The Pembroke had a long service career with the Royal Air Force, spanning from 1953 to 1988. Within FEAF, the type had a thirteen year presence, from five bases, including both Seletar and Tengah, which are most relevant to the Group. I have included details of all aircraft which were based at Kuala Lumpur, Labuan, Changi, Seletar and Tengah, in the interests of completeness.
The Percival Aircraft Company designed the P.48 Merganser, a light transport aircraft after World War Two, it making its first flight on 9 May 1947. An enlarged development was the P.50 Prince, powered by two Alvis Leonides nine cylinder radial engines, which was flown for the first time on 13 May 1948. It achieved some success in both military and civilian roles, particularly with the Royal Navy, it calling its machines the Sea Prince.
The RAF wanted a communications/light transport aircraft for use in the Middle and Far East and Percival redesigned the P.50 in response, producing the P.66 Pembroke. Its wingspan was 8 feet and 6 inches greater than the Prince’s and the maximum weight increased by nearly 3,000 pounds. The two Alvis Leonides piston engines meant superior climb and range performance over the Prince but inferior cruise and maximum speeds. Forty two Pembrokes were ordered for the RAF on 5 June 1951, with the first flight of the first machine being made on 21 November 1952. The first FEAF example left Britain in May 1954.
The units which operated the Pembroke in Malaya, Singapore and Borneo were:
Dates (Pembrokes operated)
June 1954 to October 1958
June 1954 to May 1960 and April to June 1967
January 1956 to April 1958
April 1958 to July 1960
1 November 1958 to 30 September 1959
1 October 1959 to 1 February 1960 and January to June 1963
Station & Target Towing Flight
February 1960 to October 1962
November 1963 to April 1967
Far East Communications Squadron (FECS), operating from Changi, in June 1954, received the first Pembroke to enter FEAF service, beating 267 Sqn. by a few days. The latter had been reformed at Kuala Lumpur, Malaya, on 15 February 1954, with Dakotas. Six Pembrokes were on strength by March 1957. It was redesignated as 209 Sqn. on 1 November 1958, five aircraft being transferred. 209 Sqn. had been disbanded at Seletar on 1 January 1955 as a Sunderland operator.
In January 1956, 81 Sqn., based at Seletar, took on its first Pembroke, a conventional transport example. From September 1956, the first of five photo-reconnaissance examples, designated the C(PR.)1, entered service with 81 Sqn., in the surveying role. The machines had glazed noses, as opposed to the solid nose of the standard transports. In the survey role, there were vertical, oblique and forward facing oblique camera positions. The number of Pembroke peaked at four in September 1957. At the same time as operating Pembrokes, 81 Sqn. also operated Meteor PR.10s in the photo-reconnaissance role. 81 Sqn. was relocated to Tengah during April 1958, with its Pembroke element reducing to no more than a pair from December 1958. This meant that there were no flying squadrons at Seletar, with only the Station and Target Towing Flight operating aircraft. This situation would not last for more than a few months.
209 Sqn. moved to Seletar on 1 October 1959, as the operations against Communist Terrorists (CTs) in Malaya were drawing to a close (“Operation Firedog”, 1948-60). The Twin Pioneer was more suited to operating out of jungle strips and so over just under a year, the Pembrokes used by 209 Sqn. were replaced, the last one leaving in February 1960, although one Pembroke did rejoin 209 for six months in 1963. As 209 Sqn. ceased to use the Pembroke, its cast-offs joined Seletar’s Station and Target Towing Flight in the transport role. The FECS lost its last Pembroke in May 1960. During July 1960, the last Pembroke left 81 Sqn., leaving it to consolidate on the Canberra and Meteor. This meant that only Seletar still operated the type in FEAF. The Station and Target Towing Flight used up to four simultaneously until October 1962, when the aircraft left that unit. In November 1963, the Station Flight at Labuan, Borneo, received the first of two Pembrokes, and these were operated on light transport duties until April 1967. The final period of service was with the FECS, still at Changi, when the two former Labuan Stn. Flt. machines served until June 1967.
The Pembroke continued in service in the Middle East and Europe until 1988. The last RAF unit was 60 Sqn., which had been a Javelin operator in FEAF in the Sixties. It operated Pembrokes from Wildenrath, Germany, up to 1988. It was not operated in large numbers and did not attract much attention but it did sterling work, providing support in the background. Many will have seen them but paid little attention.
Length, 46 feet, wingspan, 64 feet and 6 inches and height, 16 feet.
Powerplants: Two Alvis Leonides 127 nine cylinder supercharged radial piston engines, developing 550 horsepower.
The all up weight (its maximum) was 13,500 pounds, with the empty weight being 9,136 pounds.
Maximum speed 186 miles per hour, with the maximum range being 1,012 nautical miles and the service ceiling was 22,000 feet.
Crew: Two pilots.
Payload options: The large cargo door on the port side, located towards the tail, measuring 5 feet 2 inches by 4 feet and 2 inches, allowed easy access for up to eight passengers, or six stretchers or for light loads, for example an aircraft engine. The passenger seats were rearward facing as was standard for RAF transports.
