KENNETH F. WILKINSON
No. 77 SQUADRON NOTES
by Ken Wilkinson
Five raw N.C.O. Pilots joined the squadron at Noemfoor, Dutch New Guinea in September 1944 where the squadron had moved to from Manus Island.
We were introduced to other pilots, including Peter Hooks, who lived 200 metres from me, was in same form at school and was also in Brighton A.T.C., small world. After allocation of tents we were told that Wing Commander Cresswell the C.O. wanted us to report to him in his tent at 1300 hours. We duly arrived, he was sitting in a director style chair, dressed in non-regulation clothing and black high boots [not flying boots]. He said, ‘You have joined the best fighter squadron in the R.A.A.F., you have received the best training possible in a wartime situation and we have recently been equipped with the latest model Kittyhawk P40-N25 and N30, aircraft, so if any of you dare prang one of them, back home to your mother’s you will go’. A great welcome.
N.B. We later found out that he had formed the squadron in Pearce W.A. in 1942, and was a Squadron Leader aged 21, and had just returned to do another tour. He was soon made Wing Leader of 81 Wing which consisted of 76, 77 and 82 squadrons and he was a brilliant leader.
Every fighter squadron had a Wirraway for new pilots to fly to get the feel again as we had not flown for 6 weeks, unfortunately ours was unserviceable, so we had to go straight on to the Kitty’s, and guess what?
My mate Sergeant Keith Smithwick, who I had befriended at Somers and we trained at the same stations and graduated on the same course, came in to land and forgot to put his flaps down and crashed into a petrol tanker and escaped with burns to arm. We all thought that Keith would be sent home, but apparently our new C.O., Squadron Leader ‘Sandy’ McCulloch, was able to save Keith. So we heard. Regrettably he was shot down when 12 of us dive bombed Galela airstrip.
In the Pacific fighter squadrons officers and N.C.O. Pilots shared the same Aircrew Mess, ground staff N.C.O.’s had separate Sergeants Mess. We were camped in a slightly cleared area and even had some Pawpaw trees, the fruit were eaten when ripe, as we did not get any fresh fruit or vegetables. We were on U.S. rations, tinned food, dehydrated potatoes and eggs even sauerkraut, not our choice. The Yanks gave us chewing gum, chocolate, toothpaste and even a pack of cigarettes each day and when pilots flew a combat mission, a shot of Bourbon Whisky was credited and saved up to have at rare parties and sing-a-longs of bawdy songs. Our Doctor would add some medical alcohol and cordial and away we would go. Beer was rare and when available two bottles per week, officers received spirits as well.
As it was a coral island good water was available from bores and did not need chlorination, we were able to have a most welcome shower each day, we were almost on the Equator and it was very hot and humid. We had to take salt and vitamin C tablets each day due to perspiration and lack of fruit and vegetables. Also had to take Atebrin tablets to protect from Malaria which made our skin turn yellow. Prickly heat and tinea were problems.
There were 24 aircraft in each squadron, 36 pilots and about 300 ground crew to support us. We held our ground crew in high regard for the great job that they did servicing our aircraft under terrible conditions. It was customary for two airmen to meet each aircraft on return to sit on wings and guide us along roadways and taxiways. One day I saw two ground crew cry when their pilot did not return, such was the camaraderie.
Some ops flights were usually 4 aircraft, but the largest were the Wing Ops when the three Squadrons were used. When we bombed Sorong Oilfield with 58 Kitty’s it was a great sight led perfectly by Wing Commander Cresswell and not one aircraft was lost even though anti-aircraft fire was intense from all levels. During quiet times we had lots of training flights specialising in line astern chases which are good training for fighter pilots. If we could get transport to the beach we would go for a swim in the beautiful water. Lots of Japanese and U.S. aircraft in the shallow water.
A volley ball pitch was made so that we could keep fit, the humidity was very energy sapping so we played in the evening.
Aircrew did a 9 month tour with 2 week home leave half way through and 1 week was allowed for priority air travel. Ground crew had to do 18 months without leave and some started to go a bit “troppo”. We lost several ground crew in accidents. Nine Pilots were lost during my 10 month tour.
Pilot Officer Tom ‘Grumpy’ Lucas was shot down at Sorong one afternoon, rescued by a United States Catalina and back with us that night with his skin stained by the sea marker dye that we carried in our Mae Wests.
One afternoon when I was on standby at the crew hut on strip, the Operations Officer gave me a copy of Squadron History to read. I was pleasantly surprised to see the name of Flying Officer Ian Kinross who was one of the original pilots and was credited with some probibles. Some of you will remember him and the aircraft that he built at home. Ian was about 4 years older than me and we went to the same church, and the last time that I had seen him was early 1940, he going to work and I was going to school on the train. He said:
“Ken. I have just received word from R.A.A.F. that I have been successful in my application to go to R.A.A.F. College for Pilot training.”
I congratulated him and said that I hoped to follow him in a few years time, but of course E.A.T.S. made things easier. I met up with him in 1956 when I joined the Sandringham Club, and later had lots of social outings with our wives and friends. He told me that he had been a Flying Instructor at Geraldton, W.A. when posted to 77 Squadron at Pearce. After his 77 tour, he flew with Test and Ferry Flight at Laverton and was later posted to Kingaroy to help form the first Mosquito Squadron which arrived at Labuan late in War. He then was a Squadron Leader and one of the flight commanders.
His health deteriorated in the 1990’s, he had open heart surgery and in 2001 was found dead in his car outside the Club which he had just left. A GREAT BLOKE.
In the Squadron we were given lectures on survival etc. we played big games of poker, spine bashed as we were very tired in the heat. There was always humour of some sort.
The N.C.O. Pilots were made to unload ships at anchor, mainly bombs and ammunition, we took a poor view of this, but we had to obey orders. One American seaman said one day ‘Have you guys done something wrong and being punished, I see you are all wearing Wings so you must be pilots?’ One of us replied “Yes, we fly P40’s and we will be dropping these bombs on the Japs soon, and we are not being punished.”
In any group of men there is usually a character or two, we had Warrant Officer Les Hanson who gave us lots of laughs, he is still alive aged 90 odd (2012) but in a Nursing home in Queensland. Some years ago he had mini strokes which affected his speech in that he speaks a different language, but he understands what you are saying to him.
A DUTCH NEW GUINEA (WEST IRAIN) TRAVEL STORY
by Ken Wilkinson
During December 1944, a Dutch Kittyhawk Squadron based at Merauke sent some of their pilots up to our squadron for operational experience as we were very busy at the time, attacking airfields, oil fields etc as far afield as the Halmahera Islands, which were a long distance from Noemfoor Island.
After flying several missions they returned to Merauke led by their CO, Major Maurenbrecker, unfortunately one of their aircraft went unserviceable and was not ready until the next day. On the morning of 3rd January 1945, Flight Sergeant Wal Tychsen and myself were advised to accompany the Dutch officer, stay the night and fly back the next day.
We were to fly direct to Merauke and on checking the maps, we noticed that there was a mountain range up to 16,500 feet (5029 metres), so it was decided to fly at 19,000 ft Ken Wilkinson & Lyn Stillman (5790 metres), so after lunch we headed off.
I must mention at this stage that the Dutch aircraft were early model N15s which did not have proper blind flying instruments, namely artificial horizon and directional gyros, whereas we had later model N25s and 30s which had the full blind flying panel.
We climbed on track and switched on our oxygen supply as we went above 10,000 feet.
After a while we could see a huge cumuli-nimbus black cloud system ahead of us, and our training was to not venture into these turbulent clouds as they could break up aircraft, so the leader should have turned back to be on the safe side rather than risk three pilots and aircraft.
Instead he bored straight into it and the buffeting was terrible, I was on the leader’s left and very close for cloud flying and I started to get the awful rushing sensations common in cloud flying when normal senses go out of control and you must trust your instruments implicitly.
I noticed that Wal turned away and as it happened he returned to Noemfoor, then the leader slid out of sight and I was left alone in this shocking situation, so I naturally headed for self -preservation by focusing on my instruments which to my horror were spinning out of control as my aircraft had exceeded the gyro’s limits.
I was then left with the basic instruments ie turn and bank, airspeed indicator and inclinometer, so I firstly concentrated on levelling wings as I could sense that I was in a spiral dive and I reckoned that I was close to that high mountain range.
Wings level, I eased back on the stick to reduce speed when everything happened, my sun glasses fell off, the oxygen mask unclipped and the stick jumped out of my hand, it was vibrating badly and I had to use both hands to grab it. I was puzzled as to what caused this problem, but as speed reduced it stopped and then I was through the cloud, right side up and flying OK.
My main concern during this worst cloud situation that I ever experienced, was that I was going to my death in the wilds of New Guinea just as I was almost due for two weeks home leave.
At this stage I thought that the Dutchman would have crashed into the mountain, when I suddenly heard his voice calling me and that gave me a lot of pleasure. I am sure that he was also very relieved to hear mine.
I told him that I would continue on to Merauke as planned, but I went down to a lower altitude hoping to pick up a landmark or two, but it was hopeless, so I flew the course originally planned and eventually reached the coast well to the west of Merauke. Fortunately the weather was fairly good, so I was able to head in the right direction.
When I was about five minutes from Merauke, I heard the Dutchman calling for landing instructions and then I started to descend and as I built up speed the stick jumped out of my hand again. I noticed that the indicated airspeed was 250 mph so I reduced speed and the terrible vibration stopped.
The landing on the Marsden steel runway was without incident and I was very pleased to taxi in to the Dutch squadron area and switch off.
I was greeted by their engineering officer who wanted to know if there were any problems with my aircraft and I explained the vibrating stick problem and he appeared non-plussed but said that they would do a visual inspection which soon revealed the problem. The trim tab rod on one of the elevators had snapped because of the turbulence and had affected the aerodynamics of the aircraft. They replaced it.
While still near the aircraft an Australian ground staff chap asked me if my name was Wilkinson, and I naturally replied in the affirmative, and as his face started to look familiar he said his name was Rose and we were in the same form at Caulfield Grammar School
I remembered him well as he used to tell me about his older brother Ian who was a pilot graduate at Point Cook just before the war and my classmate kept me posted about his older brother’s activities as he knew that I was keen to be a RAAF pilot when old enough, hopefully. I later met his brother but more of that later.
I was driven to the Dutch camp and allocated a tent. As I was an NCO, I had to live with the Indonesian pilots who were all NCOs, but I used the Officers’ Mess and was looked after by Dutch officers. They had real Aussie fresh meat and beer and it was terrific. We were on American rations, which did not include any fresh meat, and we had very little beer normally.
We went to the pictures that night and saw a wonderful show ‘Thank Your Lucky Stars’ which was got up for war-time morale building purposes and it was a Warner Bros Spectacular and starred all Warner’s stars including Bette Davis, Ann Sheridan, Dinah Shore and I loved it. I have seen this show at least six times and even have a video of it.
Next day I tested the aircraft and it was OK, I was then advised that another seven Dutch officers were going to join our Squadron and I was to accompany them.
We took off and headed for Hollandia and as we climbed to our cruising altitude the weather was shocking and the leader decided to turn back and I agreed with his decision, so we got back without any problems. That night we saw another film ‘Cab in the Sky’ which had an all black cast I think and featured Cab Galloway’s Orchestra and Lena Horne singing songs, one of which was her classic ‘Stormy Weather’. It was great spending another night there if only for the food, grog and entertainment. The Dutch had a good war there, although Merauke was a swampy, insect infested place.
