The area selected for the location of Fort Siloso was Sarang Rimau (Tiger’s Nest) at the western point of Blakang Mati. This location would give Fort Siloso and another new fort, Pasir Panjang, on the opposite side of the harbour entrance, commanding positions covering the western entrance to New Harbour.
Once final approval for the construction of Fort Siloso was given, plans were laid and preparations were made for the Construction. Lt. Henry McCallum R.E. (Royal Corps of Engineers) was put in charge of the construction. In early 1879, with Lt. Rhodes R.E., he set out plans to level an area of Mount Siloso to create a gun platform. As he wrote in the Professional Papers of the R.E.:-
“I, however, ascertained that there was a large quantity of powder in store, manufactured in Madras before the time of the transfer of the colony from the Indian Government. This powder had been condemned as unserviceable, and classed as No. IV. and No. VI., and I considered, therefore, that the best and cheapest way to get rid of the tongue would be to fire a series of mines, which would blow a portion of the knoll into the sea, and so loosen and shake the rock within the horizontal radius of rupture that it could be removed by coolie labour at economical rates."
Lt. McCallum used 19,000 Pounds (8,636 Kgs) of gun powder to blow away the top of the hill. The workforce then set to, and construction of the fort began. At that time, there were no roads in the area. All stores and equipment required for the construction work had to be delivered by boat, and landed at a small jetty. This was situated not far from the present entrance to the fort. The stairs down to the jetty survive.
Lifting building materials, heavy stores, equipment and guns up to the top of Mount Siloso was by no means an easy task for the workforce. in the 1870s, there were few mechanical aids for the workforce to use. The only method available was sheer muscle-power, and a tried and trusted method called ‘Parbuckling’ was employed by them. This was both labour intensive and physically demanding work, especially in the heat and humidity of Singapore.
When completed, the fort would mount three 7 Inch RML Guns and two 64 Pounder RML Guns. Both types having seen service with the Royal Navy. Despite having five guns, the fort was initially manned by only 18 men of the Singapore Volunteer Artillery.
Two of the 7 Inch RML Guns were emplaced one on each side of the Magazine, near the road entrance to the fort. The path between the guns was covered with a thick roof. These guns commanded the harbour entrance. The third gun and its Magazine was emplaced on the newly levelled top of Mount Siloso. It commanded an area to the east.
The two 64 Pounders, were emplaced “en barbette”. That means, that the guns on their carriages were stood on a solid flat platform and fired over a parapet. This emplacement was seaward of the Casemates and west of the present Battery Observation Post. The parapet allowed a good field of fire, but gave less protection to the gunners, than an embrasure would have. These guns commanded the seaward approach.
To increase the protection to the harbour entrance, a electrically operated mines, powered from an Engine Shed, were laid across the entrance to the harbour between Siloso and Tanjong Berlayar on Singapore Island. These were controlled from, and tested in a sub-surface area. Access was by means of a ramp sloping down from near the Engine Shed.
Almost as soon as Fort Siloso was completed and operational, there were comments about the armament. Governor Weld in 1880 said,"The Mount Siloso Battery needs heavier guns".
Plans to up-rate the defences were not long in coming. In 1881, there were two plans for an update to the Fort’s armament. One, by Colonel Crossman, called for the fort to be armed with with five 10 Inch BL Guns. The other plan would reduce the 64 Pounder Battery to a single gun, and add five armour piercing guns and a rifled howitzer.
Neither plan was implemented, although two 10 Inch BL Guns were emplaced at Fort Palmer on Singapore Island. Fort Siloso remained armed with its three 7 Inch RML and the two 64 Pounder RML Guns.
In 1885, another plan was drawn up for improving the armament at Fort Siloso. These were carried forward and within a few years, a more modern Mark IV 9·2-Inch BL Gun Emplacement was constructed below Mount Siloso facing more to the west than the 64 Pounders. An underground magazine was to be constructed for the new gun. As part of the improvements, a new sub-surface Engine Room would be constructed near the original Engine Shed. Entrance would be by means of a ramp from the surface. The same ramp is used today for access. Power would be generated by steam.
The same set of plans show the emplacement of a fourth 7 Inch RML Gun at the top of Mount Siloso close to the existing gun, but facing south. This new gun was approximately where the No.2 Gun Emplacement of the present Mount Siloso 6 Inch QF Emplacement is. To the right of the new gun, was built a Look-Out Post.
