CRASH OF A B-24 LIBERATOR
INTO VANSITTART BAY, WA
ON 23 MARCH 1945
RAAF B-24L Liberator, A72-80 (#44-41450), "Old Nick", of 24 Squadron, ditched into Vansittart Bay after taking off from Truscott airfield in Western Australia just before 0700 hrs on 23 March 1945. The pilot, Squadron Leader Nathaniel Herbert Straus, radioed Truscott tower that he was preparing for an emergency landing as he was unable to gain height. Three other Liberators took off for an armed shipping sweep.
Due to his low altitude, Straus was unable to again locate the airfield. For 23 minutes Straus made radio contact with Truscott and the other Liberators advising he could not gain height. At no stage did he advise what the apparent reason was for his inability to gain height but engine problems was the most possible cause. Straus was an above average pilot with over 1500 hours flying experience.
Probable course for A72-80
At 0713 hrs Straus advised that he was about to ditch in Vansittart Bay. The other three Liberators saw A72-80 ditch at a fairly high rate of descent into the sea. It disintegrated on impact and caught fire. The crew eleven and one passenger were all killed:-
Sqn/Ldr N.H. Straus (250759) (Pilot)
F/Sgt H.J. Boyd (427775) (2nd Pilot)
F/O R.A. Whiting (Nav B) (4267333)
F/Lt C.D. Parry-Okeden (404485) (Bombadier)
F/O John Wilson Hursthouse (416215) (W.O. Air 1st)
W/O W. R. Flanagan (401748) (W.O. Air 2nd)
W/O H.G. Parker (408951) Air Gunner)
F/Sgt J.R. Ryan (422716) (Air Gunner)
F/Sgt A.J. Rodgers (436889) (Air Gunner)
Sgt. A.D. Whitehead (121592) (Air Gunner)
F/Sgt R.M. Morris (46563) (Flight Engineer)
Cpl D.W. Madden (36484) (Passenger)
Truscott tower requested HMAS Congoola at West Bay to proceed to the scene to search for survivors. HMAS Congoola arrived four hours later and was able to recover the body of one of the gunners, Flight Sergeant Rodgers. Some Spitfires and Venturas searched the area for two days.
Corporal D.W. Madden, who was not part of the crew, but went on the flight as passenger. Only three bodies were recovered, Flt Sgt Rodgers, S/L N.H. Straus, Flt Lt C.D. Parry-Okeden. All that was found of F/O Hursthouse was his shirt.
According to an Air Board telegram (4th April 1945) his body was taken by a crocodile. A sad irony was that F/O John Wilson Hursthouse wrote about his shirt shortly before the incident:-
13-3-1945 "....I have been hanging on to my nice thin shirts for the past month - I have worn them torn, and then had to stitch them up every time I wore them, but today I very reluctantly changed them for new ones - I say reluctantly, because the new ones are 'high grade hessian' and I don't think the grades are very high either - I already have one and they are terrors to wash - and they are as hot as Hanover! - but then I must look respectable."
The pilots of the other three aircraft who possibly witnessed the accident were F/Lt. E.V. Ford (KIA 6 April 1945), F/Lt. R.M. Beattie (KIA 2 July 1945) and F/Lt. W.W. Kirkwood. Does anyone know whether any of the other crew members of these 3 aircraft are still alive?
The Commanding Officer of 24 Squadron arrived at Truscott airfield on 23 March 1945 to carry out a preliminary investigation. A Court of Inquiry was later convened to investigate the crash. The official cause of the crash was given as "undetermined".
Another theory espoused by some of 24 Squadron's pilots was that the control lock on the control surfaces may have been jammed in the locked position. It was common but not recommended practice to lock the control surfaces in the neutral position for the long taxiing run to the far end of the airfield prior to take-off, then turn straight onto the runway, disengage the control lock and then open the throttles for take-off. It was possible if the disengagement of the control lock was performed too slowly, that the flow of air over the surfaces during a fast taxii could jam the controls in the locked position.
Another pilot, Tom Fitzgerald, who had been an ex-pilot of this aircraft, thought that the problem may have been due to some damage to the aircraft during an operation six weeks earlier.
