JAMES H MITCHELL
FLIGHT SERGEANT JAMES MITCHELL
In the last week of January 1944, after five tedious days on a troop train from Spencer Street Station to Townsville, I finally arrived at Garbut Airfield.
Colin Cox and I travelled together with a thousand others, and although the conditions were cramped and the speed of the train ridiculously slow, it did not worry us. We were both excited to see, after all our training, our aim to be involved in the war was about to eventuate.
I had been fortunate on the trip up! After we changed trains at Albury, because of the different gauge lines, a big chap in our carriage spent a considerable time making himself a hammock from army blankets, only to find when it was finished he was too big to fit in it. I spent four very comfortable nights in this hammock, while the rest of the boys tried to sleep on the floor, the seats, and even the luggage racks.
Next morning at Garbut, Col and I were told we would be joining 84 Squadron at Horn Island within the week. We did not know where the island was located, and when we found out we were disappointed it was so far away from any action against the Japanese. Never the less it was a great feeling to think that at least we would belong to a Fighter Squadron. We were the last two pilots to be posted to the squadron before its temporary disbandment later in the year, we arrived on the island in the first week of February 1944.
The Squadron was flying P40 N5s, an aircraft the Americans produced to combat the Japanese Zero. The N series Kitty Hawks were 2ft 2ins longer, sleeker, and more powerful than those we had been flying at Mildura. The N5 had no “blind” flying instruments, and was therefore considerably lighter than all the other models, but was still too heavy to compete with the Zero. It should never have been produced, as all it had besides the essential instruments, (air speed, altimeter, fuel and temperature gauges etc) was a bat and ball indicator, and was a real death trap in bad weather. The bat showed the rate of turn, and the ball the slip or skid.
In early March I finally attained my ambition in life, when I was handed a form stating that I had been allocated an aircraft – A29-514 LB-P. My own plane! I had dreamt about this since I was 16. I was still only 19 years of age and when I read that the plane had cost the Australian Government £15,000 in 1943 on a lend-lease basis, (a fortune at the time) I really felt important and I had accomplished something.
I soon found out that my aircraft (P for PONZELBERRY) was the worst plane in the squadron. Flying straight and level the bat showed a rate one turn to starboard – after three consecutive slow rolls the engine would cut out for a few seconds and frighten hell out of me. It was also very easy to do a high speed stall and flip at 120 MPH in a steep turn. The only excuse that could be made for its faults, was the hammering it took in October 1943. Prior to that month the squadron had Boomerangs, but as they proved unsatisfactory for operational flying it changed to Kitty Hawks. At the time only one Kitty Hawk had been delivered to the squadron, and all the pilots carried out their conversion in that plane – it was A29-514. (Poor old PONZ). Just the same, I was proud that it was mine, and it never really let me down.
The first month of flying from Horn Island was pretty monotonous. We carried out shipping patrols, convoy escort duties, and I was sent out a couple of times to identify ships. The majority of the pilots were very young, and would do anything for a bit of excitement. At the end of many flights we would indulge in a line astern chase before returning to base. I always flew at No 4 and in trying to keep up, particularly if it was a prolonged session, would often blackout 2 or 3 times. I am quite sure the pressure on my head through these follow the leader stunts damaged my ears, and was the main reason for my loss of hearing and vertigo. Of course, I realise the noise from the 1300 HP engine in front of me was also a factor.
Our Commanding Officer, Wing Commander Phil Ford left the squadron at the end of February, and Squadron Leader “Sandy” McCulloch took over as boss.
On March 8 there was great excitement in the camp as we were told the squadron was moving to Darwin. Although we were given very little information, it was obvious that the matter was urgent, as we were to fly out the next day. Later, we learned the reason for this sudden move. Allied Intelligence had been informed that a Japanese Task Force had left Singapore and was going to attack Perth. This seemed unbelievable because of the great distance between the two places, but when a reconnaissance aircraft sent out from Darwin to investigate failed to return, the panic button was pushed.
