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While the Royal

Australian Air

Force may have only had five squadrons equipped with Beaufighters in the Pacific Theatre, they punched well above their weight. Crews had three years of intensive low-level operations over land and sea, hitting the enemy hard; but often at the cost of men and aircraft lost. Combat in the Pacific was a war of grinding attrition.

The two most active RAAF Beaufighter units were 30 and 31 Squadrons, both of which were war-raised. No.30 was formed at Richmond, New South Wales, on March 9, 1942 and five months later 31 was created at Wagga Wagga, NSW.

No.30 remained at Richmond, carrying out conversion and combat training until August 14 when it transferred to the airstrip at Bohle River in Queensland, with the 24 ‘Beaus’ on strength arriving three days later. After a very brief stay it started moving to Ward’s Strip in Port Moresby, New Guinea, on September 8, completing the transfer four days later.

The unit arrived in time to assist in the destruction of enemy troops on the Kokoda Track. In the skies over Burma and in the Pacific, the type’s chilling nickname, ‘Whispering Death’, was used to considerable advantage as propaganda. Powerful, low-flying and fast, the Beaufighter became renowned for its quiet approach. This sobriquet is said to have come from the Japanese, but is much more likely to owe its origins to beleaguered Allied troops close to a target zone marvelling at the unheralded approach and the awesome punch of a quartet of 20mm cannons.

CLOSE COMBAT

Japanese landing barges in the Sanananda Point area were the first target for 30 Squadron on September 17, 1942. The excellent results achieved elicited a message from General Douglas MacArthur: “My heartiest congratulations on yesterday’s attack on Buna — it was a honey.” No.31’s Operations Record Book (ORB) described the action:

“Barges on both sides of Sanananda Point and north west [at] Buna Point well strafed, three barges seen burning vigorously, four to five smoking, and many others caught fire, at least 50-percent of barges burned. One small launch [at] Buna strafed, large fire, possibly fuel and stores burning at the beginning of the road at Sanananda, much black smoke and many explosions, smoke seen from 25 miles rising to 2,000ft.”

Sanananda and Buna were being used by the Japanese as main supply depots for troops on the Kokoda Track. With the initial absence of Allied air power they had not bothered to camouflage the store dumps properly.

It was a good start, showing the fighting spirit and willingness to get in close with the enemy, qualities that target for 30 Squadron on September 17, 1942. The excellent results achieved elicited a message from General Douglas MacArthur: “My heartiest congratulations on yesterday’s attack on Buna — it was a honey.” No.31’s Operations Record Book (ORB) described the action:

“Barges on both sides of Sanananda Point and north west [at] Buna Point well strafed, three barges seen burning vigorously, four to five smoking, and many others caught fire, at least 50-percent of barges burned. One small launch [at] Buna strafed, large fire, possibly fuel and stores burning at the beginning of the road at Sanananda, much black smoke and many explosions, smoke seen from 25 miles rising to 2,000ft.”

Sanananda and Buna were being used by the Japanese as main supply depots for troops on the Kokoda Track. With the initial absence of Allied air power they had not bothered to camouflage the store dumps properly.

It was a good start, showing the fighting spirit and willingness to get in close with the enemy, qualities that came to characterise the men of all the Beaufighter units. The unit suffered the loss of its first crew, F/Sgt G W Sayer and Sgt A S Mairet, in British-built Mk.Ic A19-1 on September 23, 1942. September’s operational flying amounted to 367 hours. (See the panel for RAAF serial numbers and variants.)

Another machine, A19-68, was downed on October 12 during a low-level strafing run of troops along the Kokoda Track. At this time, the established priority was coastal shipping and offensive sweeps between Buna and Salamaua, the ‘milk run’ as it was known to the aircrew, plus attacks on the eastern part of the Kokoda Track.

On the 27th eight Beaufighters surprised the Japanese at Lae Harbour and set alight fuel depots on the jetty and round towards Voco Point. On their return, aircrew reported that they could still see the flames from 40 miles (65 km) away.

