The following lists the 38 Squadron Commanding Officers, squadron locations and aircraft flown since its formation on 15 September 1943 until the present (December 2017). The information has been compiled by Brian (Jack) Plenty and drawn from the 38 Squadron Commanding Officers’ Display Board (Squadron’s Board) located in the Squadron’s Headquarters, the booklet Units of the Royal Australian Air Force, A Concise History, Volume 4, Maritime and Transport Units (1995), compiled by RAAF Historical Section and published by the Australian Government Publishing Service (RAAF Booklet), the Australian War Memorial (AWM) www.gov.au/collection/U60577, which highlights the squadron’s role in the Malayan Emergency 1948-1960 and the RAAF Museum’s website information about 38 Squadron.
There are some differences between the Squadron’s Board and the RAAF Booklet, which I have a number in the text and placed an explanatory noted at the end of the table. The Squadron’s Board also lists commanding officers whose names do not appear in the RAAF Booklet. One explanation is that these officers were Temporary/Commanding Officers and so excluded in the editing of the RAAF Booklet. Further research is being undertaken to clarify all the above matters. In the interim, I have included them for completeness.
The AWM website notes the squadron moved between Changi, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, Malaya three times in the period June 1950 and December 1952 during its involvement in the Malayan Emergency. This level of detail in not reflected on the Squadron’s Board nor in the RAAF Booklet. Also, the Squadron’s Board does not reflect the Squadron role being varied to Transport Training Squadron in December 1958 and then back to 38 Squadron in June 1963. These are reflected below.
15 September 1943
18 September 1943
Squadron Leader H.O. Cook 
27 October 1943
Squadron Leader C.C. Forman (RAF) 
3 March 1944
6 October 1944
Squadron Leader R.G. Cornfoot, AFC
7 December 1944
1 March 1946
Squadron Leader J.D. Balfe, AFC
19 August 1946
28 April 1948
Flight Lieutenant R.S. Murdock (RAF)
30 August 1948
Squadron Leader J.B. Fitzgerald (RAF)
1 July 1949
19 June 1950
21 June 1950
Wing Commander J.F. Lush, OBE
29 June 1950
16 October 1950
Squadron Leader A.H. Birch, AFC
30 March 1951
Squadron Leader H.D. Marsh, DFC
Kuala Lumpur, Malaya
23 November 1951
Squadron Leader R. Carlin, DFC, AFC
30 November 1951
Kuala Lumpur, Malaya
1 September 1952
Acting/Squadron Leader T.L. Bourke, AFC 
11 December 1952
10 February 1953
Squadron Leader W. Addison, AFC
26 April 1953
Squadron Leader J.G. Cornish, MVO AFC
22 June 1953
Acting/Squadron Leader T.L. Bourke, MVO, AFC
12 October 1953
Squadron Leader M.S. Humphrey, DFC
12 April 1954
Squadron Leader J.G. Cornish, MVO, AFC
23 April 1954
7 March 1955
Squadron Leader S.W. Dallywater
23 April 1956
Squadron Leader L. Hawes, DFC
3 September 1958
Retitled Transport Training Squadron
15 December 1958
Squadron Leader K. Isaacs
11 February 1959
Squadron Leader W.C. Keritz, MBE
7 July 1959
Wing Commander S.J. Brasier
23 August 1960
Squadron Leader W.C. Keritz, MBE
9 January 1961
Wing Commander T.S. Fairbairn, DFC
13 June 1963
Retitled 38 Squadron
18 January 1964
Squadron Leader C.J. Sudgen, DFC
22 April 1964
27 April 1964
Wing Commander T.S. Fairbairn, DFC
2 January 1965
Wing Commander C.J. Melchert
2 May 1966
Wing Commander D.C. Harvey, DFC and Bar, AFC 
2 June 1967
Wing Commander C.J. Melchert
1 March 1968
Wing Commander C.N. Geschke, OBE
9 December 1968
Wing Commander J.C. Kichenside 
11 January 1971
Wing Commander B. Coleman
6 September 1971
Wing Commander C.D. Smithies
2 November 1971
Squadron Leader B.J. McKenny
20 March 1972
Wing Commander D.J. Lancaster
18 June 1974
Wing Commander D. Middleton
15 December 1975
Wing Commander S. Clark, DFC
8 December 1977
Squadron Leader N.R. Kruse
7 April 1978
Wing Commander P.G. Smith, DFC
8 January 1980
Wing Commander W.S. McAllister, MBE
15 January 1982
Wing Commander D.R. Lovett
23 April 1983
Wing Commander W.F. Parsons
16 December 1985
Wing Commander G.D. Weekes
4 April 1988
Wing Commander P.L. Hooper
11 June 1990
Wing Commander R. Harrison, AM
14 August 1992
Wing Commander J.H. Benjamin
18 December 1992
Amberley, QLD 
28 May 1996
Wing Commander B.E. (Jack) Plenty
6 January 1998
Wing Commander A.N. Bennett
5 March 2001
Wing Commander J.M. McGarry
1 December 2003
Wing Commander S.J. Patterson
2 March 2005
Wing Commander T.A. Thrupp
1 October 2005
Wing Commander P.S. Ward
6 December 2007
3 March 2008
Wing Commander A.J. Thorpe
16 November 2009
King Air (B350)
11 April 2011
Wing Commander S.P. Dowrie
15 November 2013
Wing Commander M.J. Burgess-Orton
12 December 2016
Wing Commander M.C. Ward
The Squadron’s Board does not include Squadron Leader Cook as the first Commanding Officer. He appears as the first commanding officer in the RAAF Booklet.
The Squadron’s Board does not indicate that Squadron Leader Forman was a member of the RAF. He is noted as a member of RAF in the RAAF Booklet.
The Squadron’s Board indicates Bourke (1952) was an Acting/ Squadron Leader whereas the RAAF Booklet indicates he was a Squadron Leader.
The Squadron’s Board indicated Harvey (1966) was a Wing Commander whereas the RAAF Booklet notes he was a Squadron Leader.
The Squadron’s Board notes the spelling of Kichenside (1968) whereas the RAAF Booklet has Kithenside. A web search brings up a Sergeant J.C. Kichenside pilot in Korea (1952) and a Squadron Leader J.C. Kichenside pilot with the RAAF Flight Mawson Station, Antarctica 1960. A typographical error is suspected when editing the RAAF Booklet or when printed. Mr ‘Tiny’ Ashbrook advised on 17 December 2017 that he serviced at 38 Squadron when the Commanding Officer was Wing Commander J.C. Kichenside. He also confirmed the spelling using the application Air Force List.
The Squadron’s Board also notes the squadron relocated from RAAF Richmond to RAAF Amberley in December 1992 whereas the RAAF Booklet notes this occurred in October 1992. The RAAF Museum website notes December 1992.
The following information has been collocated by Brian (Jack) Plenty and obtained from the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), Australian War Memorial (AWM) and websites ozatwar.com and ww2talk.com. As noted below, some further clarification research is ongoing.
At 6.00 am on 18 September 1945, 38 Squadron Dakota A65-61, VH-CUT took off from Wama Airfield on Moratai in the Netherlands East Indies (now Indonesia). It arrived at Mokmer airfield on Biak Island at 10.30 am. The aircraft then took off in clear weather at 11.15 am enroute to Townsville via Higgins Field on the northern tip of Cape York. Some sources have indicated the route was via Horn Island. RAAF History states Higgins Field.
On board were six aircrew, one nursing officer from the Morotai-based No 2 Medical Air Evacuation Transport Unit, 18 army wounded patients, three RAAF passengers and an Army officer not recorded on the flight manifest. The ozatwar.com and ww2talk.com websites differ regarding the number of aircrew and nursing staff. Ozatwar.com indicates five aircrew and two nursing officers and ww2talk.com indicates six aircrew and one nursing officer. Further research is being conducted to try and resolve this aspect.
Normal procedure for aircraft departing Biak was to radio in 15 minutes after take-off and then again when they had reached their cruising altitude. A65-61 did not make its first 15 minutes radio call and disappeared along with its 29 occupants. No trace was found during searches in New Guinea. At the time it was thought that it would not have reached the Australian mainland.
The briefed route from Biak to Higgins Field was to fly southwest across Geelvink Bay (Cenderawasih Bay) and the Vegelkop Neck of the Bird’s Head Peninsula (Kepala Burung) then down the west coast of Dutch New Guinea and onto Higgins Field. See map below.
The cause of the accident remains conjecture to this day, but unconfirmed reports indicate that the captain was attempting to fly the more direct track to Higgins Field in lieu of the briefed route. The route crosses the main mountain range that has many peaks above 16,000 feet. The wreckage is located about 120 miles east of the Geelvink-Volgelkop Neck route. The location of the wreck seems to indicate that the aircraft was flying north at the time of impact, suggesting that it may have encountered clouds in the high valley and then attempted to turn around out of the valley.
Imagery of Mount Carstensz is below. Carstensz Pyramid (Puncak Jaya) at 16,024 feet above sea level is the highest summit of Mount Carstensz (Mount Jayawijaya) and the highest mountain in Indonesia.
(Map courtesy www.welt-atlas.com) (The briefed route and possible route of A65-61 have been drawn by the author as approximations.)
Discovery of Wreckage
There are some differences in information between the AWM, ozatwar.com and RAAF History as to when the wreckage was first sighted and positively identified.The AWM website notes that the wreckage was first sighted by Mr Jerry Reeder, an American missionary, in 1967, whilst flying over the area and then in 1968, he and two other Americans and positively identified the wreckage.
Ozatwar.com/ozcrashes/qld150.htm states that on 16 October 1968 Mr Reeder was
flying his aircraft across the Nassau Range at 14,500 feet when he saw a flash of light
in a ravine below him. He flew down to discover the wreckage of a large silvery
aircraft on the side of Mount Carstens.
Mr Reeder returned in mid-1970 with two American timbermen from the D.E. Lowe
Corporation in a Bell Ranger helicopter and landed near the wreckage. They were
able to determine that it was a World War II Dakota military aircraft. The camouflage
had faded from the fuselage but they were able to make out the letters “CUT” in faint
yellow on the tail. They found many scattered human bones and a half-burnt women’s
shoe near the wreckage. The aircraft had apparently hit the side of the valley with one
wingtip, which slewed the aircraft into the high mountainside. It then fell about 3,000
feet to the valley below and caught fire. Mr Reeder reported that the wreckage was
located at about 13,500 feet above sea level.
The RAAF History notes that the wreckage was located in April 1967 at 14,200 feet
up the side of Mount Carstensz (spelt Carstairs), with RAAF teams visiting the site in
December 1970 and 1999 with a final visit in May 2005 to recover the last remains
and lay a commemorative plaque.
Crew and passengers
The 28 military personnel killed are listed below. It was subsequently determined that
an unknown Army officer was on the aircraft but not listed on the manifest and so is
not recorded below. The information is taken from the website ww2talk.com/inmemoriam-
47. The information differs slightly from that on ozatwar.com regarding the ages of
some personnel and their home locations.
38 Squadron aircrew
Warrant Officer A.J. Hunter, 25yrs of Lambton, NSW
Warrant Officer A.C. Hughes, 24yrs of Warialda, NSW
Warrant Officer E. Wilkinson, 32yrs of Silkstone, QLD
Flight Sergeant K.R. Wiles, 23yrs of Footscray, VIC
Flight Sergeant A.G. Sawrey, 33yrs of Concord, NSW
Sergeant F.L.H. Blackmore, 28yrs of Welland, SA
Sister M.E. Craig, RAAF Nursing Sister, 31yrs of Drummoyne, NSW
Flying Officer N.R. Stibbard, 24yrs of Wollongong, NSW
Warrant Officer A. Campbell, 26yrs of Taree, NSW
Leading Aircraftsman W.R. Dunderdale, 19yrs of Oxley, QLD
Lance Sergeant A.J. Hyde, 38yrs, 30 Works Company, Australian Army Labour
Service, of Croydon, NSW
Corporal G.J. Welch, 34yrs, 2/102 General Transport Company, Australian Army
Service Corps, of Queanbeyan, NSW
Private K.J. Bowden, 22yrs, 2/12 Australian Infantry Battalion, of San Souci, NSW
Private L.A. Coombe, 35yrs, 2/4 Pioneer Australian Infantry Battalion, of Camden,
Private M.J. Ford, 24yrs, 2/31 Australian Infantry Battalion, of Paramatta, NSW
Private A.T. Jorgenson, 20yrs, 2/31 Australian Infantry Battalion, of Toowoomba,
Private J. McAlorum, 21yrs, 2/23 Australian Infantry Battalion, of Red Hill, QLD
Private I.S. McDowall, 23yrs, 1 Parachute Maintenance Platoon, Australian Army
Ordnance Corps, of Brisbane, QLD
Private L.T. Oakley, 21yrs, 2/31 Australian Infantry Battalion, of Burnie, TAS
Private I.T.L. Ray, 19yrs, 2/31 Australian Infantry Battalion, of Canberra, ACT
Private D.W. Smith, 23yrs, 2/31 Australian Infantry Battalion, of Milton, NSW
Private J.I. Tindall, 32yrs, 2/16 Australian Infantry Battalion, of Narooma, NSW
Trooper F.J. Ireland, 23yrs, 2/5 Australian Commando Squadron, of Maroubra
Trooper G.P. Duffy, 22yrs, 2/5 Australian Commando Squadron, of Clayfield, QLD
Trooper R.L. Mathieson, 20yrs, 2/6 Australian Commando Squadron, of
Sapper J.F. McDougall, 24yrs, 5 Mechanical Equipment Company, Royal Australian
Engineers, of Mayfield, NSW
Sapper J. Matthews, 22yrs, 9 Workshop and Park Company, Royal Australian
Engineers, of Orange, NSW
Gunner T. Eiszelle, 24yrs, 2/8 Field Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery, of Sandy
On 3 December 1970, the Australian military undertook Operation Tropic Snow to
recover the remains of those killed in the crash. The recovery was supported by three
RAAF C-130 Hercules, two RAAF UH-1H helicopters, a RAAF Caribou and Army
Pilatus Porter. After some delay due bad weather, a RAAF helicopter winched down
two personnel to the crash site. They were winched up about 90 minutes later with
some of the remains of the victims, which were subsequently taken to Port Moresby
for identification. Time was limited at the crash site because of changing weather and
the fuel and oxygen endurance of the helicopters.
The remains were buried in the Port Moresby Bomana War Cemetery with full
military honours on 26 January 1971. The Pacific Island Regiment together with its
Pipes and Drums took part in the ceremony, attended by service representatives and
families of the deceased.
The AWM has a three-minute, RAAF Public Relations film (16mm black and white,
silent) made during Operation Tropic Snow. The footage shows equipment and
supplies being unloaded in West Irian from a C-130E, a UH-1H helicopter being
unloaded from a C-130A and UH-1H flights around the crash site
(awm.gov.au/collection/ F02799). The AWM covering note indicates that the Dakota
belonged to No.2 Medical Air Evacuation Transport Unit. This is incorrect as the
aircraft was on the strength of 38 Squadron but tasked in support of No. 2 Medical Air
Evacuation Transport Unit.
The AWM also has imagery of a rusted watch and fountain pen belonging to Private
I.T.L. Ray, 2/31 Battalion, one of the passengers on the flight, recovered from the site
in 2005 (awm.gov.au/collection/REL35147.001 & 002). Private Ray was born in
Canterbury, Victoria on 25 January 1926. He was a public servant with the
Commonwealth Department of Treasury in Canberra, enlisting on 6 May 1944 with
2/31 Infantry Battalion. After training, Private Ray landed at Balikpapan with his
battalion on 2 July 1945. He was wounded in the left arm later in the month and sent
to Morotai for medical treatment. He was evacuated from Morotai by 38 Squadron on
the 18 September 1945 flight.
Details of the RAAF visit to the crash site in1999 have been difficult to locate and
remains work in progress.
A further expedition, Exercise Dakota Recovery, was mounted from 23 May to 6 June
2005, as a joint exercise between the RAAF and the Indonesian Air Force (TNI-AU)
to recover the last of the remains. A combined team of 10 personnel (five RAAF and
five TNI-AU)) travelled to Tembagapura, West Irian to conduct the final recovery.
They were assisted by the local mining company, PT Freeport Indonesia and members
of the local community. A significant number of skeletal remains and personal items
belonging to the crew and passengers were recovered.
On 10 August 2005, a military funeral was conducted at the Port Moresby Bomana
War Cemetery to honour the passengers and crew of A65-61. Representatives of all
families were invited to attend and those attending were flown to Papua New Guinea
by RAAF C-130. Images of the crash site, courtesy of the RAAF, are below with
additional imagery at: https://images.defence.gov.au/fotoweb/archives/5003-
The following information has been compiled by Brian (Jack) Plenty and drawn from www.adf-serials.com.au/2a16.htmRAAF A16 Lockheed Hudson Mk I, Mk II, Mk III, Mk IIIA, Mk IV, Mk IVA, www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_lockeed_hudson_IV. html, the Australian War Memorial website and the book Anson, Hudson & Sunderland in Australian Service by Stewart Wilson, Aerospace Publications, 1992. The RAAF was the second service to order the Hudson and the most important operator of the aircraft after the RAF. For the first two years of the war in the Pacific the Hudson was the RAAF’s most important bomber and like every Allied aircraft in the Pacific in 1942 it suffered heavy losses at the hands of the Japanese.
The RAAF ordered 50 Hudson aircraft from the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation, USA in late 1938. These aircraft were fitted with Hamilton Standard two-position propellers and designated the Mk I. They differed from the RAF Hudson Mk I by being powered by two Pratt & Whitney R-1830-SC3G “Twin Wasp” (1,200hp, 14 cylinder radial, twin row) engines in place of the Wright GR-1820-G102A (1,100hp, 9 cylinder radial, single row) engines used by the RAF. They were otherwise similar to the RAF aircraft and were fitted with the same Boulton-Paul turret, although the first batch entered service before the turrets reached Australia and so were armed with a gun in a flexible mount.
A further 50 Hudson aircraft were ordered soon thereafter. These aircraft had a stronger airframe than the Mk I and were fitted with Hamilton Standard constant speed propellers and designated the Mk II. The RAF used the same designation. The duplication of designations was not a problem at first as the RAAF aircraft were based in Australia, Netherlands East Indies, Malaya and Singapore and the RAF aircraft in Britain and the Mediterranean, but as it had the potential to cause confusion the Australian Mk I and Mk II aircraft were subsequently designated Mk IV. These aircraft were identified under RAAF serial numbers A16-1 to A16-100 and arrived in Australia between January and June 1940.
An additional 52 Hudson aircraft were then provided to Australia under the USA lend-lease program. These aircraft arrived in Australia during December 1941, with the exception of A16-143 which arrived in March 1942, having been held in storage at Long Beach, California pending available shipping. Under the lend-lease program the aircraft were assigned US Army Air Force (USAAF) designations and serial numbers. The Hudson would eventually be given two USAAF designations: A-28 for aircraft powered by Pratt & Whitney R-1830 engines and A-29 for aircraft powered by Wright GR-1820 engines.
The 52 RAAF aircraft were designated A-28-LO and were similar to the RAAF Mk IV and powered by the same Pratt & Whitney engines as the earlier aircraft but under its USAAF designation of R-1830-45 “Twin Wasp”. Only 52 A-28-LO were built, all of which served with the RAAF as the Hudson Mk IVA under serial numbers A16-101 to A16-152.
There is a discrepancy between www.adf-serials.com.au/2a16.htm and www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_lockeed_hudson_IV. html regarding the total number of Hudson aircraft flown by the RAAF. The ADF-serials website notes the RAAF received 247 Hudson aircraft: the original 100 Mk IVs, 52 Mk IVAs and 95 Mk IIIAs, with the Mk IIIAs under serial numbers A16-153 to A16-247. The history of war website notes only 200 Hudson aircraft: the original 100 Mk IVs, 52 Mk IVAs, 41 Mk IIIAs and 7 Mk IVs; the latter taken from an RAF order for 30 Mk IVs. Stewart Wilson’s book Anson, Hudson & Sunderland in Australian Service and the ADF-serials website are in accord with the same overall number and serial numbers of aircraft.
After its formation on 15 September 1943, 38 Squadron’s first aircraft were all Hudson Mk IVA. After service with a range of RAAF units these aircraft arrived at the squadron in late 1943 and early 1944 with what could be described in most cases as ‘colourful’ service histories. The squadron re-equipped with Douglas Dakota C-47A aircraft around April 1944.
The information below has been taken from the adf-serials.com.au/2a16 and AWM websites and Steward Wilson’s book. The records of each aircraft vary considerably in the level of detail available. Examples include when and at what unit aircraft were modified from the bombing to the transport role and the dates when some events occurred. Some discrepancies may be original record entry errors or subsequent transcription errors. I have also included A16-120 although the records indicated that it was allocated to 38 Squadron but subsequently not issued. Further research is being undertaken to resolve, where possible, these discrepancies and update records if necessary. In the table below I have expanded unit names and military ranks from the original records for those readers not familiar with the abbreviations.
Delivered to RAAF
USAAF designation A-28-LO
Delivered 17/09/41 USAAF
Defence Aid 13/10/41
1 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Laverton, VIC ex USA 08/12/41
Air Tested 20/12/41
14Sqn RAAF 28/12/41
5 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Forest Hill, NSW (near Wagga Wagga) 29/06/42
14Sqn RAAF 27/07/42
32Sqn RAAF 31/12/42
Accident 14/04/42 whilst landing at Mascot Aerodrome, Sydney when aircraft struck pine trees on approach damaging leading edges
Crew: Flying Officer L. Halliday, Flying Officer A.H. Gawler, Flying Officer R.N. Castles and Pilot Officer W.J. Stevenson un-injured
7 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Tocumwal, NSW for repairs
6Sqn RAAF 24/04/43
3 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Amberley, QLD 19/07/43
6Sqn RAAF 25/07/43
7 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Tocumwal, NSW 1IC0/09/43 for conversion to transport role
Allocated 38Sqn RAAF
38Sqn RAAF allocation cancelled 20/04/44
1 Operational Training Unit 01/10/44
1 Air Performance Unit 08/12/44
1 Operational Training Unit 07/02/45
Accident 04/05/45 at 1913hrs the aircraft took off from East Sale, Victoria on night training via Paynesville; Pats River Aerodrome, Flinders Island and return to East Sale
Presumed lost at sea, with only a wheel and undercarriage washing up on a beach near Ocean Grange, Victoria
Crew: Flying Officer F.J. Maughan, Flying Officer A.S. Cullen, Warrant Officer H.L. Hammersley, Flight Sergeant R.C. Smith and Sergeant F.W. Walker posted as missing
Struck Off Charge 09/07/45
Delivered to RAAF
USAAF designation A-28-LO
1 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Laverton, VIC ex USA 05/12/41
Air Tested 25/12/41
14Sqn RAAF 05/01/42
Accident 24/03/42 when aircraft 100 miles from returning to Albany, WA on a seaward patrol when port engine failed due to a drop in oil pressure. Captain Flight Lieutenant R.G. Cornfoot made emergency landing at Albany. To get there, the crew jettisoned bombs, fuel and anything loose as aircraft could not maintain height on the starboard engine. Made low approach and landing without further incident
1 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Laverton, VIC 16/12/42
32Sqn RAAF 14/01/43
6Sqn RAAF 24/04/43
15 Aircraft Repair Depot 02/07/43
7 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Tocumwal, NSW 23/09/43 for conversion to transport role
Allocated 38Sqn RAAF 11/11/43
38Sqn RAAF allocation cancelled 20/04/44
3 Communications Unit 26/05/44 for experiments and to be used as flying physics laboratory
Allocated for use by Air Officer Commanding (needs further research) RAAF 12/08/44
2 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Richmond, NSW 05/03/45
1 Operational Training Unit 18/07/45
Allocated 2 Aircraft Depot 29/11/45 but suspended and used for Bush Fire Patrolling from East Sale
2 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Richmond, NSW 16/04/46 for storage
Sold 31/03/47 to W.R. Carpenter & Co, Sydney for £1,250
Issued to purchaser 05/05/47
Added to Australian Register as VH-BDN to Mandated Airlines Ltd based in Lae, PNG on 26/08/47
Sold to Fawcett Aviation Engineering Service, Sydney 27/06/49 and named “Petunia”
Returned to service 10/07/49 on lease to Mandated Airlines
Accident 25/03/50 crashed at Lae airfield after hitting telegraph pole at edge of strip whilst on a test flight with three crew, fatally injuring Captain Gibson-Lee (DFC, AFC)
Delivered to RAAF
USAAF designation A-28-LO
Delivered 17/09/41 USAAF
Defence Aid 14/10/41
2 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Richmond, NSW ex USA 05/12/41
Flight tested 28/12/41
1 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Laverton, VIC 5/01/42
7Sqn RAAF 01/02/42
2 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Richmond, NSW for fitment of Boulton-Paul Turret 05/02/42
7Sqn RAAF 09/02/42. Coded Unit “G”
1 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Laverton, VIC 23/03/42 for fitment of Long Range Fuel Tanks
13Sqn RAAF 08/04/42
10 Restore to Service Unit 23/05/42
Accident 05/12/42 when aircraft had ground collision with tree removing port wing tip
5 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Forest Hill, NSW (near Wagga Wagga) 20/12/42
7Sqn RAAF 05/02/43
6Sqn RAAF 03/04/43
10 Restore to Service Unit for engine change
6Sqn RAAF 12/06/43
Accident 29/06/43 1159hrs when starboard tyre blew out on landing, causing aircraft to ground loop at Milne Bay, New Guinea
Crew: Squadron Leader I.J. Roberts, Flight Lieutenant R.J. Martin, Flying Officer S.W. Jamieson and Sergeant R.T. Mitchell un-injured
10 Restore to Service Unit 01/07/43
6Sqn RAAF 05/07/43
5 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Forest Hill, NSW (near Wagga Wagga) 29/08/43
7 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Tocumwal, NSW 29/01/44 for conversion to transport role
Allocated 38Sqn RAAF
Allocation cancelled 30/03/44
4 Communications Unit 07/04/44
Accident5/3/45 1620hrs after take-off flying from Cairns to New Guinea. Crash attributed to cyclone in area. Aircraft crashed into sea about 400 meters out from Machans Beach, north of the Barron River, 2 kilometers south of Cairns Aerodrome.
Crew: Flight Lieutenant D.J. Bassett, Flight Lieutenant J.W. Newell, Flying Officer G. Thomson DFM, Warrant Officer B.S. Frieze, and Leading Aircraftman I.D. Moore
Passengers: Major General G.A. Vasey CB, CBE, DSO and Bar, MID, Major General R.M. Downes CMG VD, Lieutenant Colonel G.A. Bertram OBE, MID, Lieutenant Colonel H.R. Russell DSO, MID, Lieutenant W. Riggall and Acting/Corporal E.L. James, all Australian Army. All 11 members died in the accident and are buried in Cairns
Struck Off Charge 13/03/45
Delivered to RAAF
USAAF designation A-28-LO
Delivered 17/09/41 USAAF
Defence Aid 15/10/41
1 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Laverton, VIC ex USA 08/12/41
Air Tested 27/12/41
7Sqn RAAF 09/02/42
Accident 28/04/42 when landed on punctured tyre. Main fitting from centre section buckled.
1 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Laverton, VIC 04/05/42
5 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Forest Hill, NSW (near Wagga Wagga) 23/05/42 for undercarriage repairs
Languished being repaired until 1943. Painted Forest Green overall
6SQN RAAF 22/05/43
7 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Tocumwal, NSW 24/08/43 for modification to transport role
Allocated 38Sqn RAAF 24/08/43
Not Issued to 38Sqn RAAF
04/09/43 proceeded to Wards Airfield, Port Moresby for use by General Sir Thomas Blamey, Commander in Chief Australian Military Forces
Allotted for use by Air Vice-Marshal George Jones, Chief of Air Staff 18/11/43
Seats ex A16-98 to be installed
7 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Tocumwal, NSW
1 Communications Unit 06/12/43
Allotted for use by Chief of Air Staff 03/08/44
Striped to bare metal
2 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Richmond, NSW for modification for use by 1 Operational Training Unit 23/03/45
Seats to be removed for fitment to Lodestar A67-8
Allotment suspended 28/06/45 in view of recent grounding of Lodestar aircraft
2 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Richmond, NSW 10/09/45 for storage
Sold 04/12/46 to H. Ellis, Skerman’s Motors, Dubbo for £1,000
Sale cancelled 04/09/47
Sold 10/02/48 to Macquarie Grove Flying School Pty Ltd, Camden, NSW
Issued to purchaser 18/03/48
Added to register as VH-SML 28/02/49
Ownership amended to Herald Flying Services, Camden 10/08/51
Herald Flying Services ceased operations 27/05/52
Aircraft remained registered to Sydney Morning Herald but not used for regular operations
Struck off register as withdrawn from service 18/03/53
Returned to register as VH-SML in name of John Fairfax & Sons Pty. Ltd., Sydney 06/09/54
Accident 14/09/54 missing on newspaper dropping flight 140 miles north of Sydney. Captain Doug Swain plus two crew.
Struck off register 06/10/54
Wreckage located at Barrington Tops, NSW 22/12/55
Delivered to RAAF
USAAF designation A-28-LO
Delivered 17/09/41 USAAF
Defence Aid 15/10/41
1 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Laverton, VIC ex USA 05/12/41
14Sqn RAAF 08/01/42
2 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Richmond, NSW to have Boulton-Paul Turret fitted 09/02/42
14Sqn RAAF 22/02/42
Accident 29/04/42 when aircraft struck drain on landing and undercarriage collapsed
Accident 16/11/42 ground collision with wingtip of A16-116
32Sqn RAAF 15/01/43
6Sqn RAAF 23/05/43
7 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Tocumwal, NSW 09/09/43 for modification to transport role
Allocated 38Sqn RAAF 14/11/43
Accident 12/03/44 missing in vicinity of Carnarvon, WA
Aircraft returning to Carnarvon on flight from Guilford to Exmouth Gulf in bad weather when belly landed after fuel exhaustion 21 miles north of Quongba Homestead
Located by search aircraft 15/03/44
Crew: Flying Officer O.L. Sands, Flight Sergeant E. Bergman, Sergeant A.R. Howard and Leading Aircraftman R.G. Searles un-injured
17 Restore to Service Unit 20/03/44
4 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Kalgoorlie-Boulder, WA for repair 02/05/44
2 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Richmond, NSW for storage 30/11/45
Sold 24/04/47 to Godden Board and Godden, Potts Point, NSW
Issued 07/08/47 to purchaser
Registered VH-AGX to Adastra Aerial Surveys 25/11/54
Aircraft was converted from Mk IVA to Mk III with installation of Wright Cyclone engines
Transferred to Sepal Pty Ltd (an Adastra company) 29/06/62
Crashed on takeoff at Horn Island 22/12/73
Both crew escaped injury
In 1976 acquired by Bob Eastgate, Melbourne, Victoria
Arrived at Point Cook, Victoria ex MV “Townsville Trader” for restoration 06/02/77
Transferred to RAAF Museum in exchange for a number of Winjeel aircraft 29/11/96
Delivered to RAAF
USAAF designation A-28-LO
Delivered 17/09/41 USAAF
Defence Aid 16/10/41
1 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Laverton, VIC ex USA 08/12/41
Air tested 22/12/41
14Sqn RAAF 28/12/41
Accident 28/01/42 when aircraft struck rabbit burrow breaking tail wheel strut
Accident 01/06/42 forced landing when port engine failed
32Sqn RAAF 14/01/43
6Sqn RAAF 24/04/43
7 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Tocumwal, NSW 09/05/43
3 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Amberley, QLD 14/07/43 for modification to transport role
37Sqn RAAF 05/09/43
Transported parts to 1 Aircraft Depot for Beaufort aircraft 14/10/43
Allocation 38Sqn RAAF cancelled
1 Special Duties Flight 01/11/43
1 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Laverton, VIC 08/11/43
Allocated 38Sqn RAAF
Accident 09/11/43 when aircraft broke tail strut at Laverton
Crew: Flying Officer L. Brady, Flying Officer K.A. Rosenlain and Flight Lieutenant R.A. Yeowart un-injured
1 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Laverton, VIC 11/11/43
Accident 06/03/44 1107hrs Wagga Wagga, NSW on landing port undercarriage collapsed causing aircraft to slide for several hundred yards
Crew: Pilot Officer G.T. Brames, Pilot Officer O.G. McCool, Sergeant J. Plunkett and Corporal G.J. Smith un-injured
5 Aircraft Depot 09/03/44
2 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Richmond, NSW 20/06/44
Allocated special equipment ex A16-55 17/10/44
Allocation Cancelled 31/10/44
1 Communications Unit 16/09/45
2 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Richmond, NSW 13/11/45 for storage
Sold 27/06/47 to Standard Vacuum Oil Company for £1,000
Sale cancelled 08/04/48
Sold 21/06/48 to Macquarie Grove Flying School
Delivered to RAAF
USAAF designation A-28-LO
Delivered 22/09/41 USAAF
Defence Aid 17/10/41
2 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Richmond, NSW ex USA 15/12/41
Air Tested 22/12/41
6Sqn RAAF 26/12/41
Fitted with cowl guns in lieu of Boulton-Paul Turret 02/01/42
6Sqn RAAF 11/03/42
5 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Forest Hill, NSW (near Wagga Wagga) 06/04/42
14Sqn RAAF 01/08/42
32Sqn RAAF 05/01/43
2 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Richmond, NSW 16/03/43
6Sqn RAAF 01/04/43
3 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Amberley QLD 14/04/43
6Sqn RAAF 26/06/43
7 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Tocumwal, NSW 07/09/43 for modification to transport role
Allocated 38Sqn RAAF
Allocation 38Sqn RAAF cancelled 20/04/44
1 Operational Training Unit 18/09/44
Accident 12/09/45 when aircraft ran out of fuel and landed wheels up on beach.
Crew: Warrant Officer J.J. Tedd, Sergeant L. Bodley, Warrant Officer W.A. Corlett and Warrant Officer C.M. Wheatley un-injured
Pilot did not check fuel level prior to flight
1 Central Recovery Depot for survey
4MG advised to write-off
Struck Off Charge 09/10/45
Delivered to RAAF
USAAF designation A-28-LO
Delivered 22/09/41 USAAF
Defence Aid 18/10/41
2 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Richmond, NSW ex USA 15/12/41
Air Tested 21/12/41
6Sqn RAAF 24/12/41
Fitted with cowl guns in lieu of Boulton-Paul Turret 28/12/41
6Sqn RAAF 03/01/42
Departed Townsville for Port Moresby 01/02/42
26/03/42 required repairs from Enemy Action
32Sqn RAAF 02/04/42
5 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Forest Hill, NSW (near Wagga Wagga) 06/04/42
13Sqn RAAF 18/09/42
1 Restore to Service Unit 12/11/42
13Sqn RAAF 28/11/42
3 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Amberley, QLD 05/01/43
6Sqn RAAF 09/04/43
7 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Tocumwal, NSW 10/09/43 for modification to transport role
Allocated 38Sqn RAAF 07/11/43
It was 38 Sqn’s first aircraft, ferried from Tocumwal on 07/11/43 by Commanding Officer Squadron Leader C.C. Forman (RAF)
1 Operational Training Unit 10/06/44
22/06/44 used for special duties with 1 Communication Unit ferrying British Air Mission fitted with 8 passenger seats
2 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Richmond, NSW for storage 29/11/45 but suspended and used for Bush Fire Patrols by 1 Operational Training Unit
2 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Richmond, NSW for storage 01/03/46
Offered for disposal 28/07/46
Sold 24/09/47 to D.G. Stuart, Cremorne, NSW for £100
Delivered to RAAF
USAAF designation A-28-LO
Delivered 24/09/41 USAAF
Defence Aid 22/10/41
1 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Laverton, VIC ex USA 26/12/41
Air Tested 04/01/42
14Sqn RAAF 25/01/42
Accident 28/03/42 RAAF Pearce aircraft taxied over concrete pegging down block damaging bomb bay doors
17 Restore to Service Unit 28/10/42
1 Operational Training Unit 28/03/43
7 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Tocumwal, NSW 02/05/43
3 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Amberley, QLD 04/07/43
6Sqn RAAF 15/08/43
Allocated 38Sqn RAAF 24/08/43
Allocation 38Sqn RAAF cancelled 12/11/43
1 Communications Unit fitted with 7 Seats for Senior Air Staff use
7 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Tocumwal, NSW 23/11/43 for modification to transport role
Allocated 38Sqn RAAF 08/01/44
Allocation 38Sqn RAAF cancelled
1 Operational Training Unit 17/06/44
Used in Bush Fire Patrols by 1 Operational Training Unit from 03/12/45
2 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Richmond, NSW for storage 29/02/46
Sold 24/04/47 to Godden Board & Godden, Potts Point, NSW for £1,000
Registration application from C. Raymond Penny, Intercontinental Air Transport of Sydney 19/03/48 and registered VH-BIH 17/06/48
Struck off Australian Register as “improper sale overseas” 11/10/49 as aircraft was on flight to Cyprus when diverted to Haifia, Israel 06/11/48. Aircraft had entered service with the Israeli Defence Force as #2601.
Written off in combat 05/03/49. Unit Unknown, may have been 106Sqn Israeli Defence Force. No Further Details
Delivered to RAAF
USAAF designation A-28-LO
Delivered 24/09/41 USAAF
Defence Aid 23/10/41
1 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Laverton, VIC ex USA 26/12/41
Air Tested 12/01/42
14Sqn RAAF 25/01/42
5 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Forest Hill, NSW (near Wagga Wagga) 11/06/42 for fitment of Boulton-Paul Turret
14Sqn RAAF 29/06/42
32Sqn RAAF 25/12/42
1 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Laverton, VIC for fitment of Long Range Fuel Tanks
6Sqn RAAF 01/05/43
7 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Tocumwal, NSW 13/09/43 for modification to transport role
Registration VH-RBI issued 06/01/44
Allocated 38Sqn RAAF 08/02/44
Allocation 38Sqn RAAF cancelled
1 Operational Training Unit 21/06/44
1 Central Recovery Depot 25/07/45
1 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Laverton, VIC for storage 13/02/46
Offered disposal 27/08/46
Sold 24/09/47 to Macquarie Grove Flying School, Camden NSW
The site also references emails: Leslie Lewis, Greg Hyde, Daniel Leahy, Gordon Birkett, Bill White, Bob Livingston, Dean Norman, Gordan Clarke, Mark Royle, Des Morgan, Haldon Boyd, Bruce Smith, Wayne Peadon, Paul Padley, Brendan Cowan, The Phantom, Tony Lewis. The information was last updated on 26th September 2014.
While there are many photographs of RAAF Hudson Mk IV aircraft there are few of the Mk IVA and I have not found any in service with 38 Squadron. I have included three photographs: Hudson Mk IVA A16-117 in service with 13 Squadron in 1942; Hudson Mk IV A16-120 in service with 1 Communications Unit and assigned to the Chief of Air Staff, Air Vice-Marshal George Jones in 1944 and the former Hudson Mk IVA A16-122 in civilian rig with Adastra Aerial Surveys as VH-AGX after been converted to a Mk III following the installation of Wright Cyclone engines. Should any reader have, or know of, photographs of 38 Squadron Hudson Mk IVA aircraft we would be grateful if a copy could be provided for use on our website.
A hangar cocktail party celebrated 38 Squadron’s 74th birthday on Friday 15SEP17.
Squadron members and partners were treated to 10 courses of canape’s and fantastic music provided by members of 1RAR band.
The incoming OC86WG, GPCAPT Steve Pesce attended the evening catching up with Caribou aircrew WGCDR Mike Ward (CO), SQNLDR’s Matt Plenty (XO) and Ross Benson, FLTLT’s Dave Falk and Andrew Schostakowski and WOFF’s (Ret) Dave Gill and Craig Smith. The warries certainly flowed.
The formalities concluded with the cutting of the Squadron’s birthday cake by the youngest and wisest (ancient) member, PLTOFF Gemma Dorn and WOFF Dean Bastian.
A big thanks goes out to Jenny Sichter, Jasmin van Gorp, Dan Thomas and Dan Dare for making the night a great success.
Please keep the weekend 15 and 16 September 2018 free for 75th Birthday celebration for the longest continuous running RAAF Squadron.
This is planned to be held in Townsville, so start booking as it’s Queensland school holidays.
No. 38 Squadron is a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) transport unit. It was formed in 1943 and saw service during World War II transporting supplies and personnel between Australia and the combat zones in New Guinea and Borneo, using Douglas Dakota aircraft. Following the war, the squadron conducted regular courier flights between Australia and Japan in 1947 and 1948. No. 38 Squadron was deployed to Singapore from 1950 to 1952, supplying Commonwealth forces engaged in the Malayan Emergency and undertaking courier flights across Asia. In 1954 it became responsible for training RAAF personnel to operate Dakotas.
After being re-equipped with de Havilland Canada DHC-4 Caribou in 1964, No. 38 Squadron served as the RAAF’s operational conversion unit for the type and also conducted transport tasks within Australia and its territories. Throughout Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War, it prepared aircrew for operational service with No. 35 Squadron, and maintained a detachment in Papua and New Guinea to provide pilots with experience flying in tropical conditions. A Caribou was deployed to Pakistan from 1975 to 1978 to support United Nations peacekeepers, and detachments were established within Australia during the 1980s to provide search and rescue capabilities and work with Australian Army units. From 1999 until 2001, a detachment was deployed to East Timor as part of the Australian-led peacekeeping force in the newly independent nation. No. 38 Squadron continued to operate Caribou after No. 35 Squadron was disbanded in 2000, though the age of the aircraft increasingly affected its operations.
Role Light transport and conversion training Ground surveillance
Part of No. 86 Wing
Garrison/HQ RAAF Base Townsville
Engagements World War II Malayan Emergency
Battle honours Malaya 1948–1960
Transport Hudson (1943–44) Dakota (1944–64) Caribou (1964–2009) King Air 350 (2009–current)
Following the retirement of the Caribou from service in 2009, No. 38 Squadron was re-equipped with eight Beechcraft King Air 350 aircraft. The squadron is currently stationed at RAAF Base Townsville, Queensland, and is responsible for training RAAF pilots to operate King Airs, and performing light transport tasks. It is also believed to have a ground surveillance capability.
World War II
No. 38 Squadron was formed as a transport unit at RAAF Base Richmond near Sydney on 15 September 1943. Equipped with Lockheed Hudsons, the squadron conducted its first operation on 17 December, when one of its aircraft flew from Richmond to RAAF Base Darwin. During the period No. 38 Squadron was equipped with Hudsons, it operated only within Australia.
The squadron’s activities expanded in early 1944 when its obsolescent Hudsons were replaced with more capable Douglas Dakota transports. It received its first Dakota on 3 March 1944 and was completely equipped with the type by the end of May. While the squadron continued to fly to locations within Australia after receiving Dakotas, it also began transporting supplies to Allied forces fighting the Japanese in western New Guinea. During return flights from New Guinea, the Dakotas typically carried wounded personnel to Australia for treatment. In October 1944, No. 38 Squadron was given the additional task of supporting the RAAF’s Paratroop Training Unit at Richmond. The squadron moved to RAAF Station Archerfield near Brisbane in early December 1944 but continued to maintain a detachment at Richmond. By this time No. 38 Squadron was mainly tasked with transporting supplies to the battle zone in New Guinea, which included making supply drops to Australian Army units in the field and evacuating casualties to the mainland. From 17 July 1945, the squadron maintained a detachment at Morotai Island, which dropped supplies to Army units fighting in Borneo. No. 38 Squadron’s only loss during World War II was a Dakota that crashed on a mountain in western New Guinea while flying between Biak and Morotai; the wreckage of this aircraft was not located until 1970.
Following the end of the war, No. 38 Squadron flew into Singapore, Bangkok and locations in Borneo to evacuate released Australian prisoners of war. In addition, the squadron transported other service personnel back to Australia until 1946 as part of the demobilisation of the Australian military. During May 1946, three of No. 38 Squadron’s Dakotas were assigned the unusual task of flying 25 tonnes of pig bristles from Chongqing in China to Hong Kong, from where the bristles were shipped to Australia. This mission, which was designated “Operation Pig Bristle”, took two weeks to complete and sought to rectify a shortage of paint brushes, which was hindering the Australian construction industry.
No. 38 Squadron relocated to RAAF Station Schofields near Sydney on 15 August 1946. It became part of No. 86 Wing, along with Nos. 36 and 37 Squadrons, which also operated Dakotas, and No. 486 (Maintenance) Squadron, which serviced the wing’s flying units. Commencing on 22 January 1947, one of No. 38 Squadron’s main responsibilities was to conduct thrice-weekly courier flights to Japan to support the Australian element of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force. These flights were the longest regular air route serviced by twin-engined aircraft at the time and took several days to complete. The courier flights continued until 13 January 1948, after which chartered Qantas aircraft were used to support the force in Japan. In August 1948, five of No. 38 Squadron’s air crews were dispatched to Europe where, as members of the RAAF Squadron Berlin Air Lift, they participated in the international efforts to fly supplies into Berlin during the Soviet blockade of the city. These personnel remained in Europe for 12 months, and their absence greatly disrupted No. 38 Squadron’s operations. Overall, twenty members of No. 86 Wing were sent to Europe; the resulting shortage of personnel forced Nos. 36 and 38 Squadrons to operate for a period as a single unit, all flying hours being attributed to No. 38 Squadron in official records. No. 86 Wing moved to Richmond between 22 June and 1 July 1949.
In 1950, No. 38 Squadron was selected to form part of the Australian force assigned to the Commonwealth Far East Air Force. As an element of this force, the Australian Government agreed for the unit to be tasked with courier flights across Asia and providing support for the British-led counterinsurgency operations in Malaya. The squadron’s advance party arrived at RAF Changi in Singapore on 19 June 1950, and all of its personnel and eight Dakotas were operational there by 6 July. While in Malaya the squadron came under the command of No. 90 (Composite) Wing, along with the Avro Lincoln-equipped No. 1 Squadron. Half the squadron’s aircrew were veterans of the Berlin Airlift, but none had any direct experience of tropical environments. No. 38 Squadron began flying transport missions in Malaya in early July, with British and New Zealand pilots accompanying its aircrews during the first two weeks of operations to help them become familiar with local conditions. From July 1950 until February 1951, No. 38 Squadron’s main task was to conduct courier flights to Borneo, Ceylon, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan and the Philippines, and these remained an important responsibility throughout the period it was based in Singapore. Following the outbreak of the Korean War, the squadron flew British troops and supplies from Singapore to Japan and Korea, and four of No. 38 Squadron’s Dakotas were transferred to No. 30 Communication Unit in Japan during November 1950.
After losing half its strength, No. 38 Squadron remained at Changi and conducted supply and aeromedical evacuation flights throughout Malaya to support the British-led forces there. The squadron’s aircraft were also occasionally used to mark targets ahead of bombing raids and to drop propaganda leaflets. From April to July 1951, No. 38 Squadron and an attached flight from No. 41 Squadron RNZAF was stationed at RAF Kuala Lumpur and was the main unit tasked with dropping supplies to Commonwealth forces in the field. The squadron made another deployment to Kuala Lumpur between November 1951 and February 1952. In February 1952, No. 38 Squadron successfully parachuted 54 personnel from the British 22nd Special Air Service Regiment into a remote area near the Malaya-Thailand border.
Supporting the Australian units in Korea placed heavy demands on the RAAF’s transport force, which was too small to fully meet its domestic and international responsibilities, and it became increasingly difficult to sustain the four Dakotas in Malaya during 1952. As a result, the Australian Government decided in September that year to return the squadron to Australia. No. 38 Squadron left Changi for Richmond on 8 December. The squadron’s only fatality during the deployment was an airman who was killed when the No. 110 Squadron RAF Dakota he was co-piloting crashed during a flight between Changi and Saigon on 31 August 1950.
Operational conversion unit
After returning to Richmond, No. 38 Squadron was mainly tasked with routine transport duties. The squadron also occasionally provided aircraft for CSIRO rainmaking experiments. During the 1950s and early 1960s, No. 38 Squadron developed a reputation as a “cowboy” unit with lax flying standards. The squadron did not conduct proper conversion courses, and new Dakota pilots received only ad-hoc instruction on the type while serving as the co-pilot during operational tasks. On 8 March 1953, No. 38 Squadron absorbed No. 36 Squadron’s Dakotas, after which No. 30 Transport Unit (previously No. 30 Communication Unit) in Japan was renamed No. 36 Squadron. From late March until September 1954, No. 38 Squadron conducted VIP flights out of RAAF Station Canberra. In November that year, it was renamed the Transport Training Squadron and became responsible for instructing new Dakota crews and RAAF air movements personnel. It resumed its previous name on 13 June 1963.
No. 38 Squadron was re-equipped with new de Havilland Canada DHC-4 Caribou tactical transport aircraft during 1964. In January 1964 the unit’s commanding officer, five other pilots and three navigators undertook conversion training on the type in Canada. At the completion of this course, the personnel flew the RAAF’s first three Caribous from Toronto to RAAF Base Richmond between 17 March and 22 April. The process of fully converting No. 38 Squadron to Caribous was delayed by the government’s decision to deploy several of the aircraft to Vietnam; at the time this decision was made, in June 1964, the squadron had received six of its planned allocation of nine aircraft, and the next batch of three aircraft was sent directly to Vietnam. No. 38 Squadron was the last operational RAAF squadron to fly Dakotas, though several other units did so until the 1990s. After receiving its Caribous, No. 38 Squadron’s main role was to train aircrews for operational service with the RAAF Transport Flight Vietnam (later redesignated No. 35 Squadron). On 1 July 1964, one of the squadron’s Caribous suffered severe damage when it made a crash landing at HMAS Albatross; this aircraft was subsequently written off and its fuselage used for training purposes by the Army’s 1st Commando Regiment. The squadron became an independent unit under Headquarters RAAF Base Richmond in August that year, following the disbandment of No. 86 Wing. On 13 October 1965, Detachment A of No. 38 Squadron began operations from Port Moresby in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea, equipped with two Caribous. One of the detachment’s tasks was to give Caribou pilots experience in tropical and mountainous conditions, and all aircraft captains were required to complete at least one two-month deployment to Port Moresby before serving with No. 35 Squadron in Vietnam. In addition to its training role, No. 38 Squadron undertook transport flights in and around Australia, taking part when required in relief efforts following natural disasters.
The squadron undertook two operational deployments during the mid-1970s. From March 1975 until November 1978 Detachment B, comprising a single Caribou and support staff was stationed at Rawalpindi, Pakistan, and transported personnel and supplies for the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan. From August to October 1975, a No. 38 Squadron Caribou was assigned to transport Red Cross supplies and personnel from Darwin to East Timor after a civil war broke out in that country. On 4 September that year, this aircraft was hijacked by East Timorese soldiers, who forced the pilot to fly 54 refugees to Darwin; it remains the only RAAF aircraft ever to have been hijacked. Detachment A was no longer required after Papua New Guinea achieved independence from Australia and established its own defence force, and the unit was disbanded on 17 January 1976. Three Caribous were lost while operating with the detachment; A4-202 crashed near Porgera on 3 June 1965, A4-147 was written off after it landed short of the runway at Tapini Airport on 6 October 1968 and A4-233 was destroyed when it crashed at Kudjeru Gap on 28 August 1972. The last of these crashes caused the deaths of 25 aircrew and passengers, making it the RAAF’s worst peacetime disaster; 21 of the people killed were high school students returning from an army cadet camp. Following the end of its permanent presence at Port Moresby, No. 38 Squadron continued to fly periodic training sorties in Papua New Guinea. During the 1980s, detachments of No. 38 Squadron were established at RAAF Base Darwin and RAAF Base Pearce near Perth to provide these regions with a search-and-rescue capability and to exercise with Army units. The Pearce detachment was nicknamed “Blackduck Airlines”.
No. 38 Squadron moved from Richmond to RAAF Base Amberley, west of Brisbane, in October 1992. At this time the squadron continued to be responsible for all Caribou conversion training, as well as conducting tactical transport operations. The permanent detachment of No. 38 Squadron aircraft to RAAF Base Pearce ceased in 1999, and Detachment B of the squadron was established at RAAF Base Townsville in North Queensland during 2000. From 1999 until early 2001, elements of No. 38 Squadron, designated No. 86 Wing Detachment C, were stationed in East Timor and supported the international peacekeeping force which had been deployed there to end the violence that had broken out following a successful referendum on independence conducted in August 1999. At its peak strength, four Caribous were assigned to the detachment. The air and ground crew deployed to East Timor endured difficult living conditions until their accommodation and recreation facilities were upgraded in mid-2000, and the pilots were regularly required to fly into poorly maintained air strips. Despite the age of the Caribous and shortages of spare parts, Detachment C’s ground crew managed to maintain a high aircraft serviceability rate. In 2000 No. 35 Squadron was deactivated, leaving No. 38 Squadron the RAAF’s sole Caribou operator. By September 2002, No. 38 Squadron was equipped with 14 Caribous. In July 2003, two aircraft were deployed to the Solomon Islands as part of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands peacekeeping force. Both Caribous were based at Honiara International Airport, and a detachment remained in the country until July 2004. All of No. 38 Squadron moved to RAAF Base Townsville during 2008.
By the late 2000s, the Caribous were becoming difficult to maintain and were no longer capable of operating in war zones as they lacked electronic warfare systems and other forms of self-protection. As a result, it was decided in late 2008 to retire the aircraft and replace them with Beechcraft King Air 350s on an interim basis until another tactical transport entered service. The Caribous were gradually retired from May 2009, the last leaving service on 27 November that year when A4-140 was flown to Canberra and handed over to the Australian War Memorial for preservation. By the time the aircraft were retired, No. 38 Squadron had been operating Caribous for 45 years. Three King Air 350s were transferred to No. 38 Squadron from the Army’s 173rd Surveillance Squadron on 20 November 2009, and deliveries of a further five newly built aircraft were completed in July 2010. At least one of the Army aircraft is believed to have been fitted with ground surveillance sensors, and this capacity was retained after it was transferred to the Air Force. No. 38 Squadron’s King Airs were initially operated by Army personnel, who were given the choice of transferring to the RAAF or converting to helicopters at the end of their posting. The other No. 38 pilots were converted to the type at the Army’s Oakey Army Aviation Centre, but the squadron began conducting its own conversion courses after the second batch of five aircraft were delivered.
In March 2015 two No. 38 Squadron King Airs were deployed to Vanuatu as part of Australia’s aid effort following Cyclone Pam. The aircraft were used to conduct flights over the affected areas to assess the extent of the damage, and also evacuated Australian and New Zealand citizens. In February 2016 it was reported that the RAAF was considering consolidating its two squadrons equipped with King Airs into a single squadron located at RAAF Base East Sale. All of the RAAF’s King Airs were grounded from 30 June 2016 after the hazardous chemical strontium chromate was detected in the aircraft; in the period immediately before the grounding No. 38 Squadron had been involved in flying politicians during the 2016 federal election. The King Airs began to return to service on 4 August that year after being cleaned. As part of its budget for the 2016-17 financial year, the Australian Government announced that Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, Reconnaissance, Electronic Warfare equipment would be acquired for three of No. 38 Squadron’s King Airs. This equipment will comprise roll-on/roll-off kits and will be delivered during the financial year.
No. 38 Squadron is currently responsible for providing conversion training on the King Air and conducting light transport operations. The unit has a strength of 60 RAAF personnel as well as 25 aircraft maintenance contractors from Hawker Pacific. It is organised into two flights; A Flight undertakes transport operations, and B Flight is responsible for delivering training courses. Along with Nos. 33 and 36 Squadrons, No. 38 Squadron forms part of No. 86 Wing.
The RAAF has been pleased with the King Air’s performance in the light transport role, though the aircraft cannot be deployed into combat areas. No. 38 Squadron often operates with the Army’s Townsville-based 3rd Brigade, as well as the 51st Battalion, Far North Queensland Regiment, which conducts operational patrols across Far North Queensland during peacetime. The unit is also frequently tasked with transporting senior politicians and other VIPs. The King Airs often operate in Papua New Guinea, as well as other parts of the Asia-Pacific region. The Australian Government ordered 10 Alenia C-27J Spartan battlefield transports in May 2012, and these aircraft will be operated by No. 35 Squadron from 2015. No. 38 Squadron marked its 70th anniversary in 2013, and has the longest period of continuous operation of any of the RAAF’s flying squadrons.
1. a b c McLaughlin (2010), p. 43
2. a b c RAAF Historical Section (1995), p. 67
3. ^ Stackpool, Andrew; Solomou, Bill (14 April 2011). “New battle honours unveiled”. Air Force. pp. 4–5. Retrieved 14 September 2014.
4. a b c d e Eather (1995), p. 76
5. a b “Diamonds in the rough”. Air Force. Archived from the original on 14 December 2003. Retrieved 24 June 2013.
6. a b c d e RAAF Historical Section (1995), p. 68
7. ^ Stephens (1995), pp. 414–415
8. ^ RAAF Historical Section (1995), pp. 68–69
9. ^ Roylance (1991), pp. 92–93
10. a b c d e f RAAF Historical Section (1995), p. 69
11. ^ RAAF Historical Section (1995), pp. 57–58
12. ^ Roylance (1991), pp. 114–118
13. ^ Dennis and Grey (1996), pp. 23–25
14. a b c d e “38 Squadron RAAF”. Units. Australian War Memorial. Archived from the original on 20 May 2007. Retrieved 1 June 2013.
15. ^ Dennis and Grey (1996), p. 25
16. ^ Dennis and Grey (1996), pp. 25–26
17. ^ Dennis and Grey (1996), p. 26
18. ^ Dennis and Grey (1996), pp. 31–32
19. ^ Dennis and Grey (1996), pp. 32–33
20. ^ Dennis and Grey (1996), p. 27
21. : a b c d Eather (1995), p. 77
22.^ Stephens (1995), p. 415
23. ^ Wilson (1990), p. 280
24. ^ Coulthard-Clark (1995), pp. 35, 38
25. ^ Wilson (1990), p. 45
26. ^ “A65 Douglas Dakota”. RAAF Museum. Archived from the original on 3 June 2008. Retrieved 9 June 2013.
27. ^ Wilson (1990), p. 184
28. ^ Stephens (1995), pp. 424–425
29. : a b c d RAAF Historical Section (1995), p. 70
30. ^ Wilson (1990), p. 201
31. ^ Coulthard-Clark (1995), p. 109
32. ^ Wilson (1990), p. 209
33. ^ Air Power Development Centre (December 2009). “The DHC-4 Caribou’s 45 Years Service”. Pathfinder Issue 125. Royal Australian Air Force. pp. 1–2. Retrieved 3 June 2013.
34. ^ Wilson (1990), p. 204
35. ^ Wilson (1990), pp. 204–208
36. a b c MacDonald, Emily (6 June 2013). “Squadron 70 years in the air”. Townsville Bulletin. Archived from the original on 25 August 2013. Retrieved 12 June 2013.
37. ^ “Heavy loss of life in PNG accident”. Air Power Development Centre. Archived from the original on 11 May 2013. Retrieved 12 June 2013.
38. ^ “RAAF remembers worst peacetime crash”. The Australian. 28 August 2012. Retrieved 13 August 2013.
39. ^ “A4 DHC-4 Caribou”. RAAF Museum. Archived from the original on 2 May 2013. Retrieved 23 June 2013.
40. ^ “Caribou dreaming!”. RAAF News. Vol. 37 no. 5. June 1995. p. 1.
41. : a b c “No 38 Squadron”. RAAF Museum. Archived from the original on 2 May 2013. Retrieved 1 June 2013.
42. ^ Stackpool, Andrew (14 December 2006). “Western Front”. Air Force. Archived from the original on 20 June 2007. Retrieved 7 July 2013.
43. : a b Caddaye, Ben (12 September 2002). “38 celebrates”. Air Force. Archived from the original on 11 January 2003. Retrieved 1 June 2013.
44. ^ Wilson (2003), pp. 25–30
45. Wilson (2003), p. 25
46. ^ “No 35 Squadron”. RAAF Museum. Archived from the original on 2 May 2013. Retrieved 1 June 2013.
47. ^ O’Brien (2009), pp. 203–205
48. ^ “Caribous return”. Air Force. 15 July 2004. Archived from the original on 27 August 2004. Retrieved 23 June 2013.
49. ^ MacDonald, Emily (15 April 2011). “Next generation squadron”. Townsville Bulletin. Archived from the original on 25 August 2013. Retrieved 1 June 2013.
50. ^ McLaughlin (2010), p. 40
51.^ McLaughlin (2010), p. 41
52.^ Hamilton, Eamon; Johnson, Peter (10 December 2009). “Caribou history to live on”. Air Force. p. 9. Retrieved 24 October 2014.
53. ^ Hamilton, Eamon (10 December 2009). “King Airs join ranks”. Air Force. p. 7. Retrieved 24 October 2014.
54. ^ Hamilton, Eamon (10 December 2009). “Fixed wings freed”. Army. Retrieved 1 June 2013.
55. ^ “Final King Air delivered to 38SQN”. Australian Aviation. 6 July 2010. Archived from the original on 3 March 2011. Retrieved 1 June 2013.
56. ^ Pittaway (October–December 2016), pp. 47–49
57. Jump up to: a b Pittaway (October–December 2016), p. 49
58. ^ “RAAF King Airs Grace the Skies of Vanuatu”. Department of Defence. 25 March 2015. Retrieved 9 April 2015.
59. ^ “20150320adf8248214_002.jpg”. Australian Defence Image Library. Department of Defence. Retrieved 9 April 2015.
60. ^ Pittaway (February 2016), p. 28
61. ^ Riley, Rachel (3 August 2016). “RAAF fleet grounded over cancer risk”. The Courier Mail. Retrieved 7 August 2016.
62. ^ “B300 King Air Fleet returns to service”. Media release. Department of Defence. 2 August 2016. Retrieved 7 August 2016.
63. ^ “King Air touches down in Townsville”. Australian Government Department of Defence. Retrieved 28 August 2014.
64. ^ McLaughlin (2010), p. 42
65. ^ “RAAF restructures Air Lift Group”. Australian Aviation. 7 October 2010. Archived from the original on 2 March 2011. Retrieved 1 June 2013.
66. ^ Hamilton, Eamon (22 July 2010). “Fleet is Complete”. Air Force. p. 7. Retrieved 24 October 2014.
67. a b Bree, Max (26 September 2013). “Celebrating 70 Years”. Air Force. p. 2. Retrieved 24 October 2014.
68. “RAAF C-27J buy confirmed”. Australian Aviation. 10 May 2012. Archived from the original on 19 May 2012. Retrieved 1 June 2013.
69. ^ Hamilton, Eamon (23 May 2013). “Marking 70th at Wings Over Illawarra show”. Air Force. p. 10. Retrieved 24 October 2014.
Coulthard-Clark, Chris (1995). The RAAF in Vietnam: Australian Air Involvement in the Vietnam War 1962–1975. The Official History of Australia’s Involvement in Southeast Asian Conflicts 1948–1975, Volume 5. St. Leonards, New South Wales: Allen & Unwin in association with the Australian War Memorial. ISBN 1-86373-305-1.
Dennis, Peter; Grey, Jeffrey (1996). Emergency and Confrontation: Australian Military Operations in Malaya and Borneo 1950–1966. The Official History of Australia’s Involvement in Southeast Asian Conflicts 1948–1975, Volume 4. St Leonards, New South Wales: Allen & Unwin in association with the Australian War Memorial. ISBN 1-86373-302-7.
Eather, Steve (1995). Flying Squadrons of the Australian Defence Force. Weston Creek, Australian Capital Territory: Aerospace Publications. ISBN 1-875671-15-3.
McLaughlin, Andrew (June 2010). “Dingo Airlines”. Australian Aviation. No. 272. pp. 40–43. ISSN 0813-0876.
O’Brien, Graham (2009). Always There: A History of Air Force Combat Support (PDF). Tuggeranong, Australian Capital Territory: Air Power Development Centre. ISBN 978-1-920800-45-1.
Pittaway, Nigel (February 2016). “Innovation and flexibility – AMG embraces Plan Jerico”. Australian Defence Magazine. 24 (2): 22–28.
Pittaway, Nigel (October–December 2016). “King Air: Two Decades of ADF Service”. Aero Australia (52): 47–49.
RAAF Historical Section (1995). Units of the Royal Australian Air Force. A Concise History. Volume 4 Maritime and Transport Units. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service. ISBN 0-644-42796-5.
Roylance, Derek (1991). Air Base Richmond. RAAF Base Richmond: Royal Australian Air Force. ISBN 0-646-05212-8.
Stephens, Alan (1995). Going Solo: The Royal Australian Air Force 1946–1971. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service. ISBN 0-644-42803-1.
Wilson, David (2003). Warden to Tanger: RAAF Operations in East Timor. Maryborough, Queensland: Banner Books. ISBN 1-875593-26-8.
Wilson, Stewart (1990). Dakota, Hercules, and Caribou in Australian Service. Weston Creek, Australian Capital Territory: Aerospace Publications. ISBN 0-9587978-5-4.
John Noel Gordon BELLAMY, AFC OAM (generally known as Noel Bellamy) was born on 3rd June 1928 at Drouin in Gippsland, Victoria and grew up in the Alice Springs area. His long and illustrious career in aviation started when he joined the RAAF in 1949, and continued until he was hospitalised early 1999. Some highlights of his RAAF service included:
1951 – Graduated from No 6 Pilots Course.
1952 – Posted to No 38 Squadron flying C47 Dakota aircraft. Later, attached to No 30 Communications Unit at Iwakuni, Japan, supporting operations in Korea.
1953 – Flying duties relating to the detonation of atomic bombs in central Australia.
1956 – Attained flying instructor qualification.
1957 – Training Officer and Instrument Rating Examiner in No 86 Wing, including VIP transport operations. Noel was also pilot to then Prime Minister (later Sir) Robert Menzies, Ministers of State and international dignitaries.
1958 – Involved in establishing the first C130 Hercules squadron (No 36) in the RAAF, including ferrying the aircraft from the USA and introducing operational and flight standards.
1964 – Introduced the first Caribou aircraft to the RAAF (No 38 Squadron) and established a training course for Caribou crews proceeding to Vietnam.
1965 – Posted to Vietnam as Flight Commander (Nov 1965 – July 1966) and flew about 500 operational sorties in Caribou aircraft.
1968 – 1970. 4 trips to Vietnam with 36 Sqn. (A Model Hercs).
Throughout his military career Noel was a dedicated and professional Air Force officer with exceptional aviation knowledge and skills. His philosophy, as a Training Officer, was to remove the mystery from sophisticated aircraft and their systems so that students could better understand and fly them and to imbue the highest standards of professionalism and flight safety. He achieved the highest qualifications available in the RAAF as both an operational pilot and a flying instructor. His attributes were recognised by the award of the Air Force Cross in 1971, shortly before he left the RAAF to take up a career in General Aviation. It is apparent that he carried these qualities with him into this new aviation arena.
On his departure from the RAAF in November 1971, Noel proceeded to Port Moresby in the (then) Territory of Papua and New Guinea (TPNG) to take up the position of Chief Pilot with Aerial Tours (later to become Douglas Airways).
With his previous experience flying RAAF Dakota, Caribou and Hercules aircraft in TPNG, Noel appreciated the need to establish and maintain the highest training and operational standards in this most demanding of aviation environments. That he achieved these objects within the constraints of commercial aviation is testified to by the fact that this Company, operating 17 aircraft, had no air safety incidents during his four years as Chief Pilot.
Returning to Australia in June 1975, Noel continued flying in General Aviation based at Archerfield (Brisbane), including a period as Chief Pilot, Chief Flying Instructor and Manager of Woodfall Aviation. However, his ambition (post RAAF) was to set up his own aviation business. In March 1979 he established the Archerfield Flight Centre, with all training and charter licences, operating from rooms in the old terminal building at Archerfield Airport. On 17 December 1980 he moved into his own building (officially opened by the then Premier of Queensland, Sir Joh Bjelke-Peterson) in a prominent position in the Archerfield complex, and the Archerfield Flight Centre became a well-known and respected flying training and charter establishment with all General Aviation training and flight test approvals.
Noel perceived deficiencies in the training of General Aviation pilots in Australia, and he set out to try and make a difference. He believed that he could provide the highest quality training at competitive prices, utilising appropriate syllabus structures and effective flight simulation for instrument flight training. To this end he pioneered the introduction of the integrated syllabuses for commercial licence and instrument flying training and searched the world for an effective but affordable ‘synthetic flight trainer’ (or flight simulator). He discovered the AST300 simulator produced by Aviation Simulation Technology in the USA – representing a generic light twin engined aeroplane with real aircraft instruments in a normal sized cockpit, and with the most realistic flight and navigation regimes he had seen. He purchased an AST300 for his own business, and became the AST distributor for the south west Pacific area.
It was not long before Noel Bellamy and his Archerfield Flight Centre gained a reputation throughout the industry for the best flying training and aviation services at affordable prices, attracting students and clients Australia-wide. However, he was still dissatisfied with some aspects of General Aviation, and voiced his opinions through the General Aviation Association (GAA). His administrative talents were soon recognised in the GAA and he was appointed, successively, Secretary to the Queensland Branch, Delegate to the National Council, Chairman of the Flying Training Division, Queensland Regional Chairman, Vice Chairman of the National Council and, finally, National Chairman. He was also a delegate to the AVIAC Council – advisers to the Federal Government on aviation matters. His advice and leadership saw a number of improvements in the General Aviation industry, particularly to the conditions of pilots and operators.
In July 1988 he was persuaded to move his office to the RQAC to oversee the multi-engine and instrument flying training there while still servicing his own clients. The RQAC also purchased his aircraft and AST300 simulator. Noel saw this as an opportunity to apply his training philosophies to a larger community. Under his guidance, using his syllabuses and the AST300 simulator, the RQAC soon became the premier flying training organisation in the area. Many pilots who had had difficulties achieving and/or maintaining an instrument rating or multi-engine endorsement appreciated Noel’s patience, understanding and uncompromising standards.
In 1991 Noel retired from active flying instruction and moved office from the RQAC to his home, to concentrate on the production of Operations Manuals for commercial flying operators while still maintaining flight test approvals as a ‘portable’ Approved Test Officer. Noel started producing Operations Manuals shortly after starting the Archerfield Flight Centre, when he realised how time consuming this task was and how little support was available to Chief Pilots whose time was generally fully occupied in day-to-day operational matters. He little realised then that within ten years he would be fully occupied producing manuals for the majority of General Aviation companies in Australia, from single aircraft charter and training operators to regional airlines flying modern jets, including fixed and rotary wing aircraft both land and water based. He was approached by several overseas companies seeking his assistance, and he was instrumental in getting Russian heavy lift helicopters on the Australian, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea registers. With his extensive military and commercial aviation experience and his exceptional knowledge of regulations and orders, Noel become something of a ‘guru’ in this field, producing around 40 different manuals per year.
One other area in which Noel’s talents proved invaluable was the organisation of air shows. In September 1990, Noel directed the Battle of Britain 50th Anniversary Air Show at Archerfield. His previous experience in military and civilian air shows and his acquaintance with appropriate aircraft owners and operators (both civil and military) ensured a widely acclaimed and highly successful air show which realised a profit of over $100,000, most of which was donated to nominated charities. This was followed by another major air show in May 1992 commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea and the Australia Remembers Air Show in September 1995 commemorating the end of World War 2. For the latter he arranged for the legendary Bob Hoover to perform his immaculate “energy management” routine in a Shrike Commander, plus some aerobatics in a Trojan.
Since leaving the RAAF in 1971, Noel Bellamy dedicated his life to improving the lot of all people, but particularly pilots, involved in General Aviation. Whenever he perceived a significant problem in this industry he did something about it, sometimes to his personal cost. His particular concern was the poor standard of training and testing evident in some areas. With his depth of knowledge and experience, he was frequently consulted on General Aviation matters by people at all levels in the industry and government. Indeed he was considered by some to be a General Aviation icon.
In 1996, in recognition of his many contributions to General Aviation, Noel was awarded a well-deserved OAM. He is possibly the only person who has received such an award for services in this field. To know Noel was to admire his integrity, his dedication to excellence in affordable flying training, and his general professionalism. He was also very popular socially and had a wide circle of friends that extended well beyond the aviation fraternity.
There was much more to Noel Bellamy than these words could convey. For example, as a young man he was an Inter-Service athletics champion, holding a record in the long jump. He was also passionate about boating and fishing and constructed radio-controlled model aircraft and sailing boats – but had little time for these activities in his last few years. Many of his friends tried to persuade Noel to write his memoirs and we might have had some success had not his illness caught up with him so quickly.
John Noel Gordon BELLAMY, AFC OAM (generally known as Noel Bellamy) died in the Royal Brisbane Hospital early on the 21st June 1999, aged 71, after a protracted battle against throat cancer following which a funeral service was held at the Mount Gravatt Crematorium on Friday 25th June, followed by a “wake” at the Royal Queensland Aero Club (RQAC).
Thanks to Trevor Benneworth and the RAAF Radschool Magazine
Some readers may remember these sorties, which were part of the Dakota, and later the Caribou conversion course at 38 Squadron. Usually 2 aircraft were programmed, each accommodating the course members and of course two QFIs.
One, in particular, I remember during my Caribou conversion. The official start point was Port Moresby in PNG. We flew from there into Bulolo, about one hour’s flying time from Moresby.
Bulolo is a town in the Morobe Province of PNG. It was once an important gold dredging centre. We each did some circuit work before calling it a day. Our QFIs had arranged accommodation at a resort hotel, high up in the hills. Our transport was an ancient bus driven by a crazy priest whose driving along the impossibly narrow road with drop offs on each side made our hair stand on end.
Once settled in we met in the salubrious dining room for pre-dinner drinks. It was at this point that I discovered what an Imprest Holder’s duties were. Two of the junior members of the endorsement team (myself being one) had been nominated as Imprest holders, to the tune of £1200. We ordered a sumptuous dinner, minus the dessert. We were told by our QFI masters that the dessert would be covered by the Imprests, with a wink and a nod to the proprietors. The dessert happened to be the fine wine and beer we had been drinking throughout the meal. Of course we, the said Imprest holders, duly signed for the “desserts”. There were no repercussions on our return to Richmond.
Next day we continued on to Wau, also in Morobe province. The strip was 3100 ft long with a 12% slope, a fearsome combination for any pilot, and a history of disasters. We all did circuits there and were told in no uncertain terms that on changeover we were to park at the uphill end at 90 degrees to the strip before applying the park brake.
There were many stories about Wau. Some time later we nearly lost one of our C130s when the pilot did not follow the parking instruction and stopped his aircraft and shut down at the uphill end of the strip without turning at right angles. As the crew were walking towards the terminal building his peripheral vision picked up the C130 moving backwards down the strip. Throwing caution to the winds, and looking after his career he ran after the aircraft, got it started and applied full power before turning it 90 degrees. His reputation remained intact.
After Wau we flew on to Mount Hagen, Wewak, Nuku, Maprik, down the Strickland gorge and back to Wewak. Flying down the gorge above a solid layer of cloud, and over an outpost called Telefomen, which apparently had a regular supply run we were told an unbelievable story about how the local pilots penetrated the ever present overcast. They let down an object on a rope to gauge the height above the air strip. Using this dubious procedure they were able to penetrate the cloud layer and make a visual approach.
We returned to Richmond via Horn Island and Townsville.
Thanks to Jeff and to Trevor Benneworth, the RAAF Radschool Magazine.
On this day, No 38 Squadron Caribou A4-152 departed Richmond for Port Vila, Vanuatu to provide tactical transport support for the PNGDF’s Kumul Force. The Prime Minister-elect of the newly-formed nation of Vanuatu (formerly the Anglo-French Condominium of the New Hebrides), Father Walter Lini, had asked for help from members of the South Pacific Forum to quell a Francophile secessionist movement centred on the island of Espiritu Santo. Sir Julius Chan, the PNG Prime Minister, after private talks with Lini, announced that PNG would provide a military force to put down the rebellion in conjunction with Vanuatu security forces. Supported by the ADF, an ad hoc 300-strong PNG light infantry contingent — supported by Australian-donated patrol boats and aircraft — called Kumul Force deployed with Australian support personnel to Vanuatu. This force backed up a 65-strong Ni Vanuatu police contingent. Within a few days key secessionist leaders had been arrested. Kumul Force returned to Port Moresby after six weeks on operations to a warm and triumphal welcome.
WGCDR RAAF (Ret) Reginald William Rockliff (Rocky).
Rocky was born in West Midland, West Australia, on the 22nd October, 1922. He went to school at the Katanning State School and left when he was 15 after finishing 9th grade. This gave him the Junior Certificate. He started work as a messenger boy for the WA Government at the Treasury Building and at age 17 was promoted to junior clerk at the WA Gov’t stores. In 1941, with the War on and at age 19, he was called up for “6 bob-a-day” service with the Australian Army Service Corps (AASC) and was stationed at the Claremont Show Grounds as a driver with the 5th Motor Ambulance Convoy.
In 1942 he transferred to the RAAF and was posted to No 1 Engineering School at Ascot Vale in Melbourne from which he graduated as an engine mechanic. After graduation, he was posted back west to 1SFTS at Geraldton to work on the Ansons and Tiger Moths. He had now reached the rank of AC and his pay had nearly doubled to “10 bob-a-day” so he thought he was in Heaven.
LAC Rockliff (on ladder) with LAC Ken Wood. Note the up to date GSE. (about 1950)
After only 4 months at Geraldton, he was sent back east to Engineering School and graduated as a Fitter IIE (Sumpie). This was followed by a posting to the Astro-Navigation school (2ANS) at Nhill in Victoria then in 1943 he was posted to Point Cook where, for 3 months, he did nothing but change spark plugs. After being able to change a plug with his eyes shut, they gave him a reprieve and set him up overhauling Air Compressors followed by another posting to RAAF Tocumwal to work on the proposed overseas transport squadrons’ Dakota aircraft. In 1944 the proposed transport squadrons were cancelled and the personnel and aircraft were absorbed into 7AD which then was servicing Beauforts, Liberators and Dakotas.
RAAF Base, Tocumwal
In 1946, with WW2 just a sad memory, the ADF was in demob
mode and Rocky was posted back to Perth for discharge. He went to work for the Commonwealth Oil Refinery (COR) a Government enterprise which was sold to the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, which, in 1954, became the British Petroleum Company (BP).
In 1949 the ADF had realised their de-mob policy had starved the Services of many valuable men and it began enlisting again. Rocky applied and was accepted as an LAC Engine Fitter (Sumpie). He was posted to 25 Squadron at Pearce which was equipped with Mustangs, Wirraways, Tiger Moths, Ansons and Oxfords and he was given the job of looking after the Ansons which were staged on cross country flights.
In 1951 he was sent on Detachment to 34 Squadron which was at the base at Mallala in South Australia. It was here he first met Merv “Avro” Anson, a pilot, who remained a good friend while in the RAAF and for many years afterwards until his (Merv’s) death in 2013. Mallala was originally the home of No 6 Service Flying Training School during World War II and was later selected as the temporary base for flight test and transport support for the joint UK-Australian Weapons Research Establishment at Woomera. After the construction of the Base at Edinburgh in the mid-1950s, Mallala housed No 24 (City of Adelaide) Squadron until the final closure of the base in May 1960.
At Mallala Rocky was set to work servicing the engines on 34 Sqn’s four Bristol Freighters and on occasion, detached to the Rocket Range for engine changes on Lincoln Aircraft. From there he was posted to Engine Repair Section (ERS) at 1AD at Laverton which was run by SQNLDR Ron Lavers, a well known and well regarded bloke, one of the pre war “driver pilots” who was good at flying straight and level but not to good at the take of and landing bits. From Laverton, he was sent on a temporary posting to Tocumwal, to Detachment B, where the only vacant accommodation was a vacant officer quarters (separate house) which he immediately grabbed. He converted the temporary posting to a permanent one and was then able to move his family (wife and 2 year old son) up from Melbourne. He did and passed his promotion exams and got his Corporals and was put in charge of preserving aircraft engines in storage. At the same time, he was given instruction and then licensed to drive all vehicles on the base and was made the NCO/IC of welfare and the operator/custodian of the trial Airman’s Bar. In 1954, he passed his Sergeants’ exam and shortly afterwards got his third hook and was posted back to 1AD at Laverton just in time to welcome their second son to the family.
In 1954, he and a few mates were sent to hangar 88 and selected to work solely on jet aircraft such as the Sabre, the Canberra, Vampire and Meteor and it was here he met another life long mate, WOFF Joe Langlands (Jumpy Joe) who, until his death in 2008, remained a good friend and colleague.
In 1955 Rocky and wife Joy welcomed their third son.
In 1958 he was sent down to East Sale for a month’s training then posted to 1AFTS at Pearce where he was to work for WGCDR Ron Lavers once again. Ron figured that Rocky knew his way around engines and stuff and put him in charge of inspection of Goblin Impeller Blades using an intrascope and in 1959 he was promoted to Flt Sgt.
In 1960 it was time to head east again and he was posted to HQ Support Command to work in the spares accessing section and because of his knowledge and work on Sabre aircraft, he was given the Sabre spares desk, once again, with Ron Lavers as his CO.
In 1961, he was persuaded to accept a commission in the Engineering Branch and was posted to OTS at Pt Cook where he was joined on course by a mix of male and female senior NCO’s. On course they removed all rank insignia, mounted a white flash on the shoulder, an Officer’s badge on the cap, were denied entry to the Sergeants’ Mess and were given only restricted access to the Officers’ Mess. On completion of the course, he was posted back to Support Command with the appointment of Air Eng 1A4 – which meant he was responsible for airframe maintenance on Vampires, Dakotas, Winjeels, Meteors and Caribou aircraft.
While he was at HQSC, the Red Sale aerobatic team had crashed at East Sale and he was seconded to the Directorate for Flying Safety (DFS) and sent to East Sale to investigate the terrible accident. There was a problem in the Vampire with the brake adjustment pedals which used to jam. This was subsequently fixed and subsequently, he led the modification team that saw the introduction of the DC3 wing attachment mod. This was carried out to avoid the loss of a wing in flight which had occurred in the USA.
He also found time to swat for then sit for and pass his promotion exams.
In 1965, as a Flight Lieutenant, he was sent on detachment to 38 Sqn at Richmond for familiarisation on the Caribou aircraft before being posted to RTFV/35 Sqn in Vietnam as the Squadron EngO. He was issued with an official passport and decked out in Civvy clothes and arrived in Vung Tau in April 1965 to relieve Sqn Ldr Robin “Chummy” Wade. In 1965 there was no accommodation for RAAF personnel on the airfield and arrangements had been made to house the blokes in Villas in Vung Tau. Blokes were paid an extra US$2.50 per day to offset the cost of meals though the Villa Anna (Officers’ quarters) did have a very good kitchen, not so the Airman who fared much worse.
Vung Tau was a mishmash early in the piece, the RAAF were attached to the US Army, their missions were organised by the USAF, the US Navy picked up the tab for all costs and the airfield at Vung Tau was commanded by a US Marine Corps Major. Pay went a long way – most ‘niceties’ were very cheap, you could obtain an excellent seafood meal at Back Beach for next to nothing and the organised Sunday Bar-B-q’s were very well catered for and attended. VB and/or XXXX beer cost $1.10 a slab, a 26oz bottle of Johnny Walker was only $1.10 and a carton of smokes would also set you back the magic $1.10.
What was even better, these prices were in US dollars, paid in Military Payment Certificates (MPC) and at the time the Australian Dollars was worth US$1.12.
RTFV had a compliment of 6 aircraft, which allowed it to meet the daily USAF commitment of one aircraft to Da Nang, one to Nha Trang and two to the Delta region. This was the work load for six days each week, giving the Squadron one spare aircraft and one always in the hangar on either a C or a D.
Early in 1965, RTFV lost two aircraft. The first, A4-173, touched down just short of the very short strip at Hai Yen, collapsing the starboard undercarriage and the subsequent crash damaged the starboard wing and propeller. After ascertaining that a replacement wing could be obtained on loan from the US Army a composite crew of RAAF and US Army aviation personnel, with spares and the necessary ground support equipment (GSE), was flown to Hai Yen. The aircraft was successfully recovered to base after 7 days concentrated effort where the loaned wing was removed and returned to the US Army and a new wing installed.
The second event occurred a couple of days after the Hai Yen event and involved A4-171. After landing at another remote and very short strip near the Cambodian border and while backtracking the runway, the twin nose wheels sank into a filled-in water course, sheared backwards and collapsed the aircraft onto its nose. Again, with the support of the US Army aviation regiment, a selection of RAAF and US Army personnel were flown in by chopper and the aircraft was recovered the same day. As a new nose section was required to effect full repair of the aircraft, it remained grounded for more than 12 months until the required bits could be obtained from De Havs in Canada. In the meantime, an aircraft from 38 Squadron at Richmond (A4-208) was borrowed to cover the shortfall. Today, A4-173 can be seen with a starboard wing US Army markings at the Aviation Museum at Caloundra, Queensland.
Rocky says recognition must be made to:
Firstly, to the skill and dedication of the flight’s ground crew who worked on A4-173 during the day, out in the open without workshop facilities and who had to withdraw inside the settlement and to leave the aircraft to its chances at night as the airfield was under enemy attack; and,
Secondly, to the assistance received from the US in recovering these 2 aircraft. The 330th Aviation Company provided transport of wings, propellers and personnel to Hai Yen for A4-173 and to the airfield near the Cambodian border to retrieve A4-171.
The pic at right was taken by Rocky just after he arrived by chopper at the site of the A4-173 incident to see what was to be done to get the plane fixed, how many bods would be needed, what replacement parts and to see what GSE was needed. When the repairs of A4-173 and A4-171 were completed, both were flown out by SQNLDR Doug Harvey with Rocky down the back keeping an eye on things.
Rocky says after the A4-173 incident, he tried to recommend several of the ground crew blokes for awards of the British Empire Medal (then the only suitable award allowed) but the powers that be allowed only MID’s to be allotted to FSGT Frank Latham (Sumpie) and to CPLCharlie Downes (Framie).
John Rae, Instrument fitter, RTFV, later commissioned and retired as a WGCDR
The cessation of supply of Pratt and Whitney engines from Australia and the supply of Spartan reconditioned engines from the US Army supply chain plus the fact that they didn’t maintain a “life of part” register was a major concern. RTFV partially overcame the deficiencies with the Spartans by spending many man-hours checking every nut and bolt before placing the engine into its mount and refusing to accept replacement spares if there was any doubt as to their condition. The fact that the US Army didn’t allow for mandatory engine oil changes at specified hourly intervals and used the massive electrode spark plugs instead of the platinum pointed plugs was also a concern. Another aspect of the US Army’s procedures that did not go down well with the RAAF was the fact they did not adequately mark their refuel rigs to ensure different fuel blends would or could not occur, very unprofessional when compared to RAAF standards.
Rocky says an interesting event occurred in 1965 when 4 star General William Westmorland paid a visit to RTFV HQ accompanied by a bevvy of lesser Generals, Colonels, photographers and newsmen. Westmorland was very interested in learning of RTFV’s achievements and asked Rocky how many Caribou aircraft the RAAF had on station. He was informed there were 6 in total, with 4 committed each day. He then asked what was the situation with the US 21st Aviation Company which was positioned next to the RAAF Caribous on Vung Tau airfield and was told that of the 20 aircraft they had on strength, their daily flying average was only 3 to 5 aircraft. This didn’t amuse him at all, he demanded the presence of 21st Aviation’s CO, EXO and other titled people and promptly sacked them on the spot.
As the Base at Vung Tau was a huge US forces base, it was decided the best thing to do was to take some of granny’s advice, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” so RTFV personnel started to wear baseball hats which bore one’s rank as did the Americans. Rocky was a Flight Lieutenant at the time so he wore the equivalent US Captains’ rank of two bars on his cap. This seemed to work well except for the RAAF Warrant Officers whose rank was indicated by the crown and wings which looked awfully like the US Full Colonel’s (Bird Colonel) badge and consequently drew quite a lot of salutes from the US Service people. The WOE at the time was George McLean who wouldn’t play ball and return the salute which nearly always meant the US bods would hold their salute for some time expecting George to reciprocate. Poor old George must have had sore ribs from constantly copping Rocky’s elbow with a hissed “Salute back George or we’ll be here all bloody day.”
The Villa Anna, where the officers used to live, was a two storied building which faced the South China Sea.
Rocky occupied a room facing the sea on the upper floor. Downstairs there was a bar/club room that allowed access from the front and rear of the building and which was decorated with Playboy Centrefolds on one wall and directly opposite with pictures of the Queen and Prince Philip accompanied by the appropriate Australian Flags. In the roof structure above, AVM Ernie Hey a host of flying bats had settled in and these used to fly out each night, in two separate groups, in search of food. One evening they had a visit from the late AVM Ernie Hey, the Air Member for Technical Services, and while enjoying a cold one at the bar the first group duly flew out over the heads of all those standing. No-one noticed or spoke as it was a regular occurrence but the AVM, who hadn’t experienced it before, was a bit taken aback and said, “What the hell was that?” to which someone said, nonchalantly, “Oh that was just “A” flight Sir”. A few minutes later, the second lot hurtled past with a noisy beat of winds and before anyone could speak the AVM with a knowing grin said, “I presume that was “B” Flight?”
While in Vietnam, AVM Hey discussed the possibility of doing the Caribou E Services in country instead of using US Army resources. Rocky was given the job of investigating whether the job could be done by Air Vietnam and after visiting and inspecting their facilities he was satisfied that it could be done as their tech people were suitably qualified to undertake such a job under direction from RTFV tech staff. He wrote an E Service schedule and placed the necessary papers with the Americans to have the first E carried out in Country. Rocky and Sgt Graham Buttler (Framie) would periodically visit the Air Vietnam work-shops to check on progress and eventually, the finished aircraft was wheeled out and flew without one unserviceability. Subsequent aircraft were also serviced at Air Vietnam to a formally produced E Servicing Schedule which was based on Rocky’s original sheets.
While at RTFV Rocky was “lucky enough” to get to know a bloke who was a French-Canadian engineer with De Havilland Canada – the makers of the Caribou. His name was Jacques Lorioux and he was present at all the trials conducted on the Caribou at places Kookaburra gas stove ranging from the Sahara Desert to the Arctic Circle. Jacques was married to a Vietnamese woman called “Mickey” and they and their maid, Dou Sou, lived in a block of single story flats in down town Vung Tau. Jacques loved to entertain and Mickey and Dou Sou loved to cook – the perfect partnership. They had a Kookaburra gas stove in their kitchen and Dou Sou would go to the early morning market and get fresh food while Rocky and his mates would get steaks, beer etc from the PX on base. A bunch of them were regally and regularly entertained and fed at the Lorioux’s home, eating wondrous food and listening to Jacque’s tape recorder until late into the night and because of the late night curfew, they would often doss down on a mattress size foam with the dogs for company and sleep until dawn when they would catch an early morning Lambro back to the Villa for a tub before heading off to work. Many Australians enjoyed the hospitality of Jacques and his wife “Mickey” and Rocky keeps in touch with them to this day.
In December 1965 he boarded the Freedom Bird and returned to Australia to take over as SEngO at 38 Sqn at Richmond.
Rocky remembers his time in Vietnam fondly. He says, “Apart from two isolated minor incidents concerning two senior NCO’s, I could not have been associated with a better crew. Not only did we maintain our aircraft and equipment wonderfully but at times the Americans borrowed our service personnel to make up for their deficiencies in all trades. Some of our blokes returned in civvy life to contracts in Vietnam with the US Services.”
In January 1968 Rocky was promoted to SQNLDR and posted to the RAAF School of Technical Training (RSTT) at Wagga as the OIC Mechanical Trades Squadron (MTS). Initially, he was sad to leave 38 Sqn but gradually got to love being associated with adult and apprentice trainees. He says he learned a lot at Wagga. While he was there, there was an incident where senior NCO’s were given a supervisory job over young apprentices who were detailed to work at preparing and serving food and after they had completed the washing and cleaning-up afterwards, got stuck into the liquor they had spirited away under the noses of the supervisory NCO’s. Being drunk they started to riot and caused extensive damage to several buildings.
An incident occurred the night before the normal Tuesday morning parade. Wagga can turn on some pretty terrible weather in winter and this morning was no exception. The fog was a ‘pea-souper’ with visibility down to dot feet so the parade was cancelled. When the Wagga Meteor fog eventually lifted it revealed a Meteor aircraft parked on the parade ground, in front of the flag pole.
The OC hit the roof.
As Rocky was the Base Engineer as well as the OIC MTS he was sent for and told in no uncertain terms to:
Get that bloody aeroplane back to where it came from; and,
Find out who did it and why.
Initially, he had no idea how it had got there, it couldn’t be towed down the main drag as there were too many trees yet that was the only possible way it could have come. There were no engines in the nacelles and no fuel in the aircraft so it had not been driven there under its own steam, so what was the answer?? It did occur to Rocky that perhaps it had been carried but by whom and when and who had organised it and why. Eventually, it was carried manually back to its resting place at the front gate, however, try as he might, he was not able to break the Appy code of silence and it is still a mystery to this day.
Now that a lot of water has passed under the bridge, if you know anything about it, Rocky would love to know…..
Another memorable incident involved the Tumbarumba Express. This was a rail motor that ran once a week from Wagga out to Tumbarumba, a journey of about 110 km. The rail line ran through the base itself and ran alongside a 3 storied Appy block.Tumburumba Express Either bored to tears, lack of funds or no off-base leave mid-week (or a combination of all three), some elec/instrument Appies got the bright idea to short out the “safe-working” signal system which was carried in the overhead wires adjacent to the rail line. It worked like this; when the station up the line was satisfied that it was clear for the train to leave Wagga, they would send a signal down the line which would release the “staff” from the signal box which had to be carried by the train driver. If he didn’t have this he was not permitted to leave Wagga. On this occasion, when the guard on the train went to get the “staff” to pass onto the driver, the box wouldn’t open and release it. It took a considerable amount of time to work out what was wrong and to fix the problem and try as they might, they never found out who was responsible.
At this time the dress rules on Base included short back and sides and most of the young blokes, when venturing into Wagga itself, would don a wig to try and fit in with the locals and not identify themselves as either RAAF or Army – whether the local female population were stupid enough to fall for that was anyone’s guess.
Later in 1970 Rocky was offered acting rank of Wg Cdr and a posting to Dep Air with the appointment of MP2 and the primary duty of looking after and provisioning buildings and workshops that were connected with aircraft, this would include hangars, flight line buildings, run-up bays etc. It was also decided to introduce standardisation of work benches and Rocky was elected as the RAAF representative on an inter-service aircraft standardisation committee.
This was the time when there was a lot of talk about the future of bases such as Pt Cook, Laverton, Richmond and Fairbairn, where to best base the Iroquois and the Caribous that were leaving Richmond and those returning from Vietnam and what to do about the deficiencies at Amberley.
It was plain to all that a new huge hangar was urgently needed at Amberley to house the expanding 3AD and there was a need for new workshops for engine overhaul as well as flight line structures and workshops and a hangar capable of having tail-gate access for the Caribou fins.
The job necessitated visits to every base in the RAAF and the raising and completion of a host of Air Force documents covering the design specifications of required buildings in time for action to be taken by the appropriate authorities. Further, the RAAF desperately needed a centralised air conditioned aircraft paint shop.
Late in 1974 Rocky, who was approaching due retirement age of 55 (due in Oct 1977), asked for and got a posting to 482 Maintenance Squadron at Amberley, this to be his Swan-song. Back then 1 and 6 Sqns were the flying squadrons (F-111’s) and any maintenance or requirements were handed to 482 Mntce Sqn. The problems associated with the aircraft stemming from the early days were well known by now and had been well and truly sorted and that aircraft had grown into a dependable and reliable machine. Sadly though, in his second year the RAAF lost 2 F-111’s, fatally in one instance and thankfully with no loss of life in the other.