The two Spitfire Squadrons No 452 and No 457 stationed at Darwin were sent to Perth, and we were to be the fighter squadron to cover the area they were leaving. The Spitfires struck terrible weather on the way down the west coast. Alternate dust and drenching tropical rains accompanied by high winds made flying difficult. One Spitfire crashed at Carnarvon while another had a forced landing at Gingin. We set off early Mar 9, and our only stop was to be at Gove which is situated on the other side of the Gulf of Carpentaria from our island – at the north-east tip of Arnhem Land. We had only been travelling a short time when we encountered bad weather, heavy rain and a low cloud base.
The CO persisted on course far too long, as the weather showed no signs of improvement and we just went on and on, and of course eventually had to turn back. We estimated our position to be about halfway across the gulf (200 miles out) when this happened. The next day we set off again at an early hour, and flew down the coast a little before heading out across the water. This time the weather became even worse than the previous day, and we finished up in a tropical rain storm flying about 50 feet above the water, 24 planes line abreast. It was practically impossible to see anything ahead of us.
We arrived back at Horn Island after having flown for nearly three hours, and discovered the “Paddy” Walsh was missing. He must have crashed into the sea, but visibility was so bad that no pilot actually saw it happen.
The morale among the boys was pretty low. We finally made the trip on March 13 with the assistance of a Beaufort (medium bomber with of course a navigator on board) as escort to Gove. The flight from Horn Island to Gove took 2 hours 45 minutes, and from Gove to Darwin (Livingstone Strip) 2 hours 20 minutes.
Livingstone Strip was approximately 30 miles south of Darwin alongside the main highway, and was the base for 457 Squadron (Spitfires) who had left for Perth several days earlier. We slept in 457 Squadron’s tents and used all their facilities.
The set up was totally different to Horn Island. All the tents were together with the amenities in the centre. On the island our tents were scattered well apart throughout the trees and scrub for safety reasons. I forgot to mention before, but at Horn Island I shared a tent with Colin Cox and Jim Mulavey, a young married chap from NSW.
The information regarding the Japanese Task Force was incorrect, and we only stayed 10 days in the Darwin area before returning home to our Horn Island base. During that period I carried out 3 sector reconnaissance, did a little shadow shooting and strafing and like the rest of the boys was glad to leave the place.
Our main concern with the area was the kunai grass which was over 6 feet high, and there being no land marks (hills and valleys). If a pilot had to crash land or bale out, he would be battling to find his way back to civilisation. It probably sounds stupid, but flying around the Horn Island area we always felt reasonably safe. If we landed in the water we had our dinghy, and the shark repellent when used dyed the sea for quite an area a bright yellow. This was a great marker for the air-sea rescue boys.
We left Livingstone Strip on 23rd March 1944, a day I will never forget, one that had such an effect on my life that I have really never been able to get over it.
The flight from Darwin to Gove took 2 hours 50 minutes and was quite uneventful, although because of a strong head wind took considerably longer than expected. At Gove our fuel tanks were topped up, and just after midday we left to fly across the Gulf. The wind had subsided and we were looking forward to a smooth trip. The distance to Horn Island was a little over 400 miles, a fair stretch of water for a single engine aircraft. We were flying at between 2000 and 3000 feet, in two lines of aircraft 12 abreast, and a comfortable distance apart. The front line was flying slightly higher than the rear, and the distance between the two lines was 100 yards or more.
I was flying per usual at No 4 in the middle group of the rear line. We had been flying approximately 35 minutes when we were suddenly enveloped in what appeared to be a thick haze. The CO immediately instructed us to close formation, switch on our navigation lights, and climb above what he thought was haze or fog. Within seconds we were in thick cloud, and the last thing I heard over the R/T was somebody say (and it was definitely not the CO) “every man for himself”. It was a strange sensation, I was engulfed in a white mass, like cotton wool, unable to see any part of the outside of my aircraft, and very quickly lost my sense of balance. I was totally disorientated and leaning heavily against the right hand side of the cockpit. My main concern was that I would collide with another aircraft, and was most upset to think I was going to die without even seeing a Japanese.
