Keith McGilvery

 

 

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Nadzab continued..

Aterbrin

Nadzab in the Markham Valley had developed into a large air base of fighter and bomber strips. We knew the fighter strip used by our Vultee Vengeance Dive Bombers As Newton Strip but haven't seen that title used elsewhere. It was named after a Kittyhawk (actually a 22 Squadron Boston VC recipient) pilot of fame. While at Nadzab it was quite a common sight to see a message attached to trees while being transported to and from the mess for our lunch breaks. "HERE LIES-SGT.FLYNN-HE DID NOT TAKE-HIS ATERBRIN." The combination of Mosquito nets and Aterbrine tablets in my case, avoided any trace of Malaria during 22 months in the Sth. West Pacific Area. It was a different story within a week or so of my return to Australia where I was accommodated on several occasions at the Amberley Hospital. One often is reminded of the salt and aterbrin tablets which were part of our daily diet in the tropics where mention now of the former, brings an immediate reaction of an early demise.

Hospital

Kunai Grass proliferates in the Markam Valley and the ever likely attack around the ankles from the sometimes deadly Chicabites, called for the wearing of longs and leggings. One time a little carelessness when splashing 100 Octane aircraft fuel about resulted in me somehow igniting the grass. This resulted in a severe burn of the back of my left hand and 8 days hospitalization at the 111th. CC (Casualty Clearing) Hospital at Lae from the 14 January 1944.

There wasn't a shortage of professional entertainers during my various postings, Stella Wilson of the ABC and Edwin Styles paid an informal visit to the hospital. We were lying about in our day wear when we heard they were coming, so we quickly changed to our pyjamas to make us look more like hospital cases, then waved goodbye, saying "we'll see you Tuesday night" at their concert which was reported to be the nearest to the front line that any Party had performed.

Wildlife

The locality wasn't devoid of interesting bird and insect life, a small green parrot, smaller than a Love Bird with a moss green head flew in the ward and whistled more like a finch than a Love bird. An A.I.F. soldier/naturalist brought for our inspection, three over-sized black Millipedes about 9 inches long and a half inch thick. These were reputedly the cause of many blinded natives. The insect had an uncanny method of squirting a poisonous substance into ones eye.

Fuzzy Wuzzies

Mention of the indigenous, reminds me that many of the Fuzzy Wuzzies hadn't before seen Europeans, hence our C.O. Barton Honey attempted an educational attempt one day to demonstrate the telling of time, watches being of prime interest to the locals… Indicating the 6 o'clock position, the C.O. said "here Sun ee rise" then continuing to Noon explained "Here, Sun is midday, up there" pointing above and back to 6 P.M. "Here, the Sun ee Set" to which the local answered "Yeah, it's half past 10 now" !!!!!!

 

American Red Cross serving Coca-Cola at Morotai Airdrome (78 Squadron Kittyhawk's in background).

 

Concerts

While after WW2, I'd been associated with many local Concerts at Eidsvold, largely organized by my wife Phyll in conjunction with Geo. Parker, the then Manager of Radio 4SB Kingaroy for the Annual Spastic Children's Appeal, one was so often reminded of the multitude of professional artists in uniform during WW2…..About mid Jan. '44, one of the almost weekly concerts included our 24 Squadron, Ern Duval whose crooning was so much like the voice of Bing Crosby of that era….Cec Wilkins of the "Troc" in Brisbane gave solos on the Piano and was a beautiful pianist…Victor Moore of the J.C.Williamson's theatricals sang "Glory Road", "If I only had Wings","Song of Songs" and "Road to Mandalay" as a most remarkable baritone rendition…… Occasionally someone might appoint himself as an entertainer without an audition for which the critical audience would soon oblige, if the presentation wasn't up to standard.

As a RAAF Wireless Maintenance Mechanic with a small prewar understanding of electronics and domestic radios designed around 1.5 volt peanut valves, and my now familiarity with the RAAF version of a recruit who hadn't reached the adopted standards of stage presentation or every day life, was designated as "WET", a particular item has been indelibly imprinted on my memory.

Hence when an AC1 took to the stage and rendered an unsatisfactory item but failed to leave, decided to tell a scientifically tainted story of a faulty Radio his father owned at Oakey, though checked by several technicians of the day, was unable to fault find the problem.

Then, what must have been a true Salesman, a visitor had one glance at the misbehaving radio and announced that "it was 10 points off Oscillation" so his Dad promptly bought a new one…..…I vividly recall that despite the absence of applause, he still didn't vacate the stage and started to say " When I was born" when a nearby voice yelled " You weren't BORN mate, you were "LAUNCHED".!!!!!

