Personnel and equipment for Mobile Naval Air Base No. IV began to assemble assemble on November 15th 1944 at
Royal Naval Air Station Ludham, Norfolk, the headquarters of the Mobile Naval Airfields Organisation (MNAO). The unit was to form as a type A (Small) MONAB tasked with supporting up to 50 aircraft and was allocated the following maintenance components:
Mobile Maintenance unit No. 3 supporting Avenger Mk. I & II, Firefly Mk. I, Seafire Mk. III & L.III
Maintenance Servicing unit No. 5 supporting Corsair Mk. II & IV
Maintenance Servicing unit No. 6 supporting Hellcat Mk. I & II
Maintenance Annex No. 1 supported aircraft type not known
Additional components added after arrival in the Pacific theatre in response to a change in roles:
Maintenance Storage & Reserve unit No. 1* Avenger Mk. I & II, Corsair Mk. II & IV, Hellcat Mk. I & II.
Maintenance Storage & Reserve unit No. 4 Avenger Mk. I & II, Corsair Mk. II & IV, Hellcat Mk. I & II
Maintenance Storage & Reserve unit No. 6 Firefly Mk. I, Seafire Mk. III & L.III, Sea Otter
Mobile Air Torpedo Maintenance Unit No. 7 * Formed the forward Aircraft Pool on Pityilu Island under MONAB 4 control.
This division of the complement made kitting up, checking of lists, and arranging short maintenance courses, and ultimately embarkation, unnecessarily complicated. To further compound an already complicated restructuring of the unit's assembly and formation period it was found that many of the ratings drafted were unfamiliar with the several types of aircraft which it was intended that MONAB II should handle; the formation time table made no allowance for rating familiarisation, unit sailing dates were pre-set so training outside of that set out in the formation programme was sacrificed. In addition to unprepared technical ratings, no adequate writer staff were drafted, ratings received were inexperienced; of three supplied for the workshop element, only one could type with any speed or accuracy.
The severe winter of 1944 was to compound the strain of the day-to-day routines of the assembling units, things inevitably slowed down; ratings were forced to queue for hours in rain, mud and snow for personal kit issues. Ludham was not an ideal base for the formation of units like MONABs; it was a dispersed airfield where all of the facilities were located around the outer edges of the base. The majority of the airfield was open grass, this was used for all manner of purposes from vehicle parks to large areas of tented accommodation erected to house the personnel of the assembling MONAB units; all became a quagmire. The severe winter of 1944 was to compound the strain of the day-to-day routines of the assembling units, things inevitably slowed down; ratings were forced to queue for hours in rain, mud and snow for personal kit issues. Ludham was not an ideal base for the formation of units like MONABs; it was a dispersed airfield where all of the facilities were located around the outer edges of the base. The majority of the airfield was open grass, this was used for all manner of purposes from vehicle parks to large areas of tented accommodation erected to house the personnel of the assembling MONAB units; all became a quagmire.
MONAB IV commissioned as an independent command on New Year's Day 1945 bearing the ship's name HMS ‘NABARON', Captain A.N.C. Bingley in command.
By mid-January the unit was ready for despatch overseas; all of the mobile units planned had been allocated to the support of the new British Pacific Fleet (BPF) which was to begin operations in the South Western Pacific in early 1945. Australia was to be the rear echelon area for the fleet [ the first 8 mobile units were despatched to Australia to await allocation of an operating location, a number of the MONABs were to be installed there. The unit's personnel, Stores and equipment were transported to Liverpool for embarkation on January 16th 1945. The personnel embarked in the troopship DOMINION MONARCH, stores and equipment in the SS CLAN MACAULAY; both sailed with convoy UC.53A on the 19th.
After calling at New York the DOMINION MONARCH passed through the Panama Canal to enter the Pacific, and arrived in Sydney, Australia on February 21st, the personnel were disembarked to HMS GOLDEN HIND, RN Barracks at Warwick Farm Race Course, to await the allocation of an operating base. Departmental officers lived in Sydney and were thus able to liaise directly with the staff of the Flag Officer Naval Air Stations (Australia).
The planning staff of the BPF headquarters decided that MONAB IV would become the first unit to be established in the forward area, its operational base was to be at Ponam, in the Admiralty Islands where US Navy airfield facilities had been loaned from the Americans. To this end the CLAN MACAULAY, still on passage, was diverted to the fleet anchorage at Manus, Admiralty Islands in preparation for occupying Ponam airfield.
Leapfrogging to victory - the first stage: The conceit of the Mobile Airfields was simple, as the Fleet operating area moved further forward MONABs would be established at suitable island locations to provide the shore based forward area support, once the operating area moved forward again another MONAB would ‘leap-frog’ the last one installed so forming a chain of bases between the forward area and the intermediate base at Manus. MONAB IV was to be the first link in this island chain. The decision to install MONAB IV in the forward area meant that in addition to its primary role of supporting disembarked front-line squadrons, it was also tasked with providing reserve aircraft storage. Reserve airframes would be issued to the fleet as required or ferried forward in replenishment carriers to provide replacements at sea as part of the Fleet Train, the support ships of the BPF. In order to provide the storage facility an additional component was added to the unit’s compliment; Maintenance Storage & Repair unit no. 4 (MSR 4) was transferred from the strength of MONAB II at RNAS Bankstown, Sydney.
The vehicles, equipment and a small advance party of MSR 4 were ferried to Ponam on the maintenance carrier HMS UNICORN which sailed for Manus with the BPF, arriving on March 7th; unloading began on the 8th. Three months Victualling stores were also delivered on the 8th by the Victualling Store Issue Ship (VSIS) FORT EDMONTON. Five days later the CLAN MACAULAY arrived at Manus on March 13th with the stores and equipment of MONAB IV.
The advance party, of 6 Officers and 57 ratings, together with the remaining elements of MSR4 arrived at Ponam on the 15th on board the escort carrier SPEAKER to begin unloading the CLAN MACAULAY. The first aircraft on the station were six Corsairs disembarked from UNICORN with MSR 4; initially the only Pilot was the Lieutenant Commander (Flying) who arrived with the advance party and all test flying of the aircraft, and routine trips in the station's Stinson Reliant 'runabout' had all to be carried out by him until two dedicated test pilots, RNVR Sub-Lieutenants P. J. Hyde and J. E. Jones, arrived on April 3rd. There was no need for test pilots in the unit’s original tasking sand none had been available to travel from Sydney with either the advance party or the main body.
The main party arrived at Ponam on the 25th on board the Landing Ship Infantry (LSI(L)) EMPIRE ARQUEBUS, by this time all domestic services were functioning. The next eight days were spent in the installing of equipment and organising the setting up of the ship (RN shore establishments are still classed as ships). Considerable help was received from the US Navy Seabee (Construction Battalion) maintenance unit, which was billeted on Ponam, and in the early days their aid was invaluable. While in Sydney the senior officers had managed to acquire some domestic refrigerators and Wiles Mobile Galleys to replace the antiquated and unsuitable types provided in the U.K.; as it transpired no mobile galleys were actually needed since Ponam was a fully equipped airfield, however the Wiles Mobile Galley was considered to be ideal for a forward operating MONAB.
Prior to the arrival of MONAB IV the forward area aviation support comprised of lodger facilities granted at the US Naval Air Station on Pityilu Island, 22 miles east of Ponam. The Maintenance Carrier UNICORN was to remain at the fleet anchorage and eventually put ashore a small test flight to Pityilu for maintenance test flying of airframes that had been repaired onboard. The only squadron use of Pityilu airstrip was made on March 15th when the BPF carriers INDOMITABLE, VICTORIOUS, and INDEFATIGABLE flew ashore a proportion of their Squadrons to Pityilu Island after two days of intensive flying training at sea; arrangements had been made with US authorities for this to be done, the carriers landing the necessary personnel, etc. They had all re-embarked by the 18th when the BPF sailed from Manus for Ulithi Atoll to begin strike operations.
The former U.S. Naval Airfield Ponam was commissioned as HMS NABARON, Royal Naval Air Station PONAM on April 2nd 1945.
RNAS Ponam, a former US Naval Air Station built on a small coral island, looking south to north.
As the unit began to settle in it soon became apparent that the MONAB was not equipped, and in some areas not adequately manned, for the tasks it was expected to perform. Another major short coming, on the flying side, was parachutes, 3 Pilot type Parachutes were supposed to be included in the main stores, these had not been supplied even by the time the Pilot strength had been increased to four, and consequently all flying had to be centred round three borrowed parachutes. The maintenance of parachutes also does not seem to have been considered by the Admiralty, no tables or even packing sheets were provided; in a damp and hot climate like those experienced in the tropics it is hard to speculate on the fate of any parachutes not receiving regular maintenance, thankfully a complete parachute servicing installation, equipped with dehumidifying plant, had been erected by the U.S. Navy. With the arrival of Squadrons, it became apparent that additional vehicles, either 15 Cwt type and/or Jeeps, should have been allowed for as squadron transport. Although 4 Jeeps were laid down as part of the complement of the ''F" component, only two were received before leaving the UK. The Crash Tenders originally supplied were found to be obsolete and useless. These and other shortcomings were represented to Flag Officer Naval Air Pacific (FONAP) and two new crash tenders were eventually supplied.
The absence of any crane able to lift any type of naval aircraft was another serious omission, luckily the Seabee maintenance unit came to NABARON's rescue. From the time MONAB IV arrived until the beginning of September maintenance of the camp electrical services were carried out in conjunction with the Seabee unit; NABARON personnel did the majority of the work since the American unit had only one electrical rating. Work carried out included general maintenance of galley electrical machinery, the telephone system and lighting system, rewiring of old installations and erection of new wiring for new requirements, replacement of poles, and the re-organisation followed by the maintenance of the runway lighting system. This endless task kept a party of one Chief Electrical Artificer, one Petty Officer Wireman, one Leading Wireman and six other ratings continuously occupied.
