Personnel and equipment for Mobile Naval Air base I began to assemble at Royal Naval Air Station Ludham, Norfolk on September 4th 1944, the same day as Ludham commissioned as a naval air station and headquarters for 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 (MM) unit No. 1 supporting Avenger Mk.I & II, Corsair
Mk.II & IV, Hellcat Mk.I & II
Maintenance Servicing (MS) unit No. 1 supporting Avenger Mk.I & II
Maintenance Servicing (MS) unit No. 2 supporting Corsair Mk.II & IV
Additional components added later in Australia: -
Maintenance, Storage & Resave units (MSR) No. 1 & 2 supporting Avenger Mk.I & II, Corsair Mk.II & IV & Hellcat Mk.I & II
Mobile Repair unit (MR) No.1 supporting all front-line types operated by the BPF
(see MONAB components page for further details)
Being the first of its kind meant MONAB I's formation period was to be a time of discovery, this was all new territory, and all the planning was about to be put to the test. It soon became apparent to the senior officers of both MONAB I and the MNAO that the laid down scales of equipment, stores, manning levels and vehicle requirements would be hard to meet. The specialist vehicles for the unit did not exist prior to the late summer of 1944 when resources became available. These had to be specially converted and outfitted and many arrived too late to sail with the unit when it sailed from the UK. Stores and specialist tools were also in short supply in the UK; any shortfalls were to drawn from local depots upon arrival in the theatre of operations. A large proportion of personnel that were being drafted to join the unit were found to be untrained for their assigned billets, many being too old or unfit for service overseas. All of these problems had to be sorted out before the unit could become operational, in most cases the solution was 'replacements to follow'. Despite these handicaps MONAB I was sufficiently complete to become operational by the end of October. The unit commissioned as independent command on October 28th 1944 bearing the ship’s name HMS 'NABBINGTON', Commander G.A. Nunneley in command.
By mid-November 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 which was to begin operations in the South Western Pacific in early 1945. Australia was to be the rear echelon area for the fleet and a number of the MONABs were to be installed there.
The main party of MONAB I arrived at Nowra airfield on New Year’s Day, 1945. The next day R.A.A.F Nowra was officially transferred on loan to the RN and commissioned as HMS NABBINGTON, Royal Naval Air Station Nowra. The station was still under reconstruction at this time and some expansion work continued during January.
On August 15th the Japanese surrendered and VJ Day was celebrated at Nowra by members of both MONABs I & V. Members of the ship’s companies marched through the streets of Nowra to mark VP Day on the 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).
HMS NABBINGTON, MONAB I, paid off at Nowra on November 15th 1945. RNAS Nowra re-commissioned as HMS NABSWICK, the same day, MONAB V replacing MONAB I taking over the stores and equipment in situ. Some of the personnel of MONAB I were drafted back to the UK to be demobbed, others were dispersed to other units in Australia.
The support of disembarked TBR Squadrons, the provision of Continuation & Refresher Flying Training. Fleet Requirements Unit (No. 723 squadron)
Mobile Maintenance (MM) 1
Maintenance Servicing (MS) 1& 2
Mobile Repair (MR) 1
Maintenance, Storage & Resave (MSR) 1 & 2
Mobile Air Torpedo Maintenance Unit (MATMU) 3. 6 & 7
Avenger Mk. I & II
Corsair Mk. II & IV
Hellcat Mk. I & II
Martinet TT. I
Commander. G. A. Nunneley 28 Oct1944
Captain H. G. Dickinson
09 March 1945
Captain J. D Harvey 01 May 1845
R.N.A.S. Nowra History of the airfield and other information - part of the Fleet Air Arm Bases web site
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HM Ships COLOSSUS, GLORY, VENERABLE and VENGEANCE. GLORY did not arrive in Sydney until August 16th.
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.
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.
Gordon served with the radio section of Mobile Repair UNit No.1 (MR 1) at Nowra, he was a member of the local RN dance band, and possibly the last member of MONAB I to leave Nowra after it paid off. .
I joined the Navy in June 1943 at HMS Royal Arthur and on the 9th July went down to Devonport to undertake a Radio Mechanic's course. After various draftings I arrived at HMS Nightjar near Warrington, servicing A.S.R. equipment on a squadron. .
