The Philippine Navy in the Korean War (1950-1953)

MaxDefense is pleased to have one of our community member and an active officer from the Armed Forces of the Philippines to be its guest writer for this blog entry. Though this is not the first time that a guest writer's piece was published in MaxDefense Philippines, being given the chance again to publish something like this is an honour for us especially if it helps provide positive information to the Filipino and international reading public on our AFP's history of being a pro-active champion of freedom and peace.

Thanks to our guest writter, Philippine Navy CDR. MARK R. CONDENO from the International Affairs Directorate for giving MaxDefense Philippines the opportunity to publish this original piece.

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Introduction

On Sunday June 25 1950, the existence of the Republic of Korea as a democratic nation was shattered when armored and infantry elements of the North Korean People’s Army crossed the border into Seoul. The surprise attack caught off guard the Republic of Korea Armed Forces who lacked the equipment to withstand a massive communist invasion.

On that same day, the United Nations Security Council Resolution Number 82 was enacted which calls for the immediate withdrawal of the belligerent forces from South Korea, after it went unheeded prompting the world body to pass UNSC Resolution number 83 calling on member countries to support militarily the ROK in deterring communist aggression.

Although having its own counter insurgency problem, the Philippines became the first South East Asian country to deploy troops in support of the UN cause and the Third member of the UN Body to do so.. On September 7 1950 President Elpidio Rivera Quirino announced the historic decision of the deployment of Filipino Soldiers to the embattled republic. It fulfills the country’s obligation as a member and signatory of the United Nations and combating the spread of communism in the Asia-Pacific region.

Unknown too many, the Philippine Navy (PN) would actively participate in the Korean conflict. The Five Landing Ship Tanks (LST’s) of the Service Squadron of the Philippine Navy namely RPS Cotabato (T-36) RPS Pampanga (T-37), RPS Bulacan (T-38), RPS Albay (T-39) and RPS Misamis Oriental (T-40) would serve as the workhorse in transporting the Filipino soldiers to and from Korea for five years. Another great significance for the service was the assignment of two Filipino Naval Officers at the Philippine Liaison Group-United Nations Command in Tokyo, Japan.


This paper would seek to provide a summary of the Philippine Navy’s role and exploits during the Forgotten War and the Naval Legacy that fortified between the two navies after the conflict.




The Philippine Navy in 1950

Five years after the end of the Second World War saw the re-establishment of the Offshore Patrol- the swarm of former OSP personnel turned guerillas were eager to re-join their mother unit. A modest rearmament of the service followed as surplus naval vessels from the United States found its way to the OSP fleet in the form of Patrol Crafts Escorts (PCE), Submarine Chasers (SC’s) Patrol Craft (PC) Minesweepers (AM) and Landing Ship Tanks (LST’s).

During that period the order of battle of the Philippine Naval Patrol (PNP) under Commodore Jose Francisco AFP (USNA ’31) comprised of the following: The Fleet Minesweeper and Flagship RPS Apo (PS 21) which also serve as the Presidential Yacht in which President Quirino and his cabinet meets during the opening days of the Korean conflict. The Patrol Force under LCDR Heracleo Alano PN (PMA ’40) is composed of RPS Cebu (PS 28), Negros Occidental (PS29), Leyte (PS 30), Pangasinan (PS 31) IloIlo (PS32). The rest of the fleet is made up of 16 Submarine Chasers, Six Survey Vessels, Two Landing Craft Infantry (LCI), One Rescue Tug and Six Auxiliary ships.



Departure for Korea

Eight days after the signing of Republic Act 573 “Philippine Military Aid to the United Nations Act” by then President Elpidio R Quirino, the whole element of the 10th Battalion Combat Team boarded the US Naval Transport USNS SGT SYLVESTER J ANTOLAK (T-AP-192) for a four day voyage to the Korean peninsula. She was escorted from the vicinity of Corregidor Island up to the outskirts of the South China Sea by RPS Negros Oriental (PS 26) and RPS Capiz (PS 27) The Battalion would be the First of the Five BCT’s namely the 20th, 19th, 14th and 2nd to immortalize the Filipino soldiers gallantry and courage on the field of battle. Each Battalion would serve for about a year in Korea with the last troops leaving for Manila in 1955.

The Combat Service Support Operations of the Navy would begin with the homecoming of the 10th BCT in April 1951 aboard RPS Cotabato and the departure and return to and from Korea of the 20th, 19th and 14th BCT’s. The 2nd BCT would have the distinction of being ferried to and from Korea aboard US Naval vessels.

