No. 2 Air Observers School Mount Gambier 2 AOS

About This Unit

No.2 Air Observers School RAAF  - Mount Gambier

In December 1939 Australia signed the Empire Air Training Scheme agreement, under which the RAAF would setup an extensive training organisation to supply aircrew for the rapidly expanding Royal Air Force.

Two Air Observer Schools were initially established to provide specialised navigator training:

No. 1 Air Observer School Cootamundra, NSW 1940

No. 2 Air Observer School Mount Gambier, SA 1941

The function of these schools was to teach navigation in accordance with the standard RAF syllabus, using twin-engined aircraft. The trainees would usually be fresh from eight weeks at an Initial Training School where they undertook academic studies but were also introduced to service life via drills, parades and physical training. Often the trainees’ first  experience in an aircraft would be at their Observer Schools.

No. 2 Air Observers School (‘2AOS’) was formed at the newly built Mount Gambier base on 6th February 1941 under Squadron Leader Shaw, an officer lent from the RAF. The first training course commenced in March, comprising 46 navigation trainees and 3 wireless operator trainees. At this stage, the standard course was around twelve weeks’ duration. New courses were begun monthly.

By the end of April there were 26 officers and 519 airmen at the base. In time, it would grow to double that size.

Initially, 2AOS was equipped with just four Ansons and two DH-84 Dragon biplanes. Even by mid-1941 only around ten Ansons had been received (several of which were pre-EATS aircraft, with RAAF A4- serials), and there were concerns that Britain would not be able to supply the very large quantity of Ansons needed for all of the EATS units.

Hence a small number of DH-84s supplemented the Ansons at 2AOS in the first year. The situation improved towards the end of 1941: ten Ansons were received in October, for example. A single Moth Minor was attached to the school for communications duties.

From an initial number of around 45 airmen per course, by 1942 2AOS was running courses double that size.  There was just one fatal accident in the
first year: on  12 July 1941, after a mid-air collision, in which one Anson severed the tailplane of another, the other Anson crashed and all three crew were killed (see Crash W1966 below).  One of the fatalities was the very popular RAF Flight Lieutenant George Peacock, the Chief Navigation Officer of the School, and pilot of the crashed aircraft.

The start of the Pacific war coincided with 2AOS reaching full capacity. While around 45 trainees were passed out monthly in 1941, this doubled from the start of 1942.

Indeed, a total of 25 courses were passed out between the start of 1942 and November 1943. The number of trainees passed out of each course was between 82 and 101. During this time the total personnel at the base was around one thousand. By 1943 there were several comments in the unit record book about the low standard and poor discipline of trainees. Failure rates were as high as 20%. Part of the reason was the attitude of failed pilot trainees to their navigation courses. In March the following comment was made regarding Course 35: “Course at first adopted an indifferent attitude towards the work of the School because of the influence of so many former pilot trainees who had been remustered after as much as 110 hours flying, and were a disgruntled section.”

2 AOS Ansons were also required to fly maritime patrols to guard against enemy maritime incursions.  While Japanese submarines were known to operate around the SE coast, the most interesting event in 2AOS's war occurred on 9th December 1944, when 2AOS received news that a ship had been attacked by a submarine north west of Beachport.

Indeed the Greek ship Ilissos had been attacked by the German U-Boat U-862. Mount Gambier historian Ron Telford wrote of the activity at 2AOS:

“The adrenaline began pumping and excitement rose, as word spread around the base that a ‘flap’ was on. Crews were hastily assembled and
briefed. Ground crews swarmed over several Ansons as they were armed for the hunt of this alleged intruder.”

Four Ansons from 2AOS quickly flew to the location, and over the next several days intensive searches were flown. However the submarine was able to slip away from the area undetected.  In one of the most remarkable stories of the war, U-862 patrolling from Batavia in the Netherlands East Indies, travelled around the south coast of Australia, circumnavigated New Zeland and retruned to Batavia wby which time Germany had surrendered so the German crew handed their craft over to their Japanese Allies.

By 1945 the end of the war was clearly in sight and training operations began to run down. The last regular course passed out in March 1945 and had just 13 graduates. By this time new intakes had ceased, although training operations continued for a few more months. Even as late as July there were 779 hours of day flying and 124 hours of night flying. During 1945 Mount Gambier was visited by many aircraft from other RAAF units on training flights, including Hudsons, Ansons, Wirraways and Beauforts.

Following the surrender of Japan in August training operations ceased altogether. In December 1945 there were just 19 hours of flying by 2AOS aircraft. On 1st January 1946 2AOS was closed down. During almost five years of operation around 4,000 airmen had received training as Observers or Navigator-Wireless Operators.

Extract from the SA Aviation Museum Profile by Peter Ingman 2017


Crash / accident sites associated with No. 2 Air Observers School

Mount Gambier Avro Ansons W1966 and W2020 Crash Site  (/explore/memorials/1566)

Mount Gambier RAAF Avro Anson W2574 Crash Site (/admin/units/2771/Mount%20Gambier%20RAAF%20Avro%20Anson%20W2574%20Crash%20Site)

Mount Gambier RAAF Avro Anson W2020 Crash Site (/explore/memorials/1576)

Mount Gambier RAAF Avro Anson AW878 Crash Site (/explore/memorials/1578)

Port MacDonnell RAAF Avro Anson R9886 Accident Site (/explore/memorials/1567)