RNZAF Hercules I

KIW44/NZ7003 C-130H on 40 Squadron RNZAF with troops of the 25th Airborne Brigade JBER during Exercise ‘Talisman Sabre’ in 2015.

40 Squadron RNZAF at Whenuapai operates five C-130Hs, including the first three production H models which, were delivered in April 1965. The squadron’s duties include flights to the Antarctic base at McMurdo. The first major operation carried out by the RNZAF C-130Hs was in July 1965 when the three aforementioned C-130Hs (followed by the other two in January 1969) airlifted the New Zealand Army’s 161 Artillery battery and its equipment from New Zealand to Biên Hòa AFB in South Việtnam. Over seven days, 14-21 July, the aircraft carried ninety-six soldiers, five 105mm howitzers, fourteen laden Land Rovers, eight trailers, two water tankers and other equipment – a total of seventy tons. 40 Squadron continued regular flights in support of New Zealand’s contribution to this war, flying into Saïgon and Vũng Tàu. Between 6-19 April 1975 it made three trips between Saïgon and Singapore to evacuate New Zealand Embassy staff, refugee children and news media representatives.

‘There is no doubt that the C-130E is the right aircraft for the job. It will perform effectively, efficiently and economically, in both strategic and tactical roles.’ These were the words of Air Vice-Marshal Ian Morrison, Chief of the RNZAF Air Staff in August 1962. When the RNZAF entered the 1960s its heavy transport fleet consisted of three Handley Page Hastings Mk.IIIs. These aircraft were required to over the globe to meet RNZAF and New Zealand Government requirements. Delivered during 1952 and 1953, the Hastings was World War Two technology and at the end of their economical life. Furthermore, as ‘tail-draggers’, with only side doors for loading they were not suitable for the vast range of cargoes moved by the RNZAF. The search for a replacement heavy transport aircraft commenced as a result of the 1961 ‘Defence White Paper’, which directed replacement of the existing transport fleet. As an interim measure, three DC-6 aircraft were purchased from Tasman Empire Airlines Limited (TEAL) to augment the Hastings.

Air Staff in Defence Headquarters, Wellington, commenced research into the selection of a suitable aircraft to replace the Hastings and DC-6s. One of the officers involved, Wing Commander Richard Bolt, described the process for developing the specifications for the new transport. ‘I took the specifications and information on the Hercules from the Lockheed brochures and this formed the basis for the Air Staff Requirement.’ The proposal also required the selected aircraft to carry out maritime surveillance using ‘roll-on’ maritime modules. The maritime role was later dropped when the Orion aircraft became the obvious choice for this role. The 17th of June 1963 was a red letter day for the RNZAF. ‘HERCULES ARE ON!! three now, five later.’ The headlines of the RNZAF News said it all. Cabinet had approved an immediate order of three C-130E aircraft, including spares and support equipment, at a cost of £13.5 million (NZ). Approval in principle was also given for the eventual purchase of five maritime versions. By July 1964 the production of the RNZAF’s first three Hercules (NZ7001-7003) was under way at the Lockheed plant at Marietta, Georgia. By then the choice had been made to take the new C-130H model aircraft – the first production models of this variant. At that time, the primary difference, between the E and H models was the more powerful T56-A-15 engines in the H model. Three technical officers and 32 airmen commenced sixteen weeks of training at Travis Air Force Base on 17 June 1964. They then trained at various AFBs for the remainder of that year. Three aircrews were sent to the US for conversion training at the end of 1964. It was a profound shock to the aircrews when they arrived for training at Lackland AFB to find that they were scheduled to attend a school for ‘language training’.

Air Commodore Carey William Adamson, a Flying Officer at the time, recalls the incident. ‘We were to take a written test to establish our level of proficiency in English. This we refused to do. A senior officer was summoned and it was quickly apparent that there had been a major misunderstanding. Whoever had made up the training package for the RNZAF was not aware that New Zealanders spoke English. It was not possible to bring forward the rest of our training, so we spent the time at Lackland learning about the Constitution, the history of the United States, the federal system of Government, the philosophy and rules of American football and the finer technical points of baseball. This information was not wasted and proved valuable in following years.’

Air Commodore Adamson also recalls the delivery flights of the Hercules. ‘We went to the Lockheed plant in Georgia to pick up our new aircraft and on 1 April 1965 our crew flew NZ7002 for the first time. That was the beginning of a thirteen year personal relationship with a magnificent and elegant lady. We went on a navigational exercise on 5 April to check out cruise procedures and left for New Zealand on 8 April 1965.’ The other two Hercules also headed home that day.

Navigator Bob Howe, then a Flight Lieutenant, recalls his arrival in Wellington, New Zealand on NZ7003. ‘We were directed to return to Wellington first for a reception by the Prime Minister and the Chief of Air Staff. Two things stand out about the arrival: Firstly we got too close for comfort to the Hutt Valley power lines on a holding run; and secondly we knew we were home when a civil pilot, forced to hold because of our arrival, complained ‘what about us taxpayers?’ Shortly after noon on 14 April 1965 the first three Hercules arrived at Wellington’s Rongotai Airport, to a formal reception ceremony, headed by the Prime Minister (The Right Honourable Keith Jacka Holyoake). ‘I am sure that we have chosen wisely and well,’ he said of the Hercules.

In the months immediately after arrival, the three Hercules were seen above most New Zealand cities and towns as the RNZAF showed off its new acquisitions. Overseas trips were undertaken. On 29 April 1965 NZ7001 and its crew flew from RNZAF Base Auckland to Honolulu. Covering 3,840 nm in twelve hours and twenty minutes, it was the longest distance flown by New Zealand civil or military aircraft in a single day. Another major overseas trip was in May 1965, when one aircraft flew to Singapore and returned home via the Philippines where it uplifted support equipment for 5 Squadron Sunderlands.

The first major operation carried out by the RNZAF’s new Hercules took them straight into a war! The three aircraft airlifted the New Zealand Army’s 161 Artillery Battery and its equipment from New Zealand to Biên Hòa AFB in South Việtnam. Over seven days the aircraft carried 96 soldiers, five 105mm howitzers, fourteen laden Land Rovers, eight trailers, two water tankers and other equipment – in total seventy tons. The first flight was made on 14 July and the last on 21 July 1965. Each aircraft stopped only for fuel and a crew change at Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. Just twenty hours after leaving New Zealand the soldiers were in the harsh operational environment of South Việtnam. There was much public dissension over the role of the New Zealand Armed Forces in the Việtnam War. The Air Force’s involvement in the carriage of the Army Artillery units was conducted in utmost secrecy before the event. Sergeant Air Quartermaster Vern Carter remembers the degree of subterfuge used to disguise the involvement.

‘We were scheduled to fly to Singapore, leaving Whenuapai (RNZAF Auckland) on Monday morning 5 July 1965. We loadies were asked to come in on the Sunday morning and supervise the loading. On arrival at the Squadron hangar, there were no signs of aircraft on the tarmac. Instead we were confronted by the sight of 161 Battery’s Land Rovers and artillery waiting outside. They had driven up from Papakura at 0600 hours to avoid confrontation with the Progressive Youth Movement which was opposed to the Việtnam War. Thus we learnt that our ultimate destination was a little further than Singapore and we also learnt the reason for those nasty ‘plague’ jabs. Loading was a doddle, though carried out inside the hangar and the seats were rigged for the accompanying gunners. The technique for landing [at Biên Hòa, Việtnam] was to spiral down from 20,000 feet, remaining within the confines of the airfield, or you could get shot at by the VC around the perimeter of the field. When the aircraft commenced descent, the gunner’s staff sergeant leapt to his feet and bellowed ‘Load weapons’.

‘Whoa,’ yelled a startled Air Quartermaster. ‘Not on my aircraft you don’t.’ He visualised everyone disappearing through a small hole in the side of the still pressurised aircraft. The first confrontation of the war! 40 Squadron Hercules were to continue regular flights in support of New Zealand’s contribution to this war, flying into Saïgon and Vũng Tàu.

Acting Sergeant (later Squadron Leader) Warren Dale who was awarded the Việtnam Medal for duty was an Air Quartermaster on RNZAF Hercules transport flights operating between Singapore, Vũng Tàu and Saïgon.

‘Our Hercules’ were new and well capable of the work. Our course of air quartermasters were among the conversion courses to be trained in New Zealand by the RNZAF crews who had trained and brought the aircraft home from the United States. Vern Carter and Jock Scott (who both went on to become Master Air Loadmasters) made a good job of our training and we were confident because of this good solid grounding and the quality and capability of our aircraft and equipment. It was a time of contrasts; from seeing the mist still gathered just under the top of the jungle canopy as we flew low level over the Mekong Delta in the peace in the early morning just after dawn to the busy, somewhat dirty day-to-day business of an operational airfield. The air and the ground would shudder with the thudding beat of dozens of Iroquois and helicopter gunships lifting off in streams for their morning missions.’ The RNZAF contribution during the conflict saw 40 Squadron airlift New Zealand troops to South Việtnam and 41 Squadron freighters began regular re-supply missions from Singapore. In 1967 the first RNZAF helicopter pilots commenced duties with 9 Squadron RAAF in Việtnam. Other pilots served with USAF squadrons as Forward Air Controllers, bringing a total of thirty pilots who served in Việtnam between 1967 and 1971; ten of these received decorations for gallantry.

‘Getting to know our troops and gunners over the 2-3 days from New Zealand into South Việtnam was a highlight. Watching good, solid, quiet and determined New Zealand soldiers unloading their weapons, artillery and stores and going calmly about their business when we arrived was always impressive. We would sometimes lend the gunners aircraft ear defenders, for a few short months, as they looked to be better than the gear they had. Occasionally, we would collect the same people after their tour and remember each other. They were changed, but there was always a cheer as we lifted off for the flight home. Unfortunately, we needed to bring out some of them in their coffins which were a sobering reminder of the real war that our people were facing.

‘The war in Việtnam touched the public consciousness like no war previously, due in large part to the powerful then-new medium of television. It brought war – its sacrifice and horror – into the living rooms of ordinary kiwi families. People questioned New Zealand’s role in the engagement and protests were widespread. Our servicemen were not immune to these protests and were often the easy target of unpopular government policies. I was comfortable with our engagement in Việtnam. I saw it as New Zealanders helping to defend a small country threatened by insurgency and invasion by larger and more powerful enemies. By the same token I was comfortable with the demonstrations. We felt that the demonstrators’ freedom to do this was part of being New Zealanders and the sort of thing that our duties in Việtnam were intended to defend.’

Between June 1964 and December 1972 over 3,400 New Zealand military personnel served in the Republic of South Việtnam. Of that number 37 died in active service, including one RNZAF serviceman Sergeant G. S. Watt and 187 were wounded.

Meanwhile, in July 1965 a Hercules made the first around-the-world flight for this new RNZAF type, completing a circuit of the globe in 85 hours. Back home they assisted 3 Squadron Bristol Freighter aircraft in redistributing civilian prisoners throughout New Zealand after prison riots at Mount Eden (Auckland) and Paparua (Christchurch). The Hercules were beginning to show their versatility. On 12 September New Zealand Prime Minister Keith Holyoake used NZ7003 on a VIP trip from Rarotonga to Wellington. It was the first of many overseas VIP missions the Hercules flew until the Boeing 727s took over the role on their arrival in 1981. Towards the end of 1965 the three Hercules’ of 40 Squadron were busily engaged on a wide range of worldwide tasks. In October 1965 they provided support to 14 Squadron Canberras in a major international exercise in Australia. The first paradrops were made over RNZAF Auckland and training exercises to develop supply dropping techniques were carried out over Matamata airfield. In December the RNZAF’s first six Bell Sioux helicopters were delivered from the United States by Hercules. They went to Hobsonville at RNZAF Auckland, the home of 3 Battlefield support Squadron (3 BSS). In June 1966 the Hercules began delivery of five new Iroquois helicopters to 3 BSS. ‘The first flight out of Christchurch, the first ever made to the Antarctic by an RNZAF aircraft, left at noon on Wednesday 27 October and the last flight landed there at 5.25 on Saturday, 30 October 1965.’

This statement in the RNZAF News was the first comment on what has become the annual sojourn of 40 Squadron to the great white continent. Air Commodore Carey Adamson, then a young Flying Officer co-pilot, was on that first trip. He recalls this historic flight: ‘We had to deliberately fly past a point of no return to a destination with no alternate. We had heard horror stories of the destination weather closing in with no warning and shutting down the airfield in a matter of minutes. Although we knew all the theory, we were not sure what landing on the ice would actually be like. When the coast of Antarctica came into sight, the intercom became silent as everyone took in the grandeur of the scenery and the alien nature of the continent. After seven hours and ten minutes the first RNZAF flight to the Antarctic ended with an uneventful landing at Williams Field. We had proved that we now had the means to support our own people with our own aircraft.’

During this first venture to the deep-south, Hercules NZ7003 travelled 12,900 miles on round trips between Christchurch and Williams Field (McMurdo), carrying a total of 75,000lb of miscellaneous cargo for the New Zealand Antarctic Research Programme (NZARP) and for the United States ‘Deep Freeze’ programme. ‘It was different and challenging flying,’ Captain of the flight, Wing Commander Allan Wood AFC said. ‘It was with joy and pride that we watched the first RNZAF Hercules land at McMurdo Sound, Antarctica’ said Mr. M. M. Prebble, the leader of the New Zealand Party at Scott Base. In 1968 the New Zealand Government announced it had approved the purchase of a further two Hercules. These new aircraft (NZ7004 and NZ7005) were officially accepted at Dobbins AFB during the first week of January 1969 and arrived in New Zealand on the 9th.

On 28 July 1969 the Squadron had all five Hercules in the air for the first five ship formation over Auckland city. During May – June 1969, Hercules carried out flights to the Cook Islands in support of a Government requirement to assist this island nation. These flights were typical of those still carried out today by the Hercules to various island nations of the South Pacific. One of the first occasions the Hercules showed its skills to the New Zealand public was in April 1968. A severe tropical storm disrupted commercial shipping and Hercules’ were used to carry passengers over Cook Strait. Up to ninety people a time were carried on the twelve-minute flight between Wellington and Blenheim. The geographical nature of New Zealand, with Cook Strait dividing the land mass, made for an interesting industrial dispute situation. New Zealand Railways ran a ferry service between the two main islands. The link was treated as an extension of the national highway system, so when threatened by industrial action, the Government used other means to ensure the link was maintained. In late 1969 a Hercules and three Bristol Freighters carried priority freight across the Cook Straight when industrial action halted the ferry service. Code named Operation ‘Pluto’, 1,750 tons of freight were transported over 22 days. The operation has been regularly repeated, with the range of cargo expanded to include light vehicles and passengers. The most recent was in April 1991.

40 Squadron’s motto is Ki Nga Hau E Wha (‘To the Four Winds’). During the 1970s the men, women and Hercules of 40 Squadron lived up to this motto by visiting a wide range of countries. The Hercules had become a very important part of the projection of New Zealand’s foreign policy. In addition to the usual military work carried out during this decade, many new tasks for New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs were undertaken. Some of the decade’s highlights are recalled here.

