The Squadron came into being at RAAF Station Richmond on Monday, 9th March 1942 - the day on which the Japanese executed Coast watcher P Good for reporting movements of their ships. That was also the day on which RAAF aircraft from Port Moresby made their first strike against Lae, which the Japanese had captured the previous day. The Japanese retaliated that night with an attack by 10 bombers but they inflicted little more damage than did the previous eight air raids.
THE BEGINNING OF
30 SQUADRON OPERATIONS
Flying Officer Robert Goodsir of the Special Duties Branch was the only officer on the Squadron's strength on foundation day, but Flight Lieutenant Cecil Cowley replaced him a week later. He was joined by Flying Officer Alex Spooner on 25th April and by Flying Officer John Mason on 22nd May: and a fortnight later that trio was joined by ten other officers of the General Duties Branch. 55 members of groundstaff musterings were posted in from No 2 Aircraft Depot at Richmond on the Squadron's foundation day and another 38 airmen followed the next day from other RAAF units.
As the Squadron had not received even one Beaufighter, there was very little work for the airmen to do within the unit. Nevertheless, the Station Warrant Officer found work for airmen arriving from beyond Richmond, for instance: he sent the incoming cooks and stewards to work in the Sergeants' Mess; carpenters to the Barracks Section; clerks to the Headquarters Orderly Room; aircraft hands to the Equipment Store; and wireless operators to the Station Signals Office. No 2AD retained the Squadron's flight riggers, flight mechanics, engineering, and airframe fitters as part of the Depot's work force for the time being.
Two of the first Beaufighters allotted to 30 Squadron were products of Bristol's factory at Filton. They arrived at the port of Sydney as crated deck cargo on 12th March 1942. The Department of Main Roads had to modify the superstructures of some bridges to permit the low loaders to negotiate the road out to Richmond. On 12th April, those two Beaufighters were delivered to No 2AD where the men - including those officially belonging to No 30 Squadron - had the difficult task of re-assembling an aircraft they had never seen or heard of before. A representative from Bristol was on hand to help them sort things out and create some order out of the confusion of sub-assemblies, parts, wiring harnesses, and mechanisms. Aircraft A19-2 was allotted to the Squadron on 15th June.
Aircrew and groundstaff arrived in increasing numbers during June and July and by August the Squadron personnel strength was close to its target. The establishment provided for 389 men in four flights:-
- 170 in Headquarters Flight,
- 79 in 'A' Flight,
- 79 in 'B' Flight, and
- 61 in Servicing Flight.
Many of the men came to the Squadron straight from their technical training courses: for instance, Ken Golledge arrived from Ascot Vale immediately after completing his training as a flight mechanic, Don Angus arrived from Point Cook immediately after completing his training as a WT operator and Alwyn Green arrived immediately after completing his training as a flight rigger at No 1 Engineering School. To familiarise all the technical airmen with the Beaufighter's features, many fitters were sent to complete a 'secret' course on the Hercules engine, while others were sent to learn about the Beaufighter airframe. Other airmen underwent No 1 Beaufighter Conversion Course held within 30 Squadron at Richmond.
The Squadron establishment provided for 13 commissioned pilots, 12 airmen pilots and 24 NCO navigators. Peter Fisken was the first NCO observer to arrive on 1 June. The following day nine others arrived from No 22 Squadron, which was also based at Richmond and was being re-equipped with A20 Bostons. On 3 June 8 commissioned pilots arrived after having completed a conversion course at No 1 Operational Training Unit at Sale, including Squadron Leaders Walker and Read, and Flight Lieutenants Uren and Little.
In July, Beaufort A9-79 , fitted with dual controls, was temporarily allotted from No 1 Aircraft Depot to No 30 Squadron for pilot training at Richmond. By that time the Squadron had received a number of Beaufighters flown in from that Depot. During June, Brian Walker, Dick Roe, John Mason, John Miles and 'Handlebars' Ellis (of the RAF), made delivery flights to the Squadron. By mid-year the Squadron was equipped with its complement of 24 aircraft.
Flight Lieutenant Bruce Rose, who had flown Beaufighters during operations in Britain, and Flight Lieutenant 'Handlebars' Ellis, an experienced Royal Air Force Beaufighter pilot, assisted in the conversions of Squadron pilots - as well as providing a conversion-to-type for the Station Commander at Richmond - Group Captain 'Paddy' Heffernan. Some of the pilots had flown Blenheims or Beaufighters overseas but others had flown only Avro Ansons or Airspeed Oxfords so that flying the heavier and more complex Beaufighter was a major experience.
"I'm not telling any lies"
said Jim Wilson
"when I say that I saw a number of shaking and white-faced pilots after their first flight in a Beaufighter”.
The more capable pilots were frequently pestered by groundstaff who, never having been up in any kind of aircraft before, wanted a flight in a Beaufighter. Sergeant Wally Bell, an engine fitter, went with Des Moran-Hilford who was doing local night flying in A19-6 on 21st July, but could see very little of the Hawkesbury district because of the brown-out. Bruce Robertson went with George Sayer who took a Beaufighter at tree-top height along the Hawkesbury, following every bend in the river, and fired his weapons at a marker dropped in the sea. Bruce was exhilarated by the low-level flight but nearly jumped out of his skin when the four cannons near his feet were fired.
For the first two years of its existence, No 30 Squadron was equipped with the British-built Beaufighter 1C - a variant produced for Coastal Command operations. It was a mid-wing, twin engine, two-seater aircraft 12.70 metres long, 4.82 metres high, and with a wingspan of 17.63 metres, it incorporated light alloy extrusions and had a flush-riveted all-metal stressed skin (with the exception of the elevator and rudder which had fabric coverings over metal frames). The cantilever-type metal wings had detachable tips and accommodated the power plants. The engine mountings and the main units of the undercarriage were of steel forgings and tubes; those main units were of Vickers design. They were fitted with tyres 106 cm in diameter and were retracted backwards into the engine nacelles by a single hydraulic jack. The tail unit was merely a fork accommodating a tyre-mounted wheel, which could be retracted forwards into a well.
The power plant consisted of two 1670 hp Bristol Hercules XVIII radial engines, each being of a two-row, 14 cylinder, air-cooled, sleeve valve design incorporated a single-stage supercharger, two-speed impeller, a pair of magnetos, a float-operated Hobson carburettor with twin air intakes and an electrical starting system. The three-bladed constant-speed Hydromatic airscrews were 3.38 metres in diameter, and had a clockwise rotation (viewed from the front), which in later models one could feather.
Until the advent of the Hercules radials, none of the Squadron's engineering staff had come across a sleeve valve aero engine before, and their general unfamiliarity with the aircraft and its components brought the inevitable teething problems. For instance, on 4th July only five aircraft were usable, the remaining 11 being unserviceable. At the end of that month, 13 of the Squadron's 24 aircraft were unserviceable.
Although the Bristol representative at Richmond alerted the groundstaff to the possibility of finding metal fragments in the oil filters, these were seldom found and they reasoned that this was because of the particular design for the operation of the sleeve valves - which were single sleeves rather than double sleeves. Nevertheless, these engines that had been designed in England, weren't performing too well in the different climatic conditions prevalent in Australia.
An engine fitter - George Dusting - believed that the source of the trouble lay in the fuel system.
"The engines had a very complex carburetion system involving master control by a very beautifully made and intricate piece of machinery,"
"Instead of the more common system of butterflies, those Hobson carburettors had a system of cams whose adjustment was very critical. I eventually found the exact settings and we had no more trouble on that score."
The Squadron's work-up to operational status included circuits and bumps, formation flying, weapons exercises, and cross-country flights and was not without incident. Doug Langusch and Norm Greasley were killed when A19-12 crashed just north of Melbourne: Bill Willard and Ralph Nelson made a forced landing at Bourke when the starboard engine of A19-13 seized up: Earl Wild and Col Harvey experienced the drama of a power flick-roll and a series of violent 5G pullouts in A19-2, because of incorrect speed readings when the pitot tube iced up: Ted Jones and Eric Richardson were in A19-7 which was badly damaged after doing a ground-loop during a takeoff on 17th July: Col Campbell and Jim Yeatman made a crash landing in A19-17 at Richmond because of an undercarriage failure; Bob Brazenor and Fred Anderson got to the stage of discussing bailing-out during a night flight from Jervis Bay in bad weather and thick low cloud which made for uncertainty about their position.
Morning fogs at Richmond interfered with flying activities to some extent during the winter of 1942, but the cold and wet weather had a greater impact on the health of the Squadron personnel. Morning sick parades were relatively well attended - with increased attendances every Tuesday, the day of the Station Commander's formal parade and march-past. However the men were treated for only minor complaints. During four months the Station Sick Quarters saw less than twenty Squadron members admitted. These included Roger Passfield, Athol Hewitt, Wally Byles, CharIie Devlin, Jack Williams, Caesar O'Connor and Dan Smith. Fortunately, Dan was discharged in time to get across to Mount Gambier for his marriage to Alice Watson about a fortnight before the Squadron moved north.
The majority of the groundstaff were single. They possessed the inclinations and interests of young and healthy males. Naturally, they were glad to get away from the Station's military environment, many of them patronised the local dances, racecourses, hotels and cinemas. The night after they arrived at Richmond, Russ Foster and two other armourers from Uranquinty went to Windsor's Regent Theatre to see 'Confirm or Deny' in which a brave Don Ameche survived enemy bombs and blitzkreig. Wirth's Circus was also in the district but not too many airmen could find six shillings for the entrance fee. However, some of them were able to afford a few pence for a glass of beer, and for this they went across the road to the Clarendon Hotel. Here the bar was presided over by the wig-wearing Ma Tunnel, who later married 30 Squadron messman Robert Burchall. Woe betide anyone caught there without a leave pass by Warrant Officer Leach, the Station WOD, the more so if he were caught during working hours. Police Constables Hunt and Brooks saw that the landlord observed the licensing regulations, but they didn't seem overly concerned by the numerous men in uniform who were doing business with the SP bookmaker in the Hotel Fitzroy.
Because of the lack of work within the unit during the first month, airmen who had credits on their leave cards had no difficulty in getting approval to go home. For the period of their absence their pay books were credited with a living-out allowance in lieu of being provided with sustenance while in barracks. The rate of one shilling and ninepence a day as Ration Allowance and a further eightpence a day as Special Allowance. Airmen who were granted leave and paid those allowances included Corporal Gunton and LACs Cather, Crouch, Dorrington, Foster, Hall, Pink, Taylor and Watson.
Quite a few of the navigators posted to the Squadron had just finished their training and had just been promoted to sergeant rank. After living in airmens' barracks and mess halls for over twelve months, they welcomed the facilities of the Sergeants' Mess at Richmond: a furnished single room, a pleasant dining room, a spacious ante-room and a bar - although that wasn't of great interest to young Fred Cassidy whose alcoholic consumption to date might have totalled two glasses of beer.
Other NCO aircrew were not quite so temperate. On Saturdays, some of them - including Peter Fisken, Harry Suthons, Danny Box, Arthur Jaggs and Archie Mairet - caught the train from Clarendon into Sydney where they gathered at the Long Bar of the Hotel Australia for a convivial afternoon session. There were convivial evenings in the Sergeants' Mess at Richmond too. At a games night shortly before the Beaufighter unit left Richmond, Warrant Officer Ted Good led his Squadron team to a win against the Aircraft Depot team led by Flight Sergeant Jack Cameron. The contests included billiards, snooker, darts, shove-halfpenny and high-cock-alorum.
During the Squadron's work-up period at Richmond, twelve members took marriage vows; these included Bill Schofield, Albert Clarke, Daniel Smith, Alec Spooner, Ron Downing, Frank Sawtell and Jim Chirgwin. Jim married Muriel Ford just two days before joining the Squadron, but Air Force authorities did the right thing and while he was serving at Kiriwina, arranged for him to go back to Sydney on what was called 21 days Honeymoon Leave, enjoyed, even though 15 months late.
There weren't too many opportunities for Air Force personnel to mix with civilians in the Richmond area, who, in any case, were knuckling down to wartime conditions on the home front. They had to carry Identification Cards, had to produce Ration Books to buy clothing, tea, sugar, tobacco and petrol - although they could run their cars with charcoal-burning gas producers. They could join the Volunteer Defence Force, help parents to dig air raid trenches at the local schools, assist the National Emergency Service to form evacuation plans for the district. They were told that if the Air Raid Siren sounded they should throw themselves flat on the ground, support the body on the arms, and keep the mouth open to minimise the effect of a bomb blast. They were also told what to do if an enemy aircraft landed in their backyard - disarm the crew, prevent destruction of the aeroplane or documents and then inform the authorities. They didn't need any pressure to take those things seriously because enemy submarines and enemy aircraft had broached the defences of their State capital Sydney.
During the night of Saturday, 30th May 1942, Lieutenant Susumi Ito flew his Japanese Navy floatplane on a reconnaissance mission over Sydney, while his observer sketched the positions of HMAS Canberra and other vessels which could be targets for three midget submarines about to be launched. He was at the controls of a Yokosuka E14Yl, flying 3t about 90 knots and sometimes as low as 30 metres, was illuminated by searchlights several times, and was wrongly identified as an American Curtis Seagull. The aircraft had been launched from a 2,550 tonne submarine a mere 50 km north east of Sydney. The Air Board reacted by requiring units - even those engaged in flying training - to carry out seaward searches and No 30 Squadron devoted some time to that aspect. During July, for instance, it spent 112 flying hours on sea reconnaissance missions. In addition the crews maintained a lookout during training flights that happened to be over the sea, and which accounted for 355 flying hours by the 29 pilots and 25 wireless air navigators on strength during that month.
