In March, 1927 the Army Council, sent a Commission Under the Chairmanship of Lt. General Sir Webb Gillman to Singapore. He was to investigate the details of the proposed defences of the Naval Base which had been approved by of the Committee of Imperial Defence. The Commission consisted of Lt. General Sir Webb Gillman, Colonel L.N. Malan, C.E. Malaya and Lt. Colonel R.F. Lock, Secretary, Ordnance Commission. The Commission stayed in Singapore until the beginning of July, arriving back to England at the end of the month.
The Commission’s terms of reference were:-
To visit Singapore, and, after consultation with the General Officer Commanding and the local artillery and engineer advisers, to report and make recommendations on the following subjects:-
(i) The exact siting of the guns and lights within the areas already approved by the Army Council.
(ii) Command and communications for guns and lights.
(iii) Distribution of (defence) troops.
(iv) Principle of lay-out of eastern cantonments.
(v) Adoption of underground or surface magazines.
(vi) General lay-out of ordnance depot.
(vii) Nature of piers at the way and cranes and sites of former.
Extract from the Minutes of the 229th Meeting of the Committee of Imperial Defence, held on July 14, 1927:-
(a.) To report to the Cabinet that, in accordance with the decision of the Cabinet on the 6th May, 1925 (Cabinet 24 (25), Conclusion (3) (a) (iii)), the Committee of Imperial Defence have reviewed in the light of the international situation the conclusions in regard to Singapore reached at their, 199th Meeting, held on the 2nd April, 1925, and reaffirmed at the 215th Meeting on the 22nd April, 1926, and are satisfied that the general policy then laid down is still sound and should be adhered to.
(b.) To recommend that as soon as may be convenient after the return of General Sir Webb Gillman, who had recently been sent to Singapore to render a report, the Committee should reconsider the whole question of the development of the defences.
REPORT OF THE SINGAPORE COMMISSION 1927
Page 6 of Report
15-inch guns on the East Coast. - Sites for two 15-inch guns have been found at Bee Hoe and also at Mata Ikan in the programme 1927-1931, The latter place is in unpleasant proximity to many swamps, and we recommend a site on the Wing Loon estate between Mata Ikan and Bee Hoe as being preferable, both from a medical, as well as a railway point of view (see Section II, paragraphs 24-25).
It has been proposed by the War Office that one gun shall be installed at Bee Hoe and one at Mata Ikan in the programme 1927-1931, but we suggest the initial installation of two 15-inch guns at Bee Hoe. It may subsequently be found unnecessary to place any more 15-inch guns south of Bee Hoe and an extension of the railway beyond it can remain in abeyance until the question was finally settled.
Page 10 (Section II) of Report
2. 15-inch sites. - The case of the 15-inch guns is, however, different as these guns are not provided with sights and can therefore be placed in pits. As no data are, however, available to assist us in finding the correct solution to the problem of their siting, designs of the two emplacements at Bee Hoe have been worked out in detail (plans X, 3 and X, 4).
From these designs we consider that, after artillery needs have been satisfied, the chief factors governing the siting of 15-inch guns are as follows:-
(a) The height of the magazine (and for reasons given later we recommend surface magazines) is 28 feet above the gun platform. To conceal a mound of this size, even in a tree-covered country, would be difficult, so we have reduced the height above the ground by sinking the gun 8 to 10 feet below ground level. This work is also necessary in order to balance the amount of excavation with filling.
(b) Railway approach. - The 15-inch guns are sited on rising ground which entails the railway approaches being on a gradient. In order to avoid having to make a detour to reach the required height by a limited gradient it is again necessary to sink the guns, and from 8 to 10 feet has been found a suitable depth.
(c) The two gun sites comprising a battery have been placed on the same level in order that the railway between them can be used for the transport of stores between the emplacements and the workshop on trolleys pushed by hand.
(d) Since men will have to live and work in the batteries, anti-malarial measures will be required. The guns have therefore been sited as far as possible from the mosquito breeding places, in order to reduce the amount of anti-malaria work to a minimum.
(e) the screening of the magazines is dependent partly on vegetation going on the mounds themselves, but chiefly on distant trees. This presents a problem of some difficulty in the case for example of the left gun of Bee Hoe Battery, and the final siting of this gun was chiefly governed by this factor.
(f) The Railway approach to the guns will be by two lines, one for the crane and the other for the gun, and is limited to the side away from the magazine. For the reasons given in (c) above, the outer of the two lines will remain permanently in position.(See plans X,3 and X,4) This line crosses the gun platform, and must be so arranged that it does not obstruct the free handling of ammunition trolleys at any likely loading position. The inner railway line is for the use of the crane only, and must be removable, and so does not enter into the problem.
(g) The slopes of the sides of the gun pits have been designed to conform to the lowest likely elevation at which the gun will be fired in the various sectors of its arc. There are two methods by which the necessary slope may be calculated. The method adopted at Bee Hoe is to start the slope at the edge of the gun platform and make it parallel to the line of sight. This may be unduly liberal, but is on the safe side. The other method is to determine the minimum safe clearance between the line of flight of the shell and the crest of the pit, and design the pit accordingly with the minimum amount of earthwork required to give the cover desired. The latter method must be adopted on restricted sites such as Blakan Mati.
