36 SQUADRON - RAAF
"THERE AND BACK"
IN AUSTRALIA DURING WWII

 

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36 Squadron RAAF

 

36 Squadron was formed at Laverton, in Victoria on 11 March 1942. It was initially equipped with Douglas DC-2 aircraft. Their Commanding Officer was Flight Lieutenant W.H. Heath. 36 Squadron carried out transport flights from Laverton to Batchelor carrying stores and equipment from No. 1 Aircraft Depot. They also flew the occasional flights to Maylands in Western Australia and Mareeba in far north Queensland.

36 Squadron was placed under the operational control of Air Transport Command which was formed on 14 July 1942. 36 Squadron moved to Essendon airfield in Melbourne, Victoria on 17 July 1942. They shared some hangar space at Essendon with the USAAC 22nd Transport Squadron.

By this time 36 Squadron had increased its fleet to six DC-2s, two DH-84s, one DH-86, one Beechcraft and one Tiger Moth. Their time at Essendon was a very busy period with some of their pilots averaging 130 flying hours per month.

One of 36 Squadron's DC-2' s crashed and caught fire while landing at Seven Mile Strip, at Port Moresby, in New Guinea on 14 September 1942. All the crew were killed and the cargo was destroyed.

 

Crash of Douglas DC-2 A30-10 at
Mallacoota Airfield, VIC on 25 Nov 1942

 

Squadron Leader G.H. Purvis took over as Commanding Officer of 36 Squadron on 8 November 1942. 36 Squadron RAAF, minus the rear echelon, moved from Essendon to the Stock Route airfield in Townsville by 11 December 1942. Regular flights to Port Moresby were carried out from Townsville carrying personnel, mail and general supplies. In 1943, the rear echelon moved from Essendon to Parafield to become part of the reformed 34 Squadron RAAF.

The Stock Route airfield was located in the section of today's Dalrymple Road where the large electricity steel tower lines run beside the road back to Duckworth Street. It was a satellite airfield to Garbutt airfield and aircraft would often taxi between the two areas.

On the 19 January 1943, 36 Squadron and the RAAF received its first Dakotas. They were five DC-3 Dakotas which were on loan from the USAAF.

On Saturday 27th March 1943 at approximately 0512 hours Douglas DC3 (C-47) VH-CTB, A65-2 (A30-16) of 36 Squadron, Townsville, was involved in a fatal accident at Archerfield. The crew of four were killed as were all passengers consisting of 17 Australian and 2 American personnel. A total of 23 personnel were killed.

 

Crash of VH-CTB at Archerfield on 27 March 1943
with the loss of 23 lives. Australia's 8th worst air crash.

 

On 1 June 1943 a detachment from 36 Squadron began operating from New Guinea, carrying out general transport flights. Later in June 1943, "B" Flight was relocated to RAAF Richmond for general training and to provide a DC-2 for the Parachute Training Flight at Richmond.

 

LAC Donald Cantrol Cameron 426040 36 Squadron RAAF, 21 yrs old, Jackeroo and Overseer of Auvern, Texas, Inglewood Rd, Texas, QLD. Grave A.B.11 Rockhampton War Cemetery Killed in the crash of a USAAC C-47 near Canal Creek in central Queensland on 19 Dec 1943

 

On 20 February 1944, 36 Squadron moved to Garbutt airfield to allow the Americans to erect eleven Butler hangar/warehouses on the Stock Route airstrip. Later that year the detachments at Richmond and New Guinea were disbanded. In August 1944, 36 Squadron set a new record. They flew 2989 hours and carried 1186 tons of cargo.

After the Directorate of Air Transport was disbanded, RAAF Headquarters assumed operational control of RAAF Air Transport groups. At this same time the aircraft on loan from the USAAF were returned leaving a Squadron establishment of 12 Dakotas.

During January 1945, two Dakotas from 36 Squadron were stationed at Tadji. They carried out highly successful supply drops to Army personnel. Up to 98 per cent recovery was reported by the Army.

In February 1945, Dakota VH-CUF did not return from a supply dropping mission in enemy territory in the Aitape area. There were 4 personnel killed in this crash. Some Army commandos rescued the survivors.

