|Last updated 26.6.17
|KIMBERLEY WAR RELICS
World War II aircraft relics in the far north of Western Australia
Compiled by Geoff Goodall
|RAAF Lockheed Hudson A16-244 in November 168 at Kalumburu Mission on the northern tip of Western Australia.
The Hudson ran off the runway here 25 years earlier when it was RAAF Drysdale River forward operational airfield.
Photo courtesy Lindsay Nothrop
The Kimberley district covers a vast sparely-populated remote area in
the far north of
Western Australia. Its area is three times the size of England and
covers from the Indian Ocean coast to the Northern Territoty border
with only a few
towns and scattered cattle properties. Relatively recent agricultural
developments along the Ord River at Kununurra and
diamond mining have brought new growth and services to the area.
During World War II, in the early days of the Japanese advance on Australia, the Kimberley's coastline close to Timor and the Netherlands East Indies was a logical area for forward air bases. The War Cabinet approved a military airfield on the site of the existing civil airstrip at the Drysdale River Aboriginal Benedictine Catholic Mission.
RAAF No.58 Operational Base Unit was formed at Darwin on 5 March 1940 as the unit responsible for the ground facilities at Drysdale River airfield. The two crossing unsealed runways were first inspected on 25 May 1940 by RAAF Flying Officer I. L. Campbell whose report stated that one sand runway of 3,500 feet length was satisfactory for fully loaded Hudson bombers, but the other runway was incomplete and must not be used, His report noted that no fuel or oil was available at the mission and that fuel stocks would need to be brought by the coastal shipping from Derby, anchor off shore and be transferred to the beach by the mission's lugger and then to the airfield on the mission's truck.
58OBU personnel proceeded to the Drysdale River Mission airstrip where runway improvements were commenced and basic airfield facilities established. From the start there was uneasy cooperation with the mission, whose priests wanted to help the war effort but were protective of their meagre supplies and the welfare of their aboriginal population.
RAAF Drysdale WA
Early operations from 1940 were mainly confined to supply runs from
No.6 Communications Flight in the Darwin area. This unit was commanded
by the well-known pre-war Darwin flying doctor Dr. Clyde Fenton, whose
fights with officialdom became legendary. 6CF's Dragons and Ansons
delivered goods, food, mail and personnel to the Drysale airfield and
the nearby RAAF radar unit on the coast at Anjo Peninsular.
No.6 Communications Flight Anson with "Fenton's Flying Freighters" on the nose, at a Kimberley property.
At left are Reg Durack and his wife Enid, from the pioneering Kimberley pastoral dynasty.
Photo: State Library of WA
The development of Drysdale as a military airfield was classified under
wartime secrecy, however Japanese high altitude recce aircraft were
seen overhead with increasing frequency. During 1943 RAAF, Dutch and
USAAF strike missions against the enemy refuelled at Drysale inbound
and outbound. A Japanese air raid on 27 September 1943 attacked the
mission buildings, killing Father Superior Thomas Gil and five
aborigines. No aircraft were on the ground at the time and the airfield
itself received little damage.
By 1944 Drysdale was an essential part of the North West air effort, leading to this unusually candid entry in the 58OBU Operations Record Book in March 1944 by CO Flt Lt D. S.Askew:
"During March aircraft movements on Drysdale strip totalled 330. This is a record we hope to pass during April. Until recently this OBU was one of those isolated, almost forgotten units of the RAAF. Now all personnel are happy to be helping the air crews. They have been working long hours day and night. Iced orange drink is served to air crews upon returning from a strike and every effort is made to make them as comfortable as possible so far as the limited facilities permit."
The following month April 1944 did break the record, with 367 movements
by Beaufighters Mitchells, Catalinas and Spitfires. The
inadequacies of the runways had became significant, particularly for
heavily'laden bomber departures and the high performance Beaufighters.
The War Cabinet authorised construction of a new purpose-built airfield
in the same general location. This became Truscott, cut out of scrub 20
miles south of Drysdale. In June 1944 86OBU commenced moving airfield
equipment from Drysdale to Truscott. The last military operation took
place at Drysdale on 6 July 1944 when the 86OBU Operations Record Book
"One B-25 arrived to undertake operation Photo Recce NEI 37/6 July, completed same, returning to Drysdale and thence to Batchelor NT. This was the last operation carried out from Drysdale and the laborious task of removing the Unit to Truscott by land and sea occupied the next two weeks."
In 1951 the district was renamed Kalumburu and the Drysdale River Mission became Kalumburu Mission.
DRYSDALE (KALUMBURU) RELICS
- Hudson Mk.1 A16-5 of RAAF Darwin crashed landing at Drysdale 7 March 1942. It blocked the runway and lack of ground equipment to drag it clear resulted in approval for it to be blown up by Australian Army. Wreckage parts were identified in trees at the airstrip in 1975.
- Hudson Mk.IIIA A16-244 of RAAF No.2 Squadron, burst a tyre on landing at Drysdale 4 November 1943 and ground-looped.
Written off due structural damage, engines and parts stripped and the fuselage abandoned, resting on 44 gallon drums in the scub.
In 1976 Bob Eastage in Melbourne, owner of flying CAC Mustang VH-BOB, acquired Adastra Aerial Surveys Hudson VH-AGX (ex A16-122) which was badly damaged in a takeoff accident at Horn Island Qld on 21 December 1973. It was shipped to Melbourne and moved to RAAF Point Cook where an airworthy rebuild was intended. The nose section had been wrecked, so Bob Eastgate arranged to have the nose section of A16-244 at Kalumburu detached from the fuselage and moved by truck to Derby WA, then onward road tranaport to Melbourne.
In the event, the rebuild of VH-AGX did not proceed, Bob became involved in other warbird ventures, including acquiring another Hudson A16-22. In November 1996 an exchange deal with the RAAF Museum was negoiated, in which the museum received the Eastgate Hudson collection as a future restoration project, in return for a number of CAC Winjeels, which have been restored to airworthy and resold.
The nose of A16-244 remains in storage with the RAAF Museum.
after its landing accident at Drysdale 4 November 1943.
Photo: David Vincent collection
|The same Hudson in October 1967. The upper rear fuselage has been cut out for use at the mission.
Photo by Neil Follett
|A rear fuselage section which had been cut away.
Photo by Neil Follett
|The nose section detached from the fuselage. June 1978
Photo by Peter Anderson
|The nose section at a trucking yard in Derby WA in September 1978, waiting for road transport to Melbourne.
