History of RMN


Compiled by : Choo K.C. (RO) (1-11-2011)

This article, researched and written by the late Captain (Rtd) Khoo Tee Chuan  (Lt. Cdr. 1968 then) is the only existing well documented history of the Royal Malaysian Navy from its inception to 1968.  Most importantly it offers a rare glimpse into its formative years and its close association with the British Royal Navy and the Singapore Naval Force (SNF).

The late Captain Khoo Tee Chuan  had just passed away a few years back and it is an honour to have this website publish this extremely rare historical document.


On 28th April, 1934, the Straits Settlements Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (SSRNVR) was formed under the command of Commander L.A.W. Johnson, RN, with a complement of 25 officers and 150 ratings. Shore training was carried out once weekly in a part of the drill hall of the Singapore Volunteer Corps (SVC) headquarters at Beach Road and sea training was carried out in His Excellency the Governor’s yacht SEA BELLE II.

In 1936, HMS LABURNUM, a British Flower sloop hitherto on loan to the Royal New Zealand Navy was presented by the British Admiralty to the Singapore Government. She was steamed to Singapore by an RNZN ship’s company and was berthed at Telok Ayer Basin (TAB). The end of the quay and the godown at TAB had since been the headquarters of the SSRNVR until the fall of Singapore in 1942.

In 1937, ML PANGLIMA, a 75-foot motor launch similar to ML PAHLAWAN which was already in service was built in Singapore by Messrs. Thornycroft Ltd. The PAHLAWAN and the PANGLIMA were used for sea training of SSRVNR officers and ratings.

At the outbreak of World War II in 1939, SSRNVR personnel were called up for full time service.  At the same time the British Government decided to strengthen the strategically important base of Singapore by raising the Malay section of the Royal Navy (later popularity and familiarly referred to as “The Malay Navy” were all loaned by the Admiralty while the ratings, all Malays, were recruited mainly into the Seaman and  Communications branches for service in minesweepers and patrol craft.

In 1941 the Straits Settlements Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (SSRNVR) became the Singapore Division of the Malayan Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (MRNVR).

Japan entered the war in 1941 at a time when Britain was desperately engaged in the west. During the two-month Malayan campaign personnel of the MRNVR and “The Malay Navy” were distributed amongst more than a hundred minesweepers and patrol craft under the operational command of the Captain Auxiliary Vessels, Royal Navy. The Malayan campaign took a heavy toll on local navy personnel. The majority of the officers of “The Malay Navy”, including Lt. Cdr. Vickers, and a hundred men died on active service and about  the same number were reported missing; one hundred and fifty men of “The Malay Navy” were evacuated from Singapore in February, 1942, and after seeing service in Ceylon, East Africa and India, returned to Malaya with the liberating forces in September, 1945. During the evening of 13th February, 1942, HMS LABURNUM was sunk. That same evening the Royal Navy, “The Malay Navy” and the MRNVR carried out major evacuation operations. Only nine of the 61 ships manned by MRNVR personnel which broke out of Singapore, got through to Sumatra and Java and then to Australia of Colombo. The MRNVR lost 173 officers and ratings in an encounter with Japanese cruisers in the Banka area; of these 53 were known to have been killed and the remainder reported missing. ML PANGLIMA was sunk off Singapore whilst evacuating military personnel from Singapore in February, 1942.

Prior to Singapore’s liberation by Allied Forces, HMS LABURNUM was raised and by the addition of two funnels was used as a decoy against Allied bombers. She was again sunk and her hull now lies ahead of a line of hulls off the former Royal Singapore Yacht Club Lagoon.

After liberation “The Malay Navy” was re-formed in September, 1945. Personnel were at first accommodated in a section of the former Indian Transit Camp on the Singapore Race Course. In December, 1945, they were moved to the barracks at Pulau Blakang Mati. By end of 1946 about 650 men reported back for duty, many with exciting tales to tell of their experiences. However, post-war financial stringency caused the British Labour Government, with the greatest reluctance to disband “The Malay Navy”. Orders for demobilization were received in February, 1947, and disbandment was completed in early April 1947.

In the meantime, in early April, 1947, the MRNVR was re-formed under the command of Commander (later Captain) F.E.W. Lammert, CBE, DSC, VRD,  MRNVR. Regular parades again took place at the SVC  headquarters at Beach Road.

On 5th September, 1948, MFV PANGLIMA, a 90-foot motor fishing vessel built in England in 1944 for the Royal Navy and the second craft to bear the illustrious name of PANGLIMA, was presented to the Singapore Government as a replacement for the first PANGLIMA for practical sea training of the MRNVR officers and rating. In the meantime in December, 1948, the Malayan Navy Force (MNF) was raised by the Singapore Government as the colony’s contribution towards the defense of the Malayan Peninsula, the nucleus of the MNF was provided by former members of “The Malay Navy”.

During 1950 and 1951 MFV PANGLIMA in company with other ships of the RMNVR, motor launches of the Marine Police and Seaward Defense Motor Launches (SDML) of the MNF, carried out anti-bandit patrols in the Johore River and off the Pengarang Peninsula.

Japanese Minelayer HIJMS WAKATAKA

On 27th January, 1951, a new HMS LABURNUM was named by Lady Gimson, wife of the Governor of Singapore, Sir Franklin Gimson, KCMG, This was the former 1,890-ton Japanese minelayer WAKATAKA which was launched in 1942 and flagship of Japanese vessels. She was captured by the Royal Navy who in turn presented her to the Singapore Government.  After modification and refit the new HMS LABURNUM berthed at TAB, became the headquarters of the MRNVR until 31st August, 1967.

