Latitude 01°54'33"S Longitude 146°52'47"E

   
ACQUISITION  Former U.S. Navy airstrip transferred to RN on loan.

 

COMMISSIONED  02 April 1945

 

CLOSED  10 November 1945

 

PAID OFF  10 November 1945
   
C.O.  Captain A.N.C. BINGLEY 01 January 1945 to 17 July 1945

Commander W.S. THOMAS (In temporary command) 17 July 1945 to 31 August 1945

Captain C.J. BLAKE 31 August 1945 to 10 November 1945

   
FUNCTION  The support of disembarked front line Squadrons, the provision of reserve aircraft storage in the Forward Area.

Mobile Air Torpedo Maintenance Unit 7,

No. 721 Fleet Requirements Unit.

 

ADDRESS  R.N. Air Station

Ponam Is.

Papua New Guinea

 

LOCALITY

The airfield covers the SE.  half of Ponam Is., which lies 5 miles off the N. coast of Manus Is. and 26 miles W. of the village of Lorengau near its eastern end.

Ponam is mostly covered with palm trees; there id a small native village near its NW, extremity.

There are three other airfields in the Admiralty Group. PITYILU (runway 1835 yds) on Pityilu Is., 22 miles E., MOMOTE (runway 2600 yds) and MOCKARENG (2 runways both 2665 yds) on Los Negros Is. distant about 34 miles SE.

 

LANDMARKS  

 

ROAD AND RAIL ACCESS None access by air or sea only.
   
   
CONTROL Control Tower located  inside, and adjacent to, the perimeter track at its W. end where it adjoins the parking area.

 

ELEVATION  6' above M.S.L.

 

RUNWAYS One, crushed coral.


11/29 QDM. 114°-294° .... 1665 x 50 yds.  Plus 75 ft shoulders. 1

 

The runway was reported as being extended to 1835 yds. in September, 1944, but no confirmation has been received that this work was ever completed.

 

TRACKS Taxi track runs parallel, N. of  the runway and connects the SE. end to the parking area adjacent the Control Tower.

 

OBSTRUCTIONS Navigation None. Manus Is. is mountainous, exact elevations are not known but they exceed 3000' about 10 miles SSE. of Ponam.
Circuit Palm trees surround but runway approach fans cleared.
Approach None.

 

APPROACH No special approach recommended.

 

WIND INDICATOR  
   
   
HOMING - VISUAL By day None.
By night None.

 

HOMING--RADIO D/F None. Facilities on Los Negros Is.
Beacons None. YG and YJ beacons on Pityilu Is.

 

APPROACH - VISUAL By day None.
By night Night Lighting available but no Funnel lights. Obstruction lights mark high trees and buildings.

 

APPROACH - RADIO None.

 

COMMUNICATION EQUIPMENT M/F & H/F Transmitters & receivers supplied by MOAB IV, number unknown.
VH/F Transmitters & receivers supplied by MOAB IV, number unknown.

 

GROUND RADAR None.

   
   
ACCOMMODATION Living quarters in hutted camp at the NW. end of the island. American built Quonset Huts. Capacity listed by US Navy 1,500, all ranks.

 

Capacity:

Officers: Unknown.
Chiefs, P.O.s and ratings: Unknown.
W.R.N.S. Officers: None.
W.R.N.S.  Chiefs, P.O.s and ratings; None.

 

ARMOURIES Not known

 

COMPASS BASE One.

 

DISPERSAL 3 parking areas (360.000 sq. ft. each) sufficient to accommodate 250 fighters.

 

HANGARS 3 Hangars  on site, details not known.

MONAB IV is equipped with portable canvas hangars, dimensions not known.

 

Number /Type Size Door Height Door Width
       
 
MEDICAL Sick quarters in small base hospital in the Administration area.

 

METEOROLOGICAL Provided by RN personnel.

 

FUEL AND OIL Aviation - 200,000 gallons in a tank farm located on NW end of island.
M/T - Not known
Oil - Not known
   
TEST BASE None

 

TEST BUTT Not known.

 

WORKSHOPS Workshop area comprising of 34 Quonset huts on site, equipped for

 

EXPLOSIVES Along S. edge of the airfield.

 

BOMBING AND FIRING RANGES Details not known but live firing was undertaken during training form Ponam.

