|Last updated 22 March 2019
A pictorial review of a WWII RAAF heavy bomber base which became the main aircraft storage and disposal site.
Compiled by Geoff Goodall
|RAAF DH Mosquitos retired at RAAF Tocumwal circa 1956, parked in the open pending sale to scrap metal merchants.
Photo: John Hopton Collection
Tocumwal is a small town among river gums on the NSW side of
the River Murray,
270 Km north of Melbourne. In the paddle steamer transport days along
the river, it became a commercial centre, with a NSW State Government
railway line to Sydney and a Victorian Government line to Melbourne,
although with different gauge tracks.
During World War II a large military airfield was constructed on the edge of the town, and after the war this airfield with its large hangars became the RAAF's main aircraft storage and disposal base. Many hundreds of Australian military aircraft made their last flights being ferried to Tocumwal, where they were sold to scrap metal dealers and melted down to ingots in smelters set up on the airfield.
World War II yearsIn early 1942 with Japanese forces building up in New Guinea and air raids on northern Australian towns, invasion of Australia from the north seemed inevitable. The US 5th Air Force, as part of the Allied defence, hastily commenced establishing airfields and facilities in Australia and New Guinea. A heavy bomber base was needed in Australia to provide a full range of maintenance and operational support that was safe from enemy attack. A location well south of the anticipated enemy invasion area (the infamous "Brisbane Line") was required and Tocumwal was selected to take advantage of its wide open flat landscape and railway connections to bring equipment and personnel from the seaports at Sydney and Melbourne.
Work commenced on the airfield in February 1942. Over 7,000 US servicemen were sent to Tocumwal over the following months for the high priority construction effort. The Americans named it McIntyre Field. When mostly completed by May 1942 it was a huge airfield covering 8 square miles with:
- 4 runways, each over 6,000 feet length
- 70 miles of taxiways and roads between defensively separated aircraft dispersals
- 5 large wooden hangars to house B-24 Liberators
- 450 buildings
- amunition bunkers
- engine test cells
- 200 bed hospital
After only a few months use by USAAF, the war sitation had changed, easing the threat of Australian attack from the north. General George C.Kenney, Commander Allied Air Forces SWPA is reputed to have said when inspecting Tocumwal "Mighty fine base - now shift it 2,000 miles closer to the enemy". The US facilities of Tocumwal were now established at Garbutt Field, Townsville, north Queensland where the airfield rapidly expanded to provide Allied aircraft maintenance, operations and air transport between Australia and New Guinea.
In November 1942 McIntyre Field was handed over to the Australian Government and renamed RAAF Station Tocumwal.
The initial unit was No.7 Aircraft Depot to provide airframe and engine maintenance for a variety of RAAF aircraft types and aircraft storage while between operational units. No.7 Central Recovery Depot commenced at Tocumwal in June 1943 tasked with collecting damaged aircraft and salvaging usable parts. An indication of 7CRD's work is a report that between April-September 1945, the unit converted to parts and scrap a total 54 aircraft includings Anson, Liberator, Boomerang, Oxford types.
No.5 Operational Training Unit moved from Wagga to Tocumwal in October 1943 with Beauforts, Beaufighters, Bostons and Mosquitos, later moving to Williamtown. However wartime Tocumwal will always be associated with RAAF B-24 Liberators. No.7 OTU was established there in February 1944 for B-24 crew training. 7OTU grew to be equipped with over 50 Liberators and was training 28 Australian B-24 crews each month.
Following the end of
WWII, RAAF operations were rapidly reduced. 7OTU and 7CRD were
disbanded and 7AD's facilities were taaen over by Care &
Maintenance Unit Tocumwal. In 1949 CMU Tocumwal's role was taken
over by 1AD Laverton which stationed staff at Tocumwal. This sole
surviving Tocumwal unit was referred as 1AD Detachment B.
200 base houses were moved to Canberra during 1946 to help a postwar housing shortage. Postwar the wide expanses of hard standing were used to park large numbers retired RAAF aircraft pending disposals. The large hangars were used for under-cover storage of aircraft that may be recalled to service, also to hold the higher sales value of disposals aircraft which had recently had major overhauls and were in good condition. Tocumwal's new role was aircraft storage and disposal to civilian purchasers or scrap metal merchants.
Flying operations were now reduced to the arrival of retired military aircraft being ferried in for storage. As large scale auctions of unwanted aircraft were held by the post-war Commonwealth Disposals Commission, civilian aircraft began arriving with prospective purchasers to inspect the aircraft or prepare them to be flown out for their new civil careers.