The following morning we set off again, even though the local weather was not good and after flying between dreadful layers of dangerous looking cloud systems, the leader again correctly turned back. Unfortunately the weather had closed in at Merauke and there were eight of us in tight line abreast formation descending through rather turbulent air. When our ETA was nearing we could not see the deck at all. When close formation flying in cloud you have to watch the aircraft next to you very intently, but I managed to look at my altimeter quickly at times and it was alarming. My last peep was 100 feet and no land or sea in sight, when suddenly we were through and over the sea. The leader turned 180°. To get back to the coastline and we eventually found Merauke and for the first time since my training days I had to do a low level circuit at 50 feet with seven other aircraft. Not a great experience as we had to do very wide circuits and it was easy to lose sight of the strip and the aircraft in front of you, as the Kittyhawk with wheels and flaps down and at low speed, had a very high nose up attitude which affected the view considerably.
Fortunately all aircraft got down safely and that remains the lowest let down procedure that I have ever experienced.
Two of the Dutch pilots took me to Merauke village where there was a main drag with a couple of cafes would you believe? We went into one for our lunch and I have never enjoyed a meal so much. We ate a large bowl full of rice, chicken and vegetables in a soup. It was more appreciated I guess because an hour or so earlier we did not think that we would have another meal.
On the third attempt after lunch we made it to Hollandia, we were in sight of jungle, swamps and mountains and I was very much aware that I was flying a single engine aircraft over that most inhospitable country. We had been told that some tribes had never seen a white man and it was believed some were cannibals.
From Hollandia we flew over sea most of the trip in rain just the opposite from the previous leg, but my trusty Allison engine never faltered. Fortunately I never had engine failure in the robust Kittyhawk.
In retrospect I can recall flying in some terrible weather in Dutch New Guinea and the Halmahera group, but the Merauke experience was the worst of my flying career in war and peace. One can only be thankful for the excellent training that the RAAF provided even in wartime for instrument flying and hours spent in the Link Trainer which was known as the ‘horror box’. On Tiger Moths and Wirraways we were taught spin recovery on basic instruments, while ‘under the hood’.
My logbook records for the trip were:
3.1.45 Kittyhawk A29-810 Noemfoor-Merauke 3.45
4.1.45 Kittyhawk A29-810 Test tail flutter .40
5.1.45 Kittyhawk A29-810 Merauke-Hollandia return .45
6.1.45 Kittyhawk A29-810 Merauke-Hollandia return 1.00
6.1.45 Kittyhawk A29-810 Merauke-Hollandia 2.30
6.1.45 Kittyhawk A29-810 Hollandia-Noemfoor 2.20
Note: As I had volunteered to stay in the RAAF I was posted to Urinquinty at the end of 1945 and Wing Commander I F Rose was Officer Commanding and I mentioned to him that I went to school with his brother and we had a general chat about things.
In the early 1950s when I was flying with No 21 City of Melbourne Fighter Squadron he was then the Director of Flying Safety and I met him at Laverton a few times but never saw my classmate again.
“A” FLIGHT 77 SQUADRON
NOEMFOOR ISLAND, DUTCH NEW GUINEA – DECEMBER 1944
On Wing: FlgOff Joe Mercer, Dr John Edye, FltLt Laurie Lynch, FlgOff John Brocklehurst
Centre: FltLt Geoff Angus, FltSgt Lyn Stillman, FltSgt Ken Wilkinson, SqnLdr Sandy McCulloch, PltOff Tom Lucas, FlgOff Ralph Hutley, FlgOff Keith Toupein
Kneeling: FltSgt John Moore, FltSgt Peter Hooks, PltOff Doug Helsham
“B” FLIGHT 77 SQUADRON
L to R: FltSgt Wal Tychsen, WOff Martin, PltOff Cliff Fivash, FltSgt Jack Gauntlett, FltSgt John Gillan, PltOff Officer Maurie Brearley, PltOff Jock Scott
Kneeling: SqdLdr Sandy McCulloch
NOEMFOOR ISLAND, DUTCH NEW GUINEA
Some 77 Squadron Pilots enjoying a dip, swimming suits were in short supply.
L to R: WgCdr Dick Cresswell, Wing Leader – FltSgt Ted White, FltSgt Jim Mitchell, PltOff Maurie Brearley, FltSgt Wal Tychsen, FltSgt Jack Gauntlett, Sgt Ken Wilkinson, FltSgt John Gillan, PltOff Tom Lucas and FltSgt John Moore.
77 SQUADRON PILOTS AND OFFICERS
Top: FlgOff Maurie Brearley, FlgOff Joe Mercer
Middle Row: FltSgt Ted White, FlgOff Ralph Hutley, FltLt Alex Young (Adj), FltLt John Edye (MO), FlgOff Bert Krause (KIA), FltSgt Lyn Stillman, WOff Duncan Monsborough, FlgOff Leslie “Newt” Newton (Equip Off), WOff Bob Hunt
Lower Row: PltOff Tom Lucas, WOff Arthur Proudfoot, WOff Alex Stevens, FlgOff John “Allison Jack” Matsen (Eng Off), FltLt Ivan Crossing, FlgOff Harry Sullivan (Intell Off), WOff Les Hanson, FlgOff Thompson (Ops Off)
Bottom Row: PltOff Doug Helsham, FltLt Laurie Lynch, FlgOff Ian Lyons, SqnLdr “Sandy” McCulloch (CO), FltSgt John Gillan, FltSgt George Tait, FltSgt Ken Wilkinson
Missing from Photograph: FltLt Bill Miller, FltLt Ken Milne, FltSgt Wal Tychsen, FltSgt John Moore, FltLt Norm Haughton, FltSgt Jack Gauntlett, PltOff Jock Scott.
A PAPUA NEW GUINEA ODYSSEY
by Ken Wilkinson
On 18th May 1945 while based at Morotai, my Flight Commander Flight Lieutenant Geoff Angus told me to pack my bag, parachute and flying gear, as he had booked me on a Dakota transport next morning to fly to Lae to test a reconditioned Kittyhawk and when OK ferry it up to Morotai. After numerous stops I arrived at Lae and then began a very interesting part of my life.
I found the Kitty in a hangar being worked on and told the Warrant Officer in charge that I was there to fly it up to Morotai when ready. He told me that it would not be ready for a couple of days, so go and find accommodation and as RAAF No 33 Transport Squadron were moving I would have to get the Army to put me up somehow.
Can’t recall how it happened but I ended up with a highly secret unit ‘Service Reconnaissance Department’ (SRD) which was part of the ‘Allied Intelligence Bureau’ (AIB). The major in charge insisted that I mess with the officers (as I was an aircraft skipper) but sleep with their senior NCOs.
The CO insisted that I sit next to him at meals and he and his officers treated me very, very well. I found out that they would send their men behind enemy lines to gather information and their loss rate was fairly high. Officers and troops were very friendly to me and made my two week stay like a holiday. They even shared their grog ration!
The Kittyhawk A29-636 was ready for testing on 23rd May and my new found friends drove me to the airstrip and made me promise to ‘beat up’ their camp and do some aerobatics. I checked the aircraft over, started up and took off from the very short Lae airstrip towards the sea.
Instead of checking the aircraft instruments out first, I gave the SRD camp a low level beat up and put on all sorts of aerobatics like a typical young show off. I then flew out to sea, climbed and started to note instrument readings on my kneepad. All was well until I noticed oil pressure which read zero. This is not a good sign, I thought, and headed straight back to the airstrip calling the tower and advising of an emergency landing. The engine sounded OK but I was anxious to get it down as soon as possible. I approached towards the sea and it floated and floated and would not sit down and had I continued I would have ended up in the sea near the wrecked ship that was there. I opened the throttle to full bore, raised the undercarriage and flaps when high enough and fully expected the engine to seize or maybe blow up.
I nursed it down and made sure that it sat down OK and heaved a sigh of relief.
They found out that the main gasket had blown, no spares were available so they would have to find one somewhere – so back to my Army friends.
The floating on landing was due to the fact that the guns and ammunition had been removed thus making it very light.
The Army chaps said that they enjoyed the beat up etc. anyway, so I then enjoyed my stay at Lae further. One day they drove me to Nadzab which was a huge allied air base, saw truck- loads of Japanese who had been taken prisoner and on a very somber note I visited Lae War Cemetery with its rows and rows of white crosses.
There was a large Army hospital nearby (AGH) and some of their nurses visited SRD one night and it was nice to see Australian girls again, if only from a distance.
On 26th May I did another test and the Kittyhawk passed, I then had to somehow arrange an escort flight to Morotai which was a long way distant. N.B. Single engine pilots were not allowed to fly alone, if you went down in the sea or jungle nobody would find you.
I finally met a RAAF Dakota captain who was taking off next morning for Madang and the Tadji but then he was heading for Bougainville. I arranged to meet him next morning. By that time a Boomerang had arrived and wanted an escort to Bougainville. The pilot was Flying Officer Les Mason, whom I had met at OTU Mildura.
A Dakota cruised at about 140 mph whereas Kittys and Boomerangs were in excess of 200 mph so we had to slowdown to formate on the Dakota which resulted in a nose up attitude.
Madang was also a short strip and I had to brake very hard to slow down. Not much air traffic there.
At Tadji, I blew the tyre on the tail wheel and the Engineering Officer of 100 Beaufort Squadron said that he would scrounge around while I went to lunch at their Sergeants’ Mess.
Beforehand, I thanked the Dakota Captain and said farewell to Les and boarded a truck with Beaufort aircrews who had just returned from operations. When I returned the Engineering Officer had located a tube and tyre and the aircraft would be ready about 1530 hours, so I went to the Operations Hut to try and locate an escort to Hollandia that afternoon. Nothing was available, so I took a risk and filed a flight plan – nobody queried me flying alone so off I went and there was no drama.
Somehow I was transported to the RAAF OBU transit camp at Hollandia. There was a picture show that night and sitting next to me were two very young ‘Aircraft Hands’ on their way up to join units and they told me that they had left Lae that morning in a Dakota and changed aircraft at Tadji. One of them said that when they left Lae, on one side there was an Avro Anson and on the other an Airspeed Oxford. So much for their knowledge of aircraft recognition. I naturally put them right!
Next morning I went to my aircraft and alongside was a huge Corsair fighter, I asked the crew chief for permission to sit in the cockpit and have a gander. Typical US aircraft with tons of room and switches all over the place. I later read that they were one of the best aircraft in the war.
I then went to the Operations Room to look for an escort to Biak and as it was over water I did not want to take a risk. An American pilot was filing his plan to Biak, his aircraft was a Curtiss Commando (C46) which meant I would have to slow down a bit. I had never seen a Commando before and it looked very good and was a little faster than the Dakota. They were used in Europe and Burma quite extensively as glider tows and for dropping parachutists and supplies and of course built by the same company who made the sturdy Kittyhawk.
At Biak I said farewell to the American pilot and noticed a Beaufighter being refueled. The pilot was nearby and I introduced myself and asked him if he was heading for Morotai by any chance and he answered in the affirmative, so away we went.
The flight was over water all the way and it was comforting for me that I had a navigator in the Beaufighter so there should be not much chance of getting lost as navigation over water is difficult for fighter pilots due to lack of direction finding equipment.
The weather was fine and we had a more hurried trip as the Beaufighter could move along.
