For those who take a stroll along its esplanade, it would be difficult not to notice the conspicuous presence of Labrador Nature Reserve's iconic red beacon - Berlayer Point Beacon (or Berlayer Beacon, for short). Situated at the narrow channel between Tanjong Berlayer on the Singapore mainland and Tanjong Rimau on the northwestern end of Sentosa Island, it is certainly heartening to see that this historical treasure has remained well preserved up until the present day.
|The green conical beacon at Tanjong Rimau can be seen clearly from Tanjong Berlayer Point.|
These unique outcrops were so significant in maritime navigation that they were documented by famous Chinese explorers Cheng Ho and Wang Dayuan and would have been some spectacle if they had survived until the present day. Alas, the two outcrops were blown up by John Thomson, the Straits Settlements Surveyor, in August 1848 in order to widen the channel for ships to access the deep water anchorage between the mainland and the islands of Pulau Belakang Mati* and Pulau Brani.
*Pulau Belakang Mati was the former name of Sentosa Island before it was renamed following the announcement of plans to turn the island into a tourist destination. The name Sentosa (which means tranquility) was picked as the winning entry of a contest held by the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board (STPB, presently the Singapore Tourism Board) in 1970.
Interestingly, the prize award of $500 was shared among 5 winners, all whom thought of the same name - Sentosa. The winners were namely Mr. E.C. Goh, a journalist, Mr. Edward Leong, the managing director of an advertising firm, Dr. S.Y. Lee (Dr. Lee Suan Yew, the younger brother of Mr. Lee Kuan Yew and a medical practitioner), Mr. Tan Siak Soon, a waiter in training and Encik (Malay for Mister) Sahat bin Dol, a bus driver with the Singapore Traction Company. The prize was awarded by then-chairman of the STPB, Mr. Runme Shaw at the Board Room of Tudor Court .
Sentosa was also called Pulau Panjang according to 19th century sea charts, as well as Burne Beard Island in a 1780 map and Pulau Niry, Nirifa in a map dating much earlier to the late 1600s. There are many theories which explain how Pulau Belakang Mati (the island of death from behind) got its unfortunate name but I guess we'll leave that story for a future article.
|The replica of "Long Ya Men" being built at Tanjong Berlayer Point in 2005.|
As time grew by, more ships began to seek relief from their long, arduous journeys at this anchorage and there was a need for a proper harbour to address the growing numbers of ships. Naturally sheltered by Pulau Belakang Mati and coupled with its suitable deep waters, Keppel Harbour was therefore born, a harbour of most significant importance which was built in these straits in 1886. It fit the requirements of the British perfectly in their attempts to establish a Far East maritime colony in this part of the world.
While it was called the New Harbour after it was established, the harbour was later named after Sir Henry Keppel, a naval officer who visited Singapore on several occasions as between 1848 to 1903 primarily to reduce the rampant pirate activity in the Straits Settlements (Singapore, Malacca and Penang). Shortly after arriving in Singapore, Sir Keppel was the one discovered the natural, deep-water harbour prior to its establishment as the New Harbour and it was finally renamed Keppel Harbour by Sir Alexander Swettenham, the Acting Governor of the Straits Settlements, during Sir Keppel's visit at the age of 92 in April 1900.
|The western limit marker of Keppel Harbour.|
While there has been much speculation behind the obelisk's actual role, it was erected by the British to serve as the western harbour limit of Keppel Harbour at Tanjong Berlayer Point. It was also said to mark the southernmost tip of the Asia continent* before the land around Tanjong Berlayer Point was reclaimed by the Singapore government.
|The pillbox at the foot of Tanjong Berlayer Point's cliff.|
|Batu Berlayer Anti Motor Torpedo Boat (AMTB) Battery.|
|A Radio Antenna Tower, which was later added within the premises of the Batu Berlayer AMTB Battery.|
|The Batu Berlayer AMTB No. 2 Director Tower as seen from its base.|
"Standing high on Batu Berlayar, the remains of the gun batteries that were once here may look like a fortress to some, but the impression is false. Batu Berlayar in its various incarnations was never designed to be self-defending. It was of course part of the much greater so-called ‘Fortress Singapore’ gun batteries. However, these being coast batteries could not form a fortress. Defences needed to make a fortress were never built in Singapore, which was one of many reasons for the fall of Singapore on 15th February 1942."
I understand from Peter that the first AMTB Battery was completed in 1892, where it was part of an overall defence plan of the harbour entrance which depended on the firepower of two quick-firing guns and two machine guns at Berlayer Point, as well as the infantry garrisons of Passir Panjang (an old spelling variation of Pasir Panjang by the British) and Siloso covering the western mine field.
|No. 2 Director Tower as seen from inside the battery.|
|Aerial view of the battery from No. 1 Director Tower.|
|In a room of the Post War Harbour Board tower constructed at Batu Berlayar.|
The list of Approved armaments showed that the QF Guns were still there on 1st January 1899 and one of these was placed in an embrasure which could be found at the beach level. This gun was pointed in the direction of Pulau Belakang Mati and could be utilised to ambush and annihilate any Motor Torpedo Boats which snuck past the main guns. It is unclear when the rock at Berlayer Point was hollowed out to form this gun emplacement.
|The alleged entrance to the "secret tunnel" which leads to Sentosa.|
|The inaccessibility of the "tunnel" further perpetuated the urban legend.|
|Interior of the "secret tunnel" entrance, which was, in fact, the beach level embrasure housing the 6-pounder QF gun.|
A shaft inside the embrasure leads up to the AMTB battery and was probably used to lower shells downwards.
