Part of a 695-acre estate previously held by the Pye family at Quaker’s Hill, New South Wales, which included the ‘Waawaar-Awaa’ homestead, was Selected as the site for a satellite aerodrome to Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Station Richmond in 1941. The property was requisitioned by the government under the provisions of The National Security (General) Regulations and, in June 1942, the homestead was demolished and the surrounding land was cleared to make way for the construction of RAAF Station Schofields.
Work was slow to progress, and little had been done by mid-1944 when the airfield was chosen for transfer on loan to the Admiralty as shore-based air facility for the newly formed British Pacific Fleet. Construction work began again in earnest in late September 1944 when a detachment of No 2 Airfield Construction Squadron RAAF, based at Randwick Racecourse Sydney, arrived on site, they were to remain until January 23rd 1945.
The airfield lies 1 mile south of the township of Schofields, 19 miles WNW of Sydney Harbour Bridge and 15 miles WNW from Bankstown aerodrome. The airfield is bounded on one side by the main railway line from Schofields to Sydney, and on another by a river. Quakers Hill lies to the South east.
RN use of the airfield
In the winter of 1944, the Admiralty were deploying mobile naval air support units to provide aviation repair and servicing facilities for the British Pacific Fleet (BPF) as it began operations in the war against Japan. Initially these units would be installed at locations in Australia and be called forward as the Front-line moved closer to the Japanese mainland. In the summer of 1944 an Admiralty inspection team had visited a number of existing Royal Australian Air Force stations that were proposed, four were selected; Nowra and Jervis Bay, approximately 80 miles south of Sydney, Schofields, 30 miles west of Sydney, and Bankstown, 12 miles South West of Sydney, and a works programme began to bring them up to Naval requirements. Nowra was to be ready by December 1944 and work began to run-down RAAF operations in preparation for handing over the airfield.
Schofields had been chosen for occupation by Mobile Naval Air Base No. III (MONAB III); the personnel arrived in Sydney on board the troopship ATHLONE CASTLE on January 25th 1945 and were disembarked to RN Barracks Sydney, HMS GOLDEN HIND and accommodated under canvas at Warwick Race course whilst waiting for the arrival of their vehicles and equipment on the transport S.S. ESSEX, which arrived at Sydney on February 4th. The advance party arrived on the site on February 5th to find the station was still under construction. The following day the station readiness was reported as: one operational runway and one Dorland transportable hanger erected by MONAB staff. The first week on the station was spent preparing the airfield for the arrival of squadron personnel and aircraft which were due when the BPF arrived in Sydney later that month.
Disembarked squadrons arrive: The first Squadrons to disembark from the BPF carriers arrived at Schofields only four days later on the February 10th, these being 887 and 894 (Seafire) and 1770 (Firefly) Squadrons from the Fleet Carrier HMS INDEFATIGABLE. All squadron personnel were accommodated under canvas, the station still having no permanent buildings.
Commissioned as an RN Air Station
IThe remaining elements of MONAB III arrived at Schofields on February 18th, and the station was commissioned as HMS NABTHORPE, Royal Naval Air Station Schofields on that date, Commander (A) E.W. Kenton in command.
A second Dorland hanger was completed for workshop use on February 23rd when 1840 (Hellcat) Squadron arrived on the station, disembarking from the escort carrier HMS SPEAKER. Further aircraft arrived on the 26th when 1845 (Corsair) Squadron disembarked from the escort carrier HMS SLINGER. No's 887, 894 & 1770 Squadrons re-embarked in INDEFATIGABLE on February 27th so relieving some of the overcrowding at the hastily prepared station.
During the first week of March the station’s resident flying unit, 706 Squadron, moved from RNAS Jervis Bay, arriving at Schofields on the 6th. Its task was to operate a Crew Pool & Refresher Flying School and was to be a large unit with a total strength of 36 aircraft, its equipment allocation was to be 6 each of Avenger, Barracuda, Corsair, Firefly, Hellcat & Seafire. 1840 squadron re-embarked their Hellcats in SPEAKER on the 9th and the Corsairs of 1845 re-joined SLINGER on the 11th. These were soon to be replaced on the 18th by 1772 (Firefly) Squadron and 885 (Hellcat) Squadron on the 20th , both disembarking from the escort carrier HMS RULER; the latter was to stay until April 4th before re-joining RULER.
