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75th Anniversary of the “Forgotten 18th Squadron”

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Colonel Harold Jacobs, Senator Anne Rushton, Allen Day, Brian Coleman, Hans de Vries, and Leesa Vlahos

Written by Dion Makowski with Anne West

They shall grow not old,
As we that are left grow old,
Age shall not weary them,
Nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun,
And in the morning
We will remember them.

The Ode is taken from For the Fallen, by Laurence Binyon, who passed away in 1943. Also in 1943, No. 18 NEI (Netherlands East Indies) Squadron began combat operations against Japan.

The Event
On Saturday 8th April 2017, the 75th Anniversary of the formation of 18 NEI Squadron, RAAF was commemorated at Hangar 52, Classic Jets Fighter Museum, Parafield Airport, SA.  We were extremely priviledged to be asked to attend and record this unique event.

Mr Peter Smythe, Senior Researcher/Analyst for Reevers Warbirds, welcomed the special guests and presented Reevers’ ambitious project to restore a surviving B-25 Mitchell bomber as a tribute to the Dutch aircrews who fought in these in the pacific war. This aircraft was finished in a wartime NEI scheme for the event.

Other speakers included South Australian Senator Anne Rushton who acknowledged the enduring relationship of Australia and the Netherlands, also the veterans’ contributions to the war effort, and the significance of the B-25 to the relationship between the two countries.

SA Government Representative, Leesa Vlahos, spoke of her connection with model aircraft and the B-25 Mitchell.

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Colonel Harold Jacobs

First Guest Speaker was Colonel Harold Jacobs, Royal Netherlands Army, Defence Attache for Australia and New Zealand). It is his speech which contributed much to this piece. Col Jacobs pointed out that this shared history, standing shoulder to shoulder, as documented in the history books, still continues today in modern conflicts.

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Fred Pelder, Jr. holds a medal awarded to his father.

Keynote speaker was Mr Fred Pelder, who presented an overview of his father, Fred’s wartime experiences as a B-25 pilot with 18 (NEI) Squadron. Known as “Bill”, he passed away aged 82. During the war, he also acquired the nickname “Pulk”, which was painted on his B-25 and referred to his penchant for tinkering with mechanical devices so they worked better. He was credited with directing the rebuild of a severely damaged Lodestar transport including grafting on a replacement tail, to escape the advancing Japanese forces. He also completed flights, fitted with extra long-range tanks, to carry secret documentation. Bill aka Pulk, remained with the ML-KNIL until the handover to Indonesian nationalist forces then he returned “home” to the Netherlands with his wife and 5 children. Fred Pelder (Junior) is motivated to honour the crews of the “forgotten squadron”. In the last three years, Children of the 18th Squadron has been holding reunions in Holland and have established an email 18sqnei@gmail.com and website kinderenvan18sqn.jouwweb.nl. Fred Jr. and his wife Mathilde now reside in the Netherlands.

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Elmer Mesman and Peter Smythe

During the presentations, service medals from the Netherlands were presented to Fred Pelder Jnr (acknowledging his father’s service) and to Hans de Vries, a surviving B-25 pilot from 18 Squadron. Aged 93 years, Hans had clear memories of his wartime service and it was a privilege to be present to witness this mark of affection by the “mother country”. Mr Elmer Mesman of Children of the 18th Squadron, Netherlands, thanked Peter Smythe for his part in publicising the history of the squadron with his restoration of the B-25 and presented Peter with a desk model of “Pulk” “as a reminder of working together for freedom”.

Other veterans also were present and anxious to remember their wartime colleagues.

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Unveiling the plane’s name…

Alan Day, aged 95 is a former 18 Sqn member who later accompanied Dutch forces ashore as a medic during the very dangerous amphibious landings on Borneo. He is a past President of 18 SQN NEI-RAAF Forces Inc., the association of 18 Sqn veterans and will generally attend commemorative events acknowledging 18Sqn. Alan had made the trip to SA for the day and was returning unaccompanied – something the Victorians made sure would not occur! From a “salute” from the WWII Recreationists, to acknowledgement by passing police and special mention by the airline flight crew, Alan was created a symbol of the gratitude of current generations for the service of these gallant men.

Brian Coleman, aged 94, was a ground crew member of 18 Sqn, and had been based at Batchelor with the squadron. He was happy to locate his photo in the giant squadron photo reproduced across the hangar wall, his image among many hundreds of personnel posing with no less than three Mitchell bombers at Batchelor.

