- Nicholls, Bob
- History - WW2, Naval Aviation, WWII operations
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- September 2010 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
This time, there was an interesting enhancement. The attack would come from carrier-based aircraft. It is no longer clear who was the author of this bright idea, but the Admiralty is most likely to have been the department most interested.
The project would involve resuscitating the mothballed 29 Highball Mosquitoes and modifying them for carrier-borne operation. This would entail not only fitting them with arrestor gear for deck landing but also the more powerful Merlin 25 engines and larger four-bladed propellers. This was to take five months. The time could be spent in training the aircrews in operating from a carrier and trialling the operation of a comparatively large twin engined aircraft from an aircraft carrier. This had never been attempted before. The only precedent had been the use by the United States of B-25 bombers to attack Tokyo, but in this instance no landing-on had been involved.
618 Squadron would be reconstituted. It would be equipped with 29 Highball and three Photo/Reconnaissance (PR) aircraft. For its deployment to the Far East it would take 150 Highball weapons.
Training the aircrews in carrier operating was carried out, first using a dummy carrier flight deck marked out on an airfield in East Anglia and subsequently live carrier landings and take-offs. For this purpose they used Fleet Air Arm Barracuda single-engine torpedo aircraft, the largest machine which was available at the time. Their training culminated in attacks using dummy bombs on the elderly battleship HMS Malaya off Invergordon in Scotland.
When all was ready the complete Squadron, consisting of aircraft, personnel, Highballs and full support facilities were embarked with their aircraft as flight deck cargo (as they were too large to be stowed in hangars) on board the two escort carriers, HM Ships Striker and Fencer, arriving in Melbourne just before Christmas 1944. By now their ideal target had been defined as at least five capital ships at anchor in one location.
On arrival the aircraft were transported to the factory at Fisherman’s Bend for checking after their prolonged exposure to the elements and then flown to their future base, at RAAF Narromine, in New South Wales, west of Dubbo.
In order to economise in the use of these specialised aircraft a further 12 disassembled Mosquitoes were sent to Australia to act as training spares. These were assembled at the De Haviland factory at Mascot, Sydney.
All was ready by the first months of 1945 but now they were confronted with two problems. The first was that there were no suitable targets of the Imperial Japanese Navy remaining in the South West Pacific. To solve this setback it was decided to deploy elements of the squadron to the forward base at Manus. This manoeuvre was apparently frustrated by the United States Navy objecting to the deployment of an RAF unit in their area of operations. There is no direct evidence of this occurrence, but the reminiscences of some surviving participants give support to this reason for the unit being stood down. In any event, it was finally disbanded at Narromine in June 1945.
Some of the Squadron’s tail-hook fitted Mosquitoes joined the RAAF and the ground crews lent a hand on other airfields in Australia until they could be repatriated to the United Kingdom. The remaining aircraft were stripped of their military equipment and sold off, the machine now being restored at Camden going to a farmer at Tomingley, New South Wales.
One of the Squadron’s PR Mosquitoes disintegrated over the inner western Sydney suburbs of Leichhardt and Petersham on 2 May 1945 during a test flight. The crew of two were killed but fortunately no one on the ground was seriously injured by the falling debris of the Mosquito. The Daily Telegraph of 3 May 1945 stated that two civilians were injured and a total of 18 properties were damaged. Five houses were set on fire by the falling debris. It was suspected that a violent pull out from a power dive, with its associated high G forces, may have led to the structural failure of the aircraft. The two crew members tried to eject from the aircraft but they were not high enough for their parachutes to open.
Also, on the afternoon of Friday 27 July 1945, another Mosquito crashed near the Narromine Sale Yards while buzzing the airfield and doing a victory roll over the town, killing its crew of two. The Mosquito, an armed FB Mk VI fighter-bomber version, was leaving Narromine on a one-way flight to Laverton in Victoria. It was fully fuelled and exploded on impact.