«3. A crew assembles: Charlie Crosdale and Jack Palmer It was Squadron Leader A. D. Carey’s job. The Station Administrative Officer at RAAF Station ...»
3. A crew assembles: Charlie
Crosdale and Jack Palmer
It was Squadron Leader A. D. Carey’s job. The Station Administrative Officer
at RAAF Station Laverton initiated preparations on Friday, 9 August 1940
for a flight on Tuesday, August 13 to ‘Convey Minister for Air and five other
passengers to Canberra A.C.T.’ Alfred Carey’s Flying Operation Instruction No.
111 advised that the aircraft would be one of No. 2 Squadron’s latest acquisitions,
a Lockheed Hudson bomber, A16-97. The captain and crew for the flight to Canberra were to be detailed by No. 2 Squadron’s commanding officer. When their delivery of important people to the capital was completed the intention was that, in the absence of alternative orders, A16-97 should return to Laverton, empty save for ballast and its crew of four.1 A16-97 was one of the second batch of 50 Hudsons delivered to the RAAF from the Lockheed plant in California. Of the 100 Hudsons in the country at the end of July 1940 two had already been ‘written off by conversion’ as a result of crashes. One was undergoing ‘major repair owing to crash’, and another two had been ‘robbed of various parts’. The last four machines in the second group were fitted with seven passenger seats as well as dual controls. These specially fitted Hudsons were to be dispersed to bases around the country.
They would form part of a Hudson squadron reserve at Richmond, Pearce, Darwin, and Laverton, and be available to transport ‘essential maintenance stores and personnel to advanced operational bases’. The Air Board was also hopeful that the modified machines might provide the ‘much-felt need’ for wireless telegraphy school aircraft. When required, and the Minister for Air saw this as an essential function, they would take members of the Cabinet and their entourages wherever and whenever they were needed. Ministerial traffic between Melbourne and Canberra was expected to be greatest. A16-97, the first of the four Hudsons to be furnished with passenger accommodation, was therefore allocated to No. 2 Squadron at Laverton. Received at 1 Aircraft Depot on 20 June 1940 along with eight others, A16-97 was assembled and tested over the next six weeks. It was a sound machine. There was plenty of room for the six passengers in what was the fastest and most comfortable aeroplane the RAAF could then offer.2 1 NAA: A11094, 5/6/Air Part B; copy attached to ‘Report No. 4 of August 1940: Report of Accident to Lockheed Hudson Aircraft A16-97, Reference Air Accident Report No. 39 of 1940/41’, NAA: A705, 32/10/2729.
2 ‘Re-arming with Hudson Aircraft (Policy)’, NAA A1196, 1/501/317. Much of the information in this paragraph is conveniently assembled and documented in David Vincent, The RAAF Hudson Story, Book Two, 2010, Vincent Aviation Publications, Highbury, 2010, pp.246–7.
Ten Journeys to Cameron's Farm No. 2 Squadron was one of the original Australian Flying Corps and RAAF squadrons. Its distinguished past remembered through the lean depression years, it was re-formed as a Citizen Air Force (CAF) squadron at Laverton in May 1937 under the command of Squadron Leader J. H. Summers. Two Hawker Demon aircraft, three officers, and 38 airmen were its starting complement.3 Johnny Summers was promoted Wing Commander in February 1938 and was succeeded in March 1939 by Wing Commander Alan Charlesworth. The unit had been designated a general reconnaissance squadron in which extended courses in navigation training could be given. By then there were seven officers, three sergeant pilots, and 70 other ranks. The squadron was being re-equipped with the new British maritime reconnaissance aircraft, the Avro Anson. A twinengine monoplane, the first in RAAF service, with an enclosed cockpit, also a first, the Anson had several unique features. Some had dual controls. All had a cumbersome hand-wound retractable undercarriage. And, as operations over Bass Strait soon established, its range was limited — not least because of maintenance shortcomings resulting from administrative parsimony.4 Fred Thomas’s squadron Three months after war broke out Alan Charlesworth was replaced by Squadron Leader Fred Thomas, a 33-year-old former CAF and Reserve officer. Thomas had been a Melbourne University accountancy student who had served two years in the Melbourne University Regiment when he enlisted as an Air Force cadet in
1926. Taking readily to flying, Thomas topped the course, just beating another bright student, Ray Garrett, whom he was delighted to find at No. 2 Squadron as a flight lieutenant recalled to active duty from his own successful photographic business at the outbreak of war. Thomas’s steady advance in the Service had been matched in his civilian life as he assumed managerial roles in a flourishing family company, W. C. Thomas & Sons Pty Ltd, grain merchants and flour millers. The Thomases had been prominent in Melbourne commercial and social life for several generations. Fred, smart and well-connected, standing over five feet ten inches tall and with what one of his seniors, Harry Cobby, was later to call ‘regimental bearing’, was appointed in 1934 honorary ADC to the recently arrived Governor of Victoria, Lord Huntingfield. Two years later, the link with Huntingfield was extended when the Governor became Honorary Commodore 3 Operations Record Book, No. 2 (General Reconnaissance) Squadron, NAA: A9186/5; Richard S. Gunter, ‘No. 2 (General Reconnaissance) Squadron Royal Australian Air Force: A Brief History’, RAAF War History Section Albert Park Barracks, Jan. 1950 (cyclostyled document furnished by the RAAF Historical Branch, Nov. 1979); ‘History of No. 2 Squadron Royal Australian Air Force 1916-1952’, RAAF Historical Section, n.d.
