Gus Winckel

Willem Frederick August (Gus) Winckel (3 November 1912 – 17 August 2013) was a Dutch military officer and pilot who flew for the Royal Netherlands East Indies Air Force (ML-KNIL) in World War II. During the attack on Broome, Western Australia, on 3 March 1942, Winckel managed to land his plane full of refugees safely on the Broome airstrip just before the Japanese attack. He then dismounted the plane's machine gun and shot down one of the Japanese fighters, the only Allied "kill" during the attack.

Gus Winckel
Gus Winckel standing together with others..JPG
Gus Winckel (right) standing with a fellow No. 18 Squadron member
Nickname(s)Lucky Bill, Babyface Killer
Born(1912-11-03)3 November 1912
Muntok, Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia)
Died17 August 2013(2013-08-17) (aged 100)
Pukekohe, New Zealand
Service/branchMilitary Aviation of the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army
UnitNo. 18 (NEI) Squadron RAAF
Battles/warsWorld War II Politionele acties
AwardsBronze Cross with Honorable Mention
Bronze Lion

Shortly after the attack on Broome, Winckel was sent on a mission to Bandung, Java, to recover several officers from the Allied headquarters, which was under threat of being overrun. He served the remainder of the war with No. 18 (Netherlands East Indies) Squadron RAAF in Australia. After World War II, he fought in the Dutch Politionele acties.

Early lifeEdit

Winckel was born on 3 November 1912 in Muntok, Bangka Island, in what was then the Dutch East Indies.[1] On the island his parents ran a trading store in commodities such as rubber, tin and sugar. Winckel had an untroubled childhood and at age fifteen was sent back to the Netherlands to study at the nautical school in Delfzijl. He stayed with his grandparents while studying, and three years later became a seaman first class for the merchant marine. He specialised in navigation.[1] In 1931, when he was aged nineteen, Winckel started working as a quartermaster on the freighter Pallau, which sailed between the Netherlands and Java.[citation needed] After his work on the ship he went to the island of Borneo to work on oil rigs. By 1935 he returned to the Netherlands once more, this time to work for the Royal Netherlands Navy as a submarine torpedo calibrator.[citation needed]

During his time in the Navy, a friend showed him a flyer for a pilot position at the Netherlands East Indies Air Force, which was being formed at the time. Winckel joined the Air Force in 1935 and became a pilot at age 23. Between 1935 and 1942 he flew transports across the Dutch East Indies, mainly in Lockheed Lodestars.[1]

Attack on Broome and flight to JavaEdit

Drawing of Gus Winckel by R. Emerson Curtis

On 3 March 1942, Flight Lieutenant Winckel was transporting refugees from the Bandung, Dutch East Indies, to Perth, Western Australia, in his Lockheed Lodestar. He had just stopped on the Broome Airfield to refuel when Broome was attacked by nine Japanese Zero fighter planes on a long-distance raid from Kupang, Timor.[2] Winckel saw the danger of his plane being on the open airstrip and proceeded to dismount the Colt 7.99mm machine gun from the plane.[3] When one of the Zeros, piloted by Osamu Kudō, flew over at low altitude, Winckel managed to shoot him out of the air; the crash killed Kudō.[4] Winckel was thereby credited with the raid's only "kill" on the Allied side.[5] He also believed that he hit another Japanese plane that had to ditch in the sea.[2] The Japanese destroyed 22 Allied aircraft at Broome, many of them flying boats used for refugee transport and moored in Roebuck Bay. Winckel suffered severe burns to his hand during the attack, as he had to hold the machine-gun barrel to aim.[6] His hand was treated and Winckel flew medical evacuations for the next two days without rest.[7]

Meanwhile, Japanese forces were taking over Java and threatening the Allied headquarters at Bandung. On 5 March, the Allied command decided that several senior RAF and RAAF officers had to be evacuated from Bandung. Winckel was chosen as the pilot. He protested the decision, arguing that his lack of rest would hinder his chances of finding Bandung in the dark as he did not have any electronic aids.[7] However, Winckel was seen to be one of the most experienced pilots because of his terrain knowledge as a flight instructor at Bandung and his recent refugee flights. Another factor was that his Lodestar, although it had been damaged in the attack on Broome, was considered the most suitable plane for the evacuation mission.[4][8] Winckel flew to Java, where he managed to land his plane on a road lit by jeep headlights. He picked up fourteen passengers, refuelled the plane and successfully returned to Australia.[8]