Photo by Stan Gajda
|A16-244's nose was planned to be used in a rebuild of Hudson VH-AGX, seen here at Horn Island Qld
after a takeoff accident in December 1973. However the rebuild at Point Cook did not go ahead and the
Hudson and replacement nose are both in storage with the RAAF Museum Photo by Ben Dannecker
|North American Mitchell
B-25C Mitchell N5-161 of RAAF No.18 (Netherlands) Squadron: nose gear collapsed during landing at Drysdale on 7 December 1943. The Dutch crew were not hurt but the aircraft was seriously damaged. RAAF No.4 Repair and Salvage Unit at Pell Field, south of Darwin, sent a team to assess the Mitchell. It was declared a write-off, struck-off RAAF charge on 14 January 1944 tafter being converted to components. The B-25 had been dismantled to allow engines, instruments and other useful parts to be removed and trucked out of Drysdale. The broken up hulk was left in low trees and scrub just off the runway.
N5-125 had the name Mississippi Dream painted on the left side of the nose, no doubt referring to the crew's time at the Royal Netherlands Military Flying School at Jackson, Missisissippi before they were transferred to Australia.
By 1981 Stan Gajda, now working in Derby, had seen the Hudson nose and two Beaufighters removed from Kalumburu. He decided to retrieve the battered nose section of the B-25 before it was lost in scrub fires. He intended to donate the nose, still showing the name Mississippi Dream, to the Aviation Heritage Museum in Perth to add to their display of wartime relics. The Derby truck operator who took supplies to the Kalumburu mission several times a year on the long rough track agreed to collect the nose as back-loading on his next run in October 1981. Stan Gajda takes up the story:
"The truck owner was the son of one of the Anna Plains station people who helped the survivors from the Dornier Do24 X-36 when it landed near there in March 1942. He knew I was an active member of the Aviation Heritage Museum in Perth. I travelled to Kalumburu mission with him on one occasion so he got to know me fairly well. The year before in 1980 he had brought down to Derby for me a large portion of wing from a Japanese Ki-46 Dinah that had been shot down near Kalumburu in 1944. This item is still on display in the Perth aviation museum.
I thought the B-25 nose section would make a splendid display at the Aviation Heritage Museum because no real combat aircraft sections were on show except the Dinah fragment. It would have looked really good in an appropriate setting.
I went up to Kalumburu where I was given permission to acquire the nose for the AHM. The Superintendent of the mission – Father Sanz even made available a team of local lads to help prepare the nose for loading when the semi was coming in. The trip was timed to coincide with the truck's arrival. There was no lifting equipment of any kind at the mission, so we set up 44 gallon drums a bit higher than the bed of the semi and then about twenty of us picked the nose up and put it in the back of the mission light truck and drove a short distance on the airfield and set the nose up on the trestles so that the semi could just back underneath. By popping the supports out from under the nose it would then settle onto the trailer bed.
I did not even think to connect that Mike had earlier brought back the complete nose section from the Hudson wreck that was right next to the B-25 and this was for a flying rebuild in Melbourne. Mike was paid for that service but he had agreed to carry the B-25 nose to Derby for me for no charge because it was for the museum. Somehow, by the time he arrived at Kalaumburu, he had got the notion that the B-25 nose was not going to the museum at all, but that I was somehow doing a deal with someone somewhere and that I was going to make a buck out of this adventure. Nothing I could say would change his mind, even when in desperation I asked him how much he would charge if this was a commercial cargo. He unloaded the mission supplies and drove back to Derby, leaving me wondering what to do next.
The project had cost me quite a bit with 4WD hire, fuel, time off work and in the end it was a waste of time, effort and money. We left the B-25 nose on its platform,. I left WA soon after and I later heard it fell off in a storm, was rolled across to the airfield perimeter fence where it was wedged up against a tree. What happened to it after that I have no idea, but one thing is for sure, I was never refused permission to recover this nose. The project failed because a deal made on a handshake was dishonored by the other party."
N5-161 nose section in October 1967. The name Mississippi Dream could still be seen. Photo by Neil Follett
|Two radial engines in the scrub in October 1967, assumed to be from this B-25. Photo by Neil Follett|
sections of B-25C N5-161 seen in November 1968.
Photo by Lindsay Nothrop
|The nose of B-25 "Mississippi Dream" in 1981 showing scrub fire damage. "Dream" can be seen.
Photo by Stan Gajda, who had been given approval by the mission to remove this nose section.
|After completing the feat of lifting the B-25 nose ready to be collected, the trucking company reneged on the job.
Stan Gajda is centre in white shirt, with his band of Kalumburu mission helpers in October 1981.
Photo: Stan Gajda
- Beaufighter Mk.XI A19-144 ex RAF JM135;
RAAF 31 Squadron, tailwheel collapsed landing Drysdale 3 October 1943, ran off runway, pilot retacted the main gear to avoid striking parked aircraft
- Beaufighter Mk.XI A19-144 ex RAF JL946:
RAAF 31 Squadron, crashed during landing at Drysdale 22 January 1944.
These two British-built Beaufighters were written off and converted to components by teams from No.4 Repair & Salvage Unit from Darwin. The stripped fuselage centre-sections were abandoned, dumped in the scrub on the side of the runways.
Various other parts, including undercarriage doors and a damaged outer wing, were found in the vicinity in 1981.
In 1981 Robert Greinert, Dennis Baxter and Martin Mednis, members of the newly-formed Historic Aircraft Restoration Society* decided to mount an expedition to retrieve the two Beaufighter centre-sections at Kalumburu Mission. Driving a truck on a 6,000 miles return trip across the country, they completed the demanding task of loading all parts of the two Beaufighters on a truck and trailer. First stop on the return journey was Derby WA on 27 September 1981 where Stan Gajda donated a collection of parts from crashed RAAF Brewster Buffalo A51-5 (see below) which were added to the load.
