The Fall of the British Empire

MatthewA By MatthewA, 24th Sep 2015 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>History

A brief historical account of the fall of Britain's empire.

Fall of the British Empire

The British Empire remained very much intact by 1939. Though the shadow of war loomed, and other established empires in the Mediterranean and Asia were already targeting British colonies and overseas territories such as Suez and Malaya. The overall size of the British army was somewhat limited compared to the world's premier armies, and thus some might have doubted how long Britain could sustain the empire.

In 1940 Britain was at war with the Italian Empire as well as its German allies. The Italians soon invaded Egypt, and although they were later pushed back into Libya the arrival of German reinforcements changed the campaign in 1941. Then the British were pushed some way back into Egypt as the Afrika Korps advanced closer toward the Suez Canal.

When the Japanese Empire also declared war on the British Empire, their territories in Asia quickly fell to the Japanese. During the Malaya campaign the Japanese advance ensured the retreat of British and Commonwealth troops back to Singapore. In Burma too the Japanese army were also quickly advancing.

The Battle of Singapore was one in which a smaller Japanese army came up against a larger number of British and Commonwealth troops stationed there. They were scattered across Singapore when thousands of Japanese troops crossed the Jahore Strait and landed along the north-western coastline. Britain and the Commonwealth allies quickly retreated as the Japanese first took the airfields, and then Singapore's water reservoirs. Without any water, and with heavy losses, thousands of British and Commonwealth troops surrendered as the Japanese approached the capital.

None of those military defeats actually ensured the fall of the empire then, as they would later be overturned. The colonies that were lost in Asia were returned in 1945 as the Japanese Empire crumbled. However, their previous defeats had highlighted that the British military could not hold all their empire together. Britain also had substantial financial deficits in the postwar period.

The victory of Labour at the polls was the coupé de grace for the empire. Labour's decolonization policy promised that Britain would withdraw from India, and thus begin to abandon its colonies. Among the foremost colonies of the empire was that of India, and they effectively left in 1947.

After the departure of India, Britain's Empire gradually began to shrink. In Asia Singapore and Malaysia both withdrew. The colonies across Africa also began to withdraw during the 1950s and '60s with the Suez Canal Zone, Libya, Sudan, Eritrea and other parts of Southern Africa departing.

Overall, the decolonization was peaceful. Unlike other former empires the British Empire did not fall after losing a war, but instead gradually declined. Today many of the former colonies are now a part of the Commonwealth.


Battle Of Singapore, Britain, North Africa Campaign

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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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author avatar M G Singh
27th Sep 2015 (#)

The main cause of the demise of the British Empire was Hitler. More on that later

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