JAMES-MARTIN , Howard John

Service Number: 416355
Enlisted: 24 May 1941, Adelaide SA
Last Rank: Warrant Officer
Last Unit: No. 82 Squadron (RAAF)
Born: Peterborough, South Australia, 12 June 1920
Home Town: Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia
Schooling: Murray Bridge School, South Australia - Intermediate
Occupation: Fruitgrower
Died: Stroke, Adelaide, South Australia , 10 June 2014, aged 93 years
Cemetery: Centennial Park Cemetery, South Australia
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World War 2 Service

24 May 1941: Enlisted Royal Australian Air Force, Aircraftman 2 (WW2), SN 416355, Aircrew Training Units, Adelaide SA
25 May 1941: Involvement Royal Australian Air Force, Aircraftman 2 (WW2), SN 416355, Aircrew Training Units, Empire Air Training Scheme
1 Jul 1941: Involvement Royal Australian Air Force, Leading Aircraftman, SN 416355, 1 Elementary Flying Training School Parafield, Empire Air Training Scheme
1 Sep 1941: Involvement Royal Australian Air Force, Leading Aircraftman, SN 416355, 1 Service Flying Training School, Empire Air Training Scheme
1 Jan 1942: Involvement Royal Australian Air Force, Sergeant, SN 416355, No. 3 Wireless Air Gunners School, Empire Air Training Scheme
1 Jan 1944: Involvement Sergeant, SN 416355, No. 23 Squadron (RAAF), Air War SW Pacific 1941-45
4 Aug 1945: Involvement Warrant Officer, SN 416355, No. 82 Squadron (RAAF), Air War SW Pacific 1941-45
12 Dec 1945: Discharged Royal Australian Air Force, Warrant Officer, SN 416355, No. 82 Squadron (RAAF)

Pearce - a second Vultee belly landing

We hadn't been at Pearce long before it was decided that the Navigators would change back to just Wireless/air-gunners instead of Navigator/wireless operator/air-gunners as they had been on the Vultee. Alec left me, and I teamed up with a bloke by the name of Murray Fairbairn.

On the second posting at Pearce my first flight was 4 August 1944 and my last one 1st January 1945. I was still at Pearce when Bruce was born ( 22 Feb 1945) and I went away when he was four or five days old.

One morning I had just taken off when a hydraulic line, which controlled the landing gear, blew in the back of the aircraft. I can't think who was with me but it wasn't Murray, who was away at the time, but I remember that he got covered in hydraulic fluid. As a result of the hydraulic line blowing I wasn't able to select "wheels up", the undercarriage was unlocked and swinging loose, i.e. it wasn't possible to retract the undercarriage which was still down from take-off but wasn't locked into position.

The only solution was to climb the aircraft to about 6-7,000 feet, then dive to pick up speed and roll the Vultee on its back which caused the wheels to flop back into the retracted position, and lock. I then was able to bring it in for a belly landing.

It was interesting to compare that experience with the belly landing at Nadzab. After a crash landing air crew were supposed to be examined by a doctor. At Nadzab the doctor came up to us and said," are you two blokes all right", and when we said, "yes", he said, "OK.".

At Pearce I was still a non commissioned pilot and the doctor wanted to put the commissioned officer, who had been in the back seat in hospital, but he considered that I was all right. In fact we were both all right.

"R.A.A.F. Years a personal recall" - recorded by Peter James-Martin

(note : Navigator was F/O A.N. Lamb.)


White knuckle flight

I well remember the occasion of my first flight (“Do you remember? . The Advertiser, 20/9/97) and that I was never so paralysed with fright since a ride on the Big Dipper when quite young.

It was 1943, when, as an RAAF ground staff wireless mechanic, in company with riggers and engine fitters, I had completed one of the usual service checks on a Vultee Vengeance dive-bomber of No 12 Squadron, based at Batchelor Field.

The pilot, due to carry out the test flight, asked whether I would like to go up and I, in my ignorance, jumped at the chance. Suitably kitted out and strapped in, away we went, with me enjoying the experience as we climbed ever higher.

Suddenly the nose of the aircraft dropped and then I recalled these machines had a diving angle of 89 degrees. As we screamed earthwards, my stomach rose heavenwards, being held in only by my clenched teeth, while the knuckles of my tightly clenched hands were as white as my face must have been.

When I was quite convinced we were destined to be plastered all over the landscape, the aircraft’s nose pointed up again and my stomach reversed direction while my teeth and hands remained locked, as we climbed into the sky again.

It was with feelings of infinite relief that we returned to earth and taxied to a standstill and I was able to extract myself and totter away. I don't know whether the pilot was laughing at my reaction - I was only thankful to be back on terra firma.

I have since flown on numerous occasions but always in multi-engined aircraft and in company with others who would share my fate if we crashed!

Charles B. NOTTLE, Glenunga
[from The Advertiser 1 October 1997]

posted by Peter James-Martin.

(Charles Nottle spoke to Howard after this letter was published. He said he was surprised that there were Vultee pilots alive and he had no idea how the Vultee Vengeance pilots did what they did.)


Belly Landing - Alec Boxall's recall

Belly Landing - Nadzab

"All three Vengeance squadrons escorted by the Kittyhawks of No. 80 bombed the target in the morning. They returned to base, refuelled, bombed up again, and returned to the same target in the afternoon. On this day No. 10 Group flew a total of 93 sorties against Mindiri, dropping 35 tons of bombs and firing thousands or rounds of ammunition. They suffered no losses from enemy fire, although one of the Vengeances was damaged in a forced landing on the way back to base. Next morning the Americans landed without opposition at Mindiri." "Australia in the War of 1939 -1945, series 3 Air; George Odgers"

I recall the time that Howard and I were returning from Mindiri village, when we had trouble with the wheels on the Vultee Vengeance, and had to crash land on the strip at Nadzab. When you are sitting in the back of the aircraft you don't always know what is going on in the front of the aircraft. Howard would have known that the wheels wouldn't go down, whereas I didn't for a while. I remember him speaking to me over the radio; in the Vultee I could see very little of Howard because he had an armour plate protector down behind him and I could just see the sides of his head. You weren't really in close contact.