After many adventures along the way, the Beaufighters reached Sydney where they were stored with other HARS aircraft in old Army huts at Scheyville on the outskirts of Sydney. Sections of other models of Beaufighter were acquired and a large holding of parts built up, including outer wings and a complete wing centre-section and valuable parts from a farm near Dubbo NSW in 1997. As more airframe and power plant components were acquired, the Beaufighter collection was moved to a warehouse near Bankstown Airport. Here components were sorted to made three separate sets of parts for Beaufighter restorations. Two kits were sold, one retained as a HARS project:
A19-144 centre-section in kit to The Fighter Collection, Duxford, with fuselage of A8-324
A19-148 centre-section in kit to RAAF Mueum, with fuselage of A8-384
By 2016 the RAAF Museum parts collection is in storage but TFC at Duxford have made impressive progress with their composite rebuild, which they have given the identity of the centre-section A19-144. It is now painted in RAAF wartime markings as "A19-144" and nearing completion to fly.
*HARS has grown to become a dynamic force in the Australian preservation scene, operating airworthy Super Constellation, Catalina, Neptunes, Caribou, Dakota, Convair, Drover and others from a large hangar complex at Albion Park Airport, Wollongong NSW. In addition restoration is on-going on many other aircraft.
|A19-144 centre-section October 1967, camouflage oxidised to white by sun exposure. Photo by Neil Follett
from the other side side.
Photo by Neil Follett
|A19-144 in 1978 after being burnt in a scrub fire.
Photo by Stan Gajda
|A19-148 was in similar condition to A19-144.
Photo by Stan
|A19-148 being lifted up on to 44 gallon fuel drums using a basic A-frame and rope in 1980.
The active ant hill behind the closest drum caused some problems Photo by Stan Gajda
With the wing centre-sections detached from the fuselages, the four Beaufighter sections were carefully loaded
on the recovery team's truck at Kalumburu Mission in September 1981 Photo: Andrew Carlisle collection
Beaufighters at Derby WA on 27 September 1981, where Stan Gajda's Brewster Buffalo parts were added.
Only 3000 miles to go to Sydney. Photo by Stan Gajda
The scale of the Robert Greinert/HARS Beaufighter project can be seen in this rare view of the "Beaurepairs"
warehouse near Bankstown Airport, Sydney. Note the undercarriage assemblies on the right
This and the next two photos were taken in August 1989 by Bob Livingstone
|Beaufighter wing sections
|These fuselage sections under restoration could well be the two from Kalumburu
|HARS Beaufighter cockpit restoration.
Photo by Bob Livingstone
| The quite remarkable Beaufighter restoration at Duxford by The Fighter Collection, seen in 2014.
It was based on a kit of parts acquired from HARS, including the centre-section of A19-144 ex Kalumburu.
It is reported that plans to fly the aircraft have been dashed by British officialdom
|This view of Truscott was taken in October 1967 by Peter Limon from a Cessna 210 from Melbourne.
The curved extended taxiways with aircraft parking dispersals radiated both sides of the runway.
The wartime RAAF forward airfield Truscott was the subject of decades
of Australian pub-talk, breathlessly reporting
mineral survey treams discovering a secret WWII airfield in the north
of WA where the
hangars housed Spitfires that only needed tyres to be pumped up
before they could be flown away ... the reality was that Truscott had
no hangars and any aircraft hulks that might have been there, were
the early 1950s by many scrap metal expeditions.
In 1943 work commenced on the construction of a purpose-built heavy
bomber staging airfield to replace the barely adequate Drysale. The
location was only 20 miles away in sandy scrub country. An 8,000 feet
PSP matting runway was completed with miles of winding taxiway through
the bush with aircraft parking dispersals protected from straffing and
bomb blast by earth mounds. Refuelling facilities allowed
bombers toi be refuelling in minimum times. Following the precedent of
naming airfields after deceased RAAF pilot aces, the new airfield was
named Truscott after Squadron Leader Bluey
Truscott. However wartime security used the code name "Group 44" for
the airfield and its installations. It was never attacked by the
RAAF No.58 OBU was transferred from Drysdale to operate the new
airfield, moving the last of Drysdale's installations and equipment to
Truscott by barge during July 1944. Soon after V-J Day, the
remaining RAAF personnel were withdrawn from Truscott and the remote
airfield was abandoned, leaving behind vast stocks of fuel in 44 gallon
drums, vehicles, power plant and earth-moving equipment of all kinds.
The airfield was used in the early pos-war years by civil aircraft crossing the Timor Sea on flights to and from Singapore, including a number of light aircraft on delivery flights from Engand. They were reqauired to clear Customs at Wyndham or Darwin, but many did not have the range from Timor, and Truscott was their destination. How they arranged fuel is not recorded.
In early 1946 the Commonwealth Disposals Commission commenced war disposals sales of selected equipment at Truscott, particularly storage areas of thousands of 44 gallon drums of fuel. With only a caretaker from the Allied Works Council on site to supervise the genuine purchasers as well as the opportunists who just arrived with barges to remove whatever they liked, the next few years saw scrap metal dealers and others looting the airfield's structures, vehicles and lengths of runway PSP matting. A press report on 3 July 1946 stated:
"Malayans, who went' ashore from a Dutch freighter at Truscott Field, are said to have dismantled and carried out a mobile workshop. The Malayans are part of the crew of the Bandjermasin which is visiting former Allied bases picking up aviation fuel purchased through the Commonwealth Disposals Commission. It is said they have run wild and are now out of control. An RAAF officer and service police have been flown to the area to make an investigation."
The first serious ground inspection of Truscott for aircraft remains
appears to have been circa 1966 when Darwin wartime history enthusiast
John Haslett made a search for the much-fabled Spitfires. He did locate
wreckage of A58-399 in the scrub and collected the parts in a clearing
near the runway for later collection.
In May 1978 Perth commercial pilot Derek Macphail made a thorough ground inspection. He and colleague Mike Macaulay flew up in a Cessna 206 and landed on reasonably clear section of the runway where they camped for 3 days. They brought a trail bike and explored the following areas:
- aircraft dispersal parking bays
- the motor pool
- signal huts
- radio masts
- fuel dumps of thousands of 44 gallon drums
- beach head where supplies were barged in from cargo ships
"On the beach lay hundeds of empty 44 gallon drums, an abandoned truck, a rusty grader and a derelict barge. On the road from the airfield to the beach was a steam-traction engine and more derelict vehicles. One location was to reveal over 10 vehicles and a mobile workshop, almost totally hidden by overgrown bush.
Aircraft wreckage seen from the air at the North West end of the runway was investigated. Access was gained using the old perimener parking taxiway whenever possible, but it was often overgrown by thick scrub. The wreckage was identified as the remains of a burnt-out B-24 Liberator: all that remained in a recognisable condition were the engines, sections of wing with undercarriage, gun turrets with bent machune guns still in position. The danger of close inspection was highlighted by the discovery of two small unexploded bombs amongst the wreckage.
