Andy Anderson's story

Andrew 'Andy' Anderson joined the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) in Perth in March 1942.

Andy went to the United Kingdom, where he was posted to No 10 Squadron, flying Sunderlands out of Mount Batten near Plymouth.

Andy recalled that packets of gum leaves were sometimes posted to squadron members from relatives in Australia. Then there would be a ceremonial burning of the leaves in the mess.

As pilot and aircraft captain, Andy flew anti-submarine and convoy escort missions in the Bay of Biscay and the western approaches to Britain from December 1943 to the end of the war in Europe, in May 1945.

Andy noted that flying-boats were rarely subject to fire from the land, but told of a mission when he experienced just this. He was ordered to fly up the Gironde River, north of Bordeaux in France, to gather intelligence on enemy shipping in the docks. He was told the French Resistance would ensure he had nothing to fear from German fire. So it seemed until the Sunderland, having photographed the docks, turned for home. The Germans opened up. Andy took the aircraft down to low altitude at full throttle and weaved his way out to the open sea.

Andy left the RAAF in February 1946. He flew for Australian National Airlines for several years then transferred to a British airline. Until 1982, he flew commercial aircraft in Europe, North America,  South America and the Middle East. Andy retired from flying in 1982, first to run a restaurant, then to take up avocado farming.

Second World War veteran (RAAF)

Transcript

Enlistment

Oh, from the age of about 12 I was building model aeroplanes. Why? I don't know. There's no way I can tell you why I was so interested in aeroplanes. From the age of 14 I was flying gliders. From the age of 18 I was an apprentice aircraft engineer with McRobert's and Miller's in Perth. And the reason for that was although I wanted to fly there's no way my parents could have afforded it.

Then the war came along and then of course I was trapped in essential service. So it took me a while to convince the management that I wasn't the sort of apprentice engineer they wanted because my mind was not on the job.

There was one amusing incident I remember and I'll never forget it. I was standing on the steps taking some spark plugs out of a radial engine and one of the McRobert's and Miller's pilots crept up behind me and he put his chin on my shoulder and said, "Come down out of that spitfire." Because they all knew I wanted to join the Air Force.

Anyway, they finally released me and I did join the Air Force.

Training

When I finished and got my wings and they commissioned me they sent me over to Parks in New South Wales as a staff pilot and that was a navigation school.

So I took the opportunity of going to the navigation school at the same time which was probably the reason I ended up on 10 Squadron. Because they were long-range reconnaissance aircraft in a person with navigation skills was always welcome.

I had to become a pilot because having thrown away a career in engineering if I'd have ended up as an air gunner or as a navigator I would have lost everything. So you can imagine the work I did to make sure that I did eventually become a pilot and they did select me, thank goodness. It felt as though I'd gone home. It was almost a natural feeling. I just loved every minute of it.

En route to the war

I was there for about six months and then eventually was sent over to the UK. The trip over was perfection. I mean, we were given a cabin and all sorts of lovely service. The American troops were coming over and the troop ships going back across the Pacific weren't full. So we had a first class cabin, and people to look after us, and music on the upper deck and wonderful [war meetings 00:06:46]. It was really, across the Pacific, it was great. And then in the United States we were treated like royalty. I think because the Americans must have written home and said what a wonderful country Australia was that the Americans wanted to reciprocate in some way. And there were so few of us that you couldn't walk into a bar and put your hand in your pocket. There was just no way. They were so hospitable. It was very good.

So we spent a considerable time in the United States because some of our draft got scarlet fever and that quarantined the whole assembly. The whole unit was quarantined. And of course we were trapped in this American camp until finally the CO decided it'd be a good idea if people were tested to see if they had it and if they didn't then they should be shifted somewhere else. And that's what happened. So that meant that we spent a lot of time being entertained by Bostonians. It was really fantastic.

Then we were shipped off down to New York where we put on a troopship. The Mauritania. And we went across the Atlantic as a loan ship. Those large ships like the Queen Mary, and Mauritania, and Aquitania sailed alone because they were fast and they could usually outdistance U-boats. And they were single, whereas in a convoy the speed was only about eight or 9 knots and there were much bigger and better targets for the U-boats.

Joining 10 Squadron

Everyone wanted to be a fighter pilot. And when we find out that fighter pilots weren't really needed at the time everyone wanted to be a night fighter pilot so we all ate carrots from start to finish to improve our night vision and that was a fallacy. In the midst of all this some representative of 10 Squadron came and they were looking to join their squadron but they were quite an elite squadron and they didn't want just anybody. They wanted to make their own selections.