Air to air

 
Air to ground and R. p. Firing  
Live and practice bombing  
Practice bombing  
   
   

Information taken from CB 4368 B. Admiralty Handbook of Naval Air Stations Aug. 45 & Airdromes Guide Southwest Pacific Area Dec. 1944

 

 

List of first and second line squadrons, station flight and other flying units based at this location

 
Station

Flight

Operated a number of Stinson Reliant aircraft for communication duties
721

 

 Fleet Requirements Unit

Disembarked from H.M.S. BEGUM, May 1945.

Initially equipped with 6 Vengeance TT.IVs.


812 Torpedo, Bomber, Reconnaissance Squadron.

Detachment (6) disembarked from HMS VENGEANCE  28-30.08.1945

Equipped with Barracuda IIs.


828 Torpedo, Bomber, Reconnaissance Squadron.

Disembarked from HMS IMPLACABLE 29.05.1945 Re-embarked 09.06.1945

Detachment (9) 09-12.06.1945.

Equipped with 21 Avenger Is


880 Fleet Fighter Squadron.

Disembarked from HMS IMPLACABLE 21-28.07.1945

Equipped with 24 Seafire L.III


885 Fleet Fighter Squadron.

Disembarked from HMS RULER 31.05.1945. Re-embarked 17.06.1945.

Detachment 19-28.06.1945

Equipped with 20 Seafire L/IIIs


1701  Air Sea Rescue Squadron

'B' Flight  disembarked from H.M.S. BEGUM, May 1945.

Equipped with 3 Sea Otter.


1841 Fleet Fighter Squadron.

Disembarked from HMS FORMIDABLE 18-19.08.1945.

Equipped with 20 Corsair IVs.


1843 Fleet Fighter Squadron.

Disembarked from HMS ARBITER 31.05.1945. Re-embarked 25.06.1945.

Equipped with 24 Corsair IVs.


1850 Fleet Fighter Squadron.

Detachment (12) disembarked from HMS VENGEANCE 23-30.

Equipped with 24 Corsair IVs.


 

 

The US Naval Airstrip Ponam opened at the beginning of August 1944, as a fighter base, to provide minor repair and overhaul facilities for carrier-based planes. The island was only one and a half miles long, 400 yards wide but had four miles of roads. The station consisted of a single coral-surfaced runway, 1665 by 50 yards, with a 1300 yard taxiway c connecting to a , 6,000 square foot parking area, 34 Quonset huts for workshops and operations, a camp capable of accommodating 1,500 men, and an 200,000 gallon tank farm with sea-loading line for aviation gasoline. The island was completely surrounded by a coral reef so ferry carriers had to lay a long way offshore so reserve aircraft were hoisted onto lighters and ferried through the reef to be unloaded by crane onto the stations single jetty.

The station was home to the US Navy’s Carrier Aircraft Service Unit (CASU) 13. The first squadron to operate from Ponam was VMF-312 (US Marines) with 24 FG-1 Corsairs for CAP and escort duties between late August and early December. There appears to have been a squadron of Avengers arrive at the airstrip shortly after it opened but no unit details can be found. VP-130 with 15 Lockheed PV-1 Vega "Ventura" aircraft arrived in mid-October, via Pityilu, to continue training and provide ASW and anti-shipping patrols. VP-130 departed November 1st for Owi Island. The entertainer Bob Hope made an unscheduled visit to Ponam in late 1944, a show was organised for personnel form the surrounding bases before his party moved on. VC-75 is thought to have operated out of Ponam some time during Nov and Dec ’44, operating Wildcats.

From the beginning of March 1945 Ponam airstrip was loaned to the Admiralty as a base to accommodate a MONAB (Mobile Naval Air Base). The base was to be the most forward base operated by the RN in the Pacific; the other MONAB units remained in Australia. Mobile Naval Air Base No. 4 was allocated to occupy Ponam.

The first RN elements arrived on the island at the beginning of March 1945 when part of Maintenance Storage & Repair unit no. 4 ( (MSR 4 was disembarked from H.M.S. UNICORN. The stores and equipment of MONAB 4) arrived on board the S.S. CLAN MACAULAY on the 11th of March, they were joined by the advance party of MONAB 4, 6 Officers and 57 ratings, and other elements of MSR 4 on the 13th when they disembarked from HMS SPEAKER. The main party arrived at Ponam on the 25th of March on board the S.S. EMPIRE ARQUEBUS. MONAB IV was to share the island with another detachment of the USN Seabees, Construction Battalion Maintenance Unit (CBMU) 587, which took up residence from April 1945 replacing the elements of the 140th NCB. This unit was still there at the war's end.

