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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 Australia.
 

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 author's collection.

 

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.

 

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Function :
Forward area reserve aircraft pool holding combat ready front line aircraft.

 

MONAB Components :
Headquarters unit, Maintenance, Storage & Resave 1, One Mobile Maintenance Unit

 

Opened :
21 June 1945 (at US NAS Pityilu)

 

Closed :
17 Sep 1945 (at US NAS Pityilu)

 

 

 

  • Lt. Commander (A) (P) D. A. HORTON R.N.V.R 16 June 1945 to 17 September 1945

 

 


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The personnel of RN FAP No.1.  Click to see larger image.

 

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