No 492 Squadron RAAF
P3 Orion 1986?
| No. 492 Squadron was formed at RAAF Edinburgh on 01 July 1977 as a centralised maintenance squadron to support the operations of the RAAF’s recently-established 92 (Maritime) Wing, which - as well as 492SQN - comprised nos. 10, 11 and 292 Squadrons.
The formation of 492SQN came about because 10SQN had recently ‘traded in’ its venerable P2V Neptunes and was due to re-equip with P3C Orions, and as part of the reorganisation it also moved to Edinburgh from its long-time bolt hole at RAAF Garbutt, in Townsville.
Initially comprised of the former members of 11SQN maintenance, 492SQN grew quickly as the maintenance facilities at Edinburgh were expanded and upgraded to cater for ten new aircraft.
Naturally the numbers of Armourers' grew too. When the squadron was formed 492 Armament comprised around 20 people (who had all been members of 11SQN the day before), and within three years that number had grown to in excess of 40.
Those on the first section roll were:
The first P3C arrived in the middle of 1978 and in the following February the Armourer’s little section was gutted to prepare for a doubling in size. Over the next 12 months or so the Armament workshops and storage facilities operated in temporary locations throughout Hangar 595 and on various odd locations around Edinburgh while construction continued. In November the expanded and refurbished section was ‘consecrated’ and occupied and by the middle of 1980 the new sonobuoy preparation and ready-use areas were opened for use. Not too long after that the tiny tin shed that had been the torpedo prep building was knocked down and a new, larger building commissioned adjacent to the old ‘Blue Steel’ area. 492SQN Armament was up and running again.
There were a few challenges; hitherto the Maritime Gun Plumbers had been the masters of the P3B and its combination of (relatively unsophisticated, but quite friendly) electrical and pneumatic search and kill stores equipment. The Charlie version presented new technology - in spades. CAD and SLC and ARM/ORD SYGNOG were the new buzzwords, and students struggled with the ‘Brother-in-Law Effect’, which in essence suggested that the designer of the P3C obviously had a brother-in-law who owned a relay factory. Why else would there be 10,000-odd of the damn things in the armament system alone? They also struggled with the daily workout that shoving 48 ARD-863 topped sonobuoys up an Orion’s clacker produced; and that was before they got around to loading another 36 - as well as marker marines and SUS - upstairs. Before long biceps were bulging.
New training courses were set up and conducted by Vic Robertson and Mal MacKinnon, who had been forced to spend four months at NAS Moffett Field, 30 miles south of San Francisco learning things themselves before passing it on. A little later MacDonnell-Douglas sent out a bloke named Tom Hewitt to pass on the intricacies of the AGM84 Harpoon and its HACLCS, which all came to a head at RIMPAC ’82 when the 492 Gunnies loaded the first Harpoon to be launched by the ADF.
During the ‘reconstruction’ period at Edinburgh a considerable number of ‘Tame’ maritime exercises were conducted along the east coast. These ran from between five and ten days, usually based at Richmond, and kept the squadron pretty well occupied. The flight line hut for these pushes was generally a single 11 x 11 tent pitched beside the control tower, and with very little electrical backup being supplied it was considered quite normal to crank up an APU so that the kettle could be boiled for a hot cup of coffee!
The expansion within the technical area was quickly matched by an expansion in the flying rate, and, after exercise RIMPAC ’80 the 492 Gunnies found themselves travelling hither and yon to all corners of the globe as 92 Wing flexed its muscles. ‘Silent Pearl’ exercises took the techos to Hawaii, San Francisco and Comox, on Vancouver Island. There were still pushes to New Zealand as well as forays to Cocos, Guam, Diego Garcia and the Philippines. Then, in February of 1981, Operation Gateway commenced and a new generation of Armourers’ got to know the delights of Butterworth and Penang (and an older one got to experience them all over again). The legendary Fincastle Trophy was another added attraction, and being selected as a Fincastle Groundie was always considered to be a real feather in the cap.
92WGDETA became a permanent part of 492SQN’s responsibilities, firstly operating from a transportable hut beside the Air Movements tarmac, and then from a set of refurbished rooms in the airstrip side of what had been the 75SQN hangar in Butterworth’s salad days. Flying was generally every second day, with the aircraft leaving at around sparrow’s and arriving back after the fighter boys had all headed for the ferry, or the Bat Cave. Now and then there was a ‘prosecution’ (whoever decided on the term should have been shoved out of the free fall chute), and the flying rate soared. Along with that sonobuoy usage went through roof, and sleep for the DETA Gunnies became short and infrequent - at least until the supply of buoys ran out!
