By John Sauders 4 Intake Dewdrop
I did a few happy years as a member of No. 23 Squadron after being “paid off” by the full time airforce and my main job was involved in “Bombing Camp” operations as Range Safety Officer for the Bomber Boys.
This is basically a letter which I wrote to my wife from Townshend Island Range, which was one of my favourite range duty locations. I used this letter as the basis of the RSO's report which was required at the end of all Exercise Bombing Camps.
Townshend Island is a Tri-service live weapons range, part of the Shoalwater Bay Training Area and is administered/maintained by District Support Unit (DSU) an Army unit based in Rockhampton. It is a “Bare Base” which for the uninitiated means: No power - but an empty shed for a generator, rainwater tanks, earth crappers, no fixed plumbing so “put and take” bucket showers, a “food preparation area” building, an empty store room, six (?) concrete tent pads (until about my third time there and following some suggestions by me) without secure lashing points for the tent ropes, in cyclone country!
The Operations Centre is a concrete bunker of, hopefully, bomb- shell-proof construction. As a Tri-service facility the targets can be used by Army Artillery from the mainland and Naval Gunfire Support (from somewhere else) exercises.
The HQ Amberley OPSO had decided that the Range Crew, in their 'slack' periods, could enhance the target on the island by filling 44 gall drums with concrete and positioning them in a circle around the target. To this end Amberley purchased a 240 volt cement mixer. They also ordered about 3 tons of bagged cement to be delivered by airdrop from Richmond along with all the fuel required for the camp.
Amberley also purchased a kero fridge for the range. This was made in Sweden because Australia, home of the kero fridge, no longer makes them. Cost - $1500. We also talked them into buying a cast iron farm-house type wood fuel stove as the Army only supplied petrol driven monstrosities. As it turned out this was the best buy of the whole effort and despite the Army breaking off one of its legs, it was still doing sterling service when last I visited TWI. Cost - $520.
To save Helo hours, it had been decided by OPCOM that we would be supported by Caribou aircraft from Townsville. The island did have a landing strip, more of which, later.
I gave the letter a title,
PER ARDUA AD NAUSEAM
Things went fairly smoothly at Amberley. The usual running around for last minute pick-ups such as explosives which could only be picked up in the wee small hours of Friday morning as they had to be stored safely. Then we are told that the C130 will not carry all the bits of explosive we want even though it had all been arranged through the correct channels. No big deal but a bit of a change. We finally got explosives from the Army in RKH.
I went to Finance Section to collect the 'Flight Advance' to be told I must have some paper work. I had rung before Christmas and been told 'Don't worry, we'll have it all set up for you and you just collect it.' Not the case, due to "Christmas stand-down" lack of memories, so back to the HQ orderly room to arrange it and then back again to collect it.
Meanwhile, and this is Thursday, the Caribou is U/S in Townsville.
I arrange to keep our little truck (loaned out of the goodness of the Transport WOFF's heart?) until Friday morning on the proviso that it is left clean, washed etc. At 1630 Thursday we have a cloud-burst so we don't get the truck cleaned. The Warrant Officer at Transport section will hate me!
Everything is loaded on the C130 and we get to Rocky to find the Caribou there but once again U/s. I give them 3-4 hours to fix it and meanwhile go to DSU where I am told there have been 5 inches of rain on the Island in the last three days, meaning all the roads/tracks on the island will not be in top condition. The Caribou, after many phone calls, cannot be fixed, so I decide we must stay at DSU (if they have room). They have, and look after us well. All the gear which has not yet been loaded on the 'bou (and it has one load on it already and will be sitting on the general tarmac at RKH, unguarded, all night!) must be loaded onto a great big Army truck and stored at DSU overnight. It is, of course, still raining.
Saturday. It has cleared up which means the Caribous (x 2, as one arrived from Townsville on Friday night to assist with parts for his broken mate, and the loadings) don't need to carry extra fuel for ‘holding' at Rockhampton and can therefore take full loads. We get to the airfield to load the jeep onto No2 'bou only to find that it won't fit (unlike the
Chook!) unless we strip it to the 'water line'. This includes taking the doors off. It is now the DAKTARI jeep. The parts sit on the tarmac for 2 weeks.
The two aircraft get off with me and 3 troops in No 1 and two Army (Reserve ) guys whose job it is to look after the supply drop on this day at 1230 hrs, on No2.
