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Port Moresby, New Guinea. August 1942. Kittyhawk fighter pilots of No. 75 Squadron RAAF, during a break in operations against the Japanese.
Transcript of Australian War Memorial recording
This historically-important interview has been placed here so that its content is searchable for 3SQN Website readers.
[WORKING VERSION - Currently being edited by 3SQN Assn for readability and spelling of technical terms.]
TRANSCRIPTION COVER SHEET
INFORMANT: ARTHUR TUCKER
INTERVIEWER: Ed Stokes
SUBJECT OF INTERVIEW: 75 Squadron, RAAF
DATE OF INTERVIEW: June 1989
TRANSCRIBER: Margaret Sparke
29 June 1989
Tape identification: This is Edward Stokes recording with Arthur Tucker, 75 Squadron, Tape 1 Side 1.
Arthur, can we just go back to the beginning?
Could you tell us where you were born, and when, please?
On 1st March 1920
I was born in Brisbane, and my mother was widowed when I was nine months old, a
car accident. And she then returned to the country to family members,
subsequently married in the country, and I lived with her and my stepfather
until I was about eight, up in the Brisbane Valley at Esk. So I was a country
boy till I went to Brisbane for the rest of my education, stayed with my
grandparents until I completed my Intermediate - it was called the Queensland
Junior Public - at the age of fourteen. Then I took up ... this was the end of
the depression, jobs weren't easy to come by, and I took a teacher training
course with the Queensland department. And by the time I was sixteen and a half,
I was judged to be mature enough to become a fully fledged country school
teacher, which I did in a little town forty miles north of Mackay. I was there
for a year and, in our discusssions of your own career, you know what a vacancy
there is at the weekends, particularly in country towns.
Now, at that time the government supplied
freely .303 rifles and lots of ammunition to rifle clubs, and by the end of that
year I was the district junior rifle champion. The point of this, which will
emerge later when we talk about air combat, rests on my ability to hit targets
at three to five hundred yards over open sights and with a peep sight up to nine
hundred yards. It meant that I knew range and I knew the capability of a
high-powered rifle and had no qualms about firing it at something at three
hundred yards. Later, I was in charge of country one-teacher schools, down in
the Darling Downs and later in central western Queensland. So that, in this
period - because I joined up when I was twenty, still in central western
Queensland - I had associated with grown men. When I was in the rifle club at
seventeen, I was also playing rugby with cane-cutters. Then in central western
Queensland, when the stations were shearing and carting their wool, I used to do
this for the exercise and association with other people. And you know that men
don't tolerate boys very well, you learn ... you grow up quickly or they ... you
know, that's it ... so that the old hard knocks really comes into it. By the
time I was twenty I was a big fellow, I wouldn't take any lip from anyone, and
very sure, very independent. That's the sort of thing you want to know?
(5.00) Yes, that's most interesting. There was
certainly that independence, from some things you were saying before. Arthur,
you did tell me the story of your uncle who was at Gallipoli; and that, I think,
reflects in quite an interesting way on your views towards the Empire and
potential war and so on.
Yes, you were interested in how people like
myself saw Australian ANZACs and others. And, as I told you, he was a good
example. He was at Gallipoli, then he went to
France. And you'll surely have heard of the, you know, the unthinking use of
men, quite fruitlessly in many of those pushes in France; and you probably know
that Australian troops in particular, when they couldn't see the sense of it,
became what was called `mutinous'. Now, they didn't take kindly to what some of
the British troops seemed to be ready to put up with. And Albert had had a good
career, but, by that stage, he was beginning to see some light at the end of the
tunnel, and so he shot off to Ireland where he met a very nice Irish lass from
County Cork whom he married and brought back to Australia. And if they'd caught
up with him before the Armistice, no doubt the story would have been quite
But from people like that, and from ... we had
a Church of England clergyman who used to visit our primary school on ANZAC Day
and, looking back, it was quite amazing the hair-raising stories he used to tell
us. ANZAC Day in those days was a national day
of mourning, no celebration, and so I ... Our
family was completely Celtic, there's no ... it's Irish, Welsh and Scotch, but
no ... and with all the, I suppose, independence, and some anti-monarchist
feeling - which hasn't evaporated, I can tolerate them but, you know, I wouldn't
see any reason for going and doing something silly just because the king wanted
me too. But, you know, Albert served, and his mates, they served and did the
things they thought it was needed for Australia. They were told it was needed,
but they weren't persuaded for any other reason, and afterwards they did wonder
why. Because of the association with Ireland - and he was there during the
black-and-tan business - in our family there was a lot of resentment of the
British attitude to things. And then later, with the depression and - wasn't it
Sir Otto Niemeyer and the Australians not being forgiven their war debts when
other countries were? - there wasn't any feeling in me right up to the time I
joined that I should do this for any reason other than that our own country
might be under some sort of threat.
Mmm, that's most interesting, Arthur. And
during the period of say the 1930s, the later 1930s, when there were definite
political changes occurring in Europe which some people predicted would lead to
war and in fact occurred under Hitler, - were you conscious of that? How did
you feel about developments in Hitler's Germany?
Well, just to tell you another thing before I
get to the German incident ... well, take it by incident. I
remember when I was at the Grammar School leading and winning a debate on
relations with Japan. And it's just occurred to me that I was waving a newspaper
of the time which recounted that someone had been in Japan and there had seen in
the schools a map of Australia which he alleged had written across it `Your
future home'. You know, that would be 1934. But the incident that I think is
probably more to the point is that I was telling you, in previous conversations,
that as a country school teacher one of the problems was dealing with the
parents that ... you know, they were always on the school committee, and you had
to appease them. Now, when I was in ... down in Elbow Valley, on the upper end
of the Condamine, it was a war settle... a soldier settlement area, and one of
the people who ... one of the families that I had associated with quite closely
with, the father had been gassed on the Marne, and he had very great trouble
with his breathing.
(10.00) Now, relations had been very good until
I got carried away during a history lesson,
and was explaining to the children that there was a possibility that, had the
Versailles Treaty not been so severe, had Germany not been treated quite so
harshly, the Germans might have been able to order their affairs and choose a
more rational group of people to govern them, because about that time Hitler was
starting to move in on the Sudetenland. And the next meeting of the school
committee I really got torn to pieces by these people who showed me their
various wounds and wheezes and pointed out that they weren't going to have their
children's minds poisoned by some ... what we'd now call a `trendy', negating
everything they had done. And yet the parallel to that - and I've just been
reading Kristen Williamson's Last Bastion - it appears that even Menzies,
in the period up to the beginning of the war, was unwilling to send Australian
troops overseas until relations with Japan had been settled. Now we weren't, in
training, ever to have anything told us about Japan, we never had any Japanese
aircraft recognition or anything till we got fired into the battle, there was
absolutely no preparation there at all. And yet it's interesting to find out
that in about 1939 Menzies was so worried about what Japan would do that he had
to have assurances that ... from Churchill that they ... that the response that
we'd get ... and this was all because Menzies himself recognised that the
western countries were pinching Japan very severely in trade, on rubber, and
oil. And so that, in a way here too, you're getting the situation ... and people
don't realise how trade ... how dangerous trade wars are, and yet it's going on
today, with American wheat isn't it?
Mmm. Yes, that's most interesting. Arthur,
just turning back for a moment to the debating incident - that anecdote where
you were waving the ... this Japanese newspaper with this Australia marked in as
a future home - could you just clarify that particular point about the
newspaper? And also, do you recall the motion, and on which side were you
speaking? And did you sincerely believe what you were debating, or was it
merely a show debate?
Ah, I tend to believe what I say (laughing). I
... oh well, I suppose I was young, you
know, one wants to win a debate. But I think it was some ... I ... just the ...
you know, it sort of just flashed into my mind. I've only just recalled the
incident; but I think it was a debate in which it was put that there was no
threat to Australia in the foreseeable future. And this was 1934, and of course
it was by that time obvious that the Japanese were starting to tread heavily on
the Chinese; and I think the debate was that we couldn't feel sure that Japan
wouldn't take further interest. In fact, I was proving to them that this fellow
had seen evidence that they did think of Australia in much the same way.
As a potential ... ?
As a potential source of room. The very thing
they're doing now, but they're buying the place
up instead of taking it. That's half joking, you know; but still, we've got
those concerns, we can ... you know, every nation looks to its borders.
Yes, well that's certainly true. And certainly,
looking at the contemporary scene, I think that's certainly a very general
Could I add to that? - because we were talking
before, and I think maybe you were trying to gauge whether I ended up by joining
up because it was an empire, a nationalistic thing, that I believed in. And I
think, no; I think my concern, and the
concern of a lot of people who having been brought up rather pacifistically did
join up, was that, although we weren't told as much as could have been told us
about the gathering storm in the East, we still didn't feel happy with our
situation with England apparently being close to going to the wall.
Mmm. Yes, that's most interesting. Pacifism I
guess often breaks down in the reality.
When you're threatened.
Mmm. My father was, actually. And he joined up
shortly after the beginning of the war. I mean, he was a pacifist. Well, let's
move on a bit. I think you were about twenty when war broke out. Do you actually
recall the declaration of war on Germany by Britain?
Yes, I do. I was in this ... This little
fettler's camp was a place called Yalleroi,
and it had been a staging post for Cobb and Co., and there was a little old
country store-cum-hotel where I used to board, close to the school. Well, there
was only half a dozen buildings in the whole place. And I can remember sitting
with old Macdonald, who ran the place, listening to his radio one evening, and
hearing it all. I can remember it quite distinctly.
(15.00) And how did you feel? What were your
Ah, oh, it seemed omin ... I felt ominous, sad
about it, it was something that really it
did weigh on me because, as I told you, in my upbringing there was such a lot of
discussion. ANZAC Day was always a day of quite deep national mourning in those
days. People nowadays wouldn't have any idea quite what a ... ah, what a
burdensome day it was. Of course, Australia had lost a whole generation of young
people, and they were being missed. There were quite an excess of unmarried
ladies who had either lost fiances or who had grown up in a land which had been
bereft of its young people.
That's most interesting, Arthur. Moving on a
little bit, it was shortly after that that you applied to join the air force but
of course had to wait, as many people did, for some months before you were in
fact called up. Why the air force?
interested in flying always. I was at Ascot aerodrome when Hinkler landed there
in 1928. I was down at Pinkenba when Kingsford Smith and Ulm landed there. I
think I was about ten then. I read books about aeroplanes and made models.
Was there ever any thought of the other
services? Or was it the air force or nothing?
No, well, what ... I decided I'd want to do
something technical. If the air force wouldn't have me, I was going to join an
artillery ... ah, I didn't ever think of joining the navy (laughing).
They're not technical? (laughter)
Ah no, I got ... it's just
that it never occurred to me.
No, I was just thinking it's funny how people
I lived too far from the coast, I suppose.
Yes, well that's certainly understandable. Uhm,
let's go on then. I think it was in ... about Christmas 1940 you were called up.
You went to Bradfield Park.
You were obviously something of a loner, if not
a rebel ...
... and you were thrown into a situation that
was obviously highly structured and hierarchical, service situation. How did you
Oh, I enjoyed my training. I've read recently
someone writing about the many privileges that air force pilots had had in
training, the sort of life of milk and honey, sort of like gladiators being
prepared for the fray - well it was nothing
like that. That's erron... a romantic view of what it was. But it was a most
inspiring and interesting thing, right through from the time the ground lectures
started. And of course the physical training was enjoyable, navigation, all
those things. I was always a dab hand at arithmetic, so navigation ... the only
thing I couldn't stand was wireless telegraphy. No, that was ... but I'd have
been quite happy as a navigator if they'd scrubbed me as a pilot.
Mmm. And what about the drill aspect of your
early training, which was obviously quite strong? Do you see a direct
correlation between that kind of instinctive discipline and later flying
aircraft? Or was it unnecessary?
The drill, you say? Oh well, one needed to be
fit. And of course out in, you know, in the
country and that, I'd had more than my quota of beer with the men and I needed a
bit of fitness and ... no, I enjoyed that greatly. And even the WOD was a tall,
lanky fellow at Bradfield Park who used to ... oh, he put on a magnificent act,
you know, he was a ... and I could see ... But I used to have troubles with
some of the drill instructors, I was ... you know they ... when they leant on
me, I used to tend to squeak. And actually, as I told you, I ended up my course
by being commissioned off course, and I attribute a lot of that to the cheek I
used to give the drill instructors (laughing). But it was all in good fun and
... but no, I had an instinctive dislike of automatic rote-like discipline. But
I could appreciate the good effect it had.
(20.00) Mmm, that's very interesting. I'll ask
you in a moment, Arthur, about the later, more important, stages of training at
Tamworth and Deniliquin. But perhaps just generally looking over the whole
period of the different camps, Bradfield and on to Deniliquin. Living conditions
you've implied weren't champagne and breakfast in bed. But how tough were living
conditions, housing, food, messes, those things?
Well, we were fed very well at Bradfield Park,
and we were working so hard we needed it. At Tamworth
it was delightful, a lovely little country town. It was winter, which made it
hard when you went flying in a Tiger Moth and your instructor insisted on your
wearing sandshoes rather than flying boots because you were too heavy on the
rudder, because it was a very, very cold place. But at night it was delightful,
we had a big ... we had a pot-bellied stove at the end of the hut, and we were
fed well, and it was a lovely little town where the townsfolk took a great
interest in their little aerodrome. And I played hockey there for the station.
And we occasionally went off to Armidale and then we'd go into the Royal Hotel
and they had a great big ... you know, wooden fireplace. And the whole thing, I
remember it now with nostalgic feelings, it was a lovely place. No, it was a
number one way of living.
I might say that Deniliquin was a little bit
different. We were the first course to go into Denny and they only had a few of
the hangars complete, and I think we occupied the first two or three huts, and
the whole place was a bog. And there was a
food mutiny there, because we got tired of eating mince. The messing wasn't that
good. We used to enjoy night flying; because, after night flying, which was
another delightful experience, we could go up and they'd leave eggs and ham and
toast and cheese, and you could have your night-flying supper which was always
looked forward to with great anticipation. That was very good.
That's lovely. Just a moment. Well, just going
on, Arthur. Your first actual flying was in Tiger Moths I think at Tamworth.
How was it to fly? You'd looked forward to it.
Did it live up to its expectations?
Oh yes, oh they're splendid. The Tiger
Moth was an experience that everyone agrees is the absolute spirit of flying.
Probably sail-plane enthusiasts would disagree; but with the Tiger Moth you've
got something where you're just with the elements. They were a delightful
aeroplane. Of course, there was a great deal of trepidation to start with, and
that was enhanced by the smell of the dope and the oil, and then the trembling
little fuselage, and the cold feet that I mentioned, because of the high
altitude of Tamworth in the winter weather we used to get very, very cold.
I had a charming instructor, Mort Brand, who
was very, very patient and considerate and who was a great enthusiast for
instrument flying, which was to be very important to me later. And it was then,
because I had ... amongst my early
experiences was watching the Sunderlands on the Empire route coming into
Brisbane. I could stand on our front verandah and watch them coming in on to the
Hamilton Reach. And I ... of course, 10 Squadron had early on got quite a bit of
publicity and I'd ... I said I didn't want to join the navy but, strangely
enough, I did want to fly a Sunderland on Coastal Command, somehow or other that
really got me, they were such majestic aircraft, and so I wanted to fly
Sunderlands; and I suppose we'll come in a moment to why I didn't. But the Tiger
Moth was ... I supp... it would be like young men like to get out on motor
bikes. It's got, you know, it's ... it's ... you're free, you're part of nature.