I increased throttle and tried to concentrate on two things. Firstly, to keep the airspeed well above stalling speed, but below 200 MPH. If I could do that, I knew I would be climbing. Secondly, because of poor old Ponz’s defect, I had to keep the bat showing a rate one turn to starboard. I seemed to be completely paralysed and was unable to move my right shoulder away from that side of the cockpit. In the end I gave up trying.
My final sensation was that of floating through space – I couldn’t hear anything – I couldn’t feel my hand on the control column or my feet on the rudder pedals. But just the same the indicator did not budge off the rate one turn to starboard, and my airspeed seemed to remain constant on I think about 150-160 MPH.
I remained in that position for what appeared an eternity, and although it was only minutes I felt mentally exhausted. Then suddenly I was above the cloud, all alone, but extremely relieved. A few seconds after another Kitty appeared about a mile or so away – it was Keith Hayes. The cloud we had flown through was over 15,000 feet thick, and our concern at the time was how low it was over the water and of course how quickly it might be extending across the gulf.
We circled the area at about 18,000 feet for several minutes, hoping more planes would get through. This did not eventuate, so we headed west towards Arnhem Land praying that the weather below would clear, and we would be able to make it back to Gove. I was absolutely petrified at the thought of having to descend through the cloud, and made up my mind that I would bale out as soon as I was sure we were over land.
Fortunately this did not have to happen, as 6 to 7 minutes after turning back I saw a small gap in the cloud, and with great relief the sea below. We had to descend at a very steep angle (approx. 70°) and were concerned that the cloud might close in on us. We came out into the open about 1500 feet and as far as we could see that appeared to be the cloud base. After a little over 25 minutes, flying at 1000 feet we reached the coastline, and I immediately turned to starboard (North) Keith started to turn south but quickly changed his mind. I knew that when we ran out of land it would be easy to back track to Gove.
Within just a few minutes we sighted the strip, and on landing were rather surprised to see the rest of the squadron had arrived before us. There were 21 Kitty Hawks, all parked inline that had landed some 10 to 15 minutes earlier, and the boys were waiting around anxiously hoping that we would make it back. They knew that Jack Edmonds had come out of the cloud in a spiral dive and gone straight into the water, and thought the same fate may have happened to Keith and I.
What had actually occurred when we flew into what the CO and all of us thought was just thick haze, and only seconds later realised our mistake – was that half the pilots immediately descended in a fairly sedate and uniform manner, and of course came out of the cloud at 1500 feet. The rest like Keith and myself concentrated to climb above it, as there were no instructions given to do otherwise. Except for the two of us, aircraft were seen diving out of the cloud at all angles, obviously out of control. The CO was actually in a spin, but had sufficient height to recover. However, Jack Edmonds, his No 2, followed a little later in a spiral dive, but was not so lucky.
I slept soundly that night as the blind flying had taken a lot out of me. I think the main thing about the incident that affected me so much, was going into the cloud with all the aircraft so close together, and of not knowing what was going on, and I suppose you could say the fear of the unknown.
The next day 24 March 1944 (my father’s 45th birthday) we were all relieved when informed that a Beaufort would again escort us across the Gulf. We took off mid-morning in perfect weather, the direct flight from Gove to Horn Island taking 2 hours 40 minutes. As far as our squadron was concerned the whole exercise had taken 15 days, and in the end was unnecessary and achieved nothing. It had cost the RAAF two pilots (two aircraft) and Australia two fine young men.
From the time we returned to the Island until the Squadron’s disbandment at Townsville on the 26th May 1944, the incident in the cloud was never mentioned. I think the feeling was it would only embarrass the pilots, who in those frightening few minutes lost control.
So, to this day I do not know who they were, and would not want to know.
I was posted to 77 Squadron in June, based on Los Negros Island in the Admiralty Islands.
On 8 July 1944 I flew one of 77 Squadron’s P40M’s (A29-384) from Momote Strip, Los Negros Island, to Port Moresby. Flight time 2 hours 45 minutes.
I picked up a brand new P40N30 (A29-904) and flew it back to Momote Strip on 13 July 1944.
I spent the afternoon of Sunday 9 July at the Officer’s Club – I had to borrow some Flying Officer’s epaulettes for the day.
