The Planning Stages (1927-1939)
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 in some respects might
even be over the top!
As to wether there should be a need for a coastal battery at Pengerang,
the deciding factor boiled down to a narrow strait between Pulau
Tekong and Pengerang on the mainland, known as the Calder passage.
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 rolled
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 Gillman and his Gillman's
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 with 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 view as to the whole point of the concept of a "Fortress
Singapore", was the Naval base itself. It was in his own
words, the "raison d'entre of the fortress".
Without adequate defences for the naval base, the whole fortress
idea was flawed.
Some concerns were raised by military heads that with any proposed
6" battery there might be a drain on troops. Dobbie however
pointed out that in war it would be necessary to hold Pengerang
with infantry, irrespective of a battery being there or not, as
Pengerang had already a key observation post atop of Bukit Johore
and was defended by men of the Indian State Forces.
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
such as raw materials in this case would need to be obtained locally.
With Dobbies full weight behind a Pengerang based coastal battery
the project finally got a green light. The exact date of construction
and completion of the defences at Pengerang is still a mystery,
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.