One of the first major deployments in the early 1970s was to the People’s Republic of Bangladesh in early 1972. Replying to a worldwide call for assistance to the war ravaged country, Detachment Commander, Squadron Leader Noel Rodger and the crew of NZ7002 under the command of Flight Lieutenant Peter Hensby-Bennett left Auckland on 23 February. During a fourteen day airlift in Bangladesh more than one million pounds of urgently needed food was distributed throughout the country. Another detachment, led by Squadron Leader Peter Tremayne, followed. Hercules NZ7002 returned to Bangladesh, captained by Flight Lieutenant Colin Harris, spending three weeks airlifting 3.1 million pounds of supplies. Flying conditions were harsh, with long days, extreme temperatures and no internal air traffic organisations to co-ordinate the many international aircraft crisscrossing the country. For its efforts the RNZAF was awarded the Red Cross Medallion for Meritorious Service. During regular overseas operations Hercules NZ7004 made the first nonstop flight from Changi (Singapore) to Whenuapai, on 12 May 1970. Captained by Wing Commander Mervyn Hodge, Officer Commanding 40 Squadron, the aircraft made the 5,290 mile flight in fourteen hours 45 minutes. All five Hercules visited the Far East on many occasions during this decade, flying missions in support of Exercise ‘Vanguard’ (a 75 Squadron RNZAF exercise) and the New Zealand Army Battalion based at Singapore. On 20 October NZ7005 appeared out of the hangar wearing the new ‘Kiwi’ roundel, adopted by the RNZAF to clearly identify New Zealand military aircraft. ‘As our most prominent ambassadors, it was appropriate that a Hercules should be one of the first types to carry the new national marking’.

Throughout the seventies the Hercules were pressed into service as VIP and VVIP transport aircraft, carrying these people around New Zealand and the South Pacific. Initially, a C-130 VIP Rig with plush seats mounted on a pallet was used. The pallet had screens around it with an open top. At least one Royal referred to it as ‘the horse box’. On 1 October 1978, NZ7002, under the command of Squadron Leader Carey Adamson, flew to Tuvalu to uplift Her Royal Highness the Princess Margaret, who had fallen ill during a visit there. The Princess was flown to Sydney for treatment. A fully enclosed VIP module was developed by the Squadron, mounted or a large pallet ‘liberated’ from the Canadians. Another Princess, Princess Anne, also travelled by RNZAF VIP Hercules. Squadron maintenance flight commander, Flight Lieutenant Alan Gill, remembers the rush to complete the module in time. ‘The box arrived the day before the scheduled flight. Much effort was expended to get a satisfactory air-conditioned airflow through the enclosed room. Work continued through the night to complete the fit in time for the 0900 departure. After the mammoth effort, Princess Anne apparently spent very little time in ‘the box’. Probably the lack of windows and the carpet glue smell led her to decide that the flight deck was a more enjoyable vantage point.’

With some improvement in East-West relations, New Zealand decided to establish an Embassy in Peking. NZ7002 captained by Wing Commander Mervyn Hodge, set out for China on 22 July 1973 with a cargo of furniture and equipment for the new Embassy. The aircraft stopped at Canton to collect a Chinese navigator, radio operator and interpreter for the final leg of the journey. It was a very wet day in Peking on 25 July, but the crew quickly assisted local personnel in unloading the cargo before beginning the trip home. On 5 December Hercules NZ7002 arrived in Moscow after a six hour flight from England. Captained by Wing Commander Mervyn Hodge, the aircraft carried equipment for the New Zealand Embassy being built in Moscow. It was the first RNZAF aircraft to land in the Soviet Union and was the first of three flights made by New Zealand Hercules to the Soviet Union’s capital city. To enter Russian airspace each flight needed a Russian navigator and radio operator. One of the crew was a loadmaster named Sergeant Warren Dale. He recalls an unusual incident at Copenhagen while collecting the Russian escorts: ‘The tarmac was covered in a deep layer of clear ice. Our fancy little wooden chocks wouldn’t hold the aircraft – it slid happily off down the tarmac, chocks and all, immediately the brakes were released – the Danes fixed that with the meanest-looking set of spiked chocks I’ve ever seen.’

On 25 December 1974, when most Hercules crews were enjoying an antipodean summer, a cyclone hit Darwin on the northern coast of Australia. New Zealand’s Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Wallace Rowling, offered immediate air assistance and on 27 December a Hercules with two crews was on its way to Darwin. 40 Squadron had a close affinity with Darwin, as it had been a major staging post for the Squadron since the mid 1950s. During the next five days the Kiwi crews flew 65 hours, carrying urgently needed equipment to Darwin and evacuating residents to safer areas. With the impending collapse of South Việtnam in early 1975, a Hercules Detachment, under the command of Wing Commander A. E. ‘Tommy’ Thomson (CO 40 Squadron), made three trips between Saïgon and Singapore between 6 and 19 April 1975 to evacuate New Zealand Embassy staff, refugee children and news media representatives. In 1977 and 1978, 40 Squadron Hercules flew into Burma. Here was a country shut off from the world for many years, now seeking assistance from New Zealand on a number of technical education projects.

On 27 January 1977 NZ7005 captained by Squadron Leader Peter Bevin headed for the northern city of Myitkyina with an ambulance and machinery for a school. Further flights carrying other aid equipment were made to Myitkyina in March 1978 and January 1980. Navigator, Flight Lieutenant Terry Gardiner, remembers the hospitality shown by local ‘armed civilians’ at Myitkyina. ‘By unmistakable gestures, they insisted on entertaining us with afternoon tea before we left. This consisted of sweet biscuits, cakes and beer served to us in a fairly ramshackle airport building which appeared to have been left untouched since the end of World War Two. Our Captain looked askance at the beer and then at the size of the cannons draped across our hosts’ shoulders and made his wise decision. The rest of the crew were to drink; he would abstain and trust that it would not prove too much of a provocation. It didn’t. The return flight in my memory has a warm mellow hue.’

When the Iranian revolution reached its peak in 1979, Hercules NZ7004 captained by Flight Lieutenant Ray Robinson flew to Teheran at short notice to evacuate NZ Embassy staff. RNZAF Hercules had previously visited Iran in January 1976, transporting material for the New Zealand Embassy in Teheran.

New Zealand provided an Army component to monitor the truce in Zimbabwe during 1979. On 20 December Hercules NZ7003 captained by Flight Lieutenant Scott Glendinning flew through Australia, Cocos Island, Mauritius, Durban and Salisbury with the main body of troops. They were recovered from Zimbabwe by Hercules in March 1980. In July 1979 the RNZAF’s most senior Hercules, NZ7001, travelled to Greenham Common, England to take part in the International Air Tattoo. The theme for that year was the 25th anniversary of the first flight of the Hercules. In a line-up of 26 Hercules representing fourteen nations, the RNZAF Hercules was judged best aircraft on display. It was a very proud crew headed by Squadron Leader Trevor Butler, which brought home the prestigious Concours-d’-elegance trophy. The Hercules had undertaken a standard freight/passenger task to the United Kingdom before being meticulously prepared for the line-up. Another award also went to the Kiwis – Warrant Officer S. Peyton won the trophy for best crew chief. Throughout the decade, the RNZAF also enjoyed successes at ‘Bullseye’ competitions and at ‘Volant Rodeo’ in the United States.

Throughout the 1970s Hercules carried Iroquois helicopters and relief aid to a number of New Zealand’s South Pacific Island neighbours struggling to recover from cyclones. Other flights carried injured patients to New Zealand for treatment. Often a crew would be called out at short notice to evacuate a seriously ill patient from somewhere in the Pacific. RNZAF medical staff provided medical assistance on these flights. Closer to home, NZ7003 made an airdrop of young trees to the Chatham Islands during April 1978. These were planted to assist the survival of the rare Chatham Island Robin.

Constant demands on such a small Hercules fleet, was tremendous. Often there were only three or four aircraft available due to servicing. Meeting requirements meant dedication from the Squadron’s small maintenance team. One of the maintenance flight commanders was Flight Lieutenant Alan Gill. He recalls the degree of effort required to keep the fleet in the air.

‘The NCOs were the backbone of the maintenance operation. Their dedication in ensuring serviceable aircraft were available to taskings is something I will never forget. The nature of 40 Squadron’s tasking saw aircraft departing in the morning, returning in the evening and needing to be ready again the next day. The night shift was busy and the day shift was sometimes just cleaning up the mess from the night before. The ‘groundies’ very rarely went on the aircraft to see what it was all about. My predecessor had argued for a maintenance position on the crew for some flights and also for a training exercise base in Fiji. That maintenance position enabled the ground crew to observe that long flights through various time zones were mostly hard and tiring work. Late arrivals and early departures, invariably the norm, left little time to enjoy the ‘exotic places’.

‘Allowing the ground crews to see air crews at work enabled better empathy between them and consequently provided a more cooperative dialogue and work arrangement.’

The decade ended on a sad note when an Air New Zealand DC-10 crashed on Mount Erebus in Antarctica. All 257 people on board the 29 November 1979 flight died. Within hours, Hercules NZ7004 captained by Flight Lieutenant Scott Glendinning was on its way to the southern continent, carrying a civilian police contingent and an air accident investigation team. The Hercules then recovered to Christchurch ending 28 hours of flying for one crew.

Other Hercules had the unenviable task of recovering bodies back to Christchurch. This whole operation greatly affected the crews and support personnel involved. As the Squadron history records, it was a sad way to end what had been a very successful year.

When the Hercules fleet entered the 1980s they and their crews were seasoned campaigners of military air lift operations. This decade continued to provide challenges and changes in emphasis. With the introduction of the two Boeing 727 trijets into the squadron, the Hercules crews could concentrate more on tactical airlift, paratrooping, aerial delivery and heavy freight movements. However, the responsibility of moving personnel both internally and externally remained an important task. March 1980 was a typical month with eleven overseas tasks, ten internal tasks and the commencement of a Hercules conversion course, put heavy demands on the Squadron and its aircraft. Tropical cyclone ‘Wally’ in Fiji during April saw the Hercules complete six return flights to Fiji carrying two helicopters and approximately 75,000lbs of tents and blankets.


RNZAF Hercules II

One of five 40 Squadron RNZAF C-130Hs, which included the first three production H models and were delivered in April 1965, crossing a remote Pacific island. The squadron’s duties include flights to the Antarctic base at McMurdo.

The RNZAF has provided Hercules air support to cultural activities in New Zealand and neighbouring South Pacific countries. One such task was in July 1980, when Hercules NZ7005 captained by Wing Commander Ken Gayfer (then CO 40 Squadron) flew to Papua New Guinea (PNG) in support of the South Pacific Festival of the Arts. The extremes of the climate, topography and lack of air traffic control facilities were matched by the variety of passengers and freight carried. Now an Air Commodore, Wing Commander Gayfer recalls one colourful occasion.

‘The first task was to convey a PNG Cabinet Minister and his wife, plus twenty or so locals to a remote part of PNG where there was to be an official ceremony connected with the festival. I assessed the status of the Minister to warrant VIP treatment and accordingly saluted him on board. He was dressed in a smart business suit. On arrival I climbed out and raced to position myself by the steps so as to provide the same courtesy. I noticed a welcoming group of fifty women was arranged in neat rows in order to complete a ritual tribal dance of welcome, clad in only grass skirts. Then to my astonishment the Minister appeared down the aircraft steps wearing only a loincloth and a massive headdress, followed by his wife in similar minimal attire to that of the women dancers! They had changed in the aircraft just prior to landing.’

In March 1981 a commercial airline strike in Australia stranded thousands of civilian passengers on both sides of the Tasman. The RAAF and RNZAF were tasked to move the backlog of passengers across ‘the ditch’. 40 Squadron Hercules flew around the clock for four days using four aircraft and four crews, moving approximately 800 passengers between Whenuapai, Richmond and Wigram. Military bases were used each side of the Tasman to avoid further escalation of the industrial situation. On 11 April HRH The Prince of Wales on completion of a brief New Zealand tour flew from Christchurch to Canberra in VIP rigged NZ7002 captained by Wing Commander Ken Gayfer. The flight returned to Whenuapai having safely delivered its Royal passenger to Canberra. The introduction of the Boeings to 40 Squadron in July 1981 saw most VIP roles passed to these newcomers. However Royalty did again travel on a standard Hercules, when HRH Prince Edward flew on NZ7004. The journey from Christchurch to Antarctica and return, in December 1982 was captained by Squadron Leader Trevor Butler. In May 1981 NZ7004 flew to Dobbins AFB in the United States to undergo the first Outer Wing Modifications required by Lockheed. All five of the Hercules had completed this programme by the end of October 1981. During 1984 and 1985 the fleet underwent a Fuselage Improvement Programme at the RNZAF’s engineering facility at Woodbourne. An avionics upgrade was also started in conjunction with this programme.

From July to September 1981 a controversial Rugby Tour by the South Africans caused civil disturbances at each venue. Hercules’ were used to transport police contingents to the venues. This event coincided with the requirement to position and recover aircraft in the USA for wing modifications. Even the Base Commander of RNZAF Auckland, Group Captain Peter Adamson, returned to the cockpit to assist when a shortage of crews prevailed during this hectic period. A ‘first’ for the Squadron occurred during Operation ‘Ice Cube 81’ in November. An engine change on a Hercules was required at McMurdo in Antarctic and the aircraft remained on the ice at Williams Field, near McMurdo Station for several days during the change.

Between 1982 and 1986 the RNZAF supplied personnel to the Multi National Force of Observers (MFO) based at El Gorah in the Sinai, to operate Iroquois helicopters. In support of this deployment NZ7001 under the command of Squadron Leader Trevor Butler left Whenuapai on 3 August 1982 for El Gorah. This was to become a regular task for the Squadron over the next four years.

‘On behalf of our people and children, a very sincere thank you. You have saved our lives.’ These were the words of Mr Pau Toke, chairman of the Penrhyn Island Council, to the crew of NZ7004 on completion of a mercy mission to the island. This mission began on 11 September 1982, when NZ7004 under the command of Captain Don Stone (a USAF exchange officer on the Squadron), flew from Whenuapai to Rarotonga. From there 5,000 gallons of fresh water was carried in two sorties to Penrhyn Island, 727 miles north of Rarotonga. The island was suffering from a drought and a call for immediate assistance was made to the New Zealand Government by the Prime Minister of the Cook Islands. Once again it was Hercules of 40 Squadron that sprung to the rescue.

Pitcairn Island, a remote island in the South Pacific, is mostly populated by descendants of mutineers from HMS Bounty. On 22 February 1983, Hercules NZ7004 (captained by Squadron Leader Trevor Butler) over flew the island on its way back from the United States. The primary reason for this flight was to assess the feasibility of airdropping a bulldozer onto this small rugged island. The island’s first mail drop was made during the flight. Once back at Whenuapai, planning commenced to airdrop a 28,000lb bulldozer. On 30 May 1983 NZ7005 captained by Squadron Leader Trevor Butler, headed for Pitcairn. The co-pilot was Captain Mark Barrels USAF. Along for the ride was Group Captain Mason, the British Defence Attaché to New Zealand.

