|Squadron/s||145 SQN RAF|
|Rank On Discharge/Death||Flying Officer (FLGOFF)|
|Mustering / Specialisation||Pilot|
|Date of Birth||23 Jun 1921|
|Date of Enlistment||26 Apr 1942|
|Contributing Author/s||The Spitfire Association|
John, or Johnny as he was known to his mates, was born in Paddington, New South Wales, on the 23rd June 1921. According to his mother, she gave birth during a crashing Sydney Southerly that blew down the fence at the Royal Women's Hospital in Paddington. John bears an illustrious name in aviation history. His father was Charles Ulm, who organized and jointly commanded the great "Southern Cross" first trans-Pacific flight in 1928.
John enlisted in the RAAF in Sydney on the 26th April 1942, and after embarking for England, he finished his pilot training No.57 OTU (Operational Training Unit) at Eshott in Northumberland. Then, on not receiving an expected invitation from Montgomery to assist his invasion of Normandy, he had a haircut and went off "in a bit of a huff" to the Mediterranean. John has taken this invitation to "reflect" on his life during the War as a licence to shoot a line. In his own words:
"On my approach to the Italian theatre, Kesselring thoughtfully withdrew most of the Luftwaffe north of the Alps but left the dug in Wehrmacht to be beaten up by 145 Squadron and our associates of Desert Air Force and the USAF. With fellow Aussies, Reg Nevett, Ross "Junior" Harding, Kiwi Joe Moffatt and Brits "Paddy and Pud", I joined the Squadron on the Adriatic Coast, touching hands with Neville Duke the night he handed over to Stephen Daniel. The Squadron lived mainly under canvas and in my time with 145, of the four in our tent, two were killed and I nearly bought it three times that I was aware of. Staging in the heat of Naples brought my Worst Moment of the war. We commandeered a row-boat on the way back from wall art appreciation at Pompeii, and showing "leadership" dived in first, into a nutrient rich sewage outlet and was left by my loyal companions to swim naked and alone back to Mamma Italia. A bit on the nose!
Our work was mainly in close support of the Eighth Army, dive bombing and strafing, sometimes 100 yards ahead of our somewhat trusting infantry. We particularly got to know the Maori Battalion through our own Kiwi, Joe Moffatt, whose brother was the Colonel’s driver. We urged them to take more towns and villages, but, please, save some furniture for us, because Taffy Williams did his nightly bibulous Gorilla act by stamping our mess tables into the turf. Church steeples were attractive targets as they sheltered German artillery observers. They brought me my first near thing over Bagnacavallo (and on a Sunday). Shrapnel through the spinner, oil and glycol everywhere, landed ok as our strip was only five minutes away. Daniels inspected the aircraft and drawled, "I see you've had a bit of a dabble".
"A" Flight Commander was Aussie Harry Brown-Gaylord, who grabbed as many Australian replacements as he could for 145. The others were Harry Clifton and Barry Ware. Our Australian Comforts Fund Goodies and parcels from home, particularly the heavy soaked rum-preserved fruit cakes from Mum, went down very well in the mess. We also improved our fare by sending off a three tonner with people on leave, loaded with barter, woodbines and blankets, which would produce about eighty dozen eggs. I managed one weekend away from the winter mud, which yielded a delicious moment: crisp, spotless, virginal, expectant sheets in Assisi, along with golden loganberry wine that both the Wehrmacht and the Eighth Army had missed.
Shortly afterwards, we Down Under boys suffered our Saddest Moment of the war to date. Ross Harding, just turned 21, known to us all as "Junior", a born fighter pilot, sun bleached hair from his home at Dee Why beach, was killed. During takeoff the engine had some trouble, his 500 pounder exploding under him. We buried him in a blood-soaked hessian in the mud, marking the temporary grave with white painted stones. He now rests forever at Ancona.
March the 3rd 1945 turned out to be my Most Interesting day of the war. Led by Bill Hughes with Harry Clifton as his No. 2 and myself with Alan Stacey as No.2 we attacked a train west of Venice, which was probably of some importance as it was moving in daylight protected by five flak cars with triple mounted cannon. We dive bombed and then strafed, and I can see my cannon shells exploding on the loco now. At about 20 feet, right on top of the Loco I collected a God-awful thump starboard in the Merlins guts, jamming the throttle at over 350 mph full power. Duck below the trees to avoid the flak, she’ll burn out, head to the heavens. At 9,000ft she seized. Option 1: Bail out and drown? Option 2: Preferred and quieter, glide towards known partisan territory. Pick your field, go in fast, keep flaps in reserve, flick them down to avoid tree tops, grab gun sight to protect face, land heavily but flat. My head was cut by canopy, which had not jettisoned properly. I rang up Harry to tell him I was leaving the aircraft, so that my mother would know that I had survived so far. I still have his letter to her. I was picked up by two Jerries in a couple of minutes. "They're not going to get my remaining two Dunhills", shared them with an Italian civvy who had pushed through the small crowd to hurry me away, but nicked off quick smart when my Huns showed over the hedgerow. Maybe? Bleeding a bit, taken to an Italian Doctor who drove staples into my skull. Brandy with woodchips. Then a tumbrel to a village with a small Wehrmacht unit and the first of countless most boring observations, "For you the war is over." Response, "And so say all of us."
I guess all services are the same. Lying in a bunk next to the orderly room I could hear the orderly sergeant shouting over his crank-phone to an opposite number in the Luftwaffe at Mestre. "I've got a bloody airman here. Come and get him. He's your responsibility and I've got a war to run." Which they did in an open VW. I had a string of VWs in later years and their air cooled engine sound always took me back west of Venice.
