454 and 459 RAAF Squadrons
Flying Officer Reginald Gordon WITHERS
454 RAAF Squadron
Service No. 418728
Date of Birth: 29 Nov 1917
Place of Birth: OAKLEIGH, VIC
Date of Enlistment: 17 Jun 1942
Date of Discharge: 3 Jan 1946
Rank: Flying Officer
Date of Death: 12 Sep 2000
Pilot Officer RG (Reg) Withers - Pilot
Flying Officer HJ (Bert) Nowill - Observer Nav (B)
Warrant Officer DG (Don) Heath - WAG
Tom Marron (RAF) Air Gunner
Reg Withers and his crew flew operational sorties with 454 RAAF Baltimore Squadron on the Italian East Coast and over the Po River Valley and Lombardy Plains during the final battles of the Italian campaign, mainly in a night intruder role, from 14.11.44 till 2.5.45 when the Axis armies surrendered.
Bob Mitchell (Pilot) a close colleague of Reg Withers during pilot training and 454 Squadrons operational sorties, represented 454/459 Combined Squadrons Association at his funeral. Bob wrote on 17.9.2000.
"Reg and I trained together at Benalla and Deniliquin, traveled to the UK on MV "Derbyshire", did AFUs in Scotland, and then "crewed up" at No 70 OTU in Egypt, having arrived in the Middle East on HMT "Orion". My crew and I joined No 454 RAAF Baltimore Squadron at Falconara, Italy on 4.11.44, whilst Reg and his crew joined on 13.11.44, just before the Squadron moved to Cesanitaco. He stayed with us (flying night intruder sorties) till the end of the war, and thereafter at Villa Orba, Udine, Italy until 454 disbanded in August 1945".
An incident in the early life of Reg Withers crew as told by Bert NOWILL:
At 70 O.T.U Shandur, the Chief Flying Instructor had a theory that if we, in a Baltimore, were attacked by a fighter, we should dive for the ground and fly as close as possible to it, thus making it impossible for the fighter to get beneath us and attack from our most vulnerable angle. Further, he believed that, should we be flying so close to the ground, and we came to a building or something similar, which necessitated climbing over it, the pilot should level out halfway up, and the lag in the controls would cause us to skim over the top before descending on the other side. His reason for this was that if the leveling out process was left until we reached the top of the building, the aircraft would billow up, so exposing the underside of the aircraft for attack.
He had selected a row of trees in the Nile delta for the pilots to put this theory into practise, and when our turn came to do it, sitting in my forward navigator's cockpit looking at the trees approaching. I felt certain that there was no chance on earth of us getting over them, However we did!. At the end of the exercise we had to climb to 6000ft, for a bombing practise run. Having done that, we set sail for base. Shortly after Reg asked the crew if any of us had experienced stalling in a aircraft, to which came a resounding NO. He informed that he would stall the aircraft in the interests of our general education and explained briefly what we could expect - e.g. when the aircraft reached stalling speed of 87 knots, the nose would drop, the aircraft would pick up speed and the whole operation would be most gentle. As it transpired, this is not what happened!
On reaching the required 87 knots, the nose did dip as predicted, but also the port wing dropped, and the aircraft immediately went into a spin. The first thought that came to my mind was that somewhere I had heard that once a Baltimore went into a spin, it never recovered. A very comforting thought!
As we spun towards the ground, my very large F24 camera, charts, etc. were swirling around the cockpit and I was hanging on for grim death. Luckily I am able to report that we did eventually get out of the spin, and were climbing steeply when I checked my altimeter. It read 300ft, so we had fallen from 6000ft to somewhere below 300ft and were on the way up. Mother earth, at some point, must have been very close. When we arrived back at base, Reg suggested to me that we inspect the aircraft to see if we could find any possible causes as, in his opinion, it should not have gone into a spin. The only abnormality we found was that the cowling surrounding the oil radiator under the port motor was chock-a-block full of leaves. So we did hit the trees. Needless to say, this incident raised Reg into almost divine status. Post War Reg Withers was a highly successful businessman.