April was a quieter month, with the departures of 885 squadron the Fireflies of 1772 were the only one front-line squadron remaining, and after completing their workup, 706 squadron commissioned at Schofields on April 10th. Next to arrive was 899 (Seafire) Squadron which disembarked from the escort carrier HMS CHASER on the 23rd as a Seafire Pool Squadron. The first of May brought 1843 (Corsair) Squadron disembarking from the escort carrier HMS ARBITER.
Victory in Europe: VE-Day, was celebrated at Schofields on May 9th (Victory in Europe was declared the day before) and the men of HMS NABTHORPE celebrated, with a specially prepared Victory menu which was served for the entire ship's company and squadrons covering Breakfast, Dinner, Tea, and Supper. The Corsairs of 1843 re-joining ARBITER on the 20th.
The BPF returns: At the start of June, the second large scale disembarkation of squadrons from the fleet began; 820 (Avenger), 887 & 894 (Seafire) and 1770 (Firefly) squadrons arriving at Schofields from INDEFATIGABLE on the 5th. 1834 & 1836 (Corsair) Squadrons also arrived on this date disembarking from the Fleet Carrier HMS VICTORIOUS. For the next twelve days MONAB III supported 9 squadrons (2 resident training squadrons and 7 front-line units), over 100 aircraft well in excess of its designed capacity of 50. Construction of the airfield and buildings was still not complete so many squadron personnel were still accommodated under canvas. The situation was to get worse when work came to a halt, due first to heavy rains bringing widespread flooding and then further delayed when the Civil Constructional Corps labourers engaged on airfield construction went on strike. The two Corsair squadrons re-joined VICTORIOUS on the 26th relieving some of the overcrowding. INDEFATIGABLE’s squadron began to re-join the ship at the start of July; 820 Squadron on the 1st and 887, 894 & 1772 Squadrons following them on July 7th.
At some stage in June 899 Squadron was re- tasked; it had been drastically reduced in both manpower and aircraft after arriving on the station. Only the C.O. and four experienced pilots remained when it became a Seafire Operational Training Unit (OTU) to train pilots for the newly formed Air branch of the Royal Australian Navy Volunteer Reserve. The trainees were all RAAF Spitfire pilots with 500 hours on the type, who volunteered for transfer to the Royal Australian Navy, with a reduction of one grade in rank. Squadron strength was increased to 14 Seafires and No 1 RANVR conversion course got underway with instruction in naval flying and combat techniques building up to Deck Landing qualification. Aerodrome Dummy Deck Landings (ADDLs) were carried out at Schofields but Shipboard Deck landing Training (DLT), the final stage of the course, was carried out off the coast of Queensland, the squadron flying up to RNAS Maryborough from where they flew out to make their landings.
In mid-July three of the Royal Navy’s four new Light-Fleet arrived in Australia to join the BPF and Schofields was to receive No. 15 Carrier Air Group (CAG), 1851 (Corsair) & 814 (Barracuda) squadrons, which disembarked from HMS VENERABLE on July 21st. One-week later Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser, the Commander-in-chief. British Pacific Fleet. visited Schofields on the 28th as part of his tour of the support facilities in Australia. The 12 pilots of No.1 RANVR conversion course carried out their DLT sessions in the Fleet Carrier INDOMITABLE between the 24th & 27th of July, all being certified for Deck Landing after completing 10 landings apiece. The successful pupils received RANVR(A) commissions and were to form the nucleus of the Australian Fleet Air Arm
Victory over Japan and reorganisation
VENERABLE's air group re-embarked on August 13th and a new squadron flew in, 1790 (Firefly) Night-Fighter squadron disembarked from the escort carrier HMS VINDEX. Two days later on August 15th the Japanese surrendered and VJ Day was celebrated at Schofields by members of MONABs III and the squadrons on the station (In Australia the war's end was termed 'Victory in the Pacific' or VP day as opposed to Victory over Japan as it was known in Europe). The celebrations were only brief however as the fourth Light-fleet carrier, HMS GLORY arrived at Sydney on August 16th and disembarked the 16th CAG, 1831 (Corsair) & 837 (Barracuda) squadrons to RNAS Schofields; they were soon followed by 880 (Seafire) Squadron which disembarked from the Fleet Carrier IMPLACABLE on August 25th.
