Australian War Memorial – Behind the Scenes

Australian War Memorial – Behind the Scenes
Mat McLachlan
September 15, 2019
Shane Casey
Share on facebook
Share on Facebook
Share on twitter
Share on Twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on LinkedIn

Mat: I’m here in Mitchell in the ACT well, the big toys storage area. I’m here with Shane Casey, one of the key writers. I’m sure there’s a much more formal term for where we’re actually standing. Tell us about the buildings we’re in, Shane and what goes on here.

Shane: We’re in a dehumidified warehouse basically. It’s a storage area and it houses the reserve collection of the Australian War Memorial material that can’t be displayed at the moment because of space considerations at the main War Memorial building. It’s a big cavernous warehouse. One of a number that we’ve got here. And we’re standing in front of a German V-2 ballistic missile. This missile is about 14 meters long and it looks like a sharpened pencil or something like that. It’s white and it sits on a big green trailer that was designed by the Germans to transport the rocket and to put it into an upright position for launch.

Mat: So this is one of the Hitler’s vengeance weapons, one of the first, well, the first ballistic missile that was fired on London during the Second World War.

Shane: That’s right. When we look at it, we can see a number of different contexts to it. On the one hand, it was one of the greatest technological feats that mankind had ever done to that point. The first time mankind ever rented out a space, it was a device capable of traveling at five times the speed of sound. But on the other hand, it represents, as you say, vengeance weapon. It’s a weapon of war, a weapon produced by one of the most evil toxic regimes that’s every existed. And we believe that more people died in the construction of these in the underground tunnels in The Harz Mountains and slave laborers than were killed by the actual weapon being delivered.

Mat: It’s also a precursor to rocketry that led to the space race, wasn’t it? So out of this, it’s a fascinating chapter that out of the destruction of the Second World War came the technology that would then be used to put man on the moon eventually in the 1960’s. Because a lot of the German scientists that built these then went to America and to Russia to work on the space program

Shane: That that’s right. Very early on the Brits, the Americans and the Russians scrambled over Germany trying to get this technology, trying to assemble it, find out how it worked, and get those German scientists that you’re talking about. And one of them, Wernher Von Braun was taken back to America very early on by late 1945. And as you say, he worked on the Apollo space program. And so the Saturn V that took people to the moon used much of the same technology as this. The combustion chamber, the way it was cooled the fact that it was a liquid fueled rocket, you can see the ancestor to the Saturn V in this bizarre.

Mat: Why did the Germans have such a head-start on the rest of the world in rocketry and this kind of technology during the war?

Shane: Well, it was rocketry going on in America in the 1920’s and 30’s, but it doesn’t seem to have ever really been pursued as a passion by other people. There was a man called Goddard who was very active in America but Germany, in the 1920’s had a very active civilian rocketry, enthusiastic sort of program going on. There were movies being made about people going to the moon and it seems so fired, the German psyche.

Now by the early 1930’s, the depression had kicked in. There was really no money for that sort of civilian rocketry program. But the German artillery corps under a man called Dornberger recognized the potential of this as a long range weapon. Now, long range artillery had been banned under the Versailles Treaty and not rocketry. And the German army picked up on Von Braun and his associates shepherded them in, gave them the world’s best research facilities and 10 years later, this is what was produced

Mat: Absolutely extraordinary. Where did this particular example of the V-2 come from?

Shane: So, right at the end of the war, the British launched an operation called Operation Backfire. And the idea was that they wanted to assemble rockets, V-2’s and the scientists who’d made them film the whole process, interview them, find out how it worked, and then launched their own. They assembled eight of the rockets. This is one of the eight that they assembled. They fired three of them and then basically didn’t need to do any more trials. So, this is one of those five that weren’t fired. It was ceded to Australia.

Back here in Australia, even during the war, the late war the V-2 strikes and the V-1 Doodlebug bug strikes were being reported on in the press. And so people knew about these. They called them robots and people were fascinated by them. Two of them came out to Australia. We’ve got both of the rockets. The other one is very fragmentary. It had a hard life over the last 70 years but they toured around and people were fascinated. There were photographs in the national archives showing the crowds of people looking at these things and the Nazi terror weapons.

Mat: I’m not surprised. It’s such an impressive weapon. It’s a wonderful piece of technology. Shane we’re standing in front of an aircraft. Looks like World War 2 era. What is this plane? What’s the story?

Shane: Matt, this is a Bristol Beaufort light bomber. It’s a twin engine aircraft. And when we look at this particular one, we’ve got basically the wing tips and the engines have been taken off, but we don’t need to do that because of space considerations. So we could really assemble this quite quickly. It’s a Second World War bomber that was designed in Britain. It first flew in 1938 but here in Australia, we wanted something that could travel across the ocean waste between New Guinea New Britain and attack the positions up in Rabaul. And this really hit the money on that. We here in Australia, we didn’t have a conventional car industry at that time, but in a very short space of time we were actually making fantastic aircraft like this in factories here. So this is an Australian made Bristol Beaufort.

And what we’re looking at is a twin engine. It’s got an upper fuselage gun position. And it was capable of taking bombs or torpedoes and this sort of aircraft took part in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea and strikes on Japanese positions all over New Guinea. This one flew just over a hundred missions. And then in January, 1945, after a strike on Japanese positions, it was coming in to land. It had a bomb hung up in the Bombay it couldn’t release. And it had tried to shake it off and it failed. And so it came in for really high speed landing with some minimal flaps and minimal breaks. But right at the last moment they had to apply the brakes and unbeknownst to the crew, there was damage to one of the breaks and it slid off the runway, smashed into a building and killed a number of men on the ground in a Jeep and anyway, the tail was completely ripped off.

And so what you’re looking at here as we stand here is the fuselage is all very abraded and worn and faded and you can see a very clear delineation of that old paint and then a new tail. And so we’ve added the new tail from components. But what we’ve tried to do is show which bits are old and original and which bits are new. It’s sort of a conservation technique that many museums employ so that you as a visitor know exactly what’s real and what’s been replicated and restored.

