Squadron Leader Wilbur Lawrence WACKETT

Service No: 588
Born: 19 February 1921, Location Unavailable
Enlisted in the RAAF: Date Unavailable
Unit: No. 31 Squadron, Coomalie NT
Died: Aircraft Accident: (No. 31 Squadron Beaufighter aircraft A19-208), Pine Creek NT, 24 September 1944, Aged 23 Years
Buried: Unrecovered
CWGC Additional Information: Son of Lawrence James Wackett and Letitia Wackett; husband of Peggie Wackett, of Bellevue Hill, New South Wales.
Roll of Honour: Melbourne VIC
Remembered: Panel 6, Northern Territory Memorial, Adelaide River, NT
Remembered: Panel 102, Commemorative Area, Australian War Memorial, Canberra ACT

Squadron Leader Wackett is the son of aviation pioneer Sir Laurence James Wackett KBE DFC AFC (1896-1982). While serving with No. 75 Squadron, Squadron Leader Wackett has a combat claim to one bomber destroyed on 21 March 1942 (co-claim with Flying Officer Barry Mortimer Cox (260706)). Squadron Leader Wackett was shot down by a Japanese fighter and evaded capture on 22 March 1942.

Two aircraft were lost on the 24th while returning from escort duty. The bushfire season had commenced and smoke haze effectively camouflaged Coomalie and the planes were soon lost. Warner and Ritchie were in A19-192, Wackett and Noble in A19-208, and their track was plotted on radar. Verey lights were fired, radio calls made, and at Fenton searchlights were coned to help guide them, all to no avail. Wackett, who had previously been shot down while flying Kittyhawks in New Guinea, had always said that if caught in such a situation, he would climb up and bale out. Radar tracked him to 16,000 feet heading east from Fenton, then the plot just dived off the screen. At first light next day, Wentworth flew three navigational tracks on the given plotting, arriving within one kilometre of the same point each time. With the bush fires, smoke would be rising as soon as it started to warm up, so search flights had to be made just after first light when it was still possible to see distress signals. Twelve months later, wreckage, presumed to be of Wackett’s plane, was found by a stockman at Pine Creek.

Caught in the same situation as Wackett, Ritchie headed back towards the smoke-hidden Coomalie. Near Brooks Creek the decision was made to bale out. Warner went first, apparently followed by Ritchie shortly afterwards. The unmanned Beaufighter circled, nearly hitting Warner just before it crashed. Warner landed in the dust raised by the impact, then walked out to the nearby railway line. Searchers found the aircraft wreckage the next morning; a wallaby and a bird had been killed by the crashing plane. As they baled out at about 2 000 feet, the Beaufighter couldn’t have been in the air for more than a minute which narrowed down the search area. Prisoners at the local detention camp were brought in to help the search for Ritchie but no trace was found.

Extract from Parnell, N.M. (Neville M.) Whispering Death: A history of the RAAF’s Beaufighter Squadrons, AH & AW Reed Terry Hills NSW, 1980 – Page 53

On the night of 24 September 1944, while returning from an escort mission over the Arafura Sea, two Beaufighter crews became lost after reaching Bathurst Island. Although everything possible was done to bring them safely to base Beaufighter A19-192 crewed by Pilot Officer Ritchie (Pilot) and Warrant Officer Warner (Navigator) crashed in the vicinity of Brooks Creek. Beaufighter A19-208 crewed by Squadron Leader Wackett (Pilot) and Flying Officer Noble (Navigator) was last heard of in a position 65 miles on a bearing of 095 degrees from Coomalie at 2223 hours local time. Searches by land and air failed to locate any sign of A19-208 or its crew. The aircraft wreckage was later found at Pine Creek 10 kms north of Good Parla Station.

Extract from NAA On-line Record A9300, Wackett W L

The crew members were:

Beaufighter A19-208

Flying Officer Keith Eric William Noble (424052) (Navigator)
Squadron Leader Wilbur Lawrence Wackett (588) (Pilot)

Beaufighter A19-192

Flying Officer Lloyd Francis Ritchie (426287) (Pilot)
Warrant Officer George Robert Warner (418028) (Navigator) Baled out, Discharged from the RAAF: 12 December 1946


Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour On-Line Records
Commonwealth War Graves Commission On-Line Records
Department of Veteran’s Affairs On-Line WWII Nominal Roll
National Archives of Australia On-Line Record A9300, Wackett W L
Gillison, D.N. (Douglas Napier) (254475) Royal Australian Air Force 1939-1942, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1962 – Page 460


Parnell, N.M. (Neville M.) Whispering Death: A history of the RAAF’s Beaufighter Squadrons, AH & AW Reed, Terry Hills NSW, 1980
RAAF Directorate of Public Relations, These Eagles, Australian War Memorial Canberra, 1942 – Chapter: he Altogether Long Way
Wilson, D. (David) See and Strike: 75 Squadron RAAF 1942-2002, Banner Books Maryborough QLD 4650, 2002
Wilson, D. (David) The Decisive Factor: 75 and 76 squadrons Port Moresby and Milne Bay 1942, Banner Books Brunswick VIC 3056, 1991
Wilson, S. (Stewart) Beaufort, Beaufighter and Mosquito in Australian Service, Aerospace Publications Weston Creek ACT 2611, 1990

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