Saturday, December 17, 2011

Introduction to the Book "The Cross in the Sky"

An autobiography is usually uninteresting and dull. But at the same time, the story of a life of the generation which has seen two major wars, with the interval between of time and space occupied by travel and adventure, can be of interest to both young and old. In this story the dull periods are omitted and, in accordance with the old slogan that truth may be stranger than fiction, my intention is to give an outline, particularly to the younger generation, of what can happen to all who have inherited a spirit of travel and adventure. (Eaton, 1953)

The Cross in the Sky is a series of episodes about the adventures and personal survival of a man who exemplified his generation in times of war and peace. Charles Eaton, playing both minor and major roles, participated in a number of the most significant historical events of the 20th Century.

In 1994 I was privileged to be invited to the opening of the new Parliament House in Darwin. The historic annex within the building exhibited a memorial display in honour of my late father. On that occasion I was fortunate to view the display together with the Hon Gough Whitlam. I did not know until that day that the former Prime Minister had served in one of his front-line squadrons in the Pacific during World War Two (WWII). After speaking to Mr Whitlam, I realized the depth of respect he and his contemporaries had for Charles Eaton. When at school I was a keen, but frustrated, history student and it was on that afternoon, and at a mature age, I realized that our own family’s history was staring me in the face.

Although a number of articles had been written about my father’s various activities and a book about his connections to the Northern Territory I considered it would be difficult to write a comprehensive biography.* He wrote only 58 pages of frustratingly brief biographical notes, each page raising more questions than answers. For example, he summed up 25 months as a First World War (WWI) front-line soldier participating in the battles of Festubert, Loos and Vimy Ridge in addition to trench reconnaissance on the Somme front in one single sentence. In his personal notes he never wrote a word about his evidence when exonerating an Australia’s hero Charles Kingsford Smith from impropriety, on the post WWII rehabilitation of East Timor or about his initiatives in the deployment of the first United Nation’s military observers. Yet, when commenting about playing “hide and seek” in and out of German prison camps he writes briefly and with subtle humour. However on India, its forest people and wild life, the timber country of north Queensland and the people of Australian’s north the he opened up by writing at length and with empathy.

I remember only a few occasions when he mentioned his army service in WWI. Once he mentioned the dirt, the filth and the mud and that one could never keep clean. Another time when the battle of Loos was mentioned on television he suddenly went blank, leaned back in his arm-chair, stared into the ceiling and said softy but firmly “Loooooooos” like the name had no ending. Fortunately, I received a few tit-bits of his army life from my mother, especially about the trench bombing at Givenchy and Loos. My brother Peter told me that our father had such an abhorrence of barbed wire that when faced with it while fencing on his farm, he simply dropped his fencing tools and walked home. Perhaps the memories of his fellow soldiers hanging dead on the wire, so many years before were still too strong. Father also wrote three short, unpublished articles; the first two The Bear Hunt and Fear, described incidents of my parents’ life in the Indian jungle which have been amalgamated as Episode VI. The third, The Cross in the Sky provides the title for this book. I have adopted this name as it marked an extraordinary occurrence that represented a defining moment of his life, and perhaps more significantly, it is his own words.

I assumed that it would be very complex to track down records of the various incidents over many years and numerous localities. In France during WWI, three prisoner-of-war camps in Germany, India during the high noon of the Raj, Australia during the formative days of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and a secret reconnaissance mission to the Netherlands East Indies during WWII. Also on the emergence of Republic of Indonesia, where he played a pivotal role in the establishment of that nation. In the majority of those events, his role was of an exploratory or reconnaissance nature.

While the whereabouts of his log books unfortunately is a mystery, there is a wide range of official reports, published literature and private correspondence, such as the Douglas diaries, that relate to the various incidents in which he participated. This information has been vital in providing an authentic background for all episodes. One blessing was that he bequeathed a comprehensive photograph collection which illustrates the many aircraft he flew and the units and personalities with whom he served. His interest in photography developed during training and service as a reconnaissance pilot in 206 Squadron, Royal Air Force (RAF), in 1918. Although long deceased, my father contributed not only the title but also his unpublished articles on India, personal notes, official correspondence and the majority of the photographs. All formed the nuclei around which all episodes were written; Charles “Moth” Eaton therefore must be designated as the co-author.

In his memoirs, my father praised some but criticized none; if he disapproved of anybody, their names were damned by silence. In recording my father’s life, it would be his wish that it would focus on the activities of the units and images of the personalities he interacted with. My initial hesitancy to write on his life was influenced by his wish to “keep one’s name out of the papers”. My mother told me that the wide media publicity he received in 1929 and 1931 discomfited him. Another reason I was apprehensive was the danger of making judgements of his character and his actions that I had no first hand knowledge. I therefore have focused on known historical facts and avoided any appraisal of his service life except when quoted by a third party. My only exception was to comment on his curious attitude to death together with his somewhat tenacious and impatient nature.

