A Brief History of RAF Seletar

Early days

The history of Seletar really began in April 1924 with the arrival of HMS Pegasus, a seaplane carrier, to Singapore waters. She was there on a mission to carry out a photographic survey of Malaya. The first RAF flight from Singapore occurred just after the ship’s arrival when Flight Lieutenant G E Livock took off in his Fairey IIID float plane N9634 for his first reconnaissance flight. On January 16th 1925 two survey flights over the area for the new airbase where completed. In March 1927 things were progressing at a fast pace and some 100 acres of jungle had been cleared.

In April that year Mr C E Woods took up the post of Principle Works & Building Officer RAF Far East. His task was to prepare for the arrival of four flying boats due early 1927. Things progressed rapidly as the slipway and the road infrastructure were built. Later, the main runway and associated buildings for land planes were constructed.

The Far East Flight

The Far East Flight consisted of four Supermarine Southampton seaplanes S1149, S1150, S1151 & S1152. which departed from Plymouth 09.00 hrs on 17th October 1927. After a long and epic journey these, the first aircraft, arrived at Seletar on the 28th of February 1928.

Over The Years

During the ensuing years many different types of aircraft were operated by different Squadrons. See the Aircraft & Squadron pages for more details. Seletar served as Singapore's civil airport from 1930 before the opening of Singapore’s first civil airport at Kallang on 12 June 1937.

In the late 1930s and early 1940s Seletar was the target of carpet bombing when Japanese navy bombers conducted the first air raid on Singapore, sometime after their ground forces invaded Kota Bahru. These were terminated when the Japanese took Johore Bahru, which brought the airfield within range of their artillery.

 

Japanese Invasion

As war clouds gathered over Singapore the RAF started building up their forces in the Far East in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Seletar airfield was the target of Carpet bombing when Japanese navy bombers conducted the First air raid on Singapore, sometime after their ground forces invaded Kota Bahru. It was abandoned when the Japanese took Johore Bahru, which brought their artillery in range of the airfield.

When the Japanese launched their invasion of Malaya and Singapore, Seletar housed the RAF’s 205 Sqn with PBY Catalina Flying boats and 36 and 100 Sqns with obsolete Vickers Vildebeest torpedo bombers, along with 151 Maintenance Unit. These units stayed until Jan-Feb 1942, soon before the surrender to the invading Japanese.

During the Japanese occupation Seletar was under the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service, and a number of IJN squadrons were based or transited through there mainly, for training. Among the units known to be based there during this time were 936 Kokutai (B5N Kate, D3A Val and E13A1 Jake), 381 Kokutai (A6M Zero and J2M Raiden). The 601 Kokutai was also stationed there for training in early before its destruction on board Japanese aircraft carriers during the Battle of Philippine Sea (Marianas Turkey Shoot) in June. Seletar’s present hardcore runway was built during the Japanese Occupation, prior to this it was a grass field.


After World War 2 the base went back to the RAF, and in the late 1940s and 1950s the base was heavily involved in the Malayan Emergency, with Beaufighters, Spitfires and Mosquitos based there while operating against Malayan Communist insurgents. Among the many squadrons based there during this time were Nos 60, 81 and 205 Sqns of the RAF.

 

Post World War 2

After WWII the base returned to RAF control, and in the late 1940s and 1950s was heavily involved in the Malayan Emergency, their Beaufighters, Sunderlands, Spitfires and Mosquitos operating against Malayan Communist insurgents. Among the many squadrons based there during this time were 60, 81 and 205.During the 1960s RAF Seletar was home to 103 and 110 Squadrons, both of which were equipped with Westland Whirlwind Mk 10 helicopters, and to 34 Squadron, with Blackburn Beverleys. All three Squadrons (among several others) were involved with support of operations in North Borneo during the Indonesia-Malaysia confrontation. The helicopter squadrons also provided a search and rescue service for the Singapore area. The station was also home to 209 Squadron, equipped with Single and Twin Pioneer aircraft. In December 1966 three Andover CC Mk1 arrived to replace the ageing Beverley. 52 squadron was later reformed in March 1967 after the arrival of a further three aircraft. By now Confrontation was over, and the Squadron moved to Changi in 1968, being disbanded in January 1970.

The end of an era for RAF Seletar Seletar

The labour party was voted in to form the UK Government in 1964 and one of its policies was to reduce the countries defence spending. By April 1967 it decided that it would half it's commitment to the Far East Command by 1971 and remove all military personnel by 1975. However, in November 1967, increasing problems with Britain's economy forced it to devalue the pound which, in turn, led to deep cuts in the its budget. It became clear that Britain could no longer maintain its military commitments in the Far East and later announced its withdrawal of all troops in South East Asia by 1971 – four years earlier than planed.

This was devastating news for the Government & people of Singapore as the military bases contributed to over 20% of its Gross Nation Product and provided 10% of the employment in the country. It would also leave a large gap in its defences as their own military forces were in it's infancy.

Singapore's Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, and Minister of Finance, Goh Keng Swee, when to London. Where they met with British political leaders and ralied support through television appearances etc. Dispite this, on 16th January 1968 the British government announced that they would Pull out from South East Asia by 1971. However, as a compromise, the British agreed to extend the deadline from March to December 1971.

The RAF station closed at the end of March 1971 and Seletar was handed over to the Singapore Air Defence Command (later the Republic of Singapore Air Force) at this time, all RAF personnel departing by the year end.

Related Pages