Friday, June 10, 2011

Glugor Seaplane Base/Marine Craft Unit(MCU)

Penang Pre War British Seaplane Base - Glugor

While research on the history of Japanese Occupation in Penang, it was revealed that there was a British Seaplane Base in Glugor, Penang Island before the WW2.
Early Gelugor was a rural area in the south of Georgetown, a farming area. But it was also the hub of military bases. There were army camps, marine base, and seaplane base. It was also the marine aviation hub, where commercial and military plane landed or floated there.

What is Seaplane?
A sea plane is a fixed-wing aircraft capable of taking off and landing (alighting) on water. Seaplanes that can also take off and land on airfields are a subclass called amphibian aircraft. Seaplanes and amphibians are usually divided into two categories based on their technological characteristics: floatplanes and flying boats; the latter are generally far larger and can carry far more. These aircraft were sometimes called hydroplanes

1.A floatplane has slender pontoons, or floats, mounted under the fuselage. Two floats are common, but other configurations are possible. Only the floats of a floatplane normally come into contact with water. The fuselage remains above water. Some small land aircraft can be modified to become float planes, and in general floatplanes are small aircraft. Floatplanes are limited by their inability to handle wave heights typically greater than 12 inches (0.31 m). These floats add to the empty weight of the airplane, and to the drag coefficient, resulting in reduced payload capacity, slower rate-of-climb, and slower cruise speed.

2.In a flying boat, the main source of buoyancy is the fuselage, which acts like a ship's hull in the water. Most flying boats have small floats mounted on their wings to keep them stable. Not all small seaplanes have been floatplanes, but most large seaplanes have been flying boats, their great weight supported by their hulls.

The first in history combat missions of a seaplane was probably those of a Greek "Astra Hydravion" between December 1912 and January 1913, during the Balkan Wars. In one of them, on January 24, 1913, the seaplane with two Greek pilots flew at 1200 meters over the Dardanelles from the European to the Asian coast, did a reconnaissance of the Turkish fleet, dropped 4 bombs and after 2 hours flight landed at sea near the island of Imbros. The plane was targeted by canons and rifles unsuccessfully

During World War II, most navies used seaplanes for reconnaissance, search and rescue, and anti-submarine warfare. Possibly the most commonly known was the Consolidated PBY Catalina which was flown by the United States, United Kingdom, Russia, and Canada, among many others. Similar aircraft were used by Japan, Germany, Italy.

A seaplane tender (or seaplane carrier) is a ship that provides facilities for operating seaplanes. These ships were the first aircraft carriers and appeared just before the First World War. Seaplane tenders became obsolete at the end of the Second World War.

A seaplane base may be anything from a stretch of water where seaplanes were based to a full installation, either floating (powered or unpowered) or shore based, where seaplanes were serviced. In the UK these are presumed to be coastal.

Examples of Seaplane used in WW2

Arado 196(Germany)
Short Sunderland
Consolidated Catalina
# Kawanishi H8K "Emily"(Imperial Japanese Navy)
# Mitsubishi F1M(Imperial Japanese Navy)

When did Gelugor Seaplane Base start?

View Larger Map

I am more interested in the military seaplane base. After the war, it was clear that RAF operated the seaplane base. During the Japanese occupation, Japan Imperial Army/Navy took over the seaplane base. How about the base before the war? Is it operated by Royal Navy as Royal Naval Air Station or RNAS?. RNAS means "Royal Naval Air Station" and, in common with the Royal Air Force, is always followed by a geographical place in which the air station is located. (Historically RNAS is the "Royal Naval Air Service"). Royal Navy shore bases and naval air stations have traditionally been named in the same manner as seagoing ships. HMS means Her Majesty's Ship (or His Majesty's Ship if before February 1952). So it seems that it was not Royal Naval Air Service, and then it must be RAF Seaplane base.

In 1918, RAF Marine Branch inaugurated as the Marine Craft Section just eleven days after the Royal Air Force itself was founded, it initially provided back-up for the flying boats.

1928 - The Flight took off again at 09.00 in 50 sees, and left for Penang Victoria Point was passed at 11.00, and after circling Penang, the Flight landed in formation at 15.25, and secured to buoys which had been laid off the Harbour Master s Pier at Glugor, about three miles south of George Town, Penang(Source: AUGUST 9, 1928, Flight)

1930- Introduction of commercial aviation in Malaya when Imperial Airways started its "flying boat" operations at Penang's Glugor Marine Station.

