7 SEPTEMBER 1943
CRASH OF A CATALINA
AT TOWNSVILLE, QLD

 

NOTE:- a Memorial was dedicated in Townsville on Sunday 14 August 2005
to remember this tragic event. 

Details and photographs of this dedication Ceremony

 

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Catalina

 

RAAF PBY-5 Catalina, A24-52 (original Serial No. USN 08335), of 11 Squadron crashed into Cleveland Bay at Townsville,  Queensland while attempting to land in rough conditions at 0648/Z hours (4:48 pm Eastern Standard Time) on 7 September 1943. It was returning from Merauke. After touching down on the water it travelled a short distance and struck a large wave and sank by the bow. 

A film taken of the incident disclosed that after the aircraft crashed one or both of the depth charges blew up. The accident was considered to have been caused by a structural failure of the hull due to the aircraft alighting in a heavy sea. The aircraft appeared to have been serviceable prior to the commencement of the flight. It was badly damaged and sank quickly. Divers later found that about 20 feet of the forward fuselage and one engine had been ripped from the aircraft when one of the aircraft's anti-submarine mines detonated during the rough landing.


National Archives of Australia

Crash of RAAF PBY-5 Catalina, A24-52 in Cleveland Bay.
Still frame taken from some film taken by a soldier on The Strand.

 

Thirteen of the nineteen RAAF passengers and crew were killed and were subsequently buried at the Townsville War Cemetery.

KILLED
A/Flt/Lt Charles J. Miles, RAAF (Captain) (405317)
Flt/Lt William John Canterbury, RAAF (400037) (2nd Pilot)
F/O Ronald Irvine Ferguson, RAAF (402496) (3rd Pilot)
F/O Gordon John Robert Hockey, RAAF (411089) Navigator (B)
F/O Reginald Albert Weeks, RAAF (420317) WO.A.G.
F/Sgt Bernard Victor McInerney, RAAF (420585) WO.A.G.
A/Cpl William Richard George Lobb, RAAF, Fitter 11E
Sqn/Ldr Leo Mathew Hogan, RAAF (281940), passenger
F/O Charles Harry Ratcliffe, RAAF (119559), passenger - Personal Assistant to Air Commodore Cobby
A/Sqn/Ldr John Vernon Angus, RAAF (252693), passenger
F/Lt. Frank Haighton Lord, RAAF (252297), passenger of 6MRS
Flt/Lt William Archie Wilkinson, RAAF (3418), passenger of No. 12 SU
P/O Beresford Frederick Shearman, RAAF (423181), Passenger of No. 43 Squadron

SURVIVORS
A/Sgt Maxwell Burnett Dore, RAAF (23699), Fitter 11E
Cpl. Ronald Colin Smith, RAAF (22211), Fitter 11A
Cpl. Albert Leslie Fowler, RAAF (62546), Armourer
Air Commodore Arthur Henry Cobby, Air Officer Commanding North Eastern Area
Wing Commander Bruce Panton Macfarlan (260105)
Wing Commander Willem Lodewyk Bosschart Stephens (1175)

On 5 September 1943, Wing Commander Redmond Green, the Commanding Officer of 11 Squadron at Cairns, authorised Flight Lieutenant C.J. "Jack" Miles to proceed to Townsville. Wing Commander Green instructed Jack Miles, the Captain of Catalina A24-52 to report to A.O.R. North Eastern Area on arrival and place himself at the disposal of the Area Officer Commanding North Eastern Area, Air Commodore A.H. Cobby, for a travel flight, which would probably cover a four day period and entail approximately 20 hours flying.

Just prior to this flight, Jack Miles and his crew had taken part in an attack on Surabaya. Four Catalinas from 11 Squadron and 20 Squadron were chosen to mine the entrance in an attempt to close the harbour and trap the ships using the port. The Catalinas were piloted by Bolitho, Green, Marsh and Miles. They left from Cairns in north Queensland on 25 August 1943 and mined Surabaya on the night of the 26/27 August 1943. Luckily for them they were not attacked by any anti-aircraft fire. After the raid they flew to Heron Haven where they were refuelled by the USS Preston. They then flew to Darwin where they re-armed and returned to Surabaya to drop more mines in the entrance to the harbour. Whilst they could see searchlights on this occasion, they were still not attacked by any anti-aircraft fire. Their operation took them over Madura Island where a large number of Japanese soldiers opened up on the four Catalinas with small arms fire. Jack Miles' Catalina was holed seven times by bullets and one of his gunners was hit in each leg by .30 calibre bullets.