On the 30th of April HMS NABARON commenced a programme of training for aircrews, two Avenger aircraft together with four spare crews disembarking from the ferry carrier HMS FENCER. This was to be the start of the build-up of the reserve aircraft to be held at the station; by the end of May 40 reserve airframes had been received from the ferry carriers. There were no aircraft issues made during this period.
First squadrons arrive: The escort carrier HMS BEGUM arrived off the island on May 28th to deliver the first resident squadrons, 721 Fleet Requirements unit (FRU) equipped with 6 Vengeance TT.IV target tugs and 'B' Flight of 1701 Air Sea Rescue (ASR) squadron equipped with 4 Sea otter amphibians. No. 721 squadron was to provide aircraft to act as targets for fighter interceptions and lowing drogues for air to air firings to exercise with the ships of the BPF and squadrons ashore at Ponam. 1701 was to begin operations from Ponam in support of carriers working up in the area. Also arriving on the station on the 28th were detachments of 6 aircraft each from 801 & 880 (Seafire) squadrons, and 828 (Avenger) squadron's 15 aircraft on the 29th, all from the Fleet Carrier HMS IMPLACABLE which was completing her work up period.
The arrival of these aircraft marked the start of a six-week training period, during this time Ponam was to be used for Aerodrome Dummy Deck Landing (ADDL) training. 801 & 880 Squadron detachments re-embarked on the 31st; they were replaced on the same day, by 1843 (Corsair)Squadron which disembarked from HMS ARBITER with 24 aircraft, and 885 (Hellcat) Squadron from HMS RULER bringing 20 aircraft. By this time the Station Flight of Stinston Reliant aircraft proved to be an invaluable asset, being continuously employed carrying Personnel, light Stores and correspondence up and down the reef.
Another MSR arrives: June was a very busy month. A second Maintenance Storage & Repair unit, MSR 6, arrived on June 1st on the escort carrier ARBITER; this additional unit, equipped to service Firefly I, Seafire III & L.III and Sea Otter aircraft increased the stations reserve capacity to 100 aircraft. MSR 6 was initially attached to MONAB II at RNAS Bankstown, Sydney after its arrival in Australia on April 9th before embarking in ARBITER on May 18th for passage to Ponam. The same day saw the arrival of the VSIS FORT ALABAMA with a further three months stores. ADDLs continued with Seafire aircraft of both 801 and 880 squadrons and 1771 squadrons Fireflies being frequent visitors to the station. The latter disembarked a detachment of 7 aircraft on the 9th, the same day 6 Avengers of 828 re-joined IMPLACABLE. The remaining 9 aircraft and the detachment from 1771 re-joined the ship on the 12th. The Hellcats of 885 re-joined RULER on the 17th, only to disembark a detachment of 12 two days later to spend a week of intensive ADDLs and live firing; a few Corsairs were attached to the Squadron during this period, re-embarking in RULER on the 28th. The Corsairs of 1843 re-joined ARBITER on June 25th.
The RN Forward Aircraft Pool established on Pityilu Island: The planning staff of the BPF headquarters decided that MONAB IV was to be joined in the Admiralty Islands by a new, but separate unit, the RN Forward Aircraft Pool (FAP); originally it had been hoped that this unit would be located at Samar in the Philippines, however operational difficulties and a lack of suitable facilities becoming available from the Americans led to these plans being changed. The Lodger facilities secured on U.S. Naval Air Station Pityilu provided a compromise solution, the airfield was still in use by the US Navy as an Air Maintenance Depot. The RN FAP sailed from Sydney onboard HMS PIONEER on June 16th. This unit was to be a Forward Reserve Aircraft Depot, the main component being MSR 1 which was detached from MONAB I at Nowra, New South Wales on June 7th. PIONEER disembarked the FAP to Pityilu Island on June 21st, when it became attached to MONAB IV for administration purposes. The facility was already used by the Fleet Train aircraft maintenance and repair ships UNICORN, and later PIONEER, for maintenance test flying of airframes that had been repaired onboard.
During June the numbers accommodated on the island were at their highest, in addition to the squadrons ashore recreational parties from the Fleet were also accommodated for periods of 48 hours. In general, the organisation coped with these additional numbers, except for the extra strain on the Wardroom Cooks and Stewards. MONAB IV's complement, including the 2 MSR units, totalled around 785 men, but it was further tasked to provide accommodation for up to a further 930 officers and men from both resident and disembarked squadrons. At its maximum capacity HMS NABARON could be home to 1700 men; overflow accommodation for squadron personnel was provided in the form of native style reed huts along the edges of the lagoon, these were found to be more than adequate for temporary housing. The chief Malariologist on BPF headquarters Staff visited the station to assess the unit’s tropical hygiene and inspect the work of Mobile Malarial Hygiene Unit No.5. This specialist medical unit had been attached to MONAB IV because the Admiralty Islands was an active Malaria region where the disease was transmitted by mosquitoes. He reported favourably on the state of the island from the Health and Hygiene point of view. During the month of June Ponam received 72 reserve aircraft delivered by ferry carriers, the station issued 44 replacements.
There were two serious accidents at Ponam, both during June; one involved a Vengeance Target Tug of 721 FRU, the other a Seafire of 880 squadron. On June 12th, a Vengeance target tug (HB546) experienced control problems on the take-off run, it is believed that either the rudder or one of the ailerons locked causing the aircraft to swing to port. The aircraft crossed the airfield boundary and entered the lagoon. The aircraft turned over on impact with the water and quickly sank in 15 feet of water. Onlookers, including men of MSR 6 ran to the spot where the aircraft had entered the lagoon, several diving in to attempt a rescue the pilot Lt. H Kirby RNVR who survived. As a result of this incident all Vengeance target tugs were grounded until the fault could be identified and rectified.
The second incident was more serious, Sub-Lt Peter Record RNVR of 880 squadron was killed on June 20th when his Seafire L.III (PP957) hit radio masts on approach to a final landing after completing a set of ADDLs. The layout of the Ponam runway was not suited to the landing approach methods required for landing on board carriers so a modified approach was used for ADDLs which involved landing halfway down the runway. This modification worked fine for the ADDLs but was not reinforced by the tower when landing instructions were given at the end of the practice session. Sub-Lt Record reverted to a normal carrier approach in order to achieve the maximum possible landing run and turned into the radio mast near the end of the runway. The Seafire overturned as it hit the runway, pinning the pilot in the cockpit. Onlookers watching the ADDLs rushed up and attempted to extract the pilot by lifting the aircraft's tail high in the air, the pilot had hit the gun sight and had been knocked unconscious, and was unable to get out. Before anyone could get in to pull him out the whole aircraft went up in flames, engulfing those nearby and causing them to drop the tail back on the runway. Moments later the fire tender arrived, however because life would have been impossible in the heavy fireproof, asbestos suits its crew were dressed in bathing shorts and could not enter the flames straight away. The C02 extinguishers had difficulty in dousing the flames sufficiently for the pilot to be dragged clear immediately, finally a crane arrived, and a strop was slid under the tail to lift it high enough to pull him clear. Sub Lt Record was evacuated to the sickbay, but he died from his injuries several hours later. He was buried at sea off Ponam from the deck of a modified aircraft lighter. The occasion was marred by the discovery that the unit's bugler, drafted as such to HMS NABARON, was unable to sound off either the Last Post or Reveille.
A few days after 880 squadron had arrived, someone found a dead Japanese soldier trapped between rocks close by the 'bathing beach', where he had been since the Island was recaptured in late spring of the year before. The 'bathing beach' was at a little bay along the side of the lagoon where either the Japanese, or the Americans, had formed a deep pool in the coral using explosives. Those who used it found it to be only slightly cooler in the lagoon than ashore in the shade, the water temperature was about 90°F (32°C), hot enough for a warm bath.
RNAS Ponam aircraft park and maintenance area; there are 17 Vengeance target tugs, 4 Sea Otters & 14 Hellcats in the park, in the maintenance area next to the two Dorland hangars are 3 Reliant communications aircraft and 2 more Hellcats. A single Corsair is parked in the distance. The camp buildings can be seen in the tree line.
July brought Mobile Air Torpedo Maintenance Unit (MATMU) No. 7; this unit arrived on July 6th on board the CLAN CHATTAN having been transferred from MONAB V at RNAS Jervis Bay to bolster the unit’s ordnance facilities. Further provisions were delivered by the VSIS FORT DUNVEGAN on the 15th. On the 18th PIONEER delivered air stores and aircraft lighters to supplement the inadequate supply that arrived with the unit. On July 4th Captain Bingley had been taken ill, and as he showed no improvement, he was flown back to Australia for treatment at R.N. Hospital, Herne Bay, Sydney, on July 17th; Commander. W.S. Thomas, D.S.O., temporarily assumed command.
Further visitors from FONAP’s Staff arrived during July; Commander (A) Wilson and Staff Medical Officer, Surgeon Captain MacDowell, arrived on the 18th. Commander Wilson developed mumps on the last day of his visit and remained at Ponam for a further two weeks until he had recovered. Both these visitors were able to stay long enough to appreciate what living conditions on the station were really like and the recommendations made by them on their return to Australia produced quick results in respect of outstanding commanding officer's reports. UNICORN collected damaged airframes for repair on the 31st at the end of a month were only 6 reserve aircraft were received on the station, but issues were up, at 53.