Cape Gloucester

While one realized that almost six months service in the tropics had been experienced and 24 Squadron Vultee Vengeance dive bombing era had drawn to an end, the obvious reason for the return to Australia was that since dive bombing was effective in the western desert, bomb aiming was in it's infancy and not a match for the sharp ranges of New Guinea where the enemy was entrenched.

Hence a posting home was greeted with approval, however an apparent shortage of wireless personnel, enabled the Air Force to think otherwise and so we found ourselves posted to various Kittyhawk squadrons. In my case to 75 Squadron at Cape Gloucester on New Britain , 21st. March 1944. The beaches around the area were black sand and obviously associated with volcanic activity. There were still the odd air raid which would result in the airstrip lighting up at night with tracers.

All together there were 11 of us from 24 squadron transferred to the Fighter Wing. After the erection of our accommodation , four others shared my tent including Perce Wilson of Instruments mustering (whose Dad was a publican at Gympie), Danny Keen (a 2A Aircraft frame mechanic), Armourer Len (Tex) Lawrence & George Jones of Sydney. George having been a constant companion until we parted at Nadzab.

We continued to enjoy life at our new posting, especially the fast running fresh water stream nearby. It was ideal for clothes washing and only a couple of hundred yards to the surf, which was far better than the previous Island on which we spent some weeks. Health wise things had been fairly good apart from tropical sores appearing on my legs and ringworms which appeared to take refuge in shadowed areas such as on the skin under my "dead meat" tickets, which were always hung around the neck.

A volcano in the distance was continually smouldering away and giving off plumes of black smoke.

We had been told that USA Cigarettes could be sent home to family but I don't recall if that ever eventuated. We had unlimited supplies of "Luckies, "Philip Morris", "Camels" and "Pall Mall" for 3/6d per carton of 10. With not a thought how we would shun the smokes in years to come. After 6 months away from Australia, I had reported having remitted 110/-/- (pounds) out of the 115 pounds I had earned since arriving in New Guinea but can't account for the 2 up games of which I wasn't a keen supporter.

 

 Crash of a 77 Squadron Kittyhawk at Kamiri Airdrome, Noemfoor.


Aitape

As a result of the free and easy lifestyle on New Britain an event occurred, which seemed a pity so as to interrupt such pleasant surroundings when our C.O."Congo" Kinninmont had our Adjutant call a parade. We assembled in the customary three ranks in the blazing sun, so as to hear some vital information.

The C.O. duly appeared and climbed on to a 44 gallon drum, indicating to brush aside formalities and gather around his podium. This was typical of the Air Crew mentality by comparison with the regimentation apparently enjoyed by many ground staff officers.

He stated that it (the upcoming operation against Aitape) was the biggest thing in which the RAAF had been involved, which was alarming to the troops, especially as a move was involved and was to be carried out in the utmost secrecy. Also reported at the time was that outstanding charges against 2E (Aircraft Engineer) Frank, relating to the loss of a Vultee Vengeance cowl at Kiriwina some months before, and another against the Air Force cooks for having ignited the morning fire with dog biscuits, were dropped.

An L.S.T (Landing Ship Troops) was in readiness for the personnel and equipment of 75 Squadron ground staff and we duly set sail on 17 April 1944 in a convoy of LSTs in a northerly direction from Cape Gloucester. We sailed over the Equator then overnight took a 180 degree turn. This was calculated to foil the enemy's intelligence as to where we were heading. We joined another convoy of about 217 ships, and over 70,000 troops off Finschhafen. This was the largest armada ever assembled in that theatre of war. There were about 12,000 troops for the Aitape invasion and the remainder for two assaults on Hollandia on the same day. Hollandia at the time was the capital of Dutch New Guinea and lay some 140 miles west of Aitape.

Staff from the kitchen department had several days to organize their books and odds for a sweepstakes, as to where we were headed. The extreme secrecy as to our destination, and Aitape, a place most had never heard about, meant the cooks cleaned up on the betting. In Air Force parlance, the cooks "had a skinner".

Aitape had been occupied by the enemy since December 1942. The entire region is a coastal plain varying from 5 to 12 miles in width, swampy in many places and cut by several streams. There were no natural eastern and western barriers in the area with the foothills of the Torricelli Mountains to the South of the coastal plain. April was the wettest season around Aitape with an average of 100 inches of rain per year. Japanese development in the area was centred around the construction of an airfield near Tadji Plantation, some 8 miles east-south east of Aitape.

