Nicholls, Peter James

Peter was born on the 16th January 1925 in Adelaide and was raised on a farm in the lower mid-north of South Australia. He joined the RAAF on the 27th February 1943 at 18 years of age, and after a posting on Avro Ansons at Sale in Victoria, he later flew Spitfires. He was posted to 79 Squadron.

It is not known exactly when Peter joined the Squadron, but we do know he was at Morotai. Before then, 79 Squadron had been actively involved in operations over New Britain, strafing enemy installations and escorting bombers. Operations were hampered by heavy rain, which played havoc with radio telecommunications.

On the 16th March 1944, the Squadron deployed to Momote, Los Negros. Here it strafed enemy positions on Manus and the adjoining islands, as well as targets on Pityilu Island. By the end of March 1944, the Squadron was attacking enemy installations, ships, barges, transport, and fuel dumps in the northwest Halmahera Island area. Armed reconnaissance missions were also carried out over Galela, Mita, Kaoe, Oba, Hiri, and Djailolo.

It changed to a mainly shipping escort role by the end of April, with the occupation of the Admiralty Islands by American forces. Operations were hampered by a lack of spare parts and only the untiring efforts of ground crews enabled operations to be undertaken. By May, the aircraft were becoming difficult to maintain, with only two available for operations, and flying hours were restricted to urgent operational work only. This situation lasted until late November 1944, when it was released from operations ahead of moving to Darwin to be re-equipped with more modern Mark VIII Spitfires.

79 Squadron arrived at Sattler Airfield on the 12th January 1945 and received its new aircraft shortly afterwards. Peter probably joined the Squadron when it began to move to Morotai in the Dutch East Indies on the 6th February where it became operational as part of No.80 Wing at the end of March. The Squadron conducted ground attack sorties against Japanese positions on nearby islands until the end of the war and also became responsible for Morotai’s air defence from the 28th May. Although no Japanese aircraft were encountered in this area, several Spitfires were shot down by anti-aircraft fire during ground attack sorties.

On the 30th July 1945, No. 80 Wing was disbanded and the squadron became the first flying unit assigned to the newly formed No.11 Group, which was responsible for garrison duties in much of Borneo and the eastern Dutch East Indies. 79 Squadron dropped leaflets on the scattered and isolated Japanese troops after Japan agreed to surrender on the 15th August. It returned to Australia in October 1945 and was formally disbanded at Oakey Airfieldon the 12th November that year. 

After the War, Peter resumed farming at Keith in South Australia. He married Peg and had four children; John, Ian, Geoff and Judy. From 1965 to 1998, Peter was active in gliding and achieved over 3,000 hours. His sons, John and Geoff, continue with this passion. Peter passed away on the 28th October 2005 aged 80 years.

The Spitfire Association.