Beaufort Pilot Interview

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by Wildcat, Dec 24, 2006.

  1. Wildcat

    Wildcat Well-Known Member

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    Found this interesting interview from The Guns of Muschu. Have a squizz at the site, worth a look.

    Interview with an Australian WW2 Beaufort pilot
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    Major Ronald Smith (Australian Army Aviation Corps ret) began his long flying career in 1943 as an Australian Air Force pilot. In operations in New Guinea he flew Beauforts and Beaufighters. The narrative in Chapter One of "The Guns of Muschu" is based on his experience.
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    Conducted in September 2005 by the author during research for the Guns of Muschu


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    DD: The Beaufort seems to be one of those aircraft that's never received much credit for the role it played in the Pacific during WW2?
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    RFS: Yes, it's been overlooked in favor of other types such as the Spitfire or Hurricane. They of course didn't play much of a role in the Pacific. American aircraft like the Hellcat, Corsair and P38 Lightning grabbed a lot of attention. The Beaufort though, was an important aircraft - Australia manufactured over 700 during the war and I think we also got about another 100 from the British. So we used about 800 in the war - most of them in New Guinea.
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    DD: I didn't realise until I researched "The Guns of Muschu" just how active the RAAF was in supporting the Australian Army during the New Guinea campaign - most of it with Beauforts. The AWM on line war diaries are filled with action reports. It looks like they were flying just about every day?
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    RFS: If weather and serviceability allowed we flew sorties against the Japanese whenever we could. Sometimes two or three sorties a day. Most of these were bombing missions against targets around Wewak or in the Torecelli Mountains where our troops were engaging the Japs. We also flew a lot of reconnaissance sorties along the coast.
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    DD: Where were you based?
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    RFS: My squadron - number 7 - was based at Tadji, about 100 miles up the coast from Wewak. We mainly flew support missions into the Torecellis, although we also occassionaly hit targets in and around Wewak.
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    DD: You've flown a lot of aircraft in your time, both in the RAAF and the Army. Exactly how many types have you flown?
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    RFS: I've flown plenty - some of which I wasn't supposed to fly, but I guess you can start with the ones I was rated on first. I'll try and put them in order, starting about 1943. Tiger Moth - that was the RAAF's basic trainer, Airspeed Oxford - that was used as an introduction to twin engined aircraft . Then I converted to Beaufighters and spent six months flying operations in New Guinea. I was sent back to Australia for medical reasons in late 43 - I caught malaria - then after recovering went back to New Guinea. I was supposed to be posted back to a Beaufighter squadron but somehow wound up at Tadji posted to 7 squadron on Beauforts.

    I've also been rated on the C-47 Dakota and was scheduled to do a conversion to the B-24 Liberator, however all the training aircraft were sabotaged and the course was cancelled.

    DD: How were the aircraft sabotaged? I've never heard of this?

    RFS: I think there were a total of 19 Liberators at the RAAF training squadron at Tocumwal. One night someone merely crept in and removed about ten metres of the fuselage wiring harness from each aircraft. They suspected about six people were involved and they were well organised. It was definitely sabotage as they knew exactly what they were doing. The B-24 had most of its controls powered by electrics and the harnesses were impossible to replace overnight. The aircraft were out of service for months. The incident was totally hushed up of course.

    DD: You were later rated on all army aircraft?

    RFS: In the sixties and seventies I was rated on army aircraft as you know, including the Cessna 180 and Pilatus Porter. I've also had a go with a few mates who were instructors on helicopters - the Bell Sioux G2 and G3. Had a couple of drives of the Huey, Kiowa and the Hughes OH-6. I've flown most of the Cessna range at some time or other, including their twins. Lot of other types that escape me.

    As operations officer for 1 Army Aviation Regiment, I managed to get my hands on many types as we evaluated them for the army. We had some odd aircraft pass through the regiment during those years, like the Helio-Courier, Mooney MU2, DeHavilland Otter and Beaver. Most of these were put forward as contenders and we flew them for an hour or so, just to be polite to the manufacturer, but it was always interesting to make comparisons.