The Squadron Commander had encouraged his aircrews to sort themselves out into pilot/observer combinations, and most of them were satisfied and pleased with the arrangements they made. The pilots were quite busy learning about handling the Beaufighter, but the navigators found very little to occupy them on the ground, although Len Greenhill and Caesar O'Connor provided some informal navigation and radio training. All the navigators were wireless trained and although none of them had seen the Australian-designed AT5/AR8 radio equipment before, they soon mastered it and maintained satisfactory air communication with the civilian Aeradio network.
At the end of July 1942 Australia was in a very threatened position; Australians were shocked when Japanese aircraft had raided Darwin the previous February, when three midget submarines had fired torpedoes in Sydney Harbour at the end of May and when flying boats had dropped bombs on Townsville that very month. Australian forces had been forced out of Rabaul and Lae, and Japanese ground forces were gaining the upper hand at Milne Bay and along the Kokoda trail. In ordering the operational deployment of No 30 Squadron to New Guinea the authorities were providing the front line with its first really offensive Australian aircraft, and one that would inflict substantial damage on the enemy.
Following the receipt of instructions from Air Force Headquarters, the Commanding Officer issued a Secret Warning Order on 6th August, alerting his section commanders to prepare for a move. His subsequent orders dealt with administrative aspects of the impending move to an unspecified destination, but as personnel were ordered to deposit their winter uniforms in the kit repository and were issued with active service kit for the tropics, the location of the Squadron's operational base was an open secret.
Flight Lieutenant Cyril Wearne despatched Ted Good, 10 airmen and 70 tents on a northbound train to set up a temporary camp at a site, which would be disclosed to him by telegram later on. On 11th August the Adjutant co-ordinated the movement of heavy stores, equipment and vehicles to Windsor railway station where these were loaded on to a train. He also organised a parade of all non-aircrew personnel in front of No 5 Hangar immediately after lunch, at which the flight commanders inspected the men to ensure that each man was correctly dressed in a drab uniform, had a rifle, frog and bayonet; had a kitbag, webbing knapsack, a steel helmet, a water-bottle containing drinking water and a pack of emergency rations.
After a short address by the Commanding Officer, the men marched off, in column of route, by the left, to Clarendon railway station, led by an RAAF Band playing the tune popularly known as: 'We're a Bunch of Bastards' - chosen because it contained the phrase frequently used by the Commanding Officer. The route to Clarendon station was lined with airmen, airwomen, local civilians, parents, girlfriends and wives - including Dulcie Golledge, who wasn't to see her engine fitter husband for some fifteen months.
The train with some 300 groundstaff on board, pulled out at 1353, the coaches under the supervision of Pilot Officers George King, John Williams, Leslie Sims, Ernest Lee and Stan Hutchinson. It stopped at Gosford for dinner, Taree for breakfast, Kempsey for lunch and Grafton for dinner before arriving at Clapham station in Brisbane at 0640 on 13th August. The men were accommodated in tents at the Army Transit Camp at the Ascot Racecourse and, after an address by Brigadier McColl, boarded a narrow-gauge troop train at 2200 on Friday, 14th August. On the trip to Townsville they stopped at Bundaberg for breakfast, Gladstone for lunch, Rockhampton for dinner and Bowen for breakfast, arriving at their terminus at 1240 on 16th August.
The men spent two days at RAAF Station Garbutt, after which they moved to a nearby emergency airfield at Bohle River, to occupy the tented camp established by Ted Good and his advance party. The Beaufighters arrived there on 18th August, some having stayed the night at Bundaberg so that pilots could show off their operational aircraft to their friends still flying Ansons at the Service Flying Training School there. Each of the 24 aircraft that flew to Bohle River from Richmond carried two airmen in addition to the pilot and observer:
- A19-1: Sqn Ldr Read, F Sgt Greenhill, F Sgt Badman, AC1 Navin
- A19-2: Plt Off Roe, F Sgt Fisken, LAC Hughes, LAC Butler
- A19-3: Flg Off McKew, Sgt Lasscock, Cpl Cowan, Cpl Marsden
- A19-4: Sqn Ldr Walker, Plt Off Mason, F Sgt Thomas, Sgt Hammond
- A19-5: Flt Lt Welsh, Sgt Witheford, Sgt Forde, AC1 Gazzard
- A19-6: Sgt Cummins, W Off Kirby, LAC Rawlinson, AC1 Jeffries
- A19-8: Flt Lt Little, Plt Off Spooner, Cpl Bell, AC1 Smith
- A19-9: Sgt Sandford, F Sgt Jaggs, LAC Foster, AC1 Bond
- A19-10: F Sgt Campbell, F Sgt Yeatman, AC1 Nott, ACI Keating
- A19-11: Sgt Morgan, Sgt Cassidy, LAC Meers, LAC Dusting
- A19-13: Sgt Vial, Sgt Hanks, Cpl Maclean, Cpl Roberts
- A19-14: Sgt Butterfield, Sgt Mairet, LAC Crouch, LAC Bartlett
- A19-15: Flg Off Brazenor, Sgt Anderson, AC1 Carmichael, AC1 Breen
- A19-28: Sqn Ldr Parker, W Off O'Connor, Sgt Davies, LAC Tayler
- A19-33: Flt Lt Uren, Plt Off Maguire, Cpl Pain, LAC Thompson
- A19-35: Plt Off Stephens, Sgt B Cameron, LAC Edwards, AC1 Collins
- A19-36: W Off Hughes, F Sgt Keller, LAC Feinberg, AC1 Nipperess
- A19-37: Flg Off Willard, F Sgt Nelson, Cpl Beynon, LAC Watson
- A19-38: Flt Lt Wild, Plt Off Harvey, Cpl Schofield, LAC Edgar
- A19-39: Sgt Sayer, F Sgt Shaw, AC1 Boyd, LAC Horne
- A19-40: Flg Off Jones, Sgt Suthons, Sgt Herron, AC1 Reinhard
- A19-50: Flg Off Moran-Hilford, Sgt Richardson, AC1 Wilson, AC1 Bromilow
- A19-53 Sgt Downing, Sgt Box, LAC Mortimer, LAC Baich
- A19-54: Flg Off Harding, Sgt H Cane, LAC Park, LAC Morris
The Squadron was located at Bohle River instead of at Garbutt for security reasons, as Kawasaki flying boats had raided Townsville the previous month. Every afternoon two Beaufighters were located at Garbutt so as to enable a rapid scramble in the event of further raids. Bill Willard and Ralph Nelson were scrambled twice at night but the 'raiders' turned out to be Flying Fortresses.
Bohle River was notable for its insidious and persistent red dust, clouds of flies and many goats, so the men got away as often as they could. Some paid two shillings for a launch trip across to Magnetic Island where they could frolic in the warm water or quaff an ale or two at the hotel adjacent to the jetty. Others lost their money to the bookmakers at the dogtrack and sank a few tots of Beenleigh Rum. Others swept their partners round the floor at dances held at Heatley’s in West End and others patronised the cinemas in town - one of which had a roof that could be slid open on a clear night. John Mason and Brian Walker occasionally met up with Squadron Officer Starke and some of the other WAAFS who manned the Fighter Sector.
The flight commanders organised a continuation training programme for the aircrew, putting particular emphasis on low-level flying and map-reading in the mountainous country which was similar to that in New Guinea. Beaufighters and Bostons often practiced together and developed an effective technique for joint attacks. Squadron aircraft also visited the huge American base at Charters Towers where aircrews discussed flying procedures and operational matters with a Allied aviators.
On 3rd September Squadron personnel attended a church parade to commemorate three years of war: it was a brief affair, at which Brian Walker read the lesson. It was also pay-day and officially nobody was supposed to leave the camp: yet more than half the men managed to get away into town for what many considered might be their last experience of civilisation for some time. T here is no record that any men from 30 Squadron were part of the long queue outside the premises occupied by a pair of 'ladies of the night' and which was being kept in order by two Military Policemen.
During the first week of September the entire squadron was turned out for a kit inspection by Wing Commander Grant, after which he stood on a small platform and gave a pep talk on health, morale, raids and natives. The following week, stores and equipment were packed up and taken down to the wharves to be loaded on to the Bontekoe Batavia. However, as the communist-led wharf-labourers refused to load the ship, the airmen had to do that job. Personnel were embarked on the SS Taroona, a 5,355 tonne vessel which had been taken off the Bass Strait run to become a fast troop carrier for the Navy. Escorted by the Royal Australian Navy frigate 'Swan', she sailed for New Guinea at 0600 on Friday 11th September with nearly 300 men of 30 Squadron aboard.
A formation of Beaufighters left Garbutt shortly after lunch on Sunday 12th September and, after flying over the scene of the Allied naval victory in the Battle of the Coral Sea, made landfall at Port Moresby some 3 hours 40 minutes later. Because of a misunderstanding, the formation landed at Waigani (later renamed as Durand), where Earl Wild managed to put the port wheel of A19-38 in a great mound of earth during his landing.
said Col Harvey,
"it gave our Beaufighter a thumping great jolt ...a lesser aircraft would have fallen apart!"
The strip had just been re-sprayed and when the unit had settled in at their new base, Arthur Jaggs spent quite a few days helping his ground crew remove the bitumen from the underside of A19-39.
After flight commanders Peter Parker and Charles Read had sorted things out, the Beaufighters made the short hop down to Wards Strip - the Squadron's first operational base - where the men occupied the interim camp which had been established by the advance party, flown in from Townsville about a week previously. Next day the Commanding Officer made a reconnaissance of the local area and selected a safer and more salubrious site in June Valley, about 4 km to the west of Wards, and arranged with the CO of 5 Mobile Works Squadron - Squadron leader Maxwell Scott - to clear the site in preparation for the arrival of the sea party.
The Taroona tied up at the Moresby wharf at 5.30 pm on Monday 14th Septembe and all her passengers were disembarked without incident. Her Captain didn't want to be tied up to the wharf overnight in case the Japanese decided to raid the port, so he pulled out to sea before the Squadron's vehicles, tents and other stores could be unloaded.
Army trucks took the 30 Squadron personnel on a night-time drive along the dusty, winding road to their interim camp at the northern end of Wards Strip. After a meal of curried rice the airmen spread their ponchos on the ground under the open sky and tried to sleep - although many were bitten by vicious mosquitoes, worried about snakes and alarmed by rumours about Japanese infiltrators.
The day after their arrival in New Guinea the men breakfasted on pork and beans and then got to work erecting their tents at the new campsite in June Valley, pestered by flies and hampered by the teeming rain which made it awkward to handle the sodden canvas. Afterwards, they went down to the strip to put up other tents to accommodate the various technical sections for the Servicing Party, 'A' Flight, and 'B' Flight.
One of the airmen recorded that at the end of the day,
"buggering about in the dark I flopped on my allotted ground space, caked in mud, unshaven and stinking like a sewer".
A series of nearby explosions sent some of the men running for the hills, thinking that the enemy was bombing the strip, while others - including Pat Cowan and Frank Forde - hastily moved the Beaufighters away from flying fragments emanating from what turned out to be an American ammunition dump (Norris Dump) set alight by a grass fire.
Twelve aircraft of No 30 Squadron, which was now under the operational control of 5th Air Force, USAAF, were sent out on the unit's first strike from its operational base. They were ordered out on 17th September to destroy barges which were landing troops and supplies at beaches near Sanananda and Buna, and whose destruction would help the soldiers of the 7th Division who were beginning to push the Japanese forces back towards Kokoda. Peter Welsh and Cliff Witheford were bitterly disappointed because A19-5 developed trouble and they weren't able to proceed to the target and take part in the destruction of enemy barges. When the other crews got out of their aircraft after landing at Wards, they were virtually accorded a hero's welcome by the groundstaff who were anxiously awaiting the safe return of the Beaufighters from their first whack at the enemy. The Air Officer Commanding No 9 Operational Group sent a congratulatory message, and General MacArthur's signal called the attack "a honey". No Beaufighters were lost on that strike, yet the captured documents of No 1 Battery, 47th Japanese Ack-Ack Battalion record that they destroyed four Beaufighters, with another one probably destroyed.
That night, Moresby suffered its eightieth air raid, a bomb exploding in the vicinity of Wards Strip, injuring two Americans in an ambulance and four others in a truck. Corporal Pivott was about to have a shower at the June Valley camp when he heard aircraft approaching at high level, but, as a pay clerk, didn't have the experience to distinguish the sounds made by enemy and allied aircraft. Moreover, the alarm about the attack was not given until the raiders were practically overhead, at which time the corporal was among the many who sped away from the camp area as fast as their legs would carry them. That raid provided the motivation for the men to dig slit trenches beside their tents and the Barracks Store was soon deprived of its stock of picks and shovels.
Beaufighters were ordered out the next morning, this time to hit at mule-pack trains taking supplies up from Buna to the enemy troops opposing forward movement of the 7th Division. However, as that attack was aborted because of bad weather in the target area they were sent out on the same job that afternoon. Des Moran-Hilford and Bill Clarke nearly came to grief in A19-50, but Des managed to drag his Beaufighter up and just clear a hilltop during his recovery from an attacking dive.
Moran-Hilford and Clarke were involved in another incident on 23rd September, when they endured the first attempt by Japanese fighters to shoot down a Beaufighter. That took place near Buna when two of the six Zeros escorting a formation of dive bombers got on the tail of A19-50, but Moran-Hilford outdistanced them when he dived down to sea level and pushed his throttles fully forward. Captured Japanese documents contain a reference to the lack of success on the part of the Zeros.
During another mission to Buna that same day, George Sayer and Archie Mairet perished when A19-1 was shot down by anti-aircraft fire. Sayer had flown in Hurricanes in the Middle East, went to Russia with an RAF fighter squadron, was with an RAF bomber squadron in Singapore when it fell to the Japanese, got across to Sumatra and Java, and then spent 44 days in a lifeboat before reaching the Northern Territory. When he joined 30 Squadron at Richmond and crewed up with Archie Mairet, he had already flown more than 900 hours and had taken part in 43 operations.
"What a crying shame!"
said Fred Cassidy, who had experienced his first flight in a Beaufighter flown by Sayer,
"...that after surviving so many overseas operations, he should go for a Burton on his first job out of Moresby".
In its records, the Japanese Ack-Ack battery noted that it had used a two-second fuse setting, had scored a direct hit with its shell, had examined the wreckage and listed the equipment it contained. When the Allies recaptured Buna our soldiers found the aircraft's wreckage in a mangrove swamp; it was clear that A19-1 had crashed into the ground with great force, had disintegrated on impact and then burnt.
Because things at June Valley and down at the strip were shaping up reasonably well, the Commanding Officer decided to replace the 'A' Flight crews who had been at Milne Bay for a fortnight, with crews and aircraft from 'B' Flight. The new detachment was to leave for Milne Bay on 25th September and was to consist of Cec McKew and Ted Lasscock in A19-3, Col Campbell and Jim Yeatman in A19-10, Earl Wild and Col Harvey in A19-38, Des Moran-Hilford and Bill Clarke in A19-50, Jack Sandford and Arthur Jaggs in A19-39 Each aircraft was to take spares, additional ammunition, members of groundstaff and personal gear.
On the morning of the departure, there was a crosswind at Wards and as Jack Sandford's aircraft lifted off it started to drift to starboard. A works unit that was doing some airfield maintenance, had parked a truck very close to the strip's edge and its cabin was struck by the Beaufighter's starboard wheel. The wheel was twisted through 90 degrees, as well as being bent backwards and damaging the wing's trailing edge. Ron Morrison, an airframe fitter, was standing behind the pilot and saw the worker on the back of the truck make a beautiful swallow-dive into the dirt when he saw the aircraft heading straight for him.
The pilot managed to get his machine airborne and make a circuit and to confirm that he would be unable to use his flaps or his undercarriage. He made a flawless belly-landing on the dirt emergency strip at Wards Unfortunately, the works unit was excavating a drainage ditch across that strip and there was a one-metre high pile of earth stacked alongside the ditch.
"The Beaufighter hit that at about 90 knots",
Ron Morrison said.
"She stood up on her nose, crashed back onto the deck and the interior was filled with choking dust. The bottom hatch blew open, flipped me across Sandy, and after both struggling out through the top hatch, we ran away like hell."
Fortunately, the aircraft didn't catch fire, but its back had been broken and it was a complete write-off.
The following day, the crews who had gone down to Milne Bay were sent out with some of No 6 Squadron's Hudsons in an anti-shipping strike. Col Harvey (who had not been able properly to celebrate his birthday the day before), had intended to do a classic intercept plot, but decided against that. He made an estimate of the ship's position, flew an appropriate course, and hit it on the nose. The Hudsons weren't all that successful with their dive-bombing attacks, but the four Beaufighters recorded numerous hits on the wireless ship and set fire to her superstructure.
By the end of September the men had brought a great deal of order to their camp at June Valley. They had erected a marquee to serve as a mess for all officers and aircrew, positioned other marquees for the senior NCOs and other ranks, brought a Wiles mobile cooker into operation, and provided cut-down fuel drums in which the men could wash their “eating irons”. Bill Branthwaite, Duncan Hattrick, and a team of other cooks did their best to concoct something palatable from the dreadful tinned stuff provided as “rations, troops, for the use of” by the Army.
Stan Hutchinson and his clerks had erected tents to accommodate the Operations and Intelligence Sections, and put up others to serve as a crew room and as a briefing/de-briefing room. Don Angus and his fellow wireless operators had strung telephone wires from the camp down to Albert Lee's engineering 'office' and to the Operations Section set up by Les Sims and Harry Underwood near the control tower.
Sergeant Anderson had left his Armament Section for a day and had discovered underground water after walking around the camp-site with his divining rod, enabling a well to be sunk about 100 metres to the east of the crew room.
The Adjutant had secured the services of a dozen or so natives, and turned them over to Karl Williams with instructions to use them to hack the kunai grass, keep the dust down around the tents and carry out general clean-up activities throughout the entire camp area. The Adjutant (who had high standards of personal conduct) had been horrified to see the natives stand and empty their bladders when and where they felt like it, so he had lined them up and, having no knowledge of Pidgin English, he had addressed them in his usual formal language style, finishing up with the admonition that,
"promiscuous urinating by indigenous personnel must be terminated forthwith".
Corporals Wisely and Fraser, together with a gang of their guards, had the unenviable task of digging latrine trenches, and, because it was difficult to handle their picks and shovels in a short trench, they dug trenches to accommodate wooden six-holer thunder boxes. Privacy was not a consideration so the structures were not given partitions and outer walls. However, a roof was necessary to provide shade from the tropical sun and give protection against tropical downpours. These latrines served a number of social purposes, since their users could pass on news from home, peddle the latest local rumours, express their feelings about the 'shiny-bums' and others in authority and rail against the standard of their food and their living conditions.
Les Braund and his men had at last collected most of the packing cases containing the Squadron's supplies and had opened the Equipment Store for business. The two carpenters - Sid Edgar and Bill Balderston, had used what tools and material they could lay their hands on to fashion numerous items which made camp living more pleasant and comfortable. The Barracks Store had doled out hundreds of bed-frames, palliasses, mosquito nets, hurricane lamps and fly-sprays. 'Doc' Marsh and nursing orderly John Farquhar had set up their sick quarters in tents on the rising ground behind the messes, and had seen to it that their ambulances contained items which might be needed if a Beaufighter were to crash-land down at Wards Strip.
Cliff Maxwell had pushed Lyall Bunn, Jim Nichols, Keith Rose and other motor transport fitters and drivers very hard in order to provide his mechanics with some shelter from the blazing sun or pelting rain while they worked on the repair and maintenance of the Squadron's vehicles. The sheets of corrugated iron used on the roof of the transport shed had been acquired from a helpful Army driver with whom Cliff had got quite chummy. A number of 200 litre drums had been positioned outside some of the accommodation tents and it was the task of Joe Erskine (who had previously been with 22 Squadron as a transport driver) to fill the water tanker at Murray Barracks and replenish those drums - and other water storage facilities - at regular intervals.
John Hunter had found his typewriter and Gestetner duplicator and had pumped out a number of Daily Routine Orders: one of the early issues had reminded personnel to carry their gas masks at all times, whilst the issue for 27th September had informed them that the Commonwealth Government had just introduced daylight saving. Hunter also compiled Personnel Occurrence Reports, and the first one he issued after arriving at Moresby promulgated the inwards posting of WIT Operator George Shearing from Headquarters North Eastern Area.
Flight Lieutenant Wearne had arranged for the erection of a flag-pole outside his Orderly Room and had maintained normal routine by hoisting and lowering the RAAF Ensign at the appropriate times. At a morning parade he had harangued the men about orders from higher formation to wear webbing equipment, a steel helmet, to carry a rifle and a full water bottle to and from their place of duty. At his parade on 29th September the Adjutant referred to the need for everyone to wear a shirt in the Mess, to write fewer letters home, to maintain calm during an air raid and to be of good cheer despite the many war-related difficulties of life in tropical New Guinea.
Karl Williams had been appointed as Defence Officer and while teaching a group of clerks about ground defence tactics, the loaded automatic weapon he was handling discharged, the bullet narrowly missing one of the students. Karl had quite a large responsibility for he was in control of 59 guards - the largest number of any mustering within the Squadron. He had instituted a system of passwords - selecting words such as 'riff-raff' or 'regular', in the belief that Japanese infiltrators were unable properly to pronounce such words. He had organised his men in shifts to provide after-hours security for the ammunition dump and for the Beaufighters dispersed at the northern end of Wards Strip.
'Wards' was the general area to the west of the Seven Mile Strip, and whose defence had been allocated to Lieutenant Colonel K H Ward of the 53rd Battalion: hence, the airfield facility built by 5 Mobile Works Squadron took on the name of Wards Strip because it was located within the Colonel's area of responsibility. 5MWS landed at Moresby with 250 men, 2 bulldozers, 2 tractors, 2 graders, 6 carry-alls, 23 tipper trucks and a Barford-Perkins roller of 1890 vintage, and got stuck into the construction task to such a degree that the strip was open to traffic 21 days after starting work. The unit also constructed the parallel taxiway, the many dispersal bays for RAAF aircraft and the linking taxiways.
The men did a terrific job, with inadequate equipment and under horrendous conditions: they are justly proud of their wartime achievements, the more so because Wards was reputed to be the only strip in New Guinea that didn't fail in bad weather.
Until the strips around Moresby were sealed with bitumen, aircraft took off and landed through a dust-screen churned up by the preceding aircraft and from the hills the position of each aerodrome could be fixed by the thick columns of grey dust, which rose skyward. The environs of Moresby were shrouded in an almost blinding and choking pall of dust, which lay thick on the anaemic cabbage-gum trees and the dry Kunai grass that clothed the stony hills.
When the rear party arrived from Townsville and reported to the WOD, Ted Good directed them to read the instructions pinned to a notice board, and which are summarised below:
1 Put oil on your boots or they'll rot.
2 Inspect your boots for crawlies before you put them on.
3 If it rains, belt in your tent-pegs and slacken the ropes.
4 If it gets hot, roll up the tent walls.
5 If it blows a 'Guba', belt in your tent pegs, lace up the flaps and tie down the walls.
6 At night, keep your tin hat and boots near your bed.
7 If there's a raid, don your boots and tin hat (at least) and jump into your slit trench.
8 Don't forget the password for the day.
9 Develop an ability to get to the latrine in the dark.
During October 1942 the Beaufighters flew many missions against the enemy. On the first day of that month six aircraft were sent out to attack a cluster of small boats at Salamaua. Walker and Mason led the formation in A19-4 and were accompanied by Roe and Fisken in A19-2; Parker and O'Connor in A19-28; Morgan and Cassidy in A19-35; Little and Spooner in A19-8; and Willard and Nelson in A19-11. An enemy shell hit Willard’s starboard engine, but he managed the extremely difficult feat of getting his stricken aircraft up to 4,000 metres in order to cross the threatening ridges of the Owen Stanley Range. During his landing approach at Wards, the dud motor was still windmilling and it sounded like a broken-down concrete mixer. The Engineer Officer found that the enemy's shell had torn away the cowling and the heads of the two lower cylinders, but had not exploded. The engine was treated rather gingerly until the armourers had removed the 'Made in Japan' missile.
Eight days after that episode, the Beaufighters of 30 Squadron joined with the Mitchell light bombers of the 90th Bomb Group in an attack on the Japanese aerodrome at Lae, with top cover provided by Aircobras of the 35th Fighter Group. The Mitchells had been field-modified in Australia to become flying gunships whose noses bristled with eight .50 calibre guns, which could pour a devastating fire on the target. Intelligence about Japanese activity in and around Lae was provided by Flight Lieutenant Leigh Vial, the cousin of one of 30 Squadron's pilots. He maintained a lonely vigil on the high mountains overlooking the enemy positions. Month after month he eluded their patrols and survived the terrible steamy conditions of the leech-infested jungle. He transmitted his information to No 10 Signals Unit in Moresby, and this was used by the Air Staff at 9 Operational Group to decide what attacks should be made by RAAF aircraft.
No 9 Operational Group had been formed at Moresby as a subordinate unit of North Eastern Area Headquarters, Townsville, and had operational command of the RAAF squadrons at Port Moresby and Milne Bay. Its other units in the Moresby area included No 42 Operational Base Unit, No 10 Signals Unit, No 15 Repair & Salvage Unit, No 3 Medical Receiving Centre, No 4 Replenishing Centre and No 4 Fighter Sector.
The Fighter Sector staff were pleased when Earl Wild - a 30 Squadron pilot who had contracted malaria and was temporarily unfit for flying - was posted in as an air controller. Earl was on duty on 9th November when Eric Lansell and Caesar O'Connor led an armed reconnaissance of the Buna area in A19-36, during which two of the fuel tanks were holed by enemy fire and Caesar was wounded in the left thigh. Earlier that day Caesar had flown with Peter Parker in A19-28 and their aircraft had been hit by machine gun fire during an attack on enemy lines of communication to Kokoda. On that day and the next, the Beaufighters contributed to the defeat of the Japanese at Oivi and Gorari, an action which allowed the 16th and 25th Australian Brigades to start their push towards Buna. Lieutenant Sakamoto was killed in the defence of Gorari and his captured diary recorded that Australian troops had encircled his position,
"while all morning their planes have bombed and strafed us".
The Squadron's second operational tragedy occurred on 13th October when Tom Butterfield and Rupert Wilson, who were in A19-68 and flying in the wing position to Ron Uren, crashed into a hill after strafing enemy ground forces near Kokoda. Butterfield had joined the Squadron at Richmond the previous June on posting from No 1 Operational Training Unit at Sale: Wilson had joined about a fortnight later on completion of his navigator training at No 2 Bombing and Gunnery School, Port Pirie. He had graduated with two other navigators who were to lose their lives in operations with 30 Squadron - Stewart Cameron and Norm Greasley.