In the meantime, in 1952, Her Majesty the Queen, in recognition of its services in action off the Malayan peninsula, had granted the MNF the title of Royal Malayan Navy (which was still controlled and financed by the Singapore Government).

Like the majority of other wooden craft built in England in 1944, MFV PANGLIMA’s hull was not suited to the tropical waters and before long she came to the end of her useful life. So in 1954 the keel of the third vessel to bear the illustration name of PANGLIMA was laid in the shipyard of Messrs. United Engineers Ltd. She was launched as HMS PANGLIMA on 14th January 1956 by Lady Black, wife of the Governor of Singapore Sir Robert Black, KCMG, OBE. HMS PANGLIMA, with a 117 foot fairmile type hull, has a beam of 20 feet and a draught of 7 feet, her hull is built of Siam teak and Malayan hardwood with steel and light alloy. Besides the captain’s cabin she has living accommodation of 9 officers and 39 ratings. She was completed and commissioned in May, 1956.

KD Panglima

The MRNVR was honoured by the visit of two VIPs in April, 1958. Mr. J.B.L Thomas, the First Lord of the Admiralty on 17th April and Admiral of the Fleet Earl Mountbatten of Burma, the First Sea Lord on 21st April.1957 was a year of consolidation for the Singapore Division of the MRNVR. The year also saw the formation of the object of training women between the ages of 18 and 35 in all aspects of naval shore duties so that their male counterparts could be released for deployment at sea in time of war.

Captain Lammert who had assumed command of the Division since April, 1947, relinquished his appointment at his own request on 31st December 1957. He was succeeded by Captain R. S. Tuffnell, CBE, VRD MRNVR who remained in command from 1st January 1958 until his departure from Singapore. In the meantime the RMN was administratively and operationally transferred from the Singapore Government to the Government of the Federation of Malaya on 1st July, 1958. The Federation Government assumed full financial responsibility for the RMN on 1st January, 1959. On 1st November, 1960, Captain R. G. Banks, OBE, VRD, MRNVR assumed command of the Singapore Division of the MRNVR.

1962 saw much planning and deliberations as a result of political discussions for the merger between Singapore and Malaya to be followed by the formation of a greater Malaysia to include Sarawak and British North Borneo. Eventually the Federation of Malaysia was formed on 16th September, 1963 and Singapore became a state with Malaysia, on that date the RMN came to be known as the ROYAL MALAYSIAN NAVY and the Selangor and Penang Divisions of the MRNVR became the respective Divisions of the RMNVR (Royal Malaysian Naval Volunteer Reserve). At an impressive ceremony held on 22nd September, 1963, the Singapore Division of MRNVR was formally transferred from the command of the Royal Navy to that of the Royal Malaysian Navy, becoming the Singapore Division of the RMNVR. HMS LABURNUM, HMS PANGLIMA and HMS PANJI (a 60 foot ex-RAF pinnacle) were re-commissioned as K.D. SINGAPURA, K.D. PANGLIMA and K.D. PANJI respectively.

From October, 1963 Indonesian ‘Confrontation’ forced the pace of RMN expansion. This expansion was not enough to cope with the treat and reservists from all three RMNVR Divisions were called up for fulltime service. In January, 1964 four officers from KD SINGAPURA were called up to fill important billets. In April, 1964 KD PANGLIMA, was put on seaward defence patrols in the Singapore Strait. Throughout the period of ‘Confrontation’ many more officers and ratings were called up for full-time service.

On 22nd September, 1964 Captain Banks was succeeded as Commanding Officer by Captain A.C.D. Leach, DSC, RMNVR.

On 29th July, 1965 His Majesty the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and the Raja Permaisuri Agong paid an official visit to KD SINGAPURA. This was the first visit of the Division by members of the Malayan Royal Families and especially historic as being the first and last visit to Singapore by the monarch who on the occasion wore the uniform of an Admiral of the Royal Malaysian Navy.

On 9th August, 1965 Singapore separated from Malaysia and became an independent sovereign nation within the Commonwealth. A transitional period was allowed by both the Singapore and Malaysian governments before the Singapore Division was handed back.

By agreement with the Malaysian Government and by virtue of The Singapore Naval Volunteers Ordinance, 1966, the Singapore Division of the RMNVR became the Singapore Naval Volunteers (SNV) on 1st February, 1966 and its vessels (except KD PANGLIMA) were re-commissioned as Republic of Singapore Ships (RSS). They wore the Singapore Marine Ensign at the ensign staff and the Singapore State flag at the Jackstaff. KD SINGAPURA (the SNV headquarter ship) and the BEDOK (a Police patrol craft taken over by SNV in 1966) became RSS SINGAPURA and RSS BEDOK respectively. Command of the SNV and its ships was transferred from the Malaysian Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) to the Singapore Ministry of the Interior and Defence (MID). KD PANGLIMA and all personnel called up for service in the RMN, however, remained under the command of the Chief of the Naval Staff of the RMN.

In a signal bearing date-time-group 310835Z Jan. 68, the Chief of the Naval Staff sent the following message to KD SINGAPURA:


Our ties with the SNF are close despite these rather drastic changes that have taken place. Some of us in the RMN have served together with SNF personnel during World War II against the common enemy, the majority of us have known each other in the days of Indonesian ‘Confrontation’.

source (with permission)  http://rmncomms.webs.com/history.htm