The ADB Conversations - Why did no one listen?

The ADB Conversations - Why did no one listen?

Jacques
Jacques

April 27th, 2012, 8:56 pm #1

Seventy one years to the day, on the 27th of April 1941, a report was signed by representatives of American, Dutch and British forces following the ADB discussions held in Singapore during that month. This document can be viewed at:

http://www.ibiblio.org/pha/pha/pt_14/x15-050.html

What strikes me most about this report is how close the guesswork of those at the conference came to what followed a few months later - it almost appears incredible, as if written after it all happened. The only major exception being the attack on Pearl Harbor which had not been anticipated.

The situation in the Far East is perfectly described, identifying Japan's expected course of action, her objectives, her expected movement of ships, aircraft and land forces, where she was likely to strike first (the reduction of Manila and Hong Kong) and her ultimate goal of capturing the NEI, Malaya and Burma. Even how Malaya was expected to be attacked - not by taking Singapore from the sea as history books lead us to believe but first by political domination and possible occupation of Thailand, then by advancing down the Kra Isthmus, and/or if conditions were favourable, followed by landings on the East coast of the Malayan peninsula and a march through the "impenetrable jungle" with the obvious intention of taking Singapore from the North. Although it describes it as unlikely, the report does recognise the possibility of Singapore falling. The report also recognises the likely phases of Japan's assault on territory of the "Associated Powers", the initial assault on the Philippines, Hong Kong and Malaya to be followed by a thrust southward into the NEI and into Burma and beyond. It mentions the possible use of airborne troops for the seizure of the oilfields of the NEI and the likely scenario of a sustained attack on sea communications in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, including attacks by armed merchant raiders, cruisers and submarines, likely in concert with attacks by German raiders. (Trouble to be expected by the Manila convoys!)

Sensible recommendations follow, such as calling for increased economic pressure, increased military preparedness and specifically the bolstering of defences on Luzon along with the build-up of submarine and bomber forces in the Philippines. These measures were also intended for offensive purposes against Japan and to deter her from attacking Malaya, the NEI, Australia and New Zealand. More assistance to China was called for as well as for organising subversive activities in Japan.(Huh?) Much detail is given on how air, naval and land forces were to be dispersed, escorting and evasive routing of sea traffic (Did this report have any influence on the routing of the Manila convoys later that year?), the establishment of a central command structure, liaison and communication systems, including codes and ciphers.

Above all, a collective effort was called for from the United States, the NEI and Great Britain as it was estimated that if the situation in Europe deteriorated further, Japan almost certainly would move against them. The collective action would have been immediate military counter-action if Japan should commit a direct act of war or threaten ADB territory, particularly by the "movement of a large number of Japanese warships, or of a convoy of merchant ships escorted by Japanese warships, which from its position and course was clearly directed upon the Philippine Islands, the East coast of the Isthmus of Kra or the East coast of Malaya, or had crossed the parallel of 6° North between Malaya and the Philippines, a line from the Gulf of Davao to Waigeo Island, or the Equator East of Waigeo"

As it happened the situation DID deteriorate and Japan DID act almost exactly as she was expected to (except for Pearl Harbor). Despite all the timely warnings and recommendations of the report, the "Associated Powers" still found themselves unprepared and unable to take the kind of collective action that the report called for.

I know that the answer to the question "Why did no one listen?" is more complex but one could start by looking at the way the report was written - overwhelmingly from a British point of view. The language used in this report reflects the British Empire's desires, with not enough attention given to how it would be received in Washington. In the introduction it reads as a condition that applies: "A State of war between Germany, Italy and Japan on one hand, and British Empire with its present Allies and the United States of America (referred to herein as the Associated Powers) on the other" and insists "that WE are not diverted from the major object of the defeat of Germany and Italy" It also refers to "OUR forces in the Middle East" and "OUR forces in the Eastern Theatre" - but hold on, America was not at war with Germany and Italy! The US did not have troops in the Middle East!

Although the British did get their point across black on white, it was probably not really the high level conference that they had hoped for, as the representation from the USA was disappointingly lightweight. How was Captain Purnell and Colonel McBride, the senior members of the US delegation going to have a proper conversation with the likes of Air Chief Marshall Sir Brooke-Popham, Vice Admiral Layton and Major-General Ten Poorten?

