No. 2 Squadron (RAAF): Second World War

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No.2 Squadron (RAAF) fought against the Japanese from 1941 until the end of the war, taking part in the desperate fighting on Timor in late 1941 and early 1942. It then took part in the defence of northern Australia, before going onto the offensive and carrying out a mix of reconnaissance missions and attack missions across the Dutch East Indies. In 1945 the squadron moved to Borneo, but the war ended before it could enter combat.

No.2 (General Reconnaissance) Squadron was formed on 3 May 1937 at Laverton, Victoria. At this point it only had two aircraft, both Hawker Demons, and it didn't have enough equipment to begin pilot training. The number of aircraft built very slowly, and by February 1938 the squadron only had two Avro Ansons, three Hawker Demons, two Bristol Bulldogs and one NA.16. Australia purchased twelve Avro Ansons which were delivered in November 1936. They were split between Nos.2, 3 and 5 (General Reconnaissance) Squadrons. By April the squadron had four each of the Anson, Demon and Bulldog and was divided into three flights, one for each type. A single Commonwealth Wirraway was also attached to the squadron for the Richmond Air Show of April 1938. During the pre-war period the squadron underwent training, took part in air shows and co-operated with the Royal Australian Navy. Towards the end of 1938 the squadron began to concentrate on the Anson, using some of another forty aircraft sent to Australia. The Demons went to the newly formed No.12 Squadron, RAAF, in February 1939. In June 1939 the Bulldog disappeared and for the first time the squadron was entirely equipped with Ansons.

As was approached in Europe the squadron was put onto alert. Its first 'war' mission came on 26 August when it attempted to find the German passenger-cargo ship Strassfurt, which was overdue. There was no sign of the German ship, and the limited range of the Anson was seen to be a problem. On 4 September 1939 the squadron was ordered to mobilize for war. In September 1939 the squadron carried out three patrols out to sea, without finding anything. The same happened in October, November and December 1939.

In January 1940 the squadron provided part of the escort carrying the first echelon of the 2nd Australian Imperial Force (the 6th Australian Division) as it sailed from Australian to the Palestine, where it was to train before joining the B.E.F. in France (the fall of France prevented this move). In May the squadron helped escort the second echelon of the 2nd A.I.F.

In June 1940 the squadron began to convert to the Lockheed Hudson. Four Ansons were swapped for four Hudsons and conversion training began. The squadron was fully equipped with nine Hudsons in the following month. For the rest of 1940 the squadron carried out a small number of maritime patrols, normally one or two in each month. The level of activity increased dramatically at the start of 1941, with more patrols carried out, but no enemies sighted.

In November 1941 the squadron began to prepare to deploy to the Dutch East Indies, sending aircraft to survey four possible bases. On 5 December 1941 the first part of the squadron moved to Darwin, followed two days later by the rest of the squadron. On the same day 'A' Flight moved to Koepang Timor (southwest Timor), in the belief that was with Japan was imminent.

On 8 December the squadron saw its first combat, when 'A' Flight attacked and damaged a Japanese W/T ship (named as the Nanyo Maru on the squadron's history forms). The Japanese ship was damaged and ran aground. Her crew abandoned ship and were interned. On 10 December the entire squadron moved to Koepang Timor. The squadron used an airfield at Penfoei, south-west of Koepang, with some rear services and maintenance staff remaining at Darwin. The squadron's first duty was to provide anti-submarine cover for the 2/40th Battalion as it was shipped from Australia to Penfoei.

The Allies were now concerned about the status of Portuguese Timor (now East Timor). Portugal was neutral, but the island was seen as a potential target for the Japanese. The Australians and Dutch issued an ultimatum to the governor of Portuguese Timor on 17 December and landed at Dili, the capital of the area, on 18 December. No.2 Squadron provided anti-submarine cover for the invasion force.