4 Stewart Wilson, Anson, Hudson and Sunderland in Australian Service, Aerospace Publications, Weston Creek ACT, 1992, pp.25-7; ACdre Sir Raymond Garrett, taped reminiscences, transcribed and edited by Anne Kelly, Garrett MSS; A. J. Jackson, Avro Aircraft Since 1908, Putnam, London, 1965, pp.319-23.
3. A crew assembles: Charlie Crosdale and Jack Palmer of the new No. 21 Squadron to which Thomas, a flight lieutenant since 1932, was posted. Thomas was then the most senior flight lieutenant in the CAF; but the Air Board baulked at the Air Member for Personnel’s recommendation that he be promoted to squadron leader. Officers of equal rank, but higher seniority in the Permanent Force, were awaiting promotion. As a compromise he was granted honorary rank as squadron leader, with no extra pay. In what appears to have been a transient enthusiasm, Thomas applied to join the newly formed 2nd Light Tank Company of the Australian Tank Corps in March 1939 three weeks after transferring to the RAAF Reserve and being promoted temporary squadron leader.5 Fred Thomas, confident in command (From National Archives of Australia, A9300 Thomas FW) By mid-1940, under Fred Thomas’s leadership, No. 2 Squadron’s 10 already obsolescent Ansons were mainly engaged in reconnaissance, navigation training, searches for enemy raiders, and exercises in co-operation with the Navy, 5 NAA: A9300, THOMAS FW.
Ten Journeys to Cameron's Farm operations which were being taken over by the superior Lockheed Hudsons as they were progressively delivered. Like other similarly equipped units No.
2 Squadron was receiving its allotment of Hudsons at intervals to allow for the maintenance of operational efficiency with Ansons while pilots were being converted to the new type.6 Dispersing the new aircraft around the country, together with at least one instructor for each unit, using the limited number of trained pilots without simultaneously crippling the pilot conversion program, had challenged headquarters logistical ingenuity.7 By the time A16-97 was assigned to them on 2 August 1940 Fred Thomas’s squadron had 11 Hudsons, seven of them delivered within the last month.8 A secret ‘Warstand’ report on August 1 had noted that one of the Hudsons was ‘unserviceable’. If required as reinforcements, five aircraft could ‘move at short notice’ with second pilots, W/T operator, and two air gunners. But lack of armament equipment and spares would render them ‘operationally unserviceable’.9 Most of the squadron’s Ansons had been returned for use in training establishments. One instructor, Flight Lieutenant John P. Ryland, had been assigned to lead the squadron’s conversion, starting with the CO and the flight commanders. As other Hudson squadrons were being sent for duty in Darwin and Sembawang, Singapore, Fred Thomas could reasonably aspire to lead his men into more hazardous zones. For the time being, however, as the Director of Operations and Intelligence had pointed out to a staff conference at the end of April, Hudsons lacking guns and bomb racks could be regarded only as general reconnaissance aircraft, not bombers.10 But the unpleasant inoculations for typhoid, smallpox, and tetanus that No. 2 Squadron personnel were all receiving were the promise of action to come. Meanwhile, it was a life of routine operations and training at home.
During the May sittings of Parliament, No. 8 Squadron in Canberra had used DC-3s to provide a weekly shuttle to and from Melbourne, leaving Laverton at
8.15 a.m. each Tuesday morning and returning on Fridays. These arrangements had been requested by the Minister for Air, who evidently expected that a similar service would be provided when Parliament resumed in August. As No. 8 Squadron was preparing to move to Singapore, and the chartered DCs it had been using had been returned to their owners, the only operational squadron with a suitable aircraft for a passenger flight to Canberra was No. 2.