In the mid eighties a permanent afternoon shift was commenced, adding another layer of organisation to be sorted out. That meant day work, afternoon shift, duty crew, DETA, Rescue Eights and any other exercise or short notice deployment that the OPS people could dream up. Most – if not all – Gunnies had a bag with a toothbrush, clean jocks, cunning kick and passport packed and ready, just in case.
With the usual steady turnover of personnel 492SQN Armament charged into the nineties, meeting all of the challenges, both routine and unexpected, the way that Armourers always have. Things were about to change though. Having inflicted the Technical Trade Review on the RAAF in general, the powers-that-be decided that the way forward for Australian maritime aviation was in the past. On December 15th, 1998, 492SQN was formally disbanded and its personnel posted to either 10 or 11 Squadron.
492 SQN November 84
Back Row: "General" Parry, Wayne Sugden, Row Snell, Dino Simpson, Gus Walters, Kent Lee, Paul Punter, Bill Hewson
Second Row: Buck Hennessey, Al Hunt, Harv Hersant, John Owston, Chris Hein, Bret Petersen, Ian Smith, Pete Hillard, Phil Ridley, Simo Simensen, Jerry Mercer, Ben Plociennik
Front Row: Gerry Darcy, Joug Kvedaras, Guy Blowering, Bruce Sparks, Blu Romer, Bob Drury, "Capt" Kirk, Mick Lewis, Gerry Willems, Pete Adnams
Missing: Ross Thomasson, Darrell Radin, Sid Snodgrass, Wally Latham, Fes Merett, Terry Baccus, Mick Gower, Steve Kemp, Dave Williams, Gav Cato,
New Zealand during exercise
KNOWING THE SIGNS
St. Barbara.com has been running hot. Billy Connolly’s Kalamunda cousin Rosco, happily ensconced in the Deep West, has finally discovered nostalgia (and neuralgia too for all we know) and realises that he misses the wall full of signs he used to admire as he ate his mexicanas at morning smoko. What’s more he wants to know where they are (the signs, not the mexicanas). Understanding that he will have trouble tracking them down personally, he has called in the experts. Results have been mixed, not to mention of questionable reliability, but read on and make up your own mind.
It all began in November, 1977. CPL Gerard was on exercise AUCKEX ’77, living on RNZAF Hobby and working on RNZAF When You’re Happy with fellow gun plumbers LAC Sam Mango and SGT Hank Beerhall for company.
RNZAF Hobby was a funny old place. Down on the harbour the hangars and slipways, where dear old Sunderlands used to and hang and slip, waited sadly - and in vain - for their seaplanes to return from their last great Fishex. Along one side of the Base explosives of all strengths and hues reclined in tiny white-brick blockhouses, and beside the grass runway, which the resident angry palm trees used on the odd rainless day, was a weatherboard building with a small sign on the front door.
CPL Gerard saw the sign each evening when he went for a jog (it was the only way to keep warm in the infernal Shaky Isles, he’d found). The subject front door was that of the angry palm tree squadron’s orderly room, and the sign itself was right in the middle, at head height.
It was an inauspicious sign. About a foot square, with only the silhouette of a "kneeling Maori warrior" (kMw) holding a spear painted on its white surface in red. No words, no mottos, no mission statements (people didn’t need them in those days, they knew what they were doing and why), just the red warrior and the white background.
The night before returning to Aussie CPL Gerard had been in the Corporal’s Club at Hobby with the rest of the RAAF Techos and their congenial hosts. Between them the Techos had pooled the last of their useless Kiwi cash and had traded it in for beer. Exactly five tepid gallons of it.
How, I can hear you ask, does this rambling fool know just how much beer the last of the Kiwi cash purchased? The answer is as simple as it is disturbing: the barman filled up a five-gallon sheep dip container with a tap at the base, put the last of the Kiwi cash in the till and wished the RAAF Techos the very best of health! Secure in the knowledge that they would never, ever contract Barber’s Pole Worm and Fluke (for it said so on the label) the RAAFies finished AUCKEX ’77 the same way they had begun it: on the pus.
But I digress. CPL Gerard, by now well-and-truly inoculated, found that he couldn’t get the image of the kMw out of his head; so, leaving the Corporal’s Club in a hurry (for the bar was on the second floor), he hurried to the well-remembered door and removed the sign with the help of his trusty pocket knife.
And there is the Genesis of the vast swathe of borrowed signs that at one time graced the walls of 492SQN Armament Section. Within a day of his return CPL Gerard had affixed the stolen (no other word for it) sign to the wall in the smoko area, where it stood silently guarding the ancient Café Bar and Bloo Foxhole’s ashtray.
