The MONAB Story

A history of the mobile airfields of the Royal Navy



Mobile Naval Air Base No. VII

 

Assembly and commissioning in the UK

Personnel and equipment for Mobile Naval Air Base VII began to assemble on March 19th 1945 at RNAS Middle Wallop, Hampshire, the new headquarters of the Mobile Naval Airfields Organisation (MNAO). It was to assemble as a second Receipt and Despatch unit (RDU). MONAB VII differed from its predecessor MONAB II in the fact that no Maintenance, Storage & Reserve (MSR) components were included in the units' make up, instead the unit would have two Maintenance Servicing and one Mobile Maintenance components, as would a standard MONAB, with the addition of Erection, Equipping and Stripping units as the Receipt & Despatch components.

MONAB VII was allocated the following maintenance components:

Mobile Maintenance unit (MM) No. 6 supporting Avenger Mk. I & II, Corsair Mk. II & IV, Hellcat Mk. I & II and Seafire Mk. III & L.III
Maintenance Servicing unit (MS) No. 11 supporting Firefly Mk. I
Maintenance Servicing unit (MS) No. 12 supporting Sea Otter Mk. I
Erection & Equipping Units supporting Avenger Mk. I & II, Corsair Mk. II & IV, Hellcat Mk. I & II, Seafire Mk. III & L.II, Sea Otter Mk. I & Vengeance TT.IV
Stripping Unit as above but excluding Vengeance.

As a larger unit MONAB VII had a nine-week forming up period as the new components had not been assembled before; the Receipt and Despatch tasks were already carried out by both MONAB II and TAMY I, but as part of their design, however these components which required their own compliment and scale of equipment and stores had never been planned for as separate components. Technical ratings wer drafted from R.N. Air Station, Lee-on-Solent, and general service ratings from R.N. Barracks, Chatham.

Like the previous units much time was spent in giving drafting leave to Officers and ratings who were supposed to have had it before they joined, also a large proportion of personnel that were being drafted to join the unit were found to be untrained for their assigned billets, especially drivers, or were too old or unfit for service overseas so replacements had to be requested.

Major problems arose concerning motor transport; all vehicles allocated to MONAB VII were held by the H.Q. unit and were not released until it was put on the road for movement to the Port of Shipment. This measure prevented the MONAB VII M.T. Maintenance Officer from taking the proper precautions to preserve the vehicles for passage and articles like tool kits and toolboxes were missing on arrival of the vehicles in Australia, because no proper arrangements had been made to secure them. Although an M.T. Maintenance Party travelled in the store ship, it was not possible to work on any vehicles other than those on the upper deck. The training of drivers was also problematic; there was no provision for M.T. driving instruction by the MNAO HQ so it was lest to MONAB VII to organise Its own M.T. course lasting 14 days for both officers and ratings (including Royal Marines).

With the formation of MONAB VII a new system was introduced for the handling of unit stores; instead of all stores being delivered to the formation base to be checked, repacked and labelled ready for despatch overseas, everything was consigned directly to the port of embarkation from the store depots saving unnecessary transport and handling of store cases. However, the Unit was often left in the dark until the last moment as to whether the stores would eventually be delivered in time for shipment and required continual liaison between the unit’s Supply Officer and the depots. The new system resulted in 100 cases that were advised as being ready for shipment, and that actually appeared on the Bill of Lading, were not shipped owing to the fact that they did not arrive at the port of shipment before the store ship sailed, although the store ship was delayed six weeks.

Despite these problems MONAB VII Commissioned as an independent command bearing the ship's name HMS NABREEKIE on June 1st 1945, Captain. F.P. Frai R.N.V.R in command.

MONAB VII commissioning

June 1st 1945 at RNAS Middle Wallop; Senior r officers attend the commissioning ceremony - Captain Frai RNVR, C.O. MONAB VII is front left, Rear Admiral L. .D Mackintosh, DSO, DSC centre, and Captain Edes, C.O of H.M.S. FLYCATCHER is nearest the camera.

