Back in the good old days, one of the highlights of a Western Pacific cruise (Westpac) was liberty in Olongapo City in the Philippines. The Navy’s largest port, outside of the continental United States, was Subic Bay and Olongapo City was a wide open city surrounding the base.
The history of Subic Bay is a long and storied one. Originally built by the Spanish to protect their rule of the Philippines, the base fell into the hands of the U.S. after the Battle of Manila Bay during the Spanish-American War in 1898. After the Philippines became an American Protectorate, the facilities at Subic Bay were expanded and it became an important port for the Far East fleet until the Washington Treaty cuts led to the dismantling of most of the base.
During World War II, Subic Bay – and the rest of the Philippines – was captured and occupied by Japan. The Japanese expanded some of the ship-building facilities at Olongapo, but not successfully. After the end of World War II, the U.S. Navy returned to Subic Bay, but it didn’t become an important port until the Vietnam War made it the closest secure port for naval ships operating against North Vietnam.
During the war, Naval Station Subic Bay became the forward staging area for naval actions. The base expanded and became more important than it ever had. After the war ended, the Navy continued to upgrade the base and used it as a major port for Western Pacific deployments until a volcano eruption in 1991 led to significant damage of the base.
Following the eruption and mass exodus of the military complex, the government of the Philippines failed to ratify the treaty extending the American lease. In 1992, the last ship and personnel left Subic Bay and the Philippines.
The current surge in Chinese adventurism has altered the Philippine desire to rid themselves of the shackles of foreign domination and influence. With a minor navy – composed predominately of older U.S. vessels – and an anemic air force, the Philippines has borne the brunt of Chinese bullying over the last decade.
In 2012, the government agreed to allow U.S. ships to use the port facilities on a non-permanent basis and last year an agreement between the two governments was signed that would allow American ships, planes and personnel to be based in the Philippines for the next 10 years. That agreement is currently under a legal challenge, but if it does pass it will mark the return of the Navy to Subic Bay.
During the mid-eighties, Subic Bay was, for many young sailors, the first place they ever visited outside of the United States. Olongapo City was their first taste of foreign culture. Don’t underestimate how important that idea is. The people who lived in Olongapo were used to sailors and made them feel welcome.
For many of them, it was the first taste of a life-long love of the region.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.
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