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Wednesday, September 11th 2019, 2:37pm

The Manila Times, Friday, 27 May 1949

Minister of Defense Don Joaquin de la Vega is due to oversee the completion and commissioning ceremonies of the escort tanker Albay at the Puerto Princesa naval dockyard on Palawan. The importance of such support vessels has been brought into greater focus in the light of recent Chinese adventurism in the China Sea.


Thursday, September 12th 2019, 12:46pm

The Daily Guardian (Iloilo), Sunday, 29 May 1949

The commercial registrar in Cebu City reports the incorporation of a new air transport firm, Pacific East Asia Cargo Airlines of Iloilo, Cebu. The firm has acquired a quartet of refurbished Curtiss Commando twin engine cargo aircraft from the United States, which it will operate on scheduled cargo services between Luzon, Cebu, and Mindanao, in addition to undertaking freight charters for both commercial and military customers.


Saturday, September 14th 2019, 6:04pm

Naval Operating Base Cavite, Tuesday, 31 May 1949

The mood was somber among the visitors invited to witness the launch ceremonies for the cruiser Sorsogon. As she was towed to the fitting out wharf for the next phase of her construction, the attention of those assembled shifted to the horizon where the escort destroyers Solano, Socorro, Pola, and Pontevedra, in line astern, where headed out into Manila Bay past the rock of Corregidor beginning an operational deployment in a time of high tension. They had orders to join the Western Fleet with all possible speed; their guns manned and ready for any eventuality.


Wednesday, September 25th 2019, 12:20am

Philippine News and Events, June 1949

The Mindanao Journal, Thursday, 2 June 1949

The naval shipyard at Butuan saw a banner day today with the completion of the final quartet of Cabanatuan-class escort destroyers – the Sevilla, the Sebaste, the Calatrava, and the Valladolid. Over the next six months the ships will be undergoing a series of trials and operational training before joining the fleet in the late autumn.


Sunday, September 29th 2019, 8:57pm

The Freeman (Cebu), Friday, 3 June 1949

Philippine Air Lines has introduced the first example of the PADC 900 “Papan” feederliner into service, using it for route-proving on low-density flights from Cebu City to destinations on Leyte and on Negros. Deliveries of the initial production batch are scheduled to be delivered in September but already the “Papan” has demonstrated its popularity with travelers in the central Visayas.


Tuesday, October 1st 2019, 2:00pm

Tan Son Nhut Air Base, Indochina, Saturday, 4 June 1949

Lieutenant Commander Juan Divarola’s orders had specified his flight to Indochina as ‘soonest’; and the enterprising officer had wangled himself a space on a PB4Y shuttle flight over the South China Sea. True, he had little to do but watch the whitecaps on the ocean below him during the long flight from Mindoro but it got him to Indochina two days before the first available regular transport. His orders said, ‘Soonest’. At least had taken the precaution, while in flight, of having the patrol bomber’s crew advise the French that the naval liaison officer assigned to them was en route.

He found that his French hosts were as adept at improvisation as he was. A reception party comprising a trio of naval officers greeted him with a hearty welcome and utility vehicle with which to carry his limited luggage all the way to the naval base at Cam Rahn Bay, where he would take up his duties. That Divarola spoke good French was no accident – it was one of the reasons he had been selected for the post – and his new companions were happy enough to fill him in on the local scene – what with the Russian and German naval elements operating from the port it was most cosmopolitan.


Wednesday, October 2nd 2019, 7:32pm

The Manila Times, Monday, 6 June 1949

The Ministry of Defense announced today that a squadron of the Royal Thai Navy will visit the capital in the near future. The Thai flotilla, on a training and goodwill cruise, is likely to remain in port for several days before continuing its voyage. Specific details of the visit are to be provided at a later date.

