Singapore "Fortress" safe from Sea ?

Discussion in 'Military History and Militaria' started by jonwilly, Sep 3, 2009.

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  1. Gents as some of you may be aware I am developing something of an Obsession into the Fortress of Singapore and it's defence.
    We had a fair chat on General Percival and his defence of Singapore from the land side.
    Now I must ask the question was Singers safe from a seaborne attack ?
    To the 'Best of My Knowledge' the main 15 inch batteries where not in casements with overhead protection, as we see in documentaries on the German West Wall, but where in 'Open' emplacements highly vulnerable to air attack. We all know what happened to the highly maneuverable Force Z.
    I enclose a report from Australian source below.

    The Fate of Singapore’s Guns - Japanese Report
    Bogart, Charles H.

    In a previous issue of Naval Historical Review we published an article on the guns of Singapore and their ultimate fate. Mr. Bogart, a United States member of the Society, has forwarded this report obtained from Japanese sources.
    BETWEEN 7TH AND 12TH APRIL 1942 Lieutenant Colonel Masataka Numaguchi of Japanese Army Technical Headquarters and Major Katsuji Akiyama of the Japanese Heavy Artillery School toured Singapore to report on captured weapons.
    Their report was translated by the US Army as Japanese Monograph No. 68, ‘Report on Installations and Captured Weapons, Java and Singapore’. Extracts from the monograph are quoted below.
    ‘The condition of four 15 inch guns, six 9.2 inch guns, sixteen 6 inch guns, three 12 pounder guns and eight 6 pounder dual mounted guns is hopeless. The parts of these guns that can be used as spare parts will be saved while the remaining parts will be scrapped. Total available steel, approximately 3,300 tons.
    One 15 inch gun (Buena Vista Battery). A careful test will be conducted to determine whether the shell at present in the tube will slide back by its own dead weight by elevating the barrel gradually. Should this method of extraction be unsuccessful, an attempt will be made to fire the shell with a decreased base charge (¾ of that employed by the British) after carefully checking the breech block.
    Before doing this, the condition of all parts of the gun, especially the recoil buffer and the counter recoil, will be thoroughly inspected. If the damage to the motive power mechanism is slight, the piece will be cleared, inspected, and repaired by specialists and tested without delay.
    Power Plants for guns: There are three 15 inch guns in Johore Fort. The power room for the control tower is flooded and cannot be restored.
    However, the powerhouse for the right turret is in perfect condition, while that of the left gun turret has suffered only minor damage.
    The power room of the 15 inch guns in Buena Vista Battery is slightly damaged.
    The 15 inch guns were Navy guns manufactured in 1903 and 1919, but installed only recently.
    As the principal aim is to establish defence against enemy submarines in the Singapore Harbour anchorage, the main position of the fortified zone established by the British Army will be abandoned and a new zone will be set up around the anchorage. This will constitute an area enclosed by a line through Merbau, Bokum and Tembakul Islands.
    Batteries consisting of two to four 6 inch (150 mm) guns will be established on Merbau, Bakum and Tembakul Islands respectively and sonars will be installed in the principal channels and outside the line of the islands. Furthermore, sub-chasers will be assigned to escort our ships and to prevent enemy submarines from entering the anchorage. The Buena Vista 15 inch (380 mm) and the Siloso 12 pounder gun batteries will be completed in order to extend the control beyond the harbour and into the anchorage…
    The 15 inch (380 mm) guns in Buena Vista Battery and the 12 pounder guns in Siloso Battery will be used in the same positions after being repaired. These batteries will use the present observation posts and will be equipped temporarily with Type 89 battery telescopes.
    From this report it would appear that the Japanese scrapped four of the 15 inch guns. Depending on the success of repairs recommended it would seem that the fifth gun was scrapped early, in the war or was disposed of by the Allies after the cessation of hostilities.

    It would seem that the total defence of Singers was

    Five 15 inch guns, six 9.2 inch guns, sixteen 6 inch guns, three 12 pounder guns and eight 6 pounder dual mounted guns.

