+ The planning stages
+ The war years
+ Occupation and post war years
+ Modern day Pengerang
+ Tunnel systems & underground places
+ A veteran remembers

- GOC William Dobbie -

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 instance.

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 pound mark.