(25.00) I remember the terror the first time
Mort slow-rolled it; and of course you hang
up on your straps, you've just got these two straps over the shoulders, and your
feet come off the rudder and go up behind the instrument panel, and hang on to
the side like grim death, and you have to learn that it's all right, that if you
sit the right way, everything will stay in place when you're upside down.
Yes, it'd be an awful feeling:
what if a strap breaks?
Yes, well that's right. One character that
you'd be interested in was our ... my flight commander then was
[Jerry?] Pentland, who had been written up in the
first world war as the wild Australian war bird. And of all the dreadful things
that could happen to you, just two weeks short of completing my two months on
Tigers and passing on to service flying training, I got mumps. And there I was
in hospital with that dreaded character, the military policeman, who also had
the mumps, and turned out to be a very nice fellow. And when I came out I was
very anxious not to be left behind; and there was only one instructor pilot on
the site, or on the station, who'd fly with me and that was Jerry. But he came
over, having instructed the ground staff to take my Gosport tube out - you know,
in those days you talked into the end of a bit of garden hose and it came back
and plugged into a couple of tubes that went up to your ear pieces - so he could
talk to me but I couldn't talk back to him because he'd taken away this source
of germs. And he got in - and I suppose Jerry in those days must have been,
what, mid-forties - and he looked round in a trembling voice and sort of said
`Well boy, you keep a good lookout because I don't see so well.' (a chuckle) So,
Jerry, I have to thank him for the fact that I remained on 13 Course. He did my
last ten days flying with me and I left the station a bit after the others. And
we had been all Queenslanders up till that point, but four of us were sent off
to Deniliquin where we met a lot of Victorians, who play that weird sort of
football they have down there, and the others went off to other places.
Mmm, that's most interesting. Could I just ask
you about the move to Deniliquin, Arthur. You've said you wanted to fly
Sunderlands; but in fact you were sent off to train on Wirraways. Were there any
objective criteria used by the air force, do you think, in making those
decisions? Or was it very subjective and very personal?
Oh, it was a very highly technical choice. They
sat you down with your back to the wall and measured the length of your legs,
and if they were long enough to fly a Wirraway that's where you went. Mine just
made it - unfortunately, because there was a great
deal of gossip and concern about the vicious flying tendencies of the Wirraway
and no one was particularly anxious to fly them. But, of course, once ... that
meant that you were going on to singles and you automatically became a fighter
pilot, or some such. If your legs were short enough, which I would have desired,
then you'd have ended up on four engines, either land planes or seaplanes. I
must admit the logic of this still escapes me, that people with shorter legs
would handle things like Lancasters and Sunderlands (a laugh); you know, it
doesn't make a whole lot of sense, does it.
Well, I can't really understand it. I would
have thought you'd just modify the backing of a seat or something to shift
someone forward or backwards.
Well, the thing was that
the Wirraway had rudder bars and incorporated brake pedals, and in order to get
full top rudder in more violent manoeuvres you just had to be able to stretch
out and push the rudder right forward, and you had to have a certain leg length.
But I would have thought it would have turned out the other way round. But, as
we've said, the selection was very arbitrary and, I suppose, hardly technical.
And there was no ... uhm, for example,
rudimentary psychological assessment of the kind of character which might make a
good fighter pilot or a good bomber pilot?
No. There was no ... not at all. That was the
only criterion that they'd set. They were rather desp... there were too few
people volunteering to go on to them. So that meant that one went off to meet
this fearsome Wirraway with, you know, a little bit of feeling in the water. You
didn't feel quite so sure that it was going to be a welcome experience.
END TAPE 1 SIDE A
BEGIN TAPE 1 SIDE B
Tape identification: Edward Stokes recording
with Arthur Tucker, 75 Squadron, Tape 1 Side 2.
Arthur, could you tell us then about the first
experience of a Wirraway?
Yes, well, we got off the train and we were
driven in trucks to this western town, very taken ... but at that stage they
were just developing the irrigation canals.
And then we drove on to this aerodrome where all the buildings were quite
skeletons, there were only a couple of the hangars that had been fully covered
in, and I think there were only two of the living huts complete, and the place
was very boggy, and we wondered what we'd got to. And the four of us, meeting
all these Victorians ... [Interview continues after a pause] So there, lined up,
in front of these largely incomplete hangars, were these monstrous looking
aircraft - after the Tiger Moth - stubby, short wheels, and seeming high up and
rather ... the short fuselage made them look almost as though they wouldn't fly,
like the bumble bee. Anyway, with the Wirraway the cockpit was huge after a
Tiger Moth, and you sat up front with your instructor behind, and this funny,
stuttering radial motor when it started up. But I must say I took to it
[interruption] like a duck to water. I found the aeroplane very easy to handle.
I had a - once again - an instructor of my own ilk who was more interested in
instrument flying than aerobatics, and so I came to be regarded as rather a
straight-and-level man when I got into a fighter squadron.
But of course this had an immense advantage
when you ... there was a belief, widely spread amongst people, that
fighter pilots should be harum-scarum wild men,
you know, care about nothing at all and no ... rather be upside down than
right-side up. But of course the error with that is that if you don't fly
smoothly and instinctively, when you get into combat you'll be slipping or
skidding, and when you press the tit the bullets don't go where you're aiming,
they get thrown off to one side and you won't hit anything. And you haven't got
time to be watching your 'bat and ball' and aiming at the enemy and pressing the
tit. So that in fact if you're an instinctively smooth flyer there's much more
chance you're going to hit something. So that it really was very important. And
of course when we - we didn't expect to get up to New Guinea, but we should have
expected bad weather over England - but in New Guinea, you just had to be able
to fly on instruments, sometimes when you were in a really tight corner it was
better to try and find yourself a cloud that didn't have a mountain in it and
hide away for a while.
(5.00) Mmm, that's interesting. We'll talk
later about the weather in New Guinea, that was obviously a big thing. Just
perhaps finishing at Deniliquin, Arthur; do you see your training there as being
very effective, quite effective, or not as effective as it should have been?
Well, I think that we needed it, and in view of
how little we were to get later. The first thing you had to be able to do was to
fly an aeroplane, and that was done extremely well. But of course you did a
little bit of gunnery. From Deniliquin, we
got our wings at the end of two months, and this was hurried forward so that you
could take a passenger, and then we flew over to Port Pirie, and that's where we
did our gunnery against drogues towed by Fairey Battles. But you were firing
with two guns just on top of the motor, firing through the propellor, two .303,
and it was hard to get any really remarkable scoring on the drogue. You know, if
you could hit it occasionally with these coloured - usually the coloured whole
one went through it - that was fine.
And of course the danger was that in trying to
get the sights on the drogue, if you got around too far you were likely to be
shooting out the back end of the Battle, and they'd be firing off Very lights
and - oh, good fun! But it wasn't the sort
of thing that was battle training or anything like it. And there was formation,
but there was nothing that would ... that was in any way directed toward contact
with the enemy. And I think the comment I would make - I may have made it
earlier on this tape, or in talking to you - now, and reading what the
government had known for some years and Menzies' concern about Japan, I'm
surprised that no one ever talked Japan to us. We never saw any reports of
Japanese aircraft or tactics. I think it is true the tendency was to try to
persuade us they were made of bamboo and spittle, and that the Japanese were
short-sighted and couldn't see at night. I don't know whether those things were
jokes or whether they were the ... what everyone was trying to believe, or
whether somebody was trying to pull the wool over our eyes; but certainly I
never saw anything technical on Japanese aircraft. And I'll tell you about what
our intelligence officer knew about them later.
Yes, those comments about the Japanese being
ineffective fighters and so on; were they ... do you recall those only in the
context say of drinking, social situations, light hearted banter, or were the
comments such as that ever made more seriously, for example, by instructors?
It was never discussed
by instructors. It was a flying school. It wasn't warlike training, and there
just wasn't any ... there was no political discussion, there was no tactical
discussion, there was no prediction of what might happen to us, even if we got
to England. It was ... it was cloud cuckoo land, looking back - but it was
Well, just turning briefly to two political
questions, then. During that period, despite that lack of ... input, if you
like, from your instructors, were you and your colleagues, and other young men
training, particularly conscious or not of events in Europe? And also the
likelihood of Japan actually entering the war, pre-Pearl Harbour?
No discussion of Japan at all, no warning, no
mention whatsoever. When, later, Pearl Harbour was bombed,
that came as a bolt out of the blue, there'd never been any mention of it in
service areas. And as for consciousness even of what was happening in Europe,
once 1941 was ... we were just floating away flying aeroplanes and enjoying it,
we didn't seem to - oh and listening to Vera Lynn - we never ... we didn't see
any newspapers, we didn't hear any news releases that ... Looking at it now,
we were so cut off, I can't believe it!
(10.00) Yes, it does seem very much like that,
very much in limbo and out of the context of what you were intended to do. Well,
turning to that, I know in January 1942 you went to Nhill in western Victoria
for what was to be an operational training unit; but I understand your view is
that, really, it had very little operational training input at all.
Yes, well, just to ... probably there's a
little bit of a gap there in that I was commissoned off course, late October,
and I was seconded to the RAF and sent on disembarkation leave and then came
back to Bradfield Park all set to go aboard one of the well
known Pacific ships. We were going to go over through Canada and Halifax to the
RAF. And it was only a couple of days before - we were in Bradfield Park - in
fact, it was within a couple of days of going on the ship when Pearl Harbour was
bombed, and a couple of days later they sent the first half down, and we were
waiting in the afternoon with all our gear for the buses to come back and take
us down, and they came back fully loaded, and there we were in Bradfield Park
for a couple of weeks. And then, as you say, we were sent off, a few of us, the
Wirraway pilots, were sent off to Nhill, over in the mallee, western Victoria,
where Sammy [Balmer?] was giving a sort of post-graduate course to a few Hudson
pilots, and Jock Perrin was running ... had some, a few Wirraways there. Well,
we did a repeat of the sort of flying we did in the service flying training on
our course. But there was nothing tactical, nothing much in the way of
formation. We did a bit of bombing and gunnery and a bit of flying in pairs, and
that was it.
So you didn't really gain a lot more than you
would have gained from after the Wirraway period?
Nothing at all, nothing.
Were you disillusioned by that at the time? Or
didn't you realise the import of it?
Well, we didn't know what was
going to happen to us. We knew that Pearl Harbour had been bombed, and we were
over there, and it seemed like a bit of a fill-in, and we'd rather have been
flying our Wirraways than sitting around in Bradfield Park wondering. But, once
again, it was a vacuum thing.
But the period at Nhill, Arthur - at the time,
not looking back on it now - at the time, did you see that as a kind of
pointless vacuum? Or weren't you conscious of the lack of tactical training, for
Well, we didn't know what to expect.
Here was a fellow who'd come back from the 3 Squadron, and he was giving us
this. And I suppose, without voicing it, we wondered what the hell it was all
about. I mean, we weren't learning anything, we weren't being told anything, we
weren't disturbed, we didn't know enough to be frightened (laughing). But it ...
I think I've got to look back, it was so much a repeat of the comfortable life
we'd had and we were still so much enjoying our Wirraways, that we didn't think
another thing about it.
Mmm. There is quite a strong thread running
through things you've already said we'll record later that is certainly critical
of training. Do you think it would be true to say that the problem was that men
who were perhaps great combat fighters themselves weren't necessarily
particularly good teachers of what they themselves were good at?
Well, I think we'll have to try to get round to
some of the things that we've already talked about; and that is, when you come
to the definition of who is going to do the instructing,
and who are the great combat pilots. You see, you can see now that, here we were
in flying and we'd got into something very comfortable, very pleasant, and we
weren't thinking too much about it. Now, suddenly we're handed over to some
people who've come back from a named squadron and a named area, whom the
government apparently think `Well, these are the people who can prepare
something to go to New Guinea.' But I think you've got to ... you've got
to look at this in hindsight; and that is, that when you now know what an
absolute political, tactical vacuum there was in our government and our command
structure, that they just didn't know what to do, and they got some people back
from an operational squadron and they said `Ah, we'll put them in charge!
They'll tell us what to do.' Now, without reflecting on anyone, I have over the
years wondered what 3 Squadron were doing, because they were not doing work that
prepared them to pass on anything useful to us when we came into contact with
the Zeros, and what I observed of them, they didn't know what to do with them
(15.00) You see, they had been up against ...
mostly, I think, inferior Italian aircraft in inferior Gladiators and things
like that; they were fighting a war almost an extension of world war one. I'm
not being unkind to anyone, but it wasn't ... then they
got the Tomahawks, and I know there were some Me 109s there, but I can't believe
that these people were having a wartime experience that was relevant to what we
were going to have to do. I think they maybe more have been in close army
support, strafing and doing that with the army, and I'm sure doing a tremendous
job. But it didn't have any ... it didn't prepare them in any way to tell us
what to do - with one or two exceptions, as we'll see.
Mmm, that's interesting Arthur. Do you think
perhaps another aspect of this problem, this difficulty in training, was that
the pilots - the men who trained you - had been fighting against in Europe
German and Italian pilots who thought in a very different way from the Japanese
and were a different sort of enemy?
Yes, that's true. I think the Western Desert
was a ... again, it was a different war. It was a bit like our training, it was
... they were neither in Europe nor were they over here, they were in the
Western Desert. It ... sometimes, when you read about it,
it was almost a gentlemanly game of tennis, you know. I mean, it was vicious,
people were getting killed, but they weren't doing ... they weren't facing an
enemy as ... as victorious as the Japanese, and then they weren't even as
experienced as the Japanese. See, the Germans, they did have some people who
were very good, they'd been at it ever since the Spanish Civil War - which
incidentally was one of the things that affected me when I was a young man,
that's when I saw that things were going to have to be done that I mightn't want
to do. But the Japs had been sharpening their claws on the Chinese for six or
seven years, they had the Zero which was a beautiful aeroplane with tremendous
flying capability - poorly armed, fortunately, or I wouldn't be here - and then
they'd pushed everything ahead of them, they'd just swamped the forces in Malaya
and they were on the go.
The people that we were to find in Moresby were
some of their very top men, they were put off carriers there, and they were very
experienced and very ... it was something
that these other people hadn't come up against. But there is another thing, and
it's got to do with this whole thing I've been telling you about, about the
morale and the command. I think it was command collapse in Australia generally.
There was tremendous defeatism, in my view, and they didn't even know whether
they were going to put up a resistance. And I think these blokes back from the
Middle East didn't have too much faith in what they'd be able to do. And, just
as we had been told nothing about the Japs, they hadn't either.
They didn't know what it was going to be about. But also, they hadn't fought a
pitched battle. You see, Moresby, as it turned out was more like the Battle of
Britain than anything else.
