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No. 30 Communi­cation Unit

by Jim Frawley A32634 No.77 (Fighter) Squadron

Jim Frawley joined the RAAF in February 1949 and was trained as a Wireless Maintenance Mechanic (Air) at the School of Radio Ballarat, completing his training in June 1950. In January 1952 he was posted to Japan/Korea returning to Australia in April 1953. He retired from the RAAF in 1971 after 22 years.

Following my period of service in Korea with No. 77 Squadron, I was assigned to No. 30 Communications Unit, 91 (Composite) Wing, RAAF, based at Iwakuni, Japan. At the time, Wing Commander Cy Greenwood, a former Berlin airlift pilot commanded it. The unit was equipped with eight C-47 (Dakota) transport aircraft, one of which (A65-108) was fitted out for VIP purposes, primarily for use by General Robinson (Red Robbie). The other seven aircraft performed various operational tasks on an "as required" basis.

Operational tasks were allocated the previous day and the first take-off was usually scheduled for between 0400 and 0600. Outbound from Iwakuni, flights were mainly to Korea. However, there were flights to Tokyo and a few other places. Operations to Korea included the transfer of personnel to Korea, and movement of mail, equipment, supplies and occasionally munitions. On the return trip, the aircraft carried freight mail, and passengers, either on their way to a well deserved R&R or, for the lucky ones, the first stage of their return to Australia, or just on rotation.

The aircraft were also called on to Medevac out the British Commonwealth wounded. Litters were arranged down each side of the aircraft, three high. 28 was the maximum number of litters that could be carried. At Yong Don Po (K16) during the Korean winter, prior to the patients being loaded, American ground staff would connect a machine to the aircraft and pump in hot air. The C-47 was unlined and not pressurized, with a maximum cruising altitude of 10,000 feet. Outside air temperature at this altitude is minus many degrees centigrade. The normal aircraft heating system was quite primitive by today's standard and was most ineffective during the northern winter. The RAAF nurses that tended to the needs of the wounded did a magniflcent job with little recognition. Most of them flew over 600 hours during a tour of duty. They are to be congratulated for their dedication.

During the winter of 1952, it became necessary to cover the aircraft wings and cockpit windows overnight to prevent ice forming on the surfaces. Prior to this protection, it was a major task to have the aircraft ready on time for the early morning departures. This protective covering of the aircraft surfaces was an extra chore for the afternoon shift maintenance personnel, but it paid handsome dividends the next morning when the aircraft were being prepared for operations.

On a technical point, the C-47 was equipped with two HF communication systems and a single 4-channel VHF radio similar to that used in the 77 Squadron mustangs. 4 VHF channels were not enough in the Korean War environment. At one time, over approximately a six-week period, each aircraft reported a complete lack of communication over the VHF system during some portion of the flight. Each time the radios were removed and checked extensively only to find no fault. The Corporal in charge, Ted Eckert, was tearing his hair out in frustration. In the end, it was decided to install a second VHF system.

This, it was hoped, would overcome the two problems being experienced, insufficient frequencies available to the pilots and improved reliability of communications. Within two weeks of the first No. 2 VHF installation, there were no more VHF communications problems.

We came to the conclusion that the lack of communications was caused by an atmospheric phenomenon rather than equipment failure. I remember in the early 1960s, on an SP2H Neptune flight between Townsville and the RNZAF Base, Whenuapui, we were out of radio contact for over two hours, unable to raise either Australia or New Zealand. Contact was finally made with Fiji.

Another service provided by 30 Communications Unit, was flight line service to United States aircraft. It was found during this time that the U.S. had a better VHF receiver than was available to us, but not for long. We soon acquired enough of these receivers to equip all the Unit aircraft. When the aircraft eventually returned to Australia, these receivers were lost to the RAAF control towers.

30 Commonwealth Unit, later 30 Transport Unit, and later again 36 Transport Squadron, had a formidable record. Only one C-47 was lost during the Korean War. In December 1950, after landing at Suwon (K13) the aircraft was told to hold to allow a flight of Mustangs to take-off. One of the Mustangs misjudged his take-off and struck the C47. No lives were lost. As the Chinese were advancing, everything that could be removed from the aircraft was, and what was left was blown up. The Unit/Squadron never, during my time with it, missed a flight because of unserviceability and I believe only one day's flying was lost and this was because of a typhoon.

More than 12,000 wounded were flown out of Korea by the RAAF, as well as 100,000 passengers and over 50 million pounds of freight and mail. This represents a lot of sorties, considering the maximum take-off weight of the aircraft was normally 28,500 pounds, later cleared for a 1000-pound overload during the Korean War. This weight, of course, includes the net weight of the aircraft and 800 US gallons of 100-octane fuel.

When hostilities ceased, the RAAF kept flying. Between April and July 1956, as Commonwealth forces were withdrawn from Korea, the RAAF Transport Squadron flew 700 troops to Iwakuni for return to their home country, as well as wounded and POWs.

A lot of the operations performed by the transport aircraft would not have been possible had it not been for the Ground Controlled Approach (GCA) systems operated by the USAF. Our pilots could not see the ground because of the weather conditions, and even down to conditions of zero visibility, the GCA operators were able to talk them down to the point when the wheels touched the runway.

This was almost an everyday occurrence during the Korean winter. Today in Australia, airports are closed if there is fog covering the airfield. The GCA system in use 50 years ago kept the airfields in Korea open in worse conditions than we ever experience here.

In 1956, after ten years in Japan, and three years after the signing of the Korean peace treaty, it was time to call it a day. For the RAAF at Iwakuni, it was the end of the Service's longest period overseas. The transport squadron was the last to leave, ending a fourteen year association with the U.S. 5th Air Force.

First Published in The Voice, November 1999