In Search of the 1915 Fort Siloso Searchlight

“…it was considered that these precautions had undoubtedly thwarted the mutineers from making a frontal attack in darkness….”

“Singapore Mutiny” page 90, by R W E Harper & Harry Miller

In my earlier post “Singapore 1915 Sepoy Mutiny and Alexandra Barracks“, I mentioned that during the 1915 mutiny, a searchlight at Fort Siloso was used to illuminate the area around LTC Martin’s bungalow (present day 7 Royal Road).  This blog post is a record of my search for the location of that searchlight – an ancient searchlight that played a part in Singapore’s history.

(Note: I have not come across proof that there was only 1 searchlight, nor proof that there were more than 1.  However R W E Harper & Harry Miller in page 89 of their book “Singapore Mutiny” state:

“…it then became obvious that under cover of darkness, mutineers could easily move forward for an attack.  Martin telephoned the duty officer at Fort Siloso on Blakang Mati, …and a few minutes later two searchlights steadied their brilliant beams along two sides of the bungalow, …A third beam was switched on at irregular times on to the barracks…”  )

Deciding where to look:  

Parts of the hilly area at present-day Labrador Park are higher than the highest part of Fort Siloso.  Also, some parts are as high as 7 Royal Road; so this gave me a clue as to where not to search for the searchlight at Fort Siloso.

searchlight-must-be-located-to-the-east

The above map shows why I believed that the searchlight would have had to be located high enough and/or not too far to the west so as not to be blocked by Labrador Park.  I reasoned that it should probably be to the right of the brown line.

The following picture taken from near the Surrender Chamber shows prominent buildings on the mainland.  7 Royal Road is somewhere between Normanton Park and Alexandra Point (the building with the pointed top).

between-normanton-and-alexandra-pt-crop

7-royal-rd-from-around-temp-searchlight

The above is the view of the mainland from roughly the location of the searchlight near Siloso Point.  Normanton Park is no longer visible and 7 Royal Road is somewhere to the left (west) of Alexandra Point, perhaps somewhere to the right of PSA Building ?

The following map shows Fort Siloso today:

siloso-map

siloso-map-key1

1st Stage of the search:

I first went to Fort Siloso and asked the staff the locations of the existing searchlight posts.  The staff then brought me to see “Tunnel Complex A” (which includes the Direction Tower above the searchlight posts).

20160529_light-towers-on-beach-sharp

There are at present 3 searchlight posts on the beach.  The above picture from an information plaque shows 2 of them with the Direction Tower above.

http://www.fortsiloso.com/thefort/casl/wwii/ww2.htm

The above link shows the Direction Tower (referred to as the Director Tower in the website) and all 3 searchlight posts on the beach.

I discovered that the 3 searchlight posts on the beach were too low, and seemed to be pointing/located too far to the west.  Later I also discovered (thanks to Siloso expert Peter Stubbs) that the searchlights were inside the posts and did not swivel.  Most importantly however, these 3 searchlight posts and Direction Tower were built long after 1915.

20160529_beach-light-tower-from-top

The above photo (taken from above) shows one of the 3 beach searchlight posts.

Here is a video of the 3 searchlight posts: https://youtu.be/Tvqmispn_Oo

Below are photos of the Fire Direction Tower (Director Tower) area when I went with 2 very helpful Siloso staff:

20160529_fire-direction-tower

20160529_fire-direction-info-crop-shrunk

20160529_gun-emplacement

20160529_emplacement

According to Peter Stubbs, the 3 searchlights on the beach were controlled from the Direction Tower.  (All were built between 1937 and 1941 so the information plaque showing “1885” for the Direction Tower is misleading.)

Next, I discovered there was a room inside “Tunnel Complex A” that had a small slit that faced the mainland in the correct direction.

