The war years (1939-1945)
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 bolstering
up Pengerang's exsisting defences - 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. In just over a weeks
time, both battleships would be at the bottom of the sea.
During December, Japanese aircraft were seen on
reconnaissance flights over Pengerang and were observed dropping
When the first signs of fighting came to Johor
by January 15th 1942, the Gordon Highlander's supervised the evacuation
of the local population from Pengerang. On the 21st, the Gordon's
handed over garrison defence duties to the 1st Mysore Infantry
I.S.F. (Indian State Forces) and a company of Madras Sappers and
Miners, commanded by British officers of the Johore Volunteer
The commanding officer of Pengerang's garrison
was a Colonel Preston with his 2nd in command Major Burrows. Col
Preston operated from the "Battlebox" atop of Johore
hill and had a direct line of communication down to the garrison
by way of field telephone.
In the following days and weeks, Pengerang’s
garrison began routine land patrols of the immediate area as well
as into Johore. Patrols were sent out at least twice a day to
find evidence of any Japanese incursions into the area. One such
patrol was to find evidence that small Japanese units were indeed
operating in the area, when a Japanese military map was 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 over
into Singapore. The order was then given to destroy Singapore's
only physical link to the Malayan mainland, the causeway. A rather
pathetic 60ft gap was then blasted out of the 3464ft total length
The closest battle to Pengerang during this time
was on the 7th of February, 12km to the west on Pulau Ubin. 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 anti aircraft
guns. On the 11th, Pengerang even engaged a Junk (boat). The brief
war diary entry mentioning this action doesn't however specify
with what armaments had been used, if the junk had been damaged
or sunk, or even if the Junk was under Japanese command. The likelihood
perhaps, was that the junk was probably civilian and was 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 clear evidence of the battle raging
on Singapore, but little did they know how badly it was going
for their comrades.
By the 14th, the Japanese held Singapore's reservoirs
and were fighting their way up Bukit Timah road. At this time
the order came through to implement Pengerang's denial scheme.
Pengerang's 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 hrs as the time of
destruction of Pengerang, this was around the same time Sphinx
battery opposite on Pulau Tekong was self destructed, as well.
The generator at Pengilih point's main Powerhouse
ran for a few days after the denial order had been issued, even
after having large doses of sand fed through its fuel system.
Fires resulting from the denial scheme had also got out of control
and was spreading quickly up the hill towards the HQ! A fire break
had to quickly be made.
With Pengerang now out of commission and all allied
troops fighting for their lives on Singapore, Pengerang's men
and even Pulau Tekong's, were effectively left high and dry as
nobody at high command had thought to organize boats to evacuate
them back to Singapore!
The next day on that fateful 15th of February
1942, 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.
It was at 6pm that a garrison duty officer at
Pengelih, monitoring radio news reports from London, heard a special
bulletin telling of unconfirmed reports of Singapore's capitulation.
The shocked duty officer duly phoned his commander up on the hill
and it was then confirmed to him that this news was in fact correct.
With no boats to be evacuated by, the men at Pengerang
were left stranded for a whole week until finally on the 22nd
did the Japanese arrive to take over. Pengerang's men were now
POW's and evacuated back to Changi to an uncertain fate.
However, not all of Pengerang's garrison sat around waiting to
become POW's. Seven days earlier, after learning of Singapore's
surrender, twelve British soldiers, 10 from the 'Johore Volunteer
Engineers', and 2 'Special Service Officers', had other ideas,
and quickly improvised plans to make a break for Sumatra and possible
escape to Australia. But that's another story..
Ultimately, I think the Pengerang defended area
in the proper planning and defensive context did its job perfectly
well. But as we now know, the Japanese had no need to go anywhere
near this area with force. Singapore's back door had been left
ajar by the British, they largely saw the main threat coming from
the sea, and the Japanese did the other thing and came by land
instead, leaving Pengerang largely out of the equation.