B-24 Liberator A72-80 was received into the RAAF on 6 October 1944.
The following is an Extract from the Diary of Flight Lieutenant David Parry-Okeden dated 10 February 1945. He was killed 6 weeks later in this crash, and requested that should his diary be censored he desired this "Soliloquy" be sent to his father:-
"I wonder if one of these days a burst will come up through the bombardier's window when I'm bending over the sight on a run - who knows? It's in the lap of the Gods? It doesn't worry me. There's not much time to worry about things like that on a bombing run.
What better way to die than in fighting for all one's loved ones. Fighting so that they can smile and walk without fear of the ever-present dread word that a loved one has made the supreme sacrifice. That children in all parts of the world will play games and be happy again, without the menace of the whistling bomb or screaming shell. That men and women will be free to live their own lives again. Dear God! If the time should come that I have to die; I'd die gladly if my death is the cost, that I, as one individual have to pay for that.
The war has taught me much and given me a fuller life, as in the past four years I have learned that all men are equal, sharing danger together with men of all ranks and all stations. I have come to learn the real brotherhood of man, the comradeship that exists among us who fly together. The courage, fear, bravery and make-up of men. The nobleness and gentleness underlying rough exteriors.
War does strange things! It turns men's thoughts to God, their hearts to deeper understanding and their minds to a thirst for knowledge and a way of expressing their feelings through poetry and writing. It has taught me the marvels of God and what an insignificant puny creature is man in the scheme of things. Flying high in the sky for long periods surrounded only by clouds and silence that is broken only by the roar of powerful engines, earth and its worries and material things are far removed from us.
High in the heavens at night, with the sky aflame with its millions of pin points of light, there is an infinite peace and beauty that is only to be found there. After a long night to see the wonder of dawn breaking and the world and earth beginning to unfold and take shape again, as the heavens light up and the golden orb of the sun throws its first questing rays of light and warmth over the hitherto darkened world. One seems to have been in another world for a night and very close to the Creator of all the beauty one has seen and experienced.
And a strange sense of peace and contentment fills one's mind."
Flt Lt. Charles David (Dave) Parry-Okeden is buried at Adelaide River War Cemetery, a well maintained and picturesque war memorial, 113 kilometres south of Darwin, in the Northern Territory.
David Hursthouse, the son of F/O John Wilson Hursthouse, has flown a little in gliders and finds it difficult to believe that a pilot would not make sure that his controls were free prior to takeoff. The report indicates that the aircraft was seen to halt prior to actual takeoff for the purpose of a cockpit check. According to a diagram that David has the aircraft flew north west across Vansittart Bay to the next headland before doing a complete 180 and flying back towards the airfield. It also seems to have flown round behind the strip to the south west before circling back into Vansittart Bay. It was heading towards the airstrip when it ditched close to the shore.
David believes that the most logical cause was the control surfaces being locked. Though the pilot obviously had control of ailerons and rudder, otherwise he would not have been able to make the turns. The only thing that makes sense to David would be that the elevators locked up somehow. That would explain the inability to gain height, and it also seems that Straus, knowing that he would be unable to make a successful flare out on the strip, chose to bring the aircraft round into a position close to shore, and take his chances with the sea. Unsuccessfully as it turned out, as probably the only way he could get down would be to close the throttles, but without the ability to "flare out", pancaked heavily and disintegrated on impact.
Flying Officer John Wilson Hursthouse
Born: North Adelaide 26th September 1913
Died: Vansittart Bay 23rd March 1945“Whether you be man or woman, you will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of mind next to honour.” JWH 6-11-41
B-24 Liberator A72-80 Memorial Pages
by David Hursthouse
I'd like to thank David Hursthouse for his assistance with this home page. David is the son of F/O John Wilson Hursthouse, one of the crew who died in the crash of Liberator A72-80.
I'd also like to thank Ian Parry-Okeden, the nephew of Flight Lieutenant David Parry-Okeden, for his assistance with this web page, particularly for providing the extract of his uncle's diary.
"Tocumwal to Tarakan"
"Australians and the Consolidated B-24 Liberator"
By Michael V. Nelmes
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© Peter Dunn 2007
This page first produced 25 August 1999
This page last updated 02 April 2013