FLIGHT SERGEANT JIM MITCHELL
In the three years and 11 months I was with the RAAF during World War II, October 12, 1944 was one day I will never forget.
As a fighter pilot with 77 Squadron operating from Noemfoor Island, Dutch New Guinea, I was rostered to go on a water-craft sweep of the Maccluer Gulf (now Telub Berau) area. Noemfoor Island in size is approximately 16 miles N/S by 11 miles E/W and is situated in the northern part of Geelvink Bay. (now Teluk Cenderawasik). We were based at Kamiri air strip on the North West coast of the island, one degree south of the equator.
The squadron was flying Kittyhawk P40 N25s and N30s and on this particular day I was to fly A29-904 (an N30). I was looking forward to flying this aircraft, as I had picked it up brand new at Port Moresby on July 8, 1944. I flew it back to Los Negros Island where the squadron was based at the time.
Only two aircraft were to go on this mission, and I would be flying No 2 to the Flight Commander, Flight Lieutenant Ken Milne. This was to be my fifth operational sortie for the month – flying No 2 to Ken each time. Ken Milne and Bill Miller, also a Flight Lieutenant, shared the honour of being the oldest pilots in the squadron – at least 29. Ken was very experienced, having been an instructor on Wirraways for over 2 years before his posting to Mildura for operational training. He was a little aloof, although this was understandable as he was with a bunch of young pilots who at times were hard to control. I enjoyed flying with him, mainly because he was a very stable person, and the type I needed to keep me in check, and stop me from doing anything stupid.
The reason for these water-craft sweeps was to insure that no supplies, food or ammunition, reached the numerous Japanese locations that had been cut off. The Americans, in their devastating advance, had bypassed so many strongly held positions, that Japan’s task of helping them was becoming increasingly difficult.
For this particular mission we carried two 250 pound bombs and a 75 US gallon belly-tank. We took off from Kamiri at 0900 hours, crossing Geelvink Bay in a SSW direction, and reached the mainland some 40 miles south of Moemi. It was just a short distance across the isthmus, 15 miles, to the Gulf.
Maccluer Gulf runs in an East West direction with Bentoni Bay at the east end. The total area is about 125 miles long, and width, varying between 12 and 35 miles.
We were flying at 2000 feet and had only travelled a short distance along the north coast when Ken spotted a Japanese water-craft berthed in a small inlet alongside a high embankment. It was heavily camouflaged and probably some type of barge.
I was annoyed with myself because I would have flown right past it. In fact, it was not until Ken went in and strafed the thing, that I saw it. The camouflage was a totally different colour to the surrounding terrain.
Ken gave it a fairly long burst, and it appeared to catch fire. However, what I though was smoke was only dust, caused by some of his shells hitting the embankment.
I followed him in and gave the object a similar burst. Ken seemed satisfied that we had done enough damage, so we continued flying West along the coast.
I should mention that the Kittyhawk had 3 X .5inch Browning guns in each wing. It was great for strafing – a wonderful platform for the six guns.
To assist the pilots, every fifth shell was a tracer, and the other four were a mixture of armour piercing, explosive and incendiary. The firing rate of each gun was 350 to 400 rounds per minute.
We flew to the mouth of the Gulf which joins the Ceram Sea, and then south around Cape Fatagan to check on shipping in the small harbour of Fakfak.
Anti-aircraft fire started before we were anywhere near within range. I think it was just scare tactics by the Japanese.
We had no intentions of strafing or bombing the place. There was no airstrip at Fakfak, and the terrain is very mountainous. Plenty of strategic places to have concealed guns, and definitely not worth the risk of being shot down.
There was no shipping in the harbour, so we turned back and went around the Cape again, flying east along the south coast of the Gulf.
I knew Ken had made up his mind to bomb the airstrips at Babo, and it was not long before we started climbing.
At this time I switched from using fuel from my belly tank to one of the main tanks. There is no fuel gauge for the belly tank and I was never game to let it run dry. The normal thing to do, when this happened, was to quickly turn the selector to another tank, and switch on the fuel booster pump. Even with this pump assistance I feared the engine might not pick up. I suppose I always had my prang at Mildura in the back of my mind.