Despatch overseas

On completion of preparations for despatch overseas the personnel and equipment of MONAB VII were transported to Liverpool for embarkation; the first group by rail on June 17th and the remainder by road on the 20th. Those travelling by rail boarded a train at Andover on the morning of Sunday June 17th and went non-stop to Liverpool docks, embarking on the Troopship STIRLING CASTLE on arrival. The ship was to sail independently for Sydney carrying large numbers of New Zealand and Australian personnel, many ex-POWs, returning home; the ship sailed the next day.

The second group accompanied the vehicle convoy which travelled overnight from Middle Wallop on 19th/20th; after leaving the convoy at a marshalling yard outside Liverpool they embarked in the Troopship ANDES which sailed from Liverpool on June 29th. The stores and vehicles were loaded onto the Sea Transport SAMFOYLE (LS3135) at Gladstone Dock and sailed from Liverpool on July 14th. The two Troopships would take passage via the Panama Canal, the SAMFOYLE via the Suez Canal.

Despite sailing 11 days later than the STIRLING CASTLE, ANDES arrived in Sydney 3 days behind her. STIRLING CASTLE took longer to complete her transit of the Panama Canal before making a 2 day stop at Wellington to deliver home repatriated Kiwi ex-prisoners of war from their internment in Germany, while the ANDES disembarked her passengers at Wellington and sailed for Sydney the same day. STIRLING CASTLE arrived at Sydney on July 24th and the ANDES on the 27th. Aussie ex-POWs were landed by both ships before MONAB personnel were disembarked.

The Ship's company were accommodated at Newcastle Race Course, a part of HMS Golden Hind, RN Barracks Sydney, to await the allocation of an operational base. At the time of their arrival in Australia there was no airfield available for occupation by a MONAB. Also changes in the original forward planning meant that MONAB VII would not be required to fulfil its planned role of forming a second receipt and despatch unit, in the forward area; the need for a ' leap frogging' chain of MONAB units was not to materialise.

The planning staff of the BPF headquarters decided that MONAB VII should remain in Australia, sharing the facilities at Archer field airport in Brisbane, with Transportable Aircraft Maintenance Yard No.1 (TAMY I, HMS NABSFORD) and would be moved to occupy an airfield in Australia when one became available. Meanwhile, the SAMFOYLE had been diverted to Brisbane to unload the unit's stores and equipment.

While in Sydney awaiting transportation to Brisbane a special detachment was formed for aircraft erection duties at RAAF Oakey, in Queensland. This detachment, comprising of 50 ratings plus NCOs, was to supplement an existing annex of TAMY 1 which had been operating at Oakey since May 18th erecting Seafire aircraft. The detachment was flown directly from Sydney to Oakey shortly after the MONAB had disembarked.

The main body of MONAB VII personnel were transported to Brisbane by rail; this was a long journey, 12 - 14 hours, with the men riding in open cattle trucks, seated on wooden bench seats. Toilet facilities were very primitive, and frequent stops were made for rest breaks and refreshments along the way. The advance party, mainly the senior officers, were flown up to Archerfield.

Upon arrival at Brisbane the ship's company was transported by road to their new homes, part of the unit went to R.N. Camp Rocklea, about 1½ miles north of the airfield at Archerfield; this was the administration and main accommodation base of TAMY I, HMS NABSFORD. The main body of the unit went to a second establishment, R.N. Camp Meeandah, 16 miles North near to the Eagles Farm airfield. This camp, a US Navy Seabee depot until shortly before the RN arrived in Brisbane, was taken over by HMS NABREEKIE, accordingly the facilities were of a good standard. Accommodation at Meeandah was mostly under canvas, the Americans had left behind a ‘tented village’ which was transferred with the base.

 

Commissioned at R.N. Camp Rocklea , Brisbane, Queensland

MONAB VII commissioned as HMS NABREEKIE at R.N. Camp Rocklea on August 8th 1945 and two days later work commenced when 300 ratings began work alongside personnel of TAMY I. This was done in the four ‘Igloo’ hangers at the Kerry Road site were the TAMY I erection, inspection & repair, air radio and air gunnery workshops were located.

Igloo hangars at Kerry Road

Aircraft that have recently been assembled in the production hangars at Kerry Road, Brisbane. These ‘Igloo’ hangars were the aircraft erection and modification site where ratings from MONAB VII were employed.

