Singapore's Oil Refineries and Storage Centers

By Bob Hackett

Map showing dispositions of British Land and Air Units in Malaya (Malaysia) in 1941

© Bob Hackett 2013-2014

NOTE: This is a revised extract of my Special Feature " Singapore at War! posted on 12 April 2013 on JUNYOKAN!

The British defeat and surrender to the Japanese on 15 February 1942 resulted in the largest surrender of British-led military personnel in history. About 80,000 British, Indian and Australian troops became prisoners of war, joining 50,000 taken by the Japanese in the Malayan Campaign. In just seven days, Singapore, the "Impregnable Fortress", had fallen. Churchill called the ignominious fall of Singapore the "worst disaster" and "largest capitulation" in British history.

Singapore Oil Refineries and Storage Centers

Asiatic Petroleum, a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell Oil, owned storage centers at Pulau Bukum and Pulau Sebarok near Singapore. Refined product was brought from Sumatra and stored in these captured storage centers near Singapore. Round trips from Palembang to Singapore and back, including loading and discharging fuel, averaged about one week, but many trips took longer, indicating possible loading and unloading difficulties and/or ships' engine troubles and perhaps groundings.

The Pulau Bukom oil refinery lies just south of the main island of Singapore. The Pulau Sebarok refinery is east of Pulau Bukum. The Pulau Sambu (Samboe) refinery also was nearby, but in Dutch East Indies territory.

Left: Shell Oil's Pulau Sambu refinery in 1936. Right: Map showing Pulaus Bukom and Sebarok

On 12 March 1945, the USAAF's XX Bomber Command based at Kharagpur, India sent three Boeing B-29 “Superfortress” heavy bomber groups to attack Bukom and Sebarok islands well as Samboe Island – a 4,000 mile round trip mission. Each of the groups was assigned a different island and no Japanese anti-aircraft guns or fighters were encountered. Poor weather caused the 44 B-29s to use blind bombing techniques and their attacks caused little damage.

B-29 "Superfortress”

On 29/30 March 1945, 29 B-29s attacked Bukom Island targets individually from altitudes between 5,000 and 7,000 feet. This raid succeeded in destroying seven of the 49 oil tanks on the island, and damaged three more. No B-29s were lost in either raid.

-Bob Hackett