He told me that he couldn't get the wheels down and asked me to radio the base to tell them, the others had landed while we were still flying around. Nadzab wasn't solely our base, there were other airfields there as well, we shared our airstrip with the Americans and aircraft were quite expendable so I didn't know what they would do. If there was a Liberator landing in an emergency with seven or eight people in it we would have been quite expendable.

The word came back to circle and wait. I didn't know whether they would tell us to go over the kunai and jump out, or what they would tell us. I later found they told us to wait and shot off and got the CO. One of the foremost things in my mind was that navigators did not get out of the back of a Vultee alive. The CO radioed instructions which Howard was listening to.

I worked the radio, but Howard took the message direct - he was told to get up high and bump the aircraft, which meant putting it into a climb until just below a stall then dropping the nose so that the aircraft flops then bites the air and stops. It's hard on your stomach, and the dust at the bottom of the aircraft comes straight up. Then we tried to dive and none of that worked, the wheels weren't going to come down, then they told us to make a low pass over the airfield so that they could have a look. We then went back to the circuit height again.

Eventually they said that they had cleared the airfield and that we were to make a landing beside the strip, not on it. When that message came through a number of things went through my mind as those navigators before who had done this hadn't fared that well. I had made up my mind that if it ever happened to me I would get rid of the guns. It was common knowledge among the navigators that this was the thing to do. I threw the guns over the side because, when Vultees crash landed, although there hadn't been many of them crash land, the navigator hadn't faired too well. Those guns came flying forward and whacked them fair in the back of the head with disastrous results, so that's why they went overboard in our case.

I told Howard I was going to jettison the guns and I remember him saying over the intercom in typical Howard language, "For Christ sake watch the tail", which was fairly wise because had I hit the tail we both would have gone into the ground. We went through all the preliminaries, after which I dropped the machine guns overboard. They were twin Browning machine guns which were fairly heavy.

I don't know how I did it because it took two people to install them, but in the heat of the moment I got them over the side quite easily. The machine guns were on a slender mounting facing backwards, and had attached to them a pair of electric cables which operated them. I unpinned the guns from the mounting, but wasn't able to unscrew the electrical cables, so I manhandled the guns, levered them to the side and lowered them over the side by the two rubber cables until I was just about hanging out of the aircraft and when I let them go the electric cables snapped. Whoever had done them up must have used a bit of force. I remember getting them over the side, leaning over and hanging on to them to try and get them as low as possible so they would miss the tail plane. Of course the cable just snapped like string, which I was glad about, my watch got caught and went over with them.

They recovered the guns, which had landed on an American tent, not that I saw that. Nadzab had airstrips that went in different ways, and all around them was swampy land, flooded by the Markham River, with kunai growing in and around and beyond them, so, as we were circling around the area, I must confess I didn't see anything underneath, I had too much else to do. But anyway, away went the guns. I don't think they would have been any good, they were a bit bent.

The CO had a bit of a go at me at the next crew meeting. We had a flight meeting of aircrews a few days later, which the CO chaired, he asked why we had thrown the guns overboard and I explained, not that he didn't know the reason, he knew, but he pointed out that the guns had landed on an American tent. Fortunately, the occupants of the tent were away at the time, so they didn't come to any harm, but he pointed out that in future, if one had to jettison guns, have a good look underneath before you let them go, which is easier said than done, because whilst you are struggling with the guns you have probably moved on about a mile.

At the back of the bomb bay there was a little box called an IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) which gave out a signal to our ack-ack batteries that we were a friendly aircraft, so that they didn't fire on us. The IFF had a detonator in it, so than when the aircraft hit the ground the IFF would explode. We made our approach, and when the aircraft crash landed and the bomb bay crumpled up underneath, the IFF exploded as a result of which the back of the cockpit became filled with white smoke.

This lead me to believe that we were on fire, and my thought was to get out of there as quickly as I could, so when I thought that we had slowed down enough I undid my seat belt, to be propelled at high speed straight down under the nav' table in a heap, and that's where I was when the aircraft eventually pulled up.

So, instead of being first out, I was last out. When I looked over the top Howard was running along the wing, and I was still scrambling to get out.

When I did get out, an intelligence officer jumped out of a vehicle and said, "have you got all your code books". I didn't have, and had to go back and enter the cockpit to get those. My evacuation of the aircraft was a bit on the slow side, not because I wanted it to be.

Alec Boxall's memoirs - compiled by Peter James-Martin 1993


Biography contributed by Sharyn Roberts

Enlisted and served as Howard John MARTIN


May 1941      Initial Training School        Somers

July 1941       Elementary flying training  Parafield

Sep 1941       Service Flying Training       Point Cook

Nov 1941       Graduated Sgt Pilot           Point Cook

Feb 1942       Staff Pilot WAG                  Maryborough, Qld

Jan 1943        4 Op traning unit              Williamtown

Feb 1943        25 Squadron                    Pearce WA

Dec 1943       23 Squadron                     Nadzab, New Guinea

Mar 1944       25 Squadron                     Jacky Jacky

Mar 1945       Op Training Unit                Mildura

Aug 1945       25 Squadron                     Pearce WA 

 Aug 1945       82 Squadron                    Labuan 

Dec 1945       Discharge

Manuscript compiled by Peter James-Martin in 1993 ( titled 'RAAF Years 1941-1945: A personal recall'