The actual airdrop mission was launched from Tahiti on 31 May 1983 during a nonstop 3000 kilometre flight. The bulldozer was broken down into two loads, with the first drop made just after dawn. Winds ebbed low enough for the load to descend under six 100 foot diameter cargo parachutes. Following a ‘streamer’ run to gauge the strength of the residual wind, the command ‘green light’ was given to extract the load. It was released over a football field drop zone in a small valley with sharp cliffs and ocean at either end. The load roared out of the aircraft with the rollers screaming and protesting at the weight and speed at which the bulldozer accelerated. Anxious loadmasters, Flight Lieutenant Warren Dale and Flight Sergeant Dave Neilson, moved to the ramp and monitored the sequence of parachutes as they deployed. They were rewarded with the sight of a fireworks display as the parachute ground release cartridges ripple fired. The bulldozer landed perfectly and was quickly joined by the second platform containing its cab and blade assemblies. Almost the entire population of the island was standing on the hills of the valley to see the loads come in. The people were rewarded with the sight of an immaculate airdrop performance and the bulldozer starting up – it was dropped with fuel and a battery ready for immediate service. It also arrived with newspapers and fresh fruit installed – courtesy of 40 Squadron.

Spare cargo space on international Hercules flights is often offered to charitable institutions for free carriage of goods and supplies. Some of the wide range of charitable goods carried by Hercules are: medicines, vaccines, hospital equipment, library books, school desks, chairs, kitset classrooms, sewing machines, clothing, generators, solar power panels, outboard motors, boats, bicycles, building material, roofing iron, refrigerators, tractors, along with lots of toys and teddy bears for children. When an aircraft carrying such goods arrives at a remote island airfield, the reception is overwhelming. A loadmaster recalls one welcome. ‘Everyone came to thank us,’ he said. They sang, danced and gave us floral leis and headpieces to wear. We looked really colourful as we took off from the coral runway. The only problem in departing was clearing the children away from the aircraft before we started the engines. We used to save up our flight rations and have carefully timed lolly scrambles at a safe distance from the aircraft.’

The hot and humid climate of Western Samoa was the setting for a major New Zealand Defence Force exercise, ‘Joint Venture 1988’. Most of the RNZAF’s Hercules deployed to the tropical island during April and early May 1988. The effort to lift support material for 75 Squadron Skyhawks, 3 Squadron Iroquois, New Zealand Army units and the RNZAF’s base camp in Western Samoa, placed a huge demand on the Hercules fleet. Operating from the main camp at Faleolo, the Hercules detachment flew many missions around the islands in support of the exercise. Regular deployments of this nature have allowed validation of the RNZAF’s deployable equipment pack-ups and ability to move away from the home base of Whenuapai at short notice.

The summer of 1989/90 marked the 25th season that RNZAF Hercules had travelled to Antarctica through Operation ‘Ice Cube’. As in previous years, the Hercules carried a wide range of freight and passengers of many nations to and from Williams Field at McMurdo Station. During the return trip on some flights ‘penguin counts’ and ‘iceberg surveys’ were carried out by New Zealand scientists. (In November 1984 NZ7002 captained by Squadron Leader Murray Sinclair, air dropped a scientific laboratory at Vanda Station, together with CDS system fuel and spares).

The 1990s started in traditional fashion with two devastating cyclones through the Pacific Islands to the north of New Zealand. The first was Cyclone OFA which ravaged Western Samoa, Nuie, the Tokelaus, the northern Tongan islands, American Samoa and Tuvalu in February 1990. The RNZAF provided an Orion aircraft to fly reconnaissance over the Tokelaus. This revealed that 45 percent of homes had been destroyed. On 13 February a Hercules was despatched to Apia (Western Samoa) with food, emergency building materials and Air Force engineers and equipment to re-establish communications with the outside world. The Hercules then began air dropping supplies to outlying islands. A further Hercules followed with specialist equipment to fix broken water mains and a number of generators to restore power to essential services. While this group of island states was recovering from this disaster, Cyclone ‘Peni’ arrived in the Cook Islands, causing damage to a number of small island communities. Hercules support for Cyclone ‘Peni’ involved one aircraft departing Whenuapai on 5 March, spending six days in the Cook Island area flying more than 8000 nautical miles and carrying almost 200,000lbs of freight. Within four days of commencing operations from Rarotonga, the aircraft had delivered thousands of pounds of civil aid to ten destinations within seven of the fifteen islands making up the northern and southern chains of the Cooks group. As well as the air crew, ground crews and movements teams spent long hours preparing loads for delivery.

With 1990 opening with a flurry of activity, the rest of the year seemed to settle down to the usual round of internal and overseas taskings, maintenance programmes and training. In September the New Zealand Government agreed to provide assistance to the large number of refugees trying to escape the Middle East, as the political situation deteriorated. Hercules NZ7002 was sent to Egypt with 16 tonnes of milk powder and then flew on to Amman, Jordan, where it carried refugees from the area. Two flights were completed to Karachi, Pakistan and another to Manila in the Philippines on the way home. A 40 Squadron Boeing 727 also diverted from a UK task to assist with the refugee flights. Towards the end of 1990 the Hercules crews were looking forward to a quiet Christmas; perhaps the cyclones would stay away for a change. However, another ‘cyclone’ was whirling its way through Kuwait! Along with many other nations, New Zealand responded to the call for help to this small nation when the Gulf crisis erupted. The NZ Government agreed to a Detachment of two Hercules and 46 personnel joining an RAF Hercules Squadron based at Riyadh (Saudi Arabia).

As the rest of the Air Force began the Christmas rundown in December 1990 40 Squadron personnel were frantically arranging last minute requirements to support a detachment of two aircraft in an operational area for an unspecified duration. Finally, the green light and on 20 December 1990 NZ7001, captained by Flight Lieutenant Tony Davies, followed by NZ7002 under the command of Flight Lieutenant David Wake, lifted off from Whenuapai. Arriving in Riyadh on 24 December, the Detachment wasted no time and commenced its first mission on 27 December. Working as part of the RAF Hercules Squadron, the Kiwi Hercs had flown almost 300 hours by the end of the first seven weeks. Tasking included the transportation of supplies and personnel to various locations during the build-up to the land war. It was a big adjustment for the New Zealanders to realise a chemical attack could be a reality. And then the Scud attacks began. Flight Lieutenant Rex Fraser remembers his feelings during those attacks: ‘It’s quite scary when you see missiles exploding outside your window and you’re trying to hurry to put your gear on (NBC kit) in the dark. Everything is for real and you’ve got to know what to do and do it quickly.’

On 14 January 1991 another Hercules, NZ7003 under the command of Wing Commander ‘Bob’ Henderson, (CO 40 Squadron), left Whenuapai with a further eight aircrew personnel to boost the RNZAF’s contribution. NZ7002 returned to New Zealand on 20 January. In his diary, Wing Commander Henderson records some of his impressions of the Detachment’s actions: ‘Monday 23 January. Thirteen days after leaving New Zealand. Flew today to Lzah and Qaisumah (Hafar al Batin) by the border. Lzah is a rough strip cut from the desert rock to the north of Jubail on the coast. We found the strip by using the aircraft’s inertial navigation system and the co-pilot identified it as we went through about 200 feet, by saying ‘there’s a windsock’. Then flew at 500ft along the ‘pipeline’ – the road from Jubail inland to Qaisumah. There were literally hundreds of vehicles on the road and helicopters flying below us, along the road. Very impressive. This flying is rather exhilarating. Our extra aircrew arrived this evening about midnight. All looking rather hyped up in their ‘marine’ haircuts. The lucky beggars were spared an air raid tonight!’

NZ7004 replaced NZ7001 on 1 March and on 12 April, NZ7003 and NZ7004 touched down at Whenuapai, returning some of the detachment to a welcome from the New Zealand Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Jim Bolger. A RAF TriStar and another Hercules carried the balance of personnel and equipment back to New Zealand.

While the focus of attention had naturally been with the Hercules Detachment in the Gulf, the RNZAF’s remaining Hercules had carried out a wide range of routine tasks in New Zealand and overseas. While on a standard flight in support of a ‘Vanguard’ exercise redeployment from Malaysia, a Hercules was diverted to carry 10 tonnes of milk powder and medical supplies to cyclone torn Dacca in Bangladesh. Another Hercules also flew charitable freight to various Pacific Island nations and to Papua New Guinea.

On 17 April 1991 a Hercules was despatched to Wellington to help with operation ‘Pluto Nine’ which had started the previous day. By the time the operation finished on 19 April, four Andovers and one Hercules had carried 819 passengers and 338 cars during 160 flights between Wellington/Woodbourne/Wellington. In June the RNZAF took back the Depot Level Maintenance (DLM) of the Hercules fleet. It was decided that this work, carried out by Air New Zealand since 1977, could be undertaken more efficiently and economically at RNZAF Woodbourne’s maintenance depot. An ingenious bogey arrangement was developed which allowed each Hercules, with main wheels removed, to be lowered and moved sideways into the hangar. A Hercules major re-fit takes about ninety days and involves both RNZAF and civilian engineers employed at the depot.

The annual cyclone season started early for 40 Squadron, when in mid December Cyclone ‘Val’ hit Western Samoa. A Hercules on stand-by since 10 December left early on the morning of the 12th for Faleolo (Western Samoa). On board was a 3 Squadron Iroquois which had not been assembled upon return from the Antarctic. A second Hercules quickly followed with an Air Loading Team, communications equipment and operators, Army personnel, media representatives, tarpaulins and oxygen cylinders for the local hospital. A third Hercules carried emergency supplies, fuel and a 400KVa generator in a 20 feet shipping container. It arrived on 14 December and was followed throughout the remainder of the month by a further four flights. So much for a quiet Christmas!

During the first part of 1992 the Hercules of 40 Squadron followed a fairly quiet routine. There was the usual activity in the Antarctic at the beginning of the year, support to the annual Army exercise in the Waiouru training area, winning of the annual ‘Bullseye’ competition in Canada for the second year in succession and delivery of a 3 Squadron Iroquois to England for Exercise ‘Helimeet 92’ – all before June 1992. Between 10 and 20 June the Hercules were busy carrying helicopters, material and personnel between New Zealand and Faleolo, in support of the first major tropical exercise held in three years. Once again external influences disrupted 40 Squadron’s plans for a quiet Christmas break. On 23 December the New Zealand Government’s offer to provide a Detachment of three Andovers and 69 personnel in Somalia, as part of the Unified Task Force, was accepted. The New Zealand endeavour, code named Operation ‘Samaritan’, was to take place in early January 1993. Over the Christmas break, 40 Squadron technical staff prepared three Hercules and a Boeing to deploy the Detachment to Mogadishu. Just down the tarmac Whenuapai, Base Auckland, 42 Squadron staff were busily preparing the three Andovers and myriad of stores and support material that the detachment would require for up to six months away from home.

On 2 January 1993 three Hercules and a Boeing headed for Somalia. The three Hercules rendezvoused with the Boeing in the Seychelles prior to the final leg into Mogadishu. On 5 January 1993, the Boeing with the majority of personnel arrived at Mogadishu and one hour later the first Hercules, NZ7001 under the command of Flight Lieutenant Tony Davies, arrived. The following day the remaining two Hercules arrived. NZ7002 (Flight Lieutenant Mike Morgan) and NZ7004 (Flight Lieutenant Dennis O’Connor) disgorged the mountains of equipment required by the detachment. The Hercules stayed on the ground long enough to unload and refuel before heading out of the extremely busy airfield. The next Hercules trip to this war-torn country was on 3 February when NZ7001, under the command of Wing Commander Bob Henderson, lifted off from Whenuapai for the re-supply trip to Mogadishu.

The crew of the Hercules joined the detachment in hosting a traditional Maori hangi to celebrate New Zealand’s national day of celebration (Waitangi Day) on 6 February. Total flying time for the round trip was 56 hours.

The Andovers were withdrawn in May 1993 and three Hercules transported the detachment back home. Other support flights for the NZ Army supply platoon at Mogadishu have since been flown.

During late March 1993, two Hercules, crews and support staff spent two weeks low-level tactical training at RNZAF Wigram. Between four and six sorties were undertaken per day over the South Island in the event known as Exercise ‘Skytrain’. These included the dropping of equipment at various drop-zones and night flying. The experience gained during ‘Skytrain’ was used the following month during the ‘Bullseye’ competition in Australia. However the Canadians beat the Kiwis by a narrow margin and the trophy was reluctantly surrendered for the first time in three years. It was also the first time a Royal Air Force team had entered.

On 13 May 1993 NZ7002 captained by Flight Lieutenant Dennis O’Connor left New Zealand with 25,000 ration packs gifted b; the NZ Government to refugees it Bosnia. The aircraft delivered the Ration Packs to Frankfurt where they were forwarded to Bosnia by the UN. During May the Hercules’ autopilots were replaced with a new automatic flight control system. This process was carried out at the Repair Depot at Woodbourne with the last aircraft fitted by the end of the year.

The 1993 year ended with twelve flights to Antarctica. The 4 Squadron Detachment operated from Christchurch International Airport, alongside its USAF (141), USN (LC-130) and US National Science Foundation (LC-130) counterparts. Also based at Christchurch was; RNZAF Mobile Air Loading Team, supplemented by New Zealand Army personnel, providing support for all aircraft on route to Antarctica.

During one flight, the weather closed in and the Hercules, well beyond the Point of Safe Return (PSR) diverted to an Italian airfield at Terra Nova, Antarctica. Following a very warm welcome and overnight stay with the Italians, the Hercules continued on to Williams Field. On another flight, 13,000lbs of explosives were air dropped in three areas of the polar plateau for seismic investigations by scientists at the ice. This operation was a first for the Squadron.

Christmas 1993 was relatively quiet for the Hercules crews and support personnel. Tasks included a routine trip to Somalia to transport New Zealand Army personnel and an emergency flight to Sydney with monsoon fire-fighting buckets and technicians to help extinguish huge bush fires threatening Sydney suburbs. The buckets and personnel were returned in early January.

During the first half of 1994 40 Squadron Hercules carried out the usual range of internal and external tasks. In April two Hercules, two Andovers and one Iroquois supported by 130 personnel carried out tactical air training during Exercise ‘Skytrain’. This year’s pre-‘Bullseye’ practice paid off with one of the crews under the command of Flight Lieutenant Robert Purvis winning back the ‘Bullseye’ trophy for the RNZAF.

The most rewarding task during the first half of 1994 was from 4-8 June when a Hercules was involved in the search for eleven yachts hit by a severe storm in the Pacific. A total of 21 people were plucked from their vessels during the five day mission. As the full extent of the searches began unfolding 5 Squadron RNZAF sought assistance from 40 Squadron. A Hercules and crew of ten personnel spent twelve hours in the air, locating three vessels. Winds of up to 80 knots and thrashing rain made for a challenging flight. It was thanks to the professionalism and dedication of the crew that the mission proved successful.

By June 1994 each of the five Hercules in the RNZAF had flown the following total hours: NZ7001 19,636.3; NZ7002 20,243.6 NZ7003 20,327; NZ7004 16,651.3; NZ7005 160,69.5.1

As of 2008 the Squadron began modernising its Hercules aircraft with new avionics, centre wing refurbishment, aircraft systems upgrade and complete re-wiring and replacement of major parts and interior to extend their life expectancy (for NZ$234 million). The package for each aircraft was known as the Life Extension Programme (LEP). Initially two aircraft were completed in Canada however the programme ran into difficulties when the company tasked with carrying out the refurbishments went into receivership. The remaining aircraft were then completed by Safe Air in Blenheim, New Zealand. The Hercules fleet now operate with glass cockpits and had one of the most extensive upgrades ever completed on this type of aircraft anywhere in the world. The last Hercules aircraft to be upgraded NZ7002 was completed by the end of 2015.