Now, the Battle
of Britain had been fought a long time before, and they'd lost a lot of people,
and the battle for Moresby was very much more like that. It was a real
pitched-in, hard-going thing where the Japanese were setting out - in our cases
they didn't have to set out at all the English aerodromes like they did in the
Battle of Britain - but they were set out for Moresby, and they only had one
target and we were sitting on it. And it was an intense effort so they could
invade the place at the beginning of May. And they wanted to neutralise the
place so they could take it over and use it as a stepping stone. I mean, this is
in the history books now. Now, they hadn't struck anything like that: the
Western Desert was a mobile thing, where they rolled backwards and forwards over
the desert and they used flat areas of desert to land on. We were going to have
one single strip that people could bomb and make parts of it unserviceable, and
there was nowhere else to go. And then, of course, there was the terrain.
Yes, that's very interesting, Arthur. Could we
perhaps just leave that for a minute, and come back to that in a moment, perhaps
in context. But, going back to the context of the story; having had this interim
period when you might have gone to Britain, and then Nhill, you then went to
Bankstown and that's where you first encountered Kittyhawks ...
(20.00) They were frightening, I think you
said, at first, or they didn't inspire confidence. Could you explain why?
Ah, I think they were awe-inspiring. See,
instead of having a short stubby thing like the Wirraway was, which was low-down
and a short undercarriage and had become familiar and beloved, here we had an
animal that had a great long nose. Now the thing that was probably the most
startling thing was that you had to climb up into the Wirraway [sic] ... you
could sort of step onto the wing of a Wirraway, but to get into a Kittyhawk you
had to climb up onto the wing and then clamber up in the cockpit, and there
sticking in front of you was this great twelve-cylinder V-engine with an air
scoop on the top. And it sort of went up almost at forty-five degrees, and you
couldn't see anything ahead of you, you had to look out to about forty degrees
to the side to see, with your tail down. And it smelt differently. The smell of
aeroplanes when you first got into one was always ominous, it smelt different in
the ... you had the smell of glycol, whereas we'd had an air-cooled engine in
the Wirraway and you could just sort of see over - it was short and stubby - you
could see over the top of it. Here you had this great lump of metal ahead of
you, and all the switches and dials, and engine ... ah, gun reload mechanisms
Yes, I have heard from somebody else that,
compared to, say the Wirraway, and other English planes generally, the Kittyhawk
was very elaborately equipped and somewhat confusing in its cockpit controls.
Would you agree, or not?
Yes, until you got to know ... I think I
counted once that I had something like seventy-seven different dial switches and
levers that I had to know where they were by feel. And down in front of you,
between ... just above the rudders, there
was a great bank of six ... they were hydraulic gun-load things, which we didn't
ever use. In fact, we were forbidden to use them eventually, because if you had
one ... an explosive shell stuck up the spout and then you hydraulically loaded
another one, then you were likely to blow the top off your wing. So there were
lots of things you didn't use. Then there were ... So that there was a great ...
they seemed an unfamiliar type of beast, and the ... but I think the most
difficult thing was not being able to see. It turned out it wasn't a problem.
The other thing was the reputation. You see, we
went to 7th Pursuit Squadron - we were attached to them although we were
actually with the headquarters, Bankstown - and that's
where I met Alan Whetters of whom we've spoken. And fortunately, he was a very
experienced airman, instructor, and altogether eight years older, but a
magnificent pilot, an instinctive one who liked to teach people. So we were
given the manuals to read, and then we were told when we could start the
aeroplane they'd let us fly it, because there was no dual instruction or
anything, no one could stand on the side and tell you how. And Alan flew it and
came back and said `Well, it's got a long nose, but it's just like a Wirraway -
you can't go wrong.' Reassuring. And I can remember going down into that far
corner of Bankstown, down near the river, turning uphill, and pushing off. Now,
the one problem that got people into a lot of trouble was the intense - there
were a lot more power than we'd ever had before - and there was an intense swing
of torque, and so you had to remember to wind on three right rudder trim and
three back, if you were going to get it off the ground; and if you happened to
forget to put on the trim or wind on the wrong trim, then you'd very smartly
ground loop and plough into something, and I've seen people doing that. But
apart from that it turned out to be as Alan said, it was a beautiful aeroplane
But the Americans were lads who
... well, like ourselves, they hadn't had a lot of training, and they were
bending quite a lot - not only being attached to the squadron to learn to fly
then, we used to have to act as aerodrome control officers, and I can tell you
there were an awful lot of them bent there.
(25.00) Yes, that's interesting about the
Kittyhawk, Arthur; because the general picture from other people has certainly
been that they were difficult to begin with but that once one got into them in
fact they were, if not as fast and manoeuvrable as a Zero, still a wonderful
plane to fly. Would you agree with that?
Yes, and they had a big advantage. I must say
that, reading as I have later, there is no doubt about it that the Hurricane was
a more effective fighter than the Spitfire, and a lot of people say
would tell you that the Hurricane won the Battle of Britain. Now, in my opinion,
the Kittyhawk was just the aeroplane for the sort of conditions we were
going into. And it had ... it was a very rugged aeroplane, it had very good
armour plate behind the pilot, it had self-sealing tanks - which the Zero had
neither of those - but it was a heavier aeroplane and you couldn't turn with a
Zero, they could outclimb us about three or four to one. We could outrun them by
about ... probably thirty or forty mile an hour flat out and low down. But we
could outdive them, these ... the Kittyhawk had a carburettor, a
Stromberg-Carlson [sic] injection carburettor, and the important thing about
that was that it was entirely independent of gravity, whatever pressures you put
on the aircraft - whether you put the nose down sharply or up sharply or turned
it - the engine would run without losing a beat; whereas the Zero had a
float-valve carburettor, and if they ... our escape manoeuvre was whenever some
of those flaming cricket balls shot around your head - in other words, the
tracer - you just jammed everything forward and into one corner and the
Kittyhawk would bunt away like that 747 that we've been seeing on the TV when it
hit that air turbulence, still air turbulence, or whatever - that was a bunt.
And you dived away, the fellow behind you who had you in his sights, the only
way he could keep his guns on you and keep his advantage would be to stick his
stick forward too. But if the Zero did that, its engine cut straight away, and
of course we were away by then. Now, it had a rugged undercart, contrary to what
a Spit did, and the one other thing that people were worried about then was that
it had a reputation for ground looping, of having a ... it had ... there were
two things, one was for ground looping because it had a short fuselage, and the
other was ...
Excuse me. Could you clarify what ground
Well, that meant that if you ... say you were
landing - the Wirraway had had the same tendency - and you were
a bit careless, the thing would just sort of suddenly whip around in a ... as
you were slowing down, instead of running forward and staying on the runway,
you'd whip around quickly and dig the outside wing in and you might even tip
over. The other ... the Kittyhawk also was feared because it was supposed, like
some of the early world war one aircraft, of being very difficult to get out of
a spin, because, with the short fuselage and the placing of the rudder, the
elevators were supposed to blank off the rudder and stop you from a normal spin
recovery. It wasn't true. And the 3 Squadron people made it very difficult for
us when they got back, and since they came to be the bosses they insisted that a
Kittyhawk couldn't be landed in a three-point position - that's when you touch
down with your two landing wheels and your back wheel hitting the ground at the
same time. They insisted you had to drive them on, get your wheels on the
ground, and then reduce your throttle, which of course meant that you had to
come in a lot faster and use a lot more runway. And also, of course, you could
very easily get a series of bounces. It was absolutely unnecessary, and wrong.
The Kittyhawk was actually ... it was a kitten
to fly. It was a beautiful aeroplane, it was easier
than a ... if you'd flown a Wirraway you could fly a Kittyhawk right from the
beginning, and it was simple and smooth and easy. It was heavy, and when you got
up a lot of speed in a ... in a ... say you'd bunted and you were escaping, then
the trim would also become a problem, it used to want to duck its head away to
the right and roll the left wing, and you needed the strength of a navvy to hold
it straight at high speed, it was a ... but, you know, you were getting away all
the time and it didn't really worry you very much.
Mmm. That's interesting. Just a
END TAPE 1 SIDE B
BEGIN TAPE 2 SIDE B
Tape identification: This is Edward Stokes
recording with Arthur Tucker, 75 Squadron, Tape 2 Side 1 (Side 3 of the whole
Arthur, just following on from that description
of landing the Kittyhawk, I was going to ask: were those kind of decisions
about flying techniques - for example, your point about landing with only two
wheels rather than three - were they in the end the responsibility of individual
pilots to do as they thought best, or were they flying decisions that were
imposed from above and had to be kept to?
Well, we're getting a little bit ahead of
ourselves. But in Townsville ... and I've told you we didn't have nine days
intensive training, I flew it three times;
one of those was a formation flight, led by my flight commander who was a much
vaunted ... oh, I don't know, `vaunted' is probably not the ... yes, a prominent
3 Squadron gentleman who ... During the formation, I ran into problems with my
propellor. They had an automatic way of keeping the ... balancing the blades,
like, you know, like top gear and low gear, and you needed top gear for taking
off, and when you came in to land you put it back into this full fine so that
your engine would produce full power if you had to go round again - in other
words, if you mess the landing up and you want to go away again. Now if that
failed you had a switch down bottom left. To get at it you had to lean forward
and reach down, which made it very hard to see forward, and then you had to hold
that up to keep it in full fine. Now, in the formation flight, I kept falling
back, and I thought ... well, we were training for war, I thought I should stay
there and try and keep with the flight. So then, when we came to come to land -
and this is to do with your question whether it was imposed; this was a 3
Squadron gent, and we had 3 Squadron commanders and that - we were supposed ...
they were fanatical about us wheeling them on. That was the order. We were not
to three-point them any more. So I came into land, and I was in this awkward
position, and I'm trying to keep my hand down there and keep the prop in full
fine, which meant I had to lock my throttle and everything else so that wouldn't
fall off, judge my landing, and yet keep it in full fine so that, if the landing
was messed up, I'd be able to shove the throttle forward and go round again
because if it was in full coarse it wouldn't make it, I wouldn't get off. And
I'm also trying to wheel it on, because this fellow's been jumping up and down
about us three-pointing it, you see. So I bounced. Whereupon he counted it and
when we got to sixteen ... by that time you can imagine the state of mind of
the pilot listening to these, trying to wrestle this aeroplane down in a very
nasty position, and this fellow counting your bounces over the radio. So, when
it was all down and the dust was settled, I went round to decapitate him. I must
say this fellow and I never got on from thereon. But that's the extent to which
people would interfere, you see; and this was all because ...
And the other peculiar thing I'm going to ...
because I`ve told you how, later, all complaints of aircraft serviceability were
put down to pilot's reluctance to go into battle. Here was the situation
where I was then told that, as soon as the aircraft had developed a fault, I
should have returned to the aerodrome and had it fixed up. Now, that was in
Townsville. After that - and I didn't do it very often - every time I took an
aeroplane back, which might have been three or four times, to report a defect, I
was accused of ducking battle. So that, that's the extent to which these
pressures were put on the individual. I'm here simply because I was a rebel and
I didn't take any notice of that sort of thing. But I'm quite sure a lot of
younger or less mature people were induced to try to do things with aeroplanes
that just weren't capable of functioning.
(5.00) Hmm. That's most interesting, that
description of the landing, Arthur. Well, going on a little bit, Arthur, of
course it was about the ... well, early March I think, the seventh, but the date
doesn't matter, there was a flight when Jeffrey came down south and you all
headed off north and there was a real debacle. How do you recall that episode
beginning? When did you meet Jeffrey?
I met him on the morning of the seventh, at
Bankstown. I see he had been attached to squadron headquarters, Bankstown, but
I'd never met him at that stage. Incidentally, he hadn't been north at that
stage, he was coming over from Perth or something. And there'd
been a small group of us, half a dozen attached to the 7th Pursuit at Bankstown,
there'd been another half dozen at Williamtown, and another half dozen at
Canberra, all attached to ... where they were forming US Air Corps squadrons.
And suddenly ten of us, including the new leader, were told off to proceed to
Townsville. And we'd never met most of those who were flying; I think there were
two or three of us from Bankstown - or maybe even less, O'Connor, Norton and I
and maybe one other, I think that's about all - and all the others were
strangers to us. And we'd only flown the aeroplane four times, never in
formation, and of course we hadn't done any instrument flying in it. But I just
mention here, I mightn't have done so with the ... I was talking about the
Wirraway at Deniliquin and Jeff Ball being interested in instrument flying, one
thing he insisted was that I always flew a Wirraway with the artificial horizon
caged; that's a gyroscopic instrument, and if you get into a unusual or
difficult position sufficient to topple the horizon beyond its limits, it won't
recover again and there's no ... if you're depending on it, you`ve had it; so
he always made me fly the Wirraway with the horizon caged, and to fly on what's
called `bat and ball' which is regarded as a very primitive instrument. So we,
at that stage, we didn't have any radios because we didn't have microphones or
ear-pieces that would fit the aeroplane, we didn't have any oxygen so we
couldn't communicate with one another, and we couldn't fly - theoretically -
above about fifteen or sixteen thousand feet.
We took off, and circled round and round for
quite a while because somebody couldn't get his engine started. We'd said to the
leader that we'd never flown formation, and he said `Oh that's
all right, I won't take you into cloud.' And we
set off eventually. The leader had three aircraft formating on him; I was flying
in the starboard flight led by Norton, with O'Connor on his starboard, I was on
his port, that's on the left-hand side; and then, on the far left, Johnny Piper
had Holliday and someone else with him. So that meant ... in a formation, if
you're flying, formating on a section leader, you depend on him then to keep
your flight orientated with the rest of the squadron. He's got to be watching
the leader and his people. Well, we didn't get far beyond the Hawkesbury and we
started getting into the lower bits of the cloud which were getting lower and
lower. And suddenly, we were in cloud. And when you're cloud-flying or
blind-flying the difficulty is to believe your instruments and not your
feelings; but nevertheless you do get a feeling that things aren't quite right,
and when I looked - see, after all, you get in tight and you're formating on
your leader and you're trusting him in every way, and that means you don't look
in the office - when I did, our speed was up and we were in a tight obviously
descending spiral to the right.
(10.00) Now, we had no wireless, nothing at
all, and obviously there was nothing I could do for him, but the time
had come to bale out metaphorically. So I straightened up on my 'bat and ball',
which was no problem to me with the training I'd had with Jeff Ball, and I
climbed up - and we'd gone in at about fifteen hundred feet into the bottom of
the cloud - I got to 9000 and 10,000 and then the cloud ahead of me started to
lighten, and then obviously here was the sun, it was all nice and bright you
see. And of course I fell for the old trick (laughing): I was so anxious to get
out of the cloud I pulled my nose up, and spun. Now of course here was real
trouble, because the ... I hadn't tried spinning a Kitty, but I was obviously
now in a spin. It came out just like a Tiger Moth would; I straightened up, and
when ... you see, there's ... if I'd had my ... if I'd been depending on my
horizon, I was gone, because it would have been toppled well and truly, even
there when we were down in that spiral, the spin would have really done it. So I
climbed up again, and found myself above the cloud at about 12,000 feet, and I
could see a little aeroplane way ahead of me, so I thought `company would be
nice!' and I chased off after him. And after a period of probably half an hour,
twenty-five or half an hour, I was nearly up to him and suddenly he dived down.
