27th February 1942
07:22 AM local Time
When Momma had first woken them at dawn yesterday the two boys had not been asleep for very long, or at least it seemed that way to them. Father had been called away two days ago an joined his unit and now it was only the three of them. William was fourteen years old and still was not really understanding what was happening, only that for some reason the Japanese were the enemy and for the last two months the adults had rarely been talking about anything but an impending invasion. His six year old brother Douglas understood even less.
“Shut up! We are going somewhere else now.”
William hardly had the time to take his favourite book in his hands before his mother shouldered the three bags that had been sitting near the door of their flat for days now, fully packed in case a hasty retreat was in order and dragged her two sons down the staircase onto the street. The moment they were stepping out on the street they were taken in by the torrent of human beings that flooded towards the harbour where, according to rumours that were flying about the city ever since the Japanese delegation had flown back to Tokyo yesterday. People where desperate to gain one of the few spots on the freighters that lay at anchor. The evacuation plan such as it was had been drawn up hastily and no one had bothered to devise a system to select the lucky few that were allowed onto the ships, resulting in utter and total chaos. Near two million men, women and children tried to cram themselves onto ships that could at best carry out one or two thousand. Small children and sick elderly people where trampled to death when they got under the feet of the stampeding mob that had brushed aside the Military Police and Hong Kong Police Force guards that had tried to divert the crowds away. The orderly boarding process for the few ships that were there had broken down hours ago and all the RMP, HKPF and Merchant Navy men could do now was holding the crowds back from storming the ships, now and then letting a few lucky persons through. William, literally tied to his brother's arm was following their mother who desperately tried to hold onto her sons as she elbowed her way through the crowds. The two boys were scared out of their minds and it was a nightmarish scene for even the most seasoned adults. It was still dark and the jostling, moving, hitting and scrambling people added a noise to the scene that was beyond anything anyone of them had ever experienced. They moved closer and closer to the harbour and could actually see the ships now. The road was descending towards the shoreline in a gentle slope and passed through the gates of the Naval base and there, just as they passed below the White Ensign painted onto the sign, the unspeakable happened. Their mother was hit in the side by a man who tried to cross the main road to a smaller one in-between two buildings and so their mother lost her grip of William's hand. The pressure of the crowed immediately separated the two children from their mother and carried them towards the nearest Freighter, the two bitterly crying children and the equally crying mother unable to do anything about it. The Freighter was an elderly steamer that had seen service during the First World War, shuttling troops between India and what had been German East Africa and had somehow found it's way into the hands of an enterprising and wealthy Englishmen who had tried to open a regular ferry route between Hong Kong and French Indochina before the crisis had put severe restrictions on civilian traffic. Somehow William and his brother found themselves in the first row of those that tried to get past the line of soldiers and sailors that had cordoned off the gangway of the ship and there, against their will and under orders from the Captain someone pulled them through the line and ushered them up the gangway. Once there they were greeted by two nurses who tried to separate them, only they clung so hard to each other that this proved to be impossible, so they were taken down below past the people that were sitting, standing and lying in every nook and cranny of the ship. Meanwhile down on the quay the sailors were beginning to cast away the mooring lines and when that filtered through to the crowd they realized that the ship was leaving they repeated a scene that played out all along the coast where the other civilian ships were moored. They tried to storm the line and the gangway as long as it was still connected to the land. For the most part the soldiers managed to hold them back, but some slipped through. The Freighter began to drift away from the quay and through a porthole William could see how the line dissolved into nothing. People standing at the front of the crowd were forced to go forward until they fell into the water, people at the back tried to get through to the front. Some even tried to swim after the freighter, but by the time they had managed to re-orient themselves the ship was already too far away. On the Bridge the Captain turned and looked deliberately at the Cruiser and the Destroyers that lead the small convoy out of the harbour area of the Crown Colony.
For the next two hours everything went fine, and by the time it did not anymore William and his brother were standing on the uppermost deck of the ship, holding onto a cup of tea each and looking like what they were: two utterly lost children adrift in a world gone mad with war. Then however a cry of despair went through the ship. On the horizon, coming in from the South-west were three shapes. Warships. Japanese warships. William and his brother watched silently as the shapes drew closer and closer as the small convoy was flapping it's way westwards. The Destroyers were nowhere to be seen, and more amazed than terrified the two children stared at the distant vessels. The Freighter suddenly changed course to avoid collision with a vast steel bulk as it raced through the calm waters. Big steel upperworks, gun turrets and aerials of any form and description rose out of this headlong structure. It was the heavy Cruiser Thunderchild which had turned around to come to the rescue of the threatened shipping. Her turrets were trained at the Japanese who hopelessly outclassed the single British warship. Ignoring the odds the ship interposed itself between the onrushing Japanese that had been identified as a Kongo Class Battlecruiser and two Destroyers.
