Pilot Officer J.C (Sam) Jordan RAAF flew with 87 (PR) Squadron RAAF from RAAF Coomalie Creek.
Operations in No 87(PR) Squadron 1944-1945
Nature of operations
Operations were almost entirely single aircraft unescorted flights. Most photography was with vertical cameras but some were with oblique cameras either mounted in the fuselage or firing through the optical flat in the nose of the MK 16 Mosquitoes.
Briefing was usually carried out by intelligence officers at North West Area Headquarters, quite close to Coomalie Creek. Wing Commander Stewart Jamieson was the senior intelligence Officer and carried out a good number of briefings. There was a tendency at the briefings for us to be told "and while you are out there you might as well go on to have a look at so and so." Hence the squadron song verse. “now area Intelligence want every bloody shot - They send us further every time — each target is more hot!”
Our times on target were very predictable and we often wondered why the Japs didn't lie in wait for us. Before 10am local time shadows were too long to permit good photo interpretation; and after 10am the clouds started to develop obstructing the targets! So our target times were about 10 am and our take-off time determined accordingly. From Broome, flights over Java it was first light and from Truscott not long after first light. From Coomalie it was a slightly more civilized time but usually about 7 am.
We normally cruised out at about 10,000ft climbing to our flight altitude (20,000ft or higher in the Mark 16s as we approached the enemy coast. It was only in the Australian built Mark 40 that we could reach Java or Borneo. As David Vincent remarks in Mosquito Monograph the Mark 16's range was restricted, partly because of their higher power and partly because of the drag of the paddle bladed propellers.
One of the features of Photo Recce Operations was that our aircraft was unarmed just relying on speed and height to avoid interception. As described in David Vincent’s “Mosquito Monograph”, Jack Phillips and Don Bradbury proved the efficacy of this arrangement in escaping a Jap Zero interception during the Isuzu operation.
But even though the aircraft were unarmed, we crews did carry a few arms – a .38 revolver and a machete each, plus a Tommy Gun – machetes for cutting through jungle, revolvers were pretty useless and Tommy Gun - as a last resort.
There was a system of rescue points (Roger Points) throughout the SWPA and if you could get to them there was a chance of being picked up by Submarine or a Catalina Flying Boat. There was one on Komodo Island and the briefing note was ‘Beware of the Komodo Dragon which preys on goats and wild horses’!
A typical sortie from Coomalie involved the aircraft being towed from the revetment to the run up point at the runways end. This was because the engines overheated very quickly and lost power – not a desirable thing on a shortish strip at full load (normally 858 gallons of aviation fuel). If it was an afternoon take-off – usually a travel flight to Truscott or Broome for an operation the following day – the cockpit was very hot and the armour plate was practically hot enough to blister exposed skin.
While on the subject of positioning flights it was normal for a ground staff member to be carried on the positioning flights. His job was to do the post flight check at Broome or Darwin and the preflight inspection the following morning. Operations from Broome particularly meant a first light take off and a very early start for the fitter. Broome incidentally was a quite short strip and take off with full load meant going through the gate.
I admired the fitters who flew with us on those flights. David Vincent describes an earlier incident in which the fitter lay in the rear fuselage — with unpleasant results. In my time they sat on the floor between the navigator’s feet in the PR40's or lay in the nose in the PR 16's. It must have taken a lot of nerve to come along with us. I remember two cases where the fitter became so upset that he looked for a way to get out of the aircraft. One was landing at Truscott where the pierced skin steel mat runway made an enormous noise; the other was in a return flight from Truscott to Coomalie when the starboard engine belched lots of flame on start up. On both occasions I had to restrain the fitter by putting a scissor grip on him with my legs!
The fitters had a second job while we were away on an operation. At Truscott it was to collect jars of oysters for the Coomalie messes. At Broome it was to buy up to 26 dozen bottles of beer which we'd load into the aircraft for the return trip to Coomalie. Hence the verse in the squadron song "Though other bastards say Coomalie's like a tomb you'll always find the bludgers here when the beer comes in from Broome"
Of course there were occasions when there was no beer to buy in Broome and the fitter was usually asked to get a few bottles of wine instead. On one occasion the purchase was about 150 bottles of Muscat! You can imagine the disappointment at Coomalie when it was unloaded! But it was disposed of pretty quickly!
The course to Broome and to a lesser extent Truscott (but also Wyndham) was over the Kimberley and caused many of us to remark on seeing the reddish terrain that it must be full of iron ore! Not that we envisaged the present day mining operations. The Mosquito compasses were notoriously unreliable and we blamed that partly on the effect of the iron ore, In fact there was a bit of a rule of thumb to add 5 degrees to the course you had worked out for the trip to Java, and subtract five for the trip home!
The compasses were a persistent worry and Frank Haymes and I instituted a practice of tail up compass swing later in our time at Coomalie. The system was very physically taxing including lifting the tail of the aircraft onto a trestle on all compass swing headings. But the results were rather disappointing — didn't improve things much! Of course we had only P type compasses — no magnetysms or remote readers .
Even though the MK40's had a longer range than the Mark 16's this was largely the outcome of lower powered engines (1350hp and 1650hp) and the absence of paddle blades. Interestingly though it was possible to cruise the MK 16's at 1800 rpm — but not so the MK40's.
