View Full Version : The story of the missing RAF Canberra bombers over the Pacific 1954

3rd Jul 2004, 14:19
In 1954 two RAF Canberra bombers went missing en-route Guam to Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands of Micronesia. One just vanished - probably a victim of bad weather with huge Cb in the area - while the other got lost but successfully forced landed on an atoll.

The story was published in Fly Past magazine February 1994 issue and written by the pilot of the surviving Canberra Flt Lt J.O. Thomas.

Does anyone know of details of the flights apart from that written in Fly Past. I was one of the RAAF pilots who searched for both aircraft.

5th Jul 2004, 10:59
I bet Beeayate can add something to this episode. He usually can.

Beeayate, what's the story???

6th Jul 2004, 12:49
Don't think I can be much help I'm afraid. I find that the Canberra that went missing was a B.2, WH738 of 1323 Flt on a transit flight from Momote to Kwajelein (Marshall Islands) on 23 Feb 1954 - one of six B.2s the newly formed 1323 Flt had at that time. Their aircraft were deployed to several bases in the Pacific for radiation sampling, meteo and photo-recce flights and other duties.

1323 Flt deployed to the Pacific under Operation Bagpipes/Likewise, the detachment of the four Canberras to Australia to cover the CASTLE series of US hydrogen bomb tests in the south Pacific scheduled for the Spring of 1954. In January 1954 the Flight received a further two Canberras (WH738, WH881) for a second commitment known as Operation Dogstar. This task was particle sampling of the radio-active clouds produced by the US hydrogen bombs at the invitation of the US military. Both the Likewise and Dogstar Canberras were fitted with extra navigation and radio equipment (twin TR. 1936 VHF and STR18B HF RT) for overseas flying during the January. On 11 February two officers and five men left Wyton for Darwin in support of Operation Bagpipes/Likewise followed on 14 February by the ground party for Operation Dogstar comprising five officers and 14 men. The two Dogstar Canberras followed on the 15 February taking the route Idris, Habbinaya, Mauripur, Negombo, Changi, Darwin. From Darwin the next leg of the journey for the two Dogstar aircraft was to Momote in the Admiralty Islands (to the North of Papua New Guinea), then a long hop across the South Pacific to the US test site at Kwajelein. While flying in loose formation en-route to Kwajelein on 23 February WH738 drew up alongside WH881 and the pilot gave the “cut throat” signal indicating a loss of radio or electrics, before turning away and descending. Sadly WH738 and its crew of Flight Lieutenant Garside (pilot), Flying Officer Naldrett (navigator) and Flight Sergeant Doner (passenger) were never seen again, presumably lost after ditching in the Pacific. Such was the importance of Dogstar that one of the Operation Bagpipes/Likewise Canberras, WH697, was then fitted out for particle sampling and dispatched from Wyton as a replacement for WH738 on 28 February.

Later, on 11 March WH697 itself was "lost". The replacement Dogstar Canberra, WH697, flown by Flt Lt JO ‘Black’ Thomas and Flt Lt MB ‘Chalky’ White arrived at Darwin on 4 March and began the Momote/Kwajelein leg of the journey a week later. This aircraft also ran into trouble. Problems were encountered with the Radio Compass during the flight: “Apparently when en-route to Eniwetok there were a lot of cumulonimbus clouds about and the radio compass usually pointed to the biggest”. When the Canberra descended on flight plan ETA the navigator was unable to pick up the Kwajalein beacon. Worse still, no land was visible. A square search was then commenced and, just as the possibility of ditching seemed likely, an island was spotted. A successful forced landing was made on the beach in shallow water, happily without injury to the crew. The island was part of the Ailinglaplap atoll, about 100 miles south of the Kwajelein. The crew remained as guests of the islanders for several days until a US amphibian search and rescue aircraft spotted the beached Canberra and landed to retrieve them. WH697 was damaged beyond repair and so, after removal of the engines, the airframe was towed out to sea and sunk. Unfortunately the Canberra floated rather better than expected and refused to sink, even when subjected to gunfire. Finally the salvage vessel resorted to ramming and WH697 sank beneath the waves into 1,500 ft of water, safely beyond all recovery.

Some of the above from Robert Jackson's Canberra, the Operational Record, most of it from a private researcher who collates it from now-public records/documents and kindly sends me such info with regard to the Canberra's "secret" life. :cool:

Hope this helps and belated thanks for helping in the search.

