Photograph from Iris Cammack collection, courtesy of Carol Roberts, Windsor, NSW.
The Westland Wapiti aircraft was designed in 1926 to United Kingdom Air Ministry specifications for the Royal Air Force. It was a two-seat, general-purpose light bomber built as a replacement for the DH9A. While the Wapiti Mk 1 was fitted with a 420hp Bristol Jupiter engine, the Mk IIA was fitted with a more powerful 550hp Jupiter. It carried one fixed Vickers gun forward and one Lewis gun mounted in the rear cockpit, with a bomb load of 500lbs (227kg). Loaded, the Westland Wapiti aircraft weighed 2,450kg, about as much as a modern-day four-wheel drive motor vehicle. It could reach a speed of 214km per hour, travel a distance of 580km and a height of 6,096 metres.
In 1928, the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) ordered thirty-eight Wapiti aircraft and they arrived between April 1929 and March 1931. The three aircraft in the photograph, A5-13, A5-14 and A5-27, arrived at Richmond in 1929. The first nine aircraft were fitted with the less powerful Mk 1 engines, however they were later upgraded to the Mk IIA standard. The Wapitis mainly served with No 1 Squadron at Point Cook and No 3 Squadron at Richmond.
Both of these units had been formed under the Australian Flying Corps (AFC) in 1916. While No 1 Squadron took part in several battles in the Middle East, No 3 Squadron was the first operational AFC squadron to serve in France. They flew missions protecting Australian troops at Ypres and took part in the Battles of Hamel, Amiens, The Somme Offensive and the advance to the Hindenberg Line.
The AFC was disbanded after World War I but after the Australian Air Force was formed in 1921, the two squadrons were reformed on 1 July 1925: No 1 Squadron under Flight Lieutenant A.H. Cobby, DSO, DFC and No 3 Squadron under Flight Lieutenant W.F. Lukis (later awarded a CBE). They swapped commands in 1930 for almost two years after which Squadron Leader W.D. Bostock, OBE, took command of No 3 Squadron for the next four years.
Wapitis flown by No 3 Squadron personnel provided an aerial flypast as part of the official ceremonies for the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932, took part in flood and bushfire relief, search and rescue, air pageants and carried out aerial photographic surveys throughout Australia.
Sergeant Frederick Halpin Willson was a RAAF photographer with No 3 Squadron on these aerial surveys and it is more than likely he would have taken the photograph (dated 29 October 1932) of the Wapitis flying over the Richmond area that appears with this article. Although another six ex-RAF Wapitis were ordered in 1937, the arrival of the Hawker Demon aircraft in 1935 saw the Westland Wapiti being mainly used for training purposes with No 1 Flying Training School.
Carol Roberts 2019
I completed the basis of this article for the Hawkesbury Gazette published on Wednesday 10 October 2018 for Colo Shire Family History Group as ‘Richmond-based bombers’.
Derek Roylance, Air Base Richmond: The story of the RAAF base on the Hawkesbury, Royal Australian Air Force, RAAF Base Richmond, NSW, 1991.
The Golden Years: Royal Australian Air Force 1921-1971, published by the Department of Air for the Minister for Air, Senator the Honourable Tom Drake-Brockman, DFC, by the Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, 1971.
3 Squadron historic dates, commanding officers, campaign maps and bases, http://www.3squadron.org.au/indexpages/dates.htm, accessed 2 October 2018.
ADF Serials Australian and New Zealand Military Aircraft Serials and History, RAAF A5 Westland Wapiti IA and IIA, http://www.adf-serials.com.au/1a5.htm, accessed 13 May 2018.
RAAF Museum Point Cook, https://www.airforce.gov.au/sites/g/files/net3736/f/minisite/static/1469/RAAFmuseum/research/aircraft/series2/A5.htm, accessed 29 July 2018.
Tangmere Military Aviation Museum, Westland Wapiti, https://www.tangmere-museum.org.uk/aircraft-month/westland-wapiti, accessed 25 September 2018.
No 1 Squadron RAAF, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No._1_Squadron_RAAF, accessed 2 October 2018.
Information reference Sergeant Frederick Halpin Willson from Carol Roberts, Windsor, NSW.