Babo was the biggest oil producing area in New Guinea, Dutch New Guinea and Ceram, and as far as Japan and the Allies were concerned an important place. There was still a large number of Japanese in this location, and the only way to stop supplies getting to them, besides the regular water-craft sweeps, was to keep the two airstrips unserviceable with constant bombing. Even so, it was amazing how quickly they repaired the damage we did, and the odd plane was able to land and take off between our visits.
The airfield area was quite large, with the main airstrip running approximately north/south, and towards the southern end of this strip crossed by a shorter one running east/west.
There were several dummy aircraft parked at the eastern end of the airfield. From above 3000 feet they look real, and were there to entice us to fly low and strafe them. The township of Babo was close by also on the eastern side – on the Kasiro River which runs into the Gulf.
We arrived over the target area at 1050 hours flying at 10,000 feet. Because of the relatively safe height, and knowing that every Jap in the area would be watching us, I felt very smug and cocky. But I knew that at the end of my dive, when I was close to the ground, I would feel pretty tense.
The bombing procedure in a P40, was to dive vertically with the nose of the aircraft pointing at the target. It was essential that there was no slip or skid in the dive. The black ball had to be in the centre. Just before releasing the bombs (at about 6000 feet) the nose had to be raised a fraction to just cover the target. As soon as you released the bombs you pulled away still in a dive, and left the area as quickly as possible, keeping at a minimum height, until well out of the range of any guns.
Ken was obviously working out the position to dive from, so that towards the end he would be diving down-sun and break starboard away from the town.
From the time we left Kamiri we had both observed radio silence. I had not spoken a word, but over the target area I was genuinely concerned that we would be going too fast in the dive to retain the belly-tanks. So I quickly asked if we were going to drop them He told me to “shut up”, and then immediately went into his dive. This upset me because I knew I was right, and that we would be exceeding the safety limit for any auxiliary tank.
One of Ken’s bombs exploded half-way down the main runway plumb in the centre, and the other, also on the strip a little to one side. I rated the effort 9 out of 10, but I was bloody snooty with him, and determined to do better. I aimed where the two runways crossed, and to make sure of a good result, went below 5000 feet before releasing the bombs. It was perfect bombing, one big explosion in the middle of the crossing.
In my excitement I broke away to port instead of starboard, and if I had continued in the direction I was going would have flown straight over the township. I was still in a steep dive when tracers came streaming past me from a gun that was literally out in the open. I was going too fast and was unable to get into a position to return fire. I just could not believe my good luck. The few times I had encountered A/A fire I was unable to pin point where the guns were, as they were so well concealed. This gun was about 60 to 70 yards from the western boundary of the airfield, under a flimsy piece of camouflage. It may have been set up in what was once a tin shed, there was no roof but a low galvanised iron wall.
I called out to Ken that I knew where the bastards were, and to follow me in. It was a rather stupid thing to say, as there were probably only three or four Japanese at the most with the gun. I did a wide turn to Port, keeping my eyes riveted on the gun position. I gave myself plenty of space, and came in from just over 1000 feet parallel with the airfield boundary, in a shallow dive. I was well out of range when the gun started firing at me, and at the same time I reckon every Jap who had a gun started firing at me from the scrub and trees along the boundary. There were tracers and puffs of white smoke coming up everywhere. I could not believe it.
Of course I realised I was set up, but although the Japs in the open were the decoy, and prepared to sacrifice their lives, I am quite sure they thought they could shoot me down without the help of the others. I had to concentrate on the one gun, and even when I was pouring shells into it, for a moment their shells still came back at me. I just about flew through the camouflage.
I was immediately thinking of exterminating all the others who had been firing at me.
Even though they had not shot me down, they knew they had given me a terrible fright. I am certain they did not expect me to return a third time. I flew straight up the boundary fence about 50 feet. I did not see any movement at all, but I knew they were there. I came across several small buildings, and open areas among the trees. I gave them all a burst. All through this effort by me, Ken Milne had been circling at 8000 feet.