6th Jul 2004, 14:09
Beeayeate. Thank you for that most detailed information. The author may not have been aware that in fact Black's Canberra WH 697 did not go direct to Momote airfield from Darwin. He actually flew from Darwin to Townsville and en route experienced navigational problems, which culminated in his following a civil aircraft into Townsville. On landing at Townsville (I saw the landing personally), the nose-wheel shimmied to ninety degrees which was quite spectacular.

It took several days to get spare parts and the aircraft was roped off and under guard on the tarmac. It later took off for Momote where on its next leg from Momote to Kwajalein it ran into deep trouble - eventually force landing as described.

I was involved with the extensive search for Garfield's aircraft a week or so earlier. We had several Long Nose Lincolns Mk 31's searching out to sea from Momote, Kavieng, New Britain. I did 70 hours in eight days including positioning legs from Townsville to Momote. At one stage my Lincoln lost an engine 700 miles out to sea, but we continued the search on three engines before returning to Momote. We saw several old Japanese aircraft that had forced landed on various beaches and one very rusty and deadly floating mine with horns and all.

At Momote we were told that the missing Canberra had struck radio or electrical problems on its arrival at Momote, but that the pilot elected to press on regardless of the defects. There was no advance support for the RAF Canberra's which seemed incredibly poor planning by the RAF.

When WH 697 also went missing, we could hardly believe our ears. Like the first missing Canberra, we were awoken at 0200 from our beds in the Sergeants Mess at Townsville and briefed to get going asap for Momote all over again.

We thought that the first aircraft must have flown into a thunderstorm at high altitude - they abounded in those waters or should I say skies! But your account of two Canberra's in formation has come as a complete surprise to me after all these years. We were never briefed that there were two Canberra's involved when Garfield disappeared. Such was the secrecy of the operation.

Black and his navigator Chalky White eventually arrived at the RAAF base at Laverton in Victoria, Australia to be re-kitted. That is another story on its own. If you are interested in their story and the recollections of other people involved, I can email you a combination of three published articles which may fill in the jig-saw puzzle. Just email me via Pprune if you wish.

6th Jan 2019, 03:36
Shuffling through some of my old writings during a compulsory wife directed clean up of stuff in the shed. Thought Pprune readers might find the story of interest. Here it is:

A CANBERRA IS MISSING In early 1954 two RAF Canberra bombers were to fly from Australia to Kwajelein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The purpose of the flights was shrouded in secrecy. At the time the Americans were using the remote atolls of the Marshall Islands for Atomic Bomb testing. The most well known of these was Bikini Atoll.The first Canberra simply disappeared. In all probability it went down in a severe thunderstorm. The second Canberra also ran into a thunderstorm from which it survived, only to force land on a remote Pacific atoll. Neither aircraft was fitted with an automatic pilot, which meant that pilots had to hand-fly the aircraft for several hours at high altitudes.
The inter-tropical front weather in the Central Pacific region is characterised by violent thunderstorms topping 60,000ft. In those days, with no weather radar available, aircraft around the world were known to have been lost after penetrating thunderstorms at night in thick cloud. Despite the undoubted flying skills of RAF pilots at instrument flying, the severe turbulence experienced in thunderstorms could cause the pilot to lose control of the aircraft. Flying as co-pilot on a Lincoln bomber, I was involved in the airborne search for both Canberra bombers. The first one vanished forever.

The second Canberra forced landed in a lagoon and the crew got wet feet. Fifty years later Flight Lieutenant J. Thomas RAF, the pilot of the surviving Canberra, published his story in the British aviation magazine "Fly-Past " under the title "Pacific Splash-Down." His edited tale is reproduced below with my part of the story added. PACIFIC SPLASHDOWN The year was 1954 and Winston Churchill was Prime Minister of Great Britain. The British spies Burgess and McLean had defected to Russia along with Fuchs, the atomic scientist, and as a result the Americans were very reluctant to share any new nuclear developments with us. Churchill was aware that a new device (an H-Bomb) was to be detonated and he wanted the UK to be involved, but the US military refused to allow the British to participate. However, Churchill had come to an agreement with President Roosevelt in 1945 that our countries (Great Britain and USA) would share any nuclear development. Though the US thought we were a poor security risk, they were reminded of this agreement and reluctantly decided to let us participate in the experiment. It is probable that only a few members of the Cabinet and even fewer Americans ever knew that the UK would be involved.

At the sharp end, 1323 Flight was formed at the Royal Air Force base at Wyton, near Huntingdon under very tight security. Those of us on the flight were unaware of out true destination or the task to be done. We thought we were going to Woomera in Australia, or to Christmas Island.Early in 1954, myself (then a Flight Lieutenant) and a navigator Flying Officer Chalkie White, were flown by civil aircraft to Darwin where Canberra B2 WH 697 was already located. It had special filters fitted to the wings and in addition to the two 250 gallon wing tanks, an extra 400 gallon tank was installed in the bomb bay. Much later, we discovered that we were to take samples of airborne particles following the H-Bomb tests.We were still unaware of our destination or task. I was given a code-book - all the signals concerning 1323 Flight were known only to me.During the stay in Darwin, extra navigational equipment was installed in the aircraft, although it proved to be useless.

Then I received a signal informing me that F/L Garside and crew were missing. Garside and two crew were flying in Canberra WH 738, also of 1323 Flight, and went missing en route between Manus Island (a former wartime Allied naval base situated about 250 miles north of New Guinea) and Kwajelein, off the Marshall Islands, on February 23 1954. Both Manus and Kwajelein had been occupied by Japanese forces during the war. My signal said that I should proceed immediately to Townsville. The first attempt to reach there was aborted after an hour because of electrical failures. A few days later we set out for Townsville again, but after 90 minutes problems developed with our various navigational aids, so we decided to overfly our ETA and descend out to sea. Just at that moment we spotted a civil aircraft some way ahead descending into clouds - it could only be going to Townsville. We came out of cloud at 3000 ft about 20 miles out to sea. On landing at Townsville the nose-wheel of the aircraft turned at right angles to our landing path. It took several days for spare parts to be flown in. Soon after I received another coded message giving our next destination as Momote aerodrome on Manus Island, which was within the Admiralty Islands chain.The flight was uneventful. The visibility was excellent and we waited at Momote for a favourable weather report from the US base at Guam.

At Momote we were informed of our final destination which was Kwajelein. We knew that F/L Garside and his crew had gone missing on this last leg of the journey. We received a favourable weather report and took off on March 11, 1954, for Kwajelein, a trip of approximately 2500 miles. After about 90 minutes at about 45,000 ft, we ran into an inter-tropical weather front and experienced violent turbulence. We were still in cloud at 50,000ft, then within 30 minutes both No2 and No3 inverters failed. This left me with about 20 minutes of full instruments before we would have to revert to the primary instruments (no artificial horizon). A decision to remain at height or descend had to be made. Descending would mean we would have a fuel shortage, but by staying at height, the heavy turbulence could mean loss of control. We descended and never really came out into the clear but flew at about 100 ft above the water in intermittent rain. By our calculations we had flown through the line of the Marshall Islands which were running north-west to south-east of our flight path. I decided to turn south hoping to touch one of the group of islands - we only had enough fuel to last us about 30 minutes.Suddenly, palm trees flashed past the wings and we were over an atoll. We circled with flaps and wheels down, and landed on the reef in about 8 inches of water and rolled about 500 yards. A few hours later I started the engines and taxied closer to the palm trees. The only damage to the aircraft was to the flaps, caused when the water hit them. Some natives arrived from another island (ours was uninhabited) and during our four days there they were most helpful.

The head man, Tokuni, agreed to send a message by outrigger canoe to the US base at Kwajelein. We also established from Tokuni that we were on Borg Island, or Ayling Laplap, some 75 miles from Kwajelein.During the few days on the atoll, we observed the numerous sharks in and around the lagoons and when the PBY Catalina put down to rescue us, they signalled us to swim out - I think both of us must have broken all Olympic swimming records!I must be the only RAF officer to have shaken the hand of an American Admiral wearing only my underpants!

The story by the surviving Canberra pilot greatly interested me because, as a young sergeant pilot, I flew in several searches for both of the missing aircraft. My unit was No.10 (Maritime Reconnaissance) Squadron of the Royal Australian Air Force, based at Townsville in North Queensland, Australia. We were equipped with Lincoln MK 31 aircraft, known as Long Nose Lincolns. With bomb bay fuel tanks, these aircraft could patrol for 13 hours.We were alerted on the night of 23 February 1954 that a RAF Canberra was missing north of Manus Island en route to an unspecified destination. Momote airstrip on Manus Island was a remote RAAF base which 10 years previously had been a battleground against Japanese forces in the Pacific campaign. By 0100 local time, I was aboard one of three Lincolns hastily despatched to carry out searches to the north of Momote towards Guam and around the islands of New Britain and New Ireland. The six hour flight took us over Port Moresby, where we are forced to climb to 16000 ft in heavy cloud to get over the Owen Stanley Ranges in New Guinea. I shared the flying with Flight Lieutenant Wally Wearne (a former Lancaster pilot) and Sgt. Bill Fisher the co-pilot of that crew. We were battered by heavy tropical cloud en route and I felt dizzy due to an oxygen hose fault, which resulted in my experiencing anoxia for much of the flight.