Subsequent war serviceEdit

Following the attack on Broome and his evacuation mission, Winckel was sent to Moruya, New South Wales, where he joined No. 18 (Netherlands East Indies) Squadron RAAF, which had been formed on 4 April 1942.[9] From Moruya he patrolled the Eastern Australian shore. At the end of May 1942, a Japanese midget submarine attacked Sydney Harbour. Winckel and his fellow pilots were subsequently ordered to patrol for submarines. During a patrol on 5 June 1942, Winckel attacked what he believed was a Japanese submarine in his B-25 Mitchell bomber.[9] The perceived success was welcomed after the recent submarine attack and Winckel was personally congratulated by Australian Prime Minister John Curtin.[10] This was one of a large number of claimed successes against Japanese submarines during this period. However, postwar research indicates that no Japanese submarines were sunk off the Australian east coast during the war.[11] Winckel spent the rest of the war with No. 18 Squadron and served from MacDonald Airfield and Batchelor Airfield in Northern Australia as a pilot on operations, and as an instructor working in Canberra. During the war, he was nicknamed "Lucky Bill" by his colleagues and "Babyface Killer" by the Japanese.[6]

While a member of No. 18 Squadron, Winckel flew to the Dutch East Indies in late 1945 as part of an unauthorized "Recovery of Allied Prisoners of War and Internees" mission. Winckel was searching for his mother and sister but was unable to find them. Some time later another pilot flew over the Banjoe Biroe internment camp and saw the name 'NINI' written on the ground with flour. This was the name of Winckel's sister, to draw the attention of her brother, who she assumed was looking for her. Shortly afterwards, Winckel himself flew over the camp and dropped a letter to her, followed four days by a supply of food.[12]

Post-war lifeEdit

After the war, Winckel was sent back to Indonesia to fight in the Dutch Politionele acties.[10] Winckel had met his future wife Yvonne prior to World War II; they were married during the Dutch Politionele acties.[1] The couple fled Indonesia after the country achieved its independence, and returned to the Netherlands where Winckel became an Air Force test pilot.[citation needed]

The couple emigrated to New Zealand in 1951. Winckel gained his commercial pilot license there and joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force Reserve. He flew de Havilland Tiger Moths out of Wanganui for a time, but resigned as he considered the flying too dangerous owing to lax safety standards. The family moved to Nelson and Winckel found work in a flying school. He made his final flight in 1960. Afterwards he ran several businesses and worked as an engineer until 1977. He and his wife moved to Queensland, Australia, three years later. They returned to New Zealand in 2005 and settled down in Pukekohe.[1]

In 2009, a statue in Moruya was unveiled for Winckel and the other airmen that flew out of the airfield; Winckel and Member of Parliament Mike Kelly attended.[9] A street in Broome was also named after Winckel.[4] He died on 17 August 2013 after suffering complications of a broken hip caused by a fall six months earlier; he was survived by Yvonne and their three sons.[2]




  1. ^ a b c d e "Captain Gus Winckel DSO DFC". eLocal Community. 13 September 2013. Archived from the original on 21 January 2015. Retrieved 23 November 2014.
  2. ^ a b c Robert Mailer and Ben Collins (20 August 2013). "Broome war hero Gus Winckel dies aged 100". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 31 August 2013.
  3. ^ "History & Culture". Broome International Airport. Retrieved 31 August 2013.
  4. ^ a b c "Surprise Attack Broome – Broome 1942". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 23 April 2002. Retrieved 31 August 2013.
  5. ^ "Zero Hour & Carnot Bay". Western Australian Museum. Retrieved 31 August 2013.
  6. ^ a b Robert Portier (2 March 2012). "Gus Winckel, vergeten oorlogsheld" (in Dutch). Nederlandse Omroep Stichting. Retrieved 31 August 2013.
  7. ^ a b Hurst, 34
  8. ^ a b Hurst, 35
  9. ^ a b c "Lost and Found – Episode 35: Gus Winckel". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 9 October 2009. Retrieved 31 August 2013.
  10. ^ a b Hurst, 36
  11. ^ Stevens, David (2005). A Critical Vulnerability : The impact of the submarine threat on Australia’s maritime defence 1915-1954 (PDF). Canberra: Sea Power Centre – Australia. pp. 208–209. ISBN 0642296251.
  12. ^ Keith Brent (30 August 2002). "Air Power and Wars of National Liberation" (PDF). Aerospace Centre. p. 66. Retrieved 6 December 2014.
  13. ^ "Oorlogsheld Gus Winckel (100) overleden" (in Dutch). 20 August 2013. Retrieved 31 August 2013.
  14. ^ a b c d "Decorati" (in Dutch). 26 November 2020. Retrieved 26 November 2020.


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