Photo: via Eileen Ponsford

"My crew, complete with "Ye Bosse". Taken whilst re-fuelling at one of our outside Bases. The boys probably
look a bit weary as we had just flown 24 hours, and still had some to go. We are on top of the main plane."

The above picture was taken on the wing of Catalina A24-49 at 8:00 am on
6 May 1943 after refuelling at Horn Island after a bombing raid on Babo.
Rear Row, L to R: Dawson Wilson, Bernie McInerney, Ron Smith, Fred Darby, Reg Weeks
Front Row, L to R: Max Dore, Gordon Hockey, Jack Miles (pilot), Bert Fowler

 


Photo: by an American Officer, via Eileen Ponsford

RAAF PBY-5 Catalina, A24-52 after being dragged up on
to the beach near Kissing Point in the vicinity of today's Rock Pool.
The little girl under the fuselage is Denise Hughes.

 

Catalina A24-52 was salvaged after it crashed into Cleveland Bay and was used as an instructional airframe on 24 August 1943.

 

Flight Lieutenant Charles "Jack" Miles, the pilot of Catalina A24-52

 

The pilot, Jack Miles, was an amateur boxer in Queensland. He had been chosen for the Olympic Games. Jack had always had a premonition that he would die before he reached the age of 30 years. His parents received only two communications from the military authorities about their son's tragic accident. The first Telegram said that he had been involved in a crash and was missing. A second Telegram the next day confirmed he had been killed. There was no further communication from the military or the Commonwealth Government. Jack's wife Patricia Betty Miles was from Colac in Victoria. They had only married in May of that same year.


Photo:- Duncan Ridley

Crew of A24-23 aboard "Manoora" en route to Australia after reaching Vila. This group except Bob Burne sailed from Guadalcanal on Sailing Boat "Hygea".

Back row:- Eric Holloway, Jack Miles, Ron Anderson, Bob Burne, Geoff Ireland
Front row:- Harold Smith, Duncan Ridley, Bomber Langridge

Also on board "Hygea" but not in the photograph, was Ken Elkins, the Captain of Catalina A24-23.

This photograph was taken after Catalina A24-23 was blown up by District Officer, Captain Martin Clemens on 7 May 1942, at Aola after being disabled during the Battle of the Coral Sea Operations. At that time, Jack Miles was the Second Pilot under F/LT Ken Ekins. Duncan Ridley was the Armourer/ Air Gunner on A24-23.

NOTE:- Special thanks to Cedric Fergus for his assistance with the above information on this photograph.

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First Telegram regarding
the death of Jack Miles

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Second Telegram regarding
the death of Jack Miles

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Letter received by Mrs Miles from the RAAF
after the death of her husband

 


Photo: by an American Officer, via Eileen Ponsford

RAAF PBY-5 Catalina, A24-52 after being dragged up on
to the beach near Kissing Point in the vicinity of today's Rock Pool.

 


Photo: by an American Officer, via Eileen Ponsford

The front of the Catalina has been totally devastated, by
either the impact of hitting the water and or the depth charges that exploded

 

Air Commodore A.H. Cobby, AOC N.E.A., Wing Commander Bruce MacFarlan SSO (later a High Court judge) and Wing Commander Willem Stephens were three of the survivors from this crash. Wing Commander Stephens injured his arm in this tragic accident. The six survivors were initially sent to the Townsville General Hospital. Wing Commander Stephens may have then ended up in the 2/14 Australian General Hospital at Pallarenda, until his arm healed (see Christmas Card below).


Photo: by an American Officer, via Eileen Ponsford

Some of the wreckage of the Catalina

 

Air Commodore Cobby was responsible for rescuing a number of the survivors including Bruce MacFarlan and Willem Stephens. Mrs. MacFarlan wrote a letter to Cobby thanking him for rescuing her husband. Cobby apparently pulled her unconscious husband from the fuselage of the crashed Catalina. Air Commodore Cobby wrote back to Mrs MacFarlan thanking her for her letter.


via Chris Stephens

Cartoon in "The Argus" Saturday 1 April 1944

 


via Chris Stephens

Cartoon in "The Argus" Saturday 1 April 1944

 


Photo: via Chris Stephens

One of the survivors, Wing Commander W.B. Stephens, 
Principal Medical Officer North-Eastern area.