RPS Capiz- 15 September 1950 Escorting USNS SGT Sylvester J Antolak (T-AP-192) carrying troops of the Philippine Army’s 10th Battalion Combat Team (BCT) to Korea. She is one of the 16 Submarine Chasers then in service with the Philippine Navy (Photo Courtesy of the late 1LT Faustino Tumamak PA (Ret) 10TH BCT).

USNS SGT Sylvester J Antolak (T-APA-192)- Brought in to the Korean Theater of Operations the First contingent of 1,303 Filipino Troops (Army, Air Force and Navy) of the 10th BCT, Philippine Army arriving at the Port of Pusan on 19 September 1950 after 4 days of voyage from the Port of Manila. (Authors Collection)



Early Philippine-Korean Naval relationship
Quite unknown on the early days of the ROK, and the formation of the Korean Naval Defense Corps to the Korean Coast Guard (later becoming the Republic of Korea Navy), Filipino Naval Officers played a pivotal role as its brought in the first ships of the KCG to Korea from Subic Bay Naval Base. It was in August 1947 that then LTSG Ramon A Alcaraz PN (PMA ’40) was designated as head of mission to ferry former US and British Royal Navy Auxiliary Motor Minesweepers that would form the backbone of the Korean Fleet, wherein their ports of destination were 3 of the 7 ROK Naval bases namely Chinhae, Pusan and Seoul. Another notable skipper of one of the ships to be transferred is LT Dioscoro E Papa PN (the Second Commandant of the Philippine Coast Guard).
Later on, at the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950 now Commander Ramon A Alcaraz would be the Service Squadron Skipper in which our Five Landing Ship Tanks (LST’s) served as the mainstay of the fleet in ferrying troops of the Philippine Expeditionary Force to Korea (PEFTOK) Battalion Combat Teams.



A Naval Officer in the Battle of Yuldong

On April 22-23 1951 during the Chinese communist spring offensive which would have ended the conflict, showed the prowess of the Filipino soldiers, airman and sailor on the battlefield as the greatest defensive operation is etched in the annals of Philippine military history. Although outnumbered 10 to 1, the 900 strong 10th BCT withstood a massive attack of the Chinese 12th Army at Yultong Ridge, known today as the Battle of Yultong (Yuldong).

A notable naval role was the presence of then LCDR Emilio S Liwanag PN (PMA ’38) as the logistics and artillery officer of the 10TH BCT who commanded a battery of 105mm howitzers during the battle. LCDR Liwanag is a graduate of the Advanced Infantry Gunnery Course at Fort William Mckinley in 1950 days prior to his deployment to Korea. Early on, as logistics officer LCDR Liwanag was also responsible in securing from an American depot a squadron of US made M24 Chafee light tanks and heavy weapons for the tenth’s reconnaissance and heavy weapons company.

Emilio S Liwanag- LCDR Emilio S Liwanag PN was attached to the 10th BCT as Supply Officer and later designated as Senior Naval Advisor to the Philippine Representative Mission in Korea. (Photo Courtesy, Maam Marylou Liwanag-Fuentespina, Daughter of Capt Emilio S Liwanag).



The Sea Voyage Rough Seas, Storm and Typhoons

On the evening of September 30 1951 the last elements of the 10th BCT would depart the Port of Pusan aboard RPS Cotabato under LCDR Florentino Buenaventura PN, the 2,400 kilometer voyage by way of Japan (as the LST would undergo four days of repair and provisioning at Yokusuka Naval Base) upon reaching open sea they would encounter heavy gales and the ships entire complement would mercilessly fought the waves for hours, and as furious waves became stronger they would sought refuge at Kagoshima Bay. On October 23 1951 RPS Cotabato escorted by a pair of Submarine Chasers would enter Manila Bay with a tumultuous welcome from surrounding ships a flyby from a formation of P-51 Mustangs of the PAF and a jubilant crowd.

In September 1951 both RPS Cotabato and RPS Pampanga under CDR Tomas C Robenul PN would again undertake the task of bringing the second Filipino battalion the 20th BCT under Col Salvador Abcede to the Korean theater of operations. A year later, the return voyage of the first batch (Albay) and second batch (Misamis Oriental skippered by LTJG Pablo Pascua PN) of the 20th BCT would again be hampered by a tropical storm off Northern Luzon but the ships would go unscathed with the skillful maneuvering of the vessels officers and crew. A warm welcome and a fluvial parade would again be received by the troops and sailors as it approached Manila’s Pier 7.