Only five days later it was announced that the Japanese had surrendered and the war was over. RN Personnel celebrated VP Day at Archerfield on the 16th and 17th (In Australia the war's end was termed 'Victory in the Pacific' or VP day as opposed to Victory over Japan as it was known in Europe) and work resumed the following day. However, the need for extra manpower and increased production of assembled airframes had suddenly been removed and thoughts of the future were now foremost in everyone's mind.

Upon their arrival on site the men from MONAB VII had to be introduced to the stage system of aircraft erection in use at Archerfield and were initially put to work alongside the TAMY I gangs; once trained they even replaced some of the gangs on the production floor. Those living at Camp Meeandah had a 30-minute lorry ride to work every morning travelling through the city. They made the return journey after work finished at around 16:00. Lunch was served int the TAMY I dining hall and galley which were 2 miles from the airfield. located in Rocklea Factory, the site of the engine and ancillary workshops, half a mile away from Rocklea Camp.

It was to be another three weeks before the SAMFOYLE arrived at Brisbane on September 1st and the stores and equipment could be transported to RNAMY Archerfield; many of the specialist vehicles were not used, especially those relating to airfield operations as all flying was conducted by TAMY I. Aircraft assembly work was to continue during September and October both at Archerfield and at RAAF Oakey; the Oakey detachment was not withdrawn until October 29th after assembling and despatching 29 Seafires over the seven months of operation.

 

Paying Off

On Monday October 22nd the Flag Officer Naval Air (Pacific) Rear Admiral Portal, visited HMS NABREEKIE when a general inspection and Admirals divisions were held. Afterwards the Admiral addressed the ships' company and outlined the future plans for MONAB VII; it was announced that as part of a review of the naval air support in the Pacific theatre four MONABs were to be disbanded in early November 1945, these were to be MONAB I, III, IV and VII. 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 was to be paid off with some of the ships company returning to the UK and some drafted to other MONABs, however a large number were transferred to the strength of HMS NABSFORD, TAMY I.

No longer required for service, HMS NABREEKIE & MONAB VII was the first of the operational MOINABs to be paid off on November 5th 1945. In many ways the paying off of HMS NABREEKIE appears to have been a paperwork exercise; the personnel of MONAB VII who were not drafted back to the UK or other units (this appears to be the majority of the non-commissioned personnel) were transferred to the books of HMS NABSFORD, being formed into Mobile Repair Unit No.3 and work continued as usual.


 

 

HMS 'NABREEKIE'

Unofficialship’s badge
Motto: DICTUM FACTUM
(No sooner said than done
Unofficial, no official design approved

 

 

Function

Forward area Receipt & Despatch Unit.

Aviation support Components

Mobile Maintenance (MM) 6

Maintenance Servicing (MS) 11& 12

Aircraft Erection Unit
Aircraft Equipping Unit
Aircraft Stripping Unit.
 

Aircraft type supported

Avenger Mk. I & II

Corsair Mk. II & IV

Firefly Mk. I

Hellcat Mk. I & II

Seafire Mk. II & L.III

Sea Otter Mk. I

Commanding Officers

Captain F.P. Frai RNVR 01 June 1945 to 05 November 1945

 

 

 

 

Related items

R.N.A.M.Y. Archerfield History of the airfield and other information - part of the Fleet Air Arm Bases web site

 

 

 

Reminiscences

Memories of those who served with MONAB VII

Air Mechanic (Engines) Don Mackay

 

 

 

Gallery

Click on image to open gallery

 

 

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Search RN Research Archive materials on-line

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HM Ships COLOSSUS, GLORY, VENERABLE and VENGEANCE. GLORY did not arrive in Sydney until August 16th.

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At the end of June 1945, the Admiralty implemented a new system of classification for carrier air wings, adopting the American practice one carrier would embark a single Carrier Air Group (CAG) which would encompass all the ships squadrons.

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Sturtivant, R & Balance, T. (1994) 'Squadrons of the Fleet Air Arm’ list 899 squadron as conducting DLT on the Escort Carrier ARBITER on August 15th. It is possible that the usual three-day evolution was cancelled due to the announcement of the Japanese surrender on this date and was postponed for a month.