HMS Thunderchild in happier days
The Captain of Thunderchild hoisted the White Ensign and over the distance one could hear the steam sirens that sent ship and crew to action stations. The intentions of the Japanese were pretty clear to most aboard both ships, but so far no shots had been fired. Thunderchild however had accomplished part of her mission. The Japanese Task Force had changed course and slowed down, and over the next hour the Freighter put more and more distance between itself and them. But then all changed again. Suddenly the Japanese Battlecruiser was lit up with a yellow flash, and seconds later the bellowing of her guns carried over the distance to the cruiser and the freighter. The shells fell embarrassingly wide of the mark and the smaller guns aboard Thunderchild bellowed in reply. As the the Freighter pulled away from the scene of the battle those standing at the stern could see that Thunderchild turned, presenting her side to the enemy. Her tubes spat out four 21inch torpedoes that raced towards the enemy that was just now coming into range of the deadly fish. The Japanese spotted them only very late and tried to avoid, but couldn't avoid all of them. One of the Destroyers was hit astern by a single torpedo broke in half and sank. Enraged about the loss of one of their own the other Japanese ships utterly forgot about the fleeing civilian ships and concentrated on the insolent British Cruiser that had dared to defy them. Thunderchild defiantly returned fire, but the remaining Destroyer and the far heavier Battlecruiser soon overpowered her and the last thing that the persons aboard the freighter could see was a large yellow flesh when the Magazines of Thunderchild exploded. However the sacrifice of the Cruiser was not in vain, because the Japanese decided not to pursue the convoy. They suspected that stronger British Naval Units might be close and decided to carry out their main mission, fire support for the landings on Hong Kong Island.
None of those on the Freighter would ever forget what had happened, and thanks to them and their testimony the memory of Thunderchild and her actions would forever be remembered by the Royal Navy and the population of Hong Kong. All that remained of the cruiser was the memory and the last signal, broadcast in the clear for the world to hear:
'Have engaged superior Japanese forces'
07:12 local time
The information centre for the three RDF stations that covered the approaches to Singapore was dug deep into the soil of the Island, so the men on duty there did not know if it was daylight outside or not. But they didn't care. General Slim had put the Island on full alert mere hours after the war warning had been received and now they were beginning to feel the strain. The room was of a similar layout as Fighter Command back in Britain, but smaller, directly linked to the battle box by an underground tunnel. Instead of southern England the map in front of the WAAFs showed Singapore Island and the surrounding sea. It was the same setup as in Fighter Command, and now it would pay off. When one of the WAAFs received a message of a contact she followed procedure, placed the marker on the table and pressed the alarm button. The Male Officer of the day looked down at the table, spotted what had happened and pressed his own alarm button. He picked up the telephone and did his duty. With this system it took the RAF at Singapore a mere thirty seconds from the first sighting to the alarm being raised on the airfields scattered over the Island. On these fields No.633 Squadron (RAF), No. 300 Squadron (RAF), No.1 Squadron (RIAF), flying current-model Spitfires, 75 Squadron RAAF, 12 Squadron RNZAF on late-model Hurricanes and No. 22 Squadron (RCAF) on Typhoons.
On one of the airbases Wing Commander Dashwood was sleeping in the cockpit of his Spitfire and would have jumped out of the same when the alarm sounded had it not been for the harness that strapped him down. The sirens wailed all over the base and he could already see the first propellers starting to turn while the loudspeakers yelled: “SCRAMBLE SCRAMBLE!”. His own ground crew came running from the edge of the revetment where they had been sleeping and as Dashwood pressed the starter button they removed the brakes from his weels and after less than half a minute Dashwood was taxiing onto the concrete runway. He looked around as he waited for his section to form up. Soon the four aircraft gunned their Merlin Engines to full power and roared down the runway.
Once in the air Dashwood keyed his microphone.
“Hunter Leader to Home Cave, Hunter Group is in the air.”
The voice answered promptly.
“We have contacts coming in from the East at medium and low level, bearing...” directions followed.
“No IFF, two groups.”
North East. That meant somewhere over the South China Sea. Carriers.
Dashwood swallowed the lump in his throat and decided to get on with his job.
“Hunter Leader to Hunter Group, we have customers. Set your bearing and follow me.”
The Airbase Dashwood Commanded was the home of the three Spitfire Squadrons and as they raced eastwards towards the enemy he knew that the remaining Squadrons were preparing themselves, forming the Fighter reserve in case it was needed.
Forty-eight Spitfires were racing to meet an unknown number of presumably Japanese Aircraft. For all Dashwood knew the entire Kido Butai hiding out there with it's ten full-size Fleet Carriers and a cloud of Zero Fighters.
“Home Cave to Hunter, you should be able to see them any moment now.”
Dashwood adjusted his oxygen mask and looked around. The canopy of a Spitfire wasn't optimal, but he still spotted them below him, almost a thousand feet below the height the RAF normally operated on.
Hunter Leader to Hunter Group, Tally ho, tally ho, down below us. Dive and attack in sections, good hunting.”
