© 2009 454 & 459 RAAF Squadrons


454 RAAF Squadron


Flight Lieutenant Rayphael (Ray) William Heathwood

Wireless Operator/Air Gunner


Service No. 404780


Died -- 17th December 2000

<<<<>>>>

Two operational tours of duty:




Aircrew Training:


Ray Heathwood left Australia on 30.12.40 with 5th draft EATS trainees for further courses in Canada and England at:

 

No.1 Wireless School, Montreal

No.1 Bombing & Gunnery School, Jarvis, Ontario

No.1 Wireless School, Cranwell, England

No.1 (C) OTU Silloth, England



No 10 Gunnery Leaders Course, El Ballah, Egypt.

No 5 Central Gunnery School. Suez Canal, Egypt.

No 5 RAF Signals School, Helwan, Egypt.


He was discharged as Flight Lieutenant.


Hudson Crew 459:

Pilot:        Don Beaton DFC RAAF

Ob/NavB:  Norman Potier RAAF

WOP/AG:  Douglas Maddrell RAAF

WOP/AG:  Ray Heathwood RAAF

 

Baltimore Crews 454:

Pilot:         Don Beaton DFC RAAF

NavsBs:      Pop Sinclair RAAF

                 Don Surtees RAF

                 Nick Nicholson RAF

WOP/AGS: Doug Maddrell RAAF

                 Hec Park RAAF

                 Allan White RAAF

                 Arthur Paul RAAF

                 Ray Heathwood RAAF

 


Unusual Formation Bombing Tactics with 454.


Beaton preferred to obtain a 3 course wind when approaching a target (somewhat of a luxury Ed).  He also favoured a sometimes long (sometimes a 1 minute) bombing run much to the unhappiness of members of his "box" formation.  Indeed a Squadron song " The Sixty Second Bombing Run" was sometimes sung in the Mess but not when Don was around.  However, his formation bombing results were good - many plain language target reports claiming "Apples: (all on target) some "Oranges" (some on - some off) and "Lemons" (all missed) were comparable with those of other lead crews.


<<<<>>>>


Some More General Comments:


The crew was always in  aggressive operational mode on both Squadrons.  Theirs were never routine sorties.  Beaton was always on the lookout for action.  Anecdotal evidence suggests he was not only tough and no-nonsense in attitude, but, despite some heavy handed flying, was a safe leader who depended a great deal on crew members for the exercise of good operational judgment.  Ray Heathwood was crisp and laconic and very much to the point in requesting aerial maneuvers on evasive operational tactics during fighter intervention.


Ray's inquisitive nature constantly led to unusual happenings - a booby trapped log meant many small shrapnel cuts to his legs (but he stayed on duty)'[ he was always looking for good fishing spots despite the booby trap problems.


I am confident that all service personnel who knew Ray Heathwood in wartime days, and in matters flowing from that tie, recognised his commitment, courage, sound operational judgment, good leadership qualities and penchant for gathering and reporting selectively important information.  As a dedicated MacKay (Qld)  farmer post war who kept in touch with the Association he has had a fulfilling life in war and peace.


<<<<>>>>


"A Hairy Atlantic Crossing" (This letter was written by Ray Heathwood to Vic Cashmere.




"Dear Vic,


Your reference to sailing from Australia on Queen Elizabeth reminds me of seeing the majestically huge ocean liner in Sydney Harbour close up from a small motor launch in Dec,1940. Our troop ship "The Empress of Russia" departed Sydney Harbour the day before taking 5th Canadian draft to train in Canada under the Empire Training Scheme.

 



On completion of training in Canada and a somewhat "Hairy" convoy crossing of the Atlantic we eventually arrive at Greenock in the Clyde Estuary Scotland - nearby among the numerous ships afloat was the "Empress of Russia".  We were pleased to see her.   We noted also the masts protruding above the water line - Jerry Bombers have scored some hits! When I say our Atlantic Crossing was "hairy", after thought indicates some skullduggery was being enacted in the convoy sailing times.


Monday 28th July 1941 - training completed, we arrive in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada and are surprised at the large number of merchant ships we see in the Harbour.  The "Grapevine" says we will embark on the largest convoy to sail to the UK.  German Intelligence had our predicted sailing time and sent their mighty battleship "Bismark" from Kiel in the Baltic around the top of Denmark out through the Skagerrak out into the Atlantic - up the Norwegian coast into the Artic Ocean, turned west, crossed around the top of Iceland and headed south down into the Atlantic - running slap bang into a British naval squadron plugging the gap.  The mighty "Bismark" blew up Britain's largest battleship, "HMS HOOD" from 18 miles away, drowning 2000 British navel men and continued on her way south to attack our convoy!


