Built as part of Britain’s southern coastal defence of Singapore from the 1870s to 1880s, Fort Serapong was erected to deter marauding pirates and foreign invaders from entering Singapore. This preserved the peace which allowed the island to continue flourishing as an entrepot trade centre, ensuring economic sustainability.
Along with other fortifications such as the Blakang Mati Forts and Fort Pasir Panjang, Fort Serapong was constructed as a defence for the colony’s prospering port against enemies including the Dutch East Indies and pirates. Furthermore, Fort Serapong became not only a natural breakwater for the harbour but also had a geographical advantage as it was the highest point of Pulau Blakang Mati.
Historical Significance: Role In World War II
Equipped with seven-inch guns and 64 Pounders, the newly-installed Blakang Mati Forts were primarily responsible for defending southern Singapore. The installation of defence in the seaward direction was cemented by Singapore’s first resident, William Farquhar, as early as 1820, and was anticipated by the British to be the location of the Japanese invasion during World War II.
However, these defences were never utilised as the Japanese were able to conquer Malaya with ease by invading the relatively undefended Lim Chu Kang area, crossing the Johore Straits and bypassing the Royal Navy. As the British only believed the Japanese would attack Singapore from the south, it was indeed their fault that led to the early surrender of Singapore because there were insufficient defences against this attack. The weapons on Fort Serapong were rotated 180 degrees inland in an attempt to discharge ammunition towards the Jurong and Bukit Timah areas but thwarted as buildings obstructed the firing lines. Due to British miscalculations, the plethora of defences available in southern Singapore were useless against the Japanese invasion.
Within three days, Sentosa was captured by the Japanese and the Blakang Mati Forts were converted into a prisoner-of-war (POW) camp, also known as the Blakang Mati Artillery Barrack. After the Japanese Occupation, the same barrack was used to imprison the Japanese POWs. As Fort Serapong had a strategic advantage as a vantage point, it was designated the primary control station for the harbour’s traffic, known as the Port War Signal Station.
Architectural Significance: Role in World War II
During the archaeological survey and excavation at Fort Serapong in April 2006, Archaeologist Lim Chen Sian, leader of the excavation, spoke of his findings of “moveable artefacts”, which constituted of “lots of ammunition, such as six-inch shells (which weighed) sixty kilograms”.
In addition, Singapore’s only remnants of an eight-inch gun emplacement, a niche where weapons were positioned, can also be found at Fort Serapong. Threatened by the imminent fall of Singapore, the guns located at the Blakang Mati Forts were employed to demolish the oil tanks located in Pulau Sebarok and Pulau Bukom. The guns and batteries on Pulau Blakang Mati were subsequently destroyed in order to ensure that they would not become the possessions of the Japanese on 15 February 1942.
Social Significance: World War II
According to Mr Lim, the diets of the British soldiers at the Fort Serapong complex consisted largely of milk and sardines, with a scarcer number of beer cans and bottles found as compared to dairy products. There were several traces of wholesome living appearing in the form of “bits from a Monopoly set (dating) back to the 1930s and 1940s”, such as the purse and the rocking horse, which had since been replaced with the thimble and wheelbarrow by 1940. From these artefacts, it was inferred that the British soldiers had fairly interesting lifestyles, diametrically opposing previous assumptions that they led mundane lifestyles.
Blakang Mati Artillery Barrack
Following the aftermath of World War II, the Blakang Mati forts and batteries came under the command of several military forces and continued to be used in the late 1950s. After the withdrawal of the British in 1967, the fortifications were passed on to the SAF, and the structures were used as a storage space. After a few years, there was some talk of government interventions to redevelop Sentosa into a tourist destination, and a parliamentary debate was held in order to determine the course of the redevelopment of Fort Serapong.
During the redevelopment, Fort Siloso was transformed into a military museum and Fort Connaught was demolished for the construction of the Tanjong Golf Course. Fort Serapong, on the other hand, was left untouched, and its ruins still lie derelict up to this day.
The remnants comprise an underground magazine, the battery’s gun emplacements, and a number of support structures for the battery, constructed around the 1930s. Casemates that are assumed to have been erected in 1985 can also be found together with the mountings for the guns, as well as a bunker that served as the Blakang Mati Command Centre.