I Was There! - Singapore's Giant Floating Dock Was Our Target

The War Illustrated, Volume 8, No. 201, Page 666, March 2, 1945.

In the great bombing raid on Singapore on Feb. 1, 1945, the 50,000-tons dry dock was sunk for the second time. Built in Britain and towed in sections 8,000 miles to Singapore, it was sunk by us when the fall of Singapore seemed imminent, and raised by the Japanese. The raid is described by Reuter's correspondent Alan Humphreys, who was in one of the Super-Fortresses.

I am taking part in this raid on the Singapore naval base, the biggest installation of its kind in the South Seas, of which the King George V Dock, towed out from Britain before the war, is the main target. The raid is being made by the 20th Air Force. The first wave of giant aircraft has already made its attack through cloud and A.A. fire. My plane is in the second wave and is just making its run over the target.

It is 9 a.m., and this hour for the attack involved departure from a 20th Air Force Bomber Command base in India after midnight. We flew towards Singapore throughout the night. About 7 a.m. I learned that we were about opposite Penang, but little could be seen in the early dawn of the outline of that northern Malayan island. I also learned that Singapore radio was still on the air 500 miles to go and no apparent suspicion by the Japanese.

The Malayan coast was followed roughly all the way down the Straits of Malacca.

At Port Swettenham a number of ships could be seen hastily leaving port, and the pilot, Capt. John Siler, said, "I bet the radio is getting busy now!" He began to whistle, "On the road to Mandalay!" In a short talk to the crew before leaving, Captain Siler had stated, "Petrol will be the problem we shan't wait long at the rendezvous, and go in and get it over!" This, however, was not necessary and we approached Singapore island in formation.

In seven years since I left Singapore, I had often wondered about going back there. But never did I think to see the city again as passenger in an American aircraft going to bomb it. Certain features were easy to spot the first was the aerodrome, a red-brown smear among the green of the western part of the island. The King George V dock was empty, and Keppel Harbour, where the Far Eastern liners used to dock, also seemed empty. There were, however, many small craft lying in the roads of Singapore Harbour. The Pandang Singapore Cricket Club sports ground and recreation ground showed as a green oblong along the seashore, but the hardest peering could not make out either Singapore Cathedral or the Raffles Hotel. The civil airport at Kallag was easy, but it was difficult to see if there was anything on it, and the same with the R.A.F. aerodrome at Seletar.

By now we had put on all our trappings, and the door by which we should drop if necessary was also cleared for quick use. Now we are over the target I see one Japanese fighter coming in head-on to attack. The guns of the leading aircraft are quiet while our guns thump briefly. Smoke clouds from bursting A.A. shells float by. Twice more our guns fire, and then the bombs are away.

Later the bombardier told me, "We had hit our target buildings at the Naval base!" The journey back was very much like the approach in reverse. Though we follow the Malayan coast all the way up nobody comes up to challenge us. This is a new Super-Fortress on its first operational mission, but for most of the crew it is the thirteenth and the pilot's fourteenth mission. The final comment on the opposition was this from the nose gunners, "Those Jap fighters at Singapore are amateurs!"

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