A typical experience among the troops during the four to six day voyage was of being seasick and melancholy longing right away for home, but this would not creel their determination and eagerness for the vital mission assigned to them whether departing for Korea or homeward bound.

By 17 March 1953 RPS Bulacan under CDR Tandiko Centi PN- the First Filipino Muslim Naval Officer and LTSG Jose Ordonez PN of RPS Albay would lift anchor at South Harbor, aboard the two ships were the fourth Filipino contingent to the UN Command, the famed 14th BCT also known as the Avengers- a veteran unit of the HUK campaign. Based on the book “These are your Boys” by the battalion itself, the passage was eventful with movie showing on deck, singing and guitar playing among the soldiers and sailors and the chow line serving Paksiw (fish cook and simmered in vinegar with garlic, salt and spices) and Sinigang na Bangus (stewed milkfish in tamarind broth).

From a 14th BCT veteran’s account the expedition to Korea was cut short as an essential stopover was made at Poro Point, La Union to repair and replace a part of the one of the ships engine, with these development sports competitions were held between the towns folk and sailors stationed at the naval base with the PEFTOK troops emerging as winners. Four days later, the ships haul anchor and would again encounter rough and heavy seas and waves bigger than the ships at Balintang channel- the crossroads of the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean.

Twelve days after departing Manila, the Albay and Bulacan dropped anchor at the Port of Pusan, although prior to entering harbor our troops and allied naval ships observe the proficiency of our ships and sailors as anti-aircraft and ant-submarine drills were implemented and practiced with US Navy counterparts involving one of their submarines which surfaced beside RPS Albay.

Prior to debarkation, the Avengers thanked the Ships Officers and crew along with CDR Octavio Posadas PN (N4) who did the administrative and logistical matters in support of the Philippine contingent.

RPS MISAMIS ORIENTAL (LT-40) Brought home troops of the 20th Battalion Combat Team. (Photo Courtesy Navsource.org). (Permission to use granted 25 February 2016). 


RPS ALBAY (LT-39) Ferried troops of the Philippine Army’s 19th and 14th Battalion Combat Team (BCT) to and from Korea from 1953 to 1954. She is skippered at that time by LTSG JOSE ORDONEZ PN. (Photo by Richard Leonhardt, courtesy Navsource.org) (Permission to use granted 25 February 2016)



Philippine-Liaison Group United Nations Command, Tokyo, Japan

As mentioned earlier, after his stint with the 10th BCT, CDR Emilio S Liwanag PN would serve as the Assistant Commander of Philippine Mission to UNC in Tokyo, Japan vice CDR Santiago C Nuval PN (PMA ’38 and a future PN FOIC) as head of the mission. The veterans recall the massive support of the two officers to our troops while in Japan. CDR Liwanag was also the Senior Naval Advisor to the Philippine Diplomatic Mission in Korea in which would earn him the US Legion of Merit for valuable logistical assistance to Filipino troops in the Korean conflict.


THE COMBAT SERVICE SUPPORT AND ESCORT OPERATIONS OF THE PHILIPPINE NAVY DURING THE KOREAN WAR
PEFTOK BCT
TO KOREA
TO PHILIPPINES
10TH BCT (Motorized)
“Steady On”
USNS SGT Sylvester J Antolak (T-AP-192)
LST 75 (RPS Cotabato T36)
LST 843 (RPS Bulacan T 38)
LST842 (RPS Pampanga T37)
20TH BCT (Motorized)
“We Lead”
LST 75 (RPS Cotabato T36)
LST 842 (RPS Pampanga T37)
LST 843 (RPS Bulacan T38)
LST 865 (RPS Albay T39)
LST 875 (RPS Misamis OrientalT40)
19TH BCT (Motorized)
“Bloodhounds”
LST842 (RPS Pampanga T37)
LST 865 (RPS Albay T39)
LST 843 (RPS Bulacan T38)
LST 865 (RPS Albay T39)
14TH BCT
“Avengers”
LST 843 (RPS Bulacan T 38)
LST 865 (RPS Albay T39)
USS Logan (APA-196)
2ND BCT
“Black Lions”
USS Mountrail (APA-123)
USS General SD Sturgis (AP-137)
USNS General RL Howze (T-AP-132)
USS General WH Gordon (T-AP-117)





Aftermath and Lessons Learned

The Landing Ship Tanks mentioned were all transferred in 1948, all built in 1942-43 would have a long career with the service and again would answer the call to arms with the deployment of Filipino troops during the Vietnam War. RPS Cotabato (a veteran of the 1944 Normandy landings) and RPS Pampanga were decommissioned in the early 1978, while RPS Albay, Bulacan and Misamis Oriental were mothballed in 1979. The Escort Ships RPS Negros Oriental was transferred in 1948 and was sunk during a Typhoon at Guam in 1962. On the other hand, RPS Capiz was stricken from the Fleet list in 1979. The Flagship RPS Apo was acquired in July 1948 would undergo several name change as well as refits as command ship served the Navy well into the 1960’s and re-classified as a corvette of the Miguel Malvar Class and retired from the service in 1970.



