Situated at Fort Canning Park, the Battle Box is the largest underground command centre of the British Malaya Command Headquarters during World War II. The Battle Box is one of the most important World War II sites in Singapore. It is a massive military bunker. It was constructed in the late 1930s, as an emergency, bomb-proof command centre during the Malayan campaign and the Battle of Singapore. Approximately 9 metres underground, this was the site where Lieutenant-General Percival, General Officer Commanding, British Far East Command, made the crucial decision to surrender Singapore to the Japanese on 15 February 1942.
Map of Fort Canning Bunker from The Straits Times, 1988 (source)
The Battle Box had 30 rooms.These included a cipher room where messages were decoded, a signal control room, a plotting room, a gun operations room and an electricity generator. It even had its own telephone exchange and a ventilation system that recycled the air.
The bunker remained abandoned until it was investigated on 23 February 1988 for possibilities of reconstructing World War II events there. The Battle Box was reopened on 31 January 1992 as the Battle Box, serving to recreate events that occured here during World War II for visiting members of the public and tourists. The museum was formally opened on 15 February 1997, on the fifty-fifth anniversary of the surrender of Singapore. Through the use of audio-visual effects and high-quality animatronics visitors could relive the morning of 15 February 1942 when Singapore fell to the Japanese.
The Singapore History Consultants, the new tourist operator, who manages this attraction from 2013, plans to make a launch it in three stages: first, visitors will get to go on "high-quality guided tours"; second, multimedia guides will be rolled out and archaeological finds such as used ammunition from Adam Park - the scene of the last battle before Singapore fell - will be incorporated into the showcase; third, will be weave 3D technologies, including ambient soundscapes, across the bunker. Tickets for the guided tours will cost $18 for adults and $9 for children.
The Singapore History Consultants' director Jeya Ayadurai said: "In the past, the Battle Box mostly focused on the rooms. We're investing heavily in retelling the story of the fall of Singapore that led to Lieutenant-General (Arthur) Percival and the allied forces surrendering to the invading Japanese forces on Feb 15, 1942."
Gun Operations Room
War veterans and Britain’s Imperial War Museum helped recreate the authentic bunker environs; life-size models re-enact the fateful surrender to the Japanese on 15 February 1942. Japanese Morse codes are still etched on the walls. The last room is the bunker where the final decision to surrender unconditionally to the Japanese was made. This final command conference is portrayed as accurately as possible. Wax figures of Lieutenant General Arthur Ernest Percival, and all the major officials with him at the time are modeled based on historical records and photographs.
A bit of History about this bunker
Although the Combined Operations Headquarters had been relocated to Sime Road in December 1941, the Battle Box remained the Headquarters of Major General Frank Keith Simmons, who as the 'Fortress Commander, Singapore', was responsible for the defence of Singapore Island. The Anti-Aircraft Gun Operations Room and Naval Extended Defences offices also remained at the Battle Box.
The Japanese invaded Malaya on 8 December 1941 by moving south through Siam, as well as by making landings at Kota Baharu, on the north east coast of Malaya. Rapidly retreating through Malaya, Allied forces were forced back to Singapore Island by 31 January 1942. On 8 February, Japanese troops then crossed the Straits of Johor in a successful landing on the north west coast of Singapore Island, followed by a second landing near the Kranji River.
The Sime Road location had to be abandoned during the Battle of Kranji, with Percival shifting the Combined Operations Headquarters to Fort Canning on 11 February 1942. By the latter stages of the battle for Singapore, the Japanese were bombing the Central Area of Singapore, including Fort Canning, at will. Fort Canning was also within range of the Japanese artillery, forcing personnel into the Battle Box. There were around 500 officers and men in the Battle Box in the latter stages of the battle.
The decision to surrender Singapore was made by Percival in a meeting on the morning of 15 February 1942. Held in the 'Commander, Anti-Aircraft Defence Room' of the Battle Box, a number of senior officers were in attendance, including Generals Bennett, Heath and Simmons. With diminishing water supplies, and no viable options for launching a counterattack, the decision was made to seek terms with the Japanese.
The Battle Box was later occupied by Japanese forces during the Japanese Occupation of Singapore. and it was used for communications right up to the time of the Japanese surrender. At the conclusion of the Second World War, the Battle Box complex itself appears to have been looted in the aftermath of the Japanese surrender (upon re-entry to the complex in 1988, evidence of a number of excavations were observed, presumably attempts to find loot that may have been concealed by the Japanese)