Regarded as an ‘unlucky’ aircraft, A19-55 was listed as missing off Buna on the 27th. Its pilot had been compelled to land on the airstrip at Gurney, which was barely suitable for even single-engined fighters. The following morning A19-55 and crew returned to base but five days later it was one of two aircraft damaged by Mitsubishi A6M Zekes while on a raid.

The outstanding way in which 30 Squadron had carried out its duties during September and October resulted in the award of a DSO to Wg Cdr B R Walker and DFCs to Sqn Ldr R Little, Flt Lt R Uren and Fg Offs Sandford, Spooner, A P McGuire and Campbell. By mid-October operations were transferred to support the fighting on the Owen Stanley Ranges and Salamaua then during November Buna, Amdenba, Sopota and Gona became primary targets. This was the start of the Australian Army’s bloody and relentless advance northwards.

No.30 had a particularly busy November, being operational every day the weather perm itted, attacking everything Japanese seen on land or sea. Most commonly pairs of Beaufighters combed an area and frequently came back with varying degrees of flak damage, or parts of trees stuck to the leading edges.

BISMARCK SEA

The new year did not start well for 30 Squadron. Mk.Ic A19-55 was destroyed and A19-28, -34 and -73 severely damaged by enemy action on January 2, 1943. From March 2 to 4, the unit took part in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, the Beaufighters raking eight troopships and escorting destroyers at mast top height while the USAAF bombed from various altitudes above 2,000ft (609m).

Eight Beaufighters strafed the airstrip at Cape Hoskins on September 19 and A19-133 crashed on the return flight. During a sweep over Cape in the elimination of enemy shipping. July 13 was a bad day: A19-174 crashed into the sea near Buti, A19-146 made a crash-landing at Boram, while A19-185 and its crew simply disappeared, dying unseen as did so many airmen in the vast emptiness of New Guinea and the adjacent ocean and islands.

By October 1944 the unit had transferred to Noemfoor and was striking as far north as Amboina Island. After attacking a truck near Cape Binta in the Celebes, A12-202 crashed into a hillside on December 6.

On January 16, 1945 a headquarters clerical officer, Sgt A S Martin, was awarded the US Soldiers Medal for heroism. In a heavy swell, he swam out from Kiriwina to rescue an American serviceman who was trapped on a rock and in danger of drowning.

No.30 supported the Tarakan landings in May and on June 14 moved on to Sanga Sanga on Morotai for the final two months of the war. With the Japanese surrender, the unit returned to Australia on December 12 and disbanded at Deniliquin on August 15 the following year.

BIT BY BIT

Sqn Ldr B F Rose took command of the second Beaufighter unit, 31 Squadron, on September 1, 1942. On completion of training, it moved briefly to Batchelor airstrip in October 1942, then Coomallie Creek on November 12, both in the Northern Territory. From there, 31 could wage war on Japanese-Cunningham on October 2 the ‘Beaus’ came across a Mitsubishi G4M Betty and shot it down. On November 25 bridges around Cape Hoskins were successfully destroyed but the crew of A19-139 perished when it struck tree tops during the attack. In a fast-moving Beaufighter at low-level, the pilot had no chance of taking remedial action if anything went wrong.

The squadron came under control of 71 Wing at Goodenough Island on March 3, 1944, and in June it moved up to Tadji, the former Japanese base which had long been a target the RAAF. Here, 30 Squadron began cooperating the US Navy’s torpedo boats occupied islands across the Timor Sea.

Declared operational on November 17, the unit made its debut with an attack on Moabisse and Boborobi, Timor. It suffered its first casualty when A19-46 crashed into the sea near Cape Batoe Poeti while trying to evade an enemy fighter, killing Sqn Ldr D Riding and W/O R D Clarke.

No.31 stayed in this theatre for two years, destroying Japanese forces bit by bit, before transferring to Noemfoor on November 27, 1944. Its final operational move was to Morotai Island ten days later.