In the case of the Mark 40's cruising below 2300 rpm could lead to sympathetic harmonic vibration which in turn could shake the aircraft to bits. The standard long range power setting for the MK 40's was 2300 rpm and pull the power back to +4 boost.
Some particular memories
Anzac Day 1945 was the occasion of a sortie to the Celebes in A52-602. We had two targets – one the airfield at Macassar (Mandai) and the other a tin mine in the south west Celebes. The airfield target involved several runs at 20000 ft (a target plaster) which we carried out very successfully and which resulted in the production of an excellent target map by Allied Air Forces South West Pacific Area.
It was then off to the tin mine and I remained in the nose of the aircraft for the short transit. Intercom in the Mark 16's was pretty primitive; there was no i/c amplifier and we relied on side tone; when I say relied on it, most of our intercom was by shouted messages or written chits. In any event, in this case there was first a tap on my feet by Col Henry, and then a very garbled intercom. So I unfolded myself back from the nose to see Col's oxygen lead dangling loose. As soon as I reconnected it he passed out! There was no choice but to grab the control column and get the aircraft down to below anoxia level. That was about 8000 feet, and Col recovered. To my astonishment he had forgotten about our runs over Mandai – probably because he was anoxic even then! He wanted to return to Mandai to carry out our briefed mission and it was with a lot of difficulty that I convinced him that we'd already done it! We then did our mine photography and returned to Truscott. A six hour, forty five minute pretty unusual flight.
David Vincent mentioned two the episodes in which I was involved. One was the flight with Lloyd Law in which we lost one engine on take of ( I suspect it continued to deliver some power despite a smashed crank case) and the other on final approach. My memory Is of a flurry of instructions from Lloyd all to do with feathering the dead engine and raising/lowering the undercarriage. The mosquito undercarriage was often unco-operative, refusing to lock up or lock down. One of my tasks was to hold the undercarriage lever up or down until locking occurred. I don't think we ever got it locked up but we did succeed in locking it down. David Vincent mentions the silence as we travelled down the runway; I think one good engine which had been under high power for the entire flight, probably died when it was throttled back on final approach.
The other no noise episode was mentioned briefly by David Vincent. It was on the positioning flight from Darwin to Labuan via Balikpapan with Bob Green. The No 12 tank in the MK16 Mosquito operated with an immersed fuel pump and it was vital to turn the pump off before the tank emptied, otherwise it simply pumped air or gas into the engines — and they stopped. On this particularly day we'd had a particularly high fuel usage and I think Bob decided to see if he could get a bit more fuel out of the No 12 tank. Within seconds of him switching it on both engines stopped. Bob tightened his straps and turned into wind for ditching. I thought of doing the same but training prevailed. I switched to outer tanks which gravity fed the engines and pressed she bleed buttons. Lo and behold both engines burst into life and we continued on our way across the Macassar Strait to Balikpapan.
We had two Wirraways on strength at Coomalie and we used them for some training for local photography, and for fairly regular trips to Katherine to pick up a crate (30dozen) of eggs. Col and I usually agreed that I would fly the Wirraway to Katherine: we'd then reverse the rear seat, and load the egg crate into the back of the Wirraway, where it sat between the navigator's legs. On one return trip we blew a tire on landing at Coomalie and veered into the strip side ditch, I of course had a good view of what was happening behind the Wirraway. And down the strip behind us came the CO in his jeep, the ambulance, the fire tender and the duty crews.
We learned immediately where the priorities lay. The CO supervised the unloading of the eggs and their placement in the ambulance; the fire tender wasn't needed and we were left to explain to the duty crew why we had bent their aircraft. We scrounged a lift back to camp.
And finally the trip back from Coomalie to Parkes at war's end. My log book shows it took 7 hours 20 minutes, much longer than it should have. That is partially explained by time spent flying over North Western Area Headquarters before setting course for Parkes. Suffice to say that we had only eight gallons left when we landed.
One other vivid memory is of the travel flight from Canberra to Rockhampton in 1946. I was with Dave Ephgrave in A52-620. Our instruments failed and the weather was dreadful. We couldn't get back into Canberra so headed west to intercept a railway line and find our position by reading a railway platform sign. But we were too low! Fortunately we spotted a train which we knew left Temora for Stockinbingal at a particular time and knew its average speed ( about 20mph). So we worked out where we were and headed north for familiar territory. We were in very heavy rain all the time and as we started our final approach at Parkes, the dinghy immersion switch operated; the dinghy blew out wrapping momentarily around the tail plane. I can still see Dave winding in nose up trim. We landed safely. My father-in-law to be had seen the dinghy eject and thought for sure we had bailed out.
And really finally this time – the end of A52-304 in 1951 with Ted Mackenzie and I aboard. It was an engine failure on take off caused by failure of the engine harness. I remember seeing the starboard engine propeller folding up as we belly landed straight ahead. It seemed to take us ages to get out of the aircraft: the first person on the scene was a PMG truck driver who saw our end as he drove up Majura Road. To our surprise he remarked that we were out of the aircraft before it came to a halt!
Sam continued service with the RAAF post war and retired as an Air Vice-Marshal in 1979.