The chance to investigate his life has given me an opportunity to discover both his personality and the conditions he and his compatriots experienced. From the age of seven, I saw my parents only on brief intermittent occasions. This was due to his war service and diplomatic postings between 1941 and 1950, and my own departure overseas in the mid-1950s. As the youngest child I gave my parents no end of worries as verified by one RAAF sergeant “That snowy-headed kid, mischievous little devil, gave us no end of trouble”. Their forbearance and understanding continued when my life-style was at times, non-conventional. Compiling these episodes has given me the opportunity to acknowledge the immense debt I owe both my parents. They migrated to Australia from India with £ 20, knowing virtually no one and having no direct family connections. Yet my father, with my mother’s enduring support, was able to make a contribution to the development of Australian aviation and to his adopted country’s diplomatic ingenuity in south-east Asia.

* Aircraft, 1931; The West Australian, 1979; Tennant Creek Times, 1981; Owers, C. 2000; Thomas, A. 1996; Williamson, M. 2000 and 2002; Lax, M. 2001; Aviation Heritage Vol. 35/4, 2004. Farram, S. 2007.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


November 2008
The Coffee Royal-Kookaburra Affair
Objective: To apply to the Government of the Northern Territory for support and a grant that would cover the cost of employing an empathic script-writer and for promoting The Cross in the Sky: The Coffee Royal-Kookaburra Affair, for either a) a three part TV series or, b) a full length film production for Australian and international distribution.
Synopsis: The search for the Southern Cross in March 1929 in Western Australia, and the subsequent heroic deaths of Anderson and Hitchcock after their aircraft Kookaburra forced landed in the Tanami Desert, is the most compelling drama in Australia’s aviation history (Davis & Smith, 1980). By the amalgamation of three Episodes of The Cross in the Sky, which portrays the life and adventures of Charles Moth Eaton, the core themes of the story are centred on:
  • The controversial disappearance of Kingsford Smith’s mono-plane the Southern Cross.
  • The month-long search, commanded by Ft/Lt Charles Eaton with 7 RAAF and civil aircraft, for the missing Kookaburra and its ultimate finding by Capt Lester Brain, 21 April 1929.
  • The journey of Eaton’s ground party, guided by Daylight Parunja Janama and Brisbane Sambo Jangurra, into the Tanami Desert to locate the stranded Kookaburra and find out the fate of the two missing aviators. The ten-day torturous journey resulted in 11 of the party’s 22 horses perishing of thirst.
  • The national media hullabaloo over the incident and accusations of conspiracy and fraud.
  • The Thornycroft Expedition that exhumed the bodies of Anderson and Hitchcock and returned them for a State burial in Sydney and private one in Perth respectively.
  • The Court of Inquiry that investigated the disappearances of both the Southern Cross and the Kookaburra, the deaths of Anderson and Hitchcock and the loss of 3 out of the 5 RAAF aircraft involved in the search. Eaton’s evidence exonerated Kingsford Smith from any impropriety.
  • The controversy that continued years after the Coffee Royal-Kookaburra incident. In 1975 the ABC’s Big Country TV series opinions were expressed that Anderson had committed suicide. This allegation sparked an incensed reaction from Eaton it only showed some mud-raking of (a) gallant Australian airman and who, for the first and only time in his life went to the nation media to vigorously refute the accusation.
  • The successful recovery of the Kookaburra wreckage by the adventurer Dick Smith in 1978.
Profile: Charles Moth Eaton
Born in London 1895, Eaton served in WWI as a trench bomber soldier then as a reconnaissance pilot before being captured in June 1918. He was twice court martialled for escaping and sentenced to solitary confinement in the notorious fortress Festung Neun in Bavaria. In 1919 he ferried delegates to the Paris Peace Conference, and in 1920, carried out the first aerial survey of the Himalayas and India with 28 Squadron RAF. On migrating to Australia in 1923 he joined the RAAF then commanded two air searches in Central Australia; the first for the Kookaburra, and the second in 1931, for the Second Lasseter Expedition’s missing Gypsy Moth aircraft the Golden Quest II.
Eaton led secret missions to the Netherlands East Indies before and during WWII. These missions helped identified targets for 79 Wing RAAF, a bomber unit which he later commanded based in the Northern Territory. In September 1947 he monitored the cease-fire during the Dutch-Indonesia conflict. Eaton’s initiatives assisted to lay the foundations for United Nations peacekeeping; aviation historian Mark Lax wrote Australia’s post-war association with the North and Timor really began with him. Eaton is honored in the Northern Territory with a memorial display in Parliament House Darwin, a National Trust Memorial in Tennant Creek and the naming of the suburb encompassing the Darwin International Airport, Eaton. He died in 1979 and his ashes were dispersed by the RAAF over the Tanami Desert west of Tennant Creek in 1981.
Prime Sources
Eaton Family Trust. Extracts from an unpublished manuscript ‘The Cross in the Sky: The Life of Charles ‘Moth’
Davis, Pedr and Smith, Dick. Kookaburra: the most compelling story in Australia's aviation history. Lansdowne
Press, Sydney. 1980.
Farram, Steven. Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton Pioneer Aviator of the Northern Territory. Charles Darwin University
Press, Darwin. 2007
Lax , Mark. Charles Eaton. In Proceedings of Air Force History Conference. RAAF Air Power Development,
Canberra, 2001.
Dr Charles S Eaton, 62 Nightcliff Rd, Rapid Creek, NT 0810. Tel 08) 89218094

