The Principles of War Podcast
2 The Japanese and Allied Centres of Gravity for the Malaya Campaign

2 – The Japanese and Allied Centres of Gravity for the Malaya Campaign

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The Centre of Gravity is that characteristic, capability or locality from which a force, nation or alliance derives its freedom of action, strength or will to fight.

For the British, the CoG was the Singapore Naval Base.  It was the fundamental part of the defence of the whole of South East Asia.  In times of need the Royal Navy would sail out to Singapore and defeat all comers and ensure that the Empire was secure.  The port at Singapore was central to the defence of Australia.  The base wasn’t big enough for the fleet required to keep the seas free.  The fleet was unlikely to sally forth if decisively engaged in Europe, so the fleet base was too small for a fleet that was unlikely ever sail there.  It turned out to be the second largest graving dock in the world at the time.

We look at how the Singapore Strategy became increasingly untenable, but no one was prepared to

In 1940 it became apparent that the Navy would not be able to sail to Singapore ‘for the foreseeable future.”

LT GEN Percival conducted an analysis of the defence of Singapore before the war.  This dictated that the defence of Singapore would need to be conducted in Malaya and northern Malaya at that.

As the war progressed, Churchill hoped that the US would provide the Navy required to support the British in the Far East, if provoked.

With no Navy to defend the base, the defence of Malaya fell to the Air Force.  With not enough planes and the planes they had being too old, the last line of defence would be the Army.

The defence of the base dictated the way that the Battle of Malaya was fought.

For the Japanese, the CoG analysis is a lot easier.  It was the tank.

The tanks the Japanese had were not great and the tactics they used were not modern, but they had tanks, used them very aggressively and the British had no tanks in Malaya.  The Japanese used the tanks for filleting attacks which were devastating, especially against forces that were not well versed in combined arms, or even anti tank weapons.

A Critical Vulnerability of tanks, of course, is the logistics tail required.  How will Yamashita overcome this?



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Len Doo June 7, 2020 at 12:49 am

This is brilliant. I wish I had found if earlier!

Steven aka Blott July 11, 2020 at 9:30 pm

Thanks for the podcasts. I just completed the Long Tan series. I had some questions not covered.
1. After Long Tan was there a move to improve the functionality and preparedness of the other companies in the battalion. Was a similar process also determined for 5th RAR which if I remember was there at the same time?
2. How much did the SAS follow up the retreating NVA? I think this was covered a bit but to me the follow even weeks afterwards would have been pivotal.
3. How much of the lessons learnt filtered back into battalions earmarked for the next rotation in? Including as far as standards.
4. Was 5th RAR in a position to cut off retreating NVA? If I remember they were out on operation.
6. Where did Harry Smith end up career wise?
7. I always viewed the battle as well trained soldiers and junior leaders (I place majors also in that category) compensating for higher level unpreparedness and insufficient planning for task force Preparedness. Is that fair for the Australian task force in the early days? Based on the history of NVA and VC operations they had significant mobilization, movement, and fast strike capabilities at that time.

James Eling October 31, 2020 at 2:10 am

Hi Steven,
We’ve just published a series with Harry Smith, which answers some of the questions.
There was quite a change as 1 ATF realised what a near run thing it was.
I am not aware of any efforts from the SAS to follow up the NVA.
The Hand over / take over was not great, so a lot of learning was redone as new battalions came into the AO.
Not sure here 5 RAR was, but I don’t think they were in position.
Harry ended up as a LT COL. He now spends his time sailing up on the Queensland coast.
1 ATF certainly could have done more, but I think it is easy to train a Coy, rather than a TF HQ. The lads were extremely well trained and I think that is where most of the lessons should be learnt. There was more the TF could do, especially around Int, logistics and battle management, in my opinion.

Ron October 31, 2020 at 4:03 pm

Dear James
Great work! I’m going to recommend this series to my fellow non-military students attending my current strategic studies masters. Clear and well presented.
Were tanks THE COG for the Japs in 1942? I agree that, indeed they were a COG… but not THE COG? If you take armour away, there was still Japanese aggression, amphibious outflanking moves ( never done once by the British + Empire forces), constant presentation of ‘multiple dilemmas to the enemy” ( to paraphrase TRADOC MDO jargon) ,and Japanese control of the air. I think Japanese use of manoeuvre theory and leadership was closer to the actual COG. Where the Allies employed 40 mm AT guns, as the Australians did at Bakri ( =please correct me if I’m wrong, its the action with the well-known film) the Type 97’s proved to be pretty vulnerable; and I’m not sure if the Boys AT rifle could penetrate the front armour but my wild guess is it would have gone through the sides: and both weapon systems were present. One wonders if things would have been different with a few squadrons of Matilda II’s?…..However given British leadership, training, lack of air power, and inter-service issues the outcome would probably have been the same in the end.
Thanks again for all your great work!


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