When Imperial Japan unleashed the Pacific War in December 1941, Australian
forces went into action, as part of a larger British Empire force, to defend
Malaya and Singapore. This reflected an Australian commitment to defending
Australia by protecting its 'near north'.
Unfortunately, Australian forces were compromised before they fired a shot by
wider problems: the allies were not ready for global was in later 1941,
Australia lacked the forces to till the gap in Southeast Asia, and all Allied
forces on the ground in Southeast Asia were unprepared for the high tempo
manoeuvre warfare the Japanese threw at them.
Australia's principal contribution to defending Malaya and Singapore was the
8th Division. Originally raised for service in the Mediterranean, the division
was committed piecemeal to Malaya and its performance was bedevilled by poor
command decisions in the face of an enemy better prepared on all counts for the
campaign at hand. The 8th Division, however, also reflected some strengths of
the AIF at large: stubborness in positional defence, effective and flexible
small unit tactics and leadership, and skill and determination in close quarter
Malaya was lost more in spite than because of Australian efforts, but its
loss underlined Australia's strategic dependence on 'great and powerful friends'
during the Second World War.
Introduction: Fighting Soldiers
Roads to War: Defending Australia in the Near North
Strike South: Preparations for War in Malaya
Hostages to Fate: Deploying the 8th Division to Malaya
Defeat in Detail: The Japanese 'Driving Charge'
'We Would Soon Have the Japanese Reeling Back': Bennett Takes Command
'Bravery We Had Not Previously Seen': The Fight for Northern Shore
'A Race for the Causeway': The Retreat to Singapore
Conclusion: Death of an Army