Today February 15th is the 80th anniversary of the fall of Singapore in 1942, described by many as Britain’s worst military disaster. It was a massive strategic fail, and its effect is still powerful today, most notably with Australia’s lockstep with the US. Current British strategists don’t seem to have learnt a thing.
As many commentators have noted, the fall of Singapore marked the end of the British Empire. Australia saw itself betrayed and became totally dependent for its security on the United States, a state of affairs that has persisted to this day. The level of British incompetence mixed with arrogance was appalling. My uncle was sent to his death along with 27 others in a last-minute suicide raid in daylight flying an obsolete biplane against modern Japanese fighters.
One of the many disasters was the sinking of the latest battleship HMS Prince of Wales along with HMS Repulse on December It had arrived in Singapore days earlier, and set out to bombard the Japanese landings in Northern Malaya and Thailand. It had no air cover as the aircraft carrier which was supposed to be with it had run aground in Jamaica. Its commander Admiral Tom Phillips thought that it was immune to air attack, and he would be out of range of aircraft flying from occupied Indochina.
He was disastrously wrong on all counts. Japanese aircraft flying from Indochina bombed and torpedoed both ships and they went to a watery grave with the loss of 840 sailors. Phillips went down with his ship.
8o years later history seems to be repeating itself. HMS Prince of Wales, one of the Royal Navy’s two new aircraft carriers is apparently leading the NATO fast reaction maritime task force, partly no doubt to counter any Russian intrusion into Ukraine. It has now returned to its home port in Portsmouth. One can conjecture why – the Russians have just sent two Tupolev Tu22M3M and one Mig-31K to Hmeimim airbase in Syria armed with Kinzhal hypersonic anti-shipping missiles.
Faced with these missiles, aircraft carriers are just large floating targets. HMS Prince of Wales’ sister ship, HMS Queen Elizabeth spent a few months last year roaming around the South China Sea and the Philippine Sea showing the flag for ‘Global Britain.’
Britannia might have ruled the waves in the 19th century, but that is certainly now no longer the case. All these ships represent, useless as they are, is a colossal waste of money and a colossal failure of strategy for the needs of the 21st century. The maritime powers US and UK with their emblems of seaborne militarism no longer impress.