R.A.A.F. Transport Pioneers

Aircrew and servicing personnel who travelled on the Lockheed Lodestar aircraft of No. 37 Squadron RAAF which escorted the Supermarine Spitfire aircraft of No. 452 Squadron RAAF during the move from Sattler airfield, near Darwin, NT, to Morotai Island in the Halmahera Islands, Dutch East Indies. They are seen here at Merauke, Dutch New Guinea, the first stop on the long flight. [AWM OG3059]

Aircrew and servicing personnel working on a Lockheed Lodestar aircraft of No. 37 Squadron RAAF seen here at Merauke, Dutch New Guinea, the first stop on the long flight. [AWM OG3059]

During 1943, an Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) aircrew pioneered the longest transport route in the world to be flown by a single crew, from Laverton in Victoria to the Kamiri strip in Noemfoor Island, Dutch New Guinea, a distance of over 3,200 kilometres (2,000 miles) across the towering unexplored mountain ranges of central New Guinea. The pioneer crew on this record-making run were Flight-Lieutenant R.W. Shore – captain; Flight-Lieutenant W.O. Francis – observer; Flight-Sergeant J. Caduch; Flight-Sergeant D. Sherton; and Sergeant N. Lazarus.

The route eventually became a regular run for the 37th Squadron’s aircrews who, flying Lodestars, linked Melbourne with the farthest RAAF outposts of New Guinea. Regularly flying 44 hours, these young Australians, most of whom had previously seen service in operational areas, delivered mail and service personnel at strips which had recently been under Japanese control.

Crews crossed 38° of latitude, used three changes of uniform and exchange the freezing cold of Melbourne winter for enervating heat a few miles south of the equator. The warm blue uniforms in they left Laverton were changed to shirt and shorts in northern Queensland and the trip was completed in the long-sleeved shirts and gaitered trousers which protected servicemen on duty in the malaria-haunted areas of the South-West Pacific.

Dutch currency was necessary if the crews wished to obtain anything at Merauke in Papua, the first stop outside Australian territory. This settlement, freed by the Allied offensive from the threat of Japanese occupation which froze civilian activity, had reverted to normality with a glimmer of the café life which lent a continental glamour to pre-war existence in the steamy, tropic Dutch East Indian empire.

Hundreds of kilometres beyond these faint flickers of returning civilization the Lodestars would touch down at tiny, isolated, steel-matted or gleaming coral strips amidst shell-shattered coconut palms and gaping bomb craters from where Australian and American airmen would carry retribution to the diminishing Japanese empire.

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12 comments

  1. An interesting tale, thank you for that. I presume that they were stopping to refuel during their trip. A very similar aircraft, the Hudson, used to fly the Atlantic non-stop, but they put huge fuel tanks in what would have been the bomb bay.

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    1. The Lodestar used by the 37th sqdn. was the C-60 variant, which had two 875hp Pratt & Whitney Hornet engines, a max airspeed of 350km/h (218 mp/h), ceiling of 6,200m (20,400 ft) and, interestingly, a range of up to 29,000 km or 1,800 miles. My guess is they would have refueled just the once at Merauke in PNG.

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  2. My father-in-law was in the RAAF in New Guinea and I think I remember his saying that they stopped at different stops along the way to pick up different things. Remember MacArthur had his HQ in Melbourne and then moved it up to Brisbane.

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