38 Squadron RAAF

38 Squadron was formed in 1943. It transported passengers and supplies around Australia and, after being equipped with a Douglas C-47 Dakota, the ubiquitous “biscuit bomber”, throughout the Pacific. After the war, the squadron flew to Japan three times a week, supporting the Australian contingent of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF). In late 1948 aircrew were deployed to Europe for 12 months, where they flew Dakotas with the Royal Air Force (RAF) during the Berlin Airlift.

Cold War tensions were heating up and by 1950 communists terrorists were conducting an insurgency in Malaya. Succumbing to pressure from the United Kingdom to contribute forces to the escalating crisis, the Australian government decided to commit eight Dakotas and six Lincoln heavy bombers to the Far Eastern Air Force in April. The two Australian squadrons formed 90 (Composite) Wing.

The advance party from 38 Squadron arrived at the RAF base, Changi, Singapore, on 19 June. The squadron was operational ten days later, although it did not receive its full strength and equipment until 6 July. The squadron’s first involvement in the Emergency occurred on 12 July, when one of its Dakota’s undertook a five-and-three-quarter-hour air ambulance flight to Kuala Lumpur and jungle air strips at Ipoh and Taiping, to evacuate wounded Singaporean soldiers.

On 23 July the squadron dropped supplies to troops on the ground near Kuala Lumpur, and on 3 August two of the squadron’s Dakotas, with other RAF aircraft, dropped 103,000 propaganda leaflets over communist-controlled territory. These leaflets called on the terrorists to surrender. Six days later a Dakota participated in a bombing raid on an area near Kota Bharu, flying over the target area, checking on weather conditions, and marking the target with smoke for bombers.

As the squadron was part of the Far Eastern Air Force, its duties in the Malayan Emergency ranged widely. Much of the squadron’s time was spent flying transport courier services to Ceylon, Borneo, the Philippines, Indochina, Hong Kong, and Japan. However, in July Australia committed ground troops to the war in Korea, at which time the squadron came under increased pressure to meet the growing transport needs demanded by the war. In November four of the squadron’s Dakotas, including supporting crew, were transferred to Korea and became 30 Communication Flight.

In April 1951 the squadron moved from Changi to Kuala Lumpur, where it became responsible for the main supply drops in Malaya. With half of its aircraft in Korea, it was proposed that the squadron be strengthened with a flight from 41 Squadron, Royal New Zealand Air Force. 38 Squadron’s move to Kuala Lumpur coincided with the peak offensive against the terrorists and by the time 38 and 41 Squadrons were relieved in mid-July, they had dropped 916,632 pounds of supplies.

In November the squadron returned to Kuala Lumpur for its second stint where in order to keep pace with the ground operations, by the end of February 1952, the squadron’s full strength was working around the clock, usually flying on four separate tasks each day.

In February two of the squadron’s Dakotas and two RAF Dakotas took part in the first paratroop drop of the campaign. The aircraft carried 54 British troops from B Squadron, 22nd Special Air Service Regiment, as part of Operation Helsby, which was a major offensive in the River Perak-Belum valley, just south of the Thai border.

At the end of February 38 Squadron returned to Changi, where it carried out a range of transport tasks. With the increasing demands of the Korean War, the transport capabilities of the RAAF were placed under enormous pressure, even in Australia, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to keep the squadron’s four Dakotas serviceable. Consequently, in September it was recommended that the squadron withdraw from Malaya and return to Australia, which it did on 11 December.

During its two-and-a-half years in Malaya, the squadron dropped 1,669,798 pounds of supplies to ground forces, carried 17,000 passengers, and evacuated 326 wounded and sick troops from Malaya to Singapore. When assessing their own performance, the squadron determined, that the “members of the Squadron, both aircrew and ground crew, realize that the job they are doing is not full of glamour, but are happy in the fact that what they are doing is vital and it is being done well”.

Glossary

Battle Honours

  • nil

Casualties

  • 1 died

For more information please see the Roll of Honour database.

Commanding Officers

Decorations

  • nil

For more information please see Honours and Awards database

References

  • Dennis, Peter, 1945-, Official History, Vietnam Vol.V: Emergency and confrontation : Australian military operations in Malaya & Borneo 1950-66, (St Leonards, N.S.W. : Allen & Unwin in association with the Australian War Memorial, 1996)
  • Royal Australian Air Force Historical Section, Units of the Royal Australian Air Force : a concise history: volume 4 Maritime and transport units, (Canberra : AGPS Press, 1995)