Melbourne scrap dealer R.H.Grant Trading Co was the successful bidder
for early batches of aircraft with no civil application and established
a metal smelter on the airfield. Grants continued scrapping operations
at Tocumwal until 1963 when the last Meteors, Vampires and Mustangs
were melted down to ingots. The final RAAF unit, 1AD Detachment B
was disbanded on 14 October 1960 and the airfield handed over to the
Deparment of Civil Aviation. As a civil airfield it became a thriving
The row of four large wooden wartime Liberator hangars gave been used for storage, including wheat and grain stocks and later a dozen Singapore Air Force Hawker Hunters acquired by an Australian dealer.
|RAAF Tocumwal 1945
| These two 1944-45 aerial photographs of areas of the base show RAAF Tocumwal's large size. Operational RAAF B-24
Liberators are parked at various dispersal areas.
|Main gate RAAF Tocumwal 1945 while No.7 Operational Training Unit was conducting B-24 crew training.
7AD and 7CRD were large maintenance units. Ben Dannecker collection
CAC Boomerang fighters lined up at Tocumwal in 1947 to be
scrapped. Bob Livingstone collection
CAC Wirraways in wartime camouflage at Tocumwal 1947, A20-350 closest. Bob Livingstone collection
PV-1 Ventura bomber at Tocumwal circa 1947.
Bob Livingstone collection
|Some RAAF types ferried into Tocumwal were resold on the civil market, such the Noorduyn Norsemans.
A71-13 has just arrived for storage. Neville Parnell collection
of RAAF Liberators in neat lines at Tocumwal 1947 await
scrapping. John Hopton collection
|Parked among the Liberators in 1947 was RAAF Lancaster A66-1. In May 1943 tt had been flown out from
Britain as ED930 Queenie for war loan tours across Australia and NZ. Frank F. Smith collection
|RAAF Liberators dismantled for scrapping circa 1950.
Thanks to Bob Livingstone for this and the following 5 pictures of large scale B-24 scrapping at Tocumwal.
A8-384 was with the last of the RAAF's Bristol Beaufighter target tugs retired at Tocumwal in 1957.
Photo by Jim Carter via John Hopton Collection
|A page from R.H.Grant Trading Company's successful tender for the last ten Beaufighters in February 1957.
The price bid for Beaufighters with engines was £157/12/6 each (roughly $400). John Hopton Collection
|RAF Avro Lincoln RF403 fitted with two Armstrong Siddeley Python experimental turbine engines in the
outer positions was used by RAAF for trials at Woomera before being retired to Tocumwal in 1956.
John Hopton Collection
|Two RAF Boeing B-29 Washingtons were transferred to RAAF at Woomera for high level bombing trials.
WW353 seen retired at Tocumwal in 1956 in front of one of the large American-built bomber hangars.
John Hopton collection
|Large numbers of RAAF Gloster Meteors met their end at Tocumwal.
The following three photographs of Meteor F.8s were taken on 3 September 1961 by Neil Follett
|When aviation historian Dick Hourigan visited Tocumwal in November 1961, 32 Vampire single seaters fighters
were inside one of the wartime hangars being stripped of reusable parts prior to being scrapped.
These three photos are a selection of those he took that day.
|Vampire Mk.30 A79-321 had the new RAAF kangaroo roundels.
|Vampire Mk.30 A79-153 had 2OCU red devil motif on the nose, red wingtips and red bands around booms.
|Vampire Mk.30 A79-309 with kangaroo roundel
Metal dealers R.H.Grant Trading Co retained a few intact Wirraways because of enquiries from civilian buyers.
These two rare colour views come via Bob Livingstone, showing A20-691 and A20-674 during 1961
|A20-674 during 1961. Grants removed the Wirraway tailwheels after one had been taxied around the airfield
by persons unknown while Grants personnel were absent. Bob Livingstone collection
|Aerial view taken by Bob Dougherty on 3 September 1961 shows the RAAF Washington WW353 partially
stripped, Meteors being broken up and two Wirraways. Neil Follett collection
|The last operational RAAF CAC Mustangs were ferried to Tocumwal for disposal. John Hopton Collection
|Cockpit of A68-147. Mustangs were received by R.H.Grant for scrapping complete with cockit equipment.
fuselage of Mustang A68-133 ready for the smelter in September
1961. John Hopton Collection
|R.H.Grant Trading Co also retained some Mustangs for potential sales as complete aircraft.
Here's A68-193 with A68-104 behind stored in a hangar in Janaury 1963. Photo by John Hopton
Among the last complete RAAF aircraft at Tocumwal was Mustang A68-119 seen in October 1963 after
R.H.Grant Trading Co had closed their smelter and were moving out. It was sold to Dr.Ralph Capponi
and flown out a year later to late become VH-IVI. Photo by John Hopton
|One of five 1942 American-built bomber hangars still at Tocumwal in 1983. Photo by Ken Watson
|A collection of airframe sections at a Tocumwal farm, salvaged from wartime rubbish dumps on the airfield.
Photo by Ken Watson
|Three CallAir glider tugs outside one of the 1942 American-built bomber hangars still being used in 2019.
Photo: Lumpy Paterson