ISeptember 1944 saw me transferred to RAF Ludham (HMS Flycatcher) to join MONAB I. Our main occupation was trying to assemble portable hangers in 7 hours, which we were unable to do in 7 days! We were concerned also with servicing radar in Avengers and Fireflies, but in October we became HMS Nabbington. I recall that sometime in November 1944 we transferred to Liverpool to board the Empress of Canada (26,000 tons) and sailed for Australia via the Panama Canal .
The voyage, unescorted, took 31 days calling at Colon where we were allowed ashore. The Americans had set up a great number of stalls loaded with free food and soft drinks. Unfortunately, nearly 4,000 troops were allowed ashore and in the race to get to the food and drink the stalls were demolished and chaos reigned. Obviously we created a bad impression and we understood that the Americans were never so generous in the future.
We arrived in Sydney sometime before Christmas but my watch was not allowed ashore. Beguiled by the lights of the city and after blacked out Britain I broke ship and went drinking and ice-skating. After a fall on the ice rink I woke up in hospital next to a Chinaman. I was suffering from concussion and stayed in hospital for 3 weeks, subsequently rejoining MONAB I under canvas on RandwicK racecourse. Strangely, I was not penalised for my technical desertion. After a month we transferred to R.A.A.F Nowra where we continued servicing aircraft.
There may have been some construction work going on when we arrived at R.A.A.F Nowra but we were not involved in any sort of that work.We were immediately housed in long wooden buildings that were split into small cabins to accommodate two men. Furniture consisted of, I think, two beds and a table.
Shore leave was allowed every other day when we were taken by lorry into Nowra. It was essential to get there before 6 p.m. as at this time the hotels stopped selling alcohol. I had a girl friend in Nowra, by the name of Norma Dorrington, and her parents were kind enough to invite me to dinner on many occasions. This is where I first enjoyed the delights of pumpkin pie.
During this period I joined a Naval dance band playing alto saxophone. The Navy kindly provided us with a driver and a 3 ton Bedford lorry to enable us to tour the area playing to civilians and troops. We were allowed to take ashore tinned fruit etc. but not cigarettes or tobacco. Luckily a tin of "pussers" tobacco was the same size as a tin of pineapple and so by transferring the label from the fruit to the tobacco everyone was happy. The bell of my saxophone also came in useful for taking small items ashore.
Following the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki we became largely redundant. In November 1945 we came under the name of HMS Nabswick and the unit dispersed until I was the only one left. Following the break-up of MONAB 1 I was left to my own devices. This was quite inexplicable. I was paid and fed but had no duties. During this time I was in some demand because I had knowledge of a gap in the perimeter fence enabling men to go ashore irrespective of their watch, bypassing the main gate.
I also devised a clothes boiler, which was in popular use. It consisted of a large bucket of water in which was immersed a heating element wrapped around a square of asbestos. The whole contraption was connected to the camp's electricity supply. Most of the time this worked successfully but there were times when the camp was without power, luckily the fault was never traced to my cabin.
In March 1946 I joined 812 squadron, aboard HMS Vengeance, spending some time ditching American aircraft north of Australia. Eventually we sailed for Ceylon ( Sri Lanka ) landing at Trincomalee and setting up a radio section at Katakarunda. In the belief that we were exhausted we were sent to a rest camp at Kandy for a few weeks. We moved down to Colombo to pick up Vengeance and returned to Portsmouth via the Suez Canal . I was discharged in November 1946.
Geoff was drafted to R.N.A.E Risley to join the first Mobile Repair unit to be assembled in February 1945. He remained with this unit until returning to the UK in December 1945 after the unit was disbanded at RNAS Nowra.
Early February 1945, at H.M.S. Waxwmg, I was one of a group of some 20+ fitters and mechanics who received a foreign draft to M.R.1, an unheard of unit. We travelled to H.M.S. Gosling camp 3 and joined others to complete the unit and to be instructed of our duties. We had the usual medical, documentation, injections etc. and were then issued with our new uniform, - khaki battledress. Three weeks later we were put on a train to Seaforth Station Liverpool, marched to Gladstone Dock and joined the Canadian Pacific Liner "Empress of Scotland" for a journey to Sydney, Australia.
