Shortages of drop tanks, spares and Spitfires

The RAAF’s Spitfires had been despatched with a suite of three drop tanks per aircraft, in a mixture of 30 gallon combat tanks and 90 gallon ferry tanks. Once their use was mandated after the 2 May debacle, the tank wastage from 1 Fighter Wing’s Darwin combats had produced a drop tank supply crisis by late June. After the abortive interception of 22 June, when the squadrons jettisoned 31 tanks despite not having achieved an interception, the wing’s holdings dropped to 35 only of the crucial 30 gallon combat tanks – not enough for even one full wing operation. RAAF HQ immediately placed an order for 100 tanks from a Melbourne firm, but it would be weeks before these became available at the rate of only 10 per week.[1] Once again, the looming supply crisis had not been foreseen, so orders had not been placed early enough to have a timely effect. The result was that the 30 June and 6 July combats had to be fought largely without drop tanks, severely limiting the combat persistence of most aircraft. A further order for 1000 tanks followed immediately, sourced from the Beaufort manufacturer DAP, which sub-contracted the fabrication work to Ford and General Motors.[2] At the end of July, when it was far too late, RAAF HQ placed additional orders for 700 tanks,[3] expected to be coming out of the factory in numbers by the end of August. By then the first batch of tanks ordered earlier were coming available, with 60 airfreighted to NWA in the last three weeks of July.[4] As it turned out, the tanks that were produced in Australia proved to be better than the originals, weighing 55 lbs instead of 75, but too late to assist the pilots in combat over Darwin.[5]

The RAAF’s Spitfire force proved to have a ravenous appetite for spare parts: the RAF sent out to Australia an inventory of spare parts good for 18 months of operation with the aircraft, but as early as July 1943 this stock had already been largely used up by 1 Fighter Wing.[6] Once the Spitfire force was expanded to four squadrons through the creation of No.79, the spares shortage was heightened: of the spares that were already in-country, only an estimated three months usage was left in the depots and units,[7] and with an additional one third (of the original stock) shipment at sea en route.[8] With such a large consumption of spares, the RAAF found that the available stock holdings were spread too thinly throughout the country, resulting in particular shortages in particular areas, particularly at 26 RSU in NEA (supporting 79 Squadron).[9] In July, a stocktake revealed that Spitfires were undergoing repair and overhaul in 1 AD at Laverton, 2 AD at Richmond, 7 AD at Tocumwal, and at 7 RSU and 14 ARD in NWA. Although 7 Stores Depot was the central depository for Spitfire parts, and 1 Aircraft Depot for Merlin parts, holdings were also held in NWA at 9 Stores Depot, 14 Aircraft Repair Depot, and 7 RSU; as well as in NEA (for 79 Squadron). All of these forward depots held two months supplies.[10]14 ARD in NWA was ordered to pack up its spares and ship then to 26 RSU.[11]

There was a shortage not only of spares, but of the aircraft themselves. After the loss of 14 Spitfires in the disastrous combat of 2 May, Air Marshal George Jones, AOC RAAF, ordered a stocktake of Spitfires. At an established strength of 24 aircraft per squadron, 1 Fighter Wing had a requirement for 72, while the newly raised 79 Squadron, destined for service providing urgently needed ‘high cover’ for the RAAF’s Kittyhawk squadrons in New Guinea,[12] also required 24. With 18 aircraft allocated to 2 OTU, and with 13 aircraft under repair, this meant 127 Spitfires were with the units. However, there were only 132 machines in Australia in total, leaving a reserve of only five spare machines above and beyond immediate requirements. Jones decided that 79 Squadron be prioritised over 1 Fighter Wing, with the latter kept under strength if necessary in order to keep the newer unit up to establishment in New Guinea.[13]The decision to equip 79 Squadron with Spitfires had been made possible by the less-than-projected wastage of aircraft within 1 Fighter Wing in the early part of the year. The sharp succession of combats in June-July, however, revealed this to be premature, as the sudden spike in combat wastage now made it difficult to sustain a four squadron force in the field.[14]

 

 

 



[1] 22.6.43 signal NWA to RAAF HQ – NAA A11093 452/A58 PART 1.

[2] 23.6.43 signal RAAF HQ to NWA - NAA A11093: 452/A58 PART 1.

[3] 30.7.43 RAAF HQ to NWA - NAA A11093 452/A58 PART 1.

[4] 30.7.43 signal RAAF HQ to RAAF Command – NAA A11093: 452/A58 PART 1.

[5] 24.12.43 corres – NAA A11093: 452/A58 PART 1.

[6] 14.7.43 minute, HQ AAF SWPA to SSOA RAAF HQ – NAA A11093: 452/A58 PART 1.

[7] 10.6.43 NWA HQ to RAAF HQ - NAA A11093: 452/A58 PART 1.

[8] 11.6.43 RAAF HQ to NWA - NAA A11093: 452/A58 PART 1.

[9] 7.7.43 RAAF Command to Forward Echelon RAAF HQ, Brisbane - NAA A11093: 452/A58 PART 1.

[10] NAA A11093: 452/A58 PART 1.

[11] 21.6.43 minute by Forward Echelon RAAF HQ - NAA A11093: 452/A58 PART 1.

[12] DCAS Air Board to Forward Echelon RAAF HQ - NAA A11093: 452/A58 PART 1.

[13] NAA A11093: 452/A58 PART 1.

[14] DCAS Air Board to Forward Echelon RAAF HQ - NAA A11093: 452/A58 PART 1.