Friday, April 24, 2009

In Memoriam - 12 January 1942 - F/O Peter C. GORRIE, 407168, 2 Squadron, R.A.A.F.

"...I'll start on Saturday - the squadron went out but didn't have any luck so returned again on the Sunday, and made a raid on Menado, and Peter was the only one to score - he got two direct hits on a light cruiser and blew the stern damn near off it; & after all the bombing was over, they formed up to return and were attacked by Jap fighters.
"The other 2 planes in the squadron dived down to sea level, but Peter stayed up and gave fight, and got a Jap plane, and probably a second. They then returned to their base; and when returning on the Monday morning when they ran into half a dozen of the latest Jap fighters, who were lying in wait for them.
"The others dived, but Peter went straight into them, thinking he could drop his load onto the target before they got him (that is his mates' opinion). Anyway, he downed another fighter before they sent him out of control into the sea. It is reckoned by F/O WHYTE who saw it, that the impact of plane and sea would have killed all the crew instantaneously. WHYTE said it was pure guts that sent Peter down; he didn't know what fear meant; a ten-to-one chance of coming out of it. What is left of the squadron seem to think a hell of a lot of young Pete's actions, and speak very highly of him.
"It's a hell of a blow, old thing, but at least we are very lucky to be able to hear so much of what did happen..."

 [Peter's elder brother, Robert Maclagan (Bob) GORRIE, SX210, Sergeant, 2/14th Field Regiment, in camp at Knight Cliffs, Darwin, in a letter to their sister Betty PIGOTT in Adelaide.]

The date was Monday 12 January 1942; the location was Kema Bay, near Menado, on the northern tip of the North Celebes Islands (Sulawesi), where an enemy fleet was landing Japanese troops in large numbers.

There may have been some minor exaggerations in the story ("official" records later suggested there were only 4 or at most 5 Japanese "Zero" fighters), with some padding to soften the blow of the news back home. But Peter would almost certainly have been aware, within an instant of spotting the "Zeros", that their chances of survival were very much less than one-in-ten, and it seems likely that he sealed his own fate absolutely by holding his course, drawing the enemy fighters off, and giving the rest of the flight a better chance of getting away.

But Betty, the recipient of the sad letter, found it difficult to accept the finality of the result, and often said in later life that she spent the next 3 years waiting for her younger brother to walk through the door, perhaps, she thought hopefully, having escaped to some island refuge.

Peter Creighton (Pete) GORRIE was 23 years of age.

His "mates" in the R.A.A.F., at the highest level, and in the absence of any formal written records of the action (Forward Base records were destroyed on evacuation ahead of Japanese advances, & H.Q. records for the period were destroyed in the first enemy bombing raids on Darwin a month later), had to settle for commemorating his valour, and contribution to the war effort, by naming an aerodrome in his honour - No 14 Aircraft Repair Depot (including No 55 Operational base, No 18 Replenishing Center, No 9 Stores Depot, and No 8 Transport and Movements Office), located just off the Stewart Highway and very near the Rail-head at Larrimah, N.T., was named "Gorrie" aerodrome.

Peter was flying a Lockheed Hudson (Model B14S, Mark I) bomber, serial No A16-12. With him on that last flight from their base at Namlea aerodrome, Burus Island, were his crew of three - the 2nd Pilot, Sgt Wesley Leonard MORGAN (No 408112), and 2 Wireless Air-gunners, Sgt John Edward FARRINGTON (No 17633) and Sgt Keith Richard Theodore McCRACKEN (No 406219).

In the same engagement, one other 2 Sqn Hudson from Namlea was lost - A16-46, with Pilot F/L Parker Henry Russell HODGE, P/O Edward David Guildford HOWARD and Sgts Harold Claude SHORE and Jack MAWDESLY, was observed on the water burning, with a long smoke trail. Only one crew-man, P/O HOWARD, survived, and was repatriated at war's end, after imprisonment by the Japanese.
Two other Hudson aircraft making up the flight that day were from 13 Sqn based at Laha, on Ambon Island, and both were also lost:
A16-7 crashed into Rangowenko, and four bodies were recovered from the wreckage & buried by villagers in their cemetery, including Pilot F/L Geoffrey SATTLER, and Sgts John Graham GOODE, Reginald Anthony Desmond HUNTER and Matthew Roscoe HODGSON.
A16-67, which was never located, with its crew posted missing presumed lost - 1st Pilot F/L Arthur R. BARTON, 2nd Pilot F/O Samuel William CLIFFORD, and Sgts Bernard Samuel BATES and John Lake MILLS.
The fifth aircraft returned to base, piloted by Flight Lt Rob CUMING, who filed the mission report as Wing Commander. But, he was to die within a week, so unable to confirm the casualty reports for official purposes.

