Sembawang Naval Base (King George VI Dock)

The opening ceremony of King George VI Graving Dock, Singapore Naval Base, Sembawang. All rights reserved, Celia Mary Ferguson and National Library Board, Singapore 2008
60 Admiralty Road West, Singapore 759947
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The construction of the Singapore Naval Base started in 1928. It was officially unveiled on 14 February 1938, in tandem with the official opening of King George VI Dock. Along with the 50,000-ton Admiralty Floating dock IX, King George VI Dock was one of the Naval Base’s two main drydocks.

The base was meant to play a significant role in the British Empire’s strategic defences against external threats in the Far East, particularly from Japan.

Constructing the Naval Base and Dock

The construction of Sembawang Naval Base was a massive project involving reclamation works and the building of docks, an armaments depot, wharfs, workshops and storehouses.

The construction of King George VI Dock was extremely challenging, as it required more than 1.25 million cubic yards of excavation. On top of that, the construction called for the installation of two cofferdam structures measuring a total of 1097 m in length to isolate the construction site from the Straits of Johor. 1.6 million tons of granite stones were also needed to build the concrete walls and base of the dock.

Transforming Singapore into an Impregnable Fortress

After a decade of construction, the opening ceremony of the naval base was held in 1938 and officiated by Shenton Thomas, who was the Governor of the Straits Settlements at the time. 11,000 guests witnessed the momentous ceremony which saw a parade of naval ships and aircrafts.

The presence of Sembawang Naval Base transformed Singapore into an “impregnable fortress” also referred to as the “Gibraltar of the East”.

Decades of Change and Evolutions

During World War II, the base was occupied by Japanese forces. The oil dumps at the Naval Base were set ablaze by Japanese bombing. The base was then partially destroyed to prevent the Japanese from using it.

After the war, the base was reconstructed and returned to British control in 1945. The Naval base became the Royal Navy’s Far East headquarters in the 1950s.

With the withdrawal of British forces in the late 1960s, the base was converted in 1968 into a government-linked commercial shipyard known as Sembawang Shipyard Pte Ltd. The dockyard and the base were also a major source of employment for the people in Singapore in the 1960s.

Buildings and sites featured on Roots.SG are part of our efforts to raise awareness of our heritage; a listing on Roots.SG does not imply any form of preservation or conservation status, unless it is mentioned in the article. The information in this article is valid as of April 2021 and is not intended to be an exhaustive history of the site/building.