The No. 120 (Netherlands East Indies) Squadron RAAF was formed at RAAF base Fairbairn in Canberra on 10 December 1943. As a joint Australian-Dutch unit, the Dutch authorities provided all the squadron’s aircrew and aircraft while the RAAF provided its ground crew. This arrangement had been previously used for No. 18 (NEI) Squadron and the short-lived No. 119 (NEI) Squadron. It was originally intended that once formed, No. 120 (NEI) Squadron would be deployed to northern Australia and operate alongside No. 18 (NEI) Squadron. However, it was later decided to deploy the unit to Merauke on the south coast of New Guinea, which formed part of the pre-war Netherlands East Indies (NEI).
That month the Australian Army began to plan an offensive along New Guinea’s south coast using elements of Merauke Force. In keeping with this more active role Merauke Force Headquarters was renamed Headquarters 11th Brigade. The 2/9th Field Artillery Regiment had arrived at Merauke in March 1944.
Due to the limited Japanese presence in the region, their missions were limited to strafing attacks on Japanese positions as well attacks on small craft off the coast of New Guinea. It also provided ground support from MacArthur’s invasion of DNG. Several aircraft were lost during these operations. While the other RAAF units at Merauke were redeployed in late 1944, No. 120 (NEI) Squadron remained in town.
On 7 September 1944 the Squadron lost a C-47 belonging to NEI-AF transport squadron (VH-RDK) near Cairns (it flew into a mountain). They lost all crew (4), 7 fighter pilots of 120 Squadron on their way for R&R and a great number of RAAF personnel (including S/Ldr Dawson, RAAF-NEI liaison officer). Not until 1988 was the C-47 found in the rugged terrain near Cairns. I went to the ceremonial funeral the following year, as a reporter for Radio Veronica. Another interesting story evolved from here regarding one of the casualties Samuel Jacob and the White Australian Policy.
Following the end of the war, the squadron continued to fly surveillance and escort flights over northern New Guinea during September and October 1945. The Dutch wished to move No. 18 and No. 120 Squadrons to Java, however, and to facilitate this the RAAF element of the squadron was disbanded on 30 October 1945. The last RAAF personnel left the squadron in February 1946 and No. 120 Squadron was assigned to the Netherlands East Indies Air Force (NEIAF) on 20 June, thereby ending its relationship with the RAAF. The squadron retained its designation of No. 120 Squadron of the NEIF, and saw combat in the Indonesian National Revolution. It was disbanded on 1 March 1950 following the Dutch defeat. The unit was re-formed as 120 Squadron of the Royal Netherlands Air Force in 1961 as an air defence unit equipped with nuclear-tipped Nike-Hercules surface to air missiles and continued in this role until it was disbanded during 1983.
Late in the Second World War, Bundaberg was utilised by the Netherlands East Indies Air Force flying B-25 Mitchell bombers. The plan was to establish the 121 Netherlands East Indies Squadron RAAF, however this did not eventuate as the war ended before the squadron was officially formed.
Below are two pages from the magazine Kemajoran covering some of the history of the 120 Squadron. The main article on these pages is about the crash landing of a Catalina who – after the war (October 1945) – was delivering alcohol to the troops on the island of Biak, Dutch New Guinea. More information on that crash in the article of flight engineer Evert van Hummel.