My boarding card tells me I was on E deck, no.2 section; I was no. 156 and 3rd sitting for meals. E deck was below the waterline, illuminated by electric lights and completely devoid of fresh air. Bunk beds 4 tiers high dominated the deck with some 3ft between bunks, side by side, and 5ft, head to feet, this being the main gangway to traverse the deck and get to your bed space. We lived out of our steaming bags. Fresh and stale cigarette smoke hung in a blue and yellow cloud polluting the atmosphere, while the temperature soared into the 90s and, in the tropics, into the 100s. Conditions, to say the least, could have been better.
With having no duties to perform, routine and boredom had to be battled against. A typical day's routine would be; Reveille 6.30 a.m. Ablutions 7.00 a.m. - 7.30 a.m. when we had a supply of fresh water, (and again from 4.00pm. - 4.30pm.). Queue for breakfast return to mess and prepare for daily boat stations. Boat stations could last for anything up to 2 hours, and then we would retire to the canteen for "stand easy". Find a sheltered spot and play solo whist or nap until it was time to queue for dinner.
During the afternoon, Tombola would be played and there would be a film show in the cinema or we would continue our card school. We may even take a salt-water shower with the salt-water soap with which we were issued. Queue for supper and then to the casino (sorry-canteen). The canteen was one great gambling den. Everywhere were schools of poker, pontoon, banker and crown and anchor, with money changing hands as if there were no tomorrow. Gambling was completely "out of bounds" but who cared? Then retire to your bunk and await a new day but the old routine. Food was not of good quality or quantity with plenty of reconstituted dried egg, dried meat and dried potatoes with little variation. But we survived! Approaching the Panama Canal we met a badly damaged American destroyer on its way home, with numerous "rising suns" painted on the smokestack. We gave them a cheer and they responded and we wished them "good luck".
Exiting the canal at Balboa, we gazed at the illuminations along the coast, forgetting that Panama was neutral, and failing to realize that we were silhouetted against this backdrop and a sitting duck for any lurking submarine. At this time I met LAF (E) Ron Collacott at the dinner table. 'We worked as office boys in the same office at a chemical factory before the war, and were good friends. During the whole of the voyage that was the only time we met, an indication as to the number of troops on board.
After 2 more weeks we arrived at Sydney on the 9th April, disembarked on the 10th April and headed to H.M.S. Nabbington to begin our tasks. Unfortunately H.M.S. Nabbington wasn't ready for us.
Because of heavy rains and air traffic the runways required re-laying and air activities were transferred to the Jervis Bay airstrip, so there were no aircraft to service or repair.
Living quarters were very basic. Long Nissen type blocks each containing some 40 ratings and having 4 tables and 8 forms. Concrete floors, which, when swept, deposited clouds of cement dust everywhere, and that was it! We lived out of kitbags. One of the first jobs we did was to make wooden shelves to fix over beds to put photographs and small personal items on. We worked on the inside of the cinema fixing a stage, put a fence around the football pitch, in fact anything to keep idle hands busy until we could resume our trade.
We began to receive aircraft in mid April so we were back in the business for which we were trained. The C.C.C. (civilian construction corps) was still erecting living quarters, laying ditches for drainage and other construction work. In the evenings they organised "two-up" schools which were ''out of bounds" to us, but we would go across anyway. The "heads" and ablution blocks were very primitive. Two lines of open plan toilets, with only a newspaper to hide ones embarrassment, but modesty soon disappeared. It was the same at the showers.
Considering the amount of air activity, our safety record stood up well. We lost an Avenger, which turned upside down on landing; a Corsair, which lost part of its undercarriage on landing, and a Wildcat, which burst into flames on take off. Fortunately not one crewmember was seriously injured. We did suffer a fatality when a Corsair crashed in the bush and burst into flames. When the rescue party arrived on the scene it had a hopeless task. And this in the last week of the wa
The people of Nowra warmed to us and we received invites to social events, dances and into their homes for evenings, weekends or longer. Many friendships developed, Our V.E. celebrations included inviting them to an “open house” and many families and children, enjoyed our hospitality.
We were given 14 days leave and LAF (A) Les Samson and I had a few days in Melbourne during the victory celebrations, before visiting Canberra and returning to Sydney and the wonderful beaches.
With the dropping of the atomic bombs and subsequent cease-fire, we had the painful task of servicing aircraft only for them to be flown to an aircraft carrier off Sydney and pushed over the side into the Pacific Ocean . They were American aircraft and "lease lend" was now over and they didn't want them back.
