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Defence Of Malaya

The "Main Fleet to Singapore" Strategy

From the 1920s, Japan had begun to emerge as a serious threat to British outposts in the Far East. With drastic cuts in her defence budget after World War I, the British could no longer maintain a strong permanent naval presence in the area. Britain therefore decided to implement the "Main fleet to Singapore" strategy, to defend not only Singapore, but the rest of her empire in the Far East, and Australasia.

Singapore's strategic location as the western gateway to the Far East prompted Britain's 'Overseas Defence Committee' to choose her, in 1921, as the site for a naval base. The Main Fleet would be based in Europe. It would sail to Singapore to protect Britain's Far East interests and possessions should they be threatened.

The success of this strategy hinged on the swift dispatch of the Main Fleet, and on keeping Singapore secure until it arrived.

To the British Overseas Defence Committee, it seemed clear that an attack could come from the sea and, or from Johore. They therefore devised a strategy that took these alternatives into account.

By 1939, the main defences of Singapore consisted of a series of Guns Batteries. Contrary to popular belief, the guns were made to fire both landward and seaward.

Certain that the Japanese would first attack from the sea, the British defence planners were confident that the Main Fleet and reinforcements would arrive in Singapore well before any landward attack.

Johore Battery
These 15" guns had all round traverse and could be fired landward. But equipped only with ammunitions to counter armoured ships, they were not effective against land troops and field artillery.

Fort Siloso
Fort Siloso guarded the narrow western entrance to Keppel Harbour. By 1939, there were two 6-inch MK2 guns and two rapid firing 12 pounder guns.
Buona Vista Battery
The guns had only a limited traverse of about 180 degrees. In addition, given their limited range, they could only shell sections of the southwest coast of Johore.
Labrador Battery
Built in 1939, the Battery had a complex of gun emplacement and gun turret with two 6-inch guns facing south. They had a range of over 10 miles, firing 102-pound shells using 31-pound cartridges.


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