After the United Kingdom had signed the Treaty of Waitangi with chiefs of the indigenous Maori people in 1840, the British regarded the whole of New Zealand as a colony within their empire. Many Maori saw the situation differently. Disagreements over the treaty’s implications for their rights to land sparked a sequence of conflicts now known collectively as the New Zealand Wars, which took place intermittently between 1845 and 1872. Not all Maori actively resisted colonisation; some even joined the ‘British’ side to fight alongside local militiamen and members of the regular army. Those Maori who opposed colonial expansion – considered ‘rebels’ by the British – were skilled combatants and creative strategists, but were eventually overcome by the weight of superior numbers and firepower.
This map depicts an incident that took place on 11 February 1864, during the Waikato War. Maori forces launched a surprise attack on some British troops who were bathing at a ford in the Mangapiko Stream (shown at lower right). The Maori position is marked with dark blue dots in the scrub inside the curve of the stream. Reinforcements were called in – the great Maori fortress of Paterangi (at top left) and a British camp (at left) were both nearby – and soon several hundred men were fighting on each side. Six British soldiers and about 28 Maori were killed.
Although this was not a major battle, it was brought to wider notice because of the actions of Charles Heaphy, a major in the Auckland Militia. He rescued an injured soldier under intense fire – so heavy that ‘Five balls pierced his clothes and cap’ – and continued to help wounded men, despite being badly hurt himself. As a result of his actions, Heaphy was awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest gallantry medal for members of the British armed services. He was both the first colonial soldier and the first non-regular soldier to earn this honour. This and another map, both drawn by Heaphy himself, were included in a dossier of evidence submitted to the War Office in support of his claim to the medal.
Heaphy’s father, Thomas, was a talented painter who had served the Duke of Wellington as an artist during the Peninsular War. Charles also trained as an artist himself, at the Royal Academy in London. In 1839, aged about nineteen, he became a draughtsman working for the New Zealand Company, which set out to colonise those islands. For much of his career, he worked for the colonial government in various roles connected to land administration, including the surveying of lands taken from Maori after the wars. He also served for a time as a member of the New Zealand House of Representatives and as a judge in the Native Lands Court. Heaphy’s official career, however, was undistinguished compared to his artistic achievements, and he is best remembered for his fine topographical views. This beautifully drawn map reflects his skill as a draughtsman no less than his bravery as a soldier.
Long months of torture in the blazing heat and incredible
humidity of Massawa had left us apathetic and drained of hope of escape.
—Edward Ellsberg, No Banners No Bugles
Italy’s East African possessions, particularly its Red Sea
base at Massawa, were situated strategically astride the sea route to Suez.
With the Sicilian Channel closed to normal transit, Italy theoretically
possessed the ability to block maritime access to Egypt.
Between 1935 and 1940 Italy’s planners envisioned the
construction of an oceanic fleet that, in its most realistic version, would
have consisted of two cruisers, eight destroyers, and twelve submarines, all
fitted for tropical service and supported by a network of bases along Italian
Somaliland’s Indian Ocean coast. However, this Flotta d’evasione proved more
than Rome could afford. Thus, Rear Admiral Carlo Balsamo, who commanded Italy’s
East African naval squadron, deployed eight modern submarines, seven
middle-aged destroyers, two old torpedo boats, five World War I–era MAS boats,
and a large colonial sloop, all concentrated at Massawa. In Supermarina’s view,
the squadron’s limited stocks of fuel and ammunition restricted its role to one
of survival and sea denial, relying mainly upon the submarines, for the
duration of a six-month war.
Great Britain intercepted Italy’s 19 May orders for the
“immediate and secret mobilization of the army and air force in east Africa,”
whereupon the Royal Navy reinforced its Rea Sea Squadron, which consisted of
the Dominion light cruisers Leander and Hobart, the old antiaircraft cruiser
Carlisle, three sloops, and four ships of the 28th Destroyer Flotilla. This
force was tasked with preventing Italian reinforcements, engaging the Massawa
squadron, blockading the coast of Italian Somaliland, and protecting the
shipping lanes to Suez and Aden.
On 10 June Italy’s Red Sea submarines occupied, or were on
their way to, their patrol stations, but their forewarned enemy had already
halted all mercantile shipping to the Red Sea on 24 May. They enjoyed only one
success, when Galilei sank the Norwegian tanker James Stove (8,215 GRT) on 16
June. In exchange the Italians lost four boats. Crew poisoning caused by the
release of methyl chloride, used as a cheap substitute for freon in the
air-conditioning system (a defect that inadequate testing and training under
realistic battle conditions failed to reveal), led to the stranding and
wrecking of Macallé on 15 June. Galilei attempted to fight it out on the
surface with the 650-ton trawler Moonstone on 19 June, but two well-aimed
shells from the auxiliary’s 4-inch gun killed Galilei’s captain and all the
officers except a midshipman. A British boarding party captured the submarine
and a set of operational orders. These enabled the sloop Falmouth to track down
and sink Galvani in the Persian Gulf on 24 June. The same intelligence led to
the interception of Torricelli, the fourth Red Sea submarine lost in the war’s
Destroyers Kandahar, Kingston, and Khartoum, along with sloops Shoreham and Indus, intercepted Torricelli north of Perim Island, at the entrance to the Red Sea, at 0418 on 23 June. The Italian submarine, initially seeing only one sloop, and considering her damage and the clear waters that made a submerged boat easy to track, elected to run on the surface for the Italian shore batteries at Assab. In the ensuring fight, Torricelli, firing her deck gun, almost hit Shoreham, which reported “two shells falling close ahead.” Then the three destroyers appeared and closed rapidly.
Kingston opened fire with her forward guns at 0536.
Torricelli, trailing a wide ribbon of oil, launched four torpedoes back at the
destroyer, but their wakes were clearly visible in the calm sea and Kingston
easily evaded. At first the British tried to clear the submarine’s decks, to
permit a boarding attempt. However, Kingston’s 40-mm shells struck one of her
own antennas and wounded eight crewmen. After that the destroyers shot to sink,
but they had to expend nearly seven hundred 4.7-inch rounds before a shell
finally wrecked Torricelli’s forward bow planes at 0605 and flooded the torpedo
room. The submarine sank at 0624.
After rescue operations Khartoum, with prisoners embarked,
set course for Perim while the other ships headed for Aden to refuel. At 1150 a
torpedo in Khartoum’s aft quintuple mount suddenly exploded, igniting a huge
fire in the after lobby. The crew could not control the conflagration, and
Khartoum ran for Perim Harbor, seven miles distant. There her men (and the
prisoners) abandoned ship, swimming for their lives. At 1245, no. 3 magazine
blew up, rendering the destroyer a total loss.
Red Sea Convoys
The first of the Red Sea convoys, collectively the BN/BS
series, consisting of nine ships including six tankers, gathered in the Gulf of
Aden on 2 July. Thereafter these convoys sailed up and down the Red Sea on a
regular schedule. Admiral Balsamo attempted to attack this traffic, but the
war’s opening months held little but frustration for his destroyers. On six
occasions in July, August, and September, they sortied at night in response to
aerial reports of Allied vessels but in every case failed to make contact.
Aircraft and the surviving submarines did little better. Guglielomotti
torpedoed the Greek tanker Atlas (4,008 GRT) from Convoy BN4 on 6 September
1940, while high-level bombing attacks damaged the steamship Bhima (5,280 GRT)
from BN5, which four Italian destroyers had failed to locate, on 20 September.
As Italian warships burned their oil reserves on
unsuccessful sorties, the Allied Red Sea Squadron grew stronger, deploying by
the end of August four light cruisers, three destroyers, and eight sloops.
Other warships passed through on their way to and from the Mediterranean. In
September, as traffic volume swelled, the Mediterranean Fleet lent the newly
arrived antiaircraft cruiser Coventry, which alternated with Carlisle along the
Aden–Suez route to provide extra protection against air attacks.
By October the Italian ships faced mechanical breakdowns,
the increasing exhaustion of crews by the extreme climate, and a growing
shortage of fuel. Nonetheless, they continued to sail. On the evening of 20
October, four destroyers weighed anchor to search for BN7, which aerial reconnaissance
had spotted sailing north. The plan called for the slower and more heavily
armed Pantera and Leone to distract the escort while Sauro and Nullo slipped in
to send a spread of torpedoes toward the merchant ships.
Australian sloop HMAS Yarra
Italian destroyer Pantera
Attack on Convoy BN7 and Battle of Harmil Island, 20–21
October 1940, 2320–0640
Section I (Commander Moretti degli Adimari): DD: Sauro (F), Nullo Sunk
Section II (Commander Paolo Aloisi): DD: Pantera (F), Leone
The convoy timed its progress to pass Massawa around
midnight. The moon was bright, but haze reduced visibility toward the African
coast. At 2115 the Italian sections separated, and at 2321 Pantera detected
smoke off her starboard bow. She reported the contact to Sauro and began
maneuvering at twenty-two knots to position the low-hanging moon behind the
BN7 was thirty-five miles north-northwest of Jabal-al-Tair
Island (itself 110 miles east-northeast of Massawa) when Yarra, zigzagging in
company with Auckland, sighted Captain Aloisi’s ships ahead. Yarra challenged
and Pantera replied with a pair of torpedoes at 2331 and then another pair at
2334, at ranges fifty-five and sixty-five hundred yards, respectively. Shooting
over Yarra, she “lobbed a few shells” into the convoy. According to a wartime
British account, “a lifeboat in the commodore’s ship was damaged by splinters,
but otherwise no harm was done.” Leone, which trailed Pantera by 875 yards,
never fixed a target and thus did not fire torpedoes.
Yarra saw the torpedo flashes from broad on her port bow and
turned toward the enemy. Both sloops opened fire as torpedoes boiled past,
narrowly missing. The Italian ships altered away, shooting with their aft
mounts. Aloisi reported explosions and claimed two torpedo hits, but in fact,
his weapons missed. Kimberley was trailing the convoy. She rang up thirty knots
and steered northwest to close the action. Leander, sailing on the convoy’s
port beam, headed southwest, while the sloops and minesweepers stayed with the
merchantmen. Pantera and Leone, considering their mission successfully
accomplished, continued west-southwest and broke contact. They eventually
returned to Massawa via the south channel.
After the gunfire died away, Captain Horan steered Leander
northwest to cover Harmil Channel believing the enemy ships had retired in that
Upon receiving Pantera’s report, Sauro and Nullo had turned
to clear the area while the first group attacked and to put themselves in a
favorable position relative to the moon. This involved a ninety-degree port
turn at 0016 on 21 October and another at 0050. The section then headed
southeast, but for nearly an hour it encountered nothing. Finally, at 0148,
Leander and another ship hove into view. Sauro snapped off a single torpedo at
the cruiser (another misfired). In response Leander lofted star shell, and then
ten broadsides flashed from her main batteries in two minutes before she lost
sight of the target. Italian accounts say this engagement occurred at sixteen hundred
yards, while Leander’s report stated the enemy was more than eight thousand
Sauro turned south by southwest and at 0207 attempted
another torpedo attack against the convoy. One weapon misfired, and although
Sauro claimed a hit with the other, it missed. At the same time Nullo detected
flashes that she believed came from an enemy torpedo launch, and within minutes
a lookout shouted that wakes were streaking toward the Italian destroyer’s bow.
At 0212 Sauro turned north and disengaged, eventually circling behind the
British and taking the south channel to Massawa. Nullo’s captain, however, put
his helm over even harder, “because it was [his] intention to attack, being
still in an opportune position to launch against the convoy, before taking
station in formation.” However, the rudder jammed for several minutes, causing
Nullo to circle and lose contact with Sauro.
At 0220 Leander’s spotlights fastened onto “a vessel painted
light grey proceeding from left to right”—in fact, Nullo steaming north. The
cruiser engaged from forty-six hundred yards off the Italian’s starboard bow.
Nullo returned fire, first against “destroyers” spotted astern (probably
Auckland) and then at Leander. The ships dueled for about ten minutes. The
Italian enjoyed one advantage: she employed flashless powder (the British noted
only two enemy salvos), whereas British muzzles flared brightly with each
discharge. Leander fired eight blind salvos (“little could be seen of their
effect”), but several rounds nonetheless hit home, damaging Nullo’s gyrocompass
and gunnery director. With this the Italian destroyer abandoned her attack
attempt and turned west-northwest running for Harmil Channel at thirty knots.
In the two actions Leander fired 129 6-inch rounds.
