World War II

  • Emperor Hirohito

    Japan was originally an isolationist country that refused to have any contact with the outside world, but this changed after the United State's Black Ships forced Japan to open itself up to trade. This was followed by an Unequal treaty that would grant the Western powers advantages over the Japanese.

    The people of Japan resented the foreigners, and there were calls to forcibly remove them from Japan's shores, but this was impossible as the Westerners had superior technology. Eventually, this lead to the old system of Imperial Rule coming back to Japan as the Shogunate resigned.

    The Shoguns' followers would not give up easily, however, and there was a civil war between the people who supported the Imperial Family and those still loyal to the Shogunate. In the end, the Shogunate forces were overwhelmed, and Japan received it's first Emperor of the new Age: Emperor Meiji Mutsuhito.

  • Japanese Recruits

    The new era brought about the Industrial Revolution for Japan, and set a new agenda for Japan as well. No longer would Japan seek to follow the "hopelessly backward" people of Asia - instead they would look to the West for guidance.

    This attitude combined with a belief in the divinity of the Emperor meant that Japanese people thought they were superior to all other Asiatic peoples, and would have grave consequences for Asia in the future.

    Japan has always eyed Korea, having made several attempts to invade and conquer Korea in the 1600s. This eventually escalated into full-scale war with the Chinese in the 1895, which resulted in a Japanese victory. China seceded Taiwan and portions of Korea and Manchuria were handed over to Japan.

  • Japanese Generals

    Russia itself was also looking to secure something for itself. In the 1898, China leased Port Arthur to Russia, which would be able to operate all year round unlike Russia's other ports. This was viewed as something extremely important to the Russians, and they would go all out to protect it.

    As Port Arthur was in Manchuria, the First Sino-Japanese war brought Russia into direct conflict with Japan. The results of the Boxer Rebellion in 1900 meant that Russian troops had a reason to enter Manchuria, and when the rebellion was quelled the troops remained.

    Russian aggression and refusal to accept Japan's terms eventually lead to the Russo-Japanese War. This would be the first time that an Asian power would beat a Western one, and established Japan as one of the Great Powers.

  • Japanese Troops in China

    With the Russians out of the way in China, Japan fully annexed Korea and invaded Manchuria, renaming it Manchuko and establishing a puppet government that was fully under their control. A tactic used by the Imperial Japanese Army to invade was to dress up some of their men in the enemy's army, and fake an attack on their own troops. This let the Japanese claim the moral high ground, and would be repeated through the war.

    Another common theme that would be repeated often is that the Japanese paitned themselves as "liberators", this time liberating the Manchus from the Han Chinese. Of course, this ignored the fact that most of the people in Manchuria were actually Han Chinese due to large-scale resettlement.

    With Manchuko within their sphere of influence, Japan poised themselves to be even more aggressive. As an island nation, Japan is extremely reliant on imports for the majority of their production, a reliance that the Imperial Japanese Army/Navy sought to remove. Japan's eyes turned to China, with it's plentiful deposits of natural materials.

  • Japanese Troops in China during the Nanking Massacre

    The Japanese staged the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, which gave them an excuse to launch a full-scale invasion of China. As China's troops were poorly equipped, the Imperial Japanese Army had an easy time capturing the cities of Beiping and Tianjin.

    China simply lacked the military industry that was needed to fight a modern war - they had no mechanized infantry and little to no armor, which meant that the Japanese could simply roll over the Chinese anytime they engaged. Their only hope was for foreign intervention from the Western powers, which was not forthcoming.

    Eventually, the Japanese captured the Kuomintang capital of Nanking, and what followed was one of the worst atrocities in history.

    Hundreds of thousands of men, women and children, all civilians, were ruthlessly murdered once the Japanese took control. Japanese soldiers ran rampant through the streets, raping, mudering and looting with no regard for human lives.

  • Japanese Official

    In response to media reports about the Rape of Nanking, international opinion turns against Japan. Boycotts for Japanese goods are organised in Singapore, and the United States embargoes Japan, cutting off a vital source of oil. Japan is now seen as a villian by the world.

    In Singapore, the Chinese community organises donation drives to aid China, as well as taking violent measures against anyone buying Japanese goods. Less and less Japanese goods make their way into Singaore as merchant ships are intercepted and stopped, and Japanese shops go out of business.

    Japan decides to join the Axis, forming the Tripartite Pact. This was an alliance of neccessity, as the Nazi ideals of Aryan supremacy would invariably conflict with Japan's own racial supremacy. This alliance would end up being a major liability for Germany later on in the war.

