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No. 5 Operational Training Unit RAAF

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No. 5 Operational Training Unit RAAF
Formal portrait of six rows of men military uniforms, seated or standing in front of a building
Graduates of No. 12 Course at No. 5 OTU in 1943
Active 1942–47
Country Australia
Branch Royal Australian Air Force
Role Operational training
Garrison/HQ RAAF Station Forest Hill (1942–43)
RAAF Station Tocumwal (1943–44)
RAAF Station Williamtown (1944–47)
RAAF Base Williamtown (1970–71)
Engagements World War II

No. 5 Operational Training Unit was an operational conversion unit (OTU) of the Royal Australian Air Force. It was formed at Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, in October 1942 to train bomber pilots and navigators for service in World War II. The unit was initially equipped with Bristol Beauforts and Beaufighters, and later received Douglas Bostons and de Havilland Mosquitos, among other types. It was transferred to Tocumwal in October 1943, and then to Williamtown in mid-1944. Disbanded in July 1947, No. 5 OTU was re-raised at Williamtown in April 1970 as a jet fighter conversion unit, operating CAC Sabres, de Havilland Vampires, and Macchi MB-326s. It ceased operations in July the following year.


World War II[edit]

During World War II, the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) established several operational training units (OTUs) to convert recently graduated pilots from advanced trainers to combat aircraft, and to add fighting ability to the flying skills they had already learned.[1] No. 5 Operational Training Unit was formed at RAAF Station Forest Hill in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, on 26 October 1942. Initially equipped with five Bristol Beaufighters and two Bristol Beauforts, its inaugural commanding officer was Squadron Leader B.F. Rose. The first training course ran from 2 November to 12 December 1942. At the end of the month the unit's strength was 170 personnel and sixteen aircraft.[2] By mid-1943 this had increased to almost 400 personnel and twenty-five aircraft, including four de Havilland DH-84s and one de Havilland Moth Minor, the remainder being Beauforts and Beaufighters. The unit's aircraft complement was augmented by its first Airspeed Oxford in August 1943.[2]

Twin-engined military monoplane parked on airfield
Mosquito bomber of No. 5 OTU, c. 1945

By the time No. 5 OTU relocated to RAAF Station Tocumwal, New South Wales, on 20 October 1943, it had begun running courses on Douglas Bostons. Its first de Havilland Mosquito arrived the following month. As of April 1944, the unit had a complement of sixty-three aircraft, including five Mosquitos. It ran conversion courses for experienced pilots and navigators, as well as training courses for newer aircrew.[2] No. 4 Operational Training Unit disbanded at RAAF Station Williamtown, New South Wales, on 30 April 1944; a small detachment remained to hand the base over to an advance party from No. 5 OTU the following day.[3][4] The rest of No. 5 OTU transferred to Williamtown during July. The unit commenced photo reconnaissance courses in August, and by October its strength was over 1,000 personnel.[2] Mosquito fighter ace Charles Scherf briefly served as chief flying instructor in late 1944.[5][6] November was marred by four fatal accidents in the space of three days.[2]

No. 5 OTU had thirty crews under training in January 1945, compared to a dozen in November 1942. By this time its complement of aircraft had increased to seventy-five, including twenty-eight Mosquitos. Staffing reached its highest level of 1,700 personnel in May.[2] Ace Charles Crombie was the unit's chief flying instructor when he was killed in a Beaufighter crash at Williamtown on 26 August 1945.[7][8] One of his fellow instructors at the time was Flight Lieutenant Charles "Bud" Tingwell.[9][10] Leading Aircraftman Jack Brabham, then an engine mechanic at No. 5 OTU, witnessed the accident.[11][12] The end of hostilities in the Pacific saw the dissolution of all the RAAF's OTUs.[1] On 1 February 1946, No. 5 OTU was reorganised as a crew conversion unit, CCU (Fighter), operating North American P-51 Mustangs and CAC Wirraways.[2][13] By February 1947 the CCU had a complement of twenty-eight aircraft and just under a hundred personnel. Activity began winding down in May, and the unit was disbanded on 7 July 1947.[2]


Single-engined military jet parked on tarmac
Sabre A94-983, operated by No. 5 OTU, landing at Avalon Airport in 2015

