The Destruction of the Philippine Merchant Marine Fleet In World War II

When the Pacific War (this is what World War II was known in our hemisphere) erupted, our biggest and best ships were immediately requisitioned by the US to serve as transports and that is normal procedure in a war. And then when it looked like the United States will not be able to hold the Philippines and Washington. D.C. has already decided to concentrate first in the European theater of war, the oceangoing ships of the Philippines were sent to the Western hemisphere to be used there.  Then our other big ships which were capable of the distance were ordered to evacuate to Australia to serve as supply ships from that country to Bataan by running the Japanese sea blockade. However, the old, big ships were left in the country and these were already near 60 years old with a few even older than that (that was how tough the steam ships then). New, medium-sized passenger-cargo ships were also left behind in the country together with the smaller ones.

Don_Isidro_beached_and_abandoned

However, to still connect to the islands and the disparate forces, the United States command in the Philippines created the US Army Transport (USAT) which was otherwise known as the PI Support Fleet (“PI” stands for Philippine Islands, the name of the country before the war). This was a motley collection of 25 ships which were mostly liners before the war. The fleet was mainly drawn from the shipping company La Naviera Filipina of the Escano and Aboitiz families and its sister company Cebu-Bohol Ferry Company (this company existed after the war for a time too). From those two shipping companies were drawn the passenger-cargo ships Bohol II (91.5m x 12.5m, b. 1906), Agustina (41.0m x 8.2m, b. 1929), Elcano (66.7m x 11.8m, b. 1939), Kolambugan (55.2m x 9.2m, b. 1929), Legaspi, Princess of Cebu which is the former Marapara (47.2m x 9.2m, b. 1931) and Surigao (53.0m x 9.1m, b. 1938).

From big shipping firm Madrigal & Co., the Lepus (81.0m x 11.5m, b. 1906) and Regulus (69.9m x  10.9m, b. 1911) were requisitioned and from Tabacalera (Compania General de Tobacos de Filipinas) came the Compania de Filipinas (54.9m x 9.1m, b. 1890) and Emilia (43.5m x 7.8m, b. 1931). The passenger-cargo ships Governor Smith and Governor Taft (42.5m x 8.2m, b. 1930) were drawn from the Visayan Transportation Co. and from Insular Navigation Co., another Cebu ferry company, came the Katipunan (41.4m x 5.7m, b. 1875) and Princesa (46.9m x 8.5m, 1930).  From the new Manila Steamship Co., successor of Ynchausti y Compania, the biggest inter-island ferry then, the Mayon (105.9m x 15.4m, b. 1930) was also requisitioned along with the Luzon (79.5m x 11.3m, b. 1905) of Compania Maritima. The De La Rama Steamship Co. sent their Kanlaon (53.7m x 9.2m, b. 1931) and Y. Yamane contributed their ship Bacolod . Other requisitioned ships were the Yusang, Hai Kwang, Condensa, Talisay and Dumaguete along with the La Estrella Caltex (44.2m x  8.6m, b. 1931) of The Texas Co. (Philippines) which was a tanker.

The PI Support Fleet, lacking warship support because the US Asiatic Fleet retreated very early to Australia just became a “Suicide Fleet”. None of them survived the war. The ships that were ordered to Darwin, Australia were another “Suicide Fleet” as many of them were caught when they were hiding in Paluan Bay, Mindoro after a delivery to Bataan. Aside from Japanese shelling or aircraft bombing, these fleets had instructions to scuttle if caught by the Japanese or if they can’t retreat to Australia. The US decided to just sacrifice our merchant fleet and its crews rather than risk their warships. The defense of Australia was their priority and not their colony, the Philippine Islands.

With the ships brought to Australia, from the port of Darwin in Northern Territory, Australia, these made supply runs to Bataan where General Douglas MacArthur concentrated his forces hoping they can hold out until supplies and reinforcements arrive (a false hope it turned out). But not being a shipping person, he may have failed to understand that that was an almost impossible expectation because of convoys will be sitting ducks if the rest of the islands are controlled by the Japanese and at that time the Imperial Japanese Navy was stronger than the US Asiatic Fleet (wasn’t there a lesson in the difficulties of the Malta and Northern convoys then?).

