PART 1

The First Era

1925 – December 1944

Group portrait of five flght engineers (corporals) of 9 Squadron, and one naval rating (sitting right) who are responsible for the preparation and maintenance of HMAS Australia’s Walrus (Seagull V), Amphibian aircraft (circa 1942). Identified, standing left, 34572 Corporal Raymond John Bennett No 9 Squadron, RAAF.

 

The Aircraft Operated, including design and technical details

Seagull III (propeller forward of engine)

The three aircraft types operated were Seagull III, Seagull V and Walrus. The RAAF identified this generic family as Seagull, whereas British forces termed them Walrus. At times, replacement aircraft were borrowed from other forces, hence intermingling of the aircraft terminology.

The earlier Seagull III had a propeller forward of the engine and the aircraft was lowered and recovered from the sea by a shipboard crane. The Seagull V had a pusher propeller and was strengthened for catapult launch, although still requiring recovery onboard ship by crane.

As can be seen at the next images, Seagull III (A9 designation) and Seagull V (A2 designation) were markedly different aircraft. 24 Seagull V were built especially for the RAAF and all had silver livery as clearly depicted in the following third image.

A2-4 had historically significant operational service with 9FC SQN between 1937 and 1944 on HMAS AUSTRALIA, SYDNEY and PERTH. It became VH-ALB from 1960- 1972 and was seen airborne in the early 1960’s in light blue livery. It was then privately owned, suffered damage during a forced landing in 1970 and was finally traded with the RAF Museum for a Spitfire (sadly forfeiting some very significant 9SQN historical value). Unfortunately, some historical accuracy had also been sacrificed through painting of the aircraft in an RAF camouflage livery that was inappropriate for Seagull Vs which were only operated by the RAAF . The forward mounted machine gun is not apparent in any photography of Seagull Vs viewed in Australian archives although some British aircraft were so armed.

Seagull V (propeller aft of engine)

Following the initial purchase of 24 Seagull Vs, the British decided to manufacture the aircraft for their own needs and termed it the Walrus with differing versions being produced. The RAAF ultimately acquired 27 Walrus aircraft which were operated by 13 different Units with some being replacements for Seagull V aircraft losses by No. 9 SQN. Walruses operated by the RAAF mostly had RAF/RN livery and retained the aircraft registration numbers allotted by those Services.

There are 8 Battle Honours on the No.9 Squadron Standard, although the Unit participated in a number of actions while embarked on warships that were accorded other Battle Honours not reflected on the Standard. Some of these actions involved loss of aircraft and personnel.

Overall, Nos. 101 Flight and 9 Squadron existed variously for 47 years as operational units of the Royal Australian Air Force.

The Three Eras of No. 9 Squadron RAAF commenced with No. 101 FC FLT RAAF

The Seagull Mk. III was lowered to, and recovered from the sea, by shipboard crane

No. 101 Fleet Co-operation Flight (101 FC FLT) RAAF was formed at Point Cook, Victoria, on 01 July 1925 to operate three of the 6 Seagull Mk. III seaplanes ordered by the Government. Following arrival by ship in April 1926, the six Seagull Mk III amphibians (A9-1 to A9-6) were erected and test flown at RAAF Point Cook and allotted to 101 FC FLT. Three of these aircraft were deployed to Bowen, QLD in August 1926 and subsequently in that month, No. 101 FC FLT began land-based operations supporting the Great Barrier Reef survey.

No. 101 FC FLT RAAF used the Yacht Club on the foreshore as a base. Also, a hangar-like 3 bay shed was built to accommodate three aircraft with their wings folded. Adjacent working facilities were also established.

Operational Control and Crewing. In January 1928, Cabinet declined the continuation of the RAN Fleet Air Arm. RAAF was to provide the aircraft pilots and maintenance personnel for the new seaplane carrier with the RAN to provide observers and telegraphists although naval officers, until the 1930’s, could still undertake pilot training.