  • Japanese Oil

    Eventually, Japan, running out of oil and other raw materials, decided that they needed to take action. Southeast Asia was a prime target, with rich deposits of tin, oil and rubber. However, to attack British colonies in Southeast Asia would provoke the United States, so a dual pronged attack was planned.

    Japan would strike four locations at once - British Malaya, British Hong Kong, Philippines and Pearl Harbour. Although some might think Pearl Harbour was a mistake, and that Japan would have been better off if they just hadn't attacked Pearl Harbour, the United States had already signed a secret treaty with Britain where they would come to each other's assitance if their colonies were attacked.

    And thus, the Battle of Malaya began, and with this our story continues.

  • Local volunteers signing up for the defence forces

    The British defence strategy for British Malaya, Singapore and Hong Kong was one of reaction - the Royal Navy would sail down to defend against any enemies. However, this was not possible because of the war in Europe, which demanded all of the Royal Navy' ships.

    The Royal Air Force was also underequipped in Southeast Asia, with only 150 outdated Buffalo planes that were no match for the Zero planes of the Japanese Navy. Japanese forces would have Air Superiority for the entire Battle of Singapore.

    Furthermore, the Singapore Command was not staffed with well-known generals and so there was little to no ability for them to pull more forces from other regions. What forces they did get were of low quality, and had never fought before.

  • British soldiers

    There wasn't a coherent plan for the defence of British Malaya. Troops were ordered to set up defensive positions, only to immediately abandon them in withdrawal again. The entire Battle of Malaya consisted of a long string of British retreats, sometimes even before the enemy was sighted.

    The only instance of an orchestrated defence was the Battle of Johore, where Japanese troops were delayed by Australian and Indian troops. However, the Commonwealth forces were outnumbered and ultimately had to pull back towards Singapore.

    With the Japanese forces now on the brink of invading Singapore, the Causeway linking Singapore with Malaya was broken, with a 21m wide hole blown in it. This would not stop the Japanese, however.

  • British soldiers

    Throughout the Malaya Campaign, British propaganda painted the war in a positive light. Any retreat would always be a "fall back to prepared defensive positions", and the enemy were always routed. As a result of this, some civilians believed that the British would triumph over the Japanese, and so elected to stay in Singapore even when offered seats on evacuation boats.

    The Singapore Command also didn't want to alarm the civilian population, so the order for evacuation was given out only belatedly, when it was too late to make any difference. In the last days of the Battle of Singapore, people swarmed the ports trying to escape in anything that could float.

    Although there were plenty of civilians available for manual labour, they were only mobilised to start setting up defences once it was clear that Singapore would be invaded. This was far too late, and the defenses ended up making little to no difference in the battle.

  • British soldiers surrendering

    There were multiple paths the Japanese could take to cross over to Singapore. They could come over the repaired Causeway, land at the Northeast coast or at the Northwest coast. The Singapore Command believed that landing at the Northeast was most likely, and withdrew forces from other locations to strengthen it.

    However, the Japanese chose to strike at Kranji beach in the Northwest. This was defended succesfully by the Australian and Indian troops, but they were ordered to give up the beaches to prevent encirclement, which resulted in the Japanese forces gaining control of the beaches, allowing them to land armor in Singapore.

    The final blows were dealt by the Japanese at the Battle of Bukit Timah and Battle of Pasir Panjang, which resulted in the Commonwealth forces losing the last of their ammunition, food and petrol supplies. It was no longer feasible to continue fighting.

    Once again, the Japanese commited numerous war atrocities. During the Battle of Johore, POWs were executed. During the Battle of Singpaore, the British Military Hospital was attacked ruthlessly, with only 5 survivors of the staff and patients.

  • British surrender party

    Although Churchhill ordered that Singapore was to be defended to the last man, the Singapore Command decided that a surrender was preferable in order to save civilian lives. The Japanese were also eager to accept a British surrender, lest they discover that their forces were not actually numerically superior to the British.

    As such, the British sent out a surrender envoy on 15th February, a week after the first Japanese landings in Singapore. The surrender envoy approached in a motor car bearing the Union Jack and a white flag of truce, and were instructed to head to the Ford Motor Factory and hoist the Japanese Rising Sun flag on the Cathay Building, the highest building of the time.