During October we were given the good news that we would be leaving shortly and on the 4th November we bearded the R.M.S. Andes for our journey home. Conditions were very much better. We were above the waterline with portholes and much more space, better food, constant fresh water, more entertainment, far fewer restrictions and even duties to perform, mine being corridor patrol on the civilian deck. Our voyage home took us to Fremantle, where we had a day ashore, then to Bombay, where we had two days ashore, through the Suez Canal with the bum boats offering their wares of baubles' bangles and beads, before passing the Rock of Gibraltar and on to Southampton where we arrived on 4th December.
In Bombay we called at a C of E Mission that invited us in for tea, cakes and a chat. While talking to the priest he posed the question as to where we lived in Britain . When I replied Runcom, he asked if I knew Cannon Perrin, the senior clergyman in Runcom. This was a remarkable coincidence. On my draft leave my fiancé and I decided to be married, but as we were under age needed a special licence and it was Cannon Perrin who supplied and signed the licence for us. It's a small world!
From Southampton we went to Daedalus 3 at Bedhampton and on to enjoy 14 days leave. On return from leave I was posted to HMS Blackcap at Stretton. I couldn't have chosen better for I lived only 10 miles from camp. Eventually I was granted permanent week-end leave and L & PA and commuted from home until my demob on 16th May and final discharge in June, --- I'd survived! It was a good feeling.
Extract from the reminiscences of Aircraft Artificer 4th Class (Ordinance) Maurice Ayling, formerly of 1843 Squadron,, working up in Australia as a part of the reserve No. 3 Carrier Air Group. HMS Nabbington 16th July - 24th October 1945
We had been given to understand that the airfield at Nowra was near a town. By Australian standards of distance, it probably was, but it was nevertheless several miles, and not much of a town. The main attraction seemed to be "The Bridge" hotel, famous for its very accommodating barmaid, cum manageress, who was reputed to have entertained a whole platoon of Royal Marines one evening. We did not spend much time in the town as, when we had leave, we took the train to Sydney.
The facilities for both men and machines were the best we had yet encountered. Our huts were complete, and there were messes with the expected facilities. We had a hangar, and there was a building for the squadron Armoury, in which we had electric light but not power. 1843 was to re-equip with the latest FGA Corsair which had gyro gun sights as opposed to the reflector sights of previous marks.
here had been problems with the electrical unit which operated the firing pin sear of the 0.5" Browning guns. It was adjustable by turning a disc which governed the protrusion of the sear trigger. This unit vibrated out of adjustment when the gun fired, and I was given the task of soldering a tab on to the adjuster and drilling holes in the corners of the units so that they could be lock-wired. As there was no power in the armoury, I was given petrol driven generator by the MONAB to provide power for a hand held drill, which was a pretty elaborate way of drilling a 3/32" hole. The corners of the units were rounded, which made the use of a hand held drill very awkward and I am afraid I broke a lot of drills, there were four holes per unit, six units per aeroplane, and 24 aeroplanes.
There was a great amount of flying to work up the new equipment in the FGA role, although the pilots had been well used to FGA work hitherto. There was also ADDLs (Aerodrome Dummy Deck Landings) morning and evenings. One of the hazards was the wallabies which warmed their bums on the tarmac after sundown on the ends of the runways near the bush in which they lived. They had to be chased off night after night. Rabbits lived in the surrounding countryside in their thousands, especially on the hill behind the airfield. One of our recreations was to go rabbiting with a piece of wood to knock them over, which was quite easy to do. We supplemented our rations by making rabbit stew over a fire made in a 10 gallon oil drum outside the hut. Some chaps went into the pelt curing business, salting them and hanging them to dry in the sun. One P.O. took a couple of dozen pelts home with him. There was also a fruit vendor with a stall on the main camp road, but we were horrified to have to pay four Aussie pence for an apple. The junior ratings huts had corrugated iron sides and the duty P.O. could encourage the morning turn out by running along the side of the hut with a stick along the corrugations. It sounded like a machine gun inside!
It was here that I met up with one Horace Faulkner, who had been in my form at Midhurst Grammar School, and who was now a P.O. Radio Mechanic - small world. I do not remember if he was on a squadron or the MONAB, but from the rig he is wearing in my photo it was probably the latter.
