No. 75 SQUADRON


Australia's famous No 75 Squadron had returned to Milne Bay in January 1943, re-equipped and regrouped after valiantly fightning to exhaustion in the defence of Port Moresby and Milne Bay during 1942. In the interim, the role of allied air forces had changed from defensive to offensive and No. 75 Squadron now had an urgent need for a photo reconnaissance capability. This need was met by borrowing two F-4 Lightnings from the 8th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron, USAAF and these two aircraft were delivered to 75 Sqn on 16th August 1943. The 75 Squadron Operations Record Book records the events as follows:

AUG43
"Four squadron pilots including the Commanding Officer underwent a conversion course to P38s at Port Moresby."
16AUG43
On this date, "two (2) P38-F4's (Photographic) were attached to the Squadron when P38-20 and P38-56 were flown by S/Ldr Atherton and F/Lt Brown from Moresby to Turnbull"
30AUG43
Between this date and 21 December 1943, regular reconnaissance missions were flown, piloted initially by S/Ldr Atherton, F/O Mountseer and F/Lt Brown. Recce targets included Gasmata, Kiriwina, Goodenough Island and Cape Gloucester. Several missions unsuccessful due to cloud and camera failure.
12OCT43
"S/Ldr Atherton in P38-20 on recce from Vivigani to Simpson Harbour was intercepted by enemy fighters before reaching target and returned to base."
NOV43
Five more pilots, S/Ldr Kinninmont, F/O Wilson, F/Sgt Stirling,
F/O Weston and P/O White converted on to the Lightning.

 

Although the 75 Sqn ORB identifies these two aircraft only as "P38-20" and "P38-56", we are fortunate in that Sqn Ldr Atherton's logbook survives in the care of a relative, Neville Rourke, who has kindly made extracts available. At the time of these events, Geoff Atherton was the Commanding Officer of 75 Sqn. He was later promoted to Wing Commander, but the rank of Squadron Leader is used here for historical context. In his logbook, the two Lightnings feature regularly and consistently as "2156" and "2220", so there can be no doubt that the two aircraft loaned to 75 Sqn were 41-2156 and 41-2220, both being F-4s known to have served with the 8th PRS. There is photographic evidence that 41-2156 had been named "Limping Lizzie" by the 8th PRS but it is not known if 41-2220 carried a name.

Sqn Ldr Atherton's first recorded Lightning flight was in 2156 on 10th August 1943 which is shown as "Local 14 ml Moresby". (14 Mile airstrip was then the base for the 8th PRS). A similar flight in the same aircraft occurred the following day. On 13th August, a flight in 2156 is recorded as "Single engine flying Moresby". Evidently Sqn Ldr Atherton was still familiarising himself with the aircraft up to this point. It is interesting to note that the aircraft are consistently identified as Lightning and not P-38 or F-4 .

On 15th August there is a rather confusing entry in the logbook which records a flight in Lightning "2117" as "Mission Markham Valley. Missed scrap at Marilyian by 2 min. Saw fires of crashed kites near drome." This entry is confusing for two reasons. Firstly, it introduces a solitary flight in a third aeroplane and secondly the quoted serial 2117 relates to a P-38E and not an F-4.

Any study of F-4 Lightnings in the SWPA must look closely at the USAAF's 8th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron, as this outfit was the main operator of the type. Fortunately, there is a very useful history of the 8th PRS in a book titled "The Eight Ballers: Eyes of the Fifth Air Force" by John Stanaway and Bob Rocker (Schiffer Books 1999).




Although there are numerous references to Lightnings by serial number, there is no mention of 41-2117. Whilst this does not mean that the 8th PRS did not operate 41-2117, there are several references to 41-2177 and 41-2217. However, it is stated elsewhere in the book that 41-2177 went missing in action on the 21st May 1943, which precludes Geoff Atherton having flown this aeroplane in August 1943. Terry Geary in the United States has established that P-38 41-2117 was written off in the United States on 5th August 1942. Therefore, Geoff Atherton could not have flown this aeroplane in New Guinea on 15th August 1943.
Therefore, it is most likely that the 15th August mission was flown in 41-2217 and not "2117" as shown in the logbook. (Either of these two serials could have been allocated a callsign of "17" and possibly Geoff Atherton had tried to recall a serial number ending in "17" and featuring a double digit). Given that Geoff Atherton flew "2117" on only one occasion, it seems highly probable that he wrote the number incorrectly in his logbook. This flight is mentioned in "The Eight Ballers" as follows, but there is no mention of a serial number:

"Sunday, August 15:
The great day has arrived. The RAAF pilots are ready to be checked out on a photo mission. Rennels and Southard took Squadron Leader Atherton to the Watut River area where a few photos were taken. All turned out o.k."

