Biography of Wing Commander P Isaacson AM, DFC, AFC, DFM RAAF and research related to same, part of 156 (PFF) sqn with AG Lang and L Verdon-Roe



Biography of Wing Commander P Isaacson AM, DFC, AFC, DFM RAAF and research related to same, part of 156 (PFF) sqn with AG Lang and L Verdon-Roe


Peter Isaacson biography relating to him surviving two tours in Bomber Command and then to being asked take a Lancaster to Australia westabout and describing his journey. Continues with early life moving to Australia, being selected for RAAF aircrew reserve in 1940. After training in Canada he returned to England and after O.T.U went to 460 Squadron. After completing 29 operations and award of DFM he then volunteered for pathfinders on 156 Squadron and went on to complete 44 operations. Tells of meeting Alistair Lang and Lighton Verdon-Roe at RAF Warboys. Continues with details of operation to Berlin when they were hit by anti-aircraft fire and incendiaries from aircraft above and subsequent actions for which he was awarded and immediate DFC. Concludes with post war events and activities.


Temporal Coverage



Nine b/w photocopied sheets


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[underlined] Wing Cmdr Peter Isaacson, AM, DFC, AFC, DFM [/underlined]
lives in Melbourne, Australia, and is a highly decorated Royal Australian Air Force pilot who survived two tours in Bomber Command in Britain in World War II, the second one in a Pathfinder squadron. He and his Australian crew were then asked to fly a new Lancaster by themselves all the way to Australia, but for the first time ever, taking a westbound route across Canada, the USA, and [inserted] several [/inserted] island stops in the Pacific. After spending the rest of the war demonstrating this Lancaster all over Australia and New Zealand, Peter began his own publishing company [inserted] in Melbourne [/inserted] and by the time he retired in 1997 had become a legend in Australia in printing and publishing.
The idea for flying the Lancaster to Australia originated in R.A.A.F. Headquarters in London early in 1943, and Peter Isaacson had been selected as pilot as he was known personally to
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the Air Officer Commanding R.A.A.F. HQ. However, the C.O. of the Pathfinder Group, Air Commodore Don Bennett, was adamant at not releasing Peter until he had completed his tour, and so although told on February 16th 1943 he was to take this Lancaster to Sydney, Peter did not fly his last mission until the night of March 29th/30th.
Peter flight-tested his new Lancaster at Avro’s Woodford factory [inserted] early in May, and then flew it to Colerne to be fitted out for the long journey ahead. [/inserted] Then with his Australian crew, plus a new rear-gunner (to replace an Englishman) and a fitter to look after the Lancaster en route, they set off on May 21st to fly firstly to Prestwick, to refuel, and cross the North Atlantic. Then began an epic journey in the self-same mould of those pre-war intrepid trail-blazers to Australia – the difference being Peter was flying westbound (not eastbound) in order to avoid Japanese held territory in South-east Asia.
[deleted] As [/deleted] [inserted] Soon after [/inserted] the start, the auto-pilot failed to work and so Peter flew “Q for Queenie VI” all the way by hand, without having a co-pilot to assist him. They usually flew at night, and so they left Prestwick at 22.10 on May 22nd 1943, landing 15hrs 15 mins later at Dorval, Montreal. It was reminiscent of
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Alcock and Brown’s famous first Atlantic crossing – for dense icing cloud extended from sea level up to 19,000 ft. Peter flew at 19,000 ft for spells, but came down to 7,000 ft to relieve the crew having to be on oxygen at the higher levels. Navigation was not easy, but then Peter’s crew was a highly experienced Pathfinder team.
After Montreal, it was to Uplands (where Peter reminded the instructor who nearly failed him as a pilot that instructors could be wrong, too!) and Toronto where Canadian Lancasters were being made, and Peter’s Lancaster received a routine servicing. Lord Burghley (Britain’s Controller of Overseas Supplies) and Gp. Capt. Wincott (RAF Liaison Officer) joined them there, [inserted] to fly to Sydney [/inserted] plus an American pilot to help with radio transmissions across the northern USA to San Francisco.
It took 13 hrs across to California, then a 12 1/2 hr flight to Honolulu. Peter then took off for Canton Island and [inserted] immediately [/inserted] ran into an extremely violent tropical storm. The Lancaster was thrown about in the turbulence, and lightning danced all over the aircraft. All the radio aids burned out, and suddenly all four engines cut out. Peter glided
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the aircraft as slowly as possible, but they were right down to 3,000 ft over the Pacific before his Flight Engineer managed to start one engine, then gradually the rest. However, it took them another hour to get a radio working and a bearing to [inserted] get them to [/inserted] the nearest atoll with an airstrip – Palmyra
From there, Peter flew at 1,000 ft over the Pacific to avoid the storms, [inserted] stopping [/inserted] at Canton Island and Fiji, landing at last on Australian soil at Amberley R.A.A.F. station [inserted] near Brisbane [/inserted] and finally Sydney the same evening. They were met by “Ministers, Brass Hats, Press and speeches”, as Peter put it.
Peter and his crew then displayed “Q for Queenie” all over Australia and New Zealand for the next 16 months, giving short flights to almost everyone of note – from the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Governor General, Ministers, and V.I.Ps, to thousands of schoolchildren, (often 40 at a time) as well as everyone who bought A£ [deleted] 250 [/deleted] [inserted] 100 of [/inserted] War Bonds and wished to fly in the Lancaster.
Never before, or since, has a four-engined bomber “buzzed” so many cities, or “beaten up” so many schools, camps, R.A.A.F. stations, and isolated villages. What anoyed [sic] Peter, however, was that everywhere they landed, his crew always wanted
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a cup of tea before continuing!
