australian aviation logo

RAAF painting shows historic Wirraway moment

written by Adam Thorn | December 18, 2023

Garry Cooper and Wing Commander Steven Duffy unveiled the painting at RAAF Base Williamtown. (Defence, LAC Kurt Lewis)

The RAAF has unveiled a painting at Williamtown depicting the moment a Wirraway used tracer fire during the Battle of Wau in New Guinea.

The moment is historic because it is thought to be the first example of forward air control (FAC[A]) in military history.

Forward air control involves guiding aircraft to attack the enemy when friendly forces are nearby.

On February 3, 1943, the Wirraway used tracer fire to direct two 30 Squadron Beaufighters – as well as ground mortar fire – onto Japanese positions.

The painting commemorating the incident’s 80th anniversary was painted by UK-based artist Ivan Berryman and unveiled at 4 Squadron headquarters in November.


During the ceremony, Garry Cooper, an ex-RAAF pilot who flew Cessna O-1 Bird Dog aircraft during the Vietnam War, shared his experiences.

Executive Officer 4 Squadron, Squadron Leader Mike Keaney, said it was an honour to have Cooper present for the unveiling.

“Mr Cooper has a rich aviation background, and hearing a first-hand account of his experience as a FAC(A) pilot in a combat environment was invaluable to members of the squadron and very appropriate for the occasion,” he said.

Squadron Leader Keaney said significant research was conducted to ensure the painting was as historically correct as possible.

“Accurate details were gathered on tail numbers, markings, paint schemes, tropical jungle settings and even clouds,” he said.

“Current airborne FAC(A) practitioner input also went into the positioning of the aircraft for authentic control considerations.”

Commanding Officer 4 Squadron Wing Commander Steven Duffy said the painting portrayed the importance of the action to the battle as well as the broader conflict.

“The painting depicts the first recorded action from the air that was coordinated with friendly troops in close contact with the enemy,” Wing Commander Duffy said.

“During the Second World War, 4 Squadron Wirraway aircraft were instrumental in cooperating with the Army in an observation role during the New Guinea campaign in the Pacific theatre.”

The squadron, known as the ‘Home of the Controller’, maintains the FAC(A) capabilities for the ADF, both in training and, if required, combat environments.

You need to be a member to post comments. Become a member today!

You don't have credit card details available. You will be redirected to update payment method page. Click OK to continue.