There is also evidence, despite the lack of official records, that two other 13 Sqn Hudsons flew to Menado that morning - one piloted by P/O DUNNE and the other by Ron CORNFOOT, both of whom, judging by their published reminiscences, survived the action.

As a result of the losses on this mission, A.C.H. Halong, H.Q. for operations in the N.E.I. area, decided to discontinue further long-range attacks on distantly and strongly held targets.

Peter's name is recorded on the Ambon Memorial:
"GORRIE, Flying Off'r Peter Creighton, 407168, Royal Australian Air Force, 12th January 1942, aged 23, son of Dr Peter GORRIE and Janet Howatson GORRIE. Column 8."

Detail from the 2nd World War Cloister, Australian War Memorial, Canberra.

Detail from the Adelaide War Memorial, North Terrace.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *  LEST WE FORGET  * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Peter Creighton GORRIE was born in Peterborough, 6 June 1918, younger son of Peter GORRIE, M.D., and Janet Howatson YOUNG.
He was only 5 months old when his family moved to Port Augusta, & then aged 5 when they moved again, to Mount Lofty.
Educated firstly at Wykeham School, Belair, Peter was awarded the Form B Speeches Prize, 1930.
In 1931 he moved to Scotch College, Mitcham; he passed his Intermediate Certificate in 1934, with a credit in Physics. In the following year he won 1st Prize in the Senior Neat Dive at the Swimming Sports.
His headmaster, N.M.G. GRATTON, wrote this testimonial:
"He is a boy of more than average mental capacity... He has also taken a keen interest in the various outdoor activities of the school; he is a member of the 1st XVIII and 2nd XI. He is a boy of irreproachable character and gentlemanly demeanour; he is unfailingly courteous, conscientious and painstaking, and has developed into a particularly fine type of young man."

But his schooling was probably cut short by an unhappy set of family circumstances - his father had left the family and gone back to Scotland, and his mother may have had some difficulty making ends meet. So he gained employment, and continued night studies.

Peter's 1st job was with Bennett and Fisher, Livestock Salesmen and Wool Brokers, of Currie Street, Adelaide, where he started on 29 August 1935.

After 11 months, he left them, went north to the River country, and joined the clerical staff of Angove's Ltd, Wine Growers and Distillers of Rectified Spirit and Brandy, in Renmark.
Peter passed the Intermediate Examination of the Federal Institute of Accountants, Melbourne, 30 Nov 1938.

Peter "enlisted" in the Upper Murray unit of the Australian Militia Force in December 1938; it became Renmark "A" Company, attached to the 48th Battalion; he was promoted to Corporal on 16 Feb 1939, and to Lance-Sergeant on 23 Mar; on 7 November 1939, he was appointed Provisional Lieutenant, Active Citizen's Military Force, and attached to the 48th Battalion.

[Peter GORRIE  on the running board, nearest the front. The other staff are unidentified.
The photo is identified by John ANGOVE as being the Cole and Woodham packing shed.]
He served with Angove's until 10 February 1940, when he went briefly to Messrs COLE and WOODHAM, also in Renmark - this firm "... was a wholly owned subsidiary of the ANGOVE's winery, and was a dried fruit processing and distribution company as well as an agent for a variety of farm and block machinery and equipment - it also had the responsibility of sourcing grapes for the vintage each year for the winery side of the business" [with many thanks to John ANGOVE, the present Managing Director of the family business, February 2018].

Peter was also a member of Renmark Golf, Tennis and Cricket clubs.

In mid 1940, he sold his possessions, broke off his engagement to Norrie HIGGINS, farewelled his friend Gilbert ROACH, went for a very brief skiing holiday at Mount Hotham, and then joined up, to go to war.