F-111 aircraft were often deployed overseas, No 1 Sqn deployed to Hickham AFB in 1975 and again in 1977, spending time at the Marshall Islands on return to Australia. No 6 Sqn deployed to Ohakea AFB in New Zealand for 1 month in 1976. Both also spend time in Butterworth – and Rocky being the EngO made sure he had a seat on the support aircraft.
His last jolly, before leaving the RAAF was to accompany an F-111 in the support Herc to Richmond, Canberra, Laverton, Edinburgh and then Pearce.
In 1975, with a bit of foresight, he and Joy purchased a 5 acre plot of land which was part of a 60 acre dairy farm situated on the outskirts of Lennox head, northern NSW. He had erected two double garages, had power connected to them, then with such modern amenities as a canvas bag shower, portable toilet (take away and empty style) and a 22ft caravan, the Rockliffs survived quite comfortably until their house was built and finished in Dec 1977. The next purchase was a trusty Fergy tractor with a slasher and a carry all which could be fitted to the front and to the back, and with it they planted 500 shrubs and trees.
Rocky (left) shown here fending questions from the NZAF top brass.
To fill in his time, he became a bit of a master at home-brewing the amber fluid then he and Joy got the travel bug and travelled around OZ and he reckons he’s now seen a big part of it. But progress is progress and their lovely rural retreat was gradually being encroached upon and eventually the council rezoned their area from rural to urban and finally they were ground down by the pressure and sold off 4 of their 5 acres. They used the proceeds from the sale to head off overseas and over time travelled through the UK, Western Europe, Americas, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Middle East, Indonesia, Malaysia, China, Japan, Egypt, and recently through Cambodia and Vietnam.
Unfortunately, during Rocky’s last trip overseas he had a black out which resulted in a few days in hospital before being medevac’d back to Oz. These days he and Joy restrict their travel to local events – the carefree days have gone!! And being over 85, he is restricted to a bi-annual eye test and driving test, but as he says, with the onset of advancing aged disabilities, it is essential to keep a current driving license.
When they built their home back in 1977, Rocky obtained an “Owner – builder” license and as the house is built on rising ground, he used the slope to build in a “granny flat” under the front of the house. This includes a double bed room, lounge, kitchen and separate toilet and bathroom and is surrounded by a 12 foot brick patio. This has been a God-send and has been used by a countless number of visiting relations, friends and overseas acquaintances over the years.
Sadly, in 2001 they lost their youngest son, John, to bowel cancer. Over the twenty years between 1990 and 2010, bowel cancer rates have doubled in young Australians 20-29 years and are up by 35% in 30-39 year olds. Australian and international research has shown a worrying global trend towards a higher incidence of bowel cancer in younger people, especially given bowel cancer rates are stabilising or falling in over 50s. However, Rocky strongly advises and encourages all Australians who are aged 50 and over, to undertake bowel cancer screening.
These days he and Joy have slowed down a lot, no longer is there a need to rise at 5.00am and thankfully God made a heap of tomorrows in which to get the urgent things done. For a period, they donated some of their time to meals on wheels, mainly to help those not as fortunate but also to avoid the bowls and/or golf club syndrome. A cream Volvo with two white hats on the back shelf is definitely not their scene. Their 1,270 m2 property plays host to a lot of lawn and these days “the Man” comes in with his mower and a friendly neighbour helps cart the wheelie bins down and back to the front gate.
Having belatedly overcome a hate for EDP, mobile phones and useless chatter on the TV, he purchased a lap top and now maintains regular contact with old mates from his RAAF time. He also assists Vet Affairs in a setup whereby his daily pulse, blood pressure and lung strength are relayed to his GP and Vet Affairs in Brisbane.
At this time in their lives, (both 92 in Sept) Rocky, who is one of nature’s gentlemen (with a fair bit of larrikin tossed in), reckons it’s great to be able to sit back on the veranda, enjoy a cold one or two and reflect on life’s wonderful memories.
Rocky sadly passed away 0n 1 August 2017 on the Gold Coast. Funeral details to follow.
Thanks to Trevor Benneworth and the RAAF Radschool Magazine
Good morning all. What I thought I’d do today is give a condensed version of the burst on Vietnam that we gave to the Joint Staff College a week ago, and a condensed version of the Kashmir presentation which we also give out there, and then talk about some of the other Caribou operations of which very few people are aware unless they’ve actually been involved in those activities. I’ll try and cover as quickly as I can the span of the 45 years of Caribou operations.
Following a request from South Vietnamese and American governments, Cabinet resolved on 29 May 1964 to send a flight of six Caribou aircraft to South Vietnam in support of Vietnamese and American forces fighting against the Viet Cong. At this time the RAAF was accepting the delivery of the De Havilland DHC-4 Caribou aircraft and only three had arrived in Australia so far. The next ferry flight was to be terminated in Butterworth, Malaysia, and a newly formed RAAF Transport Flight Vietnam (RTFV) would deploy from there to Vung Tau, which was on the coast south-east of Saigon. Vung Tau would be home for the Caribous for the next seven and a half years.
The unit was formed on 21 July 1964, and the first couple of weeks involved crew familiarization in tactical operations in Malaysia—mainly just the style and configuration of the aircraft. The second ferry flight deployed to Vietnam with three aircraft on 8 August, under the command of Squadron Leader Chris Sugden. A second batch of three aircraft ferried directly from Canada on 29 August, and a further single aircraft in May the following year. That brought up the total complement to seven aircraft and that number was maintained for the duration of the deployment to Vietnam. After a brief settling in period and country familiarization, the first operational missions were flown on 14 August. Two aircraft, one flown by the CO and the other by Flight Lieutenant Lancaster, went from Vung Tau to Tan Son Nhut in Saigon, then flew on to Pleiku in the north and returned. These missions were without incident.
The unit was initially billeted on the airfield at Vung Tau, but the conditions there were considered so poor, with noisy equipment operating 24 hours a day, an open sewage ditch running through the middle of camp, and the troops were being quartered in buildings without walls. The entire unit picked up and moved into town, selecting a villa which they rented. As the unit grew in size, other villas were taken over for accommodation. The initial villa that was used by 35 Squadron (at first still known as RTFV), was ‘Villa Anna’ and that became quite notorious, particularly with the rumours that came back to 38 Squadron at Richmond. The villas were nothing special. Some of them were rat infested and some needed a fair bit of work to get up and running, but at least the unit’s members had a roof over their heads, they had walls around, there was no open sewage ditch—and the unit was together.
At first the unit was placed under the command of the senior US officer in Vietnam and this was delegated to the 315th Air Commando Wing. Later, command arrangements changed, so that RTFV came under the 834th Air Division of the US 7th Air Force. Even using the word ‘command’ here is a little bit confusing, because it was really operational control. We were tasked through the American Air Transport tasking agencies, but Australian officers maintained command of the unit in the true sense throughout its time in Vietnam.
The call sign adopted was ‘Wallaby’, followed by a mission number. That led to the RTFV being referred to as “Wallaby Airlines” and it quickly established an excellent reputation. It had to develop tactics to minimize the danger from small arms and ground fire. There were quite serious dangers, particularly in the northern regions up in I Corps (said as ‘Eye Core’) and the northern part of II Corps. The tactics involved transiting at above 3500 feet wherever possible, and remaining at that height until very close to the destination airfield. Only at that stage would the pilot initiate a steep spiral descent and fly a short, fairly steep, final approach to land. The aim of the game was, of course, to avoid providing a no-deflection shot to someone sitting on the ground who wanted to have a go at you.
The aircraft were also most vulnerable on the ground, and so, quick offload tactics were developed to minimize spending time where we were exposed like that. Many of the little airfields into which we operated did not have any gear for loading and unloading aeroplanes. If we were carrying ammunition, food or fuel, or anything else that was palletized, we had the option of breaking the pallet down and unloading it or else speed offloading it. Breaking the pallet down would take considerable time on the ground, making aircraft very vulnerable.
The fellows developed the technique where they would undo all the straps, put the ramp level, back the aeroplane up at a reasonable pace (with the loadmaster calling the distance to go), then drop it out of reverse into forward thrust and put a bit of power on, and virtually drive the aeroplane out from under the pallet. It sounds a bit tricky and a bit dangerous, but really it was the safest way to do it. The pallets stayed fairly horizontal all the way to the ground and fell flat. The Americans didn’t adopt this, but used to just push the pallet over the ramp. It invariably landed on an edge and rolled back, damaging the ramp. And if it didn’t damage the ramp, it damaged the load that was attached to the pallet, because it was not being supported by the honeycomb structures that were under the load.
With fuel drums it was a simple case of using a similar technique, but with the ramp down at about 45 degrees. With a bit of practice we could neatly stack 13 fuel drums in a nice line right in the middle of the fuel farm and save any ground handling as well. So these were the techniques that were developed, and they were maintained throughout the whole of the deployment. As a result of that, we suffered very little damage compared to some of the other tactical transport units.
The operations soon settled into a fairly routine basis. Two aircraft operated from Vung Tau into the Delta and Saigon area. One aircraft was deployed to Nha Trang in the lower half of II Corps area, from where it fed the Central Highlands, and the other aircraft deployed to Da Nang, in about the middle on the coast of I Corps. Da Nang essentially serviced I Corps and the aircraft met all the requirements of the airfields in that area, and more in II Corps. In the early days some air delivery activities carried out by RTFV were to areas that were possibly the most demanding and dangerous imaginable, especially up towards the Demilitarized Zone that separated North and South Vietnam—places like Dong Ha, Khe Sanh, Quang Tri and the ancient capital of Hue. In II Corps we operated into all the airfields in the most contested area, from Dak Pek, Dak Seang, Ben Het, Dak To, Kontum, Pleiku, Phu My, Phu Cat, etc.
The detachments at Nha Trang and Da Nang operated on a weekly basis, with a change over from Monday to Saturday. Later in the unit’s operations these northern detachments stopped and by 1969 all aircraft operated out of Vung Tau. Four aircraft were tasked Monday to Saturday inclusive, and one aircraft was tasked on Sunday. A standard week for the air crew would be five days of flying, one day of operations officer, and one day off. That rotated, so that there were always crews and aircraft available should a last minute task develop. By 1969 the longest missions that we flew were into the Delta region. These would begin with a 0630 take off and often we wouldn’t get back to Vung Tau until after dark, so they were long busy days.
The average sortie length in the Delta (once you got there) could range anything from ten minutes up to about 30 minutes. The transit time was typically about an hour to an hour 20, depending on where you were operating. One particular mission was always most enjoyable as far as we were concerned, and that was the 05 Mission. The reason for that was because we would leave Vung Tau for the Australian Task Force base at Nui Dat and then head across to Saigon. From Saigon it was back to Nui Dat, and then to a place called Ham Tan before proceeding up north to support the RAAF’s No 2 Squadron, which was based at Phan Rang. The airfield at Ham Tan was next door to an American fire support base where they had 175mm howitzers. The American Army Major who ran the fire support base would meet us with freshly brewed coffee and freshly cooked doughnuts when we took in his mail and passengers each morning. It would have been churlish not to stop for morning tea, so of course we did.
We then proceeded on further north past Cam Ranh Bay and then across from Nha Trang to Dalat, another little airfield in between Dalat and Bao Loc, and then Bao Loc back to Saigon, back to Nui Dat and then home to Vung Tau. In that trip of a morning and evening, from Saigon to Nui Dat and vice versa, we were carrying Australian Army personnel either leaving the country or arriving in. Every afternoon we’d also pick up a bunch of fresh vegetables and things to take to the task force strip which was called Luscombe Field. That was about the only support that we provided to the Australian Task Force while we were there, as we were tactically and operationally part of the US 7th Air Force and not part of the Task Force as were the choppers at 9 Squadron.
Early on in the peace, only two operations were conducted in support of the Australian forces at Nui Dat—Operation Kingston involving 5RAR, and then shortly afterwards Operation Kings Cross. Very few operations were done in support of our own Army. As I said, we did fly the 03 Mission, which was the one that went twice a day from Vung Tau to Nui Dat to Saigon, then back to Vung Tau. There was also the 07 mission, which went directly from Vung Tau to Saigon and back at midday, filling in before the 03 mission flew again in the afternoon. The 02 mission and the 01 mission were flown into the Delta and the 01 was a special that was flown if they needed some extra shuttling done.
We carried everything from fuel to ammo, ice cream and vegetables, and people. A lot of the people we carried were, in fact, Vietnamese, and as the authorization for them to travel on the aircraft was approved at the local level, we really didn’t know whether or not any of those on board could have been Viet Cong—we just carried the passengers. Luckily, no one we carried had suicidal tendencies, so we survived. The unit kept going along this way until in June 1966 its name was changed from RAAF Transport Flight Vietnam to 35 Squadron. That number in the RAAF originally belonged to a transport squadron which flew C47s during the Second World War.
At least twice in the history of RTFV and 35 Squadron, we were visited by USAF efficiency experts who wanted to observe our maintenance and operational procedures. This came about because although we were flying only 1.7 percent of the tactical transport missions while having only 1.4 percent of the tactical transport aircraft, we were carrying something like 7 percent of the total passengers and freight being lifted by air within South Vietnam. So we became of considerable interest, particularly the way we operated. In fact, General Westmoreland at one stage asked Australia for another squadron of 12 Caribous, but of course, we didn’t have them. We only had 38 Squadron in Australia and 35 Squadron in Vietnam, and the role of 38 Squadron was to feed 35 as well as do all the tactical operations within Australia and New Guinea.
To us, the answers to the questions the Americans posed were fairly obvious. First of all, a squadron’s ground crew formed the heart of the unit. They did a fantastic job to provide five aircraft per day, four needed for tasking and one spare should the need arise. Many a time they would start work on a damaged aircraft as soon as we got back and they’d work all night to make sure that it was serviceable the next day. Only then would they go back to their quarters and get a well-deserved rest. As I said, it was those troops who were the heart of the squadron. The aircrew looked for work. Whenever we’d finish the normal ‘frag’ (the tasking order), we would call up the tasking agency, callsign Hilda in Saigon, and ask if there were any additional tasks on the way home. We rarely flew anywhere empty. We would only refuel to the minimum required to do the mission, plus reserves, which meant that we could maximize our payload for every mission. Teamwork within the unit was what I would consider to be exceptional, and that was from the CO all the way down to the most junior airman working on the hangar floor. Everyone helped out everybody else. Everyone looked after each other and everyone contributed as best they could to the unit effort.
The other thing that worked in our favour was that our aircrew were much more experienced than most American Caribou aircrew in country. All of us there in 1969-70 would have had at least a year or 18 months experience on the Caribou. We were all C Category Captains and we all had flying experience in tactical operations gained in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. That experience accounted for a hell of a lot when it came to operating the aircraft efficiently, knowing the aircraft’s capabilities, and how to get the job done. The other thing was that everyone in the squadron was focused on simply getting the job done.
One of the smallest strips was Ha Tien South, right down at the bottom tip of the country, just west of Hai Yen. It was a Special Forces camp and the strip there was less than a thousand feet long and had a 50 foot hill on the threshold. On landing, you had about 50 feet clearance from the jungle on each wingtip. At the end of the strip, you had to do a three-point turn to get around and backtrack. It was strictly one-way operations only, because of the narrowness of the strip at the slow end. Again, we’d carry anything into there, from ammo to ice cream.
In the period that the Wallabies spent in Vietnam, three aircraft were lost and several were damaged through accidents, ground or mortar fire, but were repaired. Only one aircraft was lost totally to enemy action, at a place called That Son up the back of the Delta and only about six or seven kilometres from the Cambodian border. As A4-193 went to land there, the airfield came under mortar fire. As they approached the fuel farm one mortar round went through the left wing, slightly injuring the pilot with a small bit of shrapnel in the cheek. The crew quickly abandoned the aircraft, and the fuel farm and aircraft were destroyed totally. The pilots on that one were choppered out, and Joe Wilson and myself went down the next day and picked them up and brought them home.