As part of a rationalization of training provision in Australia 706 squadron departed for RNAS Maryborough, MONAB VI on August 28th; 1770 Squadron's Fireflies also departed for Maryborough the next day. The latter move was a strange one - MONAB 6 was not equipped to handle Fireflies so a detachment of 13 men was assembled from the 4 Officers. 16 Chief patty Officers (CPO)s & Petty Officers (POs) and 10 ratings of Mobile Servicing unit No.3 to travel to RNAS Maryborough, the detachment comprised of Lieutenant Romanoff, 1 CPO, 8 POs, 2 Leading Air Fitters and one steward. This party left for Maryborough by train, and was issued with equipment from MONAB VI on reaching Maryborough.
On the first of September the 16th CAG re-embarked in GLORY; three days later 702 Instrument Flying Training & Checking Squadron arrived on the station as the new resident training unit. The squadron, equipped with Oxfords and Harvard IIbs, had formed and worked up in the UK at RNAS Hinstock, Shropshire, before its personnel were shipped out to Australia. MONAB III was already equipped with a mobile Beam Approach Beacon System (BABS) van but the squadron’s training equipment did not materialise so 702 focused on the instrument flying training. 801 (Seafire) Squadron disembarked from IMPLACABLE on September 9th; two days later it absorbed the aircraft of 880 Squadron when they were disbanded.
The pupils of the second RANVR conversion course flew up to RNAS Maryborough at the end of the first week of September to do their qualifying DLT in the escort carrier ARBITER, flying out to the ship in Hervey bay commencing on September 10th and finishing on the 13th. Again all 12 pilots completed 10 landings each to qualify and receive their RANVR(A) commissions. Its conversion work completed 899 Seafire OTU disbanded on September 18th after successfully passing 24 RAAF pilots as qualified to carry out deck landings at sea; none of them reached the forward area in time to join a front-line Seafire squadron before the end of hostilities, most of them saw service in either INDEFATIGABLE or IMPLACABLE after the War. On the same day the squadrons of the 11th CAG, (885 (Hellcat), 887 & 894 (Seafire) & 1772 (Firefly) disembarked from INDEFATIGABLE; 885 Squadron was disbanded on the 27th.
Re-organisation: As part of a review of the naval air support in the Pacific theatre the Admiralty announced in October that four Mobile Units were to be disbanded in early November 1945, these were to be MONAB I, III, IV and VII; MONAB II, V & VI plus TAMY I would continue operations in support of fleet operations and the reception and disposal of aircraft arising from the disbandment of squadrons as the BPF began to reduce its size. As part of this downsizing operation MONAB V was to replace MONAB I at Nowra and MONAB VI would replace MONAB III at Schofields. MONAB VII personnel were to be redistributed to other units, many joining TAMY I.
MONAB VI replaces MONAB III
MONAB III, HMS NABTHORPE was paid off at Schofields on November 15th 1945. RNAS Schofields was re-commissioned by MONAB VI as HMS NABSTOCK in the same day. The units present at Schofields at this time were one resident unit, 702 Instrument Flying Training & Checking Squadron (5 Oxford & 3 Harvard), and five disembarked squadrons, 801, 887 & 894 (Seafire), 1772 and 1790 (Firefly) squadrons.
There was some reorganisation of equipment as unnecessary components were packed up, others were retained, for example support for servicing Firefly aircraft which NABSTOCK now inherited. 887 re-joined INDEFATIGABLE on November 15th followed by 1772 on the 18th and 894 on the 23rd. All three squadrons returned on December 22nd disembarking again from INDEFATIGABLE, the carrier also flew ashore 820 (Avenger) squadron on New Year’s Eve. There were three flying incidents during this period: On November 29th Sub-Lt L.J. Norton RANVR of 801 squadron was killed when his (unidentified) Seafire Mk,XV disintegrated in a dive; Avenger JZ712 of 828 Squadron, flown by Lt R. New RNVR, swung on landing and stressed the airframe on December 17th; Seafire L.III NN625 of 887 Squadron, flown by Sub-Lt E.O. Atkin RNVR, crashed on landing when the starboard undercarriage leg collapsed on December 19th.