FONAP visits: On August 1st the Flag Officer Naval Air Stations (Pacific), Rear-Admiral R. H. Portal, C.B., D.S.C. together with Commodore Air Train, Commodore H. S. Murray-Smith, the Staff Air Engineering Officer and Flag Lieutenant arrived on the station. The visitors carried out an inspection tour of the facilities at Ponam, returning to Sydney the next day. The supply of fresh fruit and vegetables by air and the provision of Leave planes to Sydney were discussed and both services were started shortly after FONAP's return to Australia. Rear Admiral Fleet Train (RAFT), Rear Admiral D. B. Fisher, CB, CBE, arrived at Ponam on board the Destroyer Depot Ship MONTCLARE on the 8th to assess the supply arrangements for replacement airframes for use by the replenishment carriers of the Fleet Train; he departed two days later. The opportunity for some recreational activities presented itself; there was a great deal of inter-ship sporting activity and everybody enjoyed the visit. Further stores were disembarked from the ferry carrier HMS CHASER on August 12th, it was intended that she should remain at Ponam to do Deck Landing Training with the reserve first-line crews, but she was required for another commitment and this had to be cancelled.
The first leave plane to be authorised since the unit's arrival at Ponam departed for Sydney on August 15th, a few hours before the men on Ponam heard the official news of the cessation of hostilities with Japan. Victory over Japan (V-J) Day was celebrated on Ponam the following day.
Although the war was officially over work continued at Ponam as usual, two days after the celebrations of V-J Day SLINGER arrived to collect damaged aircraft for transport to TAMY I at Archerfield, Brisbane, and 1841(Corsair) Squadron disembarked from FORMIDABLE, re-embarking the next day. On the 23rd 12 of 1850 (Corsair) Squadron's aircraft disembarked from HMS VENGEANCE in advance of the ship’s arrival. VENGEANCE arrived at the fleet anchorage at Manus on the 28th and disembarked 6 of 812 (Barracuda) Squadron’s aircraft to Ponam; additionally, 52 Officers & 43 ratings came ashore for short R & R.
A new Commanding Officer arrives: Captain C.J. Blake arrived on August 30th to assume command of MONAB IV, Captain Bingley being unfit to return to duty. Captain Blake had orders to place RNAS Ponam on one month's notice to close down; the Forward Aircraft Pool at Pityilu was to be closed by mid-September. The 812 Squadron detachment and R & R party re-embarked in VENGEANCE. Issues and receipts for August were 48 reserve aircraft received, and 28 replacements issued.
During September preliminary preparations for closing down RNAS Ponam and the RN FAP got underway. All stocks of reserve aircraft held on Pityilu were flown to Ponam; during its time in operation the FAP had handled the reception or embarkation of 348 aircraft, only one being damaged in the process. UNICORN evacuated the FAP on September 17th for passage to Australia. Every opportunity was taken to embark aircraft and stores in ships returning to Australia and a definite evacuation programme had been made out for October. It was expected that by the end of October that the Station would have shut down and all personnel, stores and equipment would have left. A small rear-guard party would be left at Ponam to hand over the loaned American equipment to the US Navy.
A new, and unforeseen, equipment problem arose on September 19th when the first attempt at lifting a Barracuda onto an aircraft lighter threw up a major snag; the American 'A' Frame, used with great success for this purpose, was found not to have sufficient height to lift a Barracuda, eight of these aircraft were at Ponam (ex Pityilu), for transfer by lighter to ship. The Barracuda was a new aircraft in the pacific theatre; they equipped the four new light-Fleet Carriers GLORY, COLOSSUS, VENERABLE, and VENGEANCE, which joined the BPF in mid-August. MONAB IV was not designed to support these aircraft, so unless a suitable crane could be found (one had been requested on several occasions), improvised methods of slinging would have to be devised, a situation which was regarded as less than satisfactory.
The first MONAB components are evacuated: The personnel of MSR 6 were embarked in the escort carrier VINDEX on September 26th, she had arrived form Java carrying hundreds of allied ex-prisoners of war including some women internees for passage to Sydney. The Boom Carrier HMS FERNMOOR arrived the 30th to take on board surplus naval and air stores; she was to remain until October 6th when she sailed shortly after dawn. During the month of September Ponam’s issues and receipts were; Received 45 reserve aircraft issued 52.
October was to be a busy month spent de-storing ship and despatching equipment to Australia. The escort carrier REAPER arrived at teatime on the 3rd to embark 'B' Flt of 1701 Squadron for passage to MONAB VIII (HMS NABCATCHER) at Kai Tak, Hong Kong; the squadron was never called upon to effect an air sea rescue during it's time at Ponam. UNICORN arrived late in the afternoon of October 6th to embark MSR 4 for return to Australia. The morning of the 7th saw the fast minelayer ARIADNE arrive to embark an advance party of officers for passage to Sydney, sailing at 17:00. UNICORN sailed at lunch time on October 9th, 721 Squadron having embarked during the morning. She was to be replaced later the same day by the SS EMPIRE CHARMAIN, which arrived to take on board the vehicles of MATMU 7; she sailed for Sydney on the 16th.
The next 9 days were spent packing the remaining stores, clearing up the station before final departure; UNICORN arrived back at Ponam on the 24th to begin embarking the remaining stores and personnel. CHASER arrived on October 30th to load MMHU 5, two refrigerators and two walrus aircraft. UNICORN and CHASER sailed for Australia on October 31st.
UNICORN arrived at Sydney on November 6th and the next two days were spent unloading stores and equipment onto the jetty for transport to GOLDEN HIND. On the 9th The personnel of MONAB IV embarked in the escort carrier SLINGER, anchored in Sydney harbour, she sailed at 14:00 the next day for passage to the UK; unknown to many of the ship's company HMS NABARON, RNAS Ponam was officially paid off at the same time, the station returning to U.S. Navy control. SLINGER docked at Devonport on Christmas Day, 1945.
The support of disembarked front line Squadrons .
The provision of reserve aircraft storage.
721 Fleet Requirements Unit.
1701 Air Sea Rescue squadron 'B' Flight
Mobile Maintenance 3,
Maintenance Servicing 5 & 6,
Maintenance, Storage & Resave 1, 4 & 6,
Maintenance Annexe 1,
Mobile Air Torpedo Maintenance Unit 7,
No. 721 squadron Fleet Requirements Unit.
Avenger Mk. I & II
Corsair Mk. II & IV
Hellcat Mk. I & II
Seafire III & L.III
Sea Otter I
Captain A.N.C. Bingley 01 January 1945 to 17 July 1945
Commander W.S. Thomas (tmy COd) 17 July to 31 August 1945
Captain C.J. Blake 31 August 1945 to 10 November 1945
The 'Jungle Echo the NABARON daily news sheet
The building of the US Navy airstrip on Ponam Island
Extracts from the cruise books of the 78th & 140th Naval Construction Battallions
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[ 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 nits, many joining TAMY I.
Reg served with Maintenance, Storage & Repair Unit No.6 (MSR 6) and wrote down his memories in the form of a story ‘A WISH COME TRUE’ which he has kindly allowed to be reproduced here. Copies of his work are lodged with the Fleet Air Arm Museum, and the University of Leeds.
Back in the early 1930's going to the cinema was a regular Saturday morning occasion, I don't think that my friend and I ever missed a matinee at the DELUXE theatre in Gloucester where, with great excitement, we used to watch serials such as The Last Of The Mohicans, The Lone Ranger, and Buck Rodgers etc. During the interval, the organ would rise up from the pit and we would sing along, with the help of words pointed out on the screen by a bouncing ball. It was after this that we'd be shown a travelogue and I well remember the paradise islands of the Pacific they portrayed: palm trees swaying-gently in the breeze, beautiful blue lagoons and exotic food in abundance.
Visitors to those shores were embraced by dusky maidens in grass skirts, festooned with garlands of flowers and regaled by the cascading harmonies of Hawaiian guitars to which the grass skirted ladies sensually gyrated. Trance like, the closing words of the narrator never varied: "And as the golden sun sinks slowly in the west, we say farewell to this island of paradise". I used to long to visit such an island and dream about my wish coming true.
On the 9th of December 1944, having been seconded to the Royal Air Force for nine months, I received a draft to return to H.M.S. Gosling in Warrington. This Fleet Air Arm camp was where I had received my basic training in March 1943 and I associated it with square bashing and disciplinary training that I and other raw recruits had been put through.
What was the reason for my return? During the customary F.F.I, and general joining routine, I met a few other bods who were wondering the same thing. All was revealed in a pep talk on how we were going to win the war and how we were to be trained in the art of self-defence, jungle fighting and survival. On the matter of survival, the only thing I knew was that you should never eat yellow snow.
Three months of intensive Commando training followed, in the middle of winter - how we ever survived the ordeal, I’ll never know. I was supposed to be a Leading Air Fitter and so what the hell was I doing, fighting fit and dressed in Khaki battle dress? At last! Order of the day: 14 days leave, and then report back to Gosling. 7th of March 1945: marching orders, destination Liverpool Docks. As part of a unit known as M.S.R.6, we piled into the usual mode of transport, the faithful old Bedfords.
Later while embarking on the cruise liner Empress of Scotland, close observation revealed that the word "Japan" had been blacked out and "Scotland" painted over it. Was this an omen?
With 10,000 souls on board, we joined a convoy, and headed north round the tip of Ireland and then south into the Atlantic before parting company with it at the Azores; the convoy continued onwards to the Med. Swinging to starboard, our course was south west across the Atlantic. With our speed increased from 6 to 22 knots it would be almost impossible for a submarine to sink us (so we were told). The old Empress shuddered as the taps were opened up, but she finally settled down as she reached cruising speed en route for the Panama Canal.
Early on in the journey, I found night times the worst. I clearly remember the day the Skipper assembled us on the promenade deck and told us that we were heading for Sydney, Australia, to join the Pacific fleet. We were given a lecture on how to survive should we have the misfortune of being torpedoed. That night in my bunk I was looking at a porthole immediately above my head and like all others it had been covered over with a thick steel plate. I realised that we must have been very close to the water line and that if attacked, a torpedo would enter the ship just below my bunk and that the Skipper's lecture seemed a complete waste of time; in any case I couldn't swim and even if I could, where would I swim to? After weighing up the situation I remembered that someone once told me that drowning was quite a pleasant experience, from then on for some reason or other, all doubts in my mind disappeared. On reflection, how can anyone know that drowning is a pleasant experience; I sometimes think that somewhere along the line we were all brainwashed to think that it would never happen to us.
