[Main image: German paratroops landing on Crete from Junkers 52 transports, 20 May 1941.]

9 Squadron Seagull aircraft and crews were involved early in WWII deployed on the RAN cruisers HMAS Australia, Perth, and Sydney, in the Atlantic and Mediterranean.   The first loss of a 9SQN aircraft and crew was the Seagull deployed on HMAS Australia on 25 September 1940 near Dakar, Senegal, West Africa.

Subsequently, RAN cruisers and destroyers were involved in battles against the Italian and German forces in the Mediterranean, including support of the campaigns in Greece and Crete in 1941.

Detail on the Greece and Crete campaigns are covered in the following documents extracted from the Australian War Memorial Canberra, www.awm.gov.au :

‘Australia in the War of 1939-1945.   Series 2 – Navy Volume 1 – Royal Australian Navy, 1939-1942 (1St Edition, 1957, Chap 8 – Greece (pages 299-335).

Page 329 (27-29 April 1941), Embarkation Of Troops {from Greece}:


…they had been fighting a rearguard action for some weeks, from Salonika almost to Cape Matapan. The destroyers closed well in, and by 1 a.m. on the 29th Isis had embarked 900 troops (“Australian, New Zealand and other units, all of whom were in excellent spirits and full of confidence”) and sailed for Suda {Crete}. At this hour Ajax, Hotspur and Havock arrived to continue embarkation.  On the way north this force sighted a flare ahead and Havock, racing in for a possible submarine, was right over the spot before a little dark shape was discerned in the water, and a yell in good Australian revealed an aircraft’s rubber dinghy with a couple of forms huddled inside. This was Perth’s Walrus, who had met a Junkers 88 and been shot down that evening.

Page 329, note 7:

  1.  Hodgkinson, ‘Before the Tide Turned’, p.96. Perth’s aircraft was landed at Suda Bay {Crete}on 1 January for service at Base, and had been employed as courier and on other Base duties . NOIC Suda Bay says: “During the night 28th-29th {April} two ALC ‘s were dropped by HMS Ajax off Kithera and approximately 750 RAF personnel including the crew of HMAS Perth’s Walrus aircraft were brought in by HM Ships Auckland, Salvia, Hyacinth.”(The crew of the aircraft were F-Lt E.V Beaumont, RAAF, Sub-Lt G.F.S. Brian, RN, and PO Telegraphist D.M. Bowden, RAN.)

The Seagull deployed on HMAS Perth was A2-017, and its history is detailed in the web site adf-serials.com.au .   The history is found by opening the website, selecting ‘RAAF Series Two’, and then selecting ‘A2 – Supermarine Seagull V and Walrus’, and scrolling down to A2-017:

6/10/40 HMAS PERTH
11/1/41 Machine gunned while on aerodrome at Candia, Crete. Bullets pierced rear spar and punctured petrol tank.
12/1/41 Walrus L2243 from HMS AJAX collided with and further damaged mainplanes while landing Candia.
13/1/41 Embarked in HMS AJAX in exchange for Walrus L2243 and taken to Alexandria [Dekheila] for repair.
7/4/41 HMAS PERTH [NOTE: This was the date that L2243 was returned to the RN FAA]
28/4/41 Shot down by enemy aircraft near Suda Bay during the evacuation of Crete and lost. “On 28th of April, the Walrus (sic) when on dawn patrol was shot down by two Dorniers after a spirited fight which lasted 20 minutes. The crew. Flt Lt Beaumont, Sub Lt Brian and PO Tel Dan Bowden succeeded in getting into a rubber dinghy and after many hours were picked up by HMS HAVOC. “….then our starboard petrol tank caught fire and it was not long after that we crashed into the water” (book ‘HMAS Perth’ by Alan Payne).

Note: Candia was an old name for Heraklion, the main city in Crete.   So, on 11 Jan 1941, probably the Seagull was parked at the main airport near Heraklion when it was strafed by the Luftwaffe or Italian aircraft.   Probably A2-017 was taken to Alexandria by HMS Ajax for repair.   The RN lent HMAS Perth Walrus L2243 until 7 April 41, when the aircraft were swapped again, and A2-017 was shot down on 28 April 41.

see also the web site,  navy.gov.au , select ‘The Fleet’, then ‘Aircraft’, ‘Aircraft Histories’, ‘Supermarine Seagull V (Walrus)’:

‘In August 1940 the Walrus operating from Hobart, off the Horn of Africa, bombed and machine-gunned an Italian airfield at Zeila in Italian Somaliland.   The following month, on 25 September, the Walrus from Australia was shot down by Vichy French aircraft during the failed attack on Dakar with all three aircrew killed.   In late 1940 Perth arrived in the Mediterranean theatre and was soon in action.   Her Walrus was put ashore at Suda Bay, Crete, where it conducted general transport duties and patrols until damaged in action with Italian fighters.   A replacement Walrus was provided by the Royal Navy but it was shot down over Crete on 28 April 1941 after a 20 minute running gun battle with two German Dornier DO 17 light bombers.   Fortunately her RAAF/RAN crew survived the crash into the sea and were later rescued.’

The operations of the Seagull/Walrus from HMAS Perth during the Greece and Crete campaigns in WWII has a connection to a member of 5 and 9SQNs during the Vietnam era.   Warrant Officer Norman Byrnes, 9SQN RAAF, served in HMAS Perth during WWII.   He was the father of John Byrnes who served in 9SQN Vietnam from May 67 to July 68 as a pilot, and May to Nov 70, as the squadron instructor, responsible for flying standards.   John and his two brothers, Rex and Phillip, remembered their father talking of escape from Crete to Alexandria, Egypt, but do not recall detail of his service, except that FLTLT Beaumont’s name was mentioned often.

According to the above references, the Seagull and its crew were landed at Suda Bay on Jan 41 and supported the RN/RAN from airfields on Crete during the evacuation of Greece and defence of Crete until the loss of the Seagull on 28 April 41.   Most probably the Seagull crew joined the allied retreat from the north coast of Crete through the mountains to the south coast.   Most likely they were evacuated from Sfakia by RN/RAN destroyer.   The difficult fighting retreat, evacuation, and passage to safety was harassed by the Nazi Wehrmacht, including the Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine.   The 9SQN crew were very lucky to have escaped.

Luftwaffe airborne assault on Crete 1941. This photo and the two below were taken during the airborne assault late April/early May 1941 at Souda (Suda) Bay and nearby Chania (Canea). Photos provided by the family of Warrant Officer Norman Byrnes 9SQN RAAF WWII, who was at Canea (now Chania), and nearby Suda Bay (now Souda) on Crete. WO Byrnes and his companions were the crew of a 9SQN Walrus/Seagull amphibian aircraft attached to HMAS Perth during its deployment to the Mediterranean Theatre during WWII.

Luftwaffe airborne assault on Crete 1941. Photo courtesy of the family of Warrant Officer Norman Byrnes 9SQN RAAF WWII.

Luftwaffe airborne assault on Crete 1941. Photo courtesy of the family of Warrant Officer Norman Byrnes 9SQN RAAF WWII.

Norman Byrnes, born Coogee NSW 1917, enlisted in the RAAF at Richmond NSW 3 Sep 39.   Discharged 1 Aircraft Performance Unit Laverton VIC on 13 Aug 46:

Seated 2nd from the left, front row, sergeants stripes, unknown location and date.