Mat: That’s a lovely thing. What’s this here? I’m just noticing bits and pieces. First Australian division.

Shane: And it looks like it’s taken a bit of a battle damage as well. So everything in here theoretically should have a tag on it like this one here and this one must have tag somewhere. Oh, here you go. Bronze plaque from the base of wooden Memorial cross at Pozieres so Mat what we’re looking at is a plaque put up presumably very soon after the end of 1916 to the men who were killed at the Battle of Pozieres. But it’s also been then hit subsequently by artillery fragments over the course of the next two years.

Mat: I can’t begin to explain what it’s like for a war nerd like me to be in a place like this where everything you look around and it’s not on display, it’s just stored here. It’s just extraordinary. It’s so amazing.

Shane: And right next to it then we have these machine gun mounts from modern bushmasters. So these platt swing mounts. So Platt is a company that operates in Australia up in Sydney where you are and exports machine gun mounts all over the world. And then that, I think this is from a dug out a German dug out. It just wouldn’t still be on the tag but this is from, there was a German dugout that was captured and then used by the Brits or Australians. And at the end of the war the beam then collected the whole infrastructure of the dugout. And I think that this is from that.

Mat: Fantastic. It’s just extraordinary.

Shane: It’s a very crude wooden stool. I mean you and I could probably whip up something better in about 10 minutes.

Mat: But it’s the history. It’s what it represents. It’s where it came from. Just extraordinary.

Shane: Yeah. Very Crude.

Mat: What about the bell damage?

Shane: Let’s have a look at the tag. I’m not sure myself.

Mat: That’s a bit of a voyage of discovery.

Shane: It’s a Belgian church bell, 18th battalion AIF and what it is; it’s probably 17th or 18th century church bell with a massive artillery strike right through the top part of the bell. Forgive me for not using the correct terminology for bells. I’m sure there are experts out there who know.

Mat: It’s extraordinary. Really quite amazing.

Shane: So we’ve got a lot of material from the round heap and anywhere where there was smashed and grinder.

Mat: That was a really iconic symbol for everyone that went to the war. But the Australians in particular, the smash city of Aden. I think for Australian troops, they’d never anything like it. They’d never seen these towns, obviously in Australia plus the cede in the State of Ruin. I think from everything that I’ve read it had a dramatic effect on the Aussies and there was a lot of souvenir hunting and a lot of taking bits and pieces to bring home to try and just tell that story.

Shane: So Australian has always been great souvenir collectors, I think. And Wern Braun, when he was shot down, his aircraft had to be guarded because the Aussies just went like magnets to it. And so we thought about 50 fragments of the Wern Braun’s aircraft that were cut into pieces about hundreds millimeters by a hundred millimeters.

Mat: So Shane the fall boat, the famous collapsible boat used by commander forces, well zeb forces during the Second World War.

Shane: Matt. It’s a kayak, two person kayak. It’s got a rubberized canvas and the whole thing, as you say, collapses down so it can be folded down into the hole of the Krait or a similar boat. The Krait took seven of these on its big raid up to Singapore. And what we’re looking at is something that’s about, if you hold out your arms, fingertip to fingertip. It’s about what three of those. And the bit where the people sit has a canvas lace on cover and there are paddles, wooden paddles strapped to the side of it. So these things are very fragile because these things weren’t meant to last for 70 years as they have now. And we’ve got a plastic cover over it to stop dust and what not from affecting it.

Mat: It looks remarkably modern. You wouldn’t pick that. This is World War 2 era. It doesn’t quite look like something we build today, but I can imagine this from the 1970’s or 80’s.

Shane: Absolutely.

Mat: So it was probably quite futuristic at the time.

Shane: Yeah. And people were using old army ones in civilian life until they basically wore out. These days, I guess you wouldn’t have the rubberized canvas, you’d have something lighter and more polymers based. Oh, it’s durable and it’s rugged probably last longer than the modern ones

Mat: And representative of that early year of commander operations, Special Forces, which is now obviously so important today and everything that we do, this is the earliest days of those operations.

Shane: That’s right. And there were Australians involved in the design and construction of these as well. Slazenger you know, who makes tennis rackets they were involved in the making of these. So we use this sort of thing as you say, representative of those commander operations. And there are a number of men who took part in those operations against Japanese held Singapore who were captured and executed and we have nothing to represent their sacrifice.

Mat: Are these items Shane, rotated through the main building of the War Memorial? Are they always here and they always stay here or do they cycle through the main building?

Shane: That’s a good question. No, this is basically it’s a storage and a storage repository for material that comes off display and that where we can also prepare material. So the foam boat that we’re looking at now has been on display. I think about a year ago, it was on display for about a year. We rotate material through on a regular basis. There are some items that have never been on full open display such as the V-2 on its own erector because it’s just too hard to move and it’s too fragile and you need a massive space for it.

Near us we’ve got a vehicle that was used by General Morshead in the Western desert and it’s just come off display about a year ago as well. And hopefully it’ll go on display. Next to it just behind it. There’s a thing that looks like a green thing over there, I don’t know what it looks like, but its German battlefield observation post and it’s in segments that can be man-handled and put one on top of another. And it was on touring exhibition, the Centenary exhibition that went around Australia. So lots, probably a couple, 100,000 people had seen that in recent times.

Mat: Shane. Talk about big boys’ toys. We’re standing in the corner of the room jam packed with artillery pieces. What am I looking at?

Shane: Well, Matt, this is probably one of the worlds’ largest collections of German, Turkish and Austro-Hungarian artillery. Australia was right there at the end of the war, First World War. And we had a big program of taking weapons and artifacts back from Europe and the Middle East to Australia to show people basically what our troops had been doing. And units who’d captured particular pieces of artillery were very, very, determined to make sure that their thing that they had captured came back to their town or to the national collection. And at that stage, the Australian War Memorial wasn’t called that. It hadn’t really been created but the idea existed, for an Australian National War museum and so many things are actually painted more for war museum, that sort of thing.

