LEFT: Batu Berlayar. 1960s. The squat tower top left was added by the Harbour Board post-war.
Land has been reclaimed around Batu Berlayar and along the shore., so the view in the photo is somewhat different to it today.
Standing on top of Batu Berlayar, the remains of the gun battery may look like a fortress, but the impression is misleading. Batu Berlayar was never self-defending.
Batu Berlayar was one of the A.M.T.B. Batteries defending the western entrance to Keppel Harbour. It formed part of the much greater so-called ‘Fortress Singapore’. Defences needed to make it a fortress were never built in Singapore. One of the reasons for the loss of Singapore on 15th February 1942.
Amended Report of Local Committee, Revised to 30th September 1890:-
“The Western Mine Field would depend on defence on the fire of two quick-firing and two machine guns at Berlayer Point, and the infantry garrisons of Passir Panjang and Siloso”.
Appendix 1 of the Report proposed a Garrison Detachment of 18 Infantry at Berlayar Point. Berlayar Point would seem to have been completed in 1892, so perhaps the Committee were referring to a site in preparation.
The ‘Straits Settlements Defence Scheme September 1893’ listed 1 QF gun and 1 machine gun as being at Berlayar Point. The Fire Commanders were Lt. Langdon and Lt Eady of Passir Panjang. The ‘Straits Settlements Defence Scheme September 1894’ listed the armament as being 1 QF gun and 2 machine guns.
The ‘Report of the Local Joint Naval and Military Committee on Defence 7 February 1895’ stated that a battery of two 12 Pounder or three 6 Pounder Q.F. guns should be placed on the top of Tanjong Berlayer, with an all-round fire. In December 1896, armament reported by the ‘Straits Settlements Defence Scheme’ was, “1 6 pr QF and 2 machine guns”. This is the first reference I’ve seen to the calibre of the QF Gun. Records show that there were two 6 Pounder QF guns at Berlayer Point on 1st January 1898, having been taken there from Tanjong Katong. No mention of machine guns is made. The list of Approved Armaments shows that the QF Guns were still there on 1st January 1899. One of them will have been in the Embrasure facing the harbour at beach level. The date of the hollowing out of the rock at Berlayer Point to form the gun emplacement is not known as yet.
RIGHT: A plan of Berlayer Point circa 1905.
The plan shows the 6 Pounder Emplacement with its Ammunition Recesses in the hollowed out rock, and overlooking the beach and facing into the harbour. By 1905, Berlayer Point was probably unarmed as there are no references to it in the list of Singapore’s Approved Armaments in September 1900, or in lists for a few years following.
At the same time that Berlayer Point lost its guns, Fort Pasir Panjang acquired two 6 Pounder QF Guns. So, it would seem that the guns were moved the short distance to Fort Pasir Panjang, there to replace the 7 Inch RML Gun which had been there. This is the Pasir Panjang emplacement nearest the path to the beach, close to the blocked store room dated 1892. Sometime after the removal of armament, a Signal Station was built on Berlayar Point. This remained there until the late 1930s. The next reference I’ve seen to any armament at Berlayer Point is in the Defence Scheme of 1913. This notes that there were two ·303 Maxim Machine guns at Berlayer Point.
General Barron in his 1935 report on Singapore’s defences recommended, “2 A/CMB equipments in old 12-pdr. Emplacements at the PANJANG Battery, with an illuminated area consisting of one 45°and three 30° D.E.Ls. sited just below the battery”. He made no mention of Berlayer Point.
LEFT: General Barron’s map showing 2 A/CMB Guns at Pasir Panjang and the arcs of the proposed single fixed 45° and three fixed 30° D.E.Ls. sited below them. The two narrow arcs above and below the D.E.Ls., are long range 3° Fighting lights for the recommended Labrador and Siloso 6 Inch BL Batteries. Batu Berlayar only got three of the searchlights recommended by the General The centre of arc was more westerly.
A Committee of Imperial Defence, Joint Oversea and Home Defence Committee report dated 4th December 1936 recommended for the Western Entrance of Keppel Harbour a maximum of four 6 Pounder Equipments (Twin 6 Pounders) and 7 D.E.Ls., and for the Eastern entrance a maximum of four 6 Pounder Equipments and six D.E.Ls., stating, “The precise number and location of the guns and lights for Keppel Harbour are still under discussion with the local authorities in Singapore and some reduction in the maximum number stated above may be possible”.