Recovery of a Walrus aircraft

This explains the subsequent RAAF and RAN manning for the various ships’ and aircraft detachments. Navy had Operational Control of the embarked RAAF aircraft.

The seaplane tender HMAS ALBATROSS was launched at Cockatoo Island Dockyard, Sydney on 23 February 1928 and land-based Seagull Mk. III operations continued from Bowen until December that year. HMAS ALBATROSS was commissioned in Sydney on 23 January 1929.

101 FC Flight (personnel and stores) which had returned from Bowen, QLD to Point Cook, VIC embarked on HMAS ALBATROSS on Port Phillip Bay on 21 February 1929. At Geelong, on 25 February 1929, the six Seagull Mk. III amphibian aircraft were hoisted aboard HMAS ALBATROSS.

The Flight operated from HMAS ALBATROSS over some four years (1929 – 1933) with some time at RAAF Base Richmond, NSW until 23 April 1933, when the ship was paid off into the Reserve Fleet reserve due to RAN cruisers having developed a seaplane operating capability.

101 Flight foreshore hangarage at Bowen, QLD – Seagull Mk. III aircraft

No. 5 Fleet
Co-operation Squadron, RAAF.

 

The Unit was formed from 101FLT at Richmond, NSW on 23 April 1936 and continued to operate Seagull Mk. V aircraft until retitled No. 9 Fleet Co-operation Squadron RAAF on 01 January 1939.

No. 9 FC SQN moved from RAAF Richmond to Rathmines, NSW at the end of 1939 and then relocated to Bowen airfield with 12 aircraft in January 1943, continuing to operate aircraft detachments on Navy cruisers and conducting anti-submarine patrols plus search and rescue duties around the Great Barrier Reef until November 1944.

No 9 (Fleet Co-operation) Squadron RAAF redeployed to Rathmines at the end of 1944 for disbandment (31 December 1944), due to the RAN terminating seaplane operations from its remaining cruisers.

HMAS ALBATROSS: Launched 23 February 1928; paid off 26 April 1933. In October 1938 commissioned into the Royal Navy as HMS ALBATROSS.

Around mid-1942, upgrading began of the pre-WW2 101FLT rudimentary amphibian aircraft facilities on the Bowen foreshore to create a Flying Boat Base hosting Nos. 11 and 20 Squadrons operating Catalina aircraft, plus No. 1 Flying Boat Maintenance Unit. Both 11SQN and 20SQN were subsequently disbanded early in 1946, as RAAF involvement at Bowen began winding down.

No. 5 and No. 9 Fleet Co-operation Squadrons RAAF – OPERATIONS

Unit History Sheets or equivalent reports on operations for the period 1933 – 1944 were sourced from the Office of Air Force History. These can be accessed from the website at:

Unit History Sheets & reports on 9SQN operations for 1933 – 1944

HMAS ALBATROSS and Seagull Mk. III seaplane

Walrus Amphibian. The RAAF identified the generic family as ‘Seagull’ whereas British forces termed them ‘Walrus’. At times, replacement aircraft were borrowed from other forces, hence intermingling of the aircraft terminology.

Seagull Mk. V seaplane

GEORGE MOORE MASON

George Moore Mason was born in Sydney on 10 March 1918.

He enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) at Mascot, NSW, on 8 January 1940; his service number was 260691.

He served as a Pilot for some 6 ½ years through most of the WW II years and discharged from the RAAF with the rank of Squadron Leader on 31 July 1946. His posting location at discharge was 114 Air Sea Rescue Flight.

Interview, 1st August 2008

George started his working life as an office boy with the Melbourne Steamship Company in Barrack St Sydney. He joined the Militia in 1938, 17th Battalion ‘I don’t know why’. He played football and rowing and the Militia ‘… was something else to do. I didn’t mind it’.

He had a pilot licence and applied for the RAAF as he had had enough of the Army. George and two mates bought a small aircraft and tried some barnstorming. They operated from Rose Hill racecourse area. They had a big sign which stated 10/- a ride.