Guessing Nullo’s intention, the cruiser pursued in the
correct direction. At 0300 Kimberley joined, and at 0305 Leander turned back,
“appreciating that the enemy was drawing away from her at the rate of seven
knots and that the convoy might be attacked.” Kimberley continued, hoping to
The British destroyer arrived off Harmil Island before dawn.
At 0540 her lookouts reported a shape to the south-southeast, and she closed to
investigate. Nullo’s lookouts likewise reported a contact. The sharp angle of
approach made it impossible to be certain, but the Italian captain assumed it
was Sauro, especially when it seemed to signal the Harmil Island station. He
was more “worried about the shallows scattered around the mouth of the
northeast passage and above all of the 3.7 meter sandbank immediately north of
his estimated 0500 position.”
At 0553 the British destroyer opened fire from 12,400 yards.
Surprised, Nullo took four minutes to reply and at 0605 swung sharply from a
northwest heading to a south-by-southwest course. By 0611 the range was down to
10,300 yards. Due to her prior damage, Nullo’s gunners fired over open sights,
while human chains passed shells up from the magazine. Harmil Island’s battery
of four 4.7-inch guns joined the action at 0615 from eighteen thousand yards.
At the same time, with the range now eighty-five hundred yards, Kimberley
turned south, emitting black funnel smoke, causing Nullo’s gunners to think
they had scored a hit.
At 0620 Nullo scraped a reef, opening her hull to flooding
and damaging a screw. Then, while the ship was setting course to round Harmil
Island, a shell exploded in the forward engine room and a second slammed into
the aft engine room. Nullo skewed sharply to the left and lost all power;
splinters swept the upper works. The captain ordered his men to prepare to
abandon ship while he angled the ship toward Harmil in an attempt to run it
aground. The aft mount continued in action until the heel became excessive.
Having expended 115 salvoes, Kimberley launched a torpedo to
dispatch her adversary; it missed, so she closed range and uncorked another.
The second torpedo slammed into Nullo at 0635 and blasted her in two.
Meanwhile, the Harmil battery finally found the range, and a shell struck
Kimberley’s engine room, wounding three men. Splinters cut the steam pipes; the
British destroyer lost power and came to a halt.
Kimberley’s men frantically patched the damage while the
drifting ship’s guns remained in action, shooting forty-five rounds of HE from
no. 3 mount, and achieving some hits that wounded four of the shore battery’s
crew. After a few long minutes, the destroyer restored partial power and pulled
away at fifteen knots. The shore battery fired its final shots at 0645, when
the range had opened to nineteen thousand yards. During the battle Kimberley
expended 596 SAP and 97 HE rounds.
After she was clear the destroyer lost steam pressure again.
Finally Leander arrived and towed Kimberley to Port Sudan. Nullo remained above
water; her guns ended up equipping a shore battery. On 21 October three
Blenheims reported destroying a wreck east of Harmil Island. This led the
British to conclude two enemy ships had been involved in the action.
The Aden command faulted the escort (except for Kimberley)
for demonstrating a lack of aggressiveness, although deserting the convoy to
chase unknown numbers of enemy destroyers through a murky night does not in
retrospect seem the best course of action either. The Italian ships, although
outnumbered, delivered two hit-and-run torpedo attacks, according to their
plan. However, while using widely separated divisions increased the probability
of finding the enemy, a natural consideration given the history of failed
interception attempts, it also guaranteed that the Italian forces would lack
the punch to take on the escort and deliver a meaningful attack. In fact, the
first Italian attack seemed more formulaic than a serious attempt to cause
The Italian East African squadron conducted another
(fruitless) sortie on 3 December 1940. It aborted a mission planned for early
January after British aircraft damaged Manin, one of the participants, and on
24 January it sortied again, without results. On the night of 2 February 1941,
however, three destroyers departed Massawa and deployed in a rake formation to
search for a large convoy known to be at sea.
Sauro spotted the enemy, made a sighting report, and
immediately maneuvered to attack. She launched three torpedoes at a group of
steamships and then, a minute later, at another dimly seen target marked by a
large cloud of smoke. She then turned away at speed. Her two sisters did not
receive the report, but ten minutes later Pantera stumbled across the enemy and
also fired torpedoes. The Italians heard explosions and later claimed
“probable” hits on two freighters. Tigre never made contact.
On her way to Massawa’s south channel, Sauro encountered
Kingston. Out of torpedoes, the Italian retreated at full speed. Concerned that
the British were attempting another ambush, the squadron concentrated on Sauro
and radioed for air support at dawn. In the event, the three destroyers safely
made port. The Italian East African press reported two freighters as probably
hit, but despite this claim, all torpedoes missed.
By April 1941 Imperial spearheads were probing Massawa’s
defensive perimeter. With Supermarina’s approval, Rear Admiral Mario Bonetti,
Balsamo’s replacement from December 1940, ordered a last grand gesture—an
attack by the three largest destroyers (Leone, Pantera, and Tigre) against Port
Suez, five hundred miles north, and a concurrent raid by the smaller destroyers
Battisti, Manin, and Sauro against Port Sudan. The British Middle Eastern
command had considered such an attack possible and had reinforced Port Suez
with two J-class destroyers and sent Eagle’s experienced air group south to
Port Sudan, while the carrier waited for mines to be swept from the Suez Canal
so she could proceed south.
The Italian venture ran into problems early when Leone
struck an uncharted rock forty-five miles out of Massawa. Flooding and fires in
her engine room forced her crew to abandon ship. Her two companions returned to
port, as the rescue operation left insufficient time for them to continue the
On the afternoon of 2 April the remaining Italian destroyers
sailed once again, this time against Port Sudan, 265 miles north. British
aircraft attacked them about two hours out of port but caused no damage. Then
Battisti suffered engine problems and scuttled herself on the Arabian coast.
The other four continued at top speed through the night and by dawn were thirty
miles short of their objective. However, Eagle’s Swordfish squadrons
intervened, sinking Sauro at 0715. The other ships headed for the opposite
shore, under attack as they went. Bombs crippled Manin at 0845. She eventually
capsized and sank about a hundred miles northeast of Port Sudan. Pantera and
Tigre made it to the Arabian coast and were scuttled there.
Caught off guard by the Italian sortie, British warships
rushed north. At 1700 Kingston found Pantera’s and Tigre’s wrecks. The two
ships had already been worked over by Wellesley bombers, but Kingston shelled
Pantera’s hulk and then torpedoed it, just to be sure.
The biggest Italian naval success in the Red Sea was a
Parthian shot that occurred on 8 April, with Massawa’s defenses breached and
ships scuttling themselves on all sides. MAS213, a World War I relic no longer
capable of even fifteen knots, ambushed the old light cruiser Capetown, which
was escorting minesweepers north of the port, and scored a torpedo hit from
just over three hundred yards. After spending a year in repair, the cruiser sat
out the rest of the war as an accommodation ship.
This was the Italian navy’s final blow in East Africa. The
capture of Massawa relieved Great Britain of the need to convoy the entire
length of the Red Sea and released valuable escorts for other duties. On 10
June an Indian battalion captured Assab, Italy’s last Red Sea outpost,
eliminating a pair of improvised torpedo boats. After that President Franklin
D. Roosevelt declared the narrow sea a nonwar zone, permitting the entry of
However, German aircraft continued to exert a distant influence
over the Red Sea, by mining the Suez Canal and attacking shipping that
accumulated to the south of the canal. As late at 18 September Admiral
Cunningham complained to Admiral Pound that “the Red Sea position is
unsatisfactory . . . about 5 of 6 ships attacked, one sunk [Steel Seafarer
(6,000 GRT)] and two damaged. . . . The imminent arrival at Suez of the monster
liners is giving me much anxiety. They are crammed with men and we can’t afford
to have them hit up.” In October 1941 the Suez Escort Force still tied up four
light cruisers, two fleet destroyers, two Hunt-class destroyers, and two
sloops. The British maintained a blockade off French Somaliland until December
Troops, planes and warships to help guard strait in Middle
East where tensions are flaring with Iran, but critics warn involvement could
breach international law.
Australian forces will make a “modest, meaningful and time-limited”
contribution to a United States-led mission in the Strait of Hormuz aimed at
protecting freedom of navigation in the Gulf region.
Labor has supported the new mission as “appropriate”, but
critics are warning the involvement of Australia’s military in the region could
be seen as an “act of aggression” in breach of international law.
The prime minister, Scott Morrison, announced on Wednesday
that Australia would send forces to the Middle East because “destabilising
behaviour” in the Gulf was a threat to Australian interests.
“The government has been concerned over incidents involving
shipping in the Strait of Hormuz over the past few months,” Morrison said.
US defence strategy in Indo-Pacific region faces
“This destabilising behaviour is a threat to our interests
in the region, particularly our enduring interest in the security of global sea
“The government has decided it’s in Australia’s national
interests to work with our international partners to contribute to an international
maritime security mission … in the Middle East.”
Morrison said about 15% of crude oil and 30% of refined oil
destined for Australia came through the Strait of Hormuz, meaning instability
in the region was also an economic threat that needed to be confronted.
“Freedom of navigation through international waters is a
fundamental right of all states under international law,” he said.
“All states have a right to expect safe passage of their
maritime trade consistent with international law.”
Australia has committed a frigate, surveillance and patrol
aircraft and personnel to the Middle East as part of the US-led mission, known
as the international maritime security construct (IMSC).
The United Kingdom and Bahrain are the only other countries
to join the US in the Strait of Hormuz, but the UK has appealed to European
allies to join the mission to safeguard shipping lanes.
Australian defence force members will join the IMSC
taskforce based in Bahrain, which hosts the US navy’s central command and fifth
The defence minister, Linda Reynolds, said the Royal
Australian Air Force would send a P-8A poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft
to the region for one month before the end of 2019, while an Australian frigate
would be present for six months from January.
“Australia’s core interest in this mission is
de-escalation,” Reynolds said.
“The announcement today is clearly in Australia’s national
interest and we’re very proud to be working with our allies and our friends to
promote the global rules-based order and also the rule of law.”
Labor’s shadow minister for defence Richard Marles said the
opposition supported the commitment on the basis that it was “tightly framed”
around freedom of navigation for commercial shipping in the Gulf.
“This is an appropriate measure for Australia to take,”
The commitment to join the US comes after tensions simmered
in the region over the seizure of an Iranian ship by Gibraltar, with the
backing of the UK, that was believed to be heading to Syria in breach of UN sanctions.
The US and Iran have been engaged in brinkmanship in the
Gulf since the US withdrew from the Iran
nuclear deal in May 2018, after which the US announced a “maximum-pressure”
strategy on Tehran.
Former secretary of the defence department, Paul Barratt,
told the Guardian Australian involvement in potential military action in the
Gulf could be illegal, and argued it was “very foolish for us to get involved
in this provocative behaviour”.
“This is an application of military force. There ought to be
a debate in the parliament, and we ought not to engage in any activity that
would foreseeably involve the use of military force without that debate.”
In correspondence with the prime minister, Barratt, now
president of Australians for War Powers Reform, argued that in the absence of
any credible threat to Australia or an authorising resolution of the UN
security council, any Australian involvement in attacks on Iran would be an act
of aggression and therefore illegal.
“We appeal to you for a debate in our parliament on the
growing tensions between the US and Iran, and steps which Australia could take
to reduce them. Such a debate and a vote by all our elected representatives,
and authorisation by the governor general, as the only person with the
constitutional power to authorise the deployment of the ADF into international
armed conflict, must be absolute prerequisites before any military action is
In response to Barratt, assistant minister to the prime
minister, Ben Morton, said the Australian government was deeply concerned by
current tensions in the Middle East. “A deterioration in the situation would be
counter to regional security, global trade and the best interests of Australia
and the world. We have urged Iran to refrain from escalatory action.”
Morton said the Australian government supported the Joint
Comprehensive Plan of Action, “which serves the international community’s
interests in non-proliferation”.
Australia’s current Armidale class and Cape class patrol boats are planned to be replaced with a single class of Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV), under Project SEA 1180 Phase 1, to be built in Australia by German shipbuilder, Lürssen’s subsidiary, Luerssen Australia partnering with Australian shipbuilder, Civmec in the joint venture, Australian Maritime Shipbuilding & Export Group (AMSEG).