Battle for Survival
After Japan entered the War in 1941 – partly to secure strategic oil and materiel supplies, invasion of the Netherlands East Indies swiftly followed, forcing the Allied forces to flee via Darwin NT, later due to Japanese attacks, via Broome, WA. On 3 March 1942, Japanese Mitsubishi A6M2 Zeroes conducted a devastatingly successful attack on the evacuation aircraft at Broome, resulting in the destruction of flying boats and land aircraft and heavy loss of life, including a great many Dutch fleeing from NEI (now Indonesia). (This author has viewed the archive files and found numerous touching postwar letters from devastated parents wanting to know the fate of their families and children in this attack…) Flt Lt Willem F. “Gus” Winckel, who later flew in 18 Sqn, during the attack took the machinegun of his Lodestar which he had been servicing, in his hands and fired at the attacking Zeros. He is credited with one Japanese Zero which is believed to have crashed into the sea. In the meanwhile Gus Winckel burned his left fore arm on the barrel of the machinegun. Incredible stuff.

The problem for the Dutch was they had nowhere to go, the Netherlands were occupied by Germany, the NEI by Japan. Dutchmen had given good account of themselves in battle against overwhelming odds, including Rear Admiral Karel Doorman, commanding at the Battle of the Java Sea on 27 February and “Gus” Winckel himself.

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The Squadron
In Melbourne ML-KNIL (The Royal Netherlands East Indies Army Air Force) HQ was raised and 18 NEI Squadron formed on 4 April in Canberra, at RAAF Base Fairbairn, under the command of RAAF 79 Wing. The squadron consisted of Dutch pilots and Australian RAAF co-pilots, air gunners, bombardiers, photographers and ground staff, including cooks, bottle washers, drivers, clerks, medics, supply and maintenance personnel. With two hundred forty two Dutch (including Dutch nationals and fifty-six Javanese) and two hundred and six Australians, their first Dutch Commander was LtCol Fiedelij. Slightly unruly at times, the Dutch got the nickname the Dutch Cowboys. “Gus” Winckel was nicknamed Wild Bill. Eighteen B-25Cs and ten DB-7Bs (US designation A-20A) Boston Light Bombers were transferred from Dutch orders which could not be delivered. After initial training, the squadron was to settle on the B-25. The Bostons went to equip 22 Sqn RAAF. To ‘announce’ their arrival as a unit, 18 Sqn flew in formation under the Sydney Harbour bridge and they also met Prime Minister Curtin at Parliament House. 5 June 1942 “Gus” Winckel again attacked the enemy – this time in a B-25, his target a submarine. Results have since been debated. 6 July 1942 the squadron transferred to Netherlands East Indies control while still under overall RAAF operational command.

In December 1942 they moved to MacDonald Air Strip on the Stuart Highway, North of Pine Creek, NT. Very harsh conditions, hot, muggy, lack of drinkable water. From January 1943 the Squadron commenced offensive operations over East Timor and the Tanimbar and Kali Islands.

Between April and May 1943 18 Sqn moved to Batchelor Airfield, closer to Darwin and luckily some better facilities. The airplanes received auxiliary fuel tanks. From there it performed reconnaissance flights over Somniloguy Island, Tanimbar Island and Ambon and also performed Offensive operations on Penfoei, Koepang Harbour and Dili – conducting mast-height attacks on Japanese ships. In September fresh crews came in from the US from the Dutch flying school in Jackson, Mississippi. Between Nov 43 and Mar 44 18 Sqn was ordered to prevent Japanese reinforcements reaching the NE part of Papua New Guinea. They also conducted operations on seaborne traffic around Timor and Ambon and the Kai and Aroe Islands. These are all places familiar to an historian of RAAF operations. The sinking of Japanese ships led to another nickname for the unit: Dutch cleanser.

From mid 1944 the number of Japanese fighters decreased and 18 Sqn could begin searching for POW camps across Java and dropping leaflets. The Squadron then moved to Balikpapan in Borneo and continued their operations also dropping food and medical supplies to prisoners held in Java, Borneo and the Celebes. They also supported the amphibious landing on Makassar, north Celebes Islands in late Sept 1945 to accept the Japanese surrender and release POWs.