After a few days out we ran into rough weather; it appears that the Captain had taken evasive action to avoid the worst part of the storm but even then, gale force winds lashed the old Empress and you could hear the creeks and groans as she battled against the elements, there were moments when I thought that all my birthdays had come at once; this was my first- introduction to rough weather and sea sickness.
As the days passed, life became very boring; nothing to do but pace the deck or stand and watch the hypnotic effect of the bow wave making instant changing patterns, or stand aft watching the wake left behind like a wide watery street reaching back to infinity. We were by now entering the tropics: The Empress was beginning to warm up; conditions below decks were gradually becoming almost unbearable. The holds were opened and large canvas sheets hung in an attempt to channel fresh air to the lower decks. Order of the day: sun bathing. Having received a lecture on the dangers of over exposure, on the first day we were only allowed 10 minutes on the front and 10 minutes on the back. This was extended at the rate of 5 minutes 'a day until we all had an acceptable tan protecting us from serious sunburn. Some of the lads did not heed the initial warning and suffered great agony of large blisters on their shoulders that could only be described as having the appearance of fried eggs. Because the injuries were self-inflicted, they received very little sympathy from the sick bay and had to suffer in silence.
At long last, land ahead! We had reached the port of Colon, the entrance to the Panama Canal. The Canal Zone had been occupied by the American army to ensure the safety of Allied shipping. We were allowed ashore, but only in the immediate vicinity of the Empress. Something I shall never forget is when a native attempted to sell bananas from the dockside. They were arranged on, what looked like, two massive hands each being almost as big as himself and suspended from a pole across his shoulders. Not having seen a banana since the outbreak of war, it was like showing a red rag to a bull; the poor fellow was mobbed. The unfortunate native disappeared without trace.
While the Empress was refuelling and taking on supplies the American U.S.0. (the equivalent to our E.N.S.A.) entertained us with the big band of Tommy Dorsey and the ever-popular Dinah Shaw.
We also enjoyed a demonstration by the American Jitterbug champion and, if my memory serves me right, Paddy Lewis the youngest member of M.S.R. 6 was one of the volunteers to have a go. Coca Cola and doughnuts were the order of the day, then back on board and the fantastic experience of passing through the Panama Canal. With just inches to spare we climbed up through the locks to the freshwater lake; what a relief! freshwater showers, the first since leaving home. Leaving the lake behind, we continued onwards and down to the Pacific (which I'm told, is higher than the Atlantic). We had witnessed the result of a feat of engineering beyond all words to describe; it has to be seen to be believed.
After a few days the Empress, continuing South West, began to cool down, making conditions more acceptable for the last stretch of our journey. Eventually we reached our destination, and what a welcome sight as we passed through Sydney Harbour Heads was the old coat hanger bridge spanning the harbour and the view of the city beyond. All around us, anchored in the harbour and tied up to quays were ships of every type Imaginable.
We were told that they were part of the famous Fleet Train on which we were later to rely on for our existence. Without them, indeed, the B.P.F would never have existed. On disembarking, and after a short journey out of Sydney, we arrived at R.N.A.S. Bankstown, or H.M.S. Nabberley, manned by M.O.N.A.B. 2, where we were soon involved in building Seafires which were transported to the Fleet by means of the escort carriers of the Fleet Train.
&In the first week in May we were given 14 days leave. My good pal, Harry Watts and I opted for a stay at a sheep station at a place by the name of Gidley. The station was in excess of 400 square miles, we were warned not to wander off out of sight of the homestead on our own; it was all too easy for anyone not conversant with the bush to get lost with serious consequences. On the 8th of May we received the news that Germany had surrendered. Mr Robinson the station manager immediately organised a Victory parade and Thanksgiving service at the Gidley war memorial. My claim to fame is that Harry Watts and I, were the first ever and only, F.A.A. ratings to lead a Victory Parade.
After sampling the generous hospitality of the Australian people, we embarked on the escort carrier H.M.S. Arbiter on the 18th of May to join up with M.O.N.A.B. 4 on the island of Ponam.
At last my wish of my younger days was about to come true; I was on my way to see for myself the swaying palms and dusky maidens of a paradise island in the South Pacific, but things were not quite as they had been portrayed in the travelogues. Firstly, I found out that the Pacific Ocean was not as tranquil and blue as they had made out. After about four days out somewhere around New Guinea, we hit a typhoon.
Huge waves broke over the flight deck which was loaded with supplies and, despite being securely lashed down, several crates were washed overboard.
During the height of the storm the Arbiter registered a list of 48 degrees and, without doubt, if it had not been for the full tanks of aviation fuel acting as ballast, she would have turned turtle. Had the tanks been only half full, the weight of fuel shifting to one side would have assisted in taking her under, fortunately the Captain had been well briefed on taking evasive action when confronted with such severe conditions.
There was an event on the 18th of December 1944 that involved the U.S. Navy's Pacific Fleet and was little known to the R.N. or to the public. The Scene for the catastrophe was set about 300 miles east of Luzon. During support missions for the invasion of the Philippines, the fleet was caught in the middle of a vicious typhoon. Three destroyers, the Hull, the Monaghan and the Spence quickly capsized and went down with all hands. Carriers Miami, Monterey, Cowpens, San Jacino, Cape Esperence and Altamaha were all seriously damaged, as were D.D.Aylwin, Dewey and Hickox, lesser damage was incurred by 19 other ships. Serious fires broke out on three carriers when aircraft smashed into each other in the hanger decks; 146 aircraft on various ships were lost overboard or sufficiently wrecked by fire or impact to warrant their scrapping. 790 men were killed and 80 were injured. Rolling of 70 degrees or more was reported from destroyers that survived. The severity of the disaster was due to the Fleet Commanders trying to maintain Fleet courses, speed and formations during the storm. Commanders failed to realise that they should have given up such attempts and instead, directed all attention to saving their ships. After this terrible tragedy, Admiral Nimitz issued orders to the effect that the safety of the ship at all times was of paramount importance even if it meant dropping out of battle formation; the ship would be saved to fight again and, in any case, the enemy would be similarly affected by turbulent conditions.
On entering the Bismarck Sea, we were warned that we'd come within range of enemy aircraft based at Rabaul in New Britain. The damage control party was closed up and all bulkhead doors kept shut, this being normal routine when in an operational area. A Corsair, which had been lashed down on the catapult, was checked over; it had not suffered any damage during the storm. An interesting thought: had it been necessary to have launched the Corsair there was no way that it could have landed back on board with the flight deck loaded with cargo, I presume that the Admiralty considered Pilots and Corsairs to be disposable objects.
Approximately 300 miles further on and we were approaching Manus, the main Pacific Fleet anchorage in the Admiralty Islands. We were lulled by a calm sea, a gentle breeze, the clear sky reflecting on the water, flying fish and dolphins riding the bow wave. My wish had started to come true; all I needed now was the tropical island and a blue lagoon. I was rudely awakened from my meditative state by a blast from the Tannoy, "M.S.R. 6 MUSTER IN THE HANGER DECK" we were told that we would be reaching our destination, Ponam Island, the next day The following morning we sailed into a massive anchorage of shipping, with the similar variety of ships seen in Sydney.
There were tramp steamers, tankers, cargo vessels and rust buckets of all shapes and sizes and nationalities. It was an International Fleet with Officers and men from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, and Canada etc. This was Task Force 112 better known as The Fleet Train. Its anchorage at Manus in the Admiralty Islands was the main forward supply base for the British Pacific Fleet
After unloading supplies and aircraft the Arbiter weighed anchor and preceded to Ponam Island just three hours sailing from the anchorage, I had at last arrived at my island paradise. Going ashore however was a great disappointment. Where were all the dusky maidens with there garlands of flowers?
Why, in the travelogues, was there no mention of the sun reflecting off the coral and burning your legs, or the sand flies, coral snakes, land crabs, mosquitoes, the high humidity, no flush toilets, no fresh water, tinned and dehydrated food, the list goes on and on. Needless to say no mention was made of the necessity of being armed with a Sten gun.
There was no doubt about it. All those travelogues that I had seen were part of a big con. I felt like complaining but unfortunately there wasn't a complaints department on the island. One Submarine Captain described the Admiralty Islands as the 'Islands of Lost Souls'.
Having grown a full set, and having suffered the agony of bugs getting trapped in it, I decided one morning after a restless night that enough was enough. I set to work with scissors and razor. I clearly remember the white mask that appeared all over my face. My beard had protected my face from the sun and I looked like the Phantom of the Opera, Even so, what a relief! However, my relief had a price attached: I was put on a charge for altering my identity. My pay book had a photo of someone with a beard but the person holding the pay book had no beard. This was a very serious charge and had I been anywhere else I would probably have been hung drawn and quartered or at the very least, been stripped of my hook. Fortunately, the skipper, apart from being sympathetic had a sense of humour. I was given 14 days confined to barracks; it was not recorded on my documents.
On the island we worked from dawn to dusk, there was no time for tropical routine, but it was not all doom and gloom. At times we received the privilege of extended "make and mends" when we would put on boots and gaiters to explore the shallow expanse of the lagoon where every type of coral and tropical fish existed. There was a deep pool in the lagoon, which had been scooped out of the coral with explosives either by the Japanese or the Americans and used for swimming, The water temperature rarely fell below 90F, and the only way to cool down was to stand wet in a slight breeze. As regular as clockwork, we would get an advanced warning of a tropical rain storm, because it was always preceded by the rustling of the palm trees as the wind sprang up.
