Morotai Mutiny

Squadron Leader Henry Maxwell Gibbes

DSO, DFC & BAR and OAM was one of Australia's top fighter pilots. Due to his stout build,

Bobby Gibbes was known as “the barrel that

walks”. As commander of No. 3 Sq RAAF he

achieved 10.25 victories in MTO. His opponents included not only German and Italian

pilots, but a Vichy France’s pilot. who fought

for Vichy France. He left his command post in

April 1943 after completing 274 combat sorties. Gibbes was eager to pilot the Mosquito

and flew 25 hours, because he was to become commander of the RAAF's night fighter

No. 464 Sq. Instead, however, he was transferred to Australia as Chief Flying Instructor

to No. 2 OTU. He returned to combat service

in October 1944 as deputy of legendary Clive

Caldwell, commander of No. 80 Wing RAAF.

At that time the Wing consisted of No. 452

and 457 Sq RAAF both armed with Spitfires

Mk.VIII. In December 1944, parts of the Wing

were gradually moved to the island of Morotai in the northern part of present-day Indonesia. Gibbes did not take part in this transfer, having suffered burns in an emergency

landing at Sattler airfield on 5 December. But

every cloud has its silver lining, at the hospital he met a nurse he courted for two weeks,

and their wedding took place at the end of

January 1945

Morotai Island was important to the Allied

advance into the Philippines. Therefore, in

mid-September 1944, American and Australian troops had made a landing there. The

small Japanese garrison, outnumbered 1:100,

February 2023

was pushed into the less important parts of

the island. Work began immediately on the

two main airfields, which were completed in

October. The Japanese, however, would not

surrender and the fighting didn’t stop before

the end of the war. In the months following

the landings, Japanese airmen conducted

a series of night raids on the island, for which

Allied fighter units found virtually no effective defence. Japanese bombers destroyed or

damaged over 70 aircraft.

Caldwell's Spitfires at Morotai encountered

enemy aircraft only once. The pilots had to

attack insignificant ground targets on the surrounding islands. As a result, in the attack

on the Philippines, the Australian airmen

remained aside from the main war zone,

and it led to their growing frustration. They

were not happy with the deployment of their

high-altitude Spitfires in the role of strafer.

Nevertheless, they tried to suggest modifications that would make this role easier.

However, some of these were rejected.

Work to prepare facilities for Australian troops on Morotai Island was not going ideally either. American engineer units

were in charge, but the pace was very slow.

So, Caldwell and Gibbes decided to speed

up the work with illegal supplies of alcohol.

However, they were denounced and both

officers were court-martialed and reduced

in rank.

Gibbes rejoined the unit in March 1945

after recovering and flew 44 combat sorties

against isolated Japanese positions. During

Text: Jan Bobek

Illustration: Antonis Karydis

one of these, on 4 April, he was wounded in

an attack on Ternate Island. Anti-aircraft gun

fire hit the Spitfire's starboard radiator, machine-gun hits damaged the port wing and

several splinters struck Gibbs' right thigh.

Gibbes later recalled that he saw no purpose

in these combat operations. He even stopped

seeing the point of continuing to serve in the

Air Force. He especially disliked shooting at

cattle. He had previously worked on a farm

and shooting at animals with a Spitfire literally made him sick.

He was not alone with these feelings on Morotai and so he joined Caldwell and six other

officers in an unprecedented move in RAAF

history. Together they submitted their resignations with a postponement until after

the fighting was over. The command tried to

sweep the matter under the carpet, not willing to address the issues, and wanted to

persuade the officers to withdraw their resignations. This motivated the mutineers to

change the validity of the resignations to immediate. Eventually, this led to an inspection

from Australia. This resulted in the replacement of part of the 1st Tactical Air Force command, the correction of problems, and a gradual improvement in morale. Bobby Gibbes

was later reinstated to the rank of Squadron

Leader and left RAAF in 1946. His civilian air

life was no less colourful than his wartime

service. In 1994, he published a biographical

book, You Live But Once.

INFO Eduard