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Dicing with Death: An Airman's Account of His Training and Operations Against Japan

  • Published: 8 June 2000
  • Author: Arthur Sandell
  • Price: NOT FOR SALE
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During the six years of World War II, thousands of Australian airmen-most of them barely on the threshold of adulthood-went dicing with death as almost a daily duty. Arthur Sandell was one such member of this distinguished company. He convinced pacifist, until the enormity of Hiltler's threat to civilised values bought a change in his thinking. Here, he gives an account of his enlistment, training and subsequent flying in the Royal Australian Air Force from the beginning of 1941 to early 1946.

Now in his eighties, the author has recreated for us some of his day-to-day experiences as a navigator in a squadron of remarkable versatile Catalina flying boats. The airmen of two squadrons of Catalina, despite the slow speed and minimal armament of their aircraft, played a crucial part in reporting the advance of Japanese forces towards Australia in the critical days of 1942, and slowed the enemy's progress by bombing most of the bases they established between northern New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

The author tells of operations, often 16 to 22 hours duration, of the techniques of precision navigation, frequently in appalling tropical weather, and of the excitement and fear when heavily defended enemy ships or installations were reached.

After 12 months of operations in 20 Squadron, the author was assigned to instructional duties, followed by a commission to investigate in America the use of a new ground facility for teaching astronomical navigation. He then returned to operational flying in 43 Squadron. By this time the role of the 'Black Cats' had become the laying of mines in the waterways used by the Japanese as far west as Sumatra and the China coast.

The book ends with a brief account of what became of one ordinary Australian after his flying days were over.