It is interesting to note that Lt. General Gillman recommended surface magazines for the 15 Inch Guns. The only other 15 Inch coast artillery emplacements the British built had surface magazines. This was the Wanstone Farm Battery (see Links page), a two gun battery with guns named named “Clem”, after Winston Churchill’s wife Clementine, and “Jane”, after a ‘pin-up’ cartoon character. There were also a two gun 14 Inch Battery, with guns “Winnie” and “Pooh”, and a three gun 13·5 Inch Railway Mounted Battery, with guns “Gladiator”, “Scene Shifter” and “Piece Maker”.
Singapore Sub-Committee of the Chief of Staff Sub-Committee, 24th March 1928
5. The Committee of Imperial Defence, at their 215th Meeting, agreed that the “first stage of the plan of defence” should include provision for mounting 3-15-inch guns ........
7. It was also proposed that the 15-inch guns should be installed as follows :-
1-15-inch at Bee Hoe 1930 1-15-inch at Mati Ikan 1930 ........
Many more meetings took place and there were also delays imposed by the government cutting back on defence spending.
Cabinet. Coast Defence, 11th July 1932.
54 (c) We consider that the first stage of the plan of defence for the naval base at Singapore, modified in the light of the latest developments in coast artillery, should be proceeded with, including the provision of three 15-inch guns. The second stage should await a further recommendation by the Committee of Imperial Defence.
The “First Stage” of defences for Singapore, which was approved by the Cabinet in 1928 (vide Minute 14 at the 235th Meeting of the Committee of Imperial Defence), is detailed in paragraph 12 (/) of C.I.D. Paper No. 315-C and consisted of the following :-
( i ) Coast Defence Guns-
2-—6-inch 15° at Changi Hill.
2—9·2-inch (conversion to 35° ) at Blakang Mati.
2—9·2-inch 35° at Pulau Tekong (Besar).
1—15-inch at Bee Hoe.
1—15-inch at Blakang Mati.
1—15-inch at Wing Loong.
2—6-inch 75° (now 45°) at Pulau Tekong (Besar).
It was recorded in the notes that there were three 15 Inch ordnance and one 15 Inch Mounting were available, “from stock”, and that “further 15 inch guns are being held by the Admiralty at the disposal of the War Office.
Despite the Coast Defence meeting of 11 July 1932, things changed - a recurring theme on the composition of Singapore gun defences.
Meeting of the Cabinet at No. 10 Downing Street on Wednesday 24th July 1935, at 11.00 a.m.
The cabinet has before them a report on Singapore Defences (C.P.-152 (35)) by the committee of Imperial Defence Sub-Committee on Defence Policy and Requirements The Conclusions and recommendations of the Sub-Committee were summarised at the end of their Report in the following terms:
(a) That without prejudice to the final scheme for the provision of Stage II of the Singapore Defences, the gift of the Sultan of Johore amounting to £500,000 should be distributed as follows:
(i) £400,000 to the War Office to be devoted to the completion of the 15-inch gun batteries at Bee Hoe (3 guns) and Buona Vista (2 guns).
(ii) £100,000 to the Air Ministry to meet the cost of accelerating the preparation of the second and third landing-grounds and for providing accommodation for the non-regular (spotting) flight at the civil aerodrome.
(b) That the Joint Oversea and Home Defence Committee should consider and report, what further steps are required on the part of all Services to complete the defences of the base subsequent to Stage I.
The Cabinet approved the above recommendations. Changi would get three 15 Inch Guns, and Buona Vista two 15 Inch Guns. The armament of other gun batteries would also change. The long mooted Fort Blakang Mati South would never materialise, but other batteries would be constructed.
It had been a long time since Lt. Colonel Brackner had made his coast artillery reconnaissance, but progress was at last being made.
In February 1937, the Committee for Imperial Defence gave completion dates for the Battery now known as the Johore Battery after the gift from the Sultan of Johore. Two guns were due to be complete by August 1937, and the third by November 1937. Despite this, there was still to be some slippage. It was 1939 before the Battery was complete.
The positions of the guns had changed from earlier plans as well. The three emplacements were being constructed at Bee Hoe, and not as widely spread as originally envisaged. The Magazines were built underground, and not as originally envisaged, on the surface.
The guns being emplaced were Mark 1 Barrels. the No.1 (southern) Gun was on a Mark 1 Singapore mounting. This mounting had limited traverse, and automatic loading was not possible. The No.2 and No.3 Guns were on Mark 11 ‘Spanish’ Mountings, with almost complete traverse. These Guns were loaded automatically, rather like the Battleship guns of the time. The term ‘Spanish’ came from the fact that the manufacturers, Vickers, Had supplied similarly mounted guns for the Spanish Government.
Details of 15 Inch Guns as mounted in Singapore are given in ‘The Guns Of Singapore’