M.S.R. 6 (Mobile Storage Reserve) was one of the many units making up M.O.N.A.B. 4. Some of us were detailed to the eastern end of the island to operate the dispersal site where, during our time on Ponam, literally hundreds of all different types of aircraft were despatched to carriers of the B.P.F. Due to the unpredictable weather and extreme conditions in the tropics the average life of a British aircraft was 15 flying hours, and of an American aircraft 25 hours. The difference between them was that a Seafire was designed as a short-range interceptor for use in temperate climates, whereas a Corsair was designed for long range and operation under tropical conditions; it even had an air-conditioned cockpit.
Earlier on I mentioned that we had no flush toilets. A walkway approximately 60ft long led to a platform over the sea covered with a roof of palm leaves. Inside was a low bench with a series of holes where one would drop shorts, sit on a hole and contemplate. The most unusual thing about this bench was that at times every other hole would be left vacant to allow each occupier to gaze down the adjacent one while holding in one hand, a fishing line. For some reason there was always an abundance of fish in this area; I have no idea what type of fish they were but we called them s**t fish.
In exchange for a tot of rum, I had obtained from one of the Yankee Sea Bees a primus stove, on top of which a piece of steel plate made a perfect barbecue. After de-scaling the fish it would be placed whole on the plate and well cooked, allowing the flesh to fall off the bones. This left the bones and intestines intact thereby stopping the contents o-f the stomach contaminating the flesh. This fresh meat made a welcome change to our diet.
Wednesday August 15th, we received the good news that the Japanese had surrendered. Order of the day: 'Splice the Mainbrace'. We were warned not to be too complacent; 1,000s of Japanese would not accept defeat and we were still considered to be operational, in fact it was not until March 2nd 1946 that the Americans considered that all hostilities had ceased. Anyone who served in the American forces up to that date were awarded the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal which was accompanied by the award of a pension for services rendered.
During our stay on Ponam we came under the command of William. F. Halsey who was the Commander of the American 3rd fleet. He was put in charge of all Naval Forces in the South Pacific. At the end of the war the Asiatic Pacific Campaign medal and pension was offered to all who had served under the command of the American Flee. unfortunately for us, the new British Labour Government of 1945 would not allow us this privilege.
There is just one thing, which rather irks me; it is an entry in Ron Lewin's unofficial diary, which makes me very envious of him and everyone who were on board H.M.S. Unicorn. It states; Thursday August 16th 1945 the 2nd day of celebrating has for us proved noteworthy in only one respect, namely the enjoyable dinner provided. The soup was quite commonplace, but the main course of turkey, stuffing, potatoes and green peas was liberal (a whole turkey between nine of us), well cooked and a complete change from the usual monotony of meat. There followed Christmas pudding and finally a raw apple. The ship "piped down" during the morning. Where the hell did they get such an abundance of good food? I think that the best we had was a tin of Spam and dehydrated potatoes. Somebody somewhere owes us a Christmas dinner!
With reference to the end of the Pacific War; sadly and in some ways prophetically, Admiral Rawlings wrote, "I have not seen the personal signals, or indeed seen all the official signals, but I am in no two minds about one thing; that the "fading out" of the task force and the manner in which this is being done is not only tragic, but is one which I would give much to avoid. To me, what is happening to its personnel and its ships seems to ignore their feelings, there sentiments and there pride; in so doing quite a lot is being cast away, for the Fleet accomplished something which matters immensely".
I am not speaking of such enemy they met, nor of the difficulties they overcome, nor of the long periods at sea; I am speaking of that which was from the start our overriding and heaviest responsibility, the fact that we were in a position which was in most ways unique and was in any case decisive; for we could have lowered the good name of the British Navy in American eyes for ever. I am not certain that those at home have any idea of what these long operational periods mean, nor of the strain put on those in the ships, so many of whom, both officers and men, are mere children, for instance Leading Seamen of 19 and Petty Officers of 21.
When I look back on that which this untrained youth has managed to accomplish and to stick out, then I have no fear for the future of the Navy, provided, but only provided, that we handle them with vision and understanding, and that we recognise them for what they were and are-people of great courage who would follow one anywhere, and whose keynote was that the word "impossible" did not exist. And so, I question the wisdom of dispersing a Fleet in the way in which it is now being done. At the very least there should have been taken home to England a token force somewhat similar to that which was left in the operating area with the American Fleet when the tanker shortage required the withdrawal of the greater part of the Task Force. It seems to me that here was a matter, which could have been utilised in a dignified- and far reaching manner-the arrival in home waters of ships who had represented the Empire alongside their American Allies, and who were present, adding there not ineffective blow, at the annihilation of the Japanese Navy and the defeat of Japan.
It may well be that the days will come when the Navy will find it hard to get the money it needs. Perhaps then a remembrance of the return and the work of the British Pacific Fleet might have helped to provide a stimulus and an encouragement to wean the public from counter attractions and those more alluringly staged. The arrival home of a token force at the time of the Victory celebrations might have fixed the British Pacific Fleet more firmly in the public's memory. But it was not to be. In time the Fleet quietly faded away, with the result that the Far Eastern fleets may have been the largest assemblies of Commonwealth ships in history but, like the three old ladies locked in the lavatory, nobody knew they were there.
In 1995 Harry Bannister of the Ponam Association applied to the Pentagon on behalf of its members for the American Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal in recognition of their service with the American Fleet. As from late 1997,' after 52 years, the American Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal has been made available to all those who served in the British Pacific Fleet
The possibility of pensions or medals, or reflections of a forgotten fleet were not on our minds as we prepared to leave Ponam for home. On the 20th of September 1945, H.M.S. Vindex was anchored off the sea loading line to the south of the island. Fortunately, M.S.R. 6 were to be one of the first units to leave. The Vindex which had set off from Java had on board hundreds of ex-prisoners of war including some women internees. Several of the women were accompanied by young Japanese children and babies. These mothers had offered favours to Japanese officers in the prison camps in exchange for extra rations and medical care for sick and injured men.
The hanger deck was full of stretcher cases of men suffering from the effects of treatment received at the hands of the Japanese. I have never seen such a sight of human suffering in all my life than that which I witnessed on that day. It made me realise h idyllic our lives had been in comparison, and that my youthful wish had actually come true: I had visited the island of my dreams in the South Pacific with its waving palms and blue lagoon. ...And as the golden sun sinks slowly in the west, we say farewell to that exotic paradise island of Ponam
Peter Hyde flew as a maintenance Test Pilot with MONAB 4 and later served with 723 Fleet Requirements Unit at R.N.A.S. Nowra.
This reminiscence piece was not written with MONABs in mind, Peter is recalling the chain of coincidences which led him to the pacific theatre and eventually, to an encounter in a bar in London after the war. The work is reproduced by kind permission of the author
Why did ten minutes spent in a Nissen hut on a Scottish airfield towards the end of the Second World War lead to a unique experience on a South Pacific atoll and to near disaster in the Australian skies? The answer: a series of coincidences, each setting the stage for the next, and documented by entries in my flying log book. The account that follows illustrates the powerful role of coincidence in shaping the direction of our lives.
It begins with my arrival on 28 December 1944 at R.N.A.S. Ayr, the birthplace of Robbie Bums. I was there for a three-week conversion course. I would learn to fly the Navy's first-line fighters and torpedo bombers, and I hoped, complete six practice deck landings on an aircraft carrier in the Clyde.
By then I had logged 455 hours, some at flying schools in Britain and Canada, the remainder while "stooging" in Boulton-Paul Defiants. Designed for night fighting, they were found to be lacking in speed and manoeuvrability, and were soon reassigned to other duties, one of which was drogue towing. The monotonous task of hauling sleeve targets at the end of a long cable, backwards and forwards along a designated sector of the Cornish coast between St. Merryn and Tintagel, so that they could be fired on by student fighter pilots, was one of the safest of all wartime flying jobs. Now, at the ripe old age of 20 I was about to realize my dream of joining an operational squadron and going to sea in one of HM's carriers.
Little did I realize that fate would intervene and deposit me on the other side of the world. Picture the scene at Ayr on January 4th, 1945. At latitude 55 degrees, 30 minutes north, the sun is about to set. It is 1530 hours and the sky is overcast. Flying has ended for the day, and the pilots and their instructors are awaiting transportation to the Mess, located on the far side of the field.
A utility van known as "Tilly" is sighted wending its way along the perimeter track towards the aircraft dispersal area. As soon as it arrives there is a rush to clamber aboard, for there is only enough space for about a dozen. The laggards, an instructor, another student and myself, must wait in the hut until the return of the van. As it happened, the conjunction of my tardiness and a high-level decision in London to assemble a British Pacific Fleet to lend direct support to the U.S. forces during the final months of the war were to have an immediate effect on my future.
Suddenly, the telephone rang in the next room. The instructor appeared briefly in the doorway to ask which of us was available for a flying exercise on the following day. As my companion was already booked, I was asked to give my name and rank, which were repeated to the caller. Minutes later, "Tilly" returned and whisked us away to the Mess. On arrival, the Senior Pilot casually informed me that someone from the Admiralty had "phoned and I'd been appointed to join 723 squadron in Australia. "Get your things packed and go on embarkation leave tomorrow. Take the morning train to London and get kitted out for the tropics. You'll receive further instructions in due course." So that was it—-not an exercise but half way round the world in a troopship. "What an extraordinary coincidence," I thought.
The six-week voyage to Australia was completed without incident. After embarking in the troopship "Dominion Monarch," along with thousands of others, including many homeward bound Australian and New Zealand aircrew, we departed from Liverpool on the afternoon of January 15th. By daybreak we had joined a convoy of some 200 merchant vessels assembled off the coast of Northern Ireland; preparatory to crossing the U boat- infested North Atlantic at the speed of the slowest ship, about eight knots. It took all of 16 days to get to the Panama Canal.
