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NA-16 Wirraway: From Trainer to Fighter

The Australian Wirraway was forced into a role for which it was not intended during World War II.
The Australian Wirraway was forced into a role for which it was not intended during World War II.

The Australian Wirraway was pressured into a task for which it was not meant throughout World Struggle II.

By Glenn Barnett

By the mid-1930s many individuals in Australia have been involved that if warfare got here to Europe that Nice Britain wouldn’t have the ability to come to their protection towards a rising and aggressive Japanese Empire.

In 1936, with the encouragement of the Australian authorities, a number of personal manufacturing corporations mixed to type the Commonwealth Plane Company (CAC) to start work on the primary Australian-built warplanes. By 1937 a manufacturing unit for this function was accomplished at Fishermens Bend in Port Melbourne.

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Within the meantime, Australian delegations had been despatched to Nice Britain, different European nations, and the USA to guage plane designs appropriate for Australian wants and that Australian corporations would be capable of produce. The world-class Supermarine Spitfire and Hawker Hurricane fighters have been past the skills of Australian companies at the moment. The design chosen was the North American Plane (NAA) NA-16 mannequin (typically referred to as the NA-33), a purpose-built coach with inline seating for pilot and teacher. It was low cost and comparatively straightforward to supply. In america this design would evolve into the favored T-6 Texan coach.  It was exported because the Harvard.

The Australian choice induced some grumbling in Nice Britain as a result of it was anticipated that a British plane can be chosen. The British even requested the Australians to rethink their determination, however to no avail. Australian Minister for Protection Archdale Parkhill justified selecting the NA-16 “on the grounds of urgency and the shortage of an acceptable British design.” It ought to be famous that Australia was not completely towards British designs. In the course of the conflict they might additionally construct underneath license the British Bristol Beaufort and later the de Havilland Mosquito.

Constructing a Conflict-Preventing NA-16

Two fashions of the NAA NA-16 have been bought by the CAC, and a contract to construct a variant, beneath license, appropriate for Australian wants was signed. The Australian model can be referred to as the Wirraway, from the language of the Wurundjeri Nation of Aborigines which means “to problem” or “Challenger.”

The CAC additionally contracted to construct the Pratt and Whitney R-1340 Wasp 600-horsepower engine.  This engine gave the Wirraway a most velocity of 220 miles per hour. CAC additional contracted to construct a Hamilton Normal fixed velocity cast aluminum propeller. CAC needed to fabricate as a lot of the plane in Australia as attainable within the occasion that in wartime the nation was minimize off from suppliers in faraway Britain and america. The primary Wirraways have been created from largely imported elements from NAA till the small native Australian foundries and producers might device as much as make the elements at residence.

In contrast to the American model of the coach, the Wirraway can be outfitted for struggle. It was fitted for gun mounts ahead of the windshield for twin .303 caliber (7.7mm) Vickers machine weapons, synchronized to fireside by way of the propeller. Every gun had a detachable journal of 600 rounds. The .303 was the usual spherical of all British and Commonwealth rifles and machine weapons, making resupply uncomplicated. One other .303 versatile gun mount was added for the observer/teacher to function a tail gunner. The aircraft was additionally fitted with onerous factors for a task as a light-weight bomber.

Regardless of the mounted weapons the Wirraway can be no match towards the perfect Japanese fighter, the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, with its 950-horsepower engine and 331 mile per hour most velocity. Along with two .303 machine weapons, the Zero additionally mounted twin 20mm cannons. The inline two-seat Wirraway was additionally a lot much less maneuverable than the agile Zero.

The capabilities of the Zero have been as but unknown and unappreciated by the Western Allied army institution. Speedy advances have been being made in fighter know-how. The warfare quickly taught the lesson that a two-seat plane, whereas crucial for the coach position and helpful in reconnaissance, is a heavy burden for a fighter.

In this painting, a Royal Australian Air Force Wirraway fighter flown by Pilot Officer J.S. Archer scores a rare aerial victory over a Japanese Zero in the skies above Sanananda.fighter early in the war in the Pacific.

On this portray, a Royal Australian Air Pressure Wirraway fighter flown by Pilot Officer J.S. Archer scores a uncommon aerial victory over a Japanese Zero within the skies above Sanananda.fighter early within the warfare within the Pacific.