In April 1945 the Squadron’s serviceability fell to 75.4 per cent after a number of key maintenance personnel were posted out of the Squadron. This impacted seriously on their ability to meet their operational commitments.

Another fatal crash happened in the Aitape area when VH-CIG crashed. A native patrol eventually located the wreckage and discovered that all crew and passengers were killed.

On 1 August 1945, the Squadron moved to 2 Project Transient Camp, at Garbutt airfield. They became inmvolved with the landing of occupation troops and transporting released prisoners of war home. Detachments were sent to Morotai, Bougainville, Tadji, and eventually Singapore. By October 1945 all these overseas Detachments were disbanded.

RAAF Air Transport groups, including 36 Squadron, had moved 6500 prisoners of war and 100, 000 lbs of freight from Singapore to evacuation centres.

36 Air Ambulance Flight was formed from 2 Air Ambulance Unit in early November 1945. The latter had disbanded earlier at Archerfield. By now there were 20 aircraft and 379 personnel in 36 Squadron.

In 1946 detachments were sent to Darwin, Morotai and Ambon. The Morotai detachment commenced a tri-weekly service to Tokyo and Hiroshima during February 1946. Two aircraft from 36 Squadron assisted 93 Squadron's move to Iwakuni, Japan.

36 Squadron moved to Schofields near Sydney on 19 August 1946.

 

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My uncle, Jack Dunn (77286), who was a flight mechanic in 36 Squadron.

 

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My uncle, Jack Dunn, is the one at the right in the top of the bunk
Can anyone tell me who the others are?

Thanks to George Redding I now know that the fellow at the top left
is John "Jack" Carroll and the fellow at the bottom on the right is Don Lancaster.
The corporal was a carpenter in 36 Squadron, name unknown.

Thanks to Don Lancaster I now know that the corporal is Bob Woodley, the Squadron carpenter.

 

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My uncle, Jack Dunn, is at the far right in this photo

Left to right:-   Bob Woodley, Don Lancaster, John "Jack" Carroll and John "Jack" Dunn

 

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Inside a C-47 of 36 Squadron

 

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C-47 "The Arunta" of 36 Squadron RAAF

 

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E-mails from Judith O'Shea, neice of
George Redding of 36 Squadron RAAF

 

 

"..And Far from Home"
"Flying RAAF Transports in the Pacific War and After"
By John Balfe

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Purvis, Cornfoot, and Bonnington in Townsville in 1942,
the early days of 36 Squadron

 

Pages 3 - 9

I knew almost nothing of this kind of flying and less of the Drake and Magellan boldness that it demanded when Ron Cornfoot and I went to Aitkenvale, on Townsville's outskirts, to meet. Flight.Lieutenant Bonnington at 38 Squadron's Stock Route Airstrip. We had never seen as many Douglases as the 12 that were lined beside the runway. The squadron had as many away flying. We had both signed into 36 on that day, Cornfoot from an operational training unit where he had instructed in bomber and reconnaissance flying after a torrid tour out of Darwin and Ambon in Lockheed Hudsons. They were smaller, snappier military versions of another civil airliner.

Cornfoot had survived in one of the six Australian front-line squadrons almost wiped out in heroic if futile efforts to hold back the Japanese as they moved toward Australia through Java and the Celebes. I was then 30. Cornfoot at 25 typified a gallant RAAF few who had faced overwhelming odds against the Zeros. He had seen his commanding officer crash headlong into the ocean and, in one day over the Celebes, lost eight Hudson crews of his squadron friends, 32 irreplacable men shot from the sky around him. Few in those advance squadrons escaped the slaughter in Malaya, Sumatra, Java, Timor, Ambon and New Britain. In the aftermath he covered his exhaustion from that ordeal in a fatalistic humour. I realised the depth of experience that he was bringing into 36 Squadron and I determined to fly with him as much as I could, to learn from him. In the next few years we did fly and work a lot together and I did not regret my resolution. I am alive today probably because some of his airmanship rubbed off on to me.