The twelve Australian vessels are based on the PV80 design
with the first two vessels to be built at ASC’s Osborne shipyard in South
Australia before production moves to Civmec’s Henderson shipyard in Western
On 15 November 2018, the Chief of Navy, VADM Mike Noonan,
announced that the OPV will be known as the Arafura Class with construction
commencing at the Osborne shipyard.
The primary role of the OPV will be to undertake
constabulary missions, maritime patrol and response duties. State of the art
sensors as well as command and communication systems will allow the OPVs to
operate alongside Australian Border Force vessels, other Australian Defence
Force units and other regional partners.
The OPV design will support specialist mission packages,
such as a maritime tactical unmanned aerial system, and into the future, rapid
environmental assessment and deployable mine counter measure capabilities.
Design and features of Arafura class OPVs
The design of the Arafura class OPVs is based on the Lürssen
OPV80 platform. The compact design of the OPV offers enhanced seakeeping
characteristics and superior performance.
The spacious aft deck will have enough room to house three
rigid-hulled inflatable boats (RHIB). Two 8.5m-long boats can be launched from
the side of the vessel while a 10.5m sea boat can be launched from the stern of
The OPVs will have a length of 80m, beam of 13m, and draught
of 4m. The displacement of the vessels will be 1,640t. The ships will be manned
by a crew of 40 members and will offer accommodation for more than 60
Armament and navigation features of the OPV
The Arafura class OPV will be primarily armed with a 40mm
large cannon mounted on the forward bow deck to protect the ship from onshore
attacks. It will also feature dedicated mounts, which can be armed with .50
calibre machine guns.
The firepower of the vessel can be further improved by the
advanced 9LV combat management system designed by SAAB Australia. The control
system will be complemented by the on-board electronic warfare system.
The navigation bridge integrates all the communication,
navigation, and sensor systems. The navigation requirements of the vessel will
be addressed by next-generation 2D radar and electro-optical sensors.
The vessel will feature an aft flight deck to enable
unmanned aerial system (UAS) operations.
Propulsion and performance of Inspector 120
The Arafura class vessels will be equipped with two diesel
engines with a maximum-rated power production capacity of 8,500kW each.
The power plant will enable the vessels to sail at a maximum
speed of 20kt and attain a maximum range of 4,000nm.
The lead vessel, HMAS Arafura is planned to planned to enter service in 2021.
Patrol Vessel (OPV) RAN Arafura-class
constabulary roles including interdiction
Builder Luerssen Australia and Civmec
Displacement 1,640 tonnes
Length 80 metres
Beam 13 metres
Draught 4 metres
Propulsion 2 x 4,250KW diesel engines
Speed 20 knots (maximum)
Range 4,000 nautical miles
2 x 8.5 metre sea
boats (side launched)
1 x 10.5 metre sea
boat (stern launched)
2 x 50 calibre
Company 40 crew with accommodation for up to 60
Birdwood first unveiled plans to capture the initial
objectives, including the Sari Bair Range
Birdwood’s plans for a final assault are launched with
diversion at the Vineyard and Lone Pine
Artillery bombardment commences for 2½ hours in area known
as the Vineyard to create a diversion from main assault
Allied troops move to attack at the Vineyard sector; the
attack achieved nothing and dragged on to 13 August
Attack at Lone Pine launched by Australian 1st Division,
following lifting artillery bombardment; battle raged for three days, Ottoman
trenches captured but ultimately failed to distract Ottomans from main assault
Main assault commences: Monash’s troops get into
difficulties and 4th Brigade halts for the night
1/6th Gurkha Rifles halt within 200ft of their objective,
Dawn: New Zealanders reach Rhododendron Ridge on the path to
Chunuk Bair, other units are lost; Johnston waits for reinforcements
The Light Horse move to attack the Nek, despite not having
the support of the waiting New Zealanders; the Ottomans inflict severe
Gurkhas assault Hill Q, but falter due to lack of support
New Zealanders are reinforced; Wellington and the Glosters
take peak of Chunuk Bair
Ottomans counterattack at Chunuk Bair, inflicting heavy
losses on the New Zealanders and New Army units
Allied troops under Baldwin assault Hill Q, but are driven
off by their own naval bombardment
10 August, 4.30am
Kemal leads a fresh Ottoman counterattack on Chunuk Bair,
overwhelming the Allied forces; the Ottomans regain Hill Q and Chunuk Bair,
symbolising the end of the campaign
There was little hope that the plans to capture Achi Baba
could be re-ignited, and with the loss of both Generals Hunter-Weston and
Gourard, there was no stomach for limited objective offensives. Instead,
attention turned back to the Anzac sector, held on the defensive since the
Ottoman counteroffensives had been repelled, with great loss of life.
Priorities changed when General Birdwood, commanding the
Australian and New Zealand Army Corps came up with a plan that he hoped would
break the deadlock at Anzac. The plan went through several iterations – each
time revising its objectives in the light of a more realistic assessment of
success. On 30 May Birdwood came up with a new plan that presented the view
that he could achieve the objectives that had been set on the very first day of
the landings, just over a month before: the capture of the heights of the Sair
Bair Range, namely, Chunuk Bair, Hill Q and Hill 971 (Koçacmintepe). Using the
Anzac Corps and the Indian 29th Brigade, Birdwood planned an assault from the
eastwards facing slopes of the range, with two columns advancing in darkness to
assault the hilltops. These troops would be commanded by Major General Godley
and would initially comprise the 4th Australian Brigade, the New Zealand
Brigade and the 29th Indian Brigade.
In addition to the columns attacking up the lower slopes of
Sari Bair, an attack at the apex of the current line (at the top of Walker’s
Ridge on the saddleback feature known as the Nek) would, if it succeeded, allow
the Anzacs to trap the Ottoman defenders in a pincer movement. All was to be
expended in this great push, and Birdwood was confident that the attack could
work; from here the Allies would command the heights. He hoped that this would
offer the chance of siting heavy artillery pieces at this prime location,
artillery that would be in a position to shell the Narrows and once more open
the possibility of letting the fleet through. A vision that had literally faded
from view in all the recent failed Allied offensives, as the objectives
There were also to be feints that were intended to draw
Ottoman attention away from the main assault on the peaks at dawn the next day.
The first of these was in the south at Helles, once more the focus of the 88th
Brigade of the unfortunate 29th Division, committed to battle at Fir Tree Spur,
across the patch of ground known as ‘The Vineyard’. As was customary at Helles,
the attack was in broad daylight in the late afternoon of 6 August, the assault
at 5pm following a 2½ hour bombardment. Like others before it, it was a
failure; trenches were taken and lost to the seasoned Ottoman troops.
Inexplicably, the battle was rejoined with another bombardment the following
day, the 42nd Division taking the brunt. It too was to achieve nothing. The
diversion would drag on until 13 August; the Ottomans were aware of both the
feint and the likely British intent, and, unconcerned, committed two divisions
from Helles to the battlegrounds of Anzac.
Closer to the point of conflict was another diversion at
Lone Pine, the distinctive single-pine ridge across from 400 Plateau, along
Second Ridge. The intention here was an all-out assault to distract the
Ottomans, while the British were similarly engaged in the south. Yet, at Lone
Pine, trench warfare had been developed to a high science. The Ottomans had
created a formidable fortification, their trenches reinforced and roofed with
timber baulks to prevent losses by shell and grenade. Like the battles at the
Vineyard, Lone Pine has become a microcosm of the whole Gallipoli campaign at
Anzac; hard-fought, but ultimately futile. So, on 6 August, at 5.30pm the
attack was launched by the Australian 1st Division, following an artillery
bombardment in ‘lifts’, the line of exploding shells moving progressively
inland. Attacking over open ground, they found their route blocked by barbed
wire, the roofed trenches with loopholes almost impossible to assault from the
front. Not to be outdone, the Australians found their way into the underground
maze from the rear, along communication trenches; the resulting hand-to-hand
fighting below ground bitter and bloody, its aftermath, a charnel house.
Our casualties in this fighting amounted to 2,000 men,
but the Turks themselves acknowledge losses totalling 6,930 in their 16th
Division, and of some 5,000 were sustained in a small sector of the Lone Pine
trenches. God forbid that I should ever see again such a sight as that which
met my eyes when I went up there: Turks and Australians piled four and five
deep on one another.
Lieutenant General W. Birdwood, ANZAC
Like the diversion at Helles, this battle was to rage for
three days, and though capturing the Ottoman trenches, it failed in its prime
purpose. Rather than diverting the attention of the Ottomans at Anzac away from
the main assault, it was to attract reinforcement of two regiments from the 9th
Division in Helles, and this at a cost of 2,200 Australian casualties, and
goodness knows how many Ottomans.
The assault against the peaks of Sari Bair was to be
commanded by Major General Godley of the Australian and New Zealand Division.
On the night of 6 August, as the two feints were being fought out, the two
assaulting columns were to leave the Anzac perimeter, striking out to the west
to circle around the westwards facing foothills of the Sari Bair Range. The
left-hand column was composed of the Australian 4th Brigade and the 29th Indian
Brigade; closer to its target the two brigades would separate to form three
assaulting columns, the Australians targeting Hill 971 (Koçacmintepe), the
Indians Hill Q. The right-hand column was composed of the men of the New
Zealand Infantry Brigade, its main focus was to be Chunuk Bair. However, both
columns were understrength and included men weakened by dysentery, an
inevitable by-product of the summer months’ campaigning in Gallipoli.
The two columns moved to the margins of the Anzac perimeter,
in the hands of guides who had knowledge of the intricate mass of gullies and
ridges caused by the action of wind and water over centuries. Any Ottoman
defences soon evaporated, but the left-hand column, commanded by Brigadier
General Monash, got into difficulties. Fighting its way through the scrub to a
watercourse, the Aghyl Dere, Ottoman resistance stiffened. Exhausted, the 4th
Brigade would go no further that night: Hill 971 would have to wait. In fact,
the left-hand column would never get close to Hill 971; though resuming the
attack approach on the morning of 8 August, there was still confusion about
which direction to take. Hill 971 would remain unassaulted. Behind them was the
Indian Brigade; slowed up by the tortuous terrain, they too would be dispersed,
a long way off their objective.
Only the 1/6th Gurkha Rifles got anywhere near Hill Q,
within 200ft of their objective by 6pm. They would make their assault the next
morning at 5am, following a naval bombardment. With no other battalions in
support – all the others were lost in the gullies – they made a heroic assault
on the hill that drove off the Ottomans. Tragically, they would become victims
of their own naval support, and with no reserves, they lost their tenuous grip
on Hill Q.
The right-hand column of New Zealanders, operating within
the more familiar Anzac perimeter, fared a little better – but were still held
up by Ottoman resistance. By dawn on 7 August some had reached Rhododendron
Ridge, a spur that leads right up to Chunuk Bair; while others were lost in the
complex terrain of ridges and gullies. Brigadier General Johnston, commanding
the column, waited until he had sufficient men to continue the assault against
what was still an unknown level of resistance. This was to prove a costly
decision; it was to deeply influence the outcome of the attack by the Light
Horse Brigade at the Nek, which was to take place at 4.30am on the 7th.
As the Light Horse were pushing to Baby 700 – the hill that
had been the focus of so much attention during the landings – it had been intended
that the New Zealanders would be pressing on from their newly captured
positions at Chunuk Bair, thereby crushing the Ottoman defenders between them.
It was not to be. In the absence of the New Zealanders, the attack at the Nek
went ahead on the orders of Godley. Rising out of their trenches, the attackers
were armed only with unloaded rifles and bayonets. The Ottomans wrought havoc
with their withering fire, and the three successive waves of light horsemen
were mown down – 378 casualties out of 600, 230 of them killed. Their bodies
would remain on the battlefield, only to be gathered in after the war was
For the New Zealanders on Rhododendron Spur, things were
difficult. The Ottoman defenders were stiffening, the commander of the 9th Division,
Colonel Kannengiesser was in position on the hilltop.
Godley issued the terse order: ‘Attack at once’. The
Auckland Battalion took heavy casualties; while Johnston ordered the Wellington
Battalion into position, its commander refused to attack in daylight. Dug in as
best they could, the New Zealanders were reinforced by two newly arrived
battalions of the 13th (Western) Division, the 7th Gloucestershires and the 8th
Welsh. At 3am, the peak of Chunuk Bair was to be taken by the Wellington men,
and the Glosters. The navy had played its supporting role – the Ottomans had no
way of digging down into what was hard and rocky soil, and were hopelessly
exposed. However, this factor would come to count against the Allies.
