The Ageless Warriors of the Philippine Navy! WW2 ships still serving in 2021!*

If you like World War 2 US Navy ships (and EVERYONE does!) then the new Republic of the Philippines Navy (PN) pages we just loaded are essential reading. The Shipsearcher Identification Section (SIS) have documented many navies that had long-service ships in their active fleets, but this one is exceptional. Up until very recently, a large number of the PN’s fleet were composed of wartime hulls! Notable amongst these veterans are Landing Ship Tanks, a Cannon Class destroyer escort, and a nice flotilla of patrol corvettes.

BRP Rajah Humabon PS-11 cannon-class DDE, 2010 DVIDS
BRP Rajah Humabon PS-11, participating in the USN-Philippine Navy Exercise Balikatan 2010. This destroyer escort, originally commissioned as USS Atherton DE-169 in 1943, served more than 75 years US Navy 1347033 PO3 Mark Alvarez

BRP Rajah Humabon Cannon-class Manila Philippines 2010

To put this active service in perspective, very few of the plankowners (first crewmembers) of these ships are still with us today. These simple designs were churned out in an assembly-line process in shipyards on both coasts to meet vital wartime needs and replace early losses. Newly commissioned, these ships were present at some of the epic amphibious landings of the Second World War, patrolled in both Pacific and Atlantic theatres, escorted vital convoys, were attacked by enemy forces, and were credited with the destruction of enemy units. Many went on to rack up more battle stars for service in Korea and Vietnam.

PCE-891 building NHHC 194319-N-61177
PCE-891 under construction in 1943 (outboard ship). After service as BRP Pangasinan PS-31, she was finally decommissioned 1 March 2021!  Courtesy of the Naval History and Heritage Command. NARA 19-N-61177.

BRP Pangasinan PS-31 Cavite 2015

Paths to Philippine Navy service took two routes: After USN service and periods in reserve, many units were transferred during the 1960s; Other elderly ships had first been transferred as military aid to the Navy of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam). Their crews and war refugees had fled to Subic Bay after the Fall of Saigon in  early 1975.** These soon joined sister-ships already in PN service.

BRP Laguna LT-501, formerly USS LST-230, which participated at the Normandy landings in June 1944 and Operation Dragoon, the August 1944 landings in the South of France. Credit: 1t0pe125, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

LST 1 class Cavite 2017

By the annals of their wartime records alone, every one of these ships would have been a good candidate for preservation. Sadly, their exploits, so many years ago, are probably little known stateside. Most of these relics wound up at the ship breakers in the last 20 years. A few more were retired, with great fanfare, in March, 2021. Reports suggest the very last of the WW2 wartime fleet will be out of service by the end of this year. That really will be the end of an era.

BRP Malvar
One of the last: BRP Miguel Malvar PS-19, originally USS Brattleboro PCE(R)-852 (1944), which has also served in the Republic of Vietnam Navy as RVN Ngọc Hồi. One of the most decorated ships in Philippine naval history, she recently helped rescue 33 people off the Coast of Langahan Island.  Credit: 1t0pe125, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It isn’t surprising, since this is one of the last navies we intend to document in this project, that we took our time with these pages and sought out as many interesting views as possible. Good imagery loaded into Google Earth for the naval areas around Cavite City/Manila and some of the other far-flung naval stations along the Philippines’ immense coastlines allowed us to document more of the fleet than usual.

USS Redbud AKL-398, originally built as a Buoy Tender for the US Coast Guard in 1943. After USN service she was transferred to the Philippine Navy as BRP Kalinga, now serving with the Coast Guard. Credit: U.S. Navy Bureau of Ships, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

BRP Kalinga AG-89 Manila port 2018

In recent years, the navy has been modernizing and expanding to meet new threats, in an unstable region, by acquiring more capable ships. Two ex-US Coast Guard Hamilton Class High Endurance Cutters have been refitted to become patrol frigates and to train crews in the operation of (sort-of) modern warships. The navy is no longer making-do with ships transferred after long service elsewere, either. Two Rizal class frigates, heavily modified version of the Korean-built Incheon class, and two large Tarlac Class Amphibious Warfare Ships have recently entered service. This is our 48th navy documented through satellite imagery. Please check out the pages for more interesting ship histories and an almost encyclopedic series of satellite views of this remarkable navy, and enjoy!

New technology purpose-built for the PN: BRP Jose Rizal (2020). Credit: Philippine Navy, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

*Yes, we know “Ageless Warrior” is the nickname of the USS Coral Sea CV-43.

**We explored this story in our recent post, about the People’s Army of Vietnam Navy, where other RVN units were captured and put into Vietnamese service.

The People’s Army of Vietnam Navy (PAVN)

The Vietnamese navy, officially the People’s Army of Vietnam Navy (PAVN), is the 45th navy documented by the Shipsearcher Identification Section (SIS). The variety of ships, as well as the extraordinary breadth of service of some of the units, makes the PAVN page a must-see, and adds 21 ship types and 35 Google Earth captures to the project!

