RAF Seletar – Singapore
In 1921 the government decided to build a naval base in Singapore and, at the same time, it was concluded that an airfield and seaplane base would also be required. The naval base was built on the island’s north coast with the air base several miles east.
The task of construction began in 1926 and, by March 1927, sufficient land had been cleared to for a landing strip. A concrete slip way was constructed for use of flying boats and, in February 1928, four Supermarine Southampton flying boats of the RAF Far East Flight became the first aircraft to land at the base. This unit was renamed 205 Flying Boat Squadron in January 1929. The Squadron motto was Perama di Malaya, which translates to First in Malaya.
In 1929 Seletar became the first civilian air port on the island when permission was granted for the grass landing strip to be used for civil air traffic. Singapore received its first commercial flight in Feb 1930 when a Fokker FVIIB of the Royal Dutch Indies Airline landed at Seletar. For the next nine years it was host to many pioneering flights and aviation personalities including Charles Kingsford-Smith, Jim Mollison, Jim Batten and Amy Johnson. The base became host to the Singapore Flying Club which was mainly confined to seaplane flying due to the absence of other landing strips on the island. In 1937 civil traffic was moved to the new airfield at Kallang.
In January 1930 the Far East Command was formed and the airfield opened as RAF Base Seletar. The station’s first land based unit was 36 Sqn with their Hawker Horsley torpedo bombers. In January 1934 the Vickers Vildebeests of 100 Sqn arrived at the airfield and in October 1936 230 Squadron arrived with Short Singapores to join 205 Sqn. 230 Sqn took delivery of Sunderland Mk 1s in June 1938, and departed for Ceylon in October 1939.
The start of WW2 had little effect on the daily routine at Seletar. Aircraft were camouflaged and armed and 36 Sqn undertook various photographic sorties of the surrounding operational area. Various support units arrived at the base including No 4 Anti Aircraft and 151 Maintenance Unit was formed. Catalinas replaced the Singapores in 205 Sqn in 1941 and one of their aircraft had the distinction of being the first British aircraft shot down in the Pacific war when sent out to shadow a Japanese invasion convoy.
36 Sqn with their Vildebeests were detached to airfield in Northern Malaya when the Japanese invasion got underway and fought valiantly against hopeless odds. Hurricane fighters of 232 Sqn arrived at Seletar in mid Jan 42 but these were too few to make much impact and were not the tropicalised versions so were not as effective as expected.
At the end of January the air attacks had made the airfield untenable and 36 Sqn was withdrawn to Java followed by 232 Sqn in February. The airfield facilities were destroyed as the RAF pulled out. Seletar became a Japanese base until 1945 and was used extensively by the Japanese Navy who laid a concrete runway for use of their own aircraft.
The RAF returned in 1945 when the Sunderland flying boats of 205 and 209 Sqns arrived and it was some days before the airfield was repaired and operational for land based aircraft. Mosquitos FBIVs of 84, 89 and 110 Sqns soon arrived with Spitfires XIVs of 11 and 17 Sqns. 314, 389 and 390 Maintenance Units were established in November and 81 Sqn was reformed with Mosquito PR34s.
In mid 1948 most of the front line Squadrons had departed for other airfields on Singapore and Seletar and its MUs were reorganized into a combined Maintenance Unit in support of aircraft during the Malayan Emergency.
In 1950 81 Sqn with Spitfire and Mosquito photo reconnaissance aircraft arrived from Tangah. 88 Sqn with their Sunderlands joined 205 Sqn and 209 Sqn at Seletar in 1951 to form the Far East Flying Boat Wing. 88 Sqn served in the Korean War and 205 Sqn flew the last Sunderland sortie in May 1959.
209 Sqn arrived later that year with Pioneer and Twin Pioneers. Target towing Beaufighters were still operational at the airfield up to May 1960 when the last RAF Beaufighter sortie was flown.
Seletar had been mainly a Maintenance Unit and Equipment Supply Depot for the Far East Air Force in the 1950s but now took on the role of short and medium range transport base. In Oct 1960 34 Sqn was reformed with Blackburn Beverleys and, in 1962, 66 Sqn with Bristol Bevederes were based at the airfield.
In Aug 1963 103 Sqn flying Westland Whirlwind helicopters were reformed at RAF Seletar and, with 110 Sqn, were added to the strength of the Far East Air Force in Singapore to support efforts in Borneo campaign in the mid 60s. In Nov 1963 225 Sqn deployed to RAF Seletar, Singapore with its Whirlwind HAR10s from RAF Odiham, for operations against Indonesian terrorists infiltrating into Malaysia and Borneo.
In 1964 65 Sqn commenced their deployment the airfield providing engineering and supply support for the Far East Air Force and during this period control was gradually handed over to the Singapore government.
In November 1971 Far East Air Force disbanded and Seletar was officially handed over to the newly formed Singapore Air Force.
Source The information for this item was obtained from the books Action Stations Overseas by Tony Fairburn and Seletar, and Crowning Glory by David Taylor.
Written by David Fell