On 20 July 1940, Peter enlisted in the R.A.A.F. "...for the duration of the war plus an additional 12 months," at 5 Recruit Centre, Adelaide. as A.C.II, No 407168.

[Peter GORRIE, standing in front of his early "wings," an Avro Anson aircraft, probably at Point Cook].

He was posted to 1 Initial Training School, Somers, 21 July; promoted L.A.C., 16 Sep; posted to 1 Elementary Flying Training School, Parafield, 19 September; and to 1 Service Flying School, Point Cook, 18 November 1940.
Peter learned to fly in Tiger Moth, Gipsy Moth and Anson aircraft; he was promoted Corporal, 9 December; and completed the Inter-Squadron Training Course No 4, 9 January 1941.

[Peter GORRIE in the backyard of his sister Betty PIGOTT's house in Adelaide, 1940.]

Peter was commissioned as Pilot Officer, General Duties Branch, Citizen Air Force, R.A.A.F., 11 March 1941 [Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, No 43, 6 March, page 4610], and 6 days later was posted to 2 Squadron, Laverton, on flying duties. These duties involved patrols over a wide area, covering identification of Merchant Shipping, air-cover for military convoys, enemy submarine searches, and flying as far afield as Mount Gambier, Mallacoota, and Tasmanian waters.

The Squadron had been equipped with twin-engined Lockheed Hudson Bombers from June 1940, and it was in these that Peter now saw service. They were of American manufacture, so were delivered without armaments (the U.S. was then still neutral), but were retro-fitted with British "Boulton and Paul" gun turrets (to R.A.F. standards) and Browning machine guns.

The controls of Hudson A16-12. Photo attributed to "Murray LAWSON via Ken HUTCHISON"
 [reproduced in Stewart WILSON's "Anson, Hudson and Sunderland in Australian Service," 
Aerospace Publications, Canberra, 1992, page 90].
Pilots had to treat the Hudson with respect - they were inclined to stall relatively easily (several did, with loss of crews - one crashed in Canberra in August 1940, killing a number of Senior Military Personnel and Government Ministers, including James FAIRBAIRN, the Air Minister, in whose honour the Canberra Air Base is named).

Peter GORRIE, 4th from the left, with 2 Squadron colleagues, beside a Hudson Bomber from "A" Flight, 
at Laverton Airbase, Point Cook, about October 1941. 
The others, from left-to-right, are identified [in Australian War Memorial Print No P 0964/05/05] as 
Robert LAW-SMITH, Jock WEBB, John RYLAND, our Peter GORRIE, Jim HARPER and Bill WHITE.


By agreements with the Dutch Government, Australia decided to establish forward operating bases in the Netherlands East Indies.

In September 1941, "A" Flight, 2 Squadron, comprising 4 Hudsons, flew to Darwin (under their control, 26 September to 3 October), and then on to various sites " make thorough studies of their deployment bases" at Halong, Laha, Namlea and Koepang, conducting searches as they went. They returned to Laverton on 6 October, via Cloncurry, Townsville, Archerfield and Richmond. On this mission, Peter co-piloted Hudson A16-18 with Flight/Lt HEMSWORTH, with A16-6 (Sqn.Ldr Frank HEADLAM), A16-12 (F/Os Robert LAW-SMITH and Kim BONYTHON), and A16-80 (Fl/Lt CUMING and P/O TAYLOR). It was the third aircraft, A16-12, in which Peter flying when he was killed 3 months later.

Two 2 Sqn Hudsons in "camera" formation. The pilot bears a passing resemblance to Peter GORRIE. 
Photo attributed to Neil MacKENZIE [and reproduced in Stewart WILSON's "Anson, Hudson..." 
as cited above, page 112].

The Australian War Cabinet approved the despatch of advance parties to these forward bases in early December 1941. Four days later, two flights from 13 Sqn left Darwin for Laha (Ambon Island), and one flight from 2 Sqn arrived at Koepang (East Timor), from Laverton via Darwin, under the command of Flt-Lt Rob CUMING.