When I got there, there was a lovely big ... you often see these, sort of a
round opening slanting down, and I could see the sea underneath and him just at
the bottom, so I shot down after him. And there was heavy ... we were down along
the coast up the north of the ... up the north coast, and there was heavy rain
in there, and once again when I was within perhaps quarter of a mile of him, I
saw him put his wheels down and his flaps, turn left, and then head off into
heavy rain. So I thought he looked like somebody who knew what he was doing, I
might as well follow him. I came in with flaps down over the edge of an
aerodrome, and the rain was so heavy, I saw the end of the runway, and I was
about halfway through my landing run and suddenly hangars shot past on the left
hand side, and we were at Evans Head and it was Johnny Piper I'd followed there.
Later, I discovered that Norton, the fellow who'd been leading me, was killed at
Kempsey; and Holliday, who'd been with Piper, was killed up near Port Macquarie;
O'Connor, who was the third one of our 'vic', got himself down along the coast
and tried to land at Kyogle, he got out of it but he wrecked the aeroplane.
Just to wind that story up, Arthur, I ... the
tape's going on a bit and I want to try and get on to Port Moresby if we can.
That's an interesting story of ... uhm ... well, of misadventure; but there is
an important end I think, and that's the report you later made.
Yes. Well, the result of that was, you see, I
reported the fact that we'd been told we wouldn't go into cloud and we did, and
what had happened. And I guess there was an inquiry. But it became obvious that
I had tipped the bucket on a senior man,
and after that I was ... you know, I only had to blow my nose and I was in
strife. It was very uncomfortable; and it was to have consequences some years
Yes, well, we might talk about
No, I'll just ... I don't want to say any more
about it now.
Yes, sure. We'll come on to that later. Well,
going on then to arriving in Townsville with the Kittyhawks. Of course it was a
very rushed period there too. How well do you think you were trained ... first
of all, just in flying together as a squadron? How effective was that?
Well, I've already told you the story of the
one real squadron formation I was in. I got into strife for not taking my
aeroplane back when the ... that was at that period. We only flew it three
times. Once I did a lot of shadow gunnery;
that's when somebody flies at about three or four hundred feet along the coast,
casting his shadow where the surf is breaking in, and you make diving attacks
just to check whether you're giving it enough lead, because if you are leading
it forward enough your bullets should kick up on the shadow, if you're firing at
the moving target then the bul... the splashes will be behind. One lot of that.
And I see we ... by my log book, we had two formations, I don't ... the other
one wasn't memorable. But there was no combat training, this was just flying
around in 'vics', firing the guns once. So ... I've seen reports of nine and
seventeen days intensive training in various things, but there was actually none
(15.00) Just looking at another aspect of the
formation of the squadron, Arthur. I understand you feel there was something of
a division between the men who'd come from Europe and men such as yourself?
Could you recall that in more detail?
Well, I think I could generalise it, because
it was a disease of RAAF squadrons generally throughout the war, in that you'd
... people didn't stick together for any length of time but you'd get a certain
group who'd had experiences in common and then they'd be called out and put
somewhere else, and you didn't only import the friendships and loyalties, you
also imported the distrusts and dislikes. Now, you do that with a group from 3
Squadron who, after all, probably felt they had earned a rest in the Middle
East, and in view of the political situation I've told you about they weren't
necessarily confident that the Japanese were going to be held. No one was, and
I've said to you, and I'll say frankly, I believe that there was incredible
defeatism in all levels of our community. So you get them. Then you get mixed
groups from different Australian squadrons; in some places you had people who
came to be in authority who'd all been to school together, and then you'd get
another group from overseas from some different background, and each of them
then would be restive with the other groups. There was no chance of building up
of any esprit de corps, ever. But this was particularly marked in 75th
Perhaps an associated question. In getting
postings to different units, in your personal experience in what you know of
what happened to other men, how easy or difficult was it for men to get to the
squadron they wanted to be at? For example: a number of your friends from some
previous squadron are going to X squadron; how easy was it to make sure you got
Well, it was probably reasonably easy for
people who'd been cadets, or permanent - and many of these people were, and they
had all sorts of associations, and debts owing to them, and all the rest of it.
For the rest of us, it just wasn't on. So
Right. Well, moving on a bit. Just before we
leave Townsville, is there anything else of that period, before you leave
Australia, that you regard as particularly significant to the story, or not?
Ah ... well, it may have saved my life, the
story I've told you about my disagreement
when I suddenly knocked a fellow's block off for counting at me down over the
radio. I in fact drew one of the short straws, and I was left in Australia to go
back south to pick up another aircraft. So he probably did me a favour, because
I was delayed by about ten days or a fortnight in getting to Moresby, and ...
But on the other hand, you know, I think if you counted people's time in
Moresby, it was like the Battle of Britain. If you look there you'll find most
squadrons in fact didn't serve more than two, three, sometimes four weeks, in an
advance and then they were relieved. Well, there wasn't anyone to relieve us,
but people ... I don't think anyone served the full time. So mine was delayed
for later on. I went south to pick up an aeroplane that had ... it wasn't ... we
were unable to find.
That seems remarkable in itself. To send
somebody all that way.
It was a shambles, then. And it had probably
been ... ah, sent off to some other squadron, or something. I went down
to Bankstown and I was sent back to Archerfield, and that's where I met Alan
Whetters again. He was with 76 Squadron. And then they suddenly decided that
aeroplanes weren't as important as men, and four of us - Scandrett, Alan
Whetters, Johnston and myself - were put on a train to Townsville and on a
Flying Fortress, and we arrived in Moresby early in the first week of April.
(20.00) Mmm, that's most interesting. Let's
look now at that period at Port Moresby. Perhaps two questions to begin with.
The first regarding that first period of fairly intense conflict when there'd
... I know on the first day a bomber had been shot down, and there'd been
attacks on Lae and so on. How do you recall that being described to you? What
was your impression of the mood of the squadron when you arrived yourself the
short time later?
Well, the living was so hard and they were
already ... they'd had a ... quite a lot of flying ... of accidents getting ...
Moresby was a dreadful little drome, it was still being extended so that
up the top end the army had great ditches dug on both sides of what was a really
only a winding ... well, it wasn't winding, but it was an up-and-down country
road really, it wasn't much wider, it was a very difficult strip to operate off.
And everyone was sick. Because, you see, unknown to all of us, Australia knew
the Japanese were coming. They had been moving into ... Gull force into Ambon in
October-November, they were building Moresby strip in November. This is the
extraordinary thing, that so much preparation had been going on, and what is
critical here - and it's in the history book, I think it's the medical story of
the RAN and the RAAF - that the labour force had intense gastro-enteritis there
in November the previous year, and this was probably ... the outstanding
impression I have of the Battle of Moresby is that we all got it. I've told you
I've got `shits' entered in my log book with my first combat; that wasn't fear,
that was the fact that it was trickling down my legs because I had
gastro-enteritis. They were feeding us on tinned bacon which was dreadful,
tropical spread which was worse, baked beans, and somewhere or other they had
captured (laughing) one of those Liberty ships full of goldfish, er, what do you
call them? - herrings in tomato sauce. And that was what we were supposed to
eat. And the baked beans would blow up in your stomach, you already had
gastro-enteritis, and so ... there was nowhere to wash your clothes, so you'd
take a spare pair of shorts down to the strip and when you landed you'd clean
your aeroplane up, wash your shorts, put your other wet ones on, and so we lived
in wet clothes. And this is no exaggeration. And the other thing is that,
despite that, there were no latrine trenches dug and so our only hygiene was a
shovel and a roll of paper in the nearby kunai around where we had to be on
standby from before dawn until after dark. Now this is no exaggeration, that is
the truth. And so we were nearly defeated by gastro-enteritis, we were all
suffering acute gastro-enteritis the whole time.
Given that problem, that health problem, would
you then say that, despite the initial relative success at least of the squadron
over the Japanese, that morale was - when you arrived - that morale was low?
medium? high? How would you see that?
Oh no, it
was ... morale was never low. That's ... you see, this is the thing. I've told
you about all these accusations of cowardice - direct ones - already. And yet I
never saw anyone behaving in a cowardly fashion. But you just didn't talk to
anyone. You did your job, you went home at night. We used to get one bottle of
beer between two people about three days a week I think, and you'd have that and
go to bed and get up in the morning, put on your wet clothes, and go down to the
strip again before dawn - unless you had a day off which ... for a while, we got
one every two or three days, but for the last two or three weeks we had hardly
any at all because pilots had either been killed, or had gone sick, seconded for
other duties, or ... you know, there we were, not many of us.
That's interesting, Arthur. Well, you've
described very clearly the general living conditions, and certainly this problem
with health and so on. Turning to actually flying, flying against the Japanese;
what's your first recollection of being scrambled, or sent off to fly in a
hostile situation? What occurred? And how did you feel?
(25.00) Well, we went off ... the first real
air contact I can remember, we must have got early warning, because we were
slightly above the bombers when they came
in, and ... You know, we`ve talked about tactics; as soon as action started
everyone seemed to disappear and there would be you and the enemy, and you
couldn't see anyone else, they were all busy. And we were outnumbered. But this
time we were on ... above them, and I found myself, by some magical magnetism or
something, attacking the bomber, the rear bomber on the starboard side. I got
quite close to him, and I fired a burst and saw the rear gunner's compartment -
which is just back behind the base of the rudder and between the elevators -
disintegrate. I've shown you a camera-gun picture to show you that you can sort
of see these things happen. And then I was fired at by other airc... guns from
the formation, and I broke off. And then I saw an aeroplane go ... er, a
fighter, going down with smoke coming out of it, and I swung in and took an
early shot at him and then realised that it was a Kittyhawk, and found myself
eventually back on the ground again where I found that the first fellow down was
Johnny Piper who'd been shot through an oil cooler. So I went over and sort of
apologised to him, and he said `Ah boy,' he said,`you'll never hit anything from
that far away!' (laugh)
What was he referring to, Arthur?
Oh, I had a shot at him, you see. I said I'd
had a shot at this aircraft with the oil coming out of it. It was Johnny Piper.
Ah, right, I'm sorry, I missed that, that you'd
actually shot at him.
Well, I had sort of had a quick squirt before I
... I don't know whether I actually fired or not,
but it ... You know, that was the whole thing: the
recognition part was difficult, because it's only a matter ... I've shown you
that picture of what happens in three seconds, and you only did that if you
fired when the aeroplane was there. Well, strangely enough, it was quite hard,
for a while, to recognise a Kittyhawk from a Zero, although the Zero had a
radial engine and we had an in-line. But there was something strangely alike
about them, just at certain angles. And we used to have a rosette on the side
with a red centre; and they woke up to this eventually and painted the red
centre out so we only had white and blue like the Americans, because that red
centre seemed to glow up, you know, and ... Well then, that leads on of course
to what I was saying to you about the intell... the combat reporting, because
that was the time when I went in to make my combat report. We didn't write our
own combat reports, we were interviewed by the intelligence officer who wrote
down and put it on a form and we were given it to sign.
And what was his name,
Collie, Stew [Stewart] Collie. He was a lawyer
from Melbourne. Well, I don't know about Stew. I've got to be unkind about him
because I told him what had happened. Now, I've also shown you another combat
report that I wrote in another part of the
war where we wrote our own combat report, and it wasn't structured, it wasn't on
a form, we wrote down what had happened. Now, I think that is the stuff that
history has to be made of; what people saw and what people did, sorted out
later. But Collie used to sort out our impressions according to his mind and put
it down, and that's all that got through. Now, Collie told me that Betties
didn't have rear gunners - now, I've shown you a picture of a Betty and the
gunner's compartment - and that staggered me because I'd been there. And this
subject came up about four years ago: I was invited up to be one of several who
visited 75 Squadron to Darwin, and there on the wall they've got a beautiful
picture taken from inside a Japanese formation, they ... the fellow had
photographed the others ahead of him; and I ... and Jack Pettett was there, and
I said `Well, there you are, I've been there, you see.' Now if I hadn't been
there, I wouldn't have recognised it. And Jack Pettett then told me that on one
occasion he came back with a cannon shell through him and he said he got that
from the rear gunner of a Betty, and he was told that they didn't have rear
guns. So that reflects on this whole thing of training, not only on Stew Collie.
Stew didn't know, no one knew, that Bettys had rear gunners; but they had a
great cannon there.
That's most interesting. I mean, there seems to
be a clear level of ... well, inadequate training, inefficiency perhaps.
But it also reflects on how much credibility
the so-called war diary had, you see, that I've seen several sets of reports on
that air battle, in the War Memorial book that bomber ... no one else is
mentioned, the bomber is attributed to another gent altogether. Dave Wilson
indicates that three of us attacked ---------[The tape cuts out in mid-sentence]
END TAPE 2 SIDE A
BEGIN TAPE 2 SIDE B
Tape identification: This is Edward Stokes with
Arthur Tucker, Side 2 of Tape 2 (or Side 4 of the whole lot).
Arthur, just turning to this ... to your first
combat experience - and this, incidentally, isn't a personal question at all -
pilots often describe the fear of combat, of controlling this big machine in the
sky and facing up to an enemy. How often was that felt by people? How strongly
was it felt?
No, I honestly don't know. I have a story about
this. But I found that if you got ... I'm a fearful, tense person; but I felt
strain, but I didn't feel fear, you ... you see, it ... My brother-in-law asked
me this recently, he'd just been down the War
Memorial and I was telling him about your visit, and ... this is incidental, but
he was saying he was terribly pleased to hear what you're doing, because he said
`I'm interested in the Battle of Moresby,' he said, `then I'm interested in 75
Squadron, last of all I'm interested in you, way down. But I'm terribly
interested in how it all went.' And he'd been asking me about fear, and my
answer to him was that ... He said - you know, I was showing him that camera-gun
shot of the Zero at Merauke - and he said `How did you feel, then?' And I said
`Look, would it be unbelievable that I didn't feel anything, because it was a
sort of technical thing?' I said `It's there on the film, and you can see more
there now than I could see then; because I was flying around, there was
something, I was doing something I was trained for, it was a long way away, and
I was concerned that somebody would get on to me. But I had all the anticipation
of danger, but I didn't have any feeling of it. That came at night and at other
My general feeling, which built up rather
quickly, along with the gastro and what was happening to everyone else, was that
I genuinely felt that I was unlikely, that in fact I would not, survive Moresby,
but it didn't ... I had so many other troubles
- the gastro, various people treading on my toes, and what not - that the only
time when I could ... I can describe an actual physical reaction which might
interest you, and that is that you'd be waiting all through the day, from before
dawn until after dark, at any time ... I think they used to fire three shots and
we'd run to our aircraft. You'd get in and people would hand you the straps
while you plugged yourself in, and then you'd just wait. Right, two shots you'd
go and wait, and then over the radio they'd say `Okay, take off!' But if they
said `Scrubbo' - in other words, it was a false alarm - the first time that
happened to me, I threw my straps off, pushed my legs over onto the wing - and
I've told you it was a bit high - my legs collapsed and I rolled down, fell off
the wing and landed in a heap on the ground, and I couldn't stand up.
