Flying in New Guinea was pretty hairy

Name: John  Clark
Date: 1942-1943
Unit: 6 Squadron
Location: New Guinea

Flying in New Guinea during World War II was pretty hairy at the best of times, but when bad weather set, in it caused all sorts of problems.

Sgt John Clark was a wireless operator air gunner in a Hudson with 6 Squadron from August 1942 to July 1943 and kept a detailed diary throughout that time.

He described patrols for enemy shipping, bombing attacks on ships and a ditching when his crippled aircraft went down in the sea.

24th February 1943

Only two kites on patrol today. Glenny on B2 and we on B1 in 245. Struck some bad weather on the way out, taking us a while to dodge and get onto the patrol. Did the patrol in excellent visibility with Bougainville Island in sight all the way up the top leg.

Coming back, we ran into a large storm front extending from Woodlark Island. Tried to go around it but it was too extensive, so then started to come through it and up the bay. The storm forced us back twice and things were getting a bit grim. We were only 100ft up and about 150 yards out from the coast and losing it all the time. Fuel was getting low so we circled an island at the mouth of the bay and jettisoned our bombs. Tried once more to come up the bay but it was worse than ever. Fuel was practically nil so we decided to ditch the kite. We were all pretty wet by this because the rain had been pouring in through the storm windows. Arch (Archie Prime, my CO- WAG) was on the set, sending messages and I went back to look after the door.

Made our approach and hit with a terrific shock which tore me loose from my moorings. I landed on my head and shoulders 15ft nearer the nose.

The water started to pour in so we lost no time in getting out. The dinghy had been partly inflated and had torn loose from the kite. It was floating away from us about 50 yards so Arch dived in and swam after it. I followed him, but just as I reached the dinghy, we noticed some boongs (common term used for natives) paddling towards us in their lakatois. We were all picked up and taken ashore into a boong hut, where one boong started to bathe my injuries and otherwise tend to my wants.

We had been here for about 3/4 of an hour when a PT boat went by, evidently looking for us. They came back again and noticed the dinghy which Arch had hung on a tree. Bill was out in a native canoe, waving, and he was picked up first.

We were then taken aboard and dried, clothed and given hot coffee to drink. The other three had escaped injury so the Yank doctor fixed up my cuts and bruises and put two stitches in my head.

They marked where the kite sank with a buoy. The kite had sunk in 5 minutes about 400 yards out from shore in 50ft of water.

The PT boat then whizzed us across the bay at 32 knots to Kanakopi where we spent the night on board the USS Tulsa - yours truly being put to bed in sick bay after a shower and an A1 meal.

John Clark returned to Australia as an instructor at the end of his tour in New Guinea and after 18 months went on a second tour of active service flying in Liberators from the Northern Territory in harassing raids on Japanese targets in the Dutch East Indies.

Other entries in his diary:

3rd September 1942

First patrol over enemy territory. Up at 4.30am. Heard that our kite ran downhill overnight doing some minor damage. Hoodoo is evidently still with 211 (the aircraft assigned to his crew). Patrol over Milne Bay and Louisiade Archipelago. Atrocious weather near Milne Bay Islands with jungle growth and hilly mainland very picturesque here. Set off by Coral Sea. No enemy aircraft sighted. After 9 hours out returned to find that we were thought to be down in sea. However, it must be some other unlucky pilot of the Squadron. On that day a Hudson of 6 Squadron had crashed at Hood Point. It was Bill Campbell and his crew, and as our pilot was Bill Wheeler, the confusion arose about which Bill had crashed.

4th September 1942

Well what a day! I really never expected to be back here at Port Moresby writing this. I suppose I must begin at the beginning.

We took off around 8am with a full load of bombs to strike a cruiser that had been shelling Milne Bay. Searched all morning without results, although 2 kites sighted it. Visibility was bad. Saw what turned out to be a grounded transport and bombed it, although no hits were observed.

Landed at Fall River and stepped out of the kite to see Steve Adams, and naturally, we shook hands and swapped tales. Fall River 'drome is only 5 miles from the Jap front line. All is activity here and everyone walks around with guns. Went up for a snack with the fighter boys and ran into Bob Crawford, old school pal - another surprise. The fighter boys are a wonderful mad mob, all sporting a huge variety of beards and goatees. "Blue" Truscott is CO of 76 fighter Squadron. Best surprise was to run into Sid, also wearing moustache. Again, we yarned over familiar items. Returned to kite to find Fitz, another old school pal, working on it.

Coming up Milne Bay, the hills with the clouds around make a surprisingly beautiful scene. Left Fall River at 5pm to continue search for cruiser. We were warned of its presence by a burst of shrapnel that rocked the kite. Visibility and approaching darkness made it impossible to bomb, so we turned for Port Moresby. At 5000ft the cloud formation here was amazing. Like skipping through gigantic snowy hills and valleys. Came darkness and we tried to come down to find our position, which turned out to be impossible because of nil visibility. Approaching 8pm we realised we were lost and 1 motor was dropping revs. Bill told us to put our harness on. Tried homing but it was U/S. Then tried QDMs (morse signals requesting compass bearings) and finally came over the 'drome on them. Searchlights were lit and after some anxious moments when circling around the hills, landed safe and sound. It was good to know that the wireless saved us.