On the 2nd of April 1945, the former U.S. Naval Airfield Ponam commissioned as HMS NABARON, Royal Naval Air Station Ponam. The station was to operate under harsh tropical conditions for the next seven and a half months, providing reserve aircraft for the carriers of the British Pacific Fleet (BPF) together with training and limited R & R for carrier based personnel. In addition, lodger facilities had been granted on the USN Airfield on Pityilu Island from early in 1945, and the airstrip was utilised by HMS UNICORN for test flights before the RN Forward Aircraft Pool No 1 (RNFAP) arrived on June 21st to establish a permanent presence. MONAB IV was installed at a fully equipped Naval Air station where workshops, a small hospital, a cinema, a church, officers and ratings messes, and a cookhouse were permanent fixtures; the station had almost all of the equipment and facilities of a functioning naval airfield when loaned from the Americans. Because of this, the majority of its mobile equipment was not required and remained packed for the duration of the units stay at Ponam.

The first aircraft arrived almost immediately after HMS NABARON became operational, six Corsairs being disembarked from HMS UNICORN. At that time Lieutenant Commander (Flying) was the only Pilot 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. 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.

On May 27th, HMS BEGUM disembarked the 6 Vengeance TT.IVs of 721 Fleet Requirements Unit; this was to be the stations only resident squadron. Also arriving with BEGUM was 'B' Flt of 1701 Air Sea Rescue Squadron equipped with 3 Sea Otters to begin operations from Ponam. On the 29th HMS IMPLACABLE arrived at Manus to begin a six-week work up period; Ponam was utilised for Aerodrome Dummy Deck Landing (ADDL) training during this time, along with other flying by Avengers disembarked from the fleet carrier. 801 & 880 squadron disembarked 6 aircraft from each unit together with 828 squadron's 15 Avengers to Ponam on the 28th, in advance of herarrival at Manus. 801 & 880 Squadron detachments re-embarked on the 31st; they were replaced by 1843 Squadron's 24 Corsair IVs which disembarked from HMS ARBITER on the same day, they were to stay ashore until June 25th. By this time, the Station Flight of Stinston Reliant aircraft proved an invaluable asset, being continuously employed carrying Personnel, Stores and correspondence up and down the reef.

The first of June saw the arrival of MSR 6 from Australia; this additional unit was equipped to service Firefly I, Seafire III & L.III and Sea Otter aircraft. ADDLs continued with Seafire aircraft of both by 801 and 880 squadrons and 1771 squadrons Fireflies being frequent visitors to the station. 1771 squadron disembarked a detachment of 7 aircraft on June 9th, 828 re-embarked 6 of its aircraft on this date, the remaining 9 together with 1771's aircraft re-embarked on the 12th. The next squadron visitors arrived on the 19th, when 12 of 885 Squadron's Hellcats disembarked from HMS RULER to spend a week of intensive ADDLs and live firing; a few Corsairs were attached to the Squadron during this period; the unit embarked in HMS ARBITER on the 28th. On June 21st, R.N. Forward Aircraft Pool No.,1 (FAP1) disembarked from HMS PIONEER to the U.S. Naval airstrip on Pityilu Island, 22 miles east of Ponam, where lodger facilities had been secured; This unit was to be a forward reserve aircraft depot, and was attached to MONAB IV for administration purposes.

June saw the numbers accommodated on the island reach their highest, MONAB IV's complement, including MSRs 4 & 6, but excluding squadron personnel, totalled around 785 men, but the unit was 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.

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, Vengeance 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 ft of water. Onlookers,ran to the spot where the aircraft had entered the lagoon, several diving in to attempt a rescue. The pilot Lt H Kirby survived. The second incident was more serious, Sub Lt Peter Record 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 f a set of ADDLs. The layout of Ponam's 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 the pilot 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 it's 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.