The new millennium brought with it a fresh set of the challenges for the streamlined RNZAF. New Zealand’s decision to join the ‘war on terror’ following the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States led to a succession of air deployments to the Middle East during the early 2000s. When the Christchurch earthquake struck on 22 February 2011 the RNZAF (along with army and navy) responded within a few hours. On the afternoon of the quake, an RNZAF Orion flew over the city taking photographs of damaged infrastructure, while a Boeing 757 arrived with search and rescue teams and medical personnel. Other RNZAF aircraft helped deploy police and medical personnel and evacuate casualties and tourists. Three months after the attack on the Twin Towers, two Hercules from 40 Squadron carried elements of the NZSAS to Pakistan following the invasion of Afghanistan. Another detachment was sent to Kyrgyzstan in 2003 to fly cargo and personnel into Afghanistan, while 5 Squadron Orions carried out surveillance flights around the Gulf region in 2003–2004 during the invasion and occupation of Iraq. These deployments signalled the beginning of a new operational era for the RNZAF. Humanitarian and peacekeeping operations in the Pacific and Middle East reinforced the importance of strategic and tactical air transport, maritime surveillance and helicopter support for army and naval forces. They also exposed the limitations of the air force’s ageing equipment. In 2002 the government announced a major upgrade programme that has seen the modernisation of the Hercules and Orions and the renewal of the helicopter fleet,

The Hercules fleet was due to be replaced by 2018. The Boeing 757s were also upgraded with new avionics and more powerful engines. A cargo door was also fitted to allow pallet loading and an aero medical facility if needed. In 2015 the RNZAF was looking to replace the C-130 Hercules fleet as well as the Boeing 757s. This is due to take place over the next five years due to the C-130s and Boeing 757s reaching the end of their flying life. A replacement for the Boeing 757s looks likely to be the C-17 Globemaster and the replacement for the Hercules fleet being either the Embraer KC-390, the A-400M, or the Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules.

Australian Hercules

Royal Australian Air Force C-130J Hercules

The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) has operated a total of forty-eight C-130 aircraft. The type entered Australian service in December 1958, when 36 Squadron at Sydney’s Richmond Air Force Base accepted the first of twelve C-130A-50-LMs, replacing its venerable Douglas C-47 Dakotas. The acquisition made Australia the overseas customer of the Hercules. In 1966 the C-130As were joined by twelve C-130Es, which equipped 37 Squadron. The C-130As were replaced by twelve C-130Es delivered from 1966 and the C-130Es by twelve C-130J-30 Hercules in 1999. RAAF Hercules’ have frequently been used to deliver disaster relief in Australia and the Pacific region, as well as to support military deployments overseas. The 17th of June 1963 was a red letter day for the RNZAF when the New Zealand cabinet approved an immediate order of three C-130E aircraft, including spares and support equipment and approval in principle was also given for the eventual purchase of five maritime versions. New Zealand thus became the fifth nation to purchase the Hercules.

Following the deployment of the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment to South Việtnam in early 1965, the RAAF began fortnightly C-130 flights into the country from June that year. These flights were initially conducted by C-130As and carried high-priority cargo and passengers from Richmond to Vũng Tàu in South Việtnam via either Butterworth or Singapore. The scale of the supply flights into South Việtnam expanded in 1967 when 2 Squadron RAAF, which was equipped with English Electric Canberra bombers was deployed to Phan Rang. A large airlift codenamed ‘Winter Grip’ was also conducted in mid-1967 to replace two Australian Army battalions, which had completed their year-long tour of duty, with a pair of fresh battalions. The Hercules were called upon to support the withdrawal of the 1st Australian Task Force (1 ATF) from South Việtnam and Nos. 36 and 37 Squadrons undertook many sorties to fly equipment and personnel out of the country during 1971. In late 1972 C-130s were used to withdraw the last remaining Australian force in South Việtnam, the Australian Army Training Team Việtnam; the final elements of this force departed aboard two Hercules on 20 December 1972.

As well as transport operations, the Hercules flew many evacuation flights out of Việtnam to transfer wounded or sick personnel to Australia, via Butterworth, for further treatment. These flights were initially conducted as part of the regular courier service and the patients and RAAF nurses had to endure uncomfortable conditions as the aircraft had only rudimentary facilities for personnel on stretchers. Separate evacuation flights began on 1 July 1966 and continued at fortnightly intervals until 1972; more flights were made during periods in which 1 ATF suffered heavy casualties. While the flights were generally successful, only C-130Es were assigned to this task from May 1967 after an article criticising the use of noisy C-130As to transport wounded personnel was published in The Medical Journal of Australia. The C-130Es provided much more comfortable conditions and were capable of flying directly between South Việtnam and Australia when required. A total of 3,164 patients had been transported to Australia by the time the C-130 evacuation flights ended in early 1972. The Hercules also returned the bodies of servicemen killed in Việtnam to Australia.

Many of the RAAF C-130s were redeployed to South Việtnam shortly before the end of the war in 1975. The rapid North Việtnamese advance during the Spring Offensive displaced hundreds of thousands of South Việtnamese civilians and the Australian Government deployed a detachment of Hercules to Saïgon in March 1975 as part of an international aid effort coordinated by the United States. This force, which was designated Detachment ‘S’, had an average strength of seven C-130s and about one hundred air and ground crew and was initially used to transport civilian refugees away from the front lines. After South Việtnamese soldiers were reported to have been transported alongside civilians, Prime Minister Gough Whitlam directed that the Hercules were to only carry humanitarian cargo. As the North Việtnamese advanced on Saïgon, Detachment ‘S’ was moved to Bangkok in Thailand, but continued to fly into South Việtnam each day. Overall, Detachment ‘S’ had carried 1,100 refugees and 900 tonnes of supplies by the end of the war. On 4 and 17 April, aircraft of the detachment flew 271 orphaned children to Bangkok as part of the US-led Operation ‘Babylift’. In late April, two of 37 Squadron’s C-130Es were assigned to the United Nations to transport supplies throughout South East Asia; this force was designated Detachment ‘N’. The C-130Es began operations on 3 May and were mainly used to fly supplies into Laos. The aircraft transported cargo between Thailand, Butterworth, Hong Kong and Singapore; by the time this mission ended in early June, the two Hercules had conducted 91 sorties for the UN. Aircraft of Detachment ‘S’ evacuated Australian embassy personnel from Phnom Penh in Cambodia, as well as Saïgon, shortly before they fell to Khmer Rouge and North Việtnamese forces in April 1975, after which the force returned to Australia. Detachment ‘N’ also evacuated the Australian embassy in Vientiane, Laos, during early June 1975.

Nineteen of the RAAF’s fleet of twenty-four C-130s took part in relief efforts in 1974-75 after Cyclone ‘Tracy’ struck Darwin. Since then, the Hercules have been involved in humanitarian missions to New Guinea, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Cambodia, Bali, Sumatra and New Zealand. They have also seen service during the Iranian Revolution in 1979, the Fijian coups in 1987, operations in Somalia in 1993, INTERFET operations in East Timor in 1999-2000 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq beginning in 2001. In over fifty years of Australian service, the Hercules has accumulated 800,000 flying hours. 37 Squadron became the RAAF’s sole Hercules operator in 2006 when 36 Squadron transferred its C-130Hs prior to converting to Boeing C-17 Globemaster III heavy transports.

In November 2011 Australia gave four ex-RAAF C-130Hs worth an estimated $30 million to Indonesia for humanitarian and disaster relief work. The Hercules aircraft would cost about 25 million Australian dollars in maintenance to restore them to airworthiness and were due to be sold on the open market. The Australian Defence Force agreed to give them to the Indonesian military following a request for more resources to boost disaster relief in the region. On 9 May 2012 it was announced that the RAAF’s eight remaining C-130H Hercules operated by 37 Squadron at RAAF Richmond were to be retired early to save $250 million in operational and maintenance costs.

The passing of the C-130H in RAAF service was marked by a fly over of the Blue mountains almost on the edge of Sydney to Cronulla a beachside suburb and an orbit of Sydney harbour in a shuddering lap of honour to say thanks for the 34 years of service during wars, floods, fires, droughts and disasters. It evoked the following impassioned response from an Australian journalist who flew on board one of the two ‘Hercs’ from Richmond Air Force Base: ‘I’m sweaty, shaking and being sick for the third time and I’ve been looking forward to this day all week. The man next to me is also being persistently ill into his vomit bag and I have no idea where the ground is outside the gyrating tin can I’m stuck in. I’m honoured and excited to be here. It’s the last flight of the RAAF’s work horse the C-130H Hercules at Richmond Air Force Base, with all twelve in the Australian fleet being decommissioned to make way for the newer C-130J model. For an aircraft that’s served our troops for 34 years the atmosphere is fitting – every second person I see is doing Movember so the base is alive with moustaches, aviators and one guy is even wearing knee-high khaki socks and shorts.

‘On the plane we take up position on what passes for seats. The first trouble I run into is when I can’t figure out how the seatbelt works. They show me that, then how to find the emergency exits, the oxygen bags (weird in themselves – think putting a chicken bag on your head) and the sick bags… which seem to be liberally sprinkled around the plane.

‘And then the C-130H starts her last show. ‘She starts like an old dancer. A slow side to side shimmy builds in the steel frame as the three metre long propeller blades start to turn. It speeds up to a shake as we taxi along the runway. Jarring, but not particularly uncomfortable. Then she starts to sweat – a diesel and kerosene smell creeping in from the engines as we bounce our way along the tarmac. The take off is faster than any I’ve been a part of. Pilot Tony Charles tells me afterward that Hercs are made to lift off from short or improvised runways. ‘You get up to speed pretty quickly,’ he says. ‘It’s not a long smooth start like a passenger jet.’ It needs to be – Australia’s fleet of Hercules have travelled enough kilometres to go around the world fifty times over carrying millions of tonnes of cargo along the way.

‘They’ve taken medical aid to victims of the Bali Bombings and Boxing Day tsunami, fodder to cattle during the Queensland floods and supplies of condoms to PNG to combat the spread of AIDS. They’ve even tried their hand at fire fighting. And they’re nothing like a passenger jet.

‘We lurch into a sprint from a standing start, bumping across the runway and into the air moments later, cartwheeling and shuddering through the entire 90 minute farewell to a trusted old friend. The hot air tosses us around so much we would be confined to our seats on a commercial flight. Not the case here – I get up and wander around. It’s a ton of fun, like being on a flying jumping castle that’s made out of steel. It looks clumsy from outside but flying these planes takes immense skill and breeds a special sort of love from the pilots. Tony Charles says the Hercules’ last flight was like losing a friend. ‘There are a few tears about the place,’ he says.

‘We dive and bank; only it’s not the banking from car ads. A C-130H banks the same way someone turns around when they hear a sudden noise behind them, which tends to leave your stomach back where you started a moment ago. The camera man across from me already looks ill. He’s leaning back with his eyes closed holding a fresh sick bag in his lap. Ha, trust TV news to cave first.

‘I’m invited up to the cockpit and watch as we cruise over the blue water of Sydney Harbour. The crew wave to the photographers and camera men crowded onto the lowered ramp of the second Hercules above us.

‘I return to the back of the plane and concede I’m going to be ill. It’s the smell – a rich, thick mess of sweat, kerosene and diesel fuel. The plane is painted black so it sucks up the heat until I feel like I’m being smoked, marinated in it while I’m shaken around. The guy beside me is next to go, vomiting into a bag he has doubled-up for the occasion. Doubling up the bag is a good idea. I think I’ll do that. Just in case. ‘If you’re going to do it you get it out of the way early,’ he tells me. ‘That’s the trick.’ ‘Two down from me one of the female journos starts as well. I wonder how the crew is all still so cheerful and if this is a right of passage. After this will I be immune to motion sickness?

‘Out the window I see sky, then water, then sky, then earth, then sky, buildings, sky, buildings, ocean, buildings, blur, blur, blur. ‘Eyes closed, no that’s worse. Eyes open. This seatbelt mystified me. Sky, water, sky, sky, ground, sky. The cameraman across from me is trying to climb into his vomit bag head first. It’s puffing in and out like someone trying not to hyperventilate only I can see wet stuff inside of it. My time has come. Eventually five out of eight of us are bested by the Hercules.

‘To my credit I didn’t bargain with god but I did make a ‘well if you’re already going to the shops’ request of him that if he was going to help the other journos he might want to see to me while he was at it. But there is something precious about the Hercules. The C-130H is a much loved part of the Air Force family – moving and supplying troops through some of our toughest campaigns. While it will now always be linked in my mind to a less-than comfortable experience to thousands of others has been a symbol of hope, relief and salvation. For the Special Forces in Afghanistan the C-130s were their ticket to safety and their supply line during hard times. For the victims of the 2004 Boxing day tsunami the C-130s were Australia’s first on the scene bringing supplies and aid to the disaster’s victims and showing them we would stand with them. For the Australian public during the 1989 pilot’s strikes the C-130s were there to transport them for four months after they were stranded away from home – action that won them a Queensland Tourism Award. They even flew the Iraqi Soccer Team out of Iraq to compete in the 2004 Olympics…where they went on to defeat the Ollyroos in the quarter finals. Well, I suppose even trusted friends can make mistakes. Members of the RAAF tell me they’ll miss the C-130H, that it’s a ‘part of history’.

‘Being ferried from the pass gate to the air strip my driver tells me she hopes the C-130s get a ‘proper send off’. They’ve earned it. It’s a symbol of everything that’s dependable and reliable in the air force, literally the ‘first to arrive, last to leave’. When I text my father, ex-air force himself, he replies: ‘Bastard. Say goodbye for me!’ Those are fond words from dad. And when I tell I failed to escape the trip unscathed he’s just as dry. Ha ha. Welcome to the wonderful world of the C-130. It’s much better up front.’

Twelve C-130J-30s were received by 37 Squadron during August 1999 and March 2000. The RAAF celebrated 800,000 Hercules flying hours in September 2014. The C-130Js had by this time accumulated over 100,000 hours and they are expected to remain in service until 2030.



Breaker Morant is an Australian war film directed by Bruce Beresford, who also co-wrote the screenplay. Based on Kenneth G. Ross’s eponymous play (1978), the film dramatizes the 1902 court martial of Lts. Harry Morant, Peter Handcock, and George Witton, Australians serving in the British Army during the Second Anglo-Boer War accused of murdering captured enemy combatants and an unarmed civilian in the Northern Transvaal.


Since his court-martial and execution by the British for alleged war crimes committed during the Boer War, Harry “Breaker” Harbord Morant (1864–1902) has been an Australian folk hero rivaling the legendary bushranger, Ned Kelly. Morant’s legend was firmly established in 1907 by Scapegoats of the Empire, an exculpatory tome written by his surviving co-defendant, George Witton (1874–1942). In the 1970s the legend was revived in a small way by writer Kit Denton with a novel based on Morant’s life entitled The Breaker (1973) and by neophyte filmmaker Frank Shields’ low-budget documentary, also entitled The Breaker (1974). Of greater cultural impact in Australia was Breaker Morant, a two-act play by Kenneth G. Ross that ran at the Athenaeum Theatre in Melbourne in 1978 and was a critical and commercial success, so much so that Ross turned his play script into a screenplay. As film historian Graham Daseler notes, filmmaker Bruce Beresford (The Getting of Wisdom) “had two scripts to work from. One was Ross’s play, the other a screenplay by David Stevens and Jonathan Hardy. Beresford scrapped both, considering them each too generous to the defendants, and traveled to the Imperial War Museum in London to conduct fresh research. After he returned, he began his own script, building his dramatic structure around the trial (as the play had also done) but widening his field of vision to reveal what Ross, in his stage production, never could: the interior world of the characters” (Daseler, 2013).


