Fighter Squadrons Branch

Fighter Squadrons' Branch - Kittyhawks Photos

Noemfoor Island Gallery

Noemfoor Island (Kamiri Airstrip)

By August 1944 the Americans on Los Negros Island no longer required fighter protection and so 77 and 76 Squadrons were transferred to 81 Wing.  At the time 81 Wing was commanded by  Group Captain Gordon Steege.

The two Kittyhawk Squadrons were ordered to proceed to Noemfoor a small island off the east coast of New Guinea’s Vogelkop Peninsula.  The 48 Kittyhawks were ferried to Noemfoor via Wadke Island. They arrived on Kamiri Airstrip on 14 September. The ground crews were already there having arrived a few days earlier.  On 17 September  Wing Commander Cresswell returned to begin his second tour as CO 77 Squadron.

During this period Wing Commander Cresswell was frequently required for duties at 81 Wing HQ. When this occurred Squadron Leader William McCulloch took over command of the Squadron.

The Squadron’s first operation from Noemfoor Island was not flown until 30 September, when eight Kittyhawks joined ten Kittyhawks from 80 Squadron to bomb Japanese holdings at Samate. The Squadron continued to be tasked with bombing enemy positions on the Vogelkop Peninsula throughout October.   These operations were not without loss. On 8 October 1944, Flight Sergeant Bernard Johnson was killed when he crashed on landing following a watercraft sweep. Six days later Warrant Officer Peter Schlencker (A29-824) failed to return from a bombing mission to Manokaari.  Although an intensive search was carried out, no trace of Warrant Officer Schlencker was found and he was posted missing, believed killed.

Losses continued with the death of Flying Officer Henry Summons (A29-21) who failed to return from a bombing and strafing mission on 22 October. Summons was last seen entering cloud in the target area in preparation for making a bombing run. An extensive search was carried out, but no trace was ever found. For the second time in two weeks a 77 Squadron pilot was classified as missing.

November 1944 was another month of loss for 77 Squadron. During a strike mission on Halmahera Island, Flight Sergeant Bruce Palme and Sergeant Keith Smithwick went missing.

On 23 December Wing Commander Cresswell left the Squadron once again. Squadron Leader McCulloch again assumed Temporary Command.

As the last year of WWII began 77 Squadron aircraft strength stood at 24 P40-N Kittyhawks and one Wirraway.  Operational flying was suspended in early January in anticipation of a move to Morotai Island.

At this time the combined effect of the recent deaths of several pilots coupled with  inactivity weakened morale. The situation became worse when a freak accident, on 9 January 1945, claimed the life of LAC Frederick Adcock, an armament fitter. A spark from a gun solenoid started a fire on A29-803 whilst he was performing a 160 hour inspection. At the time fresh water was so scarce that everything, aircraft, equipment and even clothes, were washed in petrol. Tragically the spark from the gun lit the petrol-soaked aircraft and LAC Adcock’s petrol-soaked overalls, causing his death.

A note in the Squadron history reads: “his (Adcock’s) death, due to his exceptional popularity amongst Squadron personnel, cast a gloom over the entire unit to a degree that would not be expected”.  The situation began to grow slowly worse. A note inserted into the operations record by the CO also states: “operations during the month (February) were practically nil. The morale of all ranks is deteriorating on account of inactivity”.

On 25 January 1945 ‘A’ Echelon departed for Morotai.  ‘Musical Chairs’ seemed to be the lot of the position of CO at 77 Squadron, with Flight Lieutenant Geoffrey Angus, Squadron Leader McCulloch, Flight Lieutenant William Miller, Flight Lieutenant Curtis and Flight Lieutenant Andrew Taylor taking turns during February and March. 

A humorous or unusual incident at a Court Marshall held on 16 March occurred when Flight Sergeant Henry Gingell was called quite unexpectedly to give evidence.  This NCO was on the volley ball court adjacent to the Court clad in underpants and boots only and covered in sawdust; as time was precious he was put on immediate call and appeared and gave evidence so dressed; a hat was loaned to him which, to make things still more humorous, was 4 to 5 sizes too small.  This is probably the first occasion that a witness has been so attired in a RAAF court marital.

Mid-March saw the Squadron still at Noemfoor and not participating in operations.  A lack of transport resulted in the Squadron being unable to move to Morotai until the end of the month.  To relieve the long hours of inactivity, inter-squadron cricket and volleyball competitions were organized. The Squadron’s personnel even set about building their own bakery to overcome the difficulty in obtaining fresh bread.

The Squadron was quickly brought back to reality on 30 March 1945 when LAC Ronald Hunter was killed when he walked backwards into a spinning propeller.  The Squadron was now looking forward to leaving Noemfoor along with the sad memories of Squadron losses and constant inactivity.



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