Extract from the book "Going Solo" By Dr Alan Stephens
Events initiated in 1947 resulted in the main body of 2ACS being deployed to the airfield at Momote, Manus Island, on 7th November 1952. On 16th December 1947, the Air Board agreed that the base be occupied by the RAAF as an advanced operational base after the United States Air Force had completed photographic operations over New Guinea. These operations, agreed to by the US and Australia, were due for completion in January 1948 and it was expected that all American personnel would leave the island by the end of April. The airfield was 2,225 metres long and the facilities capable of housing 690 personnel and up to 70 aircraft. A small party of RAAF servicemen was sent to Momote after the base was taken over in August 1948 to prevent looting and deterioration of the facilities. The Department of Works and Housing was responsible for the refurbishment of the buildings but was unable to make sufficient manpower available `even to halt deterioration, much less rehabilitate structures and improve the installations required for RAAF purposes'. It was planned to raise a Works Maintenance Unit to undertake this task, but this proposition was dropped in favour of deploying 2ACS to Manus Island.
Flight Lieutenant G. Purdy, the temporary commanding officer, had led a small works party, which was an element of Base Squadron Momote. On 15th November 1952 the Malekula docked at Lombrum with stores and equipment. Lings arrived on 21st November 1952 to assume command of 208 inexperienced newly posted airmen and 92 naval technicians. The unit commenced work on the rehabilitation and replacement of the buildings at Momote, but work was inhibited by the low serviceability of equipment and a lack of design expertise in the fields of road, water supply, and drainage. During November 1952 Flight Lieutenant E.T. Oppy was attached from Townsville to fill this requirement. Administrative duties and works supervision placed a high workload on the depleted number of officers at the unit.
Although the cooperation between the two units based at Momote was `excellent', divided control between the commanders of 2ACS and Base Squadron Momote meant there were occasions where `far too much time ... [was] wasted in consultation'. This was a problem during March 1953, when, with the commander and two other officers absent, officer’s promotion examinations and a visit by the Air Officer Commanding Northern Area distracted the remaining executives from the construction tasks in hand.
Between 1 6 June 1953 the Squadron was involved in celebrations marking the crowning of Queen Elizabeth II. Lings gave a special address to a combined parade of Base Squadron and 2ACS members and 120 personnel participated in a parade at Lorengau, the administrative centre, where the District Commissioner, Mr. M. English, took the salute. A round of social functions ensued. On the 3rd representatives of the squadron and their wives attended the coronation ball at the Civil Administrative Centre in Lorengau and all the officers were invited to a ball at the RAN shore establishment, HMAS Tarangau, on the 5th. Next day a cocktail party was held as a final celebration.
The works effort had been concentrated on the construction of buildings, it was not until May 1953 that work commenced on the northern end of the runway Work on the runway, and the construction program was inhibited by low Plant serviceability. Equipment received from Townsville required overhaul. Maintenance of equipment became critical in November when the supply line of spare parts for earthmoving equipment was broken. Despite efforts to alleviate the position, at the end of January 1954 only 50 per cent of the squadron's heavy equipment was serviceable. 43 Spare parts were purchased from Lae during March 1954, thus enabling
Plant to be utilised in the stockpiling of coral material and subsequent rehabilitation of a 610-metre length of runway and hard standing.
The non commissioned officers and airmen were initially accommodated in overcrowded huts and sub standard tents. This weakness was overcome by March and the living conditions steadily improved. Welfare facilities were provided. During the Christmas stand down period in December 1952 a derelict building was converted into an airmen's club, which featured a 16-metre long island bar. A shark proof swimming pool was constructed from salvaged pontoon tanks and boom defence netting in Hyane Harbour.
By the end of 1953, with the imminent withdrawal of Australian forces from Korea, the strategic value of Momote decreased. In January 1954 work commenced on the reorganisation of 2ACS to reflect the lower priority of the work at Momote. The packing of stores and equipment to be returned to Australia commenced during March. Headquarters 2ACS opened at Townsville on 30 April and Detachment `B' ceased to exist. The troops remaining at Momote were known as Detachment `C', which came into existence under the command of Squadron Leader Ken James on 21 April. The Detachment entertained sailors from the aircraft carrier HMAS Vengeance and the destroyers HMAS Bataan and HMAS Anzac who were visiting Lombrum during April. The Nankin arrived on 30 May to transport stores and equipment to Townsville and the support given to `Satex' exercises during the last two weeks in July and the first week of August drew heavily on the resources of the detachment; in comparison with the normal complement of 170 180 men, 550 personnel had to be fed and sheltered. Despite these diversions, construction work continued. The runway pavement was completed during September 1954 and the remaining works personnel were incorporated into Base Squadron Momote before the detachment was officially closed on 19 August 1955.
Of the Mobile Task Force in yet another concession to financial realities, Port Moresby and Rabaul were left with small care and maintenance parties only.
Sadly for those members of the Air Force who enjoyed postings, which consisted in the main of fishing and swimming in a tropical climate, Momote's strategic significance diminished over the years. The RAAF's withdrawal from Japan and Korea in the mid 1950s reduced the utility of a staging post between Australia and North Asia, while Butterworth eventually filled the need for operations into Southeast Asia. 1n 1958 Base Squadron Momote was disbanded and the airfield handed over to the Department of Civil Aviation.