On 25 Nov 45 the RAAF component of the Sqn was disbanded. 15 Jan 46 the unit officially passed to Dutch operational control, flying against Indonesian Nationalists. 26 July 1950 the materiel of the unit was handed over to the Indonesians and the unit was disbanded.

18 Squadron conducted more than nine hundred operational sorties during its wartime service with ninety Dutchmen and twenty-five Australians killed in action. Four thousand personnel from thirty-eight nationalities were posted to the unit over eight years. The Netherlands eventually took delivery of some two hundred forty nine B-25C, D and J variants – many were operated by 18 Sqn.

(Adapted with Permission, from the speech by Col Harold Jacobs. Thank you, Sir)

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Reevers and the B-25

Peter Smythe expressed his motivation for the B-25 project which was the lack of recognition for many WWII veterans and particularly the largely unknown story of 18 NEI Squadron. This is framed by his experience of the treatment of his fellow Vietnam war veterans.

The aircraft in question, c/n 108-37583, was built as a B-25J-NC with AAF serial 44-31508. The B-25Js were built in greater numbers than all other versions. This example is an NA-108 and was converted by Hughes among one hundred seventeen other B-25Js as TB-25K – a flying classroom for instruction in the use of the Hughes E-1 radar fire control system as developed for use in the Lockheed TF-80C for the F-89 Scorpion and F-94C Starfire radar-interceptor program.

Disposed of by the USAF in 1960 from Olmstead AFB, and added to the US civil register as N6578D for Nathaniel A. Kalt Trading as Stinson Field Aircraft at San Antonio, the B-25 was issued with a Certificate of Airworthiness on 22 September 1961. After a succession of private or corporate owners, in 1967 it was modified as a movie camera platform in Florida. Interestingly, N6578D was utilised as the camera ship for filming of the classic British war movie Battle of Britain with filming in the UK and Spain during 1968. Back in the States, the B-25 had changes of ownership and storage before restoration as a “warbird’ in 1981, first in its own identity as tail number 431508 Chapter XI, later during the 90s as Lucky Lady. Something went wrong for old N6578D and it was again put out to pasture for nearly two decades. Sold to Reevers around 2014, reassembly was recently hastened to meet this important deadline and the B-25 is currently painted as an early NEI B-25C 41-12916, N5-131 “Pulk”. Restoration will continue into the foreseeable future.

We would like to express our appreciation to Reevers Warbirds and Phil Buckley, Media Director for Reevers Warbirds, for the invitation to attend.

Additional sources include; Flying Squadrons of the Australian Defence Force, various B-25 and USAF publications, Geoff Goodall’s Aviation History Site; Warbirds Directory V6.

Big Iron at Breckenridge TX, I Remember That!

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It’s back!!!   After a 20 year hiatus, the Breckenridge (Texas) Air Show will take to the skies again. Over Memorial Day Weekend, specifically on Sunday May 28, 2017, the “resurrection” of this legendary air show will occur. There are some events occurring on the Saturday (practice day) and early morning before main gates open (sunrise photo tour) too. Back in the early 1990’s, I took two trips to the  beehive of warbird activity at Breckenridge. “Big Iron” was the draw… World War II fighters, trainers, and bombers were the main focus, but later-produced warbirds were represented in good numbers as well.  That seems to be the theme this year, too!

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The Stephens County Airport, in a rather rural part of the state, sits a few hours’ drive west of the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex. A few decades ago, more than a few reasons existed for drawing a mass of interesting and exciting warbirds to the air shows held at the airport. It was here that the late Howard Pardue kept his stable of fighters (Corsair, Sea Fury, Wildcat, Bearcat), it was and still is home to warbird restoration specialists Ezell Aviation (known for, among many others, Corsair and Sea Fury rebuilds back then), and Texas has always had a vibrant warbird community.

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This year, 2017, the Chamber of Commerce has teamed up with Ezell Aviation and other local companies to present this event. Besides warbird aviation, the area has a rich heritage in the cattle and oil industries. Cisco, about half an hour’s drive south of Breckenridge, was home to Conrad Hilton’s first hotel too!

For updates about the air show, go to: http://breckenridgetexas.com/breckenridge-airshow-2017/

Here are a few photos from my visits during 1991 and 1992, enjoy!

 

Historic Patrouille de France Visit marks the Centenary of America’s WWI Involvement

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Photos by Scott Zeno and Alice Leong, written by Ken Kula.