The loss of our passenger shipping fleet started in the very early days of the Pacific War on December 1941 during the air attacks of the Japanese especially in Manila and Manila Bay. Some of those lost passenger-cargo liners in the attacks there were the big Corregidor  (96.3m x 12.5m, b. 1911), the medium-sized Samal  (71.7m x 10.5m, b. 1897)  and the small Romblon which was the former Montanes (45.6m x 7.6m, b. 1889), all of Compania Maritima. Also lost were the oceangoing Sagoland  (131.1m x 16.5m, b. 1913) of Madrigal & Co., the smaller ships Ethel Edwards (42.1m x 7.7m, b. 1919) of Smith Navigation Co., the Governor Wright (48.1m x 8.6m, b. 1938) of the Visayan Transportation Co, Inc. and the Surigao of La Naviera Filipina (53.0m x 9.1m, b. 1938).

When it became clear that Manila would soon fall to the Japanese since General Douglas MacArthur declared it as an “open city” which means it would not be defended (this is to lessen the destruction and loss of lives since it was not militarily defensible anymore already), more ships were scuttled in Manila Bay because it was thought it was already too dangerous to flee south to the Visayas and Mindanao. Sank intentionally to prevent them from falling into enemy hands and hence be used by them were the brand-new Antonia of Aboitiz & Co. Inc. (48.0m x 8.6m, b. 1939), the big Bohol (91.5m x 12.5m, b. 1906) of Compania Maritima, the Vizcaya (66.1m x 9.0m, b. 1890) of Manila Steamship Inc., the Magallanes (74.5m x 10.1m, b. 1880),of Gutierrez Hermanos, the Montanes (64.1m x 9.1m, b. 1889) of J. Garcia Alonso, the Churruca (57.9m x 8.0m, b. 1879) of the United Navigation Inc., and the Bicol (45.8m x 7.9m, b. 1901) of the Manila Railroad Co., a government-owned company.

In the first three months of the war, there were also ship losses in the Japanese air attacks in the provinces. That casualties included the Cebu (76.4m x  10.4m, b. 1900) which was lost on New Year’s Day off Mindoro, the Luzon (79.5m x  11.3m, b. 1905), the Islas Filipinas (64.0m x 9.3m, b. 1886) and the Leyte which was the former Romulus (64.0m x 8.9m, b. 1879), all of Compania Maritima. Also sank were the brand-new Surigao (53.0m x 9.1m, b. 1938) of La Naviera Filipina, the big Bisayas (86.9m x 13.7m, b. 1912), the Lanao (90.6m x 14.1m, b. 1896) and the Mayon (105.9m x 15.4m, b. 1930) of Manila Steamship Co. which was one of the biggest liners in the country then.

From the supply runs from Australia to Bataan that sailed mainly in the night, these ships tried to hide in Paluan Bay in northwestern Mindoro as Manila Bay was already controlled then by the Japanese. However, in not a long time, they were discovered by the Japanese and bombed by aircraft and a few were lost or damaged in February and March of 1942. Among them was the new and beautiful liner Don Esteban (81.4m x 11.4m, b. 1936) of the De la Rama Steamship Co.

Some others were lost by surface action on local supply runs like what happened to the brand-new Legaspi and Elcano of La Naviera Filipina which were intercepted by Japanese destroyers in the Verde Island Passage on separate occasions then shelled and sunk or beached on different occasions when they refused to stop. Piteous as actually there is really no way a slow passenger-cargo vessel can outrun a fast destroyer which has three times its speed. Well, maybe that was the reason why two of the ships ordered from Japan by Everett Steamship for Philippine Steam Navigation Company or PSNC in 1955 were named after them as they were heroic ships in the war.

In April 1942, when Bataan fell and the military situation looked hopeless more ships were scuttled and this included the bulk of our smaller ships that were based mainly in the provinces and doing overnight routes and other short-distance routes. Among them were the first ship of Sweet Lines (Central Shipping Corporation then), the Masayon (32.4m x 6.1m, b. 1936) and the first ship of Go Thong, the LUX (24.0m x 4.5m, b.  Cebu as home port of many short-distance and overnight ferries led the scuttling of ships and that also included the overnight ferries of the Escano and Aboitiz families that were not part of La Naviera Filipina.

