The Johor Battery, built in 1939, was the main artillery battery of the British coastal artillery defence network set up on the northeast coast of Singapore. Other batteries in the area were at Changi, Beting Kusah, Pulau Tekong Besar (and Pengerang in the state of Johor). The Johor Battery was located at the Bee Hoe area in Changi (Cosford Road off Upper Changi Road North).
Britain's defence strategy concentrated on its naval power especially when Japan rapidly built on its naval strength after World War I. With Japan's military menace looming large by the 1930s, it was vital for the British to develop Singapore as a naval base. Work went on at full speed. Changi was chosen as the base for the Royal Artillery batteries under the Changi Fire Command to protect the naval base at Sembawang against attack from the east. Altogether, there were six batteries providing protection for the naval base. The north east coastal batteries, together with the others in the south and west coasts, contributed to making Singapore the most fortified area after the United Kingdom in the defence of the British Empire.
The main battery in the north east coast with its three 15-inch guns was named the Johor Battery in appreciation of Sultan Ibrahim of Johor's donation of £500,000 as a Silver Jubilee gift for King George V for the British war campaign, out of which £400,000 was used for the installation of two of the three guns. These big guns were the largest installed outside Britain during World War II. The Johor Battery's three 15-inch guns were known also as monster guns for their sheer size. The other two 15-inch guns in Singapore were mounted at Buona Vista Battery in the south.
The three 15-inch guns, so called because of the 15-inch (38 cm) diameter of the shells they fired, were placed in a row 500 m from each other. The guns had a 16.5 m-long barrel. They had a 360-degree traverse enabling them to target both land and sea objects. Vertical shafts led to a labyrinth of tunnels three storeys underground connected to a bunker housing the ammunition. The shells came up on hydraulic lifts and were pushed into the breech by a ram. The ammunition was capable of piercing the armour of the most powerful ship 30 km away.
From 5 to 12 February 1942 when the Japanese were invading Singapore from the Malay peninsula, two guns were turned around to fire towards land in the north and east, including enemy infantry positions in Johor. They fired a total of 194 rounds.
However, the guns had limited impact on the Japanese invaders. To prevent them from falling into the enemy's hands, the British defenders destroyed them on the night of 12 February 1942. However, the numerous coastal guns were useless against enemy forces coming from land. It was mentioned that the ammunition being the armour-piercing type designed for seaborne targets failed to explode when the shells landed on soft earth. The battery was not stocked with any high-explosive rounds suitable for destroying enemy infantry and artillery. The three guns had a traverse of only 270 degrees as it was arranged out of consideration for the Sultan of Johor so that they could not be fired at his state of Johor. It was only the last two or three weeks of the campaign against the Japanese forces that one of the guns had its traverse increased to a full circle by extending the rails on which the gun turned.
When the British forces left Singapore, the Johor Battery was forgotten until the Singapore Prisons Service discovered it during a routine cleaning at its Abington Centre in April 1991. The place was then spruced up with a replica of the 15-inch gun and an 800 kg shell, and marked as the 60th historic site. The historical site was officially launched on 15 February 2002 as part of a commemorative programme for the 60th anniversary of the fall of Singapore. This event was witnessed by 200 returning POWs, their immediate friends and family members.
Jenny Kiong and Chan Fook Weng
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The information in this article is valid as at 2007 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.
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