30 Squadron was the first Raaf unit to be to be equipped with the newly built beaufighters. The unit was formed at Richmond, New South wales, on 9 march 1942. The first beaufighter to be received from the unit was delivered on the 2 june, training commenced under the famous Australia aviator Wg Cdr Brian Walker also known and more commonly referred to as ‘Blackjack’, he also took command of the squadron on the 4th of June.
On the 17th of August the Squadron moved to Bohle River, near Townsville, Queensland, in preparation for the move to Port Moresby, which was where the unit was to be based. At this stage of the war the Japanese where still advancing and had captured most of northern New Guinea, the Japanese had captured Kokoda and was moving up the Owen Stanley Ranges. Milne bay if captured by the Japanese, this would provide an excellent position to provide a base of operations for a flanking attack on the defenders of Port Moresby.
Coast watchers reported Japanese barges moving along the coast towards Milne bay, kittyhawks from 75 & 76 squadrons moved to the Milne bay airfield to provide air defence for the local area. The onslaught commenced on 26 August, the Japanese attempted to establish a foot-hold but were fiercely resisted by the Australian air and ground forces. On September 6th, three Beaufighters arrived at Fall river (Milne bay) to assist the Kittyhawks already stationed there. The following day Hudson, Beauforts and the beaufighters were assigned to attack an enemy cruiser and destroyer that had been sighted off Cape Karitahua on Normanby Islanda and with the kittyhawks were to operate as top cover. On takeoff one beaufighter ran off the strip and destroyed itself and a Hudsun, the other two aircraft though made strafing runs on the ships to divert anti-aircraft fire from the beauforts. At the end of the attack neither ship appeared to be seriously damaged. This was the first operational sortie carried out by the squadron.
Move to Ward’s Strip
30 squadron moved to Port Moresby under the control of the fifth air force USAAF on September 12th. The Squadron’s new task was to attack enemy supply lines, gun positions, barges and transports, a role well suited for the beaufighter. The squadron was then involved in operations to attack shipping and various ground targets, including important targets for the now advancing Australian forces on the Kokoda trail. On the 17th, twelve aircraft were sent to attack barges and troop transports at Sanananda Point and Buna beach, three barges were left blazing and others exploding from the attack. Conditions at Ward’s strip had remained primitive until the Japanese advance could be stopped and a major base established for the eventual allied offensive.
Battle of the Bismarck Sea
On the 1st of March, a patrolling USAAF Liberator sighted 14 ships 64 kilometers north-west of Ubili being escorted by at least four destroyers and a top cover of zero’s. The weather closed in until the convoy was located and attacked by B-17’s which attacked one ship. The convoy was still out of range of the beaufighters so an attempt was made to move two flights to Dobodura. On the mourning of the 3rd the convoy was confirmed to be heading directly towards Lae, a total of 90 aircraft rendezvoused at 9.25am over Cape Ward Hunt for what was to become known as the Battle of the Bismarck Sea. Walker expected to lead the squadron in the attack but the medical officer grounded him as unfit for duty. However Blackjack had other ideas and was not going to be left out of such an important engagement, Walker was later sighted cruising along at 12,000 feet amongst the USAAF lightnings, where he would be able to watch the battle unfold.
The first attack was made by 13 B-17’s from about 7,000 feet, a large formation of Zero’s attacked them shooting down one B-17 and 3 of the lightning escorts. The B-17’s sank at least one ship and probably another, immediately after this the 13 beaufighters of 30 squadron attacked. The squadron made mast-height strafing runs over the ships to silence the anti-aircraft guns to pave the way for the following Mitchell’s of the 90th Bombardment Squadron. The beaufighters played an important role in the battle, by making broadside attacks on the destroyers it fooled them into believing that they were torpedo bombers. This caused the destroyers to turn away from the merchant ships which left them to be an easier target. For the next few days beaufighters attacked the remaining barges and rafts in the Huon Gulf to prevent any survivors reaching shore. The final tally of ships sunk was eight transports and four destroyers, with 2,890 personel being killed. The losses to the allied side being thirteen aircrew killed, 10 in combat and 3 in accidents.