In addition to raids, 31 also escorted convoys in the Timor Sea and had carried out its 100th sortie by the m iddle of December. Like 30 Squadron, it was an oversized outfit with 24 Beaufighters on its establishment although it often fell below this level due to a lack of replacements. It also carried out strikes in conjunction with 2, 13 (Bristol Beauforts) and 18 Squadron (North American Mitchells).

During early 1943, attacks on barges and escorting convoys continued but on May 6, during a raid on Taberflane on Aroe Island, ten floatplane fighters lined up on a beach were destroyed. Strikes on Tanimbar Island, Langgoer, Penfui and Selaroe became more frequent in July 1943 when the Japanese were foolish enough to try moving shipping by day. No.31 Squadron made life miserable for them, for example on August 17 they caught a vessel in the open, killing the majority of the 50 sailors on board.

On March 8 a lone enemy aircraft got through the defences and destroyed A19-31 and damaged two other Beaufighters on the ground. Penfui was strafed on May 18 and a ‘Beau’ struck some tree tops but managed to return to base while three others sadly disappeared without trace.

LOVABLE ROCKETS

The unit transferred to Darwin on October 18 and the war continued in the same fashion, but with an increasing number of enemy aircraft and ships being encountered. By the end of 1943, the squadron had carried out 1,137 sorties, and had destroyed 18 aircraft in aerial combat and 49 on the ground, with others claimed as damaged. There was not a lot of glory in 31’s war but its sorties meant that no Japanese troops or military facilities were immune from attack.

A break from sorties over enemy territory took place on March 9, 1944, when 14 Beaufighters, accompanied by nine Douglas C-47 Skytrains transporting servicing personnel and equipment, were flown to Potshot in Western Australia to be in place in case a Japanese fleet, seen in the Indian Ocean, turned south towards the Australian coast. No.31 returned to Darwin on the 23rd.

By July 1 Babar, and adjacent Islands, were added to the list of targets and a house, believed to contain senior Japanese officers, was levelled. During August rocket rails were fitted and

31 became the first RAAF Beaufighter squadron to receive these potent weapons. They were first used in action on September 16 when buildings at Naroolia were flattened with ease.

The aircrew just loved them. In addition to the 60lb (28kg) rockets, napalm bombs and 325lb depth charges came into service.

The squadron moved to Noemfoor on December 7 and soon after 14 aircraft strafed Jolo Island, a target at the limit of the Beaufighters’ range. Through this period there was a steady loss of men and aircraft, however 31 maintained its reputation as always being available for the task in hand. For the first time, all three Beaufighter units, 22, 30 and 31, were in action together.

Following a quiet period during April and May 1945 the tempo again picked up and 31 continued to give close support to the Australian Army until the Japanese surrendered on August 15. By then 31 Squadron had carried out 2,660 sorties with an air combat record of 20 ‘kills’, two ‘probables’ and 14 damaged. It was not possible to establish how many Japanese soldiers had been killed in strafing attacks nor the number of coastal craft that sank after the unit had departed from the scene.

No.31’s last ‘op’ was on August 3 over Kuching. The unit returned to Deniliquin on December 18 then on to Williamtown on March 12, 1946, and was disbanded on July 6, 1946.

SWEEPING IN PAIRS

The third RAAF unit to fly Beaufighters operationally was 22 Squadron. Having fought the war in New Guinea and the islands to the north with Douglas DB-7s and A-20 Havocs, no serious thought had been given to re-equipping it with Beaufighters. That was until a Japanese raid on its base on Morotai on the night of November 23, 1944, destroyed four aircraft and seriously damaged another seven. As the A-20 was being phased out of USAAF service in the Pacific, it was not possible to obtain replacements so Beaufighters were chosen.