The RAAF was slow to recruit and it was January 1940 before he enlisted. He was on the first course (before EPTS was introduced). He had to buy his own uniform.

He thought of it as an adventure; they all wanted to be fighter pilots. He gave no thought to where he might be sent. Initial pilot training was at Newcastle show ground on Tiger Moths.

‘Not the best, but nobody got killed so it must have been alright. Newcastle show ground was surrounded by a big storm water drain, two brick works chimneys. Had to come in between chimneys and stop before the drain. If you could survive that course you could survive anything.’

George graduated as a Pilot Officer and was posted to Richmond NSW for ‘… further training on Hawker Demons. They were a bit heavy’. He was then posted to Rathmines which pleased him as ‘…I’d been sailing all my life’.

At Rathmines NSW he converted to the Seagull. This is the Australian version of the Walrus and had a bigger motor for flying off ships. He was at Rathmines for about a year.

‘Very boring. All I did was tow a drogue, instruct people, there wasn’t much else to do.’

He was also involved in Air Sea Rescue work.

‘We did do a rescue once. I saw a ship hit a mine off Newcastle. We went down to land to pick them up and they were in the water and we were taxying along and suddenly telegraph poles came shooting out of the water followed by railway sleepers. So we turned around and had to taxy back to Bird Island.’

The timber was cargo from the ship. George described the ship hitting the mine: ‘Explosion was just a big cloud of smoke and the ship was gone’. He does not recall the name of the ship but thought there were no fatalities.

He hoped for a posting overseas. That meant to 10 Squadron RAAF operating Sunderlands out of Britain. However, George’s next posting: ‘Believe it or not, I was posted on the Sydney (HMAS Sydney). Fortunately for me about three days before it sailed I got transferred to the Westralia’. (Sydney was sunk on 19 November 1941 off Geraldton with the loss of all hands).

George was posted to HMAS Westralia but did little flying as it was not fitted with a catapult. This meant the aircraft had to be lowered to and recovered from the water by ships crane. They operated ‘… up around Java and Koepang (Timor), those places. We took some troops from Moresby to Koepang. Would you believe we went right down the bottom of Tasmania from Moresby. Some smart Alec decided they were going to get torpedoed and we went all the way down to the roaring forties and everyone was sick, we couldn’t stand up let alone fight anyone’.

He flew patrols of Sydney, out to Nauru, and to the Indian Ocean..

Pilots operating off Navy ships were ‘… terrified. Never knew what they were going to do.’ There was no training for RAAF personnel in Navy operations. It was ‘Heath Robinson business, crane business, swinging from side to side. Quite hazardous. We could never tell the Navy what to do. We had our own mechanics, including photographer and wireless operator’. The 9 Squadron RAAF detachment messed with the Navy crew and ‘got along all right’.
The RAAF detachment was commanded by the ship’s captain. The main mission was search.

When Japan entered the war, ‘People got such a great shock, nothing happened for awhile. Once Singapore fell and those two big ships were sunk (HMS Prince of Wales and Repulse) things didn’t look too good. When Japanese arrived in New Guinea we decided we should do something about it. We certainly felt the Japanese would invade.’

George was with Westralia in Sydney when Sydney came under Japanese attack. When asked, he said: ‘Oh yes. I did fly the Walrus under the bridge. Why? I don’t know. Spur of the moment’.

All the pilots knew each other as they were all together at Rathmines at various times. When asked about the loss of HMAS Sydney he said he believes: ‘The commander was foolish. The Navy had this thing, always rush into a fight and he just got too close’.

George also flew a Catalina on one occasion.

‘The first Catalina that came out here. We went to stop a revolution in New Caledonia. Pretty serious. There was the Free French and the Vichy French. If the Vichy had taken over they could have let the Japanese in. So we were sent up there to stop this revolution. The Chief Pilot and I, he was working with Qantas but they put him in uniform. It was a very long flight. We had a French speaking airman but no one could understand what he was saying. We flew low over the place to make out there was a lot of aeroplanes.