End of journey at Morotai and I delivered the aircraft to No 12 RSU (Repair and Salvage Unit) and made it back to 77 Squadron camp where I was greeted with cries ‘Where have you been, you bludger?’ ‘Have a nice leave?’ etc.
I had been away for two weeks and for most of the time it had been very good and I had met some wonderful people.
Unfortunately, I almost immediately succumbed to dengue fever and was hospitalised for eight terrible days. Some holiday!! I am sure that the dengue originated in Lae.
No 77 SQUADRON OFFICERS AND PILOTS
MORATAI MAY 1945
Front Row: L to R: FltLt Eric Nolan, FltLt Derrick Dea, FltLt Geoff Angus (A Flight Commander), FltLt John Edye (MO), FltLt Andy Taylor (TCO), Flt Lt AlexYoung (Adjutant), FltLt Bill Miller (B Flight Commander), FlgOff Ian Lyons.
Middle Row: L to R: ? WOff Alex Stevens, FltSgt John Gillan, FltSgt Lyn Stillman, WOff Bob Hunt, FlgOff Stan Bull, FltSgt Duncan Monsborough, FltSgt Jack Gauntlett, ?? Ops Officer, ?? Army, Army, Army, FlgOff Norm Kelso
Back Row: L to R: FltLt Rusty Curtiss DFC, Flt Lt Norm Haughton, Flt Lt Harry Cooper KIA, FltSgt Ken Wilkinson, FlgOff Maurie Brearley, FltSgt Russell, Flt Sgt Les Taylor
We were getting ready for the Borneo invasion and we had Army Air Liaison Officers briefing us as we were to work closely with them. Cannot remember their names. KFW.
CHARACTERS THAT I HAVE MET
by Ken Wilkinson
We wrote about his ferry trip recently and mentioned that a FltLt Barraclough was C.O. of a Communication Flight at Guilford W.A. and granted Peter some favours.
Firstly, I mention that I had never heard of said Barraclough, when in my letter box a few days later there appeared a book, left by my old friend Trevor Fairbairn, and the author of the book was none other than John Barraclough.
Trevor thought that I may have known him from Deniliquin training days, as Barraclough had been an instructor there. At end of book he mentioned a few of his pupils some of whom were on our Course 43 or earlier or later e.g. Dennis Higgins, Bruce Hastie, Matt Dowling.
To the point of this story, he mentioned FltLt Jim MacMillan several times as he knew Jim well, as they were both instructors at Deniliquin and Benalla.
Chronologically, this story began at R.A.A.F. Station, Garbutt, Townsville in March 1946 when I was in charge of Flying Control as it was then known.
I met FltLt Jim MacMillan one day when he was looking for a room in the officer’s quarters, he had come up from Laverton to ferry a Mustang down south and he needed to stay awhile as it was not ready. I suggested that I had a spare bed in my room as well as the luxury of a telephone (as F.C.O. I was always on call). He moved in immediately and I got to know him quite well. I might mention that the Communication Flight had just been disbanded and crews had gone, but there were two Norseman aircraft in the hangar.
Jim asked me a few days later whether I had flown a Norseman, I told him no, why? He then told me that an important Squadron Leader Engineering Officer had to attend an urgent meeting at Breddon tomorrow and the only way to get him there was in one of those Norsemans.
He said that he had not flown them either but he had a Ferry Pilot’s ticket so was authorised to fly anything within reason. So he said that he would fly it but could I organize the navigation I quickly told him that I was off duty next day and would love to go with him. I looked everywhere for Pilot Notes but no luck, however I found a Dalton computer and the necessary maps. We talked things over about the aircraft and I arranged for my Duty Crew to service and refuel one of them. Jim, contacted the E.O. to tell him that he would make the meeting OK.
So, on the morning of 11th March 1946 A71-3 was boarded by FltLt J. MacMillan, Captain with FlgOff K. Wilkinson , Navigator and Co-Pilot with one passenger.
Jim was able to start it with the help of FltSgt George the 2E Engine fitter. Jim made a good take off and I gave him the course to steer and away we went over the hills on a very fine day with me map reading and the E.O. studying his papers for the meeting, having no idea that the two pilots had never flown that type of aircraft.
We landed successfully at Breddon, which was an Aircraft Depot, the E.O. made his meeting and we had a look around, had lunch and later headed back to Garbutt. We landed on Runway 7, I remember, a good landing by Jim, but at end of the runway he did a lovely ground loop, no damage, the E.O. thanked us later for getting him to that meeting.
I was very impressed with the Norseman, the one that we flew had 10 bucket seats (like the Dakota) so could carry 10 passengers and 2 crew, with a 550h.p. Pratt and Whitney Single row Wasp. Bobby Gibbs flew them in New Guinea when he operated Gibbs Sepik Airways.
Back to Jim. He noticed that there was a Liberator standing on the tarmac with only the two inboard motors fitted. The cowlings only were on the outers. Jim, tried to get permission to fly it to the Liberator Graveyard at Tocumwal, but he did not fly that aircraft.
We all found him great company in the Mess, a good bloke, who possessed great humour. His name disappeared from my life until 1980 when I was in Sydney having lunch with our local manager and a client when I met a chap who we had got to know at Hayman Island in 1974. We happened to be staying at the same motel and arranged to meet after work to have a chat.
He told me of the interesting and humorous flight that they had from Brisbane that morning when the Captain was cracking jokes and when approaching Sydney, he announced ‘We are approaching Sydney and will be landing in 20 minutes, quite frankly I do not know why you are going there, it is a very ordinary place, if you change your mind I will take you on to Melbourne which is a much better city and the people more friendly.’
I immediately said to my friend ‘were you flying T.A.A?’ He said yes and I said ‘ I will bet that his name was MacMillan.’ How did you know that he replied? I said that I had heard some years back that Jim was flying with that airline and I remembered his brand of humour.
John Barraclough in his autobiography When I Grow Up mentions Jim several times and stated that Jim ‘Was the best natural and skilled pilot ever known to him.’ He also mentioned that Jim had a particular trainee who was prone to do some ropy take-offs under the hood. Jim got the trainee to swap seats and so Jim in the front seat lined up the Wirraway for take-off and then pulled the Blind Flying Hood over him and took off. He told the pupil that he would do the whole circuit on instruments and to only take over if disaster was imminent. He did an immaculate circuit and on final approach he said ‘I want you to take over at 20 feet and land it’ which he did. Jim, said to the trainee ‘The only thing wrong with that flight was the landing.’
We old pilots can appreciate the skill required in performing a feat like that, he must have practiced that more than somewhat.
So that is the partial story of James MacMillan’s life, who flew to the “Great Airfield in The Sky” some years ago.
FOOTNOTE. While writing the latter part of this story, my mind went back to the time at Deniliquin when I was doing my Wings Test with FltLt Gillespie. I took off under the hood and I could not believe how accurately I was flying when suddenly the instructor yelled “Taking over and come out from under the bloody hood”. I obeyed and saw that aircraft was going about 90 degrees to what it should have been. You have guessed it, I forgot to uncage the Directional Gyro. I immediately thought that I would be scrubbed, but he was a kind man and told me not to make that error again otherwise I would kill myself.
MUSTANG DISASTER AT WERRIBEE 6-12-47.
by Ken Wilkinson
I write this story as it keeps reappearing in my life, many of you flew the “Mighty Mustang” and I am sure that you would appreciate reading about this very unfortunate happening.
On the 6th December 1947 I was invited by my good friend Captain John Guy to attend a demonstration of Air Support by Mustangs of the R.A.A.F. at the Werribee Bombing and Gunnery Range. There was a very large crowd watching, including many school children, and the activities were being broadcast from a van, the commentator being Group Captain D.R. Chapman.
The Mustangs were from No. 75 Squadron based at Williamtown, No. 1 Aircraft Performance Unit Point Cook and East Sale, but were using Laverton Air Base nearby for refueling and armanent logistics. It was a very fine Saturday morning, and the first aircraft roared down on a gun strafing attack, followed by rocketing and napalm. I had never seen napalm used and found it quite frightening. The crowd were enjoying this wonderful demonstration of Close Support when tragedy happened.
Three Mustangs could be heard approaching at suitable altitude to finish up with a dive bombing attack with 2 x 250 pound bombs each. No. 1 came down and dropped bombs, No. 2 released bombs and aircraft disintegrated at about 2,000 feet. The largest part that I noticed was one main plane fluttering down like a leaf. No. 3 flew through the debris but was not apparently affected.
The crowd were stunned and simply could not believe what they had witnessed. The rest of the programme was cancelled and the spectators moved off with very sad facial expressions.
I said to my Army friend, “I am glad that I have finished my flying career after seeing that happen.” As a former Kittyhawk Pilot who had done a lot of dive bombing attacks at high speeds and carrying 500 pound bombs, I had never heard of Kitty’s breaking up, so why this Mustang?
It puzzled me, and as fate had it I was to fly the “Mighty Mustang”, when I was accepted as a Citizen Air Force active Reserve Pilot with No. 21 City of Melbourne[F] Squadron on 4th June 1950. Flight Lieutenants Fred Barnes and Keith Martin were Permanent Air Force Pilots with the Squadron and I had known them both from War Days. I did not waste time in asking about the Werribee incident and I believe that I was told that it was thought that there had been more than 25 gallons in his fuselage tank and pilot may have pulled too hard on stick, thus causing Centre of Gravity to move aft and weaken fuselage, wings etc. and cause break up. They also told me that our squadron had the older model which were not fitted with fuselage tanks.
Three years later I was briefed to fly to Mallala, S.A. and return non-stop with drop tanks and full fuselage tank in A68-187 (A later model). When I was about 15 minutes out I noticed white wisps of smoke coming past me and thought “Glycol leak.” so I turned back and after a short time smoke stopped. Aircraft was so sloppy, that as gauges were reading OK I flew around Laverton to use up fuselage tank fuel before landing. No drama.
This story starts again in May 1991, during the No. 2 O.T.U. Reunion held at Mildura and organized by Fighter Squadrons Branch Victoria, as a committeeman some of my duties were to charter a Wirraway and Col Pay’s Spitfire and liaise with R.A.A.F. to obtain assistance with Roulettes, Padre etc. I told Col that I would meet him at airfield and take him to his Motel. As I was leaving to go to the airfield I saw Dick Cresswell, my former C.O., and asked him to come out with me which he did, and we had a good old chat about the 77 days. Col arrived, and as we were standing near the Spitfire talking, a young lady who was about to board a passenger aircraft nearby, ran to us and said ‘My father used to fly those and he was killed in a Mustang when I was a baby.’ Dick said, ‘What was his name?’ Nigel Bradbury, she said. Dick explained that he was killed in a dive bombing accident at Werribee, and was one of his pilots! I said ‘Goodness, I was on the ground and saw that accident.!’
She mentioned that she had a small Air Charter Business somewhere, and she left in tears to catch the aircraft. What a co-incidence for all those years later, for this meeting to have happened.
We now go to March 2008 at R.A.A.F. Association Victorian Headquarters, where 77 and Friends were having their quarterly lunch and I noticed AVM Jim Fleming (Ret) nearby and went to join that group. Jim was talking about the Mustang prang at Werribee. Jim was one of the Pilots involved in that Flying Programme. I told him that I was a spectator and saw it happen.
After this I thought that I would like to find out what the Court of Inquiry found, and he suggested that I contact the R.A.A.F Historical Office. They steered me in the right direction on the Internet but I suddenly realized that there may be another way. A chap named Cam Care is writing a book on Mustangs, so he told me that he had some info and photos on that aircraft which he gave me but suggested that I contact Dick Hourigan who has a copy of all Mustang prangs and no doubt could help. Dick said that he would give me copies of matters pertaining to A68-97 the next day at our 77 and Friends lunch Dick had photo copied a whole pile of the documents covering the incident.