And as they flew north, America was being bombed into the war at Pearl Harbour. On 7 December, the Koepang Hudsons bombed a Japanese pearling "mother" ship, the Nanyo Maru (suspected to have been a disguised radio ship), and damaged it sufficiently for it be beached and abandoned. The Squadron had drawn it's first blood.

Peter probably arrived a little later, as his service file records that he was posted "Overseas on Active Service Department" on 11 December. The Squadron was fully assembled at Penfui Base, 4 miles east of Koepang, by 12 December.

Peter wrote from Penfui to his sister Betty in Adelaide, his location concealed to pass the censor:
"...Everything is still O.K. here and am enjoying life very much - no more close shaves so far, and the little yellow chaps are not too troublesome YET! Although it won't be long now.
Am still keeping pretty fit, and haven't caught any of the local tropical troubles. Only one catch - I burnt a couple of fingers rather badly, and they have been fairly painful for several days, but are clean enough now, and healing O.K.
"Have still no word of Bob, but believe he is still in Darwin. Have written several times so shall probably get some word when this rotten mail arrangement settles down. I believe they are sending our mail overland instead of airmail. So would be grateful for some Aust 3d stamps, if you could oblige."

He was still at Penfui at Christmas, when he wrote again to his sister:
"Hope I am not too late to wish you a happy Xmas - but the mails are a bit uncertain up here so will make it retrospective!
"Things are much the same here, plenty of flying, and I have opened my account in action - got angry and laid a couple of eggs - unable to report the result on paper, but target must have a BEAUTIFUL HEADACHE and how! Am hoping for a bit more of it...
"The weather here is not unbearable as yet, and I have collected a very decent tan from waist up. We strip to shorts and shoes for flying, as the temperature in the cockpit remains at a steady 40-43 degrees (ask Robert what that is in Fahrenheit); anyway its plenty, especially without much draught. We are rationed to a bottle of beer a day, which is better than most active service stations. However I don't know how long the supply will last.
"The hours are fairly long. Today, for instance - up at 3.45am, 5 hours flying before lunch and 'stand-by' near aircraft till 6.00pm, then supper, shower and bed. Still only odd days we get half a day off, and on 2 occasions have managed to get a very enjoyable swim (about the only form of exercise we are able to get), even then you sweat in the water!"

Peter was transferred from Penfui to Namlea Base on Burus Island in early January. This move, of four Hudsons from Koepang, was necessitated by a Japanese raid on Babo Base in Dutch New Guinea, when three 13 Sqn Hudsons were sent over from Laha (Ambon Island), and were replaced by three from Namlea.
From this time, the two Squadrons operated effectively as one.

From Namlea, Peter wrote the last letter that his sister Betty received from him:
"I am at a different spot now (since my last note) and it has proved to be better in many ways. The weather has been very pleasant for this part of the world, and I am pretty fit, apart from having the hell scared out of me at various odd intervals. I often wondered what it would be like to deliberately fly into the fire of about a dozen machine guns - well now I have a pretty fair idea! Not the best for the first quarter of an hour - and it had the effect of leaving me with a very dry mouth and a very firm clutch on the (stick deleted) wheel.
"However, more than that I'm afraid I can't say. It's very hard to write a letter when you can't put any of the local doings in, as apart from that, there is no news. Anyway, I'll keep writing whenever I get the chance and keep you posted as to whether I still have a whole skin or not, & don't take that too seriously as I am a bit fond of the same old hide!!
"You can keep a bottle of Coopers on ice for me if you will, because it is a cheering thought even if I can't get at it! We've been out of beer for some time.
"Incidentally I have one more item I forgot. Xmas was quite an enjoyable event... In the evening we had a very good meal (formal!), some various sorts of wine, and in all a very good time, followed by a sleep in in the morning - so who could ask for more?"

By 2 January 1942, increasing Japanese activity in the region had created pessimistic views about the Australian efforts; A.C.H., Halong, wired the Central War Room that plans had been made to destroy fuel and bombs at Namlea & Laha, and to demolish the Operations Room at Laha.
Japanese Flying Boats bombed both bases on 7 January.