When we went ashore, we sent a signal to send a battalion as it was hopeless. Answer was no cruiser or marines. Fortunately, there was a troopship of Tongans in harbour – you know the size of Tongans – and French wouldn’t let them ashore. They’d been there 10 days or more. French wouldn’t refuel them. We helped them get ashore. They all got drunk and started to fight and the Free and Vichy French joined forces; that was the end of that. And we came home.’

George and the crew received no official recognition for this exploit: ‘Powers that be were in trouble and the government was about to fall’.

The Dutch had abandoned Dorniers, so the RAAF took them over knowing little about them and with all wording in Dutch. He then went to Rathmines for conversion to the Martin Mariner. The conversion was ‘just a few circuits’.

On Martin Mariners, he flew Cairns to Madang via Milne Bay due to weather over the Owen Stanleys. He supported 30th Battalion at Madang (probably about May 1944). The Army said they would need to walk for two day, so he agreed to fly 20 or 30 of them in one flight.

‘We landed on the Sepik River and they came out in dugouts. How they didn’t capsize I’ll never know with all their gear. I had a remarkable escape. The river was flowing fast at 7 to 8 knots. We dropped the anchor. The cable broke. I started the motors up and kept it going. It was getting dark. I couldn’t see around the bend and I asked a native if there was plenty of water there. He said: “Plenty of water, boss”. We took off, around the bend and there was plenty of water. The only trouble was they were all rapids. We actually went through the palm trees. It was dark when we got back to Madang and we didn’t have a flare path.’

Port Moresby, Dutch New Guinea. 1944-09-21. A Papuan native (right) assists to refuel a Martin PBM Mariner flying boat aircraft of No. 41 (Transport Sea) Squadron RAAF based at Cairns, from a refuelling barge.

George was posted to 41 Squadron RAAF Townsville to fly Sunderlands. The Sunderlands were ex-civilian aircraft. They were used for carrying supplies, particularly to Port Moresby and Milne Bay.

Morale? ‘Not good as everyone was bored stiff. Well, that’s it, they were just bored.’

George was in Cairns when the war ended. ‘We knew it was going to happen once the bomb fell. We had a little celebration then. It wasn’t that exciting’.
‘We got on very well with Americans. They had all the money. They were very cooperative, very good. They had the right idea. They didn’t try and fix it, they just threw it away, wouldn’t fiddle around for two days trying to fix something. We went to Manus because we had no parts. We had rescued these Americans. Fellow said “We’re pushing them into the water, come and take what you want”.’

He married on VP day and they have a daughter and son. George stayed on for about six months after the war ended and was discharged as a Squadron Leader. At the time, he had no idea what had happened to the prisoners of the Japanese. He helped bring some back after the war.
After 1945, 41 Squadron became an Air Sea Rescue unit. George did quite a bit of flying bringing people back from New Guinea. His main plan was waiting to be discharged.

‘A couple of us were going to start up an airline down here (Sydney) with the Catalinas. About ready to go and Mr Chifley took over the airlines, so that was the end of that.’

George ‘… had a few Catalinas. One of these blown up in Rose Bay. That was part of it all’.

George returned to his pre-war job for awhile. ‘Then I left. I went into the fruit and vegetable business, purely by chance.’

‘I think the Australian effort in the last part of the war was a complete and utter wasted effort. All that Borneo business was for nothing. All they had to do was leave it there. I think it was purely political and there was something about the Australians couldn’t go past the equator. I often thought the whole business was a waste of time. If the Army had gone with the Yanks to the Philippines it would have been worthwhile, but they didn’t do anything except get themselves killed. General Macarthur probably said “bugger you and I’m going” and we’re fooling around and not making any decisions.’

HMAS SYDNEY II

RAAF Seagull V aircraft, serial A2-18, on HMAS Sydney (II). This aircraft was used by the ship at various times from 29 September 1938 through 1940. As the aircraft is not camouflaged, the photograph was taken prior to Sydney’s return to Australia in 1941.

