It has been over a year since I previously visited the long-term restoration of the last surviving World War Two era Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Consolidated B-24M Liberator bomber at the B-24 Liberator Memorial Restoration in Werribee, Victoria. This particular aircraft, RAAF serial number A72-176 was delivered from the United States in late 1944 (USAAF Serial Number 44-41956) and was later modified with the addition of a target tracking search radar in the lower fuselage and redesignated as a B-24R. Apart from seeing RAAF history preserved, the beauty of visiting this restoration project is the incredible access you have to get up close and with certain limitations, even take a look inside the big Liberator!
The Liberator restoration is taking place within an old hangar at the former RAAF Werribee Aerodrome site that was built in 1940 for use by various RAAF units and used as a training field and storage/repair base. Only two of these hangars remain at the old base – the other is nearby and is planned to be relocated and repaired to further develop the restoration site as a fully fledged aviation museum.
Consolidated B-24M Liberator
It is hard to imagine today that this is the last of the RAAF Liberator bombers given they operated 287 B-24D, B-24J, B-24L and B-24M models from 1944 to 1948 (33 aircraft and more than 200 personnel were lost in combat and accidents during that time). 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 on long-range bombing missions against Imperial Japanese targets in the South West Pacific theatre. Liberator bombers were also used for training back in Australia with units such as RAAF No. 7 Operational Training Unit (7OTU) at RAAF Tocumwal, NSW where A72-176 was once based (see the end of this blog for some photos of the memorials and remnants of RAAF Tocumwal).
At war’s end the A72-176 airframe luckily avoided the scrap yard and continued to be operated as a transport and miscellaneous roles including geographic surveys, until retired from flying on March 26th, 1946 to become Instructional Airframe No. 5 for ground training at RAAF East Sale. Sold to a farmer for scrap in 1948 minus its wings and tail that had already been scrapped, it ended up being used as a temporary home while the owner built his house on a farm near Moe, Victoria. The airframe then just sat out in the open from the 1950’s to early 1990’s. The restoration fund was established in 1989 and after a period of time in negotiation, the Werribee team obtained the fuselage in 1995 and began the long restoration process in 1996.
Given there were none in Australia, the B-24 wings were recovered in 1991 from a World War Two USAAF B-24D Liberator (serial number 42-41091) crash site in Papua New Guinea. The wings were imported into Australia in 1992.
Externally not much has visibly changed on the Liberator from 2017 but much has been completed on the interior and on the various parts, wiring, components, equipment etc. Other projects within the hangar are also steadily progressing.
RAAF CAC CA-13 Boomerang A46-147 was built in 1943. Originally intended as an “Emergency Fighter” for the RAAF, during World War Two the Boomerang was used for tactical reconnaissance and army close support. This particular aircraft was flown by RAAF No. 83 Squadron and coded MH-5 during the war. It sported “Zoot!” nose art featuring a dapper looking, cigar smoking crow leaning on an open tin can, looking at a woman’s leg as she passes by! This nose art will be recreated for the restoration (a scale model of this aircraft is on display too).
Boomerang A46-147 was retired in 1946 and sold off in 1948. The remains of the airframe, minus its wings (likely scrapped for the metal alloy), changed hands a few of times over the years – firstly with the Camden Museum of Aviation (NSW) in the 1960’s, then Greg Batt in Queensland in the 1990’s (he is restoring a number of Boomerang aircraft), before becoming the property of Nick Knight and under long-term static restoration in Werribee. Nick has collected, swapped and manufactured many parts and components for the restoration since he first acquired an unidentifiable Boomerang frame in 1994 and then the cockpit section and rear airframe of A46-147 in 2003.
Since 2016 various panels, parts of the engine cowling and the tailplane have been added and painted but parts have also been removed to facilitate the restoration. This is one of a number of CAC Boomerang restoration projects in Australia – it is great to see this Australian designed and built fighter coming back from the brink!
Meticulous construction of an accurate twin-engine, three seat Airspeed Oxford replica continues at Werribee. Volunteers are building the monocoque airframe and wings which are mostly made of glued and tacked timber and plywood wooden wings (not many originals survived hence the rebuild and replica status). It is planned to fit the replica with two restored Armstrong Siddeley Cheetah 10 engines that will be in full operating condition.
The RAAF used Oxford aircraft for initial multi-engine pilot and crew training during and after the war. 391 were sent to Australia between 1940 and 1944 as part of the Empire Air Training Scheme (EATS), with the last retired in 1953.
RAAF Tocumwal – Gone but not forgotten
The former RAAF Tocumwal base on New South Wales was the biggest in the southern hemisphere when originally built for the USAAF in 1942 as MacIntyre Field. As the war had progressed rapidly, the Americans had moved further north and RAAF No. 7 Operational Training Unit (7OTU) took over the base, flying 54 Consolidated B-24 Liberator bombers and numerous other aircraft types during the war. My Great Uncle Ron served there during that time.
There is a great 1/4 scale replica memorial to this B-24M A72-176 and 7OTU at the front entrance to the Tocumwal Golf Course. The old RAAF Tocumwal base gates and guardhouse can be found at a secondary entrance to the golf course.
The base was in operation until 1960 but by 1947 it had become No. 7 Aircraft Depot & No. 7 Central Recovery Depot. Post war some 700 surplus RAAF aircraft were stored and scrapped there, to melt them down to aluminium ingots and parts… (sheds a tear). Today a few hangars can be found on and near the current airport that was part of the base which once had over 600 buildings (300 of which were on todays golf course site).
Operating a large RAAF training base at Tocumwal during World War Two was not without tragedy. The nearby town cemetery has a respectful Commonwealth War Graves section. 18 personnel were buried there – one USAAF airman’s remains were later sent to America. Lest We Forget.
Past Werribee B-24 Restoration Updates:
Boomerang Restoration References: