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No. 71 Wing RAAF

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No. 71 Wing RAAF
Approximately 15 men wearing military uniforms in discussion around a jeep, parked in front of a twin-engined aircraft
Tactical reconnaissance crews of No. 71 Wing being briefed at Tadji Airstrip in New Guinea, June 1945
Active 1943–46
Country Australia
Branch Royal Australian Air Force
Role Attack
Size Four–five flying squadrons
Part of No. 9 Group (1943–44)
No. 10 Group (1944)
Northern Command (1944–45)

World War II

Ian McLachlan (1943)
Blake Pelly (1943–44)
Colin Hannah (1944)
Val Hancock (1945)
Aircraft flown
Attack Beaufort; Beaufighter
Fighter P-40 Kittyhawk

No. 71 Wing was a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) wing of World War II. It was formed in February 1943 at Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea, as part of No. 9 Operational Group. The wing initially comprised two squadrons of P-40 Kittyhawks, one of Lockheed Hudsons, and one of Bristol Beauforts. The wing's mainstay soon became the Beaufort, which eventually equipped five squadrons attached to the formation. No. 71 Wing took part in the New Guinea campaign under the auspices of No. 9 Group, before transferring to No. 10 Operational Group for the Western New Guinea campaign during 1944. It then returned to the control of Northern Command (formerly No. 9 Group) to support Australian ground forces in the Aitape–Wewak campaign, and completed its final combat mission only hours before the Japanese surrender in August 1945. No. 71 Wing remained in New Guinea following the war and was disbanded in January 1946.


New Guinea campaign[edit]

Approximately eight men in military uniforms leaning over papers on desks
Fighter Sector Operations Room of No. 71 Wing on Goodenough Island, Papua, October 1943

No. 71 Wing was formed on 26 February 1943 to control four flying squadrons based at Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea: No. 6 Squadron, operating Lockheed Hudson bombers; No. 75 Squadron, operating P-40 Kittyhawk fighters; No. 77 Squadron, operating Kittyhawks; and No. 100 Squadron, operating Bristol Beaufort torpedo bombers.[1][2] Its inaugural commanding officer was Wing Commander (later Group Captain) Ian McLachlan.[3] The wing came under the aegis of No. 9 Operational Group, described by historian Alan Stephens as the RAAF's "premier fighting unit" in the South West Pacific Area (SWPA), whose purpose was to act as a mobile strike force in support of advancing Allied troops.[2][4] In March the Beauforts took part in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, "the decisive aerial engagement" in the SWPA according to General Douglas MacArthur, but was unable to score any hits against Japanese ships.[5][6]

McLachlan relinquished command in June 1943 to become senior air staff officer at No. 9 Group headquarters; No. 71 Wing headquarters moved to Goodenough Island the same month.[7] Between July and October, its squadrons carried out operations against enemy bases, shipping and lines of communication along the coast of New Britain. In August, the wing was given responsibility for Goodenough, where it was joined the following month by No. 8 Squadron, flying Beauforts. No. 6 Squadron had meanwhile converted to Beauforts from Hudsons; it remained at Milne Bay along with No. 100 Squadron, until both transferred to Goodenough in November.[8][9] Between October 1943 and February 1944, the three Beaufort squadrons took part in a series of major attacks on Rabaul, bombing and strafing airfields, infrastructure and shipping; the Japanese withdrew their aircraft from Rabaul the following month.[10][11] Wing Commander (later Group Captain) Blake Pelly held command of the wing from October 1943 until May 1944, apart from a period of leave in January–February 1944, when Wing Commander Colin Hannah, previously in charge of No. 6 Squadron, assumed temporary command.[12]

Western New Guinea campaign[edit]

Twin-engined military aircraft in flight high over a seashore
No. 8 Squadron Beaufort over New Guinea, 1944

By early 1944, No. 9 Operational Group had become a static garrison force for the New Guinea area, and was renamed Northern Command in April to better reflect its new role.[13][14] The following month No. 71 Wing, now led by Wing Commander Ralph Moran, advanced to Nadzab, where it came under the control of No. 10 Operational Group (later the Australian First Tactical Air Force). There Nos. 8 and 100 Squadrons engaged in attacks on Japanese positions in Wewak, each flying over 140 sorties during the month.[15]

In June, the wing went forward to Aitape, where its two Beaufort units were augmented by No. 30 Squadron flying Bristol Beaufighters, and the United States Army Air Forces' 110th Squadron flying P-39 Airacobras. These four squadrons undertook 1,510 sorties during the Battle of Aitape in July, delivering 670 tons of bombs. On 7 August, No. 8 Squadron flew 64 missions, a record for a Beaufort unit. US General Charles P. Hall praised the wing for contributing "in a large measure ... to the success of the operation by continuous interruption of enemy lines of communication and bombing and strafing of enemy concentrations and supplies".[15] Commodore John Collins, who during the battle led a Royal Australian Navy task force that included the cruisers HMAS Australia and HMAS Shropshire, also paid tribute: "The accuracy of these bombardments was ensured by excellent air spotting. Beauforts of 71 Wing RAAF gave this spotting and deserve much credit for the efficient manner in which it was undertaken, particularly since the airmen were not trained spotters and a Beaufort is hardly a suitable plane for the work."[16]

Aitape–Wewak campaign[edit]

Four twin-engined military aircraft in low-level flight over the ocean
Beauforts of No. 100 Squadron near Wewak, January 1945

Following a decision in September 1944 that No. 71 Wing would not advance to Morotai with No. 10 Operational Group, but instead support the Australian 6th Division in the Aitape–Wewak campaign, overall control of the wing returned to Northern Command. The same month, the first Beauforts of No. 7 Squadron arrived in Aitape to augment Nos. 8 and 100 Squadrons; the wing was further strengthened in November with a flight of CAC Boomerangs from No. 4 (Army Cooperation) Squadron.[17] Wing Commander Eric Cooper, previously in charge of No. 7 Squadron, became No. 71 Wing's new commanding officer in October.[18] The Beaufort units flew around 500 sorties per month from November 1944 to January 1945, but thereafter had to reduce their rate of effort owing to aircrew, ordnance and fuel shortages. During a three-day period in March, two Beauforts blew up in mid-air while releasing their bombs; the aircraft were pulled from strike missions for ten days until the problem was traced to a faulty tail unit in the 100-pound (45 kg) bombs.[17]

Cooper handed over to Group Captain Val Hancock, former commanding officer of No. 100 Squadron, in April 1945.[19][20] To maximize support to Australian ground troops in the lead-up to the final assault on Wewak, No. 71 Wing's three extant Beaufort squadrons were joined by two more, Nos. 6 and 15. Approximately sixty Beauforts and Boomerangs struck Japanese positions behind Dove Bay prior to amphibious landings on 11 May to cut off retreating enemy troops. Over the entire month, the wing dropped more than 1,200 tons of bombs and flew in excess of 1,400 sorties. By mid-year, the wing was again acutely short of fuel and ordnance, so much so that the squadrons took to arming their Beauforts with captured Japanese bombs.[20] On 9 July, enough supplies arrived to enable the wing to continue operating at nominal strength.[21] No. 71 Wing was active to the last day of the Pacific War, flying its final combat mission involving thirty Beauforts only hours before news arrived of victory on 15 August 1945. Thereafter its squadrons dropped leaflets to remaining pockets of Japanese resistance, making them aware of the surrender.[20] The last entry in No. 71 Wing's operations book was for 21 January 1946 at Tadji, New Guinea.[22] The headquarters was disbanded six days later.[1]

Commanding officers[edit]

No. 71 Wing was commanded by the following officers:

From Name
February 1943 Group Captain I.D. McLachlan [3]
June 1943 Group Captain D.C. Candy [7]
October 1943 Wing Commander B.R. Pelly [23]
January 1944 Wing Commander C.T. Hannah (temp) [24]
February 1944 Group Captain B.R. Pelly [25]
May 1944 Wing Commander R.H. Moran [26]
October 1944 Wing Commander E.W. Cooper [27]
April 1945 Group Captain V.E. Hancock [28]
September 1945 Group Captain T. Primrose [29]
October 1945 Wing Commander L.R. Trewren (temp) [30]


  1. ^ a b "Order of Battle – Air Force – Headquarters". Department of Veterans' Affairs. Retrieved 12 July 2015. 
  2. ^ a b Odgers, Air War Against Japan, pp. 23–24
  3. ^ a b No. 71 Wing, "Operations Record Book", pp. 1, 33
  4. ^ Stephens, The Royal Australian Air Force, pp. 122–123
  5. ^ Stephens, The Royal Australian Air Force, pp. 160–165
  6. ^ Gillison, Royal Australian Air Force, pp. 690–692
  7. ^ a b No. 71 Wing, "Operations Record Book", pp. 32–33
  8. ^ Odgers, Air War Against Japan, pp. 69–85
  9. ^ Odgers, Air War Against Japan, pp. 123–124
  10. ^ Odgers, Air War Against Japan, pp. 93–96
  11. ^ Odgers, Air War Against Japan, pp. 125–133
  12. ^ No. 71 Wing, "Operations Record Book", pp. 58, 92, 98, 117
  13. ^ Stephens, The Royal Australian Air Force, pp. 168–170
  14. ^ Odgers, Air War Against Japan, pp. 182–183, 198–200
  15. ^ a b Odgers, Air War Against Japan, pp. 250–255
  16. ^ Gill, Royal Australian Navy, pp. 462–463
  17. ^ a b Odgers, Air War Against Japan, pp. 337–342
  18. ^ "Wing Commander Eric William Cooper". Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 8 August 2016. 
  19. ^ Gillison, Royal Australian Air Force, p. 95
  20. ^ a b c Odgers, Air War Against Japan, pp. 342–348
  21. ^ Long, The Final Campaigns, p. 360
  22. ^ No. 71 Wing, "Operations Record Book", p. 182
  23. ^ No. 71 Wing, "Operations Record Book", p. 58
  24. ^ No. 71 Wing, "Operations Record Book", p. 92
  25. ^ No. 71 Wing, "Operations Record Book", pp. 98, 117
  26. ^ No. 71 Wing, "Operations Record Book", p. 117
  27. ^ No. 71 Wing, "Operations Record Book", p. 140
  28. ^ No. 71 Wing, "Operations Record Book", pp. 155–156
  29. ^ No. 71 Wing, "Operations Record Book", p. 173
  30. ^ No. 71 Wing, "Operations Record Book", pp. 175–176


Further reading[edit]

  • Odgers, George (1984). The Royal Australian Air Force: An Illustrated History. Brookvale: Child & Henry. ISBN 0-86777-368-5.