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Philippine Navy History

1939-1941: The Off Shore Patrol (OSP)

Filipino maritime skills were further developed during the American era. Even when the insurgents were still carrying out their guerrilla war, the Americans created the Bureau of Coast Guard and Transportation for the maintenance of peace and order, the transportation of constabulary troops, and the guarding of the coastline against smuggling. Many Filipino seamen were integrated in the bureau and others were employed in other naval-related divisions of agencies such as the Bureau of Customs and Immigration, Bureau of Island and Inter-island Transportation, Bureau of Coast and Geodetic Survey, and Bureau of Lighthouses.

Earlier, the Americans had reopened the Escuela Nautica de Manila (later renamed Philippine Nautical School) where training methods from the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, were gradually introduced. Annapolis itself accepted its first Filipino recruit in 1919. Filipinos were also enlisted to the US Navy, as they had been before to the Spanish navy.

As a result, Filipinos began to imbibe the American naval tradition. They also learned US naval doctrine, which a great grandson of Emilio Aguinaldo, Annapolis-trained Lt. Joseph Abaya of the Philippine Navy described as "power projection, projecting the flag as something intrinsic to the navy mission."

The making of the naval defense doctrine seems to have been carried out in earnest during the Commonwealth Government. However, since the clouds of war had started to appear at that time due to the first stirrings of Japanese expansionism, the Commonwealth Government of Manuel L. Quezon started office with frayed nerves.

President-elect Manuel L. Quezon turned to the United States for help. In the summer of 1935, he induced his friend, General Douglas MacArthur, then Chief of Staff of the US Army, to become the military adviser to the new government in its effort to organize a national army. President Roosevelt's consent was readily obtained and arrangements quickly concluded. MacArthur, on completion of his extended tour of duty as Chief of Staff, US Army, in 1935 went to Manila as US Military Adviser to the Philippine Government. This activity, open to him as a retired US Army officer, was in harmony with the long-term program for Philippine independence in 1946 as laid down by Congress in 1934. General MacArthur's mission in his own words was not only that "of preparing the Commonwealth for independent defense by 1946, but also the mission given me by President Roosevelt, so to coordinate its development as to be utilizable to the maximum possible during the transitory period while the United States has the obligations of sovereignty."

General MacArthur selected Majors Dwight D. Eisenhower and James B. Ord as his principal assistants. With the aid of a special committee from the Army War College, they prepared a plan to provide the Philippine Commonwealth with a system of national security by 1946, the date the Islands would become independent. This plan called for a small regular army, a conscription system, a 10-year training program of 2 classes a year to build up a reserve force, a small air force, and a fleet of small motor torpedo boats to repel an enemy landing. The first legislative measure of the Philippine National Assembly was the passage, on 21 December 1935, of the National Defense Act, which embodied the plan proposed by General MacArthur.

The defense of the coast line posed an extremely difficult problem. The National Defense Act made provision for an air force, to be utilized primarily for coast defense. By 1946 the Commonwealth expected to have a fleet of approximately 100 fast bombers, supported by other tactical types. They would be used with the Off Shore Patrol to keep hostile craft away from the Philippine coast.

The National Defense Act made no provision for a navy but established in the army an Off Shore Patrol (OSP). This organization was to consist of fast motor torpedo boats of a British design. Contracts for 36 of these vessels, to be completed by 1946, were placed with British shipbuilders under specifications that called for a boat 65 feet long, with a 13-foot beam, 3 12-cylinder engines, and a speed of 41 knots. Armament would consist of 2 torpedo tubes, depth charges, and light antiaircraft guns. "A relatively small fleet of such vessels," said General MacArthur, "... will have distinct effect in compelling any hostile force to approach cautiously and by small detachments."

The basic concepts which determined the nature and organization of the Commonwealth military establishment were perhaps best explained by MacArthur himself. The underlying principle, he said in a speech in 1936, was to create a defensive force of such strength as to make an invasion so costly in lives and money that "no Chancellory in the World, if it accepts the opinions of the military and naval staffs, will ever willingly make an attempt to willfully attack the Philippines . . . ."

The absence of a battle fleet in the plan of defense, MacArthur explained, was due to the defensive mission of the military establishment. The major duty of a large navy, he pointed out, was to protect overseas possessions. For the Philippines, which had no colonies, the only naval task was that of inshore defense. This defense would be provided by "flotillas of fast torpedo boats, supported by an air force," whose task would be to deny the enemy an opportunity to bring its forces close enough to Philippine shores to debark his troops and supplies. All these preparations, he believed, would, by 1946, place the Islands "in a favorable posture of defensive security."