After arriving at Momote, all three Lincolns were refuelled and readied whilst the officers in the crews were briefed on the search area. The non-commissioned officers (NCOs) of each crew were not permitted to attend the briefings due, apparently, to the secret nature of the missing Canberra's mission. This was rather absurd, in that the captain of one crew was an NCO, who had to be briefed second hand by his officer navigator. Certainly none of the search crews were aware that the destination of the Canberra was Kwajalein, although we knew that American search aircraft were covering the Pacific well to the east of Guam.One hour later at 0700, with full fuel and extra crew, our Lincoln A73-67 needed every inch of the 5200 feet length of Momote's coral runway to get airborne. I remember instinctively lifting my backside off the co-pilot's seat as the reef flashed under the aircraft, with the rear gunner remarking over the intercomm at the slipstream ruffling the Pacific swell. There were no take off performance charts in those days, just a matter of full throttle on the four Rolls Royce Merlins and hopefully reach flying speed by the far end! The captain on this trip was Flt.Lt. John Thomas AFC with Sgt Bill Woods as navigator and Sgts Geoff Yule and Keith Cameron as signallers. The search height was 1500 feet and covered the area 200 miles south of Guam and east towards New Ireland.

During the next 10 hours, we encountered the extensive thunderstorm activity and torrential rain associated with the inter-tropic frontal zone. It gave me a sobering insight as to the possible fate of the missing Canberra. With lack of modern day weather radar and no automatic pilot, one did not envy the job of a Canberra pilot, battling violent turbulence and flying blind at 45000 feet. Thirty years later, as Boeing 737 pilot, I flew on air routes in that area and frequently experienced anxious moments at night, steering around monster storms visible only on radar.I logged over 50 hours flying in the first week. Despite hundreds of search hours being flown by Australian and American aircraft, no trace of the missing Canberra was ever found. Our hopes were raised when various aircraft were spotted in shallow lagoons or on atolls and beaches. These proved to be Japanese fighters and bombers apparently pranged during the war. They were in remarkably good nick, with little obvious damage. On one flight we spotted what we thought was a yellow rubber dinghy floating north east of Rabaul in New Britain. A low inspection pass was made at 50 feet, which revealed that our dinghy was actually a rusted shipping mine, complete with ominous looking horns. Perhaps we were fortunate that is wasn't a magnetic mine, because 30 tons of metal passing a few feet overhead, could conceivably have set it off. On this sortie, the starboard outer engine of our Lincoln began to overheat due to a glycol leak and the propeller was feathered. Engine failures such as this were relatively common, and we continued the last 700 miles on three engines.

After landing we were given a 24 hour break to give the ground-crew time to repair the engine, and for the aircrew to catch up on much needed sleep. The latter was difficult because our sleeping quarters were wartime Quonset huts only 200 yards from the airstrip. There was no privacy with six men to each hut. Lincolns running up engines and taking off, and occasional drunks shambling through made fitful sleep impossible. These metal huts were unbearably hot during the day and night, and teeming with mosquitoes. After dark, looking for the outdoor latrines among the trees was an illuminating experience. We carried a torch in case a crocodile from the nearby swamp was lurking.There was, however, other entertainment in the form of an open-air cinema with the screen strung between palm trees - the projector being sited in a wooden hut. Its beam attracted hundreds of moths and mossies. The audience of navy and air force personnel would wolf-whistle at the sight of Esther Williams and Rita Hayworth displaying their bountiful charms and boo at the baddies. I took the opportunity to explore the cockpits of several Douglas Dauntless dive bombers which had been left behind after the war. It would have taken little effort to make them airworthy, and in later years I regretted not having the foresight and finance to transport these aircraft back to Australia. I sometimes wondered who finally got their hands on them. They would be worth a mint now.We were warned about crocodiles. I didn't see any, but neither did I deliberately go looking for them. Few airmen ventured too far from their quarters at night, just in case. The local pidgin English for crocodile was "puk puk". I recall picking up a new Lincoln crew that had just arrived from Townsville. Our transport driver was a local islander who wore Australian navy uniform. A detachment of naval personnel was based at Lorengau Navy base a few miles from Momote airstrip, and islanders who worked on the base wore appropriate naval attire. As our wartime jeep skirted the crocodile swamp, I briefed the new crew on basic pidgin English. However I had forgotten the local native term "puk-puk," for crocodile. Resorting to rather expressive gestures involving simulated gnashing of teeth and chomping sounds, I asked the driver, "What name you call animal with many teeth (demo of teeth gnashing) and swims in swamp? " (much arm waving imitating swimming croc). "We call them crocodiles, Sir" came the polite reply from our uniformed native driver, and in perfect English! I felt a right twit in front of a bemused Lincoln crew, who laughed at my embarrassment, as did the driver.