In the New Year 1850 (Corsair) squadron arrived on January 12th having disembarked from VENGEANCE with 12 aircraft. 1790 Night Fighter squadron embarked in IMPLACABLE on the 16th. On January 18th the first of 4 squadrons arrived from RNAS Nowra as part of its rundown to closure; 706 Crew Pool & Refresher Flying squadron (2 each of Avenger, Barracuda, Corsair, Firefly, Hellcat & Seafire), they were followed on the 21st by 723 Fleet Requirements Unit (8 martinet & 8 Corsair). Next to arrive was 814 (Firefly) squadron on the 22nd followed by 1851 (Corsair) on the 24th these collectively were the 15th CAG attached to VENERABLE. Both of these squadrons had been reorganised earlier in the month at Nowra, 1851 being reduced to 12 aircraft and 814 had exchanged 18 Barracudas for 12 Fireflies. 814 was to work-up with their new aircraft in readiness to re-join the carrier. 820, 887, 894 and 1772 departed on the 31st re-joining INDEFATIGABLE.
January 1946 was a busy time with several front-line squadrons conducting on-going flying training and working-up with new equipment resulting in 7 flying incidents 2 of them fatal: On January 4th a 1790 Squadron Observer Lt J.R. Oxley RNVR was killed when he fell out of Firefly MB501 over Quakers Hill Park on approach to Schofields while the pilot, Sub-Lt R Roberts RNVR was conducting ADDLs ; Sub-Lt PB Clayton RNVR of 801 squadron taxied his Seafire F.XV, SR580, into another 801 Seafire F.XV, SR537, on the 6th; the following day Sub-Lt M Reid RNVR of 702 squadron prematurely retracted the undercarriage of Avenger JZ709, causing it to collapse; he had a second incident on January 15th, this time in Harvard KF519 of 702 squadron, he overshot, landing and ground looped; on the 19th Seafire F.XV SR539 of 801 squadron, flown by Sub-Lt R.A.H. Beaton RNVR, dropped its starboard wing on approach and ran off the runway and the undercarriage collapsed; Firefly MB629 of 706 squadron , flown by Sub-Lt G.R. Harrison RNVR, ran off the runway landing after the aircraft swung to starboard and the undercarriage collapsed on the hard ground on the 23rd. While returning to Schofields on January 31st, after a training flight over the sea to the south east of Sydney Firefly DK480 of 814 squadron began to experience control problems, the pilot Sub-Lt C.B. Ratcliffe tried to change course but found his rudder to be locked and the aircraft, which became more unstable could only fly straight. He ordered his navigator Petty Officer Airman E. M. Butterworth to bale out just before the aircraft flipped onto its back and he then exited the aircraft himself. The plane fell to earth striking first the lift tower of the main building at Lewisham Hospital, Sydney before crashing into an old boiler house. Rescue workers found that the navigator was still in the aircraft when it hit killing two men working in the building.
In mid-February 812 (Firefly) squadron disembarked from VENGEANCE on the 12th to join the other half of her Air Group, 13th CAG. The 15th CAG began to embark in VENERABLE on the 22nd when Corsairs of 1851 departed, followed by the Fireflies of 814 on March 13th. Two days later 801 (Seafire) squadron disembarked from IMPLACABLE. The 13th CAG departed on the 19th, re-joining VENGEANCE and 1790 (Firefly) squadron disembarked from IMPLACABLE on the 28th. There were only three flying incidents during February and march: Sub-Lt J.E. Letham RNVR of 801 squadron taxied Seafire F.XV SR589 into a lorry causing damage to mainplanes & prop on February 22nd; the other two incidents involved the phenomena known as ground looping, Firefly MB635 of 814 squadron, flown by Sub-Lt G.S. Robson RNVR ground looped on landing on March 9th stressing the undercarriage, and Firefly MB508 of 837, flown by Sub-Lt G.G. Pruden RNVR ground looped on take-off on the 16th.
At the start of April 1946 HMS NABSTOCK was the only MONAB still in operation in Australia; MONAB V had been paid off on March 18th followed by MONAB II and TAMY I on March 31st having transferred all remaining squadrons to Schofields. The last of these squadrons was 724 Communications Squadron which arrived from RNAS Bankstown on March 31st, equipped with Expeditors and Ansons they had flown regular passenger and light freight services to other Naval Air Stations and cities in Australia. The last front-line units to depart, 801 & 1790 re-joined IMPLACABLE for passage to the UK on April 29th. The last recorded flying incident took place on April 12th when Martinet PX197 of 723 FRU, flown by Sub-Lt H.C. Stoke RNVR, swung off the peritrack and fell into a ditch while taxying to dispersal.