With a gathering of dignitaries to be carried, the Service would want to ensure a smoothly professional trip. In the previous two months, No. 2 Squadron had 6 DOI (GpCpt. T. A. Swinbourne) for CAS to HQ Southern and Central Areas and RAAF Stations Darwin and Pearce, ‘Rearming with Hudsons — Operational Efficiency’, 15 June 1940, NAA: A1196, 1/501/317.
7 NAA: A1196,1/501/317.
8 Ron Cuskelly to CH, 15 July 1978.
9 ‘Service Training Report Southern Area’, NAA: A1196, 37/501/20 Pt 1.
10 ‘Report of Staff Conference No. 32…’, 30 April 1940, NAA: AA1977/635.
3. A crew assembles: Charlie Crosdale and Jack Palmer transported the Chief of the Air Staff to Sydney, Cambridge in Tasmania, and Archerfield in Queensland; and the Air Officer Commanding had been flown to Parafield in South Australia. On June 13 and 14 the Air Minister and the Chief of the Air Staff, Sir Charles Burnett, had been flown from Laverton to and from Mascot. In the first week of August, the new Hudson A16-97 had been taken to Canberra by Flying Officer W. P. Heath with five passengers, one of them the Air Minister.11 Bill Heath was an experienced commercial flyer. Before the war he had served five years in the CAF as an airman pilot (sergeant) while flying for Australian National Airways. Appointed a temporary flying officer at the outbreak of war, he had been mustered for General Duties with No. 1 Squadron before joining No. 2 Squadron on 1 June 1940.12 Heath would have seemed a natural choice for the next flight to Canberra. But there were other possibilities.
At the end of July there were, according to the No. 2 Squadron Operations Record Book monthly report, ‘five captains fully operational’ on the recently arrived Hudson aircraft.13 Ensuring that senior pilots could handle the new aircraft was a high priority. The CO and the three flight commanders, Flight Lieutenants Bob Hitchcock, Ray Garrett, and Jack Ryland, had all been converted. Ryland was the first, instructed at Richmond in February and March by Lockheed’s field service representative, L. D. ‘Swede’ Parker. Garrett had also spent several eventful weeks with the respected company test pilot Parker at Richmond and had just completed his training under Ryland at Laverton, passing his final ‘crew’ and ‘full load’ tests on August 3. On August 6, Garrett had flown Air Commodore Harry Wrigley and a crew of five to Adelaide, returning on August
8. Although he had less than 57 hours as a Hudson first pilot, Garrett’s ability and long commercial flying record made him a suitable man to take the flight to Canberra. But his expertise as a Hudson instructor was of more value. Almost every day since July 16 he had been taking a group of pilots up for training in airmanship and emergency procedures.14 Bill Heath was a more likely choice for the Canberra assignment. He had a great deal of experience as an airline captain. In 1939 he had been detailed to teach RAAF pilots to fly DC-2s. Though relatively junior in rank, Heath was mature (approaching his thirty-first birthday) and had ferried the group including the Minister for Air to Canberra the previous week.15 He had accompanied Ryland in A16-32 when the Chief of the Air Staff was taken to Tasmania on July 17. But, even more than Garrett, he had been occupied since his arrival at No. 2 Squadron in 11 Flying Operation Instruction, , 5 Aug. 1940, signed by S/Ldr Thomas, NAA: A11094, 5/6/AIR PART B.
12 NAA: A9300, HEATH WP.
13 No. 2 Squadron Operations Record Book, 1 Aug. 1940, NAA: A1980, 599. In fact four were fully trained as captains; the fifth, 90 per cent trained, was expected to complete conversion on Aug. 4. (‘Service Training Report — Southern Area Pt 1’, NAA: A1196, 37/501/20 Pt 1).
14 W. R. Garrett, Flying Log Book, courtesy of Anne Kelly.
15 Vincent, The RAAF Hudson Story, Book Two, p.248, referring to an unnamed ‘junior officer’, overlooks Heath’s extensive experience as a commercial airline pilot.
Ten Journeys to Cameron's Farm putting new pilots through their paces. And since August 3, when he too completed his Hudson conversion with Ryland on the dual-control A16-6 (the first Hudson to be assembled in Australia), he had spent almost every day in second-pilot training in Hudsons working through the airmanship syllabus and occasionally testing engines, instructing on full load flying and use of wireless telegraphy.
Bill Heath in Australian National Airways uniform (Courtesy of Daryl Heath)
‘A very able pilot was detailed…but he went sick at the last moment,’ Sir George Jones recalled.16 Jones, then Director of Training, knew that the Laverton base was in the grip of an outbreak of a debilitating illness — described as a cross between influenza and bronchitis — that was frazzling doctors. Flight Lieutenant Peter Delamothe, commanding the recently opened 200-bed RAAF 16 AM Sir George Jones, interview, 14 Sept. 1977.