American actor Rod Steiger was Bruce Beresford’s first choice to play Harry “Breaker” Morant. Later, Australian actor Terence Donovan (who played Morant in the original stage production) was considered, but Beresford decided he needed a more famous actor in the role (Donovan was cast as Capt. Simon Hunt). The part ultimately went to English actor Edward Woodward—a casting choice resented by some Australian Actors Equity members, even though Woodward bore an uncanny resemblance to Morant. The Major Thomas role was originally offered to Bryan Brown before it went to Jack Thompson (Brown ended up playing Lt. Handcock). Though set in the high veldt of South Africa, Breaker Morant was filmed in and around Burra, South Australia, on the edge of the Great Desert, 100 miles north of Adelaide. Breaker Morant was made on a shoestring budget of 800,000 AUD. The Australian Film Commission contributed 400,000 AUD, and the South Australia Film Corporation (SAFC) put up another 250,000 AUD. The remaining funds were provided by Seven Network and PACT Productions and raised privately.

Plot Summary

In 1902, during the Second Boer War, three officers of the Bushveldt Carbineers (aka BVC, a 320-man Australian irregular mounted infantry regiment)—Lieutenants Harry Morant (Edward Woodward), Peter Handcock (Bryan Brown), and George Witton (Lewis Fitz-Gerald)—are arrested by the British and charged with murdering Boer prisoners-of-war and Reverend C.A.D. Heese, a German missionary. Major Charles Bolton (Rod Mullinar) prosecutes the court-martial while Major J. F. Thomas (Jack Thompson), a solicitor from New South Wales in civilian life, acts as defense counsel. After a number of damning character witnesses testify, Bolton focuses on the shooting of Floris Visser (Michael Procanin), a wounded Boer prisoner, in order to avenge the torture, death, and mutilation of BVC Capt. Simon Hunt (Terence Donovan), a close friend of Morant. Major Thomas argues that standing orders existed to shoot “all Boers captured wearing khaki,” but Morant damages his own defense by defiant testimony on the witness stand. The next day, Bolton turns to the shooting of the six Boers. BVC Capt. Alfred Taylor (John Waters) testifies that Lord Kitchener issued orders that no more Boer prisoners were to be taken alive. On cross-examination, Bolton nullifies Taylor’s testimony by forcing him to admit that he is also awaiting court-martial for shooting prisoners. Other witnesses testify that Morant had six Boer guerrillas lined up and shot after they had surrendered. Major Thomas demands that Kitchener be summoned. Lt.-Col. Denny (Charles “Bud” Tingwell) and Major Bolton try to dissuade Major Thomas from pressing the matter, but he persists. At any rate, Kitchener has since reversed himself. Rather than “total war,” he now advocates peace with the Afrikaners—a stance necessitating that a few soldiers will need to be sacrificed for all the war crimes committed by the British Army. Kitchener’s surrogate Col. Hamilton (Vincent Ball) takes the stand and denies ever having relayed a take-no-prisoners order from Kitchener to the BVC. The trial then examines the murder of Rev. Heese. After leaving Fort Edward in a horse-drawn buggy, Heese was later found shot to death along the road. Bolton accuses Morant of ordering Handcock to kill Heese to prevent him from informing the BVC’s commander of Morant’s plans to kill his Boer prisoners. On the stand, Morant denies the allegation, as does Handcock, who claims that he was visiting the homes of two married Afrikaner women that day for sex. Major Thomas produces signed depositions from the women to corroborate Handcock’s alibi. During a lull in the trial, Handcock admits to Witton that he did indeed shoot Heese before visiting his two lady friends. When Witton asks if Major Thomas knows, Morant tells him that there is no reason for Thomas to know. Despite an impassioned closing argument by Major Thomas, the defendants are found guilty of shooting the prisoners but acquitted of murdering Rev. Heese. The next morning the defendants are sentenced to death, but Witton’s sentence is commuted to “life in penal servitude.” Major Thomas hurries to Kitchener’s headquarters to plead for commutations for Morant and Handcock, only to learn that Kitchener has already left and that both the British and Australian governments have publicly affirmed the verdict and sentences. He also learns that a peace conference is in the offing and that the troops will soon be going home. At dawn the next morning Morant and Handcock are put before a firing squad. Morant, defiant to the end, refuses the comfort of clergy and a blindfold (as does Handcock). The firing squad musters as Morant’s poem, “Butchered to Make a Dutchmen’s Holiday,” is recited in voice-over. Just before they fire their fatal volley Morant shouts, “Shoot straight, you bastards! Don’t make a mess of it!”


Breaker Morant proved to be the most popular indigenous movie released in Australia up to that time, grossing 4.7 million AUD at the box office (the equivalent of almost $50 million in 2017 U.S. dollars). After screenings at Cannes, the New York Film Festival, and other venues, the movie received international acclaim, rave reviews from critics, and 18 AACTA Award nominations, winning 15 of them, plus an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, a Palme d’Or nomination at Cannes, and a win at Cannes for Best Supporting Actor (Jack Thompson). Breaker Morant also inaugurated Bruce Beresford’s career as a film director of international stature and is now recognized as one of the key works of the Australian Film Renaissance of the 1970s and 1980s.

Reel History Versus Real History

In order to enlist optimal viewer empathy for Morant, Handcock, and Witton, Breaker Morant alters history in large and small ways. For example, it depicts Lord Kitchener as demanding convictions for the killing of Rev. Heese so as to appease Germany and keep it from entering the Boer War on the side of the Afrikaners. In actuality, Germany did not officially protest the murder of Heese. Though ethnically German, Heese was born in Cape Colony (present-day South Africa), so he was technically a British subject. Besides misrepresenting the geopolitical context, the movie omits the three other defendants who were also on trial with Morant, Handcock, and Witton: Lt. Henry Picton, a British-born BVC officer, charged with participating in the shooting of Floris Visser (found guilty of manslaughter and cashiered from the British Army); Capt. Alfred Taylor, the Irish-born commander of military intelligence at Fort Edward, accused of ordering Lt. Handcock to murder B. J. van Buuren, an Afrikaner BVC trooper who had objected to the shooting of prisoners, also accused of the murder of six unarmed Afrikaners and the theft of their money and livestock (acquitted on a technicality); and Major Robert W. Lenehan, the Australian Field Commander of BVC, accused of covering up the murder of Trooper van Buuren (found guilty and reprimanded). Breaker Morant also mischaracterizes the enlisted men at Fort Edward who testify against Morant, Handcock, and Witton as British-born malcontents motivated by personal grudges against their Australian officers. In reality, the 15 enlisted men at Fort Edward who signed an accusatory letter were Australians stirred by genuine disgust for the war crimes they had personally witnessed. Furthermore, the movie portrays the prosecution as single-mindedly bloodthirsty while neglecting to note that Morant and Handcock actually rejected offers of immunity from prosecution if they would agree to testify against Capt. Taylor and Major Lenehan for issuing take-no-prisoners orders. The effect of all these changes is to encourage viewers (especially Australian viewers) to see the defendants as martyrs to British political intrigue and injustice rather than guilty of war crimes, which they most assuredly were. Somewhat disingenuously, Bruce Beresford has since deplored the fact that Breaker Morant has been widely misconstrued “as a film about poor Australians who were framed by the Brits.” In a 1999 interview with Australian film critic Peter Malone, Beresford said, “The film never pretended for a moment that they weren’t guilty. It said they are guilty. But what was interesting about it was that it analyzed why men in this situation would behave as they had never behaved before in their lives. It’s the pressures that are put to bear on people in war time … That was what I was interested in examining” (Malone, 1980).

The Kempeitai’s Game, 1942–45 – Portuguese East Timor

The SRD operations – one of the greatest intelligence failures in Australian history!

In early 1942, as the war situation appeared to become more and more critical, Australia’s government agreed to the establishment of an organisation, the Inter-Allied Services Department (ISD) which later became. Special Operations Australia (SOA) and, in 1943, was yet again retitled as the Services Reconnaisance Department (SRD) of the Allied Intelligence Bureau (AIB), the latter formed by MacArthur’s General Headquarters, South West Pacific Area (GHQ, SWPA). Given the multiple titles given to the organisation between 1941 and 1944 we will use the title SRD throughout to reduce confusion.

SRD’s brief was to conduct HUMINT operations behind enemy lines as well as sabotage and other direct action. This decision mixed two types of activity that do not mix. The first was the collection of intelligence, an undertaking that requires a quiescent target and sits uneasily with the second, the conduct of sabotage, disruption and propaganda operations to harass and annoy the very same target. These two activities cannot be run at the same time, as the experience of the SRD amply demonstrates.

The disposition of the Australian ground forces in the islands to Australia’s north is a classic example of what you should never do. The forces were distributed in small groupings, with LARK Force at Rabaul, New Britain, and Kavieng, New Ireland, SPARROW Force on Timor and GULL Force at Ambon. These small and isolated forces were never going to do much more than evade capture before surrendering. At Rabaul and Kavieng LARK Force was destroyed so swiftly that it resembled a rout and the Japanese were unable to catch many of the Australian troops before they ran off into the jungle. On Ambon, GULL Force was commanded by Harry Freame’s old handler, now Lieutenant Colonel, W.R. Scott, and it was quickly taken prisoner and subjected to a brutal captivity for the remainder of the war. On Timor, SPARROW Force, commanded in the field by Lieutenant Colonel William Leggett, inflicted serious casualties on the Japanese before it too had to surrender the bulk of its strength. Nevertheless, around 300 escaped the Japanese and joined up with 2/2 Independent Company, the one unit to maintain its cohesion, in Portuguese East Timor, where they conducted a guerrilla campaign until the Japanese forced their evacuation in December 1942. It was this that provided a significant boost to the ambitions of those within the SRD [Services Reconnaissance Department] and AIB [Allied Intelligence Bureau] who believed that a successful guerrilla war could be conducted against the Japanese in occupied territory.

2/2 Independent Company began to harass the Japanese who had arrived on Timor, which, as a Portuguese colony, was officially neutral. This neutrality was somewhat lopsided, as the Portuguese administration allowed the Australian force to utilise telephones and postal services to pass messages. Their situation improved further when they finally got an improvised radio working and regained contact with Australian forces in Darwin.

The situation on Timor was one the Japanese would not tolerate for long, and in June 1942 their relationship with the Portuguese administration deteriorated to the point where they cut the communications link to Portugal and lodged a formal complaint about Manuel de Abreu Ferreira de Carvalho’s administration of the colony. Finally, their limited patience having evaporated, the Japanese 48th Division, led by Lieutenant General Tsuchihashi Yuitsu, occupied the Portuguese half of Timor and set about suppressing the Australian and Dutch guerrilla units. Tsuchihashi swiftly pushed his forces into the hinterland, took important towns and secured much of the coastline. A significant portion of the 48th Division was then withdrawn to Rabaul in preparation for further advances south through the Solomon Islands ready for the invasion of Fiji and New Caledonia. This operation, although it never eventuated, was seen by the Japanese as more important, because if successful it would have resulted in them cutting off the direct shipping lanes from the west coast of the United States to the east coast of Australia.

The Australian commandos on Timor had now been contained to the areas around their bases, and the Japanese supported by local Timorese began a campaign of destroying them in detail. This resulted in an upsurge of inter-clan and intertribal fighting, as villages used the chaos to settle old scores. Some Timorese even revolted against the Portuguese.

For the Australian commandos, the hard reality was that the Japanese now had 12,000 troops on the island and they were not going to allow a stay-behind party of Australian and Dutch forces to continue operations. As the fighting alienated ever-growing numbers of Timorese, the position of the Australian and Dutch forces became untenable by early 1943.

As the Australian Independent Company was operating on Timor, the AIB was to conduct HUMINT, sabotage and other operations in Japanese-occupied areas. This was in line with the ethos of the SOE and its mission to ‘set Europe ablaze’. The success of the 2/2 Independent Company and the survivors of SPARROW in not being captured or destroyed led to the IJA moving more troops onto the island to deal with them and this in turn led to the arrival in September of LANCER Force, 400 men of 2/4 Independent Company. At face value, the situation on Timor looked as if it could lead to the creation of a viable guerrilla war conducted with local support. This attracted the attention of the AIB and the SRD.

In early 1942, two SOE officers, Major G.S. Mott and Major A.E.B. Trappes-Lomax, had arrived in Australia to advise the Australian Army on how to set up a local version of SOE. The outcome was that General Blamey ordered the creation of SOA and the ISD, which later became the SRD, commanded by Major Mott. In June 1942, this organisation was brought under the umbrella of the new AIB, which also oversaw the operations of FELO, the organisation responsible for propaganda in Japanese-occupied areas. The AIB was commanded by the DMI at LHQ, our old friend Colonel C.G. Roberts.

From the very beginning, AIB was double-tasked with obtaining intelligence about the enemy, which is why they form part of our story here, and taking action to weaken the enemy by sabotage and destruction of morale through commando raids and the creation of insurrection, which is not part of our story. As Rupert Long and Eric Feldt at the RAN had already identified, this was a recipe for disaster. As the official history of the SRD notes, in the period from July 1942 to August 1945, the SRD was ‘constantly engaged in field operations’, but ‘between October 1943 and June 1945, all parties in the field were in Japanese hands’. This makes the SRD operations one of the greatest intelligence failures in Australian history, at least as far as we know today.

The first mission undertaken by the SRD was Operation LION, a Dutch affair, led by First Lieutenant H.T. Van Hees. This party consisted of three men and was tasked with proceeding aboard the Prahu Samoa to Wotoe near Mailili in the Celebes on 24 June 1942. The party was successfully landed, and it is possible that a weak but unreadable signal from them was detected on 11 July. It was the last time anyone ever heard from them. That the first party to be sent to this area just disappeared did not seem to bother the planners at AIB or the SRD, who proceeded with the WALNUT series of intelligence operations and sent even more men there.

Operation WALNUT I, consisted of two men, Captain C.R. Sheldon, AIF, and N.P. Monsted, a Danish citizen who had lived in the Aroe (Aru) Islands. They were inserted at Dobo on 7 July 1942 to establish an intelligence organisation in the islands. The official SRD history describes Sheldon as a man reputed to be unpopular with the locals. These two men survived until August or September 1942, when they extricated themselves to Thursday Island aboard the lugger Express. At Thursday Island, their unexpected arrival led to a hostile reception and they were arrested.

With the failure of WALNUT I and following their release from custody on Thursday Island, Monsted sailed the Express to Darwin while Sheldon, along with Lieutenant R.W. Feetum and Sergeant J. McCandlish, was despatched on WALNUT II to join a Dutch official on Penamboela (Penambulai) Island who was in radio contact with Australia. On 8 March, they reported the locals as hostile and the Japanese aware of their presence. They were captured on 12 August 1943, and the Japanese extracted extensive intelligence from them on the organisation and personalities of the AIB, the SRD and their operational methods and equipment. In fact, the Kempeitai built a remarkably accurate profile of the AIB and the SRD from these men. They all died in captivity.

WALNUT III, comprising Monsted, Sergeants J.R. Plumridge and J.H. Dahlberg of the AIF, Sergeant J.A. Bloch, NEI, Mr Mitchell, an Indian, and five Indonesian seamen, sailed from Darwin to the Aroes in the Express on 28 January 1943. They reached Djeh Island, just north of Enoe (Enu), on 12 July. They were last heard from on 25 July 1943, after which the Japanese caught and killed all of them.

All three missions to the Aroe Islands had failed, with the loss of thirteen men for no intelligence return for the Allies. The intelligence gleaned by the Japanese was, however, extensive. It is likely they had completely compromised all of the Allied communications and codes used for special operations, and were obtaining intelligence useful against both the SRD in Papua New Guinea and the eastern archipelago and FERDINAND in the Solomons.

Operation MACKEREL, launched from Melbourne on 24 August 1942, was a party of three, Lieutenant G.C.M. Van Arcken, NEI Sergeant Raden Wirjomijardje Iswahjeodi and Seaman 1st Class W.F. Schneau. The party, along with two crewmen from the Dutch submarine K12, landed at Radjeg Wesi Baai, Java, on the evening of 14 September 1942. The landing boats capsized, the equipment was lost, and Van Arcken hurt his back. The captain of the K12 resurfaced on the morning of 15 September in full view of Japanese observation posts to successfully retrieve his crewmen and the rest of the party, and the mission was aborted. MACKEREL was lucky, because they at least survived.

The same could not be said for the small parties and individual agents who attempted to infiltrate Java on the six TIGER operations conducted from 10 November 1942 to 6 August 1943. Of the ten men despatched, one, Sergeant Raden, escaped from Kempeitai custody. The Kempeitai interrogated the rest, no doubt adding to the picture they were building of the AIB. All of these agents, except Raden, were executed. The TIGER operations should have alerted the SRD to the growing sophistication of the Japanese, as they kept TIGER I’s radio operational and fed disinformation to the AIB.

During this time, another operation, FLOUNDER, was launched on 18 December 1942 to insert a Dutch party onto Ambon from the US Submarine Sea Raven. The Japanese captured all eight members within a week of their insertion on 30 December 1942 and, the evidence suggests, Lieutenant H.F. Nygh RNN and the seven Indonesian members of the NEI military were all beheaded after interrogation.

By early 1943, all twelve SRD operations, LION, the three WALNUT missions, MACKEREL, the six TIGER missions and FLOUNDER had failed, with 34 dead, one hiding on Java, one who was warned off on landing and three recovered on MACKEREL. This is a death rate of 94 per cent for no intelligence return. Every mission had failed, and there were strong indications that the Kempeitai were now operating a double-cross system using the captured equipment and personnel.

All of this should have sent warning signals that the Japanese were an extremely sophisticated opponent, and that no further operations should be launched until a full threat assessment and cost–benefit analysis were completed. Nothing of the sort was done, and the AIB just kept throwing good men to torture and death. In fact, there was little or no oversight of what the AIB and the SRD were doing, and they were not being held answerable to a higher body charged with independently adjudicating whether the activity was worth the cost. If such a body had been in place, it would have shut down all SRD operations immediately.

The failure to conduct a thorough assessment of what was happening was made worse by poor tradecraft. The target area of operations was heavily populated and hostile. No one seems to have considered whether the Javanese and other peoples of the archipelago supported the Dutch. There seems to have been a wilful ignorance of the reality of the politics in the archipelago so that this reality did not stop operations.

On top of this, the series of operations, including MACKEREL and the TIGER missions, consistently used the same landing places. TIGER IV, V and VI were all landed at Pang Pang Baai. On an earlier mission, TIGER II, the practice of revisiting drop-off points almost resulted in the capture of yet another radio operator, his equipment and codebooks as he was about to be landed at the drop-off point used for TIGER I. The landing was aborted only because someone on shore sent a light signal in Dutch warning of danger.

As the SRD was running its missions in the Aroe Islands, Celebes and Java, it concurrently ran a series of operations into Portuguese Timor. These, codenamed LIZARD I, II and III, were intended to support the remnants of the various units, including SPARROW Force, that continued to operate there. There was no initial intention to conduct sabotage operations as part of LIZARD because, as The Official History of Special Operations Australia says, there was nothing of value to sabotage on the island. The intention was to run a guerrilla war to tie down Japanese troops.

The interest of the Japanese in Portuguese Timor was limited. The island had no strategic value or resources, and its only real use was as a point from which Allied forces could operate to disrupt Japanese activity on other islands and in the seas around Timor. This may be why the Japanese did not make it a target until 20 February 1942.

Before the arrival of the Japanese military on the island, there were twenty to 30 Japanese who worked for the Japanese Consulate, which had only opened in Dili on October 1941, when Consul Kuroki Tokitaro arrived. There were also Japanese civilians operating the offices of Dai Nippon Airlines and Nan’yo Kohatsu K. K. (the South Seas Development Company). These Japanese civilians had undoubtedly created networks among the Timorese and Indian residents on the island, which may have included Ishag Selam Rafig and his daughter Nora Rafig, who operated Toko Selam (Kupang Stores). This provided the Japanese with the necessary contacts to establish themselves quickly once they occupied the island.

This situation attracted the SRD because, unlike many of the other operations, LIZARD had the major advantage of being able to operate from the safe haven controlled by Australian troops, SPARROW Force, at Mape. LIZARD I, led by Captain I.S. Wylie, with Captain D.K. Broadhurst and Sergeant J.R.F. Cashman, was inserted from the launch Kuru at Suai on 17 July 1942. The safe haven was not as safe as thought, though, as IJN activity soon forced the move of SPARROW from Mape. It was during this move that all of SPARROW’s HF radios were sabotaged by unfriendly locals, forcing LIZARD I, now with the only operational HF radio, to accompany SPARROW HQ to Same. As the plans now being discussed for Timor included the evacuation of SPARROW and other elements, LIZARD I decided to extricate itself to Darwin on 17 August 1942. LIZARD I’s biggest accomplishment was the establishment of contact with Antonio de Sousa Santos, the Administrator of Fronteira Province, and Dr Carlos Brandau.

LIZARD II, made up of Captain Wylie, Captain Broadhurst, Lieutenant G. Greave and Sergeant Cashman, returned to Timor on 2 September 1942. The party established an operational post at Loi Uno and began caching supplies and arms before contacting the Chef de Poste at Ossu. Contact was then made with Manuel de Jesus Pires, the Administrator of Baucau Province, who had excellent connections within the Portuguese administration. The Japanese were onto LIZARD II within a week of its insertion, and moved a patrol down the Baucau Road in Viqueque District for a few days questioning the locals about LIZARD II’s location.

Despite the Japanese attention, LIZARD II, assisted by Pires, was able to establish a network of runners to carry messages, as well as the use of the services of friendly telephone operators to speak to contacts in Dili. They also arranged for the release of a Chinese Nationalist captain and five Chinese soldiers, and rescued a wounded RAAF crewman, Pilot Officer S. Wadey, from Ossu gaol. The intelligence gleaned from all of this was that the Japanese were controlling the Portuguese administration on Timor.

GHQ, SWPA wanted to meet with Pires to talk him into leading an insurrection against the Japanese in San Domingos and Lautém. The idea of raising this insurrection had been generated by a LIZARD II report that the behaviour of the Japanese was alienating the local population, both Portuguese and Timorese, and that arms and other stores were required to arm the potential insurgents. One hundred rifles and 10,000 rounds of ball ammunition were landed at Aliambata for this operation.

The Japanese countered these plans by arming the locals in Dutch Timor and loosing them upon the people of Portuguese Timor. The Japanese also brought in armed men from Alor and Wetar islands for the same purpose. On 1 October 1942, three Portuguese officials and 24 Portuguese colonial soldiers were massacred at Aileu, 25 miles (40 kilometres) from Dili, and the Portuguese Governor, Carvalho, sought to evacuate all Portuguese nationals to Mozambique. By the middle of October, the Portuguese administration had collapsed. For LIZARD II, there was a further blow, the loss of their leader, Captain Wylie, who had to be evacuated on 23 October by HMAS Vigilant because of malaria.

By the end of October 1942, LIZARD II estimated that 50,000 Timorese could be raised to fight the Japanese if they were armed. SRD advised LIZARD that this should not be done until a more appropriate time. The Official History of Special Operations Australia regards this decision as a tragedy, because it allowed ‘a genuinely aroused population to sink back into disgruntled apathy’. This evaluation gives the reader a clear insight into the unreality of SRD thinking. The enemy the SRD faced on Timor was a highly trained and very experienced military force with a reputation for aggression, competence and extreme brutality. They had good air and naval support, and plenty of heavy weapons including artillery. Any uprising would have been quickly put down. The decision not to proceed with this operation was the right one. The idea of 50,000 untrained Timorese going into battle against hardened Japanese troops doesn’t bear thinking about, even now.

Despite the questions over what would happen on Timor, the SRD reinforced LIZARD II with three more operatives: Lieutenant J.E. Grimson, W.T. Thomas and Signaller A.K. Smith. These reinforcements brought another 100 rifles with them and some Bren guns. Now LIZARD II had 200 rifles and some light machine guns for their guerrilla army.

At the same time, LIZARD III, with Lieutenant L.W. Ross and Captain R.C. Neave, arrived to collect raw rubber and succeeded in taking away a few tons of rubber to Australia. In response, the Japanese once more moved in strength down the Baucau Road and occupied all of the principal points, driving a mob of refugees before them. On 1 December, HMAS Armidale was sunk attempting to bring off more of SPARROW’s survivors and Portuguese refugees, consisting of the wives and families of Pires, a man named Don Paulo and some minor local chiefs attached to LIZARD II. The HNLMS Tjerk Hiddes finally evacuated this group on the night of 8–9 December. Lieutenant Greave was also evacuated because of ill health.

Around 23 December 1942, the Japanese mortared LIZARD II’s main post, killing ten Timorese and forcing the evacuation of the rest of LIZARD II to the secondary post near Hareapa. Now the previously supportive local leaders started changing sides. The Japanese hit more of LIZARD II’s posts and began a relentless chase of the survivors in exactly the same way they had driven the FERDINAND parties on New Britain and Bougainville. By 17 January 1943, the Japanese pressure had forced the withdrawal of the bulk of the LANCER Force elements that reinforced SPARROW, the Australian Independent Company, and the break-up of the small guerrilla force set up by LIZARD II. The intelligence network of runners and telephone operators was destroyed by 22 January 1943 with the disappearance of Don Paulo.

Eventually, on 10 February 1943, the remnants of LIZARD along with thirteen volunteers from the now withdrawn LANCER operation and a further seven LANCER men who were found lost in the bush, were evacuated by the submarine USS Gudgeon. This withdrawal coincided with an important development in our story, the arrival in Kupang of the 1st Platoon of the 5th Military Police (Kempeitai) commanded by Major Yutani Kiyoshi (Yujiro).

Major Yutani quickly established his HQ in Kupang and sent detachments to Soe in West Timor, Dili and Lautém in East Timor, and a small detachment to Atambua, West Timor. With the arrival of this unit, the Japanese counterintelligence capability increased dramatically, and the willingness of the local population to support Australian and other Allied operations dropped precipitously. This change was completely missed by the SRD and GHQ, SWPA.

The intelligence group left behind when LIZARD II was pulled out was renamed PORTOLIZARD, and consisted of 60 personnel, mainly regular Timorese soldiers, some Portuguese soldiers and some Nationalist Chinese soldiers. One Australian, Private D. Fittness of LANCER, had been left with PORTOLIZARD because he was too sick to evacuate with LANCER. The second-in-command was Augusto Leal de Matos e Silva, the ex-Chef de Poste at Laga. Communications for this group were the two ATR4 radios left by LIZARD II. Despite Captain Broadhurst having taken the ciphers to Australia with LIZARD II, the PORTOLIZARD party made contact with Australia and began reporting that it was hard-pressed by the Japanese. The radio discipline of PORTOLIZARD appears to have been poor, and they sent a flood of signals to Australia including four in one day. The Japanese SIGINT organisation would have had little or no trouble locating the radio, and would have been using the captured ciphers from the Java operations to read the content.

The situation on Timor had worsened considerably as the Japanese tightened their grip and the Kempeitai set up their clandestine intelligence networks. They also operated with the same levels of brutality as elsewhere, and kidnapped women for the IJA’s brothels and confiscated food. These actions led to severe unrest in the Viqueque area, which was seen as an opportunity by the AIB and SRD. The SRD now planned to send two parties back into Timor, to be led by Portuguese officials in the hope ‘that a spirit of competition between the parties would inspire them to achieve excellent results’.

As it happened, the Japanese prevented this idiocy from being put into action by massacring the Western Chief, Dom Alexio, and his family, leaving no friendly contacts alive in the west of the area of operations. That did not mean, however, that the SRD had given up on Timor. They planned to send another party, this one tasked with intelligence collection.

The cover name for this operation was LAGARTO, and it consisted of a party of two Portuguese men, Lieutenant Manuel de Jesus Pires and Patricio Luz, plus one Timorese. LAGARTO landed at the mouth of the Luca River on the night of 1–2 July 1943 and joined up with PORTOLIZARD.34 During this landing, LAGARTO lost all three of its radios. A signaller from SRD, Sergeant A.J. Ellwood, AIF, then joined them. LAGARTO first arranged by radio for the evacuation of 87 PORTOLIZARD personnel. This evacuation finally occurred on the night of 3–4 August 1943 because the Japanese made it impossible to get the group off any earlier.

The Japanese had no difficulty locating LAGARTO, and pursuing both it and the PORTOLIZARD party hard. On 9 July, 200 Japanese, supported by mortars and machine guns, attacked the party. The men escaped, but in doing so lost most of their equipment, although they saved the radio they inherited from PORTOLIZARD. Japanese mortars attacked them again on 11 July, following which they broke contact and were able to arrange the evacuation of the PORTOLIZARD personnel and camp followers.

The arrival of Ellwood was not a happy event. He had been selected to join LAGARTO because the SRD lacked faith in Pires’s leadership, but Pires had worked this out and resented Ellwood’s presence. On 5 August, the party was deprived of all its remaining food and stores when a small group sent to recover a cache was surprised by a Japanese patrol. With the Japanese and hostile Timorese now following them, LAGARTO attempted to escape by moving to Manatuto on the north coast. To ensure that the local villagers would not support the Australians, the Japanese chasing LAGARTO publicly tortured and killed all of the chiefs and villagers suspected of having assisted the party. It was a highly effective strategy, and demonstrated the stark reality of trying to build a resistance movement in the face of such an extremely brutal opponent.

LAGARTO’s move was ill disciplined, and conflict erupted between Ellwood and Pires. It may have been because of this that Ellwood was commissioned as a lieutenant on 17 September, so that he was of equal rank to Pires. The party was now 34 strong, comprising servants, bearers and camp followers, including the mistresses of Pires and Mateos da Silva, one of whom was pregnant. By 25 September, the Japanese were using tracker dogs and the entire population was too terrified to assist LAGARTO in any way. On 29 September 1943, as it moved along the Baucau Plateau, LAGARTO was ambushed by a large Japanese patrol. On contact, LAGARTO disintegrated, with a number of carriers, including those carrying the radio, cut down and everyone else running for the bush. Most of the personnel from LAGARTO were captured in such a way that it appears that the Japanese wanted them alive. One man, Patricio Luz, escaped and went into hiding. He survived the war.

The Japanese were by now so well informed on SRD procedures they conducted a painstaking search of the area through which LAGARTO had moved following contact. This unearthed Ellwood’s notebooks, codes and schedules, which he had, in accordance with SRD procedure, attempted to bury. A Japanese Major General, possibly Tanaka Toru, interviewed all of the captives, particularly Pires and Ellwood, at Kempeitai HQ in Dili, and a major named in the official history as Tanaka but most likely Major Kobayashi, conducted the interrogations, assisted by First Lieutenant Saiki Kasukane and a civilian from the Japanese Consulate.

The Japanese appear to have wanted a trusted radio net established with Australia, and they needed Ellwood and Pires to cooperate in this. The fact that Ellwood survived his captivity and Pires survived until he went insane and died in early 1944 is proof that they were singled out for special treatment. Every other member of LAGARTO died, the majority executed.

In the official history, Pires is blamed for the first compromise of the SRD’s cipher, as he handed over the emergency cipher early enough for the Japanese to send their first message to Australia on 6 October 1943. By the time this occurred, however, the Kempeitai had Ellwood’s ciphers and signal plan, as well as copious material collected from all of the other botched operations. The fact is that both Pires and Ellwood must have cooperated with the Kempeitai as soon as they were put through processing. Had they not, they would have been beheaded like the rest.

The Kempeitai wanted Ellwood to work his radio set for them, and to do this they had to balance out persuasion with pain before pampering him into compliance. They also needed to ensure that he did what they wanted and did not send any warnings of compromise. This is a hard thing to achieve, but the Kempeitai were very good at it. The fact that Ellwood was kept alive for so long proves that the Kempeitai turned him, but the message logs of the SRD provide the harder proof. Ellwood participated in the Kempeitai’s double-cross operation because he had no choice, and if the SRD operators and analysts did not detect that he was compromised, it was not Ellwood’s fault. The story that a seriously weakened Ellwood was forced to operate a Morse key with a Japanese operator to guide his hand is not credible. The Kempeitai would have known that the receiving operator would be very familiar with Ellwood’s hand,—that is the little quirks each operator has when they key a message. There is no way they would have had his keying ghosted, and the simple fact that Ellwood was not executed and that he survived the war indicates he cooperated.

The turning of intelligence operatives was standard Kempeitai practice. They used the full gamut of techniques, ranging from deprivation to physical abuse and perhaps a little torture, contrasted with moments of kindness, such as cigarettes immediately after capture. What we often overlook is that the Kempeitai were experienced professionals who were practised in all the techniques of winning cooperation. Leaving Ellwood to stew while the expendable members of his group were tortured within his earshot was simply softening him up for his subsequent interrogation. The Kempeitai probably kept Pires alive as a foil for Ellwood, and as a source of intelligence on his family and friends in Timor.

The Kempeitai would have used concurrent questioning of Ellwood and the Portuguese to play on the fears of each prisoner, and they would have used long sessions of repetitive questioning to isolate inconsistencies. Faced with expert interrogators who appeared to have obtained all of the most relevant secrets they had, it is unsurprising that the men of LAGARTO quickly surrendered their remaining secrets.

At some stage, probably as he approached mental exhaustion, the Kempeitai would also have shown Ellwood the extent of the information they had on the AIB and SRD. The shock to his system of finding out that the entire secret organisation was completely compromised would have been devastating. Before this they would have shown all the information they had captured locally, including the full nominal rolls of 2/2 and 2/4 Independent Companies, ciphers, message logs, recent Australian Army lists and documents. They also let him know they had his diary, ciphers and signal plan. Exposing their knowledge of AIB in this way would have removed any rational reason for continued resistance.

With Ellwood’s first signal back to Australia, the Kempeitai interrogators would have known they had peeled the onion back to its last layer. Once Ellwood had established routine communication without sending his warning word, they would have known they had him. He was released from close confinement and treated well. His rations improved and he was allowed letters, a magazine a month and given clothing. All of this indicates his Japanese handlers were happy with his performance.

That the SRD did not deduce that LAGARTO had been captured appears to the official historian to be ‘incomprehensible’, but it’s consistent with SRD’s management of the earlier operations in the Celebes and on Java. The fact is that the AIB and SRD were untrained in intelligence collection at this level. Their operational need to achieve something overrode the requirement for caution that is characteristic of all effective intelligence work.

The Kempeitai used Ellwood to compromise the security of all future SRD operations in Timor from this time forward, and, as AIB was now sending LAGARTO a flow of information on the conduct of the war everywhere, they were providing the Japanese with a broad insight into Allied operations. By the end of January 1944, the SRD had fallen for the Japanese double-cross so badly that they inserted the COBRA party of Lieutenant J.R.F. Cashman, Sergeant E.J. Liversidge and three Timorese, Paulo da Silva, Sancho da Silva and Cosmo Soares, into the waiting arms of Lieutenant Saiki of the Kempeitai and a company of soldiers who, along with Lieutenant Ellwood, were waiting for them at Dari Bai on 27 or 29 January 1944. COBRA was captured within an hour of its insertion.

The history of COBRA is almost identical to that of LAGARTO, even down to the abysmal tradecraft of the wireless operator, Sergeant Liversidge, who had written down the authenticator for the party being safe, ‘2926 Slender Silk Key’, in a notebook that the Japanese easily found.

The captured party was then taken and subjected to the same treatment as LAGARTO; the leader and radio operators were turned and began working a second trusted radio link to Australia. On 8 February, its radio operator, Lieutenant Cashman, sent his first message to SRD. The Japanese described him as ‘an excellent officer’ who ‘gave personal views as to future Allied Operations’.

As we have seen, SRD was so happy to hear from COBRA that it completely compromised Central Bureau’s SIGINT operations, sending a message on 7 March 1944 telling Cashman of the consternation at SRD when they read an ‘intercept Jap cipher naming you personally and apparently claiming your capture Jan 29’. Luckily, the Japanese were as complacent as the SRD, and their reaction to the compromise was ‘plain unbelief’ that the Australians could be reading their unbreakable codes.

After receiving the SIGINT report that COBRA had been captured, the SRD had first begun trying to get the authentication from COBRA it should have obtained at the very beginning. The party was told ‘Mother sends loving greetings for twenty-six’ and that Paulo’s daughter was born on 25 January [a reference to Timorese COBRA member Paulo da Silva]. COBRA replied on the same day in message 4, ‘PAULO had not yet returned’ and thanking SRD for the ‘relay of wishes for 26th. Give my love to Mother and Father.’ On 26 February, SRD attempted to obtain authentication, sending ‘Slender girl sends greetings’ and received a reply without the authenticator being repeated. This alone should have told SRD that COBRA was compromised.

Three days later, on 28 February, SRD asked for an acknowledgement of the greetings in the last message ‘from this particular girl’, who was then described as ‘not repeat not the fat repeat fat one’, which tipped the Kempeitai as to the significance of the phrase ‘Slender girl’. It was then that Cashman sent the authenticator that caused so much relief at SRD that it compromised the SIGINT on 7 March.

Given the clumsy exchange of messages with COBRA, the role played by LAGARTO in getting COBRA ashore on Timor, and the way LAGARTO had gone from being in dire straits to being secure so quickly, it should have been obvious to SRD and AIB that the whole Timor operation was compromised. The truth appears to be that optimism trumped hard analysis, and the scene was set for what the SRD’s own official history called ‘an operation with no redeeming feature at all’. LAGARTO led to the wretched deaths of nine more Australians, more Portuguese and scores of Timorese.

In early 1944, as the Japanese worked the survivors of LAGARTO and COBRA, the SRD was planning to insert another party, codenamed ADDER, into Timor.

ADDER, consisting of Captain J. Grimson, Sergeant E. Gregg, A. Fernandez, J. Carvalho and Z. Rebelo, went ashore just west of Cape Lai Aco on the night of 21–22 August 1944.59 Grimson and Gregg were killed in a firefight within hours of landing, Rebelo fell from a cliff and the rest died in captivity. The SRD received no news from ADDER at all. To add insult to injury, they tasked COBRA to find out what had happened. The Kempeitai must have had a good laugh about that.

Subsequent AIB operations in Timor did not run to plan either. Operation SUNBAKER ended in disaster on 17 May 1945 when the aircraft carrying the party crashed near Dili, killing all four members of the party and the crew of the aircraft. Operation SUNABLE ended on 5 July when the party came into contact with the Japanese; its leader, Lieutenant D.M. Williams, was killed and the rest of his party captured during the following week. Operation SUNCOB ended on 17 July with the capture of Captain W.P. Wynne and Sergeant J.B. Lawrence, who were added to the complement of LAGARTO and COBRA in Kempeitai custody.

In May 1945, it seems Central Bureau provided the first hard evidence that the Japanese were controlling the LAGARTO party when Japanese traffic carrying an AIB proforma (questionnaire) provided to LAGARTO was intercepted, decrypted and translated. SRD and AIB were warned:

Have obtained a new translation PROFORMA document picked up by JAPANESE. There is now no doubt what so ever that it was document dropped to LAGARTO repeat LAGARTO on January 19th. View fact challenge parties probably COMPROMISED LAGAROUT and COBREXIT will have to be replanned. ETD SUNFISH party and self for Darwin today.

The SRD finally proved what was happening on Timor in July 1945, when Operation SUNLAG, led by Captain A.D. Stevenson and consisting of Sergeant R.G. Dawson, AIF, and Celestino dos Anjos, forewarned of the compromise of COBRA and LAGARTO, parachuted into Timor on 29 June, an earlier date than the one supplied to LAGARTO and at a different location. Stevenson sent Celestino to elicit information from relatives in the area and was able to find out that the Japanese knew SUNLAG had arrived on the island.

Stevenson then arranged for a signal to be sent to LAGARTO, telling them that a supply drop was to be made at a drop zone on 1 July. Stevenson moved into an observation post overlooking the proposed drop zone and observed the arrival there of the Japanese and a white man he identified as Ellwood.64 This was the final proof of LAGARTO’s capture, proof that LAGARTO and COBRA had been turned, and proof that the string of disasters—COBRA, ADDER, SUNCOB and SUNABLE—had been engineered by the Kempeitai. Having established that the Japanese had been playing the SRD, Stevenson quickly got permission to evacuate his party from Timor.

By 22 July, SRD Darwin was requesting advice from its higher HQ for assistance in setting policy in relation to the now compromised LAGARTO. This action was prompted because the senior air staff officer in Darwin had refused any further RAAF support in making supply drops after he was told LAGARTO was compromised.

The decision by the RAAF to abandon LAGARTO was not accepted by SRD Darwin and they requested GHQ, General MacArthur, to order the RAAF to continue support to LAGARTO. The reply was, ‘Normal signal traffic and maintenance will be kept up…This is most important.’ The rationale was to maintain the illusion that LAGARTO was still trusted, in order to keep the captured members of the missions alive and so that disinformation could then be passed onto the Japanese.

The Timor intelligence operations ended on 12 August 1945, when the Japanese sent a message in the SRD code: ‘NIPPON for LMS [Lugger Maintenance Section]. Thanks your assistance for this long while. Hope to see you again. Until then wish your good health. NIPPON Army.’

On 13 August SRD replied:

Your signal received and understood. Thank for your good wishes. Please continue look after our soldiers. Will be good enough inform us of his welfare.

The Official History of Special Operations Australia intimates that the SRD and AIB remained ignorant of the compromise of their parties until they received this message on 12 August, but this is misleading. The SRD had begun to suspect something was wrong at the end of May 1945, when Central Bureau’s intercept reported the capture of COBRA. In yet another triumph of hope over reason, the possibility that the operations were compromised was discounted, although it has to be said, not by everyone. The SUNLAG operation was hard proof that everything the SRD had done in Timor and across the eastern part of the archipelago had been a complete waste of time. The whole series of operations stand as a warning against mixing intelligence collection and direct action. And against underestimating an opponent.

The New Zealanders at Bapaume

A view over Bapaume, taken by Henry Armytage Sanders the day after its capture, showing the huge amount of destruction to the town

A New Zealand infantry battalion passing through recaptured Bapaume, 14 September 1918

When the Amiens offensive launched by the Fourth Army astride the Somme on 8 August 1918 ran out of steam, the Third Army took over the main advance. What followed in the last days of August became known as the Battle of Albert. In fact, Albert was taken by III Corps from the Fourth Army, which secured the right flank of the Third. For New Zealanders, though, the last part of August has always been the period of the Battle of Bapaume. The town was the Third Army’s main goal. Advancing in the centre of the Third Army was IV Corps. As the New Zealand Division formed the centre of IV Corps, it was at the heart of the Third Army and, therefore, at the heart of the Battle of Bapaume.

The battle was significant for the New Zealanders in several ways. During its course, they received air-dropped supplies and were counterattacked by tanks for the first time. Three of them won VCs, the most for any battle in the nation’s history. Involving failed and successful attacks in equal measure, it was their toughest action of 1918 and resulted in 3000 casualties, including 821 dead. Many of these were from the large pool of reinforcements that replaced the losses incurred during the defensive fighting. The veterans started to show the war-weariness that was gripping the Australian divisions. Not for nothing do New Zealanders call the battle `Bloody Bapaume’.

As most of the German reserves were facing the Fourth Army in front of Amiens, striking towards Bapaume, 40 kilometres northeast, promised to catch the Germans off balance. The Third Army might then outflank the Germans opposite the Fourth. Field Marshal Haig wanted Bapaume seized rapidly. Between 21 and 23 August the Fourth Army took Albert and the Third reached the Arras-Albert railway, bringing Bapaume within striking distance. Running from Loupart Wood through Grévillers to Biefvillers-les-Bapaume, the last ridge to the west of the town had to fall first. Grévillers and the wood were well defended and the 5th Division, on the left of the New Zealand Division, could not capture them on 23 August. The task passed to the New Zealanders, whose role so far had been limited to gaining the line of the Ancre north of Miraumont. On 24 August the 1st New Zealand Brigade was to advance 450 metres past both Grévillers and Loupart Wood, after which the 2nd Brigade would take Bapaume. The 37th Division on the left would capture Biefvillers.

Following up the German withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line early in 1917, the Australians had passed through this area. When the Germans returned in the Michael offensive in March 1918, they fortified the ruins of the villages they had devastated during their earlier retirement. From the New Zealanders’ point of view, the ground offered good going to tanks as it lay just beyond the 1916 Somme battlefield and was not cut up by shelling. Thirteen heavy tanks and some Whippets supported them. But the uncertainty as to the situation on the evening of 23 August resulted in rushed planning that left no time to organise an artillery barrage. The attack would be a `silent’ one, which initially helped the New Zealanders when they stepped off at 4.15 am next morning. With the darkness and rain blinding the Germans, the absence of a barrage removed their last hope of detecting the assault until it was almost upon them.

