Thursday, January 16, 2014

Hunt for "lost" British Monster Guns to commence in Singapore soon



Cross section of a 15-inch battery: Each hardened 15-inch gun mount is around three storeys deep, with ammunition stored in reinforced concrete magazines beneath the gun. Soil overburden estimated at around six feet (2 metres) is thought to cover the gun mounts today.


"Lost" in Singapore for more than 70 years, a hunt for the fortifications for 15-inch artillery guns - dubbed  Monster Guns - will get underway soon, spearheaded by curious individuals from Britain and Singapore who are convinced the fortifications lie buried in the Lion City.

As many as three reinforced concrete mountings - some three storeys deep - for giant 15-inch guns built by the British before World War Two could await discovery in Singapore, said a British amateur historian who has spent more than a decade tracing the fate of these and other Singapore coastal gun emplacements.

Lost and found
If found, the rediscovery of the Johore Battery Number 2 gun and Number 1 and 2 guns from the Buona Vista Battery could cause a sensation, and have awaited rediscovery 72 years after the Fall of Singapore. There are similar 15-inch gun batteries, built by the British for the Spanish government remaining in Spain, complete with the guns. Some are open to the public, those on Menorca for example. There you can go into the magazines and into the gun houses.

The Buona Vista No.1 Gun was near the junction of Ulu Pandan and Reformatory (now Clementi) Road. Mowbray Camp now covers the area and is occupied by the Singapore Police Force. But there are visible traces of what may be entrances to the underground magazine (which stores ammunition for the 15-inch gun) and the Battery Plotting Room (which provided fire control data for the guns using sightings of enemy warships seen from coastal observation posts to work out their position on a map) in the camp. The underground areas may well still exist.

The position of the No.2 Buona Vista Gun inside a condominium in the Holland Road area could spell a windfall for residents there as the underground structure would add inestimable value to the property. Its presence could also save the property from future land acquisitions from Singapore authorities, as the area sits astride a major road and possible future rail sites.

Amateur military historian Peter Stubbs, 69,  used British and Singapore maps and aerial photos dating from the 1940s to the present day to plot the gun positions. He also went through newspaper archives and corresponded with retired British Royal Artillery gunners to painstakingly piece together the fate of Singapore's extensive coastal defences built before WW2.
 
For example, arcane data such as the trunnion height for each gun, which measured the height of the gun at a certain point on the earth's surface (this was vital for accurate gun firings as the gunners would know where the target ship was in relation to their gun when plotting target data on a map), was compared with ground surveys in Singapore to figure out where the gun mounts could be.
 

 Plan view of a 15-inch gun mount that was built in Singapore.

What happened to the 15-inch guns?
The guns themselves are long gone. What remained after the British spiked the guns in February 1942, stayed in place during the war, and were scrapped by the British in the years following the war. 

What may remain of the 15-inch guns are the underground  reinforced concrete magazines and power rooms, and the gun-wells into which the guns themselves were mounted. The underground structures extend to a depth of some three storeys, and had three main rooms. The shell store, cartridge store, and the power room. The guns, each of which had barrels as long as a bus, were adapted from naval guns that used to arm battleships.

Mr Stubbs found that Number 3 Gun (northernmost) of the Johore Battery was demolished during an expansion of Changi Airport. This was covered in the press, and photographs of the demolition taken for posterity.

The Number 1 Gun of the Johore battery was covered over by the British in the early 1950s, and a small estate of service married quarters named 'Lloyd Leas' was constructed . Old amahs may well remember it. The Changi Grammar School moved to the area in the early 1960s. The school building has survived, but most of Lloyd Leas was demolished and the area became a prison complex. In April 1991, the long hidden underground areas of the gun emplacement were re-discovered during work being carried out by the prison service. A replica 15-inch Gun was mounted there, and the magazine and power room was outlined in concrete on the ground above.

"Disappeared without a trace"
There is compelling evidence that underground elements of the Number 2 gun lie buried within Changi Airport's fence-line, south of the CAAS airport fire station, waiting to be unearthed and celebrated as a historical treasure.  

 It is the same story at Buona Vista. Pictures from the 1950s and 1960s, indicate the gun positions were still intact then. Then they mysteriously disappeared without a trace. Demolition of the structures, which would have required extensive excavation, does not seem to have been recorded anywhere. Successive generations of British servicemen who served in post-war Singapore do not remember any demolition. Singaporeans questioned have no memory of any major excavation work at any of the sites.
 
Both gun batteries were built inland, some distance from the coastline, to protect them from counter-fire from warships.