The Dutch had their own reasons for not immediately falling in behind the British but could it be that those in Washington did not take the report seriously because of their limited participation at the conference or did they see this as nothing more than an attempt to draw the US into a war in order to protect the interests of the British Empire?



Regards,

Jacques
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GerritJ9
GerritJ9

April 28th, 2012, 11:06 am #2

Is it perhaps more a case of "not taking the conference seriously, and avoiding any commitments, hence fairly low-level representatives" in the first place? The US did not want to get involved in a European war, let alone a war to defend the European colonial empires. There was, too, the obsession with Adolf at the expense of all else. Had the US really taken the conference seriously, Admiral Hart and/or General MacArthur would have attended.
Sending a few delegates to the conference showed "Yes, we're interested" but at the same time their lowish ranks showed that nothing firm could be expected from the US. Perhaps there was too much of a "They wouldn't DARE attack US!" attitude in Washington.
It should also be noted that there was little firm British commitment to the defence of the NEI if Japan had only attacked the Dutch territories- which, from the Japanese point of view, would have been the smart thing to do rather than attack the US and UK at the same time.
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Nelson
Nelson

April 29th, 2012, 1:48 am #3

Guys,

While I suppose that "Why did no one listen?" is a fair question, probably it's not a relevant one, because the answer, for all intents, is that no one was able to listen, and I'll get to that subsequently. But for starters, Gerrit's first response to the question is simply unsat, to wit:

> Is it perhaps more a case of "not taking the conference seriously, and avoiding any commitments, hence fairly low-level representatives" in the first place? The US did not want to get involved in a European war, let alone a war to defend the European colonial empires. There was, too, the obsession with Adolf at the expense of all else. Had the US really taken the conference seriously, Admiral Hart and/or General MacArthur would have attended. >

How one concludes that the United States did not take the conference--actually, its level was not quite that of an official conference, but rather termed "conversations"--seriously is beyond me. There is simply insufficient evidence to make that conclusion. These were exploratory discussions, for heaven's sake. The U.S. representatives are termed "disappointingly lightweight" by Jacques and "fairly low-level representatives" by Gerrit. Captain (but probably fleeted up to rear admiral for his attendance) William Purnell was Admiral Thomas Hart's chief-of-staff; Colonel Allan C. McBride was General George Grunert's assistant chief-of-staff (General Grunert commanded the U.S. Army's Philippine Department until USAFFE was created three months later, so Field Marshal Douglas MacArthur, Philippine Army, would not have been involved in April 1941 under any circumstances, unless General Grunert had appointed him his personal representative, which he had not). Captain (perhaps Rear Admiral) Purnell and Colonel McBride personally represented their respective bosses--who can be assumed to have been busy elsewhere, given the war climate prevailing--and being intelligent and capable men, were sent mostly to listen. It is essential to remember, too, that Great Britain and the Netherlands had already formed an alliance; the United States was still on the outside here (it can justifiably be argued that the U.S. was on the outside by its own choice, although it was still officially a neutral of sorts in the European war).

All three nations involved in these conversations had made staff studies of Japanese intentions and pretty accurately predicted Japanese first moves when war did come, save the aerial attack on Pearl Harbor, an act so audacious that it seemed beyond possibiity (but see below). And there was no illusion among ANY of them that a Pacific war would come, so all of them had adopted a playing-for-time stance. The trouble for all three nations was in augmenting their colonial defenses to the necessary level, and none really had the wherewithal for such heavy reinforcements, including the United States. I hardly think it necessary to review--again--the aging and obsolescent equipment that U.S. forces were forced to fight with in the Philippines and Netherlands East Indies, and the army had all but depleted its stocks of field artillery and other ordnance in pre-Lend Lease sales and Lend Lease provisions to nations battling Axis powers around the world. Until American industrial might kicked in, the larder was damned near bare. It's easy to claim the Yanks didn't take the ADB conversations seriously, until one realizes they didn't have the means to do much to counter the Japanese offensive operations accurately predicted.

