Re-formed squadron makes its mark on history!
A faded photograph of an airman, a trench art model of a Bristol Beaufort and a tattered copy of A Nation Grew Wings. These were all constant companions of my childhood, sitting on the shelves near the family’s telephone. It would be some years before I could comprehend their significance as the remnants of a life lost too young in the skies over New Guinea. The life of an airman whose name I bear – gone but not forgotten.
These mementoes were also a link to the history of a squadron whose number has lain dormant since 1946 and is now reformed to remind us of our past. In the 100th year of the Royal Australian Air Force, 100 Squadron has returned.
A PROUD HISTORY
Based out of Seletar Airfield in north-eastern Singapore, 100SQN of the Royal Air Force (RAF) was equipped with obsolete Vickers Vildebeest biplane torpedo bombers between the wars. As the Japanese moved along the Malayan Peninsula in late 1941, the squadron was tasked with attacking shipping, but the Vildebeests suffered heavily at the hands of the attacking enemy fighters.
At the time, the fastest medium bomber was the Bristol Beaufort, of which one had been shipped from Britain to the Department of Aircraft Production (DAP) in Australia with the intent of building the Beaufort, and 100SQN RAF planned to receive the first six. But as the Japanese advance grew closer, some squadron personnel were evacuated to Australia while many others were captured and became prisoners of war. So in February 1942, the remnants of the British squadron’s personnel re-emerged with the formation of the Royal Australian Air Force’s new 100SQN.
In mid-1942, the first 100SQN Beauforts operating from Port Moresby in New Guinea bombed shipping in the Lae area in what was to become the first of many Beaufort missions by war’s end. The squadron conducted reconnaissance and bombing missions through the pivotal Battle of Milne Bay, and torpedo-bombing missions through the famed Battle of the Bismarck Sea.
With the Japanese recoiling to the north, the squadron found itself moving bases through Goodenough Island, Nadzab and, in mid-1944, Tadji Airfield near Wewak where it would remain until the end of the war.
From Tadji it undertook bombing missions against Japanese troops hidden in the jungle. Often in close proximity to Allied troops, army co-operation proved important in the role of close air support, with army personnel at times on board the Beauforts to assist. With peace in August 1945, the Beauforts’ bombs were replaced by leaflets, with the squadron eventually disbanded in New Guinea a year later.
Today, not so far from the hostile skies of the South West Pacific but three-quarters of a century later, this proud squadron is flying once again.
AROUND THE WORLD
Over recent years, the numbers of those marking ANZAC Day have steadily grown. The appreciation of past sacrifice and a heightened awareness of history has grown across society and is manifest in a variety of ways. One such measure is the emergence of commemorative flights of aircraft.
The Royal Air Force operates the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) to commemorate those who have served – and to inspire future generations. Flown by regular RAF aircrew from an operational base, the unit boasts an impressive stable that includes six Supermarine Spitfires, two Hawker Hurricanes, and an Avro Lancaster.
Across the Atlantic, the United States Heritage Flight is a non-profit organisation formed in 2010 rather than a USAF unit. The Heritage Flight pilots are uniquely qualified to fly in formation with USAF single-ship demonstration teams. In doing so, the flight can fly up to 70 events in a year, ranging from overflying sporting events and funerals to performances at air shows.
The civilian-owned aircraft range from World War 2 warbirds such as the P-51 Mustang and P-47 Thunderbolt, through the Korean-era F-86 Sabre, and the A-1 Skyraider that flew in the Vietnam war. Often flown alongside current USAF aircraft as modern as the F-22 Raptor, the Heritage Flight is able to showcase the development of modern air power over the past seven decades.
Other nations around the world such as Sweden have also preserved their military history through living, breathing airworthy aircraft. While warbirds are not new to Australian skies, the formation of 100SQN draws together two impressive collections from NSW and Victoria that include a glimpse into the birth of the RAAF and its frail machines of rag and tube.
REFORMED TO REMEMBER
Point Cook is recognised as the birthplace of Australian military aviation. Located on Port Phillip Bay on land purchased by the Australian Government in 1912, generations of military aviators passed through its gates until flying training moved elsewhere in 1992.
Today, RAAF Point Cook is included on the National Heritage List. Some of the older buildings and hangars remain and its largest Defence unit is that of the RAAF Museum. Paying tribute to the history of the Air Force, the museum includes an extensive array of displays, memorabilia, and aircraft.
Significantly, the museum operates a range of flying examples that have worn the roundels of the RAAF. The RE8, Sopwith Pup, and Sopwith Snipe are representative of those flown by the Australian Flying Corps during World War 1, while the Tiger Moth, Mustang, and Kittyhawk reach into the next World War. More modern trainers such as the CAC Winjeel and the CT-4A showcase the first steeds of many fledgling RAAF air crew.
Across the border, NSW is home to the Temora Aviation Museum. Temora was home to the No. 10 Elementary Flying Training School (10 EFTS) from May 1941. 10 EFTS was the largest and longest lived of the flying schools established under the World War 2 Empire Air Training Scheme (EATS) until it closed in 1946. Through the war years more than 10,000 personnel served at Temora, and more than 2,400 pilots were trained there on the venerable Tiger Moth. Such was the demand that satellite airfields surrounded and supported Temora.
Businessman David Lowy pursued his passion for flight and Australia’s military aviation history in establishing the Temora Aviation Museum and its extensive flying collection. The last of three stages opened in 2002 and through its museum displays, flying days and air shows, has continued its dedication to those who have served.
In 2019, Defence entered into an agreement with the Temora Aviation Museum to transfer ownership of its 11 aircraft to the RAAF. The aircraft – a Canberra, Vampire, Meteor, two Spitfires, a Hudson, Wirraway, Boomerang, Cessna A-37B Dragonfly, DH-82A Tiger Moth, and a Ryan STMS2 – remain based at the Temora Aviation Museum, maintained by its expert staff.
January 2021 saw the coming together of these two extensive, operational collections as the reformed 100SQN RAAF, with the new Air Force Heritage Squadron maintaining its headquarters at RAAF Point Cook. 100SQN will be the parent unit to the two flights – the Museum Heritage Flight at Point Cook and the Temora Historic Flight. The non-flying elements of the RAAF Museum will be transferred to the History and Heritage Branch.
The Air Force Heritage Squadron and its two flights will form part of the Air Academy within the Air Force Training Group (AFTG). In doing so, the flying operations at Point Cook and Temora will take on the structure of a flying squadron. Tasked with the responsibility, the commanding officer of the re-established 100SQN is WGCDR Philip Beanland, while the Commander of the AFTG is AIRCDRE Greg Frisna.
LEST WE FORGET
Heritage squadrons and various flying collections around the world may vary in their structure and aircraft, but constant themes remain. There is a deep desire to pay tribute to those who have served in times past through displaying the aircraft that graced the skies across generations.
There is also the desire to inspire the generations to come. If the gathered crowds and excitement that have been the benchmark for Point Cook and Temora in the past is any indication of success, 100SQN is set to continue in this noble and satisfying pursuit.
In 100 years, the RAAF has evolved from basic biplanes to stealthy fifth generation fighters and all the skilled personnel that support them. Across the century many have served in many ways and, as the RAAF reflects on its proud history in 2021, 100SQN will provide a tangible link to the past.
Three-dimensional and alive, its aircraft will salute those who have gone before and beckon those yet to come. Appropriately, 100SQN’s badge will bear the motto that echoes the theme of this important year: ‘Then, Now, Always’.
This feature story appears in the Jan-Feb 2021 issue of ADBR.