This article is about the World War II fighter aircraft. For the civilian aircraft, see Whitney Boomerang
The CAC Boomerang was a fighter aircraft designed and manufactured in Australia by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation between 1942 and 1945. Approved for production shortly following the Empire of Japan's entry into the Second World War, the Boomerang was rapidly designed as to meet the urgent demands for fighter aircraft to equip the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). The type holds the distinction of being the first combat aircraft to be both designed and constructed in Australia.
Different variants of the Boomerang were manufactured under a series of corresponding production contract numbers CA-12, CA-13, CA-14 and CA-19, the aircraft supplied under each subsequent contract would incorporate various modifications, typically aimed at improving the aircraft's performance. The effectiveness of the Boomerang has been contested, the aircraft proving to be slower than contemporary fighter aircraft and thus rarely engaging in aerial combat. During early wartime operations, the Boomerang was mainly dispatched to equip home-based squadrons, freeing up other fighters for use elsewhere overseas. In later service, the Boomerang would commonly be used for ground support duties, cooperating with Allied army units, in addition to secondary roles such as aerial reconnaissance and air sea rescue.
A No. 4 Squadron Boomerang and ground crew at Nadzab, New Guinea in October 1943
On 19 October 1942, CA-12 A46-6 (bu. no. 829) became the first Boomerang to reach a training/conversion unit, it was immediately put to use training pilots when it was transferred to No. 2 OTU, from 1 AD. In the training role, while generally being considered to be a success according to Rene, pilots without previous operational experience had difficulty transitioning from the Wirraway to the Boomerang due to its poor forward visibility, the reflector gun sight was subsequently relocated in order to improve pilot vision.
No. 83 Squadron became the first fighter unit to receive Boomerangs, when several were delivered to it – replacing Airacobras – at Strathpine Airfield, in Strathpine, Queensland, on 10 April 1943. A few weeks afterward, CA-12s were also received by a frontline air defence unit, No. 84 Squadron which was stationed on Horn Island Airfield, in Torres Strait. The third Boomerang fighter unit, No. 85 Squadron – like No. 83 Squadron – was performing home defence duties, at RAAF Guildford (known later as Perth Airport); the Boomerangs replaced the squadron's Buffaloes.
On 16 May 1943, the first encounter between the Boomerang while on aerial patrol duties and Japanese aircraft occurred; a pair of Boomerangs, flown by Flying Officer Johnstone and Sargeant Stammer, spotted three Mitsubishi G4M 'Betty' bombers and opened fire upon them at 250 yards, resulting in little apparent damage and the enemy's withdrawal. On the evening of 20 May 1943, Flight Lieutenant Roy Goon became the first Boomerang pilot to scramble on the Australian mainland against Japanese bombers. Goon, part of an No. 85 Squadron detachment at RAAF Learmonth, near Exmouth, Western Australia, undertaking air defence of the Allied naval base at Exmouth Gulf (codenamed "Potshot"), took off to intercept Japanese bombers. After Goon had sighted them, the bombers dropped their payloads wide of their target and left the area. The majority of standing patrols were uneventful.
Several Boomerangs of No. 5 Squadron at Piva Airfield
, Bougainville, January 1945
No. 84 Squadron had been deployed to a US Army Air Forces bomber base on Horn Island off the coast of Northern Australia in a measure to address Japanese air raids and the continuing shortage of fighters in this area, which were required for an intended small scale offensive in New Guinea. The squadron was only modestly successful in this role however. The Boomerang's low top speed and poor high altitude performance meant that No. 84 could drive off enemy attacks but rarely could get close enough to Japanese aircraft to bring their guns to bear. There were not many air raids in this area, and after using Boomerangs for eight months, No. 84 Squadron upgraded to the Kittyhawk. In addition to its air defence operations, No. 84 also provided cover for all shipping in the area during this time, including within 20 miles of Merauke, Papua Province.
While RAAF records show that the Boomerang was never recorded as having destroyed any enemy aircraft, the type proved to be more useful in its capacity as a light ground attack aircraft used by Army co-operation squadrons, often replacing the lightly armed Wirraway in this role. In this vital mission, the Boomerang directly contributed to the extensive ground war in the jungles of the South West Pacific theatre was often characterised by widely dispersed, small unit actions, which typically fought at close quarters and with uncertain front lines. In addition to strafing Japanese ground forces with cannon and machine gun fire, Boomerangs would often deploy smoke bombs to mark valuable targets for other units to attack. The aircraft also used for artillery spotting, aerial supply drops, tactical reconnaissance, and anti-malarial spraying.
The aircraft proved to be ideal in this ground attack role due to a number of qualities that it possessed. The Boomerang had the range to go wherever it was needed when it was based close to ground operations; had heavy armament; was agile and easy to fly, meaning that pilots could get close to ground targets, avoid ground fire and rough terrain; and featured extensive armour plating along with a wood and aluminium airframe that could withstand significant battle damage. Some of the aircraft were shot down, including two accidental "kills" by US forces, and many were damaged during accidents while landing, often because the Boomerang was prone to ground looping.
CAC Boomerang during assembly
No. 4 Squadron and No. 5 Squadron flew Boomerangs in New Guinea, the Solomon Islands Campaign and Borneo Campaign, also in the close support role, with marked success. Flying in pairs (one to observe the ground, the other to observe the air around them), their tasks included bombing, strafing, close infantry support and artillery spotting. When attacking larger enemy formations, Boomerangs often operated in conjunction with larger aircraft. In this role, the Boomerang would get in close to confirm the identity of the target and mark it with a 20 lb (9 kg) smoke bomb with the "cooperating" aircraft delivering the major ordnance from a safer distance. A partnership between No. 5 Squadron Boomerangs and Royal New Zealand Air Force Corsair fighter bombers during the Bougainville Campaign was said to be particularly effective.
On 14 August 1945, the wartime role of the Boomerang came to an end when the suspension of all offensive operations against land targets, except for direct support of Allied ground forces in contact with the enemy, was issued.
No. 8 Communications Unit operated a number of Boomerangs to assist with air sea rescue operations in New Guinea.
The sole CA-14A was used for research by No. 1 Aircraft Performance Unit RAAF, and was also seconded to the Bureau of Meteorology for a period after the war ended.