In the same light, why didn't U.S. forces on Oahu "take seriously" the prescient Martin-Bellinger report (senior preparing members, Maj. Gen. Frederick Martin and Rear Adm. Patrick Bellinger), which all but precisely predicted the air attack on Pearl Harbor, including the probable day of the week, the number of aircraft carriers involved, and from what direction they would launch their aircraft. Same answer: not enough stuff to ensure protection and defense of the island and its naval base (though one may persuasively argue that the equipment that had been provided was not employed to the best advantage).

There is one other factor important to keep in mind from the perspective of the United States. Senior U.S. military and naval officers initially did not believe that the conclusions reached by the other two powers reflected the current American thinking for the defense of the Philippine Islands. I quote Maurice Matloff & Edwin Snell's Strategic Planning for Coalition Warfare 1941-1942, part of the U.S. Army Greenbook series, pp. 66-67:

"Maj. Gen. George Grunert, who was in command in the Philippines, and his assistant chief of staff, Col. Allan C. McBride, who had represented him at Singapore, both perceived that the recommendations of the Singapore conference were out of keeping with existing American plans. In forwarding the conference report to Washington, Grunert called attention to the discrepancy:
'It will be noted that the conference emphasized the importance of the Philippines, particularly Luzon, as a strategic area for naval and air bases from which offensive operations could be conducted against Japanese territory and sea communications, and as of advantage to the Japanese in the event they were captured; hence the recommendation to strengthen defenses and augment the air force. Our present mission and restrictions as to means are not in accord therewith.'
The Army and Navy staffs in Washington came to much the same conclusion and so informed the British military mission, declaring, moreover, that the United States intended 'to adhere to its decision not to reinforce the Philippines except in minor particulars.' More than a month later, early in July, Admiral Stark and General Marshall formally stated that they could not approve the ADB report because it was at variance with ABC-1 and did not constitute a 'practical operating plan for the Far Fast Area.' They, too, announced that the United States was not planning to reinforce the Philippines as recommended in the report but, in significantly more cautious terms,
'Because of the greater needs of other strategic areas, the United States is not now able to provide any considerable additional re-enforcement to the Philippines. Under present world conditions, it is not considered possible to hope to launch a strong offensive from the Philippines.'"

All that would change after July 1941 with General Grunert's replacement by General MacArthur and his subsequent departure. At that point, tons of matériel would start flowing into the Philippines on board the numerous convoys previously discussed in this forum, but until the silver-tongued Mac began singing his siren song, the United States did not intend massive reinforcement of the Philippines and stood in variance to the ADB report.

Along the way, Jacques wrote

> [The report] mentions the possible use of [Japanese] airborne troops for the seizure of the oilfields of the NEI and the likely scenario of a sustained attack on sea communications in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, including attacks by armed merchant raiders, cruisers and submarines, likely in concert with attacks by German raiders. (Trouble to be expected by the Manila convoys!) >

Hmm, them German raiders....again....and this time not just a USN figment of its imagination. Anyone home in the Lone Star State reading this passage?

Nelson
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Nelson
Nelson

April 29th, 2012, 5:17 am #4

Jacques also wrote

> Even how Malaya was expected to be attacked - not by taking Singapore from the sea as history books lead us to believe but first by political domination and possible occupation of Thailand, then by advancing down the Kra Isthmus, and/or if conditions were favourable, followed by landings on the East coast of the Malayan peninsula and a march through the "impenetrable jungle" with the obvious intention of taking Singapore from the North. Although it describes it as unlikely, the report does recognise the possibility of Singapore falling. >

I'm not sure what history books insist that the prediction at the time was of a seaborne assault on Singapore. On the contrary, a 1936-38 staff study by none other than Colonel Arthur Percival, chief-of-staff to the devout Maj. Gen. William Dobbie, GOC Malaya (until 1939), concluded that the Japanese would undertake amphibious landings well to the north, probably in Thailand (Siam), and thereupon move south against Singapore Island. British war planning called not only for the defense of Malaya, but a quick thrust north across the border into Thailand to resist Japanese landings there. Faint hearts prevailed, however, and the latter was not done. There was more idle talk about constructing defenses in northern Johore. Most decent military histories report British prewar expectations for such hostile landings and the landward threat to Singapore, however difficult the intervening terrain.