So I was one of the people that applied because they promise you, you would be in operations in two weeks. Now that really was something. A big draw. Because if you didn't go, if that didn't happen to you then you were forced to go to advanced flying units and then operational training units and then wait there for ability to go to a squadron and you'd probably end up on bomber command, anyway. If you managed to get into a bomber before the war ended. And that was our big worry. Everybody wanted to be a hero before the war ended, having come all this way.

So the attraction in 10 Squadron was that they said 'We'll have you in operations in two weeks'. And that's what happened. Because they had three pilots on their aircraft and they drew you in as a second pilot or a second, yeah, a second pilot. And you were trained on the job. And then, eventually, you were promoted to a first pilot which was in the civil diversion of a first officer and having completed 500 hours of your required 1000 hours for a tour the last 500 hours you were given an aircraft of your own.

And then you completed your thousand hours as a captain of the aircraft with 10 or 11 crew. And that, for a youngster, I mean we were only children ... That, for a youngster, was quite a responsibility. I'm amazed the way all those young people coped with that situation. They did well. And 10 Squadron was, I still think it's an elite squadron, it really was a very good, very good. And wonderful to be in that squadron. I mean the personnel were wonderful and engineering was always excellent and everyone was so encouraging, all the time. So I just had a very fortunate war.

Operations with 10 Squadron

We mounted 16 guns, and that's a huge armament for an airplane. The Germans, they didn't fear us, but they didn't like us. They used to call us the, oh, in German it's the fliegendes stachelschwein and that means flying porcupine. And that's exactly how they felt about it.

Yes, I suppose the draw back on the job we did was the monotony. You'd be out for 12 hours searching and searching and you come home and you may not have seen a thing. And ... Convoy escorts were probably the worst of it because if you took over from another aircraft that had been escorting the convoy and during the night they'd been attacked, then you'd see all this wreckage and all ...

I get emotional about it. These guys in the water that were gonna die. I mean, you couldn't do anything about it because if the sea was so rough there's no way you could land. The Navy couldn't do anything about it because they were ordered not to stop because if they did they'd be a perfect target for a U-boat and the convoy couldn't stop. I mean there's just no way a merchant ship could help these guys. So ... I mean I just have tremendous respect for them. They were never, ever given the reward that they needed or should have had. They were civilians and therefore, since they didn't wear uniform there was no glamour attached to it. If their ship was sunk then their pay was stopped. That's assuming they survived, which, most of them didn't because what chance would you have?

I mean, you're out there on the western approaches and you might drop a dinghy or a smoke float. But there's just no way people would ever find them. You know? And of course the Murmansk run was even worse because it was so cold up there they wouldn't last more than five minutes in the water. So these guys they, I mean, 30,000 of them lost their lives and what reward did they get? Nothing. I don't even remember any one of them ever being given a medal. So I have a great sympathy for them.

U-Boats

Usually you'd set off to reach a convoy at dawn and you had to be extremely careful because approaching a convoy in the half-light, they were never too sure. So you used to flash the code of the day and never go to near and then you'd show them the silhouette of the airplane and be very careful.

Eventually, when they'd flash back, then you'd say, "Right, now I'll go ahead and escort you." So during the day it was all visual, looking for anything that approached the convoy and at night it was all radar. A U-boat could descend, crash dive in 30 seconds and many, many is the time where our crews would try and reach it, but they'd beat them to it.

So actually, what they did on the squadron was designed a stopwatch with a thing around it and as you looked on the panel on the stopwatch it would determine from the swirl how far ahead you could lay your depth charges, but of course it was all by guess because the U-boat could turn either way. It may not go straight on. And you know, if it was more than, say, a minute then there's no point in doing it because the U-boat would be well below the level of a depth charge which was set at 25 feet.

Under attack

After the Germans had left, had been pushed out of the western edge of France towards Paris the British intelligence came up with this rather odd request that we fly an aeroplane up the Gironde, that's the river north of Bordeaux, and have a look at the shipping there. Because the rumour was that the Germans were cutting a hole in the hull of fishing boats and dropping the fishing boat over conning tower of the U-boats. And the U-boat would then escape as a fishing boat. That was the rumour.

I mean it sounds almost fantastic, but that's what they said was happening. And they'd like us to fly up that year-round, have a look at the docks and let them know if I could find anything suspicious. I mean, what a stupid thing to ... So, we said, "Look why don't you just send a mosquito over at altitude and take a photograph?" So they said there's no problem "The Free French have taken it over. You won't have any problems at all".

So we flew across the bay down the Gironde and we poked our nose in and nothing happened and we were quite cautious. We poked our nose in a bit further and nothing happened, so we thought, "Oh, perhaps they're right." And then we flew at 2000 feet straight and level, beautiful morning, up the Gironde.

