SALUTING THEIR SERVICE

Flight Lieutenant Robert ‘Nobby’ Trevor Clark DFC

World War 2 Maritime Pilot

Robert “Nobby” Trevor Clark was born on 23 February 1914 the youngest of six children to parents Eli and Mary Clark. Living in Myrtle Bank in south-eastern Adelaide, he completed his last three years of education at St Peters College where he served with the College Cadets and proved to be quite a sportsman and athlete.  He played football and cricket for the school and was a South Australian Junior Sprint Champion. He received his Intermediate Certificate in 1930.

His sporting prowess continued after school playing football. He was awarded the Hone Medal for Best and Fairest in the South Australian Amateur Football playing for the St Peters Old Scholars which was quite successful in the 1930’s including winning its first of only two premierships in 1935. He then played successfully for Sturt from 1938 to 1940, including playing in their 1940 premiership side as a midfielder. He was later awarded life membership of the Sturt Football Club.

Right: Robert Trevor Clark as a trainee airman in 1940

He worked as a Law Clerk with E.W. Benham, Unity Chambers for five years before the rumblings of war led to him enlisting in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) on 22 June 1940 at No 5 Recruit Centre, Adelaide.

Clark completed basic training at No 1 Initial Training Squadron, RAAF Somers Westernport Bay, Victoria, from June to August 1940.  He was then posted to Parafield, South Australia, where he completed basic flying training flying 54 hours in Gypsy Moth DH 60 and Tiger Moth DH82A aircraft at No 1 Elementary Flying Training School from August to October 1940. His first flight was on 23 August 1940 in a Gipsy Moth and his first solo flight was on 6 September 1940 also in a Gipsy Moth.

Clark was then posted to RAAF Point Cook where he completed flying training from October 1940 to February 1941 flying Avro Anson aircraft and gaining his Wings on 16 December 1940.

Evidently showing some prowess for flying but also reflecting the RAAF’s dire need for flying instructors to support its rapid mobilisation, Clark was posted to Central Flying School (CFS), Camden, in New South Wales to complete flying instructor training. Indeed, it was not unusual for new pilots to proceed onto flying instructor duties on their first posting at this time as the RAAF was so desperate for pilots. At CFS, Clark flew Avro Cadet Trainers and Airspeed Oxfords and after completing flying instructor training, was assessed as a B Flying Instructor ready for instructional duties. He was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on 11 February 1941.

Nobby Clark flying a CFS Airspeed Oxford (R6152).

In May 1941, he was posted to No 4 Service Flying Training School, RAAF Geraldton, Western Australia, as a Flying Instructor until September 1942. On 1 October 1942, he was promoted to Flight Lieutenant. During this period, he flew solely Avro Anson aircraft.

Identified for a maritime operational squadron, Clark completed training at General Reconnaissance School at RAAF Cressy in southern Victoria, and then No 2 Air Observers School, RAAF Station Mt Gambier, from September to December 1942.

In late December 1942, he arrived at No 9 Squadron based at Rathmines.  In January 1943, 9SQN was relocated to Bowen, Queensland, to conduct maritime patrol operations in Australia’s South Pacific campaign. On 13 January, Clark arrived at RAAF Bowen seaplane base where he converted on to Seagull and Walrus amphibian aircraft for the remainder of January. In early February, he commenced flying his first operational missions being maritime patrol operations into the Coral Sea and in support of naval shipping. Between January to July Clark flew over thirty operational missions for a total over 80 hours in 9SQN Seagull and Walrus aircraft from RAAF Bowen.

Image of a well weathered 43SQN Catalina A24-64 ‘Dabster’ in flight. Nobby Clark flew the aircraft on several long-range missions prior to its loss with all aircrew on a mission in December 1944.

During July and August 1943, Clark completed Catalina conversion at No 3 Operational Training Unit, RAAF Rathmines, before being posted to No 43 Squadron which had only just arrived at Karumba on the Gulf of Carpentaria in Australia’s north. He arrived at the unit on 6 October and only several weeks later conducted his first operational mission, a strike mission. During the last week of October, he completed three long range strike missions including two over Kavieng in the New Britain archipelago of New Guinea.

Such operational tempo became the norm. Initially conceived to be a general reconnaissance unit, the long range of the Catalina was quickly found to be suitable for long range strike, mine-laying and search and rescue missions, not only into New Guinea but also the Dutch East Indies and later in the war beyond up to the Philippines.

Indeed, the Catalina served with distinction with the RAAF across the Pacific theatre; it’s long range and endurance being particularly important. While originally intended for maritime patrol, the aircraft proved valuable for transport, mine-laying, air-sea rescue and bombing. In late 1941 and early 1942, the Catalina was instrumental in the withdrawal of personnel from the Dutch East Indies. During 1942 after the fall of Rabaul, Catalina’s were the only aircraft with the range and capacity to conduct offensive operations against Japanese forces. At the end of the war, the aircraft were critical to the repatriation of POWs. On 30 August 1945, a flight of 9 RAAF Catalina’s landed in Singapore bearing medical supplies and documents in preparation for the Japanese surrender, becoming the first allied forces to enter the island since 1942.

Iconic image of RAAF Black Cats in formation. These three aircraft are from 3OTU and are on a training sortie from their seaplane base at RAAF Rathmines, NSW during 1943.

As the war progressed, the Catalina was increasingly used on long range endurance missions deep into enemy territory in Southeast Asia to conduct mine laying missions. Due to the slow speed of the aircraft, these flights were invariably at night where the Catalina aircraft earned the name ‘the black cats’ and the motto “the first and furtherest.” The long, slow, and tiring missions flown over extension spans of open ocean were not without risk with mechanical failure, adverse weather and enemy air defence often proving devastating to the slow and largely defenceless aircraft carrying ten aircrew – one of the largest crews of an aircraft during the war. This placed great responsibility on the pilots / captains of the aircraft.