The adjacent Sir Graham Moore Island was also inspected from the air and the remains of the RAAF Radar Station on the island during the
war could still be seen at the western end."
Stan Gajda wrote after a July 1980 visit to Truscott:
"Two days of searching the area of the airstrip allowed close examination of the many ammunition dumps and gun pits. Live rounds, fuses and incendary bombs still lay among the used cases. Rusted vehicles sat in the scrub, including a dozen Chevrolet and Ford trucks in a semi circle in one place. A pile of tin helmets was located, some still usable.
trucks at Truscott in
Photo: Mungalulu Truscott Airbase
| In recent years Truscott has become a commercial airfield again, renamed Mungalulu Truscott Airbase
from 2005. A new sealed 5,900 feet runway, apron areas, buildings
and two hangars have been built. It is used by helicopters operating to
off-shore oil rigs and gas fields, and Paspaley Pearls Turbine Mallard
amphibians on crew changovers for its pearl farms.
|- Spitfire VIII A58-399 ex RAF JG432:
RAF 548 Squadron: gear-up landing at Truscott 20 May 1945, burnt out. Pilot was extrcated but received severe burns.
Remaining wreckage, burnt and unburnt sections, was located in the scrub at the airfield during an expedition circa 1966 by Darwin wartime history enthusiast John Haslett, who founded the Darwin Military Museum. The burnt rear fuselage with tail, wing sections and parts were left in a clearing near the runway for later collection. An October 1967 an aerial inspection of the disused Truscott airfield by a group from Melbourne reported "Dispersal bays were still very evident as were gun emplacements made up of sand-bagged 44 gallon drums. On one side of the strip was a tangled heap of Spitfire wreckage".
Haslett collected these Spitfire parts in September 1971, using a barge to load them on a ship at the nearby coastline. They were shipped to Darwin and later used in other Spitfire restoration projects. In more recent years, Alex Wilson at Yunta SA has acquired five Spitfire projects around Australia including the remains of A58-399. As an indication of his determination, Alex has added to A58-399's residual parts by obtaining its parts previously used in other restoration projects but later replaced by better airframe components.
|- Spitfire VIII A58-300 ex RAF JF620:
RAF 549 Squadron: collided with same squadron A58-364 when breaking formation for landing at Truscott on 16 November 1944.
Both destroyed Smashed remnants of both aircraft have been found in the vicinity of the airfield.
|Most recognisable item from Stan Gajda's collection of Spitfire parts collected in the scrub at Truscott
was this port undercarriage fairing. Photo by Stan Gajda
|- Spitfire Vc A58-51 ex RAF BR545:
RAF No.54 Squadron: British pilot, Flying Officer D.W. Gray was flying A58-51 code "DL-E" from Darwin to Drysdale on 22 December 1943 when he became lost on low fuel. He made a gear-up forced landing on tidal mud flats at the mouth of Prince Regents River. This location was relatively close to where Truscott airfield was to be built. Gray spent 3 days floating in his emegrency dinghy next to the aircraft before being rescued on Christmas Day.
Because of the difficulty for salvage crews to reach the site, RAAF HQ authorised the Spitfire to be written off by cannon fire or bombing.
The airframe became covered in mud and silt, but was occasionally partly exposed by 35 feet tidal variations from the nearby Indian Ocean.
During November 1987 the remains were salvaged from the mud by a team of 13 RAAF volunteers for the RAAF Museum. They had hired a sea-going barge in Broome WA and taken over two days to reach the site of the wreck. The barge was positioned alongside the Spitfire and in oppressive 45C+ heat and humidity, waist-deep in quick-sand like mud, they excavated the fuselage and inner wing sections. While lookouts on the barge fired volleys of gun fire over the water surface to keep the many crocodiles in the creek at bay, the Merlin was cut from its engine mounts and the starboard wing removed from the fuselage. Flotation bags were attached either side of the fuselage, which after failed attempts, eventually lifted free at high tide. By the third day, approaching complete exhaustion due lack of sleep, the team had laboriously winched the fuselage, tailplane, engine and both wings up the ramp on to the barge. The pilot's face mask was still in the cockpit, the undercarriage struts held oil under pressure and the rubber tyres were in near perfect condition.
The mud and barnacle encrusted Spitfire sections were taken to Broome on the barge, then flown by RAAF C-130 to RAAF Laverton near Melbourne on delivery to the RAAF Museum at nearby Point Cook. The remains were submerged in water at Laverton to commence an long conservation program to slow the salt water corrosion. By 2016 the remains of A58-51 are listed by RAAF Museum as being in storage.
|RAAF photograph of the salvage of Spitfire A58-51 from mudflats near Truscott in 1987
|Consolidated B-24M Liberator A72-160
RAAF 12 Squadron detachment to 21 Squadron. Crashed after a night takeoff at Truscott on 17 May 1945 bound for Balikpapan, carrying a load of depth charges. Struck the ground just off the end of the runway , exploded and burnt out. All 15 on board were killed, including four Z-Force officers on a sabotage mission behind enemy lines.
WA aviation archeologist Stan Gajda wrote:
In 1980 I was there with John Hardie and spent a very interesting time going over the Liberator wreckage which was spread over 75 metres. We pulled another gun from the wreckage which was one of the Martin upper turret guns with its mounts and a spare barrel which was bent. The radar equipment was still there with its gold-plated circuits. I kept the twin ammo feed motors from one of the turrets which I restored and got working again. Putting power on and tripping the micro switch had the motors running, turning the belt feed sprockets. The engines looked good but had broken reduction casings. Most of the plane had burnt because it had cartwheeled through the sparse bush and sections that came off were not burnt, for example the cockpit area was smashed but not burnt. A RAAF roundel was found on a fuselage section."
The B-24 wreckage is still there today, mostly undisturbed. It is signposted as an Aviation Heritage Site.
of the wreckage of RAAF Liberator A72-160, in July
Photo by Stan Gajda
|Douglas C-53 41-20066 (c/n 4836)
Forced landing 26 February 1942 at night in scrub close to the location that Truscott would built the following year.
USAAC 5th Air Force C-53 troop transport version 41-20066 became lost while flying from Perth to Broome WA to collect military personnel and civilian refugees arriving at Broome in civil and military aircraft evacuations from Netherland East Indies.