Now our convoy of 74 ships headed by armed merchant cruiser "HMS California" and guarded by 9 Corvettes could only sail at the speed of the convoy's slowest ship - No.35 knots.  It covered a large area of ocean - horizon to horizon - counting them all was not easy.


The Admiral in charge sailing "HMS California" welcomed Australia, NZ and Canadian airmen aboard but warned us this was no holiday cruise - "You will be given tasks supporting our guns".   When the Bismark sunk the HMS Hood our Admiral said "We will attack the Bismark", if we meet.  Yes we may be sunk but it will allow time for the convoy to disperse.  We will not be a soft target - I expect every man to do his duty regardless of the situation - our English sailors were muttering "bloody fool".


Aboard ship there's no doubt this is a war - we listen to the radio and know about the HMS Hood catastrophe.  Then one afternoon we hear  "Lord Haw Haw" - Irishman William Joyce saying "Sharminary Calling" -  - I have sad news for parents in Australia, NZ and Canada of aircrews aboard HMS California - German forces have sunk this ship and sadly there is a great loss of life.  I advise you to go to your respective Governments asking that your sons be pulled out of this war.  Well I look over the side of the ship, we seem to be handling the waves quite well!. Later someone says "I can see land on the port side" - later land is also sighted to the starboard - where the hell can we be?


Some say we must have changed direction and are steaming into the St. Lawrence estuary.  Later a Canadian from Newfoundland recognised the coast line on the starboard - Newfoundland!  Someone else said that's Labrador on the port - we are in the Strait of Belle Isle heading north.  As it is now known the Bismark sailed down the Atlantic side of Newfoundland and not finding any convoy turned east, hightailing for safety of the French Coast. British airmen flying their outdated "String Bags" (old Swordfish) from an aircraft carrier found the Bismark - they attacked with torpedoes - one managed to score a hit in the arse-end of the Bismark - damaging its rudder control - for awhile it could only sail in circles.  Time was lost and when the Bismark repaired the situation and again hightailed it for the French Coast - it ran slap bang into another Naval Squadron racing up from Gibraltar.  The Bismark was sunk, 2000 German sailors swimming in the sea - British Destroyers picked up 100 or so and left the remainder for they feared U-boat attacks from a wolf pack.  When quaffing the odd ale later with British Navy types who manned one of the largest battleships they told us how from 15 miles away they could see the red glows when their shells hit the 18 inch thick steel sides of the Bismark.



Our convoy continued north among the icebergs - when some 80 miles off the coast of Greenland our HMS California put on speed  and headed away from the convoy going off into the night, we knew not where!  At dawn we awoke to find our ship at anchor in Rekyavik Harbour - Iceland.  We airmen were then offloaded  and HMS California sailed out into the harbour.  Some motor trucks came and took us  to very new camp huts.  No beds or furniture of any kind - in our clothes we slept on the concrete floors - and the food!  Two meals a day, one in the morning and one at night, of watery weak soup.  The authorities apologised for not having anything else! Not even a loaf of bread! Not even Bully Beef or Hard Biscuits!  It seems the Navy thought the risk of taking us further was considered too great! 



During our stay in Iceland we found the people rustic, reserved with little sympathy for the Allies.  German influence had made a favourable impression among them before the War.  The British Tommy  Soldiers who were in strength had been kicked out of  Norway by the German invasion.  Many I spoke to have seen considerable fighting - they had not been home since Jerry began the Blitz, many have lost their homes and their families are casualties.  They are embittered with a hatred for the Nazis and the way the War is going - they want to be back home - Menzies - Blue Angels US are an insignificant issue in their woes.



Our authorities impressed on us the need to be diplomatic and respectful to the Icelanders - avoid any incidents - strictly no fraternising, especially with their young women - who in their shy way  seemed inclined to be friendly!  An Icelandic farmer makes a living from very small plots of land - houses his few sheep and cattle  in their dwellings.  All of us walk around constantly hungry - one day I spotted a group of Airmen gathered tightly around a fire from which comes the wonderful smell of roasting mutton - they have stolen a sheep and are hoeing into a feast, I plead for even a bone to chew on, they are very unfriendly and tell me to "piss off".  I was not even offered a bone!  A Belgian ship took us to Scotland.  A crowded dirty ship taking also a very disgruntled crowd of British soldiers.  Some airmen had their hammocks commandeered.  We were not in sufficient strength to put up a successful fight for our assigned area of a very crowded ship.



