Restoring the last surviving RAAF Consolidated B-24 Liberator

B-24 Liberator Restoration Fund welcome sign Werribee Vic Australia

B-24 Liberator Restoration Fund welcome sign

In Werribee a town in Victoria is a very unique piece of Australian military history.  The restoration of the last remaining Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Consolidated B-24 Liberator (and the only one in the southern hemisphere) is taking place there in an old air force hangar. The B-24 was a large (wingspan 33.5 metres/110 feet and length 20.7 metres/68 feet) 4 engined long-range heavy bomber with a 4 ton bomb load designed by the Consolidated  Aircraft Corporation of San Diego, California. It was used by the Allies in both the European and Pacific theatres of World War Two for bombing, maritime patrol and transport duties.

Werribee B-24 Liberator Restoration

The Werribee B-24 Liberator

RAAF B-24 Liberator

RAAF B-24 Liberator in WW2

The XB-24 prototype of the Liberator was ready for flight by the end of 1939 and proved a successful design. Redesignated the B-24, the aircraft was then put into mass-production with 18,482 being constructed between 1940 and 1945 (the most of any heavy bomber). At the peak of production a factory could produce one airframe every 55 minutes! 

Consolidated B-24 Liberators being built at the Vultee plant in Forth Worth, Texas during WW2

B-24’s being built at the Vultee plant in Forth Worth, Texas during WW2

Consolidated B-24 liberators being built at Fords Willow Run, Michigan Factory during WW2

B-24’s being built at Fords Willow Run factory in Michigan during WW2

Due to the vast numbers of Liberator aircraft available in 1943, it was decided by Allied commanders that the RAAF was to be equipped with the B-24 to assist the USAAF in the strategic bombing role in the Pacific theatre of war. The first RAAF B-24 became operational for use against Japanese forces in February 1944 and went on to prove to be very effective in the heavy bombing role in places such as Borneo

RAAF B-24 Liberator A72-116

RAAF B-24 Liberator A72-116 (Source: ADF Serials.com.au)

287 Liberators (B-24D, B-24J, B-24L and the B-24M models) eventually served in RAAF bomber squadrons No. 12, 21, 23, 24, 25, 99 and 102. Most RAAF B-24 crews were trained at the No. 7 Operational Training Unit in Tocumwal, NSW. The Liberator was the only heavy bomber used in the Pacific by the RAAF and they operated from the Northern Territory, Western Australia, Morotai in the Netherlands East Indies and Palawan in the Philippines.

RAAF B-24's of No. 7 OTU

RAAF B-24’s of No. 7 OTU (Source: ADF Serials.com.au)

In the latter stages of the Pacific War, RAAF No. 200 and 210 flights also used small numbers of B-24’s for special covert and electronic surveillance missions (under the direction of the Australian Intelligence Bureau). These special missions were conducted in 1945 over Borneo and the Netherlands East Indies. 200 flight was equipped with 8 B-24’s and their operations included dropping “Z-Force” special forces behind enemy lines (officially they were known as Z Special Unit). 210 flight operated 2 B-24’s from Darwin in the Northern Territory conducting electronic countermeasures against Japanese radar and radio communications. The last Liberator was retired from RAAF service in 1948 when they were replaced by Australian-built Avro Lincoln bombers. The fact that so many aircraft were built and so few remain today, makes this last surviving RAAF Liberator very special (there are only around 14 complete airframes surviving today with a couple still flying in the USA).

RAAF B-24 Liberator A72-6

Camouflaged RAAF B-24 A72-6 (Source: ADF Serials.com.au)

The Werribee B-24M (RAAF serial number A72-176) is being restored at the former Werribee airfield by a dedicated group of volunteers from the B-24 Liberator Restoration Fund. The fund was incorporated in 1989 and the members of the fund and the volunteers come from all walks of life.

RAAF B-24M A72- 176 restoration werribee victoria australia

B-24M A72- 176

Old Werribee Airfield Hangar RAAF B-24 Liberator Restoration

Old Werribee Airfield Hangar

A72-176 did not see combat, but was used by No. 7 Operational Training Unit to train B-24 crews. At the war’s end most B-24’s were no longer required and were scrapped for their metal which was then melted down for more urgent use. So much metal was required for the war effort that once peace came it was put back into essential items for daily life from pots and pans to cars and the like. Luckily A72-176 avoided this fate as it was required for use as a geographic survey aircraft before its last flight to RAAF East Sale in 1946 where it remained as an instructional airframe until 1948. The airframe was then sold as scrap (minus its wings and tail that had already been sold)

B-24 A72-176 at RAAF Tocumwal in 1945

B-24 A72-176 at RAAF Tocumwal in 1945 (Source: B-24 Liberator Restoration Fund)

B-24 A72-176 at RAAF Tocumwal

B-24 A72-176 at RAAF Tocumwal with an Avro Lincoln, the replacement for the B-24 to the left (Photo: Bob Brown, Source: Tocumwal Aerodrome Historic Aerodrome Museum)

Although a suitable B-24 airframe was located in 1988, the restoration project did not commence in earnest until 1995 with the recovery of the airframe from a property in Moe, Victoria where it had sat for the last 47 years. At some stage the owner had been living in it while his house was built! Later it became a chicken shed! 