With fuel exhausted a forced landing was made in flat open scrub terrain. The crew were not hurt and the radio operator was in contact with Broome DCA Aeradio station. The next morning Qantas Empire Airways Short Empire flying boat G-AEUF Corinthian departed Broome for Sydney, tasked to locate the downed Douglas. Captain Orm Denny found them, landed on the sea at the nearby coastline and collected the American crew. They had overshot Broome by 380 miles.
51-20066 was included in the first assignment of US transport aircraft allocated to US 5th Air Force at Brisbane on 8 January 1942. It was ferried across the Pacific and must have only been in Australia for a matter of weeks before the forced landing.
Later in 1942 during the organisation of Australian military transport aircraft operations, the Directorate of Air Transport, Allied Air Forces allocated all transport aircraft a series of radio callsigns. 41-20066 was allocated VHCDW, but in the turmoil of the period it was not recognised that it had already been lost.
In 1948 MacRobertson Miller Aviation Co at Perth was converting a military disposals Douglas C-47 into civilian passenger DC-3 and wanted to replace the large C-47 double cargo doors with a passenger door. The abandoned C-53 near Truscott was well known at the time and a engineering team under MMA chief engineer Frank Colquhoun was despatched to remove the entry door and all its fittings.
Derek Macphail located this aircraft during his May 1978 Truscott expedition:
"While researching the area prior to the trip, many hours were spent scanning aerial survey photographic runs. One set under magnification revealed a fuselage close to Truscott. It was located by aerial search, 6 miles south of the airstrip, and a nearby saltpan was chosen to land the Cessna to enable us to go in by foot. On a second attempt the aircraft was found, a Douglas Dakota laying on its belly. It was stripped of all salvagable items but still in surprisngly good condition. A close inspection revealed its identity to be a C-53 with USAAC serial 41-20066. Virtually all its original paint had been worn off by the ravages the weather, leaving it in metallic finish.
A large section of the rear fuselage had been cut out at some stage. The wings had been detached but lay on the ground alongside the fuselage. Apart from a large and evil looking snake that lived in the cabin roof, it was obvious that this remote crash site had not been visited for many years."
C-53 41-20066 from the circling Cessna in May 1978.
Photos by Derek Macphail
|Two photographs from 1948 when MMA chief engineer Frank Colquhoun's team removed the rear fuselage
section containing the functioning C-53 passenger door, to be used on a MMA C-47 passenger conversion.
Photo: Frank Colquhoun collection courtesy Ted Fletcher
|Mitsubishi Ki-46 Dinah
Japanese Dinahs were regularly seen on high level reconnaiisance missions over Drysdale and Darwin.
This Ki-46 was intercepted and shot down near Drysdale on 20 July 1944 by Spitfires of RAF No.54 Squadron. It crashed in the sea just off the coast near Truscott. The wreck was salvaged on to a barge and brought ashore at Truscott for examination.
Military historian Stan Gajda researched the fate of the wreck and wartime records indicated the remains were dumped at Truscott.
In July 1980 he mounted an expedition to locate the Dinah. He was collected at Port Hedland by fellow enthusiast Richard Fisher who flew his Cessna 182P from Beverley WA. Five flying hours later they landed on a clear area of the Truscott runway and set up a camp site.
Following aerial and ground searches, the scattered remains of the Dinah were located:
- fuselage section with port wing spar and undercarriage attached, in scrub 2 miles SE of the southern end of the runway
- port wing flap and detachable wing leading edge fuel tank (with yellow leading edge line) plus other parts, 2 miles away
- further bush-bashing found port fuselage sections, engine mounts, propeller hub, control column, pilot seat, front windscreen framework, engine cooling gills, fuel tank, oil tank
- starboard wing and undercarriage found in a different location 3 miles south of the runway.
The 3-diamond cluster Mitsubishi trademark was stamped on airframe sections and Japanese inscriptions were painted inside the flap.
This section of the Dinah was the port wing spar with engine bay and fuselage centre section, inverted.
Photo by Stan Gajda
|The Dinah port flap and detachable leading edge fuel tank. The flap had 303 bullet holes.
Photo by Stan Gajda
|The only complete Mitsubishi Ki-46 Dinah in the world - at RAF Museum Cosford
|Brewster Buffalo A51-5 ex B3-185 Netherland East Indies Air Force
crash remains of this fighter were visited in April 1980 by historian
Stan Gajda on mud flats 15 miles south of the Kimberley coastal
town. RAAF Buffalo A51-5 had struck the ground here on Mowanjum Mission on 25 September
1942, killing pilot Sgt J. Austin, No.1 Photographic Reconnaissance
Unit based at Hughes airfield NT.
Remaining wreckage comprised the battered and corroded port wing, rear fuselage section with attached horizontal tailplane, undercarriage, spinner and other parts. RAAF paintwork on the wing had faded due to exposure to the weather, revealing the Dutch orange triangle emblem, and NEIAF serial B3-174 on the leading edge. RAAF records quote A51-5 was previously B3-185 while A51-14 was ex B3-174, so some airframe parts swapping must have taken place in USAAC or RAAF service, not uncommon at that time.
Stan's team collected all of the Buffalo remains and moved them to Derby for storage.
A51-5 was one of 21 Buffalo fighters being shipped to NEI but diverted to Australia in March 1942 because of the Japanese invasion of NEI. They were taken over by the USAAC in Australia and a few months later 17 were assigned to RAAF to become A51-1 to A51-17.
During 1943 the surviving RAAF Buffaloes were returned to the US 5th Air Force in Australia.
In September 1981 Robert Greinert's team from HARS who had collected the two Beaufighter centre-sections from Kalumburu (see above) stopped at Derby on their way back to Sydney. Stan Gajda donated the Buffalo parts collection, which was loaded on to the truck.
Crash wreckage of at least two other RAAF Buffalo accidents were added to the parts collection, which changed hands and moved to New Zealand with an Australian enthusiast. The collection had a value because of the rarity of the Brewster Buffalo and was sold to a US warbird owner in California. In 2003 they were acquired by the Aviodrome museum at Lelystad, Netherlands and moved there. In the meantime it is believed parts from the collection were used to add authenticity to the construction of two full-scale replica Buffalo airframes for display in museums in New York and The Netherlands.
