Anson agonies

By 1938 King Islanders had grown accustomed to the sight and sound of scheduled weekly airline services arriving and departing Bowling Aerodrome near the southern township of Currie. This reassuring routine was interrupted in September that year by a succession of dramatic arrivals and departures involving RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force) training aircraft. 

The charred wreckage of A4-15 which was one of four RAAF Ansons forced to land on J G Haines’ property at Koreen on 11th September 1938. Having fallen into a ditch and broken a wing, it was later destroyed – that same evening – by a ‘mysterious’ fire (Gael Wilson collection).

A flight of five twin-engine 21 Squadron Avro Anson’s had arrived at Bowling Aerodrome on the afternoon of Tuesday, 23rd August 1938. Three of the flight had already taken off when a ‘fierce’ north-easterly wind forced one of the two remaining aircraft (A4-7 and A4-1) – then still on the runway – to collide. The latter’s undercarriage ‘gave way under the Impact and collapsed while the right wing of A4-7 was cut to ribbons by the left wing of the moving plane, the propeller of which caused considerable damage to the right engine and propeller of the stationary plane.’

In a brief statement a few days later the Defence Minister claimed, unhelpfully, that the accident had been caused by ‘an air current’. Media reports the following week mention that both crews were staying at the King King Hotel while they continued dismantling the damaged aircraft for return – by ship – to Melbourne. This work was expected to continue for at least another week.

‘ A4-1 [seen here overhead Laverton] was running upwind with the Intention of taking off the ground, having a slight downward slope, but the fierce north east wind blowing forced It on to the stationary plane.’ (The Age, 24 August 1938, page 13)

Within days of the accident the Civil Aviation Department had also despatched an inspector to the Island ‘to ascertain what immediate [runway] improvements and repairs can be effected.’ No amount of good intention – or action – on this front however could have helped the next airforce arrivals, all of which force-landed twenty miles north of the island’s only airstrip.

Within days of the accident the Civil Aviation Department had also despatched an inspector to the Island ‘to ascertain what immediate [runway] improvements and repairs can be effected.’ No amount of good intention – or action – on this front however could have helped the next airforce arrivals, all of which force-landed twenty miles north of the island’s only airstrip.

Losing direction in heavy weather and bad visibility over Bass Strait about 4 o’clock this afternoon, three pilots of a squadron of four Avro Anson bombers, unable to find the King Island aerodrome, made forced landings 20 miles from the aerodrome. 

One machine swept into a ditch, smashing the undercarriage and one of the wings. Another was bogged. No one was hurt. Under the command of Squadron Leader F. W. Thomas, the machines flown by crews of five from No. 21 (City of Melbourne) Squadron, left Laverton this morning. Encountering shocking weather conditions the pilots made for King Island, but could not find the aerodrome, where two planes were badly damaged and had to be dismantled nearly three weeks ago. 

Three of the machines attempted a landing at the north of the island, at Koreen. Two landed safely, but the third swept into a deep drain, breaking one of the wings and the undercarriage. One of the planes managed to take off, and flew on to Currie. It is expected that the second machine will be able to take off to-morrow morning. The damaged machine will be dismantled and returned to the mainland by boat. The work of dismantling the disabled plane will be carried out by a staff of eight mechanics, who are engaged clearing up the wreckage from the last crash. The fourth machine of the squadron returned safely to Laverton. (The Argus, 12 September 1938, page 1)

The Airforce and No.21 Squadron however were to suffer further ignominy and embarrassment in the coming days with newspapers around the country revealing how one of the Ansons at Koreen had subsequenly been completely destroyed by a ‘mysterious’ fire, while ‘temporarily unguarded.’


It  had been intended to dismantle the bomber, which was  valued at £12,000, and ship it to Melbourne on the Tambar.  The plane was lying in a ditch about 20 miles from the aerodrome at  Currie, where it made a forced landing on Sunday afternoon. Enquiries are being made by the  Air Board to ascertain whether the fire was caused by accident or design. It was stated today that a strict enquiry would be conducted and, if necessary, the police would be asked to take action.  Preliminary enquiries were made today by Senior-Constable McArthur, of Currie. It was ascertained that after the plane made a forced landing a civilian watchman was appointed to guard it. One theory advanced was that a piece of loose wire had been swung backwards and forwards by a strong wind, which was blowing last night, and the friction caused a spark to  ignite fumes from the petrol tank. (The Examiner, 14 September 1938, page 7). 

Whereas the Anson collisions at Bowling Aerodrome had aroused media and public interest, the forced landings and mysterious fire at Koreen had now led those same interests to openly question the standards of RAAF training and indeed, the Anson’s suitability as a general reconnaissance aircraft and advanced trainer. The Sydney Morning Herald and the Melbourne Age openly challenged the type’s ‘usefulness’, while the Hobart Mercury took a far more critical line…

With the Air Force so short of machines, that it must apparently accept second-hand bombers from Britain, it is regrettable that mishaps of this kind should continue to weaken it and further undermine public confidence in its efficiency. Without in any way associating this accident with the factors mentioned in the report of Sir Edward Ellington, we recall the British expert’s alarming pronouncement that some of the many Royal Australian Air Force mishaps had been caused by disobedience of orders.      

Wisely, the Defence Minister chose not to issue a statement concerning the events at Koreen.

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