Stock Route strip sealed a section of an old cattle route from inland stations to Townsville Meatworks and the dust of a cattle muster swirled around us from a traffic of army trucks. Bonnington, who grunted his greeting at us, might have been John Wayne. My raw state perhaps explained his enthusiasm not matching mine and he looked a little like the gruff, gangling Wayne. His handshake was as perfunctory, his glance as stony and no smile softened the chiseling of his mouth. He was nearly two metres tall. His nose, smashed in some bygone aircraft mishap, was like a piece of clinker.

'What have you been flying?'

'Tiger Moths.'

'Jesus!'

I suppose he did not surprise me. Later a bond of goodwill developed between us, but his immediate incredulity voiced uncertainties growing in my own stomach about how, I was going to match up to these mighty ships and fly them on 2000 kilometre journeys and longer. I had not flown anything even half the Douglas's size, an eight-seater type being my largest. Our De Havilland Tigers weighed 1200 kilograms (2500 pounds), had fabric-covered metal frames, two open World War I fighter-type cockpits, speaking tubes, a 130 hp engine and a 400-kilometre (250 mile) range at 160 kilometres an hour (100 mph). The Tiger Moth flew with the agility of a humming bird; the Douglas was like a road train.

I was entering the kingdom of eagles. The C47 weighed 15 400 kilograms (34 000 pounds) all-up, had two 1200 hp engines, three to five crew and carried 27 people or 2720 kilograms (6000 pounds) of freight. Its wings spread 28.5 metres (95 feet), it was more than 18.5 metres (64 feet) long and stood five metres (17 feet) high. Curiously the British named the type Dakota, which we thought most inappropriate. Dakota was a variety of millet or grass and the name of a North American Indian tribe. By some obscure process the RAAF officially followed the RAF's lead, but to us the Douglases reflected the full brilliance of US military transport design and we always gave them the American designation of C47. The type had almost endless uses and versatility. It could cross the broadest oceans and continents, climb the highest mountains, carry another Douglas wing strapped to it, a jeep or three aircraft engines in its cabin, stretchers for 18 to 24 wounded, even a whole aircraft or field gun. It could drop paratroops or tow assault gliders as it did in Burma and on D-Day in Europe.

Those capacities mean little against the size and flight of modern aircraft but the C47 was matchless in aircraft engineering until Liberators, Fortresses and the Lancasters came off the lines in the second half of the war. While those masterpieces flew higher, faster and farther on four-engines and could lift more, even they could not match the Douglas in some regards, especially in hard work, variety of use and in short airstrip performance. More than 10, 000 C47s were built for the Allied Air Forces. Some of the type are still flying and will do so, I expect, for another 20 years. So the regard that pilots had for them was readily understandable.

Twenty-four hours after joining the squadron, my name went up to go with my new Commanding Officer, Harry Purvis, to Moresby. I had known him in civil flying for six years. He was a squadron leader, soon to be wing commander and had in fact arranged my posting from Narrandera. I was on the trip simply for flight experience. Harry took a second pilot and I stood behind them- at the cockpit door, watching their rituals as they flew the 1200 kilometres of Coral Sea on a course almost due north from Townsville and back.

Looking on as we taxied down Stock Route to take off, I saw clearly the challenge in the cockpit's complex of 138 instruments, switches, gauges and controls so crowded that no space of wall, ceiling, panel or floor was unused. I saw immediately and I suppose through an instructor's eye, that a command of this aeroplane should come only after comprehensive training in all aspects of flying it, together with ground courses in its technicalities and in air route flying.

Cornfoot was already at home in these aspects, but I had a way to go. His Hudson cockpit had been very like this one and the engine operations similar also. Most of his flying had been long distance, through tropical conditions in the war zone. His experience made him an instant captain of the kind that 36 Squadron wanted. I would have to be taken by the hand and taught to walk new ground. Before our wheels were up I made up my mind that if Purvis and Bonnington found that my progress took time, I would not try to rush them. I would take things slowly like the old bull, seek all the experience and instruction I could get in my time in the right-hand seat, since no formal course in C47 captaincy was available.

