Chance for locals to remember the Battle of the Bismarck Sea

The 81st anniversary of the Battle of the Bismarck Sea will be commemorated in a small community service at New Norfolk this Thursday, March 7, at 11.30am outside the Derwent Valley Council Chambers in Circle St, New Norfolk.

The Battle of the Bismarck Sea took place in March, 1943, when aircraft of the Royal Australian Air Force and US Air Force attacked a Japanese convoy carrying troops to Lae, New Guinea. Most of the Japanese task force was destroyed and troop losses were heavy.

Thursday’s commemoration at New Norfolk is being organised by Hamilton locals Allacia Ford, who has a family connection to the battle, and Jannie Fahey. They provided the following information.

Number 30 Squadron was established at RAAF Base Richmond on March 9, 1942, as a long-range fighter squadron operating the Bristol Beaufighter. After a brief period of training the squadron deployed to Townsville where it escorted anti-shipping patrols.

In early September 1942, a small detachment from the squadron was sent to Milne Bay in New Guinea from where it attacked Japanese shipping, becoming the first RAAF Beaufighter squadron to see action. Beaufighter aircraft were nicknamed “whispering death” due to their engines being extremely quiet on approach to enemy positions, which resulted in many successful attacks.

Shortly afterwards, the rest of the squadron was deployed to Port Moresby from where it operated as a low-level ground attack unit supporting the Allied efforts in Papua, a role in which the Beaufighter proved highly successful. No. 30 Squadron’s primary mission during the war was attacking shipping and coastal bases, with the focus initially being upon targets around Buna and Sanananda, before being expanded to support operations along the Kokoda Track, Goodenough Island and Lae.

In early 1943, the squadron took part in an air-sea battle now known as the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, which resulted in heavy losses for the Japanese. During the battle, the squadron’s aircraft conducted low-level attacks on Japanese shipping. It later attacked a Japanese airbase around Lae, destroying a significant number of Japanese aircraft.

In July 1943, the squadron was moved to Goodenough Island, tasked with attacking Japanese airfields and searching for supply barges that were being moved along the coast between Madang and Nassau Bay. It also undertook convoy escort duties for Allied ships transiting the area.

No. 30 Squadron remained on the island until November 1943, when the squadron was moved to Kiriwina. After the war, the squadron was disbanded, however, it was re-established a short time later as a unit of the part-time Citizen Air Force, operating in a target towing and air defence role in NSW.

In 1960s the squadron ceased flying aircraft and operated surface-to-air missiles, providing for the defence of Sydney and Darwin before disbanding in 1968. The squadron was formed again in 2010 and since then it has served as an airbase at RAAF base Sale, Victoria.

Author Michael Veitch in his book The Battle of the Bismarck Sea – The Forgotten battle that saved the Pacific, notes that the victory decisively removed any possibility that Australia might be invaded by Japanese forces.

Fred Cassidy, “Mr Beaufighter”.

Allacia and Jannie take inspiration from Fred Cassidy OAM, who was known as “Mr Beaufighter” and was responsible for the memory of the Battle of the Bismarck Sea never being forgotten. Jannie and Allacia have since taken on this mantle with the help of the 30 Squadron RAAF Beaufighter Association, of which Mr Cassidy was president for many years.

It was 30 Squadron’s participation in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea that would define its fame and an experience that would live with Fred for the rest of his life. General Douglas MacArthur described the battle as “one of the most complete and annihilating victories of all time and British prime minister Winston Churchill said it was “A striking testimony to the proper use of Air Power.”

All are invited to this Thursday’s inaugural local commemoration near the New Norfolk Cenotaph, Circle St, at 11.30am.

See more Derwent Valley and Central Highlands news online and read our print edition every second Friday.

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