Author Topic: Commonwealth CA-11A Woomera in RNZAF service  (Read 2573 times)

Offline KiwiZac

  • Once crowned Mango King by Brian da Basher!
  • The Modeller Formerly Known As K5054NZ
Commonwealth CA-11A Woomera in RNZAF service
« on: December 15, 2014, 07:18:14 AM »
Hi all,
This would continue on from anyone else's Woomera story right around where the CA-11/A prototype, A23-1, was handed over to the RAAF. Subject to editing as I see fit/am corrected!


Following exhaustive trials by CAC the airframe was handed over to the RAAF in February 1944, but by this time the service was already impressed enough by the type’s performance to order 100 examples before the prototype was delivered. The RNZAF followed suit, placing an order for 50 CA-11As (S/N 1326-1375) which followed the RAAF machines off the Fisherman’s Bend production line. It was decided the type would be allocated service numbers in the NZ22xx block and serve with 25 and 26 Squadrons.

25 Squadron was first “off the rank” with ten aircraft initially delivered to their New Zealand base at Ardmore in early May 1944, replacing the Douglas SBD-4 and -5s they had used since the previous July. Although their crews showed some scepticism at being given twin-engine machines after using the single-engine SBD they soon came to appreciate the Woomera’s handling characteristics and far superior weapons load.

Squadron Leader TJM de Lange, commanding officer of the squadron, was interviewed about the type in a piece recorded by the National Film Unit prior to their return to Piva on the island of Bougainville. He told the interviewer that the RNZAF order for the Woomera showed “the ANZAC spirit at its fighting best” and heaped praise upon it. He quickly assumed “ownership” of NZ2231, the aircraft he would fly until the unit’s disbandment after the war.

The aircraft were ferried to Piva in flights of four, escorted by two Corsairs each, and on 18 June the last flight of four arrived making 24 on strength.

31 Squadron, commanded by Sqn Ldr M Wilkes, was the only other to be equipped with the type in the Pacific Theater, receiving 18 to replace its complement of Grumman TBF Avengers in July 1944. Unlike 25 Sqn, 31’s aircraft were delivered directly to their Piva base from Australia by RAAF personnel and it was up to the men of 25 to familiarise their comrades with the type.

The remaining eight airframes were delivered to RNZAF Ohakea and temporarily placed in storage. Ideas were floated to re-form another squadron to use them (documents from the time suggest 44 Squadron was the prime candidate) but in the end it was decided they were more valuable as trainers, and were brought on line for use by No 1 (Bomber) Operational Training Unit.

Meantime the Woomeras of 25 Sqn were making a name for themselves thanks to a sterling combat record. Before VJ Day only two Woomeras were lost in action - NZ2204 (the crew bailing out over their own territory) and NZ2241 (crew POW) - and no crew members were KIA.

Likewise 31 Sqn was performing excellently, although tragedy struck on 9 February 1945 when a flight of four aircraft (NZ2201, 09, 12 and 20) was lost in bad weather. The wreckage was found two months later on a hillside, the aircraft apparently having become disoriented among a mountain range, along with the bodies of the crew. Another two machines (NZ2214 on 12 September and NZ2230 two months later) were downed by ground fire, although one crew was saved. A landing accident also claimed NZ2207 on 4 November. A similar fate befell NZ2202 of 25Sqn after the same mission.

Back in New Zealand the eight Woomeras of 1 (Bomber) OTU provided invaluable training for future combat pilots, although two were lost in separate accidents – NZ2249 ditched off the Wanganui coast after double engine failure on 10 October 1944 and in April 1945 NZ2243 was damaged by shrapnel following weapons training and suffered landing gear failure upon its return to Ohakea.

When the war ended both combat squadrons were immediately ordered back to New Zealand, arriving at Ohakea before October 1. On that date 31 Sqn was disbanded and most of its aircraft were flown to Rukuhia, near Hamilton, for open storage along with hundreds of other combat-veteran aircraft.

