Captain “Alfie” Sutton, CBE, DSC and Bar, naval aviator.  May 21, 1912 -  November 6, 2008, aged 96

 


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Article: Captain 'Alfie' Sutton: last survivor of the 1940 Taranto raid

 

Obituary

 

 

 

 

The reminiscences of Commander A.W.F. Sutton, Executive officer of MONAB VIII at Kai Tak, Dec 1945 – May 1946.

Commander Sutton's reminiscences were received in reply to a request for information, from officers who served in MONABs and related units, made through the Fleet Air Arm Officers Association in 1987.

 

 

HMS Nabcatcher was a temporary airfield organisation established at Kai Tak airfield in Hong Kong about a month after the Japanese surrendered in 1945. Kai Tak had been on RAF landing ground pre-world war II, and was greatly developed by the Japanese, who demolished the Chinese houses on the landward side for this purpose. The airfield was situated on the seashore and about one third of its perimeter was shoreline and jetties.

 

The MONAB (Mobile Operational Naval Air Base) was set down between the two runways, as a deliberate attempt by the Commanding Officer, Captain V.N. Surtees, DSO, to annexe the airfield for the Fleet Air Arm. The RAF also claimed the airfield, and had a large tented camp and airfield works department on the eastern edge of the airfield.

 

It became the northern airfield for operating RAF Transport Command in the Pacific. Thus both the Navy and the RAF occupied the airfield, with two separate Commanding Officers, two separate airfield organisations, two separate guard-rooms and defence organisations. There was an uneasy joint organisation for Air Traffic Control.

 

I was appointed there as Executive Officer, in rank of Acting Commander, in November, joining on 10th December 1945, and relieving a reservist officer who was due for demobilisation. The whole organisation was designed to be mobile, and most of the buildings were canvas. After a short time it became evident that we needed some more permanent infrastructure.

 

There were still large numbers of Japanese prisoners of war in Hong Kong, and we were allocated working parties as needed for road making (it was the rainy season, and we became bogged down in mud), and erecting stone buildings such as an armoury, guardroom, transport sections etc. Local buildings were requisitioned as NAAFI canteen. The amount of stores on the airfield was most attractive to Chinese who were trying to support families in destitute conditions. We wired in our part of the airfield with barbed wire, but the ends were open and the RAF did not wire their part at all.

 

So this led to gangs of armed Chinese broking in at night and battles taking place with our night guard of a double platoon. The Chinese retaliated by sniping at our sentries by day, and we had to use strong methods to make the airfield safe, including searching surrounding villages with armed parties.

 

Early in the New Year the demobilisation programme for the British Forces was published and it appeared that the RAF transport command was going to be last home after taking everybody else to the UK. So all Transport Command units mutinied. (It was called a ‘strike’ by the Atlee government). RAF Kai Tak was in mutiny for three days. The Navy at Kai Tak pretended it wasn’t happening,; we held a sports meeting!

 

Demob eventually affected us. Captain Surtees was relieved by Commander Walters on 14th April, and I was relieved by a Lieutenant Commander on 16th May. I took passage home to the UK in a cruiser.

 

A.W.F. Sutton

 

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