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March 17, 2011
A FORMER master-joiner and Scot
with a love of Edinburgh Castle and
the RAAF has joined the ranks of The
WOFF Charles Cleeton (ret'd)
passed away on February 9 after a
battle with cancer.
His ashes are to be scattered over
the grounds of Edinburgh Castle.
WOFF Cleeton was born in
Broxburn, Scotland, on September 4,
He initially joined his father in his
joinery business but in 1947 enlisted
in the Royal Air Force for five years.
After leaving, he studied Business
Administration and Accounting in
In 1956 his life took a major turn
when his father encouraged him to
emigrate to Australia.
He arrived in Australia in June
1957 before enlisting in the RAAF.
Over the years, he served at RAAF
Bases Amberley and East Sale, and in
Melbourne and Singapore.
In 1979, he was posted as the
Inspector of Administration, and was
the internal Auditor for Air Force
bases in the north of Australia and
He held this position for two
years, and was then posted again to
Two years later (in 1983) he
"A LAND war, fought at sea and won
from the air."
That is how military historian Lex
McAulay characterised the Battle of
the Bismarck Sea, which took place
northeast of New Guinea in 1943.
On March 3, 1943, a force of
more than 300 Australian and US air-
craft interdicted a Japanese fleet of
eight transports, escorted by eight
destroyers, that was bound for Lae
in New Guinea with nearly 7000 sol-
To mark 68 years since that day,
members of the RAAF 30SQN
Association commemorated the
battle at a service at RAAF Base
The service paid tribute not only
to 30SQN and its Bristol Beaufighter
aircraft, but to Beauforts of 100SQN,
Bostons of 22SQN and Catalinas of
11SQN, as well as the US Army Air
Force, which contributed B-17 Flying
Fortresses, B-25 Mitchells, A-20
Havocs and P-38 Lightnings.
A former Beaufighter crew-
man and veteran of the battle, Fred
Cassidy, stood at the pulpit of the All
Saints Chapel and retold the story of
how then-GPCAPT (later AIRCDRE)
William 'Bull' Garing used his mar-
itime warfare experience to plan a
coordinated daytime attack against
"The B-17s and Liberators
dropped their bombs from altitude,
while Beaufighters, Mitchells and
Bostons strafed the ships from mast
height, and the Lightnings protected
us from the Mitsubishi A6M Zero
fighters defending the convoy," Mr
"While it was a splendid idea to
attack all at the same time, Garing
failed to remind us how vulnerable
we would be attacking at sea level,
not just from anti-aircraft fire, but
from the bombs falling around us.
"There were many close shaves
and some exciting moments into
retired from the Air
Force. His career took
him full circle when he
then joined a local join-
ery firm in Ipswich.
He is survived by his
wife and four children.
Information and photo
courtesy of Anthony
the bargain, I can assure you," Mr
But GPCAPT Garing's tactics
worked. Believing the Beaufighters
were carrying torpedos, the Japanese
ships turned to directly face them,
exposing their bridges and super-
structure to devastating cannon and
machine gun fire.
In less than 30 minutes all eight
transports and four of the destroy-
ers were sunk, with 60 Zeros shot
down. Only half of the 6900 Japanese
soldiers survived and the bulk of the
equipment and supplies never reached
The Allies lost two bombers, one
Beaufighter and three Lightnings,
with another 31 aircraft damaged.
"The Japanese hopes of regain-
ing the initiative in New Guinea were
smashed, eliminating any possibil-
ity Australia might be invaded," Mr
GEN Douglas MacArthur would
later call the victory "the decisive
aerial engagement" of the war in the
Meanwhile, Fred Cassidy is work-
ing to achieve greater recognition for
the Beaufighter, with a place in the
Australian War Memorial's collec-
tion, before it is too late for 30SQN's
LEST WE FORGET: Flanked by
Air Force personnel and veterans,
Mr Gordon Johnstone of the NSW
RAAF Association lays a wreath
during the service.
Photo: LACW Casey Gaul
ON TARGET: It is March 3, 1943 as two Allied aircraft prepare to
attack a desperately manoeuvring Japanese merchant ship loaded
with soldiers and military equipment.
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