The new defenders of the peak now found themselves in
Ottoman crossfire, from Battleship Hill to the south and from Hill Q to the
north – both of which would have been taken by now if things had gone to plan.
By 5am, the Ottomans launched a desperate counterattack, reinforced by the 8th
Division recently arrived from the Helles front. As the scale of the assault
unfolded, von Sanders appointed Mustafa Kemal as commander in charge of the
defence of Sari Bair. By that evening, the New Zealanders and New Army men held
on grimly, their casualties mounting – the Wellington Battalion would lose 711
out of 760, the New Army battalions suffering similarly.
With Chunuk Bair holding, Hill Q would be assaulted on 9
August by a mixed force, led by Brigadier Baldwin, of four battalions from the
38th, 39th and 40th brigades of the 13th Division, and two battalions from the
29th Brigade of the 10th (Irish) Division. Climbing to a flat area called ‘The
Farm’, they moved up a feature known as Chailak Dere in order to take the
assault to Hill Q, while New Zealanders from Chunuk Bair and the Indian Brigade
would also attack the hill. Baldwin’s men met with stiff opposition. The only
force to reach Hill Q was a battalion of Gurkhas, but they would be driven off
by their own naval artillery fire, delivered from the newly arrived ‘monitors’
(gunships sent out to replace the capital ships) and the ageing battleship HMS
On the morning of 10 August Mustafa Kemal led an
overwhelming Ottoman counterattack on Chunuk Bair at 4.30am, narrowly avoiding
being wounded. Turkish historian Kenan Çelik has described the action:
When Mustafa Kemal gave the signal, 5,000 men in 22 lines
charged on the New Zealanders and the British at Chunuk Bair. One second later
there was only one sound – ‘Allah … Allah … Allah.’ The British did not have
time to fire and all the men in the front-line trenches were bayoneted. The
British troops were wildly scattered. In four hours’ time, the 23rd and 24th
Regiments regained the lines at Chunuk Bair. The 28th Regiment regained
Pinnacle (the highest point on Rhododendron Ridge). Just after the Turks
regained Chunuk Bair, the Navy and artillery began firing. Hell let loose. Iron
rained from the skies over the Turks. Everybody accepted their fate. All around
people were killed and wounded. While Mustafa Kemal watched the fighting, a
piece of shrapnel hit his pocket watch. The watch was broken but protected his
life. He had a bruise on his chest, but nothing else. He was destined to save
The exhausted New Zealanders had been relieved by the 6th
Loyal North Lancashires, who had arrived at 10pm (a second battalion, the 10th
Wiltshires, had not yet arrived). The force of the Ottoman attack was to prove
too much; breaking over the British battalions and sweeping them down the slope
into the confusion of gullies below. Baldwin’s men at the Farm would suffer the
impact of the Ottoman charge. Hill Q was no longer occupied and Chunuk Bair, so
fleetingly held by the Allies, was now firmly back in Ottoman hands. The
struggle for the heights was over; the campaign effectively finished, dead in
the dark waters of the Dardanelles Straits.
GALLIPOLI IN FILM
Peter Weir’s 1981 film Gallipoli famously covered the charge
of the Australian Light Horse at the Nek. Controversially, the film linked the order
for the second and third waves to continue with the charge in the face of
Ottoman machine guns (the artillery barrage having been lifted due to an error
in timing) as a ‘support’ for the British at Suvla Bay – who were famously
described as ‘drinking tea on the beach’. Yet the Suvla Bay landings had
nothing to do with the attack at the Nek.
P-40L (Kittyhawk Mk.II) Unit: 3 Sqn, RAAF Serial: CV-V Pilot – CO of 3
Sqn, RAAF (in future Air Vice Marshall) Brian A. Eaton
BY DAVID WILSON
On 20 September 1939, the Australian Government approved the
plan to raise a six-squadron air expeditionary force for service overseas.
Although this plan was later negated by the decision in November that RAAF
resources should be employed to ensure the success of the Empire Air Training
Scheme, a RAAF flying unit was deployed to the Middle East to assist the 6th
Division of the Second Australian Imperial Force as an element of General
Wavell’s army that was protecting the Suez Canal and Egypt. This unit was 3
Squadron, which had been flying Hawker Demon two-seat biplane fighters from
Richmond. Under the command of Squadron Leader I.D. McLachlan, the squadron
personnel departed from Sydney aboard the Orontes on 5 July 1940. The personnel
arrived at Port Tewfik on 20 August. They commenced training with Westland
Lysander army cooperation aircraft at Ismailia, before moving to Helwan, south
of Cairo, on 16 September. At Helwan 3 squadron was finally equipped with two
flights of Gloster Gladiator biplane fighters, four Gloster Gauntlet biplane
fighters, and a flight of army cooperation Lysander aircraft from RAF sources.
The Gladiator pilots trained in air fighting tactics, the Gauntlets were used
as improvised dive- bombers and the Lysander crews practised for their tactical
reconnaissance role, before the Gladiators and the Gauntlets were flown to
Gerawla, east of Mersa Matruh, early in November.
The squadron fought the Italian Air Force (Regia
Aeronautica) for the first time on 19 November 1940. Flight Lieutenant B.R.
Pelly, escorted by Squadron Leader P.R. Heath, and Flying Officers A.C. Alan
Rawlinson and H.H. Alan Boyd, was reconnoitring east of Rabia, when the
formation was intercepted by eighteen Fiat CR-42 fighters. The Australian
Gladiators, for the loss of the popular Heath, claimed to have shot down or
damaged six Italian fighters. From this time until the commencement, on 9
December, of Wavell’s offensive to force the Italians from Sidi Barrani, the
squadron maintained three fighters on stand-by to counter any enemy aerial
incursions. The fighters were not required, but the unit did undertake practice
dive-bombing exercises with the Western Desert Force.
In a brilliant campaign, General Richard O’Connor forced the
more numerous Italian forces from the fortress of Bardia and captured Tobruk.
After cutting off the retreating Italian Army at Beda Fomm on 7 February, the
Western Desert force was poised to attack Tripoli. However, the situation that
developed in Greece during January 1941 resulted in the weakening of the desert
force to bolster the Greek Army against German invasion. The Regia Aeronautica
proved ineffectual in combating the superiority of the three RAF fighter
squadrons, one of which was the Gladiator-equipped 3 Squadron, which, for the loss
of five Gladiators and two pilots (Flight Lieutenant C.B. Gaden and Flying
Officer J.C. Campbell), was credited with the destruction of twelve enemy
aircraft. During February the Australian squadron was equipped with Hawker
Hurricane monoplane fighters and, from its base at Benina, was assigned the
task of defending Benghazi from attacks by Luftwaffe aircraft based in Sicily
and Tripolitania. Due to the lack of early warning facilities and the Luftwaffe
tactics of attacking just before dawn or after dusk, 3 Squadron could claim
only one success—on 15 February, Flying Officer J.H.W. Saunders succeeded in
destroying a Junkers JU-88.
Luftwaffe operations indicated that General Erwin Rommel,
who had arrived in Tripoli during the later days of February with the Afrika
Korps to assist the Italians, would not be prepared to accept a passive role.
On 24 March, he initiated an offensive which resulted in the capture of
Benghazi on 3 April, and the subsequent retreat of the British forces to the
vicinity of Bardia by the 11th, leaving the 9th Australian Division surrounded
in Tobruk. The RAF fighter squadrons had limited success in covering the
retreat and protecting the British forces from the Luftwaffe. During the
ten-day, 800-kilometre retreat, 3 Squadron operated from nine separate bases.
After evacuating from Benini on 3 April, it undertook a fighting withdrawal.
Although it was impossible to supply adequate cover for the retreating troops,
the squadron did claim some victories against the Luftwaffe. Eight Hurricanes
destroyed five Junkers JU-87s during the afternoon of 5 April while they were
covering the withdrawal of the 2nd Armoured Division near Charruba. An hour
later Flight Lieutenant J.R. ‘Jock’ Perrin led a formation of nine Hurricanes
that surprised twelve JU-87s and claimed the destruction of nine of the enemy.
On 14 April, the squadron was operating from Sidi Barrani when Flying Officer
W.S. ‘Wulf’ Arthur and Lieutenant A.A. Tennant (South African Air Force)
combined to shoot down two twin-engined BF-110s near Tobruk. The following day
Squadron Leader Peter Jeffrey shot down a Junkers JU-52 transport and
successfully strafed three more that had just landed near the Bardia–Capuzzo
road. The Australian squadron was withdrawn to Aboukir, for rest, on 20 April.
The reverses in the Western Desert, the fall of Greece and
the invasion of Crete marked the nadir of British fortunes in the Middle East
and Mediterranean. There was no respite for the hard-pressed Wavell and his
forces. As 3 Squadron was being withdrawn for rest, the situation in Vichy
French-controlled Syria compelled military action to prevent the potential that
German aircraft could refuel at Syrian bases and threaten the oilfields of
Persia and Iraq. Wavell, who was preparing for Operation Battleaxe, an
offensive to be mounted in June with the aim of relieving Tobruk, was ordered,
in combination with Free French Forces, to invade Syria to prevent any such
incursions. The force assigned for the Syrian campaign comprised the 7th
Australian Division, the 5th Indian Brigade, some composite mechanised units
and the Free French Division. A light-bomber squadron, one army cooperation and
one fleet air arm squadron, as well as two and a half fighter squadrons
supplied air support. Having converted to the American Curtis P-40 Tomahawk
fighter at Lyddia in Palestine, 3 squadron was to play a prominent role in the
campaign. Their first operation was a strike by five Tomahawks that left six
French Morane fighters destroyed on the ground at the Rayak airfield on 8 June.
That afternoon four Tomahawks escorted Bristol Blenheims that attacked oil
tanks at Beirut. The squadron flew various roles over the next two weeks:
interceptions, naval patrols, tactical reconnaissance, close air support of the
ground troops and bomber escort duties, all of which gave the opportunity to
engage the enemy in combat. On 14 June, Peter Jeffery led eight Tomahawks into
combat against a like number of JU-88s (with Italian markings) during which
three of the German bombers were shot down.
The Anglo-French advance proceeded quickly until 12 June,
when the Australians were halted by Vichy French counterattacks near
Merdjayoun. The Free French had advanced to within sixteen kilometres of
Damascus, and the British fighter units supported both forces by offensive
patrolling. On the 15th, 3 Squadron reconnaissance flight sighted twelve Vichy
tanks and 30 motor vehicles near Sheikh Meskine, and Jeffrey and Flying Officer
Peter Turnbull each destroyed a Vichy Glenn Martin bomber. Attacks on enemy
targets in the Kuneitra area failed to prevent the Vichy French ground forces
from threatening the British line of communications. The Vichy Air Force was
active, and the demand for protective patrols by the limited British fighter
force could not be met.
The hardening of Vichy French resistance led to a
reorganisation and reinforcement of the attacking forces. Lieutenant General
Lavarack assumed command of I Australian Corps, which had been augmented by a
brigade from the 6th British Division and an independent force (Habforce) moved
from Iraq to threaten Palmyra. Air reinforcements consisted of the combined 260
Hurricane squadron (comprising RAF pilots and RAAF ground crew) and a Blenheim
bomber squadron, thus enabling 3 Squadron to be allocated to support the
Australian Corps. The Australian Tomahawks attacked tactical targets and the
aggressive strafing of enemy airfields destroyed many enemy aircraft on the
ground. Tomahawks also escorted the Blenheims on raids to assist Habforce. On
the 28th, nine 3 Squadron Tomahawks escorted Blenheims on a raid before
intercepting and shooting down all six enemy Glen Martin bombers that were
attacking Habforce units. Flight Lieutenant Alan Rawlinson was credited with
three victories; Peter Turnbull was credited with the destruction of two
bombers and Sergeant R.K. Wilson claimed the remaining bomber. However, action
was not always in the Australians’ favour. On 10 July, they were escorting
Blenheims on a raid near Hammara when five Dewoitine fighters, attacking from
below the formation, shot down three of the Blenheims before the Tomahawks
could intervene. But retribution was swift. Peter Turnbull shot down two
Dewoitines and Flying Officer John Jackson, Pilot Officer E.H. Lane and
Sergeant G.E. Hiller claimed one each.
