Timor, Dutch East Indies and Beyond

 


 

18 June 1943

7 Squadron, Arafura Sea


On 18 June a 7 Squadron Beaufort, under the command of Flying officer Peter Hopton, was conducting a morning  anti-submarine patrol 70 miles North of Wessel Island. Having stayed on patrol an hour longer than normal, the crew were not overly confident of sighting anything before their return to Horn Is.

With a cloud base of 1500 feet, scattered cumulous cloud, and a few showers, visibility was not good. The crew relying on their A.S.V radar to detect submarines or aircraft. Flight Sergeant Ron Stoner however was still glued to the flickering green light of his screen when he suddenly got a contact. Ron immediately got on the intercom. "Hey Pete, there's a blip 6 miles to port!'' Hopton pushed the engines up to rated power, and turned toward the contact. The crew scanned both sea and sky, hopeful it was a float plane they had sighted once before 10 miles south of their location. Almost simultaneously all four crew spotted a Jake at 9 o'clock through a gap in the clouds.

Hopton turned again, climbing gradually from 1500 feet and keeping concealed beneath the Jakes tail, before catching him at 4000 feet. Being primarily on an anti-submarine patrol, Hopton decided not to jettison his bombs. Having approached undetected and with an advantage of speed, he felt confident of success.

At a distance of 200 yards Hopton lifted the nose, and fired a 5 second burst almost simultaneously with the nose guns of observer F/O Basil Walters, who emptied the magazines of both guns. Tracer straddled the Jake with some rounds seen to explode on the aircraft. Soon after the starboard wing root caught fire. At first the Jake flew straight and level but then turned sharply to port, diving. Hopton fired another burst but could not catch him in the dive. However the damage was done, and the Jake speared into the sea with a mighty splash. A float, the only wreckage seen when the Beaufort flew over the crash site. After much rejoicing the crew returned to Horn Is. Safe in the knowledge they had not only scored the squadron's first victory but the first Beaufort victory of the Pacific war.

Hopton's victory should probably be considered shared with Walters, as both fired at the same time. It would therefore be near impossible to attribute the kill to either the wing guns (pilot) or the nose guns (observer).

 


The successful 7 Squadron crew of the 18th June engagement. Left to right: Observer FO Basil Walters; Pilot FO Peter Hopton; Air Gunner FO Burke Salter; Air Gunner Flight Sergeant Ron Stoner.

 

Combat claims

F/O P.P.A Hopton

.5 Jake destroyed

A9-296

CR

 


Other Known Participants

Nil

 

Allied Losses

Nil

 

Japanese Forces

1 Jake floatplane

 

 

 

9 September 1943

86 Squadron, Merauke

 


Following a failed interception of a high flying reconnaissance aircraft by six P-40's on the 6th of September, 86 Squadron had been occupied with search missions looking for a missing squadron member. On the 8th F/O Ivor Hatcher had failed to arrive at Horn Island, returning after ferrying replacement aircraft to Merauke. Four P-40's returned from an unsuccessful search on the morning of the 9th and had been back less than half an hour when the squadron was scrambled.

 The radar station at Cape Kombies had detected two waves totaling 36 aircraft approaching from the North West. 14 P-40's were airborne at 10:31am within five minutes of being scrambled. Three Boomerangs from 84 Squadron followed four minutes later but failed to intercept the incoming formation.

Squadron leader John "Jack" Meehan, a former 76 Squadron flight leader during the Battle of Milne Bay, led the squadron through the 8/10ths strato-cumulus cloud to a height of 25,000 feet. Forming up in three vics with two weavers to spot for trouble. F/Lt Shiells weaving above the formation, was first to report sightings of fighters at 10:59am. At 10 o'clock, 10 degrees below, and 5 miles distant, Shiells had spotted 8 fighters of what was an attacking force of 16 bombers and 16 fighters. The bombers and their escorts concealed beneath the cloud deck. Meehan having placed his formation up sun of the intruders was in a favorable position, and it was Blue section on the formations port side who initiated the attack. F/Lt. Cyril Stark was first to intercept:

'I turned my section towards the enemy formation. As we were turning in towards the attack we encountered six Zekes almost head on and turning to port. We were about 500 feet above them and attacked them during the turn. The first three were in very tight formation, the other three were more or less straggling behind. I attacked the leading fighter , opening fire at about 200 yards and continuing to point blank range. As I broke away I saw the leading Zeke roll slowly on its back and go down inverted with a thick cloud of smoke coming from underneath his nose. I pulled round quickly to avoid attack by the three stragglers, and flicked violently several times .I came down to 19,000 feet, still flicking. As I came out of one flick I saw a fighter about 600 yards away on the tail of a P-40, and fired a quick burst in his general direction trying to fire across his nose. No hits observed but he broke off his attack.'