Peter also believes that Berlayer Point was probably unarmed from September 1900 onwards as there were no references to the battery in the list of Singapore’s Approved Armaments from that point onwards, as well as the following years after that. Since records show that Fort Pasir Panjang acquired two 6-Pounder QF Guns around the same time, it is believed that the guns were moved from Batu Berlayer AMTB to Pasir Panjang to replace the inferior 7-inch R.M.L (rifled muzzle-loading) Guns at the emplacement located nearest the path to the beach. This was because the 7-inch R.M.L guns neither had sufficient range accuracy nor rapidity of fire for effective coastal defence. The engineer of Fort Pasir Panjang, H.E. McCallum, even referred to the 7-inch R.M.L guns as being ”the worst in the service”.
|A replica 6-Inch QF Gun in the Fort Pasir Panjang No.2 6-Inch Emplacement (More info from fortsiloso.com here)|
|Faye, one of our team members, having a chinwag with one of the QF gunners.|
A Signal Station was built on Berlayar Point when the armament was removed and remained there until the late 1930s. Subsequently in the Defence Scheme of 1913, it was mentioned that there were two .303 Maxim Machine Guns situated at Berlayer Point. Batu Berlayer was to be re-fortified following the events of pre-WW2 brewing in Europe and Northeastern Asia, and the layout of AMTB defences for Singapore was approved on 4th November 1937, where the Army Council listed two twin 6-Pounders for Batu Berlayer. There were also to be three 30° fixed Defence Electric Lights (D.E.L), searchlights used to sweep the area to detect and illuminate enemy marine vessels.
The AMTB Emplacements of Batu Berlayer were complete in 1941 and the manning for the battery consisted of 2 British Officers, 55 British Other Ranks, 8 Indian soldiers and 11 Malay soldiers. In October 1941, two 12-Pounders were reported as being placed at the battery with no Twin 6-Pounders being available. While it was fully ready for war, the battery never realised its full potential. Extracts from the Faber Fire Command War Diary stated that the 12-Pounders could not bear landwards and, therefore, never did partake in any action but Battery Commander Capt T.E. Pickard of the 31 Coast Battery RA, which manned the AMTB, recalled that “bombs fell in the sea, off the point”. Some shell splinters did fall on Batu Berlayar during this period but caused no real damage to the battery.
Structure Number One was discovered when Andrew spotted a peculiar flat concrete slab while descending down the ridge face. Proceeding further downward, he realised that the slab was actually the flat roof of a concrete structure which was facing the sea.
|Structure Number One, which sits along the ridge|
|The entrance into Structure Number One is only big enough for a single person to enter or exit at any one time.|
|Found inside Structure Number One, a plastic "kopitiam" chair and the remains of a charred wire cage trap|
Encouraged by his discovery, Andrew continued braving the mosquitoes and thick undergrowth and bashed even further along the ridge, where he discovered a second concrete structure behind a mesh fence that was ruthlessly cut open.
|First visit to Structure Number Two in 2011 - a brown shirt was found hanging from one of the columns.|
|Disused aquarium tank found in Structure Number Two.|
|Graffiti in Structure Number Two with run-of-the-mill profanities included|
|Peter making his way into Structure Number Two.|
|Exploring the interior of the structure and eagerly taking photos.|
Other 18-Pounders were set up for AMTB defence at Pulau Hantu (Now Pulau Keppel) and on Tanjong Pengelih at Pengerang.
|Public Works Department (PWD) tag on the water silo.|
Additional Info by Peter:
There were searchlights at Labrador and Batu Berlayar. The Labrador guns had two 3 degree fighting lights, and Batu Berlayar two or three - we do not have confirmation of the exact number at this moment - D.E.L.s (Defence Electric lights) 30 degree lights. The 30 degree lights would have been fixed with no traverse. When switched on together, they will have illuminated a wide area for the AMTB guns while the 3 degree lights had a long range and narrow beam to illuminate targets for the 6-Inch Guns. These would have been able to traverse to track a target. I wonder if any searchlight posts remain?
|The truth may not always be out there. Sometimes it's hidden in the deep recesses of the earth.|
We'll keep digging!
Note: If you're interested to know what is left of Labrador Battery in the present day, you can find more info here.
 The Straits Times, 23 September 1970, Page 7 - Five who thought alike win Sentosa prize
 Fort Siloso - Batu Berlayer AMTB Battery, Source: fortsiloso.com
 National Parks Board - On-site Information Board
Article written by Aaron Chan and Co-Authored by Peter Stubbs
Photos by Andrew Him
Article and photos - © One° North Explorers
This article would not have been possible without the kind assistance of Peter Stubbs, writer and webmaster of fortsiloso.com
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