As mentioned earlier, the sinking of HMAS SYDNEY II by the German Raider ‘Kormoran’ near Shark Bay, WA occurred on 20 November 1941. 645 lives were lost including the eight members of the detachment who operated the aircraft L2177.

The Finding Sydney Foundation (FSF)

This group of exceptional Australians came together to try to discover the wreck of HMAS SYDNEY II …………… and they succeeded. The FSF Directors who formed the Board were: Glenys McDonald, Keith Rowe, Don Pridmore, Bob Trotter and Ted Graham.  In 2009, the FSF produced a historically significant DVD of imagery of the submerged pieces of the wreck including aircraft parts and their message contained therein was:

MESSAGE FROM THE FINDING SYDNEY FOUNDATION
The discovery of the wreck of HMAS Sydney was an achievement that brought immense personal satisfaction and pride to the past and present members of the Finding Sydney Foundation and to each member of the search and support teams. But, we are sure it meant much more to all of the families of the brave young men who were lost on that fateful day, 19 November 1941 in giving the sense of knowing and closure that the discovery of their ship brought. This is why the Foundation was so determined that HMAS Sydney could and should be found in the lifetimes of as many of the close families as possible. It is with great pleasure but with some sadness that we give you this photographic record of your ship as she now lies on the sea floor off Western Australia.

The Board
Finding Sydney Foundation

Many like-minded people from the FSF and No. 9 Squadron Association got to know each other through the various activities and pursuits and this was a wonderful outcome too.  The following contribution related to the sunken HMAS SYDNEY II comes from our FSF colleagues:

 

LIST 1 – RAAF No 9 FLEET COOPERATION SQUADRON DETCHMENTAIRMEN ABOARD HMAS SYDNEY II AT HER SINKING ON 19 NOVEMBER 1941 OFF SHARK BAY, WA.
Department of Defence Media Mail List ————————————————————————
CPA 067/08 Tuesday, 18 March 2008

AIR FORCE DETACHMENT ON HMAS SYDNEY II

The discovery of the wreck of HMAS Sydney II helps close a chapter of Royal Australian Air Force history.

Six RAAF members were among the ship’s 645 crew when it went down with all hands in 1941. This small party was a detachment from RAAF’s No. 9 Squadron based at Rathmines, New South Wales. The detachment was embarked to operate and maintain the Seagull V Walrus amphibious aircraft which the light cruiser normally carried for reconnaissance, gunnery spotting, and search and rescue work.

Reports from German eyewitnesses (the only survivors of the action) later described how, during the opening salvos of the engagement, Kormoran hit HMAS Sydney II in the area between the ship’s funnels, where the Walrus A2-L2177 was sitting on its catapult.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and the Minister for Defence Science and Personnel, Warren Snowdon, both acknowledged the sacrifices of the Air Force detachment when they addressed Parliament yesterday on the loss of HMAS Sydney II.

“I add my congratulations to The Finding Sydney Foundation and the Royal Australian Navy in locating HMAS Sydney II. This discovery is also a significant and emotional event for Air Force,” Chief of Air Force, Air Marshal Geoff Shepherd said.

“I hope that tracing the ship’s resting place provides a degree of comfort to the families of the six RAAF members and the Royal Australian Navy crew who served their nation with courage and died in this fierce battle.” AIRMSHL Shepherd said.

The Air Force members lost with HMAS Sydney II were:

  • Flying Officer Raymond Barker Barrey (pilot), 25, from Welland, SA
  • Flight Sergeant Sidney Marley (fitter 2E), 29, from Hamilton, NSW
  • Corporal Arthur John Clarke (fitter armourer), 34, English-born, from Edithvale, Vic
  • Corporal Roy Ebenezer Foster (fitter 2A), 36, from Petrie, QLD
  • Leading Aircraftman Richard Dodds (fitter 2A), 26, English-born, from Sydney, NSW
  • Leading Aircraftman Keith Homard (photographer), 27, from Maitland, NSW
https://raafdocumentary.com/9sqn-photographs-1925-1944/