Unconditional surrender

General Percival made the decision to surrender on 15 February 1942. The water supply on Singapore Island had virtually dried up, petrol supplies were almost exhausted, military supplies were running low and the constant bombardments of the city were causing shocking civilian casualties. Percival realised that his only options were to fight to the death or surrender. He personally arranged the ceasefire and signed the surrender document at the Ford factory that same evening. All British Empire soldiers were ordered to lay down their arms at 8.30 that night.

For most of the Australian, British, Indian and other troops holding the forward lines, the surrender came as a great shock. Many had thought they would fight on in a 'death or glory stunt'. Gunner Ronald Houlahan, 2/15th Field Regiment, wrote down his impressions of that fateful day:

At 1530 hours we get cease fire orders [and] believe that peace negotiations are going on. Just after dark we are moving, we are told, into a smaller perimeter near Tanglin Barracks. A lot of ammo is left behind. Along the road we hear lots of rumours that the Japs have retired and we are going forward. The CO's driver told me the peace terms have been signed between Britain & Japan. But soon we learn the truth. We have to line all the guns & trucks up at the gardens. All called together by our T C ['Troop Commander'] and were told we were prisoners of war.

[Houlahan diary, 15 February 1942, AWM PR88/052]

Although many troops endeavoured to evade capture, some deserting in the last days of fighting and others making a break for it when they heard of the surrender, there were not enough boats to get more than a few off the island. Most of the weary, hungry, tired and sore British Empire troops resigned themselves to their fate of becoming prisoners of war. At least the long days and nights of desperate fighting had come to an end.

It had taken the Japanese just 70 days to crush the British Empire forces in Singapore and Malaya.


Last updated: 1 February 2019

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2019), Unconditional surrender, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 2 October 2022, https://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/wars-and-missions/world-war-ii-1939-1945/events/japanese-advance-december-1941-march-1942/fall-singapore/unconditional-surrender
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