After refuelling and victualling in Colon, we crossed the Pacific unescorted. Towards the end of the voyage we were scheduled to disembark several hundred New Zealanders, however, the plan was hastily abandoned upon the discovery that a Japanese submarine was shadowing us. The fact that the ship couldn't slow engines preparatory to entering harbour came as a major disappointment to the Kiwis, many of whom had been away from home for four or five years. Two days later, we arrived in Sydney.
After a few days of luxurious R & R in the spacious accommodations of HMS "Golden Hind," occupying the grounds of Sydney's pre-war racecourse, I travelled by train to HMS "Nabbington" at Nowra, a naval air station about 100 miles to the south, only to find that I was supernumerary, as the vacancy in the squadron had been filled. By yet another coincidence, a requirement had arisen for two maintenance test pilots to be sent to what were vaguely referred to as "the islands," lying somewhere to the north of Australia. To that end, another Subbie and myself were to receive training for the job at Bankstown, an R.A.A.F airfield on the outskirts of Sydney.
During our several weeks at Bankstown we were instructed in the fundamental principles of test flying in the leading naval fighters of the day, the Vought-Sikorsky F4U Corsair and the Grumman Hellcat, both designed and built in the United States, and the British-built Seafire Mark III, the naval version of the famous Spitfire. All were fitted with retractable arrestor hooks to facilitate deck landings, and with wings that folded hydraulically to facilitate storage below decks and in the limited space available near the forward end of the flight deck.
From Bankstown, we were ferried in an R.A.A.F DC-3 Dakota to Port Moresby in what is now known as Papua-New Guinea, and from there to the vast U.S. naval base at Manus, by far the largest of the string of Admiralty Islands forming part of the crescent-shaped Bismarck Archipelago.
After its recapture from the Japanese, Manus became the headquarters of General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of U.S. ground forces in the Pacific Theatre. Furnished with an excellent natural harbour, it served as the staging area for many hard-fought operations by U.S. ground forces against enemy-held islands lying farther to the north. By the time we arrived, MacArthur and his staff had already departed for their new headquarters at Manila in the Philippines.
From Manus, a light aircraft ferried Sub-Lieutenant Jack Jones and myself to Ponam, an atoll lying about three miles off the shoreline of the 60 miles long, jungle-covered Manus Island. The approximately mile and a quarter-long Ponam had been transferred by the U.S. Navy to the recently formed British Pacific Fleet. It incorporated an airstrip of crushed coral; aircraft repair shops and communications facilities; prefabricated buildings for the storage of aircraft parts; jeeps, trucks and other rolling stock; a launch in which a callow Midshipman named Balls deftly negotiated the treacherous waters of the reef; gasoline and oil storage reservoirs; a small control tower; a desalination plant to supply brackish drinking water; and accommodations for several thousand men. Air Artificers, riggers, fitters, armourers, radio technicians, electronics and communications specialists, to mention only some of those with state-of-the-art training in their trades, comprised the bulk of the Ship's Company. Known as HMS "Nabaron," MONAB 4 was the most northerly of the wartime MONABs.
Again, by coincidence, this was the very unit with which I had embarked at Liverpool earlier in the year for the six weeks voyage to Australia. I had never given a thought to its purpose or ultimate destination, and none of the lads had taken the trouble to enlighten me.
On thinking back, their studied silence undoubtedly reflected the high level of secrecy that surrounded every aspect of a brilliantly conceived mission. During the closing months of the war, "Nabaron" played a vital role in enabling forward repairs to be effected to British carrier-based aircraft that had been damaged in strikes against the enemy. The majority could be flown ashore, but the occasional severely mauled "kite" had to be ferried on landing craft that picked their way through the reef and the lagoon. Our job was to test fly them upon the completion of repairs, to ensure that they were airworthy and able to land-on and re-join their squadrons.
Soon after arriving, Jack Jones and I decided to stage an exhibition. We would do some unauthorised low flying in Seafires over the United States base at Manus, and after landing, provide an opportunity for the U.S. pilots to examine the famous "Spits" at close range. Upon returning to Ponam we were told to report immediately to the Commander (Flying). Lieut-Commander John Boteler R.N., a product of the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth, ordered us to stand stiffly to attention while facing him, and proceeded to read out a blistering signal received by Captain Bingley from the American Rear-Admiral a few minutes earlier. I recall hearing the phrase "not conducive to the development of good relations"... etc. etc. After telling us never to attempt such an "idiotic, blankety blank" performance again, "for if we did, that would be it," he shook hands warmly and the three of us sloped off to talk things over less formally in the Mess.
John Boteler, who was old enough to be our father, was immensely popular with a wide assortment of flying types. In exchange for a case of Scotch, he had acquired a home-made Piper Cub, built by an American sergeant in his spare time, and was in the habit of taking to the air in the old crate in the late afternoon hours. I can still "see" that tiny speck in the sky, some three-quarters of an hour later. It flew so slowly that it was impossible to lose sight of it. Getting back before dark was what really mattered, as Ponam lay only two degrees south of the Equator. He had some nasty prangs though, one of which consisted of tipping a Hellcat upside down after landing on the runway, and being forced to hang helpless in the straps, to the great consternation of the onlookers, the fire crew, the ambulance driver and the padre. Who knows! Perhaps he had applied the brakes too heavily? We were all saddened to learn of his demise, which as far as I know, was the result of yet another mishap.
I enjoyed my three months on Ponam; especially the time spent in the air, when one could open the hood and obtain blissful relief from the all-pervading heat and humidity on the island. It was with mixed feelings that I returned to Australia in mid-July, leaving behind an all-male community that included two Air Engineering Officers who were my cabin mates, the overhead coconut trees, the afternoon siestas that ended with a violent thunderstorm precisely at 4 p.m., followed by superb swimming within the safety of the reef, knowing full well that hungry sharks and barracuda lurked just outside it, the multicoloured birds and fish, the friendly lizards that shared our living space and pounced on uninvited insects, and the mysterious flying foxes, which could be seen among the treetops just before sunset.
Another lingering memory is that of watching Nabaron's padre, popularly referred to as The Bishop, explore the mysteries of the coral reef, with the aid of a snorkelling device. He did this every day. All one could see of him were the bubbles.
In the Australian spring and summer that followed the end of hostilities, I remained on strength in 723 squadron until space became available in a troopship for the return voyage to the UK.
It was during this waiting period that a ceremonial flypast of British carrier-based aircraft took place off Melbourne as part of the victory celebrations. In the course of it, a Hellcat had become unserviceable and was forced to undergo repairs at Point Cook. A signal to Nowra was made, requesting that a pilot be sent to collect it, as the Fleet was already steaming north and it was necessary for the Hellcat to land-on.
The task was assigned to me and on September 6, 1945 I was flown from Nowra to Melbourne's Essendon airfield as a passenger in a clapped-out Avenger torpedo-bomber, piloted by a well-known Lieutenant Commander, one Freddie N.
drafty flight of several hours duration. We arrived in the late afternoon and agreed that on the following morning we would meet at 2,000 feet, and then fly back in formation. Over breakfast we finalised our plan. We would take-off simultaneously, he from Essendon and I from Point Cook, join up over the city, and head for Nowra and Bankstown, respectively. As he was by far my senior, I assumed that all matters pertaining to navigation and safety would be his responsibility. This was the only occasion I had ever taken off without a map, a chart, or some knowledge of the weather. All that I knew were Freddie's call-sign and the frequency of his receiver transmitter on the VHF radio band, essential for voice communications. It was easy to see him silhouetted against the ten-tenths ceiling. I had no idea of how thick the clouds were, and expected it would be easy to remain in formation as we climbed through them. At flying schools in Canada and Britain we had been thoroughly trained in the stringent demands of instrument flying, both at night and in cloud. But never before had I attempted to fly on instruments while keeping station on another aircraft. I soon discovered that it was impossible to do both. One would have needed two pairs of eyes. Cease watching his port wing for a moment and there would be an immediate change in your airspeed, course, altitude and the aircraft's angle of attack. The need to trust one's instruments implicitly and resolutely ignore subjective sensations was repeatedly emphasised in the training courses. Given that formation flying necessitates keeping the leader constantly in view, so as to instantaneously make corrections, the total loss of visibility was twitchy, to say the least. I hadn't expected the clouds to be so thick and had no alternative but to remain glued to the instruments until breaking clear of them.
The fact that the Avenger was heavier than the Hellcat and climbed more slowly added to the difficulties. On breaking into sun, Freddie was nowhere to be seen. I immediately contacted him by VHP. His reply: "Continue to orbit and I'll find you." Describing huge circles in the sky at an altitude of 9,000 feet, I wondered how long it would take him to spot me. About ten anxious minutes passed, during which I checked the amount of fuel in the main tank and the auxiliary drop-tank, which would provide an additional 45 minutes of flying. To my relief, both were registering full. There was no sign of the Avenger and I felt twinges of nervousness. The flight path between Melbourne and Nowra, approximately 500 miles to the northeast, crossed a major structural element of Australia's Great Dividing Range; it is known as the Australian Alps. The mountains trend north-eastwards from Melbourne at least as far as Canberra.
"Where the hell are you, Freddie?" I shouted, without switching on the transmitter, of course. Suddenly, the radio crackled in my earphones and he was saying "I can't see you. You had better proceed independently;" whereupon he gave me a bearing in degrees of azimuth on the compass, ending with "Good luck! Out."
Now, the course that a pilot steers in order to make good a desired track is governed chiefly by the force and direction of the wind. It was fortunate that, despite the absence of maps and weather information, I was able to recall the orientation of the departure runway at Point Cook and the approximate strength of the wind. Ideally, you take-off directly into the wind, so as to use up as little space as possible before becoming airborne. Knowing the compass heading of the runway, it was a simple matter to arrive at a rough approximation of the wind direction. By mentally working out a "triangle of velocities," I calculated a course that was based on the velocity of the wind at Melbourne and the direction and distance to be flown. The compass heading thus determined lay well to the east of the course I'd been given. After reflecting for a moment I decided that this easterly course was preferable. Getting lost over the outback would have led to my premature departure from this world!
