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Fort Siloso, Singapore

By on June 7, 2015 in Singapore

Fort Siloso, Singapore, is located on the western tip of Sentosa Island (originally the island was called Pulau Blakang Mati, which is Malay for “Those who die behind” – it is believed this is derived from a malaria outbreak on the island in the 1830/40s that killed a large number of inhabitants), it is the oldest military structure on the island, and covers an area of 4 hectares (10 acres). The fort was built by the British in the 1880s to guard the western entrance to Keppel Harbour. The fort was strengthened in the 1930s, and the fort was active in 1942 during the Battle for Singapore, and the guns were redirected to fire inland towards the invading Japanese forces.

During the Japanese Occupation, the fort was used as a prisoner of war camp and returned to the British in 1945. The fort was finally handed over to the Singapore Maritime Command and the Singapore Armed Forces in 1967. In 1972 it was decided to redevelop the island for recreational purposes and Blakang Mati was renamed Sentosa and Fort decommissioned to become a historical tourist attraction.

Entrance to Fort Siloso, Sentosa, Singapore

Entrance to Fort Siloso, Sentosa, Singapore

Guardhouse, Fort Siloso, Sentosa, Singapore

Guardhouse, Fort Siloso, Sentosa, Singapore

Inside the Guardhouse, Fort Siloso, Sentosa, Singapore

Inside the Guardhouse, Fort Siloso, Sentosa, Singapore

One problem with the site, or advantages of the site, is the elevated ground, however that means that movement of heavy items, such as the guns, was difficult, and the British Army used ‘parbuckling’, which involved the use of sledges with wooden rollers, planks, ropes and blocks and tackle to drag the heavy loads up slopes.

The tripod at the top of the hill (just visible in the photo below) was known as a gyn, and it incorporated a windlass, which was used to haul the load up the slope and then to move the gun into its final position. At Fort Siloso this work was carried out by the the Royal Artillery and Royal Engineers, with the assistance of the local workforce.

Parbuckling the guns up the slope

Parbuckling the guns up the slope

The site also has a museum which has a number of displays showing the conditions in which the troops were shipped out, and how the fort was originally set up.

Conditions on a troop ship in the 1860s

Conditions on a troop ship in the 1860s

Early barracks at Fort Siloso, Sentosa, Singapore

Early barracks at Fort Siloso, Sentosa, Singapore

Laundry at Fort Siloso, Sentosa, Singapore

Laundry at Fort Siloso, Sentosa, Singapore

Cookhouse

Cookhouse

Tailor

Tailor

Scenes at Fort Siloso, Sentosa, Singapore 1885-1942

Scenes at Fort Siloso, Sentosa, Singapore 1885-1942

Siloso fort did see action in World War II. The fort was heavily bombed by the Japanese, and the 6-inch guns at the fort fired on Japanese forces in the West Coast Road area, and also sank a Japanese troop ship which was attempting to enter the harbour. The guns were also used to destroy a British oil facility so it couldn’t be used by the Japanese. Hence the famous myth that the fort did not take part in the Battle of Singapore is wrong.

Two 9.2 inch breech loading guns that were originally at Fort Connaught, and used in the Battle of Singapore

Two 9.2 inch breech loading guns that were originally at Fort Connaught, and used in the Battle of Singapore

The photo above shows two 9.2 inch breech loading guns that were originally at Fort Connaught at the eastern end of Sentosa Island. On the 13th February 1942 they fired their entire ammunition supply (mainly armour piercing) at Japanese troops at Tengah Airfield.

View towards the harbour from Fort Siloso, Sentosa, Singapore

View towards the harbour from Fort Siloso, Sentosa, Singapore

During the Fall of Singapore, the city was ablaze from the heavy bombing by the Japanese and also as a result of the British destroying fuel stores, guns and anything the evaders could use. The harbour was full of ships evacuating European women, children and non-essential military personnel.

One remarkable story from that period is that of Private Arnold Watson, and this is recorded in the fort.

 

Private Arnold Watson, Royal Army Service Corps (RASC)

Private Arnold Watson, Royal Army Service Corps (RASC)

Private Arnold Watson, who was serving in the Royal Army Service Corps (RASC) had retreated from Malaysia to Singapore. On the eve of the British surrender he, and 20 other soldiers, left Fort Siloso in a small boat and head for Sumatra. Unlike a number of other boats and ships, they managed to avoid Japanese bombers and warships in the Sumatra Channel.

Once in Sumatra Pte. Watson continued the fight but eventually had to flee with 400 other soldiers, in an old Chinese falt wooden riverboat, across 3,000 miles of Indian Ocean to Sri Lanka (or as it was called then Ceylon).

The fort also contains a display showing the surrender of the British forces to the Japanese forces at the Ford Motors Boardroom on the 15th February 1942.

British surrender to Japanese forces at the Ford Motors Boardroom on the 15th February 1942

British surrender to Japanese forces at the Ford Motors Boardroom on the 15th February 1942

Just along the corridor is an exhibit showing the Japanese surrender on the heavy cruiser HMS Sussex on the 4 September 1945.

Japanese surrender onboard the heavy cruiser HMS Sussex on the 4 September 1945

Japanese surrender onboard the heavy cruiser HMS Sussex on the 4 September 1945

Japanese surrender onboard the heavy cruiser HMS Sussex on the 4 September 1945

Japanese surrender onboard the heavy cruiser HMS Sussex on the 4 September 1945

Fort Siloso is an interesting place to visit as it covers a lot of the history of the island and has a lot more to offer than is shown in the photos above. Sadly on the day I visited a large part of the fort was closed for renovation work, and some of the sections I wanted to explore were closed. The material on the second world was particularly interesting.

FourSquare: Fort Siloso

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Nick's continued wanderings can be followed on Twitter: @nickswanderings.
 

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