75th Anniversary of the “Forgotten 18th Squadron”

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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 (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 jnr 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 242 Dutch (including Dutch nationals and 56 Javanese) and 206 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. 18 B-25Cs and 10 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 44 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 45 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 900 operational sorties during its wartime service with 90 Dutchmen and 25 Australians killed in action. 4000 personnel from 38 nationalities were posted to the unit over 8 years. The Netherlands eventually took delivery of some 249 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 117 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 CofA 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.

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Dion Makowski

A keen photographer from an early age, Dion developed a genuine interest in all things aviation. After cutting his teeth on historic aircraft restoration and dabbling in model plane building, Dion took things further with a passion for collecting 1:1 scale and helped establish an aviation metal fabrication shop. With a former museum colleague, together they formed the Clyde North Aeronautical Preservation Group in 1989. Many years later, Dion published the Aviation Historical Society's of Australia's Journal Aviation Heritage and News and is currently active on the Society's committee. Today, he concentrates on aviation photo-journalism, specialising in current ADF activities and as always, fast jets, warbirds and antique aircraft historical research, remain his core passions.

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