The Story of John Lerew DFC - a Hero of Rabaul 1942
At Rabaul in January 1942 Wing Commander John Lerew commanded 24 Squadron RAAF, equipped with four modified airliners and ten Wirraway training planes. His Wirraways lasted seven minutes against a Japanese air armada of 109 fighters and bombers.
The remaining air strength at Rabaul comprised two aircraft, and when he asked for modern fighters, Lerew was told that there were none - but he was to attack.
He then sent the Roman gladiator’s salute to HQ:
‘We who are about to die salute you.’
When ordered to leave Rabaul alone and hand over his men to be used as infantry in the hopeless sacrifice against the Japanese invasion force, Lerew ignored it and organised and led the successful escape of his men to New Guinea, saving them from certain death in Japanese captivity.
Back on bombing operations soon after, he led a volunteer strike against Japanese ships at Gasmata, but was shot down, and made a miraculous escape from his blazing Hudson, evaded Japanese searchers and returned to safety. Afterwards, Lerew commanded the biggest RAAF depot in Australia at Laverton, and in 1945 established the RAAF Directorate of Flying Safety.
In 1946 he joined the International Civil Aviation Organisation, the quiet achievers who made possible safe standardised international airline operations enjoyed around the world today.
This is John Lerew’s story, from joining the RAAF in 1932, through the pre-war years, the wartime expansion, his operational experiences and his post-war work to make civil aviation safe for all concerned.
40 personal photos, four maps.
Now available only from bookshops or as e-Book.