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Japan attacked Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941, and invaded Malaya and Thailand one hour prior on the 8th December (International Dateline making this look odd!). Whilst the British had 100,000 troops already there, many were Indian volunteers and Australian forces who included many new recruits.
The British government looked for troops they could send to Singapore as soon as possible to reinforce it, as Singapore was the key to much Empire trade, eg 40% of the world’s rubber and 60% of tin was produced in Malaya.
The nearest troops were the 18th Division, who were on board a convoy at the Cape of Good Hope bound for Egypt and Libya via the Red Sea, so they were despatched initially to India. There was discussion whether to commit them all to Singapore, or whether to attack through Burma, but the existing British and Commonwealth troops were beaten back in North Malaya in December 1941, so it was decided to send part of 53 Brigade direct to Malaya. This included 5th & 6th Norfolk Infantry Regiments, and 2nd Cambridgeshires, but no artillery to back them up, all on SS Mount Vernon.
They landed at Singapore Naval Base on 13 Jan, by which time the Japanese had taken Kuala Lumpur and were swiftly moving South.
The 5th and 6th Battalions Royal Norfolk Regiment (5RNR & 6RNR) were new service battalions called up in Dec 1939. They were intended to fight in Egypt and Libya, and had trained in Scotland with open landscape. In August 1941 they were moved to Knowsley Park near Liverpool, but could not practise marching on the crowded cobbled streets in Lancashire. In October they set sail for four months training in Palestine, but not before a scrape for technicians took 20% of their best men and left them with raw volunteer recruits and no time to break them in.
By the time they arrived in Singapore on 13 January 1942 they had:
What else could go wrong?
See next page for more details of what happened to them: