The siege began officially with the blowing up of the causeway at 0800 hours on 31st January 1942, the explosion could be heard on the south coast of Singapore, the causeway was a road built on a foundation of big boulders at a cost of over £4,000,000, so unlike a bridge it was hard to cause substantial damage. Blowing the causeway did little to stop the Japanese advance as many allied troops left behind in Johore, swam the Straits over the next 24 hours with ease Search lights had been set up along the shore but there were no concrete defences. The main water supply from Johore was also destroyed in the explosion but there were two reservoirs on the island so water was rationed by having one tap in use for three households, food was not a problem.
Percival’s order of the day on 31st January was:
‘Our task is to hold this fortress until help can come, as assuredly it will come, this we are determined to do.
Any of the enemy who sets foot in our fortress must be dealt with immediately.
The enemy within our gates must be ruthlessly weeded out. There must be no more loose talk and rumour-mongering.
Our duty is clear. With firm resolve and fixed determination we shall win through.
For nearly two months our troops have fought an enemy on the mainland who has had the advantage of great air superiority and considerable freedom of movement by sea.
Our task has been to impose losses on the enemy and gain time to enable the forces of the Allies to be concentrated for this struggle in the Far East.
Today we stand beleaguered in our island fortress.’
Morale dropped later when it was discovered that the Naval Base the troops were there to defend had been evacuated and all aircraft were being withdrawn.
Hammond from the Malaya Tribune wrote:
‘Never throughout all the fighting, all the defeats, did I ever feel such a sense of utter dismay. It seemed impossible that this that this naval fortress which had cost £60 million and taken seventeen years to build could have been thrown away like this, without even a fight for it.’
The base was huge with dry docks, underground munition dumps, workshops and a floating dock so big that 60,000 men would be able to stand on its base and a town with accommodation for the workforce. As early as the 21st January the Admiralty warned Rear-Admiral Spoooner to get his skilled service personnel off the base these were then shipped off to Ceylon. No scorched earth policy had been carried out and everything was left in working order.
On a visit to the base early in February some journalists found the Indian guards let them in without papers, the barracks which housed 12,000 Asiatic workers were now empty, the police headquarters was left with uniforms and equipment in piles, left as it was taken off. The machine shops were still intact with supplies of iron waiting for the furnaces, presses and lathes all in working order. Great Boilers and spares for aeronautical equipment were left behind together with the huge wireless equipment stores. The huge crane was left standing and the floating dock which could accommodate a 45,000 ton battleship was just off shore ready for use and all the administration buildings were now empty. The near by Seletar airfield was similarly left, and after some bomb repairs to the runways would be ready to be used. How much of this equipment was destroyed is unknown but the Navy had left it all to the Army and Percival had not been told about this.
Percival decided to defend the total shoreline between Malaya and Singapore and divided the island up into three areas, Bennett’s Australians would take the Western Area, the 11th and 18th Divisions would take the Northern Area and a mixture of troops including the Malaya Brigade would take the Southern Area. Wavell had told Percival that the 18th Division should take the Western Area as he thought it most likely to be hit hardest but Percival disagreed with him thinking the North-eastern area would be under the heaviest attack so he readjusted the plans, he was found to be wrong.
As no defences had been prepared and there was now no civilian work forces the troops had some fast preparations to do, but as the Japanese heaverly bombed during the day, this work had to carried out at night. Plans to blow the airfields were made and supplies for the front line were made available, fuel which could have been used against the Japanese was emptied into creeks. Initially Percival said that preparing defences would cause the local morale to drop but now the Chinese who had been subjected to Japanese atrocities in the past, feared that as there was a lack of defences the Allies were not going to fight and the constant bombing was hitting them hard.
To give the Chinese heart Percival issued a statement:
‘The battle of Malaya has come to an end, and the battle of Singapore has started.
To carrying out this task we want the help of every man and woman in the fortress. There is work for all to do.’