Nichols Field, Tuesday, 7 June 1949

The Air France flight from Saigon touched down easily and taxied to the terminal where its passengers deplaned. For Capitaine de corvette Arsène Couturier there was a sense of homecoming – he had done a three-year tour in the Philippines as assistant naval attaché before returning to sea duty in the latter part of 1945. During the aircraft’s landing approach he could see the changes to the city’s skyline with numerous skyscrapers and burgeoning factories. He was particularly taken with the many ships anchored in Manila Bay, one of the finest harbors in all the Orient. And that was to be his particular ‘beat’, as a police officer might say.

His diplomatic credentials got him waved through Customs in a most speedy manner, and with each passing moment his command of Iberiano – the patois of Spanish and Tagalog spoken in Luzon – was returning.


He turned towards the voice and gleefully noted the approach of his old comrade, André Turcat, who when they last met was the deputy air attaché at the embassy.

“Andre! Good to see you.” Couturier noted that his friend now wore the rank tabs of a commandant. “A promotion is see.”

“I am now the air attaché in my own right. But it is good to have you back here. With all that has been happening having you assigned as naval liaison comes none too soon.”

The confrontation between France and China over the Banc Macclesfield was still sending out ripples, which had caused France and the Philippines to exchange naval officers to coordinate efforts to constrain Chinese expansionism in the future.

“Come – I have a car waiting and Ranhofer – you remember him, will see to your luggage. The ambassador wishes to see you right away.”

“Ranhofer? He is still with us? It is like things have never changed.”


Monday, October 7th 2019, 8:03pm

Naval Operating Base Cavite, Thursday, 9 June 1949

Arsène Couturier spent little time in getting down to business; with tensions still running high in the aftermath of the confrontation with China the Marine Nationale wished to arrange far closer cooperation with the Philippine Navy, and it was Couturier’s job to accomplish just that. After a day to begin settling in at the embassy he had been whisked to Cavite where he was afforded a series of briefings on the current operations of the Philippine Navy and its air arm, as well as the maritime patrols flown by the Philippine Air Force.

These told him that the Filipinos had stretched their resources to the maximum to cover as much of the South China Sea as could be done; and he had noted several areas in which the Aeronavale might expand its own coverage to bring a modicum of relief to the PNAS; he would push the suggestion up the chain of command. His hosts had indicated that they would arrange a tour of the Kalayaan Islands, where a network of navigational beacons and non-military observation posts had been established – officially demilitarized, the Kalayaans had bulked large in the diplomatic storm that the Chinese had brewed with their efforts at the Banc Macclesfield – and had China managed to build its ‘civilian weather station’ there, the Philippines had made it clear that they would refortify the islands, treaty or no. And for his own part, Couturier agreed with such a view. Thankfully, the crisis had passed…

His hosts did not reject out of hand his request to visit their Scarborough Station outpost – which he suspected the Chinese of seeking to emulate. He had been informed that arrangements would be made at a point in the near future. Considering what he had accomplished in the last twenty-four hours, he called it a good day’s work.

The Philippine Herald, Saturday, 11 June 1949

A squadron of the Royal Thai Navy, comprising the aircraft carrier Sri Ayuthia, cruisers Taksin and Chakri Nareubet, and six escorting destroyers arrived this morning on a goodwill cruise and the first visit by Thai vessels to the capital.


Wednesday, October 9th 2019, 5:09pm

The Philippine Gazette, Tuesday, 14 June 1949

As provided for in the Military Defense Act of 1949 the Ministry of Defense announced today the formation of the Philippine Army Air Corps and the appointment of Major Erik Estrada to the post of Chief of Aviation for the Philippine Army.

The Manila Times, Thursday, 16 June 1949

Details have emerged regarding the plans for development of the newly-formed Army Air Corps. The Philippine Air Force will transfer to the Army a small number of Fanaero Alpaca light observation aircraft from its present inventory; these are expected to serve in a training role, and as such is viewed as interim equipment. An order has been placed in France for six examples of the Societe Francaise Du Gyroplane SH.22 Cigale utility helicopter, which are expected to be delivered before the end of the year.