Exactly a fortnight later, Ted Jones and Eric Richardson lost their lives when A19-49 was hit by Ack-Ack during a strike against Lae that was led by Peter Parker and Caesar O'Connor in A19-28. Other crews saw smoke streaming from the damaged engine as the Beaufighter belly-flopped into shallow water near the shore, saw it recover momentarily, and then crash into the ocean about 300 metres out to sea. Ross Little and Alec Spooner were in A19-8 that sustained damage to a fuel line, but they got back to base and landed safely. Fred Anderson was flying with Bob Brazenor in A19-15 on that mission, which was written up by the War Correspondent for The Sun. He wrote in the newspaper that he had met Bob Brazenor about a year ago at a cold, windswept fighter station in England where he had also met five other pilots of 30 Squadron - Dick Roe, Jack Sandford, Gwynne Hughes, Bob Cummins and Len Vial. He went on to say that whilst the aircraft had been used in England as a night fighter, it was being used in New Guinea with outstanding success in low-level strafing:
"a task for which its tremendous firepower makes it pertinently suitable".
The Beaufighters continued to strafe targets of opportunity in the Buna area, and flew thirty-eight sorties in the four days after Lieutenant Sakamoto's death at Gorari. On some of those sorties they were accompanied by American Mitchells and Martin Marauders, the latter having huge engines and propellers. They earned a fearsome reputation as widow-makers and because their short wings didn't seem to offer any visible means of support, the Marauder was known as The Incredible Prostitute. It was during an operation in company with a gaggle of 'Prostitutes' that Col Campbell and Peter Fisken received hits in the fuselage of 19-50. The aircraft was not badly damaged, but the report in the Melbourne Age said that Campbell out fought and out-thought the stubbornly pursuing Zero for fifteen minutes.
Gwynne Hughes and Bill Keller achieved the distinction of standing a Beaufighter on its nose in the grey clay along the side of Wards Strip when they landed there after a joint attack on Japanese Ack-Ack installations at Buna. One of their tyres had been badly damaged by enemy fire. The Age reported that the Hughes had been jumped near Buna and that:
"for nearly twenty minutes the two planes screwed and twisted crazily as the Beaufighter scooted inlandwith the Zero pilot trying frantically to bring his gunsight to bear. Then down from the sky above roared an American Boston with guns blazing. The Zero faltered as bullets ripped into it, turned over and dived into the ground. Although slightly wounded, Hughes brought his bullet-ridden aircraft home safely."
Since its arrival in New Guinea, the Squadron had been favoured with fine weather - prevailing southerly breezes, moderate temperatures, cool nights, and some light rain. Osmar White wrote this about Port Moresby:
"Dawn came. There was a morning feeling. This is one of the brief times when Moresby is almost cool. A lemon glow, cold and passionless, spreads in the eastern sky. Then it changes to apricot and suffused the zenith. The dust-covered gums leap into view - fold upon fold of them, over the savannah". However, frequent heavy showers at the end of November brought frustration to the airmen engaged on repair and maintenance tasks and since those had to be carried out in the open, the men were forever dragging canvas covers on or off the aircraft, or waiting for the rain clouds to move out to sea. George Dusting, who was carrying out a 120-hourly inspection of A19-3, wrote that on 16th November "there was a frantic scurry to put the covers on just before 5.30 when there was a terrific downpour. We made a miserable sight huddling under the kite, watching a few chaps splashing about in their glistening wet capes."
Moresby's inclement weather didn't interfere with air operations, which were now directed against the Japanese aircraft and installations at Lae. Beaufighters and Bostons were ordered to do just that on 18th November, and during that attack, the fuselage of A19-33 (flown by Ron Uren and John Maguire) was holed, and the hydraulics of A19-4 (flown by Brian Walker and John Mason) were shot out, resulting in a superbly-handled wheels-up landing at Wards. A19-9 (flown by Col Campbell and Jim Yeatman) crashed and burned during take-off: the IFF equipment had exploded and the pilot hurriedly put the Beaufighter down in the belief that one of his tyres had blown. That equipment was installed in Allied aircraft and transmitted a coded signal, which allowed a ground radar station to identify it as Friend or Foe. To prevent the enemy from recovering a set from a crashed aircraft, the IFF equipment contained an explosive charge designed to detonate on severe impact such as would occur in a crash landing in enemy territory. To guard against accidental destruction there were standing instructions that required the Beaufighter navigator to isolate the electrical circuitry just before landing. That had not been done at the end of the previous flight by A19-9.
In a carefully-worded press release earlier that month, General MacArthur had tried to make it appear that it was American ground forces who had rolled the Japanese back from Kokoda, but the fact was that they fired their first shot in anger the day after the Beaufighter and Boston attack on Lae. The American 32nd Division had been moving along the coastal strip and were some 3km from Buna when they engaged the enemy for the first time in New Guinea. The 21st November was a day of incredible activity, with 104 of our fighters and bombers hammering Buna and Gona, the latter being captured by Australian forces some 24 hours later. The Beaufighters of 30 Squadron did a particularly fine job during their strike against Lae, the abbreviated mission report noting that 'Two Zekes caught fire after strafing and pieces were seen to fly from a third. Four Zekes were strafed near the southeast end of the runway. Three or four Zekes were airborne at 2,000 feet. A19-8 [Little and Spooner] attacked a Zeke, which was attacking two other Beaufighters: its engine was smoking as it turned away. A19-5 [Vial and Nelson] put a one-second burst into a Zeke that had climbed under its nose to attack another Beaufighter in front, but was
"itself hit by Ack-Ack in the port nacelle and tyre. A19-15 [Brazenor and Anderson] was hit in the tail-wheel by machine gun fire."
That morning a young serviceman happened to be near one of the Squadron's dispersal bays at Wards and this good-natured fellow hopped in to give some airmen a hand to push a Beaufighter out to the taxiway. He was pushing against the radius rod of one of the wheel struts when that undercarriage leg collapsed and crushed him to death in the engine nacelle. Some members of groundcrew were disciplined for their failure to ensure that the prescribed safety precautions were observed before moving a damaged aeroplane.
All available Beaufighters joined with 45 Flying Fortresses, 44 Mitchells, 28 Marauders, a number of Bostons and a squadron of Aircobras in concerted attacks against Japanese targets on 24th November, for which the Wirraways of No 4 Squadron provided the spotting. Sergeant Anderson and his team of armourers did a sterling job in attending to the Beaufighter's cannon and machine guns, which had fired off 26,000 rounds of 20mm ammunition and 35,000 rounds of .303 that day. Other participating aircraft fired a further 30,000 rounds and dropped more than 150 tonnes of bombs.
It is a tribute to the groundcrews that despite the heat, dust, rain, the appalling working conditions and their rather primitive tools and facilities that they kept so many aircraft serviceable and ready for operations. All of them slogged away at their various jobs - the engine and airframe fitters/riggers/mechanics, the instrument technicians, the wireless musterings, the electricians and the men of the armament section; all of those were most ably supported by the many others in the administrative trades - the clerks, transport drivers and fitters, cooks, messmen, stewards, storemen, nursing orderlies and guards. Although the Squadron had nearly 400 men on strength, it was a pretty lean unit in comparison with American flying units. The 5th Air Force Statistics Book showed that 89 men were required to fly one American aircraft: 5 for aircrew, 21 for maintenance, 15 for clerical, 11 for ground transport, II for supply, 4 for messing, plus medics, military police and other miscellaneous activities.
Only a bare fortnight after 30 Squadron's arrival in New Guinea, War Correspondent George Johnston wrote:
"The strength of Moresby is staggering - thousands of motor trucks, new roads everywhere and 7 magnificent airfields.... We could put 100 fighters in the air against an air raid ... Huge forces of modern bombers [are] now here", Despite the nature of the target offered by that concentration of military installations and units, the Japanese inflicted surprisingly little damage during more than 100 raids. The first one involved six flying boats that attacked at 3 am on 3rd February 1942, and according to George Johnston "one man [was] killed by a flying stone while diving into a trench".
On the fifth raid when they dropped 15 daisy-cutters he said there was,
On the eighth raid when 80 bombs were dropped they,
"damaged 2 tents and ripped guttering from a roof".
On the 13th raid by eight bombers, the bombs:
"were scattered indiscriminately [causing] absolutely no damage",
in the 83rd raid against Moresby, one bomber came in just after sunset and:
"put [his] bombs in the scrub”
and again there was no damage.
Elton Marsden, an airframe fitter and a foundation member of the Squadron remarked that
"after the first half-dozen raids brought no damage or injuries, we became quite blasé".
Jack Rawlinson considered them to be
“merely nuisance raids designed to interfere with our sleep",
while John Dunstan recalled that as the raiders never caused much damage,
"they were probably looking the place over, or just doing nuisance raids. We were supposed to get into our trenches when the Red Alert went off, but as there was seldom any danger, most of the fellows just stood outside their tents and watched the show - the searchlights, the illuminated enemy planes and the tracers from our own guns".
The fire from our Ack-Ack was often somewhat wide of the mark, and the men of 30 Squadron were prone to shout directions to the distant gunners:
"A little bit to the left, mate ...a little more …to the left, you bloody drongo!”
Searchlights and guns were active again at 3.30 am on Wednesday 27th January when three bombers delivered an attack which had serious consequences for 30 Squadron. In his diary, George Dusting wrote: "The lights picked them up right over our heads and we could hear a lightning screaming in from behind them. The Japs let go their bombs right over our heads and they fell fair and square in our 'A' Flight dispersals".
In the early light of dawn Brian Walker, Ross Little, Ron Uren and nearly everyone else in the Squadron went down to the strip to see what had happened. Beaufighter A19-55 - which Len Vial and Ralph Nelson had come to regard as 'their' machine - went up in smoke from a direct hit, whilst three others were damaged by flying shrapnel; A19-28 was badly damaged and was sent to No 15 Repair and Salvage Unit, but the Squadron was able to repair A19-34 and A19-73. The former had been flown by George Drury and Dave Beasley earlier that week in a barge sweep near Salamaua and was written off about two months later, after crash-landing on return from a strike against Gasmata. A19-73 was also written off some months later when it crashed into the sea during a weapons exercise against the Moresby wreck. Americans who came across to have a look at the damaged Beaufighters after the raid on Wards told Pat Cowan that a GI who had refused to get into his slit trench had been torn to shreds by a daisy cutter as he sat on his bed.
Arthur Jaggs wasn't all that anxious to dive into his slit trench and would only do so
"if it looked like they were going to have a go at the camps in June Valley".
Young Fred Cassidy disliked the discomfort of his trench, so he and Mos Morgan
“took our canvas chairs outside to watch what was going on - the searchlights and the Ack-Ack puffs providing us with an interesting spectacle".
Another navigator, George Carnegie, also dragged out his chair and,
"watched the entertainment as if it was a football match".
Harry Suthons was disinclined to move from his bunk at all when the Red Alert was sounded, and only if things got serious did he forgo a session of spine bashing - and crawl underneath his iron bed.
Most of the men slept in the raw, and diving into a trench while only half awake could result in extensive scratches and abrasions to the skin. It could also provide a rude shock and bring a man into instant wakefulness if the trench were half-full of water. Moreover, a naked man who disturbed the red spiders, centipedes, and other creepy-crawlies could get painful bites in sensitive parts of his anatomy. Bob Bennett guarded against that by using his 'flammerwoofer' every afternoon to burn out the unwanted guests. There were other totally unexpected 'guests' too - like the small crocodile in the trench that 'Pappy' Allum jumped into one night. He jumped out again pretty smartly.
A medium Ack-Ack unit occupied the top of Ugava Hill which was immediately behind the Squadron's camp whose tents, buildings, and vehicles were lacerated or punctured by shrapnel from the 40mm shells fired from that unit's Bofors. The descending shrapnel doesn't appear to have injured anybody, but a few of the men received heart-stopping frights when bits of flying metal struck their steel helmets. Reg Crowl popped his head up out of the trench when he thought the action had subsided only to have his helmet nearly knocked into space by a chunk of shrapnel: he was wearing it tilted right back on his head and was not using the chin-strap.
"very nearly died on the spot when something hit my helmet with a tremendous thump"
That gave him a thick head and he later discovered that navigator Bob Hasenohr had sneaked up behind and given his tin hat an almighty bash with a rock and was rolling about with mirth at Doug's reaction.
There wasn't much in the way of amusement or entertainment for the military personnel in Moresby. One of the main after-hours activities enjoyed by the men of the Beaufighter Squadron, involved walking up the road to see the movies at No 22 Squadron's camp. That unit had been in the process of re-equipping with Boston Havoc aircraft at Richmond at the same time as 30 Squadron had been preparing for its departure to New Guinea. The Bostons had arrived at Moresby late in October, occupied a campsite near that of 30 Squadron and erected a cinema screen at the foot of a natural amphitheatre. Films shown there during the closing weeks of 1942 included "Sinners in Paradise" - a very old movie which starred John Beles and Madge Evans, "They Knew What They Wanted", which starred Charles Laughton and Carole Lombard, and "Piccadilly Jim", which was billed as a romantic comedy.