In ordering the scuttling and commandeering of ships, the US promised that the ships will be replaced by them after the war. Almost all complied with that order except for Vicente Madrigal (and Tabacalera or Compania General de Tabacos de Filipinas, the leading tobacco firm then) and so many of his ships were captured by the Japanese and used by them in the war as their transports. The Americans were furious with Vicente Madrigal and maybe that was one the reason why after the war he was tried as a “collaborator” of the Japanese. Actually, when Manila fell to the Japanese on February 1942, these liners that cannot make it to Australia have nowhere to go as Manila port was the home port of the bulk of the liners. Fuel, parts and personnel almost immediately became a problem, too.

The biggest of our liners including our oceangoing liners were commandeered by the Americans to the US and pressed into their convoys to Europe or used as their transports in the Western hemisphere and some were lost in the war in this duty. Meanwhile, the ships that were captured by the Japanese and used by them in the war were mostly sunk in the US counter-attack and only about two survived the war and returned to their owners. These were the Argus of Madrigal & Co. which was seized by the Japanese in a Hongkong shipyard and the Anakan of  Manila Steamship Co. Inc. And of the three big, brand-new ships of the De la Rama Steamship commandeered by the US to their country, two survived and was later returned to them after the war and these were the Dona Aniceta and Dona Nati. However the Dona Aurora (133.9m x 17.0m, b. 1939) was lost together with their beautiful liners the Don Isidro (97.8m x 14.0m, b. 1939) and the Don Esteban .

With the war the Philippine merchant marine fleet including about 70 liners and oceangoing ships (compare it to the 60 liners of the late 1990s for perspective) practically sank because mainly it has nowhere to go and war forbids it fall into enemy hands. These also include the so-many overnight ships and short-distance ships connecting near islands where ships run during the day. But still many of the latter survived especially the small wooden-hulled ones because they have limited use in a war effort.

What will come next, of course, are shortages and that is most felt in the cities (and that is one reason why some people moved back to the provinces during the war). With the lack of ships and fuel during the war, traders again used wooden hulls and sails and among the users of it then was the young John Gokongwei, later a leading industrialist and tycoon who traded between Manila and Cebu during the war. But like in all wars, travel and movement of goods suffered a lot along with the people.

The Pacific War was a dark era in Philippine shipping history.

 

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The Philippines’ First Fast Cruiser Liner

Cruiser liners are our type of comfortable passenger-cargo ships that came before the ROROs (Roll-on, Roll-off ships). They were called cruisers for their type of stern which is curving like a half-moon. This type of ship has no car ramps nor decks for vehicles. What they had were cargo decks with booms to handle the cargo by lifting.

Cruiser liners of the past were slow ships especially those that were surplus ships from the US after the war. The prewar liners were also slow as their engines were not powerful. However, like in cars or planes, gradually the liners became faster until the advent of the fast cruiser liner. These had more powerful engines and were designed for fast turn-around times especially with the use of less in-ports (ports where the liners call in at the middle of the voyage).

The fast cruiser liners we had mainly came from Japan but there were exceptions and among that was the very first cruiser we ever had. Now, what constitutes “fast”? In my grouping and analysis of liners these are the passenger-cargo ships which can do 18 to 20 knots or at the minimum is 17.5 knots, sustained (as 17.5 knots is not too far from 18 knots). Of course, in their ads the shipping companies always stress the less travel time of this kind of ship and William Lines even had monickers for them like “Cheetah of the Sea” or “Sultan of the Sea”.

In this game, it was Negros Navigation who was the series pioneer starting in 1965 with the acquisition of the brand-new Dona Florentina from Japan. Compania Maritima followed suit in 1968 with the brand-new Filipinas and William Lines and Sulpicio Lines just followed lately in 1975 (but eventually they had the most number of fast cruiser liners). Sweet Lines, meanwhile, entered this race with their legendary Sweet Faith in 1970 (and by that time, the fast cruiser liner was already accepted as the new paradigm or mode).

1960 Jul 2 schedules

1960 Apr 30 - Phil President Lines

What the PPL emphasized before the arrival of the President Quezon. ex-“FS” can’t offer much, really. From The Philippines Herald. Research by Gorio Belen in the National Library.

However, the very first to first a fast cruiser liner was the newly-formed shipping company in 1961, the Philippine President Lines or PPL. The ship was the President Quezon and later just the Quezon when an oceangoing ship took that name. When PPL transferred their local operations (they were more of an oceangoing company) to Philippine Pioneer Lines, the ship was renamed to Pioneer Iloilo as it was doing the Manila-Iloilo route. And when the company was renamed into Galaxy Lines after the loss of two ships, the liner was further renamed into the Galaxy, a clear indication she was the flagship of the fleet (the other ships of the fleet were named after constellations). And it seems to me that many who knew her this was the name that stuck to their minds. So this final name of hers will be what I will be mainly using in this article.