Now just standing in front of us are some really big pieces of German artillery and we can see one, for example, it has camouflage on it, but the barrel has been completely ripped apart. That one was captured in 1918 in August. We don’t know why the barrel has been destroyed. Possibly the crew spikes the gun before it was captured to prevent us from reusing it or possibly it was a faulty ammunition misfire or something like that. And then next to it, there’s another one, almost exactly the same. Now we know the histories of many of these weapons because the troops in the field are required to take war diaries or keep war diaries.

And so every day their activities, their location, the weather conditions are recorded, but also what they did with who they captured, what they captured. And so many of these items were actually recorded in those war diaries and the one, as we look at it to our extreme left, a gray 21 centimeter, howitzer we know exactly where that one was captured because they also marked it on a map. We have people from the Royal Australian artillery and the ADF who periodically come and study these as a way of understanding their own modern technology. You’ve got to understand the basics really, I suppose before you move on. And so even just yesterday, we had a group of ADF personnel come and do seminars on these weapons.

Mat: Just extraordinary.

Shane: So Matt, we’ve got a very important artifact here. So Japanese Shinyo suicide launch and basically it’s a two meter wide or in beam boats which is about pretty six meters long and its plywood, very crude construction again and it’s a speed boat. And the idea of this is that in the bow of the speedboat is an explosive charge. And it was a Japanese suicide boat, designed to ram into invasion craft and or shipping and destroy them that way. And that was an idea that if you remember 2003, I think it was in the Persian Gulf, the USS Cole got hit by a suicide boat, very similar to this blew a massive hole in the side, 30 sailors were killed. The Japanese had the same idea back in 1944, ’45. And these were initially based around the Philippines. And then as the war progressed, sort of Northwards they relocated them. And we recovered this one from Borneo.

HMA’s Deloraine was there, Sandakan, 1945 came into the Bay and there were about 30 of these suicide boats all around the Bay. And they picked the best couple and had a bit of fun with them using them as ski boats and the likes and this one was painted gray and taken back to Australia by the Deloraine crew. And then once it came back here, I think it was November of 1945, the, the Navy directed the Deloraine to deliver it to us then. And so it was the gray paint was painted over again with a sort of an Emerald, British racing green, I guess you could call it. And it sat like that now in that paint scheme since then. We know that underneath this paint scheme we have excavated it a bit and we found the gray of the Deloraine. And then underneath that, the original Japanese paint scheme.

Mat: I remember as a kid when my dad used to bring me to the war Memorial and this was one of the, I remember this boat and it was one of the most exciting things as a 10 year old that I saw in the entire collection. And it spoke to me then, and it speaks to me now about those desperate last days of the Second World War. I can’t imagine this was particularly effective against allied shipping. The Japanese were not going to win the war with this sort of technology. Yet it just showed their desperation to do whatever they could to take as many allied soldiers and sailors with them as they could before the end.

Shane: That’s right. And inside this boat we found two homage armored vests, made from shingles of steel plate covered with a thin layer of leather. And we’ve got them in the collection. But it shows that they wanted to survive long enough and to avoid being hit by small arms fire, just long enough to get in there and blow the vessel up. But as you say, they weren’t that successful. I think there were about 13 or 14 vessels that were damaged and a few smaller landing craft tanks sunk as a result of this.

Mat: Just imagine what an end to your life strapping on crude armor plating to avoid getting shot at by machine guns and getting one of these and ramming into the side of a ship. Obviously extreme courage but also that fanaticism that defined, especially those last days of the Japanese empire. And that’s what this represents. That’s why it’s so important to have artifacts like this because in one object standing here, you can tell that entire story through this piece of technology. Just a wonderful thing. What about some of the motorbikes we’ve got here, Shane?

Shane: There is a small motorbike here called a Well-Bike and this was designed in Willem City in England and where all of the special operations executive, the cut-throat commander type equipment was designed. And so anything that was designed there was given the prefixed well, so there was a thing called the well-rod, which was like an Assassin’s gun, a one shot thing. And this is a well-bike and it’s a tiny little bike. It’s actually coming back into Vogue now. You see people on pavements riding these sorts of scooters and things. So it’s about the size of a scooter and the whole thing falls down and goes into a capsule and is deposited from an aircraft with paratroopers. And then once you hit the ground, you find your canister open up and you can re-join your unit because as you know, Normandy, In Arnhem. The troops are just scattered everywhere and two days for units to kind of cohesive,

Mat: Well, it’s a novel solution to that problem you have with airborne troops. Airborne troops are fantastic at being inserted in specific locations, but once they’re on the ground, they’re totally immobile. And these are the problems we saw in the great airborne operations is that you’d land airborne troops and even if you landed them on the right spot, they just couldn’t move around once they were there. And so just the novel length, they were going to try and solve this problem.

Shane: But I think as it turns out, this particular type wasn’t that effective at that. The wheels are tiny. They’re what would you call that? Maybe 300 millimeter diameter tires. It’s just pretty useless at going across rough ground. So as it turns out, it wasn’t widely used during the war, but it was an interesting attempt to get around that problem.

Mat: I love what it represents more than probably what it achieved.

Shane: Yeah. Yeah.

Mat: There was a time that both World Wars were time of this extraordinary technological experimentation. And we know that with the Second World War, we’ve just seen a V-2 rocket. We’ve seen collapsible motorbikes and collapsible boats, but also the First World War as well. But the technological advancements that began in 1914 and happened in only four years, absolutely extraordinary how weapons, aircraft tanks the range of improvements that were made to technology in that time. It’s unfortunate that wars typically always seem to be these great prompters of technological advancement.

Shane: This is our attempt to stop pest infestations.

Mat: Okay.