Hitherto, there had been 'wings' of aeroplanes, but there was now the new concept of the Carrier Air Group (GAG). The first and second GAGs had already formed and gone to sea; participating in the final push on Japan, during which the MONABs were to progress through the islands. Our former CO, Major Nelson-Gracie, had been promoted to Lt. Col. and had command of the 2nd GAG of two Corsair and one Avenger squadrons. 1843, 1845, Corsairs, and 854 Avenger squadrons were to form the 3rd CAG under Cdr. Luard. Hardly had this taken place and the CAG stood by to re-embark, than the two atomic bombs were dropped, so that was the end of that little caper, and the pace of life slowed a little. When the Japanese surrender was announced, a chaotic period ensued. I can recall no official sanction of leave, but MONAB and Squadrons alike just disappeared to Sydney, 100 miles up the line.
Trains were crowded and the road was littered with hitch hikers. Unlike the miserable turn out for VE Day VJ (or VP as we called it) was a riot. The centre of the city was jammed with people like London on VE Day. The celebrations went on for several days in which the Nowra mob participated until their money ran out when they drifted back to base. Although most had been AWOL, there were no recriminations, and life gradually returned to normal, and a reduced flying programme resumed.
During one FGA practice sortie 1843 suffered its final loss when Sub Lt. Kennett spread his aeroplane and himself over several acres of bush, leaving a young widow in the USA. This was all the more tragic because, shortly afterwards we had instructions to remove all the British gyro gunfights and G45 Camera guns from our aeroplanes, but otherwise make them all serviceable to fly. They were then flown onto carriers off the NSW coast, vacated by the pilots, and catapulted into the sea. Such was the fate of "Lease Lend" equipment. It was heartbreaking, as none of 1843's aeroplanes had more than ten hours flying time. All the ground equipment was left in a tidy heap in the hangar.
During the final week of October, the whole of
the personnel of 1843 at least, embarked in the SS "Strathenden", a P&0
liner trooper on her first post war disarmed voyage, for the UK. There may
well have been some of the other squadron chaps with us, and, perhaps, some
of the MONAB, as that unit, I believe, disbanded in early November.
MONAB I was able to give us full support, probably because it was well established and kitted out to support Corsairs and Avengers well before we joined it, as was the air station itself.
It might be worth mentioning the feeling when the war ended. It was a curious mixture of relief and disappointment. Relief that we were not going to experience the Kamikaze attacks that were in vogue at the time, but disappointment that all our hard graft to work up a very good squadron had been for nothing. We really had been raring to go. It was a terrible let down.
As with all Nowra personnel, I had two seven day leaves while there. In Hyde Park in Sydney was a large temporary building called "The British Centre", which provided sleeping accommodation, canteen facilities, and Australian hospitality.
There, I took the offer of a stay with a family in Goulbourn, NSW, a wool centre. The hospitality was overwhelming. During this leave, while the war was still on, I was taken to a wool grading centre and a demonstration in a warehouse, after which we were invited to 'have a go'. One thrust one's fingers into a bale of wool, extracted some fibres, and held them up to the light in extended fingers. The demonstrator told me that my hands were ideal for the job, and offered me one on the spot! When I explained that I would have to desert to take up his offer, he said "No problem, sport, we can fix that for you". He was quite miffed when I refused to even consider it!
The second leave was after VJ Day. The British centre found me a farming family at Gilmore, near Tumut in the Gilmore valley over the back of the Capital Territory, and about 12 hours by train over the Blue Mts. During this leave, the local postmaster, Mr. Brown, lent me and the chap with me, a fishing rod each for a day's fishing on the Tumut River. It was idyllic, just miles of countryside with only cattle here and there for company. (The reader must understand that I am a Sussex yokel from the back of beyond). Our only catch was my yabbie, a small fresh water cray, which I put back. However, we saw two platypuses, one diving into the river from the bank so that we had a perfect plan view of it, the other swimming up stream. On our return to Mr. Brown's post office, we expressed disappointment at catching nothing worth while, but casually mentioned the platypus. Mr. Brown, and Co. would not at first believe us, but' after a detailed description of what we had seen, Mr. Brown said 'Jeez! I have been living here for forty years and have never yet seen a bleedin' plat, but you two Pommie bastards come here once in a lifetime and see two in one bloody day!". Neighbours of his in the little village of Gilmore were equally astonished.
On my return to UK, my grandfather, a keen fisher of the Arun, said "That beats all the fishing stories I've ever heard!"