Dalforce was a volunteer army formed by the local Chinese community to resist the Japanese invasion during the battle of Singapore. It was named after its commander, Lieutenant Colonel John Dalley of the Federated Malay States Police Force. However, the Chinese called it by a different name: the Singapore Overseas Chinese Anti-Japanese Volunteer Army (星华义勇军).1
Origins of Dalforce
The volunteer force can trace its beginnings to the Singapore Chinese Mobilisation Council formed under Tan Kah Kee in late December 1941 at the request of the colonial government.2 Under pressure from its communist members, the council urged the colonial government to create an armed force of Chinese volunteers to aid in the defence of Singapore.3
The government relented and Dalley was appointed the chief commander of this force. Dalley had advocated the creation of a military force of Chinese recruits as early as 1940, but the government had shied from arming Chinese communists and for fear of affecting public morale.4 Tan was personally against arming the local Chinese community, as he believed that the move would incite brutal Japanese reprisals against the Chinese if Singapore fell.5
The local Chinese community was, however, eager to resist the impending invasion as anti-Japanese sentiments had by then become stronger due to Japanese aggression in China. Men and women from widely differing social backgrounds, including labourers, students, secret society members and rickshaw pullers, responded to the Chinese Mobilisation Council’s call for volunteers.6 Some members of the Malayan Communist Party imprisoned by the colonial government were released to join Dalforce,7 while volunteers who had trained as guerillas at the 101 Special Training School under British officers Captain Richard Broome and Captain John Davis also joined after the Allied retreat from the Malayan mainland.8 Accounts differ as to the number of recruits, which were estimated to be between 2,000 and 4,000.9
However, only eight companies comprising 150 volunteers each were formed due to time constraints, as the force was organised and recruited hastily in January 1942, a little over a month before the Japanese invasion of Singapore.10
As the local Chinese community was then divided politically into communist and nationalist (Kuomintang) factions, two separate formations were created from the Chinese volunteers. The majority of Malayan Communist Party (MCP) supporters were assigned to Dalforce, while the Kuomintang supporters made up the numbers of the lesser-known Overseas Chinese Guard Force.11Hu Tie Jun, a graduate of the Whampoa Central Military Academy in China, was appointed the deputy commander of Dalforce, and assumed the rank of major.12
Training and equipment
Members of Dalforce received between three and 14 days of training, focusing on the most basic of military skills such as shooting, taking cover and bayonet fighting.13 Their standard equipment was a shotgun, seven rounds of ammunition and two grenades. Some were armed with only parangs (Malay for “machetes”) or obsolete hunting rifles.14
However, other units such as the non-communist Overseas Chinese Guard Force received better equipment like Bren machine guns. Each volunteer was also issued with at least 30 rounds of ammunition.15
The volunteer soldiers of both Dalforce and the Overseas Chinese Guard Force were not issued with proper uniforms. They wore yellow headscarves and improvised uniforms of blue affixed with red triangles on the right sleeve.16
Dalforce in action
Dalforce units were deployed from 5 February 1942, in preparation for the defence of Singapore. Dalforce companies were attached to regular Allied units at the following places: Jurong Road at the 18th milestone, Lim Chu Kang at the 19.5 milestone, Woodlands near the Causeway and the area between Serangoon River and Pasir Ris.17
An Overseas Chinese Guard Platoon was also deployed near Kampong Kranji, on the east bank of the Kranji River. In total, only four Dalforce companies were deployed to the frontline as the rest were deemed unready for combat, due to time constraints in training.18
Prior to the invasion of Singapore, there were accounts of the volunteer companies eliminating whole Japanese reconnaissance and patrol teams attempting to cross the Johor Straits. These accounts are uncorroborated and were not recorded in the battalion histories of the Allied units that Dalforce fought alongside.19
On 8 February, the Japanese launched the first wave of their assault after one day of intensive bombardment. Dalforce and Allied units resisted the Japanese but were forced to withdraw further inland. It is known that members of Dalforce Company No. 2 managed to retreat successfully by withdrawing along Lim Chu Kang Road and swimming across the tributaries of Kranji River to arrive at Choa Chu Kang Road.20 Out of an initial strength of 150, only about 60 members of the company survived the battle up to this point.21
