Hans is now working on writing his autobiography and, from the stories I have heard over the years, it will be a great read and a very important record of a remarkable life.
Born and raised in Java in the then Dutch East Indies where his father was accounts manager for a shipping company, Hans begins this story at the very start of his flying career.
Hans de Vries, in his own words…
I started flying lessons just before my 17th birthday and got my ‘sport’ licence a month later on a Tiger Moth
At the start of the war in the Pacific, Pearl Harbour Dec 1941, I had just graduated a month earlier from High School and was hijacked into the Infantry.
The Army Staff found out that I had a flying licence, which I had obtained a year ago at the Naval Base in East Java, so I was transferred and given the rank of ‘Cadet Officer Flying’ with the then Royal Netherlands Naval Air Force.
In Feb ‘42 we escaped, by ship from the Dutch East Indies to Australia, landing in Fremantle. I was lucky as from the three ships that started out, two got torpedoed and only one made it to Australia.
The Netherlands Naval Air Force personnel were located at Lake Macquarie, NSW, where for two months we continued our flying training, on the water, and we were integrated with RAAF personnel and were issued RAAF Uniforms. We flew the Ryan (STM-S2?) on floats. The Ryan was a nice plane to fly and without the ‘slippers’ (floats) could do stunts.
In April ‘42 we, the Netherlands Naval Air Force contingent, were transferred to the USA as training facilities in Australia were very scarce and the RAAF cadets from other locations, were transferred for training to Canada.
In the USA, we reverted to our own Dutch Uniforms when off-duty and were trained by American Instructors at a number of different Bases. As a Unit we were integrated with the USA Air Force and known as the RNMFS (Royal Netherlands Military Flying School) and the Dutch Navy & Army Air Forces were combined in one unit.
In late 1943 I obtained my full military flying and navigator’s licenses. The additional Navigator’s license is compulsory for commissioned pilots. At the same time I received my commission as a Lieutenant jg (junior grade).
In early ’44 we picked up our B25 from the USA factory and flew to Australia, to the Amberley base near Brisbane.
Apart from a brief stint flying DC-47’s with the USA 21st Troop Carrier Squadron, flying wounded personnel from the New Guinea Campaign, I was transferred to Batchelor in the NT for Operational Duties. This involved mainly ‘Seek–and-Destroy’ shipping and low level attacks, although we also engaged ships of the Japanese Navy when in our range and had to dodge the Jap fighter cover.
During Operational time, I had a ‘mixed’ crew as it included RAAF personnel and we were known as RAAF No 18 Squadron in the North West Area of the RAAF Command Structure.
Upon the Japanese surrender the Combined Dutch Air Force Unit was disbanded and I was once again a Naval Officer and based in Bundaberg, QLD. During this time we used stripped B25’s to fly Red Cross supplies to Java in the Dutch East Indies.
I also used one of the flights to fly my family out of a POW camp in Java and settled them in Bundaberg. They were in Australia for two years before relocating to Holland. I met my future wife as a 17yr old in Bundaberg. After some months I was transferred to the Naval Base at Rose Bay in Sydney, where I finally received my discharge from active duties in May 1947 and settled in Australia.
I did fly a brief stint with the then equivalent of Ansett as a contract job, loaned out by the Netherlands Navy but except for a Geological flight I never have flown again myself. The geological flight was interesting as it was a twin-engined Beechcraft with a ‘V-tail’, as I remember. This was in the late ‘50’s while I was employed as a Geologist with Mount Isa Mines. Well, the pilot found out my flying experience and handed control to me. We were the only ones on-board. Coming in to land in Darwin, he said “you fly and land” while he did the radio work. So I landed, with a bit too much height initially, but it was as smooth landing and gave me an enormous boost of self-confidence.
From experience and not a few arguments with instructors early in the piece, I never felt comfortable with a ‘dead stick’ landing and I used to ‘fly’ the plane on to the landing, albeit with a near closed throttle but with my hand on it.
While in the States, in particular, we found out about the ‘attraction of the opposite sex’ of a foreign uniform. More than a few members of the RNMFS made lifelong friends. I still have my uniform and what’s more, it still fits, mostly. Just wish that I could use it again!!
My ‘End of WW2 celebration, VP-day’
I happened to be on a week’s break from Operational flying and was quartered at our off-duty base in Queanbeyan, ACT when word spread that the War was over; it was about 10 at night. My co-pilot and other friends had been out ‘on the town’ that night and on hearing the news broadcast on the Radio decided to involve me in their now heightened celebration status. Woken up from sleep and gauging their sobriety, I thought that it was a bad joke and rejected their invitation to join them on their booze track.
Next morning reality hit. An impromptu decision by the CO to an invitation of RAAF HQ to fly a 3-plane formation over the War memorial in Melbourne at 10 that morning had me and two other pilots getting ready. In effect we were the only ones at base who were stone-cold sober, having retired early the previous night.
So, three B25 Mitchells from the predominantly Dutch crewed No 18 RAAF Squadron were in the air at about 3000ft over the War Memorial in Melbourne at precisely 10 am. After a few passes we flew back to fly over Martin Place in Sydney, according to our ‘orders of the day’. I had the lead position at the time and was on a dare to fly under the ‘Bridge’. I peeled off and did just that before rejoining my flight position. It only took a few seconds as we passed low over the ‘Bridge’ while I dived under.
There is a sequel to this. Years later, when the old CO had long retired, he was questioned about this event and maintained that he would have known about it. To be fair, if my CO had thought that I would have told him what I had done, he hadn’t reckoned about my youthful exuberance and what CO’s should not be told.
Incidentally this escapade has been written up in a book published in 2001, titled “The Fourth Ally” by Doug Hurst, a retired RAAF staff officer
Hans de Vries
Hans had one more flying experience. In 2004 he was co-pilot to Kerry Skyring in Auster J5B VH-KAL on a flight from Hervey Bay Qld. to the Auster rally at Naracoorte SA and return. Kerry comments: "Every time I handed the controls to Hans the Auster seemed to fly faster and hold track better than it ever did for me. He truly has a great touch".