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[Home] [Airfields of 103 Sqn] [RAF Tengah]

RAF Tengah – Singapore.

RAF Tengah 1945 or 46

RAF Tengah immediate post war

Westland Wessex at Tengah

103 Squadron personnel with Westland Wessex at Tengah 1975

RAF Tengah planned in the early 1930s when the hostile relations between Russia and Japan were increasing and it was realised that Singapore was vulnerable to air attack should war break out in the region. Plans were made for a modern airfield at Tengah but it was not till 1937 that contractors began to clear the site. In the following two years a 2,500 ft landings strip and buildings were constructed and the airfield was opened in July 1939. On the 5th August W/C McFarlane took up his position as the first Station Commander. 11 and 39 Squadrons with their Bristol Blenheim Is arrived from India soon after. They left for Kallang in September to be replaced by 34 and 62 Squadrons also flying Blenheim Is.

Bristol Blenheim I 62  Squadron

62 Squadron Bristol Blenheim I immediate pre war

WW2

The start of WW2 in Europe had little effect on life at Tengah but with the increasing possibility of war with Japan in 1941 hasty improvements were made to the station. A tarmac runway was built over the original grass strip, and sandbag blast pens were erected round the airfield to protect the aircraft. 62 Squadron moved up to Alor Star in February 1941.

From the 8th December 1941 Tengah was subjected to continual air strikes by the Japanese and later in December 34 Squadron moved north to Butterworth in response to the Japanese landings in north east Malaya. In January 1942 approx 50 crated Hawker Hurricanes arrived in Singapore a number of which were sent to Tengah. However conditions at the station were now very difficult with continual bombing and artillery fire from across the Straits of Johor. 34 Squadron was withdrawn to Palembang on the 18th January 1942 followed by 62 Squadron who were now equipped with Lockheed Hudsons leaving only Hurricanes. These were reinforced by more Hurricanes from HMS Indomitable. However these were then withdrawn to Sumatra. On the 10th February 1942 the airfield was in Japanese hands and was operated by the Japanese Army for the rest of the war.

Following the Japanese surrender in August 1945 the first Allied Unit to return was 902 Wing. They found the airfield in a very poor condition and Japanese POWs were used to carry out urgent repairs and it was two years before the last of the POWs left. However the airfield did become operational in September 1945 with the arrival of 152 and 155 Squadrons with their Supermarine Spitfire VIIIs.

Immediate Post War

In January 1946 at the request of the Dutch 152 Squadron flew reconnaissance sorties over Indonesia to locate political extremists. 155 Squadron moved to Sumatra in February 1946 and 152 Squadron disbanded in March. A new 6000 ft runway was constructed by 3353 Airfield Construction Wing. By the beginning of 1947 28 and 60 Squadrons with their Spitfire FR14s and 18s were operating from the base.

The first jets arrived in June 1947 when Gloster Meteor F4s EE595 and EE596 flew in for tropical trials which were well received and proved very successful. These aircraft returned to the UK in July. Tengah became the the Far East trunk terminal for Transport Command in October 1947 and also at that time took on its additional civilian role when it turned round it first Quantas flight from Darwin. More tropical trials were undertaken when Vampires arrived in February 1948.

Supermarine Spitfire 60 Squadron Tengah

Supermarine Spitfire 60 Squadron Tengah

Firedog

At the start of the Malayan Emergency ( Operation Firedog ) in 1948 units from Tengah played an important role. 28 and 60 Squadrons had moved to Sembawang and replaced by 81 Squadron with their De Havilland Mosquito PR34s, a Flight of Spitfire FR18es and 84 Squadron with Bristol Beaufighter Xs. In October 1948 84 Squadron were transferred to the Middle East and replaced by 45 Squadron also with Beaufighters but which was re-equipped with the unfortunate Bristol Brigand. The Avro Lincolns of 100 Squadron arrived during the summer and took part in the anti terrorist offensive and these were  replaced by Lincolns from 61 and 144 Squadrons in December.