 


Photo: via Chris Stephens

Wing Commander W.B. Stephens with Deryck Kingwell, who was also involved
in at least one aircraft crash, that of a B-24J Liberator on 22 March 1945

 

Wing Commander W.B. Stephens (centre) in an entirely different pose at an Officer's Mess night in Townsville sometime in 1943, prior to the Catalina crash. The tutu's were made from surgical dressings (tut tut). The bras were painted saucepan lids and the wigs were made of cotton wool. It looks like a Target advertisement!! The person at the left of the photo may be medical officer F/Lt Bothroyd.

 


Photo:- via Babette Smith

Wing Commander Bruce Panton Macfarlan 

 


Photo:- via Babette Smith

Wing Commander Bruce Panton Macfarlan 

 

Air Commodore Cobby wrote a letter to Mrs Macfarlan on 21 September 1943 as follows:-

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Page 1

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Page 2

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Page 3

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Page 4

 


Photo:- via Don Shearman

P/O Beresford Frederick Shearman, RAAF (423181)

 

Pilot Officer Beresford Shearman of 43 Squadron RAAF had boarded the Catalina at Karumba as a passenger. He had finished his tour of duty and had been posted to RAAF Command down south.


Photo:- via Don Shearman

P/O Beresford Frederick Shearman, RAAF (423181),
Passenger of No. 43 Squadron RAAF

 


Photo: via David Angus

Squadron Leader John Vernon Angus

 

qld190-47.jpg (86057 bytes)
via Babette Smith

Bert Fowler's Log Book

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via Babette Smith

Bert Fowler's Log Book

It would appear that a sheet (2 pages) is missing between the two pages shown above and someone may have incorrectly changed August to September not realising that a sheet was missing. The bottom of the left page shows total hours for August as 485.00 and 329.40. These can be seen carried forward on the right hand page which is clearly the right hand page for September as it shows the Townsville crash details. The missing sheet includes the right page for August and left page for September. In support of this supposition there are 8 travel entries on left hand page shown above and 9 entries on the right hand page shown above which suggests they are not a matched pair of pages. Hope that makes sense!

 


Photo:- via Lynette Blacker

Cpl. Ronald Colin Smith, RAAF (22211), Fitter 11A

 


Photo:- via Ted Hayward

F/Sgt Bernard Victor McInerney, RAAF (420585) Wireless Operator

 


Photo:- via Ted Hayward

F/Sgt Bernard Victor McInerney, RAAF (420585) Wireless Operator

 


Photo:- from Patricia Grayson (cousin) via Chris Stephens

Cpl William Richard George Lobb

 

"Billy" Lobb was a mechanic in Sydney prior to enlisting in the RAAF at 21 years of age in 1941. He was a successful Speedway Midget' race car driver. He wanted to become a pilot, but was knocked back because he was colour blind. He then went on to become a Fitter.

12 Repair and Salvage Unit RAAF were dispatched from Macrossan to Townsville on 10 September 1943 to attempt to recover Catalina A24-52 from Cleveland Bay. This aircraft had been delivered to the RAAF in April 1943. This aircraft was originally delivered to the RAAF in April 1943.

 

Flt/Lt William John "Jack" Canterbury, RAAF (400037) (2nd Pilot)

 

"Jack" Canterbury was a brilliant academic who like Gordon Hockey was a prominent school teacher prior to enlisting in the RAAF, in addition to this he gained his pilot's license in the mid 1930's flying throughout Victoria and it is believed he was associated with Reg Ansett pre war.

 


Photo: via Tony Porter

Photo of a crashed Catalina found at Amberley in 2002. The photo was marked as
having been developed at Townsville on 15 Sep 1943. I have assumed that this is a
photo of A24-52. There was however another Catalina crash at Bowen on 14 Sep 1943.

 

Catalina at Caboolture Air Show 15 May 2004

 

Catalina at Caboolture Air Show 15 May 2004

 

A Catalina at Mackay Airport - 1961

A Catalina at Mackay airport - 1961

A Court of Inquiry was held into the cause of the crash of the Catalina. Landing outside Townsville harbour was known to be a difficult place to land for Catalinas due to the prevailing swell. It required delicate handling of the aircraft to avoid an accident. A Group Captain Cohen recommended that Townsville not be used by Catalinas except in an emergency. His recommendation was not adopted. Following the release of the findings of the Court of Inquiry an Instruction was issued to Nos. 11, 20 and 43 Squadrons stating that all Catalina captains, when using the Townsville alighting area, should communicate with the Civil Aviation Department launch at Townsville, for the purpose of obtaining sea alighting conditions and permission to alight. 

A Christmas Card for Wing Commander Stephens and his wife from
Sister Betty Hiatt of the 2/14 AGH in
Townsville. Betty wrote on the
card "Hope the arm is progressing well - Hot as hades up here."