Another component arrived on July 6th when Mobile Air Torpedo Maintenance Unit (MATMU) No. 7 arrived on board the S.S. CLAN CHATTAN; this unit was transferred to MONAB IV from MONAB V (HMS NABSWICK, Jervis Bay, N.S.W.) to bolster the units ordnance facilities. On the 18th HMS PIONEER delivered air stores and aircraft lighters to supplement the inadequate supply that arrived with the unit. On July 4th the commanding officer, Captain Bingley, was 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. HMS 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.

Rear Admiral Fleet Train (R.A.F.T.), arrived at Ponam on board HMS MONTCLAIRE 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.. 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 1st Line crews, but she was required for another commitment and this had to be cancelled.

August 15th 1945, the first leave plane to be authorised since the unit's arrival at Ponam departed for Sydney 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 16th August. Although the war was officially over work continued at Ponam as usual, two days after the celebrations of V-J Day HMS SLINGER arrived to collect damaged aircraft for transport to Transportable Aircraft maintenance Yard (TAMY) I (HMS NABSFORD, Archerfield, Brisbane), and 1841 Squadron Corsairs disembarked from HMS FORMIDABLE, re-embarking the next day. On the 23rd 12 of 1850 Squadron's Corsairs disembarked from HMS VENGEANCE in advance of the ships arrival. VENGEANCE arrived at the fleet anchorage at Manus on the 28th and disembarked 6 Barracudas of 812 Squadron to Ponam, together with 52 Officers & 43 ratings for short R & R.

August 30th saw the arrival of Captain C.J. Blake, 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 airstrip 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 reserves A/C received, 28 replacements issued.

HMS UNICORN returned on September 17th to evacuate the Forward Aircraft Pool; the RN element of Pityilu airstrip was closed down, all stocks of reserve Aircraft having been flown to Ponam. On the 26th MSR 6 embarked in HMS VINDEX, which arrived at Ponam at breakfast time. The unit was to be embarked for passage to Australia, sailing a few days later. The stations MONAB component units began preparations for embarkation as RNAS Ponam began running down to closure. 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 United States Navy. The S.S. FERNMOOR arrived September 30th to take on board surplus naval and air stores, she was to remain until October 6th when she sailed shortly after dawn. September'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. H.M.S. 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. REAPER sailed at teatime the next day. H.M.S. UNICORN arrived late in the afternoon of October 6th to embark MSR 4 for return to Australia. The morning of the 7th saw H.M.S. ARIADNE, a fast minelayer arrive to embark an advance party of officers for passage to Sydney, sailing at 17.00. October 9th UNICORN sailed at lunchtime, 721 Squadron having embarked mid-morning. She was to be replaced later the same day by the S.S. EMPIRE CHARMAIN, which arrived to take on board the vehicles of MATMU 7; she was to remain at Ponam until sailing for Sydney on the 16th. UNICORN returned to Ponam on the 24th to embark the remaining stores and personnel. HMS CHASER arrived on October 30th to load equipment and two walrus aircraft. H.M. Ships UNICORN and CHASER sailed for Australia 31st October.

HMS NABARON, MONAB IV, was officially paid off on the November 10th, the station returning to U.S. Navy control.  There is no recorded use of the airfield on Ponam by the US Navy after MONAB IV withdrew, the nearby airfield at Pityilu was closed by the US Navy on September 1st 1947. Ponam island has returned to nature since the end of the war, the tropical vegetation and palm tress have covered the open spaces of the airfield and it is nearly completely invisible from the air. Many of the former military building survive to be used by the islanders' when they returned to reoccupy their land.


 

Notes:

1. Bearings given in the 'Airdromes Guide Southwest Pacific Area Second Edition Dec 1944' differ from those listed in the 'Admiralty Handbook of Naval Air Stations Aug 1945' giving 289/109  as opposed to 294/114.

 

Click here for a list of Primary sources


Additional sources:

Airdromes Guide Southwest Pacific Area Second Edition Dec 1944

Published by Authority of the Commanding General, Army Air Forces Office of the Assistant Chief of Air Staff, A-3 Headquarters Far East Air Forces
 

Admiralty Fleet Orders:

 

Confidential Admiralty Fleet Orders:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

mage from Airdromes Guide Southwest Pacific Area Second Edition Dec 1944

 


View Larger Map

 

 

 

 

Ponam Island looking south east – the island is split in half with the airstrip to the SE and technical area and accommodation to the NW.

 

 

 

 

© 2013 Tony Drury www.royalnavyresearcharchive.org.uk


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