    Another web site of interesting info.
  2. Hello jonwilly,

    this doesn't answer your question but I thought it might be of interest anyway given the oft repeated claims that the guns only pointed seaward:

    More relevantly,this book on the subject is interesting:

    The coastal guns would have the advantage of being more accurate than the ship's guns,as well as being distributed and unsinkable with presumably very well protected magazines.
    The ship would also have the problem that it could neither see it's targets nor observe it's fall of shot.
    The warship could however choose the time and place,concentrate numbers against the fortress,change the range,manoeuvre to avoid hits and run away to fight another day if need be.

  3. If you look at the Empire's other gun-protected locations (Gibraltar, Malta, etc), then you see a similar or even smaller concentration of "counter bombardment" guns.

    Land-based guns are extremely accurate compared to ship-board guns, because their fire is pre-surveyed and of course the gun is stationary and firmly mounted. If you take the Gibraltar 9.2" guns as an example: these had special firing tables compiled (not least because the guns were site on a mountain shooting downwards!) which gave accurate laying data based on actual observed practice fire over the Straits of Gibraltar. These guns were essentially capable of "first round hit": IIRC the last time one of the Gibraltar guns was fired against a hulk target (1975, against a type 12 frigate?), it did just this.

    The effect is that a land gun would be expected to achieve a far greater hit rate far sooner than their seaborne opponent.
  4. Just to add to the above, killing the guns of the fortress of Singapore with naval fire would be very difficult.

    Where guns were put out of action in naval actions in the first and second world wars it was in situations where the ship carrying them had either sustained severe damage and was unable to load / aim her guns, or because the turrets / barbettes took a direct hit which caused a flash fire which destroyed the mountings / killed the crew / caused the ship to blow up. Land guns would be far less vulnerable to such dangers.
  5. I know that land based guns are far more accurate then ship borne weapons, No Trunnion tilt and of course the very wide base for Range finding.
    Thank you 4t for the example on Gib's guns.
    However, it's the airpower component that has me worried.
    I have found no ref to the AA available and at least one 15 inch is often shown in a position with no overhead protection.
    Airpower in the 30's baffles me.
    Everyone seems to have accepted 'It's the way to go'
    Yet even the jap with the largest force of Carriers keeps on building Battleships, Yamato class.
    Percival's 'Study' of mid to late 30's stated 350 modern aircraft needed for defence of Singers and I understand this was raised to around 550 before war started.
    I know ALL accepted that Singers was invulnerable to sea borne assault and that attack must come from the land but I do wonder now if a sea borne assault could have taken the base especially as no Major British Fleet would have been available.
  6. Hi John,

    I now have square eyes after watching hundreds of TV progs on Yesterday (was TV History).

    There have been a number of progs on

    Dunkerque, where AA was not in any Officers vocabulary.

    Singers, where “see above” and we can call on the British Navy to stop any silly nonsense from anyone. Baah, said the Admiral in charge.

    And not forgetting “we will return Macarthur” after the USA were kicked out of the Philippines. The US army were still using HORSES as the only method of movement for troops and equipment. And yes for those “****” along tar layed roads.

    At some stage in every prog the commentator says “without air cover this attempt at defence Blah Blah was just not possible”. And continues that British and American policy/doctrine did not include “Air power” as anything more than “Fly boys toys”.

    At the time 1939 the UK and 1941 the USA had BI-planes in abundance and just a few spits or anything that could “really”fly.

    It was not until Monty and the North Africa campaign that Air cover was taken as a “must have” doctrine for all the future operations by the few WW1 officers “still in charge”.

    In every prog the lack of Air power and the ignorance of the military in the use of this tool is made obvious.


    I see the ex pats outside the EU are trying to get their pension (not an automatic increase) linked to the uk system. I wish you luck.

