RAAF Supermarine Walrus 11 HD874 Snow Goose –

The Heard Island Walrus

During 1947-48, Australia’s first post World War II Antarctic expedition was to Heard Island led by RAAF Group Captain Stuart Alexander Caird Campbell.  Heard Island and the nearby McDonald Islands are barren, volcanic sub-Antarctic islands, located in the Southern Ocean about 4,000 kilometres south-west of the Australian mainland and over three quarters of the way from Fremantle to the Australian base at Mawson in Antarctica.  The 1947 expedition was to establish a weather station, take cosmic ray measurements and undertake geological and topographic surveys.  The expedition arrived at Heard Island on 11 December 1947 on the Canadian built 2,300 ton His Majesty’s Australian Landing Ship-Tank 3501 (later renamed HMAS Labuan) under Lt Commander George Manly Dixon DSC RANVR. 

At Heard Island on 27 December 1947, Group Captain Campbell made a declaration to take occupation of Heard Island and the McDonald Islands for His Majesty’s government of the Commonwealth of Australia.

Map of Heard Island showing Atlas Cove and Rayner Rib

Location Map for Heard Island

Walrus aircraft on 1947-48 Heard Island expedition

An RAAF Supermarine Walrus 11 HD874 Snow Goose (a 1930s design amphibious biplane powered by a single 775 horse power Bristol Pegasus engine) was to be engaged in aerial photography and reconnaissance flights over Heard Island.  The aircraft arrived at Heard Island with the expedition on 11 December 1947 on board HMALST 3501.

RAAF Antarctic Flight personnel

The 1947-48 RAAF Antarctic Flight personnel were Squadron Leader RHS Gray, Petty Officer TW Lidell (RAN), Corporal RD Jones, Leading Aircraftsman B Meek and Leading Aircraftsman CE Short.  Also part of the RAAF Flight was the dedicated Walrus aircrew namely: pilot Flight Lieutenant Malcolm Donald Smith (1921-1948), camera operator Warrant Officer P Swan and wireless operator Warrant Officer George Charles Dunlop.  There was also a civilian camera operator: David Eastman. 

Atlas Cove Heard Island December 1947 showing Walrus HD874 and HMALST 3501-an ANARE image

1947 Flight at Heard Island-features named

The Walrus aircraft carried out one reconnaissance flight of one and half hours duration on 13 December 1947.  The flight went over Mawson Peak on Big Ben that was found to be 2,000 feet higher than charted.  Also Winston Lagoon was discovered by Flight Lieutenant Smith as he made that first and only flight.  Winston Lagoon is enclosed by rock, ice and moraine (glacial debris) on the south west coast of Heard Island.  Winston Glacier takes its name from Winston Lagoon into which the glacier flows.  Malcolm Smith’s wife was named Winston so it appears that both features may have been named for her. 

Rayner Rib a narrow rock ridge to the south of Ross Bluff on the Winston Glacier was later named for helicopter engineer Roy Rayner (1930-1981) for his contribution to the success of the 1980 National Mapping expedition to Heard Island.

Loss of the Walrus

On 21 December 1947, when tied down at Atlas Cove during a hurricane, The Walrus was blown over and wrecked.  Some parts and the equipment were salvaged but the wreckage was left at Atlas Cove until 1980.

Walrus recovery

The wreckage of the Walrus which had a non-standard metal hull was eventually brought back to Australia in 1980 by a National Mapping survey expedition led by Con Veenstra that visited Heard Island using the Department of Transport’s lighthouse supply vessel MV Cape Pillar under the command of Captain Gordon Maxwell.  The expedition had a Hughes 500 369D helicopter that was maintained by engineer Roy Rayner and flown by pilot Des Ross.  Both of these men assisted during the recovery of the Walrus.  The wreckage was loaded on to the Cape Pillar by the ship’s LARC vehicle (a five ton aluminium lighter amphibious resupply cargo) that was equipped with a small crane. 

Wreckage of Walrus at Atlas Cove March 1980

Recovering Walrus from Atlas Cove Heard Island March 1980 (more photos of the recovery can be found in this album and this album)

MV Cape Pillar on the 1980 Heard Island Expedition

The Lossiemouth connection

In 1950, as one of the initial group of Royal Australian Navy Airmen, Roy Rainer trained at HMS Fulmar, a Royal Navy Air Station at Lossiemouth on the North Sea coast of Scotland.  Here Roy met Mary a young Royal Navy Wren who he later married.  At Lossiemouth Mary was an Air Radar Mechanic who serviced radar sets in aircraft.  One of the aircraft Mary worked on was a Supermarine Walrus that was used for air-sea rescue work.

Walrus restoration

Between 1993 and 2002, the Walrus was restored and re-painted in its 1947 expedition colour of bright yellow by the Royal Australian Air Force.  It is now held by the museum at RAAF Base Williams at Point Cook, Victoria. 

The restored Walrus at Point Cook 2002 – an RAAF image

Death of Malcolm Smith

Flt Lt Smith was tragically killed in the crash of Catalina flying boat A24-381 after dark on 28 September 1948.  The Catalina left the Rathmines base to carry out night navigation exercises with HMAS Australia in the Tasman Sea.  The Catalina was leaking fuel into its hull and Flt Lt Smith attempted an emergency alighting on to the lagoon on the north-east side of Lord Howe Island but the aircraft crashed into a mountainside at about 7:00 pm.  The Catalina rolled down the terrain and burst into flames.  The flying boat had a crew of nine; sadly there were only two survivors (Flt Lt R Bradly and Warrant Officer Lea).  They were rescued by islanders who tended their injuries until another Catalina with a rescue crew arrived the next day.  Malcolm Donald Smith was just 27 years old when he was killed.  He was survived by his wife Winston and their three young children, a son and twin daughters.

Coincidence on the Coral Princess

By one of life's coincidences, in 2011 retired National Mapping surveyor John Manning (who was senior surveyor on the 1980 Heard Island expedition that recovered the Walrus) together with his wife Beth, undertook a cruise in the waters of the Kimberley region of Western Australia onboard the 35 metre catamaran the Coral Princess. Other people on the cruise were unknown to each other at the commencement of the cruise. Malcolm Smith's twin daughters were also on that Kimberley cruise. One night over dinner John overheard the sisters mention the fatal 1948 crash of Catalina A24-381 on Lord Howe Island where their father was tragically killed. The sisters were fascinated to hear about the Nat Map recovery of the wreckage of the Walrus flying boat which their dad had flown in December 1947 on its only flight over Heard Island.

1980 Heard Island Expeditioners

Prepared by Laurie McLean September 2013