In 1934/35 a part of the Bukit Sembawang Rubber Estate on Singapore Island was purchased by the Air Ministry for construction of a grass airfield for the Royal Air Force. Approval for the construction was given in 1936, and British Army engineers started work in the following year. The station was planned for the operation of two RAF bomber squadrons but the airfield was transferred to Admiralty control in 1939 under the command of Captain P.G.L. Cazalet RN. It was planned to develop the site into a Naval Air Station and Air Repair Yard to support a proposed Eastern Fleet with up to four fleet aircraft carriers. The landing ground had three prepared strips running N/S, NE.SW, and NW/SE with a max run approx. 1,100 yards : the shortest, N/S was little used and the other two were to be lengthened by 300 yards in March 1940.
The course of the war in Europe and the deteriorating situation in the Far East meant that these plans were put on hold and the station, by now basically complete as an operational airfield, was again transferred in May 1940, this time to the Royal Australian Air Force under the command of Group Captain J. McCauliey RAAF. There are only two RN squadrons recorded as operating from RNAS Sembawang during this period, 813 and 824 Naval Air Squadrons arrived on the station on March 17th 1940, each equipped with nine Swordfish Mk.1. They had moved from the nearby RAF Kallang after disembarking from HMS EAGLE the day before when the ship arrived for a refit in the Naval Dockyard. The two squadrons remained at Sembawang until re-embarking on May 8th.
RAAF Station Sembawang
The first operational units arrived in
July and August 1940 when No. 1 and No. 8 squadrons Royal
Australian .Air Force arrived, each equipped with 12
Lockheed Hudson medium bombers, the later leaving in
November. Early in 1941 No. 21 squadron R.A.A.F. moved in
from Seletar to re-equip with Brewster Buffalo fighters and
briefly operated from Sembawang before being deployed in
Malaya. No. 453 squadron R.A.A.F., also operating Buffalos,
arrived in August 1941 and operated here until they were
deployed into Malaya in mid-December 1941.
On December 8th 1941 the Japanese Army invaded Malaya and on this date the Netherlands government placed several squadrons under operational control of the British Far Eastern Command under the mutual defence assistance agreements with Great-Britain. On the same day VLG-III was ordered to Singapore’s Sembawang airfield. VLG-III, comprised of three Bomber squadrons of the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army Air Force, operating 22 Glenn Martin 139 bombers. None of the crews had been trained in night-flying, so one squadron was sent back to Java the same day to train. On their return a second squadron could be sent back for training. With the worsening situation on the Island and squadron losses in action the remaining Dutch bombers and fighters were recalled to Java on January 22nd 1942.
No. 1 Squadron had five serviceable Hudsons left by Christmas Eve and by the end of January 1942 had moved to Sumatra. After suffering serious losses on December22nd, No. 453 Squadron, now with only three serviceable aircraft, remaining, withdrew to Sembawang on Christmas Eve and was merged with 21 Squadron, which had also withdrawn to Singapore with six aircraft; the new unit, 21/453 Squadron was brought up to strength with an allocation of replacement aircraft. The amalgamated unit continued to fight on, until late January when, with precious few aircraft left, they were separated again. No. 21 Squadron personnel were then sent to the Netherlands East Indies, while No. 453 continued to operate the remaining six Buffaloes. In early February, only four serviceable aircraft remained operational they were flown to Java while the squadron's ground crew were evacuated by ship. Singapore surrendered to the Japanese army on February 15th 1942.
While occupied by the Japanese Sembawang came under the control of both the Japanese Army and the Japanese Navy, these two forces surprisingly despised each other, and the Island of Singapore became divided North/South, the Navy controlling the North and the Army the South.
Commissioned as HMS NABROCK
Following the Japanese surrender in the colony, a naval
advance party, under the command of Captain H.A. Traill OBE.,
RN, (formerly commanding Officer of the escort carrier HMS
EMPRESS), arrived to take control of the airfield and
prepare it for reopening. They found about 90 Zero fighters on the airfield and some 700 Japanese officers and men. The station was honeycombed with tunnels and foxholes and in a state of considerable disorder. The Japanese had been working to establish a north/south runway, using British prisoners of war, and there were at least a dozen Public Works Department steam rollers abandoned on what came to be called the Jap runway.
Work on restoring the station to working order was started immediately and Japanese prisoners of war were employed filling in foxholes and tunnels as well as the laying of a 1,400 x 50 yard pierced steel planking runway.
In order to provide the necessary equipment and
infrastructure to operate the station Mobile Naval Air Base
No. 9 (MONAB IX) was allocated to occupy the station and
initiate naval flying and aviation support facilities for
the region. The personnel were already in Australia while the transport carrying the unit's heavy equipment was still at sea, this was diverted whilst still en route to Sydney. The personnel were split
into 4 groups for the move to Singapore; the 1st, 2nd and
3rd phase advance parties were to travel by RAF Dakota
transport planes via Moratai, in the Dutch East Indies. The
remaining group, comprising of the main body of the unit
were to travel by sea and were embarked in the Australian
troop ship the HMTS LARGS BAY for passage to Singapore. The
advance party commissioned Royal Naval Air Station Sembawang
as HMS NABROCK, on October 5th 1945, Captain J.S.C. Salter
DSC, OBE in command. The LARGS BAY docked in Singapore
on November 1st.