I should mention at this stage, that it was an unwritten rule, when either bombing or strafing you only made the one run. With the situation I found myself in I felt I did the correct thing, but of course I was in the wrong!
Whatever it was, Ken decided to go to two additional places.
We flew to Idore, which is situated between Maccluer Gulf and Geelvink Bay. RAAF Intelligence had informed us that there was an R/T station operating in the area. Ken selected the building he thought was the station, and we each made a strafing run.
We then flew up the coast to Moemi, to destroy a fuel dump he had noted on a previous visit. There were 40 to 50 x 44 gallon drums stacked neatly in a small clearing.
He sent me in first, but I had exhausted my ammunition supply, so he had the pleasure of destroying the dump. There was heavy black smoke with the flames, and it was obviously diesel fuel.
It was only a short flight across the bay to Noemfoor Island (about 60 miles) the mission had taken us 3 hours and 20 minutes. When we landed the first thing I asked Ken was why he did not follow me in at Babo. He simply said he called out to me to steady down, and that black smoke was coming from my plane, and he thought I had been hit.
I was a little embarrassed because I knew I had left the mixture control in fully rich, but did not realise black smoke was coming from the exhausts. The Japanese must have also thought they had scored a hit.
At the debriefing the Army Intelligence Officer, Captain John Gill, and our own Intelligence Officer Flying Officer Harry Sullivan were only interested in hearing from me. I cannot remember what was said but no doubt I had plenty to relate. Later in the afternoon a Flight Rigger asked me to have a look at my plane. It had been hit by an explosive shell near the leading edge of the port wing, close to the fuselage. From the angle the shell went through the wing it missed the belly-tank by about 3 feet. If it had hit the tank I would have been history!
Ken was shot down over Moemi 18 October 1944 and picked up by the Yanks (Catalina) 24 hours later. He was able to head out to sea before baling out. In the photograph he is standing in front of his tent with his inflatable dinghy.
For the remainder of my tour with 77 Squadron I flew No 2 to Wing Commander Dick Cresswell. It was a great experience for me, flying with “The Boss”. He was the Wing Commander in charge of 81 Fight Wing, which consisted of 76, 77 and 82 Squadrons.
INSTRUCTORS COURSE – On Airspeed Oxfords
On 25 October 1944 Doug disappeared somewhere in the Vogelcop area of Dutch New Guinea. (Bird’s Head Peninsula) His plane was never found. He was the second most experienced pilot in the Squadron (off 2 Course)
In October 1944 the Wing lost 15 aircraft and 12 pilots were killed.
During World War II the Dutch Government issued to all Allied Aircrew Personnel operating in the Dutch New Guinea area, a card with a picture of Queen Wilhelmina on the front and instructions on the back, with an official letter. Warrant Officer Jim Mitchell received this card (with letter) when flying from Noemfoor Island with 77 Fighter Squadron in the latter part of 1944. The instructions were also written in Malay.
- The white man holding this paper is a friend of our Government
- His plane has crashed and you must look after him so that he reaches safety
- He is not able to ask in Malay for everything he needs, so you must anticipate his wants.
- Bring drinking water and drinking coconuts.
- Give him food such as fowls, eggs, bananas, paw paws and other suitable foods.
- Hide this white man and keep his presence a secret. The Japanese must not learn of his whereabouts.
- If he is unable to walk make a stretcher and carry him.
- Let one man take the Government’s letter to the village chief.
- The white man will sign and give you a paper, and when the Government returns you will be given a good reward in exchange for this paper
THESE ARE THE INSTRUCTIONS OF THE GOVERNMENT AND YOU MUST OBEY THEM
The Sunraysia Daily of Tuesday October 26, 1993 page 2 carries an article about Jim Mitchell and his return to the scene of his water landing. A copy of the article is held in the No. 77 Association Archive file.
TIM MITCHELL’S SCHOOL PROJECT
TERM 1 (2004)
Jim Mitchell’s youngest grandson wrote this piece whilst a student at Scotch College in Melbourne.
He is photographed wearing his school cadets’ uniform in 2004.