At the Causeway on 10 February, Dalforce fighters and the Australian 27th Brigade were noted for repelling the initial advance by the Japanese Imperial Guards Division by inflicting heavy casualties on the attackers, so much so that Japanese commander Lieutenant General Tomoyuki Yamashita considered withdrawing from the operation.22 However, a second wave of Japanese attack launched on the same day forced the Australians to retreat, leaving the Dalforce fighters to battle the Japanese in the mangrove swamps and resulting in the Causeway eventually falling to the Japanese.23
By 11 February, the battle had moved inland to the Bukit Timah area as Allied forces withdrew in the face of the Japanese onslaught.24 At least one Dalforce company was still in the fight at this point – Company No. 1 had retreated from Jurong to make a last stand at the Bukit Timah Road 6th milestone.25 Among the volunteers still putting up a fight was Cheng Seang Ho and her husband, who were both in their 60s. Cheng was nicknamed the Passionaria of Malaya, in reference to a female fighter in the Spanish Civil War.26
On the morning of 13 February, surviving members of Dalforce assembled at their headquarters located in the Nanyang Teacher’s Training School at Kim Yam Road.27 Their commander, John Dalley, ordered the volunteers to disband and paid each member a token sum of 10 Straits Dollars for their service.28
Of the four Dalforce companies that were deployed, only three saw action, from which there were an estimated 300 casualties. However, the Imperial War Graves Commission officially identified 134 war dead.29 Accounts by British and Australian soldiers that worked alongside Dalforce spoke of the volunteers' courage and resilience.30 Among the troops that defended Singapore, Dalforce fighters were said to be among the most motivated to battle the Japanese.31
After the fall of Singapore on 15 February, members of Dalforce went underground as guerillas or laid low for the duration of the occupation, in order to escape Japanese reprisals. Many Dalforce volunteers also joined the Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA).32
Sook Ching massacre
In popular memory and from the perspective of Dalforce veterans, Operation Sook Ching carried out by the Japanese between February and March 1942 was regarded as retribution for the strong resistance put up by the volunteers.33 Among those who expressed this view were Mamoru Shinozaki, a Japanese official stationed in Singapore during the Japanese Occupation, and Yap Pheng Geck, a senior officer in the Straits Settlements Volunteer Force.34 In some accounts, Dalforce had “given [the Japanese] the most trouble [and] killed the greatest number of their men…”.35
Tan Kah Kee laid the blame of the fate of the Chinese community in Singapore on both Dalforce and the British. He had told Dalforce leaders before the fall of Singapore that "you do not deserve any pity because you are prepared to make self-sacrifice, but the whole Chinese populace would be wiped out when the enemy entered the city." He added: "I had the opinion that the British Government was malicious in despatching the untrained Chinese to the front, when the trained British troops were withdrawn behind the lines." Dalforce volunteers failed to realise that their actions had implicated the rest of the Chinese population.36
However, other sources take the view that the significance of Dalforce in the war and the subsequent Sook Ching may have been overemphasised, given evidence that an operation to purge the Chinese had already been planned for before Japanese troops landed in Singapore.37 The “trouble” that Dalforce posed to the Japanese would probably have been low due to their comparatively small numbers, poor training and outdated equipment. In addition, the Japanese make no mention of Dalforce in their official military history of the fall of Singapore.38
Following the liberation of Singapore, Lieutenant General Arthur Percival, former commander of British forces in Malaya, neglected mention of Dalforce in his official reports, while criticising the Chinese community for not providing sufficient assistance to the British during the war. He also wrote that there was “great difficulty in filling the Chinese sub-units in the existing volunteer organisation”.39
Percival’s criticisms caused an uproar among the Chinese community since it was the British who had been tardy in enlisting the aid of the local population for defence. As a result, Percival did a turnabout in his memoir, The War in Malaya, acknowledging the effort of the local Chinese and Dalforce, but maintaining that the latter’s contribution was ultimately of little impact during the battle of Singapore.40
1. Kevin Blackburn and Ju ern Daniel Chew, “Dalforce at the Fall of Singapore in 1942: An Overseas Chinese Heroic Legend,” Journal of Chinese Overseas, 1, no. 2 (November 2005): 233. (Call no. RSING 305.8951 JCO)
2. “Co-operation of Chinese,” Straits Times, 8 January 1942, 6. (From NewspaperSG); Constance Mary Turnbull, “A History of Modern Singapore, 1819–2005,” (Singapore: National University of Singapore Press, 2009), 182. (Call no. RSING 959.57 TUR-[HIS])