Good work Stan....
|Representative picture of a RAAF Buffalo: A51-13 with 25 Squadron at Guildford airfield, Perth in 1943.
Photo: Frank F. Smith collection
|Collecting the crash remains of Buffalo A51-5 near
Derby in April
Photo by Stan Gajda
|The paint had worn away on the leading edge of the port wing, exposing the original Dutch serial "B3-174".
Photo by Stan Gajda
|The Derby Buffalo wing in storage by HARS at Sheyville, Sydney in April 1987, showing the Dutch orange
triangle nationality emblem, bleached by weather exposure Photo by Bob Livingstone
|The Derby Buffalo's rear fuselage and tail section standing upright in the HARS
storage area at Sheyvill, Sydney in April 1987. Photo by Bob Livingstone
The Japanese air raid on 3 March 1942
| In 1942 Broome was a small coastal fishing and pearling
town in the remote
tropical far north of Western Australia. The town was
located on Roebuck Bay, a wide expanse of calm waters with a remarkable
daily tidal variation of up to 10 metres. At low tide the pearling
lugger fleet settled on the sandy bottom.
In late February 1942 during the frantic days of Japanese forces advancing through the NEI, Dutch flying boats began arriving at Broome carrying refugees fleeing the Japanese in NEI. Most flying boats carried the aircrews' families and refugees including British and Dutch women and children.
The Australian Government requested Qantas Empire Airways to operate its Short S.30 Empire flying boats on an evacuation service for retreating military and civilian personnel from NEI to Australia. Broome was chosen as the Australian terminal because no other northwest WA coastal town offered the sheltered water of Roebuck Bay, despite the complete lack of facilities for flying boats. Broome's extreme daily tidal variation would make refuelling difficult and laborious. The Qantas Tjilijap Shuttle commenced 22 February between the port of Tjilijap in Java and Broome. The predicted problems made fast turn-arounds at Broome an impossibility, with a single refuelling lugger which could only take on fuel at the short jetty at high tide.
Adding to the activity at Broome airfield from late February were the civil and military aircraft of the Australian airlift to collect the NEI escapees and fly them to hospitals in Perth, Alice Springs and east coast cities. Among them was a USAAC C-53 41-20066 (troop-carrier model of the C-47) only just arrived in Australia from its delivery flight from USA. It crew were instructed to proceed from Perth to Broome on 26 February but became lost in the dark and made a forced landing in scrub north of Derby WA with no injuries.
(see Truscott above)
By the beginning of March 1942, most of the civilian residents of Broome had evacuated and numerous civil and military aircraft were arriving from the NEI at Broome airfield and flying boats on Robeuck Bay, In addition the military retreat included USAAC B-17s, B-18s and B-24s which had escaped the Philippines through the Netherlands East Indies.
Early morning on 3 March 1942, 9 Japanese A6M Zeros and a C5M Babs recce aircraft arrived overhead from Japanese-occupied Timor and commenced staffing attacks on the flying boats and aircraft at Broome airfield. All flying boats were sunk with the loss of most of their occupants including women and children. A USAAC Liberator packed with sick and wounded servicemen took off from the airfield but was quickly shot down into the sea off Cable Beach, killing all 32 on board. A US Navy Curtiss SOC Seagull floatplane took off from the water and managed to escape and a USAAC Douglas C-53 departed the airfield minutes before the raid, carrying 26 civilian Dutch refugees plus babies in arms, to Alice Springs then Melbourne.
Destroyed at Broome airfield were:
B-17s: USAAC 41-2448, 41-2454
B-24s: USAAC 40-2374 plus a second
Hudson RAAF A16-119
Lodestar Dutch LT9-18
DC-3 KNILM PK-ALO
Destroyed and sunk on Roebuck Bay:
Catalinas: Dutch: Y-59, Y-60, Y-67, Y-70, US Navy: 2 PBY-4s, RAF: 2 Catalinas 205 squadron
Dornier Do 24s: Dutch: X-1, X-3, X-20, X-23, X-28
Short C Class: Qantas G-AEUC Corinna, RAAF A18-10 ex Qantas
When the Japanese aircraft at Broome formed up to return to Timor, they spotted an inbound KNILM Douglas DC-3 PK-AFV painted in camouflage. The DC-3 was straffed, injuring five of the evacuees on board. Captain Ivan Smirnov, wounded in an arm, took evasive action for some time but with an engine on fire, was forced to make a wheels-up landing on the beach at Carnot Bay, 70 Km north of Broome. Soon after, a Japanese Mavis flying boat approached and circled the DC-3, dropping 5 bombs which caused no injury. However a Dutch lady passenger and her young child died on the beach and wounded Dutch servicemen needed urgent help. The story of their rescue and the search for the consignment of diamonds stolen from the aircraft has been told in many magazine and newspaper articles
Fortunately the Japanese did not sight an inbound Qantas Empire G-AEUB Camilla which arrived an hour after the raid.
|Broome WA on 3 March 1942 after the Japanese air raid, with burning flying boats on Roebuck Bay and
land planes burning on the airfield to the left behind the town. Photograph taken from the reconnaisance
Mitsubishi C5M Babs which accompanied the Zeros from Timor. David Vincent collection
DC-3 PK-AFV was attacked by Japanese fighters while inbound to Broome. The wounded Captain made a
successful forced landing on a beach at Carnot Bay, but two passengers subsequently died
| On the same morning, another group of 8 Zeros had left
Timor to attack Wyndham WA, further north, where a RAAF DH.84 Dragon A34-9 and
Airlines (WA) Ltd Stinson Reliant VH-UTW on the ground at the
airfield were destroyed. Broome later received three more
Japanese air raids, but none of the
severity of this first attack. The detailed story of the raid and the
human toll is beyond the scope of this paper, but the following books
are recommended reading:
- Qantas At War, Sir Hudson Fysh, Angus & Robertson 1968
- Front-Line Airline, E. Bennett-Bremner, Angus & Robertson 1944
- Zero Hour in Broome, Dr. Tom Lewis & Peter Ingman, 2012
- Departure Delayed, Jan van Apeldoorn, Robertson & Mullens, 1943
- Jimmy Woods, Flying Pioneer, Julie Lewis, Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 1989
Over the week following the 3 March 1942 attack, evacuation aircraft continued to arrive at Broome from NEI including RAF Hudson AE488, KNIL Lodestars and KNIL Martin bomber M585. The final Catalina arrival was on 7 March, Dutch "P-3"which had been a damaged US Navy PBY-3 repaired by MLD ground crews and taken over by a MLD aircrew.
|Broome wartime relics
Broome's daily tidal variation exposed the wrecks of some of the flying boats at low tide on Roebuck Bay. Over the years airframe and engine parts were souvenired and several Dornier engines were removed for display in Broome parks.