During the last two years of World War Two the Royal Australian Air Force had nine fighter squadrons operating in the South West Pacific area. There are 24 aircraft (24 pilots) in a squadron and 3 Squadrons working together are called a fighter wing.
Most Squadrons had two or three extra aircraft and two or three extra pilots. The nine fighter Squadrons were divided into two Kittyhawk fighter wings and one Spitfire fighter wing.
Spitfires were not really suited for flying in the terrain of New Guinea region as they had an overheating problem, eg at one stage on Los Negros Island 70 Squadron (Spitfires) only had 9 serviceable planes – mainly because of this problem.
Neither the Kittyhawk nor Spitfire could compete against the Japanese Zero in a “dog Fight”. The Zero had no armour plating and was a very light aircraft and very manoeuvrable. There were no enemy fighters as fast as a Kittyhawk in a dive, so the tactics were always to get above the enemy and dive at him.
On straight and level flying the Kittyhawk and Spitfire were probably faster. Whilst US Command got on with the job of retaking the Philippines, the Kittyhawk squadrons were relegated to mopping up and back up activities only. Because of this decision they were converted to fighter-bombers:
- vertical dive-bombing in a Kittyhawk was very accurate
- the heaviest load they could handle was 3X 500lb bombs
- carried out watercraft sweeps and bombed Japanese installations that the Americans had bypassed.
Seating arrangements in a fighter plane consisted of a folded parachute with a rubber dinghy pack interposed between the pilot and the soft chute. Included in the dinghy pack was a metal cylinder of compressed gas to enable the dinghy to be inflated when required.
Another essential part of a pilot’s equipment, whilst not as uncomfortable as the dinghy, was the “Mae West”. The main reason for this, which was worn around the neck and chest, was as a flotation aid in the event of a descent into the sea. It also acted as a receptacle for items of escape/survival gear.
Survival Gear: Emergency rations, waterproof matches, compass, whistle, signalling mirror, razor blades, local currency, water purification tablets and “pep” pills. When coupled with water bottle, side arm, machete (strapped to the leg), oxygen mask, plus protective gear in case of fire. Long trousers, sleeves and gloves, with a silk scarf doubling as a map, helmet, goggles and throat microphone. Pilots felt they were equipped to meet anything the enemy could throw at them. Watercraft sweeps were of 3, 4, sometimes 5 hours duration. Most painful on the rear end!
During WW11 (6 years) just under 6,000 Australians were categorised to be fighter pilots. Over one third did not pass the operational training course – of the total number 1,200 were killed.
Also donated by Jim and on file under MITCHELL – J H, are:
- a copy of the Casualty List for No 2 Operational Training Unit at Mildura the only school for training fighter pilots in Australia. It operated from April 1942 until the end of the war.
- The Sunraysia Daily of Tuesday October 26, 1993 page 2
- A copy of “77 & Friends” report for 2000
- Wing Commander R.C. Cresswell’s Obituary – Blue’s Memorial Bulletin February 2007
- Full details of the photograph on page 21 taken at Point Cook in 2002
- An article from the Melbourne Herald dated 24 December 1983 written by Jack Cannon of an incident that happen during WW2 on 23 October 1944 whilst he was an air gunner with Bomber Command.
WARRANT OFFICER JAMES HENRY MITCHELL
5 April 1924 – 27 June 2020
Jim enlisted in Melbourne 26 June 1942 aged 18.
By September 1943 he was training to be a fighter pilot at 2OTU at Mildura.
In late January 1944 he travelled by troop train, with thousands of others, from Spencer Street Station to Townsville and thence to Garbut Airfield.
From there he joined 84 Squadron on Horn Island before the Squadron moved back to Darwin pending an attack from the Japanese, then back to Horn Island ten days later.
In June 1944 Jim joined No. 77 Squadron based at the time on Los Negros Island.
He island hopped with them until November when he returned to Australia to the Central Flying School at Point Cook to do an instructor’s course graduating in February the following year.
The last four months of the war were spent at Deniliquin as Staff Instructor. Date of discharge 14 May 1946 from 38 Squadron.
Survived by his three children Judy, Beverley and Colin and loving grandfather & great grandfather.
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