Built between the 1870s and 1890s, Fort Serapong, together with Fort Siloso, Fort Connaught and the Imbiah Battery, formed an integrated part of the British’s southern coastal defence at Pulau Blakang Mati (present-day Sentosa). The fortifications, along with Fort Pasir Panjang on the southern part of mainland Singapore, were aimed to protect the colony’s flourishing port, possibly against the Dutch East Indies, pirates or other enemies.
The forts were not the first fortifications built by the British against sea attacks. Fort Fullerton, located at the mouth of the Singapore River, was built in 1830 to defend the town of Singapore. By the 1870s, its location, however, was deemed unflavourable by the colonial government because during an invasion, the fort would instead attract fire from enemy ships, which in turn could destroy the booming Commercial Square (now Raffles Place). Hence, in 1873, Fort Fullerton was demolished to be replaced by a General Post Office.
Another southern coastal fortification was Fort Palmer, or the Mount Palmer Defence Battery, constructed in 1855. It was strengthened in 1878 on fears of a war with Russia, but the fortification was eventually demolished in 1905 when Mount Palmer was levelled. Fort Tanjong Katong, existed between 1879 and 1901, was also part of the series of the defensive batteries and fortifications built in the late 19th century.
The newly-built Blakang Mati forts, armed with 7-inch guns and 64 Pounders, became primarily responsible for Singapore’s southern defence after the demolition of Fort Fullerton, Fort Palmer and Fort Tanjong Katong. From the 1900s to 1930s, heavy gun practices were regularly carried out. Large red flags were raised on Mount Serapong during the exercises and vessel owners were notified by the Royal Artillery to avoid entering the nearby waters.
The weapons at the Blakang Mati fortifications were later upgraded through the arming of 10-inch guns, which had more firepower and longer range, and observation posts and battery plotting rooms were added in the 1930s to strengthen the forts’ defence capabilities. Some of the buildings on Mount Serapong today still bear the stone signage embossed with the year 1936.
The monster naval guns of the Blakang Mati forts and batteries, however, were never put to test against any attacks from the south. In early 1942, the Japanese invaded the northwestern side of Singapore from the Malay Peninsula. The guns had to be turned 180 degrees inland and, for three days, fired all their ammunition at the Jurong and Bukit Timah areas. But it was of little effect in stopping the advancing enemy forces.
With the impending fall of Singapore, the guns were then used to destroy the oil tanks at Pulau Sebarok and Pulau Bukom. After that, the guns and the batteries on Pulau Blakang Mati were also destroyed or broken up to prevent them from falling into the enemies’ hands. The island itself was then captured by the Japanese and Blakang Mati Artillery Barracks were used as a prisoner-of-war camp.
After the war, the Blakang Mati forts and batteries were handed over to a number of military forces, including the Royal Navy, Royal Artillery, Malay Coastal Battery and the Gurkha Contingent. Fort Serapong was still in use in the fifties – a 21-gun salute was fired by the Royal Artillery from Fort Serapong in August 1958 to mark the birthday of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother (1900-2002).
With the withdrawal of the British forces starting in 1967, the fortifications came under the command of the Singapore Armed Forces. The buildings were used as storage for several years before the government decided in 1972 to redevelop the island into a tourist destination. During the redevelopment, Fort Siloso was restored and converted into a military museum to display its past and antique coastal guns that were moved from the island’s other forts and batteries. Fort Connaught, on the other hand, was demolished to make way for the Tanjong Golf Course. As for Fort Serapong, it remains in ruins and abandoned state till this day.
Today, the long upsloping Serapong Hill Road that leads to the ruins of Fort Serapong is also the road to the Sentosa Service Reservoir, a small protected water catchment area managed by the Public Utilities Board (PUB). At the top of the hill, one can have a splendid panoramic view of the city.
A Summary of the British’s Coastal Fortifications and Batteries in Singapore:
Fort Fullerton (1830-1873)
Fort Palmer (1855-1905)
Fort Canning (1861-1907)
Fort Faber (1859-1862)
Fort Teregah (1861-1942)
Fort Tanjong Katong (1879-1901)
Fort Connaught (1878-1942)
Fort Serapong (1885-1942)
Fort Siloso (1898-1942)
Fort Pasir Panjang (1898-1942)
Fort Silingsing (1901-1942)
Targem Fort (1939)
Beting Kusah Battery (1939)
Changi Battery (1939)
Johore Battery (1939)
Buona Vista Battery (1939)
Pasir Laba Battery (1939)
Labrador Battery (1939)
Published: 06 June 2016