WW2 – ‘Q Flight’ 1941/42

Remembering that 6 Beaufort aircraft arrived from Australia on 5th December 1941 to be designated as ‘Q’ Flight of 100 Squadron, we can now tell the tale of how ‘Q’ Flight rose from the ashes of Singapore to become the nucleus of 100 Squadron Royal Australia Air Force. As we have already learned, Flt Lt Mitchell’s Beaufort encountered, and fought with, Japanese Zeroes from an invasion fleet some 30 miles off Kota Bharu. Despite damage to his aircraft and an injured rear-gunner, Mitchell made it back to Kota Bharu, and thence to Seletar in a Buffalo aircraft thereby ensuring that his reconnaissance photographs got back to the Air HQ. We also learned that the 5 remaining Beauforts were considered to be unfit for combat, leading to the decision to fly them back to Australia for modifications.

Thus far we have drawn mainly upon Arthur White’s book (The Hornets Nest) as the basis for our narrative; to supplement this we have an account given to us by Bill Ewing in 2006, shortly before he died. Bill was a RAAF navigator of 205 Squadron who was briefed to navigate one of the Beauforts back to Australia on 19th December 1941. The orders were that the crews of the 4 Beauforts (T9542, 9544, 9545 and 9547) were to be designated as ‘Q’ Flight of 100 Squadron, and that they would assemble and train crews for Beaufort operations in Australia. Some of the complement was to be from 100 Squadron, but the remaining crews were RAAF and RNZAF personnel. The Flight Commander was to be Wg Cdr R N McKern, who was also the CO of 100 Squadron at that time.

The four Beauforts took off on 19th December for the 5-hour flight to Surabaya, where on landing Wg Cdr McKern, flying T9544, experienced port undercarriage oleo problems and ground looped. The aircraft was damaged, and needed fairly extensive repairs. Bill Ewing indicates that T9544 did eventually arrive in Australia late in January 1942, but has no idea who flew the aircraft down from Surabaya. He also went on to ask ‘what happened to Wg Cdr McKern?’ as he was never seen again on 100 Squadron. Indeed, Arthur White asks a similar question in the Hornets Nest, but provides an answer in that Wg Cdr McKern returned to the UK to take up command of another Beaufort squadron.

On 20th December 1941, the remaining 3 Beauforts took off on the 8-hour flight from Surabaya to Darwin. The crews experienced fuel flow problems and had to spend long periods working the so-called ‘wobble pump’ to keep the engines fed with petrol. All this to the accompaniment of a blistering monologue from the pilot Flt Lt John Burton about the shortcomings of the Australian built Beauforts! The 21st December was spent at Darwin, with take off for Tennant Creek at 14:00 on 22nd December. Landing at Tennant Creek, Sqn Ldr Kerby, flying T9547 experienced a nasty situation when one propeller went into coarse pitch. The aircraft ground looped and the undercarriage collapsed.

And now there were just the two! T9542 and 9545, took off from Tennant Creek for Alice Springs, but returned to Tennant Creek after just 50 minutes in the air due to concerns about making a night landing at Alice. Finally, on Christmas Eve 1941, it was off to Alice Springs, and then on to Fisherman’s Bend. On arrival, Sqn Ldr Miller in T9542, instead of taxiing around the perimeter track made a beeline across the rough ground from the runway towards the hangars. Flt Lt John Burton, in T9545 was taxiing at high speed making almost right angled turns, arriving at the hangar at 20 mph, jamming on the anchors swinging the aircraft through 180 degrees to come to a halt. As the crews clambered out of their temperamental aircraft, across the tarmac strode Mr (later Sir) John Storey, the Executive Member of the Aircraft Production Division of Beaufort. He headed straight for John Burton and asked what he thought of the Australian built Beauforts. He could not have expected that the terse but emphatic reply would be in invitation to conduct, with T9545 and all other Australian built Beauforts, a physically impossible exercise!!! John Burton stalked off across the tarmac with the rest of the crew sniggering in his wake! And so arrived the advance party of ‘Q’ Flight 100 Torpedo Bomber Squadron, Royal Air Force in Australia.

Problems with serviceability continued, and Sqn Ldr Millar, who had taken command of ‘Q’ Flight, was far from satisfied with the situation because of the effect on his allotted task of training crews for Beaufort operations. The rapid Japanese advances in Malaya and then Singapore, meant that Australia itself could come under threat. This led to an embargo on the export of any aircraft materials or equipment of any kind. At the end of February 1942, following the fall of Singapore, it was decided that the RAF would have to relinquish their 90 Beauforts, although only 20 had actually been delivered.

So, on 28th February 1942, 100 Squadron RAF became 100 Squadron Royal Australian Air Force stationed at Richmond. The role of the unit was designated as GR(T), and it was equipped with 18 Beaufort aircraft. 100 Squadron RAAF adopted 100 Squadron’s skull and crossbones badge and the Malayan Motto, although this was never officially recognised in Australia. The new unit retained the ‘Q’ of ‘Q’ Flight using identification letters ‘QH’. At the outset, 100 Squadron was under the command of the now Wg Cdr Millar, and was officered mainly by the original nucleus of 100 Squadron members. Additionally, some 38 airmen formed the basis of the ground maintenance crews, supplemented by Australian personnel attached from No 2 Maintenance Depot at Richmond.

So it was, that 100 Torpedo Bomber Squadron ceased to exist, and the Squadron’s war in the Far East finally came to a close. 100 Squadron RAAF went on to serve with great distinction in the Pacific War. In May 1942, 100 Squadron was still at RAAF Richmond. In September 1942, 100 Squadron RAAF relocated to Bohle Airfield from where the Squadron carried the attack to the Japanese in the Pacific and over New Guinea. 100 Squadron RAAF formed the nucleus of the 71st Beaufort Wing, performing with great valour in the Battle of the Coral Sea. The Squadron carried out the roles of torpedo bombing, army support, medium level bombing, anti-submarine patrols and naval support.

In New Guinea, World War II finally came to an end on 15th August 1945. 100 Squadron RAAF was due to take off at 09:00 hours, the actual time of the cessation of hostilities. Other Beaufort Squadrons were recalled, but 100 Squadron continued and bombed their target. This was the very last strike of World War II in the Pacific and it was made by the 100 Squadron RAAF, born out of the adversity of 100 Squadron RAF.

During April and May 1942, the 100 Squadron RAF personnel were either repatriated to the UK, or were posted to Ceylon. A small number of these, amongst them Eric Redshaw, eventually rejoined 100 Squadron when it was re-established at Waltham at the end of 1942.

And so, in saluting all those airmen, both aircrew and groundcrew, who suffered, fought bravely and died in the Far East War, we move on to the next part of the journey of 100 Squadron, Bomber Command and Lancasters at Waltham in Lincolnshire.