Monday, October 14th 2019, 8:31pm

Manila, The Army-Navy Club, Saturday, 18 June 1949

Arsène Couturier had accepted the invitation to attend the evening’s gathering at the Army-Navy Club with alacrity. Here he expected to renew the acquaintance of many of his old friends from his days as naval attaché; these he knew would be invaluable in the months ahead. That he would make useful contact with other Philippine officials was a bonus opportunity.

The officer assigned as his chaperon, Commander Carlos Salazar, offered further insights.

“I think you will have the opportunity to meet the Dutch liaison officer, and the American naval attaché – both are new since your last visit here.”

“Lacomblé was replaced?”

“Promoted and reassigned. His replacement, Kapitein-luitenant ter Zee Buis, was invited and is expected to attend – he usually does. The American, Commander Stevens, was due back from Hong Kong on yesterday’s Pan Am clipper, but I haven’t heard definitely from his office one way or the other.”

Salazar continued, and Couturier soaked up the latest gossip – some of which might actually make it into his next formal report as ‘atmosphere’. Their car finally arrived at its destination, and Couturier noted with interest that sentinels were posted at its entrance.

“Many, many important visitors this evening,” Salazar explained. “No one would want any unfortunate incidents.”

As he moved up the reception line Couturier could see the reason for the increased security; despite the number of guests ahead of him he could see Don Joaquin de la Vega. He noted that De la Vega was listened carefully to the introductions of those ahead in the line and when it was Couturier’s turn the Defense Minister conveyed a sincere and personal greeting. No doubt that France’s instant opposition to Chinese expansion – expressed in the French ultimatum to China over the Macclesfield Bank incident, had increased the Republic’s stock in the eyes of the Philippine Government.

Couturier found himself being steered towards a quiet corner where he could see seated three men, all of whom rose at his approach. Salazar introduced them as Commander Trevor Stevens, US Navy, Kapitein-luitenant ter Zee Phillip Buis, Royal Netherlands Navy, and Ramon Magsaysay, personal assistant to the Minister of Defense. After introductions, the conversation turned to the question of China.

“My government”, explained Magsaysay, “hopes that through collective security further Chinese adventures might be avoided. However, we have learned to our cost that China is quite capable of taking a step backward in order to move three steps forward.” The carrier-based air strike carried out by China during the preliminary conversations to settle the South China Sea war back in 1940 still rankled. By virtue of their assignments, Couturier and Buis were involved directly in coordination efforts with the Philippine Navy; Stevens, the American, less so, but was by inclination opposed to seeing an expanded Chinese presence in Southeast Asia.

Their discussions turned to specifics and returned to generalities in a somewhat circular fashion. At the conclusion of it all Magsaysay offered to lay on a tour inspection of the Philippine observation network in the Kalayaan Islands. This, all agreed, would be a very important step in assuring a proper understanding of how the network functioned and its capabilities.


Wednesday, October 16th 2019, 4:14pm

Forces navales en Extrême-Orient Headquarters, Cam Rahn Bay, Monday, 20 June 1949

Juan Divarola had nearly three weeks to settle himself into his new assignment as naval liaison to the French navy in Indochina. Despite his early arrival his hosts had arranged quarters for him and provided office space in which he could hang his hat. Not that he had much free time in which to do that; he had spent hours in meeting with the bevy of senior officers who called Cam Rahn Bay home.

His first call had been upon Vice-Amiral d'escadre Virgile Lapeyre, the senior French naval officer in the Far East; this had been rather brief and pro forma; his meetings with Vice-amiral Edgar Joly, who flew his flag from the battleship Liberté, were more involved. He had also met the commanders of the foreign squadrons based there - Counter Admiral Yuri Panteleyev of the Russian South China Sea Fleet and Konteradmiral Bernhard Rogge of the German Ostasiengeschwader. It made for a complex chain of command, but the allied navies seemed to make it work – in his reports to Manila he had done his best to explain the situation.