Fourteen airframes were based in Malaya, Singapore or Borneo, of which two survive:
Individual aircraft details:
Far East – allocated to FEAF for FECS 26 March 1954, it was issued to Comms. Flt., 267 Sqn. 15 June 1954. Cat.3 damage sustained 18 September 1956, to MBFE 22 September 1956 for repair, rejoined 267 Sqn. 31 December 1957, to MBFE 3 April 1958 for storage. Issued to S&TT Flt. 27 November 1961, then to 389 MU on 30 October 1962,
Post Far East. Allocated to 5 MU, Kemble 3 December 1962, arriving there 14 December 1962. Later served with 60 Sqn., Wildenrath, Germany. Last flight 3 March 1987, then used for ground instruction at Wildenrath and scrapped there in 1991.
Far East – to FEAF via Benson 26 May 1954, issued to FECS 11 June 1954. Cat.3 damage suffered 28 September 1955, to MBFE for repair 4 October 1955, and rejoined FECS 28 December 1955. Assessed 20 April 1960 as Cat.3(Provisional) but soon downgraded to Cat.5(Components), being Struck Off Charge (SOC) on 11 May 1960 and then stripped of all useful components and scrapped at Seletar.
Far East – allocated to FEAF 27 July 1954, to MBFE 24 August 1954 for Prep for Issue. Joined Comms. Flt., 267 Sqn. 25 September 1954. Assessed as Cat.3R 20 April 1956 and allocated to MBFE for repair, rejoining 267 Sqn. 5 May 1956. Unit retitled 209 Sqn. November 1958. Category 3 repairs assessed 4 February 1959, being allocated to MBFE for repair 15 March 1959 and it rejoined 209 Sqn. on 17 April 1959. Categorised as requiring Cat.3 repairs on 22 May 1959 and allocated to MBFE for repair 8 June 1959. It returned to 209 Sqn. 17 July 1959. On 29 January 1960 it was assessed as Cat.3 but this was amended to Cat.5 (Components) on 8 February 1960 and the airframe stripped of all useful components and scrapped at Seletar.
Far East – allocated to FEAF 1 March 1955, being issued to Comms. Flt., 267 Sqn. 22 March 1955. To MBFE for Cat.3 repairs R 2 January 1959, joining 209 Sqn. officially on 28 January 1959, although 267 Sqn. had become 209 Sqn. on 1 November 1958. Put into store at Seletar 2 February 1960,
Post Far East – to UK 17 March 1960. Destroyed on 26 May 1961 when crashed and burnt out 2 miles West of North Berwick following an engine fire after take off from East Fortune, SOC 1 June 1961 as Cat.5(Scrap).
Far East – after ten years of service in the Near East and Middle East, it was issued to FEAF 27 April 1966, arriving in Seletar 5 September 1966 at 389/390 MU and was issued to Labuan Stn. Flt., 23 September 1966. It joined FECS 12 April 1967 before going to 389 MU 30 June 1967 and stored temporarily.
Post Far East – Flown to 5 MU, Kemble 30 November 1967. Later to 1213 Sqn. ATC at Andover as 8111M. Later blown up at Andover for TV series “The Sandbaggers” (in spurious Royal Norwegian Air Force markings), the wreck was later transported to Tattersall, Lincolnshire and scrapped there in 1979.
Far East – issued to FEAF 8 December 1955, it arrived at MBFE 3 January 1956 for Prep For Issue. Joined 81 Sqn. on 27 January 1956, then transferred to 267 Sqn. 7 November 1956. To MBFE for storage 27 November 1957, returning to 267 Sqn. 8 April 1958, this being redesignated as 209 Sqn. on 1 November 1958. To S&TT Flt. as 1 February 1960 and soon coded ‘A’. With 389 MU Seletar 16 November 1961 for maintenance, rejoining S&TT Flt. on 26 March 1962, to 389 MU 30 October 1962 before joining 209 Sqn. 14 January 1963. To 389 MU 8 June 1963,
Post Far East – to 5 MU Kemble 28 November 1963. Later scrapped at Masirah, Oman, May 1972.
Far East – allocated to FEAF 15 March 1956 for FECS, arriving at MBFE 24 March 1956 for Preparation For Issue. Joined the FECS on 26 March 1956. To MBFE for repair for Category 3 damage 31 January 1958, returning to FECS 5 March 1958. Another assessment of Cat.3 repairs occurred 11 July 1958 Cat.3(Repairable), it rejoining FECS 23 July 1958. Once again assessed as Cat.3 on 21 April 1959, to MBFE for repair 22 April 1959, it being returned to FECS 11 May 1959. Transferred to S&TT Flt. on 11 May 1960. It revisited 389 MU from 30 October 1962, before being allocated to Labuan Station Flight on 29 November 1963. Further Cat.3 repairs were required 8 April 1964, it rejoining Labuan Stn. Flt. 16 May 1964. To 389 MU 13 February 1967 for further maintenance, returning to Labuan Stn. Flt. 1 March 1967. Transferred to FECS 4 April 1967 but soon back with 389 MU, from 30 June 1967.