For the voyage to Scotland I slept on the top deck in cold pelting rain - could get no meals - I acquired a loaf of bread which I hid inside my shirt - though hard and stale it provided some nourishment.  Our very wet overcoats surprisingly kept us warm for they absorbed heat from the ships funnel.  Sailing up the Clyde to Greenock to disembark the sun came out, people from their bombed homes issued greetings with towels and sheets. The Clyde was well dotted with masts and rigging protruding above the water.  The extend of the damage surprised us - the returning British troops looked at the scene with disgruntled looks worrying about what the situation was at their home.



When we entertained for the rail journey to the English Channel Coast - the Salvation Army supplied us with cold tomato sandwiches and hot tea - how wonderful that tasted.



<<<<>>>>


Successful bombing mission - on target


Ray's diary record of the day


<<<<>>>>>


A tribute letter from George Gray


to Ray's son Ian  dated  20th December 2000



I am Chairman of the Committee of 454/459 Combined RAAF Squadron's Association.  Paul Rake, a fellow member and a neighbour of your father Ray rang to report his death on 17/12/2000.  I was shocked at the news because he seemed to be indestructible in wartime years.  As a former good friend and fellow airman we flew with 454 RAAF Baltimore Light Bomber Squadron in the RAF's famous Desert Air Force operating from Benghazi in Cyrenaica and then a number of RAF bases in Italy in 1944/45.



I would like to express my personal sincere sympathy and similar condolences on behalf of our Association members to you and your family.  I knew about Ray's excellent war record, he served with both 459 and later 454 RAAF Squadrons on two tours of operational duty - spread over 1942 to 1944.



We regarded Ray in 454 is his heyday as an outstanding crew member respected and admired by air and ground crews alike.  He was a very experienced wireless operator, air ginner (turret) and ASV operator for 459 Squadron, and in addition in 1944 was Gunnery Leader for 454 Squadrons.  Night operations in Hudson (4-man crew) before, during and after the Alamein Battles and later daylight close-Army-support formation bombing of Gothic Line defences in Baltimores in Italy indicated his versatility.



His fellow crew members were:=



Squadron Leader  * Don Beaton DFC -0 Pilot

                          * Ray Heathwood - WAG

                        { * Nicholson - Nav./Bomb Aimer lst tour (459)

                        {  * Norm Potier - Nav./Bomb Aimer 2nd tour (454)

                        {  * Hec Park - WAG 1st Tour

                        {  * Doug Maddrell - WAG 2nd tour.



The crew was always in aggressive operational mode on both Squadrons.  Theirs were never routine sorties.  Beaton was always on the lookout for action.  Anecdotal evidence suggests he was not only tough and no-nonsense but despite some heavy handed flying was a safe leader who depended a great deal on crew members for the exercise of good operational judgment.  Ray Heathwood, crisp and laconic and very much to the point in requesting aerial manouvres on evasive operational tactics during fighter intervention; was also known as a slow speaking, occasionally talkative conversationalist in the Mess or in tent discussions.  His inquisitive nature constantly led to unusual happenings - a booby trapped log meant many small shrapnel cuts to his legs (but he stayed on duty) and the list goes on.



Apart from "calling the shots" as an Air Gunner, and later Gunnery Leader, Ray Heathwood, contrary to Air Force rules kept a personal diary - recording sometimes daily Squadron occurrences.  His Hudson diary proved invaluable to David Vincent in writing Chapter IV : 459's Story" in his recently published "The RAAF Hudson Story, Book One", and his 454 personal diary will be equally valuable to Mark Lax in writing "The 454 RAAF Squadron History".  Eventually my personal copy of the later diary suitably edited and amended before he gave it to me) will be forwarded to the Australian War Memorial for safe keeping.  I am confident that all service personnel who knew Ray Heathwood in wartime days, and in matters flowing from that time, recognised his commitment, courage,  sound operational judgment, good leadership qualities and penchant for gathering and reporting selectively important information.



Ian, you are at liberty to use my above remarks at any celebration of Ray's life and achievements. 


Your sincerely,

G.A. Gray.


<<<<<<>>>>>>

Rayphael W HEATHWOOD