RAAF AIRFIELD CONSTRUCTION SQUADRON WIZARDS

"R.A.A.F. WIZARDS"

by Radio Broadcast 1.15 p.m. EST
3/7/45 2FC
William Courtenay

The Royal Australian Air Force is producing some wizards  on the ground. I have been watching their handiwork both at Tarakan and in British Borneo and on Labuan Island. These are the specially trained units of the R.A.A.F. Construction Corps to whom "D" Day in a fighting operation is merely movingin day. Strongly organised for the task of slicing airfields out of virgin jungle or bush these units excelled themselves at Labuan Island. Within an hour or two of the initial landing, the R.A.A.F. Construction Unit under Group Captain W.A.C. Dale of Armidale N.S.W. had moved in, 700 strong with hundreds of immense modern vehicles of all descriptions. These included bulldozers, tractors, graders, heavy rollers with immense spikes such as I have never seen even with the most up to date American outfit  and all this cast siege train was worth a million pounds, I was told. One has heard stories of the Australian forces operating with inferior and inadequate equipment. I have seen no evidence to justify these criticisms; the R.A.A.F at any rate has the most modern tools. All the roads on Labuan Island being only metre gauge were organised to a one-way traffic scheme  chiefly to allow the vast and imposing caravanserai of the R.A.A.F. to move with ease and expedition towards their objective  the airfield. On "Zebra" day (or "D" day plus one), they commenced surveying the strip while the fighting was still continuing across the western edge. Their leaders took one look at the task and informed the Generals that the airfield would be ready for use by "Zebra plus six" which meant the seventh day including day of landing. Their word was as good as the Bank of England and on Saturday 17th at nine of the clock precisely, the first Douglas transports slid down to an easy landing. The first wounded were being evacuated by air to distant bases 1,000 miles away from the fighting. And the first Fighter patrols were operating from the strip, on which at least one R.A.A.F. Construction Unit airman was wounded by the sniper fire, which crossed the runway from the neighbouring, swamps. Within sounds of the guns, and in sight of the air strikes by R.A.A.F. and American airmen, these constructional units unconcernedly carried on with their job. And what a job it was. Firstly Australian and American aircrews, more heavily bombed the Labuan airstrip because of its strategic value as a staging point for attacks on Australian troops at Tarakan, in preceding weeks than any other in the Southwest Pacific area. So accurate was the bombing in fact that about 80 vast craters stood plumb on the runway itself, while the perimeter road, dispersal bays and other installations of a busy airfield were almost obliterated. In addition, the Japs had hit on the bright idea of placing a shell in each bomb crater. These were detonated by remote control prior to our landing. So each crater was about 18 feet wide and each was filled with an immense pool of stagnant water. So the first task, which the R.A.A.F. Constructional Unit had to tackle, was that of scooping out the filthy malarial infested water; filling in the craters; and making the runway itself serviceable. These men to whom the native Australian flair for resourcefulness and improvisation lent ready aid took this Herculean task in their stride. The men worked in three shifts day and night all week with arc lamps illuminating themselves and their task  tempting bait to the sniper  each night. But the airstrip had been promised for the 7th day. And when the evening and the morning were the 7th day the men could look along the straight mile and a quarter  and there true as a die lay 4,000 feet of completed runway  a proud triumph.

BACK TO ARTICLES
HOME PAGE