Now, these German gunners must've been sitting there thinking, "How stupid can this slow, lumbering ... All by itself, there's no danger for us because it's over the water so what are they going to drop bombs on?" So they must have just sat there with their fingers on the trigger, waiting. Then we went further up and further until we took all the photographs we needed and then just as we dipped the wing to come out, oh, all hell broke loose. Anyway, we dropped down onto the water and zigzagged and, you know, you can make an airplane appear as though it's going in one direction when it's actually going in the other.

And you do that by applying an aileron where the aircraft is due to turn, but stopping the turn by using full opposite rudder, and therefore the aircraft is pointing this way, but it's moving that way. And this, I hoped, confused some of the gunners because great spouts of water were ...

And we could smell the cordite, it was black, you know. Anyway, we got out. And of course, eventually, the squadron received an apology from British intelligence. It said, "Well, we were a bit forward in our forecast. The Free French, in fact, haven't taken Bordeaux yet." And they never did. I think the British did it.

Evasive tactics

It was a very maneuverable airplane. What we used, the normal tactics to get out of aircraft attack, by waiting until they were almost on top of you and that we could keel it over and pull it back and the aircraft would just spin on itself, almost. It was so maneuverable and these other aircraft would just shoot past because you were doing about 120, 130 and they were doing 300.

So what they did, in the end, was these JU 88's, they were equipped with cannon and they used to sit well back because the range of the cannon was much better than our 303 machine guns. So to avoid that we would increase speed as much as we could and then when they started a fire we'd pulled right back and slow down and of course they would overtake us and then they'd be within range of our 303's.

At our tail-gunner's, like his Lordship there, were pretty accurate. And they didn't like it. I've never heard of them approaching one of our aircraft with less than four of theirs. And one of our skippers, Stan Chilcott escaped from sixteen of them. Sixteen! They had one patrol of eight and when they found Stan they called on another squadron of eight and he escaped. Now, that is incredible.

The Duke of York

I was thinking of these Englishmen who controlled the dinghy section. They used to send the boats out to collect the crews and take engineers out to work on the aeroplanes and we had a visit by the Duke of York and the CO had lined up all the Australians on the tarmac overlooking where the boats were moored and the Duke was walking along shaking people's hands and it was a lovely Sunday morning.

I remember it was quiet and blue sky. And there was an Australian engineer working on one of the aircraft in the cat water and as the Duke was walking along you could hear this Australian say, "Dinghy," to the dinghy section. But all these Englishmen were watching the parade. I mean, they weren't involved in it because they were Englishmen and they were watching the parade.

So this Australian, he became more and more irate and the shouting got louder and then the blasphemy started. And when he came out with the worst he could possibly think of I watched the Duke and he actually shuddered. And of course, immediately a dinghy went sailing out to collect this guy. Mostly to shut him up, I think.

The Motorcar

Well, I bought a little motorcar. My family were very kind to me. They used to send me over fruitcakes and my father would put them in a round tin, put the lid on it and solder it so that it arrived in perfect condition. I used to swap them for petrol coupons. I shouldn't have told him when I got home, but I did. Anyway, so I could get plenty of petrol coupons so I used to just put a few things in the back of this thing and just go off down to Cornwall or up to London.

It was really great when we got a bit of leave to have a motorcar. We got in my car, four of us, and we drove to Torquay. Now why we chose Torquay I don't know except that it was a very fashionable place and we thought that it must be the biggest party place we could go to.

So we were driving from Plymouth to Torquay and we passed a house that was absolutely flooded with Australian flags. There were Australian flags all over the garden and we stopped and said, "Gee, we could do with one of those flying from the front of the car." So I raced into this house and I said, you know, the people were quite amazed to see somebody there and I said, "I wonder if I can buy one of your flags?" And they said, "Why?" And I said, "Well, they're Australian flags and we're Australian we want to buy one." He said, "You know I bought them as a job lot and I've never known what they were."

Anyway, for the rest of the journey we had this Australian flag tied to the front of the little Austin.

The fate of the flying boats

They had this original idea of flying the flying boats back since the story, the Australians bought them in the first place. But the difference in cost between the Mark I and the Mark V was so great that the Australian government decided that they couldn't afford it or they didn't want to afford it. So after we'd been sitting around in England waiting months after months for them to make up their mind they said, "No. We won't buy them."

So then we were faced with the problem of coming home by ship. The aircraft, we flew them up to Scotland. The Navy took them out and sank them. They had a gunnery practice on them. Can you imagine that? And the CO said “You're not allowed to take anything off those aircraft. It's a court-martial offense if you do". So we couldn't even take the clock out of the combing panel or anything. No. Nothing. So we all came back by train having left our lovely flying boats there and the Navy towed them out and fired at them and sank them. That was awful.


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DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) ( ), Andy Anderson's story, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 18 May 2024, https://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/stories/oral-histories/andy-andersons-story
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