If anything his best interactions had been with Chuan Do doc Cao Van Cang commander of the Patrouille Navale Indochinoise. The common threat posed by China made cooperation with the Philippines a natural fit for the fledgling Indochinese naval force. In consultation with the French naval staff they had already begun to work out adjustments of patrol areas and routines to assure more continuous monitoring of ship movements – particularly Chinese ship movements – in the waters of the South China Sea. The next step would be to arrange the better exchange of signals intelligence between the Philippine network in the Kalayaans and the lavishly equipped French network that operated across Indochina; that was the subject of a meeting scheduled for the morrow.


Monday, October 21st 2019, 3:34am

Naval Air Station, Cavite, Tuesday, 21 June 1949

When the Malacañan wants something to happen, it does, swiftly. Much to the surprise of Couturier, Buis, and Stevens they had received word that arrangements had been made for them to tour the Philippine installations in the Kalayaan Islands and together with Commander Carlos Salazar as their official escort they found themselves boarding a twin-engine Douglas transport for the flight south. In addition to themselves there were more than a dozen other passengers – all military or Constabulary – on board the aircraft.

“Unfortunately,” explained Salazar, “circumstances will not permit us to make a direct flight. We are obliged to stop in Cebu, where we will refuel, and then fly on to Butuan on Mindanao. From there another aircraft will take us to Puerto Princesa.”

Commander Stevens, who was fortunate to have a window seat, had been watching freight loaded into the transport’s freight holds. “Sounds like the morning milk run.” Stevens explained the term for his companions.

“You are correct Commander. Our airlift resources are less than we would like – and we prefer to confine chartered aircraft to freight movements. But this is the best we can do on short notice.”

The flight from Cavite to Cebu was uneventful, and the afternoon flight from Cebu to Butuan very much the same. Their approach to the airfield took them over the navy yard, and all three officers availed themselves of the opportunity to get an aerial view of the shipyard that churned out ships for the Philippine Navy like an assembly line.

Couturier remarked, “I hope I might have the opportunity to visit the yard again; it has been several years since my last visit.”

“I will see what can be arranged.”

The sun was setting in the west when they landed. Arrangements had been made for their stay and they dined in the Naval Officers’ Mess. They would leave early the next morning for Puerto Princesa on Palawan, gateway to the Kalayaans.


Monday, October 21st 2019, 5:12pm

Puerto Princesa Naval Air Station, Palawan, Wednesday, 22 June 1949

The morning flight from Butuan to Puerto Princesa mirrored their flight the previous day, save in that the Commander Salazar and the three naval liaisons were the only passengers aboard. Most of the aircraft’s cabin was occupied with freight, and they sat rather uncomfortably upon metal bucket seats attached to the cabin. The lack of soundproofing kept conversations brief.

“I apologize for the conditions,” said Salazar, “but there is a backlog of repair work at Puerto Princesa. The spares are a priority.”

Apparently the operational tempo occasioned by the confrontation over Macclesfield Bank had disrupted the maintenance schedules of the Western Fleet. Thankfully the flight from Butuan was relatively short and by early afternoon they arrived in Palawan.

The party had to change aircraft, and found themselves with a Short Sealand amphibian of the Philippine Constabulary at their disposal. Salazar explained that these British-built utility aircraft played an important role in linking the Kalayaans to each other and to the outside world. “They have proven quite useful and I wish the Constabulary would procure more.”

Two hours later their destination, Itu Aba Island, appeared.

“So this is what China and the Philippines fought over?” Couturier kept the thought to himself. It did not seem that much, little more than a long runway. He had read the news reports of the constant bombing raids carried out by the Philippine Air Force during the brief South China Sea conflict of 1940; of these, no trace was visible – but he could see that barracks, signal huts, the masts of electronic equipment, and navigation aids line the shore, and a breakwater projected from the surrounding reef, giving access for small ships.

The pilot of the Sealand lined up the runway and set the aircraft down with practiced skill.

“Welcome to Itu Aba Island gentlemen.”