Harry glanced back at me from his pilot seat:

'We have 14 different radio systems in this aeroplane, each in some way assisting our flying or our navigation.'

He said it as though 1 knew the fact already, and what each system did. To my relief he did not seem to look for an intelligent reply. He was ready to take off.

Townsville to Moresby by C47 usually took four hours 20 minutes. The whole journey was across the Coral Sea, with the aircraft 480 kilometres from land at its farthest point, and a long way for any twin powered by piston engines. There was only one pinpoint on the route that gave a visual cheek when it could be seen and some comfort that here one might manage to get down in emergency with a chance of survival, though for how long was a guess. That was Osprey Reef, almost exactly halfway and 350 ocean kilometres east of Cape York's Princess Charlotte Bay.

The reef was a magnificently coloured ring of coral set in an ocean of deep aquamarine, the blue of great sea depths. A white mid-ocean surf crashed on to the reef's windward side. To leeward a peaceful, unbroken surface streamed back like a comet's tail. From our height the coral ring seemed to be under water. Inside the reef we could see the bottom was a vast, submerged sandy saucer 25 kilometres by 15, the water limpid green against the opaque blue outside. The coral ring was brown and built, I imagined, on the rim of a long-dead volcano eroded below sea level.

On days when the sun was high, the cloud broken and the light right, Osprey might reflect its colours in the cloud base. When that happened the sight was magnificent, you knew there must have been a purpose in something so utterly beautiful being set as far as possible away from the rest of the world. Harry said, as our aircraft's nose crossed 2450 metres above the southern fringe of the reef.

'How's that for navigation?'

'Spot on!'

But I had not heard of Osprey before and my admiration for this precise tracking was naive. I was to learn that any aircraft flying this route and missing the reef when cloud did not hide it, would have to be 80 or more kilometres off course and therefore likely to be twice as far astray at the journey's end. I flew 54 crossings of the Coral Sea and Osprey was in cloud on probably 25 of them, I guess. The reef had one lonely shipwreck, a battered steamer of some 5000 tonnes.

Cornfoot's conversion was a record for the squadron, 120 minutes - I think Purvis just went along for the ride. Even my own time left me wondering. I expected to take 500 hours. The squadron put me into the co-pilot's seat for exactly 196 hours 55 minutes of flying. According to my log, to get me solo 188 hours 45 minutes were spent on the routes and I had eight hours 10 minutes of circuits and landings by day, plus another one hour at night. I spent my route time pulling up and putting down wheels and flaps, hand-flying the aircraft or monitoring its systems, but we did very little instrument flying by hand.

We did not have a Link Trainer for blind flying practice and my only single-engine training was in the last hour before solo. My engine-handling was taught on the route. I had no formal lectures and no formal navigation, radio, meteorology or emergency systems training. But that was because we did not have the facilities for any of them.

Every hour of route flying was valuable. My captains were birds of their own feathers with sound mastery over the C47 both in finesse and flying. Most of them had been airline pilots, each had flown extensively before joining the Air Force. We were all in transport and not in bombers or fighters because of our previous flying. I flew happily with Bonnington, Purvis, Alan Randall, Lionel Van Praag, Cornfoot, Frank Cook, Nick Guthrie, Ern Annear and others. I think I learned most from Cornfoot. He flew with an effortless skill, not a consummate airlines skill but a bush-flying kind that was more practically suited to tropics flying and wartime. A ready decisiveness kept him out of trouble and made his flights uneventful, goals that we all aimed at but did not all attain as consistently as he did.

He spotted an early tendency I had inherited from the Tigers to fly 'outside the cockpit', which led me to try to fly the Douglas by lining the horizon with that of the windshield. It made me fly the aeroplane right-wing low - the side on which I sat - and let us creep to the right so that we did not hold course. The trouble disappeared as soon as he taught me to use the flight instruments properly.

My next early difficulty was to hold the heavy, wallowing aircraft in correct approach attitude and land it smoothly. Bonnington fixed that in the Bonnington way:

'You've got fairy hands and feet, man! Stop flying a feather! This is not a Tiger Moth, its a flying truck. Drive it like one.

Make the controls force it to go where you want and stay there!'