Shane: So, basically there’s a nitrogen unit there that pumps the nitrogen into these alfoil bags. And because the bugs, insects go for wool and silk and cotton in particular they don’t touch synthetics really. And we have an awfully large collection of textiles and further as well, things like the Red Baron’s boots. Insects just love that. And so we have a program of constantly going into the main building where the things are on display, opening up the showcases and inspecting them every month. And we do that for every showcase and manually inspected for frass and little insect shells and things. And whenever we find anything, we hope we don’t find anything, but occasionally we do, that gets taken off and we either freeze the object and kill the insects that way or if it’s too fragile, we put it into these big shiny foil bags and we’ve got a few in front of us here and then pump nitrogen into the bags and leave it for about three weeks.

And the staff that does this, conservators and they wear special monitors, oxygen monitors because the nitrogen is deadly if something went wrong. But it’s been successful as far as we know, but it’s a constant, constant problem. And it’s largely because showcases have to be somewhat porous but also members of the public, we’re getting a million people through the institution every year. They bring stuff in, we can’t avoid it and we can’t hermetically seal every storage area. It’s just impossible. So it’s a constant battle.

Mat: Right. Excellent. What about the train locomotive?

Shane: Yeah. Down here we’ve got a Hunslet narrow gauge locomotive. Now this was designed and manufactured in Leeds in England and specifically for the war effort on the First World War. You had big broad gauge or ordinary gauge, Locos coming across from England being transported across on channel ferries, special ones. And then they would shift men and material and ammunition, food, water, etc. to within say 20 miles of the front lines. And then you’d have craft like this taking over and these travel on 60 centimeter wide or I should say that the rails are 60 centimeters wide between each one another. And the train travels on prefabricated panels that a team of say 10, 20 men could lift and carry and put down in place without having to individually put the sleepers in place. And you didn’t need all that much ballasting either the Loco was quite light and these things then would take all the men and material and wound it to and from the front line.

Mat: It’s great to see this because when I’ve been on the Western Front, you often come across reminds of all tracks and then on maps it was marked this was a light rail line, but it’s actually great to see the Loco that was running. It’s small. It’s a very little thing.

Shane: That had an enormous number of Locos. And we had in Australia we had broad gauge Loco operating teams and narrow gauge teams as well. We would recruit men specifically from the New South Wales and Victorian railways. And often, when you look at their service records, they go from being recruits on Sunday to being a Sergeant on Friday because they’re just really experienced Loco operators. So Mat, this is an interesting item. It’s a long metal pole on a two wheeled wooden, spooked wheel carriage and it’s basically, it’s a German mobile battlefield periscope. And the idea is that in the flat terrain of France, Northern France and Belgium.

This thing would be erected behind the German lines. And you would winch this telescopic pole up as high as you could to about 25 meters in height and then peer through it, peer through the periscope, much the same way as a submarine periscope would be used and to observe the British and Australian and French lines. And I’ve often wondered just how far you could see with one of these. They used to be one of these in the Imperial War Museum in London that poked through the ceiling and you could see the city through it. I suspect that in France you could see an awfully long way.

Mat: Most flat land is plane. I imagined you’d be able to, well, observation was essential on the Western Front during the First World War. We know that the side that could see the furthest could shoot the furthest. And again, remarkable the innovations. Everyone who’s listening have a look on the Facebook page where you’ll see photos of these things because extraordinary bits of kid standing in front of this, it’s just bizarre. It’s like something out of a space novel. It’s like a Jules Verne’s craziest creation. Yet they were pressed into service though they were coming up with these inventions, these new ways of doing things to tackle very specific problems.

Shane: And this one was built in 1917, so I’ve heard people say, oh, this is an outmoded technology that we had aircraft and aerial reconnaissance. But to put an aircraft up requires an awful lot of fuel and resources and you’re at the mercy of the weather.

Mat: And the risk of being shot down.

Shane: Absolutely. And this thing had none of those risks to it.

Mat: So many artillery pieces.

Shane: They kind of at first glance they all look the same and that was my, I suppose, first reaction, but when you start drilling into them and looking at either the context or the particular battle that they were involved in, or even just looking at the damage on some of them, you can start to see the individuals. These are binnacles from some of Australia’s earliest craft and some really important ones. One of the compass housings from HMA’s paramedic, the very first ship that ever entered the Royal Australian Navy. And we have artifacts from captured in Iraq. There’s an improvised rocket launcher mounted on basically a wheelbarrow chassis right next to German artillery pieces captured in the Western desert in 1941 next to a recoilless rocket launcher captured in Vietnam. This is a very interesting object.

This one here, it’s a gun mounted on a pedestal. It’s painted gray and it’s a German artillery piece that was captured at the battle of Messines in 1917 and still has the German markings on it, but it’s been taken back to Woolwich near London, in London and modified slightly to make it suitable for mounting on a surface craft on a Naval ship. And the British were doing this with trawlers and merchant men and disguising them as a weapon against the U-boats, which were at that stage threatening the very existence of Britain really. And the idea was that you’d camouflage your ship to look like it was a fishing ship or a trawler. And then when the U-boat got close to it, flaps would come down. Camouflage covers come off and the crew of the ship would open fire on the submarine. And these were called Q-ships. And some of the really heroic Victoria Cross sections of the First World War were fought on Q- ships that were sinking.

They’d been hit and torpedoed, but the crews just kept hidden until the U-Boat got close enough and then the flaps would come down. And sometimes people were being killed all around the crews and they just sat there and took it. We’re standing in front of the rear portion of a Japanese 18 inch long lands torpedo. And this particular torpedo was one of the ones fired by one of the midget submarines during the attack on Sydney Harbor in 1942. And we’ve got the compressed air tanks and the fuel and then the motor and the engine there at the rear. And you could see in the rear motor segment that all the metal casing has been crushed in on itself. And that was as a result of being dragged out of the water by cranes and it’s just crushed the metal.

Mat: So this was the one that ran aground on Garden Island?

Shane: That’s right.

Mat: After they were firing at the, was it the Chicago? I’m trying to remember.