MONAB 9 was equipped to support
Fighter aircraft, namely Corsair Mk. II & IV, Seafire L.III
& XV and Hellcat Mk. I & II but this role was revised after
arrival at Sembawang; its Air Department was primarily
employed in the seemly fruitless task of assembling crated
American aircraft, many of which were Hellcats. Once
assembled these brand new aircraft were ferried out to sea
by aircraft carriers and dumped into the ocean; under the
Lend-Lease agreement with the United States, under which
these machines were supplied, the UK was required to return
them or pay for them once the war was over; destroying them
was the solution employed.
On November 8th 'C' flight of 1700 squadron arrived from RNAS Katukurunda, Ceylon for a brief detachment with a number of Sea Otter aircraft, returning to Katukurunda on the 20th; they were to return on December 15th for a longer stay.
Re-commissioned as HMS SIMBANG
On December 15th 1945 HMS NABROCK and MOANB IX was paid
off. The station re-commissioned the same day as HMS
SIMBANG. This was a paperwork exercise, effectively the
MONAB ceased to exist but Captain Salter remained the
station’s commanding officer and the ship's company remained
to form the complement for the new Naval Air Station.
The equipment of the now
decommissioned MONAB IX was however to be retained at
Sembawang as the nucleus of an enhanced reserve MONAB, held
in storage on a care & maintenance basis for reactivation
should it be required. Its existing components were
supplemented by extra equipment and vehicles recovered from
other MONABs recently paid off in Australia. It is believed
that this reserve unit was maintained in storage at
Sembawang until at least the mid nineteen fifties.
On December 27th 1945 two
squadrons arrived on board HMS SMITER to operate from
Sembawang; No. 791 Naval Air Squadron to operate as a Fleet
Requirements unit; equipment comprised a mixture of 6
Vengeance target tugs, 6 Corsairs and 1 Harvard, it was
Sembawang's resident flying unit until it was disbanded on
June 16th 1947. Also disembarked were the six Hellcats of
888 Photographic Reconnaissance squadron, these were to
undertake peacetime aerial survey work in the area.
By the end of January 1946 only the station’s Fleet requirements unit remained; on January 26th 791 absorbed 1700 squadron 'C' flight, and on the 29th 888 squadron personnel departed for the UK to disband on arrival, their aircraft were retained at Sembawang. Once the aircraft assembly and disposal task was completed the station’s function was that of an Aircraft Holding Unit to support carriers operating the Far East and disembarked squadrons.
The station’s main
flying function was to provide aircraft for exercises and calibration work with
ships in the area and, from May 1946 to operate a
communications flight using two Beech Expeditor aircraft.
The first disembarked squadron arrived on October 2nd 1946
when the 12 Seafire XVs of 802 flew ashore from the Light
Fleet Carrier GLORY. They stayed until November 14th when
they embarked in the Light Fleet Carrier VENERABLE. Four
days later 806 with 12 Seafire XVs, and 837 with 12 Firefly
FR.1 disembarked from GLORY, these stayed until December 6th
and 9th respectively, when they re-embarked. Both squadrons
returned on May 17th 1947 when GLORY put into Singapore
again, they re-embarked on June 19th when GLORY sailed for
the UK after being relieved on station by THESEUS. THESEUS
disembarked her two squadrons beginning on June 7th when the
12 Seafire XVs of 804 flew ashore, followed by the 12
Firefly FR.1s of 812 on the 10th. At this time the station
was running down to possible closure, on June 15th 791
squadron was disbanded and THESEUS re-embarked her squadrons
on the 21st.
On October 1st 1947 Captain P.W.
Burnett, DSO, DSC assumed command of HMS SIMBANG ; the
station was paid off and was reduced to Care & Maintenance
status on December 31st 1947.
RAF Station Sembawang
The station was transferred to the RAF on loan on January 16th 1948 to relieve pressure on other RAAF stations on the Island. No. 60 squadron was the first RAF unit to take up residence; an advance party arrived on the station the same day. RAF Station Sembawang opened for flying on January 27th 1948, Wing Commander J. Dudgeon RAF in command. The Spitfire F18s and one Harvard of 60 squadron flew in the same day; they were followed by No. 1914 Flight operating Auster 6s [elevated to squadron status July 1948] and 28 squadron with Spitfire FR18s. The two fighter squadrons were engaged in operations up-country at Kuala Lumpur, detachments from Sembawang striking at Communist Terrorists, or insurgents, beginning in July 1948. By the late summer of 1949 the RAF was running down operations at Sembawang, 28 squadron moved to Hong Kong in May and 60 squadron to Tengah at the end of August after receiving new Spitfires delivered by HMS OCEAN earlier in the month. The station was then prepared for return to RN control, the RAF presence being reduced to care and maintenance status on September 15th 1949.
RN returns to Sembawang: Second Commission 1950 - 1957
At the start of October 1949 the first RN squadrons had returned to Sembawang when the 13th Carrier Air Group (12 Seafire FR.47s of 800 NAS and 12 Firefly FR.1s of 827 NAS) disembarked from HMS TRIUMPH on October 3rd. They were to make the Royal Navy’s first air strikes against Malayan Insurgents during the month; one of the largest air strikes was mounted against targets near Gemas in Negri Sembilan on October 21st and involved 62 sorties by Spitfires, Beaufighters, Tempests and Sunderlands of the RAF and the Fireflies and Seafires of Nos 827 and 800 Squadrons.
