Cunningham “Jock” Cassels joined the RAF in Edinburgh in September 1941, a few weeks after his 18th birthday. He was trained as a pilot and ended up in Egypt flying the Spitfire. After the war ended he was posted to a Sunderland squadron and flew that aircraft from the base in Wales. He retired from the RAF in 1966 and still wanting to fly, joined the RAAF and was posted to 38 Sqn at Richmond, flying the Caribou. He did a tour of Vietnam with 35 Sqn and finally retired from the RAAF in January 1979. Jock Cassels
Some highlights from a Full Career in Aviation.
Thanks to Ian (Tiny) Ashbrook and Radschool Magazine.
Ian (Tiny) Ashbrook served in the RAAF as a pilot and professional engineer in a range of command, policy, flying and specialist positions. He was awarded a Chief of Air Force Commendation in 1997 for the financial management of RAAF Operational Logistics and an Order of Australia in 1998, primarily for his contributions to RAAF airworthiness policy. He took early retirement from the RAAF in 1997 to become an Executive Director of Rolls-Royce Australia Ltd and associated regional companies and Regional Director – Defence for Rolls-Royce plc, London with prime responsibility for Defence business in the Australasian region. He retired from Rolls-Royce in 2010 and lives in SE Qld, where he is involved in a diverse range of activities.
Ian Ashbrook was born in Hamilton Vic and in answer to questions relating to who he knows in the Hamilton area responds ‘no one really as my whole life in Hamilton was about three weeks’. Ian would have been born in Port Moresby, where his mother had been raised between the wars. Her father had taken his family to Papua in 1919 where he subsequently established an engineering business specialising in rubber and copra production but, also with a marine slipway on Port Moresby’s Fairfax Harbour
However, in 1942, with the Japanese coming over the Owen Stanley’s Ian’s mother and her sister were evacuated to Cairns with two suitcases each and they subsequently made their way to stay with an aunt in Hamilton, Vic. Meanwhile, Ian’s father (who was the accountant of the trading company Burns Philp) was evacuated a little later, joined the RAAF and spent most of the war back in Papua and New Guinea as a meteorologist.
After spending some time at Coal Point while his father trained at Rathmines, the RAAF Catalina base on Lake Macquarie, Ian subsequently spent the war with his mother and aunt, in a hotel at Coffs Harbour. When the war ended, Ian’s father made his way, following discharge from the RAAF, to Coffs Harbour only to learn that his wife had been diagnosed with a short life expectancy terminal illness. Unable to get seats on a train because of troop priorities, he bought an old Austin 7 Tourer and transported the family to Sydney where the diagnosis proved incorrect.
The family then returned to Port Moresby in Jan 1946 taking the Austin 7 with them to become
the first civilian car in Port Moresby after the war. Port Moresby, with its large aircraft and vehicle dumps was a ‘boy’s own adventure’ with every self-respecting kid having an aircraft fuel tank as a canoe and most people driving surplus Jeeps. Unlike today, the town was very safe and Ian can recall walking a mile or so along a bush track alone at the age of five to catch a bus to school with the only strict instructions being not to touch ammunition or snakes. Port Moresby was littered with ammunition and bush fires inevitably produced a cacophony of explosions and fireworks. Ian’s parents owned 50 acres of the 6 mile hill at Port Moresby, including the land on which the local radio station, 9PA, was located and their house looked NE over Port Moresby’s famous Jackson’s Airfield and Ian frequently walked the km or so to the airfield to wander through the hangar and explore the various aircraft for hours at a time and this was not discouraged by staff at the airfield.
In 1947, the Austin was shipped to Cairns and the family drove to Sydney, a not insignificant adventure at that time, with Ian perched in the back. Not long after leaving Cairns, Ian noted that it was hot in the back to which the response was ‘stop complaining’. A little while later he again commented that it was very hot in the back, again to be exhorted to ‘stop whinging’. However, the excited yell that there was smoke and fire in the back finally got some attention. It turned out that the rear brakes had been overtightened in the servicing in Cairns and the brakes had overheated and caught fire.
In 1952, at the age of just nine, Ian chose to go to boarding school in Charters Towers and, as a tall, gangling weakling, very swiftly learnt how to keep his head down in a school where most of the pupils had been raised in the rough and tumble of large cattle properties. This, though, was good grounding for future survival and the keeping of one’s own counsel.
During one school holiday in 1953 Ian, who had flown to and from Australia on numerous occasions in DC3 and DC4 aircraft, had the opportunity to accompany his father in a chartered Qantas Catalina to West Papua landing on Lake Murray and the Fly River.
Ian at the blister of a Qantas Catalina
At both places, locals met the Cat in long single hull canoes paddled by up to 50 standing ‘warriors’ painted and dressed in basic lap-laps and Ian, who stayed on the aircraft at both stops while his father attended to business ashore, also observed many large crocodiles basking on the river banks.
Needless to say, movement from the Cat’s blister to the top was done carefully gripping on to every rivet and apart from the experience of occupying the blister for take-off and landing, surrounded by swirling water as the aircraft accelerated, it was Ian’s first experience actually flying an aircraft which he did for most of the trip.
The Catalina had similar engines to the Caribou and flying it, from memory, was also very similar in the cruise with no auto pilot and basic navigation instruments. The overnight stay was also very memorable at Kerema, which was then an isolated village on the Gulf of Papua. Almost two decades later numerous similar flights across the Gulf of Papua, when Ian was flying Caribou aircraft, brought back memories of the Catalina adventure.
The other memorable aircraft was the Sandringham flying boat, a civilianised version of the Sunderland maritime patrol aircraft. Qantas also operated Sandringham’s out of Port Moresby and the family spent some time on Samarai Island, on the Eastern tip of Papua, where his father managed the Burns Philp activities. Samarai was only accessible by boat or amphibious aircraft; hence several Sandringham flights.
Following a severe bout of malaria in 1954 with a touch and go few days in Charters Towers hospital and a communications failure by the school, Ian was withdrawn by his mother and finished 6th class under the NSW school system in Port Moresby. Schooling in Port Moresby only went to 6th class, so in 1955 Ian commenced school by correspondence under the Qld system. This proved to be a great life as Ian found that he could complete the day’s work by about 9.30am and spend the rest of the day on his outrigger canoe living another ‘boy’s own adventure’.
Life was good for a young bloke in Port Moresby in the 50’s.
Sadly this came to an abrupt end in Aug 1955 when the family pulled out of Port Moresby to Brisbane and Ian found himself back in the constraints of 9.00am – 3.30pm at Ascot State School.
Changing State school systems was even harder in those days and when the family moved to Newcastle in 1957, Ian remained in Brisbane to complete the Qld ‘Scholarship’ year, which was 8th year primary, while NSW was by then two years into secondary school; so, the move to NSW was difficult culminating in a year at the now defunct Newcastle Junior Technical School (which finished at ‘Intermediate’ when most students joined the work force). However, with extra coaching and some overtime, Ian managed to undertake the ‘Leaving Certificate’ at Newcastle Boys High School.
Not long after arriving in Newcastle, Ian was introduced to 16 Flight Air Training Corps (ATC) which paraded in the Parachute Training Flight hangar at RAAF Williamtown on Fri nights. This was to have a big impact on his future and Ian enjoyed camps at Rathmines, Fairbairn, Richmond and Williamtown and rose through the ranks to become the flight’s first Cadet
Under Officer. It was also in the ATC that he met a range of cadets who subsequently had careers in the RAAF (Des Lovett (GPCAPT), Kev Henderson (GPCAPT), Dave Rogers (AVM – right) etc etc) as well as some notables such as PltOff (student) Col Spitzkowsky (later GPCAPT and F111 guru (think ‘Little Red Steel Book’)) who was administratively attached to 16 Flt ATC. So, in Jan 1961, having the wide range of career choices that we had then, Ian had to choose between a BHP engineering traineeship and an offer to join the newly named RAAF Academy at Point Cook. He chose the latter.
RAAF Academy was a tough environment and many of the practices would be unacceptable now with ‘bastardisation’ rife and failure high (we started with 28 and graduated 12); but, that early boarding school experience kicked in and the art of ‘invisibility,’ even at 6’4”+ (194cm) came into daily practice. That I had got into the Academy was interesting as at the main interview the pilot member (SQNLDR (later AVM) Bill Collings – left) took great exception to my desire to do an engineering degree ‘as a fall back as the future of pilots was uncertain’. Bill Collings never forgot this and took great delight in reminding me each time our paths have crossed over the ensuing 50 or so years.
After two years at the Academy, I then spent the academic terms at Sydney University, including an extra year, along with three others after the University took exception to our commitment and performance. This allowed me to pursue my best decision yet by getting married and subsequently Carolyn helped me submit a thesis on ‘A Monte Carlo Simulation of Hyper Velocity Impacts in a Rarified Atmosphere’ (applicable to designing an ablation layer for reentry vehicles). I held onto this, along with my Uni notes, for nearly 20 years and only reluctantly eventually threw them out when I realised that I’d never subsequently opened any of it and can’t recall directly applying anything that I’d actually learnt at Uni; but, it was a great experience!