One after another the sections of Spitfires dove upon the group of Japanese Aircraft. The Spitfires were all fitted with tropical filters that impaired performance, but Dashwood had made sure that much work had gone into minimizing this and as a result the Mk.VII was only slightly slower than her European Sisters. Dashwood however had no mind for this as he centred his gunsight on a Aichi D3A 'Val' and pressed the trigger of his 20mm cannons.
That morning a series of desperate Air battles was fought over the South China Sea and Singapore Island itself. The Imperial Japanese Navy had committed three of it's Carriers to the opening attack on Singapore which were reinforced by land-based aircraft out of Siam which, unlike the Japanese, actually declared war on Britain through Radio Bangkok before allowing the Japanese and their own aircraft to launch their attacks. The entry of Siam into the Asiatic pact was so sudden and unexpected to the Allies that the Dutch and the British both initiated separate hearings into how this could have been missed, but that night no one cared about that even as troops from Southern China began to move into French Indochina to link up with Siam.
The Air battles took place everywhere between Singapore itself and the Siamese border. Shortly after Dashwood's group had launched and vectored onto the attack force from the Carriers more groups were spotted coming in from Siam, mostly following the length of the Malay peninsula and by 7:45 every serviceable fighter present at Singapore at the time was in the air. The Allied Fighters fought hard and the losses the Japanese took in the end were almost thirty percent above estimates several groups slipped through and descended upon the Island and the harbour. The planes that broke through mostly belonged to the land-based 4th Air Fleet of the IJNAF and as such were trained and ordered to go after the harbour and any shipping present. There the Japanese made their first mistake. The Intelligence compiled prior to the war had made them aware of the second Naval base at the southern shore of the Island, but they had been unaware that the primary Naval anchorage had been moved so more than half of the planes that attacked went after a base that was mostly empty, bombing empty docks, quays and buildings. They still managed to obliterate the base and take it out of action for the remainder of the war. The half of the group attacked the correct Naval Base after running the gauntlet through Hurricanes, Typhoons and massive anti-aircraft fire to the second base which was not empty.
7:44 local time
Belfast was at Action Stations for half an hour now and Captain Beattie knew that he most likely was senior officer afloat. Belfast had raced from Ceylon to Singapore at a speed that would have made her builders proud only to arrive an hour before the alert had been given and the ship had been sent back out again. Now she was circling a mile off coast and waiting for the inevitable air alarm. At the back of the bridge was another Officer, respected by the crew and the Captain even though he belonged to the Army. It was none other than Major Malcom Drake, flown to India to raise a new Commando Wing that recruited from the Gurkhas and other locals – only to be moved to Singapore in times of crisis before the training was complete. Now Drake was nothing more than an additional pair of eyes in a situation that was frighteningly unfamiliar to him. Beattie on the other hand knew exactly what he was doing. The Singapore Squadron was small, three Destroyers and four Thames Class Gunboats aside from Belfast herself but the ships circled in formation and all the guns that could were trained upwards in anticipation of air attack.
Beattie had his binoculars trained outwards like everyone else when the cry came. Instantly the main turrets with their triple BL 6 in Mark XXIII guns swung about and prepared to open up on the enemy even though the traverse speed of the turrets made an actual hit unlikely. The secondary dual-purpose 4 in Mark XVI followed, as did the 40mm Bofors that had replaced the trusty pom poms on the ship. The formation that approached the harbour was smaller than the one that had broken off from the main group thanks to the anti-air defences that were scattered all over the Island. The ships in the harbour added their own guns to the volume of fire that covered the sky over the harbour. At the same time as HMS Belfast opened fire and on the other side of the pacific six more carriers were attacking another Naval Base, but here in Singapore they did not have total tactical surprise and suffered for it. The few of this group that made it back to the Carriers later told the tale of a sky black with shells. When they left the scene one of the Destroyers and several of the buildings on shore were burning fiercely, but for some reason the largest target, Belfast herself had managed to avoid the torpedoes fired at her and was now slowly approaching the shoreline while her communications tried to make contact with anyone in a position of authority on the shore. Drake piked up the cap of his tropical uniform from the deck where it had fallen at some point and then walked out onto the bridge wing where he joined Beattie who was looking over the scene of devastation on shore.
“They'd have totally clobbered us if they'd brought more torpedo planes.” Beattie said.
Drake replied as he put on his cap. “I couldn't tell. But I can tell you one thing, we are up for a tough fight, both the squids and the footsloggers.” He adjusted his oncomfortable walking out uniform and wished himself back in Para battledress before turning back to the Naval Captain. “Let's just hope the rest of the Army and the RAF are up to the task.
[Notes: There you go. This is now truly a World War. I was originally going to put Drake into Singapore during the Christmas Special, but as it turned out I wrote something completely different. My original idea was to have Drake travel on Thunderchild to Singapore and arrive just in the moment the first Japanese planes are over the harbour. Oh well.]
 Yes, yes, wrong spelling, but like this it scans better I think.
 Royal Indian Air Force.