Eventually the search was called off and we returned to Townsville. A week or so after our return, another RAF Canberra landed at Townsville. It was immediately roped off and put under armed guard. Rumours abounded that the aircraft had experienced serious radio and navigation problems en route Darwin to Townsville and that the crew had refused offers of help from our radio technicians. It had also made a spectacular landing at Townsville when the nose-wheel apparently locked off centre, causing violent gyrations. Its destination was unknown, and no one was talking. Several days later, it took off and headed towards Manus Island, 1200 miles north of Townsville. This was the Canberra that eventually forced-landed on Ayling Laplap atoll. At 1800 hours on March 11th, we were told that this aircraft was missing, and that we were to be airborne at midnight for Momote. I was co-pilot to Flt.Lt. Keith Wilson, a former wartime Halifax pilot. It was instrument flying all the way, and we ran smack into the usual embedded thunderstorms guarding the Owen Stanley Ranges of New Guinea. We landed into a beautiful tropical sunrise at 0600.

After refuelling, we were airborne for 8 hours, searching along the Canberra's planned track. Again we found nothing. Later the news came through that the Canberra had been found by the Americans on an atoll south-east of Kwajalein, the American naval base in the Marshall Islands. Once more we headed for home, having no idea of the purpose of the two Canberra missions, their final destinations, or the fate of the crews. Then in 1994, I chanced upon the magazine story by the pilot of one of the missing Canberras. The picture was now complete. In the magazine “Pacific Flyer” dated February 2001, more information came to light with regard to the saga of the missing RAF Canberra bombers. The following story was published in Pacific Flyer and written by then Flight Lieutenant Paul Jessop who was a test pilot at the Aircraft Research and Development Unit (ARDU) based at Laverton. It was titled “The Missing Canberra – Will we ever know the real story”. It starts thus:In the September issue (Pacific Flyer 2003), there was a story entitled “A Canberra is Missing” by John Laming. Perhaps I can add a bit more information and start some serious investigation about the full story. I chanced to be in Darwin from 5 Feb 54 to 9 Mar 54 (as visitors from ARDU, Laverton, we were guests of the Base). Darwin owned a Wirraway which had suffered a misadventure and been repaired. Being current, I had been invited to test it. However, no sooner were we airborne than we got a call from Darwin tower to the effect that there was a Pom in dire straits, in a Canberra with both generators failed and unable to determine his position. The blokes in the tower, being a smart bunch of cookies, had deduced his approximate location and sent us out to fly towards it. This was either 12th, 24th or 26th February but from the dates given by John Laming, I believe it must have been the 12th.

Short story. We didn’t see anything, but the Pom made landfall and landed at Darwin a bit older and wiser. Enter thirteen twenty-three flight-or 1323 as shown in your article.Now how about this for a coincidence? I picked up the September issue of Pacific Flyer en-route to a symposium in Canberra; while there, I met an ex Pom. In conversation, I discovered that he had been a member of the first RAF Canberra aquadron, so I showed him the article in the “Flyer”. Surprise, surprise! Well what do you know – “Black” Thomas was in the same squadron before he was sent to 1323 flight. The article refers to Flt Lt J. Thomas but to everybody who knew him he was “Black” – so with a navigator named White, they had to be the Black and White minstrel show.His comment about the Thomas story was that Black’s memory must have been influenced by the passage of years. He had a clear recollection of the story which he had been told by Black shortly after the event: (this was also the way I recalled it). He also made some comments regarding the anomalies to which John Laming alluded – nothing really new about this when history is written from memory.Something must be added is that Black was an engaging character. He was dark complexioned, bald at an early age and a real “hellraiser”. According to my information, he was known to climb out of the pilot’s seat and have a sleep on the walkaway of the Canberra, leaving the flying to the navigator. He was not the type of bloke to let the facts inhibit a good story. During the time 1323 spent in Darwin, we shared the same hangar- the big wooden framed open truss type where you could drive right through in a Gooneybird (DC3) if you felt so inclined. As we also shared the mess, we got to know the boons of 1323 including Black Thomas and Chalky White – all Whites are known as Chalkey.