[deleted] Finally [/deleted] [inserted] During this time [/inserted] Peter made his most legendary flight of all [inserted] on Oct 22nd 1943 [/inserted] – after “beating-up” parts of Sydney, he descended to 11 ft over the water and flew [inserted] eastbound [/inserted] [underlined] under [/underlined] Sydney Harbour Bridge (and was captured on film). It was a toss-up whether he was court-martialled – but instead he was awarded the Air Force Cross for the epic flight to Australia!
Peter Isaacson was born in London on July 31st 1920, his Australian father having come to England during the Great War as a soldier, and later married his English mother. Both parents had, however, been descended from Baltic and European origins.
The family moved back to Melbourne in 1926, and Peter attended Brighton Grammar School and Melbourne University, before leaving at 16 to start work for a newspaper group.
In mid-1940 he was selected for the R.A.A.F. Air Crew Reserve, and in December began a flying training course in Australia, finishing advanced pilot training in Canada at Uplands. From there it was to England, to 27 O.T.U. at Lichfield and then 460 Squadron (R.A.A.F.) near York.
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Peter had already flown two operations – the famous “1,000 bomber raids” – while at O.T.U., and with 460 Squadron and a mostly Australian crew, he went on to complete 29 in all.
After 22 he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal for “showing fine offensive spirit and great determination”, and commissioned as a Pilot Officer.
Peter then volunteered for the Pathfinders, and in 156 Squadron went on to complete 44 operations before the flight back to Australia. When he joined the squadron at Warboys in January 1943, he helped convert two of their pilots onto Lancasters, and subsequently became close friends of both – Alistair Lang and Lighton Verdon-Roe (son of Sir Allcott Verdon-Roe, the first man to fly in England, and founder of the firm that made the Lancaster).
The three of them, [deleted] together with another Australian pilot, [/deleted] were known by their C.O. as “ the [deleted] Fearsome Foursome [/deleted] [inserted] Terrible Threesome [/inserted]”, as they got up to all kinds of pranks which although often foolhardy, did much to lift the morale of the squadron at a time of increasing losses. The presence of a pretty WAAF Intelligence Officer [inserted] also [/inserted] had
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them all rushing back after operations to see who could be first to be interrogated by her!
Near the end of this tour, Peter’s Lancaster was over Berlin on the night of March 1st/2nd and had just released its load of markers on the aiming point when an ack-ack shell exploded near the tail, and a load of incendiaries from a Lancaster above hit them amidships, wounding the gunner, destroying his turret, and jamming the control cables to the tail. They did not explode, but left gaping holes in the fuselage where they exited. The Lancaster immediately went into a steep dive, everything loose cascading into the nose. They all thought this was the end, but Peter planted his feet on the instrument panel to try to pull the control column back, and the Flight Engineer, [deleted] and [/deleted] [inserted] and [/inserted] Bomb Aimer [inserted] [deleted] and Navigation [/deleted] [/inserted] came to pull too. After dropping from 17,000 ft the Lancaster slowly came level again below 3,000 ft, and they attempted to plot a course home. At low level, down to under 1,000 ft now, they inadvertently flew right across the centre of the heavily defended Ruhr, blinded by searchlights and hit repeatedly by flak – but survived [inserted] in this maelstrom to [/inserted] somehow creep back to Warboys. Their C.O. was so astonished at the damage, that he opened the Officer’s Mess bar for [inserted] all of [/inserted] them at 5 am in the morning! And Peter
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received an immediate D.F.C. and his radio operator and navigator the D.F.M., for bringing the Lancaster back safely.
Sadly, during the early part of May, Peter’s friend Lighton Verdon-Roe and his crew perished over Duisburg, and Alastair Lang became a P.O.W. when his Lancaster exploded over Dortmund. [symbol] [inserted] [symbol] He died on Sunday October 28th 2007 at Collingbourne Ducis. [/inserted]
Peter retired from the R.A.A.F. in Australia on February 21st 1946, and bought a local newspaper, beginning a career in publishing and printing that was to last 50 years. His company, Peter Isaacson Publications eventually grew to employ 370 staff in Australia and New Zealand, publishing over 60 titles. He also started a company in Singapore, Asian Business Press, that employed 142 staff and published 14 titles. Always a very “hands on” character, Peter won many awards for his own editorial columns, and always stood up for minorities, for the Aborigines, for people of all religious faiths, and for the role of the RAF Bomber Command in Europe. [inserted] He denounced intolerance and bigotry. [/inserted] He ran his businesses firstly to become, and remain the most respected in Australian and Asian publishing; secondly for the benefit of his employees, and only lastly to make money. He always put all the
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profits back into the business.
He founded in 1969 what later became the Pacific Area Newspapers Publishing Association, and was made an Hon. Life Member in 1987. He became Chairman or President of many local Melbourne and national associations to do with newspapers and publishing, helped raise funds for charities, and for the upkeep and expansion of the Melbourne Shrine of Remembrance – an impressive war memorial.
Peter was admitted to the Order of Australia in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for 1999, for “services to the print media, and the community”, before finally selling off his group of companies – by now the largest remaining independent one in Australia – to Tony O’Reilly’s Australian Provincial Newspapers.
Wing Cmdr. Peter Isaacson, A.M., D.F.C., A.F.C., D.F.M, [deleted] leaves [/deleted] [inserted] married [/inserted] his wife, Anne, [deleted] who he married [/deleted] in Melbourne in 1950, and [inserted] they have [/inserted] two sons, Tony and Tim.


PV Clegg, “Biography of Wing Commander P Isaacson AM, DFC, AFC, DFM RAAF and research related to same, part of 156 (PFF) sqn with AG Lang and L Verdon-Roe,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed February 26, 2024,

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