by Alan ‘Frapper’ Lehman
HMAS DERWENT 1976
We all know the fun of a visit to Olongapo, Subic Bay in the Philippines. Many a story has been told of exploits in Olongapo. Stories regarding the Crocodile in the main Street out front of Paulines (Magsaysay Drive), stories of the Period of Marshall Law in the Philippines and stories of the Bargirls, especially the ones in (THE JOLO BAR), where anything goes. The memories are flooding back.
It was a Saturday around lunch time and Bummer Briggs (yes, Bummer again) and myself were going back on board for a little rest and change of clothes after an all nighter in Olongapo. Once we had walked back on board, the Boatswains Mate informed us that all leave (Liberty) was cancelled and the ship was under sailing orders due to an approaching Typhoon. It was called Typhoon Pitang and it was a Super Typhoon with sustained winds of 260 km/h. It mainly affected the Northern Luzon area of the Philippines. We were located in central Luzon, but as the Typhoon approached us from the Pacific, nobody knew for sure which way it was going to move.
There were a lot of warships berthed in Subic Bay at the time, but one of those, the Aircraft Carrier USS Ranger was the senior ship in port and as such was in charge of the rest of us.
Ranger directed that all ships would sail and ride out the Typhoon at sea. Warships tend to get smashed around in port during big storms.
Bummer and myself went down below and started complaining about the fact that we could not go ashore again and were heading out to sea into a raging Typhoon. That’s when an idea began to form in my head. Australian warships at the time used to run a short leave card which was placed into a board with pigeon holes arranged alphabetically. When you left the ship your card was placed into the relevant pigeon hole and when you come back on board, you collected your card from the pigeon holes. This indicated to the gangway staff who was on board and who was off the ship.
My plan was to somehow get off the ship, but we had to get our short leave cards back into the pigeon holes first. I left that up to Bummer, he was a devious individual and if anybody could do it, he could. Whilst this was happening, I procured a Jacobs Ladder (rope ladder with wooden slats for your feet). Up near the bow of our ship a Painting lighter had been tied to us so that sailors could paint the side of the ship. It was still there and using the Jacobs ladder we could climb down to the lighter and then climb up the wharf and then head back into town. I had a friend who pulled up the ladder for us after we had exited the ship. Good plan I thought and it worked a treat, and before we knew it, we were back in Olongapo. We headed for the American Legion Outpost.
The American Legion has Outposts all over the world and Focuses on service to veterans, service members and communities, the Legion evolved from a group of war-weary veterans of World War I into one of the most influential non-profit groups in the United States. The Post Four Legion in Olongapo had a bar and restaurant and a limited number of Bargirls. You could get American Beer and good old fashioned American Meals at the Outpost.
Once inside we met some American Veterans who lived in the Philippines and they had a phone link to USS Ranger and kept us up to date on the preparations for all ships to sail. Whilst we were there drinking, Naval Security vehicles were driving around Olongapo using a loud hailer ordering all sailors to report back to their ships. Technically you could say that we disobeyed the Naval Security patrol orders, but my hearing wasn’t the best.
Needless to say, the Typhoon veered away to the north and ships did not have to sail after all. Myself and Bummer had another night in exciting Olongapo.