Nelson
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Jacques
Jacques

April 30th, 2012, 5:32 am #5


Outside of the US an Anglocentric Second World War history still exists that has millions of people believing that 1.Great Britain won the War, 2.the Spitfire was the best fighter plane ever built, 3.British aircraft carriers were Kamikaze-proof and that 4.Singapore was expected to be attacked from the sea! You will find these and similar "facts" in many less-decent publications, high school text books, magazines articles, Discovery and History Channel programs and educational websites. That's what we were taught at school and kids are still being fed the same crap today. Here is the typical view from one such "authoritative" UK history website:

"The British had confidently predicted that the Japanese would attack from the sea. This explained why all the defences on Singapore pointed out to sea. It was inconceivable to British military planners that the island could be attacked any other way least of all, through the jungle and mangrove swamps of the Malay Peninsula. But this was exactly the route the Japanese took."

Sad, ain't it - especially if I have admit that I too believed this until about 3 years ago? (More or less at the time I came across this forum!)

Regards,
Jacques
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Nelson
Nelson

April 30th, 2012, 7:58 pm #6

Jacques,

> Outside of the US an Anglocentric Second World War history still exists that has millions of people believing that Great Britain won the War....I have to admit that I too believed this until about 3 years ago. >

A MUST read then is Barrie Pitt's "Britain's Role in World War II: Nothing Lasts Forever", in British History Illustrated, April-May 1976 (Vol. 3. No. 1). The thumbnail for the article reads,

"In 1939 Britain defended herself against the Nazis and kept her sea-lanes open. But what real part did she play in the great offensives that finally crushed Germany and devastated Japan?" See

http://www.aferguson.net/british_histor ... ?year=1976

Noted British military and naval historian Barrie Pitt, whose contributions to such history hardly need chronicling here, died 30 years after the publication of this reflective and honest piece, in which he wrote that Britain bravely held the line, but was at its last gasp in terms of manpower and industrial output--most of the raw materials for industrial production had to be brought in across the increasingly U-boat-ridden ocean--at the end of 1941, when the U.S. entered the war, providing both. And yes, I've read too many sadly defensive and self-serving accounts by certain British authors on who won the war, barely crediting American contributions, but I choose not to refight WWII in this response. By the by, British History Illustrated was published from 1974 to 1979, and in the following year, it merged with British Heritage [Magazine].

Regarding Singapore, which should remain our focus, I thought most modern writers had got it right regarding Japanese invasion plans for Malaya/Singapore and their actual implementation (the image of Japanese infantry streaming southward on bicycles, though shopworn, is one example of getting it right). The notion that the port city's harbor defense batteries could fire only seaward, though initially silly and naïve, turns out to have some truth. Although my on-the-ground familiarity with the Singapore harbor defenses is limited to a 2002 visit to Pulau Blakang Mati, now renamed Sentosa Island, I know the following about those batteries, divided for all intents evenly into two fire commands, Faber FC for Keppel Harbour and Changi FC for the naval base:

# The two 15-inch gun batteries, because such behemoths needed power loading, elevation, and traverse, had carriage stops limiting their traverse to permit entry of the power cables. Widening that traverse was a two-step process: (i) removing the stops, but being VERY careful NOT to cut the power cables in traversing, giving the gunners a little more wiggle room; (ii) removing the power cables, yielding nearly 360º traverse, but leaving the gun crews to manually load, traverse, and elevate.....an all but impossible task with those awesome masses in that awful heat. A compromise was decided upon: northerly Johore Battery (3 x 15-inch guns) was given a wider traverse, and indeed fired a few AP rounds into Johore and at targets on the main island (these guns had but a single HE round, courtesy of the Royal Navy); southerly Buona Vista Battery (2 x 15-inch guns) was retained in a purely seaward defense roll, with no increase in gun traverse, and it never fired a shot during the campaign, being that no IJN warships were foolish enough to venture within its field of fire.

# Both triple 9.2-inch gun batteries, Connaught and Tekong Besar, fired through 360º, but in providing that capability, despite armored shields protecting the gun crews, the emplacements were exposed to aerial bombing and counterbattery fire, which they did suffer in due course.