In spite of what Black says in his story, they were aware that their job was to fly through the H-bomb clouds and take samples.They disappeared from Darwin before we finished our testing. According to the date shown in your story, Garside disappeared on 23 Feb – presumably it was his Canberra which caused concern over Bathurst Island. When we got back to Laverton on 11th March, we found that 1323 had made themselves at home. From John Laming’s account, this was the day when Black and White were reported missing. Bear in mind that because of all the secrecy, we didn’t know any of this at the time. At some stage – it must have been later – we were in the bar having the usual post-fright briefings and doing tomorrow’s flight planning, when a couple of scruffy characters entered the Mess through the back doors – the big glass wall facing south – dressed only in khaki shirts, shorts and footwear. Definitely not mess dress. No evidence of rank or even nationality. Thomas and White – no less.As I knew them from the previous encounter at Darwin, I had to perform the essential introductions and then we got down to the serious business of the evening; ie. To explain their presence and state of mess undress. So at this stage, I got it straight from the horses mouth, as it were.

The immediate response was that their gear was still in the back hatch of the Canberra which was about 20 feet under water. This explanation was followed by their excuse for it being under water. Black explained that their best-laid plans had gone stray, but they had been fortunate to observe “an island with a beach that looked good enough to land on”. So he did just that - wheels down – no less. They were Poms, you see, so it didn’t occur to them that there could be water above the beach – you can’t see through water in UK land!By way of explanation, I have to say that because of his comment about their gear being behind the back hatch (and therefore inaccessible because of the depth of water), and Black’s reference to 20 feet of water, I did not then see any reason to enquire more specifically about the depth. I do recall asking about how they got out of the aircraft. My recollection was that they blew the hatch – but don’t ask me to swear on that one. (Normal entry to and exit from the Canberra was via a door located on the starboard side, the hinge-line being roughly half way up the nose section. The door opened outwards. Therefore, if immersed, it would be difficult or impossible to open. The pilot could jettison his heavt Perspex canopy by firing explosive bolts and the navigator could similarly dispose of a panel of the airframe above his head.Some 50 years later, I detect some discrepancies between the story that Black told then and what appears in the Laming synopsis, eg. took off on March 11th 1954 for Kwajalein, a trip of 2500 miles. Interesting, what? The B2 Canberra with full fuel, 2x250 gallon wing tanks and a 500 gallon ferry tank in the bomb bay gave you a marginal still-air range of just over 2000 miles. Within 30 minutes, both No2 and No 3 inverters failed (how many did he have, and what did he use them for) – did he mean generators? –we descended and never came out in the clear but flew about 100 ft above the water in intermittent rain. We circled with flaps and wheels down and landed on the reef in about 8 inches of water and rolled about 500 yards.

A few hours later, I started the engines and taxied closer to the palm trees. The story he told us at the time was that they were lost and runningn out of fuel. As he said at the time “I saw an island with a beach and decided to land on the beach with the wheels down (that was not the recommended procedure). It was only after we touched down that I found there was 20 feet of water over the beach. All our gear was in the back and there was no way we could get down to get the hatch open, so we were stuck with what we were wearing. (the back hatch of the Canberra was under the rear fuselage aft of the bomb bay). When they arrived at Laverton, they still had only what someone had lent them.The other statement which seems congruous (page 35) reads – “we were flown by civil aircraft to Darwin where Canberra B2 WH697 was already located – during the stay in Darwin, extra navigational equipment was installed in the aircraft, although it proved useless. What is the full story? It would be interesting to know the real story of 1323 flight, but it is doubtful if a factual account could be written. The cloak of secrecy which existed at the time meant that little was divulged for posterity. Hindsight would seem to indicate that the operation was a disaster in both concept and implementation.Firstly, the crews had no experience of operations and flying conditions in the Pacific equatorial areas.Secondly, the aircraft were not equipped for navigation in the Pacific – this involved techniques which were different from those needed for continental Europe, and thirdly, the reliability of the aircraft at that time was such that operation away from established support facilities was hazardous.questions which come to mind, are…