The below 2 photos are of Tunnel Complex A:

20160529_tunnel-a-info-crop-shrunk

20160529_tunnel-a

The below 2 photos are of the room (Observation Post, which Peter Stubbs says was for observing “the area of the mines, and to order detonation at the appropriate time”) :

20160529_op-slit

20160529_op-info-shrunk

Regarding the searchlight, Peter said that it would have been located on top of a structure and not inside.  Since I was also told by a Siloso staff that there is no access to the roof from within this Observation Post, I concluded this was not it.

I also thought it possible that the searchlight was located inside or on the roof of the Battery Command Post as it is high up on a hill with an electric light director post inside.

20160828_battery-command-post-inside

20160828_command-post-info_best

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The above pictures are of the Battery Command Post today, which does not look very different from the way it was in 1915.  (The electric light director post is the lower room in the above picture).  However upon visiting it I found that the windows of the building face in the opposite direction from 7 Royal Road and there is also no access to the roof; so I concluded the searchlight would not have been here.  (Later I also learnt that the searchlight director post would have had to be some distance away from the searchlight as the view from the searchlight post of the target area would be poor –  only an array of lighted airborne particles would be visible.)

The following is a link about the Battery Command Post:

http://www.fortsiloso.com/thefort/bop/bop.htm

Fortunately, Peter very kindly provided some maps/diagrams to show what he believed to be the shape and location of the 1915 searchlight.  An area he had always wanted to explore but never got the chance.  This dispelled my notion that the Battery Command Post was the location.

searchlight-location

searchlight-post-underground-plan-view

electric-light-underground-area-side-view

The above diagrams are reproduced with the kind permission of Peter Stubbs.

Regarding the above searchlight, Peter wrote to me that: “According to plans of the fort, there was no searchlight overlooking the harbour around about 1915.  However, there was such a light shown there in earlier years.  I’m fairly sure that it still will have been there in 1915.  At that time there were two machine guns in the Fort defending the harbour entrance.  There must have been a searchlight for any night engagement.”

2nd Stage of the search:

Equipped with this new information, I embarked on the 2nd stage of the search and went looking for it in the forested area…

20160821_133924

There are many concrete remains that are scattered in the forest and the above is an example.

RUINS OF THE SEARCHLIGHT POST

After some searching, I came across these ruins.

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20160828_135202

The above pictures show the ruins. (Pictures taken from directly above and from different angles.)

The ruins are located in the vicinity indicated in Peter’s map and the following pictures show that the right angled wall points towards NNW, which is the same direction shown in his old map.

front-portion-hidden

steps-wall-facing-nnw

If these really are the ruins of the searchlight post shown in the old map/diagrams, then the front bullet-shaped part (or what remains of it) drawn in brown in the picture might still exist under the earth.

20170107_124642_640

The above photo shows what might be the front bullet-shaped part of the searchlight post.

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The above photo shows that a brick wall still exists at the area that should be the front bullet-shaped part of the searchlight post.

20170107_124338_640

The above photo shows what should be the water drainage pipe (protruding from the earth at the top left hand corner of the photo) for the “outlet of drain to cliff” indicated in “Searchlight post.  Underground plan view”.  (Notice there are also bricks behind.)

In response to the initial pictures/video that I took and sent to Peter, he wrote :

“If there are the remains of any stairs there it could be the Post.  The stairs may well be completely covered over now by leaf litter etc.  When Serapong was cleared in 2006, we uncovered stairs that could not be seen before.  Bricks were used in the construction.  It’s more than likely that some demolition work was carried out when it was no longer required.  That and the build up of vegetation and natural debris can often seem to alter the shape of an object.  All in all, you may have found it.” (emphasis mine :))

(This response was after I sent Peter photos/video that I had taken from directly above the ruins in August 2016.  It was only in January 2017 when I went with someone that I ventured below and took photos of the drainage outlet, and the wall in what should be front bullet-shaped part of the searchlight post.  Needless to say the evidence is now much stronger that this is the searchlight post shown in Peter’s diagrams.)