At the end of October 1949 the maintenance Carrier
UNICORN arrived at Singapore and disembarked an advance party to Sembawang to establish a small Aircraft Holding Unit and test flight to ease pressure in
UNICORN’s hangar. The ship was in the Far East to provide aviation support for TRIUMPH which had been transferred to the Far East Fleet and was currently engaged in operations off the Malayan coast.
UNICORN began operations alongside in No. 8 berth in the Naval Dockyard. Thirty aircraft, a mix of Seafires and Fireflies, some embalmed for storage, where disembarked to the quayside in the naval dockyard, some 5 miles away, and transported to the airfield by road on the 29th. The party of maintenance personnel was under the charge of Lieutenant R. Hallett, the Test Pilot. Any aircraft repaired aboard
UNICORN in the dockyard had to be towed by road to Sembawang for test flights and the AHU was also tasked with addressing any issues the flight may have turned up. The 13th Carrier Air Group re-embarked in TRIUMPH on November 1st, returning to Sembawang on December 8th.
The airfield at Sembawang was returned to RN control on January 12th 1950 and re-commissioned as HMS SIMBANG on the 29th, Commander C.E. Eckersley-Maslin in command. The aircraft of TRIUMPH’s 13 CAG made further strikes against targets near Gemas in Negri
before re-embarking on February 4th. By this time it
had become apparent that
UNICORN was unsuitable for operation as a static aircraft repair factory; air maintenance ratings tended to be used for ship's duties reducing manpower for the repair
programme; the flight deck was not always available, or suitable for running engines, the heat in the hangars coupled with poor ventilation was not conducive to aircraft maintenance. The need to conduct test flights ashore also tied up additional personnel at Sembawang since it was not known what defects would be thrown up and therefore what tradesmen would be needed to rectify them, the tendency was to play safe and have a large number of maintenance personnel at the airfield when they could have been used in the ship. Productivity suffered as a result, about a third of the work that could have been achieved ashore in an airy hangar and with no interruptions.
These issues identified in
UNICORN resulted in the decision being made to forgo afloat support and to establish an Air Repair Yard at Sembawang in June 1950. The entire Air Engineering Department (AED) was to be landed to Sembawang and the ship would return to the UK and pay off. The unloading was nearly completed when North Korea invaded the South on Sunday, June 25th 1950.
UNICORN's return home was cancelled and stores, ammunition and aircraft were hastily re-embarked when she was ordered to sail at short notice to ferry reserve aircraft and stores for TRIUMPH. As a result of this relocation of resource Sembawang’s workshops were scaled to that of a full Air Repair Yard with a throughput of 20 aircraft per month, the AHU now had storage for 80 aircraft and test flying. The station could also support 1 disembarked Carrier Air Group.
Heart of the Korean War aviation support organisation
Having decided to leave the majority of her AED ashore
would be used primarily as a ferry/replenishment
carrier transporting aircraft and supplies to the Royal Navy
and Commonwealth aircraft carriers operating in Korean
waters. After embarking aircraft and stores from Sembawang
she sailed on July 11th for Japan, and rendezvoused with
TRIUMPH at Sasebo on July 20th. On the 24th
for the British Commonwealth Air Group (BCAG) base at
Iwakuni to collect the
unserviceable aircraft left by TRIUMPH and to deliver
spares. She next sailed for her first round trip voyage to
Singapore, via Hong Kong to exchange aircraft and stores; on
average these trips would take six weeks. At Hong Kong she
embarked troops of the Middlesex Regiment and the Argyle and
Sutherland Highlanders for passage to Pusan.
The aviation support organization now spanned 12,000 miles
from the UK to Singapore and on to Japan; consignments of
aircraft were ferried out from the AHU at RNAMY
Abbotsinch to the AHU at
Sembawang. Aircraft from the Operational Flight Pool were
then issued to
or one of the Light Fleet Carriers
directly on visiting Singapore. The first such ferry trip
left the UK in August 1950 when Firefly and Sea
Fury were shipped on board WARRIOR, after unloading in
September a reciprocal consignment was loaded for return to
On September 12th 1950 807 squadron disembarked from THESEUS
with 12 Sea Fury FB.11s, the first of their type to visit
Sembawang. Sea Fury squadrons were to replace the Seafire
ones from now on and a consignment of 15, along with 15
Firefly, arrived on WARRIOR during the month to establish a
stock at the AHU. 807 re-embarked on the 20th when the
carrier sailed to relieve TRIUMPH on station.
arrived back from her trooping trip on September 2nd and
underwent a short refit in Sembawang Naval Dockyard ending
on October 27th; after loading stores and Replacement Sea
Fury and Fireflies she sailed again for Sasebo. With the
departure of 807 squadron Sembawang settled into its role as
a repair yard and aircraft holding unit.
On her arrival back in Singapore on January 15th
UNICORN's AED complement was increased by transferring
Lieutenant (E) R.B.L. Foster and about 25 ratings from the
AHU at Sembawang. This was done in the hope that in addition
to acting as a ferry carrier a limited amount of aircraft
repair work would be done on board. Experience had shown
that quite a number of aircraft discarded by THESEUS
required 14 to 21 days work and it was uneconomical to send
them on a 14 day passage to Singapore, have the work done at
Sembawang and the aircraft then wait four to six weeks for
UNICORN's next round trip. In June 1951 this party moved
ashore when a small Aircraft Holding Unit (AHU) and Aircraft
Repair Section (ARS) were established at RAAF
Iwakuni under Lieutenant Foster to
hold 24 aircraft for local issue.