The Pilot killed was Flight Lieutenant Nigel Hinchcliffe Bradbury, No. 404952 of No. 75 Squadron, he had joined the R.A.A.F. on 5th June 1941, and had been a Fighter Pilot in Burma flying Spitfires, Hurricanes and even a few hours on the Republic Thunderbolt P47, he had flown more than 1,000 hours and was rated at ‘Above Average’.
He left a widow who was pregnant, and had a daughter aged 18 months, who was the lady we met At Mildura.
A Court of Inquiry was constituted immediately and looked into all possibilities before making their finding. The dive bombing flight were:
No.1. Flight Lieutenant Ross Glassop D.F.C.
No.2. Flight Lieutenant Nigel Bradbury.
No.3. Squadron Leader Doug Beattie.
The main points to mention are:
- There should not be more than 25 gallons in fuselage tanks when executing combat or aerobatic situations.
- The Pilot had requested that 25 gallons be put into fuselage tank. The Pilot and refueler checked gauge and it read 25.
- The refueler mentioned that there had been a Mustang accident in Japan which was caused by fuel in the tank for combat flying. The Pilot said that he knew about that.
- A test was carried out by an Engineering Officer while aircraft was in normal tail down ground position. The tank was drained and 30 gallons was added before gauge showed signs of movement. 11 gallons was added for the gauge to read 25 gallons, which meant that tank held 41 gallons in lieu of 25. A flight test was carried out and gauge read 38 gallons. Because of this finding an instruction was to go to Mustang Squadrons to have daily draining of fuselage tanks.
- The Mustang should be trimmed into a dive so that excessive “G” Force is avoided on pull out. In this case, the trim was in the climb position, which meant that Pilot was applying forward stick force during dive and on recovery aircraft would be affected by excessive “G” force without the Pilot applying back force on stick.
- Tests showed that high “G” forces are not needed for normal recovery from dive, but care should be taken not to jerk the stick back.
- Blackout is a combination of “G” and time. This means that a Pilot may blackout at 5-6 G, if it is held on for 3-5 seconds, but if only applied for half a second he may not blackout at up to “8 G”. So, coarse use of the controls could cause aircraft to go beyond design limits.
- There was mention that Pilot had said to fellow Pilots that he could do quick pull outs from dives thus reducing blackouts.
The main finding of the Court was:
The precise cause cannot be derived as evidence is mainly circumstantial. The evidence shows clearly enough that the port wing failed structurally towards the root and was as far as can be ascertained, the initial point of failure.
It is considered that the wing failure was the result of imposition of aerodynamic loads in excess of design limit for the particular condition of loading. It is considered further that contributory causes of excessive control forces were:
- Carriage of fuselage tank fuel of quantity which is officially not allowable for dive bombing.
- The type of aircraft was a variant of Mustang on which the Pilot had had little experience. The handling qualities were different to earlier aircraft and the Pilot had not had experience in steep dive bombing with this type previously.
- The Pilot was inclined towards confident and abrupt handling of aircraft.
- No blame is attributable to any specific person as revealed by the investigation.
- The Court finally recommended 10 items that should be passed on to Flying Establishments, Pilots and Instructors.
Ken Wilkinson 17-10-09
CANBERRA, TEMORA TRIP MARK 1
by Ken Wilkinson
We began with a few shambles, firstly, the coach was very hard to find, one chap from Geelong was very late as Vicrail cancelled trains on that line and his bus was caught in traffic, so we left at 8.45 a.m. “Sudsey” the owner/driver announced then that we had to go via Traralgon to pick up a few bods, and somebody had organized for us to have lunch at Bairnsdale R.S.L. He then dropped a larger bomb by telling us that he had received word from Temora that, as a mark of respect to the pilot who was killed the week before practicing aerobatics (in his own aircraft), there would be no flying during our visit, but we could have a guided tour and see the aircraft close up.
I must say that as the majority of passengers had served in WW2, there was much disappointment as we always believed in the press on regardless principle as that was the way we were trained. Our Branch was represented by Jim and Molly Tevlin, Bill Taylor, Peter Bullock, Marie and myself. There were 37 in all. A very hot day but air conditioning was good.
We stopped at the “Beaufort Gardens Memorial”, which is on the left as you enter Bairnsdale, opposite the R.S.L. We were surprised to see that a marvellous memorial had been erected, listing the 191 names of those who died at Bairnsdale, Sale and West Sale airfields mainly on Beauforts which had the fatal elevator trim problem. We then went to the R.S.L. had lunch during which a former Beaufort Navigator Instructor gave us a brief talk about the history of it all. We then had a long haul, passing through Cann River and Cooma arriving at Queanbeyan Leagues Club at 8p.m. After a very ordinary meal we arrived at Motel at about 10p.m. Very tired, but looking forward to coming events. On Friday we arrived at the War Memorial and a very knowledgeable guide took us around WW1 exhibits and we really enjoyed the skill of the guide in his explanations. We finished the morning watching the Lancaster demonstration, it is simply amazing how they have got this altogether with searchlights, crews talking to each other etc. It is a must see, it is so realistic that I must confess to becoming quite emotional at the end when Bomber Command casualty lists were shown. We had a very pleasant lunch there and then went to see the Dogfights from WW1. Large photos of Aussie pilots were displayed, I recognized Captain Harry Cobby who was our Chief in the Pacific War. The semi-circular screen, obviously computer controlled somehow was so realistic, the aircraft looked to be the real thing, even showed a balloon being strafed (tracers included), it blew up and you could see the German Observer take to his parachute. At this stage we were suffering from shell shock and it was time to head for the coach. As we left we were nearly knocked over by young Japanese. C’est La Guerre.
On Saturday we had a good look at all the Embassies before heading off to West Wyalong via Temora, for a long look at the dry country.
Sunday saw us arriving at Temora where a guide took us to the luxury cinema for a viewing of their own documentary, then to the hangars to see the aircraft which are in such pristine condition. Each aircraft had a visual/audio set up explaining all. Actually had they been flying we would not have seen them close up, so I guess that was a bonus. It was so hot (46 degrees), and it would have been an effort to be outside, even though seats were available. There was so much to see, a first class operation.
On Monday we set sail at 8.15a.m for the long trip to Melbourne, a short break at Narrandera allowed us to see a Tiger Moth on display. Both Temora and Narrandera were Tiger training schools. Lunch at Tocumwal Golf Club was appreciated before heading off on the last leg on which “Sudsey’s” coach ticked over 1.5 million kms. We arrived at Melbourne in the peak traffic time but taxis ordered by driver came fairly quickly to get us home after a very enjoyable trip. We all appreciated “Sudsey’s” driving and organizing abilities, took around the hat and gave him a little donation for which we were duly thanked.
FOR VAMPIRE STALWARTS
I was loaned a book recently titled De Havilland Vampire – The Complete History, by David Watkins ISBN 07509 1250 2, first published in 1996 by Sutton Publishing Limited, U.K.
A very comprehensive story of this excellent aircraft, and it was used by many Air Forces of the world. Coincidentally, this followed on the Editor’s experiences in converting to the Mk.30 single seat version which I found very interesting as it brought back some very vivid memories.
Personally, I found them a beautiful aircraft to fly as Jock described, but I did not like the “Critical Mach Runs”, as the aircraft shuddered and shook and I was so relieved after the speed brakes had been operated and the power reduced.
My good friend the late Norman Tims had a terrible experience on his first Mach run in 21 Squadron, the checking P.A.F. Pilot was in another aircraft guiding Norm by radio, but at crucial time Norm’s radio packed up and he did not hear the command to put out his speed brakes and of course he was severely buffeted and used his initiative to apply brakes before disaster may have happened.
Oddly enough the two seat trainer version had a higher critical mach number of .82 compared with .76 for the Mk.30 single version. We heard a story years ago about an instructor at Williamtown, Rod Hanstein, who was checking out a pilot in a two seater and the aircraft would not come out of the situation and in desperation they lowered the undercarriage, which did the job but damaged the landing apparatus more than somewhat.
Spinning was prohibited although there is mention in the “Vampire” book of a pilot while doing aerobatics, went into an inverted spin at the top of a loop, he recovered 6,000 ft. later.
They turned into a ‘Killer’ aircraft when drop tanks were carried, as fuel quantity was 530 gallons and they stalled at about 260 knots in a rate 4 turn, so you could not do the steep forming up turns after take-off that we did in piston engine fighters.
ENGINE FAILURE !!!
by Ken Wilkinson
Our training emphasised the need for preparation in case of engine failure. Will we ever forget instructors pulling off throttle after take-off, and the cry ”never turn back”.
Practice forced landing procedures on designated fields, never forgetting to warm motor every so often.
Well, I was lucky during my wartime service, no Gipsy Major, Pratt & Whitney or Allison troubles. The dear old ”Allison” in the Kittyhawk was very reliable & only gave me concern when belly tank ran out. This was corrected by selecting a wing tank & switching on fuel booster pump & all was well again, with me anyway.
However, when flying in No. 21 Squadron as a Citizen Pilot, I copped a beauty in of all aircraft the mighty Mustang P51D, and at night on my first red ink entry.
The electric flare path lights were not operating that night (a Saturday) so the ground crew put down the old kerosene pots on Runway 17 which was the correct one at the time. During the evening the very strong wind backed around and we should have used another runway, but it would have taken too long to change over.
So, later I taxied out in A68-49, took off and did some general flying for a while until joining circuit when given clearance.
The wind had really whipped up and I was crabbing in on final, so I decided to go around again and on opening throttle the engine cut, I closed throttle and engine started again. I opened up again and noticed that it cut at 40 inches Manifold pressure (Maximum was 61 inches,) Closed it again, it caught so I took it to 38 and it held. While that was happening I dived my left hand down to undercarriage lever and got that coming up. I was too low to touch the flaps lever as I was at about 200 feet.
I flew for a long time before I could fully raise flaps and returned to base advising Flying Control of my problem and made sure that I stood in close in case I lost engine again, and made a safe landing fortunately.
I taxied in and told the Engine Fitters of my problem, so I ran it up to full power and would you believe no problem, did it again. Perfect. However I told the crew that this aircraft is not flying again tonight, so I U/S’d it.
As it happened, I had flown that same aircraft that afternoon to 30,000 ft, in a battle climb, so there must have been something wrong with the supercharging system.
It was a terrible experience it could have been nasty, to make matters worse I was heading for the Station Commander’s home and may have well lobbed on his dining room table and upset his dinner party. I flew for another 3 years with no further problems. (I had a good co-pilot).
EXPERIENCES OF K.F. WILKINSON
77 SQUADRON RAAF
AUSTRALIAN AVIATION “WAR DIARY”
BY DENNIS NEWTON
Since October 1994 Edition has been covering the period that I served with 77 Squadron in the South West Pacific Area. I joined the Squadron on 25 September 1944 at Noemfoor Island which was part of then Dutch New Guinea. Other pilots who joined with me were :-
- Sergeant Pilots Lyn Stillman and Keith Smithwick who graduated with me at Deniliquin from 43 Course on 31st May 1944; and
- Flight Sergeant Pilots Bernard Johnson and Jack Gauntlett who we met on the No 33 Kittyhawk Course which we completed at No 2 Operational Training Unit, Mildura, on 12th August 1944.
