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Lightning Force Lands in Waigani Swamp
Recollections of Alex Miller-Randle RAAF, Stationed at Berry Drome, Port Moresby 1943 via Phil Bradley

We could hear almost continuously throughout the day the roar of aircraft from the nearby strips. Up to this time the American fighter groups on Durand and Schwimmer were flying Kittyhawks, Airacobras and I think the odd Thunderbolt. But it was obvious also that many pilots were converting to Lockheed Lightning fighters. The speed of the Lightning in a dive was indeed impressive. I stood in awe watching these things come down like a glittering bullet. The Lightning was at last a match for the Japanese Zero. It was faster in the dive, in straight and level flight and in the climb. It was faster at high altitude but not better in tight turns. Therefore provided dive and zoom tactics were used they were superior.

We could hear radio conversations on our base radios and had been watching the antics of the pilots as they familiarised themselves with the aircraft. One day we saw a. Lightning dive from several thousand feet down towards I think Schwimmer Strip and heard over the radio an excited joyful pilot call his base "Look boys, no noise!" He was diving with his engines throttled right back, his propellers "feathered" and stationary, He zoomed down over the strip at about 100ft and then pull up sharply, unfeathered his propellers pushed his throttles forward trying to start his engines. The propellers rotated slowly a few times but the engines were dead. They had cooled down too far to fire up again. He tried to start the engines with the starter motors. Everything was so quiet we could hear the starter motors whirring, but 'no dice', they would not start. The plane lost momentum, the nose came down and over the radio came a panicking voice "Mayday. May-day! I can't start the sons of bitches. May-day, May-day!"

Just south and south-west of Schwimmer and Durand strips was a very large swamp called Waigani Swamp, with tall swamp grass bushes and lots of water, mosquitoes and all the other nasties that New Guinea swamps contained. The plane disappeared into this and we saw and heard no more. Strangely enough there was not too much activity that day and it took quite a while for other planes to be organised to go look for him. We also sent a plane to search, but I don't know who found him. I do know that the pilot and navigator of our plane flew over and dropped him their water bottles and the other survival gear, which we always carried strapped around our waist. They hoped the gear would help to protect him in the swamp until a rescue party could be mounted. This would require a small shallow draft boat to go in and get him out and would take many hours to organise. I did not hear if they had rescued him but I guess they did. I moved to Wau before this happened. The sequel to this is of interest.

We had in the Squadron with us some career, permanent, RAAF personnel mostly in administrative and stores jobs. Some could not leave behind or change their peace-time perceptions. This seemed to apply to stores personnel in particular and also some accounting personnel, fortunately not too many of them. These were people unable to adjust to the wartime philosophy that winning battles is the prime objective, even if this means taking equipment out of stores. Their perception of an efficient store was to have the shelves full and the easiest way to achieve this is not to issue anything. Strict records were kept of issues to each individual and unless the worn out article was produced for examination it was difficult to get a replacement. I think it was the Stores Officer in charge of Squadron stores who refused to reissue the water bottles and survival packs to the aircrew who had dropped their own gear to the American airman in the swamp. The stores officer insisted that the pilot and navigator pay for the equipment before he would replace them. The airmen refused, they reported to the CO, the CO 'did his block'. The stores officer was on the next plane going southwards. We were fighting a war and no-one with any sense would fly over terrain like the New Guinea jungle without his survival gear. Until the airmen had replaced theirs, the CO was not prepared to and could not assign them to any sorties. This really "browned-off" the CO, hence the supply officer was posted south the next day.

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