At the end of December the squadron was split again when 'A' Flight with four aircraft moved to the RAAF base at Namlea, on Buru, 500 miles to the north/ north-east of Timor. At the start of January 1942 this detachment was the busiest part of the squadron. First was a tragic friendly fire incident, which came when a US Catalina mistakenly identified the destroyer USS Perry as Japanese and ordered an attack on her. Better targeted were attacks on Japanese shipping in the north-east Celebes (north-west of Namlea), but two Hudsons were shot down by Zeros on 12 January. The squadron continued to operate a detachment from Namlea for the rest of January, but later in the month Japanese bombers destroyed several aircraft on the ground. Towards the end of the month a Japanese invasion fleet was detected and the detachment was withdrawn, although one crew was captured after its Hudson was damaged.

On 21-22 January Japanese reconnaissance aircraft were sighted near Namlea. The squadron's aircraft were moved to a nearby emergency landing ground, a sensible move that saved them from destruction when twelve Zeros attacked Namlea early on 24 January. Similar attacks took place between 9 and 10am most days for the rest of the month, but the squadron was well dispersed and suffered few casualties. The emergency landing ground was also attacked once, with the loss of one Hudson.

Koepang was now becoming increasingly dangerous. From the start of February the squadron's aircraft and aircrew were thus based at Darwin, while the squadron officially remained based at Koepang. In the first half of the month its aircraft carried out triangular patrols, flying from Koepang north towards Kendari in the south-east Celebes, before flying back to Darwin. Late in the day the aircraft then flew from Darwin back to Koepang where they spent the night. This avoided the worst consequences of the increasingly powerful Japanese air attacks on Koepang.

On 18 February the Australians decided to withdraw all but a few essential personnel from Koepang, where a Japanese invasion was expected at any moment. The Intelligence officer, Meteorological officer, Cypher officer and enough men to run the W/T station and refuel and service aircraft were left behind, and the rest of the men evacuated back to Darwin by air. Twenty-nine men stayed behind, although some were to have been evacuated on 20 February. Two Hudsons were sent to collect them early on 20 February, but found that the Japanese had already invaded. The remaining RAAF men had withdrawn from the airfield into the hills. Three would die of natural causes over the next two months, and the survivors were evacuated in mid-April.

Meanwhile Darwin had not escaped attack. A Japanese air raid hit on 19 February and it was decided to move No.2 and No.13 Squadrons, RAAF, to Daly Water, 300 miles to the south-east. Between them the two squadrons could only provide two or three operational aircraft, although reinforcements began to arrive later in February. The handful of available aircraft were used to attack the Japanese at Koepang and Dili.

There is then a gap in the squadron's records, which begin again at the start of May 1942. The squadron was then based at Darwin and was carrying out maritime reconnaissance missions with its Hudsons. The squadron also carried out a limited number of attacks, including a raid on Ambon on 13 May, on Dili on 20 May, against shipping at Ambon on 22 May, and an attack on Koepang on 31 May. June saw a similar mix of duties, and an official move from RAAF Darwin to a nearby camp at Rapid Creek. The mix of reconnaissance, search missions and limited attacks carried on for the rest of 1942 and into 1943. The squadron moved from Rapid Creek to a new base at Batchelor (40 miles to the south of Darwin) in August 1942.

On 12 April 1943 the squadron moved to Hughes Field, an airbase half-way between Batchelor and Darwin. The airfield had been built by the Americans, but used by No.13 Squadron, RAAF, from May 1942. No.2 Squadron replaced No.13 at Hughes. By 1943 the squadron's search patterns were so well established that they had been given codenames - Jackass, Horse and Koala occur constantly in the squadron's records. The year also saw a continuation of attacks on Timor and nearby targets as well as air-sea rescue and anti-submarine warfare flights.