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Cross in the Sky: Contents

Foreword - Dick Smith
Family Background
Co-Author’s Note


Call to Arms
The Trench Bombers of Givenchy
The Kick-off at Loos

In and Out of Line
“That Minenwerfer Hour” – Vimy Ridge
Green Fields Beyond
Farewell the Uhlans

Defending London
Jump or Burn
Back to the Trenches

Flakgruppe 49
Court Martial at Stalag Karlsruhe
The Dungeons of Festung Neun
Blue Skies

Diplomatic Baggage
High in the Himalayas
The Forests of Orissa

The Jungles of the Khonds
The Bear Fight
A Tiger in the Night

The Kauris of the Tablelands
No 1 Flying Training School
One Royal Salute and a Close Call
A Summons to the Rescue

VIII LOST IN THE TANAMI: The Search for the Kookaburra
The Desert Searches
“A Good Crash”
The Bird is Found

IX THE CROSS IN THE SKY: The Burials of Anderson and Hitchcock
Sand, Spinifex and Flies
Jurntakal Country
Two Heroes

The Thornycroft Expedition
The Inquiry: Facts from Fiction
The Searchers
The Recovery

The Aviators
Crossing the Continent
“The Dangerous Last Stage”

XII A MIRACLE: Finding the Golden Quest
Lasseter’s El Dorado
The Quest for the Quest
Possum’s Last Days

The Mystery of the Southern Cloud
Squadron Leader (Air)
The Citizen Air Force

“Aggies” to Darwin
The Court Martial of Dr Clyde Fenton
The Darwin Dock Strike
Commanding Officer: RAAF Darwin

A Most Secret Mission
Welcoming the United States Army Air Corps
War Games
A Change of Command

The Ship from Hell
Training for Empire
High Divide in Dutch New Guinea
On Stand By

79 Wing vs the Rising Sun
The Netherlands East Indies Air Force
The Mina River Bridge Strike
Operation Potshot
On a Wing, a Prayer and a Broken Pipe
Rockets over Timor
Finale: High Command

The Hitch-Hiking Consul
Deputador Governador
Oil on Troubled Waters
Air Waves
Fronteira Konfrontasi

The Ultimate Reconnaissance
In the Firing Line

The Batavia Consulate
Bea’s Journey
Freedom for the Republic
Charg√© d’Affairs

Controversy 1976
Remembrance Day 1979

“Moth’s” Last Flight - Air Commodore Mark Lax

Friday, August 6, 2010

Corps cyclist battalions and divisional cyclist companies

Cyclists of the 36th (Ulster) Division in France, 1918

At the same time that divisional cavalry squadrons were transferred to the corps cavalry regiments, divisional cyclist companies were assembled into corps cyclist battalions. As these cyclist battalions had no previous existence, there was no need to return particular companies to particular battalions. Instead, the cyclist companies serving in each army corps in Mayor June 1916 were, in most cases, simply detached from their divisions and formed into a new unit. (In the remaining cases, cyclist companies were either assigned to the cyclist battalions of corps other than their own or broken up in order to reinforce cyclist battalions that were under strength.)

The mission of corps cyclist battalions was similar to that of the divisional cyclist companies. Divisional cyclist companies had been designed to relieve divisional cavalry squadrons of those reconnaissance and security duties that did not require the employment of skilled horsemen. These included patrols in areas that were well provided with roads, and missions that involved a great deal of dismounted work. While all British cavalrymen of World War I were trained to fight on foot as well as on horseback, the act of dismounting deprived a cavalry unit of the services of the men detailed to care for the horses. As one man could only manage four horses or so, the transition from saddle to boot cost a cavalry unit some 25 per cent of its rifle strength. A cyclist unit, however, did not have to worry about its mounts running off on their own accord or being hit by stray small-arms fire. It could thus put everyone of its rifles into the firing line.

Cyclist battalions were relatively small units, with an authorized strength of some 322 officers and men. (A contemporary infantry battalion had an authorized strength of 999 officers and men.) The three companies of each cyclist battalion were, at 98 officers and men, likewise much smaller than either British infantry companies of the day (229 officers and men) or the standard divisional cyclist companies of the first two years of the war (204 officers and men). Because of this, the formation of corps cyclist battalions created a surplus of unassigned men. A few of these found jobs in the headquarters of the new corps cyclist battalions. Most, however, were sent to other units, with a considerable number ending up in military police units and trench mortar batteries.

The standard building block of both divisional cyclist companies and the cyclist companies of corps cyclist battalions was the 31-man cyclist platoon. (A divisional cyclist company had six such platoons. A cyclist company of a corps cyclist battalion had three.) Each of these platoons consisted of a small headquarters and four sections. The headquarters was made up of the platoon commander (a lieutenant or second lieutenant), a sergeant and a batman. Each section consisted of a section leader (who usually ranked as either a corporal or a lance-corporal) and six men.