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The reminiscences of Air Mechanic (Engines) Don Mackay

Don joined MONAB VII, HMS NABREEKIE at Middle Wallop and remained with the unit throughout its commission, he then joined M.R. 3, a part of HMS NABSFORD. He returned home to the U.K. as part of 1850 Squadron, working passage on HMS VENGEANCE to Colombo and then the final leg in HMS FENCER.

Joining MONAB VII

I don't remember receiving any special MONAB training at Middle Wallop. I was packing up stores ready for going out, it wasn't heavy work, I don't think we ever did any heavy working the Navy, not whilst I was in there, it was like a glorified holiday. We used to go into Andover and Blandford, there was a bus right outside the camp gate. There was a very nice Salvation Army house in Andover you could sit in there and write letters, they supplied you with all the writing paper and stamps, tea and bread rolls and nice butter as well, it was a very popular place. Middle Wallop itself was pretty quiet.

I was on guard duty one time at Middle Wallop and I was sick and happened to 'throw up', so I blew my whistle. The guardhouse was only just around the corner and the P.O. came round and said "What's the matter then?" I said look at this lot, "Christ" he says "get round to sickbay". I had a week in sickbay; I was the only one in there. That got me off guard duty for a while! The only time we saw the Captain was the commissioning, he gave a speech and we didn't see him after that.

Off to Australia

The ship was split for the journey to Liverpool, half of us went by train, and half went by road transport in convoy. 'Map' (NAM (E) Albert Mappledoram) and myself went by rail; I think it was a Sunday morning that we shipped out. They lined us all up and gave us lunch boxes, and then we were taken by lorry to a siding just outside Andover it was like a halt station. We piled in the train there and then straight up to Liverpool non-stop. When we arrived, it was straight off the train, across the courtyard and into the ship, the 'Stirling Castle'. My mate from Anglesey went on the 'Andes', there was a joke going around 'where's the Andes – on the end of your armies'. When we got on board there were all these ‘Aussies’ and ‘Kiwis’ there, repatriated prisoners of war, they had just been released from the German prison camps and were going home.

We went out through the Panama Canal. There was a concert party came on board to entertain us when we spent a night in the docks. We went through the locks the next morning and straight on then to Wellington. The journey was great; the 'Stirling Castle' was a beautiful ship. The food was very good, you couldn’t have asked for anything better. I can remember now, every day for breakfast they sent up these individual cottage loaves, piping hot, beautiful it was, couldn't have wished for anything better. I don't know if it was a P & O liner or the White Star line, but it was a big one, and it had got a dent in its bows. We had a couple of nights in Wellington. Luckily enough there were people on the dockside willing to take us to their homes for a couple of nights. Then we sailed on to Sydney, when we docked the old duke of York, King George VI’s brother, who was the Governor General of Australia at the time, came on board to welcome the repatriated prisoners.

It was about a six-week journey out, and then we spent a short while at Newcastle racehorse under canvas. We had no work routine whilst under canvas, just roll calls every day and making a nuisance of ourselves. There were no guard duties or anything that I can remember, although there might have been a bit of PT going on.

It was quite funny there, we were under canvas, about 8 or 10 of us in a big bell tent, and you used to go to bed with just one of your blankets over you. You would wake up in the early hours and have to put all the other blankets back on because it was white with frost then. In the morning you would see the racehorses training, we were right in the middle of the racecourse itself, I don’t recall them holding any races though.

Life in Brisbane, Queensland

We hadn’t been there long before we shipped out for Brisbane, it was early August, so we were there in time to take part in the Victory parade for VJ day. We travelled to Brisbane by rail, in cattle trucks, all wooden slated seats, I forget how long it took us to get up there but it was a long old journey, something like Brighton to Aberdeen I should think, about twelve or thirteen hours. I think we had a couple of stops on the way, you couldn't use any toilets on the train; there weren’t any corridors.

