When Imperial Japan unleashed the Pacific War in December 1941, Australian forces went into action, as part of a larger British Empire force, to defend Malaya and Singapore. This reflected an Australian commitment to defending Australia by protecting its ‘near north'. Unfortunately, Australian forces were compromised before they fired a shot by wider problems: the Allies were not ready for global war in late 1941, Australia lacked the forces to fill the gap in Southeast Asia, and all Allied forces on the ground in Southeast Asia were unprepared for the high tempo manoeuvre warfare the Japanese threw at them. Australia's principal contribution to defending Malaya and Singapore was the 8th Division. Originally raised for service in the Mediterranean, the division was committed piecemeal to Malaya and its performance was bedevilled by poor command decisions in the face of an enemy better prepared on all counts for the campaign at hand. The 8th Division, however, also reflected some strengths of the AIF at large: stubbornness in positional defence, effective and flexible small unit tactics and leadership, and skill and determination in close quarter combat. Singapore was lost more in spite than because of Australian efforts, but its loss underlined Australia's strategic dependence on ‘great and powerful friends' during the Second World War.
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