44 Days: 75 Squadron and the fight for Australia

44 Days recounts – almost for the first time – the amazing ‘David and Goliath’ struggle fought in the skies above Port Moresby in early 1942 between a handful of raw Australian pilots in borrowed P-40 Kittyhawk fighter aircraft and the rampant Japanese. continue reading

This was perhaps the most desperate moment of the most desperate chapter of Australia’s history, as we lay all but open to an undefeated enemy descending from our north. Flying and fighting daily in appalling conditions, lacking proper equipment and support, the young men of the newly-formed 75 Squadron flew and fought day after day in their Kittyhawks which, though well-armed, were no match for the superbly manoeuvrable new Japanese Zero fighters. But for 44 Days they held their own in this genuinely heroic, but all-but-unknown chapter of our military history.

‘Brilliantly researched and sympathetically told, 44 DAYS is more than just a fitting tribute to brave but overlooked heroes. It’s also a top read.’ **** ADELAIDE ADVERTISER

 

Heroes of the Skies

At the point at which all but a few of the generation who fought the Second World War have left us, I felt it was time for one more look at some of the original stories of the men who flew. In this final volume, I met several wonderful veterans who had never told their stories before, such as Cyril, a Liberator pilot patrolling the grey waters of the Atlantic hunting U-Boats;  continue reading

Ron who flew at treetop level over the New Guinea jungles strafing the Japanese; or John who flew his Hellcats off the decks of the carriers of the British Pacific Fleet. 20 new stories from this amazing generation of airmen.

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Southern Surveyor

‘The deepest trenches, highest mountains, biggest earthquakes, most explosive volcanoes are all associated with these places. We’re discovering things all the time.’.

Southern Surveyor is the story of the CSIRO’s marine research vessel which for a decade, plied the seas around Australia discovering a wealth of scientific information about our oceans. I spoke to around twenty of the scientists and crew who worked aboard this wonderful lady, built originally in the 1970s as a North Sea trawler. continue reading

Her many voyages undertook a vast array of work from measuring ocean temperatures, discovering the secret breeding habits of crayfish, mapping vast areas of the ocean floor, assessing global currents, finding vast undersea volcanos and much more. Although old and prone to breaking down, the Surveyor was nonetheless adored by her crew and the scientists who worked within her. If you like stories of the sea and discovery, this one is for you.

The Forgotten Island

My third book took a different tack completely, exploring the little-known islands of Bass Strait. Hardly anyone realises it, but this tempestuous sea passage between the Australian mainland and Tasmania holds about a hundred separately named islands, and many more that bear no name at all. It’s a strange, atypical part of Australia: blustery, wind-swept, Gothic, and incredibly beautiful – more like a North Atlantic setting.

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It’s a journey that takes in horrendous seasickness, hair-raising flights in dilapidated aeroplanes, bizarre story of sea monsters and skulduggery, and many nights spent in some very odd places but wonderful places. 

FLY

With the World War Two generation ever-thinning and time very much against me, the success of ‘Flak’ led Penguin Books (bless them), to offer me a two-book deal. The first, ‘Fly’ was published in 2010. In this volume, I even managed to track down a couple of German pilots whose stories were truly breathtaking, such as that of Peter, who actually met Hitler in Berchtesgaden when he awarded him his Knight’s Cross.

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“Actually”, he told me, “I didn’t like him very much”. Many were the times the men told me that this was the first time they had spoken of their wartime experiences, even to their own families. I shall never the look on the face of the wife of one former pilot as he described to me his amazing ordeal. “I’ve been married to him fifty years”, she said after a pause. “I’ve never heard that before”.

FLAK

“It’s funny how things come about. The idea for my first book came into being in a single moment during a conversation with a journalist friend of mine, Peter Wilmoth, who was writing the biography of the now late, beloved Australian actor, Bud Tingwell. Many people don’t realise that before Bud’s illustrious career in entertainment, he was a pilot, flying photo reconnaissance Spitfires in World War Two.

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Peter rang me up one day and, knowing my life-long interest in the subject, asked me to translate some of the more technical aspects of Bud’s description of his war. After hearing myself rabbiting on about 20-mm cannons and the differences between a Spit Mark 5 and 9 etc, Peter and I both came to the conclusion that I should jolly well go and write a book of my own!

 

I contacted Tom Gilliat at Macmillan publishers and put to him the idea of simply tracking down a few old pilots and other aircrew, and seeing if they had any good stories to tell. ‘Go for it’, he said, and the result, in 2007 was ‘Flak’, twenty mini-biographies of some truly amazing men, and their stories of air combat and survival, most of which they had told to nobody before. Stories such as that of Bruce Clifton, who was literally blown out of his Lancaster bomber when it strayed over Sweden in 1945. Amazingly, he survived unharmed, though the rest of his crew of seven were killed”.