Recruiting for the new Malayan Auxiliary Air Force began at Tengah in 1950 and on its formation it was equipped with Tiger Moths, Harvards and Spitfires. In July 1950 1 Squadron RAAF arrived with its Lincolns augmenting 100 Squadron in the heavy bombing role. 60 Squadron with its Spitfire FR18s was also operating from the station from mid 1950 flying anti terrorist operations. The Brigands of 45 and 84 Squadrons had flown many operations but suffered a significant accident record. As a result in 1952 45 Squadron was withdrawn and converted to the De Havilland Hornet while 84 Squadron was grounded.

Avro Lincoln RAF Tengah

Avro Lincoln RAF Tengah

1950s

60 Squadron flew the last Spitfire sortie in December 1950 against terrorist positions near Kota Tinggi. They then converted to an air defence squadron flying De Havilland Vampire FB5s. In late December 1955 the two Hornet Squadrons, 45 and 33, were amalgamated into 45 Squadron. 14 Squadron RNZAF with their Vampires arrived at Tengah in May 1955 and at the end of the year the Lincolns were replaced in Bomber Command detachments.

45 Squadron with their De Havilland Venoms returned to Tengah in November 1957 to re-equip with English Electric Canberras and 81 Squadron returned with their Meteor PR10s. More Canberras arrived with 75 Squadron RNZAF in July 1956. During the closing months of Operation Firedog 60 Squadron changed to an all weather fighter role with Meteor NF14s which arrived in October 1959. The Emergency was officially over in August 1960 though 81 Squadron continued to fly photo reconnaissance sorties till mid 1961.

In March 1958 the Air Ministry gave approval for Tengah to be developed into a medium bomber base. In addition plans were made for a Royal Navy Aircraft Holding Unit to be located there. These plans involved the building of a 9,000 ft runway with taxi way, hardstands and extra domestic facilities. Extra land was acquired and work was completed by 1962.

The airfield was now extremely busy with five resident operational squadrons. 20 Squadron with Hawker Hunter FGA9s and 60 Squadron with Gloster Javelin FAW 9s. All the Far East Air Force reconnaissance work was undertaken by 81 Squadron with their Canberra PR7s. Disembarked Royal Navy De Havilland Sea Vixens and Supermarine Scimitars were arriving in increasing numbers and Bomber Command Handley Page Victor detachments had begun. Butterworth based RAAF North American Sabres flew in air defence exercises and in June 1961 Tengah was host to Vickers Valiant tankers supporting Avro Vulcan bombers flying non stop from the UK to Australia.

Confrontation

Evidence of political unrest in the region now started to have effects at Tengah. Hunters and 45 Squadron Canberras were detached to Labuan for dummy attacks on rebels. The revolt was however just a prelude to the Indonesian Confrontation which began in 1963.

It is reported that up to 48 Red Beard tactical nuclear weapons were secretly stowed in a highly secured weapons storage facility at Tengah, between 1962 and 1970, for possible use by the V bomber force detachment and for Britain's military commitment to South East Asia Treaty

Hunters and Javelins were detached to Borneo during December 1963. The FEAF was reinforced at Tengah with the arrival of 8 Victors of 15 and 57 Squadrons and an RAF Regiments Light Anti Aircraft Squadron was added to guard the airfield. 1963 was a busy year with visits from the USAF on exercises and Royal Navy and other RAF aircraft.

After the Indonesians made their paradrops on Malaya in 1964 more reinforcements arrived. These were made up of RAAF North American Sabres of 3 Squadron and Canberras of 73 Squadron, 12 Squadron RNZAF

Canberras and 64 Squadron Javelins and 893 Squadron Sea Vixens. 3 photo reconnaissance Canberras arrived from 58 Squadron to reinforce 81 Squadron and by September 1964 there were 10 squadrons or part squadrons based at Tengah.