11th September 1942

On a patrol at dawn. Photographing out at Goodenough Island - very pretty spot. Fighter strip on island. Turned over the Trobriands - saw natives fishing. Terribly clear at times - not the usual squalls about. Out in the afternoon looking for 2 enemy destroyers reported heading for Milne Bay.

We were the first kite to sight the enemy vessels. Circled until the other Hudsons came up. Then we went into attack, above clouds at 4000ft. Had a grandstand view of events from the turret. Rather frightening at times when the boats were putting up ack ack - plenty of it and fairly accurate. First you see the red flashes, then black puffs and even sometimes hearing the bursts. Got a pleasant surprise to see 5 fortresses below the cloud. A fortress hit one boat which later sank. Dive bombed the largest destroyer from 4000ft down to 1500ft. Close ack ack. A very near miss near the stem of the destroyer was recorded. Both destroyers were tearing around and firing like blazes. Kite rocked often from bursts but not hit. Very exciting with all those kites about. Returned for what turned out to be a quiet night as the remaining destroyer had evidently had enough. Couldn't get to sleep for a while - nervous reaction. Through the night Col got out of the wrong end of his bunk and tried to grope his way out of the side of the hut, still asleep. These huts we sleep in were built by the natives and are made of palm leaves and branches. Bunks are of bamboo strips.

12th September 1942

Up early again on a job. This time searching for remaining destroyer. Nothing sighted, although visibility was bad, and we flew through rain most of the time. It is more the rule than the exception for rain and low clouds to be around this area, a thankful cover incidentally. It is surprising how the continual strain of searching the skies and ocean plays on your nerves; especially twisting and turning in the turret for hours at a time. The sudden appearance of a kite, though even friendly shocks you suddenly. Flying loses its glamour in this area. It is just a hard nerve-racking job, done continually over the sea, through storms and over high, mountainous islands.

Had our first wash for four days today and was it good. Still had to wear our dirty clothes though. Fall River is very busy now with the added presence of Beaufighters and Beauforts, with an occasional Hudson bringing supplies.

The morning's patrol was repeated in the afternoon with the same results - so we should have a quiet night. Take-off was delayed by an alarm but nothing came of it. The Kittys got off the ground amazingly quick. I'm writing this by the light of a torch with myriads of tropical insects crawling over me. The rest of the boys are on the next bed yarning and drinking some beer scrounged from somewhere.

17th January 1943

What a day! It looks as though fate is trying to prevent me leaving at all. (The crew had received orders to go to Horn Island to test fly a Hudson but was delayed in getting transport.) Today will live in my memory as being one of the most frightening experiences I'll ever know.

The weather was remarkably fine for this place and the air-raid alert went about midday - just after we had finished lunch. The fighters had gone up and we were sitting on the edge of the trench when someone said "look! 23 of the b....s" and sure enough, coming straight up the bay, over the strip and our camp was a deadly formation of 23 Jap bombers with zeros whizzing around 'em - no sign of our fighters. And then the bombs started to fall. All huddled, shivering in the trench. The bombs were hitting with terrible hardness and awful explosions gradually coming closer as the bombers passed over, until it seemed that we must cop the next one, but although very close the wave passed over and beyond us.

After a few anxious moments we climbed out and the smoke and flame of huge petrol fires was already rising from the strip with ammo going off at the same time.

The nearest bomb to us was about 20 yards away and had blown a coconut tree down and cleared the earth for yards with evidence of shrapnel all around in holed tents and cut trees. If it had been a bigger bomb - well!

It seems impossible that nobody could escape being killed but when the roll was called, there were only a couple of minor casualties. Incidentally, there was quite a bit of discontent at having to parade before the "all-clear" went. Damage sustained to the camp itself was a couple of tents blown up, the tanks holed - no water tonight - and numerous other tents holed with flying shrapnel.

When the boys' spirits had revived there was much betting on how many kites had been lost. There was a bit of disappointment evident that we lost only 1 kite complete with all the others in varying degrees of unserviceability because of holes.

The Yanks lost 3 fortresses, 1 B24, 1 P39 as complete write-offs, then our 206, whose bombs had blown up and other incidentals such as trucks, petrol and machinery.

Naturally, my desire to get away was more evident now. Finished the day by attending the open air pictures at the gravel pit on the strip, with Perc, Drong and Dal. Two good shows and we returned, as we thought to a peaceful sleep. But no, two alarms went during the night but no raiders came over, although the ack ack went off.

As far as we know, no raiders were shot down from the day raid and we lost no fighters. The ack ack wasn't very heavy but seemed close to the Japs who weren't very high - about 12,000ft.

Footnote: in 1993 members of a dive school from Milne Bay discovered the wreck of a Hudson bomber on the sea bed. An item in Wings magazine was spotted by Ray Kelly and John Clark who were able to confirm that it was their Hudson A16-245 that had been located.

The material for this article was supplied by John H Clark of New South Wales


Last updated: 3 June 2019

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DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2019), Flying in New Guinea was pretty hairy, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 14 August 2020, http://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/stories-service/australians-war-stories/flying-new-guinea-was-pretty-hairy
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