The First Wirraway’s

Manufacturing of the Wirraway was given prime precedence, and by July 1939, the primary manufacturing plane have been delivered to the Royal Australian Air Drive (RAAF). The brand new aircraft was instantly examined in its new roles of pilot coaching, reconnaissance, antisubmarine patrol, bombing, and floor help. When warfare started in Europe that September, manufacturing and coaching sped up. By December 1940, seven plane have been being delivered each week, and by September 1941 a complete of 45 Wirraways have been coming off the manufacturing line every month.

The primary 5 Wirraways off the meeting line have been assigned to No. 12 Squadron, RAAF and despatched to the backwater city of Darwin on Australia’s northwest coast to defend that lonely outpost. They arrived in Darwin on September 5, 1939, simply as warfare in Europe was starting.

A coaching accident in 1940 destroyed one Wirraway, killing its two crew members. It was quickly changed by one other aircraft. When struggle began within the Pacific, Darwin had solely 5 Wirraways. 9 extra of them can be forwarded to Darwin.

Australia’s Pearl Harbor

Darwin’s primitive civilian airport at Parap was house to the primary Wirraway superior trainers of 12 Squadron. This group was often known as A Flight. The 9 new planes of the squadron have been based mostly at newly constructed Batchelor Area, 50 miles south of Darwin and often known as B and C Flights. Coaching and patrols continued till February 19, 1942, when a strong Japanese fleet of 4 plane carriers, all veterans of Pearl Harbor, launched 188 fighters and bombers towards Darwin.

As many as 54 Japanese Military planes flew from captured Dutch airfields on Ambon and Kendari to be the second wave of the Japanese punch. When the assault got here, each aircraft in A Flight at Parap was grounded for service and restore.

Even when the Wirraways in Darwin have been serviceable, they might not have intercepted the Japanese bombers as a result of there was no environment friendly early warning and management system on the time. The radar gear that had been despatched to Darwin had not but been assembled, and studies of incoming planes from coastwatchers have been ignored. Darwin was caught utterly unexpectedly.

Also known as Australia’s Pearl Harbor, the assault on the 19th killed 243 individuals and wounded 320 extra. A lot of the city was destroyed by bombs or exploding ordnance on the bottom. Thirty-three ships within the harbor have been sunk or broken. A number of planes on the bottom have been bombed, together with two Wirraways of A Flight that have been broken badly sufficient to be written off. The Wirraways additionally misplaced a lot of their shops, ammunition, and spare elements when a close-by hangar was bombed and burned to the bottom.

A Wirraway of the Royal Australian Air Force flies during a training mission. The Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation chose the North American NA-16, known in the United States as the T-6 trainer, to be the first Australian produced military aircraft.

A Wirraway of the Royal Australian Air Pressure flies throughout a coaching mission. The Commonwealth Plane Company selected the North American NA-16, recognized in the USA because the T-6 coach, to be the primary Australian produced army plane.

Distant Batchelor Subject was spared from the bombing. Wirraways didn’t interact the enemy. Nevertheless B and C Flights carried out post-raid actions, together with finding and dropping provides to survivors of sunken ships and stepped up patrol duties. The Wirraways continued serving at Darwin till mid-year once they started to get replaced within the fighter position by American-made Vultee Vengeance fighters. The Wirraways would proceed of their coaching and patrol features.

First Air-to-Air Fight

Wirraways have been additionally busy elsewhere within the Pacific. In Malaya a squadron of the Royal Air Pressure departed to struggle within the Battle of Britain. They have been changed by three squadrons of Australian planes and one from New Zealand. Two of the Australian squadrons have been outfitted with Lockheed Hudson bombers, whereas the third, No. 21 Squadron, flew camouflaged Wirraways painted with the squadron’s recognition letter “R.”

The 16 planes of 21 Squadron arrived in Malaya aboard the SS Orante in August 1940. A yr later they have been changed by Americanmade Brewster Buffalo fighters. Ten of the Wirraways have been crated and returned to Australia, whereas six have been allotted to the RAF as trainers. They didn’t see fight, and all have been misplaced within the chaos of the swift Japanese victory on the peninsula.

The Wirraway noticed its lengthiest fight as a fighter above Rabaul on New Britain. The island had been a German colony previous to World Warfare I. After the warfare it was allotted to Australia by the League of Nations as a belief territory. The port of Rabaul was shaped by a collapsed volcano, open on one aspect, which created the best deepwater port within the western Pacific. It was an apparent goal for the Japanese, who managed close by Truk Island, additionally as a belief territory.

Australia took steps to defend the territory. Ladies and youngsters have been evacuated, floor troops have been dispatched, and a wing of No. 24 Squadron was despatched to Rabaul in early December. The squadron was beneath the command of Wing Commander J.M. Lerew. Because the Australian planes landed at Lakunai airfield, Japanese reconnaissance planes flew overhead at excessive altitude and noticed their arrival. The complete complement of No. 24 Squadron included eight Wirraways and 4 Hudson bombers.

The primary Japanese air raid got here on January four, 1942, round 10:30 am. Twenty-two Japanese bombers flying at 18,000 ft bombed the aerodromes and port amenities. Two Wirraways have been scrambled to intercept them however couldn’t catch them.

However, the Wirraway pilots have been assured of their talents. The squadron’s second check got here on January 6, when the Japanese made one other assault in town. 9 Kawanishi H6K Mavis flying boats zoomed in at 18,000 ft to bomb Vunakanau airstrip, which consisted of a single unpaved runway situated 10 miles south of Rabaul.

A number of Wirraways have been scrambled, however just one, piloted by Flight Lieutenant B. Anderson might get shut sufficient to fireside a burst on the retreating floatplanes. Even then he was afraid of overheating his engine. Though not one of the enemy planes have been introduced down, Anderson was the primary RAAF Wirraway pilot to interact in air-to-air fight with the Japanese.

Futile Flight Towards Zeros

On January 20, a coastwatcher on a close-by island reported seeing a flight of 22 enemy planes headed for Rabaul from the north. One other coastwatcher noticed 33 extra planes approaching from the west. Each flights have been in all probability from Truk. One other 50 bombers and fighters remained undetected and have been coming in from the east. These have been launched by the plane carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku, each veterans of the assault on Pearl Harbor.

The Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation established an aircraft factory at Fishermens Bend near Melbourne, Australia, in 1937 to produce the Wirraway.

The Commonwealth Plane Company established an plane manufacturing unit at Fishermens Bend close to Melbourne, Australia, in 1937 to supply the Wirraway.

On the time, two Wirraways have been within the air on normal patrol. The six others have been scrambled whereas floor management nonetheless believed there was a single flight of 22 Japanese planes approaching. It was assumed that the majority of those can be bombers with a number of escorting fighters. The Australians have been outnumbered by greater than 10 to at least one. The Australians shortly discovered what the People already knew. The Zero was the most effective fighter within the Pacific Theater.

Japanese fighters intercepted the Wirraways.  Three Australian planes have been shot down, and two others crash-landed because of enemy hearth. One different aircraft landed with a part of its tail shot away. Only one emerged undamaged. No Zeros have been hit. Six members of the squadron have been killed and 5 wounded or injured that day, the worst however most gallant in Wirraway historical past. Solely three of Lerew’s plane, one Hudson and two Wirraways, remained undamaged.

The subsequent day the 2 remaining Wirraways left for Australia by means of Lae, New Guinea. The Hudson adopted on the 22nd carrying the wounded. The Australian squaddies at Rabaul have been left to their destiny. Few would survive the struggle.

The Solely Zero Kill by a Wirraway

Not all the Wirraways have been playthings for the almighty Zero. On December 12, 1942, Pilot Officer J.S. Archer and his observer, Sergeant J.F. Coulston, turned the devices of the Wirraway’s best hour. They have been flying a tactical reconnaissance mission over the Gona-Buna battlefield on New Guinea to watch the wreckage of a Japanese ship sunk whereas making an attempt to resupply the Japanese garrison at Gona.

When he returned to base at Popondetta airstrip (now Girua Airport), Archer rushed to seek out his management officer and excitedly informed him that he thought he had shot down a Zero. He elaborated, “I went in to take a look at the wreck off Gona and I noticed this factor in entrance of me [a thousand feet below] and it had pink spots on it, so I [dived on it and] gave it a burst and it appeared to fall into the ocean.”