# The numerous 6-inch gun batteries were a mixed bag, all but one (Sphinx Battery) having only 15º or 16º elevation, and enjoying different degrees of protection, the more important being that of the emplacement, which consisted of an arced concrete canopy--though of dubious thickness--behind each gun emplacement and did verily limit the guns' traverse. When the Japanese began to cross Johore Strait on the night of February 8-9, 1942, only Pasir Laba Battery on the southwest part of the main island could bear on the assault boats, and in fact only its No. 1 (rightward) gun. The battery commander had the concrete overhead torn down so that gun achieved a greater arc of fire....and after it had opened fire, as soon as it was light to be pounced upon by enemy dive bombers and hit by counter-battery fire, and the BC eventually killed.

Both the 9.2-inch and 6-inch harbor defense batteries suffered from a paucity of high explosive projectiles, making the reality of what they could accomplish when firing inland even more dubious.

# The emplacements of the modern dual 6-pounder (57mm) anti-motor-torpedo-boat batteries ironically enjoyed a much thicker concrete canopy than provided those of the larger and more important 6-inch gun batteries. I believe these smaller gun batteries saw little or no service during the battle for Singapore.

Speaking of writers erring on the subject, in my previous posting I wrote, "On the contrary, a 1936-38 staff study by none other than Colonel Arthur Percival, chief-of-staff to the devout Maj. Gen. William Dobbie, GOC Malaya (until 1939), concluded that the Japanese would undertake amphibious landings well to the north....", when I should have writ, "On the contrary, a 1936-38 staff study in charge of none other than Colonel Arthur Percival...." I understand, however, that Percival took a strong hand in the preparation of this prognostic staff study.

Nelson
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Jacques
Jacques

May 2nd, 2012, 5:06 am #7


Evidently not, because scarcely four months later Churchill again ordered another fortress to be "held at all cost", with similar disastrous consequences.

North Africa, June 1942 - General Sir Claude Auchinleck (British Army), Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham (Royal Navy) and Air-Marshall R.M. Drummond (Royal Air Force) had met earlier and unanimously agreed that in the event of any withdrawal from the Gazala Line, they would not make any attempt to hold Tobruk again. Although the Australians were besieged and held out for a good couple of months (March to November 1941), the supporting and supply of this desert harbour-fortress during that time was costly in the extreme - numerous aircraft and as many as 52 ships were lost. No further defensive improvements were to be made and the minefields, tank-traps and other stationary defences were not maintained and allowed to go to ruin. Fighter aircraft were withdraw further to the East. It was planned for a very mobile garrison force to remain behind which could be speedily evacuated if the situation called for it.

However, Churchill suffered a massive loss of memory and insisted like he did at Singapore, that Tobruk must be held and defended to the last man and the last bullet. Auchinleck had no choice but to alter his orders accordingly, which again resulted in the surrender of a large number of men, tons of equipment and supplies. British and Commonwealth POWs numbered close on 35 000, including the entire South African 2nd Division.

A really good forum discussion on the loss of Tobruk at (also mention of Barrie Pitt and his bar fight in Cairo!):

http://www.battlefront.com/community/ar ... 45504.html

There are a number of similarities between the loss of Singapore and that of Tobruk but one standout for me is the "strange passivity" reportedly exhibited by both garrison commanders, Percival and Klopper - a psychological condition associated with besiegement perhaps?

Nelson,
Your response is valued as always, and your information about the batteries at Singapore, a revelation. I always wanted to raise the issue of the limited traverse of the 15 and 9.2 inch guns and what you wrote confirms what I suspected. Do you know how much ammunition was kept at Singapore for the big guns, AP or HE? I've read somewhere that the 9.2" batteries only had 30 shells per gun, so these batteries would not even have been of much use against seaborne attacks! If Singapore was besieged and as some expected, only likely to be relieved after 6 months, each gun could only have fired off one 9.2" shell every six days! With months to prepare, how was this oversight possible? Who the heck was in charge?

