When you think “air force missions,” I imagine a lot of images pop into your head: jet fighters, missiles screaming through the air, Val Kilmer and Tom Cruise playing shirtless volleyball, and that stock footage of an aircraft being refueled in flight I bet are all in the mix. One thing that probably doesn’t come up are pigs, and their bristly hair. And yet that was the whole point of a Royal Australian Air Force mission right after WWII.
The mission was called, imaginatively, Operaton Pig Bristle, and happened in May 1946, all because Australia was in dire, desperate need of pig bristles. You read that right: World War II had ended, and Australia needed pig hair so badly that they had to engage their air force to get some.
Just in the very unlikely case you’re not very invested in and knowledgeable of porcine hair and its many uses — and I should apologize in advance here because of course you know about how pig hair is used — pig bristles are used to make paintbrushes, and Australia, right after the war, was in the middle of a huge housing shortage, and didn’t have enough paintbrushes to paint the houses they were building, which meant they couldn’t finish the houses, move in shelter-hungry Australians, and so on.
It was a mess, and they really, really needed to paint those damn houses. The problem was that, back then, the sole source of paintbrush-suitable pig bristles was China, and China was in the middle of the Chinese Civil War, which caused all sorts of problems.
One of those problems was that, despite a British firm acquiring 25 tons of pig bristles for Australia from a remote location near the Tibetan border, Communist forces were attacking riverboats from Chongqing, where the bristles were being stored, so transporting the bristles that way to a suitable port for shipping to Australia wouldn’t work.
Still hungry for pig hair, the Australians decided they needed to get those bristles by air, using the Royal Air Force.
The RAAF’s 38th Squadron was chosen for the task, and three Douglas Dakotas were sent to Hong Kong to take part in the operation.
It wouldn’t be easy: the terrain was mountainous and challenging, and accurate weather reports and navigation were non-existent. The crews had to rely on crappy road maps to guide them, and, of course, the whole country was mired in the chaos of the civil war.
Despite the difficulties, the mission was a success, and within two weeks all the bristles were transported from Chongquing to Hong Kong over eight successful pig-fur-haulin’ missions. Squadron leader John Balfe attributed the victory over not having pig bristles to “reasonable weather and everyone’s enthusiasm.”
That makes sense; who wouldn’t be enthusiastic about multiple dangerous flights to collect pig hair?
In the end, the three Dakotas rushed as much pig hair as they could carry to Australia’s waiting paintbrush-craftspeople, while the bulk was shipped over by sea.
As a result of the heroic actions of the RAAF, Australians had homes, and the world had one of the most unlikely air force missions ever.