    If the penny pinchers are awake, making payment of ANY pension into a UK bank account (tax at 20% anyone) and therefore pensioners abroad will have to pay to have their money transferred. Is already ONE of the cost cutting options. How much does some American bank charge HMRC for this little favour?
  7. Singapore is one of the favored Insults that yanks like to use to us Brits.
    They go very quite when I ask how come MacArthur offered no resistance to the jap landings and only chose to fight when jap got down to Battan and then HAD to leave before Corrigidor fell.
    My hero Bill Slim who I consider the most competent Brit Command of WW II was above all an Airpower man.
    From my readings Everyone Knew that Airpower was going to be the new 'Biggy' of the next war yet it was heads down and fight for your own Force corner.
    The Army was third on the Spending list in the 30's much the same as now.
    Still having said the above I have always been amazed by the performance of the Wehrmacht from say 43 onwards. They fought a good fight in a sphere on Total Air Inferiority.
    I do understand that on the Pension front, the Appellants have changed their tack. They are now saying that only UK pensioners in Commonwealth cuntries should receive the Standard Yearly Increase.
    It's always been very strange, if I was to go live in Philippines I would receive the yearly increase but Strailia No.
  8. I don't think airpower was ignored by the British CoC (remember the common pre-war assumption by politicians, military and civpop was that UK would be flattened by bombing upon the outbreak of WW2) - after the defence spending constraints of the 1930s, they simply lacked the assets to deal with it adequately.

    Singapore did have a lot of Army air defence units in the garrison - both light and heavy AD guns. Quite a lot of gunner ack-ack units were included in the reinforcements that arrived before the battle. (I met an old boy at a Regimental reunion. His TA bofors unit had been on annual camp when they were mobilised in early 1939 - long before the outbreak of war. The unit went over to France with the BEF, and came back from Dunkirk. Without even getting much or any home leave, they were re-equipped and sent to Singapore, where they eventually went into the bag. This old boy said he didn't get home until 1946 - as he'd been near death when he was found in China or wherever the Japs had taken him.)

    Referring to the 9.2" guns which formed the backbone of Empire fortress guns, these were originally "bare" guns in open gunpits. In the 1930s they were all equipped with armoured turrets/canopies, to deal with the anticipated vulnerability to air attack. I don't have a reference to hand, but looking at these turrets, they seem to have 2"-4" of rolled plate armour. Thats clearly protection against anything but a direct hit by a fairly large bomb. In addition, the gun positions were heavily camoflagued with nets and foliage - this often isn't apparent in the later "capture" photos which were often taken when the Japanese were breaking the guns up for scrap.

    I think Singapore was fairly immune from seaborne invasion because back then much of the coastline was still dense mangrove jungle and/or un-navigable approaches.
  9. Air cover was not ignored at Dunkirk- look at the number of destroyers the RN lost carrying out the evacuation, and the efforts the RAF made to provide support.

    Ref air power and a threat to the guns at Singapore, one thing I've just thought of is that naval guns firing at Singapore might be doing so at sufficient range that the shells would be falling at a high angle- much the same as aircraft bombs.

    Thus either the guns at Singapore were vulnerable to the naval gunfire they were intended to counter, or they weren't, which is why they were also safe from air attack.
  10. Bouillabaisse

    Bouillabaisse LE Book Reviewer

    P2000, naval heavy guns weren't capable of high angle fire, getting their range from a bigger bang, so the shell angle of attack was fairly shallow. It was partly this that dictated armour on battleships, since "plunging" fire was not a threat (in theory). The Japanese battleships would have the same constraints.
  11. The fact that the Japanese never even considered a seaborne attack on Singapore would suggest that the heavy gun defence was too strong to deal with.
  12. The only reason the British Army had fully motorized by 1939 was not out of a driving desire to motorize and a recognition that the day of the horse had passed, but rather with the loss of the Irish Republic, you'd lost a good deal of land whence you'd procured horses for the Army. The lack of horses drove your conversion to full motorization. "Horse power" was still recognized by all the world's forces to be the most desireable and "state of the art" means of motive power, and horse cavalry was still thought by nearly all armies to have a place on the battlefield.
  13. "The only reason the British Army had fully motorized by 1939 was not out of a driving desire to motorize and a recognition that the day of the horse had passed, but rather with the loss of the Irish Republic, you'd lost a good deal of land whence you'd procured horses for the Army. The lack of horses drove your conversion to full motorization. "Horse power" was still recognized by all the world's forces to be the most desireable and "state of the art" means of motive power, and horse cavalry was still thought by nearly all armies to have a place on the battlefield."

