Pityilu is one of a chain of small islands extending W from
the Northern tip of Los Negros Island; directly North of the
eastern end of Manus Island, itself a part of the Admiralty
The U.S. Navy's 140th Naval Construction Battalion built an
airstrip on Pityilu beginning in June 1944. It was to care
for one patrol squadron, to service and repair all types of
carrier-based planes, and to provide storage for 350
aircraft, with camp accommodations for 350 officers and
1,400 men. The coral-surfaced runway measured 4,500 by 300
feet, with taxiway and three parking areas. Prefabricated
steel huts were erected for administration, operations, and
shop use. Other facilities included a 7,000-barrel aviation
gasoline tank farm with sea-loading line, one prefabricated
nose hangar, and munitions dumps.
Later, the runway was extended 5500 feet and the parking
areas were increased; the camp was enlarged to accommodate
2,500 men; and the dispensary was developed into a 100-bed
hospital with all facilities. The eastern end of Pityilu
Island was cleared, graded, and made into a fleet recreation
centre to accommodate 10,000 men at one time.
Island is 22 Miles East of Ponam, another small coral Island
with a US Navy airstrip. The US Navy installed Carrier Air Support Unit (CASU) 42
RN use of the airstrip
Unlike the USN airstrip on Ponam, which was transferred on loan to the Admiralty in March 1945, lodger facilities were granted for the British Pacific Fleet (BPF) at USN Airstrip Pityilu. The first use of this was made in late March, when the first operational strikes were carried out by the BPF; the Maintenance Carrier UNICORN put ashore a small test flight for maintenance test flying of airframes repaired onboard.
Since their arrival in the Pacific the BPF had been looking for a suitable site to establish a Forward Aircraft Pool (FAP) but no suitable suite was available. The USN airstrip at Samar in the Philippines was chosen but operational difficulties and a lack of facilities becoming available from the Americans led to these plans being changed; Pityilu in the Admiralty Islands was offered as a compromise solution but they were only able to grant lodger facilities for the RN at Pityilu as the airfield was still in use by the US Navy.
Prior to the granting of this facility a floating FAP had been maintained onboard several of the replenishment CVEs (escort carriers), ARBITER, CHASER, SPEAKER and STRIKER, and the Aircraft Maintenance Carrier UNICORN. A dedicated FAP, R.N. Forward Aircraft Pool (FAP) No.1, was assembled in Australia by early June. Under the command of Lt. Cdr D. A. Horton RNVR this unit had been assembled from elements of Mobile Naval Air Bases in Australia its core component Maintenance, Storage & Resave Unit No.1, tasked for the support of Avenger I & II, Corsair II & IV, Hellcat I & II aircraft types; this unit was detached from MONAB I (Nowra, New South Wales) on 7th June 1945. Additionally, one Mobile Maintenance component (MM number and original parent unit not known) and a small H.Q. staff were added. The elements of the R.N. Forward Aircraft Pool (FAP) sailed from Sydney on board the Maintenance Carrier PIONEER on the June 16th.
Arriving at Pityilu on June 21st it was put ashore to establish a forward reserve aircraft depot for the Air Train (the name given to the aircraft supply element of the Fleet Train, the logistic support arm of the BPF), feeding replacement airframes to the replenishment carriers and to MONAB 4. Maintenance test flying was undertaken on a daily basis. July appears to have been a busy time for the unit, there are four recorded flying accidents during this month; on the 20th Lt. Cdr. G.P.C. Williams' Avenger, FN821, swung sharply and heeled over while taxiing, striking its port wing tip, and on the same day Lt. E.B. Gray made a forced landing whilst test flying Seafire PR262. Avenger JZ274 also made a forced landing on Pityilu when a cylinder head blew out on a test flight, being flown by Lt. M.A.J.M. Hayward on the 22nd. Lt. Hayward was to make a second forced landing on the 25th in Corsair KD487 after an oil sump plug fell out in flight.
RN presence withdrawn
With the war over by mid-August, the RN FAP at Pityilu was no longer required and the unit was ordered to be closed by mid-September. UNICORN arrived at the island on September 17th to evacuate the equipment and the RN presence on Pityilu airstrip was officially withdrawn; all stocks of reserve Aircraft having been flown to Ponam.
The facilities on Pityilu were closed by the US Navy on September 1st 1947.
Click here for
a list of
Airdromes Guide Southwest
Pacific Area Second Edition Dec 1944
Published by Authority of the
Commanding General, Army Air Forces Office of the Assistant
Chief of Air Staff, A-3 Headquarters Far East Air Forces