The Galaxy started life as a seaplane tender of the US Navy in World War II. Part of the Barnegat-class of small sea plane tenders she was first known as the USS Onslow. Her builder was the Lake Washington Shipyard in Houghton, Washington and she was commissioned in December of 1943. In the US Navy she was known as the AVP-48 and she gained four battle stars during World War II.

USS_Onslow_(AVP-48)

The USS Onslow. A US Naval Historical photo.

In 1947, the USS Onslow was decommissioned by the US Navy and put on reserve but she was recommissioned in 1951 because of the Korean War. She was finally decommissioned in 1960 and sold that same year to the Philippine President Lines. Because of the need for refitting to build passenger accommodations, it was only late in 1961 when she began operation as a commercial ferry.

Even though a fast cruiser liner her first route was Manila-Iloilo-Pulupandan-Cebu-Cagayan de Oro. Later, in Galaxy Lines, she became a dedicated Manila-Iloilo ferry doing a twice a week voyage and her speed was emphasized in their advertisement. It was claimed that she was the fastest ferry in the Philippines which was actually true. With a claimed 19 hours transit time in the Manila-Iloilo route that meant she was averaging 18 knots in the route.

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From the research of Gorio Belen of the PSSS in the National Library.

The President Quezon/Quezon/Pioneer Iloilo/Galaxy was a well-furnished ship and it advertised air-conditioned cabins and dining saloons. But then she might have been in the wrong route as Negros Navigation also offered the same amenities in the Iloilo route. Maybe, she should just have been fielded in the Manila-Cebu route as there were no fast cruiser liners then yet in Cebu.

The Galaxy was a big liner for her time when very few liners touched 100 meters in length. Her Length Over-all (LOA) was 94.7 meters and she had a Breadth of 12.5 meters with a Gross Register Tonnage (GRT) of 2,137 tons. In size, she is approximately that of the infamous Dona Paz which came after her by 14 years. Her two diesel engines produced a combined 6,080 horsepower which was the highest for liners during that time and that gave her a speed of over 18 knots.

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From the Philippine Herald. Research by Gorio Belen of the PSSS in the National Library.

However, as the decade was ending, unreliability began surfacing for Galaxy and that was what the situation too for US war-surplus ships except for the ex-“FS” ships which had electric drives. In 1971 she foundered at her moorings during a storm but she was salvaged. However, her company was soon winding up operations as it was failing. Her last notable service was when she was chartered by the US during their pull-out from Vietnam in 1975.

Now, almost nobody remembers the Galaxy because she last sailed about 45 years ago. However, she was among our best liners during her time and she is really worth remembering.

When A Lackluster Shipping Company Became A Successful Motorcycle Company

The Pan-Oriental Shipping Company was one of the shipping companies that rose in Cebu after World War II, one of the replacements of the Cebu shipping companies that did not survive the war. This shipping company was among those who were able to purchase surplus World War II ships tendered by the Philippine Government. These are the ships given to the Philippines by the US to jump start the economy and not among those given as replacement for the ships lost during the war or the ships they ordered scuttled to prevent it from falling into the enemy hands and be used against the Allies. The ships were also atonement for the massive air attacks against the Japanese that practically wiped out many of the infrastructure of Manila.

POS

From the Manila Chronicle  1/13/52. Research by Gorio Belen of PSSS in the National Library.

The Pan-Oriental Shipping Co. started operations in 1948 doing the Cebu-Manila v.v. route. Like some of the other ships then, there were modifications carried out in the superstructure to accommodate passengers (the surplus Army transports were actually not people carriers). It did not have the sophistication, if that term is appropriate, of similar ex-“FS” ships of the major shipping lines.

The first passenger-cargo ship (I am leery of using the world “liner” here) of the Pan-Oriental Shipping was the Oriental that was acquired in 1948 and the name is not a surprise, of course. She was the former “FS”ship FS-318 built by John H. Mathis & Company Shipbuilders in Camden, New Jersey, USA in 1944 for the US Army as its own transport and in the main they were manned by US Coast Guard personnel.

Oriental

The MV Oriental. From the Manila Chronicle  1/13/52. Research by Gorio Belen of PSSS in the National Library.

