The need for a forward pool of combat ready aircraft had been
planned as a part of the BPF's build up to beginning operations with
the U.S. fleet. However, the base which was to be provided by the
Americans, would not be available for several months due to higher
than anticipated operational demands. In reality the establishment
of the forward area MONAB was to be accomplished first, Mobile Naval
Air Bases No. IV was established at Ponam, Admiralty Islands, in
late March 1945 and provided a subsidiary pool of reserve airframes
until the FAP could be set up.
M.S.R. 5 (A) operating aboard HMS
Arbiter servicing aircraft as one half of the F.A.P.
afloat prior to the establishment of the permanent F.A.P.
on Pityilu. Photo: From author's collection.
Whilst no permanent shore base existed for a pool a reserve was
maintained onboard several of the replenishment CVEs (escort
carriers), and the Aircraft Maintenance ship HMS Unicorn. In order
to man and equip some of the CVEs the storage section of MONAB II
was broken up at the beginning of February 1945 to form four new
M.S.R. units, M.S.R. s 3, 4, 7, and 8. M.S.R. s 3 & 4 were earmarked
for the forward area, 7 & 8 were attached to TAMY I on arrival in
M.S.R. 3 was split into two sub units, A & B, and installed
aboard the CVE HMS Striker and the Maintenance Carrier HMS Unicorn.
M.S.R. 4 was also divided, one part was embarked in Unicorn but put
ashore on Ponam inn the the Admiralty Islands at the beginning of
February. The second half embarking in HMS Speaker and being
reunited with the rest of the unit when it was delivered to Ponam on
March 13th. A further Maintenance, Storage & Resave unit, M.S.R. 5
was also to be split with sub units installed in the CVEs Chaser &
Arbiter to relieve the pressure on Striker and Unicorn.
By early June a dedicated FAP was assembled in Australia; this
unit was to be a forward reserve aircraft depot, the main component
being 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 to form the nucleus of the new FAP. 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 HMS Pioneer on the June 16th, Lt. Cdr D. A.
Horton R.N.V.R. in command.
Originally the Forward Aircraft Pool was to be located at Samar
in the Philippines, however operational difficulties and a lack of
facilities becoming available from the Americans led to these plans
being changed; the U.S. Naval air Station on the island of Pityilu
in the Admiralty Islands was offered as a compromise solution; they
were only able to grant lodger facilities for the RN at Pityilu
however, as the airfield was still in use by the US Navy.
Pityilu is a small island, 22 Miles East of Ponam (see
MONAB 4) on the outer reef of Seeadler harbour, about 5 miles N.
of Manus in the Admiralty Islands. Recaptured by US forces in March
1944 the island was to house a coral airstrip for the U.S. Navy, and
a Rest & Recreation facility designed to accommodate up to 10,000
servicemen a day.
Pityilu Island, the coral airstrip can
be seen as a white stripe across the island's centre.
Photo: From author's collection.
Construction of these facilities was carried out by the 140th
Naval Construction Battalion (NCB), which arrived at Manus during
June 1944, the airfield facility comprised of a single runway, made
of crushed coral, and living areas for squadron personnel and about
5,000 other servicemen. USN Airstrip Pityilu was to be the home of
Carrier Air Support Unit (CASU) 42.
As with Ponam, a detachment of the 140th NCB (one company)
operated on the island until April 14th 1945 when they were replaced
by Construction Battalion Maintenance Unit (CBMU) 587 which arrived
at Manus on March 30th, 1945. This unit was permanently quartered at
Pityilu, and at war's end the unit was still stationed there, with a
detachment based on Ponam Island.
Pityilu was closed by the US Navy on September 1st 1947.
HMS. Pioneer disembarked the FAP at Pityilu Island on the June
21st in order to establish the stock of spare aircraft for the Air
Train (the name given to the aircraft supply element of the Fleet
Train). The facility was already in use by the Fleet Train aircraft
maintenance and repair ships Unicorn & Pioneer for maintenance test
flying of airframes repaired onboard . A small test flight had been
established on Pityilu sometime after the first operational strikes
were carried out by the BPF.
Reserve aircraft held by the RN
Forward Aircraft Pool on Pityilu Island. Photo: From
The single strip of bright white coral, which formed the runways
of both Pityilu and Ponam airfields, reflected the heat of the sun
causing a build up of hot air above the runway. The FAP operated
successfully on Pityilu, feeding replacement airframes to the fleet
and to MONAB 4, and 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.
With the war over by mid August, the Forward Aircraft Pool at
Pityilu was no longer required and the unit was ordered to be closed
by mid September. HMS Unicorn arrived at the island on September
17th to evacuate the equipment of the Forward Aircraft Pool and the
RN presence on Pityilu airstrip was officially withdrawn; all stocks
of reserve Aircraft having been flown to Ponam.
@1999 - 2011
Forward area reserve aircraft pool holding combat ready front line
MONAB Components :
Headquarters unit, Maintenance, Storage & Resave 1, One Mobile
21 June 1945 (at US NAS Pityilu)
17 Sep 1945 (at US NAS Pityilu)
- Lt. Commander (A) (P) D. A. HORTON R.N.V.R 16 June 1945 to 17
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The personnel of RN FAP No.1. Click to see
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