Watson, Donald Linthorne (Flight Lieutenant, b.1922)

Accession Number PR03236
Collection type Private Record
Record type Collection
Measurement 1 wallet: 1 cm
Object type Memoir
Maker Watson, Donald Linthorne
Place made Australia, Borneo, Malaya, New Guinea, Pacific Islands: Solomon Islands
Date made 1995
Access Open
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945
Copying Provisions Copying is permitted for the purposes of research and study, subject to physical condition

Collection relating to the Second World War service of 415369 Flight Lieutenant Donald Linthorne Watson, Nos. 11 and 33 Squadrons, and 112 Air Sea Rescue Flight, Australia, New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Borneo, Malaya, 1941-1946.

Collection consists of one typed and bound retrospective manuscript, with several pages of reproduced images, describing his experiences spanning the period August 1940 to May 1946. Throughout this time, Watson's experiences include training before enlistment, initial flight training, training on various other aircraft working up to Consolidated PBY Catalinas, then on to Supermarine Walruses, and then back to Catalinas. This memoir is particularly important owing to its detailed account of the training required of Catalina pilots. This includes all of the usual air training for large, multiple engine aircraft, but with the added addition of training in all aspects of seamanship, and training in floatplanes before the move to flying boats (the key difference being that a flying boat uses its main fuselage as a hull).

The memoir, written in 1995, recounts Watson's experiences from the time approaching his 18th birthday when he decides that he wants to become a pilot and his enlistment on 14 September 1941 to his discharge on 27 May 1946.

Following his enlistment, Watson joins 5 Initial Training School (5ITS) at Pearce, WA. While at Pearce, Watson discusses his classes on subjects including: navigation; mathematics; principles of flight; hygiene; and the mechanics of aircraft. During this period Watson also experiences his first flight as a passenger in a Lockheed Hudson. Watson discusses his final exams at Pearce, comfortably passing, and then preparing himself for embarkation to a posting in Rhodesia. Watson returns from leave ready for embarkation on 6 December, 1941, however with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour and the subsequent declaration of war against the Japanese, Watson instead gets instructed to remain in Australia, where he was reposted to Pearce. While at his re-posting to Pearce, Watson undertakes tasks such as camouflaging buildings, filling sandbags, and other such activities to prepare the area for potential Japanese bombing.

After two and a half months, Watson is then posted at No 9 Elementary Flying School at Cunderdin for flight training on De Havilland Tiger Moths. During this period, Watson describes his early flying training, which includes training on a Link Trainer, and increasingly advanced classroom exercising, eventually placing 6th in his class of 49.

Next, Watson moves on to twin-engine flying, with No 4 Service Flying Training School at Geraldton, being based there from 4 May 1942. Watson begins learning how to fly Avro Ansons, while also continuing other training in both the classroom and in Link Trainers, 'gaining his wings' on 13 July. At the completion of his training at Geraldton, and owing to his continued enthusiasm to fly Catalinas and excellent testing scores, Watson then gets transferred to 3 Operational Training Unit (3OTU) Rathmines. This achievement was quite rare, with Watson being the only such posting from Geraldton to Rathmines in over a year. Prior to joining 3OTU, Watson completes No 36NR (Navigation and Reconnaissance) Course for advanced navigation training.

In his first period of training at Rathmines, Watson begins training to fly seaplanes. This begins with a course headed by ex-Navy Officers and Chief Petty Officers who train Watson in seamanship – a hobby that he would continue to pursue in his post-war life, and discussed later in the memoir when he purchases a yacht called the Southern Cross in Darwin. From that point on, Watson notes that all aircraft terminology, where possible, was replaced with navy terminology. Next, Watson begins flying the Vought-Sikorsky OS2U Kingfisher, learning to land on water, and other such particulars relating to water-borne aircraft, and then joining No. 9 Catalina Conversion Course, where he often flies with Wing Commander William Keith Bolitho DFC. On completion of his training, Watson then joins No. 20 Squadron and is allotted Catalina No. A24-40 as second pilot.

From the period spanning 23 March to July 30 1943, Watson flies some 883 hours on Catalinas on various missions against Japanese forces across Papua, New Britain and the Admiralty Islands. These are both bombing missions, and some of the earliest mining operations conducted by Catalinas.

In late July 1943, Watson then gets sent to join No. 9 Squadron at Bowen, to be retrained to fly amphibious Supermarine Walruses – much to his dismay. Watson completes his amphibian conversion course on 6 October 1943 then joins No.9 Squadron for normal duties, but soon transferred via Port Moresby, establishing himself there to work on search and rescue missions.

During this period, Watson makes significant mentions of the poor living conditions, spending most of his time in the Admiralty Islands. He notes the primitives camping and washing facilities, and the poor food quality. Watson also makes mention of the risks that these conditions posed for fellow soldiers, discussing several soldiers who had “gone troppo,” and had to be returned to Australia. Watson appears to combat such issues by embracing the Pacific culture, regularly discussing meetings and trading with locals, and occasions where he stays at ‘westernised’ places such as the Wedau Mission. On 13 September 1944, Watson gains his commission.

On 25 September 1944, Watson leaves the Admiralty Islands, before several brief stints at various locations in the Pacific before returning to Australian on 1 December. At this point in his career, Watson was aged 22 and had flown 1351.5 hours and was the most experienced Walrus pilot in the RAAF. On his return to Australia, Watson receives news that he is to return to Rathmines for the Catalina Captains Course, however is soon diverted to the United States of America to take possession of an American-built Catalina destined for RAAF use in the Pacific. During this sojourn to America, Watson visits San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Between 15 May and 2 August 1945, Watson undertakes the Catalina Captains Course, flying a total of 132 hours. On completion, he re-joins his old No.11 Squadron, this time as a captain. With VJ Day just two weeks later, Watson’s duties soon develop into transporting supplies from Australia to New Guinea, the Philippines and other areas in the Pacific to support liberated prisoners of war. Watson makes several of these journeys. Making the most of the freedom that comes with the end of the war, Watson then makes long-haul flights from New Guinea to Perth, often with only a short refueling stop en route. On each of these trips, Watson fills his Catalina with soldiers returning home, at one point including his brother. Following Perth, Watson circumnavigates Australia on each of these trips. Three significant post-war flights for Watson include the transportation of Japanese prisoners for trial from Kuching to Labuan; flying the Catalina ‘mother-ship’ to lead the first Sydney Hobart yacht race; and two meetings with the Sultan of Ternate, one of which ends in his being a passenger of Watson’s.

On 26 May 1946, Watson leaves Darwin aboard a RAAF DC-3 Dakota, returning home to Western Australia via Melbourne. His discharge would come through several weeks later on 5 July 1946. At this point in time, he had amassed some of the largest numbers of hours flying in Catalinas and Walruses in the RAAF.

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