Prior to WW-II, the Navy organic airlift mission was performed by assorted Naval Air Station assigned utility transports and by Navy utility squadrons. Five days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, The Naval Air Transport Service (NATS) was established 12 Dember 1941, under the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) to provide rapid air delivery of critical equipment, spare parts, and specialist personnel to naval activities and fleet forces worldwide.
The operations provided by NATS centered on the direct needs of the US Navy, in particular, the Pacific Theater of Operations (PTO). Over the next seven months three squadrons were established to meet the immediate needs of the Navy: VR-1 at Norfolk, VA, to serve the Atlantic area; VR-2 at Alameda, CA to service the Pacific; and VR-3 at Olathe, KS to connect the various continental naval stations, training centers and supply bases. The cadre personnel for these squadrons were mostly recalled to active duty reservists who were experienced airline personnel. This was in the beginning stages which allowed the Navy to develop training programs to train their organic crews. After two years of existence, NATS was operating in skys over both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and the continental United States. The use of flying boats allowed NATS to supply ships at sea and provide critical repair parts. Evacuation of the wounded was an additional service provided by NATS crews. In December of 1943, NATS assumed the responsibilty for ferrying new aircraft from factory to fleet.
The unavailability of true long range transports and the scarcity of airline trained personnel caused the build-up of NATS to progress slowly but by the end of 1943 it had grown to include four wings made up of 10 transport and 3 ferry squadrons flying 173 aircraft. Interim use of modified seaplanes such as the PB2Y Coronados and converted bombers such as the B-24 Liberators supplied a modicum of Navy flag and organic airlift until R4Ds (C-47s) and long range R5D (C-54s) became available. The primary WW-II Navy transport squadrons were: VR-1, Norfolk flying R4D Skytrains, R5O Lockheed Loadstars, and later R5D (C-54) Loadmasters; VR-2, Alameda, a seaplane squadron, initially flying converted PBYs and PB2Ys, later a transport version of the PBM Mariner and in 1946 the 4 JRM Martin Mars transports; VR-3, Olathe flying primarily R4D Skytrains and later a few R5D Loadmasters; VR-5 the Alaska/Aleutian squadron based at NAS Sand Point, Seattle, WN Flying R4Ds and R5Ds; VR-7, NAS Miami serving the Caribbean and South America with R4Ds; VR-11 Honolulu, HI, the largest WW-II VR squadron, with over 1,000 pilots assigned flying R5D Loadmasters. VR-4, 6, 8, and 10 were initially maintenance and training squadrons. VRE-1 was a large Pacific R5D ambulance squadron formed in 1944 from VR-11 to evacuate the Navy/Marine wounded personnel from Pacific combat areas. VRF-1 at Floyd Bennett NAS, NY and VRF-2 at Terminal Island NAF, Long Beach, CA were the primary WW-II squadrons for the ferrying of Navy aircraft. NATS privided vital transport for the ETO by completing 16 special transatlantic flights to the UK. 165,000 pounds of minesweeping gear essential to the safety of assault shipping during the cross channel invasion of Normandy. This critical mission was conducted in May of 1944. In March 1945, NATS was given the responsibilities for the evacuation for the wounded.
The end of WW-II brought an initial surge work-load continuing thru 1946 for Navy VR in the transportation of demobilized personnel and equipment from the extensive network of world wide Navy installations.
With the creation of the Military Air Transport Service (MATS) in June 1948, the U.S. Navy provided 5 Air Transport Squadrons for assignment to MATS. VR-3, VR-6, VR-7, VR-8, and VR-22 were put under the operational command of MATS. The Naval Air Transport Service (NATS) was disestablished on 1 July 1948, completing 6 1/2 years of distinguished service. VR-3, the last Navy component of MATS/MAC, was disestablished at McGuire AFB, NJ on July 19, 1967.
For an historical overview of the U.S. Navy and their part in MATS. visit this site Navy and MATS