One aircraft was lost on approach to An Thoi, which is the airfield on Phu Quoc island just off the South coast, close to Cambodia. The crew was trying to get down in exceptionally bad weather, misjudged their approach and hit the water. The aircraft had to be later destroyed with charges to get rid of it so that it was no longer a hazard. The only injury in that case was the loadmaster when the crash axe dislodged and hit him in the shoulder. There was another aircraft, A4-185, that was lost when it struck a ditch on what was a DZ (drop zone) at a place called A Ro in I Corps. Although it was a DZ, a lot of the airfields we went into were not much better than that. In actual fact, a lot of that aircraft was salvaged and the forward part of the fuselage ended up being used as a bunker by the Americans in the area.
Also, on 19 January 1969 A4-208 came under mortar fire while on the ground at Katum, which was a US Special Forces camp near the Cambodian border in III Corps, just above Saigon. One mortar round landed about 25 feet in front of the aircraft, taking out the main tyres and hydraulics, and peppering the aircraft in over a hundred places. The pilots quickly offloaded the aircraft, along with the loadmaster, and although both pilots had been slightly wounded they managed to limp into the air on flat tyres. Despite having no hydraulics and a few other things, they got the aircraft back to Bien Hoa, which was a major US base just to the east-north-east of Saigon. The aircraft was eventually repaired and returned to the unit.
All the aircraft lost during Vietnam were in fact replaced from 38 Squadron. In that time we lost none of our personnel, although some of them had minor wounds from shrapnel. One of them was down in the Delta where a bullet penetrated the aircraft, shattered on the nosewheel steering wheel on the left-hand side, and peppered the aircraft Captain with small shrapnel to the face. He was replaced by the co-pilot and the aircraft flown back to Vung Tau where he received attention.
Initially, the tour in Vietnam was for six months but it quickly settled down to a tour length of 12 months in duration, and very few personnel did not serve out the full time. Typically during 12 months each of the aircrew would fly approximately 1200 hours. They would complete approximately 2000 operational sorties, with the maximum being 1400 hours and 2500 operational sorties. That’s a fairly heavy workload when you look at peacetime workloads back in Australia. From 1971 there was a progressive scaling down of operations in line with the staged withdrawal of American and Australian forces. In June 1971, 44 personnel and three Caribous of 35 Squadron left Vung Tau for Australia. Flying ceased on 13 February 1972 and on 19 February, under the command of Squadron Leader Smithies, the last Wallabies left Vung Tau for Australia after seven and a half years of active service in country. The Caribous were the first in, and they were the last out except for the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (AATTV) people who were scattered around with the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) forces before that.
Some of the statistics from the period are of interest. A total of 790 personnel served in the unit; 586 of them ground crew and 204 aircrew. During that time the Wallabies flew 81 500 operational sorties, carried 42 000 tons of freight and 679 000 passengers—which is not bad going for the Caribou when you consider its normal load was 30 passengers or 28 paratroopers. That covers the burst on Vietnam.
I now look at some of the other Caribou operations that were carried out. The one in particular that I served on was with the United Nations Military Observer Group India-Pakistan (UNMOGIP). Shortly after partition, the Kashmiris decided that, due to political and religious reasons, they were going to come in on the side of the Pakistanis and take back Kashmir, which the British had allocated under the Indian side of the partition—or that’s how it eventually turned out. They managed to push back a fair way until there was a new line of control formed, and UNMOGIP’s mission was to patrol the line of control and to observe on that for ceasefire violations etc.
The mission started in 1948 and was still going in 1978 when I was up there. Australians were serving on this mission right from the beginning, with Australian Regular Army observers being involved, and then—during Vietnam and other conflicts—the regulars were replaced with reservists. Air support was provided by the Canadians, but in 1974 they were trying to extricate themselves and in 1975 the role of providing air support to the UN mission fell to the RAAF. The first detachment commander, Squadron Leader Baillie McKenny, was effectively given a bucket of money as an impress and told to go and set it up. Luckily we got a fair bit of information out of liaising with the Canadians, and from that, we ended up with three houses in Islamabad, which is the capital of Pakistan, and four houseboats on Nagin Lake just north of Srinagar in Kashmir. There are actually two main lakes at Srinagar, Dal and Nagin. Dal is actually closer, but Nagin was chosen because it was much cleaner. It was fed by a spring, and although the water around the edges was too polluted to use for drinking or bathing purposes, the water out in the centre was quite suitable for swimming and provided a bit of a distraction during summer.
Let me give you an idea of the area in which we operated. The map of the Kashmir region shows the original border of Kashmir in red. The dotted line which runs around inside the red line marks the line of control or the ceasefire line. The area north and west of the dotted line was known by the Pakistanis as Azad Kashmir, which means ‘Free Kashmir’. To the north was a disputed area with China. The triangle represents a disputed borderless area, while out to the right (between the red and the dotted line) is another area which was at that stage under dispute with the Chinese. A more detailed map shows the sort of areas we operated into. Srinagar is located in the centre of the map horizontally, but about a third of the way from the left-hand edge. That’s where we were based in summer. During winter we were based at Chaklala airfield at Rawalpindi, just south of the Pakistani capital. To the north of both of these places is Abbottabad, which was in the news not long ago under circumstances which caused a bit of a stir.
Essentially we would fly a milk run each day. If we were operating from the Pakistani side, we would go from Rawalpindi to Kotli, and then across to Punch, down to Rajauri and occasionally down to Sialkot, recover to Srinagar, and then back to Islamabad. If we were operating from Srinagar, it meant going west through the Haji Pir Pass across to Rawalpindi, fly the milk run, back to Rawalpindi and then back to Srinagar. There were two stations. Right up in the Northern Areas is a place called Gilgit, and south-east of there, well down the Indus River valley is a place called Skardu. Still further down the Indus valley is a place called Leh, which we reached by passing over high country around Ladakh and Kargil. The density of the altitude in those areas is extremely high, up around 8500 feet altitude density in summer and the Caribou didn’t perform that well in takeoff mode at those density altitudes. We generally reserved those airfields for when an observer up there got sick and we had to go and get them out in a hurry, or there was some other emergency that meant we had to go and support the observers on the ground. We did, however, go into Gilgit and Skardu in the summer months, and I’ve got some shots later on that will show what it was like flying up through there. Going back to the map for a moment, shown just to the right of centre at the top is K2—the second highest mountain in the world. This gives an idea of what the terrain is like.
While in Srinagar we stayed in houseboats on Nagin Lake. It was very pleasant sitting on the balcony there of an afternoon, Gin and Tonic in hand, looking across the lake to the mountains beyond. On the first range of hills was a fort straight out of the area’s rich past. History in this part of the world goes way back to Humayun, Babur and Akbar, the Mughal emperors who claimed descent from the Mongols, and who came into what was then India down through Afghanistan. They were Muslim and they brought with them their Islamic faith, but they were also very tolerant rulers for their times. As a result, there was a blending of Hindu and Islam that can be seen, even now, in the fantastic architecture of old buildings, primarily the shapes and size of pillars, arches and other features.
The main reason we didn’t stay and operate from the airfield at Srinagar all year round was because that place could get up to two or three metres of snow in winter. Everyone, including the Indian Air Force’s Gnats that were based there, used to pull out during the cold months and head south. We used to winter in Rawalpindi, and quite often we could not get into Srinagar because of the weather. It meant we had to be fairly careful about the met briefs and what we did of a morning. There was nowhere to hangar our Caribou on the airfield, so we were just parked out in the open and the troops worked there to try to clean it up and get it ready.
I mentioned going through Haji Pir Pass from Srinagar across to Rawalpindi. The photograph above provides an indication of the terrain as seen from the aircraft. We used to sneak through here just above the tree tops at about 11 500 feet. The mountain on the right-hand side went up to over 18 000 feet and the safety height going through there in bad weather is 21 500. Now, the Caribou didn’t like that altitude very much, and because we were carrying passengers the aircraft had to be specially fitted out with passenger oxygen. We used to test fly them back to make sure they were all okay to handle the job.
Just to the north of Haji Pir we would be looking down towards a place called Gulmarg, and a little further on was a place called Badamore. Whenever we were flying in this area we were under the eyes of Northern Radar, which was an air defence radar based up in the hills. The controllers there often called us up and asked us what we were doing, and we would tell them we were diverting due to weather etc. We’d fly across and come out over a place called Baramulla, which was interesting because when we broke out of the weather we’d see surface-to-air missiles tracking us, just … keeping in practice. The controllers at Srinagar Metal were fantastic to us, in fact, because if the weather was bad we’d call them up and ask them for a radar fix as we went across Haji Pir and across the border into Pakistan, and vice versa coming back. We’d tune one radio onto them and we could call them up before we got there and ask for a fix. If we followed the direct route and the weather was socked in so that we had to come through at height, 21 500 feet, then we’d call up Srinagar and get them to give us a radar descent down to the airfield. The elevation of Srinagar airfield is about 6500 feet.
Rajauri was one of the airfields we used to go into along the line of control. One of the problems with flying into these little strips was that, at low level and low speed, we could get some pretty nasty standing wave effects as a result of the strength of the wind and the height of the hills. We had one aircraft go into Rajauri flown by Grahame Carroll and Johnnie Benjamin, who were the two other pilots up there with me. The Caribou was hit by a standing wave and the G meter went off the clock, causing the skin of the aircraft to go all wrinkly down around the tail. They aborted the mission, went straight back to Rawalpindi and had the aircraft thoroughly checked out. It proved to be okay, but the loadmaster on board wasn’t. Because he was getting ready for the landing he wasn’t strapped in, and he got bounced around the cargo compartment quite heavily and was severely bruised. That was one of the problems we had. Another interesting place we went to was called Kotli. If you overshot the runway, even just by a little bit, you ended up in a buffalo pond that was situated right at the end of it. In fact, there was an interesting photograph the Canadians had of one of their aircraft sitting in the pond and in need of a gentle tow out.
The missions going up to Gilgit and Skardu flew due north out of Islamabad to pick up the Indus River and follow its easterly course past Sazin, Chilas, Bunji and Silbu, and then on to Gilgit. The ridge lines up there are typically 18 000 feet high and we would be flying at 8500, so weather was a major concern and we had to be very cautious about what we were doing. Just near Bunji is a mountain called Nanga Parbat, which rises 14 000 feet—virtually sheer—out of the valley floor, then tapers off to just short of 27 000 feet. We would fly past that a couple of miles off, sticking to the centre of the valley. We would fly up the valley, with Nanga Parbat virtually in front of us; we would turn left just in front of that to go to Gilgit.
Kargil was another place we used to go to further up the Indus valley, although I didn’t fly any missions into there. I did, however, decide to go there by road one day, during the regular changeover of observers at the UN compound there, simply to have a look around. We drove up from Srinagar through a place called Sonamarg, which would have to be one of the most picturesque little spots imaginable. You felt that you could be anywhere in the world—Scandinavia perhaps, or Central Europe. There were beautiful glacial valleys, pine trees, and lovely green grass everywhere. It was a holiday spot for a lot of people coming from southern parts of India during the summer. Going further up towards Kargil we had to pass through a thing called the Zoji La Glacier and the photo below shows the beginnings of it. Each year a bulldozer would be put through to cut a hole across the middle of it and travellers drove on the gravel and the dirt, with water flowing below their vehicle the whole time.
While we were there, we also used to go down to Lahore once a month, to top up with dry breathing oxygen which we needed for our sojourns across Haji Pir and other places. We also used to go down to Delhi once a month, to talk to the High Commission there, and also for message and signal traffic. The only contact we really had with our squadron back at Richmond, on a regular basis, was a phone patch which we used to conduct on the High Frequency radio on the milk run each week. We would get a phone patch from our HF link in Perth, and they’d patch us through to the CO’s office so we could have a chat with him. We could let him know how things were going and chase up any extra spares and stuff we needed.
All the logistics were done through Rawalpindi and we had a pretty good working relationship with the Customs there. One of the things I would like to emphasise is that at the working level we had a fantastic relationship with both the Pakistanis and the Indians. We never wanted for support. If I needed anything at all out of Kashmir, I just contacted the base commander at Srinagar and he would make it available, and we had the same co-operation on the Pakistani side of the fence. Politically there was a little bit of a difference, but at the working level (which was all that interested me) it was fine. That concludes the Kashmir bit, but it is only part of the Caribou story.
From 1965 to 1975 No 38 Squadron also had a Detachment A of three aircraft based at Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea. The crews used to rotate through for a two or three month period, depending on how it went, and some of the crews actually stayed there for a lot longer. One individual stayed for seven months. Eventually, there was a permanent detachment commander, a bloke called Ron Raymond, who was there for several years. The detachment finally finished in 1975, when an Air Transport Squadron was formed within the PNG Defence Force on the granting of independence in that year. The first Commanding Officer of that unit was Stewart McAlister who retired as a Group Captain.
Air Transport Squadron was originally based at Moresby and then moved across to Lae at a later date. In the final years of my stay up there, the squadron was being prepared to move back to Moresby because the airfield at Lae was closed, and they wanted us to operate from Nadzab, which was up the Markham Valley. To operate there would have been horrendously expensive, particularly as they had to build complete facilities on the airfield for us, including refrigerated stores for perishables and all sorts of things.
The detachment in Port Moresby flew all over Papua New Guinea. We had a lot of experience going into some very tight, tricky little airfields, in particular, one called Tapini. There was a col, which you’d descend into, do all your checks and drop the undercarriage gear down, set your flap at 15, then you would come out of the col and fly up the valley. On your right-hand side there was a goat track—it was actually a track that people used to have to use, but it looked like a goat track to us. So you followed the goat track until it turned right. At that point you turned left, and there in front of you was the strip.
At Tapini you came in over a cliff and actually landed on the downslope. It was one or two percent away from you, which made it a bit tricky, particularly if you had a bit too much speed onboard. You had to make sure your speed was spot on. You then didn’t use reverse but went back to climb power (which was about a bit over half of the maximum power available on the Caribou), because if you didn’t you couldn’t get up the 14 per cent hill in the middle of the runway. Then you’d get to the top and park across the strip so that the aircraft wouldn’t roll back down if the brake slipped. There were many other little airfields that had their own challenges all over PNG, and also in the surrounding islands. The rule was that you had to be up there for at least one detachment before you could operate as an aircraft Captain. There was a particular book we used to carry with us on the aircraft which specified every airfield that we were going into, the technique of getting in, the dangers, the hazards and the technique for getting out.
There were also several survey missions run up there where 38 Squadron’s Caribous supported Army Survey while they were doing a lot of remapping of the Papua New Guinean mainland. The maps up there were notoriously bad and even when we were up there in 68-69 we used to have maps which we would amend by hand. As well as PNG, we had another aircraft providing support for a survey mission remapping of West Irian and Sumatra. The aircraft actually operated out of West Irian, and later out of Palembang close to the southern coast of Sumatra. There were other missions flown in PNG to provide relief after drought, famine, floods, tsunamis, etc. It was invariably 38 Squadron deployed there, and it was invariably the Caribou that provided the tactical transport support.
As well as that we supported every Army battalion during its workup period before going across to Vietnam, and that took up a fair bit of time. The deployment rates were quite horrendous. In my own particular case, out of the first 18 months, I was on Caribous I spent just under 14 months deployed in Papua New Guinea, at Rockhampton supporting battalion workups, or at Leigh Creek supporting other exercises or with Army survey of the Northern Territory. We had an aircraft based at a place called Daly River Mission and previously across in Arnhem Land and we were providing tactical transport support to the Army survey who were remapping those areas.
So, all in all, the Caribous had a rather fantastic history. The technology they represented was essentially not much more than Second World War, and their engines became very hard to maintain in the end, because of the lack of availability of spares. Yet when you look at the range of operations that were conducted with this aircraft type over its 45 year life with the RAAF, the Caribou really did a fantastic job. We gave it a good send off up at Townsville when it was finally retired in 2009. That concludes what I have to say this morning. I haven’t covered every aspect of Caribou operations, but I’ve tried to give you a broad brush picture of probably two of our most demanding deployments, plus another which was probably equally as demanding so far as the dangers of flying were concerned. So, thank you all very much.
National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication entry
Author: Connor, R. J.
Title: Tactical airlift [electronic resource] : Caribou operations : the end of an era / Group Captain R. J.‘Chuck’ Connor.
ISBN: 9781920800697 (ebook : pdf, epub, kindle)
Subjects: Australia. Royal Australian Air Force.–History.
Caribou (Transport plane)–History.
Vietnam War, 1961-1975–Participation, Australian.