This P-40 was later identified as Blue 4, F/Sgt Francis Chatillon. Stark went on to command 77 Squadron later in the war and was awarded the Air Force Cross as well as being mentioned in despatches.

F/O Arthur Tucker who had been weaving above and slightly behind the formation, half rolled about 2,000 feet above Meehan, pulling out level with the formation which by then had engaged the Zekes. Tucker found himself closing behind a dark green Zeke with white wing tips and rising sun insignia:

'I opened fire at over 300 yards and held it for 3-4 seconds. I observed hits and saw fragments flying off the port side of the cockpit near the wing root and the Zeke burst into flames. I whipped over to the right 100 yards and chased another enemy aircraft, losing him in clouds at about 16,000 feet.'

For Tucker, a veteran of 75 squadrons defence of Port Moresby, it was his first confirmed kill after damaging multiple aircraft in three separate combats during those vital engagements.

Blue section was in the thick of it, with F/O Howard 'Bill' Stuart flying as Blue 2 initiating a rear quarter attack with his wingman on a number of fighters which he identified as Oscars. Picking one out of the group which had begun turning to port, Stuart closed in on his target:

'I gave him a deflection shot. I could see his whole upper surface. This aircraft smoked. At the same time I noticed another aircraft smoking. He was above the one I shot, in the same formation. He was just going round in a steep turn to port. The aircraft I attacked straightened and flew approximately North West. I sat on his tail and fired again. Only one gun fired. I swung out to starboard and noticed the aircraft smoking more heavily than before. I closed in again, got right up behind and fired my single gun. I saw strikes on the leading edge of his rudder and the aircraft began to flame. I flew up beside him on the starboard and noticed him pull back his cockpit cover. He half rolled to port and went down flaming through a thin layer of cloud towards trees underneath.'

Stuart would not be alone in having problems with his guns. In the swirling combat which developed only four of squadron's planes were free of trouble. No less than 41 of the Squadrons 84 guns would fail, some after firing a single round. Later it was discovered that the wrong grease had been used to lubricate the Squadron's guns, and this had thickened at altitude. Numerous passes were made by other pilots with useless guns. Meehan was the only other pilot to claim during the engagement, closing to within 50 yards and firing three one second bursts and damaging what he described as a Hap which was taking avoiding action. He broke off the attack when he was attacked by another aircraft on his high starboard side, sliding underneath the fighter to evade him.

The attacking Bombers and their fighter escort remained largely undetected beneath the cloud layer, and completed their bombing run on the Merauke air strip unmolested. Damage was light with only one minor casualty. One Boomerang fighter was destroyed in its dispersal bay, and three hits were scored on the strip. However these were repaired within an hour. No damage was sustained by the returning P-40's. Japanese records confirm the loss of three pilots on this mission, including 8 victory ace PO1c Kurakazu Goto. A veteran of several missions over Darwin and encounters with RAAF 31 Squadron Beaufighers over the Dutch East Indies.

 

New Guinea. 11 April 1944. Pilot Officer 'Scotty' Duguid of Sydney, NSW, (a participant in the September 9th engagement) relaxes with a book in a hammock fully dressed, waiting for an emergency call, within easy reach of his aircraft in case of a 'scramble' order. The Kittyhawk aircraft, named Jen 1, belongs to Squadron Leader Stan Galton (successor to 86 Squadron commander S/Ldr W.J Meehan) of Bankstown, NSW. (AWM)


Combat Claims

F/O  H.W Stuart

1 Oscar destroyed

(MP-K)  A29-314

CFR

F/O  A.D Tucker

1 Zero destroyed

(MP-N)  A29-318

CFR

F/Lt  C.W Stark

1 Zero destroyed

(MP-H)  A29-312

CFR

S/L  W.J Meehan

1 Hap damaged

(MP-A)  A29-301

CFR

 

Other Known Participants

 

