Japan’s surprise attack on the US Fleet at Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941 and its simultaneous incursions into Thailand, Malaya and the Phillipines, caught allied airforces completely off-guard. With no effective strike force available in the region to counter them, Japanese forces quickly overran fast areas of the Pacific and South East Asia. Those allied aircraft that were available were hopelessly outmatched by the more advanced Japanese fighter and fighter bombers and suffered devastating losses.
Australia had always relied on the United Kingdom for the source of its RAAF aircraft but the British aircraft industry was already hard-pressed to meet the needs of the RAF and whilst United States companies had enormous aircraft manufacturing capacity, their output was destined for US air units. When new aircraft built overseas did become available, they would be shipped long distances in wartime conditions, with significant delays and losses.
While the small number of USAAF fighters already in service with Australian forces, such as the P-40 Kittyhawk and P-39 Airacobra could be repaired by Australian workshops, with no local aircraft industry of its own, Australia was at the mercy of external supply for the nations air defence.
In collaboration with three private companies, the Australian Government formed the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (CAC) with the aim of creating an independent and locally run aviation industry with the ultimate aim of producing their own front-line fighters.
Whilst in the middle of production of its first military aircraft - the twin engine light bomber - the Bristol Beaufort and the RAAF two seater trainer - the CAC Wirraway, Australian designers turned their attention to the design and production of a single-seater fighter that could be put quickly into service.
Fortunately the CAC were able to recruit a highly skilled Austrian aircraft designer who had only just arrived as a refugee fleeing the Nazi persecutions in Northern Europe. Fred David had worked in the Heinkel factory in pre-war Germany as well as in Japan with Mitsubishi and Aichi. Having an excellent grasp of advanced aircraft design David and his team developed the Boomerang at the CAC Factory Fishermans Bend, Melbourne, Victoria.
With its wooden-sheathed, aluminium-framed fuselage and the new 1,850 hp Pratt & Whitney R-2800 engine, whilst the Boomerang was considerably smaller and slower than its contemporary fighters, the CAC Boomerang was highly manoeuvrable. Armed with two 20 mm cannons and four .303 calibre machine guns, all mounted in its short, thick wings, the Boomerang’s cockpit armour plating also gave its pilots better protection than that available to Japanese fighter pilots.
The Boomerang finally reached RAAF training units in late 1942 and was to receive continuous upgrades throughout its operational life including a much needed repowered engine which increased its airspeed by another 30%.
By mid 1943, it had been shipped to Strathpine Airfield, in Strathpine, Queensland to replace the ageing P-39 Airacobras and shortly after, despatched to frontline squadrons in the north of Australia as well as Papua New Guinea.
On the evening of 20 May 1943, Flight Lieutenant Roy Goon, of the 85 Squadron at RAAF Learmonth, Western Australia became the first Boomerang pilot to take off from the Australian mainland to intercept Japanese bombers. Upon sighting the Boomerang, the bombers dropped their loads wide of their targets and quickly turned for home.
Just off the North east cape of Australia, a USAAF bomber base had been established on Horne Island in the Torres Strait where it had been repeatedly subjected to Japanese air raids. With a shortage of fighters in the region, No 84 Boomerang Squadron were deployed to provide air defence, but with the Boomerang’s slower speed they were only marginally successful in driving off the Japanese attacks and after 8 months, the squadron converted to the newly available P-40 Kittyhawks.
The Boomerang did find its niche however as a light ground attack aircraft. This was a vital role as the ground war in the jungles of the South West Pacific theatre were often characterised by widely dispersed, small unit actions, fought at close quarters and with uncertain front lines.
The Boomerang was ideal in this role because it had both the range and heavy armament as well as being extremely agile and easy to fly enabling its pilots to get close to ground targets whilst avoiding ground fire although its extensive armour plating and a wood and aluminium airframe was able to withstand considerable battle damage.
RAAF No. 4 and No. 5 Squadrons flew Boomerangs in New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Bougainville and Borneo Campaigns in a close ground support role but with the increased availability of more advanced fighters and the CAC’s supply of locally produced Bristol Beaufighters, the Boomerang was gradually phased out of frontline service.
While perhaps not the total success first envisaged by CAC designers, the CAC Boomerang, along with the CAC Wirraway, are still credited with kickstarting the Australian aviation design and construction industry as well as the supporting avionics industries. Produced under licence, many of the WWII flight instruments used in CAC aircraft including the Bristol Beaufighter and the later production run of Australian P-51 Mustangs feature the embossed RAAF Insignia & Crown on their casings as opposed to the traditional Air Ministry, AM Crown, Given the short productions, flight instruments from these aircraft are extremely rare and eagerly sought by collectors.
All CAC Boomerang Instruments listed below come complete with detailed Scale Model, Mango Wood Stand & Plaque plus Printed Fact Sheet featuring photo of instrument in aircraft cockpit.
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