WARRIOR had arrived back in Singapore during March 1951 to exchange consignments of reserve aircraft, returning to the UK at the end of the month. She was to make two further visits in July and November 1951, before undergoing a refit in the UK during 1952. During her July visit she delivered two Westland Dragonfly helicopters as spares for the carrier ship’s flights and air sea rescue duties; one further machine was delivered in November. In October 1951 GLORY arrived in Singapore to
replenish between tours in Korean waters; she had relieved
THESEUS in March and in turn she
was relieved by HMAS SYDNEY. 804 flew ashore on
October 8th to exchange aircraft, their 21 Sea
Furies re-embarked on the 11th.
The next consignment of airframes was delivered by VENGEANCE which arrived in Singapore on February 18th 1952 carrying aircraft, stores and troops. She sailed to return to the UK in early March loaded with airframes for return to AHU Abbotsinch. She made a second round trip arriving at Singapore in late July 1952 to exchange a consignment of airframes and deliver a further 3 Dragonfly helicopters. The aircraft ferrying task was next passed to
PERSEUS which arrived in Singapore in January 1953. In addition to the usual consignment of reserve airframes she also brought 2 more Dragonflies and the Royal Navy’s first Transport Support Squadron, 848 NAS which disembarked their 10 Whirlwind HAS.21s to Sembawang on January 8th. This unit was in the Far East to help in the continuing fight against Communist insurgents in Malaya. They were joined on February 2nd by No. 194 squadron RAF which reformed at Sembawang out of the Far East Casualty Evacuation Flight which disbanded on the same day; they were equipped with 9 Westland Dragonfly HC.2 helicopters as a short range transport squadron. Together with 848 they formed 303 (Helicopter) Wing, the UKs first operational helicopter wing. The Wing moved to RAF Kuala Lumpur on May 20th and operated there until it was disbanded on February 15th 1954 its two squadrons then came under the control of RAF Kuala Lumpur Flying Wing.
Post Korean War operations: 1953 - 1957
UNICORN arrived back in
Singapore to exchanged aircraft in March 1953 before
returning to Japan. Sembawang airfield was returned to
Admiralty control on July 1st 1953 just prior to the Korean
War fighting ending on July 27th 1953 when an armistice was
signed. Carrier patrols were still maintained however until
the following May.
PERSEUS continued to deliver aircraft to
Sembawang; her next load arrived in September 1953, and
included a final consignment of 2 Dragonflies. A new
commanding officer arrived in September; Commander W.H.N.
Martin took over on September 20th 1953.
released from operational duties on October 15th 1953, after
a final delivery of airframes to
Iwakuni at the start of
September she sailed for the UK for a refit,
departed during the month. The next arrival at Sembawang was
816 squadron RAN which disembarked from HMAS SYDNEY on
November 2nd to exchange their 12 Firefly Mk.6 for Mk.5s,
this was a straight swap and they re-embarked on the 5th
when the ship sailed for Japan to relieve OCEAN on station
at the end of the month.
off Korea ended on May 4th 1954 when SYDNEY’s tour ended:
she was not relieved by another carrier. Before leaving
Japan for Australia she disembarked her unserviceable
aircraft to the AHU at
Iwakuni; her departure marked the end
of the commonwealth participation in operations off Korea,
and the end of the RN Aircraft Holding Unit at
final stocks of aircraft were loaded aboard
SYDNEY in the
second week of May 1954 and the RN AHU was withdrawn, it was
off loaded to RNAS Sembawang on the 18th – 20th May 1954.
PERSEUS was already in Singapore having made her third
delivery to Sembawang at the start of the month, she would
ferry home many of the airframes that had been withdrawn
from the RN Aircraft Holding Unit at
Iwakuni and others in
Meanwhile WARRIOR, on a
tour of the Far East, had disembarked her two squadrons on
May 12th 1954, 811 with 14 Sea Fury FB.11s and 825 with 8
Firefly A.S.5. 811 re-embarked on June 2nd having increased
in strength to 19 aircraft but 825 remained at Sembawang, it
relocated to RAF Tengah on August 16th. 811 disembarked from
WARRIOR again on August 9th when the ship was ordered to
Vietnam to assist in the evacuation of refugees from
Thaiphong. The squadron re-embarked on September 23rd. GLORY
arrived in Singapore and exchanged aircraft before sailing
to return to the UK. The station was now essentially only
supporting 848 squadron with reserve airframes and engines; a number of which had been retained at the AHU to enable replacements for any damaged or lost in the field or withdrawn for scheduled maintenance. However the station’s AHU still maintained a
small stock of reserve fixed wing aircraft for issue to visiting carriers.