Once I did that I broke away from my Tiger Moth caresses and those troubles ended too. In two more hours I was ready for final check by Purvis. He gave me an hour, showed me how to feather a propeller - stop it in flight - and sent me off.

It is in my log book, flying VH-CTC with a stoical, unshakeable Sergeant Alan Firth resigned to being my co-pilot -'Solo circuits and landings. One hour in command.' CTC was a destiny plane for me. A year later we were to ditch together in the Coral Sea.

Looking back, my conversion to captain was swift even at 200 hours, though no quicker than the squadron had to achieve to meet a surge in workload from the battle in New Guinea. The Americans had given us more aircraft. The squadron had to have crews to fly them, new captains had to be risked as fast as they could be 'bovrilised'. Purvis and Bonnington took a calculated gamble about me but their perception must have been deeper than I believed. No accident befell us. Indeed, accidents were rare in RAAF Transport compared to the hours flown, which spoke volumes for the safety built into the C47, the dependability of its Pratt & Whitney engines and the Lord being on our side.

A check-out route flight with Bonnington followed my solo and that was about all there was to it. I brought him back alive and comparatively unshaken. Two whiskies at my expense steadied him down. He thought my chances of survival were about 50-50 and I became from that moment a captain. Generally the training system met the squadron's need and having the Cornfoot kind of pilot helped especially. From the flying aspect he needed only to breeze through the C47 Operations Manual, fly a few take-offs and landings, try some single engine performance and that was all. He had no need of training in instruments or procedure flying, the use of constant-speed propellers or feathering systems, sophisticated radio, de-icer systems or anything else. I would like to have had all those things and much more instrument flying plus a thorough ground course of lectures and examinations. But the squadron was in the war and could not give time or effect to those things.

Two days a captain and I flew my first route assignment, 2720 kilograms (6000 pounds) of turkeys to Moresby for the Americans. I brought back three Liberator engines for overhaul and 90 kilograms of prime turkeys for the squadron's tables. That first flight in command - if that is what I had of the aeroplane - began for me five years in an echelon of RAAF pilots who reaped the full rewards of flying C47s. We flew them not in the airline kind of slugging from city to city, but over half the world, far from home, with the freedom of eagles.

 

 

"..And Far from Home"
"Flying RAAF Transports in the Pacific War and After"
By John Balfe

Pages 33 -34

No. 33 Squadron was formed next, at Townsville in February 1942 and sent in December to Port Moresby with a gaggle of two Qantas Empire Flying Boats captained by Qantas pilots, five Ansons, some Dragons and three Tiger Moths. After the sorry experience of inferior aircraft against the Japanese in Malaya, this circus must have felt at long odds in New Guinea until re-equipped early in 1943 with C47s. However, they flew most creditably and in their first month carried a full 27000 kilograms of freight and many fighting troops to forward battle posts. No. 33 was widely engaged in supply dropping, including at Myola, was at Milne Bay as soon as the Japanese were thrown out, and flew almost its entire service in the islands.

No. 36 Squadron, which had been formed in Melbourne with airline DC2s, moved to Townsville in 33 Squadron's place and began daily flights with men and materiel across the Coral Sea to New Guinea. The squadron quickly proved to the Americans to be a consistently effective transport facility. A close relationship developed with the 5th US Air Force, which loaned the squadron an initial five DC3 aircraft. They were the first DC3s to enter the RAAF and preceded an inflow soon afterward of new C47s. The new aircraft multiplied 36 Squadron's effectiveness. They flew daily to Moresby throughout 1943 and 1944 and achieved spectacular flying results in all Allied-held battle areas of New Guinea. The squadron's commander was one of pre-war Australia's senior airline captains flying Douglases and Lockheeds, Squadron Leader G. H. 'Harry' Purvis, AFC.

A special detachment of the squadron's crews, aircraft and servicing teams was based at Moresby's Ward strip for most of 1943. It flew aircraft daily to the forefront of the highland and north coast fighting for Buna, Milne Bay and Moresby. Afterwards it flew constant support when Australians and Americans pushed back the Japanese along the north coast or left them trapped in their garrisons as the campaign hopped past them.