France’s Armee De L’Air – sometimes known in the United States as the French Air Force – has send some of their most visible ambassadors on a seven week tour across the Atlantic Ocean, to North America. The Patrouille de France, the Air Force’s jet aerobatic team, have embarked with their eight primary Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jets, along with two other spare jets, and an Airbus A-400M Atlas support aircraft. A French Navy (Maritime) Falcon 50 tri-jet (a maritime patrol aircraft) led the procession across the chilly ocean, through some amazingly cold weather. Their tour’s logistics are eye opening and their itinerary full of symbolic gestures and historic events; here’s an overview of the early springtime tour.

ClassicWarbirds representatives were honored to be included in a welcoming group of officials and media at the Stewart International Airport in New York, as the team arrived in the U.S. for the first time in over thirty years. Seven of the Alpha Jets made a series of overhead passes at the airport before landing; the pilots and other crew aboard the twin-seat trainers cleared customs, and then appeared planeside to answer questions. The other three Alpha Jets and the Atlas arrived later that evening.

Why is the team is here in the U.S.? France’s Air Army General, André Lanata, summed up the reasons for this historic visit in his media editorial:

“2017 is a highly symbolic year for the French and American Air Forces alike. It marks the centenary of the United States’ entry in the Great War, the 70th anniversary of the founding of the US Air Force, I00 years since the death of Georges Guynemer and, more generally, it is a year in which the French Air Force will commemorate the World War I flying aces.

All this goes much deeper than outward symbols and commemorations, it underscores not only the history of cooperation between our Air Forces, but also the fact that that cooperation is now more topical than ever. During World War I, the French and American airmen of the “La Fayette Escadrille” fought side-by-side, building the superiority in the air that was to play such a decisive role in changing the course first of the Battle of Verdun, then the Battle of the Somme, and then, irreversibly, all the battles which followed.

Our aviators continue to fight side-by-side in today’s theaters of operations, protecting their fellow citizens. In the Levant, in the same Coalition force deployed to combat Islamic State, they fight the same enemy which has attacked innocent civilians both in France and the US. In the Sahel-Saharan Strip, the US Air Force provides support that enables the French forces to track down jihadist groups in a region the size of Europe and to sustain pressure in areas where they are active, thanks to ongoing air operations. Last, French and American air crew are part of NATO’s collective defense countering any resurgence of power struggles, especially when these are played out in the air.

The Patrouille de France’s US Tour celebrates this exceptional relationship, a relationship of steadfast allies determined to share their excellence in aeronautics to defend our shared values.” “…I would invite you to remember the deeper significance of the French aerobatics team’s extraordinary trip.”

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We spoke with the Squadron Leader, Commandant Christophe DuBois, about their trip thus far, and what they will accomplish “over here” (versus “Over There”… the title of a popular 1917 song by American George M. Cohen marking the U.S.’s involvement in the First World War). The team left their home base of Salon-de-Provence in France, and after a stop in Orleans, France, made stops at RAF Lossiemouth Scotland, Keflavik Iceland, Kangerlussuaq Greenland, and Goose Bay, Labrador Canada, before arriving at CFB Bagotville, Quebec Canada almost a week after their initial departure. Seven of the Alpha Jets arrived together at Stewart on the early afternoon of Thursday, March 23rd; Squadron Leader DuBois sad that the cold air temperatures (minus twenty five on the ground in Greenland – whether Centigrade of Fahrenheit, this is COLD) caused some issues with the Alpha Jets, but they all made the crossing successfully.

There was only one day of weather-related delay between Keflavik and Greenland. The pilots flew wearing exposure suits in case of an over-water ejection. And the Alpha Jet has twin engines, so there was a bit of safety back-up, even though it was not needed. Commandant DuBois said that the normal range of the Alpha Jet was two to two and a half hours endurance. However, the jets were fitted with under wing fuel tanks for the crossing, adding extra fuel for a bit more range. Although two and a half hours isn’t an extraordinarily long time to be in a “fast jet”, over freezing water in frigid Arctic air offered a considerable risk. To read a great running commentary of their westbound trip, check out “Athos Leader” on Facebook!