The Germans still defended strongly. 1st Wellington took until 12.30 pm to clear Loupart Wood. On their left, 2nd Auckland had enveloped Grévillers by 9 am but could not get beyond it. Engineer Sergeant Sam Forsyth led an assault that took a strongpoint holding up part of the attack. Killed afterwards, he was awarded a posthumous VC. Further left, 2nd Otago and 2nd Canterbury from the 2nd Brigade, and 2nd Wellington from the 1st Brigade, cleared Biefvillers by mid-morning, thereby securing the 1st Brigade’s left flank. The 37th Division, which should have taken the village, had fallen behind. Heading towards the D929, the Albert-Bapaume road, part of 2nd Otago was stopped just beyond Grévillers. The rest continued with 2nd Canterbury towards Bapaume, 1.5 kilometres away on the far side of the D929. Avesnes- les-Bapaume, then a hamlet west of the town, now an outlying suburb, was taken but could not be held.

`One of the toughest nuts to crack’
Since the start of the Third Army’s offensive four days earlier, nine German divisions had reinforced the eight originally opposing it. The Germans ahead of the Third Army thus regained their balance and, as the tough fighting on 24 August showed, were putting up the same stiff resistance that had slowed down the Fourth Army. It was particularly strong in front of Bapaume, which did not bode well for the New Zealanders. In the continuation of the advance on 25 August, in which IV Corps was to reach the line Riencourt-Beugnatre three kilometres beyond Bapaume, they had to envelop the town, thereby forcing the Germans to abandon it. Costly street fighting through its ruins would then be avoided.

At 5 am on the 25th, 1st Auckland and 2nd Wellington from the 1st Brigade headed for the southern side of Bapaume. Hit by heavy fire, they stalled on the D929. Supported by a creeping barrage and 23 tanks, whereas the 1st Brigade had neither, the 2nd Brigade made for the northern side of Bapaume. 1st Canterbury on the right briefly took Avesnes and reached the D917, the Arras road. 1st Otago on the left was halted on the D917. But both battalions got across the road in capturing Monument Wood and part of Favreuil, 1.5 kilometres north of Bapaume, in a second attack at 6.30 pm. Nonetheless, the town’s well-sited and concealed defences had withstood the New Zealanders a second time. As one of them remarked, it was turning out to be `one of the toughest nuts to crack’.

The First Army joined the offensive on the left of the Third on 26 August but it made no difference to the New Zealand Division, which was to advance a third time against Bapaume. South of the town, the 1st Brigade barely progressed beyond the previous day’s line. The only bright spot was the knocking out of three machine-guns by Sergeant Reg Judson of 1st Auckland. He won the VC. North of Bapaume, the Rifle Brigade, which had relieved the 2nd Brigade, reached the D956, the Bapaume-Beugnatre road, a gain of just 450 metres. Pinpointing the cause of the grinding pace of the advance, a New Zealand artillery observer expressed sentiments that the Australians would have echoed: `We share great admiration for the way the machine-gunners of the enemy stick to their work. Most died at their post’.

Another attack that evening achieved little but at least the Rifle Brigade was now firmly ensconced east of Bapaume, threatening the Germans with envelopment. A continuous bombardment commenced to give them every incentive to withdraw. But on 27 August they belted two attacks by the 63rd Division on Ligny-Thilloy, on the right of the New Zealanders, who stood fast that day and the next. The New Zealanders’ patrols still attracted intense German machine-gun fire. An attack on Bapaume was being planned when the fire petered out early on 29 August. Cautiously entering after dawn, New Zealand patrols found the Germans had gone and the town `nothing but a few acres of bricks’, according to Private Stayte of 1st Auckland. It was booby-trapped just as extensively as it had been when the Australians entered in 1917.

Following up
During the day, the Rifle Brigade established a new line 1.4 kilometres beyond Bapaume and Beugnatre. At last able to move around the southern side of the town, the 1st Brigade took the heavily defended sugar factory on the Cambrai road to the right of the Rifles. Both brigades started the 2.2-kilometre advance to the ridge behind the villages of Bancourt and Frémicourt at 5 am on 30 August. They reached the crest but could not hold it. A German counterattack with tanks next morning was driven off. Forming the centre of a wider attack on 1 September, the two brigades took all but the Bancourt part of the ridge. Sergeant John Grant was awarded the VC for clearing machine-guns that held up 1st Wellingtons. Relieving the 1st Brigade and the Rifles that night, the 2nd Brigade secured the uncaptured section of the ridge on 2 September.

`Bloody Bapaume’ was over. Throughout the battle, the New Zealand Division had fought with one, and sometimes two, open flanks because it consistently outpaced the divisions of IV Corps on either side. Major-General Russell, the divisional commander, seemed out of touch, probably because he was tired and quite ill. Partly for this reason, orders often arrived at the last minute. Like the Australians, the New Zealanders had the skill and experience to know what to do anyway. Their effort at Bapaume deserves more recognition but, ironically, some of the blame for its obscurity rests with them. The New Zealand press misrepresented Bapaume as a pushover that cost few casualties. So no-one gave it a second thought, especially since it coincided with the stunning Australian capture of Mont St Quentin, which stole the limelight from everything else.

Kapyong, 23-24 April 1951

Australian soldiers in Korea, part of the United States-led United Nations forces, take a well-earned break. Men like these won a US Presidential Unit Citation for their gallant stand, determination and espirit de corps during the Battle of Kapyong.

Lieutenant Colonel Bruce Ferguson, smoking a pipe in the centre, CO of the 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, at Kapyong, discusses his battle plans with a British officer, left in the beret, while an Australia soldiers watches.

The Battle of Kapyong, 22–25 April 1951.

Halting the Communist Advance

The seriousness of the breakthrough on the central front had been changed from defeat to victory by the gallant stand of these heroic and courageous soldiers [who] displayed such gallantry, determination and esprit de corps in accomplishing their mission as to set them apart and above other units participating in the campaign and by their achievements they have brought distinguished credit to themselves, their homelands and all freedom-loving nations.

United States Presidential Unit Citation, awarded to 3 RAR, 26 June 1951

Seeing another wave of communist Chinese troops advancing up the valley as the early dawn light silhouetted them against the towering mountains, Major Ben O’Dowd ordered his radio operator to call for immediate support.

An officer of the US 1st Marine Division answered but, despite the obvious Australian accent, refused to believe it was O’Dowd’s radio operator calling.

Fuming with rage and with seconds before the enemy arrived, O’Dowd grabbed the phone and demanded to speak to the American commanding officer. The general commanding the Marines came on the line, but when O’Dowd reported his position and the imminent attack, the American refused point blank to believe him.

The American insisted the Australian forces no longer existed because the Chinese had wiped them out the night before. Losing patience and with the enemy almost on them, O’Dowd blasted back: `I’ve got news for you-we are still here and we are staying here’.

The Battle

It was 24 April, the eve of Anzac Day, and O’Dowd and his fellow Australians were fighting hand-to-hand for their lives as they repulsed one of the biggest Chinese offensives of the Korean War.

All through the previous night they had been defending a series of ridges strung across the Kapyong River valley, trying to stop wave after wave of Chinese forces advancing south towards the capital, Seoul. The valley was a traditional invasion route and if the Chinese captured Seoul, they may have pushed the foreigners right off the Korean peninsula and won the war.

But UN forces wanted to draw a line in the sand at the 38th parallel, the line of latitude 38 degrees north, where it crossed the Korean peninsula. The Australians were fighting about 60 kilometres north-east of Seoul as part of a United Nations force.

O’Dowd was commander of A Company within the 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, which was fighting as part of the 27th British Commonwealth Brigade. The Diggers were also fighting alongside Americans, Canadians, New Zealanders and South Koreans. The Commonwealth Brigade had occupied strategic defensive positions across the valley in an attempt to halt the Chinese advance. As a reserve, British soldiers of the 1st Battalion, Middlesex Regiment, held a position to the rear.

On 23 April the 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (3 RAR), under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Bruce Ferguson, and the 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, took up their positions on prominent hills on either side of the valley, near where a small tributary joined the Kapyong River. The Diggers, who had been assigned positions on ridges such as Hill 504 overlooking the Kapyong River and one of its smaller tributaries, dug themselves in on 23 April.

It was a tiny force compared to the Chinese juggernaut. The Chinese launched their spring offensive south down the valley with an estimated 337,000 men in the main force across a 7-kilometre front, with an estimated 150,000 attacking further east. The expansive Kapyong valley was too large to defend with the forces available, and the defenders were spread very thinly.

The Chinese first overran American tanks placed unwisely out in front of the infantry and without artillery support. Unsurprisingly the Chinese, who had already occupied Seoul once, quickly overran South Korean forces defending the major invasion route. The Australians of the 3rd Battalion first realised the situation in the evening of 23 April, when South Korean forces came running back past Australian positions along with Korean civilians retreating from the Chinese.

Much to the Australians’ surprise, within minutes Chinese soldiers themselves came running past in the night, chasing the retreating South Koreans. It was difficult to differentiate between the two Asian armies in the dark, with Chinese in among the retreating Koreans, but the shrewd O’Dowd had expected the worst. `I knew that Chinese soldiers would mix in with the civilians’, he said.

They would be in civilian clothes or in uniform, in the half-light, and be penetrating to the rear in numbers. I rang the commanding officer and requested permission to open fire with the machine-guns to stop all movement on the road. This was refused on the grounds Republic of Korea soldiers could still be coming through.

The odd shot rang out and I repeated my request. Nevertheless, the panic became justified as firing broke out around battalion HQ. The enemy was at our rear.

O’Dowd and his men now had to watch their backs. This human wave initially swarmed between the positions of the Australian battalion’s A and B Companies and into the positions they were defending, so the Australians, all of whom were now fully alert, began to let them have it, firing at the Chinese charging in among them and stopping them in hand-to-hand combat.

The Australians killed many, but the enemy soldiers kept on coming and by midnight the Australians were fighting for their lives as the communists began breaking into their inner defences.

Throughout the night the Chinese used grenades and mortars, then repeatedly charged into the Australian positions in waves over their own dead and wounded. The Australians managed to keep them at bay.

It was a close-run thing; no wonder the Americans thought O’Dowd had been killed. O’Dowd said: `Some of the Chinese soldiers did not carry weapons, just buckets of grenades. They had the job of keeping my Diggers’ heads down so their rifleman and machine-gunners could rush in and get among us’.

The Chinese also attacked the nearby C Company and its highly respected commander, Captain Reg Saunders, the first Aboriginal commissioned officer in the Australian army. Saunders reported he had first been alerted to the attack by `the sound of small arms fire’ and `the crash of cannon’ and also seen `flashes of fire coming from the direction of Battalion headquarters’. Saunders `thought the communists were in a good position to cut off our Company’-he was right, as his men had not been able to stop the Chinese. Saunders had no alternative but to retreat.

Then the enemy attacked the battalion headquarters deeper in the Allied lines in overwhelming numbers. The defenders had to withdraw towards the Middlesex position. This loss of the headquarters forced other Allied units to withdraw.

It had been a tough night’s fighting. Mick Servos, a rifleman and forward scout, said the Chinese `were a tough and clever enemy and they just charged in, wave after wave after wave’. At least every twenty minutes on average through the night, he said, the massed Chinese attacks kept coming at the Australians defending their positions on the hills overlooking the Kapyong valley.

When dawn broke on 24 April, most Australians had survived and were still defending their positions. The light enabled O’Dowd to see the Chinese getting ready for another attack on his position, which is when he phoned for support, only to be told by the Americans he had been wiped out. The American commanding officer’s reaction was understandable, though, because so many Chinese had infiltrated Australian positions during the night of 23 April.

O’Dowd mounted a counterattack that forced the enemy back, but `there was absolutely nothing I could do to help my men, beyond walking up and down, watching for the possibility of a break-in and shouting encouragement while attacks were in progress’. The battle was to be largely O’Dowd’s.

Although the Chinese were exposed on the floor of the valley in the daylight where Allied forces could reach them with artillery, during the night they kept creeping forward and the Australians had to stop them with fire or hand-to-hand fighting and bayonets. O’Dowd also called in New Zealand artillery support-he expected a better result in convincing the Kiwis he was still alive.

Fighting continued throughout 24 April. The Australians held their positions, even though US airstrikes accidentally killed two Australians and wounded others with napalm-an example of `friendly fire’. The Canadians also fought off intensive attacks by the Chinese, refusing to be dislodged from their hill-top position.

But it was plain the Australians would be unlikely to survive another night in such an exposed position without great losses, so they planned a night withdrawal along a ridge. Late on 24 April, with more Chinese arriving, the Australians were ordered to retreat to a position that had been successfully defended by the Middlesex men, then establish new front-line defences.

Their fighting withdrawal was supported by New Zealand artillery from the 16th Field Regiment, and as they fired and fell back the Diggers attacked the enemy occupants of their former battalion headquarters, killing 81 Chinese soldiers at the cost of four Australian lives. The Australians had delivered a blow but continued their retreat to safer ground.

Just before midnight on 24 April, the Australians were recovering at the Middlesex Regiment’s position where they had linked up again. On Anzac Day 1951, the Australians rested after their long fight.

They could celebrate as they had slowed and blunted the Chinese offensive for long enough for the Americans to move in and rein force the Kapyong River front. It cost the 3rd Battalion thirty-two lives lost and 59 wounded, but the battalion had certainly stood up well against massive odds. The Australians had taken the brunt of the fighting that first night, with little food and water, limited ammunition and no mines or barbed wire to secure their positions.

The 3rd Battalion held up the Chinese long enough for US reinforcements to reach the Kapyong River front and blunted the Chinese offensive, which never got going again.

After Kapyong the Chinese made only one more attempt to break through UN lines, only to be stopped once again by the Americans.

From then on, the 38th parallel was maintained by the Allies. Cease-fire talks began in July 1951.

It was the most significant and important battle for Australian troops in Korea. The Diggers of the 3rd Battalion RAR, nicknamed `Old Faithful’, along with the Canadian and American units, were presented with the US Presidential Unit Citation.

The commander of 3 RAR, Lieutenant Colonel Bruce Ferguson, was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his skilful leader ship at Kapyong.

It was a great achievement stopping the communist advance and the capture of Seoul, although it still cost thirty-two Australians their lives. It was a big achievement in Korea and instructors in military academies described Kapyong as `the perfect defensive battle’.

But few in Australia heard about Kapyong-in fact, so many knew so little about the Korean conflict it became known as the `Forgotten War’. The heroes of Kapyong returned to an Australia largely uninterested in their struggle. Australians had plenty of heroes and war stories from World War II.

The Kapyong veterans received little public recognition and even found it difficult to gain repatriation benefits. More than one remembers being turned away from RSL clubs because `that wasn’t a proper war’.

Defeating Chinese soldiers had also been downplayed by the great US General Douglas MacArthur, leader of the United Nations forces, who dismissed Mao’s army as `Chinese laundrymen’ who would flee at the first encounter with the Allies in Korea. MacArthur was dismissed just before the battle for failing to follow presidential orders. President Harry S. Truman said:

I fired him because he wouldn’t respect the authority of the president. I didn’t fire him because he was a dumb son-of-a-bitch, although he was, but that’s not against the law for generals in the US Army. If it was, half to three-quarters of them would be in jail.

The American leadership also made too many mistakes in the Battle of Kapyong-especially when they sent Corsair aircraft to hit Hill 504, believing no one could have survived the attacks of the night before, without making sure. The napalm attack killed two Australians and injured several others.