    The surrender was received by General Yamashita of the Imperial Japanese Army, who humiliated Percival by shouting at him to decide immediately without having a chance to properly read the surrender terms. He wanted a quick answer to prevent the British from finding out the true strength of the Japanese.

  • Singapore River

    As usual, with the British forces out of the way the Japnese soldiers went on a raping and looting spree. Fortunately, the Kempeitai were able to control the majority of the soldiers and a repeat of the Rape of Nanking was avoided.

    Not all the looters were Japanese, however. Some opportunistic civilians elected to "liberate" goods from empty houses. This was frowned upon severely by the Japanese, who beheaded several looters and displayed their heads publicly. This was the first of many "Severe Punishments" to come.

    Many Chinese were hidden by their Malay and Indian neighbours while the Japanese went on a rampage. The Indians and Malay were seen as less anti-Japanese than the Chinese, especially since many Chinese in Singapore were known to have donated to aid China's war effort.

  • Chinese waiting to be screened

    The Japanese came up with an atrocious plan to get rid of the Anti-Japanese elements in the "Sook Ching" massacres. Chinese were rounded up haphazardly in detention centers, and were then screened in a random and arbitrary manner to pick out those who seemed more anti-Japanese. These people were then killed.

    There was no standard method of determining whether a person was anti-Japanese - some simply picked out those who wore glasses or had smooth hands on the assumption that these people must be educated and therefore anti-Japanese. Anyone who admitted to being parts of the voluntary defence forces were also picked out.

    The killings themselves were also done haphazardly, with some killings being systemetically done in rural areas, while others were done in the middle of the city with no attempt to disguise what was going on. Some of the executioners were unwilling to do their job, and told their victims to run instead.

  • Teaching Japanese in a school

    Initially the Japanese plan was to make Singapore a part of Japan, and as such the island was renamed Syonan-to, or Southern Island gained in the age of Shōwa. As a part of the plan, Japanese lessons were made mandatory at all schools, and deadlines were set for when administration and signs were to be in Japanese only.

    The Japanese were also very strict on discipline. Slapping was a common punishment for the people as it was seem to be a light form of punishment, but for the Asian peoples it was seen as humiliating. The Japanese also frequently threatened "Severe Punishment" for crimes, and as a result the crime rate during the occupation was actually lowered.

    There was also an atmosphere of fear in Singapore. Anyone could become an informant for the Kempeitai, who would torture people without any evidence whatsoever. This resulted in mistrust to anyone seen to be friendly with the Japanese, and would be avenged after the Japanese occupation.

  • Japanese tanks in Singapore

    The Japanese also wanted every conquered region to be profitable to them. As part of their revenge, they extorted $50 million from the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce, who had supported China's war efforts against Japan. They also increased taxes significantly, often by as much as 2x. Sales Tax of 100% were not unheard of during the occupation.

    Most of the wealthy Chinese had to sell or take loans against their property in order to cough up the required sum - and even then, they were still short of the target. In the end, they had to take a loan out for the remaining amount, which took 20 years to repay.

    As part of the drive for profit, opium was also legalised by the Japanese despite severe protests against it. Opium taxes were highly profitable to the Japanese, and sales were almost guaranteed.

  • Singaporeans farming

    Japan also planned for all conquered regions to be self-sustainable in food and commerce, and as such there was a push to get everyone in Singapore involved in agriculture. Crops like Tapioca, Sweet Potatoes and Yam were commonly cultivated, as were hardy vegetables like Kang Kong.

    These staple crops were not as tasty as rice, and were unpalatable to most people. As a result, the common coconuts played a large role in shaving off boredom by providing flavouring for all foods. Coconuts were tastey, easy to find and had multiple uses. Milk, oil and kindling could all be extracted from coconuts.

    Often, limited rice rations would be combined with Tapioca or Yam in order to stretch it out, and every scrap of food was valued highly. Meat was available to a limited few, such as those working in the only pre-war refrigerated supermarket, Cold Storage, but was otherwise too costly for most people.

  • Banana Money

    The Japanese also introduced their own currency commonly called Banana Money due to the depictions of Banana trees on them. These notes initially held the same value as a Straits Dollar, and were used at par with it.

    However, as the war dragged on and the Japanese needed more money, they would simply print more and more money. This increased the supply of Banana Money in the economy, and caused severe inflation which made buying things with Banana Money unworkable. People would have to use several bags of notes to buy a single item.

    Eventually, the people of Singapore switched back to primitive barter trading as well as the limited supply of Straits dollars, rather than using the Japanese currency.