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The Patrouille will travel across the U.S. and Canada with their eleven aircraft, seventy-two personnel and some twenty-five tons of freight (spares parts, supplies and other items like brochures). Their first mission was to fly a photo pass over New York City, and grace the statue of Liberty with an aerial salute, streaming their red, white and blue smoke. The day prior to this flight, the Squadron Leader was flown around the downtown area in an Stewart-based Army UH-72A Lakota helicopter, on a reconnaissance mission to see where the flight should be led to. Although weather conditions weren’t perfect, the photo pass attracted loads of media attention, and created quite a stir – in a good sense. Their next leg, from Stewart to Andrews AFB MD, was plagued by even worse weather conditions, which forced a cancellation of another aerial salute over the Nation’s Capital. There will be plenty more photo opportunities along their planed route of flight though. Planned flyovers include the Grand Canyon and the Golden Gate Bridge, along with a handful of air displays. Their next two display sites in Florida finally presented decent flying weather for the team to perform in.

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Some of the highlights of this early 2017 tour include:

Statue of Liberty Flyover New York City NY – March 25
Washington DC Flyover – March 27
Melbourne FL and Sun N Fun FL Airshows – April 1 through 4
World War I Centennial Commemoration Event, Kansas City MO – April 5 and 6
Maxwell AFB air show – April 7 through 9
Grand Canyon Flyover – April 13
Sacramento CA Air Show and Golden Gate Bridge Flyover – April 13 through 16
Air Force Academy Flyover, Colorado Springs CO – April 19
Langley AFB VA VIP Day and Exercise TEI – April 20 and 21
Stewart International Airport NY, closed Air Show – April 22 and 23
Norfolk VA NATO Tattoo Festival – April 28 and 29
Ottawa ON /Gatineau QB Air Show – April 30
Montreal QB Air Show – May 1

There’ll also be days when the Patrouille stop and visit the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels at their home at NAS Pensacola FL and the U. S. Air Force’s Thunderbirds at their home at Nellis AFB NV, as well as a few stopovers for fuel while crisscrossing the U.S..

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Special commemorative markings are applied to the visiting aircraft, honoring various French World War I Aces. There’ll be more about these markings in a later article here.

Check in again during the upcoming weeks of the tour for further information about the Patrouille de France team, and more about the First World War’s aviation history. An article about the historic 27th and 94th Aero Squadrons’ hosting the Patrouille de France at Langley AFB this year is already in the works!

Don’t Let them Stop Your Air Show!

9081_small ***Please note that we are asking for signatures ONLY and NOT DONATIONS. If the option pops up, please skip. A lawsuit has been brought against the Planes of Fame Air Museum by the Yanks Air Museum, Flying Tigers Aviation, SOCAL MRO, and Zangeneh Aeronautics with the sole intent to stop the 25th Annual Planes of Fame Air Show at Chino Airport slated for May 6 & 7, 2017. The annual Air Show is one of the few remaining events in Southern California where visitors from around the world can enjoy the sights and sounds of aircraft from the Golden Age of Aviation flying overhead.  Each year the Air Show attracts thousands of families, aviation enthusiasts, and others who come together to witness rare and historic aircraft, as well as some of the most talented aviators take to the skies.  The Planes of Fame Air Show at Chino Airport is considered one of the top five air shows in the country. As a non-profit, 501c.3 organization, the annual Air Show serves as the primary fundraising effort for the Planes of Fame Air Museum.  Revenue from the annual Air Show helps us to carry on our mission to preserve aviation history, inspire an interest in aviation, education of the public, and honor aviation pioneers and veterans.  And as this year’s Air Show marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of Planes of Fame Air Museum, we have seen how our mission has impacted multiple generations of families, and is introducing aviation to entirely new generations. For the local community, the annual Air Show provides an economic stimulus to local businesses and entrepreneurs both on and nearby the airport.  For the City of Chino and the County of San Bernardino, the Air Show provides increased visibility as thousands of visitors flock to the Chino Airport for the show. In response to the inquires regarding the nature of the lawsuit, the allegations involve the experience of economic hardship over Air Show weekend and an inconvenience to operations. https://www.change.org/p/planes-of-fame-air-museum-don-t-let-them-stop-our-air-show PLEASE RESPOND ASAP AND SHARE THIS PETITION ON ALL OF YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA AND EMAIL.  Help us save the Air Show!  We are asking our friends, visitors, community, and colleagues to join together to support the Air Show.  Please send us a note or letter indicating your backing of the Air Show and be sure to include your thoughts on why it needs to continue. Your letters and comments need to be received by April 4, 2017. Please send all comments, concerns and questions to letusfly@planesoffame.org
This petition will be delivered to:

  • Planes of Fame Air Museum
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