 

 

"..And Far from Home"
"Flying RAAF Transports in the Pacific War and After"
By John Balfe

Pages 38-42

Chapter 4.      Across the next ocean

To the Admiralties: 1944

As 1942 merged into 1943, when the fate of New Guinea was in the balance, the transport squadrons flying with Douglases followed closely the course of the battle for Moresby. The battleground was that area of New Guinea which the Allies held until they halted the Japanese short of Moresby and at Milne Bay and, with that achieved, started to drive back through them to points where a return to South-East Asia and the Philippines could begin. Two of those points proved to be Buna, wrested back after bloody fighting, and the Admiralty Islands, yet to be captured, 750 kilometres north across the Bismarck Sea.

The first phase of that fighting, the Allies' rugged defence of Moresby from mid-1942 until they could turn the tide early in 1943, was a time of greatest adversity and uncertainty for Australia and its American allies locked into the battle. The Australians checked the Japanese within actual sight of Moresby and at Milne Bay and Buna only after the closest calls. Bitter jungle fighting took heavy toll and tropical disease cost us heavily in casualties.

In the early months, with the Japanese only a few kilometres back along the Kokoda Trail and strongly ashore on the north coast, Moresby under frequent air attack was the forefront of the battle for RAAF transports flying from Australia. The 36 and 33 Squadron Douglases, meeting them at Moresby, flew onward from there to wherever they could land on the perimeters of the highland fighting and gave Australia direct links to the outer limits of the conflict through the main 36 Squadron stream flying daily up from Townsville. Old-but-not-bold original C47 captains of 36 flew its Moresby detached aircraft with Alan Randall, Arch Widt, Arthur Malpass, Ern Annear, Nick Guthrie, Lionel Van Praag and other early birds in the team against New Guinea's challenges of mountains, demoniac weather and enemy presence. 33 Squadron flew a detachment from Wau at the height of the fighting there.

The flying was in short a two-stage daily airlift of arms and equipment, reinforcements, food, medical supplies, new and repaired material that without the C47s to fly them would never have reached the Allied armies in time and the battle would have been lost. There were some unexpected loads in this traffic. 1 can remember steel reinforcing rods cut to short lengths for binding to bombs. They burst with devastating daisy-cutter effect. We carried gas cylinders at one stage - used but held in New Guinea as a precaution against the Japanese using gas first.

The airlift had no code name. We could have thought of it as Operation Lifestream for our part at least, for that is what it was. Each day fifteen or more heavily laden 36 Squadron C47s flew from Townsville across the Coral Sea to keep those vital supplies flowing into embattled Moresby and beyond to wherever C47s could land. in the beginning that was only at Wau, Bulolo, Goroka, Kokoda, Bulldog and Tsili-Tsili in the central highlands and Fall River airstrip at Milne Bay. A few months later, when the battle for Buna was being won, we added its Dobodura and Popondetta strips which Allied engineers put down. At the same time we flew increasing consignments to Merauke, developing as a forward base on Dutch New Guinea's southern coast opposite Cape York.

The total area which these points enclosed reached along the entire 1100-kilometres south coast of New Guinea and up to 200 kilometres into the highlands, 10 airfields in 200 000 square kilometres or thereabouts of the world's second largest island. The Japs had the remaining 162 000 square kilometres.

The grim reality of those early days was our first experience of flying in a fight for survival in country as hostile as the enemy. As we neared the island after the ocean crossings, we entered skies that were not freely ours from the first sight of peaks towering to 4000 metres in the Owen Stanley Range 100 kilometres ahead. The enemy had air superiority at that stage. He roamed from his north coast airfields as far as his fuel tanks took him and that was at least to Moresby and back. So we felt that he could appear at any time. Defenceless and faintly fearful, we always watched for him. We never saw him then, but that was not the point. He had only to see us.