Although I was counting on a break in the cloud, which would provide for a visual fix, after an hour had elapsed about half of the fuel had been expended and there was no indication of this happening. I was "sitting on the bearing," but the question that nagged me most was-"-how far away was the coast?
For a number of reasons, I didn't dare reduce altitude. For one thing, on the previous day we had flown close to or over Australia's highest peak, Mount Kosciusko, rising to more than 7300 feet. Secondly, if I were to turn 90 degrees to starboard, fly eastwards until well clear of the coast, and then come down through the clouds, I might still be above the land, as the course I'd worked out could have been wrong. The alternative of ditching in "the drink" and inflating the emergency dinghy was distinctly unappealing. It was safe to assume that there were sharks out there. There was no alternative but to remain on course and continue to hope for a break. After a further 45 minutes had elapsed I became seriously worried. The main fuel gauge was registering almost empty. I would soon have to switch to the drop tank. I peered downwards and could see only solid cloud that gave no sign of dispersing. Several minutes later, I looked down again. There were fleeting patches of cloud that presented a darker shade of blue. Then suddenly, I realized that the clouds were beginning to disperse. This was fact, not a mirage. Within minutes, a continuous expanse of dense eucalyptus bush country came clearly into view, some 10,000 feet below.
Now, for the moment of truth. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and turned my head to the right. After a moment of hesitation, I cautiously opened my eyes. Some 30 miles off the starboard wing was exactly what I'd been hoping for—a magnificent stretch of coastline. I breathed an enormous sigh of relief, made a rough estimation of the aircraft's position, and within half an hour was safely on the tarmac at Nowra.
My only other encounter with Freddie took place six months later in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve Club on Hill Street in Mayfair. Noticing that someone had just taken an adjoining seat at the bar, I was astonished to find that it was he. How's that for a coincidence! "Hello" he exclaimed. "'Melbourne wasn't it? Get back alright?" "Yes thanks," I replied, somewhat gingerly. "What will it be?"
George served with Maintenance, Storage & Repair Unit No.4 (MSR 4) on Ponam
After joining the Fleet Air Arm and completing my courses and training at HMS Gosling, myself and 30 ratings were posted on loan to RAF Coloerne (Nr Bath) in January 1944. This, we realised later, was to assist the RAF with operations for the D-Day landings.
In November of 1944 we returned to HMS Gosling, Warrington, for overseas postings (George was drafted to MONAB II). There were 90 of us ratings, each of us was issued with Army webbing and clothing for cold and wet situations. We were then sent on 14 days leave. Upon returning from leave we were confronted with Admiral Fraser who informed us that our destination had been changed and we were now going to the Antipodes, this news cheered us up a bit. Shortly after we went to Liverpool and boarded the S.S. Athelone Castle, the ship was full of New Zealand and Australian servicemen going home. We sailed from Liverpool on December 22nd 1944, heading for the Panama Canal, and then on to Australia, arriving in Sydney on January 25th.
Once off the ship we were sent straight to the airfield at Bankstown. This place was pretty empty and had little in the way of accommodation and facilities, but it began to fill up quickly as MONAB 2 began to move in. After about two weeks there a notice was posted on the camp notice board asking for 90 volunteers to form an advance party to go out to the Islands; nearer 200 names were supplied – my name was not included! The matter was eventually decided by outing three names from each letter of the alphabet into a hat, I came out as one of the ‘P’s.
The next day we boarded HMS Unicorn and sailed for the Islands, together with what seemed to be every British, American and Australian troop carrier and many other vessels of the fleet – I had never seen so many ships in my life! But by the next morning we were on our own, sailing up the east coast of Australia and on to the Island of Pityilu in the midst of a violent storm. I don’t know what happened here; the Americans refused us permission to land. The captain of Unicorn had to contact Sydney for new instructions, we were to spend the night on board an old Chinese Junk style boat while Unicorn ailed off elsewhere; she returned the next morning and we were taken back on board for transport to Ponam. The captain of Unicorn addressed us and told us that we were to form the advance party of MONAB IV and that from now on our address for post would be M.S.R. 4, HMS Nabaron.
Upon landing we were shown 8 Nissen style huts and told to ‘take our pick’, these had good bed spaces and wardrobes; these were to stop your clothes becoming mildewed.
We were met by four ‘top sergeants’ from the Seabees (US Naval Construction Battalion) who had built the runway etc. After settling in and finding our whereabouts, which didn’t take long. We were given our duties – I was selected for Chief’s Messman, which was looking after our own Chief Petty Officers, 2 RAF sergeants and the 4 Americans, 13 SNCOs in all.
During this time Unicorn had been unloading stores and equipment, including 7 Corsairs and 6 Hellcats; I can’t remember if any of them were serviceable, besides, there was no petrol or ammunition on the station. We didn’t have any guns either; the duty guard had only a whistle in case of danger! During this period there was little to do, one aircraft was being striped by a crew of 8 men, whilst another 8 men put one back together.
There was the occasional aircraft visit us but mainly because they had lost their bearings, one of these crashed, the pilot died from his injuries. Some of us were sent to remove oxygen bottles from aircraft because there was none in the stations sick bay. We sometimes saw the natives inside the coral reef for fishing, other times they were allowed ashore to bury their dead, we always had to stay clear from that end, and a guard was posted to make sure we did. We had a football pitch made from coral, there was a cinema, a church, and a proper sick bay. There were a few native huts but these were out of bounds.
I remember only seeing the Captain once, chiefs and petty officers very seldom; there was once chief who detailed the duty roster, he seemed to control the entire island, he was not a very nice man to get along with.
I had brought along a radio, one specially designed for the tropics, it was on almost all day listening to ‘the voice of the admiralties’ – it was through this that we heard about the atom bombs that were dropped on Japan. Just before this we were told all personnel would be allowed 10 days leave in Sydney, 30 at a time until all had been, flying there in a Dakota fitted out with seats.
I was on the first flight; first stop Port Moresby in New Guinea, fifteen minutes after leaving there the pilot came out and told us that the Japanese had surrendered. Next stop Townsville, Australia, we stayed overnight here, just the 30 of us in an old Australian Navy camp. The pubs appear to have been drunk dry, shops and cafes were closed so I went to the cinema. Off to Brisbane the next day, then on to Sydney. Not much of a leave, it took the Australians a week to open up again after VP day. We had a few good days, being shown around Manly, the Blue Mountains and Toranga Point etc
The flight back was nearly the same as that out; we arrived back at Ponam on September 1st to find that preparations were being made for some of us to leave. We (MSR 4) were picked up by Unicorn and taken to Brisbane, (MONAB VII); again, the camp was nearly empty. Two or three days later, after Unicorn had left, we were told we were to be sent to join MONAB IX at Singapore, and we were to board the S.S. Stratheden for passage.
New orders came through whilst at sea, we were ordered home! First stop Bombay where I had my 21st Birthday, through the Suez Canal and on to Liverpool. We docked just in time for Christmas 1945. After Christmas it was back to HMS Gosling to await demob.
We went to Wellington (Shropshire) for demobilisation June 1st 1946 – due to be out by Nov-Dec 1946. My duties were in the guard room, this was where the sailors would queue every day to be signed off. I happened to see someone I knew and went off to have a chat with him – he was in the queue for demob. I was ordered by the PO to stop chattering and get back in line. I tried to tell him that I was just off duty but he would not listen. I got closer to the door where the Captain was signing the demob papers. The PO just opened the door for me and pushed me in. Of course, the Captain could not find my papers and ordered a Wren to go and get them. I tried explaining but he would not listen. The Wren came back with my papers and the Captain scribbled his signature right across them in red pencil DEMOBED 4TH JUNE 1946. So, to all my friends who thought it was a joke I was on my way home! They eventually came out in November. This is something that I have had a laugh about all these years.
Kenneth joined MONAB 4, HMS Nabaron, at Ludham and remained with the unit throughout its commission at Ponam, returning home for Christmas 1945 with the ships company of ‘Nabaron’ aboard HMS Slinger.
I was transferred direct from Yeovilton to RAF Ludham and found the conditions there verging on the disgusting. All units were in dispersal areas on the perimeter. Some were two miles from the mess. It was freezing winter at the time and very few men could face the four mile walk there and back for breakfast. Fuel was in short supply and the Nissan huts often had no heating at all. Men slept dressed and covered their beds with an overcoat to keep warm.
A crude attempt was made to teach assault tactics and all ratings were issued with full Army battle dress, boots and gaiters. Most of the instruction was on Sten gun training and Mills bombs. The workshop units were set out on a runway and practice made with mobile generators, aerial erection, and driving of Jeeps and 5 ton Foden wagons with trailers. The trailers carried the workshop units which could be lifted to the ground, connected to an electrical supply and became operational immediately.
Most of the drivers had only driven on the airfield runways and were expected to drive a wagon and trailer from Ludham to Liverpool in black ice conditions. A wagon and trailer overturned in front of me as it was leaving the station. RAF Ludham was quite unsuitable for this type of training, which would have been better carried out at a Marine Depot. Took passage on HMS Dominion Monarch, stopping at Colon, then Sydney.
After about four weeks east of Sydney under canvas on a racecourse, we loaded up all our equipment on an LCT Empire Arquebus and took passage via Brisbane, New Ireland, New Britain to Manus harbour, and then to Ponam. On the trip from Sydney to Ponam on the Empire Arquebus messing was American style using a stainless-steel partitioned tray with officers and men eating together. The ship was infested by a flying beetle, which had come out of baled tobacco. The beetle was smaller than a ladybird but very voracious. All food had to be eaten quickly, beating off the beetle all the time.