When Syrian operations were suspended on 12 July, 3 Squadron
moved to protect Beirut from possible German air reaction from bases in the
Dodecanese Islands and Crete, before returning to the Western Desert, where it
resumed operations from Sidi Haneish on 3 September. Many of the original
pilots, like Rawlinson, Perrin and Turnbull, returned to Australia toward the
end of 1941. In May, Squadron Leader Gordon Steege had been posted from 3
Squadron to assume the command of 450 Squadron, which finally became
operational with Australian ground and aircrews in January 1942. The dilution
of experience within 3 Squadron continued with the appointment, on 13 June
1941, of Flight Lieutenant B.R. Pelly to command the newly arrived 451
Squadron. When Pelly returned to Australia he passed the command to Squadron
Leader V.A. Pope, RAF on 25 June 1941. Despite its lack of experience, the unit
built its proficiency during a series of artillery shoots, photographic and
tactical reconnaissance sorties.
Operation Battleaxe proved a failure and the lull in ground
operations resulted in 451 Squadron flying only 372 sorties in the period 1
July–14 October. On 9 August, Pope inaugurated photographic sorties to
photograph the German positions surrounding Tobruk, and plans were made for a
detachment of two Hurricanes from the squadron to operate from within the
perimeter. These aircraft operated for some months, where, despite almost daily
aerial reconnaissance missions and air raids, the Axis forces were never aware
of the underground shelters in which they were housed. Despite increasing
Luftwaffe activity in September—the squadron lost six aircraft—the unit was
able to report the presence of enemy tanks near Acroma on 11 September and to
closely monitor the movements of this column as it advanced to Rabia and then
its withdrawal to its start line.
Operation Crusader, the offensive planned by General
Auchinleck, the new Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Forces in the Middle East,
to destroy the German Army’s armoured forces, relieve Tobruk and clear
Tripolitania, commenced on 18 November. Both the Australia fighter squadrons
were involved in the preparatory and subsequent operations. The RAF fighter
squadrons were reorganised into three groups: one party would move to a forward
airfield to prepare for the arrival of the aircraft; a second party would
maintain the aircraft and then follow and relieve the first party that would
then be available to move further forward. These two groups preceded the third
group— the headquarters, workshops, stores and transport—thus ensuring the
mobility of the squadron. Given the fluidity of the subsequent actions in North
Africa, this proved a sensible arrangement. Although the BF-109F flown by the
Luftwaffe was superior to the desert-modified British Tomahawk and Hurricane
fighters, the Luftwaffe did not seriously impair the tactical reconnaissance
operations of 451 Squadron or engage 3 Squadron fighter sweeps. On 22 November,
two aerial battles were fought that established the superiority of the British
fighter units. During the morning 3 Squadron escorted a formation of Blenheim
bombers when they were intercepted by fifteen BF-109s. In the ensuing melee,
three Tomahawks and two BF-109s were shot down. That afternoon 3 Squadron
joined with 112 Squadron, RAF, in a battle with twenty BF-109s. Although the
Germans had the height and speed advantage, the two formations assumed
defensive circling manoeuvres, with individual pilots seeking to exploit any
momentary vulnerability of their opponents. Being further from their home bases
that the British, the German fighters, due to lack of fuel, were forced to
break the stalemate by disengaging and flying west.
Although the ebb and flow of the ground battle between the
Eighth Army and the Afrika Korps fluctuated between the combatants, the Axis
aerial situation, despite the balance of aircraft losses being in favour of the
Luftwaffe, did not, in general terms, threaten RAF freedom of action during the
campaign. The 451 Squadron Hurricanes, allotted to undertake tactical
reconnaissance for XIII Corps, did so with little interference from enemy
aircraft. The squadron did, however, lose personnel as a result of the fluid
ground battle. On 27 November, Flight Lieutenant Carmichael, Sergeant ‘Nil’
Fisher, Corporal Keith Taylor and Aircraftman Don Bailey, Arthur Baines,
‘Tubby’ Ward and five other airmen were captured by an enemy column that
attacked the landing site at Sidi Azeies.
The fighters however, were able to give substantial cover to
the ground forces. For example, on the afternoon of 25 November Peter Jeffery
led 3 and 112 Squadrons over Sidi Rezegh, where they encountered an enemy
formation of 70 BF-110s and JU-87s that were attacking New Zealand troops. The
RAF Squadron engaged the top cover of German and Italian fighters, while 3
Squadron attacked the BF-110s and JU-87s. Much to the delight of the ground
troops, the Tomahawk pilots dispatched seven of the enemy, probably destroyed
one and damaged another eight, for the loss of one Tomahawk. The British force
destroyed a total of ten enemy aircraft.
Early in December, 3 Squadron re-equipped with the Curtis
P-40E Kittyhawk. This aircraft was a development of the basic P-40, but was
more heavily armed than its predecessors. In the meantime 450 Squadron had
deployed to Gambut Main, where it joined the Desert Air Force on 16 February
1942. Six days later Sergeant R. Shaw claimed its first aerial victory: a JU-88
shot down in flames.
Rommel, with his usual resilience, mounted a counterattack
in January 1942. The Eighth Army withdrew to Gazala, where Auchinleck planned
to hold the Germans prior to initiating a British offensive. The defence was
based on a series of strong points such as Bir Hacheim and Knightsbridge,
which, together with the armoured killing ground that became known as ‘The
Cauldron’, was synonymous with the heavy fighting. The two Australian fighter
squadrons, 3 and 450, were active from the opening of the battle on 27 May.
During that day 3 Squadron Kittyhawks dropped 22 250-pound bombs, damaging
several tanks. Consequent actions were a mix of ground attack sorties in
support of the British Army or protecting the same from the incursions of the
Luftwaffe: the Free French defensive position at Bir Hacheim was the target for
350 enemy sorties per day. The statistics for operations flown on 16 June
indicate the intensity of the Australian squadrons’ effort. From only thirteen
aircraft available, 3 Squadron flew 62 operational sorties while 450 Squadron
flew 25 bomber escort missions and then another fifteen fighter-bomber missions
later in the day.
After the bloody battles of June, the Eighth Army was forced
to withdraw under the wings of the Desert Air Force to a defensive position
with its right flank resting on the Mediterranean Sea and its left protected by
the impassable Qattara Depression. On 1 July Rommel opened the first Battle of
El Alamein, advancing toward El Alamein and the approaches to El Ruweisat. The
Desert Air Force opposed this advance with vigour. The two Australian squadrons
flew with Boston light bombers to attack Deir el Shein, fighting a running
battle with BF-109s during the outward journey that resulted in the loss of a
Kittyhawk. With the priority given to close support of the troops on the ground
and the interdiction of German transport, aerial victories were few. One was
claimed on 4 July—a relatively typical operational day during the battle. The
two Australian units reconnoitred the coastal road to Daba and strafed a supply
column near Ras Gibeisa. That afternoon they bombed landing grounds west of
Daba before 450 Squadron machine-gunned a long column of enemy transport on the
road. Flight Sergeant D.H. McBurnie shot down a BF-110 reconnaissance aircraft.
To finalise the operations for the day, 3 Squadron bombed trucks at Sidi Abd el
Rahman and 450 Squadron spied on enemy movements as far west as Fuka.
Although 3 and 450 Squadrons were active in covering the
British retreat, 451 was withdrawn to Haifa in Palestine during February 1942.
During March the squadron deployed to Cyprus to protect the island from
high-flying German reconnaissance aircraft. The squadron removed the armour and
half the guns to lighten the Hurricanes to improve their performance. One
pilot, Flight Lieutenant R.T. Hudson, claimed to have flown his Hurricane to an
altitude of 12 000 metres (2000 metres above the fighter’s normal service
ceiling), but only one success was claimed. Flying Officers Lin Terry and Jack
Cox combined to shoot down an Italian Cant 107-C reconnaissance aircraft. On 8
January 1943, the unit moved to Mersa Matruh, from where they were involved in
mundane patrols over the Nile Delta. Even the attachment of three Supermarine
Spitfires did not improve morale. In the first six months of 1943, the unit had
a single action. On 22 February, a JU-88 had the better of a brief fight. On 23
July 1943, 451 Squadron lost three of six Hurricanes that had joined a strike
force of Martin Baltimore light bombers, Beaufighters and Spitfires on an
ineffective strike on targets on Crete.
The squadron was re-equipped with Spitfires and commenced a
new phase of operations from Poretta, Corsica on 23 April 1944, when it
escorted a formation of 24 North American B-25 Mitchell bombers to attack a
railway bridge at Orvieto, Italy. During the return flight the formation was
intercepted, and Flying Officer Wallis claimed a share in the destruction of a
FW-190 fighter. Even though the majority of the bomber escort and armed
reconnaissance flights from Poretta were unopposed, the Luftwaffe was still
capable of making its presence felt. On the night of 11 May, a JU-88 dropped
anti-personnel bombs on Poretta, killing two pilots and six of the squadron
ground staff. In the air the Luftwaffe was less deadly. On 25 May, Flight
Lieutenants House, Thomas and Bray each claimed the destruction of a FW-190
after a sharp encounter over Roccalbegna, north of Rome, accounting for three
of the seven enemy aircraft shot down by 451 Squadron during the month. Another
highlight was the covering of the landing by French commandos on the island of
Squadron Leader W.W.B. Gale assumed the command of 451
Squadron early in July, but was shot down a week later while engaged in a
reconnaissance flight over the bridges spanning the Arno River between Florence
and Empoli. Squadron Leader G.W. Small assumed command on 7 July. Next day the
squadron moved to St Catherine, from where it flew fighter sweeps over
Marseilles and Toulon prior to flying cover for the Allied landing on the coast
of southern France on 15 August. The unit moved to St Cuer, from where, as has
been already noted, it deployed to Hawkinge.
While 451 Squadron was stalled in Palestine, the two other
Australian fighter squadrons were withdrawn for rest before participating in
the second Battle of El Alamein. During this period Flying Officer A.W. ‘Nicky’
Barr enhanced his reputation. On 11 January 1942, he claimed victories over a single
Italian Fiat G-50, and two BF-109s. During the combat Barr was wounded in the
legs, and his Kittyhawk was badly damaged, forcing Barr to crash land behind
enemy lines. Assisted by the local tribesmen, Barr was able to gain information
on enemy dispositions that proved valuable after his return to the unit. Barr
was promoted to the rank of squadron leader and assumed temporary command of 3
Squadron. On 30 May, Nicky made a spectacular high-speed crash landing, but was
able to return to the Allied lines on foot, having passed though a tank battle
en route. However, on 25 June Barr, badly wounded, bailed out of his severely
battle-damaged Kittyhawk. He was captured, but managed to escape from
captivity. In an eight-month period evading recapture in Austria and Italy, he
eluded the enemy again and again, finally becoming involved with an Allied
Airborne Special Services unit, for which he was awarded the Military Cross. He
had previously been awarded a DFC and bar, and remains, with a score of twelve
enemy aircraft to his credit, the highest scoring 3 Squadron pilot of the
Second World War.
At the end of September the Kittyhawks reverted to the
fighter-bomber role, when they attacked Axis positions near Sidi Abd el Rahman
and Ghazal. Sorties during October were a mixture of interceptions,
fighter-bomber and bomber-escort missions. These missions enabled the
respective commanders of 3 and 450 Squadrons, Squadron Leaders R.H. ‘Bobby’
Gibbes and J.E.A. Williams, to blood new pilots, thus ensuring that the units were
at peak efficiency for duties during the forthcoming battle at El Alamein.
General Montgomery began the battle on 23 October 1942, but
it was not until 4 November that the Axis forces were in full retreat. The
British fighter units escorted light bomber formations, undertook tactical
reconnaissance flights and strikes against Luftwaffe bases. Throughout the
battle, the Luftwaffe resisted stoutly, despite the long-range efforts of the
Kittyhawks to disturb their airfields. Although profitable, these operations
were not without cost; 450 Squadron lost its commander when he was forced down
near Buq Buq on 31 October. Williams was captured and, like Catanach, was
imprisoned in Stalag Luft III, one of the Gestapo victims to be executed as a
result of his efforts in the ‘Great Escape’.
Once the Eighth Army broke through the Axis lines, the
Desert Air Force was utilised to hinder the enemy retreat. Between 6 and 19
November, the fighter units were based at seven separate airfields. One task
was escorting light bomber formations. On 9 November, Sergeant Dave Borthwick,
of 450 Squadron, was part of the high cover for a formation of Bostons when he
was shot down. Although wounded, he managed to parachute to the relative safety
of the desert. On landing, he used his parachute material to bind his wounds.