Tuesday, October 22nd 2019, 6:56pm

Itu Aba Island, Wednesday, 22 June 1949

As they deplaned from the little Sealand amphibian they were met by a small party of officers and civilians.

“Good afternoon gentlemen! Allow me to introduce myself. I am Major Salvador Abcede of the Philippine Constabulary, island commander.” He went on to introduce his second in command, Captain Fabian Ver, and Felix Rocco, a civilian, who was introduced as the site supervisor for Private Security Services.

Couturier had reviewed the provisions of the Treaty of Saigon before his departure and was familiar with the restrictions under which the Philippines had developed the observation network across the Spratly Islands – the Kalayaans he reminded himself. Under Article VII of the treaty the Philippine garrison was limited to a maximum military presence not to exceed thirty men, and the islands were to be demilitarized. To assure that this provision was observed few members of the Philippine Army, Navy, or Air Force were stationed in the Kalayaans on a permanent basis and the Philippine Constabulary provided much of the manpower assigned to the islands.

“Private Security Services?”

Rocco smiled, “My firm provides personnel who man and maintain the dradis and signals equipment, the navigation aids…”

Abcede led them towards a semi-underground headquarters bunker which, he explained, was common on the islands to protect the more permanent installations against storms. “Typhoon winds can be extremely dangerous.”

Captain Ver took up the preliminary briefing.

“This map illustrates the stations established thus far in the Tizard Bank sector. Our principal facility is, of course, Itu Aba, with its airfield. Construction of facilities on the Ban Than Reef are ongoing – and eventually we hope to establish a more formal presence at Petley Reef and at Eldad Reef – right now there is little more than navigational beacons there. A tour of the facilities at Sand Cay, Namyit Island, and Gaven Reef is scheduled for tomorrow – weather permitting.”

Buis asked. “Is there time to examine the facilities here?”

Abcede replied, “I think that can be arranged before dinner.”

Their tour was rather informal. Together with Ver and Rocco the four visitors piled into a command car which drove them from site to site. The northern side of the island was festooned with antennae and masts of radio signals equipment that kept a watchful eye on movements at sea and in the air above the waters of the South China Sea. Stevens was impressed with the big parabolic antenna that seemed to dominate the island.

“Too bad you could not get it higher,” he remarked.

“We did our best to do so,” Rocco explained. “But we work with what we have. When they evacuated the island back in 1941 the Chinese bulldozed the high spots and filled in the low spots.”

Couturier made a mental note that much of the equipment was of Chilean origin. The amount suggested that the Philippines had made a considerable investment on Itu Aba and this fact alone explained their desire to refortify the islands – which had the Chinese persisted in their efforts at Macclesfield Bank, France might have supported.

Two hours later they returned to the headquarters area for dinner and then rest in the swiftly falling tropical night.


Wednesday, October 23rd 2019, 2:06am

Itu Aba Island, Thursday, 23 June 1949

Breakfast was served early in the mess hall; for the visiting officers it would be a long day, and the cooks made every effort to fortify them.

“The Navy’s response ship Cabo Bojeador will serve as your transportation today,” Ver explained. “And while she is quite seaworthy, navigating the shoals and the reefs will take much of your time. But I believe you will find the tour illuminating”

The Cabo Bojeador awaited them at the island’s pier, and once the inspection party were aboard her commander shoved off and carefully headed her out to sea through the marked channel. Once clear of the reef she headed eastward towards their first point of interest.

The spindly platform that marked the position of Sand Cay stood high above the waters the South China Sea – only at low tide would the reef itself and its surrounding sands be visible. The Cabo Bojeador anchored some distance away and launched a small boat that ferried them to the platform. Commander Salazar secured the boat and led the way up the stairway that led to the platform above.

“I asked for this, didn’t I?” thought Stevens, concentrating on his footing.