In March 1955 No. 1911 Flight, 656 AOP Squadron RAF arrived to take up residence operating Auster AOP Mk 9 aircraft. Their main role is communication and liaison flying for G.H.Q. and 99 Gurkha Brigade, Internal Security duties supply dropping and support of the troops in the field. However, they frequently assisted the Navy by carrying out P.R. sorties, radar alignments and gun shoot spotting. The only other activity in 1955 was the arrival of VENGEANCE in June to exchange consignments of aircraft; she sailed in July for UK. Beginning at the end of March 1956 detachments of 848 squadron began visiting the station; 4 aircraft called in on March 26th, 3 on May14th and one final one if 4 on May 31st. On March 10th 1956 a detachment of 4 Gannet Anti-submarine aircraft of 825 NAS flew ashore from ALBION for a short stay before re-embarking on the 15rth. They were followed by the 9 Gannets of 820 NAS from CENTAUR which disembarked on April 4th; they departed on April 20th. In December 1956 the last operational unit in the area, 848 squadron, was disbanded and the station was put on notice to be placed into Care and Maintenance.
On March 19th 1956 Commander (P) S. S. Laurie, R.N., was appointed as commanding officer HMS
SIMBANG and Fleet Aviation Officer on the staff of C-in-C Far East Station; by this time the downsizing of the station had reduced the officer compliment by two thirds, from 26 to 12. One year later on April 1st 1957 SIMBANG was paid off as an independent command and became a tender to the Royal Naval Dockyard Sembawang, HMS TERROR on ‘Care and Maintenance by operation’; Cdr. Laurie remained as Officer in Charge.
The Aircraft Holding Unit had been closed by this time; with
the introduction of jet aircraft operating from the strike
carries the station could no longer support all fixed-wing
aircraft in service. Jet equipped squadrons were
accommodated at RAAF stations Changi, Sleltar and Tengah
when disembarked; the first was 801 squadron from CENTAUR
which disembarked 12 Sea Hawk FGA.4a to RAF Tengah in April
Care & Maintenance and station refurbishment: April 1957 - September 1962
Aalthough now in Care and Maintenance status the
station retained its
repair yard and workshop facilities but in future would
almost exclusively support rotary-wing aircraft. The
airfield remained open for flying for the RN, RAF and Army;
on 1 September 1957 the station’s only resident unit 1911
Flight, 656 AOP Squadron was transferred to the Army as part
of 656 Light Aircraft Squadron Army Air Corp. While the
station could still perform its role of providing
accommodation and support for Fleet Air Arm units in the Far
East it was November 1958 before any returned; 820 NAS
returned for a short 10 day detachment on November 1st 1958,
this time disembarking with 5 of their 6 Whirlwind HAS.7s
form ALBION. The Fleet Photographic Unit took up residence
in during December 1958. All 6 Whirlwinds of 820 NAS
squadron flew ashore on March 28th 1959 and disbanded here
on May 8th.
Commander Laurie departed at the start of November 1959 to
take up the post of Commander (Flying) at RNAS Hal Far,
Malta, Commander (P) S.H. Suthers DSC, DFC, took over from
him until he was relieved by Commander (P) C. V. Howard, DSC
at the end of March 1960. Meanwhile plans were in the
pipeline to develop the station for a base for Royal Marine
Commandos and a supporting helicopter squadron. Work began
to expand the galleys and accommodation at the start of 1959
and an advance party of 42 Commando arrived on station in
January 1960. A second longer runway, 04/22 of 2,000 yards
was to have been constructed during the stations first
commission but was postponed when the station was paid off
to Care and maintenance status at the end of 1947. In 1958
the idea was revisited, but now re-oriented 32/16- almost a
replacement of the original steel planking one, but this too
appears to have been cancelled.
RN aircraft began using
the station on a more frequent basis starting in March 1960
when the Wessex HAS.1 helicopters of 815 NAS disembarked
from ALBION on the 12th. They stayed for just over a month,
re-embarking on May 16th. In June the main body of 42
Commando, and a reformed 848 NAS, now equipped with 16
disembarked from BULWARK, the RNs first
carrier to be converted for the role of a commando carrier;
the squadron flying ashore on the 7th. the squadron flying
ashore on the 7th. This squadron was to operate afloat from
BULWARK returning to Sembawang when the ship was in
Singapore; they re-embarked on July 15th. 815 NAS flew
ashore from ALBION for another short stay on July 12th,
re-embarking on the 28th. 815 and 848 both disembarked again
during the second week of September, before re-embarking on
October 3rd. 848 returned for seven days on October 22nd but
where back on the station at the start of December to spend
Christmas 1960 ashore. On New Year’s Eve 1960 the Wessex
HAS. 1s of 814 anti-submarine squadron was disembarked from
The airfield was in
constant use from 1960 by the three Services for training
including parachute jumps
students of the RAF Far East Parachute Training School at
Changi, and supply
dropping exercises, conducted as a joint RAF/Army operation
dropping supplies as large as Land Rovers on stressed
platforms to small ration packs utilizing RAF Beverley, Twin
Pioneer, Hastings and R.N. Whirlwind aircraft. The
semi-resident 848 NAS settled into a pattern of periods
ashore followed by time afloat in BULWARK, having
re-embarked again at the start of January 1961; 814 also
departed to rejoin HERMES during the month but returned
again on February 7th for an eleven day stay before
rejoining HERMES on the 18th.
The necessary works
required to accommodate the Marines were completed by March
1961 and the H.Q. of 3 Commando Brigade moved into the
station. On March 22nd 848 flew ashore from BULWARK and on
the 29th fixed-wing flying returned to Sembawang when 825
NAS disembarked from VICTORIOUS with 9 Gannet AS.4s for the
first of three periods ashore; after a two week stay they
re-embarked on April 11th. 848 re-joined BULWARK on the
825 returned for a
month’s stay on May 9th, they re-embarked on June 14th; 848
flew ashore from BULWARK on June 12th but only stayed 8 days
before the ship sailed again. On their next return to
Sembawang on July 12th they would spend four months ashore
while the ship underwent a refit. 825 disembarked from
VICTORIOUS for the last time on September15th, the departure
of their Gannets on October 10th marked the end of fixed
wing naval flying at Sembawang.
