Our story begins in early 1927, when Lieutenant General Sir Webb
Gillman, together with two engineering officers were sent to Singapore
by the War Office to review the scale of defences proposed by
the CID (Committee of Imperial Defence). The main thinking behind
the CID's defence proposals, was based on the now infamous sole
assumption that in order to capture SIngapore, an enemy would
need to conduct a full scale attack by sea using warships.
Once in Singapore, Gillman and his commission quickly came to
the conclusion that the current and planned defences for Singapore
island was already more than adequate, and might even be over
the top in many respects!
As to wether there should be a need for a coastal battery at Pengerang
, the deciding point for them boiled down Calder passage, a narrow
strait between Pulau Tekong and Pengerang on the mainland. Except
for small motor boats, this passage was assumed to be too narrow
and shallow for large vessels to navigate. The Admiralty also
had plans to block this passage with a anti motor boat boom. With
these points taken into account, Gillman and members of his Commission
found that there was no need for the proposed battery at Pengerang
to protect this area.
Later that year in November, with Gillman and his commission having
returned to England, the wheels of military bureaucracy continued
to roll on, and a Sub-Committee of high ranking officers, chaired
by Gillman himself, was charged to review the completed study.
This Sub-Committee would go on to fully endorse the findings of
the Gillman Commission.
As for the Pengerang battery question, the submitted report stated,
"now that the Admiralty are proposing to block the Calder
passage, we agree that it is unnecessary to have any 6" guns
and lights at Pengerang". On April 2nd 1928,
the Chiefs of Staff accepted the recommendations of the Sub-Committee,
and plans for a coastal battery at Pengerang was thus scrapped.
It's important to note in hindsight that the main points supporting
the final decision was terribly flawed. It was to be later accepted
that Calder passage was in fact deep enough to allow enemy destroyers
to "creep" up the passage. An anti motor boat boom in
this case would be totally useless to stop a vessel of this size.
But even this is academic, as no anti motor boat was ever installed
at any time leading up to 1936!
Nine years then rolled by and in 1936 with the new appointment
of GOC (General-Officer-Commanding) William Dobbie, the perspective
views on a coastal battery at Pengerang would once again shift.
Dobbie pointed out to the war office, that the defences of the
eastern channel was dangerously weak, "I think
it is imperative to put an additional battery on Pengerang, this
will greatly strengthen position generally and in addition would
provide direct defence of channel through Calder harbour".
Dobbie's idea on the whole point to a "Fortress Singapore"
was the Naval base. It was in his own words, the "raison
d'entre of the fortress". Without adequate
defences for the naval base, the whole concept was flawed.
Some concerns were raised by military heads that with any proposed
6" battery there might be a drain on troops. Dobbie however
suggested that in war it would be necessary to hold Pengerang
with infantry, irrespective of a battery being there or not, not
forgetting that Pengerang was a key observation post in the first
The accepted advantages of having a battery at Pengerang were
thus put forth:
It would provide additional depth to the defences of the main
channel leading to the naval base in addition to covering Calder
harbour. Pengerang also provides a broadside shoot, as opposed
to an end-on shoot from Tekong, and that the main arc or fire
is at right angles to that of existing defences on Tekong. Therefore
it will be difficult to blind the whole British defences with
an enemy smoke screen, if such a tactic were to be used. The only
disadvantage with Pengerang is that it is so isolated, supplies
in this case would need to be obtained locally.
With Dobbies full support behind a Pengerang based coastal battery,
everyone else naturally fell into line, and the project finally
got a green light. The exact date of construction and completion
of the defences at Pengerang is still a mystery to me, but from
one report, I do know it was completed just before January 1939.
Estimated cost of construction was put at around the sixty thousand