Friday, May 24, 2013

WW2 heritage sites in Singapore

On 8th February 1942, the Japanese army invaded the island of Singapore.
By the 15th Feb 1942, the British colonial government surrendered and for the next three and half years, Singapore came under the brutal occupation of the Japanese military administrators.

Fifty years after the end of WW2, in 1995, the Singapore National Heritage Board erected 14 markers around Singapore Island at places that witnessed significant events that occurred during the Fall of Singapore. An additional 6 markers were erected in 2012 to mark the 70th anniversary of the Fall of Singapore.

These 20 markers are just some of the 50 significant sites* around Singapore associated with the war period.  I will add these other sites as and when I get round to them.

For those who may be interested in visiting these sites, I have placed a map beside the photo showing where the markers are located.

The text following the graphics are as inscribed on the markers, in full or partial:
My own comments are preceded by 'Quispiam Loquor:'

Note: the photos are not placed in any chronological order.

1. Sarimbun Beach landing site

On this mangrove-filled shoreline, Japanese forces launched their attack on Singapore.
Protected by heavy artillery fire, soldiers of the 5th and 18th Divisions crossed the Johore Straits in a fleet of small boats on the night of 8th February 1942.

The first two waves of Japanese troops were repelled by Allied troops of the Australian 22nd Brigade. However, the third Japanese wave broke through the Australian defences to conquer Tengah Airfield by the following morning.

2. Kranji Beach Landing Site

On this shoreline, between the Kranji River and the Causeway, troops of the 27th Australian Brigade and Singapore volunteers of Lieutenant-Colonel Dalley's DALFORCE scored a victory against the invading Japanese troops.

On the morning of 10th February 1942, troops from the 4th Regiment of the Japanese Imperial Guards landed when the tide was low. They were stuck in the mud and were caught in oil slicks created by Allied troops, releasing oil from the nearby Woodlands depot.

The first waves of Japanese troops were burnt when Allied forces set fire to the oil.

However, for fear of being cut off by the Japanese landing from the west at Sarimbun and Jurong, the Australian troops and the DALFORCE volunteers were ordered to withdraw south, thus allowing the Japanese land and consolidate their invasion of Singapore.

Quispiam Loquor: Please note that although the marker is located here on the west bank, the actual Kranji Beach landing took place on the East bank between the river and the Causeway across the Kranji River from the marker.

3. RAF Seletar Airfield

RAF Seletar was one of three airfields built to provide air defence in Singapore. Completed in 1928, it holds the distinction of being Britain's first Royal Air Force base east of India as well as being the first military and civilian airport in Singapore.

4. The Causeway

The 3,465-feet Causeway, completed in 1924, was blown up by British and Indian Engineers, assisted by the Royal Navy. This created a 70-foot gap in the Causeway, severing the water pipes in the process.

5. Bukit Batok Memorial

Two monuments once stood on top of this hill in memory of Allied and Japanese soldiers killed in the battle for Singapore.

Built by some 500 Allied prisoners-of-war in 1942, the Japanese memorial, the Syonan Chureito, was a 400-foot (sic) high wooden pylon topped with a brass cone. To the rear was a small hut housing the ashes of Japanese soldiers killed in the Battle for Bukit Timah. The prisoners-of-war were allowed to build a second monument to honour the Allied dead. This was a 10-foot high wooden cross which stood just behind the Japanese monument.

The Syonan Churieto was destroyed by the Japanese just before the return of the Allied forces to Singapore in 1945.

Quispiam Loquor: The 400-foot pylon stated in the marker was actually only 40-foot. I think it is a typo by the NHB. Here is a confirmation of the 40-foot, (not 400') pylon during the dedication ceremony.

I wrote to the NHB after noticing the error and they responded by saying 'someone will go verify my finding'. Subsequently, they corrected the memorial with a temporary acrylic panel and said a more permanent panel was being made.
I was astounded that no one had spotted the mistake for the past 18 years!

Original panel

Corrected temporary panel as of 27 May 2013.

6. The Battle for Bukit Timah


On the night of 10th February 1942, the Japanese troops from the 5th and 18th Divisions, supported by armor, attacked troops of the 11th and 15th Indian Brigades, the 22nd Australian brigade, The Special Reserve battalion, Tomforce, Merrett's Force, the Argylls, Jind State Infantry and 'X' Battalion. The Allied forces had to re-grouped to defend the critical junctions at Choa Chu Kang, Jurong and Clementi Roads leading to Bukit Timah Road.

By dawn of 11th February 1942, the Japanese troops reported to their commander Lietenant(sic)-General Tomoyuki Yamashita that they had seized Bukit Timah. The road to the city was open.