Frank Sawtell didn't intend to put on a comedy turn for his companions to laugh when he fell into an air raid trench when they were returning to camp after a show down at the Mobile Works Squadron cinema. He was at an American open-air cinema a few weeks later when a parked vehicle rolled down the slope of the amphitheatre scattering the audience and causing them to,
"stampede worse than any cattle rush I have ever seen".
On New Year's Eve, Don Angus and other airmen from the Squadron's wireless section went across to 22 Squadron's camp to hear a band concert and to see a few rounds of boxing. Jim Phelan, a Canadian boxer who had joined the RAAF and was on the messing staff of the Beaufighter squadron, often acted as referee for such contests and inveterate gambler Cliff Clohesy always managed to win a fistful of pound notes from Americans when his friend officiated in the ring.
Some American flying units were based at the Eastern end of Wards Strip, while others were at Schwimmer, Durand and Jacksons strips. A battle-damaged Flying Fortress returning to Moresby at night after an attack on Rabaul crashed into the side of a hill between Wards strip and the Squadron's camp.
"It burst all over the hill. I never saw such a mess"
wrote George Dusting. A few days later he went to the scene looking for a few aluminium scraps, and afterwards he wrote:
"There are still some pieces of men lying about. They are not very fussy about collecting all the pieces"
Correspondent Johnston reported that there were pieces of bomb-casings and splinters of shrapnel everywhere after 3 bombers carried out a moonlight attack on Jacksons. And there were even more bits and pieces lying about after the 91st Japanese raid on Moresby, when two bombers blew up the ammunition dump of the 808th American Engineers on 30th November and destroyed a number of vehicles.
The official vehicle establishment of 30 Squadron when it left Richmond was 2 Utility Vans, 2 Panel Vans, 1 Saloon Car, 2 Refuelling tankers, 2 Ambulances, 7 Tractors and 3 Motor Cycles. Nevertheless, the 389 men on the personnel establishment never seemed to have transport problems in New Guinea. 'Grumpy' Eddison rode a motorbike everywhere - often at speed, and often with his navigator on the pillion and clinging on for dear life. Whenever Alan Laing could get away from his duties in the Orderly Room, he would borrow a Harley Davidson and make a tour of the military area. Phil Edwards was went to sign a truck out in the evenings to take the aircrew to the pictures, and invariably got himself lost. Eric Lusk nearly always rode an Indian down to the strip when he had to carry out the pre-flight checks required by his pilot, George Gibson. Because Brian Walker preferred to ride his motorbike everywhere, his navigator, John Mason, had the more-or-less exclusive use of the staff car.
30 Squadron became known as 'The Hydraulic Squadron' since they would 'lift' anything - including motor vehicles and motorbikes. Joe Erskine claims that before leaving Townsville, some of the airmen 'lifted' an American jeep, an Australian Army utility, and two BSA motorbikes. Arthur Ferrier has it that he, Pat Cown, Ron Morrison snaffled a motorbike for Brian Walker on the understanding that nothing would be done about the jeep they had already 'lifted' for themselves. Don Bain is reputed to have 'acquired' a motorbike while he was on detachment at Milne Bay and freighted it back in USAAF transport as official RAAF cargo. Jim Wilson was given a motorbike by a friendly supply sergeant in one of the American Depots, but the Adjutant insisted that it be left outside his Orderly Room for his use. Jim's cousin, who worked for 'Guinea Gold' let him borrow a 350cc BSA which he was looking after for another soldier then stationed outside of Moresby. Ken Delbridge saw three NCOs hide a jeep in the tall Kunai grass near the photographic section, and assume an air of injured innocence when a brace of American MPs questioned them about a stolen vehicle. The Dispatch Riders delivering classified envelopes to the Intelligence staff always wheeled their machines into the tent because the bikes of two previous riders had disappeared when they had been left unattended outside. Ron Morrison recalls that Don Bain gave Dick Beynon some tips about ways of 'acquiring' a personal machine, and 'Lo', another bike was outside their tent the next morning.
If these and similar stories were to be believed, 30 Squadron was awash with vehicles and motor bikes, many of them having been 'acquired' from units which had failed to keep strict watch on their mobile possessions.
An RAAF Beaufort crew, which had been keeping a watch on Japanese shipping, reported that four enemy destroyers were steaming towards Buna on the first day of December. In consequence, six Beaufighters were ordered to suppress the ships' Ack-Ack while a formation of Flying Fortresses carried out a bombing attack. But the Americans did not show up at the rendezvous. So another flight of Beaufighters was sent out to make a night attack, the targets to be illuminated by flares dropped from a Hudson. At the debriefing, pilots expressed displeasure about the orders for that mission: their night vision was so affected by the bright light of the flares and the flashes from their own cannons that they were unable to descend lower than 300 metres to make their strafing runs, were unable to distinguish the destroyers clearly, were unsure about their aircraft's altitude in relation to the horizon and had no idea of what results they had achieved.
In discussing his time in 30 Squadron, Fred Anderson said,
"Our own soldiers often complained that we were never around when they were in a tough position and they probably doubted that their own Air Force was even in New Guinea. So we were sent over to the Buna area to show the troops that the RAAF was actually in the theatre and to show them just what a Beaufighter could do. It was all low-level stuff, and when we landed we found some leaves and branches in our undercart".
It's probable that there was more behind that flight than Fred knew, for a few days earlier a Beaufighter had misread the target-marking signals and strafed a company of Australian troops ,
"without causing any casualties",
wrote George Johnston
"but causing a great deal of profanity".
J R Hardie reported that because of the impassable terrain, the Australian 39th Battalion was halted on a little beach to the north of Sanananda on 3rd December when an unfortunate incident occurred:
Further up the coast some Beaufighters were strafing the beaches. They were making a half-circle out to sea and on their way in they were strafing a sunken Japanese transport, which was suspected of being used at night as an off-loading point that they'd bring ashore in barges. And I remember saying to someone: "I hope those RAAF blokes know we're on this beach". Just then, one of the Beaufighters finished its half-circle and straightened up to sweep along the beaches again. We were watching him, and it didn't look too good at all. And the next minute, flame from the front of him - he'd opened up with his guns and strafed virtually the whole battalion'
To this day I can't understand how we got out of it so lightly. Providence must have been with us. I remember I was sitting on a fallen coconut tree with about six others in line with this plane. When he opened up with his machine guns we all took off. But there were bullets hitting the ground all around us as we ran, and I thought, "It's not much use running, I might as well stop". So I stopped and the plane flew past. And out of it all, 'A' Company had only one chap hit, and the rest of the Battalion only had four other wounded [including Lt T R Tarrant of 'D' Company] and a couple of native bearers.
Dobodura was in Allied hands early in December, so that when A19-9 sustained serious damage from enemy Ack-Ack, Col Campbell and Jim Yeatman were able to make an emergency landing there on 7th December. When the aircraft was repaired the pilot flew it over the enemy airfield, saying that he wanted
"to test out the Ack-Ack positions".
On the 23rd of that month Padre Kirby dished out parcels sent up by the Australian Comforts Fund, and the men were most appreciative of the homemade fruitcakes, sweets, preserved fruit and cigarettes. However, many of them agreed with Jeff Heath, who wondered if the woollen balaclavas and mittens in the parcels meant that the donors knew that 30 Squadron would be moving from the tropics to a cold-weather base. The men were luckier than those in other RAAF units at Moresby because 85% of the shipment had been pillaged. The Fund's representative in Moresby described the thieves as:
"the worst type of Fifth Columnist"
and implied that Australian wharfies were responsible for the theft of nearly 80,000 cigarettes, as well as crates of other items.
Christmas Day was not entirely work-free. Eric Lansell and Harry Suthons in A19-30 led Jack Sandford and Arthur Jaggs in A19-32, as well as Ron Downing and Danny Box in A19-53, in a strike against targets on the Kunusi River. The remainder of the Squadron turned out for a church parade at 7.30 am, dressed in boots, khaki shorts, shirts and stockings, and steel helmet, and with webbing belt, gas mask, rifle and side arm. The Commanding Officer read the lesson, after which Padre Kirby preached a thankfully short sermon. The officers and senior non-commissioned officers gathered in the Airmens' Mess to serve them lunch - roast pork, roast turkey, apple sauce, diced potatoes and green peas, followed by tinned fruit salad and cream, and fruit cake.
"Wonder of wonders",
said Colin Horne,
"there on the table were enough bottles of beer to let us have one mug each, being provided by the aircrew in appreciation of our efforts".
Owen Fenwick played suitable sentimental songs on the Beale piano 'borrowed' from a nearby unit, and his musical offerings were enhanced by the efforts of Alf Hunt and Cecil Mitchell. Afterwards, Owen was invited to entertain the Sergeants at their Christmas lunch, during which he accepted more than a glass or two of some villainous alcoholic brew. And after that, he was invited to entertain the officers and aircrew at their Christmas dinner, during which he accepted a glass or two of port, and, according to his tent-mates, was completely legless by mid-evening. Young Fred Cassidy did not quite get to that stage as he managed to lurch across to the tent occupied by the wireless operators, being stark naked at the time.
By the end of that year there had been some changes in the Squadron. Peter Parker had gone to Eastern Area Headquarters, Charles Read had gone to take command of No 31 Beaufighter Squadron, Des Moran Hilford and Bob Harding had gone to 5 OTU, Earl Wild had gone to a Fighter Sector, Wally Badman had gone to Rescue and Communication Squadron, Dave Haddon had gone to 33 Squadron, Len Greenhill had gone to Townsville and Sid Virgin had gone to 21 Base Wing. Norm Fraser had replaced Bert Lee as Engineer Officer and Reg Kirby had replaced Norm Reeve as Padre.
Five new crews had joined the Squadron since its arrival in New Guinea:- Bob Bennett and Phil Edwards, John Drummond and Ron Allen, George Drury and Dave Beasley, George Gibson and Eric Lusk, Gwynne Hughes and Bill Keller. Four uncrewed navigators had arrived during that time:- Ron Shaw, Les Hanks, George Moore, Ron Sillett - as well as two uncrewed pilots, Bob Cummins and Eric Lansell. Eric had collected a Beaufighter from Laverton and when he was about half-way between Charleville and Townsville on the delivery flight, became quite distressed because of an attack of malaria. Bob Bennett, who was also going to 30 Squadron on posting in that aircraft,
"had the difficult job of hauling him out of the pilot's seat and getting in it myself, a very difficult job in that small space, and made much more difficult because of the need to operate the aircraft's flying controls as well".
Eric probably had contracted that febrile disease while he was with a Hudson squadron in Malaya, and it may have been because of his medical condition that he was repatriated from New Guinea after a four-month tour.
Nearly every serviceman found reason to criticise RAAF authorities for producing senseless instructions or arrangements or for not providing them with adequate tools or equipment to do their job properly. At Moresby, the men of 30 Squadron grumbled about the critical shortage of spare parts but marvelled at the variety and quantity of equipment available to American units. They gaped at the sight of crashed American aeroplanes being bulldozed to the side of the strip without any attempt to recover any of its usable components.
But American organization had its hiccups too, as illustrated by one of the pilots of No 64 Squadron of the 43rd Bomb Group at Moresby. In the well-known fashion of military organizations the world over, Harry Young's postings were all of a mish-mash. He was first trained to fly a Flying Fortress, but as the quota for that type was filled, he and 33 other qualified Fortress pilots were sent to a Liberator unit. His conversion to type was by way of a dual take-off, a 100 km cross-country, a solo landing which rolled into a take-off and the return flight to base. That was his day and night check. He collected a crew, spent some weeks on crew training, was posted to 64 Squadron, picked up a Liberator at Topeka and set out to fly it to Moresby. When he landed at Jacksons in his Liberator he found that No 64 Squadron was equipped with Flying Fortresses.
Harry saw that many of the Fortresses carried colourful names and artwork on their noses: one of them bore the name 'Truda' and the painting depicted her as having,
"full firm breasts, quite naked, with nipples as prominent and provocative as machine-gun muzzles".
The CO had ordered that a brassiere be painted on Truda, but the crew insisted that she was intended as bait for Japanese fighter pilots, who would be lured to fly closer for a good look, and would be:
"shot to smithereens by the blister guns".
The decoration on the nose Wendy/Joy - the Beaufighter flown by Mos Morgan and Fred Cassidy - was much more modest than that of Truda, but this crew undertook the Squadron's last operational sortie for 1942, when they flew A19-50 in an attack on installations at the mouth of the Amboka River.
No 30 Beaufighter Squadron had flown 302 hours during December and had fired nearly 155,000 rounds of ammunition at the enemy during that month.
Praise was heaped on it in an article in The Sun under the headline 'Grim Killers of Japs - Beaufighter's Record':-
“When the full story of the Japanese back-to-Tokyo is written, the part played by Australian-manned Beaufighters in the New Guinea campaign will provide some of its most shining chapters. Americans who have flown alongside these devil-may-care young Australians have applauded their dash, disregard of the odds, and determination in driving home an attack.
The story of the tree-topping wave-hopping Beaufighters begins in the rain, mud, slime and malaria of Port Moresby in September. Although inadequately sheltered, tormented by mosquitoes, and improperly fed, the Beaufighters boys had their aircraft ready in three days for the first of hundreds of devastating sorties. The amazing firepower of the Beaufighter has probably inflicted more Japanese casualties than any other type of aircraft. It can deliver more than a third of a ton of lead every minute and can concentrate more cannon and machine gun fire than can a Fortress or a Liberator.