 


 

In Memory of

CHARLES JOHN MILES

Flight Lieutenant
405317
Royal Australian Air Force

who died age 30 yrs
on 7 September 1943
Husband of Patricia Betty Miles, of Colac, Victoria.

TOWNSVILLE WAR CEMETERY
Grave/Memorial Reference: C.A.8.

 


 

In Memory of

WILLIAM JOHN CANTERBURY

Flight Lieutenant
400037
Royal Australian Air Force
who died on
Tuesday, 7th September 1943. Age 30

Son of Thomas and Winnifred Lillian Canterbury, of Dandenong, Victoria.

TOWNSVILLE WAR CEMETERY, Queensland, Australia
Grave Reference/Panel Number: C.B.4.

 


 

In Memory of

RONALD IRVINE FERGUSON

Flying Officer 
402496,
Royal Australian Air Force

who died age 25 yrs
on 7 September 1943
Son of Robert Joseph and Florence Jane Ferguson, of Northbridge, New South Wales.
Remembered with honour
TOWNSVILLE WAR CEMETERY
Grave/Memorial Reference: C.B.3.

 


 

In Memory of

GORDON JOHN ROBERT HOCKEY

Flying Officer 
411089,
Royal Australian Air Force

who died age 27
on 7 September 1943
Son of Reuben and Alice Elizabeth Hockey; husband of Phillis Edna Hockey, of Armidale, New South Wales.
Remembered with honour
TOWNSVILLE WAR CEMETERY
Grave/Memorial Reference: C.B.2.

 


 

In Memory of

REGINALD ALBERT WEEKS

Flying Officer
420317,
Royal Australian Air Force

who died age 31
on 7 September 1943
Son of John Thomas Weeks and Ellen Louisa Weeks, of Maroubra, New South Wales.
Remembered with honour
TOWNSVILLE WAR CEMETERY
Grave/Memorial Reference: C.A.16.

 


 

In Memory of

BERNARD VICTOR McINERNEY

Flight Sergeant
420585,
Royal Australian Air Force

who died age 27
on 7 September 1943
Son of John Thomas McInerney and Ellen McInerney, of Albion Park, New South Wales.
Remembered with honour
TOWNSVILLE WAR CEMETERY
Grave/Memorial Reference: C.B.1.

 


 

In Memory of

WILLIAM RICHARD GEORGE LOBB

Corporal
61254,
Royal Australian Air Force

who died age 23
on 7 September 1943
Son of Richard Joseph and Florence Maud Lobb, of Ultimo, New South Wales.
Remembered with honour
TOWNSVILLE WAR CEMETERY
Grave/Memorial Reference: C.A.14.

 


 

In Memory of

LEO MATTHEW HOGAN

Squadron Leader
281940
Royal Australian Air Force
who died on
Tuesday, 7th September 1943. Age 43.

Son of Mr. and Mrs. M. J. Hogan; husband of Constance Edna Marie Hogan, of Townsville. LL.B.

TOWNSVILLE WAR CEMETERY, Queensland, Australia
Grave Reference/Panel Number:   C.A.9.

Note:- Leo Hogan was attached to Headquarters North Eastern Area Townsville.

 


 

In Memory of

CHARLES HARRY RATCLIFFE

Flying Officer
119559
Royal Australian Air Force
who died on
Tuesday, 7th September 1943. Age 43

Son of William Harry and Lydia Ratcliffe; husband of Stella Esme Ratcliffe, of Kogarah, New South Wales.

TOWNSVILLE WAR CEMETERY, Queensland, Australia
Grave Reference/Panel Number:  C.A.10.

 


 

In Memory of

JOHN VERNON ANGUS

Squadron Leader
262693,
Royal Australian Air Force

who died age 43
on 7 September 1943
Son of William James Angus and Sydney Angus, of Prospect, South Australia; husband of Kathleen Adelaide Angus.
Remembered with honour
TOWNSVILLE WAR CEMETERY
Grave/Memorial Reference: C.A.13.

 


 

In Memory of

FRANK HAIGHTON LORD

Flight Lieutenant
252297,
Royal Australian Air Force

who died age 33
on 7 September 1943
Son of Dr. Percy Oswald Lord and Francisca Frederica Lord; husband of Margaret Ethel Lord, of South Caulfield, Victoria. M.B., B.S. (Melb.), M.R.C.O.G. (England).
Remembered with honour
TOWNSVILLE WAR CEMETERY
Grave/Memorial Reference: C.A.12.