(5.00) Now, you've heard of people going at the
knees; it's an actual physical thing, that ... and I've found it on other
occasions, but I never let that one happen to me again. When that happened, I
would always throw the straps off and talk to my fitter
and armourer until I could feel my feet again, then I'd get out of the aircraft.
The first time I had to say `Aw, gee, I slipped, you know. How the hell ...?'
but in actual fact I couldn't stand up. Now, my theory, sort of semi-medical,
physiological, is that you get a tremendous burst of adrenalin which, if nothing
else was about, you'd feel fear and tension and everything; but while you've got
something to do, it's all right. It's only when the stress, the occasion for
which you're ... the actual action for which you're stressed up, if that's taken
away from you, there is an overload of adrenalin which absolutely paralyses,
particularly the legs. And that was ... We might get around to another flight
at Milne Bay, at which I can tell you a little bit more about reactions. But is
that the sort of thing?
Yes, well, that's interesting. Well, why not
talk about the Milne Bay flight now if it's along this theme, Arthur?
Well, we ... Milne Bay was a nasty place. It's
a big bay, it's about forty miles east-west,
and twenty miles north-south. And on the north, south, and western sides there's
a mountain range of about 3000 feet, and you've got an opening then out to the
Pacific down the coast. And our airstrip was in the top left-hand corner. We
took off, and we were doing standing patrols there - the 75, 76 - and we were up
at about 25,000 feet when we were called down because the Japs were raiding the
bay. The weather in Milne Bay was dreadful, and I think I only saw the tops of
the mountains on about one or two occasions in all the time I was there. So that
meant you had this bay with a lid on it, and getting into it was the problem
because you couldn't see where it was. And on this occasion we had to get in
quickly. So what our leader did, and I thought it was quite sensible, the Bofors
guns had self-destroying flak, it used to explode at about 7000 feet, so we went
down through our own flak because that marked where the aerodrome was, you see,
and if we were a bit south and heading that way we'd be all right. So we went
down through our own flak, came out underneath, and I came out in front of two
Zeros, one of which ... I got one hole in my starboard wing just near the
aileron hinge - that's all I could see - but my ailerons were jammed, so that we
were ... the cloud was only at about 700 feet, I'd two Japs following me, and
the only thing I could do was to try to fly down the bay. Now I couldn't control
my wings other than - without ailerons they were jammed central, fortunately -
I'd have to use a rudder, you see, if the left wing went down then you have to
speed that wing up to bring it up again. They chased me all the way down the
bay, and firing at me every so often; every time they'd do that I'd jam some
rudder on for when they fired at me, and then I'd have to use the other rudder
to get level again. So this all saved me quite a bit. And meanwhile I had time
to look back, you see, and to observe that the Zero used to sight with his two
machine guns firing through the prop, and then when his tracer was near you,
he'd fire his cannons. Now they only had sixty rounds for each cannon - I didn't
know that at the time - and it had a poor trajectory so that they'd reach you
with their machine guns and miss you with the cannon. So I was chased all the
way down the bay and finally in desperation deciding that there were ... you
know, that I'd just about had it, I did what I shouldn't do and I climbed up
into the cloud. One of them came across, com... - er, the other made off - and
then he must have run out of ammunition and so he came up alongside me just as I
went into the cloud. And I ... now, I had the problem of cloud flying without
ailerons. I went ... came out, went out right round Normanby, came back, and
there was one area where we were used to going in, there was a little notch and
you could get in under the cloud. Just as I was heading for that, three Zeros
who were finished their raid joined in the tour, you see, and chased me home
again. Well, then I had to land it with jammed ailerons, on a strip between a
lot of coconut trees, and I managed to do that. And the funny thing is - I mean,
looking back on it now, it wasn't a bad bit of flying, but no one took any
notice of that, the fact that I'd managed to get it down in one piece with
jammed ailerons - but that night, I really had the shakes.
(10.00) And Alan Whetters whom I used to share
a tent with thought it was a great joke, and he laughed mightily. And you can
ask him what sort of a state I was in. So, even then, you see, the reaction only
came after the realisation that in fact if you got
knocked down in that sort of thing you'd never know. You are doing something;
while you've got something to do, while there's something you can think out and
nut out, or I had ... I had more trouble with the aeroplane. Does that sort of
answer your question?
Yes. No, that's very interesting. In other
words, I suppose to summarise that, you were so preoccupied with the actions of
doing it that fear was removed until afterwards, when it hit very hard.
That's right. Oh, it hits hard then. Yes, very
very slowly. But next day you're back on the job again, you see. You get quite
numb to it. You can be terribly depresssed, I'm sure I was terribly depressed, I
was sure I ... I've told you the story about Ellerton asking me, you know,
`Which will it be there, you or I, tomorrow?'.
Actually I was just going to ask you that
story, it's an interesting one. This was the pilot who was told off to escort
the Airacobras I think.
No, this was the one who I shared a tent with.
He ... oh well, no, that's right. It comes
into it, eventually.
Yes, that's right. Mmm, you
shared a tent, and ...
Yes well, we'd ... during ... about halfway
through April, it would have been, we had had ... I just don't remember now, I
have an impression it was four - we'd lost three
or four people out of our tent in that week. So we were still there but the
beds had been sort of turning over. And I came in after the mess meal - as I've
told you, we'd have a meal and just go to the tent and go to bed - and we had a
kerosene light, and Ellerton was sitting on his bed reading a letter which was
on blue paper so I knew it was from his new wife. He'd had scarlet fever in the
Middle East and, coming back on the ship, he got close to one of the nurses and
they married. And she'd written to him. And he looked at me quite calmly - I
suppose this is fear again, you see, or depression, or what - and he said to me
`Well, Friar ...' and he went through these various ones, and he said `I wonder
which of us it'll be tomorrow, you or I?' It seemed a logical sort of question.
I don't know that I answered it. About an hour later, Les Jackson came down to
the tent, and said to him `Well look, Dave,' he said, `Dave, I think it's time
you had a bit of a rest from combat flying,' he said, `I want you to take Vern
Sims down in the morning, there's a Fortress will be going out at about five
o'clock. Go down to Bankstown, there's a couple of aeroplanes there, bring them
back and after that, okay, you're off combat duty.'
Well of course the dreadful thing was
that he was coming back at the time when the first squadron of Airacobras
travelling in two flights - I think there were about nineteen aircraft in all,
and we were waiting, we were right down, we only had three or four aeroplanes a
day to put in the air - they were on their way up, and they all force landed
between Cooktown and Horn Island in some odd sort of weather. Ellerton saw one
of them there and I suppose, being from 3 Squadron and used to landing on sand,
he landed. I can't imagine what purpose there would have been in it. He landed
just where the surf rolls up on the beach, turned over, and drowned in the ...
trapped in his cockpit. You know, it always seemed to me to be a paradoxical
sort of situation.
Could I ask you how easy it was to live with
the knowledge of the death of your friends? - particularly in that sort of
situation, not where you were all in some combat situation together and by
chance someone was hit and shot down, but there, where somebody was picked out,
but it might have been you who'd been picked out?
No, well ... we must have been quite dreadful
people. Another story at Kingaroy just shortly after the overseas people joined
us: one of them on his first flight went up through some overcast at Kingaroy
and was apparently aerobating it or
something. Next thing we heard a bit of a clatter, he came down in an inverted
spin, and crashed just along the road, just on the other side of the strip. So I
was sent down - because everyone from the town came out, and I was sent down,
and we all carried a pistol in those days to keep the townsfolk away - and when
things had settled down and people had turned away, I walked back up toward the
wreck. And Nat Gould - I think you're seeing him - Nat was walking round and
round the trunk of a tree, it had been lopped off at about head height and it
must have been ... oh, ten or twelve feet [sic] in diameter. And Nat came over
to me, and he said `You know what I think, Friar?' I said `No, Nat, what is it?'
He said `Wasn't he lucky he missed that bloody stump!'
(15.00) Now, that is the sort of reaction that
... I suppose it was a sort of protective action. Now that is an unvarnished
story of ... If somebody pranged, he was always looking for it, or he was asking
for it, or something like that; there wasn't any ...
well, you didn't have any friends. Alan went missing, that night he went
... landed in the kunai, didn't get back till the next day. Well, I went looking
for him; but I can't remember it touching me at all, and he was the closest I
had to a friend.
Mmm. I was actually going to ask you just about
friendship, Arthur. You were obviously - as a young man, and later through some
of these differences - something of a loner within the squadron. Now, you just
mentioned Alan Whetters was a close friend. Was there anybody else you could
really confide in, or not?
And what about other men? Do you think they did
confide in one another? Or was it at the level of hail-fellow-well-met and
covering up feelings?
Well, as I've told you, there were several groupings
and they seemed to be close. The doc, I think, admits that he kept close to the
command group round Les and, you know, they formed very close personal ties I
suppose. But I couldn't answer for them. And I'm not a cold person but I think
the ... this is probably what ... How you survived - and, after all, I survived
- was that you cut yourself off, and it was easy for me because I was already a
loner. I think at times, particularly in later life, things have affected Alan
more. He's felt ...well, he's felt impelled to talk about it a lot. And I like
to talk to him, and then our wives tolerate this and it unloads a lot. But I've
had other things that I've been more involved in; Alan's been retired for
longer. And - this doesn't diminish my feeling for him in any way when I tell
you this - I feel we were a little unique in the ... But then again, you see,
we both felt impelled to do something about it, and we had a joint purpose, and
that ... once you've got that it sort of overrides ... Intense personal emotion
was something you didn't build with anyone.
Yes, that's interesting. A lot of other men
have said that, as a ... obviously partly as a defence mechanism. Uhm, Arthur, I
want to ask you about some aspects that I think are interesting that you've
mentioned about the command structure and the general running of the squadron in
a moment. But could you just tell us before that perhaps: in a general sense,
how were you as a pilot used? What kind of operations did you fly against? -
generally against fighters? reconnaissance? - what were you mostly doing?
Right. Well I ... by missing that first
fortnight, I missed the period during which the squadron was free to make
ranging aggressive attacks, because you know the Japs were surprised suddenly to
find ... they probably didn't expect it,
they'd been pushing everyone back everywhere, they probably didn't expect an
aggressive response or a determined response. And for the first couple of weeks
they may not have even thought it was a ... you know, they probably didn't get
as organised in trying to wipe it out. I remember that about the first ... a
week after I got there Tokyo Rose - now, I don't know how we got to know this -
but Tokyo Rose broadcast a threat to us about `You boys in 75 Squadron, you
ought to watch out because you're going to be ... ' You know. So they suddenly
realised. And remember that they knew that they were going to try and
take the place at the end of May. So that, if you look at the pattern of the
actions which you'll ... Alan Whetters will give you on Friday - he's done a
terrific job, he took Dave Wilson's book and analysed the day-to-day ... the
number of day-to-day personal contacts reported, the combat reports - and you'll
find that in the first couple of weeks, although there are those victories
reported, they were ... you know, they weren't the intensive sort of things - a
bomber came over, they chased it, and they knocked it down; no mean feat, but
there was a difference there. And when you go over and you've got the
initiative, you go over, you hit them - okay, we lost people there, but it would
be nice to have the opportunity.
(10.00) But suddenly then the Japs decided that
we had to be neutralised, because the bombers were being brought up from
Townsville overnight, going off in the morning, hitting Rabaul, going back, and
the aerodrome was becoming ... was a problem. And they
suddenly started ... and there's a very intense block of action in the last
month. Now, that's the period I was there, and during that period we lost more
aircraft, we lost more pilots, and there was this ... towards the end of that
month, the last ten days or so, the Japs were coming over with waves of Zeros,
they'd send one flight over and get us up in the air and keep us there so that
the other ones would come in about the time we'd be out of petrol and landing
and then they'd strafe. I got strafed in landing on one occasion. Alan had to
land in the kunai because they were still over it. They were getting us up the
air, running us ... they were intent on ... Now, you get ... this was defence
stuff, and we were getting ... We didn't have radar or anything like that, our
warning came from coastwatchers who were over near Lae, they'd count them off
and count them back again, which is how we know that the squadron did
effectively knock down quite a few. But they'd come over, they`d make a sweep, a
bombing raid, and turn back. And we'd climb up underneath, and therefore ...
here we had aeroplanes that could outclimb us anyway and they were always on
top, and then there'd be a fight, and we were mostly tangled up with their
fighters. Now, this wasn't terribly effective with respect to knocking down
bombers, or probably even knocking down a lot of fighters. But the fact was that
it was an aggressive defence which prevented them from coming through and making
repeat ... from picking their targets and making repeated bombing runs. They'd
make one sweep and go away, even when we only had three or four aeroplanes to
put up underneath them. And this was a dreadful situation to be in.
I don't know whether I told you that it appears
to have been much the same sort of thing
that happened in the Battle of Britain. Those people who were down at Biggin
Hill and down toward Dover used to do this when the first raids were coming in
from Germany. And then later they formed 11 Group I think it was to the north of
London and they had this theory of `the big wing.' They'd get all their aircraft
up in squadrons in a wing and then they'd come over and hit the Germans. That's
if the Germans were still there. Now the same thing happened in Moresby. After
we were relieved, the Americans had two squadrons of ... but they used the same
principle, they used to take off, climb ... go south over the sea to 15,000,
come back, and then they'd hit the Japs if the Japs were still there. Now while
that was happening, the Japs were doing bombing runs. That's how they sank the
... what was it? - the Macdhui, or something like that.
Yes, that ship in Port Moresby.
Now, the tactics were right, they are the
tactics that you ... to conserve aeroplanes, and everything else. But if we'd
done that, Moresby would have been
clobbered well and truly. But it only needed an aggressive response, however
pitiful and mean it was, and so the squadron defence was effective. And I
suppose, looking at it back at this stage, you could say it was heroic. But it
wasn't the heroism of individuals, it was the heroism of a ... that you only see
in retrospect, and you couldn't attribute it to any ... grace or ... activity on
the part of individuals. And we weren't even organised. So that there's a
tremend... you know, I think there's a big lesson in this, that if you respond
and you're sufficiently aggressive about it, people will back off even ... no
matter how small your ... that response is. Does that make sense?
Yes, it does. It's interesting -
and that most of your flying was generally
defensive flying in the Port Moresby area. Well, just turning to a couple of
other things that I think are interesting. I know you're somewhat critical of
tactics. By this stage were there real tactics in place? Or, when you were
scrambled when warning came of an imminent attack, was it just a matter of
everybody somehow getting up there and doing whatever they could as ...?
(25.00) Well, I think I've told you that the
tactic was to be there and to respond. With regard to flying organisation, there
was none. The leader would take off and you scrambled to follow him. He didn't
... there was no ... we didn't have any tactics at
all, except that we tried to stay together and tried to stay alive. There was no
defensive tactic, there was no ... we ... there weren't enough of us to do more
than just fly up and then cop it when they came down. That's not to say that I
don't think we should have done better. And we did try to do better, as I told
you about 86 later. But there were none then, and in fact when we get down to
Moresby I've told you about of a flight sergeant who was upbraided by the CO for
saying this very thing. Mark Sheldon, I think, said to Les `Look, can't we have
some tactics?' and as - you'll get the story from someone else - but Brownie
told me that Les's response was `Look, you mind your own business, Flight
Sergeant Sheldon. The next thing we'll know, you'll buy it.' And the next ...
the poor bastard was shot down the next day. So that you see there was no ... it
wasn't a subject that you were allowed to mention.
