SINGAPORE IN THE 1970's and 1980's

ONE MAN'S EXPERIENCE OF HIS TIME IN THE BASE, WHEN, FOR THE MOST PART, WE HAD GIVEN UP THE BASE as being redundant to our East of Suez modus operandi!

As such, I consider it a bonus to my other mentions of the  Singapore Base, stories of pre, extant in its day and post British presence, which can be found by first going to this page

then scrolling down to the SEARCHING FOR INFORMATION ON MY SITE  function

Key in the word SINGAPORE into my Google [] search box, reading and Okaying any pop-up instructions, which although annoying do have useful steerage information.

First off then, I was contacted 'out of the blue' by a gentleman called Bernard MANNELL, an ex-MOD [NAVY] Civilian, one of those gentlemen who were part of that large phalanx of civilians based ashore and also serving at sea in RFA's who kept the navy supplied, functional and war-ready. His email, which I will use as the body of this page for the most part verbatum, has great historical detail/value,  as well as giving us a good insight into the crucially important function of MOD [Navy] civilians which few of us would dare to claim that the navy fully understood.

Bernard has also included with his missive, a picture he took of my ship, HMS Tiger [C20] Commanded by Captain S.A.C. Cassels CBE R.N., and carrying the Flag of FOF2 {Flag Officer Flotillas 2} Rear Admiral Martin La Touche Wemyss, entering the old Singapore Naval Base [SNB], specifically navigating into the entrance of the [SB] Stores Basin in 1978, at that time controlled and administered as shown in Bernard's missive. Thank you Bernard for your picture, a picture I didn't have and for which I am grateful. The mainland of Malaysia [formerly Malaya] can be seen in the background. The journey to the open sea and also to the City/Port of Singapore proper is on the right exit, a distance of some 12 miles or so. To the left [there is no exit] at a goodly distance is the road causeway connecting the island of  Singapore to the Malaysia mainland at a place called Johor Bahru.

To give you a realistic understanding of what the [SB] looked like and the types/sizes of vessels it could accommodate, here is a picture from 1969/1970 of my ship, the Frigate HMS Rothesay [F107] commanded by Commander D N O'Sullivan R.N.,  having a ships' complement group photograph taken during a spell in harbour before we sailed for a six week spell on Beira Patrol duty. I am shown arrowed.

The basin is fully open to the sea [The Johor Bahru Straits fed by the South China Sea] and was long and wide,  modelled as a large deep rectangle. In the picture, Rothesay, in the left foreground alongside another frigate with an inquisitive onlooker taking it all in {!} with other frigates behind her to seaward [and possibly other frigates ahead of her and Rothesay] gives some idea of the width of the basin when two good-sized frigates side by side takes up only a small section of the overall width. In the background on the right is a large LPD [Landing Platform Dock], an amphibious vessel, either the Fearless or the Intrepid, both measuring  520 feet long by 80 foot wide and displacing over 12.000 tons, sporting a generous draught of 21 feet so large ships by any standard and yet using up a relatively small area of the basin. Certainly there is ample room for another large vessel, possibly a capital ship, but in the absence of such a vessel, many more berths for heavy guided missile destroyers and frigates.

  On Beira Patrol <>  & after our 'Faith' 'Hope' and 'Charity' Patrol stations, which were geographically assigned areas, one in the "hot seat" searching for and stopping ships bound for Beira called HOPE; one in the R&R [rest and recreational]  mode with a [SM] self-maintenance opportunity called CHARITY, and one in the standby-mode called FAITH. The ship in the standby-mode [next on for the hot seat] and the ship in R&R vied for the Bucket involving several feats of physical endurance to conquer the crew of the other competing vessel.

After Beira we went south to the Cape visiting Simons Town for a good R&R stop over hosted by the SAN [South African Navy]. The SAN also had Rothesay-class frigates so we provided them with a good and realistic sea training period. After sailing northbound into the South Atlantic with just one stop over at Freetown in Sierra Leone for fuel until we arrived at Gibraltar, we were tasked as the sole British possible/probable SAR [Search and Rescue] vessel for the hapless Apollo 13 mission. You may recall that she was an early moonshot space mission but on approaching the moon her landing was aborted because of explosions affecting oxygen cyclinders in the landing-module. She had an emergency return to earth and it wasn't known whether her splash-down would be in the Indian Ocean or the South Atlantic but all efforts of a recovery were targeted east or west of South Africa. The bet was East in the Indian Ocean, but just in case we, the little old Rothesay, were placed on full standby just in case Apollo 13 over-shot the predicted splash-down area. It didn't and fortunately the very large USS Iwo Jima, a helicopter amphibious ship was on station and picked up the Apollo 13 crew rapidly and without a casualty.  So ended an international crisis.