General MacArthur's objective of Hollandia, the then capital of Dutch New Guinea, didn't at first involve the capture Aitape. However Hollandia, 140 miles out of range of land based allied aircraft to the east needed air cover for an invasion, and the Navy could only commit to 3 days of carrier support for the operation. So it was decided in view of such a small garrison of about 1000 enemy troops, to seize the Japanese airstrip near Tadji.

Lt.General Walter Krueger, commander of the U.S. Sixth Army, was also in  command of both the Hollandia and Aitape invasions, the latter being "Operation Persecution" under Brigadier General Jens A.Doe, assistant Division commander of the 41st Infantry Division. General MacArthur watched the landing from a light cruiser, then went ashore in a landing boat.

Meanwhile our Adjutant Charles and Defense Officer, silver moustached, white haired Lt. McLean said to be son of Col. McLean of WW1, lectured us on the deck of our LST. He warned us, obviously in case of any enemy who could understand English, not to address any officer as Sir, saying I'm Charlie and patting the Defence Officer on the shoulder, this is Silver.  He also directed us that when we got ashore with kit bag and .303s, to dig a slit trench and "hang on".. Any personnel above ground level could be shot by friendly fire !!! Any questons ?...."Yes" I replied, as we of the signals section will be running a phone line to the airstrip, there's a problem with being in a slit trench at the same time.

It was rated a good question and one that required solving, hence it was decided to cut up strips of blue air force jeans to tie around the upper arm, for identification.

Most problems having been solved, our LST was gradually edging forward to the sloping beach of Tadji. An American Seabee with a dozer, was making a temporary sand bridge to enable the ramp to be lowered so jeeps and personnel could charge the hostile sounding environment. With the surf tending to wash away the sand and anxiety of our intrepid leaders to make land, "Silver" standing on the edge of the almost lowered  LST ramp, complete with automatic side arms yelled "Follow me men" and jumped into over 6 feet of water. With webbing and water bottle floating to the surface and in view of some yanks brewing coffee on the beach head and no live Japs about, not a man followed our illustrious leader, which really when considered, must have been tantamount to Mutiny? 

The aftermath of this farcical aspect of our D Day Plus 1 invasion of Aitaipe, was the catch cry of various RAAF ground staffers of  "Hi Ho Silver…follow me, gurgle, gurgle, splash" !!!

                                     

A fighter airstrip was one of the prizes in the vicinity of the Tadji plantation at Aitape but it was in a far from first class condition after incessant naval and aerial bombing prior to invasion. Our RAAF 75 Squadron were delayed by bad weather at Cape Gloucester. What I had not realized until 65 years later, was that the strip had been hastily repaired by the RAAF's Works Unit and that 78 Squadron Kittyhawks arrived there near Anzac Day 1944.

In view of our 75 squadron Kittyhawks being delayed at Cape Gloucester, I had personally told many that our Kittyhawk fighter cover didn't eventuate at Tadji in time to cover the major landing at Hollandia, the then capital of Dutch New Guinea. I assumed that the only fighter cover was that of an aircraft carrier which could only be spared for a few days….Hence, I'm now the first to advise anyone, never to take as gospel, reports from someone who was physically present on such an occasion. Especially information derived from the front line unless supported by other witnesses.

Arch, a pilot of a 78 squadron Kittyhawk has since advised me that he had been ordered with a mate in a second fighter, to maintain a patrol over the repaired strip at Tadji so as to detect any surprise visit by enemy aircraft. Here they had a vantage view of a 78 Squadron fighter named " Come in Sucker" striking a soft patch on landing and flipping on the runway. A dozer very smartly moved the damaged aircraft off the strip…The pilot came out alive and the aircraft was rebuilt in the USA after the close of hostilities.

Plexiglass Gold

Laying of the steel matting on the airstrip was the one time when our signals section personnel were directed to the most important work of making the airstrip more serviceable, it being a little more strenuous than our normal duties as Wireless mechanics. With the conclusion of the strip laying the first aircraft landed, I believe it was a Bell Airacobra. It featured an extended front landing gear which collapsed causing the aircraft to skid sideways into a DC3 Douglas transport parked on the side of the strip, shattering the clear plastic crew viewing area.
Some of the local "Foreigner Tradesmen" (AKA Aussies) scrambled for their share of damaged clear plastic for use in the manufacture of very professional looking rings with carefully polished coloured tooth brush handle sections embedded so as to appear like rubies and sapphires. These they would sell at ridiculous prices, mainly to the highly paid American servicemen. I can still hear an American nearby expressing amazement at their interest saying " God Damn, you should have seen these Aussies scrambling to secure the plexiglass!!!

