. On the morning of the 13th February the Rear-Admiral Malaya decided to sail all the remaining ships and sea-going craft to Java during the night 13th-14th February and to leave Singapore himself. There was accommodation on these ships and small craft for about 3,000 persons in all, in addition to the crews. It was the last opportunity that could be foreseen for any organized parties to leave Singapore. At a meeting held by the Rear Admiral the vacancies were divided between the Services and the Civil Government. One thousand eight hundred vacancies were allotted to the Army.
As a result of the above decision the move of the battalion from Tekong Island to Singapore referred to above had to be cancelled.
553. At 1400 hours I held a conference at Fort Canning. The following were present: —
The Commanders Northern and Southern Areas, A.I.F.. 11 Indian Division and 18 British Division, and Anti-Aircraft Defences.
The Brigadier General Staff Headquarters Malaya Command.
The Brigadier i/c Administration Head quarters Malaya Command.
At this conference the future conduct of the operations was discussed. I indicated that I hoped to organize a counter-attack shortly to relieve the pressure on the defences. All formation commanders were agreed that, owing to the exhaustion of the troops, a counter attack would have no chance of success at that time. After hearing the views put forward by subordinate commanders 1 gave orders for the defence of Singapore to be continued.
554. The conference then discussed the allot ment of Army vacancies for evacuation the following night. I decided that: —
(a) All female members of the Military Nursing Service should be sent. This decision was taken as a result of a report from G.H.Q. South-West Pacific on the treatment of nurses by the Japanese after the capitulation of Hong Kong.
(b) Trained staff officers and technicians no longer required at Singapore could be sent at the discretion of formation commanders. The decision as regards trained staff officers was made in accordance with instructions received from G.H.Q. South West Pacific that any surplus were to be evacuated as they were badly needed both in Java and in India. Technicians were evacuated to avoid them falling into the hands of the Japanese who, there was reason to suppose, would have endeavoured to extract information from them.
As time was short vacancies were imme diately sub-allotted to formations with instructions that they need not necessarily be filled.
555. As a result of the views put forward at the conference I formed the opinion that the situation was undoubtedly grave but was not hopeless. Our defence was now very fully stretched and it was not possible to relieve the troops in the forward areas who were becoming exhausted as a result of the continual day and night operations. The interests of the civil population, which was estimated at that time to number nearly one million, could not in my view be entirely disregarded. As so many and vast Imperial interests were involved I felt it my duty to report the situation fully and candidly as I saw it to the Supreme Commander South-West Pacific. I believe that in such circumstances it is equally wrong to give an over optimistic view as it is to give one which is unduly pessimistic. As some misleading statements have been made as to the purport of the telegram which I sent to the Supreme Commander South-West Pacific on that day I quote below the final paragraph:—
"Your instructions of 10th February (see Section LI) are being carried out but in above circumstances would you consider giving me wider discretionary powers."
In his reply the Supreme Commander South-West Pacific made it clear that, while he fully appreciated our situation, continued action was essential and instructed me to continue to inflict the maximum damage on the enemy for as long as possible.
556. Throughout the 13th February both the Japanese aircraft and artillery were active. About midday there was a, particularly heavy and accurate air attack on the Orchard road area, the main thoroughfare connecting Singapore Town with the Tanglin area. The Alexandra Ammunition Magazine came under shell and mortar fire and at midnight deliveries had to be temporarily suspended owing to fires. Our own artillery was also active throughout the day. Most of the field artillery was now sited on open spaces in the Singapore Town area. All remaining batteries in the Faber Fire Command of the Fixed Defences came into action and themselves came under enemy artillery fire. A number of enemy planes were shot down by our anti-aircraft defences.
557. On this day the Rear-Admiral Malaya, after consultation with me, gave orders for the destruction of the large oil stocks on Pulau Bukum. These comprised both naval fuel and lubricating oils and the Asiatic Petroleum Company's petrol reserves. I bad previously opposed the destruction of these stocks on account of the adverse moral effect which I anticipated it would have on both the troops and the civil population. I now informed the Rear-Admiral Malaya that, though I would do my utmost to prevent the enemy seizing Pulau Bukum, I could no longer guarantee the security of the stocks there. The Rear-Admiral who was personally responsible for the destruction of the naval stocks, felt that he could not risk further delay. The demolition was carried out that afternoon. It was partially though not entirely, successful.
558. The effect of the collapse of civil labour now began to make itself more and more felt. At the Docks all civil labour had disappeared and the Harbour Board Staff was no longer in control. In the Town area debris from the bombing and shelling remained untouched, the dead remained unburied and water ran to waste from the mains from lack of labour to clear the demolished buildings.
559. In the afternoon the Governor moved his headquarters from Government House to the Singapore Club in the centre of Singapore Town.
560. I regret to have to report that the flotilla of small ships and other light craft which, as stated above, left Singapore on the night 13th-14th February encountered a Japanese naval force in the approaches to the Banka Straits. It was attacked by light naval craft and by aircraft. Many ships and other craft were sunk or disabled and there was consider able loss of life. Others were wounded or were forced ashore and were subsequently captured.
Included in this flotilla was a patrol boat on which were the Rear-Admiral Malaya and his party and the Air Officer Commanding Far East. This boat was driven ashore on a deserted island by a Japanese destroyer and its engines dismantled. After some weeks on the Island the Rear-Admiral and the Air Officer Commanding Far East both died.
I wish here to pay a special tribute to the loyalty of Air Vice-Marshal Pulford. the Air Officer Commanding Far East. Though at liberty to leave Singapore at any time on or after the 5th February he preferred, from a sense of duty and of personal friendship to myself, to remain there until the 13th February and would have remained longer had I wished him to do so. This gallant officer's self-sacrifice cost him his life.