848 next embarked in
BULWARK on November 10th 1961 for an extended deployment,
they did not return to Sembawang until March 22nd 1962. The
station had been quiet during this period with no naval
flying but a second squadron arrived on April 4th when the
Wessex HAS.1s of 815 disembarked from ARK ROYAL, they
re-embarked on the 23rd. 848 re-joined BULWARK on April 18th
for a short deployment, returning to Sembawang on May 19th.
in June 1962 a new unit
arrived on the station, 66 Squadron RAF took up residence in
two of the Bellman hangars for assembly and flight testing
of 2 crated Belvidere Helicopters; they increased in
strength to 8 aircraft over the following months. At the
end of June 815 disembarked from ARK ROYAL on the 27th for
another short stay; they re-embarked on July 11th but
returned to the station again on the 26th. 848 also
re-embarked on July 10th for a one month deployment,
returning on August 6th. At the end of August 1962 the
stations longest serving resident, 1911 Flight, 656 Light
Aircraft Squadron AAC, relocated to RAF Kluang.
Re-commissioned as HMS SIMBANG: Third Commission 1962 - 1971
RNAS Sembawang was
re-commissioned as HMS SIMBANG on September 4th 1962, as a
unique command which combined both a Naval Air Station and
Royal Marines Barracks with Lieutenant Colonel M. A.
Wilberforce RM in command. Both 815 and 848 squadrons flew
ashore on the same date, 848 only stayed for a week before
re-joining BULWARK, 815 re-joined ARK ROYAL on the 29th.
During October and November1952 there was no naval flying,
the work to refurbish the Control Tower was completed in
November as the station continued to be updated.
Flying resumed in
December when 814 NAS disembarked from HERMES on the 21st;
they remained ashore through the holiday season and
re-embarked on January 5th 1963. The New Year also brought
the first elements of 845 and 846 squadrons to Sembawang
when 846 disembarked their 6 Whirlwind HAS.1s and a
detachment from 845 (possibly the squadrons 3 Hiller HT.2s)
flew ashore from
ALBION, now in her new role of a commando carrier, on January 10th. 846 re-embarked on
February 1st while the remainder of 845 (12 Wessex HAS.1s)
were disembarked on February 12th. 814 also flew ashore from
HERMES again on the 25th.
During March 66 Squadron departed for RAF Seletar having completed their work-up and training with heir Belvideres. On April 17th 845 re-embarked in ALBION and 814 flew out to join the Australian carrier HMAS MELBOURNE on the 20th.
With the departure of 66 Squadron space became available for
the RN Far East Helicopter Holding Unit to move back into
the station from RAF Tengah in May; the unit which employed
30 ratings maintaining reserve airframes and engines was
part of the Naval Aircraft Support Unit and Holding Unit at
Tengah. The Fixed- wing NASU was itself relocated to RAF
Changi in 1965. 846 also returned
to Sembawang in May, arriving from RAF Kuching, Sarawak,
Borneo on the 18th for a short stay before returning on June
1st. The only visitors during June were 814 which flew
ashore from HERMES on the 13th, rejoining the ship on the
ARK ROYAL was in the
area during the summer of 1963 and her anti-submarine
squadron, 815 spent two periods ashore, the 11th to 24th
July and 14th to 26th August. VICTORIOUS arrived in the
autumn and she too disembarked her anti-submarine squadron,
814 on September 25th, re-embarking on October 16th. The
squadron returned on November 8th and remained ashore until
January 14th 1964 when they re-joined VICTORIOUS.
In February 1964 815
squadron arrived on the station again, this time
disembarking from CENTAUR on the 12th before re-embarking on
March 1st. Their place was taken by 814 which disembarked
from VICTORIOUS on March 23rd for a 10 day stay, embarking
on April 4th. Later that month ‘B’ flight of 847 squadron
flew ashore from BULWARK with 6(?) Whirlwind HAS.1s, to
provide aircraft for training and exercises with the Royal
Marines in the area; the rest of the squadron was based at
RNAS Culdrose, Cornwall until its disbandment in December
1964. 815arived back on the station on April 30th for
another fortnight ashore, re-joining CENTAUR on May14th.
They were to have two more short stays during the summer,
the 15th t0 the 24th of July and the 15th t0 the 21st of
August. Next to arrive was 814 when VICTORIOUS returned to
Singapore on September 23rd for a refit. On October 19th 846
disembarked from BULWARK for the last time and was
officially disbanded, their aircraft remained at Sembawang
815 disembarked from CENTAUR for
one final period ashore on November 16th, re-embarking on
the 25th when the ship sailed for the UK. Her refit complete
VICTORIOUS re-embarked the aircraft of 814 on November 11th.
At the start of December 847 ‘B’ Flight, the last
operational RN unit on the station was disbanded on the 2nd
when their parent squadron was dissolved in the UK.
At the start of 1965 a reformed
820 returned, this time disembarking from EAGLE with 8
Wessex HAS.1s on January 14th, they re-embarked on the 26th.