The management officer calmly replied, “Don’t be foolish, Archer, Wirraways can’t shoot down Zeros.” Nevertheless, inside minutes the officer acquired a dozen calls from observers on the battlefield confirming Archer’s story. He had shot down a Zero together with his twin Vickers .303 machine weapons. For his efforts america awarded Archer the Distinguished Flying Cross. It was the one time in the course of the warfare that a Wirraway was victorious towards a Zero. Archer’s aircraft survives right now and is on show on the Australian Conflict Memorial in Canberra.

“The Wirraway Pilots By no means Acquired Satisfactory Credit score”

Archer’s victory was the excessive level of the Wirraway’s service through the warfare, however there have been nonetheless on a regular basis duties to be accomplished. By eradicating the second man from the aircraft, it might carry as a lot as 500 kilos of bombs, and within the New Guinea marketing campaign it typically carried out this obligation. On December 11, 1942, a flight of six Wirraways took off from Popondetta, every carrying two 250-pound bombs to hit targets at Buna. Solely 5 of them returned to base.

The Wirraway had different makes use of as properly. At Popondetta, Archer was however one of many pilots who flew reconnaissance missions over the Gona-Buna battlefield. Basic Robert Eichelberger, commander of American forces at Buna, thought-about the Wirraway’s service notably invaluable. After the conflict he would write, “The Wirraway pilots by no means acquired enough credit score.” Eichelberger regularly hitched a journey within the tail gunner’s seat when he needed to go to different areas of the entrance.

The attrition price of the Wirraways was excessive, and when the final one was both shot down or misplaced within the jungle no American aircraft was forthcoming to fill the reconnaissance roll.

Fresh from the factory, a lineup of newly completed Wirraway aircraft receive the finishing touches from workers before assignment to units of the Royal Australian Air Force.

Recent from the manufacturing unit, a lineup of newly accomplished Wirraway plane obtain the ending touches from staff earlier than task to models of the Royal Australian Air Drive.

A number of Wirraways have been misplaced in fight. On January 1, 1943, in line with the official report, “The plane crashed on a reconnaissance operation within the Gona space … Crew of two our bodies found on 19/1/43 … by troopers of the two/18th Battalion Australian Military … Although the world was held by Japanese troops on the time of the pressured touchdown, it isn’t positive in the event that they have been captured and executed, or have been killed making an attempt to evade seize….”

By February 6, 1943, the preventing at Gona-Buna had ended, so an air assault was sudden when three Wirraways have been broken or destroyed on the bottom throughout a Japanese bombing raid on Berry airstrip at Dobadura.

A Service Historical past Marred by Accidents

Through the early days of the conflict, a number of Wirraways have been misplaced on the bottom to Japanese strafing and bombing, however by far accidents induced the best loss to the Wirraway fleet. There have been a number of causes of those accidents—design or manufacturing flaws, unfamiliarity with a brand new aircraft, pilot error, and engine failure all contributed to a excessive loss price. Even minor floor accidents might put a Wirraway within the hangar for repairs.

On January 5, 1942, No. 7 Squadron had solely 41 serviceable Wirraways out of 126 assigned to it resulting from accidents and servicing. In July 1942, No. 5 Squadron had 39 of its 100 planes ready for brand spanking new engines or engine service.

It was clear that the Wirraway was no match for Japan’s greatest fighter. By mid-1942 it started to get replaced by American planes with greater engines, higher velocity, and large firepower. The CAC later produced an Australian fighter, the Boomerang, which had a extra highly effective engine, two 20mm cannons, and 4 .303 Vickers weapons mounted in its wings. Wirraway partisans, nevertheless, wish to level out that the Boomerang by no means introduced down a Zero.

The Wirraway continued in its coach, mild bomber, sub searching, and reconnaissance position for the remainder of the warfare. The preliminary order for 620 plane was crammed by June 1942, however restricted manufacturing continued till 1946, when the 755th aircraft was accomplished.

In 1947-1948, a Wirraway was employed by the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces in Japan. The Wirraway continued in service with the Royal Australian Air Drive as a coach and communications plane till 1959. Immediately Australians are nonetheless pleased with their first indigenously produced plane and the courageous pilots who flew them in fight at a time when no different fighter was out there.