Moresby's own forces were tensely alert at the approach of any aircraft at all, whether it came from the enemy's directions or ours. Moresby was in the battle and endangered. It had Allied aircraft in hundreds around its strips and, in the bush, large troop concentrations, military stores, transport and installations. Anti-aircraft defences were trigger happy. Our flights in from Townsville sometimes approached just before or after a raid, which put us right on the line until our friendliness was accepted. At other times our radio might hear 'Red alert Moresby' and we would circle where we were, to sit it out. Almost everyone and everything not at Buna or Milne Bay was concentrated at Moresby. We could not simply fly in there like airliners, but had to draw near with great care, beginning a descent from 90 kilometres out to reach the coast at 300 metres altitude over Hood Point, 50 kilometres east of Moresby. There we had to be identified by AA emplacements and radio installations which heard our IFF - Identification Friend or Foe automatically transmit our aircraft's call sign, before flying low along the coast to turn in and land on Moresby's Wards strip.

Joining the landing pattern for Wards was something like jumping on to the running board of a crowded Melbourne tram. You took your chance and held on. We could not join until called in by American flight controllers directing the traffic from the airstrip's tower, but even then we had to be flash quick. The next aircraft in the pattern could not wait for us. The controllers used a radio code which, though they spoke it in clear language, could still be gobbledegook of the most complicated kind to ears untuned to the controller's accent. It could be Texan, or Georgian, Boston or Bronx, any one of 50 US dialects and spoken at double the normal rate with so many aircraft to handle. Every aircraft type had its code name. A Liberator bomber was a 'box car' because of its shape', and a C47 was a 'street car' for its transport role. If 'that street car five miles north of base leg' was us, we had to know it and obey instantly whatever instruction might come, which could be 'you're clear to join the pattern on downwind leg after that box car and No. 5 to land'.

At all hours of day and into the evenings there would be squadrons taking off, squadrons landing, fighters racing down the strip to peel off from 100 metres above it and space out for their approach, and lumbering transports flying through all this at the controller's call. Aircraft like ours that flew at 220 kilometres per hour in the pattern had to fit in with aircraft that flew half as fast again, or at any other speed. Fighters made small sweeps to land, our circuit was about eight kilometres wide, bombers' much wider. It all had to dovetail and there could be a constant 20 or more aircraft flying in the pattern or outside it waiting to be called in. Aircraft would always be climbing out after take off, another turning off the strip after landing, one turning on to take off and others spread out down the final approach path. We had not until then encountered such traffic volume and variation, nor such hot shot traffic control and we wondered at the expertise of the men with the task.

Once down, we let our aircraft roll as fast as we dared to the end of the 3000-metre strip and turned off there to be met by an American 'Follow Me' jeep. It had a sign at the back carrying those words in large letters and it drove at nothing under 40 kilometres per hour. We followed it along the wide taxi-roads into the bush around the field, past parked aeroplanes of every kind hidden in protective pens against bomb blast. Where the jeep swung into an empty bay, there swung we, to stop with tailwheel locked and brakes on.

Leaf-green fuel and oil tankers rolled up almost immediately and refuelled our depleted tanks. Close behind, four to five US Army trucks arrived in line, to reverse one at a time up to the C47's opened cargo doors. Australian or American handling teams moved immediately into the cabin and in next to no-time manhandled out the load, whatever it might be - packages, lengths, crates, overhauled engines, tyres, wheels, anything at all - into the trucks. It was all done in 20 minutes. In that time we left the aircraft and were driven by jeep to the stripside US Transport Command office where a ready-filled manifest awaited us, setting out 2700 kilograms of freight or a list of troops to be flown somewhere. No changing it, no protests, no arguments. If we had our fingers crossed for a return to Townsville and we found ourselves re-routed to somewhere else on the island, that was it. All hell could not change it and certainly not the big, cigar-smoking 'goddam sonofabitch' Yank movements officer in charge. 'Dobodura it is, bud, and you go whether you like it or not!' We always accepted the inevitable, knowing anyway that by then the aircraft would have its new load already aboard.

From there a call to the meteorological office - it had a sign outside, 'WEATHER OR NOT' - for a route forecast to our destination. It was odds on to say in elfect: 'High overcast south of the range (HI OVC S RNG), rapid cloud build-up over the mountains (CU CU-NIM OV MTS), inter-tropic front highly active north of the range (ITF HI ACT N RNG), base 100 metres, visibility 10 miles reducing to 1 in rain (B 100, VIS 10, 1 IN R).' That was par for the course on a New Guinea summer afternoon.