Despite his bindings, he could not walk, and crawled on hands and one leg for
four days, eating beetles and licking the early morning dew from desert plants
to sustain him. He finally found an Arab tomb, and was discovered by a King’s
Royal Rifle Regiment patrol. He had lost 25 kilos in weight during his ordeal.
Borthwick was awarded an MID for his fortitude.
So keen was the fighter force that on 9 November the advance
parties of the 3 and 450 Squadron’s ‘B’ echelons appear to have been leading
the whole Allied Forces pursuit. For example, a 3 Squadron party was located to
the west of Sidi Barrani when they were strafed by BF-109s while watching the
forward element of the Eighth Army’s armoured spearhead advancing behind them.
Similarly, a 450 Squadron ‘B’ echelon was advised by the surprised armoured
column commander who found them that it may be wiser for them to wait on the
fall of Sidi Barrani before proceeding to the airfield. The advance from
Amiriya, near Alexandria, was so rapid that 3 Squadron had advanced 800
kilometres in ten days and operated from five separate airfields. On 18
December the Australians had reached the airfield at Marble Arch in Libya. The
effort was marred by the loss of five 3 Squadron ground crew members, the
victim of an enemy landmine that had been laid near the landing field.
Despite the Allied landing in Morocco during November 1942,
ensuring that the Axis forces in North Africa could not recover the initiative
in the theatre, hard fighting ensued before the final African victory. The
Australians had a reputation of making every effort to rescue downed pilots
during the campaign—successful rescues had been previously completed by, among
others, Peter Jeffery and Flying Officer Lou Spence—and the effort of Bobby
Gibbes to rescue Sergeant Rex Bayley on 21 December 1942 is an excellent
example of the hazards involved. Six 3 Squadron aircraft successfully strafed
the German airfield at Hun, leaving six enemy fighters destroyed in their wake.
Defending anti-aircraft fire shot down two of the attackers. One of the victims
was Rex Bayley, who, after successfully crash landing his Kittyhawk, radioed
that he was unhurt. Gibbes, despite Bayley’s protestations, landed his
aircraft. After releasing the half-full drop tank from the Kittyhawk’s
fuselage, Gibbes unstrapped himself from the cockpit and moved the ejected tank
from under the aircraft. When Bayley arrived, Gibbes removed his own parachute
and sat on his lap. The take-off was hazardous. There was only 300 metres
available before the ground dropped off into a wadi. Under full power, the
Kittyhawk became airborne, but not before the port wheel of the undercarriage
was demolished when it hit the earth on the opposite side of the wadi. On landing
at Marble Arch, Gibbes skilfully balanced the aircraft on its remaining
starboard wheel on landing. The aircraft ground looped, but suffered only minor
damage. Incidentally, Gibbes was himself shot down on 14 January 1943, but
evaded capture for five days before returning to Allied lines.
The Allies accepted the final surrender of Axis forces in
Tunisia on 13 May 1943. During the March 1943 breakthrough of Rommel’s
defensive line at Mareth, the squadrons flew similar roles to those at El
Alamein, and contributed to the inability of the Luftwaffe to resupply and
protect the Axis troops in Tunisia. For 3 Squadron to have been— with the
exception of Operation Battleaxe—involved in every major operation during the
North African campaign was a proud achievement. With over 200 victories, it was
the highest scoring Desert Air Force squadron. 450 Squadron had, with less
opportunity, also made its mark. In sixteen months of operations this squadron
destroyed 47 enemy aircraft in air-to-air combat, and, to give some credence to
the varied role of fighter-bombers with the Desert Air Force, destroyed 584
enemy motor vehicles.
Australian fighter pilots also served with the RAF. The most
outstanding was Clive Robertson Caldwell, who, with 28 confirmed victories, was
the highest scoring Australian ‘ace’ of the Second World War. By the time he
arrived back in Australia during September 1942, he had scored at least twenty
victories and commanded 112 Squadron, RAF. He was acknowledged as a superb
shot, and his ‘shadow shooting’ technique—a pilot would fire live rounds at the
ground shadow of an accompanying aircraft, thus honing his skills in deflection
shooting as well as allowing for the time taken for the projectiles and targets
to meet at the same spot (leading the target). He was awarded a DSO, DFC and
bar and the Polish Cross of Valour while in the Middle East. A contemporary was
John Lloyd Waddy, who served in 250 Squadron, RAF, and 4 Squadron, South
African Air Force (SAAF), before returning to Australia in February 1943.
During his service in the Middle East he was awarded a DFC and scored twelve
on Darwin on 19 February marked the first attack made on continental Australia
by an enemy force. It was not the first attack on Australian territory. On 4
January 1942, 22 Nells bombed the airfield at Lakunai, near Rabaul, New
Britain, part of the Australian Mandate of Papua New Guinea. The defence of the
strategically important Rabaul, with its deep-water port and facilities, was
the responsibility of 24 Squadron, commanded by Wing Commander John Lerew,
which had deployed with four Hudson and thirteen Wirraway aircraft early in
December 1941. Flight Lieutenant R.A. Yeowart and his 6 Squadron crew made a long-range
photographic reconnaissance flight in a specially modified long-range Hudson
over Truk, the Japanese fleet base in the Caroline Islands on 6 January 1942.
When Yeowart returned, after evading defending aircraft and anti-aircraft fire,
his report of the presence of twelve warships, a hospital ship, transports and
many aircraft at all adjacent airfields made Lerew aware of the vulnerability
of his base to invasion. On the same day, Japanese flying boats bombed
Vunakanua airfield, destroying a Wirraway and damaging a Hudson. The aircraft
flown by Flight Lieutenant B.H. Anderson was the only one of the four Wirraway
aircraft that attempted to intercept the flying boats to make contact. He made
a climbing attack from the rear of one flying boat and expended all his
ammunition, without visible effect, from 275 metres.
attrition of the defending aircraft continued on the 7th, when a Hudson and
three Wirraways were destroyed by a formation of Nells, despite the valiant
effort of three Wirraways to attempt to intercept. Clearly the Wirraway was
totally outclassed by the attacking aircraft, and Lerew requested modern
fighters as reinforcements for his meagre force. None were available. The
climax to the gallant defence of Lae came on 20 January. A formation of 50
enemy high-level bombers, dive bombers and fighter escorts were sighted over
Duke of York Island. Seven Wirraways attempted the interception, but Anderson
and Pilot Officer C.A. Butterworth crashed on take-off due to engine failure.
Three aircraft were lost in the ensuing combat, one destroyed on takeoff and
two seriously damaged in crash landings. Six crewmen had been killed and five
wounded in the ten-minute combat. It was as a result of this action that Lerew
sent his famous signal to the Air Board: Nos morituri te salutamus (we who are
about to die salute you).
invasion imminent, Lerew evacuated wounded men on 22 January, when Squadron
Leader J. Sharp flew the remaining serviceable Hudson to Port Moresby. Lerew
withdrew his men to the Wide Bay area, where flying boats from Port Moresby
could evacuate the survivors. Next day a total of 96 men were evacuated by 33
Squadron Short Empire flying boats flown by Squadron Leaders J.L. Grey and M.V.
Mather. Grey flew to Tol next day, where he successfully embarked 49 airmen and
soldiers. A trio led by the radio officer at Sum Sum, Sergeant F.G. Higgs, who
had remained behind to secure the communications link with Port Moresby until
the 27th, were ordered to withdraw. Higgs and the two other airmen appropriated
a five-metre sailing boat and, after an epic 21-day voyage, reached Cairns.
Squadron was fighting for its existence at Rabaul, the Catalina flying boats of
11 and 20 Squadrons were also attempting to curb the Japanese advance. When it
moved to Port Moresby in September 1939, 11 Squadron was equipped with two
Short ‘C’ class Empire flying boats that had been pressed into service from
Qantas, and two Supermarine Seagull amphibians. The famous Empire flying boats
may have been successful on the commercial route to England, but when armed
with a single Lewis machine-gun and bomb racks, it was of limited usefulness as
an offensive maritime reconnaissance aircraft. Consequently, 11 Squadron
welcomed the delivery of the first of its new Consolidated Catalina flying
boats in March 1941. This aircraft, with power supplied by two 1200 hp Pratt
and Whitney Twin Wasp engines, had a maximum speed of 315 kph and a range of
4989 kilometres. It was to equip four active RAAF squadrons and prove to be a
versatile, reliable aircraft. The advent of this aircraft, and the raising of
20 Squadron at Port Moresby on 1 August 1941, gave the Australian defences a
robust maritime reconnaissance force.
Catalina squadrons were the only units capable of taking advantage of the
information provided from Yeowart’s successful reconnaissance of Truk and other
long-range reconnaissance missions. A force of six flying boats from the
combined squadrons attempted to attack Truk on 11 January, but foul weather en
route forced the aircraft to return to Port Moresby. Another attempt was made
on the 16th, but Squadron Leader T.H. Davis and his crew were lost when their
aircraft crashed on take-off after refuelling at Kavieng. Three of the four
aircraft that proceeded with the attack were unable to find the target due to
poor visibility. Flight Lieutenant Ern Beaumont, who arrived an hour later,
made two bombing runs to drop sixteen 250-pound bombs, but to no apparent
Leader J.A. ‘Dick’ Cohen flew a long-range reconnaissance mission that showed
the extraordinary endurance of the Catalina. On 13 January he departed from
Tulagi, a small island adjacent to Guadalcanal where an advanced operational
base had been established, to undertake a 19 hour 37 minute reconnaissance of
the northern Gilbert Islands. Reconnaissance missions could be lethal. On 21
January, Corporal T.H. Keen was the sole survivor of a Catalina, captained by
Lieutenant G.H. Hutchinson, US Navy, that had been shot down in flames over
Salamaua by five enemy fighters. Flight Lieutenant Robert Thompson had departed
from Gizo on the same date to search for the Japanese task force that had
attacked Rabaul on the previous day. Thompson found the task group and was
ordered to shadow the warships. His aircraft had come under accurate
antiaircraft fire and, worst of all, he could see fighters taking off from the
aircraft carriers below. The inevitable damage to the Catalina in the
subsequent action forced the burning flying boat to force land in the open sea.
The survivors, fearing that the burning aircraft would explode, abandoned the
aircraft. They were later picked up by a Japanese cruiser and became prisoners
fall of Rabaul the Port Moresby-based Catalinas and the ten Hudsons of the
newly formed 32 Squadron, under Wing Commander Deryck Kingwell, were the only
RAAF strike force in Papua New Guinea. The Catalinas striking at Rabaul met
considerable resistance. For example, on the night of 3 February, Pilot Officer
B.G. ‘Tubby’ Higgins was flying one of five Catalinas bombing Simpson Harbour,
when, at 10.00 pm, the flying boat was attacked by a Zeke. The enemy fighter
hit the Catalina, wounding the wireless operator in both ankles. Higgins evaded
the Zeke by diving to sea level through the cloud billowing up from one of the
active volcanoes that perpetually threaten the town of Matupi. Flight
Lieutenant G.E. Hemsworth was also attacked. His aircraft was hit in the port
engine, forcing him to jettison the bomb load and take evasive action. Sergeant
Douglas Dick, on his first operational flight, returned fire from the port
blister. As a result of his fire an enemy fighter was seen to spin and crash
into the sea. Hemsworth made a five-hour, single engine flight to Salamaua,
where he made a perfect landing just before dawn. After making temporary
repairs, he was able to take off using both engines, but once the aircraft had
climbed to 600 metres, the port engine had to be shut down. After the Catalina
landed at Port Moresby, 157 bullet holes were counted.
of the flying boats and crews resulted in an operational combination of the two
squadrons. Aircraft, crews and tasks were shared, but men and machines could
not be replaced. Lieutenant Ern Beaumont was lost on the night of 24 February.
On the same day, five Zekes escorted eleven enemy bombers and raided Port
Moresby, with a disastrous result for the flying boat squadrons. Three
Catalinas were destroyed, and another damaged, at their moorings. It was
obvious that the increasing number of Japanese raids would make the position of
the three squadrons at Port Moresby untenable. Although Squadron Leader Deryck
Kingwell, the commander of 32 Squadron, recorded a direct hit on a 6 000-tonne
transport, part of the Japanese invasion force of eleven ships in Salamaua
Harbour on 7 March, enemy pressure resulted in 32 Squadron being completely
withdrawn to Horn Island on 26 April.