Shane: The Chicago.

Mat: The American ship that was in the Harbor. And of course one of them exploded under the cuttable and sank that ferry with a lot of soldiers and sailors on board. Who were the main casualties of the Midget Submarine Attack. But that is the actual torpedo that the Japanese fired during the attack on Sydney Harbour.

Shane: We do have the motor from the one that actually sunk the cuttable; it’s on display up in Sydney with the Royal Navy at the moment. But it was also very, very significant historic piece. There’s a tag attached to it that was written in 1946 by one of the armorers. And he said almost writing for posterity. He said it’s really unusual to get torpedo or any fragment of a torpedo from the ship that it sank because most often they sunk in deep water and you just never recover the thing or the torpedo gets destroyed in the explosion.

So we’re looking at a Russian Howitzer here, and this particular one was captured in Afghanistan and it was brought back to Australia in the mid 2000’s. It was captured in 2005 and this one was used by members of the Royal Australian artillery before they were deployed to Afghanistan to familiarize themselves with the Russian technology. And so it would be craned up out of place into an open area. The trail would be spread out and the RA roadster and artillery officers would come in and train on this before they went to Afghanistan. So there are many, many still in all across the former Eastern Bloc countries.

Mat: And next to it, we’ve got a couple of German Granatwerfer, German trench mortars from the First World War.

Shane: That’s right.

Mat: It’s just every era display here.

Shane: And you see these all over Australia, these German trench mortars, they’re often in parks and in front of RSL clubs. Australia captured a lot of this sort of thing. The Germans had three different types; they had light, medium and heavy. We’re standing in front of the heavy mortar, which is 24 centimeters in diameter caliber and a very, very simple device on a steel platform able to fire at a very high trajectory. And you often read in World War One diary accounts about the screaming minis or the flying dustbins or flying pigs they call them. And these are the German trench mortars, which threw these enormous projectiles towards the trench lines with devastating effect really, they were greatly feared.

These things could be mounted on wheels and are very, very portable that horrendously heavy the shell. We’ve got a number of items that have never been displayed outdoors and still bear their original coats. So one is a Japanese anti-tank gun that still bears on the front of its shield. Great Nippon Empire and it was some propagandizing sort of thing. And the one that we’re standing in front of right now is a German anti-tank gun, a five centimeter anti-tank gun, and it’s got its original Africa corps Western desert paint coating on it. But you can see where Australian soldiers have scratched their initials.

So we’re looking at NX 2760 and if you go onto the national archives website, you can look up that number. We’ve got another one QX. So in the old days, ‘Q’ from Queensland, your service number was QX. If you were from New South Wales ‘NX’ there’s a ‘VX’ here and I’m sure there’s an ‘SX’ from South Australia and there’s ‘TX’ and more of that. And then there’s also a picture of a German tank painted on there by someone and a can opener. So the analogy being that this weapon is like a can opener to a tank. There’s the German swastika just painted there as well.

Mat: Oh yes.

Shane: So Matt, this is a lot colder as you can feel less well-insulated. This is the first building that was built on site to store artifacts and it’s probably going to be the one that we take down first because it’s really not to modern standards in terms of museum conservation. But at the moment, what we try to do is store the more robust items in here.

Mat: Oh, that smell, that’s the museum smell. Museums are losing that a little bit because there are not so many artifacts and things on display. There’s more touchscreens now. But that smell of oil and dust and cord item. It’s a wonderful smell. Anyone who’s regularly visited military museums will know exactly what I’m talking about. But a room full of tanks and vehicles, basically what we’re looking at.

Shane: We’ve got Centurion tanks in here that took part in operations in Vietnam and the Second World War material further on. And then we’ve also got lots of material used in Afghanistan. We’ve got up here on this, we’ve got German pontoons that were captured on the Western Front, painted with sort of rudimentary camouflage scheme there. And just underneath it, the Caterpillar engine from a bushmaster protected mobility vehicle that was destroyed in Afghanistan. We’ve got the vehicle from which that came in another part of the building.

Mat: What are these artillery shells here? There are massive shells.

Shane: These are the French the railway artillery shells, the largest shells that would have been fired by any combatant during the First World War. There are 520 millimeters in diameter and fired from massive railway guns. Every nation in the First World War, largely every nation on the Western Front had the massive railway guns that were mounted on massive carriages. And the French went one step further than everyone else. And ignite these massive 520 millimeter ones. They only made two of these guns. One of them was pretty much destroyed right towards the end of the war. And the second one was captured by the Germans when they invaded France in 1940 and taken to the Eastern Front. But these two shells are two meters long. They still got the original French paint on them and stencils. And they’ve got copper driving bands, which are protected by wooden girdles. So the driving bands seal the shell into the rifle barrel and in part the spin on it, but they’re very, very delicate. And so they needed to be protected with those wooden girdles there.

Shane: So we’ve got a lot of artillery shells here. Some of it’s been sectioned cut-down through the middles and some of it was used as training aids back in the day for the artillery people themselves. Some of the materials were in a half machine state. And so it looks as though the people of Maribyrnong who made it were using these items again as training aids for their own staff. And much of it came to us when the war ended. But it’s a really good collection of First and Second World War and modern artillery.

I think it’s quite interesting that we’ve got a Matilda tank next to a Centurion tank in that the Matilda tank saw service right from the start of the war, The Second World War to the end. It was still in active use by Australian Forces up in Borneo right at the end and next to the tank that would have been in use by say, December, 1945 if the war had continued. And so you can see right next to one another, the juxtaposition of old and new technology. They’re very much faster, just ions better in terms of crew protection, gyroscopically controlled gun, all that sort of thing. And these were used in Vietnam then, very effectively.