The Catalina proved to be one of the most important aircraft of the war for the RAAF. The RAAF operated 168 Catalina’s across four operational squadrons, two communications units, five air-sea rescue flights and an operational training unit. The last aircraft, A24-386, was accepted on 3 September 1945. The last two Catalina aircraft were withdrawn from the RAAF in 1950.

By early February, Clark had completed his first operational tour in the southwest Pacific amassing almost 350 hours on the Catalina including 157 hours on daylight operational missions and 142 hours operational missions during the night leaving only 50 odd hours for test flying and other duties.

During February to April 1944, Clark was posted to Rathmines to complete further advanced Catalina training including Captaincy Course and minelaying. He was able to spend four weeks with family in Adelaide from mid-May to mid-June before returning to duty.

The crew of A24-94 being rescued by Nobby Clark’s crew in enemy waters on 24 September 1944.

In late June 1944, Clark arrived at Darwin to commence his second operational tour with 43 SQN.  Reflecting the change in focus in operations towards Southeast Asia beyond the Dutch East Indies, the missions demanded of 43SQNs aviators increased in range and risk. Missions regularly went for more than twelve hours merging day into night.  On 24 September 1944, Clark undertook one such mission – a 10-hour air-sea search and rescue. Three 42 SQN Catalinas were conducting a mine laying mission in the Dutch East Indies when the first aircraft (A24-94) flown by FLGOFF Kane was forced down with engine trouble north of Sermata Island, northeast of Timor Island. Clark, captaining Catalina A24-91 was able to find the stricken aircraft, land in open water, rescue its nine aircrew and destroy it with machine gun fire before returning to Darwin. Kane later wrote in a note that is still with the family of Nobby Clark “Our everlasting gratitude to old Knobby Clark and his boys for a rattling good rescue show.”  The mission is simply and modestly recorded in Clark’s logbook “ASR Sermata. F/O Kane and F/L Jensen crews picked up. A24-94 destroyed by gunfire.”

Clark completed his second operational tour with 43 SQN in mid-March 1945 conducting his last operational mission with the squadron on 2 March 1945. During his second operational tour with the squadron, he flew 20 operational sorties and 10 other missions amassing over 550 flying hours of which the greater were at night. During the latter parts of his tour, he held the post of Flight Commander in 43 SQN.

During April, he went to the United States of America to ferry a new PB2B-2 Catalina aircraft from California to Australia via Hawaii, Palmyra (Kiribati), Canton Island, Fiji and Australia. An arduous journey with two particularly long-range legs including a 17-hour flight from San Pedro to Hawaii and a 15-hour flight from Fiji to Rathmines.

He was posted to Rathmines from late June 1945 to May 1946. However, during this time he evidently was tasked to augment squadron crews in the Dutch East Indies on Catalina transport missions where he flew twelve missions during October across the southwest Pacific area of operations ranging from Manus Island in the East to the Philippines in the North to Singapore down to Darwin, Perth, and Adelaide in Australia.

On 7 March 1946, Clark was Gazetted for the award of Distinguished Flying Cross for “courage and devotion to duty in flying operations against the enemy.” The citation noted his rescue mission of A24-94 stating, “a very successful air-sea rescue mission when Flight Lieutenant Clark successfully rescued the crew of another Catalina forced down in the open sea in enemy waters approximately 400 miles from base.”  It concluded “Flight Lieutenant Clark consistently displayed great efficiency and devotion to duty in his operational flyingHe set an extremely good example to the rest of the squadron by his persistence and accuracy in successfully completing his missions in the face of adverse weather and enemy opposition.”

FLTLT Nobby Clark with his Catalina crew. The image was probably taken during his time at 114 Air Sea Rescue Flight noting he is wearing his DFC which was awarded in 1946.

From May 1946 to February 1947, he was posted to No 114 Air Sea Rescue Flight conducting general transport and maritime support operations flying Catalina aircraft across Australia.

He was demobilised from the RAAF on 6 March 1947 but did serve in the Air Force Reserves post war.  After the war he worked as a car sales manager with City Holden and then in real estate with Gaetjens Real Estate. Sadly, he passed away somewhat young in 1977 at the age of only 63 suffering from Angina and health issues accrued during the war.

It was a somewhat sad end to a RAAF veteran who had survived four operational tours with maritime aircraft in the southwest Pacific theatre of war and a posting as a flying instructor over a five-year period. Nobby Clark was one of the many Catalina aircrew who endured long range missions often at night and invariably over large open stretches of ocean in a slow and large aircraft that was difficult to defend responsible for the welfare of the largest crew of a RAAF aircraft during the war. He was one of the many aircrew who flew the now famous ‘Black Cats’ as the Catalina came to be known and loved as one of the most important and versatile aircraft of the war for Australia.

FLTLT Nobby Clark’s awards – The medals are (from left): The Distinguished Flying Cross, the 1939 – 1945 Campaign Star, the Pacific Star, the 1949-1945 War Medal and the Australian Service Medal 1939 – 1945.

He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the 1939-1945 Campaign Star, the Pacific Star, the 1939-1945 War Medal and the Australian Service Medal 1939-1945.

In 2022, Nobby Clark’s daughter, Ms Peta Pash kindly allowed the scanning and photographing of memorabilia, personal photographs and documents, including his log book and medals which have been catalogued and copies archived at both the Air Force Association (SA Division) and the South Australian Aviation Museum, thereby helping to preserve his memory and providing a valued resource for researchers in the future.

 

Greg Weller
Air Force Association (South Australia)
April 2023

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