HMS NABSTOCK was now scaling down its operations; the whole of April and May were spent packing up the MONAB equipment and stores, along with preparing the airfield for return to the RAAF. Anything which was not to be kept for return to the UK was broken up and burnt in large bonfires on the airfield, the remains of these bonfires were then ferried out into the bush and dumped by the clean-up parties which had been drafted in to replace ratings who had been released for demob after February.
The second-line squadrons 702, 706, 723 and 1724 were all disbanded at Schofields on May 31st before HMS NABSTOCK and MONAB VI paid off at Schofields on June 9th 1946; and Schofields was returned to RAAF custody.
Returned to RAAF Control & post-war operations
&On May 31st 1946, No.78 Wing RAAF headquarters and its subordinate units (75, 78 and 80 Squadrons, and No. 114 No. 114 Mobile Fighter Control Unit (MFCU)) moved to RAAF Station Schofields and accepted responsibility for the station’s running on June 9th 1946
In July No. 86 (Transport) Wing RAAF re-formed at Schofields and comprised of Nos. 36, 37, and 38 Squadrons, all flying Douglas C-47 Dakotas. The wing was augmented by No. 386 (Base) Squadron and No. 486 (Maintenance) Squadron, which formed in August when No.78 Wing headquarters moved to RAAF Station Williamtown on August 1st.
No. 86 (Transport) Wing initially flew supply missions to the Australian-administered Territory of Papua and New Guinea, as well as three-times weekly courier flights to
Iwakuni, Japan in support of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force. The Iwakuni tasking continued until December 1947, when the service was taken over by Qantas. At the staIwakuni,rt of 1948 the Wing was reduced in size when No. 37 Squadron disbanded in February. From mid-1948 Mo. 22 RAAF Reserve Squadron operated from Schofields equipped with P-51 Mustangs and Tiger Moths; it was to be a resident unit until March 1953 when it relocated to RAAF Station Richmond. No. 30 (Target Towing) Squadron also operated a variety of aircraft including Beaufighters, Beauforts, Dakotas, Wirraways, Ansons and Mustangs from Schofields at sometime during the period 1919 -1952
No. 386 (Base) Squadron disbanded in March 1949 and re-formed the same day as Schofields Station Headquarters. On 22 June 1949, No. 86 Wing, now comprising Nos. 36, 38 and 486 Squadrons, relocated from Schofields to RAAF Station Richmond.
Beginning In 1949 part of the camp was converted to house migrants, some 21 huts being outfitted as accommodation for 300 people, earning the site the title of the Schofields Migrant Hostel. This closed February 4 1951.
Naval aviation returns to Schofields
In November 1950, Schofields was evaluated for use as the site of the proposed RAN Aircraft Repair Yard, following the formation of the Royal Australian Navy Fleet Air Arm on July 3rd 1947. In January 1952, the R.AAF transferred control of the base to the RAN, but remained in residence until finally withdrawing in September 1952. Schofields was temporarily under the control of RANAS Nowra, HMAS ALBATROSS and the station was commissioned as HMAS ALBATROSS II, Royal Australian Naval Air Repair Yard (RANARY) Schofields; a large number of RN Officers and sailors supplementing the RAN Component.
&On April 1st 1953, RANARY Schofields was commissioned as an independent command bearing the name HMAS NIRIMBA; this was a joint RANARY and technical training establishment for the RAN Fleet Air Arm. The Aircraft Repair Yard was short lived however, and was closed down in early 1955 and HMAS NIRIMBA and the airfield were paid off toto "Care and Maintenance" status. On February 28th 1955.
In September 1955, preparations began to re-commission NIRIMBA as the RAN Apprentice Training Establishment (RANATE) for Naval Apprentice training. The establishment reopened in January 1956; and re-commissioned on January 5th 1956 as HMAS NIRIMBA, RAN Apprentice Training Establishment. The first intake of the Apprentices arrived in July 1956, with the last in January 1992.
HMAS NIRIMBA finally decommissioned on 25 February 1994, having trained some 13,000 young men and women from the RAN and other Commonwealth Navies, together with several thousand trainees undergoing other courses in her 34-year history.
The aerodrome at Schofields had been operating as a civil field for many years until it too finally closed to flying in 1994. It was the venue of Australia’s first international Air Show on November 8th 1977 the Schofields Jubilee Air Show attracted 300 aircraft, and exhibits from around the world.
Schofields (now titled Schofields Defence Depot) had one last major use at the start of the new millennium, the site was chosen as a rehearsal ground for the Opening Ceremony of the 2000 Olympic Games held in Sidney.
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