by Jack McKillop
Palawan Island (09°33'38"N, 118°28'20"E), fifth largest of the Philippine group, is long, narrow, mountainous and relatively undeveloped. The island is 265-miles (426-kilometers) long and varies from 5-to-25-miles (8-to-40-kilometers) in width. The total land area is 4,550-square-miles (11,784-square-kilometers). Puerto Princesa Bay (09°44'18"N, 118°42'54"E), where the Seabees began operations, is largely mountainous, except for the coastal plain lying along the eastern shore. The mountains consist of two ranges, extending northeast-southwest, each a confused system of rugged peaks, with the highest being Mount Mantalingajan at 6,839-feet (2,085-meters). Several good airfield sites, however, were found on the coastal plain.
History during World War II & Base Facilities
The small Filipino forces on the island were still holding out as of 10 May 1942 even though they had been ordered to surrender on 6 May. The Japanese landed at Puerto Princesa (09°44'24"N, 118°44'19"E) on 18 May and the final group of Allied troops surrendered on 9 June. Many of the men refused to surrender and joined the guerilla forces fighting the Japanese.
The Japanese had developed two airfields at Puerto Princesa (09°44'32"N, 118°45'25"E), one with a concrete runway, and a seaplane base. The town, the two airfields and the entire Puerto Princesa peninsula were captured by American forces on 28 February 1945 when units of the U.S. Army landed at Puerto Princesa and met no opposition on the beach.
On 12 March, Seabees landed at Puerto Princesa. All Japanese facilities had been rendered useless by the attacking bombardment, but the concrete runway was deemed suitable for enlargement, and a large looping taxiway was found to be repairable. The assignment was handled by Army Engineers, the Seabees loaning heavy equipment and trucks.
Initial projects assigned to the Seabees were the construction of facilities for landplanes and seaplanes, together with headquarters for a naval unit and for the port director. Construction of a small landplane base was begun 15 March. Facilities included 12 hardstands with connecting taxiways, personnel housing and messing for 2,500 men, underground fuel storage for aviation fuel, nose hangars, and 6-miles of roads (9.7-kilometers). The Seabees also were assigned the task of building a strip that would connect taxiways. The first hardstands were in use on 28 March, and the remaining ones were completed and placed in use on 31 May. The connecting strip was completed at approximately the same time. A temporary camp for 2,100 men was set up in April; permanent structures were usable on 15 May. For unloading tankers carrying aviation gas, a fuel jetty, consisting of 175-feet (53-meters) of catwalk and pipe supports, was constructed. After May, only maintenance work was done on the landplane base.
Naval Air Base Puerto Princesa was commissioned on 5 May 1945 and was designed to accommodate three carrier air service units (CASUs), three patrol bomber squadrons and two patrol squadrons. The Navy shared this base with USAAF units flying North American B-25 Mitchells, Lockheed P-38 Lightnings and Northrop P-61 Black Widows.
Construction of the naval headquarters unit and facilities for the port director was started on 16 March. The two projects included administration buildings, housing, messing, sanitation, dispensary, and operational buildings. The two units were in operation on 1 April, and facilities were completed on 15 April.
Although work was started on the ramp and hardstands for the seaplane base on 15 March, it was not until 15 May that the first plane came up the ramp. By 10 July, temporary seaplane facilities were in operation. Construction of permanent facilities was started on 1 August, the completion date was 7 September. These included a 500-man camp, administration buildings, and operational facilities.
The base was enlarged beyond its original plan to include a ship-watering supply point and concrete paving on the ramps and hardstands. Water for ships was obtained from two wells and stored in a 126,000-US gallon (104,917-Imperial gallon or 476,962-liter) tank. Paving work on 120,000-square-feet (11,148-square-meters) of ramps and hardstands was started on 9 August; by 1 September, it was practically complete.
In addition to this construction, Seabees were charged with maintenance of the station and stevedoring on 22 ships as well as with the naval security of the island, which included handling the shore patrol and a stockade.
By 4 August, Headquarters of Fleet Air Wing Ten had been established and two patrol bomber squadrons with Consolidated PB4Y-1 Liberators and PB4Y-2 Privateers shared the airfield with the USAAF. Beginning in April and continuing to the end of the war, detachments of patrol squadrons flying Martin PBM Mariners were based at a seaplane tender in the bay.
Naval Air Base Puerto Princesa was inactivated in December 1946 when both land and seaplane bases were transferred to the USAAF. All other facilities were disestablished on 8 February 1947.
Tody, this is Puerto Princesa International Airport.