The station was quiet again until early March when a
detachment of 4 Wessex of 845 disembarked from ALBION on
March 7th for a 10 day spell ashore. The first
commonwealth naval air squadron to visit the station since
the Korean War arrived in March when the 8 Wessex HAS.31As
of 817 disembarked from HMAS MELBOURNE. At the start off
April 814 returned for another two week spell ashore,
re-embarking in VICTORIOUS on the 14th, they were soon
replaced by 820 which returned on the 20th. Towards the end
of the month a reformed 848 NAS was disembarked from ALBION
on the 20th; still a commando helicopter squadron but now
re-equipped with 18 Wessex HU.5s. Initially only H.Q., ‘B’,
‘C’, & ‘D’ flights arrived on the station; 'A' Flight was at
sea operating from RFA SIR LANCELOT and did not arrive until
June 19th. H.Q. Flight was to remain at Sembawang but the 4
sub flights were to be detached to operate from jungle bases
in Borneo and at Labuan in the Malaysian Federal Territories
beginning in May 1965.
815 disembarked again on July
15th, this time from ARK ROYAL which had relieved CENTAUR
when she sailed for the UK to be paid off to reserve. They
re-embarked on August 3rd only to return again on September
4th for another two week stay. 820 spent a week ashore from
October 12th, re-joining EAGLE on the 19th; 815 arrived the
following day and stayed until December 6th.
Fleet Amphibious Forces Base established
In 1965 plans were put in motion to further develop RNAS
Sembawang into a base for the support of commando
operations, a second RM Barracks was under construction to
house a second Royal Marine Commando and the station was to
become a Fleet Amphibious Forces Base.
The station continued to provide support for disembarked
anti-submarine squadrons and 815 arrived in the New Year for
a nineteen day stay, disembarking from
ARK ROYAL on January 8th 1966. During February 820
disembarked again from EAGLE on the 12th,
re-joining the ship on the 29th 815 flew ashore again on
March 15th, staying until the 24th before re-joining ARK
The new accommodation, Dieppe Barracks, located northeast of
the airfield was completed in March 1966 and along with the
existing Kangaw Barracks to the south, formed the new Far
East Fleet Amphibious Forces Base. 40 Commando moved into
Dieppe Barracks from their previous home at Burma Camp, West
Malaysia, and 7 & 8 Batteries, 95 Commando Light Regiment,
Royal Artillery, was also established at Sembawang.
815 was the only visitor during April, staying for a week;
820 disembarked again on May 10th and stayed until June 2nd.
They made one last stop-over at the start of July before
re-joining EAGLE on the 11th when the ship sailed for the
UK. VICTORIOUS was the next strike carrier on station and
she disembarked the Wessex HAS.1s of 814 NAS on August 10th;
they re-embarked on September 5th. 848 NAS H.Q. also
departed on this date, joining the four sub-flights already
embarked in ALBION to return to the UK. BULWARK relieved
ALBION and disembarked the 16 Wessex HU.5s of 845 Commando
Helicopter Squadron on September 16th; they re-embarked on
October 3rd. A detachment of 4 aircraft returned on
November15th, they re-joined the ship on December 3rd.
On December 9th 814 disembarked from VICTORIOUS and remained
ashore over the holiday period, re-embarking on January 10th
1967. Three days later 845 disembarked from BULWARK,
re-embarking on February 3rd. These two squadrons were the
stations only visitors until July 1967, both disembarking
twice more during this period. On July 7th 826 arrived on
the station with 8 Wessex HAS.1s, disembarking from HERMES,
they re-embarked a week later. At the end of the month 845
arrived from RAF Kuantan, Malaya on the 27th. They briefly
moved back up country to RAF Terendak on September 13th but
returned to Sembawang on the 20th and re-embarked in BULWARK
on the 29th. BULWARK landed her charges again on October
23rd but ‘A’, ‘B’ & ‘C’ flights re-embarked on November 6th,
returning on the 17th. The whole squadron re-joined the ship
on November 27th.
When ALBION arrived back at Singapore in December 1967 848
NAS disembarked to Sembawang on the 12th, the squadron now
included a Wasp HAS.1 for use as a Royal Marine liaison
aircraft. They re-embarked in ALBION on January 19th 1968.
845 flew ashore from BULWARK on February 2nd for a short
stay before moving to RAF Changi on the 9th’ this ended the
squadrons association with Sembawang as they re-joined
BULWARK on the 17th and the ship sailed for the UK. ALBION
disembarked 848 again on May 27th but they only stayed
ashore until June 3rd; they returned again in less than
three weeks on June 21st but 'B' & 'C' flights embarked in
the landing platform dock (LPD) INTREPID two days later.
The remainder of the squadron embarked in ALBION again on
848 disembarked again on August 5th; ‘B’ & 'C' flights
embarked in ALBION on the 29th, the remainder embarked on
September 18th. Meanwhile on August 12th 1968 No. 3 Commando
Brigade Air Squadron was formed at Sembawang to support the
marines, initial equipment was 14 Sioux AH.1s. 814 also
arrived back on the station at the end of August,
disembarking from HERMES on the 30th and re-embarked on
September 16th. 868 spent another 3 week period ashore in
November disembarking on the 5th and re-joining ALBION on
the 26th. 814 squadron returned on December 12th and
remained ashore until the New Year, re-embarking on January
With the departure of 814, 'A' flight of 848 NAS operated
ashore from January 13th till the 17th and the whole
squadron was disembarked on February 12th. The squadron was
to lose 8 of their aircraft while ashore at Sembawang to
make up the 10 Wessex HU.5s required to re-form 847 on March
14th 1969; the leaner 848 re-joined ALBION on the same day.
