Ken Richards - Pilot
160 Squadron

With the end of the European war, there was a rapid military build-up in the Far East for the final phase of World War II. The Cocos Islands, with a landing strip constructed in 1945, was a strategic staging post for the occupation of the Malay Peninsula.

Serving with a Liberator Squadron in Ceylon, supply flights were commenced from Ceylon to the Cocos Islands – a mere dot in the East Indian Ocean, some 2,000 miles south east of Ceylon and 1,800 west of Darwin, the nearest friendly territory.

Our first flight commenced in perfect weather conditions demanding accurate DR [Dead Reckoning] navigation – no radio aids just uncharted waters and no weather forecasts. After some nine hours and around 200 miles from the Cocos, severe weather conditions were encountered, subsequently to be cyclone classified. Flying at 200 feet to reduce severe turbulence and visibility down to a mile, our ETA was reached with no sight of land.

Commencing a square search, and on the third leg a vague outline of the Cocos appeared – approximately five square miles. In effect we were on the final cross wind leg and the tower advising the quickest possible landing – winds 70-80 mph gusting to 90 plus and increasing. With the fastest cockpit check possible and turning onto the final approach at 300 feet, it was touch-down, then the most horrendous metal-clanging noise combined with vibrations of the Lib, first thoughts were landing gear collapsed. None of it, it was the first experience of landing on a metal interlocking landing strip. Relaxed and taxiing in, it was amusing to see the control tower perched on stilts with a notice ‘Highest point of the island, 17 ft. above sea-level’.

The ever welcome eggs and bacon, and then to the basha sleeping quarters, tired and asleep within minutes in spite of the towering noise of the cyclone. Within an hour to be awakened by the noise of the roof being blown away and the occupants soaked to the skin.

For the next two days we were privileged to visit the locals in their villages – very kind and warm hearted people and spotlessly clean in their homes. The Cocos Islands comprise mainly two islands – the main one with a population of 700 of Malay origin. Their income derived from coconuts and the staple food purely fish, additional food, fuel and consumer goods had to be imported.

The Cocos were first discovered by Will Keeling in 1609, an East India Company mariner. Eventually, Alex Hare, an adventurer, settled in 1825 with his slaves and Malay harem. In 1827, John Clunier-Ross, with his family settled and developed the Island’s coconut groves, which were finally sold to the Australian Government in 1978.

Seeing the vague outline of the Cocos in a cyclone at 100 ft, and then two days enjoying the natural beauty of the Cocos atoll, will remain an everlasting and contrasting memory.

Ken Richards, 30 June 2010: source Haslam

Links & Notes

Forward Strategic Air Base Cocos Islands
160 Squadron

page last updated 30 June 2010: ACA Surrey Branch 2010