This thing here, it doesn’t look like much, but it’s a very thin sheet metal tube with handles. It looks a bit like a dustbin and it’s about a meter high and 450 mil in diameter. And for a long time it evaded description. We didn’t know what it was that the tag had long since fallen off. And it was only recently this year that we worked out what it was. And it comes in a number of parts. There’s a canister that fits inside this dustbin like device and there’s a big ball which is gain 400 mil in diameter. And this ball fits in the top of this dustbin like thing. And it turns out that it’s a German smoke generator captured in 1917 at the Battle of Messines. And the people who captured it, the 6th Battalion AIF painted their unit on the front of this big ball. And it was only by really seeing that we could work out what this thing was because we then looked at the records of the 6th Battalion and found that they had indeed captured one of these items. And then we found a British manual on German smoke apparatus, which illustrated this.

Mat: How does it possibly work?

Shane: So, there’s a pot that fits inside the main tube and the pot has quick lime in it. Then the big circular ball has hydrochloric acid. You would take the cap off the hydrochloric acid, use a big stick or handle to tilt the ball that would pour into the quick line and it would just produce a massive, really opaque smoke cloud.

Mat: Wow.

Shane: Really, really effective.

Mat: Once again, visit the Facebook page to see photos of this because that is a really remarkable piece of First World War technology.

Shane: Very rare. I think as soon as we saw the battle leverage; you feel it’s going to be captured.

Mat: That’s right. Front line.

Shane: And probably German. It looks First World warish.

Mat: The Japanese very small tank here.

Shane: Yeah, top 94 tanketet. And so it’s a two man crew very light reconnaissance vehicle. And Circa 1934 uses British technology for the running gear designed to just provide a modicum of protection for a reconnaissance crew. It’s got a machine gun mounted though in the turret. And this particular one or this type was used very effectively by the Japanese in Manchuria and all through the night, late 1930’s. It’s not an armored fighting vehicle really though it couldn’t do anything against a modern tank. This one was captured in Balikpapan and you can see in the underneath the current paint surface. Oh yeah. Just here. If you look at an oblique angle, you can see where people have scratched their…

Mat: Oh, I see.

Shane: So NX, TPR trooper, so New South Wales trooper TJG, and he’s written the date, 4th of March, 1945 Balikpapan, Borneo.

Mat: Couple of bushmasters there.

Shane: Yeah. We have two battle damaged bushmasters. One’s called battered sev. And one’s called Debbie. We’ve met the crews of these vehicles. They were both destroyed in Afghanistan. And if we look at Debbie here for example, so the bushmaster is Australia’s current protected mobility vehicle. It’s got a V shaped hull and you can see the V shaped hull very clearly on this example. And the idea being that if an improvised explosive devices detonated on the side, the blast will be diverted off to the side. And, all of the side panels are designed to be sacrificial and just blow off. It’s very thin light material. This particular one was destroyed in 2012.

And we’ve met the driver and interviewed him as well as some members of his crew. And we’ve got photographs of the aftermath of the incident and we use this as an example of Australia’s efforts in Afghanistan but also the manufacturing, task and research and development that went into trying to protect Australian lives and exported to the Dutch and the Japanese.

Mat: I do like the new focus and the whole moral of telling them all modern stories as well because it’s something that I talk to people a lot about to say that history doesn’t necessarily belong in the past. These chapters are still being written the Anzac story’s still being written. And as you say, that’s a wonderful example of the modern combat conditions and what our men and women have been through over there.

Shane: So some things like this, this APC here would be tracked by us. We send curators into the field now to places like Afghanistan and Iraq. Tried to photograph items being used in current situation, tried to speak to the crews in doing interviews, but we also try to track then their equipment. And so we do that with aircraft and tanks. And this is an example of one where we became aware of this particular number 134192 and it’s an armored personnel carrier 8113. And it had extensive service in Vietnam. And then in 1994, it was sent to Rwanda as one of the four APCs that went there.

It was painted completely white with UN markings. And then in the later part of the 20th century it was sent to East Timor. And that’s the color scheme that wears right now. And so it had a very, very extensive overseas operational service and that’s the sort of thing that we would like to get. It’s still all very scuffed, all the paints chipped off and it’s got unit markings on it and it’s got bits of corrosion and bits of paint here and there shows wear and tear in a way that you can’t replicate if you try and paint it up.

Mat: I like that the preservation of that history is important because I think after the First World War, Second World War, there was a lot of bringing these things back and tidying them up again, giving them a new paint scheme, making them look as good as new and you lose so much history that’s much better than that salty conditioned with paint scratches and graffiti on the side. That’s what we want to see. So Shane we’re standing in front of well, a dismantled aircraft, but one of my personal favourites from the relatively modern era, the P-3 Orion which have all just been retired in the last couple of years. So obviously essential that the War Memorial has in its collection a representation of this very important aircraft served for a long time. Now tell us about this aircraft and why it’s important that it’s now part of the collection. .

Shane: Well, Matt, it’s a massive thing and as you say, dismantled. So it’s really quite hard to get your mind across. Just what we’re looking at. But a big massive gray fuselage four engined aircraft with a long, proboscis on the end, the magnetic anomaly detector and this aircraft, it’s an American designed aircraft designed by Lockheed, flew for Oh, 35 years or so with the RAAF. It was very much a cold war aircraft flying long and probably very monotonous, observational and surveillance missions over the Indian Ocean and the Pacific looking for Russian and Chinese submarine activity, very much a cold war warrior. And we like to tell that story with it as well but also involved in search and rescue operations.

You remember all those episodes involving yachts, people in the South Atlantic. Puli Moore and Artesia, people like that. But then this aircraft was also the first RAAF aircraft deployed to the Middle East in the recent conflicts and as well then flew extensively from 2004 onwards over Iraq and Afghanistan. And this particular one then ended its operational combat service over the Philippines during the Battle of Marawi. It was one of the two that did that operation. So extensive operational service. Now it’s sitting in a newly constructed aircraft warehouse especially designed with a new type of reinforced concrete floor and that’s thin and light, but super strong and the building doesn’t have any interior columns, so it just relies on these overhead trusses.