The Japs began a very costly acquaintance with the Beaufighter when the AIF was smashing its way towards Buna. The soldiers told the Beaufighter pilots the location of the enemy troops, and the co-operation was so harmonious that although the aircrews never saw the Japanese in the jungle, they killed them in their hundreds. Following through, our Army lads found the areas strafed by the Beaufighters to be littered with enemy dead. Through the festering jungle, over which the aircraft flew low enough to set the tree-tops quivering, the Beaufighters left a long trail of enemy dead, of blasted installations, silent anti-aircraft positions, mangled equipment and charred equipment.“
The history of the Beaufighters is rich with colourful personalities such as Wing Commander 'Blackjack' Walker, George Sayer, and 'Torchy' Uren. But no story of these aircraft is complete without referring to their navigators, who are noted for their skill and versatility.
Heavy rain and the firing of nearly every Ack-Ack gun in Moresby, plus thousands of automatic weapons, rifles, and handguns ushered in the New Year. The 43rd Engineering Regiment contributed to the rowdy occasion by detonating sticks of gelignite, whilst trucks sounded their horns and the ships in the harbour blew their sirens. At the 30 Squadron camp the occasion was marked by the consumption of jungle juice brewed especially to mark the event, and judging by the noise emanating from the tents occupied by Norm Carroll and other transport drivers, theirs was a particularly potent concoction. A few hours after breakfast on New Year's day, a signal came in from Air Force Headquarters to say that commissions had been granted to three aircrew - Harry Suthons, Len Viall and Col Campbell - providing the excuse for more celebrations.
In a message to Washington in January 1943, General MacArthur said that he didn't have enough ground or air forces to implement his planned onslaught against the Japanese in the South West Pacific Area.
"The air force as now constituted is not sufficient to support the offensive which is contemplated",
"Our experience in offensive operations over the enemy's territory ... through the most difficult tropical weather provides ample substantiation that existing strength is capable of only a short intensive effort."
Nevertheless, the Air Staff at No 9 Operational Group saw to it that the Beaufighters kept up the pressure against the Japanese and, on the second day of the new year sent them on a joint mission against small boats near Lae. On the return flight the seven Beaufighters separated in order to make individual crossings of the Owen Stanley Range, which was capped by towering cumulus clouds. Squadron personnel at Wards were dismayed when Dick Roe and Peter Fisken failed to appear that afternoon, but it transpired that the pilot had insufficient oxygen for a high-level flight through The Gap, so had gone down to Gurney and stayed at Milne Bay for the night.
The following day three Beaufighters were sent to a suspected seaplane base, and the day after that seven aircraft expended 1,400 rounds of 20 mm and 15,OOO rounds of .303 in an attack on an enemy camp near Mubo. Aircraft were sent out again on 5th, 6th, and 7th January to strafe barges and targets of opportunity between Salamaua and Lae.
Eric Lansell and Harry Suthons in A19-30 led 10 other Beaufighters to attack barges near Lae on 8th January, but the aircraft had to wait until the Mitchells, Bostons and Marauders had dropped all their bombs. In the meantime, a Beaufighter element went to Lae aerodrome and destroyed one of the two Zekes parked on the east side of the runway. Another six Zekes tried to intercept the Beaufighters but were driven off by the Lightings providing the top cover, which shot down two of the enemy planes.
Later that day Ross Little and Alec Spooner in A19-28 led eight Beaufighters in another attack on Lae, the abbreviated mission report noting that:
"Enemy fighters made individual attempts to intercept and three Beaufighters were attacked. A19-33 (Uren and Maguire) hit by a .5 from a Zeke. A19-38 (Gibson and Lusk) and A19-50 (Morgan and Cassidy) hit by a .5 too. Night fighters near control tower left burning, two fighters on opposite side of runway were hit, four other fighters, previously strafed, were strafed again, a serviceable Betty on the taxiway was strafed and left smoking. Eight tents behind the Terrace and six men at the north-east end of the strip were strafed. An ammunition dump exploded after strafing".
Eric Lusk, who was the navigator of one of the three aircraft attacked that day, had this to say:
We had flown out past Salamaua after our attack at Lae, right down on the deck - in fact we were so low that if our undercart (undercarriage) had been down we would have drenched our tyres with sea water ... Around about Salamaua I saw about six Zeros in a dive towards us and when they levelled out they were only a few hundred yards behind us. George Gibson had turned the taps full on and we scooted away flat out, being chased and fired at every now and then for about thirty miles. That they couldn't catch us gave me a lot of confidence in our Beaufighter and in my pilot.
Jack Sandford and Arthur Jaggs were in A19-32 which, in company with two other Beaufighters doing an armed reconnaissance along the coast from Salamaua on 12th January, fired at a collection of camouflaged small craft hidden by overhanging trees. At the debriefing they made no claim about damage they might have inflicted, but the next day this signal was received from General Whitehead: A reliable source states that:
"During the strafing of East Island on the morning of 12 January the aircraft's accuracy was deadly. Several small craft were damaged and smoke was seen rising from the hideout".
This is one of the quite frequent occasions on which the pilots have seen no movement or effect of their attack and would probably consider their mission was of no value, whereas in fact it was most successful.
Just two days after that encouraging message, the Squadron's morale plummeted when Bruce Stephens and Stewart Cameron were killed shortly after taking off and signalling that they were returning to base because of a faulty rudder control. During the attempt to land, A19-14 crashed into the ground about 100 metres from where Bruce Robertson and other men from the wireless section were laying telephone cables at the end of Wards Strip. With three other Beaufighters, led by Cec McKew and Ted Lasscock, they had been going to participate in a barge sweep along the coast from Salamaua. Bruce - more generally known as 'Tubby', had joined the Squadron at Richmond after finishing his Beaufort conversion course at No 1 OTU, East Sale at the end of June. He and Stewart had taken part in the Squadron's second mission since its arrival in New Guinea, when a formation of Beaufighters had strafed mule packs carrying supplies to the Japanese in their push from Kokoda to Moresby. At his death, he had flown 21 operational sorties and these included attacks on shipping from Rabaul, Ack-Ack at Buna, barges near Sananda, Lae, the Kumusi River and aircraft on the ground at Lae.
Stewart had arrived at Richmond about ten days later than Tubby. He arrived after graduating as a Navigator (BW) on completion of his course at No 2 Bombing & Gunnery School, Port Pirie. His death was particularly distressing to Fred Anderson for he and Stewart had gone through their wireless, navigation, gunnery and Beaufighter training together. Bruce, who was a rather clever chap, had taken Fred under his wing and had given him private tuition in mathematics and navigation. Fred was down at Wards Strip with two other navigators when the fatality occurred.
"The Beaufighter just blew up", Fred said, "as we stood near the strip watching it, all helpless as they burned to death - dreadful sight which I'll never ever forget".
The following Monday the Commanding Officer led fourteen Beaufighters in yet another attack on Lae. They started widespread fires in the coconut plantation opposite Jacobsen's, and as the aircrew could see thick black smoke rising into the air when they were nearly 40 km away about an hour later, they believed they had blown up a large fuel dump. After that attack, Brian Walker sent eight aircraft back to base while he, in A19-75, led George Drury and Dave Beasley in A19-34, and John Drummond and Ron Allen in A19-48 in an attack against enemy troops seen on Mangrove Island.
In a barge sweep along the coast from Salamaua on the 23rd, Ron Downing and Danny Box in A19-53 attacked five difficult-to-see and well-camouflaged barges but couldn't call the other Beaufighters in to finish the job because of a radio failure - one of the few instances when this Australian-designed and Australian-built AT5/AR8 equipment did not function. A week later, Ron Downing and Danny Box were involved in a more dramatic incident while attacking Japanese ground forces attempting to capture Wau. An Australian army unit had marked the target area with smoke bombs and Downing's attack with his 20mm incendiaries blew up a large ammunition dump, throwing up a huge amount of debris in his path. In consequence, A19-53 came home with one large hole and fifty-eight smaller ones in the starboard mainplane, and many more in the fuselage.
Gwynn Davies and Wally Edwards soon got their Servicing Party fitters and riggers on the job of replacing the damaged wing, amid a degree of discontent, which had spread through the Squadron's groundstaff who thought that the posting authorities had forgotten them entirely. The Squadron had been in New Guinea for some considerable time before the official word came through that they would have to spend 15 months before being relieved. The first rumour to surface suggested that the men would go home in three months, but as time went by and successive rumours did not result in southern posting, some men became quite depressed, an attitude which worsened after periods of intense activity and putrid weather. The men of the Servicing Party often slogged away at their work down on the strip from 7 am to 6.30 pm and agreed with Roy Meers who couldn't make out why
"the Air Board doesn't recognize our hard work and get us out of this place".
They were not to know that the paucity of personnel resources acted against their early repatriation; in March 1943, for instance, No 9 Operational Group was 1,072 airmen below its authorized strength, a figure that increased to 2,005 by June of that year.
The men were also unhappy about the poor standard of their meals. Although the Squadron drew most of its supplies from RAAF support units, it relied on the Australian Army for its rations. The entitlement for its aviators and technicians was no different from that for an infantryman in the jungle near Kokoda, being based on the 24 items in the Australian ration scale.
The men were of the opinion that the quality and variety of food served to them in New Guinea was little different from that doled out to their fathers at Gallipoli. Most of the stuff was either tinned or dehydrated - bully beef meat and vegetables, frankfurts, herrings in tomato sauce, peas, potatoes, carrots, and egg powder (for which a number of Chinese powdering plants had been dismantled and re-assembled in Australia. And dog biscuits. These were about 75 mm square and 6 mm thick, with a texture and taste resembling that of chipboard, and unless thoroughly soaked in tea or gravy could damage the plate and teeth of anyone wearing dentures.
The meals were grossly deficient in nutritional value, but it was their monotony that caused rumblings of discontent - the more so because the men were aware that other Australian army and air force units were getting better fare. It seems that somebody was on the fiddle, for No 5 Army Supply Corps depot at the 19 mile had stacks of better food than was being dished out in the June Valley messes. Resourceful airmen visited that depot and by either ruses or legal means, acquired a variety of tasty comestibles. Don Angus was delighted when he managed to 'extricate' 5 cases of tinned tomatoes and 2 cases of tinned peaches, but another airman was dismayed to discover that he had ‘extricated' 4 cases of tinned carrots. On another occasion a group of the Squadron's musicians volunteered to put on a show for the ACS staff, and while they were on stage entertaining the soldiers, their raiding party was at the back of the depot loading case after case of goodies onto their truck.
"We enjoyed many suppers after that",
said the leader of the foray,
"and relished the asparagus, apricots, pears, peaches, pineapples and plums - topped off with Nestles Cream or condensed milk".
The men recognized that the messing staff did their best with the rations provided, and were aware that there was a limit. to the ways that bully beef or tinned herrings could be served up, as indicated by the following verse attributed to "Blackie":
We know how he'd wish, to improve the goldfish, he has to dish up for our tea,
And we know he can't fashion, better meals from our ration, or give us fresh fish from the sea.
Tis the silliest of sooks, that would curse our real treasure, and bring smaller measure -
So, never go crook at the cooks.
Men of the 3rd Division were locked in a grim struggle along the jungle trails between Wau and Mubo and which involved nerve-wracking operations in thickly-wooded ravines and steep ridges. Aircraft from Port Moresby rendered some assistance to the Division by bombing and strafing, but Beaufighter attacks were not always effective because of low cloud, the difficult terrain and an inability to see the enemy ground forces. That latter factor probably led the officers of the 2/7th Battalion to believe that this form of direct aid to attacking infantry in the jungles of New Guinea was not as useful or effective as artillery support.
At that time the aim of the Japanese forces in New Guinea was the reinforcement of their bases at Lae, Salamaua, Madang and Wewak and to secure that general region with the ultimate objective of launching a gloriously successful attack on the large Allied base at Moresby.
Fortunately, no bombs ever fell on the Squadron's camp in June Valley, where the living conditions were gradually improving. No 5 Mobile Works Squadron had installed pipes, which brought water to its own campsite as well as those of other RAAF units in the Valley. The personnel of 30 Squadron had been provided with an ablution block which had a sloping concrete floor, ten over-head shower roses, a foot-bath containing a strong solution of Condie's Crystals and because nurses drove past on their way to No 3 Medical Receiving Centre, a hessian screen was nailed along the side of the block which faced the road.
Les Braund's equipment staff had managed to secure a few of the canvas fly’s stored at Murray Barracks as part of the War Establishment of the Papuan Infantry Battalion, and the airmen had erected these as annexes to their tents, thus making things slightly more comfortable for the six inhabitants. Athol Hewitt, an instrument repairer from Hobart, was one of those who had visited the gravel pit from which the Works Squadron obtained its material for surfacing the strip, and spread gravel screenings on the floors of his tent. Discarded packing cases were used to construct makeshift furniture, as neither tables, chairs, nor lockers were provided as Air Force issue. Several men tried to brighten up the areas around their tents by growing flowers, whilst Jeff Heath and Andy Herron were among those who tried, unsuccessfully, to raise some fresh vegetables.
Those who visited Hanaubada or other nearby villages would often return with fresh fruit - husked coconuts, tropical papayas, and huge bunches of bananas, which they bought from the natives. Some members of the Squadron risked the wrath of the authorities when they went fishing in Fairfax Harbour, using sticks of gelignite rather than baited lines. One of the armourers had to be rushed back to shore with an ear problem after an occupant of the launch tossed a stick into the water without realising that his mate was underwater collecting stunned fish.