Sqn Ldr Atherton's last recorded Lightning flight was a photo recce to Buka in 2156 on 25th October. A summary of Sqn Ldr Atherton's Lightning flights can be viewed here.

Not only has Neville Rourke provided useful logbook extracts, but he has also supplied several interesting photographs from Geoff Atherton's personal albums. The photos purport to record the delivery of two P-38s to No 75 Squadron RAAF. It will be noted that the aeroplanes are identified only as "Malaria Mabel" and "Map Happy Pappy", names which would have been bestowed by the 8th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron USAAF, the unit which provided the aircraft. The photographs were evidently taken by the 8th PRS (an outfit eminently equipped for the task!) as the top left photograph also appears in "The Eight Ballers" and other publications. Although there is a clear implication that these photos depict the two aircraft taken over by 75 Sqn, closer examination reveals that there is in fact only one aeroplane depicted. This aircraft is 41-2130 "Malaria Mabel". It is possible that this aeroplane had been intended for 75 Sqn but more likely it was just one of the aircraft used by the 75 Sqn pilots during their training at the 8th PRS or maybe it was just a convenient backdrop for a series of P.R. photos.


[These images are linked to larger versions]

Although most other USAAF Lightning squadrons were allocated a contiguous block of callsigns for their aircraft, the 8th PRS used the last two digits of the USAAF serial as a callsign. It will be seen that "Malaria Mabel" carries the large number "30" on the outboard engine cowls. The number is repeated in a smaller size on the inboard cowls together with the letters "L" and "R" to denote "Left" and "Right". This was common practice on PR Lightnings as the inboard cowls usually appeared in oblique photographs taken from the aircraft. These markings were also carried by Lightnings of the RAAF's No 1 Photo Reconnaissance Unit. Closer examination of the photo of the aircraft labelled as "Map Happy Pappy" reveals the marking "L30" on the port inboard cowl, so clearly this photo also depicts 41-2130 "Malaria Mabel" although it may have been taken on a different occasion as the props are dressed differently.

As stated earlier, the top left photograph appears in several publications. By combining the captions from these publications it is possible to identify all of the personnel in the photo.




Left to Right:

Capt Alexander Guerry (USAAF)
Flg Off "Monty" Mountseer (RAAF)
Flt Lt "Buster" Brown (RAAF)
Flg Off P.B. "Spud" Jones (RAAF)
Sqn Ldr G. C. Atherton (RAAF)
Capt Fred Rennels (USAAF)

 

At this stage, the name assigned to 41-2220 by the 8th PRS is unknown, although it is possible that it was "Map Happy Pappy". The nose art from this aircraft is depicted in "The Eight Ballers" and it is reproduced here for the interest of readers. Again it is stressed that the serial number of this aircraft is unknown.


The nose art on "Map! Happy Pappy"
Extracted from "The Eight Ballers" [Photo: Nielson]

 

 

WERE THERE ONLY TWO?

Something else to ponder is the existence in the Australian War Memorial Photographic Database of two images (Neg Numbers OG0566 & OG0569) of a photographic Lightning attached to 75 Sqn. (Closer examination of Neg No OG0566 reveals the number "44" on the nose of the aircraft, so this Lightning is evidently 41-2156). What is significant is that the photos are dated 31st July 1943, which predates Geoff Atherton's conversion on to the Lightning. From the reference in "The Eight Ballers", it would appear that the first RAAF pilots did not complete their training until 15th August at the earliest, which raises the possibility that 75 Sqn might have had other Lightnings (with USAAF pilot/s) on loan while the RAAF pilots were still under training with the 8th PRS.

 

"LIMPING LIZZIE" - MOVIE STAR

Lawrence Packard, whose father served with the 8th PRS, advises that "Limping Lizzie" 41-2156 appeared in the 1945 Warner Brothers movie "Objective Burma", the opening scenes of which were filmed at one of the 8th PRS bases in New Guinea. Lawrence also advises that "Limping Lizzie" force landed on a beach (also mentioned in "The Eight Ballers") and was subsequently flown out by the C.O. of the squadron. During the take-off, the aircraft struck a log and leapt into the air, after which it became more commonly known as "Leaping Lizzie".