Post Far East – Allocated to 5 MU, Kemble for storage on 28 September 1967, it arrived there 10 January 1968. Later burnt to destruction during 1974 after being used for fire fighting training at Catterick.
Far East – issued to FEAF on 13 March 1956, it arrived at MBFE 3 April 1956 for Preparation For Issue. Allocated to SHQ Seletar 5 April 1956, and then issued to 81 Sqn. 10 April 1956. Reassigned to SHQ Seletar 1 July 1956, it was transferred to FECS 11 October 1958.
Post Far East – to 5 MU, Kemble 29 January 1960. Later sold to South Wales Aircraft Preservation Society at Cardiff/Rhoose, which became the Wales Aircraft Museum. Bought by D. Thomas May 1992 when the Museum closed, then to Mike Davey for engines and spares recovery and the hulk used by Cardiff Airport for fire/rescue training. No longer in existence.
Far East – allocated to FEAF 9 October 1956, it was received by MBFE on 30 October 1956 for Preparation For Issue (assumed modified to C(PR).1). Issued to 81 Sqn. 13 December 1956, to MBFE 12 March 1958 for maintenance, rejoining 81 Sqn. 5 August 1958 but this was short-lived as it returned to MBFE 11 September 1958 and placed in store,
Post Far East – to UK 23 October 1959. Later to Catterick 16 December 1971 for fire fighting training. Not extant after 1980.
Far East – After being allocated to FEAF 5 September 1956, it arrived at MBFE 28 October 1956 for Preparation For Issue. Issued to 81 Sqn. on 30 November 1956. It sustained Category 3 damage in a flying accident on 8 January 1957, being assigned to MBFE on 14 January 1957 for repairs, rejoining 81 Sqn. on 29 January 1957. To MBFE for storage 30 May 1958, then issued to to Comms. Flt., 209 Sqn. 21 February 1959, returning to MBFE for storage 3 July 1959. Issued to 81 Sqn. 5 April 1960 but it returned to MBFE on 11 June 1960.
Post Far East – allotted to UK 11 August 1960 but suffered flying accident the same day at Butterworth, Malaya with the Ferry Wing, shipped back to UK via NEAF and arrived at 5 MU, Kemble 3 November 1961 as surplus. Later donated to a children’s playground at Bulford Camp, later scrapped.
Far East – Allocated to FEAF 25 September 1956 and arrived at MBFE 11 October 1956 for repair (Preparation For Issue). Issued to 81 (PR) Sqn. 7 November 1956. To Seletar 19 July 1960 for storage,
Post Far East – to UK 2 May 1961. Later sold and operated as a civilian machine in the UK before moving to the USA. Last reported in 2005, at Carrolton, Georgia.
Far East – Allocated to FEAF on 22 October 1956 and arrived MBFE (Repair) 27 December 1956 (Preparation For Issue), then reallocated to MBFE 2 February 1957 for storage before further maintenance from 1 June 1957 and issued to 81 (PR) Sqn. 4 September 1957. Withdrawn to MBFE on 17 March 1959 for storage.
Post Far East – to 5 MU Kemble 29 January 1960. Later to Catterick 16 December 1971 for fire fighting and burnt to destruction.
Far East – allocated to FEAF, it arrived at MBFE 9 October 1956 for repair, then Preparation For Issue 14 January 1957. Issued to 267 Sqn. 1 March 1957, which was renumbered 209 Sqn. from 1 November 1958. To Seletar for storage 2 February 1960,
Post Far East – to UK 17 March 1960. Later sold for scrap to Staravia and taken to its scrapyard at Lasham. No longer in existence.
Some sources state this aircraft served with 81 Sqn. but this has not been confirmed.
Far East – allotted to FEAF 8 January 1957 and arrived at MBFE 1 February 1957. It was issued to Comms. Flt., 267 Sqn. on 24 February 1957. Category 3 repairs were reported 4 February 1959, which were carried out by MBFE from 23 March 1959. It joined 209 Sqn. on 1 June 1959, despite 267 Sqn. becoming 209 Sqn. on 1 November 1958! Transferred to S&TT Flt. 1 February 1960. To 389 MU 28 March 1962, rejoining S&TT Flt. on 30 June 1962. Back to 389 MU on 16 August 1962,
Post Far East – issued to UK 26 November 1962. Sold in 1984 and as of 2013, is at St. Athan, Wales (not airworthy).
Category 3 or Cat.3 – repairs required which are beyond the operating unit’s capabilities, requiring support from a maintenance unit (MU) or a contractor
Category 5 or Cat.5 – airframe considered to be beyond economic repair
FEAF – Far East Air Force
FECS – Far East Communications Squadron,
MBFE – Maintenance Base Far East, the designation of Seletar’s engineering support when 389/390 MU were not in existence before 1960 when 389 and 390 MUs were reformed
S&TT Flt. – Seletar Station and Target Towing Flight.
389 and 390 MU – Maintenance Units, major providers of engineering support, based at Seletar
Air Historical Branch. Aviation News. Wolverhampton Aviation Group.