the Spanish-American War, the Philippine Islands became
United States Territory. Consequently, the Coast and Geodetic Survey
followed the American flag and commenced providing this vast archipelago
with modern nautical charts. An assignment in the Philippines was
the great defining experience of a lifetime for many young officers.
Nothing in their American background prepared them for the kaleidoscopic
melange of cultures, terrain, flora, and fauna that was the Philippine
Islands. Over 7,000 islands were spread over an area equal to half
that of the United States. The northern islands were overlain with
Spanish culture while the Southern islands were predominantly Muslim.
Besides these major cultural units, there were numerous tribes and
over 100 dialects with which to contend.
Coast and Geodetic Survey ships based in Manila but sailed out to
all of the outlying islands. Cebu, Zamboanga, Puerto Princesa, and
even Sandakan in Borneo knew the Coast and Geodetic Survey ships.
They sailed over and charted the azure seas of the Philippines - the
Sibuyan, the Visayan, the Bohol, the Celebes, and the Sulu. The small
ships braved the typhoons that regularly visit this corner of the
world, sometimes with near disastrous results. The shore parties put
up with: frequent earthquakes; the occasional volcanic eruption; mangrove
swamps; razor-sharp coral rocks; head-high sawgrass; surf that up-ended
launches and skiffs; and an endless succession of high mountains covered
with dense jungle on all of the larger islands. The common feature
of the local fauna was that most species wanted to jump on, bite,
eat, poison, or in some other way harm the surveyors that came into
their environment. Poison cone shells, sea snakes, and various venomous
fish frequented the reefs; king cobras approaching 18 feet in length
lived on the southern islands; pythons approaching 30 feet in length
inhabited the jungles; and huge saltwater crocodiles posed a constant
threat to the surveyors while they worked in the southern islands.
Malaria, typhoid fever, dysentery, and other tropical diseases were
constant companions of the surveyors. And occasionally a hostile populace
would attempt mayhem on unsuspecting surveyors.
all of this the Coast and Geodetic Survey labored for the forty years
prior to the Second World War. Fortunately for American armed forces,
the Survey had virtually finished surveying the islands prior to the
outbreak of hostilities. As such, Coast and Geodetic Survey charts,
tide predictions, and tidal current predictions were an intrinsic
part of American planning and tactical operations in the retaking
of the Philippines. To the credit of the American surveyors, they
trained local engineers in their techniques and methods. Just prior
to the war there were numerous native officers being trained to take
over the functions of the Survey. Following the war and the advent
of Philippine independence, there was a trained cadre of officers
and technicians able to smoothly step in and take over the operations
of the Survey.
join the Coast and Geodetic Survey adventures in the Philippine Islands.
Over 170 images chronicle the role of the Survey in charting the waters
of this beautiful archipelago.