F/S  Andrews

F/O  Johnston

F/O  Cahill

F/S  Duguid

F/O  Biggs

F/O  Brickhill

F/O  Wetters

F/Lt  Brown

F/O  Chatilow

F/Lt  Sheilis

 

 

 

Allied Losses

Nil

 

 

 

Japanese Forces

16 Betty bombers

 

16 fighters - Zeros and Haps

 IJN 202nd Kokutai

  PO1c Kurakazu Goto MIA (8 victory ace)
  ENS Morio Miyaguchi MIA





 

 

 

22 January 1944

 86 Squadron, Merauke

 

In the final days of 1943 the radar station at Cape Kombies had been plotting regular incursions of a single Japanese aircraft making land fall over Cape Valsch before heading towards the Gulf of Carpentaria. S/Ldr. Stanley Galton decided to try an interception, sending F/L. Howard Stuart and P/O. Darrel Cornwell off at 10:25am on the 22 January to patrol around the Cape Valsch area.

Initially sighting nothing, the two were returning to base and flying at 12,000 feet. Stuart flying a set course East and Cornwell abreast on starboard, weaving slightly. Then at 12:40pm, 30 miles South of Malatol Island, Cornwall spotted and identified a 'Betty' flying West at 10 o'clock and 3000 feet below, flying directly under the two aircraft. The two immediately turned and gave chase. The Betty held its course but had begun to dive towards the sea, steeply at first then leveling out to around 50 feet above the water. The P-40's shallow dived in pursuit and with an indicated air speed of 300-320 mph began to overhaul the Betty. Having positioned themselves about a mile apart with Stuart to port, and Cornwell to starboard of the bomber, Stuart initiated the action with a port rear quarter attack from 600 feet, approximately 30 miles south of Cape Valsch.

Stuart fired a two second burst closing to within 50 feet but over deflected in his first pass, with the Betty throttling back and turning slightly towards its attacker, his rounds splashed all around the water in front of his quarry. Return fire was light, with only a little inaccurate machine gun fire coming from the port blister. Stuart then turned over him and made a mirror image attack of his first pass on the starboard side. This time with better results:

'I did not observe any strikes, but I think I hit him in this attack, as he staggered perceptibly.'

Cornwell then followed Stuarts attack on the starboard side, making the same error in over deflecting, and striking the water in front of the bomber. Turning over the top of the Betty, Cornwell slotted in behind Stuart making his third pass. No hits were observed by either pilot in their next two passes, although Cornwell did think that he hit the bomber. As Stuart manoeuved for an astern attack, Cornwell drew up abreast of the aircraft, and noted no return fire from the side blister, or rear guns. This probably confirming that the Betty had received damage by one or both of the pilots in their previous passes.

It was Stuart's astern attack which would deliver the fatal blow:

'I gave him a 2 second burst and saw black smoke issuing from his port engine. As I drew astern he began to skid violently to port and starboard. I gave him a 3 second burst and saw strikes on the port side of his fuselage and the port wing root; and with a third burst of 3 seconds his port engine caught fire. By this time I was practically on him. I gave him a quick burst for luck and pulled out to starboard.'

Cornwell described the Betty's dying moments:

'I noticed smoke aflame from the port engine as Black1 (Stuart) attacked from astern. The flame increased, blew through into the fuselage and streamed back past the blisters until finally the whole interior was a mass of flame and it was blowing out of the tail. It flew along like that for about half a minute with Black 1 still astern and attacking. By this time it was almost on the water; the port wing finally dug into the water, the Betty broke into pieces and blew up. Turning back I saw smoke, and a large oil slick on the water and wreckage which may have included bodies.'

Before joining up with Stuart, Cornwell gave the wreckage a short strafing run, having expended 300 rounds and Stuart 900 rounds during the engagement. The two pilots estimated that only around 50 rounds of inaccurate defensive fire from the Betty's side blisters was encountered. At no stage did the plane's tail cannon fire, and it was considered that the aircraft was traveling light with a reduced crew.

 


F/L Howard "Bill" Stuart

 

Combat Claims

F/L H.W Stuart

1 Betty destroyed

(MP-Y) A29-380

CFR

 

Other Known Participants

P/O D.G Cornwell

 

 

 

 

Allied Losses

Nil

 

Japanese Forces

1 Betty Bomber