Naval Legacy braced by War

Twenty Four years after the conflict, the Philippine Fleet would receive the ROKS Kyong Ki (DE-71) and ROKS Kang Won (DE-72) in 1977. The former was the ex-USS Sutton (DE-771) while the latter was the ex-USS Muir (DE- 770). The ships were of the Cannon-Class Destroyer Escort Type in which at that period the PN has three in its inventory namely RPS Datu Kalantiaw (PS-76), RPS Rajah Humabon (PF-6) and RPS Datu Sikatuna (PF-5).
Regrettably, the Kyong Ki and Kang Won were never commissioned but were utilized as spare parts source for our three active units. 16 and 18 years later added another milestone in Philippine-Korea Naval relations as 12 Haeksang and Chamsuri Class Patrol Craft were sold to the Philippine Navy at a friendship price as the Republic of Korea values the splendid bilateral relations between the two countries that begun in 1949.
The Haeksang (Conrado Yap) and the Chamsuri (Tomas Batilo) class Patrol Craft entered the fleet in 1993 and 1995 respectively. These ships were acquired during the incumbency of then President Fidel Valdez Ramos-himself a Korean War Veteran and Reconnaissance Platoon leader who captured Hill Eerie on 21 May 1952 against Chinese Communist Forces.
12 of the Haeksang and 8 of the Chamsuri’s were transferred during those years and through recommendation from the Philippine Navy to President Ramos on 24 June 1995 Presidential approval was granted to name them after Filipino Korean War heroes and veterans, in which the lead ships were named after Captain Conrado D Yap PA and then 1LT Tomas G Batilo both of the 10th BCT PEFTOK.
The other units of both classes were named after the PEFTOK BCT Commanders, NCO’s and Enlisted Personnel who sacrificed their lives during the Korean conflict in the name of freedom and democracy.
Three years ago in 2015, the ROK Navy transferred the Landing Craft Utility ROKS Mulgae and though announced in 2014 what would be the second largest naval vessel allocation in terms of size and tonnage from the ROKN to the Philippine Navy is the handover of a Flight III Pohang Class Corvette (Ex-ROKS Chung-Ju PCC-762) since the turn-over of the Cannon Class Destroyer Escorts 37 years ago.



Conclusion

Although none of the Landing Ship Tanks and Submarine Chasers were engaged in action of the Korean waters, the invaluable role of the Combat Service Support and Escort operations along with the naval exercises conducted with allied navies in theater enabled the Philippine Navy to hone its tactics in the various aspects of naval warfare. The navy’s mission enabled the Philippine Expeditionary Force to Korea (PEFTOK) troops to accomplish and succeed on its mission in upholding democracy against communism and maintaining the sovereignty of the Republic of Korea.



Sources:

  1. The Fighting Tenth by Major Mariano Manawis
  2. These are your boys by the 14th BCT (PEFTOK)
  3. Notes on the Korean War by the author
  4. Veteran accounts as related to the author
  5. Jane’s Fighting Ships 1981-82
  6. Conway’s All the Worlds Fighting Ships 1947-1995
  7. Newspapers from the 50’s detailing the deployment and return of Filipino Soldiers to and from Korea.





The Author:

CDR Mark R Condeno is the Liaison Officer, Foreign Armed Forces Attaché Corps, International Affairs Directorate. He was briefly the Research Officer of the Office of the Naval Historian, Philippine Navy in 2007 and Current Projects Consultant of the Maritime Historical Branch of the Fleet-Marine Warfare Center, Philippine Navy. He holds a BS Degree in Architecture from Palawan State University. He is a 1997 Graduate of the Basic Naval Reserve Officers Training Course, Philippine Navy and with the Bravo Class of 1999 Philippine Coast Guard Auxiliary Officer’s Indoctrination Course. He also took up the Aerospace Power Course from the Air University, United States Air Force in 2002.

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