LEST WE FORGET

Flight Sergeant Albert BECKETT

Service No: 408343
Born: Launceston TAS, 3 April 1921
Enlisted in the RAAF: 6 November 1941
Unit: No. 100 Squadron
Died: Air Operations (No. 100 Squadron Beaufort aircraft A9-186), Gasmata, New Britain, 5 September 1943, Aged 22 Years
Buried: Unrecovered
CWGC Additional Information:
Roll of Honour: Launceston TAS
Remembered: Panel 35, Lae Memorial PNG
Remembered: Panel 104, Commemorative Area, Australian War Memorial, Canberra ACT

The Bostons returned to Gasmata at dawn next morning and found that the enemy had carried out repair work overnight. They dropped bombs which struck the centre and eastern end of the runway where the repairs had been made. It was vital that this airfield should be kept out of action because, on this morning of 5th September, transport aircraft were to drop the American and Australian parachute landing force at Nadzab, and aircraft were to set down part of the 7th Division as soon as a landing field could be made ready. Beauforts of No. 100 Squadron were therefore ordered to follow the Bostons and press home their attacks on Gasmata. Ten of them, led by Flight Lieutenant Roy Woollacott and protected above by eight Kittyhawks of No. 76 Squadron, arrived on the scene just after 7 a .m. An earlier visit of the Bostons had put the enemy defences on the alert. The Beauforts had five tons of bombs to drop, and they approached in a shallow dive starting at about 3,000 feet and coming down to 1,500. This was a dangerously low level for slow aircraft, but the Australians had often bombed this airfield and had not before met strong opposition. On this day, however, the enemy was waiting and opened up with a sudden and unexpectedly heavy box barrage. It was impossible to avoid this deadly fire, but the pilots gamely sent their Beauforts through it. Five aircraft were immediately hit. Woollacott’s machine was among these, but, although it was in flames, he gallantly continued his run and his four bombs exploded on the runway. The aircraft crashed immediately, and Woollacott and his crew (Flight Sergeant James Sugg, Flight Sergeant Harley Williams and Flight Sergeant William Pedler) were killed.

Extract from Odgers, G.J. (George James) (VX127783) Air War Against Japan 1943-1945, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1957 – Page 76

At 0520 hours on 5 September 1943 Beaufort A9-186 took off from Gurney Strip, Milne Bay, to carry out a bombing attack on Gasmata, New Britain. A9-186 arrived over the target just before the attack because of a count of aircraft confirmed all were present. The attack took place at 0700 hours at approximately height of 1,200 feet. A Beaufort was seen hit by anti-aircraft fire, crash and burst into flames, and this was either A9-183 or A9-186. Another, A9-374 was also hit in the attack and positively identified. A sudden flame and a black column of smoke of a burning aircraft was seen 7 to 8 miles north east of Gasmata. Three Beauforts were lost in this strike and two were definitely seen to crash from anti-aircraft fire. All the accompanying fighters returned safely.

A post war search made of the Gasmata aerodrome was made. As two of the three missing Beaufort aircraft from this strike had been accounted for, it appeared that A9-186 was the aircraft reported to have crashed in flames south of the centre of Gasmata strip. A thorough search of the airstrip and surrounding area was made with no success, and it appeared that the aircraft crashed in the deep water of the harbour, with the wreck not likely to be recovered. All searches including the interrogation of the local inhabitants revealed no trace of the missing aircraft or crew.

The crew members of A9-186 were:

Flight Sergeant Albert Beckett (408343) (Wireless Air Gunner)
Warrant Officer Russell Henry Grigg (405284) (Navigator Bomb Aimer)
Flight Sergeant Gordon Lewis Hamilton (414022) (Wireless Air Gunner)
Warrant Officer Clement Batstone Wiggins (405335) (Pilot)

No. 100 Squadron lost Beaufort A9-374 (Flight Lieutenant Roy Herbert Woollacott MID (407144) (Pilot)) on 5 September 1943.

No. 100 lost Beaufort aircraft A9-1830 (Flying Officer Robert Barclay Anderson MID (409070) (Pilot)) on 5 September 1943.

References:

Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour On-Line Records
Commonwealth War Graves Commission On-Line Records
Department of Veterans’ Affairs On-Line WWII Nominal Roll
National Archives of Australia On-Line Record A705, 166/5/276; A9845, 250

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