No. 5 OTU was re-formed at RAAF Base Williamtown on 1 April 1970 to provide pilots with operational training prior to their conversion to the Dassault Mirage III fighter. The unit's reactivation was celebrated with a dinner attended by its original commanding officer, B.F. Rose, and a flypast of forty-nine aircraft from No. 2 Operational Conversion Unit (OCU).[2] No. 5 OTU was divided into instructional and operational flights, and conducted training in concert with Mirages from No. 2 OCU and No. 76 Squadron.[2] Its aircraft also participated in joint exercises and display flights, including air shows celebrating the RAAF's 1971 golden jubilee.[2][14] The unit was equipped with forty CAC Sabre jet fighters, some de Havilland Vampire jet trainers, and eight Macchi MB-326s previously operated by No. 2 OCU for lead-in fighter training.[2][15] Vampire operations began winding down in September 1970, and the type was withdrawn in April 1971.[2]

The last Sabre conversion course was completed in December 1970.[16] Early the following year, the Australian government announced that the Sabres were to be phased out and retired by July 1971. At this time RAAF fighter pilots were trained progressively on the Winjeel, Macchi, Sabre and Mirage, but after considering the feasibility of direct Macchi-to-Mirage conversion, and the impracticability of maintaining the ageing Sabres, the government determined that it was possible to remove the Sabre from the process and retire the type, on the proviso that more Mirage trainers were made available; it subsequently approved the purchase of six new Mirage IIID dual trainers to augment the ten already in service.[16][17] No. 5 OTU was disbanded on 31 July 1971, the date the Sabre was retired from RAAF service.[2][18] The unit's Macchis were transferred back to No. 2 OCU.[15]

Following No. 5 OTU's disbandment, one of its Sabres, A94-983, was among several donated by the Australian government to the Royal Malaysian Air Force.[19][20] The aircraft was returned to the RAAF in 1978, and subsequently put on display at RAAF Bases Richmond, New South Wales, and Point Cook, Victoria. In 2005 the RAAF loaned it to the Temora Aviation Museum, New South Wales, where it was restored to flying condition.[19][21]


  1. ^ a b Stephens, Going Solo, pp. 167–168, 364
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n RAAF Historical Section, Training Units, pp. 71–73
  3. ^ RAAF Historical Section, Training Units, p. 70
  4. ^ "Williamtown units during WWII". Royal Australian Air Force. Archived from the original on 8 July 2007. Retrieved 28 December 2013. 
  5. ^ McCarthy, John. "Scherf, Charles Curnow (1917–1949)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Retrieved 24 December 2013. 
  6. ^ "Scherf, Charles Curnow – Personal file". National Archives of Australia. p. 10. Retrieved 24 December 2013. 
  7. ^ Stephens, The Royal Australian Air Force, pp. 89–90
  8. ^ Stephens, Alan. "Crombie, Charles Arbuthnot (1914–1945)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Retrieved 26 December 2013. 
  9. ^ Lockwood, Charles "Bud" Tingwell's War Stories, p. 161
  10. ^ "Tingwell, Charles William – Personal file". National Archives of Australia. p. 7. Retrieved 26 December 2013. 
  11. ^ Brabham; Nye, The Jack Brabham Story, pp. 23–24
  12. ^ "Brabham, John Arthur". World War 2 Nominal Roll. Retrieved 26 December 2013. 
  13. ^ RAAF Historical Section, Introduction, Bases, Supporting Organisations, p. 169
  14. ^ "The 'Sword' retires from service". RAAF News. Vol. 13 no. 7. August 1971. p. 3. 
  15. ^ a b RAAF Historical Section, Training Units, pp. 62–64
  16. ^ a b "Sabres to retire". RAAF News. Vol. 13 no. 3. April 1971. p. 8. 
  17. ^ "More Mirage dual trainers". RAAF News. Vol. 13 no. 1. January–February 1971. p. 3. 
  18. ^ "CAC Sabre". RAAF Museum. Retrieved 24 December 2013. 
  19. ^ a b "Chief of Air Force to sign historical aircraft agreement" (Press release). Department of Defence. 25 November 2005. Retrieved 24 December 2013. 
  20. ^ Stephens, Going Solo, p. 266
  21. ^ "RAAF CA-27 Sabre". Temora Aviation Museum. Retrieved 24 December 2013. 


Further reading[edit]

  • Lever, John (1999). RAAF Number 5 Operational Training Unit. Red Cliffs, Victoria: Sunnyland Press. ISBN 978-0-9587218-2-0.