We land at Townshend Island without a lot of strip to spare and taxi to an unloading point. No 2 lands, gets the vehicle etc. out and leaves. We have more unloading than he does so we are still at it when he departs. No 1 is ready to go, leaving 4 range crew and 2 Army. He
taxis to the takeoff point and gets bogged.
To make a long story short, we dug him out with saucepans (shovels on the next load) and by using one of his engines and a tow with the jeep we get him out. This is one very relieved “Boggy” pilot!
Time marches on and it is getting towards 'drop time'. The DZ is about 12 km away up an horrendous track, so one troop, Army guys and I set off poste haste. We make it OK, go up to the camp site and drop off the camping gear from the trailer and make it back to the DZ with 15-20 minutes to spare. Army do their thing and we are ready with ground markers and smoke generator showing the wind (we estimate 30 plus knots) and in comes the C1340 spot on TOT of 1230.
During the preliminary preparations for this assistance by the Trash Haulers, I had unfortunately, had to speak to the SQNLDR Nav who was to be part of the crew for this exercise. When I suggested contact frequencies and call signs I had been informed that he
never spoke to people on the ground because 'they gibber!' OK boss.
The C130 lines up with the target, into-wind, and since he will not acknowledge any transmission of ours, we don't know if he has got the message regarding the W/V estimate. Seems he didn't or chose to ignore/disbelieve it because he lets his load go well short, by our calculations and sure enough, it falls 8-900 metres short and in the trees. After we pick up our collective bottom jaws, we start towards the impact area and I bog the jeep. No shovel. My rally driver brother-in-law Ed Mulligan would have got it out in maybe one hour, (and he would have had the tools we did not) it took us over two with the help of the vehicle jack, large bits of shrapnel (oh yes, we are in the target area), logs and a cloud of blue air which hung right over us.
We leave the jeep (de-bogged) and walk to the drop impact area to find 3 X 100' chutes (with 30 Kts of wind still in them) tangled in the trees. There isn't anything we can do so the Army pack up the two chutes we can retrieve and we walk back to the jeep - and the
RADTECH bogs it.
This one takes about another two hours using similar techniques and we get back to camp very thirsty as we have been down in the DZ for 6 hours with no water but what is running down the track from the recent rain and is suitably flavoured by the feral goats which infest the island.
Meanwhile, the 'bous have come back with the remaining troops and gear and decided the strip is too short for the amount of tail wind they have for landing and have (told us of course, luckily the Army has a compatible radio) gone back to RKH and will try again
tomorrow. So ends Saturday, luckily not hungry but only water to drink and the kero fridge (which I lit on the first visit to camp) won't work. The Amy guys should have been on this C130 to RIC.
Sunday, a day of rest. (We have collected the two lads from the airfield on Saturday and we all camped here Saturday night.) The Army are taken to the 'field as the 'bous have landed and brought all troops and gear and then shot off to RKH. One went back to TVL. We get the message that Army from TVL will be coming to widen strip (cut down new growth).
We ask for lighting kero vice Avtur for the fridge as there is no supply of Avtur still on the island. (There was a time when Hueys did a lot of work here, not lately.)
RAAF troops at the a/f are cutting out a turning circle at strip end. We have H/f communications now direct with Amberley and get a phone patch to the boss, Sqn Ldr Scotland. SITREP, news of chopper etc. (We have been allocated a Chinook!) At one time in the last two days, there were 3 Townsville Caribous at Amberley trying to get one to RKH/TWI with our bits and pieces. The Chook arrives an hour later than advised with ice, more jeep/generator fuel (ours is still in the trees/swamp )and a drum of ... power kerosene ! Which is Avtur you put in ancient tractors! (We had one on my family’s farm - 1940s!) We send it back with thanks. The Chook brings all our gear and troops from the a/f and goes off to RKH carrying money for ice and lighting kero. And at last we get a cold beer, on Sunday night.
Monday - the good old Chook lifts all our mislaid fuel and (oh thanks!) the cement and puts it where we need it. Not one bag of cement broke open (moan). Chook positions TV set/Micro wave/genset/fuel at remote quad and techs set it up.
We get word that a Huey is on the way - to stay as long as the 'bou boys can’t use the strip. Great news. We let the Chook go and feel a lot less unloved. Fridge is still not working. Have discovered that a part has been missing since new! Ask for it to come with Huey. The wood stove is a great asset - cooky doing beaut things for us and cold beer available due to $24 worth of ice a time when the Chook comes out.