Regards,

Jacques
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Nelson
Nelson

May 2nd, 2012, 8:39 am #8

Jacques,

>Your response is valued as always, and your information about the batteries at Singapore, a revelation. I always wanted to raise the issue of the limited traverse of the 15 and 9.2 inch guns and what you wrote confirms what I suspected. Do you know how much ammunition was kept at Singapore for the big guns, AP or HE? I've read somewhere that the 9.2" batteries only had 30 shells per gun, so these batteries would not even have been of much use against seaborne attacks! If Singapore was besieged and as some expected, only likely to be relieved after 6 months, each gun could only have fired off one 9.2" shell every six days! With months to prepare, how was this oversight possible? Who the heck was in charge? >

It's not that seacoast gun carriages were blindly and stupidly designed to have limited traverse. Indeed, it was a problem that confronted coast artillerymen/gunners since that branch became an independent one in most armies (or for some nations, their navies). The basic problem is that the more you protect the gun, the more limited its traverse and sometimes, too, its elevation become. If, on the other hand, you don't protect the gun, then it can far more readily be knocked out of action, its crew killed or wounded (time and experience would prove that hostile aircraft and counterbattery fire were both bad medicine). The U.S. Army had two 16-inch HD batteries on Oahu. One was casemated in thick concrete and steel, providing it ample protection, but substantially reducing the traverse and elevation of its guns; the other was not protected at all, and enjoyed a 360º traverse and field of fire, all the way around the island of Oahu, with no reduction in gun elevation and thus range. But there its guns sat on two concrete bullseyes when viewed from an aircraft. I guess there are circumstances where things can be had both ways.

With collaborators, I've published three articles on the HD batteries of Singapore, but for some reason my memory is fuzzy on the armor-piercing ammo allotment for the various guns. The HE allotment for the 9.2-inch BL rifles was either 25 or 30 rounds per gun (indeed, such numbers may have differed between the two batteries with this size ordnance), whereas that for the 6-inch gun batteries was 50 rounds per gun. Ain't very much, so one must ask why bother to give the 9.2-inch pieces all that traverse and not much high explosive to shoot at landward targets. Such a small number of HE projectiles would have been gone zippity do dah. As far as the 6-inch gun batteries, the concrete overhead protection was added only at the eleventh hour, which would likely 'splain why the thickness was purty thin. And not all of the 6-inch gun batteries received such.

Who indeed was the heck in charge? What kind of general officer would decide NOT to wire the Johore Strait side of Singapore Island because it would lead to "defeatism and a deterioration in troop morale"? What did they think would happen to that morale when a whole bunch of fatigued and malaria-ridden guys all but crawled back across the causeway after weeks of fighting in Malaya, only to find there was no protective apron of barbed wire, and they would be responsible for laying what could be put down in the very limited time left. How can one possibly find more than one senior officer guilty of that stupid thinking? But in truth such thinking was commonplace. Because that and other moronic BS truly lost Singapore, why weren't these senior officers summarily shot for dereliction of duty and not keeping faith with their men, many of whom would henceforth die awful deaths? And WHO still believes Britain won the war single-handedly?

Nelson
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GerritJ9
GerritJ9

May 2nd, 2012, 11:38 am #9

I have no info on how many RPG were stocked per calibre and what types, other than that there was only ONE 15" HE round available for the five 15" guns. As far as I know NO effort whatsoever was made to provide Singapore with more 15" (or 9.2") HE, though at the very least the 15" HE stocks could have been removed from HMS "Queen Elizabeth" and "Valiant" after these two battleships had been put out of action by Italian frogmen at Alexandria on Dec. 19th 1941. There were probably stocks of 15" HE ashore at Alexandria as well. Surely some at least could have been shipped to Singapore?

Whether better shore defences along Johore Strait would have made much difference to the end result is something we will never know, but probably not much. Percival was rightly blamed for the "do nothing" attitude re defence works, and Wavell should have relieved him of his command forthwith. I'm not sure that Heath would have made all that much difference overall, but at least there would have been no more "building defensive positions is bad for morale" nonsense.
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Jacques
Jacques

May 3rd, 2012, 5:56 am #10

Gerrit, Nelson, others,

I understand the need for armour piercing rounds when defending at long range against armoured battleships and cruisers but for thin-skinned warships, torpedo boats, transports and landing craft, would high explosive rounds not have been more effective?

I'm out of my league here but if my estimation is anywhere near correct, does it not prove that the Singapore batteries were not even prepared for a naval assault (never mind fighting a land battle!) and would not have been able to ward off a full-scale seaborne invasion?

Regards,

Jacques
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