Today, 76 years ago, the Japanese Naval Air Force delivered the opening blow in the war that would set the whole of the Pacific and Indian Ocean ablaze. In a daring attack that only lasted one hour and 15 minutes, the Japanese airmen sank or badly damaged 8 battleships and 11 other vessels, killed 2403 persons and wounded an additional 1178. At a cost of 29 aircraft, 5 midget submarines and 129 men.
But traumatic as this attack was, it was only the beginning of a carefully orchestrated assault on what the Japanese military rulers called the “Southern Resource Area”, the incredibly rich British and Dutch dominions of Malaya and Indonesia. With the American Navy removed as a threat, the invasion of Malaya started that same day (the 8th of December on the other side of the dateline). Singapore was bombed during the night of December 8 while at the same time, the first Japanese troops went ashore at Kota Bharu on the Malayan east-coast.
In the Philippines, news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor had alerted the senior commanders. General Lewis H. Brereton had scrambled his P-40 fighters and urgently asked General MacArthur for permission to send his bombers against the Japanese airfleets in Formosa (Taiwan). Scholars are still discussing the inexplicable 4-hour delay between this request and MacArthur’s reaction. By the time he finally approved the request, the P-40’s had landed to refuel, the Philippine airfields were under Japanese air attack and the US Far East Air Force lost about two thirds of its fighters and bombers.
From then on, the whole Allied effort to halt the Japanese forces was a lost battle. They were outmaneuvered and outfought by a numerically and technologically superior enemy that also had established air superiority. It took the Japanese forces 55 days to capture Malaya and most of the Dutch East Indies and force Singapore to surrender. It took them another three weeks to capture Java and demand the capitulation of all Dutch and Allied forces. The fight for the Philippines dragged on until May 12, 1942 when the last US forces on Mindanao surrendered.
The real legacy of Pearl Harbor is the momentous side-effect of these staggering victories. In one stroke, the colonial powers that had reigned in South-East Asia for centuries were exposed as being too feeble to defend themselves. And what was left of ‘white’ prestige was swept away when captured westerners were locked up in camps after being ignominiously marched through the centers of major cities, ridiculed and derided by a handful of Japanese guards.
With the foreign rulers locked up behind barbed wire, the flame of independence that had been smoldering for years suddenly leapt up. Within a few years, the British, Dutch and French empires in the east were gone, swept onto history’s rubbish heap. They were replaced by a flock of new nations, trying to find their feet while coming to terms with a whole new balance of power.
December 7, 1941, was a pivotal date in world history. To commemorate this, I and seven other authors have teamed up to commemorate this by writing an anthology of short stories that all have one thing in common: the date.
But they are located all over the world and show the reader a wide variety of what it means living in a world at war.
My contribution is “A Rude Awakening”, a short story that plays in Singapore at the eve and the first days after the Japanese attack. The unbelievable complacent attitude of the British. A rigidly class based society throws garden parties and dines sedately, disregarding the slowly growing number of warning signals.
Suddenly, the underestimated enemy ferociously attacks and the myth of invincibility is shattered forever. This book is available from Amazon as e-Book and in softcover
Here’s the link!