Tuesday - Techs set up TV system and IT WORKS ! However, I go down to TGT area and do some checking and it is not accurate by about range x2 on one camera. They are using a new calibration system so we go back to the old (very!) one and voila !
Target is cleaned up, painted, day glow panels strung and the remote site quits because it has run out of fuel because the tank is too small on the genset. We had to hire them and they don't have big tanks. “Trucky” (our FDMT) sets up a 4 gallon drum with hose direct to the engine using syphon and it runs, and then stops because the syphon won't hold pressure. To get to the remote site the Tech rides the Honda step-thru we borrowed from the Army at Amberley. Very useful but a bit like going for the cows on roller skates, we really need a trail bike.
Anyway, the Huey turns up, he has the fridge parts and other requests, i.e. new radio, as one went U/s not long after we got here, plus ice. No worries now about getting to the remote site. We order a 4 gal drum with soldered pipe in the bottom to act as a “long range” fuel tank and it duly turns up on the next morning (Wednesday) - cost $24.
The bombers are on fairly early so the Huey comes out and does the range clearance, flies the Tech and the new fuel drum to the remote site and everything is on line for the F111s as advertised.
I forgot to mention a short panic after a UXB 500 lb was found lying around in the target area on Monday. Actually the RAAF CPL with us on Saturday had found it and I was so busy swearing that I didn’t look at it to identify it. When I did on Monday, I wasn’t sure if the F111 would do practice bombing with it undemolished, so short panic, as we don't have any EOD man (or any explosives as the C130 wouldn't carry them) , anyway, no worries, they bombed as usual.
We were required to and did a 'surface clearance' of the target area after practice bombs had been dropped and we found 5 out of the 36 dropped as the soft ground (5" of rain) just swallowed them up. The lads went down into the target area in the jeep to look for practice bombs and didn't take the proper tools and got a flat. Luckily the bike was able to deliver the tools and they got out before the first sortie. The tyre came back ruined and was sent to
DSU who supplied a replacement which came off Noah's Landover, they don't use that type any more.
Thursday and the first HE weapon drops. Everything works fine and suspicion sets in - what next ? Even the fridge is beginning to work although not to full capacity. The lads went fishing after work and came home with more than ”five small fishes” plenty for all. The Huey crew ate tea (and lunch) with us and even though we have rationed for 8 there is enough for 13! During the sorties we get 3 UXB, one on the night runs so we don't know where it is.
Friday - more bombing and a question from the OPSO, "Have I used the cement mixer yet ?' My God ! I've been just like a lizard drinking don't you know ? Anyway the quick answer was 'Yes. It does a good job of washing the clothes. Will try it on the TGT tomorrow.' I don't believe I will get the sack.
Saturday - down to inspect the TGT; we have had one 13ft miss which made a shambles of our white drums, two of the day-glow panel have been wrecked and the target area where we are supposed to mix cement is full of 12ft to 18ft deep craters ! The ground is clay,
so it won't mix with cement and the craters with water in them (to use in mixing the concrete) are so soft that SGT Foxwell (ARMFITT) went down to his knees just trying to get around one. We can't drive closer than 150 yds for fear of ripping another tyre to shreds on the
shrapnel so 'stuff the concrete !' And anyway the drum cutter which 3AD made for me, on first use, shed its handle and is useless.
We had our first attempt at night bombing on Thursday. For target lighting we had decided to use 3 x 4 gal drums filled with oil and avtur. Having been offered a 44 gal drum of old oil
by 482 Sqn and had it fixed for air transport (very involved) we got it here. It weighed about half as much again as a drum of fuel and we set it up on a stand so we could let run into the 4 gal drums. And out came water! It was more than 75% water! We also did a test on the beaut $24 fuel system. The genset ran for 3hrs/gal and the troops had FILLED the 4 gal drum thus giving the genset 12 hrs running. Having found this out, Foxy had to drive as far as he could in the jeep without becoming bogged and then walk to the remote site and turn it off.
Saturday - a real day of rest. The boys go fishing and the Huey crew have become a permanent fixture. It's cheaper than RKH or Great Keppel!
Sunday - the Huey crew take the boys out to a remote rock off the coast to fish, which turns out to be really good. Nothing like having your own Helo ! (I think the “statute of limitations” will cover this.)
And so ends the first week.
Oh, and the Squadron didn’t sack me!
John Sauders - Dewdrop Gunnie and editor of The Dewdrops Book.