D-Day veteran plane at Ballarat Airport

TODAY an Auster Taylorcraft MkV (mark five) occupies a hanger at Ballarat Airport. 

Seventy years ago, virtually to the day, it was directing a hailstorm of heavy artillery fire onto Field Marshall Rommel’s panzers in Normandy.

Friday marks the 70th anniversary of the Allies’ D-Day landings in France, the terrifying invasion of Adolf Hitler’s Fortress Europe which began the final chapter of World War II and ultimately the end of Nazi Germany.

Laurie Crimeen’s vintage high-wing monoplane was there, playing a small but not unimportant role in the invasion. 

Mr Crimeen, a private pilot from Ballarat, bought the plane in 2000. He said he was unaware of its history at the time. 

“It was an advertising plane for Pepsi Cola but it had a forced landing and that’s when we started finding out what it was,” Mr Crimeen said.

“An English airman, Mick Jennings, asked me about bringing it to the Avalon Airshow.

He went away to do some research on it and that’s when he came back with the information.

“After the accident, I was going to have it repainted in civilian colours but he suggested it be repainted in its original military colours.”

The aircraft’s military number of MS939 meant it had a complete flight log book detailing where it served in Belgium and France.

The log book showed it started its career with the Royal Air Force’s 182 training squadron before being transferred to 652 Army Air Corps squadron and then 662 squadron.

During that time it served as an observation aircraft directing artillery. 

The unarmed three-seater was powered by a 0290-3 Lycoming four-cylinder inline engine with 135 horsepower, with a maximum speed of about 100mph. 

By comparison, most enemy fighters of time had more than 1400 horsepower, a top speed of about 400mph and a battery of machine guns and cannon. 

“When they knew a fighter was coming, they went down near the trees,” Mr Crimeen explained.

 “The Messerschmitts couldn’t touch them but then they were in danger from small arms fire from the ground.” 

Mr Crimeen said, if the weather was clear on Friday, he might fly “MKV” around the Ballarat area as a bit of a personal tribute to the Allied servicemen who took part in the invasion.

The RAAF Association, Ballarat Branch, will commemorate the anniversary at its monthly meeting at Saxon House on Tuesday (tomorrow), starting at noon.

Former WREN (Women’s Royal English Navy) Margaret Wood, who was one of many women to assemble the landing craft used on D-Day will be one of the guests.

For further information, call 5339 2003.

gavin.mcgrath@fairfaxmedia.com.au

Laurie Crimeen and his Auster Taylorcraft MkV, which was on duty during D-Day.

Laurie Crimeen and his Auster Taylorcraft MkV, which was on duty during D-Day.

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