The aircraft is in parts largely for storage, but as we walk around the nose of the aircraft, we see the wings have been taken off and they’re on pallets. This is a very temporary measure. We’ve only had the wings for about two weeks I think. We’ve had the fuselage for about three and a half weeks. So it’s very new. I haven’t been inside the craft yet. And here we are standing right next to the wing root and you can see right through the aircraft. It’s actually for a student of avionics and it’s actually quite interesting in its current state. And we do have advert periodically come the aircraft engineering people and with students. And they love it when things are like this because they can then talk about aircraft structures.

Mat: It’s remarkable to see it in pieces. I understand that it’s only for storage, but it’s remarkable to see. I’ve seen plenty of these assembled. But it’s great to able to get up this close. And see the components.

Shane: So this is a Deperdussin trainer. It’s Australia’s oldest military aircraft.

Mat: Is that pre-first World War?

Shane: Yeah. Yeah. So this is 1912 and came out to Australia in 1913. We had a team of two people in England who are tasked with going around and buying aircraft for the Australian government. And this is one of the ones that they purchased. So Deperdussin was a Frenchman who had a silk importing business and he was mad keen on aviation. And this is just eight years after the Wright brothers. And he was buying patents and buying equipment and designing material himself. But anyway, he fell afoul of the authorities when he started to embezzle his clients’ money. He was imprisoned by the French government. And then, there was a massive court case. He was sentenced to five years in jail, but it was commuted because by that stage his patents and designs and things were being used in SPAD aircraft. And but he was a broken man by this stage and his wife had left him and he was bankrupt and disgraced and sadly he ended up committing suicide. But this aircraft though it came to Australia, was used down at Point Cook. I don’t think it ever really was terribly successful as a flying aircraft, but it was used then as a taxi trainer. But then by 1917 was well and truly obsolete.

Mat: And rudimentary is the word that is applicable to this aircraft. Again, check the photos on the Facebook page because these are very basic piece of flying kit.

Shane: The wings didn’t have ailerons they just used wing warp technology where you pull the lever and the whole wing kind of flexed and the whole thing’s just wire.

Mat: Wires and pulleys and timber.

Shane: Lots of timber. This is a quite a significant aircraft. We’re looking at a bare metal aluminium fuselage. It looks like a passenger aircraft. It’s got windows on the side and it’s a Japanese Hickory twin engine aircraft and this one was used to transport Lieutenant General Barber, the commander of Japanese forces on Borneo to his surrender at Sandakan. And when it came in, the aircraft was painted in a sort of Japanese squiggle green squiggle camouflage, and the big Japanese national marking the hinomaru the red meatballs as it was sometimes called was painted over with a big white cross and that was the international recognized way that the Japanese aircraft had to surrender. And it came in, we photographed it on the ground and the crew all came out and were photographed Lieutenant General Barber was photographed coming out of the aircraft.

Anyway, subsequently he was indicted for his part in the Sandakan death March and was executed the next year. But the aircraft, we don’t know what happened to the rest of it. We’ve only got the fuselage, but it ended up at Fairbairn a RAAF base on the children’s playground there. And unfortunately it had really bad asbestos, friable asbestos inside. And we’ve only just this year removed all of that and made it safe. When we were doing the asbestos removal and we had a private sector company do that for us, they found inside a Colt peacemaker cap gun and buttons and all sorts of 1950’s ephemera. Which I think it actually would make quite an interesting little display in itself. And as far as we know, I’ve heard that there is one in Beijing, a fuselage about the same standard. I’ve never seen the photographs of it, but a Hickory was found in a Japanese Lake about four or five years ago, virtually intact. And they made a really hashed abortive attempt to drag it up with cables and things and just cut the aircraft in part and just destroyed basically what they had. So this is very rare I think.

So this is a Bell, SU helicopter similar to the type that people have seen on their screens, watching M.A.S.H a little bubble helicopter that actually, this is a Vietnam era one. And this one was involved in a mine incident in 1967, 5-RAR, Royal Australian Regiment, was involved in an operation in South Vietnam. And there armored personnel carriers. One of them hit what we would now call an IED, Improvised Explosive Device. And it looks like it was American dropped airborne munitions that had been found didn’t go off. And the Viet Cong had booby trapped. It, one of these other personnel carriers, either hit it or it was command detonated. And you had a number of deaths in the APC. And then the other armored personnel carriers went into a Harbor around this APC were treating the wounded and then they triggered a landmine ambush.

So the Viet Cong had very carefully seeded the whole area with these M16 Jumping Jack mines. And so the casualty toll just went through the roof. And it was just pretty chaotic and help was called. And this particular aircraft was nearby and Michael Campbell flew in repeatedly over the course of the day. Very rough terrain, the possibility for a Viet Cong attack, exposed landmines; the risk of sympathetic detonation was profound. And anyway he rescued many of the wounded and took them back to a caring station nearby. And one the distinguished flying cross has resolved. So I look at this aircraft as epitomizing what the War Memorial should be doing preserving something that’s really quite significant and action involved casualties, courage. And it’s also used by then modern soldiers from 5-RAR, young guys, 20 years old or whatever. We can tell them a bit about their regimental history with this and I’d like to think that they can take a bit of pride in this object as well.

Mat: Absolutely. I love that there’s both sides of the story. There’s representation. There’s various aircraft that are representative of chapters of military history. There’s items that are representative, but then we’ve got something like this that has in itself has a story to tell. I love what the War Memorial is doing with these artifacts,

Shane: The German NZ anti-aircraft missile.

Mat: Tell me about that.

Shane: So, Oh, okay. Well this is a really interesting piece of technology for a number of reasons. A bit like the V-2 rocket. It was the forerunner to modern anti-missiles or ground to air launch missiles. What we’re looking at is a wooden fuselage which has been made from spruce timber cooping together a bit like a barrel and it’s a very rudimentary structure, very squat fat thing. And around the perimeter of the object are these big long two meter long, metal canisters, which are, solid fuel boosters. The idea is that, this was designed right at the end of the Second World War.