To Padua (neither wives nor wealth!) then to Luftwaffe HQ at Verona, where I joined up with three gentlemen: Two SAAF Spit boys and one American, Sigmund E Hausner from Linden, New Jersey. Eddie and I introduced each other by scratching matching finger holes in the plaster walls of our "Cells". Flying a Thunderbolt, Eddie snuck up on an FW190 at dusk over Florence, blew it out the sky and exploded its bomb, which blew him up. One-All.
American fighter pilot Lance C. Wade, one of the leading Allied Aces in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations (MTO), was a Flight Commander and Squadron Leader of No. 145 Squadron. In spring of 1943 'C' flight of the squadron was the Polish Fighting Team. In March 1943, No. 145 Squadron pilots who came from the United States, Britain, New Zealand, Argentina, Trinidad, Canada, South Africa, Australia, and Poland were credited with 20 Axis aircraft destroyed, over one third of the total destroyed by the entire RAF in the MTO for that month.
The four of us went to Germany under the escort of three Luftwaffe ground staff. At that stage of the war they were at the bottom of the manpower barrel, but they were proud of their Italian Front as they were the only Germans holding the line. And we could converse in dog Italian. The transport, invisible by day, was nose to tail through the Brenner at night, which brought Second Worst Moment of the war: In the dark, knee to knee in a crowded closed up 3-tonner, I felt and heard a vigorous scratching. Match light revealed a forced labourer de-lousing his pubics into my lap. The things we did for England!
We were done over by Boston mediums at dawn (145 would have done better). Later "marching" through the black forest in a column of Kriegsgefangener, we were momentarily strafed by a Thunderbolt, but at least he wing waggled an apology.
Apart from the mashed up destruction in the main cities, and how we exulted seeing from a few miles away the shock waves in the cumin at 3,000 feet rising from the bombing of Nuremburg (not that disastrous night raid that Harris wouldn't even mention in his memoirs) one's main impression was of dull resignation under stress. Trains turned up maybe, and there was lots of waiting around, which all services know in war and peace. We had to get out of wood fuelled half tracks and push them up hills. We had ersatz coffee and woodchip bread in Soldatenheim, the blacked out fug much like a NAAFI canteen, or the Longhorsley pub where we challenged the Tankies at darts, having beaten them up in our low-flying area by day.
To the German soldiers we were soldiers too. To their civilians, we were curious but some of them had "attitude", understandably. In Augustberg, a tall, executive type in immaculate black from hat to polished shoes, put down his attaché case on the footpath and marched past several times, spitting at us and snarling, "Schweinhunde" and "Terrorfliege". Our guards never took their gun sights off him.
Schweinfurt, steaming from yesterday's big USAF raid, brought my Very Still Moment of the war. Picking our way through the wreckage, our lead escort, while adjusting his rucksack, handed his beautiful Schmeisser machine pistol to a wide eyed 12 year old, who held it distressingly close to my nose. Walking through a picture book village we heard Goebbels last speech over the village radio: All Siegfried myth, and Germany will again rise from the flames of sacrifice. The villagers, all old and well fed, seemed not to be that impressed. Next day, he murdered his beautiful young family and suicided.
Our morale held up reasonably well but there were some who had been "in" since 1939, who could be excused for acting "somewhat strange". On the morning the American tanks came through the wire of Stalag V11A at Moosburg (near Munich, with Dachau just down the road) Graham Friis, a Kiwi from a neighbouring DAF squadron and I lit a fire of twigs to celebrate. We were immediately berated by an English Captain in spotless walking out dress and gleaming pips, for wasting fuel. He'd been in since Dunkirk.
On the march I'd met P/O John Jones, to us an oldie of 35 plus, no wings, an admin type. He was returning in peacetime from years in India and a U-boat stopped his ship in the Bay of Biscay at the outbreak. He spent the entire war in captivity, including the tragic winter march from Sagan away from the Russians. We were in a Lanc together from Rheims, and the crew, God Bless 'em, had him up front to see the White Cliffs. Kindest Moment of the war. At Waddinton, a line of burly WAAFs with de-lousing puffers. "Open shirt, open pants, you lot. Righto, go and get a cuppa". Home! Train to Liverpool Street (compartment discretion, no conversation with untidy man in grimy battledress and blood soaked scarf), No.11 bus to Victoria (I still take it), train to RAAF Brighton. Check into the Metropole, then up High street to my barber to attend to the gollywog hair. "Hello again, sir. Been away for a while?"
So I guess the war was over. Most Vivid Memory of the war? Try this: Take off in the murk before dawn on a long range recce to the top of the Adriatic. Pull up into the clear with the sun just rising behind your right shoulder, and there, en face, the Alps at dawn - infinite ramparts of pink ice-cream.
This is Dumpling Red Three - Over and Out.
Postwar PS - I stood as best man for Reg Nevett before he moved to the country, learning from him sadly that Joe Moffatt was lost in a strafing run during the final breakthrough, which we had all longed for. He rests in Bologna."
Web Master: When Johnny was posted to 145 Squadron, it was based in the Western Desert, where it was engaged in fighter patrols and bomber escort duties. In June 1943, the Squadron moved to Malta to carry out offensive patrols over Sicily and in July, to cover the Allied landings. It moved into Sicilian airfields after their occupation and then onto Italy in September 1943. In December, the squadron's Spitfires started attacking ground targets and in June 1944 it became a fighter-bomber unit remaining so for the rest of the war.