The Oriental’s Length Over-all (LOA) was 53.9 meters with a Length Between Perpendiculars (LPP) of 50.7 meters and Breadth of 9.8 meters. The Gross Register Tonnage (GRT) of the ship remained at 560 tons even though there were additions to the superstructure. Weighed down by additional metal and for greater stability, her Depth rose from 3.2 meters to 4.3 meters. The ship was powered by two General Motors engines with a total of 1,000 horsepower that gave her a speed of 11 knots.  The permanent ID latter given to the Oriental was IMO Number 5264895.

Pan-Oriental Shipping’s next acquisition came in the next year, 1949, and this was the former “FS” ship FS-350 which was built by J.K. Welding in Yonkers, New York, USA in 1944 for the US Army, too. In the Pan-Oriental fleet she was named as the Occidental. The name is not surprising also.

Occidental

The MV Occidental. From the Manila Chronicle 12/3/53 (the attached date is incorrect). Research of Gorio Belen of PSSS in the National Library.

The Occidental’s external dimensions were exactly the same as that of the Oriental but the Gross Register Tonnage (GRT) is only 558 tons. That was after there were additions to the superstructure (funny, isn’t it?) The ship was also powered by two General Motors engines with a total of 1,000 horsepower that gave her a similar speed of 11 knots.  The IMO Number of the ship was 5260045.

After another year, in 1950, the Pan-Oriental Shipping acquired their third ship which was also another former “FS” ship, the FS-197 which was built by Higgins in New Orleans, Louisiana for the US Army too in 1944. Higgins was the company that designed and built the famous Higgins boat which was used as beach assault craft in World War II. In the Pan-Oriental fleet the FS-197 was named as the Continental.

Continental

The MV Continental. Research by Gorio Belen of PSSS in the National Library.

This ship was a little longer than the Oriental and Occidental at 54.9 meters LOA with an LPP of 51.2 meters and the common Breadth of 9.8 meters of all the FS ships. With additional metal the GRT of Continental went down from 573 tons to 512 tons (so GRT shaving was not a recent phenomenon). The ship is powered by two General Motors engines with 1,000 horsepower on tap giving her a cruising speed of 11 knots. The IMO Number of the ship was 6117935.

The Oriental, Occidental and Continental being all former “FS” ships were all sister ships. The ships were purchased from the Philippine Government through the Rehabilitation Finance Corporation (RFC) which was a predecessor of the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP). As mentioned before, US Government gave it to the Philippines to help the economy recover from the war.

The sole route of the Pan-Oriental ships was Manila-Cebu, v.v. and they stressed cargo rather than passengers. However, as time went by there were already plenty of ships calling in Cebu from Manila as Cebu is an in-port of ships still proceeding to Mindanao.  After all, they have to carry and supply the Cebuano migrants in that land of opportunity but that resulted in the displacements on the natives of the island.

Having a ship with just a sole port of call was actually disadvantageous as it does not maximize the ship. And that was compounded by just a once a week sailing. Competitors, on a once a week schedule with calls in Cebu, Tagbilaran, Dumaguete, Ozamis and Iligan can also do a once a week sailing

In 1954, after six years of operation, the Pan-Oriental Shipping quit the shipping business by selling out altogether lock, stock and barrel. The Oriental and Occidental went to Carlos Go Thong & Co. while the Continental went to Compania Maritima in the end after several transfers. With the sale of the two ships to Go Thong & Co., that company became a national liner company from being just a regional shipping company. Initially, Oriental and Occidental retained their names in the Go Thong fleet. After several years, the Oriental was renamed to the Don Jose and the Occidental was renamed to the Don Francisco. Meanwhile, the Continental became the second Basilan of Compania Maritima. All three had new superstructures in their new companies.

1963-4-29 Everett & Go Thong

From the Philippine Herald. Research by Gorio Belen of PSSS in the National Library.

The Pan-Oriental Shipping Company was owned by Norberto Quisumbing (sounds familiar?). After selling the company he founded Norkis in Mactan island (in Opon, now Lapu-lapu City) which assembles the well-liked and popular Yamaha motorcycles. Everybody knows how successful were the Quisumbings in motorcycles. And that is also true for Go Thong (later Gothong) in shipping and later they spawned the legendary Sulpicio Lines Incorporrated and Lorenzo Shipping Company.

The transaction between Pan-Oriental and Go Thong proved to be a win-win deal for the two companies.