The encrusted remains of a Dutch PBY-4 Catalina at Broome in 1975, exposed by the late afternoon low tide.
Photo by Geoff Goodall
P&W R-1830 engine, removed from a Dornier wreck, displayed in a Broome park in 1979.
Photo by Geoff Goodall
|This Dornier engine was found on open land behind a chinese market in Broome in 1979.
Photo by Geoff Goodall
|Dornier Do 24K engine, probably one of the two above, at the new Broome Museum in October 2005.
Photo by Bob Livingstone
|RAAF Lockheed Hudson A16-119 was destroyed at Broome airfield during the 3 March 1942 attack.
Its remains were still in the scrub on the airport by 1979. Photo by Geoff Goodall
In the late 1970s West Australian aviation archeologist Stan Gajda
carefully recorded the location of five of the
recognisable remains of Dorniers and Catalinas. Taking advantage of
King Tide periods when tidal variations of 10 metres cause the water
to recede two miles from shore, more wreckage than usual was
exposed. However the rapidly turning tide allowed only a short
time for close examination before forcing a return to shore at a brisk
walk. One Catalina was largely intact
with both engines in the sand alongside. He was able to remove an
instrument panel and a gas bottle from its cockpit. The other two
Catalinas were broken up and partly buried. One was identified as a
Dutch "Y Boat", from which Srab removed the cockpit port side
To inspect the interiors of the most intact for the two exposed Dornier Do 24Ks, Stan and his supporters rolled a petrol-driven high pressure water pump over the sand out to the wreck and used its hose to blast 40 years of mud and silt from the cockpit and bilges. Many pieces of aircraft fittings and equipment were salvaged. Prize item recovered was the Dornier's metal tool box complete with a full set of tools. Later cleaning revealed that each tool was engraved with "X-1", identifying this aircraft as the very first of the forty Dornier Do 24s of the Netherlands Navy. Stan's team managed to remove the complete tail gun turret from this same Dornier. It still had some perspex panels intact but the gun had been removed long ago. The turret had a brass plate in French and dated 1935.
Stan Gajda restored the tool box and each of its tools. He donated the tool kit as well as the Dornier rear turret, to the WA Aviation Heritage Museum in Perth. There they are displayed alongside an engine from a USAAC Boeing B-17 destroyed at Broome airfield.
|Rear view of Do 24 X-1 at Broome October 1980. The gun cradle was intact on the turret ring gear.
Pearling luggers in the background were moored further out in deeper water. Photo by Stan Gajda
and rudder of X-1 exposed in October
Photo by Stan Gajda
|The cleaned tools from X-1's tool kit salvaged from the wreck at Broome. Each item is engraved"X-1".
Photo: Stan Gajda
| At Anna Plains Station, south of Broome,
Stan was guided to the beach where the Dornier Do 24 X-36 was burnt by its
after its forced landing here the night prior to the Broome air raid. (see Dornier Do 24 in this series)
A section of the hull and the entire tailplane survived the fire, but had been long buried beneath the sand by cyclones over the years since. Nevertheless, the area was searched and one of the aircraft's fuel tanks with a German makers plate was retrieved from the sand.
70 Kilometres north of Broome at Carnot Bay, Stan Gajda located the exact site on a remote beach where KNILM DC-3 PK-AFV was forced down by the Japanese fighters on the day of the Broome raid. All that remained was a long wing section, exposed from the sand at low tide. However local enquiries led to the discovery of wing sections and ailerons from PK-AFV at "Waterbank" Station. These had been salvaged soon after the event and were in surprisingly undamsged condition.
|DC-3 PK-AFV on the beach at Carnot Bay some weeks after it was forced down on 3 March 1942
wing from DC-3 PK-AFV in the sand inverted at Carnot Bay in August
1979. Photo by
|Ailerons and wing sections from PK-AFV at Waterbank Station, Broome in May 1980. Photo by Stan Gajda
wingtip from PK-AFV at Waterbank Station, May
Photo by Stan Gajda
Australian airline pilot Rod Blievers has written to share his personal experiences with Kimberley war relics.
The war and its remnants, both aircraft wrecks and airfields, have always fascinated me. In 1968 I was based in Derby, flying the Royal Flying Doctor Service Beech Queen Air. May I tell my story, and perhaps add a few more details? The joke here is at that time it felt like ancient history, while in fact the war had only ended not much more than 20 years earlier. Today, it really is old history and many of the traces have faded away.
This was a regular RFDS stop, at the bare minimum I’d be there for a 1 or 2 hours. The mission was run by a Franciscan order, and very welcoming they were too! Occasionally we’d stay for lunch, with the tables groaning with locally produced food and wine.
They were very proud of their war, and would show you the piles of shrapnel, the bullet holes and the spang marks on the walls. There’s a certain irony about how their raid came about. In 1935 a pair of German flyers were wrecked on the Kimberly shore, near death they were found by aborigines and taken to Drysdale River Mission (as it was called then). In gratitude for this the Nazi government gave them a powerful radio. Once the RAAF were using Drysdale, they used the radio too, eventually permitting the Japanese to triangulate the airfield’s position, and leading to the raid in September 1943.
But I had lots of time there to explore! There were a couple of camouflaged sheds mouldering away, but the big attraction were the aircraft wrecks. The Hudsons and B-25 were in a group, but what the photos don’t show is the live ammunition that littered the area. I was cautioned to step carefully! The Beaufighters were in a separate area; they managed to cause me some head-scratching. Just visible in the photo, the fuselage roundels were RAF “C” type (i.e. thin yellow surround, thin white band between the red and the blue). Now as far as I knew these markings were never carried either in SEAC or SWPA. Eventually I realized that these aircraft left the factory with these roundels; when accepted by the RAAF they were overpainted in the local blue/white style, and that this latter marking had, over the years, simply faded off. There’s another story about fading RAAF markings coming up later.