Before I return to the core subject, I spent getting on for four years East of Suez with a little bit of time in Ceylon;  some time in the Persian Gulf; time in Australia in submarines; a long time in submarines based on Singapore [HMS Medway/HMS Forth depot ships]; time in Hong Kong; time in frigate Rothesay and time in the Cruiser Tiger. They were places I got to know well and for the most part enjoyed, even loved - well some of them anyway!

Now back to Bernard MANNELL Esq.

This is what Bernard had to say about his time East of Suez and his time in the Stores Service per se, providing the support both from land and sea to the Royal Navy, and, seemingly though perhaps implicitly, to other Allied Navies too.

QUOTE  I was a MOD(N) civilian with the former RN Supply & Transport Service (RNSTS) – formed in 1965 by a merger of the former Admiralty Victualling, Naval Stores and Armament Supply Departments.  The RNSTS was disbanded in 1993.  I had a marvellously interesting career including service on RFA Tarbatness 1970-72 (Far East Fleet and Beira Patrol) until Sep 1971 based on the Singapore Naval Base.

My addition to Bernard's story:-


  In 1975 I was posted back to Singapore to the reduced STO(N) naval stores organisation, that closed with the ‘final’ UK withdrawal in March 1975.  However at the last minute the US Navy pressed the UK Government to retain Senoko Oil Fuel Depot (OFD) and two berths in Stores Basin.  I was lucky to remain behind as a quite junior civil servant with the title RNSTO Singapore, in charge of the residual organisation.  I had under me one UK Oil Fuel Depot Engineer and about 25 locally entered Singaporean staff.  There was no RN uniformed presence until a RN Liaison Officer (RNLO – Lt Cdr Norman Bell) was appointed in late 1977. Unfortunately my 3 year tour came to an end, and I departed in March 1978 – a week or so after the attached picture [of Tiger] was taken.  Later in my career I served as the last STO(N) of RFA Stromness (before the ship was sold to the US Navy) for the Falklands operation, but that is another story . . . . .
 My addition to Bernard's story:-

RFA STROMNESS 1982 - Note Bernard's name up in lights!
Thus in fact when you visited in March 1978 the berths in Stores Basin were managed by the RN (in which I include myself as a ‘Naval civilian’), although I can understand that this would not have been readily apparent.  There is much confusion about ANZUK, which lasted only from Nov 1971 to end 1974, the generally accepted ‘ballpark’ ratio of ANZUK Force was 40 Aust/40 UK/20 NZ, although UK provided the largest Naval contribution.  Australia pulled out in 1974 leading to the end of ANZUK.  After that there were separate UK and NZ Force each headed at 1 Star level, until the ‘final’ UK withdrawal in March 1976.  However amazingly the tiny UK organisation has continued to this day, managing Senoko OFD and the ‘retained berths’ on the western side of the Basin.  It is now known as Naval Party 1022.  I went back to Singapore for the first time in February 2014 and was hosted by my successor many times removed – it was uncanny how little the organisation had changed.  Senoko OFD is now entirely surrounded by housing and industrial development.  NZ Force SE Asia incidentally lasted until 1989.  As you will imagine the berths are now mostly used by the US Navy – but the larger USN vessels including the Carriers berth at the Republic of Singapore Navy ‘new’ deep water base at Changi, alongside the new airport.  There is now a considerable US presence at Sembawang (COMLOG WESTPAC) but, probably as a matter of policy, it maintains a low profile.
From about the time of the UK withdrawal in March 1976 NZ Force moved into the Sembawang area, and took over (from UK) the former HMS Terror Sick Bay, as the NZ Force Hospital – I went there a couple of times to be patched up.  Anything more serious I think resulted in referral to a Singapore civil hospital. We sent personnel there from visiting HM Ships and RFAs.  It was still thus when I left in March 1978, but I don’t know whether it lasted right to the NZ withdrawal (1989).  Also on the Terror site was the former RN Officers Club, then operating as a civilian club, but members were finding access increasingly off-putting due to the officious attitude of the Singapore guards at the entrance to the Barracks.  The club eventually moved to the former MOD(N) civilian ‘Dockyard Club’ in Deptford Road leading down to Stores Basin, retaining the name ‘Terror Club’.  The Club is now used by the US Navy (it is walking distance from Stores Basin) – who appear to believe it is actually the former HMS Terror! (The Plunge Pool on the high ground in the middle of the former Dockyard was still there in 1978 next to a helipad used by NZ Force, but the high ground itself is now all gone and the area a flat car park used for vehicle  imports from commercial ships offloading on the other (eastern) side of the Basin. 
I hope you find the foregoing helpful, or at least interesting.
With best wishes
Bernard Mennell UNQUOTE

Thanks Bernard, and I certainly do,  and I have learned much that I didn't know about.

With my very best

Godfrey [Jeff] Dykes
RN 1953-1984