Fighter Squadrons' Branch - Kittyhawks Photos
From Perth to Darwin
The opening months of 1942 brought the reality of a Japanese-controlled South East Asia to the fore when Darwin was bombed on 19 February. The situation looked bleak. Australias Northern Air Defences consisted of fourteen RAAF Wirraway general purpose aircraft operated by No. 12 Squadron at Darwin plus ten US Army Air Force Kittyhawk fighters on transit to Java.
It was obvious that Australia needed fighter aircraft urgently. An approach to the United States of America proved successful. At the end of February, a batch of P40E Kittyhawk fighter aircraft, that had been destined for the Dutch Air Force, were handed over to the RAAF after Dutch New Guinea fell to the Japanese.
These aircraft were formed into three RAAF Units 75, 76 and 77 Squadrons. The first squadron to equip with the new aircraft, 75 Squadron, was formed at Townsville on 4 March 1942 with a ground party moving to Port Moresby on 17 March 1942 two weeks after receiving its first Kittyhawk. Japanese bombers were pounding the port area unopposed causing serious disruption to the build-up of Australian and American ground forces. The three squadrons were formed around a nucleus of RAAF pilots from England and the Middle East.
No. 77 (Fighter Interceptor) Squadron formed at Pearce, Western Australia on 16 March 1942, under the temporary command of Squadron Leader Dudley Thomas Forsyth. At the time Squadron Leader Forsyth was Senior Staff Officer, Headquarters North Western Area.
The initial strength of the Squadron was three officers and 100 airmen. They were a diverse group coming from 4 Service Flying Training School (SFTS), 9 Elementary Flying Training School (EFTS), 14 and 25 Squadrons and Headquarters, Pearce. The three officers came from 25 Squadron. Men from 21 Squadron just returned from the disastrous Malayan campaign, one of whom, Flight Lieutenant Daryl Sproule, flew Buffalos in the desperate defence of Malaya and Singapore during which he claimed a Japanese Ki-27 destroyed.
The Squadron received its first aircraft, a Curtiss P40E Kittyhawk (A29-50) three days later. More were to arrive during March and April. Command of the Squadron was taken over by Squadron Leader Richard Rickey Brooker (RAF) on 24 March.
Flight Lieutenant Richard Cresswell arrived from Williamtown, ferrying in A29-72 from Laverton on 26 March. By the end of March the Squadron had seventeen officers and 170 airmen with eight Kittyhawks on strength
At this time a Canadian volunteer, Pilot Officer Tom Watson, arrived. Pilot Officer Watson had been injured as a member of 232 Squadron (Dutch Air Force) in Java and had been evacuated to Australia when the Dutch East Indies fell to the Japanese. The CO of the Squadron, Squadron Leader Brooker, had earlier commanded 232 Squadron and knew of Watsons experience and capabilities. Watsons first flight with the Squadron was on 31 March, 1942. He stayed with the Squadron until 1943.
On 14 April 1942 A Flight was detached to operate from Dunreath Golf Course, east of Perth. The Golf Course Club House was used for messing and accommodation. The detachment began training operations immediately.
The Squadron remained at Pearce, with detachments to Dunreath, (later to become the site of Perth Airport) until 20 April, when a move to Guildford airfield west of Perth, was begun. On that day Flight Lieutenant Brooker departed on posting to 76 Squadron at Townsville, and Flight Lieutenant Cresswell became CO.
After establishing Guilford, the Squadron became the main Air Defence Unit in the Perth area assisted by 25 Squadron Wirraways. B Flight was detached to Dunreath from 5 May and other deployments were made to Upper Swan, north of Perth. By the end of May the Squadron had twenty-two aircraft.
Most of the next three months were spent carrying out aircraft interceptions off the West Australian coast. During May, for example, the Squadron carried out 30 interceptions but the result in all cases was either failure to make contact or the plot was a friendly aircraft. By July as the Japanese had not attacked Perth, a decision was made to send 77 Squadron north to Darwin.
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