The national defense plan was quickly adopted by Congress and signed by the President, but not after being subjected to the crucible of public debate which revolved mainly around its alleged poor insights on Philippine naval defense requirements. MacArthur's defense plan, which became Commonwealth Act No. I, called for the establishment of the Philippine Army. Some thought it had discounted the critical need to have an effective air force and navy in order to ward off invaders even before they touched land. Although the plan called for the formation of the OSP as the marine division of the Army, it would be formed mainly from the ranks of reservists.

Critics of the plan were not impressed. Joseph Ralston Hayden, the vice-governor general, disagreed that the motor boat patrol and army bombers would be able to deny the use of territorial waters to hostile surface craft. "That a relatively small fleet of armed speed boats would be a serious problem for the Japanese navy is, at least, doubtful," he said, adding that such craft could not operate effectively in rough waters. Most important, the plan, according to Hayden, had no regard for the possibility of a worthy strategic naval defense for an archipelagic country. He said, "The main coastline of Luzon could logically repulse any external force, but the remaining two-thirds of the archipelago, considering its inadequate defense, would be predisposed to easy predatory attacks."

Camilo Osias of the National Assembly summed up the critique on the MacArthur-Quezon defense plan. "In order to have adequate national defense," he said, "you must have defense ashore, afloat and aloft."

Despite the objections the plan proceeded according to MacArthur's suggestions. On 9 February 1939, the OSP was organized with headquarters located at Muelle Del Codo, Port Area, and Manila. It was headed by 1st Lieutenant Jose V Andrada, a graduate of the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Initially, the OSP was assigned with 3 US Navy Motor Torpedo Boats, christened the Luzon (Q-111; an 83-footer), the Abra (Q-112; a 65-footer) and the Agusan (Q-113; another 65-footer).

The program for the building of a fleet of motor torpedo boats did not progress well. Only 2 had been delivered by the end of 1939 when the war in Europe destroyed any hope of securing additional boats from England. An effort was made to produce the torpedo boats locally by purchasing the engines and the right to build from the British design, but by October 1941 only one boat had been completed. Meanwhile, with the assistance of the US Navy, the training of boatmen and mechanics continued.

On 9 January 1941, the OSP Training School was organized with Captain Marcelo S Castelo as its first Commandant. It offered courses in torpedoes, depth charges, communications, seamanship, engineering and operations of gasoline engines in consonance with the characteristics and capabilities of the Q-Boats, as the British torpoedo boats were called.

The 1 February 1941 letter to General Marshall, in which he thus recites his aim, may be regarded as the real reopening of General MacArthur's wholehearted relationship with the US Army, as distinguished from that with his immediate employer of the previous 3 years, the Philippine Government. General MacArthur's 1 February 1941 letter took up an enterprise entirely new to the US War Department planning to date. It recapitulated his own ambitious program for the Commonwealth's ultimate 1946 defense forces, to include 30 reserve divisions plus special combat troops, the whole ground force of 250,000 scheduled to be 50 percent complete in 1941, plus a balanced air corps and a naval corps "whose primary striking element will consist of from 30 to 50 high-speed motor torpedo boats." This considerable establishment was projected "within the limitations of finances, to provide an adequate defense at the beach against a landing operation by an expeditionary force of 100,000, which is estimated to be the maximum initial effort of the most powerful potential enemy."

To that end General MacArthur subsequently explained, there was in ultimate contemplation a defense not only of the Manila Bay area (as envisaged by Orange Plan) or even of all Luzon, but of Luzon and the Visayan Islands as a "homogeneous unit" establishable by blocking the straits leading to its inland seas and thereby leaving those waters free for movement of friendly ships. The blocks were to be effected by mines and coast defense guns supported by the torpedo boats. The air and sea components of the force which General MacArthur contemplated were "merely in their infancy," with 2 torpedo boats on hand and a total of 42 planes.

Possibly no military plan for the defense of an archipelago such as the Philippine Islands could have had serious prospects of success against a determined enemy with a powerful fleet without great reliance on more effective naval support than that provided by patrol boats alone. The Philippine Government had neither the industrial capacity nor the wealth to build and support a navy which could compete with that of a first class naval power such as Japan. President Quezon had frankly admitted this in November 1935. Such naval support could come only from the United States. No provision, it was true, had been made in the Tydings-McDuffie Act for the use by the US Navy of naval bases in the Islands after 1946. Still, such a possibility had not been specifically denied and it was undoubtedly believed that arrangements for their use would be made at a later date. Certainly, the Philippine Government did not anticipate that the United States would stand idly by if the security of the Philippines was threatened.

During World War II Japanese planes bombed the OSP Headquarters on 23 December 1941. The Base Commander burned the base before Japanese troops entered Manila. The naval forces of the Philippines once again disappeared under an occupation, to be resurrected at the end of the Second World War.

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