    And of course there was always Charlie (M). He had a collection of aircraft including his own Bird Dog. So I got time on these as well, just so I could put them in my log book.

    I also still had plenty of mates in the RAAF who'd whistle me up for a circuit or two, so I got to drive most of the aircraft in the military inventory - except the single seat fighters of course. But I was working on that.

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    DD: So your introduction to combat flying in New Guinea was in Beaufighters not Beauforts?
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    RFS: Yes. We flew sorties against shipping and land targets.
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    DD: What was the Beaufighter like to fly?
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    RFS: A bit of a handfull after the Oxford. But once you got used to it, it was a great aircraft. It had it's vices but it had plenty of power and you could throw it around the sky like a fighter.
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    DD: The Japanese nicknamed it "Whispering Death"?
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    RFS: I often wondered about that. Personally I think the name was cooked up by some of the public relations types types back in Australia as a propaganda thing. But it did have sleeve valve engines that made it relatively quiet - specially when it was approaching. So I guess the name suited it, although I never heard it used except in newsreels and newpapers.
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    DD: It packed quite a punch?
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    RFS: Oh yes. Four 20 mm cannon in the nose and six .303 machine guns in the wings. And we could also carry rockets and bombs. We used to litteraly blow the **** out of Japanese ships on the first pass. Six aircraft coming in at wave top height in a long vic formation and opening up together tended to put them right off their stroke. I've seen Jap ships torn to pieces in a few minutes.
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    DD: After the Beaufighter the Beaufort must've seemed very different?
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    RFS: It felt similar but was heavier and down on power. The Beaufort had two 1200hp radials, but the Beaufighter had two 1750hp engines - that's 2400hp vs 3500hp. That made a big difference. But you became used to it.
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    DD: Seems odd that you went from Beaufighters to Beauforts? Normally it's the other way around?
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    RFS: It was caused by an adminstrative stuff up. Some clerk in Australia didn't know the difference between the two aircraft and I got put on the replacement list for the wrong squadron. I'd never flown a Beaufort before, so when I arrived the OC took one look at me shook his head and swore something about "penpushers". He figured though if I could handle a Beaufighter I'd have no problems with the Beaufort, so we went out on the flight line, he sat in the jump seat beside me, gave me a quick briefing then we took off and I flew a few circuits. Next day I flew on operations.
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    DD: Seemed a practical way of doing it?
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    RFS: It was probably against regulations but it worked. The funny side of it all is after six months in country and after about 500hrs on operations flying Beauforts, in June 1945 some idiot back in Australia checked my file and found that I hadn't done a Beaufort conversion. So what did they do? Shipped me back home to the operational conversion unit at East Sale, so I could do the conversion course! There I was with more hours on the aircraft than the instructors. So there I stayed, learning the theory of the aircraft then doing checkflights and all the usual training drills associated with converting to type. This went on for almost two months. I was out in the training area one morning, stooging around doing nothing in particular, when we received word that the war was over. I flew in, landed, parked the aircraft, switched off and never got inside a Beaufort again.
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    DD: Any particularly memorable sorties?
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    RFS: Gets harder to remember after all these years, but there's plenty of ones that stick in the mind. I do recall one sortie, we were in formation at about five thousand feet heading south. The Beaufort head of us at the same level - was about fifty metres I'd say - just vanished in a puff of smoke and fire and we went right through the middle. He'd been hit in the bombload by a shell, probably 80mm at that altitude. I've seen the same thing in movies - there's a scene in Memphis Bell like it.
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    DD: Any damage?
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    RFS: None, just a few tendrils of soot clinging to the perspex and fuselage. A bit of turbulence and that was it.
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  2. Wildcat

