NO 3 AIRFIELD CONSTRUCTION SQUADRON HISTORICAL BACKGROUND
1: No.3 Works Maintenance Unit formed at Darwin on the 25th May 1942, by taking over personnel from No.1 Mobile Works Squadron in North Western Area to the strength of 2 Officers and 198 other ranks.
2: 0n 15 December 1944, US and Allied forces landed on the beachheads of Mindoro Island, south of Luzon in the Philippines It was the most daring of General Macarthur's tactical maneuvers to that date and the bestkept secret of any Pacific operation. As the island had only ever been referred to by its code name of `Breau.
Among the thousands of troops involved in the invasion was a group of 600 Australians led by Squadron Leader Alan Douglas Bouch. Officially they were known as the Third Airfield Construction Squadron, RAAF but everyone called them 'Ali Baba and His Forty Thieves' a nickname they had earned in Darwin in 1942 when Bouch and forty others were issued with halfadozen trucks and as many shovels, and assigned to the maintenance of airfields and military bases in, Australia's North West. In order to carry out their repairs, often done while under attack from Japanese air raids, they were forced to beg, borrow or steal whatever building supplies an machinery they could find. Bouch, a civil engineer with the Public Works Department in Sydney before the war, was Mentioned in Dispatches for his services in Darwin and promoted to the rank of Squadron Leader.
3: After almost two years of maintenance duties in the Northern Territory.
This was the period the Japanese bombers concentrated their attention on the. Northern Territory. The Unit was chiefly employed on maintenance works on the strips, building new taxiways and the sonde meteorology station at Darwin, and other facilities for the Royal Australian Air Force at Darwin, Coomalie, Daly Waters Livingstone, Wyndham, Strauss, Fenton, McDonald, Bathurst, Island, Hughes, Batchelor, Pell and Groote Eylandt.
4: On the 15th January 1943, this Unit became known as No.3.Mobile Works Squadron. It devoted its strength to widening and lengthening the various strips and building new taxiways, and erected the radio sonde meteorology station at Darwin
5: In March 1944, the squadron was withdrawn to Melbourne to recuperate and reequip itself after reforming at Ransford it moved to Sydney.
6: In July 1944, the Unit became known as No 3 AIRFIELD CONSTRUCTION SQUADRON. There, Ali Baba's crew was enlarged to a company of 600 men that embarked on the Catherine L Bates and the Van Der Lyn sailing from Sydney on the 25 July for the island of Leyte in the Philippines. Despite being attacked en route by enemy torpedo bombers, Bouch and his men arrived safely at their destination Atipe in August 1944, without suffering a single casualty, and established its camp at Persecution.
7: Within a short period it was reloading its equipment for the movement known as Interlude, which took them to Morotai where the Squadron worked on Wama Strip and Pitoe taxiway.
8: In November 1944 the Unit arrived at Leyte, Philippine Island
Where they were awaiting orders to proceed with the Americans on the invasion of Mindoro.
9: Bouch and many others contracted schistosomiasis, a debilitating tropical disease. Weakened and exhausted, they left Leyte on 10 December 1944, to join the invasion convoy, the only Australians besides one wireless unit to participate in the Pacific war zone north of Borneo.
10: Less than a week later, No. 3 Airfield Construction Squadron landed with the first wave of American infantry on the Mindoro beachhead, losing the squadron's only fatality of the campaign, L.A.C. W.E. Barnham killed by a Japanese suicide plane, which attempted to crash dive into the open door of the LST. The following morning Ali Baba and his men began work on their immediate and nearimpossible task. With the 1874th U.S Engineer Battalion constructing the original runway and dispersals at Hill Field Mindoro Philippines. Macarthur's planned assault on Manila depended on an aerodrome being built in five days. The Australians, many of whom were still suffering from schistosomiasis, began to cut through the virgin jungle.