True, the kMw was lonely for a while, but he soon settled in and got to know the Café Bar and the ashtray, and occasionally had an evening chat with the Visitors Report Here sign on the Flight Sergeant’s office door. By the middle of 1978 he was as much a part of the section as the ever-present pool of blood in front of Yorrick’s locker (Yorrick kept falling off his trail bike at lunchtime – he never broke any bones, he just bled on the floor); but the kMw was about to have company.
In those days CPL Gerard was in the habit of going for a jog every night, and one evening, while pounding the pavements around Elizabeth North*, he ran past St. Barbara Rd. Three blocks later the penny dropped and he turned about, ran back three blocks and stood gazing at the street sign, a tiny light bulb flickering dimly above his head.
* Believe it or not, in those far-off days you could leave your house in Elizabeth’s environs and stand a reasonable chance of returning safely. It was rumoured that you could also do the same thing in Smithfield Plains at the time, but independent verification has never been sighted.
By the time he had returned home the tiny light bulb was emitting a steady glow, and a plan was being hatched. Late the following evening the Gerard family car pulled up beside the aforesaid street sign and CPL Gerard unloaded a ladder and two shifters and began to remove the sign from atop its pole. It put up a good fight, but it was dealing with someone who had actually fitted AERO 14 racks to P3B wing stations, so it had little chance at all really. True to form the good citizens of Elizabeth North neither heard nor saw a thing, and the next morning the Armament Section smoko room had its second sign.
And so the kMw had company. The two signs became firm friends and remained on the smoko room wall even while the 492SQN Armament Section doubled in size during 1979, something considered necessary meet the needs of the ten nifty new P3Cs Ronnie RAAF was procuring on the Lend Lease Plan. 1980 however, was to see procurement of a far more significant type in the form of signs from locations near and far.
February brought CPL Gerard the opportunity to travel to the Land of the Free for the first time, and thus it was that late one quiet evening – while the 92WG Urines were pinging the vast schools of untrained dolphins off Maui – that he and LAC Pete Steinlager borrowed the pickup/ute/SUV/trerk and some tools from the FAK and headed down to the NAS Barber’s Pole Worm Weapons Department.
They had been eying off the sign since they had first seen it. It measured about 4’ x 2’, had a white background and 6” high reflective letters and looked a little like this:
LAC Steinlager and CPL Gerard had it off and in the back of the pickup/ute/SUV/trerk before you could say ‘Michelob’, and within five minutes it was underneath CPL Gerard’s mattress in the BEQ (Budweiser’s empty quickly). Three weeks later it was adorning the wall at 492 Armament, looking quite natty beside the kMw and St. Barbara Rd.
Things began to gather pace. Three or four months later CPL Gerard was back at RNZAF When You’re Happy with SGTs Brownhouse and Blunt-End and LACs Gerry Baden-Powell and Stu Baitlayer. Their P3s were merrily pinging herds of Patagonian Tooth Fish and dropping war-surplus MK44 torpedoes on war-surplus RAN submarines when Gerard and Baden-Powell procured the next sign very early one frosty Auckland morning.
It was a beauty too. Sitting above the entrance to the South Pacific Poms’ maritime sanctum sanctorum (crew room), it was a painting of a Kiwi P3 on a blue background, and surrounded by the usual mottoes, words of encouragement and identifiers that invariably accompany such images. About the same size as the NAS Barber’s Pole Worm Weapon’s Department hoarding, it took about as long to unhitch, with the aid of two very big screwdrivers, a jemmy and the ‘lorry’ CPL Gerard and LAC Baden-Powell’s hosts had supplied for the duration of their stay. Somewhat to their surprise its absence was never mentioned; perhaps the cleverly-applied words: Removed for refurbishment, by auth. Barracks Painter, hastily penned in texta next to the space where the sign had been, actually fooled the Bleeding Elephant Trackers. Or perhaps not.
Back at EDN it joined the kMw et al and the Gunnies’ smoko room was beginning to look quite homey. 1981 took FLGOFF Maslin’s Beach, FSGT Gerard, CPL Gerard and LAC Gerard to Aloha country as part of 92WG Detachment Gerard. No signs worthy of acquisition were found as the mighty hunter-killer airplanes spent a fortnight pinging the USS Hawkbill (which was actually alongside at the Pearl Sub Base); instead, a large (a very large) version of Ol’ Glory was purchased using some surplus imprest readies.