Providing it had no operational tasks, the RAAF Marine Section was always willing to provide a launch to take aircrew or groundstaff out on a fishing trip or across to one of the delightful islands in the Harbour where they could relax in the buff on the sandy beaches or disport themselves in the warm, shallow water. On their off-duty days Jim Wilson and his fellow flight riggers would visit the enclosed swimming baths near the Burns Philp wharf, whilst Allan Laing and his flight mechanic mate, Viv Mansell, often walked and swam at Ela Beach. A particular spot on the Laloki River became a favourite with Squadron aircrew and groundstaff alike and was frequently visited by Gwynn Davis, Glen Stoneham, and Ron Morrison. Expeditions to Roana Falls were also popular, for that locality was much cooler than the Squadron's camp, and standing under the rather chilly falling water was a bracing and refreshing experience for the weary men.
Don Angus got a baseball team together, but the Squadron players didn't have much success against the team from the American 101st AA battery, whose pitcher had played for the Chicago Red Sox. One of the Squadron's guards organised a couple of cricket matches against an army unit based at Bootless Bay but neither side distinguished itself in either bowling or batting. Few airmen were inclined to take part in active sport because of the stifling heat and the energy-sapping humidity during the day. After-hours recreations within the camp included a variety of card games such as Poker, Twenty-one Hundred, and Bridge, as well as board games such as Chess, Draughts, and Chinese Checkers. Others could play Battleships and Cruisers, whilst those who wished to either occupy their time or add to their piggy-bank could attend the two-up sessions run by a corporal fitter.
When Air Commodore 'Joe' Hewitt became AOC of 9 Operational Group, he directed unit commanders to tighten up their discipline and their anti-malarial measures. Heretofore, members of 30 Squadron had been allowed to grow beards because water was scarce, new razor blades were unobtainable, chin rashes were prevalent, and facial hair protected fair skins from sunburn. When, in obedience to the AOC's direction, the Adjutant introduced daily parades, he ordered the men to remove their whiskers straightaway and remain clean-shaven in accordance with the Air Force regulation. He also stressed the need for strict observance of anti-malarial measures, insisting that nobody should shower after sunset, that everybody should take Atebrin tablets every Wednesday and Saturday, and that everybody should wear trousers and long-sleeved shirt after dusk. But, as Group Captain 'Stiffy' Wiggins discovered, some airmen had to keep wearing shorts as long trousers were short in every Equipment Store.
Those responsible for repainting bikes and jeeps, putting a few dents in them, altering the identification numbers, and manufacturing fake log-books, took a degree of pride in their work and their ability to fool the American Military Police who made numerous surprise visits to the Squadron.
"They were as thick as two planks"
said Ron Morrison,
"and never twigged that we had two or three jeeps and a few motor bikes with the same markings and numbers".
At least one of the Squadron's official vehicles left the camp every night to take fellows to see movies supposed to be showing at some particular unit, but it depended on the accuracy of that word-of-mouth information and the driver's knowledge of roads and unit locations whether the men actually saw that movie that night. All the screenings were made at open-air cinemas equipped with nothing more than a screen and a makeshift shed for the projector. Patrons brought their own seats - such as kerosene tins, wooden packing cases, or small fuel drums - and when the projectionist had to change reels, everyone stood up to stretch themselves and ease the pressure on their backsides. When the sound or image went awry, the projectionist became the subject of loud catcalls, which, for the most part, were good-natured and kept the crowd entertained until the show resumed.
Cinema audiences never let even a tropical downpour interfere with their night's entertainment, and the men of 30 Squadron sat hunched on their makeshift seats while water streamed off their tin hats and down their necks inside their rubber capes which they tried to make into small tents by spreading their arms akimbo. Because of the noise made by the rain pelting on the tin hats, rubber capes, nearby tents and the iron roof of the projection box, the sound track was virtually inaudible. It was difficult to light an already-damp Bryant and May's wooden match in the pouring rain, so it became the custom for anyone who managed that task to pass his lighted butt to his neighbour, who passed his butt to his neighbour and so on.
An Air Raid Yellow warning would turn all heads towards the north to look for the incoming planes lit up by the search lights. If the audience calculated that the bombers were passing them by, most of them stayed - even if a little nervously. But if they thought that their locality was threatened by the attack, there was a mad scramble to vacate the place, since the unit's slit trenches could not accommodate such a crowd of visitors.
After the evening meal on April Fool's Day, some of the men walked up the road to see Joe E Brown in 'The Gladiator' which was to be screened at 22 Squadron's outdoor cinema. But urgent messages from those fellows brought nearly everyone across from the 30 Squadron camp and for their benefit the projectionist had to re-run the Cinesound newsreel, for it contained Damien Parer's shots of the Beaufighters engaged in the Bismarck Sea Battle.
No 9 Operational Group had sent 34 Beaufighters out on 3rd and 4th March to participate in the destruction of the Japanese convoy bringing supplies and reinforcements from Rabaul to its beleaguered troops in New Guinea. The convoy included 16 ships. In the ensuing Bismarck Sea Battle 12 ships were destroyed during repeated attacks by Fortresses, Liberators, Catalinas, Mitchells, Bostons, and Beaufighters - who were given the flak-suppression task so that the other aircraft could concentrate their attention on accurate bomb-aiming.
The first day's engagement provided excitement for everyone involved - the Liberators and Fortresses doing the high-level bombing, the Mitchells and Bostons doing the lower-level bombing, the Lightnings providing top cover, and the Beaufighters making low-level strafing runs. In the first few minutes, one of 30 Squadron's pilots disposed of a ship-borne Ack-Ack gun and its crew, whose attention had been focussed on the high-level bombers and were totally unaware of any low-flying aircraft. Dick Rowe and Peter Fisken in A19-87 were right over another vessel and were about to pull up from their strafing run when a 226 kg bomb exploded directly underneath and tossed the Beaufighter into the sky. It then lurched towards the water, recovered, straightened up and went on towards another target. That explosion had come from a bomb dropped by a Mitchell and made quite a large dent in the belly of A19-87.
George Drury and Dave Beasley in A19-11 were attacked by Zeros just as they were about to strafe one of the transports in the by-now dispersed convoy, but George followed standard procedure, got down on the water,
"opened up all the taps",
and outdistanced the pursuing fighters. When that pair of Zeros gave up the chase, they pulled away in a half-roll and tried to position themselves on the tail of A19-10, flown by Bob Bennett and Phil Edwards. But Bob had anticipated that sort of action and he too was skimming the water at maximum speed, being able to draw away from them. One of the pursuers then managed to get on the tail of A19-53, flown by Ron Downing and Danny Box, and fired on them from less than 50 metres. The Beaufighter's fuselage was holed, the port engine was stopped, the starboard engine was making unhealthy noises, Ron was wounded in the left shoulder and Danny was hit in the thigh and the wrist. Despite these difficulties, Ron, shepherded by two other Beaufighters, managed to get his stricken aeroplane to Poppondetta where he made a spectacular belly landing.
Ross little and Alex Spooner, in A19-8 spotted another Zero which was pursuing a Mitchell and they opened fire with their cannon and machine-guns when about 200 metres away from the Japanese fighter. Ross succeeded in his intention of drawing the enemy away from the Mitchell, but the Zero climbed skywards, let Ross pass underneath him and then did a half-roll to get behind and make a dead astern attack on the Beaufighter. Alec Spooner had the satisfaction of returning the enemy's fire with his own machine gun: Alec had been responsible for designing the fitment of a rearward-firing Browning .303 into the navigator’s rear cupola.
The fuselage of A19-24, which was being flown by Len Vial and Ralph Nelson, was damaged by bullets which ricocheted down the length of the cabin and nicked a piece out of the navigator's shorts. Ralph adopted the tactic that Len Greenhill said had proved effective in the Sunderlands of 10 Squadron, and flicked a red Aldis lamp at his pursuer, in the hope that the enemy pilot might think the flashes came from a rear-firing gun in the Beaufighter. The Zero did break off his attack, but whether he did so because of the red flashes is of academic interest to Ralph.
Bruce Robertson had hooked up a loud speaker to the ATS/AR8 radio gear so that he, Don Angus, Ewen Blackman and other wireless operators could hear the voice transmissions of aircraft involved in the Bismarck Sea affair. But the word soon spread and a considerable crowd of groundstaff from 6, 22, and 30 Squadrons gathered around the wireless section's tent to hear what was happening to their aircrews, and to follow the progress of the battle. But the terse messages they heard could not convey a real understanding of what it was like to be on board an Allied aircraft. That is more vividly given by George Burton Graham, a wireless technician, who joined 30 Squadron in May 1943. In his book 'None Shall Survive' George relates how cine photographer Damien Parer fared when he flew with Ron Uren and Harry Suthons in A19-5, straddling the well behind the pilot:
Parer is standing behind 'Torchy' and all he can see for a time is the horizon streaking past the nose, then a lot of water, and then the plane straightens. You've gone around behind the warships, but they're still banging away with their big guns, pom-poms and Ack-Ack. You can see tracers whipping by. A cargo ship is in the sights. She is camouflaged and has goal-post masts. She looks blurred at first, but then comes into focus. The first thunder of fire [from the cannons] gives you a shock. It jars at your feet, and you see the tracers lashing out ahead of you, and orange lights dance before your eyes as the bullets strike on the grey structure of the ship. You keep on following the tracers to the ship, but before you get there 'Torchy' eases back the stick and you feel the tearing at your stomach and your knees want to buckle with the terrific strain of the pull-out. You have to hang on to the framework behind the pilot - and the ship becomes a dark mass. Again you see a lot of sky ...
By this time, Damien says, you're feeling pretty good. It's all so wonderful and powerful and smooth that you get a sense of jubilation and exhilaration. You take a deep breath and press hard on your stomach. Your perspiring hands take a fresh grip on the grating. You can smell the fetid stench of gunpowder in your nostrils. Then the plane is banking round again and a fresh target is lining up in the sights. It straightens up and you are in that terrific rush of power again. You’re going in - hard and furious. The great hull of the ship is looming up at you, grey and black and forbidding. Again the guns begin their violent stammer, again the flashing out of tracers. The shuddering beat of the explosions gives the scene a grey flicker. The acrid smell is in your nostrils. You seem suspended in an unwholesome moment of fear and delight as you watch the stream of bullets whang over the decks. You see the black smoke rising and you are still diving to meet it until everything is a black smudge - and you say a quick prayer. And then you feel that wrench upwards again and the plane sweeps miraculously up. And the ship passes below the fuselage in a dark blur.
According to Arthur Ferrier, Damien was bubbling with excitement having shot hundreds of feet of a most thrilling and exhilarating episode of the air war against Japan. Everyone in the Squadron was elated by the many stories told by the crews after their de-briefing by the Intelligence staff, and, even though the Bar could only dispense non-alcoholic drinks, the atmosphere in the Aircrew Mess showed that the young aviators were all keyed up by the events of the day.
Following the issue of the weekly Government Gazette in March the entire Squadron was turned out for a parade on the 26th of that month where they heard the announcement that six commissioned pilots and one commissioned navigator had been decorated. The Commanding Officer, Wing Commander Brian Walker, had been awarded the Distinguished Service Order. His two flight commanders - Squadron leaders Ross Little and Ronald Uren - had each been awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross. Flying Officers Colin Campbell, Alexander Spooner, Jack Sandford and John Maguire were also each awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross.
Just on noon of that day, Short Sunderland flying boat A18-14, under the command of Flying Officer Cowan, alighted in Port Moresby after a five-hour flight from Townsville. That aeroplane brought seven crews to replace crews, which would go south on completion of their six-month operational tour.
The new crews were:
- Flight Lieutenant Maurice Ball and Flight Sergeant Greg Hardman
- Flight Lieutenant 'Grumpy' Eddison and Sergeant Max Allott
- Flying Officer Keith Nicholson and Sergeant Keith Delbridge
- Pilot Office Douglas Raffen and Pilot Officer George Dick
- Flight Sergeant Charles Harris and Sergeant Donald Miller
- Sergeant Edward Woolcott and Sergeant Robert Hasenohr
- Sergeant Harold Tapner and Flight Sergeant Robert Thomas.
Towards the end of March, the Engineer Officer, Norm Fraser expressed considerable pleasure when one of his engine fitters in Servicing Party sectionised a junk head and discovered why they had caused trouble in the Mk 6 engines of the replacement aircraft coming up from the mainland. Servicing Party was responsible for a number of technical aspects, including aircraft repairs and aircraft maintenance, after the regular inspections when they had logged 40, 80, and 120 hours of flying. Wally Edwards (an engine fitter) and Andy Herron (an airframe fitter) kept their men in that Party hard at work in order to achieve a quick turn-round so that the Beaufighters could be returned to the flight lines and be available for operational flying.
In the first few weeks of April they worked on A19-93 (the first Beaufighter to arrive at Moresby with the new dihedral tailplane), on A19-38 (which Brian Walker was to ditch on Pyramid Reef a few weeks later) and on A19-11 (which George Drury had managed to decorate with the tops of palms trees and other foliage). They had also repaired A19-8 (whose airscrew was damaged during an attack on Lae by Ross Little) I as well as A19-5 (which needed a new gill ring before Ron Uren could take it up again) and A19-11 (which needed a new port airscrew seal after George Drury brought it back for a landing a few minutes after taking off for a strike against Madang on 9th April).