Hollandia

Arriving at Hollandia on 6th May 1944 by Douglas Transport Oklahama Ltd" we landed on Cyclops strip at 13.00 hours.

I wonder if anyone can suggest a dustier strip than what we experienced on our first visit to Dutch New Guinea. I have particular recollections of having left our workshop on the opposite side of the strip to our living quarters and being escorted across in a Jeep Trailer as a short cut in preference to the longer drive around the end of the airstrip. The thought of what could have been stays with me had the Kittyhawk pilot not achieved the take off level of which he later advised gave adequate vision. On that occasion a Kitty came out of the setting sun and dust on take off, and believing the pilot wouldn't make adequate altitude to clear the end of the runway, I found myself scrambling out of the trailer to lie close to mother earth as he zoomed overhead!!!

Sgt. Arthur Paterson of 75 Squadron, probably of Instrument Maker mustering was pictured in a southern newspaper hanging out clothes on a wire clothes line attached one end to the wing of a crashed plane. The photo is still inserted in the front cover of my photo album…I wish that one would have had access to a camera, which some did, as I believed they were prohibited, but I have since received photos taken by some of my acquaintances.

The large Sentani Lakes nearby will be remembered by many for the "Laketoys" (canoes) on the waters nearby.

Biak and Noemfoor

Departing Hollandia from Sentani strip on 9 July 1944 at 08:40 per Douglas aerial transport. We were over Wadke Island by 09:15 and landed on Mokmer Airdrome, a white Coral strip at Biak Island in the Shuten Group at 11.00 hours. Biak being noted for it's waterside houses on some 6 to 10 feet elevation so as to handle the normal tides. Biak is also well remembered for the caves in which the enemy put up much resistance to the American forces when invading the Japanese held Island.

The next destination for 75 Squadron, determined by Gen. Douglas MacArthur's Island hopping strategy, was that of Noemfoor Island in Geelvink Bay. We arrived by DC3 Douglas transport, on July 23rd at Kamari airstrip. American forces had captured Noemfoor on 2nd/3rd. July. A film shown on the day of the 50th Anniversary of the end of WW2, shows a squadron of our RAAF Wing, possibly 78 Squadron, charging the shoreline armed with .303s of which I'm not certain if it was real or propaganda.

I was called back to Biak per Douglas Transport on November 1st 1944 on a half hour flight and then back to Noemfoor on December 3rd by Higgins Boat. A journey of 10 hours and the only experience of sea sickness during my time in the South West Pacific. At Noemfoor we had acquired a public address system and had mounted loud speaker horns in trees scattered around our campsite. I did my share of disc jockey duties with the hit tunes of the day i.e. "Tangerine", Bing Crosby's "White Christmas", " Just a Prayer Away", Anniversary Waltz etc. American Jazz music was gaining attention with Australian troops, which I always associate with one of the early square type of dissenters who insisted on wearing his felt hat, peaked in Mountie fashion and seeking my assistance, to decipher just what the words of a song meant….. "Beat me Daddy at 8 to the Bar" and I must add that to me, it hasn't improved much over 60 years.

 

The damaged wing of F/O Tony Jacklin's 75 Squadron  Kittyhawk "Svengali".

 

Svengali

One amazing photo I have shows a Kittyhawk of 75 Squadron missing a third of the port wing. The aircraft called "Svengali" (GA-N) piloted by F/O Tony Jacklin and either had a mid air collision (mid air collision with two other 75 Squadron Kittyhawks. 2 pilots KIA) or hit a palm tree but was brought home intact and parked near our workshop by the sea…Karnisoran, the heavy bomber strip, was a little inland, also parallel with the coast.

Beer ration

The occasional beer issue was two standard 26 oz. bottles with caps loosened, being someones brainwave to restrict sale at exorbitant prices to our American colleagues. We would use a pear tin with a small aperture and 100 octane aircraft fuel, dripping on the bottles to cool off the high temperatures (cool through evaporation) in which we were living.
 

Morotai 

Douglas MacArthur had landed and inspected the Morotai invasion beaches on 15 September 1944, and our 75 Squadron Kittyhawk ground staff flew by Douglas DC3 on 21 December 1944, at 07.15 hrs, from Noemfoor/Korasoren Airstrip, landing at Morotai three hours later.