25 Squadron was more lucky, swapping out seven of its more war-weary aircraft for the six surviving OTU machines and two formerly of 31. Back to its original strength of 24 Woomeras, the unit became part of the peacetime air force. The squadron lost four airframes in accidents over the next five years (NZ2222, ’42, ’44 and ’50) but thankfully without fatalities. The unit was finally disbanded in 1950, making way for 75 Squadron and its De Havilland Mosquitos.

The remaining 20 Woomeras were flown to join their 31 Sqn brethren at Rukuhia where, from about 1952, the process of scrapping the vast paddocks of fighters and bombers began. Unlike the roomier Lockheed Hudson, several of which were purchased from the Larsen scrapyard for use as garden sheds and chicken coops, the Woomeras found no such post-service use and most were scrapped. Two complete examples, NZ2217 and NZ2231, were purchased by aviation enthusiasts for preservation and NZ2245 was purchased by a farmer for use as a wind machine, minus its outer panels.

Volunteers at the Museum of Transport and Technology at Western Springs, Auckland, acquired NZ2217 from Larsen in 1958 and trucked the aircraft in several large pieces to its Meola Road site. Crudely reconstructed and placed on display in 1960, it was later removed for restoration and returned to the museum once more in 1996, fully refurbished and in its original WW2 paint scheme.

The derelict NZ2245 was purchased from a Marton farmer in 1984 by a syndicate with the aim of restoring it to fly with wing outer panels recovered from Rukuhia. Ultimately it was decided these components were too corroded for flight and were traded to an Australian museum. In 1998 the remaining syndicate members sold the aircraft to private collector Tim Jackson who initially stored it until commissioning AvSpecs at Ardmore – not far from 25 Sqn’s original base at Seagrove – to undertake the restoration. The aircraft flew again in 2005 and, registered as ZK-XXV, regularly flies at airshows around the country.

The third surviving RNZAF Woomera, NZ2231, went through a succession of private owners until it was donated to the RNZAF Museum at Wigram, Christchurch. After a public “handing over” ceremony at the RNZAF’s 50th Anniversary Air Show in March 1987, the aircraft was put into restoration. Theodore de Lange visited the project shortly before his death in 1995, the event receiving TV and press coverage of the war hero being reunited with “his” aircraft to tie in with VJ Day commemorations. The restoration was completed in late 1997 and the aircraft rolled out in March 1998, returned to the colours and markings of de Lange. Shortly afterward NZ2231 was installed in the Museum and it is now displayed in a “bombing-up” diorama, with a lifelike mannequin of de Lange in the cockpit.

25 Squadron (May 1944 - Oct 1945): 02’, 03, 04’, 16, 17, 18, 19, 21, 26, 27, 28, 29, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41’
31 Squadron (Jul 1944 – Oct 1945): 01”, 05, 06, 07”, 08, 09”, 10, 11, 12”, 13, 14’, 15, 20”, 22, 23, 24, 25, 30’
1 (Bomber) OTU (Aug 1944 – Oct 1945): 42, 43”, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49”, 50
25 Squadron (Oct 1945 – May 1950): 02, 16, 17^, 21, 22”, 25, 31^, 42”, 44”, 45^, 47, 48, 50”
LEGEND:    ‘ - lost in action
   “ – lost in accident
   ^ - preserved
« Last Edit: December 15, 2014, 07:19:48 AM by MangoKing87 »
With warm regards from Whanganui, New Zealand

"Who said Kiwis can't fly...though this one can organise for a kit of the Fletcher FU24 to be produced!"

Offline KiwiZac

  • Once crowned Mango King by Brian da Basher!
  • The Modeller Formerly Known As K5054NZ
Re: Commonwealth CA-11A Woomera in RNZAF service
« Reply #1 on: April 07, 2016, 04:31:12 AM »
Thank goodness I posted this here - I updated to Windows 10 and, because I believed Microsoft when they said "your files won't be touched", I didn't back it up and the first update wiped everything!

Expect to see this pop up in the Proper Models thread shortly with some plastic.
With warm regards from Whanganui, New Zealand

"Who said Kiwis can't fly...though this one can organise for a kit of the Fletcher FU24 to be produced!"