In addition Tengah mounted a detachment at Kuantan to prepared the camp as a forward operational strike airfield for detachments of Canberra B18 squadrons from RAF Germany. Hunters flew rocket and cannon support operations in support of ground forces against Indonesian paratroops in Johor and by the end of September that threat had been eliminated. In May 1965 a party of Indonesian troops landed on the coast of Johor. These were dealt with by the Hunters with the help of a Forward Air Controllers flying Scottish Aviation Pioneers

The Final Years

Peace in the region returned in August 1966. The Hunters and Javelins returned from Borneo and  medium bomber and photo reconnaissance detachments to Tengah were also ended.

Following the 1966 Defence Review and the planned reductions to the RAF in the Far East the two Javelin Squadrons, 64 Squadron in June 1967 and 60 Squadron in 1967.

In order to fill the air defence gap 74 Squadron Lightning F6s were deployed to Tengah in June 1967. 74 took part in many exercises in the region and also visited Australia. The arrival of the Lightnings also meant 20 Squadron could be reduced in size and eventually disbanded. 45 Squadron left Tengah in February 1970 and 81 Squadron disbanded in January after 12 years in the Far East during which time it had also operated Percival Pembrokes in the photo reconnaissance role.

In June 1970 Tengah hosted 54 Squadron McDonnell Douglas Phantoms as part of a important Far East reinforcement exercise.

74 Squadron took part in the RAAF Jubilee celebrations in 1971 and the squadron disbanded in June with the aircraft being ferried to Cyprus and 56 Squadron. In 1970 training for the Singapore Armed Forces personnel had begun. Also later in 1971 the UK joined Australia and New Zealand to form the ANZUK pact in the region and RAF forces selected for the pact were deployed to Tengah. These consisted of eleven Westland Whirlwind 10s of 103 Squadron and 3 Shackletons of 209 Squadron.

This arrangement ended in 1975 when it was announced Britain intended to withdraw its ANZUK forces by April 1976. The last VC10 repatriating RAF personnel left Tengah in February 1976 and the RAF Support Unit disbanded in March.

Westland Wessex RAF Tengah 1975

Westland Wessex RAF Tengah 1975

Since then Tengah has been the main base of the Singapore Armed Forces.

Item written by David Fell with reference to the excellent Action Stations Overseas by Tony Fairbairn. Photos courtesy of Graham Andrews and also my archive and WWP

I have also produced an RAF Tengah Photo Gallery here. Click book cover below. The photos featured are from 1945/46 and 1975 which make a nice contrast.

Tengal Album Cover

 

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Latest additions to this site

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* 1st April 2024 - 80 Wing

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* 1st January 2024 - Pamplin Profile

1st January 2024 - Milan - 24/25 October 1942

* 1st December 2023 - Photos of F/L Jacob t'Hart DFC and bar

1st December 2023 - Bremen – 2/3rd July 1942

1st December 2023 - Skinner Profile

* 1st November 2023 - Memoirs of F/L Jacob t'Hart DFC and bar

1st November 2023 - Mine laying Biarritz / Biscay coast - 21 November 1942

1st November 2023 - Billie - Lancaster - W4364 - 103 Squadron

1st November 2023 - Curtin Twins Profile

*1st October 2023 - Dusseldorf - 1 August 1942

1st October 2023 - RAF Usworth Photo Album - 103 Squadron Era 1937/38

1st October 2023 - Mills Profile

*1st September 2023 - Tilley Profile

1st September 2023 - Ostend docks and barges - 22 December 1940

* 1st August 2023 - Defensive Armament - 103 Squadron and 576 Squadron

1st August 2023 - Chesterton Profile

1st August 2023 - Targets in Holland - 21/22 July 1940

1st August 2023 - Numerous additions and updates throughout the site

*1st July 2023 - Armed Reconnaissance/Leaflet Raid – Koblenz area – 20/21 March 1940

1st July 2023 - Air Dropped Weapons Article

1st July 2023 - Knott Profile

Also of local RAF Bomber Command interest are the

166 Squadron website

and the

550 Squadron and North Killingholme website.