In 1942 something unthinkable happened. The Japanese army captured Singapore. For the British empire it was the single most devastating defeat ever suffered and, in an historical sense, it was the beginning of the end for the European empires.
Critical to the success of the Japanese operation was the ability of their long-range naval attack aircraft to sink two of Britain’s greatest battleships. For the British it was a truly shattering event. Years later, Winston Churchill would describe his feelings on that day saying that the news struck him almost physically. Lacking any kind of credible air cover, the Royal Navy had attempted to defend itself using tripod-mounted antiaircraft guns fired on visual. The Japanese would loose only a small number of their 88 on their attacking aircraft, no where near enough to save the British from disaster.
Later on in the Second World War, the Americans would do better than this, deploying carrier-based fighter planes whose sole purpose was to protect their fleet against Japanese aircraft. The introduction of the proximity fuse further enhanced their security. Incredibly, the Americans had invented a radar-controlled anti-aircraft shell that detonated at the point of closest approach to its target, boosting the effectiveness of anti-aircraft fire by a factor of five. It was a technology that the British would later borrow in their attempts to shoot down the infamous V1 flying bombs in the closing stages of the war in Europe. It is perhaps best known for its success against the Japanese kamikaze pilots of the mid-1940s.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies