Historic RAAF boat to be restored

The Royal Australian Air Force has been gifted the only remaining World War II RAAF rescue launch for the Air Force Heritage Collection.

CAPTION: Former Royal Australian Air Force search and rescue boat O2-06 is pulled from the water at Lakes Entrance in Victoria for transport to an Air Force History and Heritage Branch facility in Spotswood, Melbourne. Photo by Flight Lieutenant Christopher Moon.

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 the Royal Australian Air Force.

The restoration of boat O2-06 will be supported by royalties totalling more than $136,000 from Air Force Centenary licenced 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.

The Royal Australian 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.

CAPTION: Royal Australian Air Force senior curator David Gardner from the History & Heritage Branch stands in front of former Royal Australian Air Force search and rescue boat 02-06. Photo by Flight Lieutenant Christopher Moon.

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 31 January 1993.

CAPTION: Previous owners of the Royal Australian Air Force search and rescue boat O2-06, Howard “Harry” Bowman and Karen Letch, in front of the boat they’ve donated to the Air Force Heritage Collection.

O2-06 was declared for disposal in 1954 and operated on the Maribyrnong River, changing hands twice before Mr Bowman purchasing it in Melbourne in 1986.

When Mr Bowman realised 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 organisation that would restore it to its former glory and display it for future generations.

Air Force 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.





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