 


 

In Memory of

WILLIAM ARCHIE WILKINSON

Flight Lieutenant
3418
Royal Australian Air Force
who died on
Tuesday, 7th September 1943. Age 43

Son of William and Mary Jane Wilkinson; husband of Cornelia Elizabeth Wilkinson, of Albert Park, Victoria.

TOWNSVILLE WAR CEMETERY, Queensland, Australia
Grave Reference/Panel Number:   C.A.ll.

 


 

In Memory of

BERESFORD FREDERICK SHEARMAN

Pilot Officer
423181,
Royal Australian Air Force

who died age 20
on 7 September 1943
Son of Stewart Frederick and Marie Millicent Shearman, of Orange, New South Wales.
Remembered with honour
TOWNSVILLE WAR CEMETERY
Grave/Memorial Reference: C.A.15.

 


 

Was President John F. Kennedy
ever in Townsville during WW2?

Helen Suttie, a WAAAF in Townsville, witnessed the crash of Catalina A24-52 on 7 September 1943. Some time after the crash, Helen and four other WAAAF's went out in a RAAF crash boat one evening with some 41 Squadron RAAF servicemen to visit a US Navy LCI as the two officers on board indicated they would like to meet some Australian women. Helen believes that the US Navy skipper was Lieut. Jack Kennedy (JFK) and his 2IC was Stanislous Kepner. Helen and her friend Olive Duncan went out with these two Americans on quite a few occasions over about a month.

Can anyone confirm JFK's location around 7 September 1943


 

 

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Poem - The Cat-boats are Flying To-night

 


 

A Morning Tea for Families of those
involved in this Tragic Crash

A morning tea was held at the Gaythorne RSL Club in Brisbane at 10:00 am on Sunday 22 May 2005. This morning tea gathering was organised by Chris Stephens. Eileen Ponsford was able to arrange for us to use a small area inside the Gaythorne RSL.

In attendance were:-

Chris Stephens
Janis Stephens
Dick Ponsford
Eileen Ponsford
Don Shearman
Fay Shearman
Peter Dunn
Jack Rush
Scott Maxwell

Two display boards of photos and memorabilia

 

One of the two display boards

 

The other display board

 

Left to Right: Eileen Ponsford, Dick Ponsford, Shearman, Don Shearman
Jack Rush, Scott Maxwell, Chris Stephens

 

Left to Right facing camera: Eileen Ponsford, Dick Ponsford,
Fay Shearman, Don Shearman Jack Rush

Left to right back to camera: Chris Stephens, Janis Stephens

 

Left to Right: Eileen Ponsford, Dick Ponsford, Fay Shearman, Don Shearman
Jack Rush, Scott Maxwell, Chris Stephens

 


 

SOURCE:-   Aircraft Crash Sites - Australia

Crash:         No. 160

Position:     19.14 - 146.51

Department of Aviation Chart No:       3219

 

NOTE:- Regarding the time of this tragic accident. It is shown as having occurred at 0648/Z hours in official records. Z Time is Zulu Time which is equivalent to Greenwich Mean Time. 

Eastern Standard Time equals GMT + 10 hours. Hence 0648/Z hours is equivalent to 1648 hours or 4:48pm Eastern Standard Time.

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I'd like to thank Clarke P. Gerber for his assistance with this home page. His mother was S/O May Pepperday, Air Commodore Cobby's secretary.

I'd also like to thank Chris Stephens for his assistance with this web page. Chris is the son of W/Cdr Stephens.

I'd also like to thank Babette Smith, daughter of Wing Commander Bruce Macfarlan for her assistance with this home page.

I'd also like to thank Eileen Ponsford, sister of Flight Lieutenant Charles "Jack" Miles, the pilot of A24-52.

I'd also like to thank Don Shearman, brother of Pilot Officer Beresford Shearman.

I'd also like to thank Gordon James Robert "Jim" Hockey, son of Flying Officer Gordon John Robert Hockey.

I'd also like to thank Lynette Blacker, daughter of Cpl. Ronald Colin Smith.

I'd also like to thank Ted Hayward, for his assistance with this web page.

 

REFERENCE BOOK

"Diary of WWII - North Queensland"
Complied by Peter Nielsen

"Aircraft of the RAAF 1921- 71"
By Geoffrey Pentland & Peter Malone

"Units of the Royal Australian Air Force - A Concise History"
Volume 7 - Maintenance Units

 

Can anyone help me with more information on this crash?

 

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This page first produced 8 February 1999

This page last updated 23 November 2014