3. Blackburn and Chew, “Dalforce at the Fall of Singapore,” 240.
4. James Leasor, Singapore: The Battle That Changed the World (N.Y.: Doubleday, 1968), 235. (Call no. RSING 959.51 LEA)
5. Turnbull, “History of Modern Singapore,” 184.
6. Blackburn and Chew, “Dalforce at the Fall of Singapore,” 242–43.
7. Leon Comber, Malaya's Secret Police 1945–60: The Role of the Special Branch in the Malayan Emergency (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2008), 29. (Call no. RSING 363.283095951 COM)
8. Paul H. Kratoska, The Japanese Occupation of Malaya: A Social and Economic History (N.S.W.: Allen & Unwin, 1998), 292. (Call no. RSING 959.5103 KRA)
9. Cheah Boon Kheng, “Japanese Army Policy toward the Chinese and Malay-Chinese Relations in Wartime Malaya,” in Southeast Asian Minorities in the Wartime Japanese Empire, ed., Paul. H. Kratoska (London: Routledge, 2002), 98. (Call no. RSING 959.052 SOU)
10. Blackburn and Chew, “Dalforce at the Fall of Singapore,” 242–43.
11. Blackburn and Chew, “Dalforce at the Fall of Singapore,” 241.
12. T. J. Hu, “We Fought at the Frontline Defending Singapore,” in The Price of Peace: True Accounts of the Japanese Occupation, ed. Foong Choon Hon, trans. Clara Show (Singapore: Asiapac Books, 1997), 276. (Call no. RSING 959.57 PRI-[HIS])
13. Blackburn and Chew, “Dalforce at the Fall of Singapore,” 245.
14. Hu, “Fought at the Frontline,” 276.
15. Hu, “Fought at the Frontline,” 283.
16. Turnbull, “History of Modern Singapore,” 183; Blackburn and Chew, “Dalforce at the Fall of Singapore in 1942,” 244.
17. Blackburn and Chew, “Dalforce at the Fall of Singapore,” 244.
18. Blackburn and Chew, “Dalforce at the Fall of Singapore,” 243–44.
19. Blackburn and Chew, “Dalforce at the Fall of Singapore,” 246–47.
20. Blackburn and Chew, “Dalforce at the Fall of Singapore,” 248–50.
21. Blackburn and Chew, “Dalforce at the Fall of Singapore,” 250.
22. Cheah, “Japanese Army Policy,” 98–99.
23. Cheah, “Japanese Army Policy,” 99.
24. Blackburn and Chew, “Dalforce at the Fall of Singapore,” 252.
25. Blackburn and Chew, “Dalforce at the Fall of Singapore,” 252.
26. “A Heroine is Rewarded,” Straits Times, 25 July 1948, 5 (From NewspaperSG); Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper, Forgotten Armies: The Fall of British Asia, 1941–1945 (London: Allen Lane, 2004), 136. (Call no. R 940.5425 BAY-[WAR])
27. Hu, “Fought at the Frontline,” 278.
28. Hu, “Fought at the Frontline,” 278.
29. Blackburn and Chew, “Dalforce at the Fall of Singapore,” 254.
30. Malcolm H. Murfett, et al., Between Two Oceans: A Military History of Singapore from 1275 to 1971 (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish, 2011), 240. (Call no. RSING 355.0095957 BET)
31. Murfett, et al., Between Two Oceans, 227.
32. Turnbull, “History of Modern Singapore,” 199.
33. Blackburn and Chew, “Dalforce at the Fall of Singapore,” 253.
34. Cheah, “Japanese Army Policy,” 102–03.
35. Blackburn and Chew, “Dalforce at the Fall of Singapore,” 249.
36. Cheah, “Japanese Army Policy,” 102–04.
37. Hayashi Hirofumi, “Massacre of Chinese in Singapore and Its Coverage in Postwar Japan,” in New Perspectives on the Japanese Occupation in Malaya and Singapore, ed., Akashi Yoji and Yoshimura Mako (Singapore: National University of Singapore Press, 2008), 235–36. (Call no. RSING 940.5337 NEW-[WAR])
38. Blackburn and Chew, “Dalforce at the Fall of Singapore,” 253.
39. “The Chinese in the Siege,” Straits Times, 10 March 1948, 4 (From NewspaperSG); Blackburn and Chew, “Dalforce at the Fall of Singapore,” 255.
40. Blackburn and Chew, “Dalforce at the Fall of Singapore."
The information in this article is valid as at 19 August 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading material on the topic.