As long as the Expeditionary Force was locked in positional warfare, most of the reconnaissance and security work carried out on the ground was performed by patrols provided by infantry battalions. As a result, cyclist units spent the middle years of the war in much the same way as their comrades in the divisional cavalry squadrons and the corps cavalry regiments. They trained for the resumption of mobile warfare; patrolled the roads, woods and fields behind the front lines; escorted prisoners of war; and provided working parties for various fatigues and engineering projects.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Royal Flying Corps (RFC) / Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) / Royal Air Force (RAF)

British military aviation has its roots in the Royal Engineers, which established a balloon corps in 1908. In May 1912, the Royal Flying Corps was established with a military wing, which worked for the army; a naval wing for operations with the fleet; the Central Flying School for instructional purposes; a repair depot called the Royal Aircraft Factory; and a reserve.

A form of interservice rivalry developed almost at once between the military and naval wings, and shortly before the declaration of war, in the summer of 1914, the naval wing broke away to become the Royal Naval Air Service.

When war was declared, the RFC deployed with the British Expeditionary Force; an aircraft park and four squadrons (Nos. 2, 3, 4, and 5), each equipped with the entire mixed bag of aircraft then in the British inventory. After a series of moves necessitated by the initial British retreat, headquarters in France was established at Saint Omer, where it remained for most of the war. The first field commander of the RFC was Brigadier General David Henderson. Henderson would shortly return to England, though, leaving command in the field to Hugh Montague 'Boom' Trenchard.

Initially, each RFC unit acted as something of a self-contained air force, performing the complete range of activities, which at the time consisted primarily of reconnaissance duties with the occasional bombing mission. As the war progressed, the force grew in number, and by 1916 squadrons began to specialize either as fighter, bombing, or reconnaissance units, the latter role being further divided into photographic and artillery functions. As a consequence of specialization, the practice of units having a multiplicity of types was abandoned, and squadrons started to become known not only by their role but also by what type of equipment they possessed. Balloon companies using tethered observation balloons as artillery spotters began appearing in British service in 1915 and remained a fixture on the Western Front throughout the war.

Technological advances were rapid during the war, and keeping up with the enemy in the design and deployment of new types was a constant problem. The British sometimes suffered severely as a result. When the Germans were first to develop an interrupter gear -- allowing a machine gun to fire through the propeller arc -- the RFC found itself on the receiving end of the 'Fokker scourge.' During the spring of 1917 the problem reached a crisis. During the Battle of the Somme, the previous autumn, the Luftstreitkräfte (Air Service) had organized its single-seat fighter force into heterogeneous jagdstaffeln (fighter squadrons) and reequipped with the Albatros D.I and D.II. The type had been refined over the winter into the D.III.

The RFC, however, had lagged in the introduction of new types and went into the spring with the same complement of tired aircraft,mostly BE 2s that had been in use for the last two years. It paid a high price – the highest number of casualties in a single month it would suffer during its existence – a month that went down in history as 'bloody April.'

Technological advantage was not the only factor in these losses; doctrine also played a part. Throughout the war, Trenchard followed an offensive policy. This action has attracted its share of criticism, but faced with German occupation of the high ground and the insatiable intelligence needs of the army, often only satisfied by aerial reconnaissance, the RFC seems to have had little choice but to press on with what it had.

The situation improved over the summer of 1917 with the introduction of the Sopwith Camel, the SE 5/5a, the de Havilland D.H. 4, and the Bristol Fighter; the SE 5/5a was the best design to emerge from the Royal Aircraft Factory during the war, the other three, of course, being the products of private firms. From that point on, technology remained fairly balanced, and casualties returned to a manageable level until spiking again in September 1918 following the German introduction of the BMW-powered Fokker D.VII.

The Royal Flying Corps did not operate exclusively on the Western Front, however. After some initial jurisdictional feuding with the RNAS, the RFC had assumed responsibility for the aerial home defense of Great Britain, thereafter regularly scrambling a hodgepodge of mostly second-line equipment in response to Zeppelin and Gotha attacks.

Outside of England and France, units also served in Egypt and Palestine, Mesopotamia, and Russia, providing support to British army operations in those theaters.

The Royal Naval Air Service mission was primarily, if not exclusively, the support of British maritime endeavors. This covered a wide range of activities, from antisubmarine patrols and general reconnaissance duties in connection with the fleet, to bombing missions against submarine pens and Zeppelin bases. To fulfill these missions, the RNAS developed a varied inventory that included floatplanes, flying boats, the first experimental torpedo-bombers, and lighter-than-air airships. Ships were also adapted to work with aircraft, leading to the balloon ship (which extended the effective range of vision of the group to which the balloon vessel was attached), the crane-equipped seaplane carrier, and, eventually, to the first flight-deck aircraft carriers.