Three days later, the men of Servicing Party, 'A' Flight and 'B' Flight ,were just about to take their morning smoko when the Air Raid alarm was given. Henry Cornieliusen, a gunner in the 3rd LAA Regiment wrote that the elaborate warning system they developed for a Yellow Alert (20 minutes warning) and a Red Alert (5 minutes warning). Warning messages emanated from the operations room of No 4 Fighter Sector which was dug into the side of a hill near the 7 Mile, and were based on information fed to it by a Radio Direction Finding station and by dispersed observation parties. The Army had stationed small teams of soldiers in the ranges to the north of Moresby with instructions to send radio messages about aircraft sightings.
Outlying military units got their warnings when an Ack-Ack gun fired three deliberately-spaced shots - a signal which was taken up by the many owners of small arms to ensure that everybody got the message. At some late hour one dark night it so happened that three servicemen had concluded their business at the unit's latrines; and had then slammed down the wooden seats in succession - Bang ... Bang ... Bang. Those three noisy claps caused their sleepy-eyed comrades to respond by scurrying for their slit trenches amid much cursing of the Japanese, which later included their three fellow-soldiers.
On the April morning of the big Japanese raid, the groundstaff who were working on their Beaufighters down at Wards Strip needed no urging to take cover: they reckoned that the attack must be a serious one as it was the first time they had been a target during the hours of daylight. Moreover, they had inspected the after-effects of a previous raid when the enemy's daisy cutters had sheared off all the saplings, shrubs and Kunai grass about 40 cm above ground level. And on another occasion, when they arrived at their workplace the morning after a similar raid, they found that their enamel mugs, left hanging on tent-poles, were riddled with holes.
As it neared Moresby, the enemy force of 45 bombers and 60 fighters split into three formations - the most easterly formation of nine bombers concentrating their attack on Wards. Japanese planners may have believed that Wards accommodated a small air armada, but were apparently unaware that many of the 'aeroplanes' disclosed by reconnaissance flights were wooden dummies on open display around the aerodrome. The enemy aircraft dropped a string of some 40 daisy-cutters as they flew across the northern end of the strip: the first one exploded in the vicinity of 'B' Flight, and the last one exploded in the vicinity of 'A' Flight.
When Owen Fenwick and George Dusting saw the size of the raid, and that a bomber formation was heading straight towards them, they vacated the Beaufighter's dispersal area at speed and kept on going until the bombs began to fall,
"and then we fell flat on mother earth right near an AA gun”,
“The whole world seemed to be going up in smoke, flame and noise”.
A newly arrived flight rigger had reported to Ron Morrison only a minute or so before the alarm was sounded, and within a quarter of an hour he was subjected to an enemy bombing raid involving more than 100 Japanese aeroplanes. Ron saw that the young lad was scared stiff and took the trouble to calm him down and get him into a shelter. 'Titter' Simon (so called because of his generous mammary development) was an aircraft hand in 'B' Flight, and speculated about how to cover his vital parts with just one size 7 steel helmet - and decided that he needed at least two.
Jim Wilson was descending a hill behind an American truck when the Red Alert sounded and he saw the driver leap out of the cab and head for the scrub, letting his bomb-laden truck career down the hill 2nd slam into a culvert with an almighty crash - without disturbing even one of the 250 pound bombs on board. After Jim had hurriedly parked his vehicle at the side of the road and joined the Afro-American, he remarked on the stupidity of abandoning the truck and letting it get badly damaged. To which the American driver replied,
"Man, Uncle Sam's got plenty of trucks, but there's only one of me".
Because the engines of two Beaufighters were being given a ground run at the time, Eric Hughes wasn't aware of the impending raid until 'Jeep' Wilson yelled at him and three other fitters to take cover. They raced to their trench but its sides had collapsed and it was little more than a shallow depression.
Nevertheless, the four men dived in head first and pressed their bodies down hard into the sloppy mud and slimy water, thus avoiding being sliced by the myriad shreds of deadly shrapnel. Elton Marsden and Wally Navin had dug their trench at some distance from the bay that accommodated A19-3, normally flown by Cec McKew and Ted Lasscock, and on which the two airmen were working at the time of the alert. They scampered for their trench where Elton pressed his face down so solidly that,
"I was eating the dirt at the very bottom of the trench",
"And I thought my time had come when my tin helmet was struck by a piece of flying shrapnel, giving quite a sharp 'ding' and taking some paint off".
A19-50 was a total write-off: it had received a direct hit and became nothing more than a smoking shell. The fuselage of A19-37 was punctured by dozens of small holes: it had recently been flown by Ed Woolcott and Bob Hasenohr in an attack against Alexishafen. The fuselage and wings of A19-11 were similarly holed: that aircraft had been flown by Keith Nicholson and Ken Delbridge in a raid on Madang with a formation of American Liberators. The third Beaufighter to sustain damage from shrapnel that day was A19-5, but Norm Fraser's men were able to repair it in time for George Gibson and Eric Lusk to take it out on a strafing mission about ten days later.
A crowd of onlookers soon arrived to survey the damage. One negro got out of his jeep and was examining the miserable wreckage of A19-50 when Ron Morrison reminded him that he'd left the motor of his jeep running.
“Ah knows that , Suh”,
"But Ah wants to be ready if those sons-of-bitches gonna come back."
Meanwhile a rather twitchy Adjutant had been skittering around the June Valley camp on his long, thin legs, with his helmet planted firmly on his bald head, the haversack containing his gas mask strapped to his chest, and brandishing his Smith & Wesson while booming out,
"Don't panic! Don't panic! I'll shoot the first man that panics!
John Laverty believed that one or two airmen had their rifles trained on the Adjutant in case he really did go off the deep end.
At the evening meal Frank Simpson delighted the airmen by reciting a piece of doggerel, which included the following:
One day the Japs sent bombers, to belt us for a row,
But the boys stood fast beside their kites, prepared to face the foe.
While miles away at camp, they say, old 'Split-pin' lost his cool,
And said if one man panicked, he'd shoot the bloody fool.
The following day it fell to Jack Sandford and Arthur Jaggs in A19-32, to lead two other Beaufighters on a strafing mission against targets near Salamaua. On the day after that, Ron Uren and Bill Clarke, in A19-5, led two more aircraft on another mission in the same area. However, because of low clouds, they could make only ten strafing runs against the target. Nine Beaufighters joined a force of 16 Liberators in an attack on Madang on 18th March, where they thoroughly strafed the strip area before the Americans dropped their bomb-load. The Beaufighters went on to Alexishafen where they poured round after round of 20mm into the Japanese headquarters near the Cathedral, the power-house, the sawmill, as well as the jetty and its installations.
Brian Walker and Bill Cameron, in A19-3, led nine Beaufighters across a large stretch of the South Pacific Ocean to the southern coast of New Britain where they were to co-operate with another large formation of Liberators in an attack on Gasmata on 22nd April. As usual, the Beaufighters went in first, and then the Americans pounded the place with their 900kg bombs. The bombing and strafing attacks were highly successful, and the raid severely affected the enemy's ability to mount air attacks on Allied units in New Guinea. But it was not without cost to 30 Squadron. A19-34 (Harold Berg and Harold Kelly) was hit in the port tyre by machine gun fire, but because the crew - who were on their first mission - made a good landing at Wards, the aircraft was soon repaired and put back into service.
Three other aircraft were holed by .5 inch bullets. A19-8 (Ross Little and Alec Spooner), A19-74 (Bob Harding and Hedley Cane) and A19-87 (Dick Roe and Peter Fisken). And once more George Drury came home in A19-11 with palm fronds hanging from its fuselage. The common view among the groundstaff was that George's height perception became impaired during his low-level run across a target, and that this arose because of some distortion to his eyesight caused by the different refractive values of his spectacles, his gun-sight and the one-inch armour-plate glass windshield.
During that sortie the ammunition expenditure for the Squadron was 18,000 rounds from the .303 machine guns, and 8,500 armour-piercing, ball and high incendiary rounds from the 20mm cannons.
Each Beaufighter carried four cannons that were mounted on the floor of the fuselage, the breech blocks being situated about midway between the navigation station and the armour-plate doors. For most of the aircraft operating out of Port Moresby, the rounds were carried in twelve removable drums, four being mounted on the cannons, and eight being held by storage clips on the sides of the fuselage. Each drum weighed about 26 kg and contained enough rounds for about three bursts of fire. It fell to the navigator to remove the empty drums and replace them with full ones.
Fred Anderson found that changing the drums in the air was a most torrid time. He had to uncouple his seat harness, free himself from any belted ammunition dangling from the rear gun, stowaway all his maps and other navigation gear, lock his table in the 'Up' position, have a quick look around for enemy fighters, and then crawl forward. Then he had to free the empty drum, prevent it from rolling round the floor and smashing into his knees, lift a full drum off its stowage, and lock it onto the cannon. And he had to do that for each of the four cannons. At the time, he would be draped about with a web belt to which was attached his revolver and holster, an ammunition pouch, a water bottle, a jungle knife, and a survival kit. Moreover, he would be trussed up in a tight-fitting parachute harness over which would be strapped the most awkward life jacket ever designed.
The navigator had to get the four new drums on the cannons in time for the pilot to fire them on the next pass at the target, and had to do all that while coping with the effects of several G's and an aircraft being put through a steep climbing turn as it pulled away from the target.
No wonder the navigators cursed the cannon arrangements in the early Beaufighters. Mild-mannered Bob Hasenohr came near to blasphemy after badly skinning his knuckles while manually cocking the cannons. Bill Davis normally flew in a Beaufighter fitted with automatic bin-feeds, but got quite worried when he had to fly in one fitted with drums. He was an accomplished pianist and was worried that he might lose a finger while manipulating the drums or the cocking lever.
New crews were introduced to the tactics used within the Squadron by taking part in a mock operation in the local Moresby area. On 31st May, seven of the incoming crews were briefed to take six Beaufighters out on such an activity, which was to culminate in a line astern attack with cannons and machine guns on an old wreck in Moresby Harbour. Bob Harding and Hedley Cane were to fly A19-73 and take another crew - Frank King and John Tyrrell - as passengers.
For the weapons portion of the exercise, Bob Harding, the leader of the second formation, was briefed to attack the mid-ships portion, while the pilot in the following aircraft was to attack the bow of the wreck. That pilot was closely watching the aircraft in front and saw that his formation leader was heading towards the ship's bow, which meant that he could be hit if the following aircraft pressed on with the attack.
"I chose not to fire my guns"
said Doug Raffen.
"I had the leader clearly in view and saw that he wasn't going to clear the ship at all, being at deck height and coming up fast on the big mast poking up into the sky. The next thing I saw was a sheet of flame from the starboard engine, after which the Beaufighter flipped over onto its back and plunged into the sea."
The starboard mainplane of A19-73 was sheared clean off when it hit the ship's mast and sailed up into the air.
"A good part of my vision from the cockpit was obscured as it whipped past my aeroplane",
The two pilots in the lead aircraft - Harding and King - were killed in that tragic accident. King's tour of duty in New Guinea had lasted exactly three days. Amazingly, the two navigators - Cane and Tyrrell - managed to free themselves from the submerged Beaufighter and were picked up by an RAAF Rescue launch. That lucky pair spent three or four days in hospital having some minor cuts and bruises attended to.
Getting to and from targets on the north coast of New Guinea did not call for any great navigation skill and very few of the men sitting at the navigation table in the rear of the Beaufighter took the trouble to maintain a still-air plot. Eric Lusk never did so, and wasn't aware that anyone else did - except, perhaps the navigator in the lead aircraft. Harold Kelly was never in a lead aircraft, and was thus never responsible for getting a formation to its target on time. Being a conscientious and meticulous fellow, he kept a still-air plot going all the time, as well as marking their actual position, derived from visual observations. Fred Cassidy also maintained a Dead Reckoning plot during every operational flight. He and Mos Morgan got together before take-off and worked out a complete and thorough flight plan which took account of possible places for an emergency landing, navigational hazards, possible prominent features, and what landmarks to look for. The paucity of topographical information on the aeronautical charts of the day did not augur well for highly accurate navigation, but the Beaufighter crews were much better off than other aviators in the area. When Lieutenant Marion Kirby and the 80th Fighter Squadron arrived in New Guinea the only maps the pilots had were from the National Geographic magazine, showing the coastal outline and a few inland peaks. Their standard procedure after an attack on Buna was to fly on a heading of 180 degrees until they saw the sea, and turn right for Moresby if they saw reefs at the coastline. Lieutenant Kirby offered that as a summation of their navigation.
Bill Cameron and Eric Lusk were uncomfortable when sitting at the navigator's station in a Beaufighter, for they were both tall fellows and were forever scraping their heads against the inside of the cupola, or bumping them when they bent down to adjust the radio gear. On the other hand, men of shorter stature - such as Don Kirkwood - would sometimes sit on a parachute pack in order to secure an unimpeded view of the countryside through their perspex cupola.
Squadron navigators had mixed opinions about the armour-plate doors located about half-way between the navigator and his pilot. Some liked them open. Some liked them shut. Col Harvey wasn't at all happy about them being shut because he was then unable to see what was happening up at the front end, and the forwards view during an attack was always exciting. Jim Yeatman liked to have them open too, for he then had a reasonable view through the front window of what the aircraft was doing during a take-off or landing.
On the other hand, John Bell liked to have the doors closed, if for no other reason than he simply wasn't all that interested in what his pilot, Sid Wallace, was doing in the front cockpit anyway. He went south after a very short tour. Harold Kelly then took his place in the crew, and took it on himself to close the doors when they were chased by Zeros,
"in the belief that their fire might eliminate me first, in which case that was that"
"But they missed me and got Scotty through the open doors
... then that meant the end of both of us”.