The new 847 also embarked in ALBION on May 16th for a short
cruise returning to the station on the 28th after which the
ship and 848 sailed for the UK.
The 8 Wessex HAS.31s of 817 squadron RAN paid a second visit
when they disembarked from HMAS MELBOURNE during June.
Beginning in July 847 operated various short detachments on
board the LPD FEARLESS and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary
logistics landing ship SIR GALAHAD.
By the end of 1969 the station was settled into the routine
of 847 and 3 BAS as resident units; at the end of February
1970, 847 embarked in FEARLESS, transferring to BULWARK at
the start of March. The carrier arrived back in Singapore on
March 8th and both 847 and 848 disembarked to Sembawang. 847
re-embarked on April 4th for a seven day sortie on board
BULWARK disembarking again on the 11th.
The Helicopter Cruiser BLAKE was also in the Far East at
this time with the Wessex HAS.3s of 820 squadron embarked
and 2 of these were disembarked on May 11th, the other two
aircraft arrived on the 15th when the ship entered the Naval
Dockyard for boiler repairs. 847 were to re-embark in
BULWARK again on May 11th for one last sortie before the
carrier was due to return to the UK. Four days later 848
arrived back on the station for a three week stay before
re-embarking in BULWARK on June 10th. While adhere at
Sembawang 820 squadron’s aircraft were briefly detached to
operate as two flights of 2 aircraft embarked in the RFAs
OLMEDA and TIDESPRING from June 15th to the 27th.
847 disembarked from BULWARK for the final time on June 29th
leaving 848 on board for the passage home to the UK. 820
squadron re-embarked in BLAKE on July 16th. During August
and September 847 began operating detachments on board
INTREPID, RFA SIR GALAHAD and the heavy repair ship TRIUMPH
before the squadron relocated to RAF Kai Tak on September
29th. 847 returned to Singapore on board INTREPID and
arrived back at Sembawang on October 10th 1970. There was no
Commando Carrier on the Far East station at this time; both
ALBION and BULWARK were in the UK so the squadron resumed
operating detachments in INTREPID and TRIUMPH until February
1971 when they switched to INTREPID, RFAs SIR GALAHAD and
Rundown to closure
The rundown and eventual closure of British bases in
Singapore had been on the cards for some considerable time;
as part of defence spending reviews conducted by the new
Labour government of the mid-1960s. At this time the British
economy was vulnerable following the sterling crises off
1966 to 1967 and the devaluation of the pound in 1967; huge
savings were to be achieved by a total withdrawal of its
troops “East of Suez” by the end of 1971. This policy was
announced on January 16th 1968.
On May 22nd 1971 848 NAS returned to Sembawang, disembarking
from ALBION, three days later 847 Squadron was disbanded
into 848 which now operated 22 Wessex HU.5s. The squadron
re-embarked at the end of June, returning on August 23rd.
On September 1st 1971 control of RNAS Sembawang was handed
over to the Singapore Air Defence Command as Sembawang Air
Base, the Fleet Amphibious Forces Base facilities were
transferred to ANZUK Support group; HMS SIMBANG finally paid
off on September 30th 1971.
Fleet Air Arm squadrons continued to operate from the
station until October, 848 ‘A’ Flight had embarked in
INTREPID on August 27th; the remainder of the Squadron left
the station for the final time on September 17th 1971 when
they embarked in ALBION. The 6 Sea King HAS.1s of 826
squadron were the last to operate from Sembawang,
disembarking from EAGLE on September 20th, re-embarking on
Post RN use
Little is known about the station after the RN withdrawal;
it remained a of part the ANZUK force which was formed in
Singapore on November 1st 1971, operated under
the ‘Five Power Defence Arrangements’ between Australia, New
Zealand, United Kingdom, Singapore and Malaysia. ANZUK
disbanded in 1974, when the UK and Australia withdrew; a new
force, the New Zealand Force South East Asia (NZFORSEA) was
formally established on 30 January 1974 and continued under
the same framework as the ANZUK force. There is no evidence
that the airfield facilities were regularly utilised until
1983 when Sembawang Air Base became a full-fledged
rotary-wing air base, 120 Squadron Republic of Singapore Air
Force became its first resident helicopter squadron when it
was permanently relocated from Changi Air Base.
At some stage a new 2,000 yard 04/22 Asphalt runway was
constructed and is still in use in the 21sr century. It was
built a few hundred yards further North-West of the
technical site than the original proposed layout, which was
adjacent to the western pair of Bellman hangars as marked on
the Admiralty plan dated 1947. A much shorter, narrower
second runway 05/23, of 1,133 yards has been added for
Click here for a list of
Jackson. R., (2011) The Malayan Emergency and Indonesian
Confrontation: The Commonwealth's Wars 1948-1966 Pen & Sword
Aviation Accessed on Google Books Dec 7 2017
Landsdown. J.R.P., (1992) 'With
the carriers in Korea - the Fleet Air Arm Story 1950 - 53'
Worcester, Square One publications
Web site -
656 Squadron Association - Malaya – Korea accessed 16 December 2017