Catalina squadrons withdrew further south to Bowen, Queensland, from where they
made long-range strikes on targets such as Tulagi and along the northern coast
of New Guinea and the island of New Britain.
in January 1942, there were no RAAF fighter squadrons in Australia to contest
for aerial superiority with the Japanese over the important airfields at Port
Moresby. It was not until 4 March that the first Kittyhawk fighter squadron,
75, was raised at Townsville. The raising of 76 Squadron at Archerfield,
Queensland on the 14th and 77 at Pearce, Western Australia two days later,
followed this unit. On the 21st, Wing Commander Peter Jeffery, although having
handed the command of 75 Squadron to a fellow 3 Squadron veteran, Squadron
Leader J.F. ‘Old John’ Jackson, survived being shot at by defending anti-aircraft
gunners while landing with the first four Kittyhawks to arrive at the Seven
Mile airfield. Within hours the squadron made its presence felt. Flying Officer
Wilbur Wackett, the son of Lawrence Wackett, and Flying Officer Barry Cox
scrambled at 3.53 pm to intercept the daily Japanese reconnaissance aircraft.
The two Kittyhawks closed with their prey, and after several well-directed
bursts of machine-gun fire, the bomber exploded and dived into the sea west of
Baslik Point. The combat, an emphatic victory in full view of the defending
ground troops, was a great tonic to morale. But Jackson was not satisfied with
this initial victory.
22 March, Jackson led nine aircraft from the Seven Mile to take the battle to
the Japanese. Photographic evidence had been produced that indicated that a
force of Mitsubishi G-4M ‘Betty’ bombers and Zeke fighters was based on the
airfield at Lae. To attack this attractive target, Jackson led five strafing
Kittyhawks. Flight Lieutenant Peter Turnbull (another 3 Squadron veteran) led
the top cover of four fighters. The ground strafers made two runs over the
airfield, so low that the aircraft flown by Flight Lieutenant John Piper
collided with the propeller of one of the parked enemy fighters, tearing one of
the Kittyhawk’s wing guns from its mount and severely damaging the wing main
spar. It was reported that nine Zekes and three Bettys were left burning as a
result. Anderson, of 24 Squadron Rabaul fame, fell foul of the defending
fighters. Turnbull and Sergeant J.H.S. Pettett, members of the top cover,
succeeded in destroying a Zeke each. Wilbur Wackett had a combat that resulted
in his being forced to ditch his engine-damaged fighter in the sea halfway
between Lae and Salamaua. He swam ashore. After an epic adventure that entailed
crossing the Owen Stanley Ranges on foot, Wackett returned to Port Moresby on
almost daily basis, the pilots of 75 Squadron fought against overwhelming odds
and tactical limitations. But the presence of the fighters enabled United
States Army Air Corps Douglas A-24 bombers to attack targets at Lae, and also
enabled American medium bombers to stage through the Port Moresby airfields
with a degree of safety. It was John Jackson’s leadership that was
inspirational, and his failure to return from a lone reconnaissance of Lae on 9
April was met with great sadness, and also a spirit of vengeance. On the 18th,
the news that he was safe and well at Navos was greeted with relief. But this
was to be short-lived. John Jackson’s final mission highlights the heroic
defence mounted by 75 Squadron.
am, 28 April 1942, Jackson led five Kittyhawks to intercept a superior force of
Japanese bombers and fighters north of Port Moresby. Jackson and Barry Cox died
fighting the Zeke escort that had the advantage of height over the slow
climbing Kittyhawks. Flying Officer Peter Masters spun out of the combat, and
Flying Officer Le Gay ‘Cocky’ Brereton was slightly wounded when his Kittyhawk
was hit in the wings and fuselage. Jackson’s aircraft was seen to crash on
Mount Lawes. When the crash site was located, the engine was found embedded two
metres into the ground from the force of the impact.
In its epic
44-day defence of Port Moresby 75 Squadron destroyed eighteen and damaged 29
enemy aircraft in aerial combat for the loss of 21 aircraft and twelve pilots.
When the unit was withdrawn on 7 May, the Japanese tide had reached its height;
the US Navy was in the process of fighting, and ultimately winning, the Battle
of the Coral Sea. The engagement was the result of strategic intelligence and
the efforts of Australian long-range reconnaissance missions that warned of the
Japanese approach. Enemy fighters attacked Hemsworth and his crew after they
reported the presence of two enemy destroyers south-east of Misima Island on 6
May. Later in the afternoon, Flight Lieutenant P.J.E. Pennycuick, flying a 32
Squadron Hudson, reported an aircraft carrier, six destroyers and four enemy
merchantmen in the same area. The build-up of Japanese naval force was noted through
daily reconnaissance flights and the situation built to a climax on 7 March,
when the American Admiral Frank J. Fletcher launched the air groups of the
aircraft carriers USS Yorktown and USS Lexington to sink the Japanese aircraft
carrier Shoho and badly damage the larger Shokaku. Lexington was lost, but a
strategic victory had been won; most importantly, the Japanese invasion force
that had planned to attack Port Moresby was forced to withdraw. The turning
point of the Pacific War, the carrier battle centred on the island of Midway,
was fought on 4 June.
of the battles fought in the last six months of 1942 in Papua New Guinea and
Guadalcanal were pivotal to the defeat, or victory, of either of the
protagonists. On 21 July, the Japanese landed at Gona, and commenced to advance
toward Kokoda, thence across the Owen Stanley Ranges toward Port Moresby.
However, the focus for the Australian fighter squadrons was further east, at
Milne Bay. Peter Turnbull had assumed command of 76 Squadron in May, and led
the squadron there at the end of July. En route they flew the first Kittyhawk
fighter-bomber mission in the South Western Pacfic Area, an aborted strike on
Napapo on 22 July. The presence of enemy fighters above the seven Kittyhawks
forced the Australians to drop their bombs before closing with the enemy. In
the subsequent inconclusive action, Turnbull’s aircraft was slightly damaged,
but this did not prevent him from landing at Milne Bay. The only aircraft loss
was that flown by Flight Lieutenant V. Sullivan, who was forced to land eight
kilometres from Port Moresby due to engine failure.
July, 76 Squadron was based at the newly constructed airfield at Milne Bay,
Gurney strip. The first action was an unsuccessful attempt to intercept a
Kawanishi H8K ‘Emily’ flying boat that had bombed Townsville that night. A
rejuvenated 75 Squadron deployed to Milne Bay at the end of July. There was an
expectation that the Japanese would attempt to capture it as a base for a
pincer movement to take Port Moresby, and Hudson aircraft arrived on 6 August
to give some long-range warning of any approaching enemy. Two days before, the
Japanese showed interest in the Allied developments, when Zekes strafed Gurney
and destroyed a Kittyhawk. Flying Officer P.H. Ash evened the score when he
destroyed an enemy Zeke. The second Japanese air raid occurred on the 11th. The
two Australian squadrons lost four pilots, but claimed the destruction of two
Zekes, the possible destruction of two, and to have damaged a further six.
Another brisk combat took place on the 24th. Next day, John Piper led nine 75
Squadron Kittyhawks to strafe Japanese landing barges and enemy troops that had
been sighted at Cape Watts, Goodenough Island. This force was intended to land
at Taupota, and the successful destruction of the barges eliminated a northern
threat to the defenders of Milne Bay. Also on the 25th, an American Boeing B-17
crew reported the presence of a Japanese naval force en route for Milne Bay.
inclement weather prevented any long-range B-17 attacks on this force, it was
left to a combination of the Australian Kittyhawk and Hudson aircraft to defend
Milne Bay. At mid-afternoon of the 25th, Peter Turnbull and ‘Cocky’ Brereton
led a force of twelve Kittyhawks and a single Hudson to contest the Japanese
approach. Armed with a single 300-pound bomb, the fighters were restricted to
making low-level strafing and bombing attacks, instead of the preferred
high-level dive-bombing approach, because of the overcast conditions. The
strike force returned to Gurney strip and rearmed. Unfortunately the low cloud
and failing light prevented any further contact. It was left to Pilot Officer
Martin Law from 6 Squadron to make two bombing passes out of the cloud later in
the evening. Despite having inflicted minor casualties on the enemy, the air
assault did not prevent the landing of Japanese troops at Ahioma, from where
the Japanese troops advanced along the northern shore of Milne Bay toward the
Leader Les Jackson, who had assumed command of 75 Squadron on the death of his
elder brother, ‘Old John’, led six Kittyhawks on a strike on the Japanese
landing barges that had been sighted on the beach near the KB Mission. This
sortie was the first of a pattern of operational flights made by the two
fighter squadrons to supply close support to the hard-pressed Australians. When
not so involved, the fighters defended the bay from any enemy aerial
encroachments. On 27 August, Les Jackson and Sergeant Roy Riddell each shot
down a Zeke, but not before an American B-24 Liberator bomber burned as a
result of the enemy strafing the Gurney strip. Flight Sergeant Stewart Munro
was reported missing after the fight. Later, 76 Squadron lost its commander.
Late in the afternoon Peter Turnbull was killed when his aircraft crashed as he
attempted to strafe a Japanese light tank. Squadron Leader Keith ’Bluey’
Truscott, of 452 Squadron fame, assumed command of the squadron. He remained in
this appointment until his death on 28 March 1943, when he crashed into the sea
while undertaking fighter training with a flying boat off Exmouth Gulf in
expectation of an enemy assault on the airfield complex on the night of 28
August resulted in the overnight withdrawal of the fighters to Port Moresby.
The expected attack did not eventuate, and the aircraft returned to Milne Bay
on the 29th. Group Captain W.H. Garing also arrived to assume the overall
command of the RAAF units involved in the battle, which reached its climax
during the early morning of the 31st. Desperate, but unsuccessful, attempts by
the Japanese to overwhelm the Australian defences at Turnbull airfield (No. 2
airfield had been renamed to commemorate Peter Turnbull) proved the apogee of
the Japanese advance. Steady pressure by the Australians forced the withdrawal
of the invaders on the night of 5 September.
Japanese Navy had made its presence felt during the campaign. On the night of 7
September a salvo of shells hit the supply ship Anshun, which capsized at the
Gili Gili wharf. Garing was particularly perturbed at the enemy navy’s freedom
of action. He was aware of the raising of 100 Squadron and its new Beaufort
torpedo bombers. As a result of his pleadings Wing Commander J.R. ‘Sam’ Balmer
led six Beauforts north from Laverton on 4 September. En route the Beauforts
were loaded with American Mk XIII torpedoes at the RAAF base at Nowra. During
the morning of 7 September, two 6 Squadron Hudsons attacked a Japanese cruiser
and a destroyer and reported the incident to Milne Bay. An attack force of six
Beauforts, three 30 Squadron Beaufighters and ten Kittyhawks took off to strike
at the force off Normanby Island. The strike force did not discover the enemy
vessels and returned to Milne Bay. However, they were not to be denied. At 4.55
pm three Beaufighters, and the eight 76 Squadron Kittyhawks led by Truscott,
closed to within 800 metres of the enemy before commencing to strafe the bridge
and upper works of a cruiser. The enemy formed a defensive circle as the
Beauforts commenced their low-level run. Under fire from the cruiser’s heavy
guns, the Beauforts dropped their torpedoes from a range of 1500 metres.
Results were disappointing. No hits were made, but lessons were learnt that
were to be applied in future anti-shipping operations. Unfortunately, from the
perspective of the torpedo bomber force, this strike was indicative of the
problems that were faced. The torpedo used proved unreliable, and the
subsequent eighteen torpedo bomber operations were to prove disappointing.
Squadron Leader Noel Quinn was shot down and captured after flying the RAAF’s
final torpedo bomber sortie against Rabaul on 4 December 1943.
Kittyhawk squadrons returned to Australia for rest and reequipment. 76 Squadron
flew to Batchelor in the Northern Territory, and Truscott was able to add the
last entry to his list of claims: a Betty destroyed on 21 January. After
serving at Horn Island and Cairns, 75 Squadron returned to Milne Bay in January
1943. In the meantime, the Allied airfields had been developed in the Port
Moresby area. The efforts of 1 Mobile Works Squadron (later 5 Airfield
Construction Squadron) from July 1942 resulted in the development of Ward’s
airfield to enable the Beaufighters of 30 Squadron and Boston light bombers of
22 Squadron to operate against the Japanese forces along the Kokoda Track and
at Buna, Gona and Sanananda. It is also a period where the influence of air
power in the theatre was becoming apparent. For example, the difficultly of
supplying the forward troops on the Kokoda Track resulted in the deployment of
the Special Transport Flight of Hudson aircraft from 1 Operational Training
Unit to Ward’s airfield to augment the sparse aerial transport resources in the
theatre. The flight made its first supply drop at Soputa on 14 December 1942.
