Closely watched planes 1

Perhaps it was inevitable given the fact I was born during World War II, the child of a serving RAAF ground crew member and the nephew of a very young signalman in the RAAF who served in some of the war’s worst actions in the New Guinea campaign, after whom I was named. Flying and aircraft did tend to be mentioned. That little boy in 1945 in the side bar now over sixty years later recalls the sight of RAAF uniforms, and the planes that sometimes appeared in the sky over Auburn Street Sutherland. As for the uniforms: I apparently addressed anyone wearing one as “Daddy”, which I am told led to at least one embarrassing moment for a young RAAF man in the city in the company of a young woman.

My father worked on these in Port Moresby:

kittyhawk

kittyhawk2

RAAF Kittyhawks

Do I remember seeing one? Not really, though I probably would have. There was a funny story often told in the family of my grandmother being chased up the backyard in Auburn Street by a low-flying Kittyhawk, which in the moment she thought may have been a Japanese Zero. And I mean “chased”, as the fighter appeared just above treetop level as she was feeding the chooks at the bottom of our yard. She dropped everything and ran, apparently. As you would…

Dad was various places, but I know that having entered the RAAF in April 1940 he was a Corporal in the No 2 Aircraft Depot at Richmond NSW in May 1943, as I have a document of that date which he submitted on aircraft salvage. Certainly by the last year of the war he was in Port Moresby, and I seem to recall his talking of Nos 77 and 78 Squadrons. You may read a letter he wrote to my mother from Port Moresby (“RAAF Pacific” being the allowed address then) on 16 February 1945.

Equipped with Kittyhawk fighters 77 Squadron formed in Western Australia in March 1942, moving to the Northern Territory in August.

During the Squadrons defence of Darwin, Squadron Leader Cresswell made the first enemy ‘kill’ over Australian soil when he shot down a Japanese bomber over Darwin.

February 1943 saw 77 Squadron join 75 and 76 Squadron in the defence of Milne Bay. Soon after its arrival, sixty five Japanese aircraft raided Milne Bay and were engaged by fifteen Kittyhawks from both 77 and 75 squadrons. In the ensuing combat four bombers and two fighters were shot down and a further five bombers probably destroyed for the loss of one Kittyhawk.

After deploying to Goodenough Island in June, 77 Squadron flew fighter escort missions for bombers attacking Gasmata. A succession of moves saw the Squadron in Labuan in the last months of the War, from where it was deployed to Japan to participate in the Allied occupation force of that country.

I met Wing Commander Cresswell — as he became — purely by chance one night at the Sydney Intercontinental Hotel in 1988 and had quite a long conversation with him; but that’s another story.

78S

Hyperlinked picture: a Kittyhawk of 78 Squadron

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