One day I will write in more detail about Air Force life as I experienced it, but at this stage I only wish to add to the official diary entries as follows:
October 8th – Noemfoor: RAAF Kittyhawks bomb enemy positions on the Vogelkop Peninsula throughout October. 77 Squadron Flight Sergeant B. Johnson is killed when his P-40N Kittyhawk A29-825 crashed while landing after a sweep.
Comment: Bernie had graduated on an earlier course and was a staff pilot at, I think, one of the Wireless Training Schools. He was a quiet chap, a bit of a loner and was a non-smoker and non-drinker.
On the morning of his death he went on a mission with three other aircraft and only three aircraft returned to Kamiri airstrip and it was thought that Bernie must have been shot down as he had not been sighted since going into a dive bombing attack. Perhaps he got lost or was wounded, whatever happened he arrived back maybe 30-40 minutes after the others, did not do the normal buzz and peel off fighter circuit, but came in direct, completely misjudging his approach and crashed into a revetment, seemingly out of control.
I was at our camp about three miles from the airstrip and later heard the bad news. During lunch we NCOs who knew him the best were told that he would be buried that afternoon at the American Cemetery and that we were to be the pallbearers.
We were locked in the ambulance with the body, which had been sewn in calico, and driven to the cemetery to await the Chaplain’s arrival. He was almost half an hour late. Not a great morale building set-up, we just sat quietly in the dreadful heat and said nothing.
It was the first time, but not the last, that I was in close proximity to a dead body. The first of a number of fatalities.
October 14th – Noemfoor: Warrant Officer P Schlencker of 77 Squadron in Kittyhawk A29-824 disappears without trace from a bombing mission to Manokwari.
Comment: Peter had been with the Squadron in the Admiralty Islands and from memory had been a staff pilot and so had a lot of flying experience. Manokwari was a Japanese airfield on the eastern tip of Vogelkop Peninsula and the ack ack was very fierce so it was deduced that he was shot down.
October 18 – Pacific: Flight Lieutenant K. Milne of 77 Squadron experiences engine trouble and bales out thirty five miles from base. He is recovered by a Catalina the next day.
Comment: As I recall, Ken, who was the Flight Commander of B Flight, was hit by ack ack fire at Moemi on the mainland coast. There were three airstrips in the area namely Moemi, Ransiki and Warren. The runways were covered with bomb craters and there were many Japanese aircraft that had been destroyed earlier by Allied aircraft. It was a heavily defended area with all types of ack ack. There were thousands of Japs trapped there and they were growing their own vegetables to survive.
On 21st October, four aircraft led by our Wing Leader, Wing Commander Dick Cresswell, were briefed to dive bomb the anti-aircraft guns that shot Ken Milne down. Can’t remember the No 2 but Flying Officer Ralph Hutley was the No 3 and I was No 4, otherwise known as “Arse End Charlie”.
We carried two 250 pound phosphorus bombs on the wings and a 500 pound GP under the fuselage. It was a fine afternoon and as we neared target we changed to line astern ready to attack. We were at 10,000 feet and were to release wing bombs on the first dive at 5,000 feet.
I had a ringside view and saw puffs of ack ack well behind No 1. Puffs were closer behind No 2 and very close behind No 3. I was not too pleased with this, so my heart was in my mouth when I winged over for the dive.
I was engrossed with lining the aircraft up for accurate bombing so did not have time to worry over the next few seconds as the Kitty rapidly built up speed.
As I released the wing bombs there was a terrible explosion and I was flipped over and was suddenly in an out-of-control situation. I thought that I had lost the tail section. The aircraft, still with the 500 pound bomb was spinning. I applied opposite rudder and forward stick with no effect. Then the miracle happened. I will swear on a stock of bibles that the voice of Sergeant Pilot Don McNeil (my Tiger Moth instructor) came through the earphones and said, “Get your bloody power off”.’
I pulled back on the throttle and the dear old Kittyhawk recovered instantly. I was very close to the deck and I had to ease it over a hill, trying not to go into a high speed stall as I was pulling high ‘G’ force. I called Badger Red 1 and said that I had been hit and could he have a look underneath and behind me.
He did this and could not see any damage. So he told me to go back and drop the 500 pound bomb on whatever, as they had wiped out the main gun pit. I dropped it on a small bridge and it did not explode. Not my day. Then again it could have been the luckiest day of my life.
It turned out that the blast of the ack ack was so close it also detonated the electronic IFF set on the aircraft. My wing bombs were flung to one side but the aircraft did not have any external damage. My logbook that day reads: Oct 21 A29-911 D/B Moemi ack ack and bivouac. 1 hour 15 min. Blast from ack ack put me on back and I spun.
RAAF records show that this aircraft was shot down by ack ack while dive bombing Sorong oil field at the top of Dutch New Guinea in January 1945. Pilot Officer Tom (Grumpy) Lucas baled out at 1,000 feet and was rescued by a Catalina and he was back with us for the evening meal.
October 25 – Pacific: F/O H D Summons of 77 Squadron from Noemfoor in Kittyhawk A29-821 is lost, last seen entering cloud while preparing to make bombing run.
Comment: I helped search for Doug but no sighting after 2 hours square searching.
November 16 – Pacific: Twenty two Beaufighters of 30 Squadron leave Noemfoor for Morotai. Taking off from Kamiri, A19-206 crashed and burst into flames. F/O Porch is killed and Sergeant W Harty is mortally injured. Two passengers, LOACs Heidke and Parker, escape without serious injury.
Comment: I was waxing my Kittyhawk when all the Beaufighters were taking off from the other end of the airstrip. Suddenly a dreadful noise was heard – on looking around I saw that a Beaufighter had crashed and burst into flames and the whole tail section had separated from the fuselage.
We ran like mad to see if rescue was possible, but the front of the aircraft was aflame and we helplessly watched the pilot burn. We think that he may have been knocked unconscious when his head hit the gun sight. We certainly hope so. Meanwhile at the rear of the aircraft the two airmen who had not been strapped in, walked out with hardly a scratch. Two RAAF service policemen bravely pulled the navigator out and laid him on the ground and waited for the ambulance. I remember very clearly looking at the young very pale navigator and thinking “well, at least he was saved along with the two LACs”.
We were quite upset to hear later that Sergeant Harty had died of shock a few hours later.
The understanding was that the starboard undercarriage leg collapsed just before airborne speed was reached, the aircraft slewed to starboard and went into a deep excavation, which had been made when the airstrip was constructed. A horrible experience.
November 22/23 – Pacific:
Nine Japanese aircraft attack Morotai in retaliation for Allied raids on the Philippines. No 22 Squadron is decimated, the raid damaging 13 Bostons – A28 -6, 10, 51, 52, 54, 57, 59, 60, 65, 67, 68, 75 and 76 – of which only two (54 and 57) are not beyond repair and converted to components.
This effectively ends the Boston’s offensive career in the RAAF as 22 Squadron has been the only unit operating the type. Since no replacement Bostons are readily available, the squadron will be withdrawn to Noemfoor for re-equipment with Beaufighters. Surviving Bostons will carry out miscellaneous duties including communications flights.
November 23 – Pacific:
To counter the enemy raids on Morotai, the RAAF and the 13th US Air Force carry out heavy raids on enemy airfields within range, particularly on Halmahera Island, which lies midway between New Guinea and Morotai. Eleven Kittyhawks of No 82 Squadron dive-bomb Lolobata and Hatetabako airfields and twelve from No 77 Squadron dive bomb airfields at Galela. Flight Sergeant B Palme and Sergeant K Smithwick fail to return from the attacks on Galela. The same targets will be attacked again on the 24th.
Comment: On the evening of 22nd November we were told by our CO Squadron Leader ‘Sandy’ McCulloch that 12 of us were to dive-bomb the airstrip at Galela and strafe fuel dumps and ack ack positions. I was Blue 4 which meant that I was to be the last one to attack. I recall the day’s events vividly as follows:
After having the usual fairly sleepless night, I was sound asleep when an Airman grabbed my shoulder and said ‘Wake up Sir, it’s 0400 hours, time to get cracking’. I muttered something and undid the mosquito net and eased off the camp stretcher to the noise of my tent mate (Sergeant Pilot Lyn Stillman) snoring. He was a good sleeper and was not flying that day. I put on my damp clothes, strapped on my jungle knives, gun belt and water bottle and prepared to leave the tent. At this stage Lyn awoke and wished me good luck. On the jungle trail, which led to the Aircrew Mess, I met other pilots and we all muttered ‘Good mornings’ in a quiet fashion. Tension was always obvious before a mission, particularly in the early morning.
After an uninteresting breakfast we boarded the truck which took us to Kamiri airstrip where our tarmac ground crews were already doing daily inspections on our aircraft. The Operations and Intelligence Officers issued us with a wallet full of Dutch guilders and other papers that might help us escape if we went down in unfriendly territory, plus a sealed tin of American rations which contained tomato juice, chocolate, biscuits and sugar coated almonds which was luxury tucker to us. These were only issued to crews who were to fly 4 hours or more on the one day.
I will never forget IO Flight Lieutenant Harry Sullivan’s words. ‘ Should be a “piece of cake” boys. 82 Squadron bombed Galela two days ago and not a shot was fired at them’. How wrong he was.
We grabbed our parachutes, donned our Mae Wests (which were full of food and survival gear) made sure that we had our English/Malay dictionary and went to our aircraft after checking and signing the flight authorization and EE 77 Aircraft Service Books.
We each did our own pre-flight check making sure that each fuel tank had been drained of water condensation. We checked arming devices on the two 500 pound bombs carried on the wings and looked askance at the belly tank which was Japanese and made with a bamboo frame covered with proofed canvas. Our metal ones were in short supply.
On getting into the cockpit the engineer and airframe fitters helped me do up all the straps and wished me a safe mission which was reassuring. I went through cockpit drill and finally primed the engine with the ‘Ky-gas’ control ready for starting. When I heard the CO start up I waited a couple of minutes and wound mine up which fortunately started OK. Radio check by CO proved all aircraft radios (VHF) were working and we taxied down the roadway to the run up area.
At 0600, right on time, the CO took off and we all followed singly. He did a wide turn to starboard, allowing us all to catch up and form up in sections of four. It was still dark so we had our navigation lights switched on so we formed up into battle formation and set course for Middleberg Island, at the top of Dutch New Guinea – West Irian, where we had to refuel.
After refueling I was waiting my turn to taxi out when my good friend Sergeant Pilot Keith Smithwick taxied past me and waved and gave me his very happy smile (Keith and I met at Somers and trained right throughout together. He also was 19 and was 2 weeks older than me). Little did I know that I would not see that smiling face again.
We flew the next leg to the target at 22,000 feet in a fairly loose battle formation and the weather was fine.
After a while the visibility became hazy and there was a dreadful smell of sulphur and we later saw the volcano that was emitting this dreadful smell. It was quite close to the Galela airfield.
We were right on track and as we neared the target the CO ordered that belly tanks be jettisoned and it was quite a sight for me on the extreme port side of formation to see these ‘made in Japan’ belly tanks fall free and head for the ocean.
We were called into line astern and again I was ‘arse-end Charlie’, stone motherless last. I could see that the airstrip had been repaired and it certainly needed a working-over as I was to find out later.