Watch YouTube video of the old searchlight emplacement here :
and

There you are!  The possible remains of the Fort Siloso searchlight (or one of them) that helped the British during the Sepoy Mutiny in 1915. Historically significant – Yes ? 🙂

A note of caution.  I don’t recommend people to go into the forest to look for the ruins as there is an element of danger and no visible trail.  Instead there are plants in the jungle with ants, and thorns (as long as an inch) that easily break off and become embedded in your flesh, (yes I’ve tried it  🙂  ); as well as vines that can trip you.  There are also dried twigs that can injure your eyes.  Also, the ground is sometimes not visible due to the undergrowth.  However most importantly, the ruins are located on a slope (watch the video) and if you are not careful, you could slip or trip and fall into the ravine.  Obviously it would be even more dangerous to go after a rain as the ground would be slippery.

ANOTHER CANDIDATE FOR THE 1915 SEARCHLIGHT POST

I recently discovered there is another searchlight post that may have been the one (or one of them) that illuminated the area around 7 Royal Road and the Indian barracks in 1915.  This is mentioned as located at map reference 799053:

“In secret message from the G.O.C. Malaya to the Under-Secretary of State at the War Office on 22 April 1937 was:

…(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….”

Source: http://www.fortsiloso.com/batteries/amtb/berlayar/berlayar.htm

I checked with Peter about the location of this searchlight at 799053 and he said it was probably this one (E. L. Empt No. 1):

searchlight-at-799053

Courtesy of British Museum: http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/onlineex/maps/asia/13665092u1u1923.html

ie near the present day Direction Tower/gun emplacement area:

siloso-searchlight-799053-present-location

The above map provided courtesy of Peter Stubbs shows calculations he made regarding the location of the searchlight at 799053 (ie at the vicinity of the existing Direction Tower/gun emplacement at Siloso Point.)

So this searchlight at 799053 existed in 1915, and was eventually replaced by the present day 3 searchlight posts on the beach between 1937 and 1941.  Was it possible for this searchlight to be swivelled to point towards 7 Royal Road or the Indian barracks?  If it could, would it have been blocked by the Labrador Park area?  ie could this searchlight have illuminated the area around 7 Royal Road/Indian barracks in 1915?  I don’t know.  I went to take another look at the Direction Tower/gun emplacement area but the view towards the mainland was blocked by trees.  (At present there is usually no access to the Direction Tower and the rest of Tunnel Complex A.)

Till next time!

Amazing Walker

HEARTFELT THANKS TO FORT SILOSO EXPERT PETER STUBBS FOR THE DIAGRAMS/MAPS FROM HIS COLLECTION AND HIS VALUABLE COMMENTS.  DO VISIT HIS EXCELLENT WEBSITE – http://www.fortsiloso.com

THANKS ALSO TO THE HELPFUL FORT SILOSO STAFF; AS WELL AS JEREMIAH LAUW FOR HIS ASSISTANCE WITHOUT WHOM THE SECOND BATCH OF PHOTOS/VIDEOS TAKEN IN JANUARY 2017 WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN TAKEN.

A post on Tanglin Barracks and the mutiny has been published here:

https://amazingwalks.wordpress.com/2017/08/09/tanglin-barracks-and-the-singapore-1915-sepoy-mutiny/

Finally solving a 100-year-old mystery ?  A follow-up post about the 1915 Singapore Mutiny searchlights has been published :

Fort Siloso And The 1915 Singapore Mutiny

Notes:

1)  After discovering that the 3 searchlight posts on the beach did not seem to point towards 7 Royal Road or might have been blocked by the Labrador Park area, I considered the possibility that they were not used to shine directly at 7 Royal Road surroundings and the Indian barracks, but indirectly – by providing “artificial moonlight” by bouncing their beams off clouds as had been done before during wartime.  Here is some info on searchlights and “artificial moonlight”:

“Early in the Second Boer War, Colonel Robert Baden-Powell improvised searchlights to deter night attacks on his lines during the Siege of Mafeking. Soon afterward Major Rookes Crompton led a detachment of the Electrical Engineers Volunteers to South Africa where they operated electric arc lamp S/Ls of his own design, the first use of such equipment by the RE on campaign. They provided a primitive ‘artificial moonlight’ by reflecting the searchlight beams from clouds.”

source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moonlight_Batteries,_Royal_Artillery

More info here:

1899 The army first used searchlights during the Boer War (1899-1902), for coastal defence and “artificial moonlight” for battlefield illumination by directing the beams at low level clouds.

source:  http://www.873.org.uk/#searchlight-history

Bouncing searchlight beams off low lying clouds is also mentioned here:

“The relentless attack continued through the night illuminated by eerie “artificial moonlight” created by bouncing searchlight beams off the low flying clouds.”

http://1-101cav.tripod.com/ww2.html

2)  At the moment “Tunnel A” is usually closed as it has been rented out to a company providing a laser combat experience (Tunnel Battle), which is available daily from 1030am to 5.30pm.   You might have better luck if you tell the staff you only want to visit the Direction Tower and gun emplacement and not the rest of “Tunnel A Complex”.  (I was told by a Tunnel Battle staff that the game does not involve the Direction Tower area.  However this Tunnel Battle game will cease in early March 2017 when parts of Fort Siloso will undergo renovations.)

20161226_entrance-to-a

3) Peter Stubbs wrote about Tunnel A and the Observation Post, as well as the searchlight I came across (shown in plans as early as 1885), online here:

Tunnel A:

http://www.fortsiloso.com/thefort/silosopoint/silosopoint.htm

http://www.fortsiloso.com/thefort/submarine/submarine.htm

The early searchlight:

http://www.fortsiloso.com/thefort/casl/first/first.htm

At the time of writing this blog post, the website states that :

“LEFT: By 1911 the temporary Electric Light Emplacement had gone, and two new Electric Light Emplacements had been constructed to replace it.”

Apparently the searchlight post I came across in the forest was no longer shown in maps by 1911 but 2 others were shown instead.  However as I quoted Peter earlier:

“I’m fairly sure that it still will have been there in 1915.  At that time there were two machine guns in the Fort defending the harbour entrance.  There must have been a searchlight for any night engagement.”

ie there must have been a searchlight facing north, and that is why he believes this was the 1915 searchlight.

As the ruins I came across have potentially significant historical and heritage value, I think it would be good for a historian/archaeologist to take a look and perhaps do a dig.  What do you think?  🙂

4)  The following remains of walls at the top of the staircase leading down to the Direction Tower and gun emplacement are the ruins of “Infantry Post No. 1” shown in the old map.

20170101_infantry1_640

20170101_infantry2_640

Watch Youtube video of the old infantry emplacement here:

PS.  Why did I not go down to take a closer look at the ruins of the searchlight post when I first came across them?  If truth be told, I was sorely tempted and could imagine myself gliding down with a smirk – like James Bond or Indiana Jones.  However I was alone, and my brain automatically kicked into action – what if?  It eventually computed 2 likely outcomes:  (a) I could trip – and tumble down the ravine like Humpty Dumpty; and (b) I could slip – and sprain an ankle (or two) and not be able to climb out of that place.  Neither of these scenarios appealed to me.  However I WAS sorely tempted, and seriously considered (for a full 10 seconds) going down.  However in the end Wisdom (cowardice?) prevailed when I was reminded – “Better a living fool, than a dead idiot”.  With that I gladly scampered off, without a smirk, but with my head held high…   🙂

Author: amazingwalks

I like to go for walks and take photos with my mobile phone. Hopefully these blog posts will inspire you to see that you don't need to go abroad and spend a bomb for an interesting time. There is beauty, interesting scenery, amazing history and lessons to be learnt... sometimes hidden in plain sight. Please feel free to share your own walks and discoveries by commenting.

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