It looked wonderful on the wall at 492 ARM, and even came in handy for mopping up the suds from around the recently-installed James Cook Memorial Font, which got quite a hammering until the wowsers decided that morale was far too high and ordered the JCMF be permanently disconnected.
In the meantime The Wheel had been entrusted with setting up the armament side of the newly-established 92WGDETA at Air Base Whatsapoundabutterworth? His contribution to the 492ARM wall was a liberated street sign which, instead of bearing the words, Children Crossing, said instead, Where is the Fwd Arm Interconnection Box?, a question that has never been satisfactorily answered.
Back in When You’re Happy (again), CPL Gerard, with LAC Connolly’s Kalamunda Cousin accompanying, relieved the SGTs Mess carpark of its sign, with the help of an understanding (and off duty) Bleeding Elephant Trackeress. Further north the purty-lookin’ Aussie Orions were madly pinging away at the Mariana Trench when LAC Stu Baitlayer found a number plate that he liked on a large American motor vehicle. In lieu of any other sort of relationship he decided to bring it home, and its friendly greeting: Hafa Adai, brightened the smoko room from the second it joined the burgeoning collection back in Aussie.
It was around this time (late ’81 – early ’82 ??) that a RAAF Richmond road sign, to whit: Cracker Stacker Crescent, appeared amongst the display. In true revolutionary spirit Edinburgh’s own French Armouraire, CPL Pierre, is believed to have been the liberator. The gallant Pierre apparently spilled blood during this affaire d’honeur, thereby etching his name (and retching his heart out) gloriously on the pantheon of Maritime Armourers.
Perhaps something that should have been CPL Pierre’s forte was the filching of a bilingual sign from somewhere in Canadia. Plain and utilitarian, it bears the words: Warrant Officers and Sergeants Dining Hall on the upper half and Salle a Manger de Brassards et Sergents on the lower. The mists of time have prevented this investigation uncovering the details of its acquisition, though suspicion falls on The Cisco Kid and his faithful sidekick, Spook. If that reads like a plea for assistance, it’s meant to.
One of the more memorable (and perhaps one of the last) sign acquisitions carried out by the 492SQN Armourers was that which presaged The Mysterious Affair of the Sign from St. Barbara’s Church.
One wonders why it took St. Barby’s Boys so long to realise that there actually was a St. Barbara’s Church two thirds of the way to the Cross Keys Pub from the front gate, and it had a sign - a big one - beside the path out front. Once this fact had been uncovered however, there was no stopping the lads and a raid was set in train. Two of the known perpetrators were SGT Grant Woodworker and CPL Ryan Verboten, though from all accounts there were more; certainly those two would have trouble lifting the sign in question by themselves as it was about 50’ long, 5’ high and 6” thick, as well as being made from a piece of solid mahogany*. It was so big in fact, that the ARDU chopper was seconded for the task of bringing it back to 492SQN*.
* This information furnished by SGT (Ret.) Woodworker
Knowing that it was among friends the sign from St. Barbara’s Church settled in to its new surroundings at once. The Armourers were inordinately proud of it and its particular sentiment, and it seemed that nothing would part them………….. until one of the Edinburgh Chaplains paid the Section a visit.
To this day none of the maritime cracker stackers know whether the Padre was acting on a tipoff or not. Being a true diplomat the gentleman himself would neither confirm nor deny the possibility; what he did say however - in the most tactful of tones apparently – was that the sign should be returned whither it had come with the utmost rapidity, and from all accounts the steely edge in his voice brooked no denial. Chastened, SGT Woodworker and CPL Verboten cranked up the Huey and wockaad back over Salisbury with the speed of a thousand startled gazelles, bringing to an end The Mysterious Affair of the Sign from St. Barbara’s Church. And leaving a large blank area on the Armament Section wall into the bargain.
From this point on the CSIs found that hard data concerning the signs in 492 Armament began to dry up. One SUPMAN arrived back from Wagga with a sign that read: RAAFSTT WARRANT OFFICER DISCIPLINARY, and someone else returned from a somewhere else that had recently lost the sign from outside its DEPLOYMENT STORE, but memories are fading and the interviewees were unable to remember exactly from whence it had come.
With no other rumours or like data to draw on the CSI team is forced to put their investigations on hold until more information can be unearthed. It’s certain that not every sign that graced the wall in 492 Armament Section has been mentioned, and anybody with further information is welcome to transmit it to the Gunnies website grapevine. No responsibility can be taken for its accuracy, or guarantees given that retrospective charges will not be laid sometime in the future.
Chief Crack Sign Investigator (aka Russ King)
KNOWING THE SIGNS
Some of the signs captured by 492 Sqn
|Russ King's Photos - Album 1|