Down went those wonderful Kittyhawks in near vertical dive-bombing mode and the First Section got all bombs on the strip as did the Second Section. Then I was diving through this horrible smell, the airspeed indicator was well over 400 mph and I was having trouble keeping rudder on as it wanted to yaw. The sky was covered with ack ack bursts at all levels and I was waiting for one to get me. Too busy to worry as I lined the target up with the gun sight, pulled through slightly and released. I started easing the Kitty out of the fastest speed that I had ever achieved and suffered the inevitable ‘black out’. I tried to counter by leaning forward and yelling, thus tightening the stomach diaphragm, which helped stop the blood running from the brain to lower parts of my body.
My vision quickly returned as I headed away from the target but I saw that our section lobbed all bombs on the airstrip. A wonderful sight as were the bombs bursting right along the whole strip. 100% bombing from such a high altitude.
As I headed for the coast to look for shore based ack ack as briefed, I saw that Red section had set fire to a fuel dump near the runway but then the bad news started.
Radio interference was very bad in the area, but I heard the voice of my mate Keith Smithwick say that his engine had been hit and his cockpit was filling with glycol fumes but he would head for ‘Atom’ (code name for Morotai). Not long later he said that he was bailing out.
By this time I had slowed down and got myself ready for strafing and as I flew low over the coast I saw the tail of a Kittyhawk sticking out of the shallow water and this was later found to be Flight Sergeant ‘Bub’ Palmes’ aircraft.
I then saw ground fir and tracers in front of me. Suddenly they were rushing past me but fortunately none hit my aircraft. I lined up the gun pit and let them have the produce of six Browning .5 inch guns: no more was seen of that lot!
The leader called for us to form up out to sea, which we did and flew to nearby Morotai to refuel, re-arm and go back to another target on our way back.
In the meantime air-sea rescue was organized to search for Sergeant Smithwick. We understand that 100 aircraft searched unsuccessfully. We decided that maybe his parachute was caught on the tail or maybe did not open.
On arrival at Morotai we saw the carnage the Jap bombers had inflicted on 22 Squadron’s Bostons and many other allied aircraft on the previous night.
The Philippine invasion was on and so Morotai was the main base and our aircraft were parked close together and the few bombers involved could not miss.
The remaining ten of us compared notes and it was found that Pilot Officer Doug Helsham had shrapnel through the tail plane and Flight Sergeant Les Taylor had a bullet miss the back of his head by about 1 foot.
We re-armed and took off heading for a supposed radar station on the North East Coast of the Halmahara mainland. This was bombed and strafed without opposition and we then headed back toward Middleberg Island for another refuel.
As it was ‘Thanksgiving Day’ the Yanks gave us a lunch of turkey which we did not really enjoy because of our lost mates.
The flight back to Noemfoor Island was uneventful and we landed at 1700 hours, were debriefed and trucked back to camp for a much needed shower as our clothes were sopping wet with perspiration.
We fully expected ‘Smithy’ to be rescued and back with us that night but it was not be. (I found out quite by accident a few years ago that as he was posted missing his name is listed with many other RAAF types at the Ambon War Memorial were my brother Lionel of the 2/21st Battalion lies buried).
As we were on American rations there was turkey on again for the evening meal but many of us were a little uneasy in the stomach after eating such rich food twice in the one day when we were more used to eating tinned food.
It was a long, hard, unhappy day for our Squadron but we did inflict a lot of damage on the enemy at the cost of two young pilots, two aircraft, and a further two aircraft with minor damage.
My log book entry reads:
Nov 23 – Kittyhawk A29-806. Dive bombed Galela Strip 6.00 hrs: 24 direct hits on No 1 strip. ‘Smithy’ and ‘Bib’ Palme shot down by ack ack.
We each did a few of these long distance missions that included four take-offs and landings, one landing with bombs on. On a couple of occasions we had to land with anti-personnel bombs (Daisy cutters) on, which could not be made safe. If one fell off the bomb rack it would be ‘Good night nurse’.
The aforementioned raid is accurately described on page 312 Air War Against Japan 1943-1945 by George Odgers
January 1st 1945 – Pacific: Noemfoor:
A tragic freak accident claims the life of Armament Fitter LAC F Adcock of 77 Squadron. A spark from a gun solenoid starts a fire on Kittyhawk A29-803 as he is performing its 160 hour inspection. This incident, coupled with inactivity through being stood down in anticipation of moving to Morotai, casts a gloom over the entire unit.
Comment: I well remember ‘Zombie’ Adcock, so nicknamed because he had shaved his head. He was one of our ground crew characters, known to all. He was washing underneath the aircraft with petrol and an electrician in the cockpit flicked a switch and the spark ignited the fumes and he copped dreadful burns and died some hours later.
March 30th – Pacific: 77 Squadron is still languishing at Noemfoor. LAC R. Hunter is killed when he walks backwards into a spinning propeller. The squadron looks forward to leaving Noemfoor with its sad losses and constant inactivity, to proceed to Morotai.
Comment: At this stage most ground crew and newer pilots had been sent to Morotai and only 24 pilots were left with a skeleton ground crew. When the above happened I had just finished running up my aircraft to keep the battery charged and was on the ground again when nearby I heard ‘Omah Kyam’ start up with Flying Officer Maurie Brearley in the cockpit. The engine stopped and someone yelled out that ‘Bluey’ had been hit by a propeller. We ran to the scene but he was killed instantly, the prop having hit the back of his head.
His mates were too shocked to help the ambulance chaps lift him on to a stretcher so another pilot and myself had to assist.
‘Blue’ had ‘hand cranked’ the engine to save battery drain and for reasons unknown he tried to look down the front of the air intake and naturally the propeller got him. He also was a popular type and it was thought that he was a bit ’troppo’ as his 18 month tour was just about up and that dreadful climate and lack of leave and proper entertainment affected everyone. Ground crew had to serve 18 months without home leave, aircrew 9 months, with a 2 week home leave stint half way through.
Maurie Brearley is the son of Sir Norman Brearley who was one of our country’s well-known aviation pioneers.
Maurie was a propeller expert with de Havillands in Sydney and naturally was in a protected occupation but he wanted to join up and did so under the assumed name of Burnett. We understand that he was found out just before gaining his Wings and Uranquinty. They must have given him full marks for initiative and let him graduate with a Commission and his correct name. He is a retired Professor of Mathematics and spent many years in this position at the RAAF College, Point Cook.
Ground crew casualties were severe as two more were drowned while fishing in a boat made out of belly tanks and another was electrocuted, all at Noemfoor.
April 21 – Pacific:
While returning to Morotai, Warrant Officer L. Hanson (A29-819) of 77 Squadron runs short of fuel and bales out. He is rescued by a PT boat.
Comment: Les Hanson is one of Australia’s characters who I still see in Queensland each winter and enjoy his company. One could write a book about Les as he has done just about everything. He is a very talented Horseman, whip cracker, leather carver, painter, drinker and practical joker; in short, a lovable ‘dag’.
While Les and three other aircraft were on a mission north west of Morotai, Flying Officer Bert Krause and myself were searching for a convoy that should have been a little south of Mindanao but could not be located in fine weather (we had been given the wrong position) and we heard Les’ ‘Mayday’ call and his leader calling Morotai for air/sea rescue assistance.
When we returned to Morotai we found out that Les bailed out in copy book fashion by almost stalling the aircraft, casually calling out and as he let go he blew a kiss to his mates. He got into his one-man dinghy and they dropped him their new plastic water bags that floated.
The only Catalina at Morotai was having an overhaul but they got it ready with only one pilot, a Squadron Leader, to fly it with some airmen to act as lookouts. It took off late afternoon and flew well into the night with the aircrew throwing water over the pilot to keep him awake. No sightings. Other aircraft searched for 2 days without success. 4 Beaufighters were the last to search, 3 had returned to base and the skipper of the fourth asked his navigator for a course for base and the navigator said ‘Skipper will you fly this course for another minute I want to check my compass’.
At the end of the minute a mirror flash was sighted and it was Les. He had drifted about 80 miles and was close to a Japanese held island. An American PT boat was directed to Les, found him, got him on board and he promptly broke into a ‘Highland Fling” on the deck. They took him to Morotai where he was hospitalized as he was suffering from sunburn and exposure.
A week later he was airborne again and his engine failed in the circuit area and he had a successful forced landing with no damage to himself or aircraft.
He was heard to say to the first person to reach him, ’you can all get stuffed, I’m going on mid-ops leave’. So he went to Brisbane and saw his wife, went to the family business run by his mother ‘Hanson’s the Jeweller’ and filled a large suitcase with stock that was unsaleable, dead, or whatever, that he thought his dear mates in the Squadron would be prepared to pay a fair price for, as trinkets and things were scarce and he knew that most of us had loads of money in our pay books.
Yours truly purchased a kangaroo skin wallet (which I still have) for 30 shillings, a tidy sum in those days. Imagine my surprise when I arrived back in Melbourne just before war’s end and saw the same type of wallet selling for 10 shillings.
I still bring it up in the hope that he may give me a credit but he simply shrugs and says ‘a man has to make a living’!
Les and the PT boat skipper became lifelong friends and visited each other frequently but regretfully his American mate died no so long ago.
PS: 28 April 2000: Les had two strokes 18 months ago and can’t talk properly and cannot paint or carve leather at which he was highly skilled.
April 23rd – Pacific:
During takeoff, a bomb under Kittyhawk A29-900 drops and explodes, killing the pilot, 77 Squadron’s Flying Officer K. McFadden. Several Beaufighters of 22 Squadron are damaged and one ground crewman is killed.
Comment: Ken McFadden had been a Wirraway instructor at Deniliquin and he had the reputation of being a ‘screamer’, which I found to be true on the one occasion that I flew with him. (Another frustrated pilot wanting to get into operations).
However when he joined us at Morotai he was a very pleasant type and he was looking forward to Squadron life.
He was killed on his first operational flight and something went horribly wrong. It was thought that as he was reaching with his left hand for the undercarriage lever, he might have pulled the bomb arming device, which was in the area. As I recall, to crop a bomb ‘live’ you had to pull the control that allowed the ‘prong’ on the fuse to stay with the aircraft thus allowing the arming propeller to spin and thus arm the bomb. You also had to operate certain switches before pressing the bomb release button on the control column.
It remains a mystery to me as to how the bomb did explode, however it did, and apart from Ken losing his life, a ground crewman who turned 21 on that day, was also killed.
We buried Ken that afternoon. They managed to make a coffin out of packing crate timber.
April 27 – Pacific: Flying Officer H. Krause of 77 Squadron in Kittyhawk A29-808 reports engine failure but bales out too low, hitting the water without his parachute opening.
Comment: Bert Krause and I met at No 5 Squadron Air Training Corps, Brighton, Victoria, and as Bert and two other good ATC mates were a few weeks older than me they were still awaiting their call up when I turned 18 on 3 July 1943. As it happened I knew a WAAF who was a clerk at the Russell Street Recruiting Centre and asked her if it would be possible for the four of us to be called up at the same time. She suggested that she would see what could be done.
She worked the ‘oracle’ and we reported with cut lunch on 16 July, marched to Flinders Street Station and railed to Frankston and bussed to No ITS Somers.
Three of us trained at Western Junction, Tasmania, and graduated as pilots at No 7 SFTS, Deniliquin, on 31 May 1944. The fourth member trained as a navigator and went to the UK.
Bert graduated as a pilot officer, Roy Edwards and myself as Sergeant Pilots. Roy was posted to Sale to be a Staff Pilot; Bert and I posted to NO 2 OTU, Mildura to be hopefully, fighter pilots.
