Air Force has been gifted the only remaining World War II RAAF rescue launch for the Air Force Heritage Collection.
The boat was transported in February by road from Lakes Entrance, Victoria, to the History and Heritage facility at Spotswood, Victoria.
Senior Air Force Curator, History and Heritage – Air Force, David Gardner, accepted the donation from its owner, Howard “Harry” Bowman, on behalf of Air Force.
The restoration of boat O2-06 will be supported by royalties totaling more than $136,000 from Air Force Centenary licensed merchandise sales.
O2-06 is one of 15 O2-class vessels constructed for the RAAF in 1941 at Fishermans Bend in Melbourne by Thornycroft/Halversen, and was in service as a search and rescue (SAR) boat during WWII in the Gippsland Lakes, East Sale and Point Cook.
Air Force operated boats from 1921 to 1993, and the fleet of various classes of boats peaked at 1300 during WWII: 600 powered craft and 700 unpowered.
After the cessation of hostilities in the Pacific region, the RAAF commenced disposing of its unwanted boats. A revision of the RAAF Small Marine Craft Program led to the retention of only 107 boats to provide support in the areas of supply, torpedo recovery, air-sea rescue and flying boat service at eight RAAF bases. These bases gradually diminished in number until only three marine sections remained at Townsville, Williamtown and Point Cook for SAR duties. These three sections remained operational until January 31, 1993.
O2-06 was declared for disposal in 1954 and operated on the Maribyrnong River, changing hands twice prior to Mr Bowman purchasing it in Melbourne in 1986.
When Mr Bowman realized that he had acquired a piece of RAAF wartime history, he motored the boat across Port Phillip Bay to Mordialloc Creek, loaded it on a boat trailer and transported it to Sale.
During the past 36 years, it has been a regular sight on the waterways between Sale and Lakes Entrance, and has generated a great deal of interest from locals and holidaymakers. Mr Bowman maintained the boat as originally as possible, marginally converting it internally into a comfortable family cruiser without detracting from its unique military past. He had always wished, when he decided to take life easier, to donate the boat to an appropriate organization that would restore it to its former glory and display it for future generations.
History and Heritage Branch will restore the boat to its WWII livery before putting it on permanent display at the RAAF Museum at Point Cook.