    Wildcat Well-Known Member

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    DD: You were one of very few people to have successfully ditched a Beaufort and walked, or rather swum, away from it. How did this happen?
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    RFS: There's no mystery about it. I was on a raid near Wewak when Jap anti-aircraft gunners shot out the starboard engine and the aircraft decided it no longer wanted to fly. RAAF HQ officially classified it as a crash, according to them we weren't shot down, we merely crashed into the ocean.
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    DD: Why was that?
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    RFS: I think it had something to do with statistics. Made the record look better, can't let the enemy know they'd shot someone down. They had a rule of some sort about the time the aircraft remained in the air after being hit by enemy fire. After five minutes or so, if you managed to stay in the air that long, then hit the ground or water, you weren't deemed to have been shot down. Instead you'd crashed. Funny because I know of fighter pilots who'd emptied their ammunition into Jap bombers then followed them for ten or fifteen minutes and watched them crash, who were then able to claim they'd shot down an enemy aircraft - which they had of course.
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    DD: You must have had your hands full getting the aircraft onto the water?
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    RFS: Fortunately the sea was almost calm. Only a low swell. Bloody aircraft was just hanging in the air on one engine when we hit - I had the throttle to the stops, full boost, I expected it to seize or explode any minute. Also I never knew the aircraft could fly so slow! All I wanted it to do was stall in, but of all the times to be stubborn it just seemed to want to keep flying!
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    DD: Could you have made it back to Tadji?
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    RFS: No. The first round weakened the mainspar and also damaged the engine mount. Even though the engine was stopped the slipstream was still turning the propeller because the autofeather had been damaged. To make matters worse the engine mount partially collapsed and the engine was drooping down at about 30 degrees, creating a hell of a lot of drag. And vibration, it was shaking like hell. I figured it was only a matter of time before the engine fell off - which wouldn't have been a bad thing I suppose, but chances were it would've ripped the wing off with it. Either that or the wing would fold up first. So I had to get the aircraft down while I still had some control left.
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    DD: How long did you keep the aircraft flying?
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    RFS: It seemed like hours, but it was five, maybe ten minutes. I wanted to get as far up the coast as I could. The area around Wewak was crawling with Japs and I wasn't eager to be taken prisoner.
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    DD: What were the anti-aircraft defenses like around Wewak?
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    RFS: Pretty heavy. I know the Japs were supposed to be short on ammo, but they always seemed to have plenty to throw at us. And they could be very accurate. There was one gunner known as "dead eye Dick" who used to have a 40mm operating north of Wewak. He was a bloody good shot and he caused a lot of trouble. Didn't shoot much, but when he did he usually hit what he was aiming at. We tried to find him and knock him out but he kept shifting positions. I don't think we ever got him.
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    DD: You mentioned that the anti-aircraft guns on Muschu were also very accurate?
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    RFS: Yes. No one was quite sure how many weapons they had there. Intelligence was always revising their estimates, but it seems they had a lot of 20 and 30mm automatic weapons scattered around the island. We lost a couple of Beauforts and Beaufighters to them. Kairaru to the north also had a lot of AA weapons - they also had a seaplane base there.
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    DD: Did you ever see any Japanese fighters in the air ?
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    RFS: I never encountered any. By mid 1944, we'd just about knocked out all their airfields and fuel supplies. They'd occassionaly sneak in and out using transport or bomber aircraft at night, but we had total air superiority and the Japanese fighters just couldn't operate. By the end of 1944, what fighters they'd managed to keep hidden were usually unserviceable due to lack of spares and deterioration caused by the wet climate.
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    DD: You also flew a lot of ground support missions for our troops?
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    RFS: Mainly in the Torecelli Mountain ranges. It was very difficult flying. Steep valleys, low cloud and bad weather. We'd often work with Boomerangs that would do the target marking. They were another good aircraft that did great work up there but received little recognition. In fact they pioneered forward air controller tactics that are used today...
     
  3. v2

    v2 Well-Known Member

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  4. Gnomey

    Gnomey World Travelling Doctor
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