 

MOVIE REVIEW

The real star of "Objective Burma" is indeed "Limping Lizzie", albeit in a "blink and you miss it" cameo appearance. The opening scenes show a Lightning landing in a cloud of dust and rolling past the camera with the number "56" clearly visible on the cowls and tail. After the aircraft comes to a halt, a rear three-quarter view from above clearly shows the "Limping Lizzie" nose art as ground crew open the camera hatch and remove the film magazines. The film is then taken by Jeep to a nearby hut which Larry Packard advises is the actual 8th PRS photo lab. Why New Guinea footage should appear in a movie about Burma is explained by Bill Collins, a well-known Australian movie historian, who states that the director was very adept at incorporating newsreel footage into his movies (remember everything is black and white). The whole sequence probably takes less than thirty seconds. Errol Flynn also appears in the movie in a supporting role to leading lady Lizzie!

 

WHO ELSE FLEW THE 75SQN LIGHTNINGS?

Mike Nelmes of the Australian War Memorial has supplied the following extracts from the logbook of Group Captain Wilfrid "Woof" Arthur who had 6:25 hours on Lightnings. All the following flights were from Turnbull Strip.

09SEP43 Test flight in unspecified Lightning (#20 according to ORB)
20OCT43 Recce flight to Talasea - Gasmata - Arawe in "Lightning F4-56"
25OCT43 Recce flight to Buka in "Lightning L-56"

 

75 Sqn pilots known to have flown the Lightning are:


Wing Commander W.S. Arthur
Squadron Leader G.C. Atherton
Squadron Leader J.R. Kinninmont
Flight Lieutenant B.E. Brown
Flying Officer S.B. Hunt
Flying Officer P.B. Jones
Flying Officer G.V. Mountseer
Flying Officer B. Weston
Flying Officer K.M. Wilson
Pilot Officer Ross White
Flight Sergeant J.M. Stirling

(Ranks shown above are those held at the time the Lightning was in service)

 

WHAT HAPPENED TO THE 75SQN LIGHTNINGS?


Lightning operations by 75 Sqn ended, according to the squadron's Operations Record Book, on 21st December 1943. What then became of the two Lightnings loaned to 75 Sqn?

Terry Geary in the United States has searched the Aircraft History Cards of the two F-4s in question and these show that both aircraft (41-2156 and 41-2220) were condemned as salvage by the 5th AF at Eagle Farm on 26th September 1944 and that both aircraft were struck off charge on 9th April 1946.

However, before "Limping Lizzie" was finally condemned, she was formally allotted to the RAAF for a brief period. In February 1944, when 1PRU were down to just one Lightning and there were no replacements in prospect, the Fifth Air Force were persuaded to allot three very tired F-4s to the RAAF. Two of these Lightnings were actually delivered to RAAF Amberley where they were found to be so badly deteriorated that they were rejected. One of these aircraft was 41-2156, the former "Limping Lizzie". The other was 41-2217, the aeroplane which Geoff Atherton probably flew on 15th August 1943.

The main RAAF operator of Lightnings was No 1 Photographic Reconnaissance Unit. For more information please see the page for 1PRU.


 

COLOURS AND MARKINGS - 75 SQN


These profiles of 41-2156 (top) and 41-2220 (bottom) were drawn by noted aviation artist, Juanita Franzi, for a book on No 75 Squadron RAAF. The profiles show the aeroplanes as they would have appeared at the time of their delivery to 75 Sqn. It is believed that the "Limping Lizzie" nose art was removed from 41-2156 prior to the delivery flight. Photographs suggest that 41-2220 was not carrying any nose art while with the 8th PRS. Photographs indicate that both aircraft carried roundels with bars outboard on the tail booms. Since the above profiles were prepared, it has emerged that both aircraft carried roundels without bars on both surfaces of both wings. The two aircraft were finished in Haze Paint as originally delivered to the 8th PRS. The above images are linked to larger versions.

The best reference to the markings carried by the 75 Sqn Lightnings is a poor quality air-to-air photograph of 41-2156 which appears in the book "The RAAF at War" by Jim Turner. The caption states that the aircraft was being flown by Buster Brown and that the photo was taken by Geoff Atherton, evidently from an accompanying Lightning (presumably 41-2220). The caption in Jim Turner's book implies that the photo was taken during the delivery flight on 16th August 1943. Geoff Atherton's log book states that he flew 2156 on the delivery flight. This suggests that he could not have taken the photo of 2156.

Subsequently, this very same photograph, along with two similar images, turned up in Geoff Atherton's photo album. Once again we are endebted to Neville Rourke for sharing these photos with us.