How many Canberras were operated by 1323? How many were lost or damaged? How did Thomas and White get to Darwin in the first place? If they didn’t ferry the Canberra from Wyton (UK), why didn’t they? Who did- and what happened to the crew? 1323 was supported by at least one Hastings to carry maintenance staff and equipmentWhy did the unit set up shop at Laverton which was about as far away from the scene of operations as they could get? It stayed at Laverton long enough for one of the members to marry a RAAF Nursing Sister. What else did they do during this time if only their two Canberras had already disappeared? How did Thomas and White get to Laverton from wherever they were picked up? Why was it necessary for them to wait until reaching Laverton before they received a change of clothing? This story in itself needs an explanation. How did WH 697 get to Darwin? Where did the navigation equipment come from?Commentary.We, (the RAAF) were aware, as the result of the Last Great Air Race (London to Christchurch in October 1953) that there were serious problems with “generators”. The Canberra, being the first aircraft to operate for long periods above 40,000 ft, encountered accelerated wear of the generator brushes not previously experienced. In the tropics, this appeared to be aggravated.The Canberra, being an English Electric aeroplane, used electrics for doing almost everything. If a generator packed it in, it got your attention. If the generators on both engines failed, you had to get by on battery power, which didn’t last long. The electrics powered your instruments, communications, fuel pumps and transfer, trim, undercarriage and flap operation, engine re-start and no doubt a few other unimportant things. Therefore, if the focus of 1323 operations was the Marshall Islands in Micronesia, why did they come to Australia at all? Why not go from Changi (Singapore) direct to Guam or wherever – or via Honkers where they could get RAF support.

Certainly, neither Darwin, Townsville, or Momote either knew about or was able to support Canberra operations at that time. Why go Singapore – Darwin – Townsville- Momote- Guam, to get to Kwajalein? Hardly the most economical route.And again – what were they doing at Laverton? (apart from playing silly buggers in the Mess?) Seriously; on the navigation side:Weather in Europe was/is such that it is normal to become lost as you leave the circuit. It was therefore normal, at the time of which we speak, to call for a bearing to get back to base. (This was a source of soul-searching among the Australians, who liked to maintain their independence).On the other hand, the Poms expected to be under continuous surveillance. This just did not exist in Australia or the Pacific. The Yanks had a long range navigation system called Loran, but this did not extend as far as Australia or the islands to our north. Thus the comment by Thomas “during the stay in Darwin, extra navigational equipment was installed in the aircraft, although it proved to be useless”, has particular relevance to the inadequacy of preparations by the Poms. (navigation in Australia was taught on the basis of survival with what you could glean by observation – from what ever sources).
Post Script.Another perusal of the Thomas transcript opens up a further possible line of investigation. Please refer to the first paragraph in column 3 of page 34 of the September issue.There was at this time considerable dissension about disclosure of information; for brief periods the Australians were on the favoured list with the yanks and at other times, it was the Poms. The Australians had provided range facilities for the Poms, so were subject to scrutiny by both the Poms and the Yanks.If that were not enough, the civilian contractors who were developing weapons systems on the basis of information given to them by the armed services, derived either by intelligence obtained from the enemy or research by government departments, sought to secure their positions by classifying all their work as “Secret”. Let us therefore suppose that at the time in question, the Poms were out of favour, but wanted to get some detailed information about the Yank H-bomb tests. The Australians had accumulated some experience by flying through the Pommy A-bomb tets in the Monte Bellos in late 1952, and the later bangs at Maralinga in late 1953.So if the Poms could appear from Australia doing scientific investigation of H-bomb clouds, they could pass as Australians and hence avoid whatever restriction Congress had imposed on disclosure to the Poms. Just a thought. Does somebody have a better idea?


6th Jan 2019, 11:42
It is only 1400nm from Momote to Kwajalein atoll,not 2500....and about 100nm SE to Ailinglaplap..

Yellow Sun
6th Jan 2019, 13:30
I recommend you try to obtain a copy of “Sniffing and Bottling: 1323 Flight and its successors” by Dave Forster. Unfortunately it appears to be out of print and currently unavailable.

However it should answer the questions posed.


