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TRANSITION TO CIVVY STREET
July 18, 2013
FLTLT Gavin Briggs
THE nature of intelligence work goes
largely unnoticed and for good reason.
However, this meant a lot of the work
done by Air Force intelligence officers
(INTELLOs) during WWII remained
hidden for many years.
This situation rings true for the
service personnel of 1 Photographic
Reconnaissance Unit (1PRU).
The unit was formed on June 8,
1942 in Laverton, Victoria, and two
months later moved north to Hughes
Airfield in the Northern Territory.
In David Vincent's Mosquito
Monograph: A History of Mosquitoes
in Australia and RAAF Operations, he
described the unit's objectives as "to
carry out long-range strategic recon-
naissance and tactical reconnaissance".
Air Force historian Dr Gregory
Gilbert described intelligence "as the
glue that binds the different elements
of Air Power together".
"Without good air intelligence you
cannot run an effective air campaign,"
"The members of 87SQN played a
critical role in gathering intelligence
for the Allies in the South-West Pacific
Area during WWII. The squadron
now undertakes intelligence, surveil-
lance and reconnaissance activities that
underpin the RAAF's ability to apply
air power and, every day, they uphold
the proud traditions and heritage of the
Air Force intelligence community."
The squadron first flew
Brewster Buffaloes and Lockheed
F-4 Lightnings before moving to
Australian-built Mosquito aircraft --
both the De Havilland FB 40s and pur-
pose-built PR 40s.
The Mosquito's air-frame was made
almost entirely out of wood and went
by the nickname "Wooden Wonder".
On September 10, 1944, 87SQN
was formed from elements of 1PRU at
Coomalie Creek in the NT. This new
squadron was based in the same loca-
tion where the RAAF's sole photo-
Secrets in the skies
Out of the shadows
FLTLT Gavin Briggs
DECADES before the digital revolu-
tion, a small but dedicated band of
Air Force Intelligence personnel gave
great war-time service in the defence
Their work remained so secret that
long after the war had ended, they
were not permitted to talk about their
That is about to change with a
series of Air Force Intelligence 50th
anniversary activities to be held later
this year in Adelaide and Canberra,
commemorating the efforts of the Air
Force Intelligence Officer Branch.
Canberra resident and former intel-
ligence officer Douglas Guppy, now
aged 91, is eager to attend the celebra-
"I am looking forward to seeing if
any of the people I knew and served
with are still around," Mr Guppy said.
"I don't think there will be too
many, unfortunately, but it will be
Mr Guppy's war-time service began
a decade before the formal establish-
ment of the RAAF Intelligence Officer
Branch in 1953. He served with the
RAAF during WWII, alongside 1
Photo Reconnaissance Unit (1PRU)
"A group of fellow geologists I
knew before the war joined the RAAF
as Intel officers in special duties," he
"They wanted more people so I
asked them to help get me in."
THE 50th anniversary
of the formation of the
RAAF Intelligence Officer
Specialisation will be
celebrated at a number
of events this year in
Adelaide and Canberra.
On September 20, 1953,
the RAAF Intelligence
Officer Specialisation was
established and has since
proved to be a critical
component of Air Force's
enabling air operations
throughout the RAAF's
diverse and significant
87SQN, RAAF Base
Edinburgh, September 20
Air Force Intelligence
Opening of new 87SQN
Emplacement of AFINT
50th anniversary time
Canberra, Weston Creek,
and semi-formal dinner,
For more information
regarding event details
defence.gov.au or call 1300
DEFENCE (1300 333 362)
and ask to be put through
to RAAF Reunions.
50 years of
graphic reconnaissance unit -- 1PRU -- had
been since December 1942.
The squadron flew Australian-built
Wirraways and Mosquitoes. In the lat-
ter stages of the war, from March 1945
onwards, the squadron received 16
Mosquito PR Mk XVI variants from
The missions conducted by 87SQN
were carried out over occupied Dutch East
Indies (now Indonesia), Java, Celebes
in Indonesia, Timor, Borneo and the
The squadron was tasked with photo
reconnaissance of enemy strength, loca-
tion and movements. This air intelligence
proved vital in the Allies' planning against
The Mosquitoes of 87SQN flew
unarmed, allowing them to fly higher, fur-
ther and faster over enemy territory.
In June 1944, a detachment of three
aircraft was based briefly alongside the
RAF 136SQN on the Cocos Islands.
Their top secret mission was to fly over
Singapore but continued bad weather in
the Indian Ocean region hampered their
efforts, forcing them to fly just one sortie
over Christmas Island before their even-
tual return to Coomalie Creek, in the NT.
In July 1945 the squadron flew its
longest photo reconnaissance mission over
targets in Java -- a flight which covered
more than 3700km. On August 15, the day
the war ended against Japan, the squadron
flew its last wartime operation. One hour
into its flight to Timor, the Mosquito was
called back to base.
The final operational flight against the
Japanese was a mapping run over Timor
on October 3. The squadron had contin-
ued conducting flights over identified
Japanese formations until they could be
disarmed by the victorious Allied forces.
Soon after the war's end, the squadron
returned to Australia and was disbanded,
in July, 1946.
The squadron was reformed at RAAF
Base Fairbairn when Survey Flight was
redesignated as 87SQN, and after much
work mapping parts of Australia or the
Commonwealth, it was again disbanded in
On July 1, 2006, 87SQN reformed at
RAAF Base Edinburgh and its wartime
service was formally recognised.
In February 2009, Governor-General
Quentin Bryce presented the squadron
with six battle honours for its outstanding
performance during WWII. They were:
Darwin 1942-1944; Pacific 1942-1945;
Philippines 1944; Dutch New Guinea
1945; Borneo 1945; and Morotai 1945.
As a geologist at Adelaide
University, Mr Guppy's employer
was famous Antarctic explorer Sir
"He was in control of manpower
at Adelaide University's geology
department and he wanted me to
work in the uranium deposits for
the American bomb trials," Mr
"Douglas Mawson tried to stop
me joining, however geologists
were sought after as we are trained
to study things very carefully and
we are good at looking at things
and picking up unusual activity and
inconsistencies. We proved to be
very useful to the RAAF."
After the war, Mr Guppy
resumed his civilian career as a
geologist which took him to places
such as Persia (modern-day Iran).
Mr Guppy is looking forward to
seeing other WWII veterans.
"The thing that interests me the
most about the anniversary events is
being able to talk again to men who
flew the reconnaissance mission in
the Mosquito from 87SQN. They
did all our photography for us," Mr
"It was a difficult time for them
as they were a long way from home
and unarmed. That was to save
weight, so they could fly the long
distances through enemy territory.
"I am rather looking forward
ANNIVERSARY: Former Air Force Intelligence Officer Douglas
Guppy, 91, is looking forward to celebrating the 50th anniversary
of Air Force Intelligence.
Photos: CPL Aaron Curran
far left, 1PRU
their canteen at
in 1943; 1PRU
personnel at the
officers tent at
in 1943; 1PRU
into a Lockheed
at Coomalie Creek
in 1943; Cobbers
author Dr Thomas
1944. Photos courtesy
of the Australian War
Memorial and donor
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