We used to go into Archerfield by lorry every morning; you had to clock on for work there, in the hangers, on and off every day. We used to have a lunch break but I don’t think we went back to camp at lunch time, I think we used to work through then ate at night. We did have a break, probably half an hour to an hour and of course the NAAFI van used to cone round and there were one or two shops on the perimeter of the field itself so you could nip up there if you wanted anything. It was a very nice camp at Rocklea; we used to drive from there in wagons through Brisbane to get to Archerfield, at the time there was a road strike on. There was no transport at all in Brisbane, we used to go sailing through, people were walking to work and the streets were crowded when we used to go through. We left Rocklea between 8 :00 to 8:30 in the morning for about an half hour drive so we started work about 9:00 and be back in the camp by about 4:0 I think, but it wouldn't have been later. You could go ashore unless you were on duty; I don’t think we ever did get any duties whilst we were in the camp there because there was a detachment of Marines there as well.

We had been out with a marine driver one time, I forget what it was for, but I know coming back it was dark and he had a spare driving mirror on a long pole, he was hanging out of the window with it. I said "what are you up to?", he said "teaching these bloody Aussies to dip their lights, the buggers won’t dip," he says '"so you just reflect the light back at them".

I was picked to play goalkeeper in the football team, they wanted a goalkeeper so I said I’d play goal for them. I forget who it was against, anyway, we got out on the field I took up my position in goal and then the heavens opened up; it flooded the field and that was the end of the match. If you get a tropical storm out there everywhere is drenched in next to no time, lightning and thunder, it just teems down. On the Christmas that we spent there, temperatures just topped 100 degrees in the shade as we sat down to turkey dinner.

Brisbane was a nice city to go to. I picked up with a girl there, and used to go to her house, two or three times, but nothing serious. What happened was, after the victory march in Brisbane we were all congregated outside the civic hall, there was a whole crowd of us there-you couldn’t move, it was like peas in a pod. One of the girls fainted, her, mate started screaming so we got her to the back in a clearing and brought her round. I took up with one of these girls for a few weeks but I wasn’t that bothered, we were only youngsters, only 19, some of us may have been 20, but we were all boys out for a good time really, and that's what we had. In Brisbane, I don’t know if it was the same in Sydney, but you didn’t get a pint of beer, you asked for a Schooner of beer, that was between a half pint and a pint, it was in a glass with caved in sides – it was more like a flower vase! A lot of pubs in Brisbane had swing doors, it reminded you of the Wild West, although it was a modern city the pub doors used to swing open and shut just like in the cowboys.

The bloke we had most contact with was a Petty Officer by the name of Rogers, very nice he was too, do anything for you, any problems you go to him and he'd sort them out. Being engine mechanics, we were fitting engines into the Seafires, the engines came out in packing cases, the Seafires were shipped out with no engine in you see. But after we were there a bit that stopped; these engines were loaded straight onto open backed lorries, when they were stacked up on there we would pile in and we drove out to a river in Brisbane. I don't know which river it was it was, probably half an hour’s journey away from the aerodrome. We manhandled these crates of Rolls-Royce engines straight into the river. They said it was cheaper getting rid of them that way than what it was shipping them back home. So, if you can find that river you can do some excavating of Rolls Royce, Merlin, or they could have been Griffin engines, because either Merlins or Griffins powered the Seafires.

We all had a week’s leave while we were there. I went up to Rockhampton, that’s out in the bush, more or less just in from the coast. We already worked with HMS Nabsford before the decommissioning, then after the 5th of November, which was the decommissioning of Nabreekie, we became Nabsford MR. 3. We were told, "Address your correspondence to HMS Nabsford" and that was it. I don’t know what happened to our Captain. The change didn’t affect us in any way; we just carried on as usual. I joined Nabsford M.R. 3 on November 6th.

Coming home

We had the choice before we left Australia, of coming home for our demob via Colombo, transferring to the Australian navy or taking our demob in Australia. Of course, we were only youngsters, we all wanted to come home so that was it. I left Nabsford to come home 24th February, joining 1850 squadron on H.M.S. Vengeance on the 25th February. We were on the Vengeance until the 27th May when we put into Colombo. We were put ashore to Katukurunda.

We sailed for home on board H.M.S. Fencer, and arrived on the 2nd of October, I think it was Gosport where we were demoded. We were only there two maybe three days before we all walked out with our little brown boxes.

Don Mackay