Haved just had a further look around and find that it is available here. (http://www.lulu.com/shop/dave-forster/sniffing-and-bottling/paperback/product-20549198.html)

Bagheera S
6th Jan 2019, 20:23
In 1946 Britain was excluded from cooperating with the states on any nuclear weapons development by the Mc Mahon Act, so proceed alone. Come 1950, the US was desperate to know the extent of Soviet nuclear weapon development in particular there manufacturing capacity. To this end they started air sampling for Krypton 85 which is was thought to be only present in the atmosphere as a result of nuclear weapons production (incorrect as some comes from cosmic radiation;- this was a discovery of the program) The US invited the U.K. to help with Krypton 85 sampling so two Canberra’s where converted and so 1323 Flight was born. The sampling fit consisted of a high pressure pump, feed from bleed air taken off an engine compressor and a single gas bottle in the bay.

When the UK embarked on the H Bomb development it was well behind (Penny’s first meeting having been instructed to develop the H Bomb he asked “has anyone got any idea’s “). However by exploiting the joint Kr 85 sampling the U.K. was able express an interest in sampling the Castle H Bomb tests but didn’t expect a favourable response. Samples of the American tests would provide a unique and incredibly valuable insight into the device tested. Much to the surprise of all concerned a request for Kr 85 sampling at Castle came through with only six weeks to prepare. The two Canberra’s of 1323 flight were flown to Warton where hurried modification were undertaken to prepare them for the vast distances and high altitude radioactive sampling;- a ultra long range fuel tank installed in the bomb bay, conversion from Avtur to Avtag, Radio compass navigation equipment, and a maximum size filter in the cabin air pressurisation system. There was no time for flight testing so the schedule had the testing being done on the outbound trip. It didn’t go well with multiple problems with all the modifications;- Navigation systems overheating, engine flame out due to extra cold exposure from the extended time at altitude, generator failures and breathing air from a cobbled together system, which when done properly for Grapple took nearly a year. Add into this the necessity to transist tropical convergence thunderstorms, high accuracy navigation or bust, limited SAR, almost zero training with the new nav equipment, it was extremely high risk flying;- one lost with its crew, its replacement marooned on a beech, but one Aircraft did make it to the test. The look see this provided into the state of the art H Bomb work gave Britain’s own effort a boost of enormous value.

All from “Sampling and Bottling” and “Britain and the H Bomb”

7th Jan 2019, 02:13
The "Canberra"had (from memory!)2x 201 invertors supplying 115volts at 1600cycles with an electronic regulator (ie lots of valves!)to supply radio and radar equipment.The regulator was pressurisedto I think 3 psi ,done with a bicycle pump!
Information from my Boy Entrant notes of 1959!

7th Jan 2019, 02:33
The book is available on LULU who I have found very reliable. Can't beat the price. I read the book some years ago as an E-Book and it was a very good read and super informative. 1954 is when I started as a licensed techie on transport types. Hard to believe they would send off crews with little prep across the reaches of the Pacific with primitive nav gear.
The problems of operation at high altitudes in those days continued for some time I do remember the first DC-8 and B.707 had brush-type alternators and we did encounter problems till they were replaced with brushless alternators.

Sniffing and Bottling
By Dave Forster (http://www.lulu.com/shop/search.ep?contributorId=1053474) Paperback, 193 Pages Price: $7.58 Prints in 3-5 business days
The history of 1323 Flt, 542 Sqn and 21 Sqn in the nuclear intelligence role 1953-59. The Canberras of 1323 Flight sampled debris from Soviet and US atomic tests for scientific intelligence purposes. The aircraft also participated in the joint US-UK MUSIC programme to determine Soviet plutonium production. "Sniffing and Bottling" also includes the first comprehensive account of RAF participation in the US Operation Castle hydrogen bomb trials of 1954, based on recently-declassified documents and the recollections of participants. Contains many previously-unpublished photographs.
4th Edition. Reviewed in the RAF Historical Society Journal No.52, 2012: "'Sniffing and Bottling' tells a story that was long overdue for telling and does it well. It is also remarkable value for money. Recommended."

Sniffing and Bottling by Dave Forster (Paperback) - Lulu (http://www.lulu.com/shop/dave-forster/sniffing-and-bottling/paperback/product-20549198.html)

7th Jan 2019, 14:58
I seem to remember some of the Canberras at RAF Wyton had equipment fitted to take air samples. This was at the time of the A bomb tests, I was in 58 sqn at the time. Would these be the same ones.

Union Jack
7th Jan 2019, 15:59
VMT Centaurus for taking the time and trouble to connect and record this intriguing series of events, including the coincidental involvement of two Flights Lieutenants J Thomas, one RAF and one RAAF. Most interesting for someone with Darwin connections.


19th Jul 2019, 10:11
Yes you are right, the wing tanks were converted to collect air samples.

Jimbo 1323 flight 1952/1954