Passport to the World over 64 years. Pages from my Travel Diary
Bomb Disposal: An unexpected Helicopter Ride. Friday the 10th. of August 1954
At that time I was serving in the aircraft carrier HMAS Vengeance as the Fleet Torpedo Anti-Submarine Officer on the staff of Rear Admiral Roy Dowling RAN, the Flag Officer Commanding the Australian Fleet.
Our aircraft Squadrons had recently joined the ship, and they were working up with flying exercises, including bombing runs on an isolated coral island in the Barrier Reef which was gazetted as a Bombing target for the RAN. It was unfortunately also a home for a number of sea birds, and the local Queensland press had been up in arms at the outrageous use by the Navy of this bird sanctuary.
A number of unexploded 500 pound bombs remained on this locality, and Admiral Dowling had sent for me to discuss disposing of this potential menace to any press people who may go to visit the area, not withstanding it was a prohibited place.
Part of my specialty was bomb and mine disposal, although during my year long course in England over 1947/48 we had covered this area in a practical way somewhat sketchily.
This bombing range was not very accessible by boat although it would be possible to land that way, and we decided the easiest method of landing there would be to use one of the ship's helicopters, and lower me down via the winch.
I gathered up a suitable quantity of plastic explosive, a box of detonators, some lengths of fuse wire, then with my departmental Chief Petty Officer armed with a spade we were ready to go off on this job. We both climbed into the chopper, and had immediate lift off, arranging with the pilot that when he heard a suitable explosion from the ship, he would return to hovver over the beach and winch us off, and then fly back us to the ship.
We quickly made the journey, and I was secured to the winch, and clutching my box of detonators was soon safely lowered. My Chief soon followed, and off went the chopper. A quick look round and we found four unexploded bombs reasonably close to each other, and soon had them in a suitable pile, the tide was coming in, with waves starting to splash around our heap.
A suitable charge was stuffed into the tail area, we retreated to a safe distance and dug a sheltering hole, I placed the detonators, and set a long fuse so that we could have time to reach our hole after I lit the fuse.
All seemed to be fine and I set the fuse going, we had just hunkered down, when a Royal Australian Air Force bomber from a close by airfield appeared over our site, flying quite low to have a look. The more we waved them to go away, the more they believed we were being friendly, I could envisage our bombs soon going up, and taking our low flying very friendly bomber with the explosion.
At the time the explosion was due to go off, nothing happened, we waited for some time, the RAAF became tired of looking and flew away. Very cautiously we approached the bomb pile, by sheer luck, the incoming tide had washed the fuse away from its positioning, hence the fisser.
All was reset, and this time we gained a result. We soon heard the friendly clatter clatter of our helicopter, it hovvered, and we were recovered by the winch, the down draft stopping a number of sea birds who were frantically flapping their wings from taking to the air, they had a pained look about them, not at all understanding why they were being pinned to the beach by this fierce wind.
We quickly made it back, to land on the flight deck, quite relieved to achieve our mission, without claiming a RAAF Bomber.