In addition to new equipment, innovative techniques were also developed for work over the water, one of the most useful to the prosecution of the war being the so-called spider web. The spider web was an invisible grid over the English Channel and North Sea that provided an organized method for aircraft to use in searching for underwater mines and U-boats. Provision for aerial escort as part of the convoy scheme also contributed to the safety of Allied shipping as it crossed the Atlantic to and from North America.

As mentioned, the RNAS did not operate exclusively over the water. Throughout the war, naval units were deployed for land-based operations on the Western Front.And among the Allied forces, the RNAS could take credit for the first tentative attempts at strategic bombing. In the summer of 1916, the RNAS organized No. 3 Wing and equipped the unit with Sopwith 11/2 Strutters and Breguet bombers with the aim of attacking targets inside Germany. The group was stationed at Luxeuil, near Nancy, putting it within reach of manufacturing plants in the Saar River Valley. Bad weather – the perpetual enemy of aerial operations – kept No. 3 Wing grounded throughout much of its life, but its first – and most memorable – raid took place on 12 October 1916 when it attacked the Mauser Works at Oberndorf. The raid was a truly international operation involving not only the British naval unit but also French bombers and an escort of Nieuport fighters provided by the U.S. volunteers of the Lafayette Escadrille. By spring, however, the lackluster results achieved led to the breakup of the group and the reassignment of its crews to other units, many going to the navy's single-seat squadrons up near the channel coast. There, some pilots, such as Canadian ace Raymond Collishaw, would go on to great success flying the Sopwith Pup, Triplane, and later the immortal Camel, supplementing the RFC in support of army operations.

Relations between the two British aviation services were always somewhat tense, accusations of various intrigues going in both directions. The rivalry heightened to the point that a government committee merged the RFC and RNAS into the Royal Air Force on 1 April 1918.

Trenchard was ordered to run the Independent Force and General John Salmond became the RAF's first field commander. There is little evidence to indicate that a true merger of the two services really took place prior to the Armistice, however. There was a new 'RAF blue' uniform issued, but not many people are seen wearing it in wartime photos,most clinging not only to the old uniform but also to the practices and brief traditions of their earlier branch. Previously, naval squadrons were renumbered, each having '200' added to its original designation (e.g.,Naval Eight became No. 208 Squadron,RAF), and a few swaps of personnel were effected, probably the most notable being the transfer of RNAS ace Roderick Dallas to the command of No. 40 Squadron, an old RFC fighter unit. But these changes were largely cosmetic, and the real birth of the Royal Air Force is more likely found in the postwar struggles to remain funded and stay alive, all taking place under the stewardship of Trenchard. The fruits of his labor became apparent in 1940 when the RAF rose to the Nazi threat and achieved its finest hour during the Battle of Britain.

Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF)

The Royal Australian Air Force had its humble beginnings in September 1912 as the Australian Flying Corps when a flight of four aircraft was authorized for the army. In 1913, its first two pilots went to England and returned with five aircraft and number of maintenance personnel. A total of 2,275 RAAF personnel served with British aviation forces during World War I.

Starting in January 1929, brushfire-spotting became a new mission for the RAAF. This was followed a year later by dusting for pest control.

With World War II looming, two major training expansions were instituted in 1938 and 1939. Plans were made for 32 squadrons with 360 aircraft in June 1940, but this was increased to 73 squadrons in May 1941. The RAAF began combat operations during World War II in the Southwest Pacific alongside U.S. forces. Eventually, the RAAF had squadrons fighting in almost every theater of the war. By the end of World War II, the RAAF comprised 3,187 first-line aircraft dispersed in 52 squadrons. Their missions included fighter, bomber, reconnaissance, antisubmarine, clandestine operations, and transport.

The first jets to enter RAAF service were de Havilland Vampires in May 1946.These were followed by Gloster Meteors and North American Sabres. The RAAF was part of the UN operation in Korea,employing its Meteors.

When the South Vietnamese government asked for assistance through the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, the Australians joined the anticommunist efforts. During the Vietnam War, RAAF Bell Iroquois helicopters supported Australian ground forces. An RAAF English Electric Canberra squadron served alongside a USAF Martin B-57 Canberra wing for more than four years. Another RAAF squadron provided airlift support operations with de Havilland Caribous between 1964 and 1971.

Maritime patrol operations began in World War II with Avro Lancasters and Consolidated Liberators. Subsequently Avro Lincolns were employed along with a number of large flying boats. This mission was then performed by Lockheed Neptunes and, later, Lockheed Orions.

During the early 1970s, the RAAF leased 24 USAF Mc-Donnell F-4E Phantom IIs until they were replaced by the General Dynamics F-111C. The Lockheed Hercules entered the RAAF inventory in 1958 and has since became the mainstay of RAAF transport units.

Wherever and whenever called upon, the RAAF has served Australia, the British Empire, and the United Nations. A staunch supporter of U.S. interests,RAAF personnel bring professionalism to every operation they undertake.

