CRASH OF AN UNIDENTIFIED AIRCRAFT
POSSIBLY A BEAUFIGHTER
AT ROBBERY SHOALS, RIB REEF,
ABOUT 30KMS NE OF PALM ISLAND, QLD
DURING WW2

 

On an unknown date, an aircraft believed to be a Beaufighter by my informants crashed at Robbery Shoals, Rib Reef about 30 kms north east of Palm Island in north Queensland on an unknown date during WW2. A search of all the Beaufighter crashes on the ADF Serials web page shows no Beaufighters crashing in this area. My guess is this may be either the B-26 Marauder or the Beaufort bomber shown below.

 

Can anyone help to confirm which aircraft this was?

 

Two crashes that I know of in that general area are as follows. Neither of them are a Beaufighter:-

1. A B-26 Marauder, aircraft #40-1419 of 2nd Bomb  Squadron (another source shows it as the 408th Bomb Squadron) of the 22nd Bombardment Group, USAAF, ditched into the sea off Palm Island near Townsville, on 21 April 1942 en route from Port Moresby to Garbutt Field, Australia. 

2. At 1300 hours E.A.S.T. on 10 December 1942, RAAF Beaufort A9-161 of 7 Squadron RAAF, ditched into the sea 15 miles east of Palm Island, off the east coast of Queensland, Australia after engine failure. The pilot, Pilot Officer Peter Willoughby (408898) suffered severe shock and abrasions. Sgt. Albert George Holtham (406718) suffered a probable fractured pelvis, shock and abrasions and Sgt. Harry William Hudson (406806) suffered a possible fractured patella, shock and abrasions. The Preliminary Report (Internal) of lying Accident or Forced Landing only shows these three crew members whilst the National Archives shows and extra crew member, Sgt. Lloyd George Benjamin (408953).

Joe Sikora, a local fisherman contacted the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) in 1989 and gave them some approximate co-ordinates for a location at Robbery Shoals near Rib Reef of something on the seabed which attracted many schools of "Redfish". He had detected this feature using his depth sounder. In 1992 AIMS chartered skipper Jim Dalling to visit the area. He located the object using his colour depth sounder and took GPS co-ordinates to allow later more detailed visits by AIMS scientists.

In 1998, AIMS and CSIRO scientists tried to locate the object using a towed television camera and side scan sonar whilst in the area mapping sponge and seawhip gardens. Due to some navigational issues they missed locating the wreck by about 200 metres.

Again in 1999, AIMS in conjunction with CSIRO visited the area with an CSIRO ROV. They towed a television camera across the known co-ordinates on their way to an offshore study site. They initially located some large three-metre holes of unknown origin on the sea bed using the camera. Then they spotted the wreckage of the WW2 bomber looming in front of the camera. They were unable to raise the camera in time and it hit the wreckage. The last vision captured by Greg Smith (ex RAAF) from CSIRO, Cleveland, saw was an extreme closeup of some rivets on a flat plate. CSIRO’s Greg Smith, Ted Wassenberg and leader Dr Roland Pitcher then deployed the HyBall "Offshore" ROV for a dive on the WW2 wreck. On it way down to the sea bed the scientists observed a halo of holes in the seabed and numerous large fish, rays and Queensland groper. They finally the located the WW2 bomber in 44 metres of water. It was a twin-engined aircraft with one-and-a-half wings visible. They believed it may have been a WW2 Beaufighter. It was partially covered with pieces of trawl nets.

In January 2008 Greg Smith told me:-

We originally spotted the aircraft using a towed camera system; it was just a flash of riveted aluminium panel that was visible for less than a second. We tried to relocate with aircraft without any luck, and continued on with our survey. Once the survey was completed, we came back to the location and I used an ROV fitted with a scanning sonar to search for the wreck. After a short time the sonar showed a large object on the seabed, so I used the sonar to guide the ROV to investigate the target. On initial inspection it was hard to tell what the object was as it surrounded by a bubble of small fish.

Further investigation revealed that it was a badly damaged airframe, the nose, starboard wing and the tail where badly damaged. There is some great footage of the port wing and other areas of the aircraft.

I believe that the crew bailed out of the aircraft before it crashed.


via Thomas Stieglitz

Multibeam bathymetry image of the wreck location
taken in 2006. The aircraft is located at the top
centre of the horseshoe shaped cluster of holes

Local fisherman Bruce Morgensen advised AIMS in 2001 that local trawlers had known about the location of the WW2 bomber for a number of years. It was an area that the trawlers avoided for fear of hooking up their nets on the wreckage.

In early 2006 the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) research vessel Lady Basten left the Institute at Cape Ferguson, near Cape Pallarenda not far from Townsville in north Queensland. It was headed for Rib Reef. They hoped to locate a WW2 aircraft wreck using their remotely operated video platform named "Rover", which was 40kgs in weight fitted with two video cameras and lights. Mike Cappo and Peter Speare deployed a group of six BRUVS (baited remote underwater video stations) near the known locations for the wreck, to investigate marine life in the area.

The Rover was then lowered into the water with senior oceanographic technician Cary Mclean at the controls. Marine scientists Peter Speare and Mike Cappo watched the video monitor. Unfortunately Rover had to be recovered due to a major malfunction. 90 minutes later they recovered to 6 BRUVS. Cappo started to review their footage. The footage from camera 5 was found to be looking straight into the bomber wreck. It apparently descended down past the wing and settled in the co-pilot's seat.

On their last day at sea after some interim arrangements to fix Rover they deployed it one more time to attempt to record the WW2 wreck. Unfortunately Rover suffered a number of malfunctions which saw an end to their quest to carryout a controlled video survey of the WW2 aircraft wreck.

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I'd like to thank Mike Cappo an Experimental Scientist at the Australian Institute of Marine Science near Townsville, Thomas Stieglitz, Research Fellow, James Cook University, Australian Institute of Marine Science and Greg Smith of CSIRO for their assistance with this web page.

 

Can anyone help me with more information on this crash?

 

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