Because most of the Halmahera's were heavily defended, Morotai with a Japanese garrison of only 1000 was chosen by Douglas MacArthur for an amphibious invasion. This proved to be a very muddy exercise, with bogged vehicles and similar problems when army engineers attempted to construct airstrips. However a better site was found and B-24 Liberator bombers were flown in by the U.S 13th Air Force a few weeks later. Morotai was cleared of Japanese resistance by 4 January 1945.

"Morotai Skyline Drive" and "Dixie Highway", beautifully designed highways, ran beside the coast to N.I.C.A, which meant something akin to Netherlands Indies Central Administration. These were soon part of our new home, where we periodically attended a well planned Wrestling Arena.  This being the first time I realized that the sport was mainly a public spectacle. 

Periodically around Christmas time, enemy reconnaissance aircraft would cause a RED ALERT, which would bring out the conventional three search light beams to pin point the target at many thousands of feet.

A photo of Wireless Techs, Don Rod Riquez, yours truly, Ralph Brown and "shorty" Brian Moran (the latter sadly deceased soon after return to Australia in a motor vehicle accident) standing on a stool, brings back some recollection of a visit to a nearby extinct Orchard to find some Pine Apples. We had a suggestion by one of the southerners, that we take a shovel with the idea of digging for some Pineapples!!!

I vaguely recall that we must have equipped our Kittyhawk fighters at Morotai with the more advanced UHF Radio of the era. This disposed of the aerial wire from the rear of cockpit to the tail fin.

Tarakan

At 16.30 on 27 April 1945, after clearing up our very comfortable tent living quarters at Morotai, we boarded an L.S.T. (Landing Ship Troops) as part of Operation Oboe, the invasion of Borneo, an operation that involved more than 40,000 Australians. 

Although the lighting of cigarettes on the top deck was strictly forbidden with the ever watchful American Crew shouting per Loud Hailer "Put out that god damn light or I'll shoot it out"!!!! 

I could never understand why a bright phosphor (light) displayed from the bow of all ships. It must have made such a beautiful target. It may explain why the ships of the convoy, led by the USS Waller and destroyers of the US Navy, were constantly zigzagging.

A dawn breakfast (1 May 1945) after which involved me washing up American aluminium (duralumin in American lingo) divided dixies and the extra heavy duty China cups, of which a souvenir still adorns our China Cabinet, was followed by a heavy naval and aerial bombardment by B-24 bombers sweeping the shore line around Lingkas Bay. It was an early morning show never to be forgotten. Some hours later steel railway lines which had been embedded by the enemy (in the water), were breached by our Army Sappers and enabled the invasion by the 2/24th and other Australian battalions. It must have been on 2 May when we were able to feel our feet again on land, eventually moving into a building in Tarakan township. The war being waged by the AIF against the enemy required periodical calls for blood donors. Myself being Group 4, made me a regular candidate, though I've never since known such blunt needles for collecting that vital commodity. 

Trouble at the top

One matter which now predominates in my mind concerns is p121 of Dr. Alan Stephens lectures in the book of History and Strategy of Aerospace at University College, Aust. Defence Force, Canberra. Stevens, a former RAAF pilot, writes that there was apparently some competition for the top position between Air Vice Marshal Jones, who had been CAS (Chief of Air Staff) in the RAAF under the control of American, General Kenney in charge of the invasion, and Air Vice Marshal Bostock, who had befriended Kenney. This was stated to have been common knowledge back to 1942.

Jones is reported to have taken advantage of the days of radio silence to withdraw the RAAF B-24 Liberators for regular service, however difficult that is to swallow….Bostock is reported to have told a confidant that on learning this, while senior officers including Douglas MacArthur paced the deck, he wished he could fall through a crack in the boards of the ship!!!.

It appears that 256 Australians died in the Tarakan campaign. One of the saddest being the loss of Sgt. Diver Derrick, then already the holder of the Victoria Cross, who was obviously well known to our Southern members of the RAAF Ground Staff…

Possibly, the useless bombed airstrip which ran out towards the sea remains one of the worst Intelligence breaches of the Borneo campaign.

When many like myself had served almost 23 months without leave, we sailed to Sydney Harbour on the troop ship Manoora. I was back home to the Central Burnett when the first atomic bomb was released. 

 

 Map of Keith McGilvery's operational postings with arrival times.

 

 

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