Germany’s basically losing the war. It’s getting hammered day and night. Our RAAF and USAF aircraft are flying over Germany, dropping 3000 tons a day on Germany and they are desperate for some sort of means of combating those aircraft. And of course Germany bizarrely had all these fantastic aerospace technicians and they really were at the pinnacle aircraft technology and this is one of the results of their technology. It’s a liquid fueled rocket but it’s taken off the Launchpad by solid fuel boosters. So if you remember the way the space shuttle used to take off it was powered up into space by the solid fuel boosters that would then detonate and fall back and be collected again.

This is the same, so takes off the launch pad with these solid fuel boosters. Five seconds later, explosive bolts detonate, they fall off and then the interior engine kicks in and liquid fueled and takes it up into the bomber stream. Now once it’s near the American and British and Australian aircraft, an infrared homing system would kick in and you then detonate in the bomber stream. There’s only two like it in the world, this one. And there’s one at RAF Cosford in England which is slightly different. So it’s captured, brought back to Australia, studied and you can really see the bloodhound anti-aircraft missile that was used by the British and Australians in the 1950s and ’60’s this is the ancestor to that. Pretty much.

Mat: The thing that I always find fascinating Shane, about the Nazi technology especially like this is, it was really undefined. It was the crazy idea. They had the concept right. They had the idea that we could fire a missile instead of having to send planes up, shoot down enemy aircraft, we can fire missiles up. So they had the concepts were well ahead of their time, but they just didn’t have the technology to keep up with it. So this was a like a strange bridging technology between an incredible and accurate concept, but the technology of the day. But so I love seeing things like this. The jet aircraft, the ME-262 the V-2 rocket that we’ve seen. They had the future concept correct. But they just didn’t quite have the technology. And so they made the best they could of it and they came up with absolutely crazy things like this. It’s extraordinary. What a wonderful example.

Shane: We know that this was successfully launched about 60 times or so. But as far as we know, it was never operationally fired. It’s wearing at the moment quite a spurious paint scheme. This dates from probably the early 1960’s and one day we will probably excavate this and try and go back to the original paint scheme which might be underneath this. It’s one of the first guided missiles, I guess you could say. It’s a German device first used in September, 1943. It’s got underneath and so it’s very much like a model airplane in that you could guide it by remote control from an aircraft. And underneath there’s a canister containing two fuel sources that when combined produce massive propulsive thrust to Henschel, HS293 and first used in the Bay of Biscay against British ships.

And then subsequently used against ships off Anzio and Salerno and that whole Mediterranean Bay Biscay area. It was then used aircraft trying to attack the invasion flotillas off Normandy carried these unsuccessfully as it turns out, because by that stage, six months later, we already had sufficient capability for jamming the radio transmissions. The scientists who develop this again picked up in operation paperclip taken, shipped over to America and you’d see the Sidewinder missiles the same people who designed those were involved in this. And indeed, if you look at our helicopter collection, most of our helicopters many of them are powered by Lycoming engines, which were designed by a man called Anselm Franz, who was the guy who was responsible in large part for the ME-262 engines.

Mat: Oh, the hook.

Shane: Yeah. Tannerberg. So this one, this is a C-130H, this flew a number of really interesting episodes where they were at the early stages of developing night vision technology. So there was a coup in Cambodia. This aircraft had to fly into Phnom Penh and there was a hold up for some reason more refugees have to get out and really bad monsoonal thunderstorm and ahead the early stages of this night vision technology, but they weren’t fully functional. And this aircraft flew in under terrible conditions and into Phnom Penh and picked up an enormous number of refugees and took off and then later on in 2004, it was involved in an episode involving the 82nd airborne, where they dropped a number of 82nd airborne troops.

They landed to drop them and a Humvee left and collected part of the lounge room at the back of the aircraft. And the aircraft’s on the ground there’s firing nearby. They’ve got to get back and out. They had to fly very low and slow and with basically gaffer tape rig on the back. Really, really dicey situation. So this one flew extensively in Afghanistan. And we’re only ever going to get this much of the aircraft. We’ve got the nose, but only the forward part of the fuselage, the rear part is being used by the RAF currently as a load master training apparatus. The reason we’re not getting the whole aircraft is because the C-130H is being preserved at the Point Cook, Royal Air Force museum. And so we see this museum or the Memorial as part of a collection as part of a distributed national collection where there’s stuff all around Australia. If someone else has something big that is costing the government money to preserve, then we don’t necessarily need to have it unless it’s super significant.

We’ve got Gloster Meteor. The front part of that is on display in the galleries. But this is a first generation jet fighter, the first operational jet fighter that the allies had. Powered by Rolls-Royce Derwent engines. We’ve got the wings taken off and everything, but its silver and it’s sort of very 1950s, late ’40’s, and ‘50’s of itself. This particular one is a Gloucester, Meteor Mark eight. And so service in Korea. And as far as we know took part in a number of actual combats against Russian MIG fighters which is lucky because we were standing right next to a MIG 15 part of it. We’ve got the whole aircraft, but again, it’s disassembled for space reasons but this is a second generation jet fighter that the Russians fielded in late 1950 and based on a German design that they captured the plans for.

And this was when it first appeared over the conflict area and Korea was more than a match for the Gloster Meteor but in a very short space of time, the Americans feel that their F-86 Sabre and, and I think our American air crews were by this stage, a lot more experienced at jet combat fighting. And were more than a match for the MIG pilots. But this one is a Russian produced MIG of the era. We don’t know the exact history of whether it actually took part in combat in Korea, but it’s pretty much a type example. But you could see all the Cyrillic stencils in one model on it.

Mat: Brilliant. So good. Thank you so much.

Shane: You’re welcome.

Mat: Fantastic. Absolutely loved it.

Share on facebook
Share on Facebook
Share on twitter
Share on Twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on LinkedIn

Sign up for exclusive content!