Mr Stubbs explained: "The Buona Vista, and indeed the Johore Battery, were sited to be inland and out of sight from the sea for very good reasons. The 15-inch guns were indirect fire weapons. This means that they did not have to see targets in order to engage them - as you say difficult  to locate and hit. Fire control was provided from remote locations. Any enemy engaging the batteries would not be certain where there fall of shot was landing, thus making enemy fire control more difficult.

"Coast batteries had an important advantage over enemy ships. They were fixed and stable. Ships had to take into account the waves and roll and pitch of the ship. All factors affecting accurate fire. It may surprise you to know that long range coast batteries such as the 15-inch ones had to take into account the curvature of the earth, and the earth's rotation in fire control."
 
So compelling was the deterrent value of the five 15-inch guns in Singapore - in their time the biggest coastal artillery pieces outside England - against seaborne threats that the invading Japanese forces mounted their attack from Singapore's landward side instead. 
 
Mr Stubbs will be visiting Singapore this year to revisit WW2 sites, and make further attempts to establish the continued existence or otherwise of the "lost" 15-inch gun batteries.
 
Please stay tuned for more updates. :-)

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

My interest in WWII fortifications was also piqued by an article about a family living in an abandoned pillbox at Wan Tho Avenue, in the 50's. Does anyone have any memory of such a structure this much inland in Singapore. Wan Tho Avenue is at Potong Pasir.

Anonymous said...

Could these shore batteries be aimed toward Johore and at the Japanese landing force in 1942? I read that those guns in Sentosa could only point out to sea and not toward Johore, and hence were useless against attack from the north.

Anonymous said...

Off topic - any idea what the upcoming upgrades to our F-16 will be?

Anonymous said...

Currently does sg needs land based ASM to counter sea bourne threats?

Anonymous said...

Just a couple of points of clarification, Mowbray camp has moved to Yew Tee, and the former site that the junction of Ulu Pandan Road and Clementi Road is now a Police camp(KINS). This former site is built on a hill with many low lying buildings (formerly built by the British) that still stand today. There is a walled-up entrance at one corner of the camp that no one seems to know where it leads to. Maybe that might help.

Anonymous said...

Check out http://www.fortsiloso.com/batteries/bv/bv.htm

That is the writeup for the BV battery by Peter Stubbs. One can only imagine why a British retiree is spearheading the effort to preserve our war heritage, instead of an appropriate SG govt agency instead...

David Boey said...

Hi Anon 10:12AM,
Interesting snippet about the Wan Tho Ave pillbox. Am not aware of this one. Possibly similar to the one now at Pasir Panjang?

Hi Anon 10:42AM,
re: 15". SG had one Mark 1 mounting capable of 180-degrees traverse. Rest were Mark 2 mountings capable of all-round traverse.

Issue was lack of proper ammo for land targets as 15" shells were all armour piercing. Zero HE were supplied. The Brits also lacked range tables for effective fire control toward Johor.

That said, the impression that the guns pointed the wrong way is debatable as they did their job of deterring seaborne attack. 15" guns did perform fire missions towards Johor, more psychological effect than real military value.

Hi Anon 10:43AM,
Not sure of start date. Will continue monitoring.

Hi Anon 11:05AM,
CONOPS is to keep threats at bay as far from SG as possible, predicated on good intel and SAF's long reach.

Hi Anon 11:11AM,
Thank you for the clarification. Yes, that is one of the locations of interest.

Hi Anon 11:27AM,
Hrmmm... Because there's no interest? Because it is not on the work plan? Doesn't contribute to anyone's KPI? Doesn't have a justifiable ROI? Yes, it's sad.

It would probably take some giant sink hole to one day appear and damage people's property(compen$ation!) before officialdom does anything.

Best regards,


David

Anonymous said...

Appear at Oxley.

Justin said...

Seen several old concrete fortifications on pulau tekong during my NS days there from 1990-92. I believe they are from WW2 from their weathering and abandonment. Found one interesting camouflaged one deep in the forest covered in vegetation. Also what appears to be gun placements along the southeast coast of the island. Dunno after the recent Tekong reclaimation if they are still there. If anyone is interested to know their locations please feel free to contact me.

Anonymous said...

I understand these guns must have been deliberately buried. Who would do that and why? They are not dangerous.

Anonymous said...

Well, where are our Generals...even they have no ideas about this...no interest in the history of the SAF...and what are they there for...decorating / spending themselves with billions of dollars of worthless products.

Anonymous said...

Sometime ago Mr Ong Chit Chung (demished) wrote a thesis on the subject of the Brits arttillery placement and the type of ammo used.
It also covered the "arc of fire".Does anyone here process a copy and willing to share?

C/S 24S

Anonymous said...

I served in the old Mowbray Camp for my NS. The camp has lots of tunnels and manholes (all sealed). The MT Line park is like an entire concrete structure.