Pilot’s Course followed, again with a high failure rate; but, I did quite well and ended up at Williamtown, undertook the Vampire Weapon’s Course and flew the Sabre. It was here that I ran into an instructor with whom I had clashed years earlier as a cadet; so, after much handwringing, I requested a posting to fly Caribous in the hope that I could get some experience in Vietnam and be competitive for a test pilot (TP) course. In some respects, this was fortuitous as later, in 1982, when I was presented with the opportunity of a Mirage lll conversion, I found that even though the Vampire had been tight, my very long legs had great difficulty fitting into a Mirage.
Flying the Caribou was great. I completed a tour in PNG and received my Captaincy there as a ‘field’ upgrade by the permanent Det A Commander SQNLDR Ron Raymond (R2) who was a vastly experienced pilot and flying instructor, as well as undertaking several of the pre Vietnam exercises at Shoalwater Bay and the pre Vietnam Canungra Course. This was also during the Confrontation with Indonesia and, along with another pilot, Graeme Szczecinski, we became the ‘experts’ in accessing the small strips on the border of PNG with Irian Jaya. Unfortunately, this culminated in having to return to PNG a couple of weeks after the completion of my main three-month deployment, when tensions flared and, on one sortie near the border, collected several bullet holes in the tail plane; however, because of the political sensitivities on both sides of the border, this was hushed up and few people were told. So, I notched up 1000 hours, became the 38Sqn Maintenance Test Pilot and awaited my turn to go to Vung Tau. So, it was with some surprise that I was posted as Aircraft Maintenance Officer and subsequently SEngO at 38 Sqn and with the run-down of 35Sqn saw my chances of a Vietnam tour disappearing. I even proposed that I go to SVN as both the Operations Officer and the SEngO but, this never eventuated.
38Sqn was a very busy job and it was also my first engineering job and without the benefit of even the Engineer Officers Basic Course (DPO subsequently noted this several years later when I was a SQNLDR and wanted me to ‘tick the box’ until I pointed out that I had just rewritten the course syllabus in my then role in Canberra!!). Somewhat surprisingly, the SEngO was at FltLt level although the squadron was flying around 22,000 hours per year with 22 Caribou and another 2000 hours with 3 Dakota aircraft. We had two continuous major maintenance lines running in the hangar and suffered considerable experience and manpower shortages, as we also trained and supplied all of the replacements for 35Sqn SVN. Fortunately, the knowledge and operational experience that I had on the aircraft was invaluable and more than offset the paucity of my knowledge of the Engineer Branch.
de Havilland’s complex at Bankstown.
As both SEngO and Maint TP, I was in the fortunate position of being available at short notice to do test flights, particularly at the weekends, and this was invaluable in improving our serviceability numbers. However, I thought that my career was again short lived when, in answer to the continual criticism by the SNCOs of the amount of work (usually up to a week including cylinder changes etc) required on aircraft received from the Deeper Maintenance contractor (Hawker de Havilland), I diverted a test flight from Bankstown into Richmond and gave the ‘troops’ 20 mins to find as many issues as they could. They then wrote them up as we flew back to Bankstown. However, on arrival, I was greeted by an enraged Res Eng (SQNLDR ‘Taffy’ Salvage) who demanded to know where I’d been, who had authorised me and demanded that I accept the aircraft ‘as he had released it’. I stood my ground and fortunately the pre-arranged Caribou arrived to take us all back to Richmond and I left with an even more enraged SQNLDR standing by the rejected aircraft and insisting that he’d have me court-martialled.
On arrival back at Richmond after stand down I decided that I’d better inform the CO, by then at the bar, of what had happened. He was largely disinterested seeing it as an ‘engineers problem to sort out’; so, the following morning, I sat in my office waiting for what was going to occur next. The phone rang and this rather gruff voice said ‘ WGCDR Rockliff, SupCom – I hear you’ve had a run in with SQNLDR Salvage’? I started to respond when ‘Rocky’ stopped me with ‘don’t worry about it. This is just what we’ve been waiting for and you’ve documented it beautifully. I’ll take it from here’. A week or so later when I went back for a further test flight, the SQNLDR could not have been more helpful and the contractor output ‘improved’.
A major headache at 38 Sqn was leave in lieu accumulation and particularly for duty crew. We maintained a weekly duty crew roster for all out of hours commitments and with the roster starting early am until 08.00 and then 16.00 until whenever (sometimes through until 08.00 the following day) and, as required, at the weekend and many flights occurred out of normal hours. Overtime was also accrued with manpower shortages on the deeper maintenance lines and recovering unscheduled arisings needed to meet the daily aircraft requirements. Unfortunately, this meant that most leave in lieu could not be granted and for many members this meant being unrecompensed for 100’s of hours. For duty crew this was aggravated by having to return to work immediately following some particularly lengthy and sometimes overnight workloads. I had been aware of this before the maintenance posting and when I looked into it as SEngO, I found a great deal of unhappiness not so much that much of the time would never be compensated; but, that there was usually no break after a week’s duty crew.
After some research and numerous consultations, I proposed that the duty crew roster run from 16.00 on a Thu to 08.00 on the following Thu and that irrespective of the hours actually worked over the week, the crew then went on leave until the following Mon and that this would be sacrosanct irrespective of Sqn commitments. This gave the crew a guaranteed four-day break which they could plan around and helped to reduce leave in lieu credits that would otherwise never be recovered.
In 1971, the RAAF celebrated the 50th Anniversary since the formation in 1921, principally with a series of Airshows at the major bases around Australia. To effect this, a display group was formed under the direction of GPCAPT (later AVM) ‘Bay’ Adams and each aircraft in the RAAF was represented in the Show which ran to a pretty standard program in Mar/Apr 1971. I was lucky to be selected to fly the ‘slot’ (No4) position in the Caribou display with No4 also carrying the RAAF parachute display team. The shows opened with a major flypast of all the aircraft followed by individual displays. Caribou No1 did the handling display while 2 and 3 did low altitude load extraction (below) and other displays. No4 finally brought the parachutists in for a coordinated drop. Because of the distance involved only a single Caribou was sent to Pearce and we started the shows at Edinburgh, then Laverton and worked our way around through East Sale, Richmond etc with the final show at Townsville. Since the shows were only at the weekends, the whole exercise took about six weeks.
After Townsville, I returned to Richmond, while the other three, flown by instructors, continued on to PNG with a group of conversion pilots. The following morning, I was just getting the family ready for a quick break up the coast when word came through that one of the Caribous (A4-264) had overshot the runway at Tufi on the NE coast of PNG, and was lying in a gully off the end of the runway. So, early the day after, with a group of tradesmen and a bunch of spares, including engines etc we boarded a C130A for Port Moresby. On arrival in Moresby I was asked what I intended to do and, after indicating that I really needed to inspect
the site first, the deputy detachment commander in PNG (FLTLT Jack Rydstrom [right] a 35Sqn veteran who later died in a civilian Caribou crash in PNG) who had been to the site, suggested that I look at turning the aircraft in the gully and dragging it out nose first, while acknowledging that there was a huge risk of the aircraft sliding sideways in this manoeuvre and going deep into the gully. However, when I got to the site later that afternoon, I saw merit in Jacks’ suggestion; but, how to actually haul it? That was solved on site with a ‘local’ suggesting that he send out a call and we could get sufficient manpower to do this. The following day we had about 200 locals arrive out of the bush in various states of minimum dress, we turned the Caribou and then with two very long ropes and about 100 locals on each, with me orchestrating from the front the locals started singing and hauling and we soon had the aircraft parked beside the runway. Of course, I can’t deny that being fluent, in those days, in Motu (Papuan language) helped break the ice with the helpers. We set up a mini aircraft depot and a daily Caribou supply from Moresby, worked from dawn to dusk and a week later, flew the aircraft out and back to Richmond.
All good things come to an end and in Jul1971, I overnighted in Townsville flying a Caribou ferry from Port Moresby. The Mess was in full swing, celebrating/commiserating the officer promotions list that had just been released; however, I was not feeling well, took a quick look at the list and then went to bed. At breakfast the following morning, someone congratulated me on my promotion to SQNLDR so I had a closer look at the list and there I was in an obscure fold. However, on arrival at Richmond, my unwellness had developed into a full-blown attack of Chicken Pox which I had caught from the children and two weeks of misery in isolation (and several months of slow recovery) followed. During this, I found myself posted to Defair as EngP2A to start in early Oct71, I had no idea what this meant and no one at Richmond had even heard of the job. And so, with a face covered in scabs I set off to influence the RAAF as a Canberra staff officer; but, soon found out that I slotted in somewhere between Eileen the Irish tea Lady (yes, morning and afternoon a trolly wheeled into the office and Eileen served us tea and biscuits) and the stray cats that lived in the hedge surrounding the car park which is now the location of ASIO HQ.
On learning of my posting to Defair and as soon as I was able, I arranged to have two lounge suits tailored as the normal dress at Russell Offices for all members was civilian clothes. This made life interesting as, until one learnt who was who around Russell Offices, it was difficult to ascertain who to call Sir.
However, it was pointed out to me that generally the shabbier the suit the more senior the officer and the best dressed usually were SNCOs and WOffs! Seven years later when I learnt of my posting from London to Defair, I had a couple of nice Saville Row suits tailored; but, before I had arrived back in Canberra the rules changed, uniform was to be worn normally at all times and my new suits subsequently saw little wear and sadly made it to the Salvos a few years later, in somewhat pristine but dated condition.
By the time that I had arrived at Russell Offices, the job had changed names to TP2A; but, it was the same job within the Directorate of Technical Plans and my WGCDR, TP2, essentially provided career and posting advice for all officers in the Engineer Branch. A complementary section TP5 provided similar advice for airmen and I shared an office with TP5A (Alan Emmerson and later Tom Carlyon). I knew little about the Engineer Branch but TP2A was responsible for maintaining the integrity of a number of large boards, hidden behind locked doors, with tags in unit order showing every established engineer officer post in the RAAF and other tags with each officer’s name etc. My main job was to keep all of this up to date. Fortunately, my boss, WGCDR ‘Chris’ Dent, a Ground Radio officer, was one of the nicest people I had ever met and his subsequent replacement (WGCDR Warren Tassell an Instrument officer) was similar and I learnt a lot, in confidence, about the structure, politics, history and people, from both. In those days there were six Engineer Officer Categories (Aero, Radio (subsets Ground and Air), Armament, Instrument, Electrical and Mechanical).
The Chief Engineer (Air Member for Technical Services (AMTS)) had to come from the Aero category (which caused a lot of dissention) and the retirement benefit scheme which only paid out when officers retired at their full retirement age (55 years for most with senior officers several years later), meant that many officers were just waiting out their time. This was obvious and a real problem. Within the Directorate of Technical Plans, Al Emmerson and I were the only Aero Category officers and most of the more general engineer jobs in Defair were held by non Aero officers eg there were six Armament GPCAPTs who had to be employed, and only one Armament specialist GPCAPT job. At the same time all of the AirCdres (5) and the AVM were Aero!
So, being in DTP was great for career broadening and I soon learnt that every Fri we all went to lunch, most times not to return to work and as the lunch afternoons wore on I can recall being counselled by GPCAPT and WGCDR non Aero officers on what was wrong with the Engineer Branch (this was all before breathalysers etc, of course). DTP also was high on the rumour distribution list and one learnt to keep one’s counsel when being pushed for info!
When not contributing to career development TP2A was the general odd job ‘boy’. AMTS (AVM Ernie Hey – right) was by far, at about 10 years seniority, the senior AVM in the AirForce and hence on the Air Board and he was also the RAAF Airworthiness Authority. Ernie refused to have Airworthiness defined in any document and maintained that Airworthiness was whatever he said it was. This of course led to the GD retort that airworthiness was just a dirty word used by engineers to stop pilots from flying. Ernie also didn’t have a staff officer so, de facto, the ‘odd job boy’ acted in this position when required – usually just to collect Ernie’s bar supplies from the Mess and load them into his car or deliver messages. One of my first real jobs was to write a paper presenting the case for some engineer Branch officers to receive flying training as this was being challenged by senior GD pilots. Probably my most significant job initially was to coordinate a Branch review of the proposal by John Jess to revise the DFRDB Scheme. Here I was, a pilot with an engineering degree and about 11 years’ service (8 of which had been on course), suddenly coming to grips with a complex subject of which I had no knowledge and little real interest.
That said and with help from Al Emmerson, we could see some significant flaws in what was being proposed (where most saw it as a huge improvement on the existing scheme and, in reality, it was). Notwithstanding, I pulled together about a 100 page analysis with suggested changes and when this was sent to the Personnel Branch, much of it became the RAAF position. Subsequently, the accepted scheme, addressed many of the issues raised and its introduction suddenly saw the RAAF with a huge number of ‘early retirements’. My office became de facto a DFRB advice centre and I was visited by many officers, including my own WGCDR who, when the numbers showed that they were actually losing money coming to work, commenced departure. This, of course opened promotions considerably; but, was poorly addressed by the personnel managers who kept trying to prevent promotion at relatively low seniority, in spite of performance, and we had many on acting rank ‘serving out time’!!
Working closely with the personnel managers, I had learnt to advise if there were any personal posting restrictions etc so, when I decided to do some home renovations myself, I advised DPO that I needed about six months. Wrong!! Despite having pushed for the Test Pilot (TP) training of an engineer pilot every 3 years this did not occur and when Peter Reddel (right) resigned at short notice from ARDU, I found myself laying bricks at night in Canberra’s winter in order to get to Laverton to replace Pete as OiC Performance and Handling at ARDU (then at Laverton) despite not being a TP.
This was a great job, despite the steep learning curve, and I managed to fly a range of aircraft at ARDU and participate in a wide range of tests across the fleet from F111 to CT4 including the Nomad (which was to feature high in my later career) and I regularly flew the MB326 Macchi and occasionally the Canberra, Dakota and Iroquois. My first performance report was to construct a post engine change air-test profile for the Mirage III. Having not flown the aircraft, this required some deep research and then to have one of the test pilots (FLTLT Peter Dickens) fly several profiles for analysis. This was a good way to settle in and learn about ARDU. I worked for another good and interesting officer, WGCDR Bert Cairns, who had had a breakdown at some time and was not averse at airing this with ‘I have a piece of paper that says I’m sane. What about you?’ Bert also had a marked aversion to another WGCDR in the unit and whenever the latter stood in for the CO, Bert wouldn’t come to work!!
Bert tasked me with updating the ARDU Non Standard Modification Procedures. ARDU was the only unit outside of Support Command with authorisation to design and fit modifications on aircraft; but, the procedures at ARDU were woefully inadequate to control and document this and there was much resistance by the test community to the introduction of any constraints. So, my first real policy work was accomplished with much careful diplomatic consultation.
Another interesting task was instrumenting the F111 with analogue recorders for trials work. To do this required significant design work and, more importantly, funds. The instrumentation expert was Mr Frank Verinder seconded from Aeronautical Research Laboratories (ARL) and Frank and I did a number of trips by Macchi to Amberley for the design work and then back via Canberra to elicit funds. Frank was a great guy but very disorganised and easily upset. On one occasion we had just pulled up at Fairbairn in the Macchi when I saw the OCs car approaching. GPCAPT Bruce Martin was a large, gregarious man who I got on well with and had worked with at Shoalwater Bay when he was preparing to go to SVN as the senior RAAF ‘operator’. On seeing me I got the ‘what’s a b.. engineer doing here’ and at that moment Frank, who had long hair down to his shoulders (this was 1974) removed his helmet and Bruce said ‘and who’s the girl you have in the back’ before exiting the tarmac.
That night in the mess I left Frank before closing to go to bed. The following morning at breakfast someone said to me ‘you’re with the long haired guy aren’t you’? I nodded, to which he responded ‘he punched the OC out last night’!! Wow. I then went looking for Frank and found him the worse for wear still in bed and decided to press on and wait for Bruce to make the first move. But, we were staying two nights so, on return from Russell Offices later that afternoon we went to the mess for the pay night buffet. I saw Bruce at the bar. and while trying to think fast, we walked in, Bruce turned, saw Frank and let out with ‘Frank what are you drinking’? Nothing was said about the night before and the two of them got on famously. Bruce came to see us off the following day and greeted Frank like a long lost friend on our future nights at Fairbairn. To me that was a great example of a ‘big’ man. Someone else could have made it such a big issue.
However, less than two years into the job I received a phone call one morning from the OC’s wife. Now SQNLDRs seldom received calls from the OC let alone their wives and Pat Law threw me when she asked ‘what are you doing with your car’? Thinking that somehow it had rolled back in the car park, I demurred when she then blurted out ‘oh, you don’t know, forget this call; but, if you’re going to sell the car, Russ will buy it’. An hour or two later I was to learn that I had 5 weeks to get to London to do the RAF Staff Course and then, maybe, remain in the UK on the High Commission staff. GPCAPT (later AVM) Russ Law (right) returned to Laverton a week or so later and said nothing so I ‘organised’ to bump into him and he muttered something to the effect I hear I’ve bought your car. How much is it? The car was a Mercedes that I had bought out of a probate estate in Sydney and in immaculate condition so I started my sales pitch only to be gruffly advised ‘don’t bother with the niceties – how much?’. As the time for my departure approached and no further conversation had taken place I started to worry; but, Russ came good at the 11th hour. The sequel to this was some 8 years later when I returned from Butterworth to HQOC as a GPCAPT to work for Russ who was AOC. The phone rang one morning ‘Tiny, Russ Law, that car you sold me is making a funny noise, Can you come and have a look at it’. So I trotted over to the residence Briarcliffe to find ‘my car’ much the worse for wear and a slipped aircon drive contacting the radiator. I couldn’t resist opining that this wasn’t bad after sales service particularly on an ‘as is, where is’ car sold over eight years before. Russ did actually see the humour in this.
London was also a great experience. Doing the RAF Staff College was a huge plus as it subsequently gave me over 40 close contacts in MoD and, as much of the work as SEngSO London was interacting with MoD, there was always someone who could either assist me or point me in the right direction. The other major activity was the development by Marconi Avionics of the AQS901 system for the P3C which was being updated. The Project Manager of the P3 program was GPCAPT Lars (Larry) Bek who, along with his two offsiders WGCDRs Harry Dunne and Gary Lynch (the Larry, Harry and Gary Show as they were apocryphally referred to), visited the US and UK twice a year for program reviews and as I was to return to Australia at a critical time with the program, I was extended in London for a year to provide program continuity.
RAAF London, at the time, before the hatchet reviews, was well manned although we didn’t have a GPCAPT. The Head of the Aust Defence Staff (HADS) was a 2Star and each of the Services had a 1Star head. I worked initially for AirCdre John Hubble who was replaced in 1978 by AirCdre (later AVM) Mike Ridgway (left). John Hubble was a rather dour character of very few words who I thought I had fallen foul of as in those days assessed officers were not allowed to see their Annual Reports and AirCdre Hubbles’ debriefs were terse and minimal. However, when in the 1990’s all reports were released, I was surprised to read how well I had actually been reported by John Hubble. Mike Ridgway, on the other hand, along with his wife Paula, were a breath of fresh air and we remained good friends long after London.
I could write a book on London alone; but, some of the best experiences included being sat next to GPCAPT Douglas Bader in the Chairmans Chalet at a Royal International Air Tattoo. Mike Ridgway had been invited; but, he had a sailing commitment so I was offered the representational job. ‘Tin legs’ Bader was the subject of Paul Brickhills’ bio of him ‘Reach for the Sky’ which was a bible for many of my generation. On another occasion, I visited Martin-Baker at Uxbridge when we had ejection seat problems and was advised that Sir James Martin was at work and would I join him at lunch time. Sir James had retired nearly a decade earlier; but, at 90+ hadn’t actually stopped coming into work! Lunch was held in his large ‘engineers’ office stacked with books and papers, where an equally old lady in ‘Victorian’ waitress dress cleared a space on a table, set it with silverware etc and served the two of us a delightful lunch.
We also had problems with the RR Continental IO360 engine from the CT4 Airtrainer. The engine surprisingly had been built by Rolls-Royce Motors at Crewe (where the car was built) and on each visit there, a company RR would be waiting at the train station exit to convey me to the plant. This was always an ego boosting experience; but, despite all sorts of attempts the drivers would never actually let me get behind the wheel.
Another problem we had was with cracking of Mirage wings and I was dispatched to Paris to try and get more information from the manufacturer Dassault. We had a joint fatigue program running with the Swiss and both of us had similar cracking which the French denied any experience of in their fleets. In Paris, I met up with our resident engineer FLTLT Alan Riley, who had received French language training at the then RAAF School of Languages at Point Cook and, being quite extraverted, Al had also acquired a good colloquial French vocabulary. Our meeting at Dassault consisted of Al and I on one side of a long table and about 10 company officials on the other. I backgrounded our problems and, after some discussion, pointedly asked why they thought the French AF didn’t have the issues as my information was that this was incorrect. This resulted in a rapid exchange in French between the assembled group following which the leader looked me in the eye and responded ‘no WGCDR, we do not have the problem’. Whereupon, Al interrupted with a ‘BS’ and pointed at various individuals with ‘you said, you said etc’ clearly indicating that we all had similar cracking. The leader then looked at me again with ‘WGCDR, I think it would be a good time to break for lunch’!! They knew that I had no French and assumed that Al’s French was only formal but, their rapid colloquial discourse was understood word for word.
London has many memories. We bought a VW Kombi. In fact, in those days, to the consternation of the senior HC staff, Australia House used to be surrounded by Aussies and Kiwis selling campers and I made some healthy pocket money buying vans as it got cold and people were desperate to get some money to be home for Christmas. With a bit of polish, some paint and a service they then went back outside Australia House in May, Jun when the supply had run dry, as Australians flocked to London for summer
in Europe in a Kombi. Needless to say, I tried to do this surreptitiously and ‘agreed’ that the practice of all of these vans cluttering up the streets was ‘dreadful’. We toured the UK and Ireland with our three children in our Kombis and did a long trip of nearly 10,000km through Italy and as far as Athens and then back through Tito’s Yugoslavia. In fact, we looked seriously at driving from London as far as we could on the way back to Aust and had the temerity to ask what allowances I would get in lieu of the airfares; but, before this could be resolved the security situation changed dramatically in 1978 and we looked at another adventurous way home. This culminated in us visiting Disneyland in LA followed by a week in the then little visited Cook Islands and a camping holiday around NZ’s South Island with some friends met in London.
Close involvement with Royalty at my rank was rare unless appointed as an equerry or similar; but, I did manage to have lunch with Princess Margaret when she visited staff college and marvelled at her ability to consume G&T in great numbers with no apparent effect. On another occasion, Carolyn and I attended a Queen’s garden party at Buckingham Palace which sounds exotic; but, in reality did only but see her pass by from our crowded enclosure and we did get two tickets to the 1978 Trooping of the Colour at Horseguards so Carolyn and our daughter Amanda had these while I stood with the boys (Paul and Michael) to watch the procession down The Mall. However, back in 1971, I flew the back up Caribou, complete with red carpet when Prince Charles and Princess Anne were flown from Melbourne to Mansfield and return for Charles to visit his old school Timbertop. And while on Staff College, I attended a dining in night for the combined UK Staff Colleges in the Painted Hall at Greenwich, (a magnificent place – see HERE) a grand affair almost Bacchanalian where, during the pre-dinner drinks I had this RN Lt elbow me in the back. I stepped back impulsively in retaliation, looked at him and saw some familiarity but couldn’t place it only to have another officer, who I assume was an ADC, point out to me ‘that was Charles you just bumped’ implying, I think, that it shouldn’t happen again even though as a SQNLDR I thought I outranked him!
In 1975, the All Seasons RAAF uniform had been in use for less than three years and remained basic with no cold weather inclusions so I was advised to get some form of greatcoat which at that stage was not part of the uniform. In this regard, ‘Boris’ the long term tailor at Laverton, came to the rescue and equipped me with an old style dark blue double breasted great coat with two rows of gold buttons down the front, almost ankle length and he attached rank boards to the shoulders as was the style at that time. I looked like something out of a G&S opera. However, when I got to Bracknell, I obtained an RAF woolly pully which, although a lighter colour, was at least warm. During the staff college visit to Berlin, I wore my great coat to check point Charlie and often wondered what the E Germans, who were photographing furiously with long telescopic lenses through the windows of buildings bordering the checkpoint, actually made of my outfit!
Prior to the Berlin visit, permission was obtained for me to accompany the RAF who were exercising the UK Power of entry into East Berlin; but, on the day, the Staff College Commandant, AVM Keith Williamson, asked me whether I’d mind not going as they had heard that the E Germans were being difficult and he didn’t want any delays as we were to return to the UK immediately after. Of course, as a SQNLDR student to an AVM Commandant, I agreed immediately to which he responded ‘excellent in lieu I’ve arranged for the Army to give you a helicopter tour around the city’. This was great and included overflying Spandau where Rudolph Hess was the sole prisoner and observing the dog runs on endless chains forming the border between the E and W. All the others saw were the grey buildings of East Berlin
A couple of years later AirMshl Williamson), then RAF Support Commander (later CAS as AirChiefMshl) contacted me to ascertain if I’d be interested in a direct transfer to the RAF as a WGCDR. RAF was suffering a significant shortfall in mid-level engineer officer experience and were keen to redress this. This was a couple of years prior to Maggie Thatcher and the Falklands and UK Military pay was poor (e.g. On staff college we worked out that the AVM was earning less than me as a SQNLDR, albeit with allowances, and a number of RAF students on staff college had borrowed money just to meet their entertainment expectations during the course). We enjoyed living in the U.K. but, appreciated that our lifestyle was privileged and would not be so if I took the offer up, so reluctantly declined and it was interesting to see how military conditions changed significantly post Falklands with pay particularly, doubling or more.
I swapped jobs with my old course mate WGCDR Neil Smith (later AVM) and did the HO/TO in London. Smithy was astounded when I explained that I had only one filing cabinet as when I took over there was a mountain of stuff that I was reluctant to dispose of; but, when three years later I hadn’t had cause to touch any of it, I made the effort to sort, archive and dispose of anything I considered no longer relevant. My new office as AirEng1 in Canberra, Smithy explained had some eight filing cabinets and he apologised that he hadn’t undertaken a similar purge.
So it was that I got back to Canberra in 1979 to look after all RAAF single engine aircraft from a DAirEng perspective. I was greeted with the news that the Mirage, in its dying throes, had even more severe wing cracks than I had pursued with Dassault, the ARL fatigue test on the CT4 Airtrainer’s indicated that the aircraft suddenly had 40% of the expected fatigue life and the Macchi MB326 also had unpredicted wing cracks. Some time later I found myself as part of the DAFS quick reaction team, encased in rubber overalls on a 38C day, crawling through Dowd’s Morass near E Sale to the site of a Mirage (A3-75) that had crashed on the 18th Feb 1980, off the Dutson Range, with live bombs attached. The crash was a result of the aircraft being damaged by a prematurely exploding Mk82 bomb. (The Pilot, P/O J W [Truckie] Carr, ejected safely from 3,500 ft at 230 knots and the recovered components of the aircraft are on display at the Gippsland Armed Forces Museum).
Aside from determining that I was never likely to develop a rubber fetish, over a few beers with the troops later that night I was advised that the reason for the crash was incorrect fusing causing a bomb to explode immediately beneath the aircraft. This was before the over legalisation of Defence and when DAFS was able to obtain non-attributable information ‘for the determination of ongoing operations’. So it was that the DAFS team went home the next day, satisfied that it wasn’t a fleet wide problem; but, the Court of Inquiry was forced to have the bombs dug out of the morass, a major and expensive task, in order to confirm the cause and all of this was front page news because the duck shooting season opened the day after the crash and Dowd’s Morass, which we had to declare out of bounds for safety reasons, was where most of the ducks were!!
Mirage wings became a major problem and each wing was managed and unbelievably, wings were swapped among aircraft to keep sufficient aircraft flying, while we set about having some 48 odd new wings built (a similar debacle had occurred in the 1960’s with the Vampire where a similar wing management program was carried out). During this time, it also became apparent that engine spare parts were also an issue as, wisely, HQSC specialists had declined expensive engine upgrades because we planned to retire the fleet before returns on expenditure could be justified, only to have the retirement date extended by years such that the engines needed to be upgraded to remain supportable and this required large funds. In 1979, there was no DMO and AF Materiel Division was in its infancy, also, all major expenses had to receive approval through Defence Central and, in particular, the Force Development and Analysis Division (FDA – or Force Destruction and Annihilation as it was cruelly known).
The head of FDA at the time (2star equiv) was Alan Wrigley, designer of the Nomad aircraft and several attempts to get engine funds for the Mirage were thwarted by Alan. I had been involved at ARDU when we identified problems with the Nomad in the STOL configuration and Alan had not agreed with the ARDU/RAAF position. So, after several refusals of support from FDA, I suggested to my superiors that maybe if we went engineer to engineer and explained the position to Alan we might be able to ameliorate the situation. There was some merit seen in this; but, politics prevailed and we stalled. So, in some frustration, I picked up the phone, dialled Alan’s number and was put through to him. I don’t think he was used to receiving calls from WGCDRs; but, I explained why I was ringing and asked if I could come over to F block and explain the requirement to him. Not surprisingly, he declined but, indicated that he would come and see me and straight away. I quickly rushed down to my boss (GPCAPT Ted Whitehead) to explain and he in turn briefed the DG (AIRCDRE John Henze) and it was agreed that I continue with this alone. Alan Wrigley duly turned up and we went through the issue in detail over an hour or two and he finally agreed that there was no alternative. So, it was that when we finally disposed of the Mirage fleet most aircraft had near new wings and current Atar 9C engines – what a great buy/gift for the Pakistan AF.
The other major issue was the CT4 life reduction such that we were rapidly running out of aircraft for essential pilot training. A quick scan around the world showed up a possibility of acquiring a few T34 Mentor aircraft from the US; but, this would have meant operating a mixed fleet (ie some pilots being CT4 Airtrainer/Macchi MB326 trained and others T34/MB326 trained). This was not favoured although it may have been the only solution when my offsider SQNLDR Wal Nelowkin reminded us that there had been a number of new CT4’s embargoed by NZ when it had become known that they were ultimately destined for Zimbabwe (Rhodesia).
Enquiries with NZ showed that these were still boxed at Hamilton, NZ and I was tasked to visit NZ to ascertain the situation. I initially visited Wellington and ascertained that there were 14 such aircraft and, if we could purchase same then the NZ government would allow their export to Australia. I then went to Hamilton where WGCDR Rex Peterson from HQSC met up with me and one of the aircraft was unboxed for our inspection. The aircraft had hard points on the wings for 25lb bombs, an armament panel and a magnificent suite of German Becker radios etc; but, apart from the clock, were very similar to our fleet. I had been tasked to look at the acquisition aspects as well as the operational aspects from a pilot’s perspective while Rex looked at the engineering support side. Sitting in the cockpit with photographs of our aircraft and having flown the CT4 at ARDU, all looked very similar apart from armament and radios when my eye caught the clock which was a 24 hour clock; but, in one sweep of the dial ie 12.00 was at the bottom and I decided that it was unlikely that our pilots could handle a clock where ‘Mickey’s hands pointed down at 12.00’ so, this would also need changing.
Rex and I then returned to Melbourne and Canberra respectively to write our reports; but, when I got back on the Fri, I was informed that the project was ‘hot’ and a brief report was required by Mon afternoon. Without Rex’s detailed input, I concluded that acquisition was a possibility and that the aircraft could probably be acquired for about $1m and modified and delivered for another $1m and recommended that this be further explored. I handed this to Ted Whitehead and was surprised the following day to be shown my two pages which had gone rapidly up through the chain to the CAS AirMshl (later ACM Sir) Neville McNamara and on which he had handwritten words to the effect ‘I agree the WGCDR’s recommendations. CAFM find the $2m, CAFOPS/CAFTS acquire the aircraft’.
So, a week or so later, I was back in Hamilton with seniors from Defence, AFOffice and HQSC. I was then asked what I was going to do. The manufacturer Pacific Aerospace had contact with an address in LA and another in Switzerland and had ascertained that the ‘owners’ were interested and that we should make an offer. This was all being handled pre fax/email etc by telex and, for openers, I said that we were prepared to pay $0.5m for the 14 aircraft as they sat. The Company were aghast that this was a pittance and would not be accepted and my on-site advisers also demurred; but, I persisted with the opening offer. This was conveyed to LA and the following morning we had a response direct from the Minister for Defence Zimbabwe accepting and advising where the funds were to be paid. The Company couldn’t believe it and my ‘advisers’ then opined that I had offered too much!! That left us $1.5m to modify and deliver the aircraft. 17 years later when I was DGLOGOPS as with a budget over $0.5b and we had several acquisition bureaucracies, I could not have achieved anything like this and especially in the space of about a month.
However, my major job as AirEng1 was as the RAAF engineering specialist adviser in the design and development of the New Basic Trainer aircraft, which was to become the Wamira (AFSR5044) and the complementary New Fast Jet Trainer (AFSR5045) which never really advanced beyond the writing of the Staff Requirement. Essentially, I spent around every second week with the design team at Fishermen’s Bend determining what they needed in guidance from the RAAF and the other weeks in Canberra trying to satisfy their queries. RAAF policy and documentation was primarily in support and maintenance. We had little real airworthiness policy and our design requirements had by and large been given very little thought over the years. We largely bought military equipment off the shelf with some modification. Some would say too much modification. So it was that when we were asked for our operating spectrums, fatigue spectrums, oxygen system requirements, electrical wiring requirements etc etc we found ourselves wanting and in order to quantify these, even if by reference to a US or UK specifications, much rapid work was required. Fortunately, in CAFTS Division, we had a number of officers who, while not their primary job, were prepared to assist (notably (Al Emmerson, again, whose commitment to airworthiness carried over to the CAA after he left the RAAF and SQNLDR (later AVM) Pete Nicholson a GD TP with an Engineering degree who was at the time posted to CAFTS Division and with whom I had had a close working relationship at ARDU) and the first real Airworthiness Design Document – PD13 came into being. Some 10 years later, in 1990, when I started the Directorate of Engineering Policy in Canberra, this document was central as we developed airworthiness policy for the RAAF.
It was in the midst of this intensive workload in Apr1981, that I received a call from personnel (SQNLDR Frank Eaglen an engineer who was working part time in DPO while receiving significant medical treatment for cancer). Frank noted that I had a posting preference for Butterworth and enquired if I was still interested in this and, if so, could I be there in mid Jun to replace GPCAPT ‘Chummy’ Wade as CO 478Sqn.
Having spent over 3 years in the UK and having been back just over 2 years, my Butterworth posting preference was somewhat tongue in cheek and the offer was very unexpected but, of course, really appealing. However, it posed several work and personal logistic problems. Our three children who, possibly due to my frequent and lengthy absences when at 38Sqn, were born in consecutive years, were entering secondary school and had each already attended more than 10 primary schools; so, a move was not desirable from that perspective. However, Butterworth appealed to all of us so it was agreed that as each child entered secondary school, boarding school, while not preferred was the only real option. I then accepted the offer and was then further informed that the job really was to close 478Sqn and prepare both Mirage Sqns (3 and 75) for return to Australia to be reequipped with the F18 Hornet and that they had been looking for an officer to plan and manage such a task.
So, again we were in the process of selling cars, renting our house etc etc and, after some rushed attempts to secure boarding school positions, which proved not to be easy, Paul commenced boarding school and Amanda and Michael accompanied Carolyn and me onto the RAAF Boeing 707 out of Mascot for Butterworth; but, even that wasn’t easy. The Indonesians delayed the diplomatic clearance for the aircraft and we all spent that night and most of the following day in Darwin and finally ended up in an hotel in Penang Rd at about 1am the following day, a Sun, having no real idea, in the dark, where we were.
Fresh from a Canberra winter, later that morning we stepped into the pre-monsoon temperature and humidity, took in the smells of the wet fish market, and wondered whether this had really been such a good idea. But, it was too late to turn back.
To be continued!!
Unit Far East Strategic Reserve
Commanding Officers Birch, Arthur Hugh
Lush, John Fullarton
Marsh, Horton Douglas
Conflict Malayan Emergency, 1948-1960
References Malayan Emergency
Conflict Malayan Emergency, 1948-1960
Unit hierarchy Royal Australian Air Force
No. 38 Squadron (RAAF)
38 Squadron was formed in 1943. It transported passengers and supplies around Australia and, after being equipped with a Douglas C-47 Dakota, the ubiquitous “biscuit bomber”, throughout the Pacific. After the war, the squadron flew to Japan three times a week, supporting the Australian contingent of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF). In late 1948 aircrew were deployed to Europe for 12 months, where they flew Dakotas with the Royal Air Force (RAF) during the Berlin Airlift.
Cold War tensions were heating up and by 1950 communists terrorists were conducting an insurgency in Malaya. Succumbing to pressure from the United Kingdom to contribute forces to the escalating crisis, the Australian government decided to commit eight Dakotas and six Lincoln heavy bombers to the Far Eastern Air Force in April. The two Australian squadrons formed 90 (Composite) Wing.
The advance party from 38 Squadron arrived at the RAF base, Changi, Singapore, on 19 June. The squadron was operational ten days later, although it did not receive its full strength and equipment until 6 July. The squadron’s first involvement in the Emergency occurred on 12 July, when one of its Dakota’s undertook a five-and-three-quarter-hour air ambulance flight to Kuala Lumpur and jungle airstrips at Ipoh and Taiping, to evacuate wounded Singaporean soldiers.
On 23 July the squadron dropped supplies to troops on the ground near Kuala Lumpur, and on 3 August two of the squadron’s Dakotas, with other RAF aircraft, dropped 103,000 propaganda leaflets over communist-controlled territory. These leaflets called on the terrorists to surrender. Six days later a Dakota participated in a bombing raid on an area near Kota Bharu, flying over the target area, checking on weather conditions, and marking the target with smoke for bombers.
As the squadron was part of the Far Eastern Air Force, its duties in the Malayan Emergency ranged widely. Much of the squadron’s time was spent flying transport courier services to Ceylon, Borneo, the Philippines, Indochina, Hong Kong, and Japan. However, in July Australia committed ground troops to the war in Korea, at which time the squadron came under increased pressure to meet the growing transport needs demanded by the war. In November four of the squadron’s Dakotas, including supporting crew, were transferred to Korea and became 30 Communication Flight.
In April 1951 the squadron moved from Changi to Kuala Lumpur, where it became responsible for the main supply drops in Malaya. With half of its aircraft in Korea, it was proposed that the squadron be strengthened with a flight from 41 Squadron, Royal New Zealand Air Force. 38 Squadron’s move to Kuala Lumpur coincided with the peak offensive against the terrorists and by the time 38 and 41 Squadrons were relieved in mid-July, they had dropped 916,632 pounds of supplies.
In November the squadron returned to Kuala Lumpur for its second stint where in order to keep pace with the ground operations, by the end of February 1952, the squadron’s full strength was working around the clock, usually flying on four separate tasks each day.
In February two of the squadron’s Dakotas and two RAF Dakotas took part in the first paratroop drop of the campaign. The aircraft carried 54 British troops from B Squadron, 22nd Special Air Service Regiment, as part of Operation Helsby, which was a major offensive in the River Perak-Belum valley, just south of the Thai border.
At the end of February 38 Squadron returned to Changi, where it carried out a range of transport tasks. With the increasing demands of the Korean War, the transport capabilities of the RAAF were placed under enormous pressure, even in Australia, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to keep the squadron’s four Dakotas serviceable. Consequently, in September it was recommended that the squadron withdraw from Malaya and return to Australia, which it did on 11 December.
During its two-and-a-half years in Malaya, the squadron dropped 1,669,798 pounds of supplies to ground forces, carried 17,000 passengers, and evacuated 326 wounded and sick troops from Malaya to Singapore. When assessing their own performance, the squadron determined, that the “members of the Squadron, both aircrew and ground crew, realize that the job they are doing is not full of glamour, but are happy in the fact that what they are doing is vital and it is being done well”.
AWM reference: awm.gov.au/collection/U60577
By Brian (Jack) Plenty
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||Squadron raised||Richmond, NSW|
|18 September 1943||Squadron Leader H.O. Cook |
|27 October 1943||Squadron Leader C.C. Forman (RAF) ||Hudson MK.IVA|
|3 March 1944||Dakota (C-47A)|
|6 October 1944||Squadron Leader R.G. Cornfoot, AFC|
|7 December 1944||Archerfield, QLD|
|1 March 1946||Squadron Leader J.D. Balfe, AFC|
|19 August 1946||Schofields, NSW|
|28 April 1948||Flight Lieutenant R.S. Murdock (RAF)|
|30 August 1948||Squadron Leader J.B. Fitzgerald (RAF)|
|1 July 1949||Richmond, NSW|
|19 June 1950||Dakota (C-47B)|
|21 June 1950||Wing Commander J.F. Lush, OBE|
|29 June 1950||Changi, Singapore|
|16 October 1950||Squadron Leader A.H. Birch, AFC|
|30 March 1951||Squadron Leader H.D. Marsh, DFC|
|April 1951||Kuala Lumpur, Malaya|
|July 1951||Changi, Singapore|
|23 November 1951||Squadron Leader R. Carlin, DFC, AFC|
|30 November 1951||Kuala Lumpur, Malaya|
|February 1952||Changi, Singapore|
|1 September 1952||Acting/Squadron Leader T.L. Bourke, AFC |
|11 December 1952||Richmond, NSW|
|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||Fairbairn, ACT|
|7 March 1955||Squadron Leader S.W. Dallywater|
|23 April 1956||Squadron Leader L. Hawes, DFC|
|3 September 1958||Richmond, NSW|
|December 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||Caribou (DHC-4)|
|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||Townsville, QLD|
|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.
By Brian (Jack) Plenty
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.
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-
38 Squadron Hudson Aircraft
The following information has been compiled by Brian (Jack) Plenty and drawn from www.adf-serials.com.au/2a16.htm RAAF 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, the books Anson, Hudson & Sunderland in Australian Service by Stewart Wilson, Aerospace Publications, 1992 and The RAAF Hudson Story, Book One, David Vincent, Openbook Publishers, Adelaide, South Australia, 1999 and his Book Two, Vincent Aviation Publications, Highbury, South Australia 2010 and the series of booklets from Units of the Royal Australian Air Force, A Concise History, Volume 3, Bomber Units; Volume 4, Maritime and Transport Units; Volume 7, Maintenance Units; Volume 8, Training Units and Volume 9, Ancillary Units, RAAF Historical Section, Australian Government Printing Service, 1995.
The RAAF was the second service to order the Lockheed 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.
In November 1938, after initial negotiations were conducted with Lockheed’s Australian agents, Brown & Dureau Ltd, the RAAF ordered 50 Hudson aircraft through the British Air Ministry, which had already signed an order of 200 aircraft with an option of 50 more in June 1938. These aircraft were fitted with three-bladed 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. The Pratt & Whitney engine was chosen as an earlier version (R-1340-S1H1G Wasp, 600hp, 9-cylinder radial, single row) was being manufactured under licence for the Wirraway by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation. Armament consisted of two fixed, forward firing Browning 0.303in machine guns in the upper nose operated by the pilot and two in a Boulton-Paul dorsal turret, although the first batch entered service before the turrets reached Australia and so were armed with a gun in a flexible mount. In other respects, the aircraft were similar to the RAF aircraft.
In September 1939 a further 50 Hudson aircraft, 12 with dual controls, were ordered through the British Air Ministry. These aircraft had a stronger airframe than the Mk I and were fitted with three-bladed 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 were shipped to Australia, arriving between January and June 1940.
In March 1941 an additional 52 Hudson aircraft were ordered, then quickly increased to 146 aircraft. The first 52 were Mk IV aircraft delivered under the USA Lend-Lease program and so designated Mk IVA. Under the Lend-Lease program the aircraft were assigned US Army Air Corps (USAAC) then later US Army Air Forces (USAAF) designations and serial numbers. The Hudson would be given two USAAC 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 aircraft were powered by the same Pratt & Whitney engines as the earlier aircraft but under its USAAC designation of R-1830-45 Twin Wasp. Only 52 A-28-LO were built, all of which served with the RAAF under serial numbers A16-101 to A16-152.
The remaining 94 aircraft were Mk III(LR) also delivered under the Lend-Lease programme and designated Mk IIIA(LR) and USAAC designation A-29-LO. The Mk III(LR) included the stronger fuselage of the Mk II, extra wing fuel tanks (hence designation as Long Range) and the addition of one retractable ventral and two beam machine guns giving it a total of seven guns and removing a blind spot below the aircraft. The Mk III was powered by two Wright R-1820-G205A (1,200hp 9-cylinder radial, single row) engines. When installed on the Mk IIIA, these engines were designated the Wright R-1820-87. These aircraft arrived in Australia between December 1941 and May 1942.
In addition, an extra aircraft found its way onto the inventory – the former RAF AE488 designated A16-222. AE488 survived the Singapore campaign when it was evacuated by a RAAF crew to Australia in March 1942 and taken onto RAAF strength – and the number of aircraft ultimately acquired by the RAAF was 247. RAAF Hudson Mk IIIA served under serial numbers A16-153 to A16-247.
There are slight discrepancies on websites and books regarding the total number of Hudson aircraft acquired by the RAAF. The www.adf-serials.com.au/ 2a16.htm notes the 247 aircraft as described above. The www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_lockeed_ hudson_III and IV. html notes 265 Hudson aircraft: the original 100 Mk IVs and 52 Mk IVAs, 41 Mk IIIAs (A-29-LO), 65 Mk IIIAs (A-29A-LO) and 7 Mk IVs; the latter apparently taken from an RAF order for 30 Mk IVs. The adf-serials website and Stewart Wilson are in accord regarding number of aircraft and associated serial numbers. David Vincent lists 246 aircraft and notes that A16-222 was not included in his list as it was not supplied direct to the RAAF.
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 were operated by 38 Squadron between November 1943 and May 1944. The squadron began re-equipping with Douglas Dakota C-47A aircraft from March 1944 and the Hudson aircraft were reassigned to other flying units.
Much of the information below has been taken from the adf-serials website. 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 omissions or 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. I have indicated in the text the points of discrepancy with a [*], [date] or [location] for missing information and I have included a table of discrepancies and information gaps at the end of this document and will continue research to resolve them.
In the table below I have expanded the abbreviated unit names and included their locations and expanded military ranks from the adf-serials.com.au records. I have described the units No# RSU as No# Repair and Salvage Unit. These units kept that title during the period 1942-44 and then renamed to No# Repair and Servicing Unit for the period 1945-46. I have used the booklets Units of the Royal Australian Air, a Concise History to determine unit locations. I have also retained the then ‘RAAF Station’ names for major RAAF locations and the titles of the Territory of Papua (Papua) and separately New Guinea.
|RAAF Serial||Type||Construction No.||USAAF Serial||Delivered to RAAF||Aircraft History|
|A16-113||Mk IVA||6042||41-23183||08/12/41||USAAC designation A-28-LO
17/09/41 – delivered ex Lockheed to USAAC
13/10/41 – assigned Defense Aid
27/07/42 – 14Sqn RAAF, RAAF Station Pearce, WA
13/12/42 – 32Sqn RAAF, Camden Aerodrome, NSW
14/04/43* – Accident. Aircraft struck pine trees on landing at Sydney (Kingsford Smith) Aerodrome, damaging leading edges
Crew: Flying Officer L. Halliday, Flying Officer A.H. Gawler, Flying Officer R.N. Castles and Pilot Officer W.J. Stevenson of 32 Sqn RAAF – no injures
[date] – 7 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Tocumwal, NSW for repairs
12/04/43 – 6Sqn RAAF, Turnbull Field, Milne Bay, Papua
19/07/43 – 3 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Amberley, QLD
25/07/43 – 6Sqn RAAF, Turnbull Field, Milne Bay, Papua
10/09/43* – 7 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Tocumwal, NSW
[date] – 38Sqn RAAF, RAAF Station Richmond, NSW
20/04/44 – 38Sqn RAAF, RAAF Station Richmond, NSW allocation cancelled
08/12/44 – 1 Air Performance Unit, RAAF Station Laverton, VIC
|RAAF Serial||Type||Construction No.||USAAF Serial||Delivered to RAAF||Aircraft History|
|A16-115||Mk IVA||6044||41-23185||05/12/41||USAAC designation A-28-LO
05/12/41 – 1 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Laverton, VIC ex USA
20/04/44 – allocation 38Sqn RAAF, RAAF Station Richmond, NSW cancelled
25/03/50 – Accident. 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)
|RAAF Serial||Type||Construction No.||USAAF Serial||Delivered to RAAF||Aircraft History|
|A16-118||Mk IVA||6047||41-23188||05/12/41||USAAC designation A-28-LO
17/09/41 – delivered ex Lockheed to USAAC
14/10/41 – assigned Defense Aid
05/02/42 – 2 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Richmond, NSW for fitment of Boulton-Paul Turret
05/02/43 – 7Sqn RAAF, RAAF Base Townsville, QLD
29/08/43 – 5 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Forest Hill, NSW (near Wagga Wagga)
07/04/44 – 4 Communications Unit, RAAF Station Archerfield, Brisbane, QLD
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
|RAAF Serial||Type||Construction No.||USAAF Serial||Delivered to RAAF||Aircraft History|
|A16-120||Mk IVA||6049||41-23190||08/12/41||USAAC designation A-28-LO
17/09/41 – delivered ex Lockheed to USAAC
15/10/41 – assigned Defense Aid
08/12/41 – 1 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Laverton, VIC ex USA
24/08/43 – 7 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Tocumwal, NSW for modification to transport role
Not issued to 38Sqn RAAF
Striped to bare metal
28/06/45 – seats to be removed for fitment to Lodestar A67-8 then suspended following grounding of Lodestar aircraft
28/02/49 – added to Australian Register as VH-SML
|RAAF Serial||Type||Construction No.||USAAF Serial||Delivered to RAAF||Aircraft History|
|A16-122||Mk IVA||6051||41-23192||05/12/41||USAAC designation A-28-LO
17/09/41 – delivered ex Lockheed to USAAC
15/10/41 – assigned Defense Aid
15/01/43 – 32Sqn RAAF, Camden Aerodrome, NSW
12/03/44 – Accident. Missing in vicinity of Carnarvon, WA
[date] – allocation to 38Sqn RAAF cancelled
25/11/54 – added to Australian Register as VH-AGX to Adastra Aerial Surveys. Aircraft converted from Mk IVA to Mk III with installation of Wright Cyclone engines
|RAAF Serial||Type||Construction No.||USAAF Serial||Delivered to RAAF||Aircraft History|
|A16-124||Mk IVA||6053||41-23194||08/12/41||USAAC designation A-28-LO
17/09/41 – delivered ex Lockheed to USAAC
16/10/41 – assigned Defense Aid
28/12/41 – 14Sqn RAAF, RAAF Station Pearce, WA
05/09/43 – 7 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Tocumwal, NSW
16/09/43 – 1 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Laverton, VIC*
13/10/43 – allocated 38Sqn RAAF, RAAF Station Richmond, NSW
14/10/43 – transported Beaufort aircraft parts to 1 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Laverton, VIC
01/11/43 – 1 Special Duties and Performance Flight, 1 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Laverton, VIC
08/11/43 – 1 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Laverton, VIC
[date] – 38Sqn RAAF, RAAF Station Richmond, NSW
17/10/44 – allocated special equipment ex A16-55
27/06/47 – sold to Standard Vacuum Oil Company for £1,000
21/06/48 – sold to Macquarie Grove Flying School
|RAAF Serial||Type||Construction No.||USAAF Serial||Delivered to RAAF||Aircraft History|
|A16-131||Mk IVA||6060||41-23201||15/12/41||USAAC designation A-28-LO
22/09/41 – delivered ex Lockheed to USAAC
17/10/41 – assigned Defense Aid
22/12/41 – flight tested
04/01/42 – 6Sqn RAAF, RAAF Station Richmond, NSW
11/03/42 – 6Sqn RAAF, RAAF Station Richmond, NSW
14/04/43 – 3 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Amberley QLD
20/04/44 – allocation 38Sqn RAAF cancelled
|RAAF Serial||Type||Construction No.||USAAF Serial||Delivered to RAAF||Aircraft History|
|A16-134||Mk IVA||6063||41-23204||15/12/41||USAAC designation A-28-LO
22/09/41 – delivered ex Lockheed to USAAC
18/10/41 – assigned Defense Aid
01/02/42 – departed Townsville for Port Moresby
10/09/43 – 7 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Tocumwal, NSW for modification to transport role
07/11/43 – 38Sqn RAAF, RAAF Station Richmond, NSW. It was 38 Sqn’s first aircraft, ferried from Tocumwal on 07/11/43 by Commanding Officer Squadron Leader C.C. Forman (RAF)
10/06/44 – 1 Operational Training Unit, RAAF Station East Sale, VIC
29/11/45 – 2 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Richmond, NSW for storage then suspended and used for bush fire patrols by 1 Operational Training Unit, RAAF Station East Sale, VIC
|RAAF Serial||Type||Construction No.||USAAF Serial||Delivered to RAAF||Aircraft History|
|A16-147||Mk IVA||6076||41-23217||26/12/41||USAAC designation A-28-LO
24/09/41 – delivered ex Lockheed to USAAC
22/10/41 – assigned Defense Aid
12/11/43 – 1 Communications Unit, Essendon Aerodrome Melbourne, VIC fitted with 7 passenger seats for Senior Air Staff use
[date] – allocation 38Sqn RAAF cancelled
29/02/46 – 2 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Richmond, NSW for storage
27/07/47 – issued to purchaser
17/06/48 – added to Australian Register as VH-BIH
05/03/49 – written off in combat. Unit unknown. May have been 106Sqn Israeli Defense Force. No Further Details
|RAAF Serial||Type||Construction No.||USAAF Serial||Delivered to RAAF||Aircraft History|
|A16-148||Mk IVA||7077||41-23218||26/12/41||USAAC designation A-28-LO
24/09/41 – delivered ex Lockheed to USAAC
23/10/41 – assigned Defense Aid
25/01/42 – 14Sqn RAAF, RAAF Station Pearce, WA
01/05/43 – 6Sqn RAAF, Turnbull Field, Milne Bay, Papua
13/09/43 – 7 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Tocumwal, NSW for modification to transport role
[date] – allocation 38Sqn RAAF cancelled
www.adf-serials.com.au/2a16.htm notes that it used the following sources: Classic Wings Downunder Magazine, Lockheed Files website, Flightpath Magazine, Vangard Against the Japanese, Bloody Shambles, The 13 Sqn Story by Sid Grantham, Australian War Memorial, Australian War Memorial Negatives, The Highest Traditions by John Bennett, CASA Aircraft Records, 38 Sqn – First 50 Years by Mark Royle, National Archives, Aircraft Status Cards, Squadron Records, David Vincent, British Military Aircraft Serials 1911 – 1979, Bruce Robertson.