B-24 fuselage as found in Moe 1995

The B-24 fuselage as found in Moe (Source: B-24 Liberator Restoration Fund)

The nose section of the B-24 being prepared for shipping to Werribee in 1995 B-24 Liberator Restoration Fund

The nose section of the B-24 being prepared for shipping to Werribee in 1995 (Source: B-24 Liberator Restoration Fund)

B-24 tail section restoration

The tail section of the B-24 being prepared for shipping to Werribee in 1995 (Source: B-24 Liberator Restoration Fund)

B-24 restoration arrives in Werribee in 1995 B-24 Liberator Restoration Fund

The B-24 arrives in Werribee in 1995 (Source: B-24 Liberator Restoration Fund)

The majority of the airframe parts, equipment and engines have been sourced from around Australia and the world, plus through generous donations. The wings and tail were recovered from a USAAF wreck shot down by Japanese fighters in 1943 over New Guinea – these were discovered by a fund member and were recovered with the assistance of the RAAF in 1992. There are over 1,000,000 parts in a Liberator bomber but they have managed to put together virtually all the required parts (what can’t be found or is unusable is refabricated)!

From 1995 to 2013  B-24 Liberator Restoration Werribee Victoria

From 1995 to 2013 (Source: 1995 photo – B-24 Liberator Restoration Fund. 2013 photo from my recent visit)

b-24 liberator restoration werribee victoria australia

It’s a big airframe!

A lot of hard work and long hours have gone into this big project and although the Liberator is being restored to its original appearance (it is looking fantastic) it will not be to flight condition (it is too rare to risk). The intention is to have the B-24  be capable of starting the engines up for taxiing purposes only and for it to displayed in a museum which will eventually also include other restored aircraft such as the Avro Anson and Airspeed Oxford that were used to train crews that would go on to fly in the B-24.

Looking up to the B-24 cockpit in 1996  Werribee

Looking up to the cockpit in 1996 (Source: B-24 Liberator Restoration Fund)

B-24 Cockpit restoration 2013 Werribee

The B-24 Cockpit restoration in 2013. An impressive transformation

Looking aft inside the B-24 fuselage a lot of progress has been made since 1995 and 2013  Restoration Werribee VIC Australia

Looking aft inside the B-24 fuselage a lot of progress has been made between 1995 and 2013 (Source: 1995 photo – B-24 Liberator Restoration Fund. The 2013 photo was taken by myself on my most recent visit)

Despite the historical significance of this being the only surviving RAAF Liberator, as far as I know the restoration group have received no significant funding from the Australian Government other than assistance in recovering the aircraft wings from Papua New Guinea and still have no permanent home when it is completed. This is a shame really – the site of this restoration is only a short drive from the historical home of the RAAF at Point Cook (also the location of the RAAF Museum) and the volunteers are mostly getting on in years (3 of them sadly passed away last year).

Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp 1200 HP engine of the B-24 Liberator

Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp 1200 HP engine of the Liberator

engine housing on the B-24 wing

An engine housing on the B-24 wing

The fund of course needs all the help they can get to finish this project and enjoy all their hard work. Luckily they have received support from the public, various businesses and the like over the years and after almost 20 years the restoration is making slow but steady progress even after a number of setbacks.

B-24 ball gun turret

Ball gun turret (this was fitted in the belly of the B-24)

B-24 ball gun turret interior

Theres not much room inside the ball gun turret!

In 2004 the hangar that was used to store 500,000 aircraft parts was badly damaged in a storm and became a safety risk that stopped restoration work for some time until it was rebuilt. During this time some valuable parts were stolen including wingtips that had taken 4 years to build! In another later incident someone stole a lot of their tools! These were a major setback at the time that just wasnt needed in a grassroots restoration such as this. Hopefully the fund can work something out with local government and the land owners to get a permit to extend their hangar and create the museum they have planned to show this mighty old girl off in style (apparently the signs are looking positive).

undercarriage of the B-24

The big undercarriage of the B-24

 B-24 cabin and upper gun turret

Looking up into the B-24 cabin and upper gun turret

B-24 waist gun position

The waist gun position

B-24 kart

Little Brother

If you get a chance please visit this B-24 restoration project and help bring back to life an important piece of Australian history. All monies from your entry fee go towards the project (you can also become a member of the fund or make a tax-deductible donation) and volunteers are also more than welcome to apply to help out with the restoration and the running of their store. I have visited this B-24 on a number of occasions over the years and always enjoy seeing its progress. You can wander around the airframe and even take a look inside. The level of work that goes into a restoration project of this size is enormous. It will be fantastic to one day see the completed Liberator restoration!

B-24M Liberator RAAF Werribee

The B-24M is one big bomber

13 thoughts on “Restoring the last surviving RAAF Consolidated B-24 Liberator

  1. Interestingly in 1963 as a ten year old living in Kanpur, India, we visited a former RAF airfield there. There were several B-24J wrecks that my brothers and I explored and we “liberated” a few number plates etc. I did some research with the USAF using the aircraft serial number and confirmed that they had been transfered to the RAF and flown I recall in 1943 and 1944 including on mining missions. Perhaps they are still there?

    Like

    • Hi John, Interesting to hear that. I believe the Indians were some of the last operators of the B-24 and I have seen one of their aircraft at the PIMA museum in Arizona

      Like

      • Thanks Deano! Best of luck with your project, I hope she is flying soon! Let me know if you’d like me to forward the serial numbers off the plates we “liberated”! JB

        Like

  2. My husband’s father was a pilot of the 24 for the RAF Ferry Command in WWII. I am hoping to get my husband a part from a 24 for our anniversary. Any suggestions on reputable sources for a part you don’t still need for your restoration? This would mean so much to him.
    Thanks!

    Like

  3. The Vultee Plant in Fort Worth is now used by Lockheed for building the F-35 and F-16. I went on a tour, and there is a giant mill there that dates back to building the B-24… The crazy part is they still use it!

    Like

  4. Pingback: A Brief History of the Royal Australian Air Force: World War Two – 1939 to 1945 | Aces Flying High

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s