Operation Tiderace

This was the British reoccupation of Singapore by the forces of Admiral the Lord Louis Mountbatten’s South-East Asia Command (2/12 September 1945).

The British had originally planned ‘Zipper’ for the liberation of Malaya and Singapore through military action, which would have necessitated a prolonged campaign south along the Malayan peninsula to reach Singapore. ‘Zipper’ was cancelled as a combat undertaking following the surrender of Japan, although major elements of the of the plan were used to feed British and Indian land and air forces into western Malaya near Penang, Port Dikson and Port Swettenham from 28 August. Anxious to return to Malaya and Singapore at the earliest possible time, the British launched ‘Tiderace’ when Mountbatten ordered the departure of British and Indian troops from Trincomalee and Rangoon on August 31 in convoys bound for Singapore.

This plan allowed for the occupation of Penang by Brigadier C. R. Hary’s 3rd Commando Brigade to be lifted from Bombay in infantry and tank landing ships and to be landed in assault formation, and the occupation two days later of Singapore by Major General E. C. R. Mansergh’s Indian 5th Division, lifted from Rangoon in personnel and motor transport vessels. The selection of the 3rd Commando Brigade and 5th Division for this operation was dictated by availability of troops and shipping, and by the need to cause the least possible dislocation of plans for imminent large-scale amphibious operations. Negotiations representatives of Mountbatten and Field Marshal Count Hisaichi Terauchi, commander of the Southern Expeditionary Army Group in South-East Asia, and some of his local subordinates were to take place on the day before the landing on board British ships which were to be covered by other British warships and by warplanes, and a detailed minesweeping programme was required.

The British force totalled some 60,000 men embarked in and supported by some 90 vessels including the battleships Nelson and French Richelieu, escort carriers Ameer, Attacker, Emperor, Empress, Hunter, Khedive and Stalker, heavy cruiser Sussex (flagship), two light cruisers, 15 destroyers, three Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels, three hospital ships, 14 merchant vessels and 43 infantry landing ships. The liberation fleet carried little in the way of heavy weapons as Mountbatten believed that the Japanese in Malaya and Singapore, totalling 77,00 men and naval forces comprising just the heavy cruisers Myoko and Takao, and the ex-German submarines I-501 and I-502, would surrender without a fight.

Japan’s defeat had taken the Japanese command in Singapore by surprise, and many of these were initially unwilling to consider any surrender and had vowed to fight to the death. Three days after the emperor’s announcement, General Seishiro Itagaki, commander of the 7th Area Army), flew to Saigon to meet Terauchi. Itagaki had initially baulked at the decision to surrender and ordered Lieutenant General Moritake Tanabe’s 25th Army, defending Singapore, to resist when the Allies arrived. There was even a secret plan to massacre all Allied prisoners of war on the island. But on 20 August Itagaki signalled Mountbatten that he would abide by his emperor’s decision and was ready to receive instructions for the Japanese surrender of Singapore.

The British and Indian forces arrived in Malaya on 28 August, with a small portion of the fleet sent to Penang as part of ‘Zipper’. When Penang surrendered without resistance, the fleet sailed for Singapore on 2 September, passing the Raffles Lighthouse at the southern entrance to the Strait of Malacca. After the 6th, 7th and 37th Minesweeping Flotillas had cleared the Strait of Malacca, Vice Admiral Sir Arthur Power, commanding the East Indies Fleet in the light anti-aircraft cruiser Cleopatra, supported by the Indian sloop Bengal, moved to the north in the wake of the 6th Minesweeping Flotilla to reach Singapore on 2 September. Two days later Sussex arrived from Bombay with the 7th Minesweeping Flotilla, a destroyer and a convoy with the headquarters ship Kedah, the headquarters of Lieutenant General Sir Philip Christison’s Indian XV Corps, Mansergh’s Indian 5th Division and Hardy’s 3rd Commando Brigade. There was no Japanese opposition, but the French battleship Richelieu struck a magnetic mine at 07.44 on 9 September while passing down the Strait of Malacca, and arrived in Singapore only on 11 September.

Itagaki, acting for Terauchi, who had been incapacitated by a stroke, and Vice Admiral Shigeru Fukudome, commander of the 1st Southern Expeditionary Fleet, were brought aboard Sussex in Keppel Harbour to discuss the preliminary surrender, which had been signed by 18.00 and signalled the capitulation of estimated 77,000 Japanese troops in Singapore and another 26,000 in Malaya. The formal surrender was finalised on 12 September. Itagaki met his generals and senior staff at his headquarters during the evening of 11 September, and informed them that they would have to obey the surrender instructions and keep the peace. That night, more than 300 officers committed suicide using grenades in the Raffles Hotel after a farewell sake party. About 200 Japanese soldiers decided to join the communist guerrillas of the Malayan Peoples’ Anti-Japanese Army, whom they had been fighting just days before, but soon returned to their units.

With the exception of the 3rd Commando Brigade, which remained embarked for passage to Hong Kong, the British and Indian forces then disembarked to begin taking over the city’s administration up to March 1946, when a civil administration assumed the task.