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

 

1939-1942
By August 1941 the Pengerang battery was fully operational and Singapore Fixed Defences had been brought up to a Number 3 Degree of readiness. The Fire Observation Post (FOP) at Pengerang was then ordered to be permanently manned.
It was also at this time, that all Japanese citizens in the Pengerang area were ordered to stay at least16 miles away from the facility and or any Malayan defence site for security purposes. It's ironic to note, that the Japanese had been in Pengerang and the southern region for many years previously, as they owned many rubber plantations in the area, including the very same plantation where the battery had been built!

In December 1941, under the command of Lt Colonel John Stitt MC, the 2nd battalion Gordon Highlanders were ordered to Pengerang to set up defensive positions. This included laying anti personnel and anti tank mines and clearing fields of fire. From their positions they even had the pleasure of seeing HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales sailing up the Johor straits, on their way to the Royal Naval base at Sembawang.

During the month of December, Japanese aircraft were seen on reconnaissance flights over Pengerang and were observed dropping flares.
When the first signs of fighting came to Johor by January 15th 1942, the Gordon's supervised the evacuation of the local population of Pengerang. On the 21st, the Gordon's handed over garrison defence duties to the 1st Mysore Infantry I.S.F. (Indian State Forces). The personnel of the 32nd battery, who manned the main 6” guns, still remained at Pengerang.

In the following days and weeks, Pengerang’s garrison patrols started picking up clues that small Japanese patrols were already operating in the area. In one case, a Japanese military map had been discovered discarded in one of the nearby villages.

By the end of January the fight for the Malayan mainland was over with all allied forces having retreated into Singapore. The order was then given to destroy Singapore's only physical link to the mainland, the causeway. A rather inadequate 60ft gap was thus blasted out of the 3464ft total length of causeway, in the vain attempt to slow the invading Japanese army.

The closest battle to Pengerang during this time was on the 7th of February on Pulau Ubin, 12km to the West. 400 Japanese soldiers had been sent to Pulau Ubin as a feint attack leading up to the main invasion of Singapore.

During this time Pengerang did see some action of its own, firing at Japanese aircraft with their AALA. On the 11th, Pengerang even fired on a Junk. The brief war diary entry mentioning this action doesn't however specify if the 6" guns or 8 pounders were used, or even if the Junk was under Japanese command. The likelihood perhaps was that the junk was actually manned by locals fleeing from the invading Japanese.

Even by 13th, Pengerang had still not been directly attacked with force, nor had Pulau Tekong opposite. The men on Pengerang could hear and see the battle raging on Singapore, little could they know exactly how badly it was going for their comrades.

By the 14th the Japanese held the reservoirs in Singapore and were fighting their way up Bukit Timah road. At this time the order came through to implement Pengerang's denial scheme. Its guns, equipment and important buildings were to be destroyed to prevent them from falling into enemy hands.
The war diary of Changi Fire Command records 18.30 as the time of destruction of Pengerang, this was around the same time Sphinx battery on Pulau Tekong was destroyed.

So with Pengerang now out of commission and all allied troops fighting for their lives on Singapore, what about the actual troops left at Pengerang or even Pulau Tekong for that matter? The simple answer was, nobody in high command had thought to organise boats to evacuate these stranded men back to Singapore! They had been left at their posts high and dry and were now effectively behind enemy lines.

And so finally the 15th of February 1942 dawned. With demoralized troops and British commanders un willing to risk a massive counter attack back in Singapore, Percival was forced into a humiliating surrender of his own making.
This leaves us with a very interesting fact; as the men at Pengerang had been left at their posts, Pengerang in effect became the last isolated British foothold on mainland Malaya!
Even by this date the Japanese hadn't sent troops to Pengerang. But lets face it, they didn't need to. Pengerang was so far out of the way, it just didn't pose any threat to Japanese invasion plans.

Only by the 22nd did the Japanese finally arrive at Pengerang, evacuating the remaining British garrison back to Changi to an uncertain fate. However not all of Pengerang's garrison sat around waiting to become POWs. Seven days earlier, twelve British soldiers had other ideas and on the night of the 15th, whilst hearing of Singapore's surrender on the wireless, plans were quickly set into motion and they made a break for Sumatra and possible escape to Australia. But that of course is another story… ;-)

Ultimately I think Pengerang in the proper context was in many ways very effective during WW2. With the combined firepower of the other coastal batteries and defences at Changi, pulau Tekong etc, the deterrent effect with that eastern cluster of defences would have surely been very high. I am sure the Japanese factored this in and structured their invasion plans accordingly and stayed well away.
So don't believe for a minute the silly hype made by the press or some un-informed blogger, that a WW2 facility like this was a massive British folly, it surely was not!