7. Battle for Pasir Panjang

One of the last battles for Singapore was fought on this hill which dominated the harbour and British military depots in the Ayer Rajah area.

On 13th February 1942, the Japanese 18th Division, with strong artillery and air support, attacked the 1st Malay Regiment, the British 2nd Loyals Regiment and the 44th Indian Brigade defending this locality.

At the battle, the men of the Malay Regiment led by officers like 2nd Lietenant Adnan of "C" Company distinguished themselves. The "C" Company held its ground for 48 hours, and the last few survivors abandoned their posts only when the unit had almost been wiped out.

8. The Rimau 10 Commandos Execution site

There were two Allied commando raids on Japanese ships in Singapore's Keppel Harbour during the Japanese Occupation. The first codenamed, Operation Jaywick, was a success. The second mission, Operation Rimau failed when all 23 commandos involved never made it home.

Of the 23 operatives, ten were captured and brought to Singapore. The remaining thirteen were either captured of killed throughout the Indonesian archipelago.

On 7th July 1945 at around 10am, the commandos were brought to this vicinity to be executed. They remained defiant to the end. They were buried in three graves nearby.

9. Fort Canning Command Centre

Fort Canning Command Centre was completed in 1939 and became operational in 1942 as Malaya Command Headquarters. The headquarters consisted of an office complex and barracks with an underground command centre to be used during air raids (later known as The Battle Box).

The historical decision to surrender to the Japanese was made in the Battle Box's Centre for Anti-Aircraft Defence room during a meeting of British senior staff held at 9.00am on 15th February 1942.

10. Force 136

Force 136 was a covert military unit that gathered intelligence and conducted sabotage missions in Malaya during the Japanese Occupation. It originated as the Malayan Country Section within the Special Operations Executive (SOE). The SOE was set up in London to conduct operations in enemy occupied territories during the Second World War.

11. The Jurong-Kranji Defence Line

The narrow ridge connecting the sources of the Jurong and Kranji Rivers was a natural defense line protecting the north-west approach to the city. The Allied troops were to defend this line strongly against the invading japanese.

However, Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival's secret orders to withdraw to the last defense line around the city, only if necessary, were misunderstood by the defending Allied troops. As a result, the 44th Indian Infantry Brigade, the 12th Indian Infantry Brigade and the 22nd Australian Brigade, reinforced after their withdrawal from Sarimbun Beach in the north-west, abandoned the Jurong-Kranji Line on 10th February 1942. This allowed the Japanese forces to sweep through the line to attack Bukit Timah.

12. Labrador Battery

In 1878, the British constructed an artillery fort on this ridge to defend the western entrance to Keppel Harbour. On the eve of World War 2, Fort Pasir Panjang had two large six-inch guns.

13.  Indian National Army

In the final months of the Japanese Occupation of Singapore, a memorial dedicated to the "Unknown Warrior" of the Indian National Army (INA) was constructed on this site.

The local INA was formed in 1942 with Japanese support. It sought to liberate India from the British and consisted mainly of prisoners-of-war from the British Indian Army.

When the British returned to Singapore, they demolished the memorial barely two months after its installation.

14. Japanese Propaganda Department Headquarters

Cathay Building housed the British Malaya Broadcasting Corporation before the Japanese occupied Singapore.
During the Occupation, the Japanese took over the building for their own propaganda activities. They tried to impose the Japanese language on the local population through their radio transmission from Cathay Building. 
Cathay Building later served as headquarters for Admiral Louis Mounbatten (sic)  who accepted the Japanese surrender in 1945.

15. Kempeitai East District Branch

The old YMCA building which once stood here was the East Branch of the Kempeitai (Japanese Military Police).
The much-feared Kempeitai was assigned to crush local resistance to Japanese rule. They conducted the "Sook Ching" (mass screening) Operation which resulted in the deaths of many Chinese suspected of being anti-Japanese.
The Kempeitai recruited informers from within the local community thus sowing distrust among the population. People were taken away on mere suspicion. Suspects were tortured during interrogation. The quiet of the building's surroundings was often broken by the screams of victims from within.

16. Keppel Harbour

During the invasion of Malaya, Keppel harbour was amongst the first targets of Japanese bombing on 8th December 1941.
The harbour reflected both hope and desperation for the island at war. Large numbers of soldiers arrived to bolster the defence of Malaya and Singapore.
On the other hand, the harbour also witnessed the desperate evacuation of thousands, particularly in the last days of the Battle for Singapore. Many ships were sunk while escaping.