1935- 29 Sep 1935 Opening of Penang civil aerodrome – a 950 yard macadamised strip and 800 yard grass strip (Bayan lepas, land aerodrome)

1937 - Marine Aerodrome: - Marine Aerodrome at Glugor, Penang was listed as completed marine aerodrome in 1937 Malayan Civil Aviation Report 1937 pg 3. (source: Malaya Civil Aviation Annual Report 1936-1938)

1940- Air Sea Rescue (ASR) Service: it developed a rescue service which during and after the second world war became the largest in the world. During the war years alone over 8,000 lives were saved by the crews of the high speed rescue launches who faced enemy action and all weathers to uphold their pledge of "The Sea Shall Not Have Them".. In UK, Directorate of Air Sea Rescue was formed. The Directorate took up it’s duties at HQ Coastal Command on 6th February 1941. Every RAF station had an Air Sea Rescue (ASR) Officer appointed who was responsible for all aspects of rescue on his unit.

Now, it consists of Royal Air Force Air Sea Rescue & Marine Craft Section. Separate RAF Marine Craft Unit (MCU)? Air Sea Rescue Unit (ASRU)?

“During WWII as the RAF used flying boats, such as Sunderlands and Cattalinas, the MCS would ferry technicians and aircrews out to the aircraft.”The Glugor seaplane base may be started from 1928, and end after WW2, 1945, and the base become a marine craft unit.

1941-1945 Japanese Occupation – IJN Seaplane Base

During the war, Japanese used Penang as naval base, the harbor was used as the base for submarines and torpedo boats, and the naval air force used the Glugor seaplane base. Many Japanese seaplanes left at Glugor base after the WW2. It was also reported that Arado 196 also based in Germany U Boat base in Penang. The Ar 196 was a shipboard reconnaissance aircraft built by the German firm Arado starting in 1936. The next year it was selected as the winner of a design contest, and became the standard aircraft of the Kriegsmarine throughout World War II.

1945-1948 Post War RAF Seaplane base

After the war, the RAF took over the base, was under RAF Glugor Seaplane base.
In the post war period the availability of large paved runways and the greatly expanded performance of land-based planes meant that both commercial and military use of seaplanes was much reduced.

1945- In 1945, with peace secured, the RAF ASR fleet was drastically reduced with many wartime craft being sold off. The remaining launches were stripped of their armament and re-designated. The HSL became RTTL (Rescue Target Towing Launches) and the ST (Seaplane Tenders) later becoming RSL (Range Safety Launches). The ASRUs were closed down although some were replaced by regular Marine Craft Units (eg 1110 MCU replacing 22 ASRU at Immingham) as the RAF still had a Search and Rescue remit, along with other duties such as Target Towing for aerial bombing, range clearance and safety work, moorings inspections, and weapon recovery.

1947 RAF Glugor, Marine Craft Unit(MCU)

1947 – Marine Craft Unit becomes a full fledged branch of the RAF. In 1948 the RAF element of the combined service formed into the RAF Marine Branch and with the increase in commercial flying, fulfilled the UK’s obligations to provide a search and rescue (SAR) service.

Marine Craft Unit – a unit formed to operate RAF marine craft. Identified by a number (e.g. 1123 MCU)

"Marine Craft Units - Postwar"
• 1123,RAF Glugor Penang (1945 to 1955?)
• 1124,Seletar,Singapore
• MCRS,Seletar,Singapore
• Paula Brani:-Detachment from Seletar
• Bruni,Borneo,---------"------------
• 1125 Glugor,Malaya.Glugor had the No 1125 prior to Gan.(22 Oct 1955 - 1 Mar 1970)
• 1125,Gan,The,Maldives

Glugor seaplane base became RAF Glugor, home to 1123 Marine Craft Unit. Was also used by the Short Sunderland flying boats of RAF 230 Squadron and RAF 240 Squadron.
RAF Marine Craft were used exstensively in the 2nd World War. Apart from ASR, launches were used for servicing the needs of flying boats such as the Short Sunderland and the Catalina amphibian. Flarepaths laid,aircraft refuelled, bombs loaded and beaching of aircraft were some of the many and varied tasks carried out by the Marine Craft sections. At the end of the war there was a re-organisation of the M/C and in 1947 it became a fully fledged branch of the RAF.