References Green,William, and John Fricker. The Air Forces of the World. New York: Hanover House, 1958. Parnell,Neville, and Trevor Boughton. Flypast: A Record of Aviation in Australia. A Civil Aviation Authority bicentennial project. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service, 1988.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton: Pioneer Aviator of the Northern Territory

Steven Farram

ISBN-13: 9780980384611 PB XXpp 250*175

Group Captain Charles Eaton, OBE, AFC, MID, Knight Commander in the Order of Orange Nassau with Swords, received numerous honours during his lifetime, as his full title illustrates. He is remembered in the Northern Territory in a number of ways as well. There is a Lake Eaton in Central Australia and an Eaton Place in the Darwin suburb of Karama. Charles Eaton Drive leads into the Darwin International Airport, where Eaton’s portrait can be seen hanging in the arrivals hall. Moreover, the location of the airport is soon to be named Eaton also. There is a display dedicated to Eaton in the Northern Territory Parliament, and a National Trust memorial celebrating him at the Tennant Creek Airport, in which town a block of flats was named in his honour as well. But perhaps his favourite memorial would be the Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton Saloon Bar in the Tennant Creek Goldfields Hotel. But who was Charles Eaton and what did he do to be memorialised in such ways? Illustrated with many rare photographs, this book outlines the contributions made to Northern Territory aviation by one of its early prominent figures, Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton.

Steven Farram received his doctorate in history from Charles Darwin University in 2004. He has had a number of articles published about the history and politics of Indonesia, East Timor and the Northern Territory. He works at Charles Darwin University as a research associate.

Buy the Book

Monday, December 1, 2008

Japanese Bombing of Darwin

On February 19, 1942, the war-crowded northern Australian harbor of Port Darwin was struck by 198 Japanese bombers. This coordinated land and naval-based air strike surprised the ill-prepared defenders and devastated the port and the shipping concentrated within its harbor. Arriving in two waves, the forty-five minute attack sank eight ships, ran four aground, and severely damaged another eleven. More than 240 people were killed, mostly aboard the ships. Two more ships were destroyed as the planes transited home. They also struck the nearby Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) base, destroying all the aircraft on the ground and downing all but one of the Australian fighters in the air. A follow-up raid finished off the base and inflicted so much wanton destruction that its military personnel fled to the south in panic. Total Japanese losses were only two aircraft. Darwin and its surrounding area endured more than a dozen air raids over the next fifteen months, but none would be as devastating as this first raid nor even approach its psychological impact.

Darwin’s defenses had been neglected during the prewar period, but the most glaring deficiency in the port s defenses was the almost total lack of cooperation among the agencies involved. The resident administrator, Charles Abbott, aloof and ineffectual, had antagonized the local population, including the civil defense and military leaders. Lacking the cooperation of the local population, he had failed to evacuate nonessential personnel, organize the civil defense organization, or establish communications with local military leaders. For their part, the local unions openly thwarted Abbott’s authority, and the civil defense officials blatantly ignored him when he did attempt to organize matters. The local military leaders also made their preparations separately. The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) had established a potentially effective system for protecting shipping offshore and in the port but had not established communications with the RAAF’s warning network. Thus, RAN forces could neither receive early warning of attack nor coordinate their activities with the air force. The RAAF’s only radar set in the area was inoperable on February 19. Moreover, the air force had a policy of withholding air warning until incoming aircraft were indisputably identified as Japanese, which meant that the bombs were practically falling before air-raid alarms could be issued. None of the defense agencies had practiced together or conducted an air-raid drill since the early weeks of December. That left them ill-prepared and confused as the attack developed. Finally, a series of false alarms had worn down local morale, undermined alertness, and led to the RAAF’s tightening its already stringent identification procedures.

Darwin had become a target because of its importance as an Allied forward base and logistics center. It was the only significant port in northern Australia and the only one from which the Allies could support their forces in Java and the southwest Pacific. The Imperial Japanese Navy staff had argued that Australia had to be seized, but the army had resisted, indicating that the continent required more troops to subdue and garrison than Japan had to expend. So Australia’s northern ports had to be neutralized instead, and the islands above it had to be seized as a buffer to prevent Allied counterstrokes against Japan’s intended “inner perimeter” of vital islands and resource centers. Destroying Darwin was the first step in that process and offered the additional advantage of diverting Allied resources to Australia’s defense and away from the fighting in Southeast Asia.

The air strike was planned and led by the same team, Commanders Genda and Fuchida, that had struck Pearl Harbor in Hawaii some two months earlier, using roughly the same methods and enjoying roughly the same results for roughly the same reasons (but the garrison at Darwin did not have the excuse that defenders had no idea they were at war). As far as the Japanese were concerned, the Allies were slow learners, particularly in light of the quite similar near-obliteration of U.S. air power in the Philippines by the Japanese raid on Clark Air Field. But in the Darwin strike the sea-based air wing was supported by a land-based element operating out of the recently captured airfields in the Dutch East Indies. The carrier-based aircraft would strike first, taking out the port, its shipping, and its defenses. They were escorted by thirty-six Zeros— arguably the best fighter aircraft in the Pacific at that time. The land-based horizontal bombers would then launch the second-phase attack, taking out the airfields and supporting facilities. The Japanese hoped to catch the Allied fighters on the ground, being serviced after the first raid. The plan succeeded beyond their fondest hopes.