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 Hudson Mk IV aircraft there are few of the RAAF Mk IVA and I have found only two when in service with 38 Squadron: A16-122 and A16-147. Both photographs appear in David Vincent’s book The RAAF Hudson Story, Book Two. I will approach David Vincent to seek permission to reproduce these photographs or advice on their reproduction. I have included three photographs: Hudson Mk IVA A16-117 in service with 13 Squadron in 1942; Hudson Mk IVA 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.
Hudson Mk IVA A16-117, RAAF Official Photograph, provided by Gordon Birkett in service with 13 Squadron 1942
Hudson Mk IVA A16-120 stripped of camouflage, Air Marshal Jones (CAS) at Bohle River, Photo Eddie Geary Collection via Geoff Ford
Hudson A16-122 post World War II as VH-AGX Adastra Aerial Surveys, fitted with Wright Cyclone engines (now Hudson Mk III). Photograph by Eddie Coates.
Table of Discrepancies and Information Gaps requiring further research
|Aircraft||Discrepancies and Information Gaps|
|A16-113||adf-serials.com.au notes that the accident when the aircraft struck pine trees on landing at Sydney (Kingsford Smith) Aerodrome occurred on 14/04/42. At the above date, the aircraft was allocated to 14Sqn at RAAF Station Pearce, WA. It more likely occurred on 14/04/43 when the aircraft was allocated to 13Sqn at Camden Aerodrome, NSW. I think the adf-serials.au date is a typographic error and have used the latter date until it can be clarified.
Also, the [date] when the aircraft was at 7 Aircraft Depot for repair following the above accident and the [date] when the aircraft was received at 38Sqn is not recorded on adf-serials.com.au.
adf-serials.com.au notes the aircraft was at 7 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Tocumwal, NSW on 10/09/44. While this is entirely plausible, the event would occur after the allocation to 38Sqn ceased on 20/04/44 and before allocation to 1 Operational Training Unit, RAAF Station East Sale, VIC on 01/10/44. Alternately, it could have occurred on 10/09/43 to enable aircraft modification to the transport role before allocation to 38Sqn – this event is not mentioned in adf-serials.com.au. I have chosen the earlier date as the most plausible but this event requires further research.
|A16-115||adf-serials.com.au notes that on 12/08/44 the aircraft was allocated for use by AOC RAAF. It is not clear which senior officer appointment this refers – could be Chief of Air Staff (?) and requires further research.
|A16-118||adf-serials.com.au notes that on 08/04/42 the aircraft was at 13Sqn RAAF, RAAF Station Darwin, NT then on
23/05/42 it was at (number not provided) Repair and Salvage Unit. The closest unit was No 1 Repair and Salvage Unit, Daly Waters, NT and I have used that unit while undertaking further research to confirm.
adf-serials.com.au does not indicate to which unit [location] the aircraft was allocated after completion of the above repair work.
The next event noted is a ground accident on 05/12/42 but no [location] is provided.
The [date] the aircraft was allocated to 38Sqn is not recorded.
adf-serials.com.au notes that the fatal accident just after take-off from Cairns, QLD occurred on 05/12/45. The Australian War Memorial website notes the accident occurred on 05/03/45, which aligns to when the aircraft was subsequently Struck Off Charge on 13/03/45. The adf-serials.com.au date is a typographic error and I have used the AWM website date. Adf-serial.com.au states that the aircraft crashed on takeoff. However, in The RAAF Hudson Story, Book Two, p.279, David Vincent cites the Court of Inquiry which noted that the aircraft crashed while manoeuvring to land at Cairns, with the cause unknown. It mentioned that the pilot’s lack of instrument flying experience may have contributed.
|A16-120||adf-serials.com.au notes that the aircraft suffered a buckled centre section in a landing accident on 28/04/42 but does not provide the [location].
The aircraft was then sent to 1 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Laverton, VIC on 04/05/42 then 5 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Forest Hill, NSW on 23/05/42 for repairs. The website notes the aircraft remained there until 1943, yet it has the aircraft at 6Sqn on 22/05/42. I think this is typographic error and it should be 22/05/43.
On 24/08/43 the aircraft was at 7 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Tocumwal, NSW for modification to transport role. It was to be issued to 38Sqn but instead proceeded to Port Moresby on 04/09/43 for use by General Blamey then on 18/11/43 for use by Air Vice-Marshal Jones. adf-serials.com.au does not provide advice on which unit(s) operated the aircraft in support of these two senior officers.
On 10/12/46 the aircraft was sold to H. Ellis of Shermans Motors, Dubbo, NSW. The spelling of Skerman’s on adf-serials.com.au is a typographic error.
|A16-122||adf-serials.com.au notes that on 29/04/42 the aircraft struck a drain on landing and the undercarriage collapsed and on 16/11/42 the aircraft was involved in a ground collision with the wingtip of A16-116. Both events occurred whilst assigned to 14Sqn RAAF, RAAF Station Pearce, WA. The records do not state the [location] of each event.
adf-serials.com.au does not note the [date] that the aircraft’s allocation to 38Sqn was cancelled.
|A16-124||adf-serials.com.au notes that on 28/01/42 the aircraft struck a rabbit burrow breaking the tail wheel strut and on 01/06/42 the aircraft carried out a forced landing when the port engine failed. The records do not state the [location] for each event.
adf-serials.com.au notes that aircraft was at 1 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Laverton, VIC on 16/09/43 but the event is placed out of date sequence on the website. I have assumed this to be an error in transcribing the record onto the website rather than the date being in error.
adf-serials.com.au notes that on 14/10/43 the aircraft transported Beaufort aircraft parts to 1 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Laverton, VIC and the next event is its allocation to 01/11/43 to 1 Special Duties and Performance Flight, 1 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Laverton, VIC. There is no record of the [date] the aircraft’s allocation to 38Sqn RAAF was cancelled.
adf-serials.com.au does not record the [date] of the aircraft’s subsequent reallocation to 38Sqn RAAF nor a [date] for is later cancellation.
|A16-131||adf-serials.com.au does not record the [date] the aircraft was allocated to 38Sqn RAAF following its allocation to 7 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Tocumwal, NSW on 07/09/43 for modification to the transport role.
adf.serials.com.au does not record the [location] of the accident on 12/09/45 when the aircraft ran out of fuel and landed wheels up on a beach.
Likewise, adf-serials.com.au does not record the [date] the aircraft was sent to 1 Central Recovery Depot, Werribee, VIC for survey nor the [date] that 4 (Maintenance) Group, Melbourne advised to write-off.
|A16-134||adf-serials.com.au does not record the [date] the aircraft’s allocation to 38Sqn RAAF was cancelled.
|A16-147||adf-serials.com.au notes the aircraft was allocated to 38Sqn RAAF on 24/08/43 then the allocation was cancelled on 12/11/43. There is no indication the aircraft was flown by 38Sqn RAAF or any other unit during this period. The aircraft may have been flown by the Sqn before being modified for the transport role or it may have remained ‘parked’ waiting modification.
The aircraft was subsequently modified for the transport role, arriving at 7 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Tocumwal, NSW on 23/11/43.
adf-serials.com.au notes the aircraft was reallocated to 38Sqn RAAF on 08/01/44 but does not record when the [date] the allocation was cancelled.
|A16-148||adf-serials.com.au does not record the [date] the aircraft was sent to 1 Aircraft Depot, RAAF Station Laverton, VIC for fitment of Long Range Fuel Tanks nor the [date] the aircraft’s allocation to 38Sqn RAAF was cancelled.|
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
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10. a b c d e f RAAF Historical Section (1995), p. 69
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