The Mirror News

Wartime sighting in Foster of Japanese plane recalled 70 years on

We have long-time Foster resident Claude Trenery and local historian Graeme Rogers to thank for reminding us of an interesting anniversary:

SEVENTY years ago, almost to the day, on or about February 20, 1942, an unmarked Japanese seaplane flew over Foster on its way to carry out reconnaissance work, possibly over the heavy industry at Yallourn.

The plane flew very low. Several people who are still alive today spotted it and say they could see the pilot.

At the time, the Volunteer Air Observers Corp (VAOC) had set up an observation post at what was then the golf club house (near where the tennis courts are in Pioneer Street, Foster). Local men Tony Wilson and Bob Mitchell were on duty at the observation post and reported the seaplane.

Later the same night Volunteer Defence Corps (VDC) soldiers Cyril Trenery and Charlie Steele were on all-night guard duty at ‘Bells Point,’ Walkerville South. They reported hearing diesel motors offshore in Waratah Bay, possibly coming from a submarine charging its batteries.

Apparently planes were sent from Sale and sank the submarine, but this has never been verified. Being wartime, all sorts of information was considered classified and kept from the public to this day.

What is known is that Japanese float planes carried out reconnaissance flights over Sydney and Melbourne during the war and later over Hobart and New Zealand.

There was a daring reconnaissance by a float plane over Sydney on February 7 and later over Melbourne on February 26, 1942. This plane was a Japanese Glen float plane, either launched by catapult over the bow of a submarine class 1-25 or I-15 or floated off when the submarine was submerging. Such submarines carried a watertight hangar on their decks, forward of the conning tower. The two-seater ‘Glen’ was able to be broken down into 12 components for storage in the hangar. Wings, tail-piece and floats were stowed in one compartment and the propeller and fuselage in another and the plane could be rapidly set up to fly in 12 to 30 minutes.

Many years later a Japanese pilot who had carried out wartime reconnaissance over Sydney and Melbourne visited Australia and said that he flew over the Latrobe Valley to take photos of the coal mines at Yallourn in preparation for a future planned bombing attack.

According to the ‘Australians at War’ website, the ‘Glen,’ once assembled on the deck of the submarine, was launched from a 20 metre inclined steel tracked catapult on the forward deck. Being very slow it was an easy target for Allied aircraft if spotted. Their recce flights (normally three to five hours’ duration) were usually carried out under the cover of darkness to avoid such an occurrence. The fuselage and upper wings’ surfaces of the ‘Glen’ were painted dark camouflage green while the underneath surfaces were painted dark grey. The sides of the fuselage featured a large red Rising Sun Japanese symbol. The ‘Glen’ was armed with a 7.7 mm machine gun mounted in the rear cockpit.

After completion of a patrol, the float plane landed alongside the submarine and was hoisted back on deck by means of a collapsible derrick, and dismantled. It took approximately seven minutes to secure deck gear before submerging.

It is hard to imagine what it would have felt like to have been in Foster and seen that plane 70 years ago. Claude Trenery often thinks about the event he lived so many years ago and recalls he found it near incredible at the time.

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