The carrier aircraft took off at 8:45 A.M. and formed up for their one-hour flight to Darwin. Interestingly, both the carrier- and land-based aircraft were detected and reported by Australian coastwatchers some thirty minutes before they arrived over Darwin (again like the Pearl Harbor raid). Also, the carrier aircraft had struck an Allied convoy north of Darwin the previous day, and its surviving elements had sought refuge in the port. Although the convoy commander expected the Japanese to finish them off in Darwin, he never passed this assessment on to local officials. Instead, he despatched two destroyers and an oiler to refuel east of Darwin, and he placed his crews on alert. Coastwatchers’ reports were ignored pending further verification, and authorities ashore remained unaware of the convoy commander’s assessment. As a result, the raiders arrived unexpectedly and uncontested.

The ferocity and effectiveness of the Japanese attack stunned Australian authorities, but in the long run the surprise may have served them better than it did the Japanese (again as at Pearl Harbor), for it energized the Australians into action. No longer were civil defense officials ignored, Air-raid drills began in earnest throughout the country. Nonessential personnel departed Darwin willingly—indeed, enthusiastically (the exodus was sometimes termed “the Darwin Races”)—and a new, more effective administrator was appointed. A royal commission was formed to study what went wrong, and despite the obstruction and outright falsification of records by local authorities, the commission discovered the problems and made some specific recommendations to prevent similar disasters in the future. The local RAAF commander was replaced, the services were forced to establish a common air-defense reporting network, and warning procedures were liberalized to ensure earlier response. Now false alarms were preferable to further surprises. Although the Japanese continued their sporadic attacks against Port Darwin over the next fifteen months, as time went by the raids inflicted significantly less damage and led to higher losses for the Japanese.


Connaughton, Richard. Shrouded Secrets (1994).

Hall, Timothy. Darwin: Australia’s Darkest Hour (1980).

Piekalkiewicz, Janusz. The Air War 1939–1945 (1985).



Thursday, October 30, 2008


The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) was established as an independent service in March 1921, but military aviation in Australia predated World War I, and the four squadrons of the Australian Flying Corps had fought on the Western Front and in the Middle East from 1914 to 1918. In the interwar period the air force made do with limited resources; it successfully resisted attempts by the army and the navy to divide it between themselves, and it concentrated on local defense capabilities and the pioneering of civil aviation infrastructure. In 1939 Australia signed the agreement which set up the Empire Air Training Scheme (also known as the Commonwealth Air Training Plan) to provide aircrew for the Royal Air Force (RAF) in Europe, and this was to have severe long-term implications for the RAAF in Australia. Thousands of Australians served in Europe throughout World War II, and the British government demonstrated a marked reluctance to release them for return to Australia even when, in the latter part of the war, many of them were surplus to requirements.

At the beginning of the Pacific war the RAAF was small in size, suffered from a lack of training, and was equipped with obsolescent aircraft. Four squadrons were deployed to Malaya, and these were the first RAAF units to see action against the Japanese. Nos. 1 and 8 Squadrons flew Hudson bombers, while Nos. 21 and 453 Squadrons were equipped with Brewster Buffalos—and both were outclassed by the Japanese in a campaign that established the enemy’s early dominance in the air. In Australia itself there was as yet no integrated air defense system, and when the Japanese bombed Darwin in the first of a series of heavy air raids on February 19, 1942, numerous Australian and U.S. aircraft were destroyed on the ground.

When General Douglas MacArthur arrived in Australia in April 1942, he assumed control over all forces in the Southwest Pacific Command. With the arrival of General George C. Kenney in August to take command of the Allied Air Force (AAF), he established separate command and control systems for the RAAF and the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF), creating RAAF Command and the Fifth Air Force. On a personal level Kenney respected his Australian counterparts and generally enjoyed good relations with the senior officers of that service. The great weakness in the RAAF was of the Australians’ own making. At the beginning of the Pacific war the chief of the Air Staff had been a British officer on detached service, Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Burnett. When he retired in May 1942, he was succeeded by Air Vice Marshal George Jones—not by Air Vice Marshal W. D. Bostock, who had been Burnett’s choice; Jones was junior in rank not only to Bostock but also to seven other senior officers on the air force list. Bostock became air officer commanding RAAF Command and was responsible to Kenney for RAAF operations in the Southwest Pacific Command, while Jones had administrative responsibility for the air force. Relations between the two were poisonous, and the corrosive effect this had on the RAAF as a whole played itself out for the remainder of the war. But ill will among senior officers had been a feature of the interwar air force as well.

As a result of the divisions at the top, the RAAF generally failed to develop a strategic doctrine acceptable to the United States, which in turn prejudiced attempts to acquire frontline aircraft for the RAAF from the Americans, which in its turn meant that Australian squadrons were relegated to lower-priority roles and tasks. Senior command postings to No. 9 Operational Group in 1943 reflected the feuding in the high command and further undermined U.S. confidence in the RAAF’s capabilities.

