Potts, Keith Charles Marley

ATC  No.4 Flight, atc/n 38010
RAN, Lieutenant, s/n A35769
DOB: 13 March 1930
Place of Birth: Nedlands WA
Enlisted:  4 February 1948
Date of Death: 8 August 1956, age 26
Posting on Death: 808 Squadron, Obs
Roll of Honour: FAA Roll of Honour (Fleet Air Arm Association of Australia)
Cemetery: Lost at Sea

Keith Potts was the son of Ralph Marley Potts and Ivy Hilda Potts, of  14 Kitchener Street, Shenton Park, Western Australia. When he was 15 years old, Keith lost his father, Sgt Ralph Potts of 14 Squadron, Pearce, when he was hit by a Beam Transport bus on 16 August 1945.

A year later, on 20 August 1946, Keith joined ATC No.4 Flight, Leederville. This no doubt assisted his application to join the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Australian Navy. Keith enlisted on 4 February 1948, and began his basic training at Leeuwin, Fremantle. At the end of the four month training period he was selected for Observer training in the UK with three other trainees.

He was given further training on the converted passenger ship  HMAS Kanimbla, enroute to UK, where he was posted to various Royal Naval Air Stations, including RNAS Yeovilton (Heron); RNAS Lee on Solent (Daedelus); and RNAS St Merryn (Vulture), Cornwall.

Canberra Times 10Aug56

The Observer Training School was located at St Merryn in Cornwall, an RN WW2 airfield then devoted to 750 and 795 Squadrons employed in the training of Observers. The aircraft used then were Avro Ansons for Part 1 of the course, Fairey Barracudas for Part 2 and Firefly Mk 1 for Part 3. Potts was on RN Obs Course No 12 starting mid 1952 with colleagues Barry Lord, John Dudley and Roy Pryor. The course ran for 9 months when successful graduates were promoted to A/SBLT and sent to Northern Ireland for 3 months training in anti-submarine warfare.

On return to Australia, Keith eventually joined Firefly squadrons until he was selected with three others, B Eccleston, N Ralph and E Sandberg for night fighter training in the UK in 1954, this to be conducted at RAF Colerne near Bath on WW2 Brigand aircraft fitted with Air Intercept radar. The Course ran smoothly and on completion, the jet phase awaited at RAF Leeming in Yorkshire where they would join the RAN pilots. The aircraft for this course were twin engine Meteor NF11s also fitted with AI Mk 10.

On completion of the course 4-5 months later, the RAN crews joined the RAN flight at RNAS Yeovilton in Somerset to continue exercising radar air intercepts by day and night in Sea Venom  aircraft on loan from the RN. The flight would later become RAN No 808 Squadron and eventually be equipped with Sea Venom Mk 53 aircraft which were then being built at de Havilland factories in UK. 808 Squadron was commissioned in August 1955 in a joint ceremony  with RAN 816 and 817 Squadrons equipped with new Fairey Gannet ASW aircraft at RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall. All three squadrons were to join the new HMAS MELBOURNE early in the following year.

HMAS MELBOURNE  with the Squadrons embarked for passage only departed the UK in March 1956 and eventually discharged ground equipment and personnel while at anchor in Jervis Bay in May 1956. The new Gannet and Sea Venom aircraft went on to Sydney for unpacking, assembly and gradually the number built up to enable the Squadrons to reform. In August that year the three Squadrons again embarked in HMAS MELBOURNE for operational training at sea in Hervey Bay off Queensland.

At 0040 hrs on 8 August 1956 Keith and his pilot, Lt Barry Thompson were killed in Sea Venom WZ933 (RAN code N4-933). After a catapult launch, the aircraft veered to starboard and into the sea, just off Hervey Bay. Neither airman was recovered.

A funeral service was held aboard HMAS Melbourne near Hervey Bay on 8 August 1956. The ship hove to, and two crosses were delivered into the sea by the Padre, in a very moving ceremony.  The incident resulted in the Sea Venoms being grounded and offloaded, with the ship then proceeding to SEATO with Gannets for the remainder of the exercise.

Information compiled by Neil Ralph and Charles Page
Below:  Record of Service cards for Keith Potts

Below: Aircrew of 808 Squadron in 1955. Back row L to R: LEUTs P. Wyatt, D. Hilliard; LCDRs P. Seed (Senior Pilot), G. Jude (CO); LEUTs P. Thompson, A. Cordell, E. Wilson, G. Gratwick. Front Row, L to R: LEUTs R. McIver, S. Carmichael, K. Potts, N. Ralph, B. Brennan. Missing from the photo are LCDR G. Kable (SOBS) LEUTs C. Champ, E. Sandberg, G. Eccleston and SBLT A. Eccleston. Peter Wyatt tragically lost his life (together with CMDR George Brown the Senior Naval Officer UK) when their aircraft crashed in poor weather on departure from Yeovilton in January 1956. Thompson and Potts were both killed later that same year when their aircraft crashed into the sea off Queensland. Stanley Carmichael also lost his life in similar circumstances in 1959. (RAN image, via Jeff Chartier).

Below: A funeral service held aboard HMAS Melbourne for the late LEUT Potts(P) and Thompson(O), who lost their lives when Venom WZ933 crashed into the sea on launch, near Hervey Bay on 08Aug56. The ship hove to and two crosses were delivered into the sea.  Words and image provided by Kevin Duffey. 



Left and above. The passage of time makes it very hard to find any personal details of those we lost, so the letter to Slipstream is reproduced here in an effort to give such an insight.  It appeared in the October 2000 edition (Volume 11 No. 4) – Webmaster.