  • Food in POW camps.

    As for the fate of the soldiers who surrendered to the Japanese, those that weren't part of the Civilian Defence forces and were in uniform were rounded up an kept in POW camps. The Japanese had a low opinion of people who surrendered, as they believed it was better to fight to the death than to embrace surrender. They had never heard of the phrase "Live to fight another day".

    As such, their treatment of POWs was inhumane at best. Food was severely restricted in POW camps, and there was insufficient clothing and shelter. Some POWs had to build their own huts to live in, and all cleaning and cooking duties were left to the POWs themselves. Letters were a rare treat and were frequently kept by the Japanese instead of passing them on.

    Initially, the Red Cross was allowed some access to the POWs, in order to give them vital medicines, as well as Red Cross Parcels. However, after a sabotage effort by Allied forces in Operation Jaywick, such priviledges were suspended for the rest of the war and all Red Cross Parcels were intercepted.

  • A ration card.

    As the war progressed, allied blockades on Japanese merchant shipping became more intense. The Japanese needed of a railway from Burma to Thailand so that they could transport supplies to their troops in Burma. This was solved by using forced labour to build a railway in record time.

    Civilians who had no jobs and POWs were shipped off to Siam, or Thailand, and were forced to labour under inhumane conditions. The workers were fed starvation diets while expected to work for 16 hours a day with no rest breaks, and even the sick were still expected to complete the same amount of work. Diseases such as cholera, dysentery and malaria ran rampant in the worker camps, which were often unsanitary.

    In total, 90,000 civilians and 16,000 POWs died to construct the railway, earning it the name of Death Railway

    Thankfully, there weren't many civilians from Singapore amongst the workforce due to the kindness of Shinozaki Mamoru, who elected to stop sending people to work in Siam due to the low number of returning workers.

  • Naval ships in Singapore.

    In the first few years of the Occupation, there was no established resistance forces. Although the British had considered training guerrilla forces before the invasion, they decided not to as the skills they taught might be used against them. Serious training of guerrilla forces was only taken in the days preceding the Battle of Singapore, where Dalforce was established and trained.

    Dalforce was ordered to disband after the British surrendered to avoid reprisals, and so did not have an impact during the Occupation.

    Two major groups were formed during the occupation that opposed the Japanese, Force 136 and the Malayan Peoples' Anti-Japanese Army. Force 136 was largely unsuccessful as there was a double agent reporting their activities to the Kempeitai, while the MPAJA were consistently conducting sabotage and raiding Japanese positions.

    Ultimately, resistance forces didn't have a major effect on the Japanese forces and never posed a large threat to the Japanese.

  • Singapore Market

    As it became clear that Japan would not win the war, so did the fact that Singapore would eventually be invaded. Civilians were mobilised to build trenches and air raid shelters, and rationing was reduced to make food stocks last longer.

    As the rations were reduced, it became harder and harder for people to avoid starvation. Black marketeering was rampant, and even with a reduced population there was still not enough food distributed to the civilians. Everyone participated in the black market, selling their personal possessions in exchange for food.

    While the civilians were starving, the Japanese military was not. Food was deliberately withheld to prevent stocks from depleting, and the military at this point had already monopolised the distribution of food.

  • Detonation of an Atomic bomb.

    When the first atomic bomb was dropped over Hiroshima, the Japanese resisted. After the second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, everything came to a close and the Japanese accepted the Allies' demand for unconditional surrender.

    This brought Japan's Imperialist ambitions to an end, and freed Asia from their oppressive grip. After news of the surrender reaches Singapore, the MPAJA emerges from the jungle and starts lynching those who worked with the Japanese, even if they were only doing it to help the community.

    Eventually, the Japanese request that all British agents and Force 136 return to help re-establish order.

    Food stocks that were held back are finally released, for the first time in a long time POWs are given clothing and decent amounts of food. Rationing for the general populace continues for some time after the surrender to avoid food shortages later on.

  • Japan soldiers laying down their arms

    Shocked to hear of the Japanese surrender, many Japanese officers and soldiers commit Seppuku. Not everyone did it with a sword however, and there were many instances of Japanese soldiers committing suicide with grenades and pistols.

    While there was much to celebrate with the return of the British, the harshness of the Japanese and the lack of fighting spirit displayed by the British lit a nationalistic fire in many people's hearts, which would ultimately result in calls for independence from Malaya and Singapore alike. No longer were the British viewed as a superior people who would protect them from harm.

