RSS Singapura: More Than Just A Really Old Boat

As part of the celebrations for the 50th anniversary of the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN), the iconic Changi Naval Base will be changing its name to “RSS Singapura – Changi Naval Base”. Yes, the new name is quite a mouthful, but that’s avoiding the real questions. For example, why RSS Singapura? Why name a naval base after a boat? And the most important – which name will confuse taxi drivers the least?

Well, that’s because RSS Singapura was one of Singapore’s first naval ships, along with RSS Panglima and RSS Bedok. In fact, those three vessels made up our entire naval fleet upon Separation from Malaysia in 1965. Before independence, we depended on Malaysia’s ships to keep our waters safe.

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One may easily ignore the beauty of this ship compared to the more atas-looking ones we see at National Day parades. Still, RSS Singapura has one of the richest histories that dates all the way back to 1941, making it more valuable than any of our present ships.

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In fact, its history dates back to even before World War II. We take a look at the story of RSS Singapura.

Japanese Minelayer In Sino-Japanese War

Originally named Wakataka, the vessel begun life in 1941, as a minelayer for the Imperial Japanese Army. That’s right — one of Singapore’s first naval ships was originally Japanese. In fact, it was actually made for the Second Sino-Japanese War, but didn’t see any action until WWII.

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From the beginning of its registration in 1941, Wakataka was led by commanding officer Commander Ueda Mitsuharu. In 1942, Ueda was appointed captain and led the ship in the majority of its conquests in South East Asia, such as the Philippines and Lesser Sunda Islands.

Invasion of Philippines

While Japan was attacking Pearl Harbour in December 1941, Wakataka was assigned to Operation M – the codename for Japan’s invasion of the Philippines. The ship was used to escort convoys between Japan, Palau and the Lingayen Gulf landings in the Philippines.

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This was because Wakataka was specially equipped with twin 80mm guns twice the size of her sister ships, making her a formidable protector in the invasion landings.

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Invasion Of Dutch Borneo

Thus, right after the invasion of the Philippines, Wakataka covered the battles of Tarakan and Balikpapan against the Netherlands in January 1942. Indonesia was of particular interest to the Imperial Army, due to their many oil fields. Thus, islands like Tarakan were deemed vital in the Pacific Theatre.

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Invasion Of Lesser Sunda Islands

With oil fields secured, the Japanese Imperial Army sought after the Lesser Sunda Islands. This was codenamed Operation S and consisted of islands such as Bali, Lombok, and Timor which provided the Japanese with dense forests for shelter.

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Wakataka sailed under the 1st Caution Unit of the S Conquest force and carried half of the Japanese marine troops under the Special Naval Landing Forces to the islands.

Failures

Even the most successful people have faced a great deal of failures. Similarly, Wakataka had many unsuccessful attacks under the Japanese. Two of these attacks were on USS Hake and USS Bowfin of the Netherland East Indies in 1944. The worst, however, was by a British submarine HMS Stygian during the Battle of Surabaya, causing the death of 20 crewmen on board.

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Ultimately, this concluded the involvement of the ship in the war as repairs ensued. By the time Wakataka was up and running, it was already too late.

Prize Of War

When the Japanese finally surrendered in 1945, Wakataka became a repatriation vessel. In simpler terms, it was used to bring Japanese troops back home after the war. Due to its significance to WWII, it was given to the British Royal Army as a prize of war in 1947.

Since the British was still ruling Malaya then, the British government created the Malayan Navy Voluntary Force and assigned Wakataka to it, renaming it HMMS Laburnum in 1949.

 

HMMS Laburnum RSS

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Where Singapore Comes In

You may be wondering, how did this Japanese-turned-British ship become ours?

When Singapore and Malaysia became separate entities in 1965, HMMS Laburnum was assigned to the Singapore Naval Volunteer Force as a training vessel. Soon enough, it was recommissioned as RSS Singapura and became the official headquarters of the Republic of Singapore Navy up until 1968.

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Today, the RSS Singapura no longer exists. After the relocation of the headquarters, the ship was sold for scraps and moved on from. Regardless, it will continue to be considered an integral part of Singapore’s history, since it is one of the very few naval ships we had in the beginning.

A Sign Of The Navy

In just 50 years, our navy has collected more than 50 active Republic of Singapore Ships (RSS), proving to us the milestones that our country has achieved. Of course, this was only possible because of those in the RSN to whom we duly applaud for their years of hard work. And as we celebrate RSN’s upcoming anniversary, let’s always remember to look back in appreciation of how far we’ve come since RSS Singapura.