PAVN improved Gepard frigate Lý Thái Tổ HQ-012. Credit: Alisé Kim, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

One constant of the PAVN fleet, from its origins as a tiny force of patrol and torpedo boats of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam), has been the wide range of Russian designs that have served. Many of the same types of ubiquitous Soviet warships that were traded or sold to client states and other navies not aligned to the West found a home here: Soviet Osa missile boats, Tarantul corvettes, minesweepers, and Petya class light frigates. 

PAVN Osa II Haiphong 2021
An older OSA II missile boat near Haiphong.
PAVN Vietnamese_Navy_Petya_II_Class_Frigate_(HQ-15)
PAVN Petya II class frigate HQ-15 ca. Credit: Hoangprs5, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

An unusual feature of the navy is that it also includes ships from the other side of the old Cold War divide. There are a number of former US Navy ships now leaving PAVN service after very long careers. These are relics of the lost Republic of Vietnam Navy (RVNN-South Vietnam). During the lengthy US engagement in Vietnam, the US loaned or transferred older ships to the the Republic as part of the massive amount of military assistance.

Three Barnegat class seaplane tenders, rearmed as frigates, serving in the South Vietnamese Navy. After WW2 service in the USN, they had been transferred to the US Coast Guard, then transferred to the RVNN. Out of the seven units transferred, six escaped. These 3 ships were then transferred to the Philippine Navy. RVNS Phạm Ngũ Lão (HQ-15) was captured by the North Vietnamese forces, and served at least until the late 1990s as a hulk. It’s ultimate disposal is unclear. Via wikipedia, source unknown.

Jane’s Fighting Ships editions from the early 1970s reveal the extent of the former USN units in the RVNN: Two Destroyer escorts, seven seaplane tenders armed as frigates, Admirable and Adjutant class minesweepers, patrol craft, and a wide range of landing ships, including six Landing Ship Tanks (LSTs) that had seen service in both European and Pacific theatres of World War Two. Some sources even mention that the RVNN fleet of the early 1970s was the 10th largest navy in the World. 

RVNN Vietnamese Minesweeper Wreck AWM
RVNN patrol ship HQ-116 RVNS Bạch Đằng II grounded, ca. 1970 near the mouth of the Cua Viet River. This US-built wooden Adjutant class minesweeper like two other examples, was transferred direct to Vietnam, in 1959. Copyright Australian War Memorial Anthony Leonard Ey, RAN collection P11391.015

In April 1975, as the military situation in South Vietnam collapsed, and the North broke through all Southern defences to encircle the capital, Saigon, elements of the RVNN, with as many as 30,000 refugees, fled to Subic Bay, Philippines.* What could not be evacuated or scuttled was captured, and many of these units were incorporated into the PAVN, leading to a unique influx of RVNN, ex-USN “Prizes of War.”

PAVN LST MK 2 Ho Chi Minh City 2020

Four years later, the Soviet Union traded the PAVN more modern ships for a 25-year lease to make use of the port at Cam Ranh Bay (The Russian Pacific Fleet presence would last until 2002). The 1980s were not kind to this disparate fleet, with speculation on widespread decay “rust-out” and inoperability of much of the PAVN.

Turya Hydrofoils Da Nang 2017
After the prolonged period of decay, the remarkable thing about the PAVN may be that so many elderly Soviet Osa missile boats, Turya hydrofoil torpedo boats, and Shershen TBs continue to serve on into the 2020s!

Shershen class Ha Tou vietnam 2020

In recent years, the decline has been reversed, as antique ships were disposed of, old ships were refitted, and more capable units were acquired. A 1997 purchase of two odd little North Korean “Yugo” mini-submarines helped train crews for bigger, better boats: a force of six Russian built improved-Kilo attack boats came into service starting in 2013. This regionally-powerful submarine service mostly patrols out of Cam Ranh Bay. The Russian influence continues with modern, capable types, such as Molniya upgraded missile corvettes and new Gepard class frigates.

Two PAVN kilo class submarines. Credit: Trinhvan21, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

PAVN Kilo Class SSN Cam Ranh Bay 2020

When you add in the new classes of indigenous-built patrol vessels, auxiliaries and landing ships (with designs mostly from the Dutch firm Damen), to replace the worn-out Soviet and American-built hulls, you have one pretty special navy! We hope you enjoy our pages, where, as always, we try to track down as many different PAVN ship types as possible.Damen Roro 5612 Da Nang building 2019

*The RVNN ships that arrived at Subic Bay (with US military assistance) hauled down their flags, became American ships again, and then were promptly handed over, mostly to the Philippines, where some were incorporated into the navy, and will be featured in an upcoming page.