The Australian government was aware of the problem but lacked sufficient resolve to do anything about it. This high-level rancor and the far smaller size of the RAAF meant that the air service was fated to play a subordinate role in the Pacific war. Nonetheless, the RAAF expanded to impressive size and strength: At its peak in August 1944 it numbered 182,000 personnel, which by war’s end had declined to 132,000 as the government partly demobilized in response to the manpower crisis. In August 1945 the RAAF fielded fifty squadrons and some six thousand aircraft (3,200 operational and the rest trainers).

In June 1944 the air forces in the theater were reorganized, with Kenney announcing the formation of the Far East Air Force comprising the Fifth and Thirteenth Air Forces, both American. This meant that the Allied Air Force, of which he retained command, henceforth comprised only Australian, New Zealand, and Dutch East Indies squadrons, although U.S. squadrons could be attached to the AAF for specific tasks. The AAF, like its army counterparts, was assigned “mopping-up” duties against bypassed enemy forces in the islands to Australia’s north while the U.S. forces proceeded to the reconquest of the Philippines and the contemplated invasion of the Japanese home islands.

First Tactical Air Force (1st TAF) was formed in October 1944 from No. 10 Operational Group and began operations against Japanese positions from bases on Morotai in November. Dissatisfaction with their role grew among the squadrons, and in April 1945 a group of eight senior officers attempted to resign in protest. The “Morotai mutiny” prompted the removal of the commander of the 1st TAF and an inquiry which confirmed that decision. When Jones threatened disciplinary action against the eight, Kenney—who had spoken to the officers concerned and concluded that they had acted in good faith— declared that he would appear in their defense in any court martial.

In June 1945 with a strength of 21,893, of all ranks, the 1st TAF supported the Australian landings in Borneo and continued to fly against Japanese targets elsewhere in the Dutch East Indies until the war’s end. In the war against Japan the RAAF suffered some two thousand casualties—killed, wounded, and prisoners of war.

The performance of the RAAF in the Pacific war was disappointing, in that it failed to conduct a leading role in the Southwest Pacific Command, its primary theater in the defense of Australia. The weakness in senior command explains much of this failure, and blame both for creating and then for sustaining this situation must lie with the government of the day. On the other hand, by 1945 the RAAF had grown into a large and capable organization, with many combat-experienced aircrew and officers who had held senior command and staff positions. Although aircraft acquisition had been a difficult problem in the first half of the war because of competing priorities elsewhere, by 1945 the RAAF possessed large numbers of modern aircraft and the capability to support them. The failures at the top were not matched by a lack of performance elsewhere in the organization.


Gillison, Douglas. Royal Australian Air Force 1939–1942 (1962).

Odgers, George. Air War against Japan 1943–45 (1957).

Stephens, Alan. Power Plus Attitude: Ideas, Strategy and Doctrine in the Royal Australian Air Force 1921–1991 (1992).

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Hythe Gun Camera


Hythe Gun camera Mk III by Thornton Picard

Used to practice air gunnery in the open cockpit days this Lewis gun shaped camera makes 16 pictures 4.5 x 6cm on 120 roll film on a removable internal carrier (included), f8/30cm lens. The camera-gun is made from heavy gauge brass and aluminium castings presumably the weight was to match the gun it represented on the aircraft. With original heavy wood box, spare gears and mirror. Weight of gun only; 8.75kg

Camera guns have been used as a gunnery training aid since the 1914-1918 war, when in 1916 a sight recording camera was designed at the RFC machine-gun school at Hythe in Kent. This camera gun, made by the Thornton Pickard Co. of Altringham, was similar in shape and weight to the Lewis gun. It proved to be very successful in assessing the standard of gunnery in the air. Known as the Hythe Gun Camera Mk III, it took still exposures on a 120 mm film roll. Provision was made for a multi-ring reticule and the time of exposure. The trigger, cocking action and balance were all identical to the Lewis, and a drum magazine was clipped into place. It was used mainly on Scarff ring mounts, but was also fitted onto the top wing of fighter aircrafts, controlled by a Bowden cable.

The camera gun itself is a very interesting piece of equipment. In form and weight it is modeled after the original Lewis Gun (photo below for reference). The box contains the film and a glass reticule that has a 'target' imprinted on it. When the trainee 'fires' the gun at a target plane the reticule’s grid is imprinted on the film with the photo of the targeted plane. The target plane appears in the developed photo, hopefully within the imprint of the reticule’s target.

In addition, the trainee was supposed to change the magazine (in flight) after each shot. There is a unique pin that pierces the film each time the magazine is changed. If a photo appears without the 'pinhole' it indicates the magazine was not changed. "Can't get away with anything!

At the end of a flight the film is developed and a trainer would review the results with the gunner. There are calculations that determine the angle, range, etc. of the shot.

The Hythe was used for gunnery training until the Williamson camera gun was adopted in 1934.

"British Aircraft Armament Vol 2", R. Wallace Clarke, Patrick Stephens Limited, ISBN 1 85260 402