Was there talk in the air, on radio? Was there
during ... when you were setting up an attack on planes coming in to bomb Port
No, you maintained radio silence as much as
possible. Radio silence was absolute at Milne Bay, even when you were in trouble
for getting back into the base; we weren't supposed to let the Japs know we were
there. At Moresby I suppose there were the
occasional things; somebody might give somebody a warning if he ... But, no, we
had a controller who was called `Golden Voice' who used to tell us what was
coming in. But of course you see there was no radar effective, there was no real
information they could pass to us apart from telling us to scramble or to ... I
think the word ... they used to call `pancake' when they wanted us to land,
hoping the Japs wouldn't know what we were talking about. But apart from that,
there wasn't anything to talk about. (a little laugh)
So would it be true to say that, having
scrambled, got up in the air, generally got in some kind of a gaggle - if one
could - that once the planes actually came over it was simply a matter of each
and you were on your own, and there were some Japs there and you tried to do
what you could about it.
Could I turn to something that is indirectly
related to this, Arthur, the issue of leadership. Of course, John Jackson was
the squadron leader, was later missing, and then killed of course. He was this
... he'd been in northern Italy too. Was he, in your perception, part of that
group of men in terms of the divisions within the squadron? Or not?
He was the only bright spot of it. And I would
say that had John F. Jackson not existed,
the squadron would not have been effective in that defence role for as long as
it was. He was the one who ... there was a tactic, and the tactic was
that you climbed up, you tried to stay together, you had a squirt at something,
and if it looked as though they got on your tail you bunted - that was, put
everything in one corner - dived away to get up speed, and then come back and
have another go, but on no account were you to try to dog-fight the Zero because
that was not on, and that you just kept on doing that while you could and that
was it. Now, when he was shot down and the period before he was recovered, and
then when he was killed, for the period to the end of it, there just wasn't any
contribution other than that. So the whole spirit of John F's leadership, and I
suppose his final sacrifice, was the thing that made 75 Squadron. He was a
magnificent fellow, middle thirties, ex-estate agent, and he was that sort of
wonderful, solid, Australian countryman that we all like to think most
Australians are but few ever reach that sort of stature. Quite unlike any of his
other ... of his colleagues.
What was the effect on the squadron then of his
going missing, and during the period until he returned?
Ah well, as soon as they
found out he was all right - you know, that we
heard he'd been recovered - well, things went on much the same. But his death
There is an interesting anecdote that you
mentioned in brief before, Arthur - and it was shortly after, I think, John
Jackson's return, after he'd got himself back - and it was the issue of pressure
being put on him, and erhaps therefore indirectly on other
pilots, pilots who were `dingoes'. Could you recall all that?
Yes, well indeed, because it ... that wasn't
only when he returned. The pressure, although ...
Sorry, Arthur. I think we're just about to run
END TAPE 2 SIDE B
BEGIN TAPE 3 SIDE A
Tape identification: This is Edward Stokes,
Arthur Tucker 75th Squadron. Tape 3 Side l (Side 5 of the whole lot); and this
is continuing the issue of John Jackson pilots who were, quote, `dingoes'.
We've got to take a general aspect of it, that
... I've told you that Australia was in a
state of absolute panic and defeatism and lack of leadership, and this was
reflected in a most insidious policy being put in place. I've shown you the
textbook Medical Services of the R.A.N. and the R.A.A.F., and the
paragraph which deals with the fact that soon after the war started in the
Moresby area they said there were numbers of people - I think they say mostly
over forty, married - who wanted to be sent out of the combat area who were
presenting themselves with nebulous complaints, and that since this disease - in
other words, fear - was infectious they decided to treat it by singling out
cases of neurasthenia, sending them south, and that this cured the epidemic. And
I've pointed out to you that this could not be done anonymously, that if you're
going to single people out for that sort of treatment they ... if the individual
wanted to go south anyway then he'd be happy, the only way it could affect other
people was by publicising the fact that he had been so treated and that that's
what anyone else would get.
Now, that is why I've told you that there were
constant pressures put on people, every time a pilot reported a misfunctioning
aircraft it was put down to pilot trouble and very loudly, and various
individuals were loudly talked about - one
was singled out and it led eventually to his suicide back in Australia, another
one who was an absolute gentleman and I believe a very valiant and proper pilot,
for years afterwards was spoken of by the then CO in most defamatory terms, and
it was totally untrue. So that then ... and it would have been difficult for me
to tell you this story had I not found a poem, which we'll mention later,
published in the Sydney Morning Herald in 1974, because it would be the
only confirmation I think you're going to get, because I've never been able to
get anyone to admit to me they were present at the meeting I'm going to tell you
about. But John F ...
Excuse me. Could I just pause for a moment just
to put something on the record. This is a poem published, in the Sydney
Morning Herald I think it was.
The date is the Sydney Morning Herald, 10th August 1974, page fifteen, the poem, opposite a picture of Captain Cook, titled `Pedrina, Port Moresby' :
Pedro, the day that you flew in
With your four Hudsons, Pearce said
'The bastard's scared.'
And then the poem goes on by David Campbell.
Right, back to you ...
Right. Well, the significance of that is that
Pedrina was one of the very valiant Hudson pilots of 32 Squadron
at that time, and they lost ten aircraft out of twelve - forty crew, er, forty
men then - and that they weren't anything but valiant upholders of the
Australian defence. But there you see ...
(5.00) Could I just interpolate, sorry. There
was something we should have added there I think: that that poem does go on, in
a rather eulogistic fashion I think, to describe Pedrina.
Yes. So when I read that in 1974 I was fired to
write a lot of this, and I sent it off to Nugget Coombs' Commission on the
Australian Government Administration so I
haven't been exactly silent about this, but obviously not ... I haven't gone
public about it. However, that Pearce was one of the two wing commanders at
Moresby during the period that we're talking about, Gibson and Pearce. And they
called John F. Jackson in - no doubt to discuss with him what had happened in
the period when he'd been coming back over the Kokoda Trail. And John F called
us together in the mess, and he said `Now, things have got to change. The wing
commanders naming them, are of the opinion that you're not pressing the enemy,
you're not engaging them, you're not getting close to them,' he said, `you're
not dog-fighting them.' Whereupon there were one or two howls `But you know we
can't dog-fight them! You told us not to!' John F said `Tomorrow
I'm going to show you how.' Well, he did. He was killed, and his very good
friend Barry Cox was killed, various other aircraft were injured. Now that man
would never had got himself and his colleagues into that position, because that
was exactly what he'd told us not to do and it's the only reason any of
Could I just clarify a few points. This is I
think a most interesting, important episode. First of all I understand that the
general expression `dingoes' was used, as describing ...
Dingoes was the word they used.
The wing commanders?
Right. Secondly, let's just turn back to
Jackson's general views about fighting Zeros. And I understand that one was that
you simply couldn't dog-fight because you couldn't beat the capabilities of the
You couldn't turn with them. That's absolutely
true. But you could do this bunt. You see,
you were not escaping when you bunted. I've told you that the aircraft had this
peculiar built-in special ability to fly upside down or in negative-G without
the motor coughing, and therefore the defensive manoeuvre was immediately to
bunt; whenever you saw evidence of attack - which were like flaming cricket
balls going past your head, that was the tracer - you bunted, the Zeros engine
cut out, you gained speed, and then you came back and had another go. And that
was the only thing you could do. I must say, too, along with this bunting, that
the war diary written by Collie has abso... made the fly ... the air ... reports
of air combat of 75 Squadron absolute laughable nonsense, because he's always
talking about stalling and spinning. Now, he didn't understand what pilots were
telling him when they would tell him they put everything in one corner, or got
the hell out of it, or they dived out, and he always put stall or spin because
he obviously knew nothing about flying. And that was ... there was one
circumstance under which in combat a Kittyhawk would stall and that was
that, if you were chasing an aircraft at altitude or the Zero was zooming up
from you and you lost speed and you fired your guns, the moment you fired your
guns a one-second burst would knock about sixty mile an hour off your speed, in
which case the Kittyhawk would flip. But that was all right too, because you
could recover in a downward direction and then gain speed again. But, you see,
the technicalities of this completely corrupted any reports I've seen of air
fighting at that period.
Mmm, that's most interesting, Arthur. Just
turning back finally to this episode with Jackson, and his exhortation to people
to in fact do precisely what he'd always recommended them not to do ...
Mmm. And we'd never been told to do it.
... Are you sure it was the next day that he
was himself shot down?
He said `Come up tomorrow and I'll show you
how.' Everyone said `You can't do it! You've
said yourself!' He said `Tomorrow I'll show you!' - and he was killed.
And, as I say, I don't know who could
corroborate, there aren't many alive now. And I probably wouldn't dare to say
this had it not been for that poem being published
in the paper, because quite obviously the same pressures were put on 32
Squadron, and I repeat that they lost ten aircraft, forty men, out of twelve
aircraft crews in the same period. So they weren't exactly being cowardly and
ducking combat, were they?
(10.00) That's the Catalinas?
No, that was ... they were the Hudsons. They
were doing a wonderful job - but you can only do a certain job up to the limit
of your capacity. And they went on doing this week after week, just as 75 went
through their hanging on.
Right, that's most interesting. Well, perhaps
let's just move on to the end of the period in Port Moresby. Roughly how long
were you yourself in Port Moresby, Arthur, after the death of John Jackson?
Ah, I'm not sure when John F died ... [Break
Right, this is continuing. John Jackson - we've
just checked - died on the 28th, and Arthur's working from his log book here.
On the 29th was a big day; the Japs ... I was
telling you about them sending repeated flights over to wipe us
out, and I was engaged in three different combats with Zeros on the 29th. The
last of them lasted two hours twenty-six minutes, and that was the day I had to
land because I was absolutely out of petrol, and I was shot up soon after I
landed, I just dived out of the aeroplane and they were still waiting. So I was
just lucky; their intended tactic - you know, of catching us taxiing down -
didn't work, but they got the aeroplane. So that was the 29th. And then I did a
cover patrol on the 1st, and on the 3rd I flew the famous last sortie when the
engine ... when I flew Alan Whetters' aircraft that ... and it overheated. I was
the last Kittyhawk ... er, so that was 3rd May.
Yes. Could I just ask you about that, because I
think that is important too because it does relate to this general debunking of
people. This last sortie that you flew was in the same plane that ...
Well, Alan had landed A29-26 on the 26th. He
... that was another period when there'd
been flights of Zeros over, and rather than get shot up on landing he did a most
extraordinary thing. I've never heard of anyone else doing it. He landed the
aeroplane in open New Guinea countryside. He landed in the kunai grass, which is
like sugarcane and as high, much higher than your head. On landing he decided he
probably had enough petrol, he got some natives to cut him a short path and he
took off. When he got in the air he found that the gauges looked as though there
wasn't enough, so he landed again. Then an army patrol overnight got him some
petrol from a dump, and he flew back on the 27th. Now, the thing you have to
think of is that ... imagine landing an aeroplane like that, with its radiators
under the engine, and landing it in sugarcane for instance, something like
sugarcane; now, the propellor would chop all that vegetable matter up and it
would go straight back into the coolers, and he ...
Now, that was the same aeroplane which I flew
on the last sortie. And the Airacobras were
there then, I was to take off - I think there were eight Airacobras took off for
an incoming raid, and in any ... in the best of circumstances a Kittyhawk
engine-overheat light would come on as soon as you started up and taxied down to
the take-off area - I had to wait until Fortresses, Mitchells and Marauders took
off downhill, then I took off uphill, and then some other aircraft were taking
off, and I was circling at about 3000 feet and I couldn't get the
engine-overheat light off. Now, I mean, quite obviously in that terrain there
was nothing you could do but to land the aeroplane again, but I had to wait -
and I was very lucky that the engine kept going - until I had a clear path. I
landed, and swung off halfway up the strip, on the right-hand side was a place
where the old Ford tri-motor had been burnt early along, and there was a Bofors
gun crew were waving madly to me, I dived out, and just as I dived into their
protective sandbags the bombs came down and one tipped the aeroplane up on its
nose. Now, once the raid was over the CO drove up, and tore a strip off me first
of all for parking the aeroplane there - `why hadn't I taken it round to the
dispersal bay?' - you know, he obviously hadn't listened to my telling him about
the engine overheat, because that would have been one sure way of making sure
that it seized, to taxi it around.
The second thing was, in view of the sequence
I've just told you about the bombing raid, I'd have been out in the open with
the aeroplane right in the middle of the
bombs that were bombing the strip. And finally, he obviously didn't believe me.
And I've shown you what I regard as a defamatory remark published in the War
Memorial '39-'42 book about that incident, the point being that that must have
been written from some record that somebody put in. And, in view of the attitude
of the wing commanders, I would say Les Jackson was quite prepared to chase ...
to throw me to the wolves.
Mmm, that's most interesting, Arthur. Perhaps
just for the record, would you like this sentence read out?
The Royal Australian Air Force 1939-42 ...
By Gillison, isn't it?
... by Gillison, on page 547, bottom paragraph
of page. The sentence reads: `Next day the squadron recorded the last
operational sortie before being recalled. Tucker took off to join eight
Airacobras in intercepting twenty enemy bombers escorted by Zeros, but the
weariness of the machine as well as man was emphasised when engine trouble
forced him to land without making contact with the enemy.' - I must admit I'd
just like to say for the record myself, Arthur, that that's not necessarily how
I would interpret that.
Well, there's no need there, in the
circumstances. It was not the weariness of the man ... er, of the machine;
that machine had just been landed in kunai a couple of days before, and I would
say that the radiators were well and truly gummed up. There was no way ... that
would have been the reason for the overheat.
Yes, sorry. I'd just like to make
it clear ...
That's not weariness. And it wasn't ... the man
... if it's weariness of man, of machine and man ... This is the whole thing;
this weariness, was I supposed to get out and carry the thing back on my bloody
shoulder? I was lucky to land it, I mean, I'd have been ... In fact, the thing I
should have done was to bale out of it and I'd have been all right. But I
didn't, I landed the bloody aeroplane. And in fact it did fly again, and it was
in a crash at Bankstown at the end of the year. So in fact I saved that
Yes, sorry, I don't think you quite got what I
was trying to say, Arthur. I was actually simply saying that ... No, I certainly
wasn't questioning the fact that that plane, having been in grass, was in
perhaps no real state to fly; but just that my interpretation of that sentence
isn't a judgmental interpretation on you. That's how I read it; but of course I
respect your ...
No, well, what you don't ... you see, you're
not taking into account all these pressures
that were put on us then, and subsequently, the ... I've told you about on the
way to Milne Bay, and the aeroplane I flew all the time at Milne Bay with a
defective, wrongly-assembled fuel pump which got me a number of accusations of
being yellow because of actual times when I got the thing back after the engine
had cut repeatedly.
Yes. In fact I'm not sure if we recorded this
episode. But the end result of that was that it was found to be defective - is
The pump had
never been properly assembled, the engine pump; and I had been flying it, taking
off, and whenever the engine faltered putting on an electrical booster pump.