In those days it was only accessible by boat, as there were no roads and the strip was definitely u/s. It was however on track from Kalumburu to Troughton Island (another regular RFDS stop) so I would always circle overhead at low altitude for a few minutes, accompanied by both sister and doctor rolling their eyes and wearing “he’s doing it again” expressions! I was actually looking for the Spitfire and B-24 wrecks the missionaries had told me about, but only ever located the Douglas C-53. Oh, and vast stacks of 44 gallon drums.
That Brewster Buffalo! I’d been living in Derby for a few months when I decided to explore the back half of my house block. It was covered in tall grass and scrub, with a pile of rubbish in the middle. This contained an old water heater, various odd items of junk and the top forward half of a radial engine cowl, complete with two gun ports! Now my interest was really piqued. Asking around produced vague answers as “It's the Boomerang/Wirraway/Buffalo on the marsh”. Eventually my query took me to the airport fire station, where, after the offer of vast quantities of beer I was taken the next day, cross-country in the 6-wheel RR fire tender – it took an hour to cover the distance to the wreck avoiding soft spots and fences etc (I’d seen it already from the air, from memory it was at 7 DME) . There wasn’t much there, a wing, lots of molten metal and shattered perspex pieces.
Only the Dutch markings were visible. Initially I had semi-romantic notions of a Dutch Buffalo fleeing the Japanese hordes by flying from the East Indies to Derby, showing my complete ignorance about the type’s range capabilities. But the story was rather more mundane. In fact it arrived in Australia by ship! Another case of faded RAAF markings then. I did a lot of research into identifying and ascertaining just how this one had got there. The “B3 174” marking caused me confusion too: this aircraft was A51-5 which was actually B3 185. I suspect when the Buffaloes were assembled the wings may have been mixed up.
There were certainly rich pickings there in the 1960’s! Not just bullet holes in Horrie Miller’s hangar, but a great collection of aircraft junk at the tip immediately south of the airfield - I recall Hudson and Liberator “bits” which were readily identifiable. Despite lots of trying, I never did see the fabled Catalina and Dornier hulks exposed at neap tide – I was always being told “you should have been here yesterday” or “they’ll be visible next week”. I have however stood on the wing of the Do 24 in the sand at Anna Plains. You described the crew setting fire to it – all I saw was the wing lying on the surface of the sand, I assumed the rest of the airframe was buried underneath!
Calling Stan Gajda a character would be an understatement! You could write a book about Stan it seems. You certainly do have to talk to local people, you get the occasional gem. The Anna Plains Dornier is a case in point – it came up in conversation at the airstrip, I said “show me”and he did! "
|* * * * * * * *|
|AND CLOSE TO THE KIMBERLEYS.....
Just over the West Australian/Northern Territory border was another wartime aircraft relic
|Port Keats Mission NT:
North American B-25C Mitchell N5-139 ex 41-12913
This Dutch-crewed Mitchell from RAAF No.18 Squadron based at MacDonald airstrip NT, made a forced landing on 13 February 1943 in the vast swamp country of the Moyle River floodplains. No serious injuries.
Because of its inaccessability, the aircraft was not stripped for parts and remained relatively undisturbed, except for souveniring of parts by occasional passing helicopter crews.
The photographs below were taken in 1967 by Neil Follett during low passes in a Cessna 210. Neil reports that both props were feathered and that the paintwork had faded to reveal RAF roundel and fin flash and USAAF serial in yellow on the fins.
Around 1972 the nose and tailplane were removed by an Australian Army party on behalf of the Aviation Historical Society of NT. These sections were transported to Darwin and stored at the society's Garden Hills workshop. They were intended to be used in the restoration of USAAF B-25D 41-30222 which the society had located in desert country 75 miles east of Tennant Creek. It was still standing on its undercarriage but the rear fuselage and tail had been blown off by an over-zealous Army demolition team. 41-30222 was moved to Darwin in 1974 and initially displayed at the East Point Artillery Museum with patched-up nose and no rear fuselage.
41-30222 was later restored and is now displayed at the Australian Aviation Heritage Centre at Darwin.
Two views of Dutch B-25C N5-139 near Port Keats NT in October 1967. The faded paint reveals original
RAF roundel and fin flash, also yellow USAAC serial 41-12913 on the fin. Photos by Neil Follett
|See also in this series:
- DORNIER Do 24 and the Broome attack
- RAAF Aircraft Record Cards, RAAF Historical Section, Canberra
- National Library of Australia: Trove newspaper search site
- Kalumburu War Diary, Father Eugene Perez, Kalumburu Benedictine Mission, 1981
- A Voyage of Discovery, Neil Follett, Flightpath magazine, May-July 2009
- The Spitfire from Crocodile Creek, Mike Searle, FlyPast magazine, April 1988
- Truscott and Beyond, Derek Macphail, Western Airletter, Perth May-July 1978
- Truscott Revisited - Japanese Dinah Found, Stan Gajda, Western Airletter, August-October 1980
- Truscott – The Diary of Australia’s Secret Wartime Kimberley Airbase 1943-1946, John & Carol Beasy, 1995
- Royal Australian Air Force 1939-1942, Douglas Gillison, Australian War Memorial 1962
- The Douglas Commercial Story, edited by Peter Berry, Air Britain 1971
- The Douglas DC-3 and its Predecessors, J.M.G.Gradidge, Air Britain 1984
- Tocumwal to Tarakan, Michael V. Nelmes, Banner Books, 1994
- Under the Southern Cross, Bob Livingstone, Turner Publishing 1998
- Spitfire Survivors - Then and Now, Volume 1 & 2, Peter Arnold, Gordon Riley, Graham Trant, A-Eleven Publications 2010
- WA's Pearl Habour, The Japanese Attack of Broome, Mervyn W.Prime, RAAFA Museum, Perth
- Blitz on Broome, Angela Prime, Flightpath magazine, 1994
- Hans de Vries, recollections of a MLD pilot, Aerogram journal, March 2010
- ADF serials site: adfserials.com
- Pacific Wrecks website: www.pacificwrecks.com
- Australia at War website: http://ozatwar.com/ozcrashes/wa103.htm.
- Australian War Memorial: Buffalo wingtip: https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/REL34222
- Air Raid on Broome, Stan Gajda, After The Battle magazine, March 1980
- Diamonds are (Missing) Forever, James Henderson, Australian Playboy magazine, November 1979
- Broome's day of death, West Australian newspaper, Perth 2 March 1983 (with an incorrect date for the raid)
- Stan Gajda, Pohnpei, Micronesia: ongoing correspondence and photographs, thanks Stan