Archives For World War two

Nicholas Best recounts a little known story about two Lancaster bombers. One crewed by Canadians, the other by Australians*.

Early on April 29th, 1945 the two Lancasters took off from East Anglia. They flew along a previously agreed upon ‘corridor’. The route was ‘prescribed by the occupying German forces in Holland, who being cut off from Germany due to the Allied advance’, had uncharacteristically turned to the Allies for aid.

They did so, on behalf of the Dutch who were suffering through a famine triggered by the Nazis. Similar to German occupation of Belgium in World War One, the German starvation of the Dutch was a means of punishment for assisting the Allies, by way of a rail strike, which had ‘prevented German reinforcements going up against the Allied assault in Arnhem during 1944.’

Best writes that the situation was dire, Holland, ‘after months of disruption as the fighting came closer, had finally run out of food.’ The situation was so bad, that ‘many Dutch had eaten their pets, and were now living on grass, sugar beet, and tulip bulbs.’

Despite ‘not having the authority to agree to a ceasefire’ [i], level-headed German officials who had sought out the Allies, reached an accord of truce. Thus, allowing the Allies to send much needed humanitarian aid.

Not completely trusting of the German truce accord, the Allies flew a test mission along the agreed upon corridor.

The test flight, as Stephen Dando-Collins wrote, ‘had all the hallmarks of a suicide mission.’ These bomber crews were ‘guinea pigs’ testing out the German agreement to not fire on the Lancaster’s flying low to deliver humanitarian aid to the starving Dutch. [ii]

The ominous mission was a success, and it kick-started Operation Manna – an unprecedented humanitarian air drop, which involved 200 bombers, flying at low levels, dropping much needed supplies into Nazi occupied Holland.

The first bomber, ‘Bad Penny’, flown by Canadian, Bob Upcott led the way. He described the event in detail, testifying that,

“when we passed the Dutch coast we saw anti-aircraft guns that pointed their muzzles in our direction. We even saw tanks that tried to keep their gun barrels on us. We were looking right down a number of barrels. All the guns were still manned…The Australian pilot was on my port side [left], flying echelon port. I dropped first when we were over the race track, while the Australian dropped almost the same moment.” [iii]**

The second Lancaster was flown by F/O. Peter G.L Collett, from Sydney. He was 21 at the time, and already a veteran. Along with the Canadian crew of the first Lancaster, Collett and his Australian crew* effectively spearheaded the humanitarian mission.

Collett passed away in 2012. Although his heroics are mentioned in passing chapters about Operation Manna/Chowhound, no Australian books have been written about him or his crew. Collett’s bravery isn’t taught in schools. His efforts and heroism currently only exist as a footnote.

While Upcott and his crew are celebrated, the same cannot be said for Collett.  Unlike Collett, Upcott and crew remained on as an integral part of the Manna Operation, drawing a bigger spotlight on the original flight into the unknown than was given to Collett.

Collett’s absence from the spotlight appears to have been due to him being reassigned to Operation Exodus. Collett’s service record reflects as much. From the dates 1st February, 1945, to 19th May, 1945, under 101st Squadron, right next “Bomber”, below the word “Bombing”, and above the word “Exodus”, sits the word “Supplies”, where the word Manna test flight should perhaps also be written.

Exodus ran from the 3rd April to the 31st May, 1945. It involved the repatriation of liberated Allied POWs from Nazi camps in Europe. Exodus itself was an enormous undertaking, ‘1,000 people per day were brought into British receiving camps; totaling 354,000 ex-prisoners of war by the end of May.’

At 21, Collett piloted a Lancaster bomber full of humanitarian supplies, at low level, with a full crew, on a mission of mercy into occupied Nazi territory. All based on the assurance of Nazi officials who had said that the ‘mercy drop’ would be allowed to proceed without harassment from the well-armed occupying German forces.

Collett is a national hero. Yet, his heroism and the heroism of his crew, isn’t mainstream knowledge in Australia. Even the Australian War Memorial’s official page for Operation Manna, called ‘Food from Heaven’, is silent about the test flight.

For an Australian/s to have played such a significant role in the relief operation, and for there to be little to no recognition of their daring and bravery, shows a real blind spot in how Australians are taught history, and how Australians embrace the importance of knowing what History teaches.

This is something to lament. This is something, we as a society, need to correct. If not for the men and women whose bold shoulders we now stand upon, at least for the generations they saved, in order to pass on the freedoms and responsibilities that allowed their own generation to stand against tyranny, in all its devouring and grotesque forms.

Lest we forget.


References:

[i] Best, N. 2012. Five Days That Shocked The World, Osprey Publishing, (pp.83-85)

[ii] Dando-Collins, S. 2015. Operation Chowdown, St. Martin’s Press (p.119)

*Confusion over Collett’s crew reinforces my point about the lack of historical interest in the Australian contribution to Operation Manna, from Australians. There are contradictory reports from various sources about whether his crew was an all Australian crew, British or mixed British and Australian.

** ‘NX579, No. 101 Sqn. Piloted by F/S Bob Upcott of Windsor, Ontario. Up at 1207, returned at 1444. 274 bags of food dropped. Second aircraft was PB350, No. 101 Sqn. Piloted by P/O Peter Collett of Sydney, Australia. Up at 1215, returned at 1442, 284 bags of food dropped.’ (RAFCommands)

First published on Caldron Pool, 15th December, 2019.