Now, the aircraft had a ... 24-volt batteries which were subject sometimes to
failure. And that was an aeroplane that I flew down to the Belarmi Passage, and
down to the Deboyne Group, which meant ... you know, probably 1500 miles over
open water, with what they finally admitted ... they ... when, on the final
occasion that I reported it and they looked at it and found it, they said `Oh,
we're sorry. You were right.' But for a month or six weeks people had been
saying I was yellow because I kept telling them that there was something wrong
with the fuel pump on the aeroplane.
Mmm. That's very interesting. Perhaps just to
finish this section on Port Moresby, Arthur. That last raid is flown, the one
that's described in that book there, of course there's this great tension of the
possiblity of the invasion of Port Moresby from the sea and so on, and then a
few pilots remain behind ...
Well, we all drew straws. I was lucky, I didn't
get one. And then it turned out that the invasion didn't come.
What was the mood of the men who
left, who ... ?
Well, the mood of the meeting was very tense
when they were drawing the straws. And ...
And how did the people feel when they ... when
it turned out that they were the ones to go home?
People just went quietly away. It was ... you
know, it was a dreadful ... I don't think we had any feeling left at that stage.
(20.00) Do you see those three planes remaining
... would you regard that as a military significant force, or was it purely
symbolic? And if it was purely symbolic, was it a sensible thing to do?
No, it was stupid; because, if I had to take
off with the one aircraft they said was
serviceable - and I've told you that I don't think it was - then what about the
other three that they left behind? They can't have been up to much chop either.
And in view of the flying conditions around there, it's that sort of gesture
that should be resisted. It was some sort of a gesture perhaps to the Americans
that we weren't going to leave them to it; but, you know, that isn't heroism,
that's just stupid administration. Because the fact is those aircraft weren't
serviceable for combat, so what was the point of leaving them there?
And I imagine you could argue that the pilots
who were going to fly them were more valuable than the planes.
Ah, oh yes. Well, I mean if ...
I mean the pilots staying, and possibly
sacrificing their lives, was futile.
Well, that's like that first ... that last
sortie of mine, really, when you think ... if somebody ... if the engine ... if
the maintenance people had really looked at that aeroplane, it wasn't fit to
fly. The radiators, you know, they ... I don't think it
had flown from the time Alan brought it back. I don't know whether there's any
way we could find out. But, you know, they must have just wheeled it out and
said `Well here, it'll start up, let's fly it.' But the terrain around there was
such that, you know, there was no way out for you. It wasn't like Europe where
you had lovely big farmlands and something. The whole of that place, that land,
Just going back once again to this decision of
Les Jackson to stay with a couple of other pilots, and I think Bill
Deane-Butcher stayed too, plus ground crew. Did other pilots see it as a rather
We never discussed it. We weren't staying, and
that was it. I mean.. ah ...
I find that a little hard to believe that it
was never discussed, that wisdom ...
It wasn't. We were never told. We were never
briefed. We were never told what was going on. I don't think we knew there was a
fleet coming. There was absolutely no briefing at any stage. There might have
been with a small in-group; Butcher now
tries to tell me that there was, and I've said `Well, it might have been your
mates talked about it.' And he did say `Oh well, I must admit I am surprised
that there weren't more meetings of the pilots.' Because there weren't any.
And that goes for Milne Bay too.
But just going to the meeting when the straws
were drawn as to who was to leave and who was to stay, Arthur. Was it then known
that there was the strong likelihood of an invasion?
Oh well, they might have said there was a.. you
know, some ships coming or something. But
it wasn't a ... Look, we were dead from there up. No, honestly, it really ...
you'll have to ask ... I don't think Alan could tell you. I was well under ten
stone when I went on to the Taroona, I'd been there eating biscuits,
cheese, and straw... apricot jam, and ... I'm thin at eleven-seven, and I was
under ten stone. And I don't really have a ... you know, as I say, I'm
completely dead to it - I was there, and I didn't have any feeling one way or
the other, it was `Okay, well, go and get your things and get on the Taroona!',
so we went down and got on the Taroona.
Mmm, that's interesting. Just as a perhaps side
comment on that weight you mentioned, you're certainly a tall man. I know my
weight at ten stone would be getting a bit light and I'm a lot shorter than you.
Just finally then, you leave Port Moresby by
sea. Are there any recollections of that voyage back to Australia?
I remember there was a Zero pilot who was a
prisoner of war, and we were a bit curious
about him; but he wouldn't look at anyone, and I remember him sitting on the
deck. And I remember that we had some rather good nosh. And I think we slept on
deck, because somebody was talking about submarines possibly. And Alan got sick
- he tells me, I don't remember.
(25.00) The Japanese prisoner of war, the Zero
pilot - what was the feeling towards Japanese? How was he treated?
Oh, we were a bit curious about him. But no one
intruded on him, a bit sorry for the poor bugger and no one intruded on
him or made him uncomfortable. He was obviously unhappy, and I can just remember
that he was there and he sat on the deck, that they had some people guarding him
there. But I just remember ... I think we would have liked to have communicated
with him perhaps, but it was obviously impossible and he ... so that was it. I
just remember him being there. And that's about my one recollection of the trip,
apart from the fact that I think we had some rather good meals occasionally.
Right, well I'm sure they would have been
appreciated. Let's just pause here. [pause] Right, this is just continuing
after a break. Just two final questions about the Port Moresby period, Arthur.
You seem to believe that in the last period, in the last very desperate days,
that there was something of a wastage of young, or very inexperienced, pilots.
Could you elaborate on that?
Well, it's an impression I've had, looking at
... in my memory the sequence of events was less accurate than I ... then when I
looked at David Wilson's thing, and I find that young Munro was killed within
the last week, and he was sort of new, just being
blooded to the squadron, I think he was knocked
down on his first trip. And then in the last day or ... I think it was probably
the 2nd or the 3rd, I see that West crashed on take-off and wrote his aeroplane
off. Now, I could see no advantage at all in sending up newly arrived
reinforcement pilots in that stage. I've told you that on the 29th there was
that intensive series of Zero strafing raids where they tried to get us up and
write us off. I think I flew for about four and a half hours and was shot up
just after landing out of petrol after the last one. Now, just to survive and
get back again at least showed that I knew which way was up; but a new pilot
wouldn't have a hope and, with the odds that were there, there wasn't a chance
that he was going to do anything useful. So that it wouldn't have been regarded
as unfair I'm sure by any of the pilots who were there that those people should
not have been used in that last week or so, because there was no earthly hope
they'd do any good, every chance that they'd get knocked off, because as I
recall we all had a firm feeling that if you were going to ... if you could
survive your three, then you knew your way around and you had a good chance of
lasting. So I thought that was a complete waste.
And would it be true to say, that last ...
well, that period, that there were in fact more pilots than planes and that
therefore there were experienced men who could have flown instead?
Oh yes, because ... well, you had three or four
to leave behind and some of us to send off,
and I see I had days there where I ... you know, I wasn't called on. I wasn't on
the 2nd and ... I mean, `in for a penny, in for a pound', that at that stage,
however one might have felt about it, no one would have felt that a ... somebody
completely new to the area should go up in such desperate circumstances. And
there were people there who could have flown. Les could have flown.
Why not? - He could fly an aeroplane better
than they could.
But I'm asking, did he?
I don't think so, not.. You know, I mean ... because there
were only one or two aircraft taking off, you
know, I'm sure we had more pilots than ... I'm sure we didn't need to use
absolutely new replacements at that stage.
Right, well that's interesting. One other
question, and this relates back to the episode just before John Jackson's death
and the question of pilots being, quote, `dingoes', Pearce was the wing
and Gibson were. They were joint.
Right. Did they ever visit the
squadron at ...
No, never. No senior officer spoke to me in an
operational area, between the time I've told you about when Thomas spoke to me
at Garbutt before the ... when the squadron first went up, and when Jones came
to visit us at Merauke. He was the Chief of Air
Staff; he stood in front of us and traced diagrams on the sand with his toe and
told us how our mothers wouldn't like to see us all crumpled and not wearing our
flying badges and badges of rank - which of course was absolute nonsense,
because the ....
END TAPE 3
BEGIN TAPE 3 SIDE B
Tape Identification: This is Edward Stokes,
Arthur Tucker 75 Squadron, Tape 3 Side 2 (Side 6 of the whole lot).
Arthur, just going back to clarify - at Seven
Mile Airstrip, the wing commanders never came out there?
It would seem to me that kind of issue, the
issue of a squadron's pilots being cowardly, would not only be an important
matter for senior officers to communicate directly but also one would expect
them to be enthusing and providing the leadership and boosting morale and so on.
How did people feel about that? Or certainly how did you feel?
Well, we disregarded them because we didn't
think they could do us any good. But I'll tell you one incident that really
upset us. When Ozzie Channon was killed,
the next day we went down to bury him, and we stood there for three quarters of
an hour because the station padre wouldn't come out because there'd been an air
raid alarm, so we stood beside the grave till he felt it was safe enough to come
down and bury the poor bugger.
Mmm. Right, well let's move on then perhaps to
the later period. Of course after you came back to Australia by sea, the
squadron refitted at Kingaroy. I understand here there was - or from somebody
else I've been told there was - some tension between pilots who'd been through
the Port Moresby period and new pilots to the squadron who'd come from England.
Do you recall that? Or not?
Oh yes, quite strongly, it ... I felt sorry for
them, but ... I've only just discussed this matter with one of them, two or
three years ago, and pointed out that they'd also been wrongly aggrieved between
some of us, they had blamed all of us for a hostility that might have ... that I
told him had been generated entirely by the small command group and that there
were a number of others who were already in that sort of problem, and when they
arrived we became the jam in the sandwich. He seemed surprised to find out our
feelings were so much like theirs. But this was not something that was ... well,
it couldn't be talked out at the time. They felt very put upon, and it was
partly - I've talked to you about the value of the Kittyhawk and the Spitfire -
they'd been overseas, many of them had flown the Spitfire, not ... I don't think
they'd had any great deal of experience, and I don't think they were looking
forward to combat in the Kittyhawk, and we tried to tell them that a Kittyhawk
was really surp... you know, a very good aircraft for the conditions. And so the
whole thing ... you know, it didn't matter what you talked about, it was a
potential ... potentially contentious. And I talked to you earlier about the
lack of esprit de corps and how every group that came along wasn't
necessarily unified anyway, and it was a very unhappy situation. Some of them
have admitted that they thought we were sort of shell shocked and what not, and
I guess we were. But nevertheless it was one of those situations which meant the
squadron, which had always been split up, went back to Milne Bay more split up
(5.00) Mmm, that's interesting about the
relative capabilities of the Spitfire and the Kittyhawk. Somebody else has
certainly said that, and in fact it was somebody who would appear not to have
had a lot of experience in fact in combat with Spitfires. Just briefly, the
organisational aspects of refitting the squadron, very important, new equipment
and whole thing of being brought together into a highly pitched situation again,
or one would hope. How effectively was that carried out?
Well, we went down, and we picked the aircraft
up and ferried them back to Kingaroy. And ... well, there was, you know ... the
very fact ... I believe that these ... the most important thing in refitting -
the physical part was done all right - but the most important part was in
welding together an operating team. And there were no lectures, there were no
discussions, there were no swapping of experiences. There were these silly
little arguments. But a proper command would have detected this, and we would
have gone back with some unification. But it was a very unhappy group. I'd like
you to talk to Alan Whetters about that, because he ... I mean, Alan was a great
healer, a great one for trying to put things right, and I'm sure he made efforts
and he will be able to express an opinion. And on the refitting, because I've
told you he was a boy fitter, he ended the war as a specialised engineering
officer with his own Spitfire dealing with the engine troubles they were having
in Spits in Darwin; and he'd give you a proper answer on this whole business of
Right. Well, I'll see him in a few days. Just
one final point about the Kingaroy period. You've certainly been critical
already about the lack of tactics. Was that issue addressed? Or not?
No, absolutely not, nothing was ... absolute
blank. Nothing, nothing was done to mend
the situation at all. Nothing was done to discuss what we'd done, or what we
could have done better, or how we should do it in the future. Ah, total blank.
It would seem to me that an important issue
here, and flying through into the Milne Bay period, is the character of the
commanding officer, Les Jackson. You've been very clear about his brother. How
do you perceive Les Jackson?
He should never have been let out of his cage.
He was a ...
Those are very harsh words. Could you be
clearer about what they imply?
He was a ... well, a nasty bastard, in the
kindest words I could put to him. He was a divisive, degenerate, drunken lout,
without any sense of responsibility whatsoever. Now, he's dead now and people
that ... but, well, I don't know, I ... if you can you turn that off a minute,
I'll tell you something.
[after taping resumes] Right, well, continuing
on from there, Arthur. Of course, the squadron goes on to Milne Bay. There is
one interesting little anecdote here that perhaps does say something about the
command structure; and that was flying via Port Moresby, and in the anecdote of
the mess and how you were received in the mess. Could you describe that again?
Well, when the Battle of Moresby was on, the
staff officers in the mess couldn't do enough for us. If we
could get in there, you know, they really
made us very welcome and it was very warming and encouraging. But when we went
back in July, late July, on the way to Milne Bay, all sorts of headquarters
staff had arrived, and when the fellows in transit went down to the mess the
newly arrived staff wanted to exclude them because they were in flying clothes.
And this is in Moresby (laugh). And that will give you some idea of how the
changed atmosphere and confidence had allowed lots of people to come up there
and all sorts of formality to arrive in an area ... you know, it was absolutely
Just one quick one, going back to what you were
saying before about the two wing commanders. If you went regularly during the
Port Moresby period to the mess where the staff officers were, there must have
been some social contact with them.
I don't recall ever seeing them.
I mean the COs and maybe some of the others did, but at any time I was there I
never saw them. And, after all, I think one of the things that one would expect
of a senior command who are asking people to take extraordinary risks - though
they obviously didn't think they were - would be to try to build up the morale,
particularly if they thought the morale was failing, and to talk to the people
directly involved, not to wait till an absent CO came back and then drop it on
him what a lot of din... of ... you know, incompetent and unworthy people he
had. They should have acted to raise the operational status of the squadron
while he was away. But there was never anyone. No one ever talked to us. Never.
(10.00) So there was a complete vacuum during
vacuum, in command.
Mmm, that's very interesting. Well, going on to
Milne Bay. The tape is running out a little; I was going to ask you some things
about weather and terrain, I might perhaps skip over that, because other people
have talked about it and those are fairly objective things I guess to talk
about. But, just generally, what was your first impression of Milne Bay, of the
organisation that was set up to receive the squadron, and your first days living
there and flying?
Well, it was a ... because it was so wet and we
had that matting down, it was a very difficult strip to operate on, the mud used
to come up through the ... so you had to land and whip your flaps up so they
wouldn't be bent and then you were likely to slide off to the side. But they
couldn't help that. The living conditions - well I think it's been recorded, the
lack of malarial protection; and, once again, the food was ... I stuck to my old
proven diet of the biscuits, cheese and apricot jam because that was the only
... that hadn't improved at all.
Arthur, just to pause there a moment. The lack
of malarial prevention. It's a very important issue.
What was provided?
