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
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
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
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!