    What sh1t.
    And I do not like using terms like that on one of the boards more sensible sections.

    Come on please be so kind to explain why the US Forces did little but withdraw to Bataan when jap landed.
    And don't tell us that in this forward base the mighty US Air Corps was not ready, I mean it's not as though the US and UK did not know that jap as on the move.
    UK had been bled white after over 2 years of fighting, the barrel was scraped bare so please be so kind to explain why US forces put up such a Dam Poor Show.
  14. "What sh1t?" Sorry, that was the reason for the Brit military's full motorization. Full stop. Lack of horses. I did not address other aspects of the Bataan campaign.

    As for USAAF, Mac had ordered Brereton to disperse his forces, but Brereton (incompetent arrse as seen later in Market-Garden) didn't want to send his precious aircrew away from the fleshpots of Manila, and they got caught flat footed. Although in fairness my Dad, a former B-52 crewman and war planner himself pointed out that bomber ops from dispersed airfields are a disaster logistically. 1942 also showed how inadequately equipped and trained US forces were to face the Japanese threat. USAAF doctrine was to use B-17s as anti shipping aircraft, and this was in fact attempted as late as May 1942 at Midway. Hardly a dazzling success as one might expect. Even had US air forces survived the initial attacks, I doubt they'd have been terribly effective.

    US troops did in fact have large amounts of heavy equipment and arty on the way to the PI, much as Brit troops had equipment on the way to Singapore when it was defeated. Unfortunately the shipment of arty, tanks, AAA and ammo was diverted and never made it there. I can't recall the numbers offhand but it was quite an impressive arsenal. In the actual case, the National Guard tanks Mac received, never got HE shells, which were on the shipment that never arrived. Mac's plan to hold the beaches was a poor one to say the least, and IMHO he should have concentrated his supplies and his defense around Bataan from the get-go, but that was the militarily smart thing to do. Politically, he had to convince the government of the Phillipines that the US would defend ALL the PI, not foresaking her colonial clients. There was indeed a risk that the Filipino President would cave to the Japanese, and the US planners had to take that into account. The Filipino Army was only half-formed, half-trained, and half-equipped. They needed probably another 6 months at least to be ready for the party. And finally, much as with the Brits and other allies, the US military just wasn't ready for the war in training, doctrine, and equipment. I would hardly make the case that US forces were in any way superior to Brit forces in 1942, but then I'd hardly agree with your assertion that US forces were somehow "backward-thinking" in comparison to the Brits in terms of doctrine, either. My specific response I made was to your slagging off the US for still using horse transport. Well...the Germans and the Japanese seem to have done rather well for themselves against the Brits, using "backwards" horse transport in 1940-'42....
  15. Unfortunately, the US only really got its start at mobilizing military production capacity in 1939, beginning to expand its factory capacity to fill orders from Brit and French forces. We only began expansion of the military in Sept 1940 with the inception of the Selective Service Act, when we began the draft. A good couple of books for you to read which might inform you greatly regarding the problems facing the US in expanding from a pathetically small regular component and ill-prepared National Guard would be The GI Offensive in Europe: The Triumph of American Infantry Divisions, 1941-1945 by Peter Mansoor, and also An Army at Dawn: The War in Africa, 1942-1943, both of which treat extensively with problems in planning, organizing, training, and equipping the Army of the United States for war. By late 1941, we'd only been training up the AUS for perhaps a year and a half, and while you may have been scraping the bottom of the barrel, we'd hardly managed to stand up an army at all. We just weren't ready.