 

The above image is linked to a larger version.

Click here for an enlargement of the aircraft in the middle photo.


The caption to the first two photos reads: "G/CPT Woof Arthur & self over New Britian (sic)". The caption to the last photo reads "On the way home". Whilst this latter caption may be construed to refer to the delivery flight (on 16 August 1943), it is clearly intended to mean "on the way home from New Britain". At this time, 75 Sqn was based at Turnbull on Milne Bay. New Britain is north of Turnbull and Port Moresby (from where the aircraft were delivered) is west of Turnbull. Clearly these photographs cannot have been taken on the delivery flight on 16 August 1943 if the aircraft were over New Britain. To establish when these photos were taken, we need to refer to Geoff Atherton's log book. Neville Rourke suggests that the date could have been 20 October 1943 when Geoff Atherton flew a 2 hour 45 minute mission on a photo recce to Talasea and Arawe Harbour (both in New Britain). The log also records that "W/C Arthur took 56". Thus we have the correct match of aircraft, pilot and destination to suggest that these three photos could have been taken on 20 October 1943 but we cannot eliminate other possibilities. If these photos were taken in October 1943, they serve a useful purpose by proving that 41-2156 (at least) was still carrying a roundel with bars at the midpoint of its four month service with 75 Squadron. The photos also demonstrate that 41-2220 carried a conventional roundel without bars on the upper surface of the starboard wing. (Other photographs have since confirmed that both aircraft carried roundels without bars on both surfaces of both wings).

Although the markings "56" are clearly visible on the cowlings and fin/rudder, it is not possible to discern any nose art. The most interesting feature of the markings is that the USAAF insignia has been overpainted with a blue and white roundel with bars! This suggests that the markings were altered by 8th PRS prior to the handover to 75 Sqn as the RAAF would not have painted the aircraft in this fashion. It is possible that any nose art may have been removed at the same time. (In the event that the 75 Sqn pilots, while training with 8th PRS, had become familiar with "their" aircraft by name, their subsequent delivery to 75 Sqn without nose art may have led to some confusion and mistaken identities). Close-up photographs of 41-2156 in service with the 8th PRS and 75 Squadron show the number "44" on the nose. The origins of this number are presently unknown although it is definitely not related to the manufacturer's serial number which was 5374.

It is known that the F-4 Lightnings delivered to the 8th PRS were finished in a new camouflage finish known as Haze Paint. This finish featured varying shades of blue applied over a black base coat. Although very effective at concealing aircraft at high altitude, it was difficult to apply and to maintain. Normal wear and tear usually negated the camouflage effect as the black base coat began to show through.

Further information on photographic Lightnings can be found at the 34th PRS Website which also features an excellent treatment on Haze Paint. Special thanks to Rich Faulkner, the 34th PRS Webmaster, for sharing this material.

Special thanks also to Juanita Franzi for her superb artwork.


 

View all three of Juanita Franzi's Lightning profiles on one page.

www.aeroillustrations.com


If you can contribute any additional information, please email the author:
ron@adastron.com



Special thanks to Nev Rourke for Geoff Atherton's photos and logbook extracts.

Thanks also to:

Gordon Birkett
Rich Faulkner
Juanita Franzi
Terry Geary
John Hopton
Bob Livingstone
Peter May
Mike Nelmes
Lawrence Packard.



 

 

Issue Date Remarks
11 28SEP14
Opening paragraph expanded.
10 15AUG14
Minor formatting changes to the list of pilots.
9 07DEC05
Several sources state that the 75 Sqn Lightning pilots included one "Spud" Jones but his full name and rank are not usually quoted. Neville Rourke has established that there was a Flying Officer Peter Jones flying Lightnings with 75 Sqn so it has been assumed that they are one and the same.
8 04DEC05
Added three more photographs from Geoff Atherton's photo album thanks to Neville Rourke.
Also made minor alterations to the order and ranks of 75 Sqn pilots known to have flown the Lightnings. The total number and names are unchanges although some first names or initails have been added.
7 18FEB04
This section has been greatly expanded with new material drawn from the files of RAAF Command HQ held in the National Archives of Australia Series A11093 Item 3081559. With thanks to Peter May. There are now separate pages for 1PRU and 75SQN.
6 04JAN04
Added further evidence to suggest that A55-3 was previously 41-2122. (This now appears on a separate page for 1PRU)
5 21DEC02
Added the full name for "Monty" Mountseer thanks to Tony who advises that his friend Graham Victor Mountseer passed away on 24th July 2001.

 

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