In 1942, due to a shortage of Twin 6 Pounders, Keppel Harbour had only Berhala Reping with Twin 6 Pounders. At the Western Entrance were three 12 Pounder QF Guns, two at Batu Berlayer, and one at OSO on Siloso Point. On Pulau Hantu an 18 Pounder Field Gun was pressed into service.
In a secret message from the G.O.C. Malaya to the Under-Secretary of State at the War Office on 22 April 1937 was:
“4. With regard to the points that were left for investigation in my letter under reference; (a) I have ascertained that no difficulty need be expected in the removal of the Signal Station at BATU BERLAYER headland and in the modification of the Beacon so long as the cost will be met by the War Department. I have also satisfied myself that two equipments can be sited on the BATU BERLAYER headland without interfering unduly with each other. (b) the defence electric light on MOUNT SILOSO at 799053 can be moved to a point lower down the cliff (from which its arc is unchanged) to make a site for an Anti Motor Torpedo Boat equipment from which a satisfactory shoot can be got close to the South coast of BLAKANG MATI. (c) I have approached the Harbour Board with reference to the acquisition of PULAU HANTU. I have received no reply yet but I understand there is little doubt that the Island will be made available if we are prepared to accept certain conditions and are able to agree to the price with the Harbour Board.
5.I therefore make the following recommendations for the defence of the Western Entrance:- (a) On KUBU BATU BERLAYER. Two Anti Motor Torpedo Boat equipments and three 30° Defence Electric Lights......”
In the approval for the layout of A.M.T.B. defences for Singapore dated 4th November 1937, The Army Council listed two Twin 6 Pounders for Batu Berlayer. There were also to be three 30° Fixed D.E.Ls.
RIGHT: The 1937 plan for A.M.T.B. Batteries and D.E.Ls. at Batu Berlayar, Pulau Hantu and Fort Siloso. Fort Siloso only got three of the four lights recommended. One of the three, the one closest to the harbour entrance had a 45° beam.
I do not know when the A.M.T.B. Emplacements were built at Batu Berlayer, but they were complete in 1941. A Signal of 29th June 1941 from the War Office to the G.O.C. Malaya about manning included, “Outline manning for Labrador (A.M.T.B.) Works: 2 British Officers, 55 British Other Ranks, 8 Indian and 11 Malay soldiers". In October that year two 12 Pounders were reported as being emplaced at Labrador (presumably Batu Berlayar). Batu Berlayar was now ready to go to war, although it had no range finders. The guns however were fitted with sights.
In February 1942, 31 Coast Battery RA under Battery Commander Capt T.E. Pickard, RA manned Batu Berlayar. The 12 Pounders could not bear landwards and never saw action but, “bombs fell in the sea, off the point”. Some shell splinters fell in Batu Berlayar, but caused no damage.
13 Feb 42
"“The FC gave orders for Batu Berlayer to prepare for demolition”.
“At 2230 hrs orders were issued to carry out demolitions, and for Batu Berlayer Sections, to withdraw on completion to Berhala Reping on Blakan Mati....”. The guns were spiked. “No 1 gun split ......and the muzzle of No 2 was completely blown off”. The first attempt to fire the magazine failed so a trail of cordite was laid to try again. This worked and the magazine was left in flames. The D.E.Ls. and the Engine Room were also destroyed. Personnel were taken by tongkang to Siloso Pier. From there, they went on to form a defensive position round Hospital Hill. Later they were withdrawn to Berhala Reping. Following the British Surrender, Captain Pickard and several men from Batu Berlayer escaped by launch.
They must have been the men Joe Cusselle from Berhala Reping tried to escape with. See the ‘Berhala Reping’ section.
Despite the demolition damage reported at Batu Berlayer recorded in Faber Fire Command War Diary, Colonel Rice reported in 1946 that the Magazines, Searchlights and Engine room were undamaged, and that the War Accommodation, Has been put in good order, presumably by the Japanese.
After the War, Batu Berlayar was armed with a single Twin 6 Pounder adapted for A.A. use as well as for A.M.T.B. defence. This remained until 1956 when coast artillery was disbanded. The gun was then disposed of for scrap.
The photo shows, at bottom right, the three Searchlight Posts for the Batu Berlayar AMTB Battery. The left hand long building left of centre, is roughly where the roundabout at the end of Port Road is today.