But they made their way to the top without serious incident, and met briefly with the four men assigned to the station. A navigation beacon warned shipping of proximity to the shoals and provided a point of reference. Couturier smiled approvingly at the compact DME equipment of French manufacture that monitored shipping in the area, as well as the radio mast that maintained communications with the outside world. The crew, composed of two troopers of the Constabulary and two civilian specialists, spent four days on the station before being relieved by a similar quartet, brought out from Itu Aba by a supply boat.

Their stay aboard Sand Cay Station was brief, as the Cabo Bojeador needed far more time to reach their next destination, Namyit Island, known as Binago on Philippine charts. They stood out to sea to safely round Petley Reef, where they could see a crew busily at work expanding the pillars of what Ver explained would be a lighthouse; for now, it was merely an automated beacon and temporary refuge for workmen.

Passing the far end of Tizard Bank they saw the buoy markers that warned ships approaching Eldad Reef. Buis noted that there was no evidence of RDF in this extremity of the network; no doubt it was a gap his hosts would try to close as soon as possible.

Namyit Island boasted a small regular garrison of Constabulary troopers under a subaltern, together with what they had become to accept as a normal complement of civilian specialists. Conditions permitted them to visit the station that stood on the foreshore – one hut for monitoring equipment, one house in which the crew lived on a permanent basis, and, they could see, the beginnings of a far larger and even more permanent building.

“Binago is large enough to warrant a regular lighthouse” Ver explained. “We hope to have it finished by next year, if the typhoon season does not cause us too many problems.”

Leaving Namyit Island, they continued westward towards the Gaven Reefs, which came into sight about an hour later. Here it was plain to see what their hosts meant by a regular lighthouse – a small artificial island upon which stood not only a lighthouse but a monitoring station with its tall RDF mast – all constructed of concrete. Here the Cabo Bojeador could tie up to permit inspection party to visit the station, where they were able to observe the current plot of shipping – chiefly fishing vessels – in the neighborhood.

By the time they returned to Itu Aba the sun was slowly setting in the west, and that evening Buis, Stevens, and Couturier had interesting discussions with their hosts, and among themselves.


Wednesday, October 23rd 2019, 7:25pm

Itu Aba Island, Friday, 24 June 1949

Late the previous evening Salazar had informed his companions that arrangements had been made for them to tour a further portion of the observation network in the Kalayaan Islands.

“The Cabo Bojeador is scheduled to carry out several resupply tasks for our stations on the Union Bank to our south. As the next flight back to Palawan is not due to Saturday, we are welcome to continue our inspection.” Not surprisingly, the three naval officers agreed.

The Cabo Bojeador left Itu Aba in the semi-darkness, with dawn lightening the eastern horizon. In addition to the naval officers she carried personnel who would transfer to the stations they would visit as well as supplies; thankfully the little ship had provision for extra personnel and stores.

Later that morning they arrived at Sin Cowe Island, which was marked on Philippine charts as Rurok Island; here the Cabo Bojeador dropped off supplies and three construction workers who would join the crew busily expanding the lighthouse station. Stevens noted that a dredge was at work to expand the island itself.

“How many of these do you have working in the archipelago?”

Salazar was unsure. “I understand that we have six units available, but I am not certain how many are operating at the moment. When we return to Itu Aba I will inquire.”

From Rurok Island they shaped an easterly course to the station at Hughes Reef, which sported one of the concrete structures they had seen before. Here again a small boat was used to ferry personnel and equipment back and forth, and the visitors eschewed trip to the station itself – a fact that Salazar quietly appreciated – it would help keep the Cabo Bojeador on schedule.

The navigation beacon that topped the station was of vital importance – it marked a deep water channel that would allow craft to traverse the bank itself at high tide – and the Cabo Bojeador’s skipper availed himself of that fact to reach their next stop, Sin Cowe East, on the southern side of the atoll.

Sin Cowe East looked as if it was a floating island – the station occupied nearly every piece of land that stood above the tide – and Buis found it interesting how trees and shrubbery had been used to stabilize the sand dunes. “I take it this is more work of your dredges?”