RAF Marine Craft Units provided tremendous service to flying boat (seaplane) crews wherever RAF flying boats were based. They also acted as ‘targets’ for searching maritime patrol aircraft and towed floating targets for aircrews to practice their bombing and gunnery skills. In addition they fulfilled a valuable search and rescue role.

1958- RAF unit wins trophy again PENANG. Mon. The Deputy director of the marine craft section of the Air Ministry in London, Group Captain E. W. T. Hardie. today commended the Glugor unit for its "great achievement" in winning the Far East efficiency trophy for the second year running. He presented the trophy to the unit’s commanding officer , Squadron Leader P Wevill. (source: The Straits Times, 29 April 1958, Page 7)

1958 – RAF handed the Butterworth base over to the RAAF on 1st July, 1958 . RAF administration moved to the Marine Craft Unit base at Glugor, the name RAF Glugor would have immediately been changed to RAF Penang

As helicopter became more advanced they took over many of the A.S.R.,duties. ,the H.S.L were modified to enable them to tow targets and they became,Rescue Target Towing Launches[R.T.T.L's]. The Seaplane Tenders, were modified to Range Safety Launches,[R.S.L's. ]. A larger version of Westland helicopter, the Whirlwind, entered RAF service in Malaya in 1954. Powered by a 600 horse power Pratt ... Helicopters have now almost entirely replaced the RA F's marine craft for air-sea rescue work. There were still Sunderlands operating in the UK until 1956 and Singapore until 1959. (note: The RAF M/C Branch was disbanded in 1986).

1959- In May 1959, the Sunderland Mk V was withdrawn from service in the Royal Air Force. It marked the end of the RAF flying boat era – presumably for all time. The main flying boat base, RAF Seletar, Singapore, home to the three flying boat squadrons of the Far East Flying Boat Wing, Nos. 88, 205 and 209 Squadrons.
On 20th May 1959, Sunderland ‘P’ ML797 Captained by Flt. Lt. J. Poyser, 205 Detachment Commander (Sunderland Aircraft at Seletar) with Flt. Lt. A. Ford DFM, (205 Detachment Seletar) as co pilot and W. Cdr. R. A. N. McReady OBE, 205 Squadron Commander (RAF Changi) made the final flight of an RAF Sunderland. Also on board for the final R.A.F. Sunderland flight was Air Chief Marshal The Earl of Bandon, C. in C. F.E.A.F. After an overnight stop and refueling at RAF Glugor, preparing to take off on the long leg over the Indian Ocean to China Bay.

1963- SNR TECH M. J. WARNER, serving with No 1125 Marine Craft Unit at RAF Glugor, Penang Island, Malaysia, has been awarded the Queen's Commendation for Brave Conduct for remaining at his post as a W/T operator for 24 hours on a rescue launch which was returning to Singapore from Borneo when it was accidently holed and in danger of sinking.( FLIGHT International, 21 November 1963)

1971- In November 1971, the Far East Air Force was disbanded. Britain handed over the Glugor base in the Penang Island on 23 October 1971 to Malaysia.

When the RAF Marine Craft branch closed in 1986, at that time RAF Glugor had been handed over to Malaysian government in 1971. There was no longer any RAF Base in Glugor, Penang. The base was used as Malaysian Marine Police base.

Old seaplane base/marine craft unit at Glugor today

The ASR/MCU sections were an important element within the RAF, 'The Sailors in the RAF'. Most of the buildings still exist today and are used by the Marine branch of the Malaysian Police. It had formerly been a seaplane base and the Control Tower and a couple of small hangars can still be seen. When the Penang Bridge was built in 1984, the area on the seaward side was reclaimed and a six lane highway now runs past it. Tescos is 100 yards north of it.

Suggested website:
1. RAF Butterworth & Penang Association,
2.Air Sea Rescue & Marine Craft Section Club,
3. RAF MarineCraft Homepage,


  1. Excellent blogspot about Glugor. I wasn't aware of this base although I did visit Penang during my tour at RAF Seletar in 1970.
    I am trying to find out if RSL 1654 (probably formerly a Seaplane Tender) can be renovated to serve as a monument for 1151 MCU, Malta.
    Her first 'posting' was Glugor in 1956, she finished up in Malta in 1972 and in 1978 transferred to the Malta coastguard when the British military left Malta.
    Thanks for an interesting read.
    David Rose

  2. Have a look at Any photos of the launch would be greatly appreciated. Use the Contact Us page to let me know if you have any and if I can publish them on the website.
    Thanks very much
    David ROse