    During the occupation, there was also much harm done to the people. Infrastructure was heavily damaged, and social ills such as Opium smoking and Gambling were both introduced to help fund Japanese war efforts. These would have to be tackled by the British after the surrender.

    The Japanese surrender was received by Lord Louis Mountbatten, who has an estate in Singapore named after him today.

  • Gambling tickets from Syonan.

    With the huge amount of Banana money in circulation, it was not practical to honour the worthless pieces of paper. Japan was considered to not be able to repay any debts since its economy was in ruins, and so the currency was completely dishonoured.

    Some people had decided to sell all their personal possessions before the British returned, thinking that the British would accept the Banana money, but that didn't happen.

    More unscrupulous people went out into rural areas and bought livestock and food for absurdly high prices after they found out that Banana money was worthless, thus cheating many village people and farmers.

  • Japanese POWs labouring

    The tables are turned - Japanese soldiers are now at the mercy of the British, and many took revenge. Particularly nasty guards were beaten up, and there were reports of some Japanese being lynched. The British were an honourable people however, and didn't abuse the POWs like the Japanese did.

    Overall, life was much easier for the Japanese POWs than for the British POWs. They were given extraordinary amounts of freedom for internees. Japanese POWs ordered to do manual labour sometimes lacked supervision, leading to them slacking off rather than doing their work.

    Sinozaki Mamoru was saved frome extended internment by the many people who vouched for his kindness. Due to the huge number of Good Citizen Passes that he handed out, thousands of Chinese were saved from the merciless Kempeitai.

  • Japanese officials getting ready to stand trial

    When the British discovered the atrocities commited by the Japanese in the POW camps, they immediately tried to find those responsible for it to have them tried. While the Sook Ching was still fresh in the minds of the Chinese, the British considered it a lower priority, and the Sook Ching trials were some of the last war crimes trials to be had.

    General Yamashita of the Malaya Campaign and the Battle of Singapore was hanged for the Manila Massacre and other war crimes in the Philippines.

    Seven officers were tried for the Sook Ching massacre, with two being sentenced to death by hanging and the rest receiving a short jail sentence. The mastermind of the operation, Colonel Masanobu Tsuji was never tried and became a member of the Japanese Diet after the war.

  • Japanese textbooks

    After the war, it is important that we do not forget what happened. However, Japan is a nation with alot of pride, and there has never been a public, official apology for the events of the war. Japanese broadcasts after the end always referred to an "armistice" or "truce", not a surrender.

    Some right-wing politicians in Japan even downplay the events of the war, calling the Rape of Nanking nothing more than an "incident", and clamouring for it to be removed from Japanese textbooks. Such incidents always provoke the ire of Japan's Asiatic neighbours, and there have been many protests over this issue. Such protests continue even today.

    It is hard to imagine that so many officials involved in the war were allowed to stay in power afterwards. There were no measures taken to ensure that Japan properly recognises that the war was its own fault, as was done with Germany. People who were related to the IJA and IJN were allowed to continue in service, whereas similar officials in Germany were forced to hide their past, and any mention of a Nazi background always meant instant loss of face.

  • Civilian War Memorial

    As for the issue of war reperations, Japan never officially admitted responsibility for the various atrocities it commited. Although it reluctantly agreed to pay $50 million to the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce in 1969, half of which was only a loan, it has never apologized for the Sook Ching massacres.

    Personnel charged with war crimes and repatriated to Japan after it regained independence in 1951 were cleared of all charges, and war criminals who were executed had their charges withdrawn posthumously to allow their remains to be interred in the controversial pro-Imperialist Yasukuni Shrine

    Comfort women were never acknowledged properly by the Japanese to have been sex slaves, and the whole issue has been subject to historical revisionism by some Japanese, claiming that all comfort women were volunteers and none of them were doing it against their will.

  • Japanese War Graves

    It is important that we do not forget the lessons that we learned from the Pacific War. Imperialism ultimately results in oppression, any colonial ambitions will ultimately result in harm to the people.

    In this day and age, this may be obvious to us but we must ensure that this is passed on to the newer generations, lest we repeat the mistakes of history.

    As such, it is disappointing to find that there are so many denialists in Japan who try to rewrite history, and that there has never been a formal apology by the Japanese government for the events of the war.

    Nevertheless, we must bury the hatchet if we are to move on. The past is the past, and although we must be wary of repeating the past, we should not look only to the past to guide our actions.