The July 1886 ‘Précis of Existing and Proposed Defences’, listed three 7 Inch RML and two 64 Pounder RML Guns as being operational at Siloso. Proposed armament was given as four 7 Inch RML and one 9·2 Inch BL Guns. A side note stated, “Well advanced. Emplacement and magazine nearly ready”. Vice-Admiral R. Vasey Hamilton recorded that the two 64 Pounders were no longer in place in March 1887.
The ‘Straits Times’ reported on 4th November 1889 that:-
Three 9-in (sic) breechloading guns arrived on the steamer Pembrokeshire on Saturday (2nd November)
The paper reported that one gun was for Fort Siloso, and the other two for Blakang Mati (Fort Blakang Mati East - later renamed Fort Connaught).
In 1891, according to the ‘Report of Local Committee, revised to September 1891’, armament at Fort Siloso was, “1 9·2”, 2 7”, 1 Q.F., 1 machine”. Major Rich was the Officer Commanding.
In 1892 the Approved Garrison of Singapore was:-
Royal Artillery: Officers 14. Warrant Officers Non Commissioned Officers and Men 247
Native Artillery: Officers 2. Warrant Officers Non Commissioned Officers and Men 118
Royal Engineers: Officers 6. Warrant Officers Non Commissioned Officers and Men 81
Native Engineers: Officers 3. Warrant Officers Non Commissioned Officers and Men 50
Infantry: Officers 2. Warrant Officers Non Commissioned Officers and Men 984
Staff & Departments: Officers 12. Warrant Officers Non Commissioned Officers and Men 35
There is documentary evidence of the presence of two 9 Pounder RML Guns being at Fort Siloso in the early 1890s. Unfortunately, the sources do not say anything about the location of these these guns in the Fort. It is probable that they were of the same type as the gun seen at Fort Canning Today. The guns appear to have been removed by 1896.
In 1896, a plan was issued which showed a change in armament and other alterations. The plan was for an emplacement for two 12 Pounder QF (Quick Firing) Guns to replace the 7 Inch RML Guns overlooking Keppel Harbour, and for two 6 Inch QF Guns to be emplaced on top of Mount Siloso. These to replace the two 7 Inch RML Guns there. A new Battery Command Post would also be built.
The 7 Inch RML Guns needed a gun crew of 10, with more men in the ammunition supply train, and took a long time to load. A fast moving enemy craft would have been practically impossible for them to hit. This type of gun had been long condemned as being unfit for purpose.
The proposed changes were still in progress in 1898. The list of Approved Armaments for the Straits Settlements for 1st January 1898 shows armament then mounted at the Fort as being two 7 Inch RML Guns and a 9·2 Inch BL Gun. The list also showed two 12 Pounder QF Guns and the two 6 Inch QF Guns as being approved additions to the armament. The 12 Pounders, being more suitable to harbour defence than the 7 Inch RML Guns, were in place by 1st January 1899 and were located where the No.1 7 Inch RML Gun once overlooked Keppel Harbour. The 6 Inch QF Guns were mounted by the following year.
By 1st April 1907, The 9·2-Inch BL Gun was listed for removal, and the 6 Inch QF Guns were to be moved. They would be moved to the emplacement vacated by the redundant 9·2 Inch BL Gun. The emplacement would be completely rebuilt on the surface to mount the two QF guns, with the underground magazine being expanded and modified. It would seem that the two 12 Pounders were removed sometime during 1907, as they do not appear in the list of mounted armament for 1908, being replaced by two medium machine guns, probably Maxims, as armaments mounted. In the 1908 list, the 9·2 Inch BL and the 6 Inch QF Guns were shown as still being mounted, but listed for removal. In April 1909, the approved armament list does not mention the 9·2 Inch BL Gun, therefore it must have been removed by then. In addition, the Battery Command Post would undergo a major upgrade.
The 6 Inch QF Guns remained mounted according to the 1910 and 1911 lists. They were still however, listed for removal. Work continued on their new emplacement. The new emplacement and its guns were operational in 1912, appearing on the Chain of Artillery Command for Singapore in that year. The guns were listed for day and night fighting, showing that the Electric Lights were also active.
Singapore’s defences played no part in the First World War. They did, however, play a role in the mutiny of Indian troops which occurred during 1915. Searchlights situated at Siloso were used to illuminate parts of Singapore Island to aid loyal troops in quelling the mutiny. Singapore Harbour also played host to Japanese warships which were provided by the Japanese government, then allies. It has perhaps been forgotten that the Japanese provided convoy escort vessels in the Mediterranean Sea for allied forces during the First World War.