Bert and I parted company at Mildura as it was decided that he was to fly Boomerangs which were used for Army co-operation and was posted to Canberra to do some type of Army course.
Army co-op pilots had to be officers as they were working with Army Officers.
I completed the Curtiss P40 Kittyhawk course and was posted to No 77 Fighter Squadron that had just arrived at Noemfoor Island, Dutch New Guinea, when we replacement pilots arrived which was on 25 September 1944.
Bert was messed around and it must have been realized that there were too many Boomerang pilots and he went back to Mildura to do the Kittyhawk course.
This meant that he did not join our Squadron until December. The 3 months start that we had meant that we were Section Leaders and not rookie wingmen and even had our own personal aircraft when Bert arrived.
In those days it mattered not whether a pilot was commissioned or non-commissioned, it was a case within reason of the longest there were the most experienced regardless of rank.
At one stage when the Flight Commander of B Flight went on leave a Flight Sergeant was Acting/Flight Commander.
And so, on the afternoon of 26 April 1945 at Morotai, I was advised by my Flight Commander, Flight Lieutenant Geoff Angus, that I was to lead 4 aircraft early next morning to cover a convoy.
Briefing as follows:
Badger Red 1 – F/Sgt K F Wilkinson
Badger Red 2 – F/O H O Krause
Badger Red 3 – F/Sgt L A Stillman
Badger Red 4 – W/O A Stevens
Large 110 gallon drop tank to be carried with two 100 pound anti-submarine bombs and the usual 6 x .5 inch Browning Guns with full ammo.
Take off singly in darkness at 0600 hours and set course for convoy, flying time approximately 1 hour. Convoy code position to be given next morning.
On reaching convoy we were split into 2 pairs and do square search ahead of convoy at 7,000 feet and look for submarines and aircraft until relieved.
I had a very restless night, as this was the first time that I had led a flight of 4 aircraft on an operational mission. But more particularly I was concerned about finding the convoy as it would have been well out to sea. I knew from studying the map that I could make only one bearing before flying over the sea for about 1 hour and hope that the convoy was in its scheduled position.
We were woken at 0400 by an orderly and had a very quiet, uninteresting breakfast. As I wanted to work out the course I asked my No 2 to phone the weather people while I did other things. I might say that we had never had a cross word between us ever, but he told me to ‘get the bloody thing myself’.
I quickly told him that although I was a NCO and he an officer, I happened to be in charge of this operation and so he made the call and obtained the wind information, etc. While this upset me I had other things to worry about.
I worked out the course on ‘Dalton Computer’ and had it checked by Lyn Stillman, as No 3 he was second in command.
We were driven to ‘Wama” fighter airstrip, checked all our survival gear and headed for aircraft which had already been run up.
I looked at the large belly tank and the anti-submarine bombs, both of which I had never before sighted, and wondered whether a sub might be sighted.
As briefed, we took off singly and I made a very wide turn to starboard thus giving the others plenty of time to form up in the darkness.
We climbed on course to 7,000 feet which was to be our operation altitude and I saw the huge amount of shipping in Morotai Harbour. We crossed from the airstrip frequency to channel A Able and we were on our way.
It wasn’t long before we crossed the peninsula which was the last land that we would see for a while and I estimated that we were right on track. We had been briefed to observe radio silence until 10 minutes before ETA and I was certainly worrying about reaching the convoy.
The weather was fine. It was getting lighter and clouds were absent. All we wanted to see was a convoy, the call sign of which we were briefed was ‘Partner Base’. Out ETA was 0700 so at 0650 I called ‘Partner Base, this is Badger Red 1, do you read?’ Back came the reply which nearly deafened me. ‘Badger Red 1, read you loud and clear, you are dead on track and you will be with us in 10 minutes’!
Was I pleased to hear that message and no doubt so were the others.
Sure enough we sighted the small convoy which was heading for an island named Sadau just of Tarakan and they were to shell enemy positions prior to arrival of the main invasion fleet later. We had been briefed about this . NB. I found out recently that the destroyer in charge was USS Phillip together with 2 naval support craft and they were escorting 4 large landing craft (LCIs) which carried the 59th Battery of 2/7th Field Regiment 2nd AIF.
At this stage we split into pairs and square searched as briefed. I should mention that we were using fuel from our belly tanks, as you have to use that first as, in the event of action, we would have to drop them and switch to one of the other three tanks on the aircraft. As there is no gauge for the belly tank, it was customary to run them dry, (at a safe altitude) the engine would cough and splutter (not a pleasing sensation) you would quickly turn the selector to another tank and switch on ‘fuel booster pump’ and it would hopefully catch.
Our heads were like swivels looking for enemy aircraft and submarines and after about 30 minutes Bert called to say his engine had cut. I looked at him dropping back quickly and noticed that he had already jettisoned his canopy which explained why his speech sounded garbled as it was affected by rushing wind.
I told him to glide towards the convoy and bale out and the ship would rescue him. Our Squadron policy was to bale out although it is up to the pilot to decide whether to ditch or bale out.
I contacted ‘Partner Base’ and asked them to save our man and they were ready and waiting: radio contact was the best that have ever experienced.
We cannot understand why, but Bert’s aircraft entered into a spiral dive. I saw some small object come out of the aircraft, the aircraft was descending rapidly in the spiral not very far from the convoy. Bert finally got out at no more than 500 feet and hit the water near where his aircraft hit. We flew very low over the water and the fluorescent sea marker dye that he carried had spread over the water and we could even see pieces of his ‘Mae West’ in the water. He was gone.
I radioed this to ‘Partner Base’ and they went to the slick and confirmed that he had not survived.
I thanked them and then we flew low past the ‘Aussie’ Troops who waved to us and no doubt felt for us in losing a mate. Then we resumed square searching as the convoy still had to be protected until we were relieved.
We had an uneventful flight back to base after being airborne for 4 hours 45 minutes. When we reached the crew hut our Wing Leader, Squadron Leader ‘Buster’ Brown said, after I had briefed him, ‘Well Wilkinson do we stop the war and send out 100 aircraft to search for Flying Officer Krause?’ I said ‘No sir, he has gone. The three of us saw evidence and the American ship confirmed it’.
He said ‘Are you absolutely certain?’ I replied ‘Yes, sir’.
So another close mate was lost and he was posted ‘missing in action’, even we who witnessed everything knew that he was dead.
Apparently the authorities had the policy that if no body was found they had to use the words ‘missing’ in case some survived which was the case, I later found out.
- I finished my tour with 77 Squadron at Labuan, British North Borneo, on 20 July so I was back in Melbourne when the war was ended, enjoying some leave.
One of the first things I did was to see Bert’s Mother, sister and grandmother on a Sunday afternoon where Mrs Krause had prepared a sumptuous afternoon tea. After a while she said ‘Ken, when will my Bert be coming home?’
My heart jumped and I said ‘I am terribly sorry Mrs Krause but he won’t be coming home, he is gone’.
With that they all cried and Mrs Krause said ‘but they said he was missing. I replied ‘that was the official way of notification if the body was not found’. A terrible experience.
- At the time of the operation some of No 75 Squadron’s pilots were billeted with us at Morotai awaiting the Tarakan landing as they, with 78 and 80 Squadron, were to be based there once the airstrip was taken and made ready. One of the pilots was Flying Officer Harry Proctor who has been the President of The Fighter Squadron’s Branch of RAAF Association Victorian Division of which I am a Member.
I was telling Harry five or six years ago about the loss of Bert Krause and he told me that he was sharing a tent with Bert and mentioned that Bert had a premonition that he was not coming back from that operation and was quite upset. This certainly explained why he was so ‘testy’ later that morning.
- Shortly after Bert’s loss a few of us were having a mug of tea in the Aircrew Mess when my Flight Commander walked in and said ‘Wilkie, the boss (CO) wants to see you in his tent immediately’.
I said ‘I will have to go and put some clothing on as you can see I am only wearing a pair of US Army Green underpants and an old pair of shoes’.
He said, ‘No, go as you are as he is wearing the same clobber’.
I went to the tent and paraded before the seated CO and all I could do was click my heels and stand to attention.
‘You wanted to see me, Sir?’ ‘Yes Wilkinson, I am recommending you for a Commission as you have been leading ‘gaggles’ of aircraft around the sky. Do you have any objection to this?’
I quickly thought of what my NCO mates would say and what a hard time they would give me but said ‘No Sir, I would appreciate that’.
He dismissed me and I immediately went and found the boys who really got stuck into me with cries of ‘crawling bastard, Air Training Corp Whiz kid, CO’s pet’ and so on.
The commission came through in November when I was at No 1 Personnel Depot, Melbourne, awaiting a posting, as I had advised that I wanted to stay on in the permanent RAAF but that is another story.
May 5th – Pacific: On Tarakan, Air Commodore Cobby’s advanced HQ ashore begins operations but, as the airstrip cannot be made ready to receive 1st TAF Squadrons, it remains necessary for the 13th US Air Force to continue air patrols over the area. Cobby himself leaves for Morotai. Because of a crisis within the 1st TAF, he is to be relieved of his command.
The Crisis: – by January 1945, Japan had whole armies cut off in New Guinea, Rabaul, the Solomons, the Moluccas and the Phillipines. The Allies had bypassed their strong points and rolled on towards Japan. Japanese Army and Navy air forces had been reduced to home defence against the increasingly heavy B-29 raids and to carry out Kamikaze suicide missions; the navy was all but incapacitated; and merchant shipping virtually wiped out.
Nevertheless, to leave such large and powerful enemy forces to just ’wither on the vine’ carried potential danger, so air power was used to contain them and keep them off balance while army garrisons maintained a constant vigil. The 1st TAF, now well to the rear of the main fighting, continued a large scale flying effort against what many considered to be seemingly worthless targets. Eager to get into ‘real combat’, RAAF pilots believed that they were being assigned to unspectacular drudgery and their lives were being endangered in tasks that made no real contribution towards winning the war. Croup Captain W Arthur, commanding No 81 Wing at Noemfoor, took this up with Cobby, arguing that the poor results achieved did not match the loses incurred. Against the backdrop of nagging inbuilt problems generated by divided control in the RAAF’s high command structure, and the ignominious involvement of members of the RAAF in an illegal liquor trade in the islands, this smouldering situation erupted at Morotai in April. Eight senior officers, most of them decorated fighter pilots, applied to resign their commissions. Besides Arthur, the men were Group Captain C Caldwell, Wing Commander R Gibbes, Wing Commander K Ranger, Squadron Leader J Waddy, Squadron Leader B Grace, Squadron Leader R Vanderfield and Squadron Leader S Harpham. AVM W Bostock met with the officers and concluded that morale in the 1st TAF was dangerously low.
General G Kenney, Commander Allied Air Forces SWPA, also urged the eight men not to resign but they refused. RAAF Headquarters ordered the transfer of A/Cdr Cobby and two other senior officers.
It was a sad ending to the career of one of Australia’s leading aces of WW1. The Government ordered an inquiry.
On the morning of 13th March I was told to pack my bag as I was to fly No 2 to Group Captain Arthur that afternoon on a flight to Morotai and I would be away for a day or two.
I knew nothing about any proposed mutiny and in fact it was only about 12 years ago that I read about it in an official book.
It was a flight that I will never forget as when we were above cloud the glare was so intense even with the issue American sunglasses on. I was flying on starboard and a Spitfire (on a ferry flight) on port. After awhile I simply could not keep my eyes open. I dozed for a few seconds seemingly.