In December 1943 preparations began for the arrival of a flight of nine Bristol Beaufort torpedo bombers. The aircraft arrived in the same month, and were inspected by a number of senior officers in December 1943 and January 1944. The first Beaufort operation was carried out on 11-12 January 1944 when two aircraft provided air cover for 'Force M'. The two aircraft escorted the convoy until it was 550 miles east of Darwin, after spending six or seven hours in the air. The two types of aircraft operated alongside each other, with the Hudsons carrying out their familiar search missions and the Beauforts on convoy escort duties (sometimes described in the squadron's records as 'fighter cover'!). A new search route, 'Gull', also appears for the Beauforts. At the end of January 1944 the squadron had eight Hudsons and eleven Beauforts, with two of each type reported as unserviceable.  

As the squadron became more familiar with the Beaufort the new aircraft was used on attack missions, hitting Dili in early April 1944. The last recorded Hudson came on 8 April, when one aircraft flew search Jackass 'C'. The squadron's last Hudson left on 10 April when it was flown to No.3 Communication Unit.

By this point the Beaufort was already on its way out. At the end of April 1944 the squadron had eleven Beauforts and three B-25 Mitchells (although none were yet serviceable). On 1 May pilot training on the B-25 began, with instructors from the Dutch East Indies. The last Beaufort mission (search Kiwi) was flown on 22 May and the squadron then concentrated on converting to the B-25.

It didn’t take long for the Mitchell to enter service. The first operation came on 11 June 1944 when aircraft A47-13 carried out search Heron B. A few days later the first air cover mission was flown. In the same month the squadron also flew a number of 'special' missions including a creeping line ahead search to clear an area twenty miles wide around the track of a convoy.

The first attack mission with the B-25 came on 24 June when four Mitchells attacked Doka, a Japanese airfield on Trangan Island, the largest of the Aru Islands, off the south-west coast of New Guinea. Nine aircraft took part in a raid on 27 June. The squadron ended June with sixteen B-25s. In July anti-shipping operations were added to the list, with an attack on a Japanese sloop and a sweep over the Kai Islands (west of the Aru Islands). The squadron operated over the islands south of New Guinea and Timor, flying a mix of search missions, reconnaissance, strike missions and anti-shipping strikes.

This continued until 23 August 1945 when the squadron moved to Balikpapan, Borneo, operating from nearby Sepinggan. The squadron had only just arrived in its new quarters when the Japanese surrendered, ending the war. The squadron remained on Borneo for the rest of the war, flying reconnaissance missions to find Allied POWs and make sure that the Japanese were surrendering. No.2 Squadron, RAAF, was awarded the United States Presidential Unit Citation for its role in the fighting.

3 May 1937-: Hawker Demon
February 1938: Two Avro Ansons, Three Hawker Demons, Two Bristol Bulldogs, One NA.16
April 1938: Four Avro Ansons, Four Hawker Demons, Four Bristol Bulldogs, One NA.16
February 1938-June 1939: Avro Anson and Bristol Bulldog
June 1939-July 1940: Avro Anson
June 1940-July 1940: Lockheed Hudson and Avro Anson
July 1940-December 1943: Lockheed Hudson
December 1943-April 1944: Lockheed Hudson and Bristol Beaufort.
April 1944-22 May 1944: Bristol Beaufort & B-25 Mitchell
22 May 1944 onwards: B-25 Mitchell

3 May 1937 to 5-7 December 1941: Laverton, Victoria
5-7 December 1941-10 December 1941: Darwin
  8 December 1941-10 December 1941: Detachment at Koepang Timor
10 December 1941-end of January 1942: Koepang Timor
  Late December 1941-Late January 1942: Detachment at Namlea, Buru
1-18 February 1942: Base at Koepang, aircraft and aircrews at Darwin
19-20 February 1942: Darwin
20 February-28 February 1942: Daly Waters
May 1942-8 August 1942: Darwin (probably from March)
8 August 1942-12 April 1943: Batchelor, nr Darwin.
12 April 1943-22 August 1945: Hughes Field, nr Darwin
23 August 1945-: Balikpapan, Borneo

Squadron Codes: Beaufort Code: KO

1941-1945: General Reconnaissance/ Attack squadron, South-West Pacific



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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (14 August 2012), No. 2 Squadron (RAAF): Second World War,

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