To get off was always a race against the weather. We would risk five minutes for a cup of American coffee at the stripside canteen, taking our turn in a line of Americans and Australians of all kinds and colours, and then speed in the jeep back to the aircraft. We would hurry our pre-flight checks, slam the doors and join the endless stream of aircraft crawling nose-to-tail along the taxiways to take-off point and there wait patiently, engines warmed, checked and running, aeroplane heating up like an oven until our turn to roll. Once on the strip, we lined up and opened all stops to get away before the aircraft heading down late final came in behind us over the threshold to touch down. We had to be airborne before his wheels hit mother earth. In the torrid heat and Moresby humidity, we would be wringing wet with sweat by the time we were flying. The C47's cooler system at full blast evaporated our shirts dry before we were at 300 metres.

If we had been assigned to return to Townsville, we would have 600 US gallons of fuel aboard (2600 litres) and the new load, usually aircraft engines for overhaul in Australia or troops going on leave. If the load was for elsewhere in New Guinea we would fly it there, landing perhaps on some short, uphill strip at 1000 metres or higher in the mountains, and get back to Moresby for the night. We might go to a 'fite nite' of boxing in some open air ring, or to an open air film show before turning in on shearers' beds at an ill-kept operational base camp in the bush. But sleep was nearly always easy, under a mosquito net in an open-ended tent. Regular midnight rain might leak through the roof at half a dozen points, but all that had to be accepted. We were lucky compared to the poor bloody infantry up in the mountains. If fortune smiled next morning, we might find a Townsville load in the aeroplane and we would be off, and out over the Coral Sea by 7 am.

That was more or less an average 36 Squadron sortie, no matter where or when until the Japanese were pushed out of Buna by January 1943, and afterward for a year while the pendulum of war swung on to the beginning of the Allied offensive that eventually wrested New Guinea back from Japanese invasion.

 

 

"..And Far from Home"
"Flying RAAF Transports in the Pacific War and After"
By John Balfe

Page 91

Flying was quite different for us. Work in the transports increased considerably, rather than declined. For several days we had every available C47 of 34, 36 and 38 Squadrons waiting on treacherous, muddy, retaken Labuan airstrip to fly across to Singapore and from there throughout South-East Asia immediately word came of surrender.

When word did come, Cornfoot won the race. 36 Squadron was first over Singapore and dropped Australian paratroops into the city, but Cornfoot was first to land on its Kalang airfield, 'cutting off a RAF Catalina's water' to beat it on final approach. From Singapore he went directly up to Thailand and flew back Australians freed at last from slavery on the Burma Railway. Transports fanned out immediately from Singapore, down into the Indies to southern Sumatra, to Java, across to Ambon and everywhere else that POW camps existed. Ex prisoners were taken back to Singapore for rehabilitation - a process of identification, cosmetic medical restoration and re-equipment with clothing for return to Australia as soon as they were fit enough to make the flight.

34 Squadron, based on Morotai and working from there, and a 36 Squadron flight of six C47s did most of the Australian flying around Sumatra, Java, Borneo and other East Indies islands to locate camps and bring the prisoners to Singapore. The other transport squadrons, mainly 38, flew up to the camps in Thailand and on the Burma Railway and also took prisoners home from Singapore.

36 Squadron capped a fine war record with this work to rescue the liberated men. It was still based at Townsville and had a detachment serving on Morotai with the RAAF's Tactical Air Force. The squadron had flown for the past year with aircraft and crews also stationed at Tadji on the north New Guinea coast near Hollandia, supply dropping to Australians fighting in the Torrecelli Mountains and north-west New Guinea. More of its aircraft were dropping on Bougainville from Torokina, to units of the AIF 3rd Division fighting there. Upon the surrender, the squadron added other C47s at Ambon to bring out prisoners from there, and at Darwin for regional courier runs.

 

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This page first produced 5 July 1998

This page last updated 18 March 2017