Britain in the Pacific War

MatthewA By MatthewA, 28th Sep 2015 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>History

A brief account of Britain's victories and defeats in the Pacific War.

Britain in the Pacific War

Britain's colonies in Asia were among the foremost targets for the Japanese Empire, alongside the Dutch East Indies and the Philippines. The British Empire included Malaya, Hong Kong, Burma and Singapore, which was a supposed fortress. After Japanese aircraft ravaged Pearl Harbor, war with the British Empire began in December 1941.

After the Pearl Harbor airstrike, the first Japanese troops began landing in Malaya. To counter the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) in the Pacific, Britain bolstered its naval presence with Force Z. The fleet included the HMS Prince of Wales battleship, which was a new addition to the Royal Navy.

Force Z sailed to intercept Japan's landings in Malaya during December. It left port without any air cover, leaving the skies clear for Japanese aircraft. Once they had located Force Z, Japanese planes bombed the HMS Prince of Wales and other ships. The planes wiped out Force Z, and the Prince of Wales was the first battleship sank on the high seas with aircraft.

That left the British short on naval support for the rest of the Malaya Campaign. During the campaign, Japanese soldiers swept through the region with bicycle infantry. Whilst they had fewer troops than the British and Commonwealth divisions, hundreds of tanks supported them and Japan had general air superiority. The remaining Allied forces retreated from Malaya across the Jahore Strait.

Japanese troops arrived in Singapore, at the tip of Malaya. Here Britain still possessed a good number of divisions scattered across the region. The RAF (Royal Air Force) had lost many aircraft in Malaya and could provide scant air support. The Japanese army was also running short on supplies, so they quickly invaded Singapore after an aerial and artillery bombardment during early February.

Several days later the battle was all but over. Most of Japan's troops landed on the north-western coastline of the island, where they consolidated after the withdrawal of Australian troops. Bukit Timah fell soon after, leaving the primary Allied water supplies within reach of the Japanese army. Once Japan's engineers had repaired the causeway linking Singapore with Malaya, tanks rolled into Singapore. The British had no tanks of their own to take them out with. The British and Commonwealth troops retreated to Singapore City. There they surrendered to the Japanese army.

In the Dutch East Indies the Royal Navy provided further support for the ABDA (Australian, British, Dutch and American) fleets. However, its outmoded cruisers and destroyers were not a great match for Japan's ships equipped with more effective torpedoes. That became more clear at the Battle of Java Sea, where IJN ships sank most of the ABDA fleet. The battle left the sea clear for the Japanese landings in Java, where most of the Allied troops were stationed. The outnumbered troops surrendered to the Japanese army, which then occupied most of the Dutch East Indies.

Burma was another notable front for Britain. Japan's army pushed the British and Commonwealth troops, which were largely Indian divisions, back throughout 1942 and 1943. The northward retreat continued until Britain defeated Japan's siege during the Battle of Imphal in 1944. Planes airlifted supplies to its troops in the city, and when reinforcements arrived they broke the siege. Japan's army withdrew to new positions in Burma.

That was Britain's most notable victory in the Pacific. Thereafter, U.K. troops made steady advances during the Burma Campaign. By 1945, they had recaptured much of the territory previously lost before Japan surrendered.

At the Battle of Okinawa the Royal Navy provided further naval support with its aircraft carriers. During the battle, they wiped out Japanese airfields located within the Sakishima Islands. RN carrier planes also bombed airfields in Formosa.

By then the Allies had won the Pacific War. The Japanese Empire surrendered after the Battle of Okinawa. Colonies such as Singapore and Malaya returned to the British Empire. However, Britain's defeats in 1941 and 1942 highlighted that its military could not effectively hold the empire together.


Battle Of Singapore, Britain, Pacific War

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author avatar MatthewA
Matthew is the author of the book Battles of the Pacific War 1941 - 1945. You can find further details at

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