It was not until February 11, 1945, that the squadron recommenced operations with a full establishment. That day the unit’s ORB described how eight aircraft carried out a: “search of southerly escape route [with] particular attention [to the] Padi area, strafed and hit light house and radar station, damaged camouflaged transformer.” The most common ‘ops’ were carried out by pairs and consisted of armed •reconnaissances, coastal shipping sweeps, and attacks on bridges. Additionally, pamphlets urging the Japanese to surrender were dropped. Mk.Ic A8-43, crewed by Fg Off Collet and Flt Lt Frances, went into the sea on February 28. They managed to get a message out and were rescued by an air-sea rescue Consolidated Catalina.

Operations in March continued as before, with pairs marauding over Japanese territory and destroying everything that moved or was inadequately camouflaged. The ORB for the 30th stated that A8-27, -42, -115 and -118: “took part in a dawn attack on Liang airstrip on Amboina Island and Beaufighter A8-115, pilot Hart, encountered heavy anti-aircraft fire and was hit in both legs. After assistance from the navigator in steadying the aircraft while the pilot applied emergency bandages to his legs and despite severe pain and loss of blood, he flew the aircraft for 21/2 hours across 350 miles of ocean and made a perfect landing at the base.”

No.22 arrived at Tawi Tawi in the Philippines on May 22. Moving to Morotai allowed it to provide air cover for the Australian landings at Labuan and Brunei and it finished its war in this area.

Most of the post-surrender flying in September was reconnaissance over the Celebes and Ambon. A C-47, with ten members of the squadron on board, ditched in the sea on the 19th but 16 hours later they were rescued by a Royal Australian Navy launch. No.22 Squadron returned to Australia on December 17 and disbanded on August 25, 1946.

OCCUPYING FORCES

Two more squadrons, 92 and 93 were formed in 1945, but only the latter became operational, briefly, before the end of the war in the Pacific. No.93 ‘Green Ghost’ was formed at Kingaroy, Queensland, on January 22, 1945, and when training was complete on June 13 it was transferred to Labuan Island. Due to the unsuitability of the runways at both airfields and it was not until August 5 that Beaufighters arrived, officially beginning ‘ops’ two days later.

However, the ORB reports on July 26 that: “two aircraft had preceded . The rest of the squadron [to Labuan] on escort duty. They escorted Spitfires to Labuan and were ordered to remain. These aircraft attacked a hotel at Sibu, Borneo, and destroyed it with rockets. It was believed that there was a conference of Japanese officers at the hotel.”

No.93 carried out armed reconnaissances of Rjanag, Mukan, Bintula and Sibu and rocket attacks. Its last two operations were carried out on August 13 when five aircraft strafed the airfield at Tromboul while others flew to Kuching to check out the airfield for enemy activity.

Stood down from operations on August 15, the next three weeks were spent locating and dropping leaflets on Japanese personnel. Then followed a series of meteorological flights and finally 93 escorted the aircraft of 81 Wing to join the British Commonwealth Occupation Force in Japan. On December 20 the squadron began transferring to Narromine where it was reduced to a cadre and finally disbanded on August 22, 1946.

The last unit, 92 Squadron, was designated as a ground-attack unit and was formed at Kingaroy, Queensland, on May 25, 1945. Its first Beaufighter was delivered on July 4 although it had previously received an Avro Anson on June 19 and a Bristol Beaufort on the 20th. Minimal flying was carried out during 92’s first two months but gradually the unit built up to full strength.

Still not operational at the end of the war, 92 lost no aircrew in action but on September 3, a Beaufighter flown by W/O Jorgensen crashed at Narrandra, killing himself and six men on the airfield. After a brief life, 92 Squadron formally ceased to exist on January 4, 1946.

Beaufighters remained in service after the end of World War Two with 30 (Target Towing) Squadron, formed on March 8, 1948. This unit retained them until it was disbanded on March 21, 1956. The RAAF’s last Beaufighters, Mk.21s A8-357 and -363, were transferred to Woomera in South Africa to take part in missile trials. The last example in RAAF service, A8-357, was taken out of service on December 10, 1957.

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