17. Sook Ching Centre

This site was one of the temporary centres of the Japanese Military Police, the Kempeitai, for screening anti-Japanese Chinese.
On 18th February 1942, three days after their capture of Singapore, the Kempeitai launched a month-long purge of anti-Japanese elements in an operation named "Sook Ching". All Chinese men between 18 and 50 years old, and in some cases women and children, were ordered to report to these temporary registration centres for interrogation and identification by the Kempeitai and their hooded informers.

Those who passes the arbitrary screening were released with the word "Examined" stamped on the face or arm or on clothes. Other not so fortunate were taken to outlying parts of Singapore and executed for alleged anti-japanese activities. Tens of thousands were estimated to have lost their lives.

18. Ponggol Beach Massacre site

On 28 February 1942, some 300-400 Chinese civilians were killed along the Ponggol foreshore by hojo kempei (auxiliary military police) firing squads. They were among tens of thousands who lost their lives during the Japanese Sook Ching operation to purge suspected anti-Japanese civilians within Singapore's Chinese population between 18 february to 4 March, 1942.
The victims who perished along the foreshore were among 1000 Chinese males rounded up following a house-to-house search of the Chinese community living along Upper Serangoon Road by Japanese soldiers.

19. Changi Beach Massacre site

Sixty-six male civilians were killed by Japanese hojo kempei (auxiliary military police) firing squads at the water's edge on this stretch of Changi Beach on 20 February 1942. They were among tens of thousands who lost their lives during the Japanese Sook Ching operation to purge suspected anti-Japanese civilians within Singapore's Chinese population between 18 February to 4 March 1942.

Tanah Merah Besar Beach, a few hundred metres south (now part of the Changi Airport runway), was one of the most heavily used killing grounds where well over a thousand Chinese men and youths lost their lives.

20. Serapong Beach Massacre site

For 8 days from 20 February 1942, hundreds of Chinese civilians bound hand and foot, back to back, in groups of four, were transported by boats from Tanjong Pagar Docks to the waters across from here. There, Japanese soldiers hurled the bound civilians into the water and opened fire on fire. Many bodies drifted ashore along the outer coastline of the then Blakang Mati (now Sentosa) island. Some 300 bodies were buried by British prisoners of war around the Berhala Reping artillery post (about 100 metres ahead).

*Other significant WW2 sites in Singapore

21. Lim Chu Kang Landing site
22. Ama Keng Village
23. Tengah Airfield
24. Kranji War Cemetery
25. Singapore Naval Base
26. Sembawang Airfield
27. Japanese Cemetery Park
28. Ford Motor Factory
29. Pasir Panjang Pillbox
30. Reflections at Bukit Chandu
31. Alexandra Military Hospital
32. Siloso Battery
33. Raffles Library and Museum
34. Former St Joseph's Institution
35. The Padang
36. Municipal Building (City Hall)
37. Lim Bo Seng Memorial
38. Cenotaph
39. Civilian War Memorial
40. Singapore Volunteer Corps HQ (Beach Road camp)
41. Kallang Airfield
42. The Changi Museum
43. Johore Battery
44. India Barracks
45. Selarang Barracks
46. Roberts Barracks
47. Kitchener Barracks
48. Pulau Ubin
49. St Andrew's Cathedral
50. Changi Prison


  1. Hi, could I ask why you are interested in WW2 sites? What motivates you to want to post so much knowledge about WW2 sites on your blog?

  2. Brilliant work, thank you James!

  3. Great job. Thank you for the info and maps.

  4. I have been following the details of Operation Rimau and today visited the execution site on Dover Road. A moving visit.

  5. Thank you for this. My father was in the British army in Singapore from 1939 and was taken prisoner and transported to Japan to work in the mines. I know little of the events as he would not speak of it except to say how much the Singapore people suffered at this time. I lived there in the late 60s and hope one day to return and will visit these sites. Thanks again.

  6. great job, most people here were borne after the world war, and have no memory of the cruelty and callousness of japanese soldiers. Even today their politicians are whitewashing the entire war tortures mass rapes and massacre.
    we should not forget the inhuman behavior of the japanese

  7. took my father around many of these today. really interesting and this list was an invaluable resource. thank you

  8. Hi, is the serapong site accessible? from what i know, it might be within the gold property.

  9. Hi, is the serapong site accessible? from what i know it is within the golf property

    1. The Serapong Heritage marker is right within premises of the Sentosa Golf Club. You will need their permission to access the site which is normally off-limits to the public, i.e. non-members. You can write to them stating your wish to visit the marker. I am sure they can make some arrangements for you.