Nothing. You see, they ... for one thing they
had us dressed in shorts and short-sleeved shirts,
which meant we got chewed by the mosquitoes, whereas the rational thing is to
wear long pants and buttoned-down cuffs. And the mosquito nets were quite
unsatisfactory because you couldn't keep your arms away from the side and so
you'd wake up in the morning with your arm all swollen. And of course I got
malignant malaria. As I told you, I was invalided out on the second day of the
invasion. I got the malignant malaria and, quite frankly, there are whole gaps
in the next four or five months I don't remember because I kept ... I was
That's interesting, the point about long
sleeves. I do know a senior officer who in fact was there later and who insisted
on that as a preventative measure. What about things such as ... mosquito nets
in particular, and anti-malarial drugs?
Well, I don't
remember this anti-malarial thing, somebody else will have to tell us. I have
felt that we ... I'm doubtful whether we got regular anti-malarials. Somebody
might correct me on that, because I simply don't remember.
And what about nets?
Nets. Well, as
I told you, we had these army nets - you know, little square things - but they
only came down on a camp stretcher, and you couldn't lie on a camp stretcher and
keep your arms away from the net, so you might as ... it was a little more
comfortable, but you might as well not have had a net from the anti-malarial
point of view because you'd wake up in the morning with your arm all swollen
where the mosquitoes were biting you where the ... so it was no protection at
all. And of course the short-sleeved shirts and shorts were absolutely suicidal
things to wear in a fighter cockpit, because if you had a flash fire then it was
hopeless, you didn't have any protection at all.
How conscious were pilots of fire, as a danger?
Was it a ... how much was it feared?
Well, I've told you about the accusations of
cowardice, I've shown you the medical book that said that nebulous symptoms were
to be treated as neurasthenia. And, quite frankly, the doctors were not only not
sympathetic but they'd dob you at the first shot, you see. Later, when I
finished my second tour in Merauke, I think you'd find my records probably
claims that I was claiming nebulous symptoms, because I went to our
doctor in Merauke in about December 1943 complaining of an intractable itch
whenever I had a shower, I just couldn't bear to wash myself. And I remember
Carl Ross Stephens taking his shirt off, he was a big fat bloke, and showing me
all the different itches ... er, rashes that he had - I think he must have taken
a little scratch from every one that came along and planted it somewhere - and
then he really dressed me down on this business of neurasthenia.
(15.00) Now, this was at the end of my second
tour. I went back on ... on ... and I had disembarkation leave, and at home I
... we had a visitor, and I'd had a shower
before she came because there was a visitor, you see, and I was sort of
obviously in discomfort. And she said `What's wrong with you?' and I said `Well
...', and I told her - and she was an English nurse who'd been in Borneo and
she'd then come down to Australia - and how I'd have a shower and this would
happen and I only had a wash when I ...' And she said `Are you on malar... on
quinine?' And I said `Yes.' And she said `Well, you've got quinine poisoning.' -
See, after having got the malaria in Milne Bay, after that, and having a lot of
recurrences, I went on to ten grams daily. And she said `How often do you take
it?' So I told her. And she said `But you have a break every three weeks?' I
said `No, I've been taking it continuously.' She said `Well, that's what's wrong
with you.' She said `You stop it!' Now I did; and within a week it went away,
and then I could take it for three weeks, and as long as you have a break. Now,
it's only in recent years I've seen a condition written up which is now called
aquapruritis which means that water makes you itchy, and apparently this is a
... and was well known to the colonial nurses as being a side effect of quinine.
Along with that I now have no sense of smell, I've got almost complete nerve
deafness in the left ear and very little hearing in the right ear, and one or
two other things which are also the long-term effects of that. Now, you see, our
doctors didn't know anything. But what was more, there again, at the end of
1943, the doctor was saying that I was `troppo'.
Mmm. That's most interesting, Arthur. There do
seem to be some ... well, appalling gaps in knowledge and ...
But they were so intent on always putting it
back on neurasthenia, and without thinking or listening; and therefore
no one learnt anything and people went on being made sick and it not being
Mmm, that's interesting. Can we perhaps just
turn to another issue. Could you just tell us - perhaps fairly briefly, the tape
is ... we are running out of tape - briefly, the kind of flying you engaged in
when you first went to Milne Bay? - the kind of tactics that were employed, and
what was done.
Oh well, we were ... there, we were on absolute
radio silence and we were expect ... they were expecting an invasion. So a lot
of the work the 75 and 76 shared, high level standing patrols. But I've told you
what the weather was like and the cloud, so
that you had to go up through the cloud and come down through it. There are two
stories. The other one was, we were doing long-range ... er, ocean patrol, I
suppose you could call it, down the island chain down through Misima to the
Deboyne Group and [Belarmi Passage?] and back again. Well, there are two
stories. Number one, the effects of flying during that. We were going up one day
when we heard 76 were in trouble - they were just brief radio messages, although
we were supposed to have an absolute silence - indicating that they couldn't get
back through the overcast and were force- landing on Goodenough. And there we
were on the way up. Coming back, because we had met a flying-boat pilot - his
name just esc... he's well known, his name might come to me in a moment - who'd
told us how to get in when it was shut down - I think Brereton was leading us
that day - we went down well south of the mountain ranges, got down gradually
through the cloud, came out at about 800 feet above the water, turned north till
we got to Samarai, turned west and flew along to the mouth of Mullins Harbour.
And we'd been told that the thing to do was that ... Mullins Harbour was a deep
one, so you could see the shore here and here and the cloud in between had to be
the mouth of Mullins Harbour, so we'd all been told about this and knew what he
was doing; so he went into Mullins Harbour, into the cloud there, flying
north-east, climbed hard for about ten minutes, turned east and let down, and
that should bring you in, when you let down then you should be over the bay, you
see - which we were, only just, we weren't all that far off the north shore. And
then we ... once again the cloud was only about six or seven hundred feet above
the water and we turned and got ... But you see, you know, that's really fl...
that's flying by the seat of your pants. This is the sort of thing that
experienced New Guinea pilots of course have done all the time. But when you're
taking a squadron in like that, that's the sort of thing you had to do. And so
that the Japs were ... to some extent, they were a minor irritation. The very
fact of conquering those prob... you know, those flying problems, was quite a
strain, as you can imagine.
(20.00) Now, the other story you
wanted me to tell you about was - reflecting, once again, on what I said had
always irritated me - was this flying indiscipline, which distracted people from
being effective. We were there for a particular purpose; now, we were never ever
given a proper ... er, any sort of general briefing on why we were there
at Milne Bay, what was likely to happen, no one told us. But one gathered they
were nervous. And they were sending these flights out, down as far as Deboyne
and [Belarmi Passage?]. We were supposed to be looking for Japanese ships coming
in. On the particular flight I'm telling you about, the leader took us down
along the island chain the way we're supposed to; but I got upset, because when
we got down to the Deboyne Group there was a beached, wrecked Japanese seaplane
there, and the other three went down and wasted most of their ammunition
shooting up this wreck which ... you know, I thought ... well, we were still
about 500 miles from home and we were supposed ... (a little laugh) well, it
didn't seem very smart. Then we turned round and went back; and I had a set to
about Les, about the way we entered the bay again, because on the eastern tip of
the southern arm there was a naval anchorage, and only a few days before the
naval officer had been in to tell us that the fellows were flying over their
ships, and obviously with the invasion soon to come - they knew. And they
said, look, they couldn't tolerate unidentified aircraft swooping down over the
clouds for them, and that if we persisted in doing it they'd stick a four-inch
shell up somebody's jack, see. And they wouldn't like to do that if it was one
of us, but they couldn't afford to take the chance. So there we get there, and
our leader goes in straight over the naval anchorage up along the southern
shore. Being a nervous and gutless person, I wouldn't do that; I swung off, took
my number two, and we went up the middle of the bay, landed; and a while after
that Les called me in and gave me a hell of a dressing down for deserting my
number one and what would happen if the Zeros were there and all the rest of it.
And I said to him, I said `Now, you know very well what the naval officer in
charge told us. You heard it as well as I did. That's what he did.' And I said
`I don't care what you or anyone else does. If you're going to throw away
machines and lives doing something purposeless and useless, I'm not coming with
you. Now,' I said `you can do what you like about that.' Well of course he left
me alone, he knew about me then. But this is the sort of thing I'm telling you
about, this is typical of the ... of what I ... you know, I just wonder that the
squadron was able to achieve what it did in this dreadful state of indiscipline
that existed, and ... Well, that's the story.
Yes, well, that's most interesting, Arthur.
We'd better move on fairly smartly, because the tape is winding up. Just
briefly, do you have any other really significant memories of the Milne Bay
No. I don... I told you earlier on about being
chased down the bay; and that's a
significant one, I can tell you! I'll never forget that day (laughing). But ...
And was that on ... when we were discussing
before? Or on the tape?
No, I think it's on the tape.
That's right. It was when we were
Yes, that's right, and I was telling you about
that, and the Jap's armament and how it wasn't all that good. No, I ... it
wasn't a very intensive period. I mean, they did a lot of strafing after the
invasion. But we had some - one or two, you
know - ding dongs, and it was an interesting thing that they were mostly the new
people from England who got knocked off. I pointed this out to one of them the
other day, the bloke you either saw or are going to see soon, that they lost
much the same percentage that we'd lost. And it had a lot to do with waiting
till you got acclimatised to the combat role, because they weren't all that
combat experienced, I don't feel.
(25.00) And it is a shame that we all of us
shared such stirring times and came out of
it un-friends and have remained so. Because, come the end of Milne Bay, comes
the end of that period that I was talking about in Kristen Williamson's book
when the Australians were fighting and succeeding and taking over Buna and Gona,
going all the way back, all the credit that should have been given to
Australians, because the Americans hadn't got their act together then. Now - and
Alan will tell you from his reading, and I agree with him - that probably the
reason that the Japs didn't overwhelm us after that was that the American
marines moved in in such strength in Guadalcanal that they simply diverted the
effort that they would have. I believe there was a big raid, actually the eng...
I believe the Japs had their engines turning over, they were going to have a big
raid on Milne Bay and then they were diverted to Guadalcanal - the big air raid
that probably would have clobbered us just about the time of the invasion. I
believe a lot of their troops that were meant to come in for the invasion of
Milne Bay actually went over to the Solomons. So, you know, we didn't do it all
on our own; but effectively the defence of New Guinea was done under appalling
conditions by badly led people who nevertheless did the job. And, you know, I
think there could be a tremendous ... this story doesn't have to be a miserable
one as long as people realise that what I've been complaining about is the myth
of what didn't happen, and the sad conditions under which it was done;
and how one would hope that Australia's defence in the future is going to be
better - but I doubt it.
That's very interesting.
END TAPE 3 SIDE B
[3SQN repaired version of original transcript on https://www.awm.gov.au/images/collection/pdf/S00987_TRAN.pdf ]
SMH OBITUARY - September 12, 2009. By Geoffrey Robertson
Arthur Tucker ... had seen too many comrades die in action.
ARTHUR TUCKER was one of "Jackson's Few" - the 24 pilots who in 1942 hurriedly formed Australia's first fighter squadron and held back the experienced Japanese air force in New Guinea in the 44 days between the fall of Singapore and the Battle of the Coral Sea.
This was the most terrifying time for Australia, forced to fend for itself without great power support as the Japanese forces descended upon New Guinea and began to bomb our defenceless troops in Port Moresby.
The prime minister, John Curtin, denied Spitfires by Winston Churchill, who was wedded to the "Save Europe First" policy, had prevailed on Franklin Roosevelt to send Kittyhawks, which arrived in crates at the Sydney docks.
They were hastily assembled, and Tucker was one of the young pilots who flew them to Townsville, trained for a week and then, as 75 Squadron, flew to Moresby in March 1942 to do battle with the seasoned enemy air force, based across the Owen Stanley Ranges at Lae.
Under the inspired command of "Old John" Jackson, a veteran of the Western Desert, 75 Squadron inflicted serious and disproportionate losses, in surprise bombing raids and aerial dogfights, on the enemy pilots despite their lighter and more manoeuvrable Zeros. In one scrap, Tucker downed the Japanese air ace Gitaro Miyazaki.
Although Jackson was killed in combat, the courage of "Jackson's Few" gave heart to Port Moresby's defenders. The squadron's successful strafing operations and aerial victories ensured that the Japanese advanced no further before United States air and sea power came to Australia's rescue.
Tucker was back in action in August 1942, flying combat missions in the heat of the Battle of Milne Bay, Australia's first major victory in the Pacific. Later he joined the new 86 Squadron, flying Kittyhawks, that helped dislodge Japanese forces from occupied islands.
Arthur Douglas Tucker, who has died at 89, was born in Brisbane to Leslie Tucker, who worked in retailing and was a talented musician, and his wife, formerly Edith Heap. Leslie was killed in his early 20s in a pedestrian accident when Arthur was a toddler.
The boy became an outstanding student at Brisbane Grammar and, by the age of 16, had qualified as a teacher. He cut cane to make ends meet during the Depression, then taught at outback schools until joining the RAAF at 21. After the war he studied medicine and became orthopaedic registrar at the Mater Hospital in Brisbane.
He married Nancy Gibson, who worked for the ABC in Brisbane, and she raised three children while Tucker worked as a doctor on the Snowy Mountains Scheme. He often had to be lowered in a sling down mine shafts and dam walls to reach injured workers.
As a doctor and a scientist, Tucker made remarkable contributions to industrial safety and medical knowledge. In the Snowy, he developed treatment theories that are now accepted practice, for example, the need to stabilise the injured before they are transported to hospital. He became a pioneer of workplace rehabilitation services. He even came up with an improved treatment for snakebite, using a restrictive bandage rather than a tourniquet.
For the last 20 years of his working life, Tucker was site medical officer at Lucas Heights and chief scientific officer of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission. He received international recognition for his research on the movement of fine particles in the vascular system and for his development of a method of accurately measuring lung capacity from a simple X-ray.
Humanitarianism inspired his research, through determination to make hazardous work safer for those who had to undertake it. His concern brought him into occasional conflict with the commission bosses. On his retirement in 1985 he publicly accused them of putting workers' health at risk in their obsession with promoting nuclear energy.
He worked on, through retirement, on the causes of lung disease and developed theories about the dangers to the respiratory system of air pollution in cities.
A modest man, with a laconic, self-deprecating sense of humour, he drew strength from 55 years of happy family life.
Like other sensitive war heroes, Arthur Tucker stayed silent about his experiences for many years. He had seen too many comrades die. Because he had not expected to survive, he greeted every day as an unexpected bonus. He could not abide what he considered the warmongering and racist RSL leadership of the 1950s and '60s and avoided Anzac Day parades.
It was not until 1992 that he began to open up to the Murdoch sound archives and he featured prominently in 44 Days, the documentary about Jackson's Few. Thereafter he became a stalwart presence at 75 Squadron reunions. Air Commodore Mel Huckfield has credited him with inspiring a new generation of its pilots with his qualities of "passion, intellect and candour".
A true Australian hero, Arthur Tucker never sought or obtained awards, promotion or recognition. To the very end of his life he was studying ways to make life better for others. His squadron epitaph, "Always in Flight", sums up the spirit of the man.
Arthur Tucker is survived by his wife, Nancy; their children, John, Margot and Peter; and their families, including three grandchildren.
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