We often speculated about the tunnels there but were warned by seniors to avoid them as it would likely be water-logged / snakes /creatures infested.

Looking at old maps, there was a ammo railway line that linked the camp from the main railway line. Likely to transport ammo from now Ayer Rajah (REME camp) area.

The widening of the Ulu Pandan canal revealed one of the rail structure. But unfortunately it has been demolished (rear of the camp, opposite Pine Grove condo)

Looking at the old map, Gun No. 1 was likely to be sited at the MT Line. It would not be able to fire at the Japanese in the north as there is a hill in the north part of Mowbray. The elevation of the big gun is limited.

Looking forward to more updates on the BV battery!!! :-)


H.P.

Anonymous said...

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10202987585479200&set=gm.700129676674423&type=1&theater
The pillbox at Wan Tho Avenue

Anonymous said...

http://archivesonline.nas.sg/photographs/record-details/62a4b752-1162-11e3-83d5-0050568939ad

Anonymous said...

Anybody can confirm the above is indeed a pillbox?

David Boey said...

Hi Anon 7:54 PM, 8:08 PM,
Interesting images. Thank you for posting the links.

Best regards,

David

Peter Stubbs said...

Just a few answers to some of the comments posted here.

Family in a pillbox
I'm not convinced that the structure is a pillbox. From what can be seen of it, it does not match the design or construction of pillboxes in Singapore. Not that that rules a pillbox out, as there are always exceptions to the rule. It looks to be too tall and I wonder if it was some sort of OP, perhaps for AA purposes. I wonder what happened to the family? I have heard of people living in a pillbox in the Changi area. Can anyone confirm that?

Landward firing of coast batteries
The No.s 2 & 3 guns of the Johore Battery fired into Malaya, and later towards Tengah. The Tekong 9.2-Inch and Sphinx 6-Inch Batteries on Pulau Tekong and the Changi 6-Inch Battery fired into Malaya when the Japanese made their feint attack on Pulau Ubin. Despite what I've written on the Siloso Website, I've since found evidence that the 12-Pounder at Ladang on Pulau Tekong also opened fire. The website will be amended on the next update.

Of the 15-Inch Guns, only the Johore Battery No.s 2 & 3 Guns had sufficient traverse to give fire on the Japanese. The No.1 Gun, on its unique mounting had only an arc of fire of 180 degrees. The Buona Vista guns could, by removing buffers and magslip and other cables, have been able to traverse in the 'right' direction. However these actions would have had a major impact on the ability of the guns to bring down fire. What would have been powered before would have to be manual, thus really slowing operations down. In Singapore's heat and humidity, whatever speed that could be attained would soon slow down as men strained to keep up their effort. In addition, removing cables would have not helped had a suitable naval target appeared on scene.

The following batteries also fired on the Japanese on Singapore Island; Pasir Laba, Labrador, Siloso and Connaught. I have read that the Connaught Battery fired onto the Malayan Mainland, but as yet have no corroborating evidence. The Connaught guns had just enough range to reach JB and parts of the southern tip of Johore. It has been written that the Serapong guns turned to fire on the Japanese advancing from the west. The author had mistaken the Siloso guns for Serapong. There is no record in the War Diaries of Serapong firing. The No.1 gun could not have been brought to bear because of the overhead splinter cover. The cover of the No.2 Gun was destroyed by a bomb on 18 Jan 1942, but the slope behind the gun which only had 14 degrees of elevation, would probably have prevented fire. I'd need to check that on maps.

Mowbray Camp
Hands up to a mistake here. I know that it is now the KINS Camp, but gave incorrect information to David. I know of two blocked up entrances in the camp, and have heard of several more which have been grassed over. I know the rough location of some of these.

British retiree
As the retiree in question, I can safely say that I know quite a few young Singaporeans who have an active interest in Singapore's war heritage. MINDEF Heritage Branch also has an interest. I sort of got interested in 1993, on a visit to Singapore. I happened to need a new hobby then, and a visit to Fort Siloso provided that.

Pulau Tekong
I reckon that there are still substantial remains of the Tekong 9.2-Inch Battery in the bush east south east of old SISPEC. The Battery Plotting room nearby may also still exist. On the east of the island there are still many remains of the Calder Harbour AMTB Battery. If anyone can e-mail me via the Fort Siloso website details of what they have seen, and where, I'll try to put names to the remains. Any photos would be welcome.

Anonymous said...

I remember that the Pioneer magazine in the 1970s [1973 onwards till end of 1979] had an article about finding some lost guns in the jungle.

So by checking with the index or contents, some facts or photos could appear. That's all I remembered.