11: They finished the aerodrome on the night of 19 December twenty-four hours ahead of schedule. By the following afternoon, ninety Allied bombers and fifty fighter planes had landed on the strip, immediately boosting the morale of the invasion force. During the next few months its activities were confined to Hilldrome and Sanjose Strip near the Bugsanga River.
12: On 22nd December 1944 LST 460 was lost. This carried a detachment under the command of Flt. Lt. O'Brien.
13: Mindoro was subjected to incessant air attacks and was the target for 336) raids in one hectic fortnight alone. But the most dangerous hours were those of the night of 26 December, when a Japanese naval force of two battleships, two cruisers, and seven destroyers bombarded the Allied installations ashore and attempted several troop landings, but American forces found little difficulty in mopping them up. The fierce battle, which ensued, lit up the sky with searchlights, anti-aircraft fire, bursting star shells, and phosphorous bombs. Throughout this mayhem a contingent of 3ACS men continued to work on a second aerodrome while the rest. Of the squadron, armed with machine guns and .303 rifles, manned a 2000 metre perimeter around the camp base for four kilometres inland or transported bombs and ammunition from the beachhead to Allied planes on the main strip.
14: By dawn, the enemy attack had been repelled at great cost to the Japanese. The naval bombardment commenced about 10 o'clock and lasted for two or three hours. Allied bombers badly damaged one battleship and one cruiser and sank three destroyers. From early until after midnight the strip was frequently under enemy aircraft fire as the Japanese sought to immobilize Allied planes, but that did not deter the squadron. Altogether, personnel of the squadron had six weeks of almost sleepless nights; so constant were enemy aircraft visits.
15: Not until after the American landings on Luzon did the Japanese relax the intensity of their attacks on the island, attacks that cost them heavily. Over the airfields area only, more than 100 of their aircraft were shot down.
16: In a letter to the Australian press, the US commander in charge of the engineering section of the Mindoro invasion, LieutenantColonel William J. Ellison, Jr. wrote in praise of the 3ACS: `It is with a feeling of gratitude that I submit the record of achievement of this outstanding unit ... Their efficiency, industry, and fortitude in the face of enemy attack was exemplary, and assured the successful completion of a key air-base on schedule'.
Ellison also officially recommended the squadron for the US Army's Meritorious Service Plaque. The wording of the citation is not exaggerated from the day the squadron landed on Luzon enemy aircraft were over the island 23 out of 24 hours every day, either bombing or strafing.
17: Unfortunately, this particular award was reserved for American units
only and the Australian squadron was not able to receive it.
18: Before departing from Mindoro on 19 June 1945, the SACS constructed two more airfields, maintained fifty kilometres of roadways, built hospitals and quartermaster stores, and planned and designed a sixty-metre suspension bridge for which they cemented the foundations.
19: In need of medical attention for the tropical disease he had caught at Leyte and was unable to shake off, Bouch left the squadron before its departure from Mindoro. The plane, which was to have taken him to Concord Hospital in Sydney, was forced down in the sea off Manus Island in the South West Pacific, where all hands were lucky to be rescued by an American destroyer.
20: In July 1945 the Squadron moved back to Morotai Island to prepare for Operation Oboe 2, which was a thrust at Balikpapen. After landing at Balikpapen the Squadron encamped at Manggar Besar, the work allotted was road maintenance between the two Manggar Rivers.
21: AFTER PEACE WAS DECLARED THE SQUADRON DISBANDED IN THE FIELD NOVEMBER 1945.
22: Squadron Leader Bouch was awarded a Distinguished Service Order after demobilization, one of only a handful of nonflying RAAF personnel to receive this distinction.
Alan Bouch lived in Adelaide and was visited by the surviving exmembers of his squadron, until his death age 92. All of them Australian heroes of the Pacific war-zone whom he led to renown as 'Ali Baba and His Forty Thieves.'
This article was compiled by Tom Wilson from various newspaper clippings, Wings magazine and letters, and in no way is claimed to depict the correct chronology order of the events, or to be an official historical record of NO 3 Airfield Construction Squadron.