The airstrip at Ponam had been built on our arrival and we took over from US Seabees, Some remaining with us as maintenance staff. Ponam was about 22 miles by sea from the larger US base at Manus. We had a motor launch, which collected supplies from there each week, taking passage between Manus island and the barrier reef. I often went on this and used to buy slops and other items of clothing from the US store.
We only had one Marine attached to HMS Nabaron and he used to service the launch and was a regular crewmember. The same Marine also appears on the photograph of the ‘pacific post’ delivery. This purports to show a daily delivery of the BPF's own newspaper, 'Pacific Post'. The Marine is the driver. The rating standing is Puffer Train, Leading Hand WT, who was the editor of the daily newssheet, 'Jungle Echo’; I was present when the photograph (below) was taken. It was done for publicity purposes and the posters were stuck on the truck and removed immediately afterwards. That was the only day we ever received the 'Pacific Post' on Ponam. I cannot remember the name of the Marine but he was a good footballer and cricketer. He had played professional football for Plymouth Argyle. Puffer Train was well liked by the officers and was one of the few ratings who played badminton with them. He was about 38 and somewhat older than most of the crew. As editor of the 'Jungle Echo' he had direct access to the Skipper and used to discuss articles with him before publication. Puffer was one of the few lucky ones to be flown back to Sydney for two weeks leave. He got as far as the Blue Mountains. Puffer's home was Plymouth. All MONAB 4 men were Devonport ratings.
The 'Jungle Echo' was only made possible with the assistance of the Seabee detachment who remained on the island. They supplied all the reams of paper, stencils and the printing machine. Puffer was very good at collecting news but could not type and this made daily publication problematical. Up to 50 copies were printed each day and circulated to all ranks, and the Seabees. One of the collectible issues was when the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. This news was picked up from Tokyo Rose by the night WT watch as "a bomb with the equivalent power of 100,000 tons of TNT was dropped on Hiroshima destroying most of the city." This was telephoned through to the Skipper immediately and he would not believe it. He instructed that the tonnage be reduced to 1,000 tons. It was only after the second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki that we all realized that something enormous had happened, something beyond our comprehension. Tokyo Rose was an English-speaking Japanese news commentator. Something equivalent to Lord Haw Haw from Germany. The Japanese news was generally reliable and the radio signal came through clearly to the Admiralty Islands, perhaps transmitted for the Japanese left at Rabaul some 200 miles away.
On Ponam we had a small church, a football pitch and cricket pitch. We also manufactured small sailing dinghies out of packing cases and sailed the boats in the lagoon. My particular friends were Puffer Train (Plymouth), Raymond Loxton (London), John Slee (Bradford), Norman Langdon (Notts).
Shortly after VJ Day an aircraft landed from Singapore and has several former English female prisoners of war on it being repatriated to Sydney. They were in very poor condition and were the first females we had seen for months. Each week an aircraft flew us out a schooner of beer from Australia, some members also were flown to Townsville and Sydney on leave.
The Seabees on Ponam had no liquor and relied on us to supply it. Pusser's rum was in great demand and used as barter for clothing and equipment. I once gave a Seabee half a mug of neat rum, which he drank down in one gulp. All he said was "Jesus!" as he fell back on to a bunk. He sipped it next time. We had special dispensation from the Admiralty to issue our tot of rum at 6pm as when it was issued at the normal time of noon, we all fell asleep with the heat.
When we landed on the island the indigenous population was evacuated to the larger island of Manus. One problem was the native burial ground on the western end of Ponam. This was sacred territory and it was agreed it would be permanently out of bounds to all naval personnel. Most breaches of discipline involved trespass into that area. Manus Island was German territory from 1914 onwards. There were several German missionaries on the island and quite a lot of the Melanese spoke simple German phrases. The Japanese invaded the Admiralty Islands in 1942. The islands later became an Australian Protectorate. It was well known that the original natives were cannibals and referred to a dead human corpse as "long pig".
I was shown a stone trough, something like a sarcophagus, which had been used as a human cooking pot. It was the custom when a death occurred, to prevent the corpse being dug up and eaten, for an elder member of the family to remain sitting on the shallow grave for three days until putrefaction set in. Burials were still permitted on Ponam. A body was brought over on an outrigger canoe for burial, and an elder remained guarding the grave, often for several days. He appeared to fast during this period.
The distance from Ponam to Manus is about two miles. The larger island is covered with jungle but it was possible to make out a native village and see the canoe activity taking place. Several unofficial attempts were made to swim across but there were large sharks in the channel and the crossing was not for the faint hearted. I know that at least two men swam over and back as the natives fed them with green coconuts before their return. Green coconuts were quite delicious. The nut kernel had yet to harden and was like a soft white sweet jelly. The milk was very sweet and clear. Coconuts could be opened using a metal spike driven into the ground. The outer cover was then pierced until the inner kernel was revealed. Regular trading began to take place.
The natives particularly wanted tobacco, cigarette papers, knives, rope, wire, clothing and matches. Fishhooks were in great demand and many men wrote to friends in Sydney and asked for them to be posted to them. The natives could only offer cowry seashells and fruit. The younger natives dived very deeply for the cowries, often using a rope with a rock anchor to descend. The cowry shell had a small trap door in the shape of an eye and these were particularly valuable. Cowry shells were used as currency on the larger islands.
Not all our ratings were honourable with the natives and the Skipper was particularly enraged when he found ratings offering newspapers in lieu of cigarette papers. Eventually the launch was used to take ratings over to the village and one of the missionary boys arranged a walk through the forest using local jungle paths. Leprosy was endemic. A very small island near the main village was used to isolate sufferers who appeared to be abandoned. I visited this island and was appalled at the appearance of the older infected natives. Not all our ratings were honourable with the natives and the Skipper was particularly enraged when he found ratings offering newspapers in lieu of cigarette papers.
Eventually the launch was used to take ratings over to the village and one of the missionary boys arranged a walk through the forest using local jungle paths. Leprosy was endemic. A very small island near the main village was used to isolate sufferers who appeared to be abandoned. I visited this island and was appalled at the appearance of the older infected natives.
The fresh water supplies on Ponam were interesting. The Seabees were masters of improvisation and found that by drilling into the coral rock that parts of the sub-strata had caverns filled with a mix of sea and fresh water. By pumping the top layer of water, filtering and purifying it, we had a good supply of water. Later chilling plant was installed to cool the water and make it more potable. Regular warnings were given out about using water for drinking purposes only. It was easy to keep clean by diving into the lagoon and laundry dried in the heat very quickly.
Unfortunately both these substances turned the skin bright yellow which took up to a year to disappear. I was still yellow when I was demobbed. The high temperatures induced heavy sweating and it was common for men to collapse in the heat. They were suffering from salt deficiency. Eventually six salt tablets were issued with the evening meal and these had to be taken singly throughout the day. Many men attempted to take the six together before the meal.
The salt acted as an emetic and they immediately threw up what they had just eaten. There was also a daily issue of lime juice which was very popular with the Seabees. They had plenty of coke as the main depot at Manus had installed a coke bottling plant and it was brought in weekly on our launch. The Seabee unit at Manus all downed tools because they had no coke. A coke plant was flown out from Los Angeles and was working within days.
The informal discipline of the American units never failed to amaze me. The main medical problem on the island was tropical ulcers caused by getting coral sand in a small abrasion. Men swam a lot in the lagoon and were always cutting themselves on the coral. Once started on a leg the ulcer grew rapidly and refused to heal. I had an ulcer on my leg months after leaving the island.
One of the most interesting men on the island was the Vicar. He had been in the Para Regt and had transferred to the FAA. We used to chuck coconuts on the roof of his hut and he used to retaliate by chucking them on ours and chiming the church bell at an unearthly hour. The padre was good at identifying fish that were good to eat. Almost anything that looked like a small trout was edible. Most of the other fish were poisonous. The lagoon itself dried out at low tide and it was possible to walk out on the reef to the Pacific breakers. Many seashell collections were made. Some of the marine life was strange with many large sea slugs, like a huge maggot, in the pools. Sea snakes were numerous and deadly. It was most unnerving to be swimming and be joined by one of these marine reptiles.
One serious injury occurred when the Chief Petty Officer Telegraphist opened up the transmitter unit and the safety switch on the cage failed to turn off the power. This unit was fitted with large thermionic valves about a metre high with power provided by a Coventry Climax generator. There was a flash back and he was badly burned. Part of the training at RAF Ludham included the erection of mobile transmitter towers and these were used on Ponam. Six men could erect a 100 metre tower in about half an hour with practice. It was possible to receive messages from the Fleet Train and retransmit them to base using this type of equipment. An American style coding machine was introduced. This appeared to have been similar to the German Enigma machine but had six rotors instead of four or five. There were constant problems with the crude telephone installation on the island. Attempts to teach WT operators to read Japanese Morse were not successful. Some of the Japanese signals included letters up to twelve dots and dashes long. The Americans seemed to prefer RT for daily use.
We were finally picked up by HMS Unicorn, a fleet carrier, and returned to Sydney. On the return to Sydney a long paying-off pennant was flown, this broke and drifted overboard much to the Skipper's consternation. Two of our crew dived overboard in Sydney Harbour and swam for it; both had girl friends in Sydney.
We were not allowed ashore and finally embarked in HMS Slinger for passage home to Portsmouth to be demobbed.
On the return journey it was found that a large number of ratings had picked up venereal disease in Sydney and there were large queues at the Sick Bay each morning. Up to six percent were infected. King's Cross in Sydney had been used by the Americans before our arrival.
One of the last things I remember was a Tannoy announcement as we crossed the Greenwich Meridian on the return journey, west of Gibraltar, that, "All original members of HMS Nabaron have now circumnavigated the globe." There was a huge cheer and we spliced the main brace.