Next day the hazards of these operations became evident. Three Hudsons departed
from Ward’s, penetrated the overcast conditions over the notorious ‘Gap’ in the
Owen Stanley Range and dropped much needed ammunition at Soputa. Squadron
Leader W.A. Pedrina made two circuits before dropping his stores on the third.
The aircraft then went into a steep turn and crashed, with Flight Sergeant L.
Callaghan the only survivor.
operational career of Flight Lieutenant W.E. Newton is typical of the tasks
that were being undertaken by the Australian squadrons at Port Moresby during
this period. After joining 22 Squadron, Newton flew his first operational
sortie on 1 January 1943, strafing Japanese positions near Sanananda Point,
landing at Dobodura due to a mechanical problem with his Boston light bomber.
On 22 January 1943, the Australian and American forces finally secured the area
from Gona to Buna. The Australian Bostons had played an effective role in
supporting the land battle, and Newton was to participate in an action in March
that sealed the fate of the Japanese defenders at Lae. Prior to this climactic
event, Newton flew missions to prevent the Japanese from capturing the
airfields at Wau. During February, Newton flew five of eight sorties supporting
the hard-pressed infantry in the Wau–Mubo–Salamaua area. Using photographs
exposed by the Wirraways of 4 Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron, the Bostons
flew at 400 kph through anti-aircraft fire, between ridges and mountains, often
battling through monsoonal rain and clouds to bomb and strafe enemy positions.
These operations, which required courage and flying skill, contributed to the
heavy Japanese casualties.
On 2 March,
Bill Newton flew one of six Boston bombers, which in the face of heavy
anti-aircraft fire, swept across the airfield at Lae, leaving a trail of
destruction. This action was aimed at destroying enemy fighters that had been
deployed to Lae to give protection to a Japanese convoy. The ships had departed
from Rabaul on 28 February to reinforce the garrison at Lae. The convoy was
attacked by American B-17 bombers during the 2nd, but it persevered. Next day
it came within range of the specially trained Australian 30 Squadron
Beaufighter and American B-25 Mitchell bomber crews, who vindicated the many
hours of low-level ‘skip bombing’ training that they had undertaken on the
wreckage of the SS Pruth. To prevent interception of the attacking force,
Newton and two other Boston captains attacked the Lae airfield early in the
morning. The three Bostons, armed with four nose-mounted 0.303 machine-guns and
a 2000-pound bomb load caught the enemy fighters as they prepared for take-off,
leaving many burning on the cratered runway.
Out in the
Bismarck Sea the Japanese convoy was bombed by a force of B-17 Flying Fortress
bombers, thirteen 30 Squadron Beaufighters and a number of Mitchells, leaving a
swathe of burning and sinking vessels in their wake. Ammunition expended, the
Allied aircraft returned to Port Moresby to rearm and refuel. The Allied
aircraft returned during the afternoon. Wing Commander C.C. Learmonth led five
22 Squadron Bostons to join in the fray, claiming two direct hits on enemy
vessels. The Australians were under pressure from defending Zekes. Flying
Officer H.B. Craig attracted four of them. By boldly turning into his attackers
with all guns blazing, Craig forced the enemy to break away.
not participate in the later attacks.
March, Newton was flying one of a formation of six Bostons that attacked newly
constructed fuel tanks on the Salamaua isthmus. From a height of 1500 metres,
Newton dived on the tanks, while his wingman, Dick Fethers, strafed the
adjacent gun sites. The tanks exploded, and the resultant fireball and column
of smoke could be seen for 80 kilometres. As the other Bostons dropped their
bombs, Newton returned to strafe the area. His aircraft received four direct
hits and, with instruments, hydraulics and control surfaces badly damaged,
Newton turned south-east for safety. To further compound the situation, one
engine had to be shut down. Newton, with superb airmanship and luck, coaxed the
Boston back to Ward’s. For his action on this day, Newton was awarded the
Victoria Cross. But it was a posthumous award. On 18 March, Newton and his
crew, along with Sergeant Basil Eastwood and John Lyons, ditched after
attacking Salamaua. Eastwood was killed in the crash, and Newton and Lyons were
captured. Lyons was bayoneted to death soon after, and on 29 March 1943 the
23-year-old Flight Lieutenant W.E. Newton was executed by his Japanese captors.
Yamamoto had established an advanced headquarters at Lae to attempt to counter
the reverses at Guadalcanal and along the northern New Guinea coast. He
identified the growing Allied air strength as the major threat, and instigated
a series of air attacks on Guadalcanal, Oro Bay, Port Moresby and Milne Bay to
redress the balance. In this he was unsuccessful. At Milne Bay the enemy
efforts were intercepted by the Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighters of the USAAF
9th Fighter Squadron and the Kittyhawks of 75 and 77 Squadrons. The latter had
arrived in November 1942, and 75 Squadron returned on 13 February 1943. The action,
the last major aerial combat to which the RAAF fighter force contributed in the
South West Pacific Area, took place on 14 April 1943. The two Australian units’
contribution was the destruction of six Betty bombers, a Aichi D3A ‘Val’ and
three Zekes. Squadron Leader W.A. ‘Wulf’ Arthur, the 75 Squadron commander,
epitomised the courage of the Australian pilots. Finding that his guns would
not fire, he requested permission to land. While diving across Milne Bay, he
sighted six Vals and made dummy attacks on the formation, before unsuccessfully
attempting, by aggressive flying, to force another Val to land.
facilitate the westward advance from Milne Bay, 6 ACS deployed to Goodenough
Island and to Kiriwina to prepare airfields to be used by Kittyhawks and
Beauforts to strike at targets at Gasmata and Rabaul. During this period, 75
Squadron operated two Lockheed F-4, the photographic reconnaissance version of
the P-38 Lightning fighter, on missions over Cape Gloucester, Gasmata and the
Trobriand Islands for the US Sixth Army and RAAF 9 Operational Group. Squadron
Leader Geoff Atherton and Flight Lieutenant ‘Monty’ Mountseer flew the majority
of the flights. The squadron operated from the new airfields at Vivigani on
Goodenough Island and Kiriwina that had been developed by 6 ACS. In the
meantime, 7 ACS contributed to the construction of the airfield complex at
Nadzab, the communication road from the complex to Lae and the construction of
a fuel pipeline from that port to the airfield. This area became a major base
for American heavy and medium bombers preparing for the subsequent landings at
Cape Gloucester in New Britain and at Aitape and Hollandia. From 19 January
1944, 75 squadron operated from Newton Field, one of the Australian
contributions to the Nadzab complex. Then they commenced operations with the
newly arrived 78 Squadron.
operation of the two units included escorting formations of USAAF B-24
Liberators and B-25 Mitchells. In addition, the two Kittyhawk units flew close
escort for the Vultee Vengeance dive bombers of 21, 23 and 24 Squadrons that
were flying precision strikes against enemy facilities at Alexishafen, Sair
Island, Hansa Bay and Madang. The three dive-bomber units had deployed to New
Guinea between 30 August and 15 February 1944. Although the aircraft supported
the Australian 9th Division at Sattelberg and gained a reputation for close air
support to ground troops, they did not remain operational in the theatre for
long. On 8 March, 23 Squadron flew its last sortie; 21 Squadron was only based
in New Guinea for fifteen days before all the dive-bomber units were returned
south. Ultimately, they were to form the nucleus of the RAAF Liberator heavy
involved in escort duties, the Kittyhawks struck at enemy targets and flew
close support missions. These were risky. On 27 January 1944, 75 Squadron lost
Flight Sergeant J.N. Stirling and Pilot Officer Hunt when they collided while
strafing Jombo Island, south of Madang. Flying Officer E.H. Weber was shot down
over Malala on 2 March 1944, to become 78 Squadron’s first operational
casualty. Squadron Leader Col Lindeman gained some revenge when he damaged two
Oscars that had attempted to intercept the Liberator formation that he was
escorting. Japanese sources state that two Oscars were lost on this day, but
they do not state whether this was the result of air-to-air combat or to
another cause. This was to prove the last combat of this type that involved 75
March, 75 Squadron commenced operations from Cape Gloucester in New Britain in
support of the 1st Marine Division that had landed as part of the operations to
isolate the Japanese Rabaul garrison and to prepare bases for the next step
forward: the landings at Aitape during March. The personnel of 7 ACS were in
the second wave of troops that landed at Aitape, and the members of 5 ACS on
the 23rd reinforced them. These highly professional units had a fighter strip
operational on the 24 April, and a bomber strip two weeks later. The Kittyhawks
of 78 Squadron landed at Aitape on 25 April, and 75 Squadron aircraft joined
them next day. The two squadrons directed operations against the Japanese
defences between Hyaparake and Cape Boram, as well as covering the progress of
the naval bombardment force that included HMAS Australia and HMAS Shropshire.
Both were to be involved in the landing at the island of Biak in May.
RAAF fighter squadrons moved westwards to Hollandia on 25 May. On 27 May, they
covered the landing of the US 41st Division at Biak. These operations were
undertaken at the extreme range of the Kittyhawks, and the flights gave little
opportunity for the fighters to close with the enemy. However, when the
opportunity was presented, the Australians took full advantage. In one of the
last major air-to-air combats in Papua New Guinea, 78 Squadron shot down eight
Japanese aircraft on 3 June. Fifteen Kittyhawks intercepted a Japanese
formation of twelve Oscars and three Nakajima B5N ‘Kate’ attack bombers. Flight
Lieutenant R.S. Osment, the formation leader, shot down a Kate in flames. Pilot
Officer R.R. Cowley closed to within 50 metres of an Oscar before shooting it
down, also in flames. Blue section joined the furious dog fight. The leader,
Flight Lieutenant G.H. White, shot the wing off an Oscar before disposing of a
Kate, which was seen to invert just before it hit the water. Other victorious
pilots were Flight Lieutenant D.R. Baker, Flight Sergeant C.I. Smith, Flight
Lieutenant J.C. Smith, Flight Lieutenant J.C. Griffiths, and Flying Officer
R.E. Barker, who were credited with the destruction of one Oscar apiece. In
addition, Griffiths and Flying Officer N.F. Blessing shared in the destruction
of another enemy fighter.
On 10 June,
Flight Lieutenants D.R. Baker and G. Giles scored the final air-to-air victory
credited to RAAF fighters over New Guinea when they destroyed an enemy aircraft
while covering an Allied convoy near Japen Island.
phase of MacArthur’s advance was the capture of the island of Noemfoor, from
where air power could be projected over the Vogelkop peninsula and the
Ambon–Ceram area. To ensure the rapid utilisation of the Noemfoor airfields,
Group Captain W.C. Dale, the commander of 62 Works Wing, was appointed as the
chief engineer to oversee the rehabilitation and construction of the airfields
at Kamiri and Kornsoren. The airfield construction troops landed within thirty
minutes of the initial assault, and Kamiri was suitable for 78 Squadron to fly
to Noemfoor on 20 July, where 75 and 80 Squadrons joined it on the 22nd. The three
squadrons harassed enemy forces in the Geelvink Bay and Vogelkop peninsula as
indirect support to the Allied landing at Sansapor, and were joined in this
task by 22 Squadron Bostons and the 30 Squadron Beaufighters early in August.
Morotai was taken after an unopposed assault on 14 September 1944, the men of 3
and 14 ACSs were among the first to land. By 20 September, they had completed
preparatory work and commenced the upgrading of the Wama airfield. Morotai was
to become a main concentration point for RAAF front-line units assigned to the
RAAF’s 1st Tactical Air Force. These included 1 (Mosquito), 13 (Ventura), 21,
23 and 24 (Liberator), 30 and 93 (Beaufighter), and 452 and 457 (Spitfire)
Squadrons. To this must be added the assets of 22 Squadron that had deployed to
Morotai on 17 November 1944 with sixteen Bostons. Nine Bostons were either
destroyed or extensively damaged during Japanese air raids on the night of
22–23 November, forcing the unit to be withdrawn to Noemfoor for rearming with Beaufighters.
The fighters, Bostons and Beaufighters operated extensively over the Halmaheras
to ensure that the Japanese forces could not be deployed to reinforce the
defences of the Philippines. These operations were to act as a catalyst for the
so-called ‘Morotai Mutiny’ of April 1945, when a group of senior commanders
took action to bring the futility of these operations to the attention of