At about this time, another international incident occurred, as recorded in the 2 Squadron Unit Diary:
"Three Hudson of 2 Sqn were (indec word) to attack a destroyer which had been sighted 300 miles N. of Namlea. It was located, attacked, and partially disabled by a flight from Namlea led by Fl/Lt CUMING. One aircraft was damaged by A.A. fire, but reached base safely. The destroyer was later found to be the U.S.S. Perry (sic) and arrived at Amboina with some casualties. No blame for this incident was held against the attacking flight as the destroyer had been sighted and shadowed by a U.S. Catalina, and A.C.H., Halong, which included a Senior American Naval Officer, had decided on the reports made that the destroyer was hostile, & had ordered the attack."

The U.S.S. Peary (DD226) had earlier been attacked, without injury, by the Japanese. One of the crew later noted their appreciation "...that the Australians were better shots than the enemy!"
The Peary was sunk in Darwin Harbour during the first major bombing raid carried out on Australian soil, 19 February 1942, with the loss of 91 hands.

On 10 January, reconnaissance revealed that a large Japanese fleet (8 Cruisers, 18 Destroyers, 6 Transports and 3 Supply Ships) was bearing down on Minahasa, North Celebes Islands. Overnight, in poor weather, this fleet divided and began landing troops at Menado and at Kema Bay. The enemy land assault on the Netherlands East Indies had begun.

On that morning, 11 January, a flight from Namlea bombed the Japanese landing zones. GILLISON recorded the event in his volume of the Official War History:
"When four Hudson from Namlea bombed another large transport later in the day, without success, they were set upon by Japanese float-planes. The Hudsons gunners scored well in this engagement, two enemy aircraft being shot down in flames. A third was seen to go into a spin from 1,000 feet and was counted a 'probable' and a fourth was seen to alight on the sea apparently damaged. Credit for this action went to the crews piloted by Flt/Lt HODGE and F/O GORRIE, both from No 2 Squadron. From this exciting encounter the Hudsons returned, each with minor damage from enemy gunfire, and one temporarily unserviceable. These crews reported having seen fires burning in the vicinity of Menado and Kema."

The flight, with another from Namlea, returned to Kema Bay the next morning, as GILLISON also described:
"At dawn on the 12th January, the Allied attacks on the enemy forces invading Celebes was resumed. On their way to Menado, five Hudsons from Namlea were intercepted by three enemy float-planes and five Zeros - the first of these Japanese fighters to be reported in the area. The Zero pilots immediately turned the tables on the Hudson crews. In unequal combat, the details of which were never recorded, the aircraft piloted by HODGE and GORRIE were both shot down from between 6,000 and 10,000 feet. Two other Hudsons, piloted by Flt/Lt SATTLER and Flt/Lt BARTON, failed to return and their crews were listed as 'presumed lost.' The only aircraft to return was that piloted by Flt/Lt CUMING, who reported having seen the Hudsons flown by HODGE and GORRIE shot down."

Peter GORRIE was my uncle.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for an excellent write up on your uncle, Flying Officer Gorrie, RAAF. In the interest of accuracy, note that the American ship mentioned should be USS PEARY (DD 226), a destroyer. It's nice to be remembered by friends and family.
L. B. Dorny, CDR, U. S. Navy (ret.)

David Vincent said...

Hi Chris,

Came across your extremely well-researched tributes to your uncles and grandfather by chance last night. I was particularly interested in the Peter Gorrie story as I've written about him in the draft of my RAAF Hudson Story Book Two. I'm mystified, however, about the information passed on to the family by "FO Whyte" as there was no Whyte (or White) flying on the 12th to my knowledge. Would be pleased to share my version of events with you if you care to e-mail me at


David Vincent

Anonymous said...

HI Chris,

I have just come across your blog while researching my great uncle Bernard S Bates (in your article it was written as BS Gates). He was in one of the aircraft that was lost on 12th Jan 1942. It was wonderful to read Peter Gorrie's letters. Thank you for sharing them. Bernard was 24 yrs when he lost his life.

Kind regards
Marissa Argo

Steve Larkins said...

A very well researched and well told story. The early days of the Pacific War were hell for everyone involved with our limited forces being progressively ovewhelmed. We would love Peter's story on the 'RSL Virtual War Memorial'. Everyone remembered.


Steve Larkins