When I came to I was sliding away from the ‘Grouper’ fortunately and rectified the situations promptly. He made no mention of the event so I presume that he had not noticed. Very scary.
On arrival at Morotai I was told to find accommodation at local transit camp and he would contact me when ready to return. During an evening meal in the Sergeants’ Mess I met some WAGs and gunners from a ‘Black Cat’ Catalina Squadron and they were staging back to Karumba having been mine laying in Hong Kong harbor. Unbelievably those Cat’s did a wonderful job all round in bombing, mine laying and, of course, rescuing downed airmen.
We flew back to Noemfoor on 15th and I often wondered why I was picked to go on this trip. I have deduced that one or two things could have been the reason:
- He may have requested a dope who would not tumble to what his mission was about;
- He may have remembered me from a month or so earlier when several NCO pilots were paraded before him because we refused to work past our relief time on a Liberty ship while working as bloody wharfies.
The TMO Corporal had told us to work past midnight and we said ‘go to buggery’. After all we were Sergeants and Flight Sergeants and outranked him any way.
The Corporal reported us and we lined up in the OC’s tent and he ticked us off and told us that the Corporal had a job to do and we should have worked.
I don’t know why, but I suddenly became the spokesman and told him that we were all highly trained pilots and had more important things to do than unload ships in the middle of the night.
I was a great hit as he decreed ‘you are all confined to Barracks for 28 days except when you are flying, of course’.
So maybe he appreciated a little rebelliousness in others. My theory anyway.
I met Wilf Arthur at our wonderful No 2 OUT Mildura reunion in 1991 and made mention of the above and he replied ‘Ken, I would not have done that surely’. A great man: he was 25 years of age at that time. He died in December 2000.
THE RAAF’S PART IN THE WAR AGAINST JAPAN
When Japan attacked Malaya in December 1941, so many of our airmen were in the UK , Middle East or training in other countries like Canada and Rhodesia. This meant that the chain of bases that would be used by our RAAF, RAF, Netherlands East Indies and USA to protect Australia would extend from Malaya, Dutch East Indies [Indonesia] Papua New Guinea, and New Britain, therefore needing manpower to come from Australia and the return of men from overseas. We only had scant resources to do the job.
In Malaya we had Lockheed Hudson Bombers to do the offensive work and these were considered to be quite modern and did a good job in attacking Japanese shipping and other targets. The RAF were using old Vicker Vilderbeast biplanes with not much success. They also had Bristol Blenheims [forerunner of Beaufort] and a few Hurricanes.
Our main fighter was the Brewster Buffalo which was not considered a good aircraft as among other things the guns froze at altitude, nevertheless some of our pilots including Flight Lieutenants Congo Kininmont and Mick Grace had some success in shooting down Japanese aircraft.
As our armies retreated we were forced to move to airfields further south and it would not have been a good sight to see crates and crates of Hawker Hurricane fighters lying on the wharves at Singapore.
When Singapore fell on 15th. february 1942, so many allied military personnel were taken prisoner. Some were able to escape to Sumatra and Java and fight a rearguard action but eventually the Japanese occupied the Netherlands East Indies.
The Japanese first raided Rabaul with 16 Nell Bombers on 4th January 1942 but did not do much damage.
BF: The Allies had girls names for bombers and boys for fighters eg. Oscar, Tony, Nick,
Catalinas and Hudsons were sent to truck and other islands to bomb and do reconnaissance and saw a building up of an invasion fleet including two aircraft carriers. 24 Squadron also had Wirraways which bravely engaged with the Japanese but ended being shot down. The Japanese landed on January 23rd with a huge force to occupy the area, which they later defended well when attacked by RAAF aircraft. The Catalinas with their long range were doing a lot of work, one was shot down and later the crew of 9 were found beheaded. We were fighting a ruthless enemy.
on 19th february 1942 aircraft from the same carriers that bombed Pearl Harbour plus land based aircraft from recently captured Ambon and Timor, headed for Darwin which really had no decent fighter strength.
They did untold damage and although government hushed things up, it appears that about 300 lives were lost. To our discredit, there many desertions by army and RAAF personnel, some of whom were found in Adelaide and Melbourne. There were many raids on Darwin and nearby airfields and at Broome many of our much needed flying boats were destroyed at their moorings. They had done a great job evacuating people from Netherlands East Indies
The much awaited Spitfires did not arrive until January 1943 and while they made a big difference in shooting down a good number of the enemy, they had some troubles with their short range and the Merlin engine was not designed for tropical and dusty conditions and had quite a number of prangs.
They did lift the morale of all personnel, the airfields south of Darwin were busy with Beaufighters and Hudsons going on the offensive attacking targets to the north. Flight Lieutenant Jack McAllister was shot down, he and crew were taken prisoner, escaped and tried to steal a Japanese Dakota copy, but it did not have a battery and he was captured again, tortured and shipped off to Changi.
The Japanese nicknamed Beaufighters the ‘the whispering death’, as they had sleeve valve engines which were much quieter than the radials. Our aircraft, though small in number were doing much damage to shipping, aircraft on ground and float planes.
The first Japanese raid was on 3rd February 1942, it was firmly believed by allied command that Moresby was definitely wanted by the Japanese as it would give them a good base to launch attacks against the Australian mainland.
On 21st March the first of 75 Squadron Kittys started to arrive from Townsville, later that day two were scrambled to intercept the daily reconnaissance aircraft and shot it down in flames. There was a roar of satisfaction from the ground troops who had not seen this happen before.
75 Squadron soon went on the offensive attacking Lae and destroyed a number of aircraft on ground. They also defended Port Moresby along with some American Kittys and Airacobras. It has been said that the Coral Sea Battle could well have saved Moresby at that stage.
75 lost all aircraft bar 3 and went back to Townsville to re-equip.
In July 1942 , 75 arrived with 76 , and the airstrip had the U.S. marsden matting covering the strip for safer operation. When the Japanese landed in the terrible conditions they were strafed by Kitty Hawks relentlessly and suffered very heavy casualties. The rifling in their gun barrels wore out due to excessive use. Hudsons were operating from the same strip which was named Gurney.
Squadron Leader Bluey Truscott took over 76 during this campaign and was killed in Western Australia when he crashed into the sea.
This was the turning point of the war when Allied air strength was obvious.
Kokoda was next in August where our 39th Militia and AIF Battalions fought hand to hand battles until victory was possible due to the closeness of combat, I do’nt think that strafing would have been an option if available. They were supported by Dakotas of USA and possibly RAAF in air drops.
We started on the offensive as more aircraft arrived from USA and Australian factories. The US and our army with naval and air support would take island bases, make airstrips serviceable, many with the matting and progressed rapidly through Lae, Madang, Hollandia, Wakde, Biak, Noemfoor and Morotai etc. The allied air, land and sea power really went into action.
Beaufort and Boomerang Squadrons were left to help our army look after the Bougainville and Wewak Papua Campaigns.
The air power was unbelievable, at Noemfoor for example the Australian ‘Kamiri’ strip had 6 squadrons of Kittys, 1 Beaufighter, 1 Boston and numerous Dakota transport aircraft using it, and the US had ‘Kornasoren’ with their Lightnings, Thunderbolts, Black Widows, Bostons, Mitchells and Liberators.
At Morotai there were 2 strips ‘Pitoe’ for bombers and ‘Wama’ for fighters and the US launched their Phillipines Campaign from there and it had a very good harbour which was always full of shipping.
McArthur wanted the Phillipines to be a US operation, and our forces to contain Borneo at Tarakan, Labuan and Balikpapen, so at this stage we had several squadrons of Liberators to help soften up these places before amphibious landings took place. War ended on 15th August 1945 as we were completing the occupation of Borneo and Bouganville.
A few weeks before war’s end a Squadron of Mosquitos and a new Beaufighter Squadron operated from Labuan.
It was not generally known by the public that about 25 ships were sunk on the east coast of Australia down to Bass Strait, and of course there was the midget submarine attack in Sydney Harbour.
Avro Ansons were used on sea patrols of our sea lanes from Laverton, Richmond and Western Australia.
EMPIRE TRAINING SCHEME
First mooted in 1936 by British and Empire politicians, but did not get approval until October 1939. The main participants being Great Britain, Canada, Rhodesia, New Zealand, South Africa and of course Australia.
It was a grandiose organization and it turned out tens of thousands of aircrew and ground staff that supported them.
From Australia’s viewpoint we were expected to set up 12 elementary flying training schools (Tiger Moths), 8 advanced flying training schools (Oxfords, Ansons and Wirraways) and 11 schools to teach navigation, wireless, air gunnery and bomb aiming (Fairy Battles and Ansons). Britain supplied most of the aircraft but some Tigers and Wirraways were made here by de Havilland and Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation the latter supplying about 700.
The logisticts were unbelievable, as airfields had to be set up and with our vast open plains we opened up at Benalla, Tocumwal, Narrandera, Cootamundra, Parkes, Narromine to name just a few.
We had to recruit teachers as maths and physics in particular, were necessary, ground crew to service aircraft, tradesmen of all types, cooks etc.
Many men holding civil pilot’s licences and permanent Air Force officers were the nucleus for pilot training.
After strict medical, aircrew started off at initial training schools such as Somers, Bradfield Park in Sydney and Victor Harbour in South Australia where after two months of intensive academic training they were categorised as to whether they were to be pilots, navigators or wireless air gunners. The latter would go off to the relevant schools, pilots and navigators would do another 4 weeks to learn about navigation etc.
Pilots would go to EFTS for two months on Tigers and then onto SFTS for four months on Wirraways or Ansons or Oxfords before gaining their wings and then off to OTU, or train as an instructor or be a staff pilot to fly at other training schools. Navigators would go to navigation schools such as Mount Gambier and then on to OTU’s for crewing up for operations.
Some aircrew were fully trained in Australia, but many completed EFTS and then went to Canada, Rhodesia or Britain and then on to squadrons.
Our Air Force at war’s end had a total number of 180,000 men and women, air and ground crew, and with a population of 7,000000, I have read that we had the fourth largest Air Force in the world after U.S.A., Russia and Britain. Our crews served all over the world and regrettably we lost 10,562 souls, many during training.
To get an idea of training losses one has only to view the Mildura cemetery and see over 60 graves of young men killed flying single or two seat aircraft, and visit the RAAF Memorial at Bairnsdale (opposite the RSL) where the names of the many who were lost at the airfields of Bairnsdale, West and East Sale. Many more names here as larger aircraft used such as Hudsons and Beauforts.
It certainly was a mammoth task by all concerned and I am very proud to have been a very small part of it.
Polaroid photos were taken of the cowling of A29-806 Kittyhawk of 77 Squadron.
This aircraft was classed unserviceable at Jacki Jacki airstrip near Bamaga Mission when being ferried back from the Pacific Islands. It was the aircraft flown by then Flight Sergeant pilot Wilkinson, Kenneth who was later commissioned in field No. 431527.
Polaroid photo loaned to me at time by Bryan Head.
This post was compiled from historical materials provided by Lesley C. Gent, OAM, Historian and Archivist, No. 77 Squadron Branch for the Air Force 100 Project.
Prepared for the UON’s Hunter Living Histories by Gionni Di Gravio, OAM.
Air Force 100 Project: No. 77 Squadron Histories category link https://hunterlivinghistories.com/category/air-force-100/
For further information: Email Lesley Gent, Historian and Archivist, 77 Squadron firstname.lastname@example.org