“Indeed it is. First rock walls are set and the space behind them filled in with sand. Once stabilized, the process is repeated. Proper plantings help keep the sand in place while concrete is poured to form the outer walls.”

The station at Lensdowne Reef was of similar construction, adapted to a different situation. Here there had been less material available for dredging so the station rested on rock outcrops reinforced by steel and concrete.

Work on the station at Johnson South Reef was still ongoing, with temporary structures in which work crews lived. Here the Cabo Bojeador dropped off more relief personnel and supplies. Couturier’s sharp eyes noted that the stations included platforms upon which light antiaircraft guns could be emplaced, though the guns themselves were not in evidence. This he would include in his report, emphasizing the Philippine adherence to the letter of the Treaty of Saigon.

They exchanged salutes with the station at Collins Reef without stopping; in design and layout the station seemed quite similar to the others they had previously visited, though its mass suggested that perhaps it was home to more extensive electronic monitoring equipment. The Cabo Bojeador then made her best speed to the northwest in order to return to Itu Aba before nightfall.


Thursday, October 24th 2019, 7:31pm

Itu Aba Island, Saturday, 25 June 1949

The three visiting naval officers had a rather easy morning – the aircraft that would return them to Puerto Princesa would not arrive until nearly noon – and they discussed with Major Abcede the overall extent of the Philippine network across the archipelago.

“I think you will find a more interesting situation in the northern area – Lawak Island and Pagasa Island. While there have been incidents with illegal Chinese fishing vessels real economic development is underway there; small scale perhaps but important for the future.”

The morning “milk run” – a Philippine Air Force C-47 – arrived only slightly behind schedule – but the return flight to Puerto Princesa was uneventful. A return to ‘civilization’ – and the well-stocked bar of the naval base officers’ club – was quite welcome, for they would be departing the following morning for Pagasa Island.

The Manila Times, Sunday, 26 June 1949

In defense news the Ministry confirmed the order placed with the German firm Wiener Neustadt Flugzeugwerke for four examples of its Wf14 helicopter on behalf of the Philippine Navy, which will use them in the search and rescue role. Also announced was an order to Yugoslavia for twenty-four examples of the M47 recoilless gun for extended troop trials.

The French firm of Hotchkiss and several local partners – including Delta Motors – have formed the United Defense Manufacturing Company to undertake the progressive assembly and production of various models of the Hotchkiss VLD light armored vehicle for the Philippine Army.


Friday, October 25th 2019, 5:15pm

Puerto Princesa Naval Air Station, Palawan, Monday, 27 June 1949

The Philippine Constabulary had arranged a flight to one of the northerly stations in the network that stretched across the Kalayaan Island – Thitu Island, or, as their hosts referred to it, Pagasa. Together with Commander Salazar the three visiting naval officers boarded a small twin-engine Constelación Twin Condor utility aircraft of Chilean manufacture.

Two hours later, having overflown dozens of small fishing craft, they caught their first glimpse of the island in the distance.

“This is one of the few stations that has a functioning airstrip” Salazar explained. “It was first constructed as an emergency landing ground during the War. Today it is vital in support of air patrols that monitor the fishing grounds. Illegal fishing is a grave concern in this area.

Buis nodded in agreement. Disputes over fishing had ignited the South China Sea War some nine years ago – and there had been a growing succession of incidents. China’s support of its fishing fleet had been noted in Batavia with some concern.

Their aircraft banked for final approach and set down easily on the dirt airstrip. “Welcome to Rancudo Field” announced their pilot.

They were met by a Constabulary captain, who introduced himself as Emilio Liwanag, and a civilian, who Liwanag introduced as Alejandro Rodriguez, mayor of the municipality of Kalayaan.

Couturier expressed his surprise. “I was not aware that a civil settlement existed in the Kalayaan archipelago.”

Rodriguez replied, “The first of our citizens arrived not long after the War, seeking to build a better life for themselves, which is why we refer out island as Pag-asa, meaning hope. When the Government established their observation station here, they permitted us to remain; some of the men have found work at the station but most continue to fish, as they always have.”