Windmill pic credit:  Vishwas Katti on Unsplash

© Rod Lampard, 2019

Most of Australian history is a neglected subject. That history didn’t end in Botany Bay, 1788, and it’s high points, although they are among them, isn’t just Gallipoli 1915, or in the numerous corrections to sporadic injustices carried out by a Social Darwinist induced indifference towards Indigenous Australians. The significance of the Bombing of Darwin on the 19th February 1942, by over 260 Imperial Japanese aircraft is unjustifiably neglected by politics, politicians, political parties, their pawns in the news media, and in their pawns in the Australian academic industrial complex.

The high level of attacks from Imperial Japanese forces on an Australian state capital such as Darwin, with over 60 air raids in the North during W.W.2, shouldn’t be so easily forgotten. If anything even comes close to an “Invasion Day” in Australian history, the Imperial Japanese over Darwin on 19th February 1942, and the subsequent battles that followed this event, is the “Invasion Day” you’re looking for. This is bolstered by the submarine attack on Sydney Harbour in May 1942, and the shelling of Newcastle by a Japanese submarine in June the same year.[i]  

The A.W.M:

“The Japanese air raids on Darwin on 19 February involved, collectively, over 260 enemy aircraft. Subsequent raids in April, June, July and November 1942, and March 1943 where carried out with forces of 30 to 40 fighters and bombers. Between the large raids there were smaller operations by groups of under a dozen Japanese aircraft. Most of the raids occurred in daylight but there were some small scale night attacks.
The 64th, and last, air raid on Darwin occurred on 12 November 1943. In total there were 97 air attacks on northern Australia and enemy air reconnaissance over the region continued through much of 1944.” (AWM, source: https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/E59)

The Battle for Australia (which included the territory of New Guinea), New Zealand and the South Pacific Islands began on the 19th February 1942.

“The man who had led the attack on Pearl Harbour, Mitsuo Fuchida, was in command of this first attack on Darwin. It had been launched from four carriers, Akagi, Soryu, Hiryu and Kaga, about 500km to the northwest […]
It is often forgotten that the air-raids of 19 February were only the first of more than 60 raids over the next eighteen months, although none was as severe as those of 19 February. The last raid took place on 12 November 1943. The Japanese also bombed several other northern Australian towns.
On 3 March the undefended Western Australian town of Broome suffered a devastating attack. Flying boats, loaded with refugee women and children from the Dutch East Indies, were destroyed and many lives lost. Later in the month the tiny town of Wyndham was bombed.’ (Source:http://www.battleforaustralia.asn.au/BABombDarwin.php )

If American and Australian, Naval and Air forces, had not been successful in the Battle of the Coral Sea (4th May 1942 – 8th May 1942), Australia would have been left open to the Imperial Japanese blitzkrieg overrunning Asia and the Pacific. The Battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942, was followed by the Australian and American army pushing back the Imperial Japanese, in the battles at Buna, Milne Bay and in the Kakoda Campaign in New Guinea.

Those who think an Imperial Japanese invasion of Australia was never likely, ignore the significance of Australia. Australia’s strategic importance was, according to Dwight Eisenhower, ‘vital to [the] successful prosecution of the war’.

‘If we were to use Australia as a base it was mandatory that we procure a line of communications leading to it. This meant that we must instantly move to save Hawaii, Fiji, New Zealand, and New Caledonia, and we had to make certain of the safety of Australia itself […]
As a prerequisite to everything else we had to stop the Japanese short of countries that were vital to our successful prosecution of the war— Australia and India […]
Our base must be Australia, and we must start at once to expand it and to secure our communications to it. In this last we dare not fail. We must take great risks and spend any amount of money required.” (Dwight Eisenhower, 1948 Crusade in Europe) [iii]

Those who think Australia was never invaded by Imperial Japan, are ignorant of history.

The real “Invasion Day” in Australian history, began with the Imperial Japanese bombing of Darwin on the 19th February 1942, against both black and white (Indigenous and European); and is made concrete on 8th March 1942, when the Imperial Japanese army landed on Lae and Salamaua in New Guinea, which was officially an Australian territory. Australia having taken control of the area away from Germany in 1914, maintaining the territory up until 1949.
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The real “Invasion Day” in Australian history is cemented in the ground by the sacrifices of Australians (both black and white, Indigenous and European) and Americans, in both the Battle of the Coral sea, from the 4th-8th May 1942 which followed Darwin, Lae and Salamaua; and the sacrifices of Papuans and Australians (both black and white; Indigenous and European) during the Kakoda campaign from July – November, 1942.
700+ Convicts, in chains, arriving in Botany Bay, then moving on to settle in Sydney Cove, Port Jackson, on the 26th January 1788, isn’t “Invasion Day”. The guns on that day were intended to keep the Convicts in line, not take land and murder people indiscriminately for it.
The real invasion day in Australian history began with the Imperial Japanese bombing of Darwin on the 19th February 1942. The guns on this day, were used to push back and protect Indigenous and European Australians from being occupied and ruled, by Imperial Japanese totalitarians and their Nazi allies.
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References:

[i] According to the tour guides who work at Fort Scratchley, the Japanese had inside knowledge of the limitation of the guns on Fort Scratchley, and the Imperial Japanese Navy were aware of what and where to try and hit. 

[ii] Anzac Portal, A Kokoda chronology (Sourced, 19th Feburary 2018)

[iii] Eisenhower, D. 1948 Crusade in Europe: A Personal Account of WW2 (Kindle Ed.)

Image credit: Anzac Portal Battle of Milne Bay; Wikipedia, Damaged Japanese planes near Lae.