A somewhat battered truck was provided to take the party on a tour of the island. Stevens took note of the radar installations that kept watch over the seas in the vicinity as well as the several beacons planted along the periphery of the surrounding reef.

They were also shown the settlement of Kalayaan, a short stretch of houses and huts along the shore that could with difficulty merit the term town. But it was marked by a small municipal office and somewhat larger chapel constructed out of corrugated iron on concrete foundations.

The local fishermen used traditional bangka double-outrigger canoes, for their remit did not take them too far from the shore, being able to pass over the reefs only at high tide. Rodriguez expressed the support of the islanders for the Government’s decision to establish a monitoring station on the island.

“Foreigners from the north, Chinese, come in large boats and take too many of the fish; now they keep their distance and at least allow the fisher-folk to catch enough to live on.”

The tour ended back at the airstrip, named for a Philippine Air Force bomber pilot who nursed his damaged aircraft back to the island after an air raid on Itu Aba, saving his crew. Their Twin Condor having been refueled Salazar explained that they would be able overfly some of the other nearby islands before heading back to Palawan. Mayor Rodriquez and a number of the citizens of the settlement turned out to wave good-bye.


Friday, October 25th 2019, 10:56pm

Above the South China Sea, Monday, 27 June 1949

Their Twin Condor shaped an easterly course after takeoff, and after little more than an hour’s flight they looked down upon Nanshan Island, or has Commander Salazar explained, Lawak Island.

“The Constabulary maintains a detachment here, supplied periodically by small craft, like the faithful Cabo Bojeador. Lawak is a bird sanctuary, which is why our footprint is deliberately kept small. There have been licenses issued from time to time to mine the guano deposited by the birds, but at the moment such activity is prohibited.”

The Twin Condor circled, allowing the visiting officers a good view. “You’ve not constructed much in the way of monitoring infrastructure,” Stevens noted.

“It is a question of priorities,” Salazar explained. “In this area of the archipelago we rely to a significant degree on naval patrols. There are plans to erect a station here when resources permit.”

Heading northeast from Lawak they soon overflew Patag Island, shown on most nautical charts as Flat Island, a sand cay little more than two hundred meters long and less than a hundred meters across at its widest.

“Patrols from our station on Lawak visit regularly, sometimes remaining a few days before returning. As you can see there not much here, and their purpose is to discourage squatters from setting up fishing camps.”

“That is one way to put keeping the Chinese out,” Buis thought. If they thought that developing a base of some sort on the Macclesfield Bank, a wholly submarine feature without any emergent cays or islets, what might they attempt if able to gain a toehold on a place like Patag.

Turning to the east their aircraft soon brought them over Likas Island, or West York Island as most charts showed it. “This is another place my Government wants to establish a permanent station on,” Salazar explained, “and work should be starting after the typhoon season. The island is a sea turtle sanctuary and we have been plagued by Chinese fishing boats taking catches illegally within the three-mile limit.”

“You believe a more permanent presence will discourage them?” Couturier asked.

“That, or make it easier to place them under arrest. The Admiralty Court at Tagbilaran on Bohol adjudicated a number of cases last month.”

With a last look at Likas Island the Constabulary aircraft turned southwest on its return course to Puerto Princesa, where they arrived a few hours later. For all concerned it had been a long, trying, but informative day. Though the visiting delegation would head back to Manila the following morning that evening a dinner in their honor was held at the Officers’ Club at the Puerto Princesa naval base, to the satisfaction of all concerned.


Monday, October 28th 2019, 2:48am

The Bohol Chronicle, Wednesday, 29 June 1949

Monday the Senate opened debate to amend the Naval Armament Replenishment Act of 1949 to increase naval construction in the face of continued aggressive moves on the part of the Chinese Government. Don Miguel Mercado, citing worrying reports of Chinese submarine construction, proposed an increase in the number of antisubmarine patrol vessels to be constructed under the terms of the act.